The challenge of Christianity has always been to be in, but not of, the world. We see the tension even in one of the most central teachings of Jesus: The Kingdom of God. It is not surprising to have misunderstandings about the Kingdom of God because even Jesus found it difficult to help his closest disciples understand.
There is in the Gospel of Mark what theologians call the Messianic Secret. Over and over again when Jesus heals someone, or performs a miracle, he admonishes the person and/or his followers not to tell. The reason he didn’t want the word to spread was simple. There had already been several men who claimed to be Messiahs. They were revolutionary leaders who raised armies to expel the Roman conquerors. However, Jesus never intended to be that kind of Messiah. At his trial he says to Pilate, My Kingdom is not of this world.
The mistaken view of the Kingdom of God has followed the church down through the centuries. We see it in Constantine declaring Christianity to be the religion of the Empire. To this day various countries in Europe have state churches. The Queen of England is the head of the Church of England. When that queen was Elisabeth it was said The sun never sets on the British Empire. Many believed that to be equal to, co-existent with the Kingdom of God.
Many in the United States viewed our country as the New Israel expanding into a new Promised Land. God was on our side and conquest was his will and his delight. Even a recent issue of TIME magazine had an article comparing President Obama to Moses.
Another theological trend was in the opposite direction. People like the Amish and the Shakers sought to separate themselves from the rest of the world. In part, they felt they could create little islands of the Kingdom of God in the midst of this world. Some have been more successful in worldly terms than others. However, none can really claim to be The Kingdom of God.
Yet, the Kingdom of God did come with the incarnation of Jesus. It was at hand then and it is near us now. The Kingdom of God is wherever the sovereignty of God is recognized and the rule of God is followed. It is not a matter of geography and political power. It is a presence of the forgiving love of grace shared among those who call Him Lord and serve his will to reconcile the world to himself. It is where people of faith inexorably influence the least, the lonely and the lost with the healing love of God.