“My kingdom is not of this world…” (rf. Jn. 18:36)
At the writing of this month’s entry, Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has just completed his first visit to the shores of America. With the response he was accorded by the politicians in Washington, the American media, and the public in general, one would have thought that the myths surrounding the Pontiff were true, that he was, indeed, the Vicar, or substitute, of Jesus Christ on the earth and that he was gifted by his office to do wondrous miracles! However, truth be told, more lies with his overwhelming popularity in his alignment and current allegiance with politically correct beliefs and statements on significant issues than with any supposed spiritual renewals taking place among the American people right now or in any inherent spiritual power that this Pope may professedly possess. No, the rock-star status of Francis is due to the perception that he is finally leading the hitherto conservative Roman Catholic Church down a path to a more enlightened liberalism that will usher in a “bright new day of freedom” for Catholics everywhere, especially in the United States. At least, that is the pervasive hope underlying all of the hoopla.
Protestants should take close note of these developments as well, and not just for their political ramifications. We tend to get caught up in media-created frenzy while not thinking about what is really going on. We also have the same problem with “celebrityism” in our own backyard, putting our leaders on pedestals and worshiping them as gods, waiting with baited breath on every word that proceedeth from their lips while purchasing every book that cometh forth from their pens. Far be it from us to cast stones at the Catholics when we have plenty of popes of our own!
As conservative Evangelicals, many of us have appropriated a particular theory of the end times that has Jesus coming back to establish an earthly kingdom in Israel from which to rule the whole earth, making the future of Jerusalem and Israel pivotal pawns on the world’s political stage. Yet, Jesus Himself stated above that an earthly kingdom was not at all a part of His plan. His kingdom was and is spiritual (rf. Lk. 17:21 KJV), and would be expanded and brought about by the power of His Spirit (rf. Acts 1:3-4, 8). There are a number of people who make their living off of prophetic guesses as to when Jesus will return to set up His earthly kingdom to rule and reign, not realizing or recognizing that His kingdom has already arrived at His first coming when He was born in a manger so many years ago (rf. Is. 9:6-7) We know that He will return to bring His kingdom promises to fruition and to close out this age in final judgment, separating the true from the false as a shepherd parts his sheep from the goats (rf. Mt. 25:31-46).
Until then, He expects us to live and act like citizens of His kingdom, displaying His colors (i.e. flying His flag, metaphorically speaking) by the way that we live our lives even as we depend upon His Spirit as our primary resource. We possess the treasure of His kingdom, the Gospel of Christ, a prize He means for us to share with others as His way of expanding the kingdom’s influence and territory. In this way, Jesus shows the world that He requires no earthly landmarks, no army, no palace, no planes, no ostentatious ceremonies or costumes to prove His kingship. He simply uses the common people of the world like you and me as His citizens to display His glory and to reveal the reality of His kingdom on earth, here and now and in the ages to come, until He returns to “tie up the loose ends” of history, ushering in the formal introduction to eternity.