What is the Kingdom of God
Jesus taught us to pray,
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
This explains the Kingdom of God. It is God's will being done on earth. God's will is done when his authority is accepted. Every person living under the authority of God is part of the Kingdom of God. Every aspect of life which is submitted to the authority of God is part of the Kingdom of God. God's kingdom extends as far as his authority is acknowledged and obeyed.
Here is the test of the Kingdom of God.
Does the will of the person with authority align with God's will?
- Yes It is part of Kingdom
- No It is part of Kingdom of darkness (world).
We don't understand what the word Kingdom means. It may be better to speak of the government of God. We all understand the authority of the government. In a modern state, the government has very few limits on what it can do. It has absolute authority. The role of both the government and a king is to exercise authority. The government can pass any law, which will pass through Parliament. There is no aspect of life for which it cannot legislate. A king has the same absolute authority in his kingdom. The Kingdom of God is the Government of God.
Authority is Everywhere
Authority is a concept that is central to the Kingdom of God. Since the charismatic movement and the growth of the Pentecostal churches, there has been a lot of emphasis on the power of the Spirit. Christians have been keen to experience his power and this is good. There has not been so much interest in authority, except over demons for deliverance. However, authority is even more important than power. God has created the universe to function in accordance with spiritual and physical laws. This makes authority very important.
Since we don't understand authority, we often don't recognise it. However, like the air, authority is everywhere; and it is very important.
Definition of Authority
Authority has three parts
- Decision (will)
This patterns works in the following way. Some one exercises their will and decides what should happen. They then issue a command. Someone else or some thing acts on that command. What is done coincides with the will of the one in authority. Their will is done.
The centurion understood authority. He said that he could say to a soldier, "Go" and he would go and to another and he could say, "Come!" and he would come. This is the same pattern of decision, command and action. The centurion made a decision; he issued a command. The soldier obeyed and took action. The centurion's will was done.
The same thing happens when I drive a car. I choose to turn left. I issue a command by turning the steering wheel anti-clockwise and the car turns left. The car is under my authority, so my will is done.
I have authority over my body. I decide to raise my right arm. My brain issues an instruction to my arm, which rises up.
The yellow arrow represents Authority obedient to God.
Authority resides in people. When authority is delegated, it moves from one person to another. For example, when a manager appoints a supervisor, some authority is being delegated down. If a person does not exercise the authority another person might take it up.
Good and Evil
The great issue of our times is authority. Who has authority in any situation? Will that authority be honoured? Will it be exercised correctly?
- who says
- who is in charge
- who runs the show
- whose authority will be accepted?
- what will happen if I don't?
Every area of authority is a battleground. Whose will be done?
- God's will
- Man's will
- Satan's will.
If God's will is done, that area of authority is part of the Kingdom of God. The people and actions involved are part of the Kingdom of God. If man's will is done, then Satan's will is done as well, because his main goal is to foster rebellion against God.
Boundary of a Kingdom
A Kingdom extends as far as the authority of the King is accepted.
The boundaries of a kingdom are not geographic. They extend wherever the king's authority is accepted. Some of the nobles in a kingdom may not accept the authority of the king. If the king cannot control a noble, the people that the noble controls will not be part of the kingdom.
Likewise, there will be outlaws who live inside the kingdom, but who do not accept the authority of the king. Although they are within the geographic boundaries of the kingdom, they are not part of the kingdom. They are outside the law and outside the benefits of the kingdom. Authority, not geography, defines the boundaries of a kingdom.
The Kingdom of God extends as far as the authority of the God is accepted.
Jesus redefined the word Kingdom. Israel was a geographic kingdom. The kingdom of God is defined in terms of attitudes to the authority of God. A person's attitude to the authority of God is in their heart and cannot be seen. This is why Jesus said, "The kingdom is within you"; it cannot be seen as a physical entity.
On the other hand, the Kingdom of God is greater than we can imagine. God is unlimited, so his authority can extend throughout the earth.
Above or Below
The way that authority exercised is really important. Using authority in the wrong way to advance God's will is evil. The Kingdom of God is only advanced, if authority is used for the right objective in the right way.
Authority can be exercised in two ways:
- Imposing control from above.
- Voluntary submission from below.
Authority can come from above or below.
The soldier obeyed the centurion because he knew that he would be punished if he disobeyed. The centurion had the coercive power of the Roman Empire behind him. This is authority from above. One person accepts another's authority because the other has the power to enforce his will. That power may be legal power, as is the case of the centurion. It may be the power of a gun, or simply be bigger fists.
The other kind of authority comes from below. One person chooses freely to submit to the authority of another. They may respect the wisdom of the other, or expect to get some benefit. For example, when we take up employment, we accept the authority of our employer in return for a wage or salary. We may submit a legal issue to a judge to get a wise decision.
The difference between a manager and a leader illustrates these two ways of exercising authority. A person becomes a manager when another person with authority appoints them (from above). A leader emerges when people freely agree to follow a wise person (authority from below).
Authority from Below
Authority from below is voluntary, never oppressive. When a person chooses to submit to authority, they remain free. They are free to step out from under that authority at any time. People who freely submit freely to the authority of a leader, they lose nothing in prestige or dignity, because they still have their freedom.
When people freely submit to a leader, they create authority that did not previously exist. This is why submission is important in the scriptures. When Christians submit, they are increasing the scope of authority and bringing greater order to life.
Authority from below has two sides.
The one with authority must provide enough benefit to the people under authority to preserve their loyalty. Employers must pay wages to their employees. If judges stop making wise decisions, people will stop submitting cases to them. Love is the most powerful force for attracting submission.
The people under authority must willingly submit to the one with authority. They remain free to withdraw their submission at any time.
Love and freedom meet perfectly in authority from below.
God Uses Authority from Below
Although God could seize authority from above, he has chosen to use authority from below. For his will to be done, we must freely choose to submit to him. He will not use force to make us obey his will. He prefers people to obey him, because they have chosen to love him.
God is so reticent about using authority from above that many people are not even certain that he exists. If he wanted to use that authority, he would make everyone on earth understand his holiness. He could reveal his majesty on earth and force people to obey him, but he has chosen a different way. The fact that many people do not understand his awesome nature proves that he is not using authority from above.
Authority from Above needs Force
Authority from above is defined by the way it operates and not by its source. It can come from two quite opposite sources.
God has sufficient power to impose power from above. He created everything and everything belongs to him, so he is entitled to establish his authority over it. Despite his position, God does not demand authority from above. When he had created the universe, he immediately created man and gave all authority over the earth to him. He chopped his authority up, pushed it down and spread it around to all who would live on earth.
Authority from above is usually enforced with physical power. Most authority that comes from above is backed by force. The centurion gained his authority from above. His authority came down from the Roman Emperor. Caesar Augustus had gained his authority because he had won a war. His military victories gave him authority from above.
The devil uses authority from above. He forces those who belong to him to obey his will. He uses force to maintain his authority. He gained his initial authority on earth from below. Adam and Eve freely submitted to him, because they were deceived by his promises. They handed the authority that God had given them over to the devil.
Once the devil had received this authority from below, he twisted it and turned it into authority from above. Once Adam and Eve had submitted to him, they could no opt out, as they would be free to do, if it had remained authority from below. The devil continued to force people to do his will, even when they were unwilling.
The nature of authority can be changed, regardless of its source. This authority came from God as authority from below, but once it passed into the hands of the devil, he twisted it and transformed it into authority from above
The devil continues to seek more authority from below. He is still deceiving people into submitting to him. However, whenever he gets authority, he immediately transforms it and twists it into authority from above.
The State uses authority from above. When it creates laws and makes regulations, all citizens must obey them. If they refuse to surrender to the authority of the state, they will be forced to submit. The only way to escape is to move to another nation, but this is not really an escape, because before entering the new nation, person will have to the state they are entering.
The power of the political state is always enforced by military or police power. People who refuse to recognise the authority of the state will eventually be thrown in prison and forced to accept the authority of the state.
Democracy does not change the nature of political authority. The political leaders of democratic systems usually claim there is a social contract between them and the population they govern, but this is just to give an illusion of authority from below. The reality is that voters give their political leaders a blank cheque and cannot opt out of any decisions made, so they are not free. All political power is authority from above that can be traced Back to military or police force. The authority of the state comes from above.
The Kingdom of God
Authority from above has no place in the Kingdom of God. He is totally committed to authority from below and will not use authority from above to force people into his kingdom. God will not accomplish his will by forcing unwilling people to do things they do not want to do, so coercion and control have not place in his Kingdom.
God's kingdom operates in a totally different way from any other kingdom. Jesus condemned the rulers for using authority from above. They "lord it over" their people and use force to get them to do what they want.,
The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them (Matt 20:25).
They maintain their position using domination and coercion. Their kingdoms are based on authority from above.
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors (Luke 22:25).
The rulers of the Gentiles call themselves benefactors, but they control the people in the kingdom by force.
The Kingdom of God is totally different from any other kingdom. All authority in the kingdom comes from below, as people freely submit to people that love them and serve them.
But you are not to be like that Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves (Luke 22:26).
People gain authority in the kingdom by serving those they lead.
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Matt 20:26).
A servant cannot force the person they are serving to do things they do not want to do. A servant cannot control the one they are serving. They cannot use force or coercion to get their will done.
Freedom and Service
All authority in the kingdom of God is based on freedom and service. This seems like a mystery, but it makes the kingdom of God unique. Jesus demonstrated how servant authority works. He lived amongst the people and served them. Many responded to his love by to become his disciples. He had great authority over his disciples, but no one was forced to obey him. They obeyed him because they loved him. Every disciple was free to withdraw their submission at any time. Judas demonstrated this freedom when he withdrew his submission to Jesus and submitted to the Jewish leaders.
In the Kingdom of God, people gain authority by serving. Husbands gain authority in their family, by loving their wives. Elders have authority, because they serve the Christians in their care. People take disputes to judges, because they recognise their wisdom. This submission is voluntary, so the person under authority can choose to ignore the one they have given authority to if they stop serving. If a judge starts making bad decisions, people can stop taking cases to them. The bad judge will lose his authority. Those with authority in the kingdom of God must serve others. They must never use coercion to get their will done.
The Church has failed to understand the importance and power of authority from below. The temptation to advance the kingdom using power from above is strong. The church has yielded again and again by forming and an alliance with political rulers to strengthen the position of the church. This always leads to compromise, because sacrificial love and political power do not mix.
The kingdom of God cannot be advanced using authority from above. God rules his kingdom using authority from below, so when the church uses authority from above, it moves outside the kingdom of God and into the world. A church that uses authority from above becomes part of the world.
Christians must not use the political process to gain authority from above. Jesus does not want his people "lording it over" the rest of society, so we cannot use political power to advance the kingdom. Those who use coercion to advance the kingdom are actually serving the devil, because he is the master of authority from above.
The Kingdom of God advances as the gospel is proclaimed in the power of the Spirit. When people accept the gospel and surrender to Jesus, they enter the Kingdom of God. When Christians demonstrate a willing to take responsibility and carry risk, authority will flow freely to them. See Tens and Hundreds.
The devil uses authority from above. The world uses authority from above. God's way is totally different. He is totally committed to using authority from below. Authority from above has no place in the Kingdom of God.
Domains of Authority
1. Authority and the Individual
The individual is the basic unit of authority. We each have authority over our own life. God created us free to obey or disobey. This gives us authority over our own lives. The other word for this is free will.
The will is a great battlefield. Every individual makes thousands of decisions a day. The question is whose will be done.
Whose authority will be accepted?
In the beginning Adam and Eve lived under the authority of God and had authority over all the earth (Gen 1:28). Although, they were under God's authority, they were free to obey or disobey his authority. This was authority from below. At the fall, they chose to reject God's authority and act on their own authority. They rejected God's authority by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Sin is rejection of God's authority).
They quickly realised that they were passing from being under the authority of God to being under the authority of Satan. There is no neutral ground. As Bob Dylan sung, "You have to serve someone". The choice is between the authority of God and the authority of Satan. This is a choice between Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of darkness (the world).
Satan maintains his authority by force. It is authority from above.
Jesus changed the nature of the battle. He defeated Satan on the cross. He paid the penalty for sin (Heb 2:14,15; Col 2:14,15). He gave us the power to be born again into the Kingdom of God. When we accept Jesus as our Lord, we are accepting his authority over all our decisions. We are passing from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of God. (Being born again is the only way a person can enter the Kingdom).
Satan does not give up his authority in individual lives easily. His is a different kind of authority: it is authority from above. Those who belong to his kingdom are not free to accept or reject his authority; they are slaves. He often has to be forced out of their lives. This is why deliverance is often associated with conversion. Satan is a liar and a cheat; he will only give up authority, when forced. Therefore, the Christian life is a spiritual battle.
The life of every human is a battleground between two kingdoms. Every decision is a choice about whose authority will hold sway. When we accept the authority of God, we come under the government of God. When we reject it, we come under the authority of the devil. Authority is neutral in itself. The quality of authority depends on the quality of the person exercising it.
Authority is everywhere. It resides in people. However, authority can move from one person to another. If people do not exercise it, it does not go away; it just moves to another person or is diffused among different people (Jud 21:25).
Society consists of the following institutions, the family, businesses, schools, churches, courts, voluntary associations and the civil government. Apart from the church, and perhaps the family, these institutions are often seen as irrelevant by Christians. They are just places we can go to share the gospel to win people for the Lord. They are seen as neutral. (This is the result of two false dichotomies.)
Wrong! Institutions such as the family, businesses, schools, churches, courts and the civil government are full of "authority". Therefore, they are totally relevant to the Kingdom of God. The question is always the same. Whose will be done?
An institution is created when a group of people pool or give up their authority for a common goal or purpose. People create institutions by surrendering up some authority over their lives or things to a group (this is authority from below). Sometimes the people in the institution take the authority by legal or physical force (this is authority from above). Consider some examples:
The State takes authority from above. When it creates laws
and makes regulations, all citizens must obey them. If they
refuse to surrender to the authority of the state, they will be
forced to submit. They only way to escape is to move to another
nation. This is not really an escape, because before entering
the new nation, person will have to submit to their new state.
When parents place their children in a school, they give the teacher authority over part of their children's lives. They give up their authority over their minds and six hours a day of their time. However, the parents can always take the children out of the school, so it is authority from below.
Sometimes the authority of the school comes from above. The state uses legislative power to take authority and responsibility for educating children from parents. The state then delegates that authority to a school board, who delegate it to the teachers.
However, whether it comes from above or below, a school cannot function unless someone gives it authority over the children. When children go to school, their authority over their children does not disappear. It just moves from the parents to the teachers.
When a man and a woman get married, they become one flesh. However something else happens, if they submit to each other (Eph 5:21). This means that they give up authority over their own lives and give it to themselves acting in unity. They agree not to do anything important, unless they both agree. This creates a new entity, a couple. Authority that they used to exercise independently of each other, is transferred to that new entity. They make this transfer of authority in return for the joy of marriage. This is authority from below, because at any time they can go Back to being selfish and independent.
A business starts when some people, who have spare assets, give authority over them to a business organisation. Some of the assets may be intangible like knowledge or patents. People give up this authority, because they think they can earn more income in dividends from the business, than they could earn using their assets themselves. The Board of Directors have authority over the business. The authority over the specified assets is transferred to them by the shareholders. The Board may delegate their authority to a managing director for effective governance.
At the same time the staff of the business give authority over forty hours a week of their lives to the business. They give up this authority (from below), in return for the wages they will earn. This is why some people prefer to be self-employed. They do not want to give up authority over their lives (freedom).
A business exercises a lot of authority. It is not new authority. The authority is transferred to the business by shareholders and employees. However, pooling their authority in this ways increases its power. This is authority from below, as shareholders are always free to sell their shares and the staff are always free to resign.
State authorities like to pretend there is a social contract between them and the people. This is an illusion. The authority of the state comes from above. The authority of the state will slip away as the Kingdom of God advances.
Pooling authority increases its effectiveness. An institution has more authority than the sum of authority surrendered to it by the various people who belong to it. A business has more authority than its shareholders would have if they kept control of their own assets. A family in unity has more authority than two individuals alone. This means that institutions should be important to Christians. They can expand their authority by participating in various institutions.
The section is developed more fully in my book called Kingdom Authority.
Return to the Kingdom of God.