Making Israel Great again
Straddling two positions is awkward—spiritually too. Jesus’ followers live in two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and that of the world. The world is inescapably close and screams loudly; God’s kingdom comes, slow and gentle, like sprouting corn. Its fullness lies in a misty future. It’s easy to become confused.
Six weeks after Jesus rose from the dead His disciples still put their weight on the wrong foot. They asked:
“Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses.” (Acts 1:6-8)
Their question reveals what excited them and how limited their understanding of God’s plan still was. The resurrection had proved that Jesus was Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:4). But, like other Jews, they expected the Messiah to make Israel great again. “Out with the Romans.” “Down with corrupt leaders and traitorous tax gatherers.” “Jesus is King.” As loyal Jews those were their heart cries.
Jesus hardly acknowledged their question. No correction or explanation. Things were moving right along: Ascension, Pentecost ten days later, and then a divinely orchestrated outpouring of the Spirit on a (cough) Roman stronghold. That outpouring finally opened Peter’s eyes to God’s plan for a multi-ethnic kingdom extending beyond tiny Israel’s borders.
Whatever excites us and fills our expectations becomes a source of anxiety when it is threatened. That’s why Peter had grabbed a sword to protect his king (John 18:10). And it’s why we get riled about so much on earth: politics, economics, climate change, bad laws and broken laws. You’ve read the petitions and placards. As citizens of two kingdoms, only clarity about the kingdom of God will free us from anxiety and swordplay. Jesus was clear, His kingdom was not of this world and did not require a fight (John 18:36). Remembering four things will keep our weight on the correct foot and give us balance.
- We already have new citizenship (Phil. 3:20). Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it and excite you more.
- We are receiving a kingdom that, unlike the world, cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:27-28). Our part sounds rather passive—accepting what Father gladly gives (Luke 12:32). No need to worry or strive! It’s guaranteed.
- Even when the world has been good to us for a season it will always be shaky and fallen. We must accept its limited value. We should preserve in it whatever is consistent with God’s ways, and resist evil. But beware of the deception that the kingdom of the world ever was great or will be great again. It is being replaced.
- The sprouting kingdom of God seems weak but is utterly relevant and powerful in this world. Do what Jesus did. He did not conquer people; He used persuasive signs that profoundly touched lives on earth, and He gave a warm invitation to life in the kingdom.
Like the seeds of all Jesus’ words this warning about kingdom confusion will fall on various heart surfaces. Some will be hard, some distracted, but others will take encouragement and grow more fruitful as Jesus’ witnesses. Let’s prepare our hearts, and then, to borrow one of Jesus’ favorite conclusions, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matt. 13:9)