Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lion or Lamb

When Jesus arrived on earth, the Jews were looking for a physical kingdom. They expected the messiah to overthrow the Romans, the Sadducees and other local collaborators and rule the kingdom of Israel from Jerusalem. Even the twelve disciples held this view. Mrs Zebedee asked Jesus if her two sons could be his leading political henchmen.

Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom (Matt 20:21).
James and John thought their role was to call don fire from heaven on anyone who opposed the rule of the Messiah.
The people there did not welcome him…. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? "But Jesus turned and rebuked them (Luke 9:53-55).
These guys were still looking for this power ministry after the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel" (Acts 1:8).
It took the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to get their heads straight.

The Jews were wrong in their expectations. Jesus explained that his Kingdom would be totally different from the kingdoms of the world. Coercion and force have not place in Jesus kingdom. He refused to call the angels to come and fight on his behalf (Matt 26:53). He established his Kingdom by submitting to the political powers of the time and going to his death on the cross. This is a totally different way of doing kingdom. The Kingdom of God will not be established by military power and political coercion, but by suffering and service.

Unfortunately, most Christians still have not accepted Jesus teaching. We have limited Jesus accomplishment to paying the penalty of sin and making peace with God on our behalf. That is good, but no one expects anything more. We should not expect to see evil defeated or the world transformed.

Few Christians have any confidence in Jesus strange way of bringing in the kingdom. Most do not believe that it is possible to be defeat evil by suffering and death. Sin is too strong. Evil cannot be beaten. The best we can do is get on with getting as many people as possible to accept forgiveness of sin.

Just like the Jewish people of Jesus time, we want a messiah who will beat up the political powers and impose the kingdom on the world. To get what we want, we do a clever twist on the gospel. Jesus came as a suffering servant the first time, but when he comes again, he will establish his kingdom by force. Some Christians even expect to be there calling down fire from heaven on those who oppose the returning messiah’s authority. A Zebedee-style kingdom is still the focus of Christian hope.

The most common form of this twist is the common belief that Jesus came as a lamb the first time, but will return as a lion at the end of the age. It this belief were correct, you would expect the book of Revelation to be full of references to Jesus coming as a lion. The problem is that Jesus is only described as a lion in the Revelation on one occasion, and that refers to an earlier ministry (Rev 5:5). Most of the references to a lion in the New Testament refer to the devil. In contrast, there are thirty references to Jesus as a lamb in the book of revelation. That belief that Jesus will return as a lion is blown out of the water.

Jesus never promised to return and establish the Kingdom of God at the end of the age. We just assume he did, because that is what we want. Jesus actually preached a gospel of a kingdom was near when he lived on earth. He believed that his kingdom could be established by suffering and service. Jesus will not establish his kingdom by military or political force. Those who hope he will are making the same mistake as the Zebedee boys. They will need to make a radical change in their thinking about the way the kingdom comes, or face huge disappointment. We need to rediscover the Kingdom of the Lamb.

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