God has his own nation. The world has their own nations. The nations of the world all operate similarly, though they have each obtained different levels of power with which they can express themselves. God’s nation, referred to in Scripture as the Kingdom of God, operates very differently from all the nations of the world. This contrast is never more sharply on display than when we compare the Kingdom to the most powerful form of worldly nation: empire (more commonly referred to as a superpower).
Nations of the world, most notably empires, we are told in Scripture are under the rule of Satan. The devil and his dark spiritual forces command and run nations of the world to carry out their will. For this reason, it is monumentally important to only give our allegiance to the nation of Jesus, never a nation of the world.
Which Do You Belong To?
Both empires and the Kingdom have citizenship. If you are born into an empire, you are given citizenship upon birth. To gain citizenship in the Kingdom of God, Jesus says you must be born again. These citizenships are mutually exclusive. Our citizenship in the Kingdom of God does not recognize the citizenship we have in whatever pagan nation in which we were physically born. That is why Scripture calls us foreigners and strangers in the land that we live in.
Knowing the difference between empires and the Kingdom is vitally important to following Jesus.
Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world,” for it contrasts with the kingdoms of the world in every possible way. This is not a simple contrast between good and evil; the contrast is rather between two fundamentally different ways of doing life, two fundamentally different mindsets and belief systems, two fundamentally different loyalties. Here are five ways that it is different:
1. Difference of Trusts
Empires trust the power of the sword, while the Kingdom of God trusts the power of the cross. Nations of the world trust in their military might and economy for safety and security, while the Kingdom of God trusts in the non-violent way of Jesus. Empires advance by exercising “power over,” while the Kingdom of God advances by exercising “power under.” Exercising power under others is about impacting people’s lives by serving them, sacrificing for them, and even being sacrificed by them while refusing to retaliate, as Jesus did.
2. Difference of Aims
Empires seek to control behavior, while the Kingdom of God seeks to transform lives from the inside out. Nations of the world use coercion or threat of punishment, while the Kingdom works on the heart. Also, empires are rooted in preserving, if not advancing, one’s self-interest and one’s own will, while the Kingdom of God is centered exclusively on carrying out God’s will, even if this requires sacrificing one’s interests, comfort, or security.
3. Difference of Scopes
Empires are intrinsically tribal in nature and are heavily invested in defending, if not advancing, one’s own people-group, one’s nation, one’s ethnicity, one’s state, one’s religion, one’s ideologies, or one’s political agendas. That is why they are nations characterized by perpetual conflict and war. The Kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves. The Kingdom of God has no physical boundaries because it spans over the entire planet. It is centered on people living for the sole purpose of replicating the love of Jesus Christ to all people, at all times, in all places, without condition.
4. Difference of Responses
Empires are intrinsically tit-for-tat kingdoms. Their motto is “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38-39). In this fallen world, no version of the kingdom of the world can survive for long by loving its enemies and blessing those who persecute it, for it carries the sword, not the cross. In the Kingdom of God, however, participants carry the cross, not the sword (2 Corinthians 10:4). We, thus, aren’t ever to return evil with evil, or violence with violence (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9). We are rather to manifest the unique Kingdom of Christ by returning evil with good, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, loving, and praying for our enemies. Far from seeking retaliation, we seek the well-being of our “enemy” (Luke 6:27-28).
5. Difference of Battles
Empires have earthly enemies and thus fight earthly battles. The Kingdom of God, however, by definition, has no earthly enemies, for its disciples are committed to loving “their enemies,” thereby treating them as friends, their “neighbors”. There is warfare the Kingdom of God is involved in, but it is “not against enemies of blood and flesh.” It is rather “against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
We are called out of this world to be a holy, separate people. We’re called to be nonconformists, resisting the “pattern of the world” as we’re transformed into the image of Christ. This holy nonconformity isn’t just one aspect of who we are; it actually defines us. It’s how we manifest the beauty of God’s character and his Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God looks and acts like Jesus Christ, like Calvary, like God’s eternal, triune love. It consists of people graciously embracing others and sacrificing themselves in service to others, including enemies. It consists of people trusting and employing “powering under” rather than “powering over” people, even when they, like Jesus, suffer because of this. It consists of people imitating the Savior who died for them and for all people. It consists of people submitting to God’s rule and doing his will. By definition, this is the domain in which is God is king. This is the Kingdom of God.
We are left with the question; how do we as Kingdom citizens live in the world’s largest empire?