The Kingdom of God was heralded by the Messiah riding a donkey. By reason and provocation, He urged anyone who would fully accept that Kingdom to enter into its reality. It was not about mythical notions of the nationalism, or of cultic, legalistic or apocalyptic understandings of spacial and temporal rule: the Kingdom of God was and is about riding the donkey of divine transcendence.
The Church is the visible Kingdom of God on earth (Mt 16:18f), and its mission is to dispense grace through the ages, to multiply and to become self-governing, self-supporting and self-extending. It is not about a future promise, but is present now and intrinsically engaged with the exigencies of life. Salvation is a process which begins now with a Kingdom commitment (1Cor 11:17-22 cf Acts2:44), bringing healing in a total sense: the healing of the person, restoring fullness and completeness.
The urgent needs of real people take precedence over heavenly issues, even though those heavenly thoughts speak of the ultimate eschatological hope. God and His Kingdom are not remote or aloof: they are present and immanent in redemptive nearness. Unless the proclamation of salvation makes an impact now, we are only playing with words. We are here to demonstrate the love of God by riding on a donkey; not by asserting, coercing, bulldozing or Bible bashing.
Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God incorporated a historical demand for justice in word and deed. Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10) experienced salvation not only personally, but also relationally as he severed links with an unjust tax system and his unjust treatment of the poor. Jesus’ offer of grace to all people is a challenge to break down those barriers that prevent communion with others who differ from oneself in terms of race, class, sex or circumstance.
Salvation is social. Luke’s ‘despiritualised’ beatitudes are expressed toward those who are poor (Lk 6:20) as opposed to the ‘poor in spirit’ (cf Mt 5:3); and those who physically hunger (Lk 6:21) as opposed to those who ‘hunger for righteousness’ (cf Mt 5:6). While Matthew’s beatitudes continue with blessings during persecution and slander, Luke switches to woes upon the rich and well fed (Lk 6:24f). The social scripts of a poor beggar are reversed with those of a callous rich man (16:19-31); the repentant publican is accepted before the ‘righteous’ Pharisee (18:10-13); the labourers in the vineyard regain the land controlled by a greedy, absentee landlord (Mt 20:1-16); a desperate and persistent widow receives mercy from a judge (Lk 18:2-6). All of these are described in salvation terms.
This reversal-of-culture dimension of the Kingdom brings salvation to those who suffer poverty in all its dimensions. It lays great emphasis on the reformation of social structures in the here and now, bringing salvation to the bleeding points of humanity. It is a divine imperative, re-enforced by practical reality and efficacy: the world years for a concrete demonstration of the message. Thus salvation and mission have to meet physical needs as well as the spiritual: it necessitates the presence as well as proclamation of the Kingdom.
Salvation is a new life, forgiveness, wholeness and healing – recovery of the whole person according to God’s original purpose for His creation. To be saved is to enter the Kingdom with transformed values, actions and relationships, for a whole new earthly life of discipleship (Lk 8:10; Mk 10:15; Mt 13:41). Thus time and the present world are sustained, but dire poverty and injustice give way to a new communal spirit of love and generosity.
If the Kingdom is present, salvation may be proclaimed by the power of signs and miracles (Rom 15:19 cf Mt 4:23f). The work of Jesus on the Cross is supplemented by power evangelism – a spontaneous Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Signs and wonders become evidence of the reign of God over sickness and demons, and salvation includes active deliverance in this present world from real demons, accompanied by physical healing.
But how do we speak credibly of angels, demons and miracles in a materialistic, positivist, technological age? How do we communicate that spiritual reality is the ground for all being and meaning, or tell people that the world of the Spirit is known not merely through rational reflection or primal need, but through an actual encounter with it? Depictions of heavenly bodies that operate with intentionality, miraculous events that bend what we expect from nature, and battles that occur between spiritual forces, are integral to the world of the biblical testimony. Mission is considerably facilitated by such encounters of spirit over matter, since the supernatural intervention of God connects with a deep hunger and thirst to know God.
Like the mission of the Church, the Kingdom of God is ultimately indefinable: the most we may hope for are approximations of what they are about, and the Messiah riding a donkey gives a clue. The Kingdom of God is multi-dimensional and all-encompassing, but it arrives on an ass. If your motive is conversion, the Kingdom is limited to the sum of saved souls. If your motive is church planting, the Kingdom becomes an institution. If your motive is eschatological, the Kingdom becomes a future hope and the exigencies of life are ignored. If your motive is charitably philanthropic, the Kingdom becomes the pursuit of social justice for the amelioration of society. But when your motive rides a donkey, the Kingdom is a daily experience.