Whenever we think about the kingdom of God—such as when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, asking for the kingdom to “come”—a host of theological questions cluster around. What do we mean by “the kingdom”? And how is it brought about? The kingdom refers to the rule and realm of Jesus Christ, which, of course, encompasses all things. However, as good as this sounds on paper, the potential applications can start making us a little nervous. Those who talk about some kind of actualized kingdom sometimes frighten their Christian brothers and sisters with visions of evangelical ayatollahs trying to find a witch to burn by using homemade holy dice. But the opposite of this is no better. To claim that the authority of Jesus Christ is always invisible and “heavenly,” or that it is somehow mystically, vaporously, “within,” is little more than refried gnosticism. Jesus Christ is Lord, not only of spiritual things but also of kings, presidents, art galleries, roly-poly guys, seraphim, buttercups, schools, and all things in between.
The neo-gnostics want to assert that Jesus Christ is technically Lord of all things, but that this does not make any visible difference in the “earthly” realm, the realm of matter. And our activist brethren want to storm city hall and send lobbyists to the District of Columbia to “make a difference.” When they all get there, they employ the same methods used by Big Tobacco, with about the same results.
There is another way, and this is to recover an understanding of the centrality (and potency) of true worship. The worship of the church, rightly understood, is warfare. Unbelief has no effective means of resisting. This is because “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5). This is what our weapons do. But what are these weapons?
When the history of redemption is finally and completely written, we will find that the world was conquered in the name of Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit empowering words, water, bread, and wine. The church, functioning as the church, in her identity as the church, will, in her meekness, inherit the earth. God “put all things under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22–23). God receives all glory through Jesus Christ throughout all human history, world without end, and He does so “in the church” (Eph. 3:21). Everything belongs to us, the church, and this includes the world, life, death, the present, and the future (1 Cor. 3:21–23). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are to disciple the nations. The title deed to the world is in the hand of Jesus Christ. But the hand of Jesus Christ is part of His body—and we are that body.
God gave Canaan to Abraham, but the sons of Abraham had to take it. In the same way, God has given all the nations of men to Christ as His inheritance (Ps. 2), and Christians are called to manifest the reality of that reign in the world. The nations are discipled through being told that the authority of Jesus Christ already includes them. They are then baptized and instructed in that baptism.