The Mission of the Kingdom of God

“Among John Piper’s many insightful theological dictums is his declaration that ‘missions exists because worship doesn’t.’ In line with the song of Revelation 15, ‘the goal of missions’ can therefore rightly be said to be ‘worship,’ since ‘in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory,’ which Piper unpacks in terms of the kingdom theme of Psalm 97:1,

“The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad”.

Moreover, Psalm 97 makes clear that the worship of God does not yet exist everywhere in the world because the kingdom of God, though a reality within the church, is not yet manifest and recognized everywhere in the world. And the kingdom of God is not yet manifest everywhere because obedience to God’s commands, made possible by the King’s own presence and provisions, is not yet everywhere being realized, even among those who call themselves Christians.

But God has still not given up on his mission. The main point of Jesus’ ministry remains the church’s central message: though the kingdom of God is here, there is still time to repent before the day of final judgment dawns as the consummation of God’s rule over a rebellious world (2 Peter 1:19; 3:8-10)! The ‘Great Commission’ is thus the pathway to the global worship of God. The resurrected Jesus commands those disciples who already worship him (Matt. 28:17) to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in response to their repentance and then by teaching them to ‘observe’ (lit., ‘to keep’ in the sense of ‘obey’) all that the messianic King has ‘commanded’ as the expression of his universal authority (Matt. 28:18-20). It is no accident that Jesus’ mission-command is given on a mountain in Galilee after his resurrection (Matt. 28:7, 16). This location signals that the command to make disciples by teaching them to obey Jesus’ commandments is simply an extension of the mission-command first given to the disciples themselves on a mountain in Galilee during his earthly ministry: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). The ‘good works’ of God’s people manifest God’s glory in the world as the One who, by reestablishing his reign over their lives in a second-exodus deliverance, has set them free from their slavery to sin. As a result, God gets the glory for his people’s obedience. Jesus therefore makes it clear that his call for good works is simply the final realization of God’s mission in the world, which has already been anticipated throughout the history of redemption:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17-20).

Jesus’ warning in this passage underscores why God’s mission is centered on proclaiming the mystery of the kingdom, since the King’s cross, validated by the resurrection, is the means by which the good-works-producing power of the Spirit’s presence is made possible in the lives of God’s people. Only as they are transformed by the cross of Christ and the Spirit of the Lord, may God’s people reveal the glory of God’s kingdom by doing his will in obedience to His commands. The consummation of the eschatological kingdom in the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13), like its establishment in Christ’s first coming, is not the work of God’s people but the gift of God’s grace”.

Knowing that God alone can establish his kingdom, and at the same time confronting them with the commands of the King, Jesus taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven
(Matt. 6:9-10)

We pray this not only because we are confident, on the basis of God’s mission, that he desires to establish his kingdom on earth without limit but also because he has already begun to do so. God’s provisions in the past and present are inextricably tied to his promises for the future, the former being a down payment of the latter.

The prayer for the coming of God’s kingdom becomes the prayer of those who are tired of the sin in their own lives and of the pain, greed, hunger, injustice, killing, lust, corruption, poverty, false religions, and godlessness that result from the idolatrous independence infesting our world.

The “disciples’ prayer” is therefore also the prayer of hope, as we join those who, from the first days of the church, have cried out, “Maranatha,” which translated means “Our Lord, come!” (I Cor. 16:22). Indeed, dependent on the “grace of the Lord Jesus,” “Maranatha” is the cry of the kingdom of God, as we look forward to the day when God’s mission climaxes in universal worship (Rev. 22:20-21).

Scott J. Hafemann, excerpt from For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in honor of John Piper, pp. 248-52.

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