When crisis comes to our society, how should Christians respond? Whether it is a sudden pandemic or long-festering racial history, when Jesus said in Mark 1:14-15, “The kingdom of God has come near,” he gives us a clue.
The Kingdom of God
Most of the world today is not ruled by royalty. Most governments are democracies or dictatorships. A kingdom would, however, very much be part of the lived experience of those in Jesus’s day, both Jewish and non-Jewish. But what does Jesus mean by the term when, as becomes apparent, he does not seem to be very interested in armies or the usual structures of government?
We should not assume because of this that the kingdom Jesus and Mark had in mind was merely spiritual—that it only concerned the personal, individual salvation of those who might otherwise be separated from God in eternity. While that is certainly an important part, the messianic kingdom anticipated by Isaiah which Jesus had in mind includes the whole of society and creation being redeemed with justice and peace.
The Kingdom of God in Isaiah
The entire chapter of Isaiah 11 gives a full description of this kingdom that Israel looked forward to in the age to come which is characterized by justice, care for the poor, punishment of the wicked, and peace with all creation. In Isaiah 42:1-8 God places the Spirit upon the figure identified as the Servant of the Lord, who also brings justice, compassion, light to the Gentiles, sight to the blind, and freedom for captives. Justice is not just something that happens one on one. It requires a well-ordered society.
Likewise we bear witness to the kingdom when we engage not only in evangelism but also in efforts to protect the unborn, the poor, the sick, the victims of abuse and injustice, and God’s creation.
Evangelism and Social Justice
As Andy Crouch suggests in Playing God, evangelism and social justice are not in competition with each other. They are both aspects of God’s one mission to encourage human flourishing by restoring God’s sacred image that he has planted in all people (Gen 1:26-28).* This image is marred in people when they sin and when they are sinned against by others.
We bear witness to God’s kingdom work when we remove the ability of people to wrongly play god in the lives of others by enslaving them in debt in India or in the sex trade in Thailand, by changing a justice system in the United States that disproportionately incarcerates minorities, by freeing people in Brazil from the guilt and shame of their past to serve God, by restoring a polluted environment that sickens both people and the land in China.
The kingdom of God that Jesus had in mind is bigger than most of us imagine.
*Andy Crouch, Playing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 79-84.
This post is adapted from Andrew T. Le Peau, Mark Through Old Testament Eyes. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
“Andrew Le Peau identifies a principal obstacle to reading the gospel of Mark with comprehension, namely the woeful lack of familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures that were so formative for the authors of the New Testament writings and for Jesus himself. In Mark Through Old Testament Eyes, Le Peau lays out a great number of Old Testament background texts that might be at play in each passage of Mark’s Gospel, many of which are genuinely illumining. Alongside this, he gives extensive attention to ways in which the literary structure of Mark serves as a pointer to meaning. Le Peau’s passion for discipleship formation is, of course, evident throughout.”
David A. DeSilva, Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek