TheNigerianVoice Online Radio Center

Understanding the Kingdom of God by Blessing Maduagwu

'''For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life'' (John 3:16)

Christian Sunday school lessons introduced many of us to Bible stories that began with the photographs of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the ''Tree of the knowledge of good and evil'' with a conspicuous snake-Satan wriggling in it. A closer look further revealed that all characters in the garden looked completely crestfallen because they disobeyed God's instruction which many Bibles concluded as the ''Fall of Man'' in (Gen: 3:1-24.) The Rivers of Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates were inadequate with cleansing waters to wash away their transgression of disobedience and as a result, God's anger became a lesson for generations to learn. However, God's immense love for purity and hatred for deliberate defilement and disobedience were later highlighted in all accounts of Moses up to Malachi and cuts through the gospels to Revelation in a bid to signify his presence in all human endeavors and his promise to reward goodness with love and punish evil with severe consequences. Sin is described as ''Disobedience or Rebellion against God'' {Deut: 9:7}. It is the single factor that propelled the fall of kings and nations because God's vengeance and thunderous voices as recorded in the Bible were constant reminders of the need to obey, just like Abraham, the father of the faithful. So, the Sunday school was a scary moment because we were conscious of our behaviors and often questioned whether God had started recording our sins in his book, bearing in mind the inevitable consequences of disobedience and cataclysmic experiences by Adam, Eve and all the deluged non-adherents of the voice and warning of Noah.

This is the true picture of Israel which Deut: 7:6 explains in this way: "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession." It is therefore understandable to see the conquest of nations by Isreal as an unequivocal act of God. By blowing the trumpets, Jericho fell, The Amalekites were wiped out under King Saul, whilst the Philistine forces were slaughtered in a manner unseen and unimagined. Israel's wars were fought by God who prior to these onslaughts would warn against sin because it is the single most devastating factor that separates him from his creatures. Cain could not stand him when he killed Abel whilst Saul lost his life in his last battle even after consulting Samuel through the Medium. Besides, David's sin against Uriah and his marriage to Bathsheba were explained by Nathan as greed, whilst the resultant effects re-introduced God to a compassionate and repentant David. From these perspectives, God's direct connections with the people of isreal were so obvious that all the prophets in the Old Testament were busy with him at all times. Israel was the strongest super-power and by divine superiority, the kingdom of Israel expanded in territories and blossomed with riches.

It is often difficult to juxtapose between war and peace, especially when we look at these two antitheses from a modern perspective. War was a means of communication through which Israel exported its culture of worship and expanded its territories for generations as God promised Abraham. With wars and victories, Israel became more directly connected to God in terms of faith, worship and obedience whilst possible losses were attributed to God's punishment for all manner of sins and disobedience. Through the prophets, God lifted Israel above other nations and placed with them the sword of his grace, strength, love and mercy but without failing to demand one thing of critical importance: ''worship''. In Exodus 20:3, he gave it as a warning but put it quite succinctly ''you shall have no other gods before me'' and went further to buttress this fact that he is a jealous God. It is therefore not surprising that Israel was an Army of God, a nation above other nations because their God was above all other gods. During this period, the superiority of Israel was evident in the lives of all Israelites. God knew each of them and was speaking very often about his promises and wrath. In about 586BC, the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and took Israelites captive.

This conquest was the beginning of a new dimension of Isreal's divine politics, under a new interpreter of dreams called Daniel. Daniels' interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dreams and that of Belshazzar confirmed his proficiency in Judaism and supernatural attributes from God. This goes to show that the light of God or indeed his flame-light shined for the people of Isreal even whilst in difficult situation of captivity. His dreams were complex but gradually found its way to give meanings to what we are doing in the present day. Unknown to him that there was a man in captivity, his bid to decipher the true meaning of his dreams gave him enormous concern. All efforts to use magicians and sorcerers complicated a complex situation because the king was yet to come to terms with the real God. The dream was a giant human statue with the following formations:

A: The Head of Gold (Babylon)
B: The silver chest of Arms (Medo-persia)
C: The brass Belly and Thighs (Greece)
D: Leg of Iron (Rome)
E: Feet of Iron and Clay

Daniel's interpretation went exactly the same way history confirmed it. Babylon was captured by the Persians(539 BC). Persia was captured by Greece(331 BC). Greece was captured by the Romans (168 BC) who also recaptured Jerusalem(63 BC) and made Herod King of the Jews. However, one striking force of Daniel's interpretation wrote an entire new chapter in Christianity. ''While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth'' (Daniel 2:34-35)

With reference to the quotation above, it is quite obvious that Christ was born in the days of Augustus Ceaser, the Emperor of Rome. With his birth and gospel, a new understanding of the Kingdom of God was brought to the fore. To the Jews, he was not the Messiah because of their belief in ''earthly kingdom' like Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. They expected a Messianic intervention that will rescue them from the fangs of Roman occupation and restore the kingdom to them. They did not see that warrior in Christ and so it became obfuscatory to understand his preaching and direction of his teachings. On his death and resurrection, he appeared to his disciples who were desperate about the restoration of the Jewish Kingdom. "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" {Acts 1:vs 6}. The question about the kingdom of God continued to feature among the Pharisees but his response in Luke 17: v 21 was very explicit: '' The kingdom of God is within you''

Whilst in my Sunday school lesson, my imagination of the kingdom of God was akin to Disneyland resorts in Paris and Florida. Like many others, I thought about a special place on earth where only the children of God will live with a big demarcation that prevents those without permission from coming in. I also imagined the size of God's book and the coverage of his eyes that see all of us and have all our sins well recorded in his book. The imagination of God's big book is real in my mind till today and has not been taken away by developmental circumstances. This is the nature of our conscience that judges between good and bad and creates a platform for the kingdom of God to flourish.

To many of us, we have lost the kingdom, whilst searching for it. Some are seriously preventing others from coming in by their acts and interpretation of true Christianity and Christendom. In fact, the kingdom of God is seen by some churches that unless you are their member, you must not make it to heaven because that's the only dwelling place for Jesus. There are different interpretations which are utterly dependent on how each individual has chosen to read and understand the bible. To a large extent, many Christians depend entirely on the preachings of their Priests for their knowledge of the bible and that is why the phrase ''My Pastor said'' rather than 'The Bible said'' is prevalent among many church goers. Membership of a particular church defines relationship among Christians. There are Christians, who unless you belong to their church, they will never have any business with you. Their understanding of the kingdom of God is both unutterably discriminatory and religiously repugnant because if Christ approved it, he wouldn't have given sinners the chance to repent.

The politics of the kingdom of God has become so rampant among contemporary Christians that the true essence of righteousness has been compromised. In my Sunday school, I was constantly informed that goodness and righteousness take one to Heaven, whilst evil lands the sinner into Hell fire. I was shown a movie of one Mr Frankie that went to Hell, whilst his colleagues were with God in Paradise. In the movie was a giant Satan that forcefully pulled Frankie to the hottest part of the hellfire and remained impervious to the wailings of the suffering sinners. As a child, I discovered the indispensability of Christ and his teachings about righteousness and constantly remained frightened by the thought of the strength of the fury of that consuming hellfire. Presently, conservative Christianity has been eroded by Christianity of prosperity. Hardly you go to churches and listen to preaching of salvation unless the priest wants to deliberately cut the population of his church members. Rather than define the kingdom of God as the heart and life of a true follower of Christ, we have allowed our individual wishes and aspirations to define our Christianity. In Nigeria for instance, such phrase like ''I claim it'' has replaced ''Amen''. The kingdom of God is all about Christians' desire to worship and obey God in truth and faithfulness and that is what being a Christian and living in his kingdom is all about.

In John 3:5, Christ was highly optimistic '' I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Baptism is our initiation into Christianity and must be a reflection of the ordeal of Christ for our salvation. It connotes the living Christ, the righteous one that bears no grudges and poisons no one with envy, rancor and discrimination. Unfortunately, many Christians have accepted Satan's baptism because of faithlessness. Christian banner is spangled with faith and that's the Bible, whilst salvation outside Christ is Satan's weapon for the weak in spirit because of his resolve to blame the innocent and vindicate the wicked. Its aim is to deceive Christians into finding trouble with peace and leaving God to die of hunger whilst you dine with him. Baptism is the true strength of Christianity and the meaning must reverberate like the sound of the big Ben in our hearts. It is the revelation of Christ's works in our lives, his ordeal of crucifixion for our sake and the glory of his resurrection for our salvation. It is the thumb print or a signature of a Christian's membership in God's kingdom which is unequivocally encapsulated in thorough and conspicous Christian trinitarianism.

In {John vs 6} Christ said '' I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but through me''. You cannot find the Kingdom of God through your own way. It must be through God's only way. The kingdom of God is not in the hand of evil spiritualists, magicians and fortune tellers and that is why it baffles me that many Christians have chosen to jettison Christ to seek the intercession of these fellows. The implication is that they will bring you to knock horns with one another whilst Satan glories in the orgy of that warfare. Faith in Christ is stronger than belief in ordinary man. So, why do Christians jettison the kingdom of God and seek intercession of the devil? Pharaoh's magicians failed like Bar Jesus, whilst the fury of God did not spare Saul for consulting a medium for enquiries from Samuel about the possibility of success in an impending war. They chose the word ''Prophet and Prophetess'' to give their acts a Christian garb and permeate your spiritual being to fight your creator. Such belief debilitates the fulcrum of one's Christian faith and pervades one's whole life with belief of imaginary enemies. Holy Ghost fire that Christ sent as a ''comforter'' has been misinterpreted by many Christians as a ''consumer'' and that's why you hear this phrase ''Holy Ghost fire shall consume my enemies''. In Matt: 5:44 Christ was extraordinarily explicit: ''But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you''

The duty of an ardent Christian is to seek to remain in the kingdom. It's like a job offer that requires great performances to retain it. One must strive to remain in the kingdom by daily connections with Christ through prayers, worship and obedience. Christ is the personification of God and the epitome of true love for each of us and that is why his kingdom is one in love and peace. Love is the summary of God's commandment and the key to his kingdom which Christ introduced to us through his death and resurrection. The duty to remain in his kingdom is exactly the same with that of an Arsenal or Chelsea footballer that strives with daily trainings and preparations to keep fit for a football match, just as we strive with daily prayers and righteousness to wait for the coming of Christ. The motto of ''Boys Scout'' is ''Be prepared always''.

In the western world, the kingdom of God is in the constitution because most countries are secular states. One is not judged by application of Christian values but by strict obedience of the constitution even if it is against your belief. Christianity is viewed as a religion that limits one's freedom. For instance, it will discourage you from smoking and excessive drinking by committing you to a life of prayer and abnegation in search of the kingdom. Constitutionally, it is not illegal to smoke but from a Christian perspective, it is morally reprehensible. In many countries, life is a question of morality and legality and that is why it is possible to do what is legal and survive because the tendency to be wrong while doing what is morally acceptable as a Christian is obvious. Unlike Nigeria, where more than 95% of the population shares different religious beliefs, morality takes precedence over legality because the constitution is not popular, even among the elites.

While war leads one to the earthly kingdom as we saw in the fallen empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, peace leads the way to God's kingdom. The true essence of peace and love is that they both exist in the mind that is forever with us as Christians and therefore cannot live them behind while we carry out our daily activities. The changing face of today's Christianity and the need to re-discover the values of love, freedom from sin and obedience to God's principles compel us to take a breath and ponder over our Baptism. Politics on the other part is well played by office seekers, who after taking an oath of office with the bible, put it under a pillow. You can hardly see the image of a politician reading the Bible, unless a verse is quoted in a newspaper. During the transfiguration, Law and Prophesy were personified in Moses and Elijah respectively and with Christ, they discussed his ordeal which he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. That ordeal is our salvation, the victory he brought into his kingdom through his death and resurrection. So, the Sunday school, in effect, became the Kingdom of God that was not only near, but ''within'' us and as kid I looked at our teacher and said ''You must be Jesus? but he answered: '' No, I'm just a sunday school teacher''.

Blessing Maduagwu holds degrees in History and International Relations from Hult International Business School London. (Formerly Huron University, USA in London). He writes from New York.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Blessing Maduagwu and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Blessing Maduagwu

By: Barnes,Dortmund-Germ