Metaphors and analogies are some of my favorite writing tools. They take something that is common to many of us and use it to illustrate something deeper. Many of the metaphors and analogies I use come from the world of sports. Personally, I find a lot of commonality and connection points to things of athletics to the greater world, which makes discussing big issues easier.
Scripture is filled with metaphors and analogies. Jesus used analogies and metaphors exceptionally well, especially in the form of parables. Metaphors and analogies in Scripture often point us to a greater element of truth about God’s love and holiness. They inform us about God by using something that is common (agriculture, water, food) and using it as an illustration to something about God or our discipleship.
Perhaps one of the most common metaphors in Scripture is the aspect of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom metaphor is used throughout the New Testament and Jesus speaks of it quite frequently. It is used to express God’s sovereign rule that is underway with the inauguration (another metaphor) of Jesus as its Lord by his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. As well, the metaphor of the kingdom is used to express how followers of Jesus are called to live and to alert to the fact that the kingdom will come in its fullness when Christ returns.
The metaphor was quite appropriate for the cultural context that Jesus engaged. Kingdoms and empires were quite common for the people of that time. Jerusalem was under the rule of the Roman Empire and the people had long desired for the kingdom of David to return to power. As the message of Jesus Christ began to spread throughout Asia Minor and the entire world, the kingdom metaphor was appropriate. That is because for centuries most of the world had some form of a monarchy in which the king or queen had absolute authority and dominion. People were able to connect to it because they saw examples of a kingdom in their lives.
But, what about today? Do people have the same connectivity to the kingdom metaphor as once before?
There are only a handful of monarchies remaining in the world and few of those are ones where the king or queen has absolute authority. Many are constitutional monarchies, such as the case with the Commonwealth Realm with Queen Elizabeth II, where the monarch is seen as a head of state with only ceremonial duties. Real power is vested in a prime minister who is the leader of the majority or coalition political party, such as Great Britain’s David Cameron.
In the United States, the Greatest Generation (World War II) and early Baby Boomers might be the last generation to see kings and queens have any real authority. (Since World War II, the British monarch has been regulated to more of a ceremonial role than before.) As younger generations emerge, there could be less of a connection to the kingdom motif, especially if their interactions with a monarchy is the tabloid gossip of the British Royal Family.
How do we use this important metaphor in Scripture in ways that teaches “kingdom living,” and recognizes that Christ is our sovereign Lord and Savior?
I do not believe replacing kingdom metaphor with governmental metaphors are appropriate. For instance, if we were to say “Jesus is sovereign as the president is sovereign” it could have unfortunate consequences. Presidents come and go and are up for re-election every four years. If someone doesn’t like something Jesus calls us to or we do not like something in Scripture, this analogy could lead credence to someone to “replacing” it for a “better option.” That is not what is intended by the analogy, but it could lead to a wrong applications.
Not all metaphors and analogies are appropriate. Then again, metaphors and analogies are not perfect either.
Our best hope might simply be to do a better job teaching about what the kingdom of God means and what it means to be people of God’s kingdom. This should be done from the pulpit, in small groups, and devotional studies. The kingdom metaphor is appropriate and is one that still has power in today’s forms of government. Pastors and leaders should not run from teaching the kingdom in fear that our congregations will not understand, but embrace the metaphor and use it in ways that are appropriate, edifying, and equips the people for kingdom service.
I firmly believe that we took seriously kingdom teaching and teaching about living as kingdom people we will have more committed disciples of Jesus Christ. Kingdom teaching and living is counter-cultural and it is appropriate for our world that seeks to have multiple gods in multiple forms.
We need to return to teaching and living as kingdom people in response, but it will only when leaders of the church are willing to embrace what it means to teach this metaphor and call their congregations to live it out in their lives.