Jesus and Four Competing Approaches to God’s Kingdom

When Jesus proclaimed that “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15) He drew upon a powerful idea that pervades the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophets, particularly Isaiah and Daniel, spoke of God’s kingdom catastrophically breaking into the world. They described a figure – the Messiah or Son of Man – who would inaugurate God’s kingdom.  And they also spoke of God’s rule bringing renewal and change to earth. But even as He proclaimed the kingdom’s arrival, Jesus also offered a radically different understanding of what the kingdom was all about.

In their book, The True Story of the Whole World, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen offer a quick overview of four other approaches to the hope of God’s kingdom that were prominent in Jesus’ day. [1] Let’s explore those other approaches as a contrast with Jesus.

  1. The Pharisees – The Pharisees were a religious group deeply concerned about compromising with culture. Because of this they advocated for strong religious separation from pagan corruption and radical obedience to God’s Word. They worked within the existing religious structures, the synagogues, to urge the people to influence culture by being different. The wanted to bring the kingdom by forceful separation.
  2. The Essenes – Like the Pharisees, a second group had a similar desire to be different from the culture but took a very different approach to that. The Essenes withdrew from society, forsaking even the existing religious structures to form entirely separate communities centered on God. It is likely that the area of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, was an Essene community. The wanted to bring the kingdom through withdrawal.
  3. The Zealots – A third group, the Zealots, were furious with the Roman occupation of God’s land. Like the Pharisees, the Zealots called for radical obedience to God’s Word, but took it to another level. They promoted violent revolution against Rome. While the Zealots were not really one organized movement, these groups took their religious commitment frightfully seriously, sparking revolutionary movements against Rome that eventually led to reprisals from Rome, culminating in the  destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. They wanted to bring the kingdom by violence.
  4. The Sadducees – A fourth group was known as the Sadducees. The Sadducees were largely a priestly group responsible for the maintenance of the Temple. They held positions of power with great influence under the Roman occupation, but often made politically compromises with the occupying forces of Rome in order to stabilize the country and maintain their power. They sought to bring hope and God’s kingdom through compromise.

Each of these groups wanted to bring forth the hope of God’s kingdom, but they each had different ideas as to how that would happen: forceful separation, withdrawal, violence, or compromise. But Jesus’ approach to the kingdom is distinct. In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus declares that He is the One who fulfills God’s promises in the prophets—the One who is to come and usher in the kingdom.


[1] Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The True Story of the Whole World: Finding your place in the biblical drama (Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 209), 102-103.

Jesus the King of Another Kingdom

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After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.  When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20)

As we look at this text, we see Jesus coming as the king who brings the kingdom of God. But as Jesus brings that kingdom it comes into direct conflict with rival kingdoms.

What is a kingdom? Let me give a definition that is simple and clear. A kingdom is any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position.

We may not think of kingdoms much in our lives today, but we still have them. We just use different terms. We say things like the president governs the nation, the principal runs the school, or the parents maintain the household. We say things like Jeremiah or Leticia has their click of friends. We certainly encounter all sorts of kingdoms today, even though we may not use that specific word.

Rival earthly kingdoms (1:14)

When we return to Mark 1, we sense the urgency of Mark’s writing. Mark does not take time to explain what happened to John the Baptist, only that he “was put in prison.”

For the back story, we must turn to Mark 6, where we read that it was Herod Antipas, the ruler over Galilee and Perea, who imprisoned John the Baptist. Herod Antipas imprisoned John because John the Baptist was critical of Herod’s marriage to his brothers ex-wife. Later on, this criticism leads to John the Baptist’s death. Herod represents all the power and authority of human kingdoms who do what they want and manipulate others for their own gain.

Herod’s life and rule certainly fits our definition of a kingdom: “any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position.”

In his life, Herod lived like he knew he held preeminent position in the area of Galilee, if not beyond. That’s why he arrests John the Baptist when he criticizes something Herod did. Despots don’t like criticism.

But Herod’s rival earthly kingdom is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The lurching forward of Herod’s hand to imprison John becomes the momentum that leads Jesus into His ministry around Galilee. And it is in light of this rival earthly kingdom that Jesus pronounces God’s kingdom is near.

Jesus is saying that in the midst of the power struggles around Galilee and all Judea, He is presenting a different sort of way. It is a kingdom that is under the preeminent rule of God, and this is something the people were longing for. It was promised all throughout the Scriptures that God would one day reign over Israel Himself. In fact, in and around Jesus’ time there were a wide variety of rebellions that were directly linked to expectations of God’s kingdom coming.

But Jesus is presenting a different sort of way. It is the kingdom of God that comes hidden, humble, and yet full of power.

Rival personal kingdoms (1:18, 20)

There are other sorts of kingdoms, however. As Jesus turns from the setting of Herod’s power struggle with John and proclaims His message, He immediately comes into contact with four men. See here in verses 16-20 that Jesus walks beside the Sea of Galilee and calls Simon (who we know as Peter), Andrew, James and John to come after Him.

We will return to Jesus’ calling and message to them, but let’s talk for a bit about where these men stood. They were under no impression that they had authority like Herod Antipas. They were not trying to become the next president of the United States. But they still lived in their own little kingdom.

But just as Jesus’ message began to strike against Herod’s kingdom, so Jesus’ message begins to strike against these other men’s personal kingdoms. You see, a kingdom is any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position, and these men were kings over their own kingdoms: kingdoms of fishing and business, kingdoms of ruling hired men and working with their families.

Now, there is nothing wrong with these sort of kingdoms in and of themselves, but we have to recognize them for what they are. They are areas or spheres in which someone or something holds a preeminent position, and Jesus is declaring that the kingdom of God holds sway over all rival kingdoms. God is the king and He holds no rivals.

Even in our personal kingdoms, God is calling us to recognize His rule and authority.

Rival powers and authorities (Colossians 2:15)

Later on in Scripture, the Apostle Paul describes the work of Jesus Christ in this way: He “disarmed the powers and authorities, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross” (Colossians 2:15).

You see, as Jesus breaks into the world, He is calling the world toward a new way of living. He is calling us to bring our kingdom and rule, whether large or small, under His kingdom and rule. All of the places where we have authority; all of the places where we have power; all of the places where we have a role over something…we must bring it to the feet of the King.

Jesus is the King – over all kingdoms and over all our lives. So let me ask us all to consider a question today: What rival kingdoms is Jesus confronting in our world?

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 6, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I reference Mark 1:35 in reference to Jesus drawing away to a solitary place:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

This theme of Jesus’ engagement in solitude to meet with the Father pervades the gospel accounts. Here are a few examples:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. (Matthew 14:13)

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. (Luke 4:42)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

If this piques your interest, you may also enjoy reading a few other posts here on my blog on these themes: