THE UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM


I used to think that when Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, it was just His fancy way of saying how to get to Heaven. But after reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity and doing my own research, I now understand that Jesus wasn’t just talking about going to Heaven when we die [1], but about God’s plan to restore this world.

It’s God’s will being done on Earth as it is in Heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

It’s the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. (Revelation 21:2)

It’s a kingdom that is so counter-cultural to the ways of this world that the Kingdom can be best described as “upside-down” [2].

The kingdoms of this world teach us that in order to come out on top you have to use force, you have to be brutal, and you must utterly destroy your enemies. The rich and powerful are the greatest, and the poor and downtrodden are the least. It’s survival of the fittest, and if you’re not the fittest, well then you’re just crap outta luck.

But not in God’s Kingdom.

In the Kingdom of God, the poor are rich, the meek inherit the earth, and the peacemakers are called God’s children (Matthew 5:3-12). In this Kingdom, wisdom is revealed to children (Luke 10:21), and servants are leaders (Luke 9:46-48). And instead of establishing His Kingdom through force, Jesus did it through a humiliating death.

Most people think Jesus came just to save us from Hell [3]. But in reality it’s much bigger than that; Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, where He puts everything in its right place again.

[1] I should point out that I do believe that the saved go to be with God after they die, but I don’t believe it’s the final destination . . . the resurrection is the final destination! More on this later.

[2] If I’m not mistaken, it was Donald B. Kraybill who originally coined the phrase “Upside-Down Kingdom.”

[3] Once again, I need to point out that I’m not denying that there are serious consequences for rejecting Jesus. I’m just saying Christianity is more than just a “Get out of Hell free” card.

By Travis Mamone

Travis Mamone considers himself a “Converse All-Star wearing, indie folk listening, always questioning, book loving, coffee addicted, emerging Christian freelance writer.”  He is a co-host of the podcast Something Beautiful , and blogs here.

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6 thoughts on “THE UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM

  1. Travis,

    If you feel comfortable discussing it in this venue, I’d like to hear more about your views on the afterlife. You said, “I need to point out that I’m not denying that there are serious consequences for rejecting Jesus. I’m just saying Christianity is more than just a “Get out of Hell free” card”.

    Most libs, like myself, say things like, “I trust in God to take care of whatever happens next”. This works for me, but I recognize that this does not work for many people who are genuinely concerned about the afterlife.

    Regarding your topic of the upside down kingdom, I think you are right. Yet, if “rejecting Jesus” means eternity in a classical hell, I’d have to say this takes precedence. I don’t believe in that kind of Christianity, but if I did, it would radically change how I approach the faith.

    I’m ashamed of how us libs have often treated afterlife discussion as if it is beneath us. But it is a genuine concern of real human beings. Therefore, it is important.

    Thanks for bringing your gifts and graces to the Church. I hope my post does not come across as being confrontational. That’s not how I roll.

  2. With Brian, I don’t want to trample or confront. I also must note that I’m not a D disciple. I got to your excellent summary (though, again with Brian, I leave afterlife to God) through another Presbyterian friend. And I write to offer you and your community my own summary of this same understanding as expressed in a children’s sermon that can be heard free as a podcast at http://www.associatedcontent.com/audio/15808/timbrels_childrens_sermon_gods_kind.html
    This was an early entry in what has now become a more (lectionary) orderly series attempting to listen to the witness of scripture with that ear of a child. Links to all of the sermons are posted week by week on the Facebook group The Church@Play.

  3. Brian and Barbara,

    Thank you two for your comments. My beliefs about the afterlife have been shaped by N.T. Wright’s “Surprised By Hope.” I believe Heaven is not final destination, but more like a resting place for God’s people until the Resurrection comes. Then we receive new eternal physical bodies, and heaven and earth are joined together. As far as the “serious consequences,” that I’m still learning. Apparently the original Greek word for Hell is Gehenna, which was an actual place outside Jerusalem. From what I understand, it was like a garbage heap, so perhaps Jesus wasn’t talking about a literal lake of fire after all.

    I added the afterlife disclaimers mostly to keep the heresy hunters at bay.

    • Travis – I respect that. The heresy hunters can be dangerous. I recall some very respected veteran pastors who taught us if questioned about things like the virgin birth to lie. They said, don’t get fired over something stupid! (I won’t say who they were.)

      Fortunately, as a chaplain I have much more freedom to speak. Also, I have no spouse or kids to protect. In other words, I have less to lose than do most of my colleagues.

      Also, Doug’s points about Gehenna are on target. I’m sorry to highjack the thread about a sub-point. Your reflection is a good one that may touch somebody wrestling with these very issues. (We never know who reads our words and the power they may hold.)

  4. Gehenna was more than a garbage heap. The bodies of those too poor to afford a burial were tossed on the heap. Every once in a while, the heap would catch on fire through spontaneous combustion. As the corpses burned they would writhe in grotesque movements and assume convoluted positions – it would be a terrifying and grusome sight even today.

    That is the source of the “burn in hell” imagery.

  5. As Disciples, we have one test of fellowship, which is the Lordship of Christ. Heresy hunters come and go, but we refuse to impose any other test. My church includes hell believers and hell deniers, vigin-birthers and Matthew deniers… On every controversial topic, we have people on both sides. That we continue to thrive is a testament to the power of Christ.

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