“Is Jon a universalist?
Does he not believe in hell?”
I can remember when Rob bell’s book, Love Wins, was first released. The evangelical world was in an uproar because Bell had fallen theologically in their eyes. Everyone was so concerned, filled with statements condemning him to the hell many claimed he no longer believed in. I read the book, and let me just say, most of the criticism is baseless and finds nothing in truth. Although, some of the criticism is rightfully stated because there are some interpretation issues in the book. I can not deny it, but is this what Rob Bell did that caused controversy? He tampered with the very idea that evangelicals need to remain christians: eternal torment and vengeance. Did the response of the church reflect our concern for those being deceived or did it actually reveal our need for hell to be eternal in order to believe in Him in the first place?
Here is the right question: If hell was not even a reality, would you count it of worth to follow Jesus? The answer to that question reveals exactly what Bell was trying to do in his book, which reveals the hearts of those who only believe in God because of an eternal destination of peace and an assured eternity for those who reject Him. So, why this post?
For the ancient Jews, “heaven” was the word used to describe God and God’s presence. It was never seen as a final destination; rather, it was a way to mention God without blaspheming His Holy name. When we read the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says the “Kingdom of Heaven,” whereas in the gospel according to Luke, Jesus says, “Kingdom of God.” What is the difference? Nothing! Jesus is not speaking of how to get to heaven in one gospel and the present rule and reign of God in the other gospel. Matthew was geared more towards Jews and Luke towards Gentiles. By “Heaven” we mean “God.” Want to go to heaven? Are we all going to go to God?
Part 1 of the story:
I can remember it like it was yesterday. My request to my predominantly fundamentalist student group was very clear: “Raise your hand if you need Jesus to heal you.” Half the hands in the room went up and I picked the most skeptical girl in the room to pray over while the students watched in eager expectation. Would she be healed? I had just finished giving a stirring and passionate presentation of Matthew 10 and Jesus’ command to the disciples to heal the sick. And although I did have a little bit of fear in my heart, I did not know any other way than to put God on the spot and just wait and see if this Kingdom would extend like I proclaimed it would. But what is the “Kingdom of God?”
The Kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God upon the earth. Thus, it is every believer’s responsibility to ask this question of themselves: “How would Jesus do what I do?” In every nation, the believers look different in their own complex and unique ways, yet all of those believers look like Jesus. For the Kingdom of God is like a River of water; the water may flow but the color of the water may change depending on the color of the sand beneath it. The sand is the nations, and the water is the Kingdom.
What is entailed in this Kingdom? Life, freedom, power, forgiveness, fruit, community, healing, peace, joy, authority, restorative justice, confidence, faith, hope, dreams, restoration, humility, patience, acceptance, life, light and many other beautiful characteristics. The Kingdom is so amazing that every lost sinner I meet wants these things, they simply must first reckon with the King. Since the Kingdom is a circle of God’s reign that encompasses the entire earth and all nations, there is no need to think of it as a “whose in” and “whose out” club, or a Christian fraternity/ghetto that seeks to create a bubble of christian labeled life. In the Kingdom there is no “Us-Verse-Them” mentality, only an “Us-WITH-them” mentality.
It was even through one man and one tree, that of the knowledge of good and evil, (Adam) that sin entered in to destroy man’s authority to cultivate and bless the earth. All of this was nearly ruined by the bringing of the curse, yet it was through another Man and tree, the tree of life, (Jesus on the cross) that the rule and authority was restored to man, through Jesus (John 1:12). The Kingdom is a mystery that cannot be quantified or put in a neat theologically descriptive box. If this were attempted, it would be pure reductionism. Since Jesus never explicitly communicated what the Kingdom is, yet opted to say what the Kingdom was like, I fall back on the idea that the Kingdom is predominantly organism rather than institution. It is dynamic, not a static thing, likened to an incredible classic car that sits in a garage to collect dust without ever being used. The Kingdom is a seed that never stops growing in God’s original garden, the earth.
In Jesus’ earthly ministry He would always state natural laws, like the laws from Leviticus and then seemingly give a higher standard, which was Jesus describing the rule of the Kingdom. A Kingdom in which Jesus Himself would be King, and ultimately reveal that the Good News begins with the coming of Israel’s true King. Whenever the Jews heard that the Messiah had come, they responded rightly by desiring to make Him their militant revolutionary who liberates them from the Roman oppression, because the Scriptures had foretold again and again that a rescuer would come to them. Unfortunately for them, they mistook His earthly rule for that of Moses or the prophets, which were laws that seemed to only establish death and bring destruction.
Jesus was addressing laws given for the rule and reign of men. The higher law (the Kingdom) was Jesus stating the higher way that brings life but can only be established with God. Apart from God, it is impossible to establish the Kingdom of God in the consciousness of the lost culture around us. Therefore, hearing God speak is essential to the work of the ministry.
Since Jesus’ rule over the earth has already been established in the spiritual realm, we are responsible for making it known in the hearts and minds of the people around us. This alone is salvation coming to people, even healing! Salvation encompasses more than forgiveness because Jesus forgave before the cross. Salvation is the Kingdom. There is only one path to the Father, but there are millions, even billions of paths to Jesus. Such is the work of the Kingdom! Such is the goal of renewed humanity; a humanity which spreads the Kingdom of Jesus by doing what each of us is called to do.
The good news of the Kingdom is not that we go to God when we die, but that God has come to us while we are alive (although the living dead). Yet, we must make sure to check our understanding at the door, because He may be giving us the Keys to the Kingdom (Matthew 16-Peter) in a form we may not understand.
When you read the four Gospel accounts, it is clear that the Pharisees, the disciples and even Jesus’ own family didn’t understand the Kingdom agenda that the Son of God was painting for them. For Jesus came to demonstrate, not only the rule and reign of God on the earth, but what the rule and reign practically looks like when God’s people are filled with God’s Spirit. How hungry the church is and doesn’t even know it!
The young students, the one’s I mentioned in the beginning of my essay, in that classroom did not know what they truly needed.
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” –Mark 1:14-15
The “time” that is fulfilled is not Chronos (regular passing of hours and minutes) but is Kairos (moment within time where everything changes). It is here in Mark that Jesus essentially says, “Attention everyone! Now is the moment, now is the time where everything will begin to change. Because my Father’s rule and reign is here and now, literally right in front of your face; but you have to take it from Me, and Me alone. Change your mindset by letting go of the lies you believe about yourself and replace them with the truth of this good news. Trust these words I tell you! And if you don’t believe me because of the incredibly powerful words I declare to you of the Kingdom, at least believe because of the works (John 10:38) I do!”
At what distance?
Many people ask me how far away the Kingdom is from lost people, and I usually respond like this: “The Kingdom of God is an arms length away from people, and that is the length of your arm, because the Kingdom of God is within you seeking to expand to your co-workers, friends and families lives; if and only if you will receive it the way God wants to give it to you.” We can’t give what we don’t have, and for most people they aren’t whole or healed themselves. If we want our neighbors to be whole, we also have to be whole and the way to be whole is to ask God what lies we believe. Once He tells us, we ask Him what truth we need to believe in place of those lies. That is true repentance, and a true walk in the Kingdom.
It is not only “lost” people that feel this way but also “christian” people who feel this way. You may find this surprising but the idea that the gods are high above, seperate and unconcerned with the human beings down below, finds its moorings in Plato and Epicurus, NOT in the scriptures. The God revealed in Jesus is not above us but in front of us (John 10) as the Good Shepherd, leading us and pulling us into the future. What future? The new heavens and the new earth. Hallelujah!
Jesus told Peter that the keys to the Kingdom are his, and whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever he looses on earth, will be loosed in heaven. It is typical for a charismatic/evangelical church to think this means binding the enemy and loosing heaven over the earth. The only problem with this interpretation is that you can’t bind the enemy; you only resist him (also its context is in the middle of a teaching on identity.) We loose ourselves from the lie and bind ourselves to truth, by the power of the Spirit.
If we separate the knowledge of the truth, from the experience of the truth, the truth is worthless. It is the experiential truth (epignosis) that Jesus says will set us free, as opposed to the gnosis truth, which only brings death and was the original problem man had in the garden (a.k.a. original sin). Man in the garden wanted to experience life apart from God, and this only brings man to one end: death. On the other hand, the tree of life brings man to the point of full experience of the ever-increasing measure of true life found in God’s frontier. What about the Gospel….don’t we have this “sin” problem?
The problem that the Gospel addresses is futility, or perversion. Perversion is simply the wrong version. Perversion is truth out of order. Jesus Himself told Pontius Pilate that He came to testify to the truth. What “truth” was that? Many have said the truth was grace, law or even forgiveness. Once again, this is reductionism. The truth that Jesus came to testify to was the Kingdom! It was this gospel alone that was and is so offensive: Jesus came to be King, and all other kings have to bow. Ultimately, the message of Jesus is subversive to the message of all governance. This is a problem, especially if you are prone to combine the role of a nation to that of the Kingdom of Jesus.
Healing (the) Gospel?
In the Kingdom all can be put right, not just the guilt or the shame of the sinner. Even this reveals the essence of healing prayer: a sick person is afflicted or harassed by a fragment of the fallen world and needs Jesus to come and put right the issue.
Consider the story of the lame man who is lowered through the ceiling: Jesus forgives him, and then showing that He has authority to forgive sins, makes the sinner walk. It is here that John 20 finally makes sense, when Jesus gives us the authority to forgive sins and heal the sick. It is not that we absolve sins, for that alone belongs to the Lord, but that we help in God’s good plan to see all perversion be set right. A lost person is only lost, if they were once found in God. Helpless and harassed is what Jesus calls the lost person, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9).
Jesus never commanded us to pray for the sick, but He did command us to heal the sick (Matthew 10, Luke 10:9). We don’t beg or plead from God, because then we would be assuming our goodness above God’s goodness.
God wants healing more than we do.
God wants Revival more than we do.
God wants an awakened city more than we do.
The question is: will we receive it from Him the way He wants to give it to us? This is why I speak directly to the discomfort or pain or disease in someone’s body. And in the name of Jesus, I command it to go, not because I am commanding God but principally because I am commanding the fractured humanity to become human again (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10). Isn’t that what the Gospel is essentially doing Sunday after Sunday? We are teaching and demonstrating to people the new way to be human.
New Way To Be Human
If you were to fill up a bathtub with water, it would retain a certain level. If you got into the tub with the same amount of water, the water that was where your body now is would be displaced. This is referred to as the law of displacement, and the Kingdom operates daily by this law. But if this is true, what are we displacing?
We are displacing the dark kingdom, the rule and reign, of Satan our enemy. When you examine the Gospels, you may find it odd that Jesus spent a lot of time casting out demons and speaking to certain illnesses like they were dark spirits. For Jesus, to cast out demons is to displace darkness (sending legion into the pigs) out of a person and replace it with truth and ultimately, the Spirit of God. Every person is a true territory being fought over and won over every day. A Christian may confess that Jesus is Lord when they are 19 years old, but only come into the Kingdom when they are 40.
Please do not misunderstand me. The Kingdom is not constrained in God’s people, because the church is merely an engine of the Kingdom, but not the Kingdom itself. The Kingdom may be within us, but the rule of God is something that has already extended to the far reaches of the world. It is simply our job as believer’s to walk into a place; a coffee house, a prison, a classroom, an office or a medical center and simply ask God this one question: “What are You doing here, now?” The answer to that question is the essence of the Kingdom. As we walk together in the love of God, healing the sick, it is up to us to ask God what is going on already so that we are able to do things that infect the conscientiousness of the culture around us. Jesus came and demonstrated with his love and life that He was the true Human, and we are called to be human, truly.
Recently I was at Starbucks and the barista was complaining that she had a migraine. I asked her if I could pray for her, and after she said yes; I simply put my finger on her head and commanded the pain to get out in Jesus’ name. Immediately the pain left and within 2 minutes she told me she was willing to have me walk her and her co-workers through a Bible study on releasing the Kingdom at Starbucks.
I know of a young man who was on the fence about God, Jesus and the whole Christianity thing when one day he watched a friend of his get healed. From that moment on he was one of the most serious followers of Jesus I had ever seen in the youth group. Numerous testimonies of healing in grocery stores, waiters getting saved after hearing of the Kingdom life, and countless healing in foreign countries where 100% are healed and 100% enter into the Kingdom. We are truly living in the greatest awakening that church history has ever seen, but we won’t see the harvest until we ask to see it. Then and only then will we truly behold the Kingdom of God.
What about the ending to the story I began to tell in the beginning of this essay?
Part 2 of the story:
Half the room raised their hands and I picked the most skeptical girl in the room to pray for in front of everyone. All eyes were on me and I couldn’t back out or coward out now. Her parents had already said that she most likely had a tumor because of all the migraines she gets every day of her life. (It is in that moment that our job as Kingdom citizens is to combat the accusations of the enemy, not re-enforce them.) I simply walked over to her and laid my hands on her head, commanding the migraine to be gone in Jesus’ name.
As I slowly pulled my hands away she got up and full of joy proclaimed to the entire group that the unexpected had invaded her life. As the students began to cheer for Jesus they were all empowered to lay hands on the sick next to them and do the same thing.
What was the immediate result? 7 sick. 7 healed.
The best part was that all of the unbelievers in the room immediately gave their lives to the Lordship of Jesus, and it was because the words on the page had miraculously jumped off the page and into their lives. It was truly a Kingdom or a Kairos moment.
In the end, everyone will go to God (heaven) to be judged according to the Kingdom of God. Heaven is where God is and God is here, among us and in the midst of the earth transforming it from the inside out. Our final destination is determined by us, but the Kingdom is at hand (Matthew 4:17) for everyone.