Jesus spent a lot of time answering the question “What is the kingdom of God like?”
- It’s like a farmer who sows seeds. knowing some will die off for many reasons but some will grow strong. (Mark 4:1-20.)
- It is like a crop that grows day and night, becoming a harvest reader for the gathering. (Mark 4:26-29.)
- It looks tiny when first glimpsed, but is actually so large it provides a place for everyone to enter in. (Mark 4:30-32.)
- The kingdom is a place for the poor. (Luke 6:20.)
- Serving is a kingdom privilege. (Luke 9:62.)
- It’s like yeast in dough, permeating to every part until the dough is defined by its yeast. (Luke 13:20-21.)
- It’s a feast. (Luke 14:15.)
- It’s made for children and those who know what it means to be a child. (Luke 18:17.)
- Entering the kingdom requires a complete change, a new birth. (John 3:3.)
Yes, Jesus spoke much on the kingdom of God. But then on his last night with his companions, he showed it to them.
Serving and Eating, Eating and Serving
In an upper room the night of his betrayal, Jesus took on the lowly form of a servant as well as the role of generous host.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5.)
Jesus stripped down, knelt down, and got down to the dirty business of cleaning his disciples’ feet. They were the disciples, he was their teacher. Yet he is the one who saw to their needs, who washed their feet clean, likely getting between the toes and under the nails if necessary.
When confronted by this role reversal, an upside down relationship dynamic:
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” …
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:8, 12-17.)
He didn’t stop there. As the evening continued, Jesus sat and ate with his friends.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29.)
Jesus knew he would be arrested later that night, yet took the time to speak more of God’s kingdom. He showed them that not only do they need Jesus as their servant to wash them clean so they can be part of him, they need him as their host who is about to usher in life under the New Covenant by the sacrifice of his own body and the shedding of his own blood.
The next event seems a bit odd, though, since another thing Jesus told his followers that night was that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies and all of them would abandon him when he needed them most.
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30.)
They sang a song and went on a hike.
The Perturbing Kingdom
None of this could have been expected by his disciples. After all, there are indications in the gospel accounts that some things didn’t become clear until after Jesus’ resurrection. To be told that the kingdom is a place where you’re expected to wash between peoples’ toes, and to enjoy a banquet, and to sing songs, and go out for night walks? What kind of perturbing idea of a kingdom is this?
Perhaps Jesus knew that if he kept telling them about the kingdom of God, as he did in the parables listed above, they would not grasp the true meaning. But if he made them live it out with him on the night before he died, it would stay with them. And it did.
So what is the kingdom of God like? Among other things, the kingdom of God is a matter of serving and feasting, feasting and serving, with a song and a walk thrown in.
What a kingdom.