Literal Vs. Figurative

I’m a writer who loves to write about the world in my imagination. But when I write stories, I want people to understand that it is not an autobiography but a version of a reality that I know personally or a combination of real stories that I’ve put together.  It’s important to me that the reader understands where I’m coming from; otherwise, they will miss the important truth that I’m trying to illustrate with my words.

And I have a feeling, if we don’t look at the author’s intended meaning (whether literal or figurative) we are going to (as readers) misconstrue or overinterpret things found in scripture. (See my previous post on the Author’s Intended Meaning.)

Another main thing you must identify when reading through scripture is to ask yourself, “Is this to be taken literally or figuratively?” If you are reading through the Psalms and you are applying it as though it is literal- well, have fun with that. When you’re delving into the prayers of men, interlaced with poetry… you are in for a wild ride.

So, here’s the dealio. There’s a lot of weird stuff in scripture… (valley of dry bones, trees that clap their hands, Jesus is the light of the world… just to name a few.)  When we look at these weird things… the only thing we can do is ask ourselves- Is this for real? Or a metaphor for something? When reading through the Bible, you really need to understand grammar… or your head will be swimming.

Let’s look first at some examples of figurative language in the Bible.

Figurative

Most people, when reading the Bible, whether believers or not, usually can understand the Bible. It’s when the words point to something that they don’t agree with, or whether something seems far-fetched or confusing that brings any issues to the surface. There are ways to decipher the text’s original meaning, however. Take a look below.

Similes in Scripture

Most of us can spot a simile from a mile away. A simile is a phrase found within a sentence with the word, “like” or “as” in order to compare two obviously different things. For example, in Isaiah 53:6 we find it written, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” It’s pretty clear here that the author is comparing us to sheep who have wandered. We are acting like sheep… that wander…therefore, the author uses it to prove a point.

Metaphors in Scripture

When we look at metaphors found in scripture, it can be slightly harder to identify. According to the Merrier-Webster Dictionary, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase pointing to one object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness. John 14:6 is a perfect example of this, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” By making this statement, Jesus was declaring that only through Him (and following His Way) would lead a person to the Father. He also declared that he was the Truth of God… living in the flesh. Finally, he declared that he was the holder of the key to Life… eternal life. Whoa. (Metaphors are the braver, bolder cousin to the simile.)

Other Figurative Language

While researching to write this post, I realized that by writing this, I had opened a can of worms.

There are not only our easily recognized metaphors or similes… but there are also figures of association, personification, illusion, understatement, completion, etc. (Here’s a super detailed article on the many areas of figurative in the Bible if you want to TOTALLY geek out: Click Here!).

And it wasn’t until I was knee-deep in a Psalms Project dissecting them for figures of speech that I realized the vastness within Scripture. If you’re really wanting to thoroughly understand all the nitty-gritty of metaphoric language, Ethelbert Williams Bullinger wrote an intense book for you called, “Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.” If you’re wanting a quicker version that just highlights a couple of examples from each, check out the notes from this class lecture. But here’s the point, Scripture is full of metaphorical language. You cannot just read something and always assume it is literal.

Moral of the story: Remember that the passage of Scripture you’re trying to figure out was written to a specific audience at a specific time by a specific author. Start with historical context and work from there. Check out other commentaries to determine if they believe it’s figurative or literal… but don’t always take their word for it.

Do your research!

What is the Gospel?

Let’s walk back in time for a second. Picture this: It’s 26 A.D in Nazareth (Israel). You’ve spent the week as a stonemason and your arms ache from the back-breaking work you do, day in and day out. This Sabbath morning, you’re sitting in the synagogue listening to...

The Kingdom of God: Here and Now… and Someday

We slipped and slid through the mud of the back alleys on the “small town” metropolis, where I had spent my summer teaching English in China. One of the school staff had promised to take us to a church service, and after waiting many weeks, we were packed into three vehicles and then dropped off in a muddy alley, right after a downpour. It was almost noon. Church supposedly started at 9:30. 

After dropping the twelve of us college students, with our team leader and translator, hiked up and through several alleys and back streets, winding our way to where the driver had pointed us to. It felt like miles.  As the sun began to beat through the clouds, our brows began to sweat.

We found ourselves walking through a doorway, into an enclosed patio area, where speakers hung on nearby houses that surrounded where we were. The senior minister and his family were still at the church- and they bowed and shook our hands, with tears in their eyes. Our translator told us repeatedly how privileged they were to have us visit them at their church and they were embarrassed that the service had already ended. We asked how many attended their service. They said something to the translator, who then told us, “300…. No wait- sorry. 3,000.” We stood flabbergasted as she translated from the minister’s son that people sat on the rooftops and in the streets surrounding the small church, listening to the message and hymns being piped out from the speakers. Unreal.

We, of course, felt terrible for arriving so late and so we found ourselves, two parties from opposite sides of the world, apologizing over and over to each other. They ushered us into the church, where benches were lined together each other, so tightly, we could barely slide in between to sit. The minister thanked us again, and his daughter began to play the one instrument in the room, a piano. Hymns began to ring out and soon, we all recognized one. One by one- we began to sing… and then the minister and his family began singing along with us in Mandarin. I closed my eyes, and at that moment, I felt the Kingdom. Even though I had never met these people, they were my brothers and sisters in Christ. We had a bond that transcended words or understanding. And as we left that place, with tears in our eyes and hugs all around, I knew I would never forget them and the taste of the Kingdom that they gave us.

 

So, what does the Kingdom

look like now? 

Well, we know (as I went over in the last post) that the Kingdom is expanding. How does it expand? We tell people about it. We share about who Jesus is. We tell stories of how Jesus has loved us… what He did upon the cross for us. It starts small when we share. But can you imagine if each of us just shared the Gospel with two people in our lifetimes? And they in turn, told two more? That small contribution creates a butterfly effect that can affect an entire nation in a matter of a year… decade… And before you know it… something resembling a tree appears in front of you.

Jesus, in Matthew 13, compares the Kingdom to yeast that grows 3 parts of flour (22 kilos worth! Enough to feed 300 people!) He also described it like a person finding a hidden treasure in a field. They immediately sold everything to buy the entire field, just to have the treasure. Sounds like, when you find the Kingdom, you’ll do anything to keep experiencing it!

 

Where is it?

Look for God’s Presence

In Scripture, we see moments of the Kingdom when Jesus heals… when his followers follow him… when the poor and meek are blessed… when the dead are raised… and when He sacrifices himself for the benefit of those who believe in Him.

In the Beginning

When Jesus talked about Kingdom life, he somehow seemed to bring Creation language into the mix. He was questioned about divorce (Mark 10:6-10) and Jesus replies,

But from the beginning, God created male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his parents and be wedded to his wife. And the husband and wife will be joined as one flesh, and after that, they no longer exist as two, but one flesh. So there you have it. What God has joined together, no one has the right to split apart.” 

Bring on the Kiddos

Later, Jesus chastises his disciples when they scolded people for bringing their children to him (Mark 10: 14B-16).

“Let all the little children come to me and never hinder them! Don’t you know that God’s kingdom realm exists for such as these?  Listen to the truth I speak: Whoever does not open their arms to receive God’s kingdom like a teachable child will never enter it.” Then he embraced each child, and laying his hands on them, he lovingly blessed each one.”

Leave the World Behind

Mark records a moment when a young, rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do to receive eternal life. Jesus responds for him to sell all his possessions, pick up his cross, and follow Him. The young man couldn’t walk away from his wealth. Jesus says to his disciples, “… it is next to impossible for those who trust in their riches to find their way into God’s kingdom realm.” This frightened the disciples… they began to wonder who could ever be saved! That’s when Jesus made the statement that has been etched upon peoples’ walls, bumper stickers, and thrown out as a verbal answer for everything. 

“With people it is impossible, but not with God—God makes all things possible!”

Mark 10:27

Picture of the Kingdom

Here’s what I see when I’m reading through Scripture. In Matthew 5-7, we have an account of the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ famous sermons.

 

  • He speaks of gentleness living inside you.
  • Craving righteousness.
  • Demonstrating mercy.
  • Purity in your heart.
  • Making peace with people.
  • Bearing wounds of persecution.
  • Obeying and teaching God’s commands to others.
  • Running from anger and apologizing to those you have offended.
  • Refraining from lust.
  • Keeping your vows to God.
  • Loving your enemies.
  • Giving with pure motives and without drawing attention to yourself.
  • Praying and fasting with a sincere heart.
  • Stockpiling heavenly treasures… not hoarding material wealth.
  • Don’t worry but remember that God will provide.
  • Don’t judge others.
  • Ask from God and you’ll receive, seek and you’ll find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Could this be what the Kingdom looks like? If everyone tried to aim for this… our world would look drastically different. And I’m sure you’ve experienced little pieces of the Kingdom throughout your life when you’ve seen a stranger pay for someone’s meal, a judge giving mercy, and people seeking forgiveness and peace.

So, if this is what the Kingdom looks like today, then keep your eyes peeled for these moments.

 

The Kingdom of God is where:

  • You see disciples making disciples.
  • Loving and serving others is the norm
  • People are using their spiritual gifts for the advancement of the Kingdom (not just hiding in the pews.)
  • It’s where you see people denying themselves to follow Jesus
  • Good overcomes bad
  • People are healed
  • Lives that were torn apart are put back together
  • People worship the Creator and the Savior without worshipping themselves
  • Children are taught about Jesus by their families, not just the church
  • People are listening to the Holy Spirit daily instead of only listening when it benefits themselves
  • God’s truth is preached in fullness- nothing is left out
  • People give generously so that there is no need in their churches

And if there’s a Kingdom… then who’s the King?

That’s coming up next!

The Kingdom of God (according to Jesus): Part Two

So, what did Jesus define the Kingdom as? 

We know that God has been wanting to in a sense return us to the Garden so that we can walk and talk with God daily. How does that relate to the Kingdom?

Here’s where it gets a little tricky- so I’m gonna try to slow things down a bit. Jesus tended to speak in metaphors and similes when it came to the Kingdom. Maybe, it’s because we wouldn’t even get an idea without them. We’ve built an idea in our heads that the Kingdom only comes when Jesus returns. But the problem is- he brought it with him when he walked on this earth back in the 1st Century. So- if we stop thinking of the Kingdom like heaven (puffy clouds, streets of gold…) and start thinking about it like it’s here now and expanding– then our perspective on the Kingdom can fully develop.

 

The Upside Down Kingdom

We first read in the book of Mark 1:14-15 (The Passion Translation):

Later on, after John the Baptizer was arrested, Jesus went back into the region of Galilee and preached the wonderful gospel of God’s kingdom realm. His message was this: “At last the fulfillment of the age has come! It is time for the realm of God’s kingdom to be experienced in its fullness! Turn your lives back to God and put your trust in the hope-filled gospel!”

Jesus began preaching to those around him that it was time to experience the Kingdom. Other versions use phrases like, “The time is at hand…” or the “The time is near.”

Coming with Power

Then later in Mark 9, the entire chapter morphs around the Kingdom of God theme. (Just an FYI, I’d always been confused by this sentence found in the very first verse of Mark 9.)

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here now who won’t experience death until they see God’s kingdom realm manifest with power!”

At first glance, I always assumed that Jesus was saying that some of the disciples wouldn’t die until Christ had returned. But here’s what we must remember- at this point, the disciples probably didn’t fully understand what Jesus had been telling them about what this kingdom would look like. They had no idea what an upside-down Kingdom it would turn out to be. (I mean, they probably asked themselves, “The Kingdom is here, now? They could experience it? How?”)

Here, in Mark 9:1, Jesus is talking about the power of the Kingdom of God that would begin to flow out from the disciples through them spreading the Good News. Through word of mouth, the Kingdom of God would advance on earth, through everyone that heard and accepted it. As Jesus said, in Mark 1, “Turn your lives back to God and put your trust in the hope-filled gospel!”

The advancement of the Kingdom wasn’t going to be a quick thing. Every time Jesus talked about the Kingdom, he talked in parables and similes about it. You’ll see what I mean…

The Kingdom Grows (Literally)

Mark 4:26-32

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 

 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

>>>>> Notice how all of this relates to growth? And what takes time? Growth.

The Invisible Kingdom

Luke 17:20-21

 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

>>>>> Wait- it can’t be observed? So this Kingdom that is growing- can’t even be seen? But it gets even more upside-down.

From Another Realm

John 18:36

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

>>>>> Wait- another place? Another realm? Another dimension? Jesus wasn’t talking about another country. He wasn’t talking about another earthly kingdom. 

Hmmmm. Take that in for a second.

Okay…So what can we learn from all of these different verses?

The Kingdom is growing (expanding).

The Kingdom cannot be observed… but it’s here.

The Kingdom is not of this world, but from another place.

All of these verses point to the Kingdom being a spiritual one… one that grows when followers of Jesus spread Christ’s love… serve one another as well as those who are in need… and it’s in a different realm… but also here. It sounds alot like the overlapping of the realms that happened “in the beginning.” Doesn’t it?

So…

What do we need to do about it? How can we help the spread and growth of the Kingdom? First, pray for the Kingdom to continue to expand. For the Good News to be delivered to those who have not heard it yet. 

Pray.

A great place to start is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. What’s interesting, is that most of us probably know this prayer and some can quote it. I didn’t actually fully understand the depth to this prayer until I fully understood the complete Good News and the Kingdom.

This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-10

 

 

Recognize the King

Here’s the deal… if there’s a kingdom- then there’s a King. And who else but Jesus? He actually inaugurated the Kingdom into our world. He was the one declaring God’s Rule was back in business here on Earth. And when we declare him to be our King and desire to follow Him- the Kingdom becomes present in our lives and in our churches.

What does this Kingdom look like for us today and in our churches? Stay tuned for The Kingdom of God: Part 3!

Honor: The Relationship Giver

Michael and I sat across from each other during a weirdly strange cool July morning, on the back deck off of our master bedroom. We had come a long way the past couple of weeks, as we had been fighting miscommunication, frustration, and dysfunction. (Yep- even pastors and their wives struggle occasionally.) 

As we sat squinting at Michael’s laptop, we listened as our long-time marriage counselor and friend, Matthew LaGrange, imparted some crazy, awesome wisdom that we wished we had known 17 years ago. (Just a heads up- I’ve taken liberty with Matthew’s quotes as I’m horrible at remembering things verbatim. Sorry Matthew!)

He said, “Here’s the deal. When discussing relationships, a lot of people talk about love and respect.”

(Yep- we’ve done that before in several marriage studies and in ministry marriage counseling sessions…)  

“The problem with respect…,” he continued, “is that it has to be earned. Well… what happens when respect is not earned?”

Huh.

Huh!

I felt like my brain was starting to combust. Why would we ask people to just be respectful to each other (even in regards to our own relationship) if they weren’t earning respect? Over the years, Michael and I have mentored couples to love and respect each other. But when one spouse was not acting respectful or worthy of respect, it left us a little conflicted. We usually just responded with, “Well… you just have to keep being respectful and pray that they’ll come around someday.” It left Michael and I feeling like we weren’t effective in our marriage mentorships. 

Matthew leaned in closer. “So… I started thinking about honor. Honor can never be earned. It is only given.”

 

Honor.

We’ve all heard the word. In fact, if you’re married, you might have used the word “honor” in your wedding vow to your spouse. But it seems that we’ve skipped over that short word. We hinge on “in sickness and in health… ‘til death do us part…” and forget that one small word that may seem insignificant.

But- it’s definitely not.

Honor is defined as high respect or esteem. But when honor is a verb (as in I “honor” you…), it becomes so much more. It means to regard someone with great respect and to fulfill an obligation or to keep an agreement. According to our U.S. Army, “Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do…”

As humans, we are imperfect. Far from good at times… and tend to border on selfishness- quite frequently. So, what happens when two imperfect people come together and experience conflict? What can happen to those butterfly feelings… that sense of overwhelming love that you had for the other person… and your heart racing in your chest every time they touch you?

It can vanish… just as suddenly as it started.

 

The World We Live In

We live in a pretty fickle world right now. There are slogans about “The Next Best Thing,” “Keep Up with the Jones’” and “The Grass is Greener” mentalities all around us. So- what happens when we are no longer feeling that overwhelming “love and affection” towards our spouse?

We can choose disrespect. Throw hand grenades of conflict triggers. Isolate and distance ourselves until our relationship grows chilly. Ignore the conflict and/or problems and pretend like nothing is wrong, while it builds and festers under your skin… just waiting for the right condition and irrational moment to arrive and EXPLODE into a nightmare of a life.

And then we wonder why we’re acting like roommates, don’t recognize our spouse any more, wander into emotional affairs, or teeter on the edge of a divorce.

Problem with Respect in Relationships

See, here’s the thing. Respect can only get you so far in a relationship. And here’s what I mean by far–

  • when both people are 100% generous and constantly loving to each other
  • when respect has been earned… all the time… every day…
  • when those people are robots and only treat each other with kindness
  • when a person has gone above and beyond (every single day) to build the other person up to where there’s no doubt that the world revolves around them

Welp. That’s kinda unattainable.

Whereas, honor is a choice. (Notice how the trend of this series of blog posts lands on our choice?) Honor is a gift to the other person whether they deserve it or not. It’s very similar to love… it’s unconditional. Honor and love must go hand in hand in order for a relationship to work effectively.

 

Honor in Scripture

I’m sure most of us have all heard the commandment, “Honor thy Father and Mother…” and Scripture points to honor between employer/employee relationships. The apostle Peter used the word, “honor” regularly in his books, as we see here when he was writing to the scattered Church in modern day Turkey:

1 Peter 2:17

 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Here’s where translation is so important. Some translations (yes- even my favorite one) translates the word “honor” here into respect. And as I mentioned earlier- that doesn’t quite hit the mark. When we translate the word, honor, it deepens the meaning of that verse. Not only is Peter asking the Church to honor people- he’s asking us to honor ALL people.  Even the king. Even when they don’t deserve our honor.

But that’s not the Honor situation I’m going to focus on today. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5 about love and marriage, and here’s where I’m gonna narrow it down.

 

Honor in Marriage

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:25-33 (ESV)

Does it seem as though Paul is trying to hit men between the eyes here? I’m pretty sure it’s intentional. The apostle Peter (who was married when he began following Jesus) goes even further in regard to honor in marriage:

And now let me speak to the wives. Be devoted to your own husbands, so that even if some of them do not obey the Word of God, your kind conduct may win them over without you saying a thing. For when they observe your pure, godly life before God, it will impact them deeply…. (7) Husbands, you in turn must treat your wives with tenderness, viewing them as feminine partners who deserve to be honored, for they are co-heirs with you of the “divine grace of life,” so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

1 Peter 3:1-2,7

Peter is calling wives whose husbands don’t follow Christ, to stay devoted to them. Continue to honor them. He then calls husbands to honor their wives… noting that if they choose not to honor them, their prayers will be hindered.

Holy cow. That’s intense. Honoring our spouses and those we love is a game-changer.

If we choose to honor each other above all else… we can move into a healthier, grace-giving relationship where honor and love go hand in hand.

The Kingdom of God: Part One

I sat, criss-cross applesauce, amidst other 1st graders, at our non-denominational church in the chilly basement in Small Town, Nebraska. The other kids whispered quietly to each other, while my good friend, Michael, joked loudly with his cousin, Nick. I stared at my brand-new penny loafers, while my favorite Sunday School teacher bent down to pull the flannelgraph out from underneath the cabinet. Kendra, my best friend throughout my childhood, leaned over and whispered, “Yes! She’s pulling out the flannelgraph!” Her platinum blond bangs were curled and fluffed and her blue eyes lit up. We both loved paper dolls… hence, our love for flannelgraph was up there too. 

The teacher lined up a cutout of Jesus on the flannelgraph… some angels…. a couple harps… and clouds. Lots of clouds. 

“Oooo…” I whispered back to Kendra. “I think we’re talking about heaven today…” She nodded. The teacher began to motion us closer to the flannel graph, and we scraped our knees on the carpet to get as close as possible. 

“Okay, kids,” the teacher began. “Today we’re going to talk about the Kingdom of God.”

And that’s where it begins.

At least for me, that’s where I learned that heaven and the Kingdom are the same thing. I think most people, at least most people in the American Church, think of the Kingdom of God as heaven. At least that’s what I thought for most of my life. And that’s not exactly wrong. But it’s not exactly right either.

I think we miss so much of the grandness of the Kingdom if we limit it to what we’ve pictured heaven to be like since we were small children.

 

What does the Bible say about the Kingdom of God?

Here’s where we have to do a little bit of background. Like all the way back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. 

At the beginning of our universe… time… creation… God was able to walk with man and woman in the Garden of Eden. God’s Realm was able to overlap the Human Realm.  Now before you go thinking that I’m quoting fairy tales… there’s not a better way to explain it. The Bible Project has an amazing visual (link here) and I’ve recreated one here as well.

In the beginning of humankind’s entrance to this world, God allowed Our Realm and His Realm to overlap, which is why God could walk with humans in the Garden. At this time, it was possible because there was no sin… no death… no decay. God could walk with them. And then as suddenly as it was there… it was gone with humans’ choice to choose what they thought was good for them.  God’s Realm had to pull away from our Realm due to human’s darkness (selfishness, idolatry, disobedience) in their hearts. God could not be around our choosing of sin over Him. (And yet… He still pursues us as we see through the rest of the story.)

Here’s another way to look at it: God’s rule overarched everything; God ruled over all things in this earthly realm, at the beginning of creation. He then gave us (humankind) the responsibility to rule over our world, this creation. However, when sin entered through choices that humankind made, God’s rule was unable to continue to reside everywhere without nullifying his dominion or power.  

Okay- let’s stop right here… I’m gonna give you an action item before you continue. Please find your Bible or pull out the YouVersion app and read Genesis 1 and 2. Slowly. Don’t just skim through it. Take your time… come back to this when you’re done.

God’s Rule and the Garden

But through this entire story cast from the beginning until now, He has continued to pursue after us and restore us back to the Garden once again. He wants to be able to walk with us again. We can trace God’s hand in trying to restore us back to the Garden over and over through Scripture. On the last day of this world as we know it, Christ will come and once again God’s rule will reign over all things and his Will will continuously once again be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Let’s look at the times where there are narratives relating to Gardens or garden imagery.

Genesis 2:15

Then the Lord God took the human and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 

Essentially, humans were “planted” in the Garden to take care of it. 

 

Garden Language

As you skim through the Bible, right smack dab in the middle, you’ll find the book of Song of Songs. Now… most of us have giggled as children as we’ve read the erotic and vivid language. However, let’s be adults for a second and look at the insane amount of garden imagery that is SHOUTING from the pages of this book. As you read, notice that the lovers find themselves surrounded by images of the garden. The language found here is a mirror image of the creation of the garden language. (See a passage to the right for an example of this.) Later on in the book, you’ll see the creation story played out in a sense, leading to a restored creation. (Read more about this at Bible Project’s Song of Songs and A Return to the Garden.)

The Tabernacle and Temple Design

When Moses led the Israelite nation out of Egypt, they soon realized that they needed a place while they travelled (or wandered) to worship and meet with God. Moses was given specific instructions by God and it essentially was a large tent teeming with garden images woven into its walls and furniture that were made to look like trees/flowers in a garden.

Later, as the Temple was built, we realize if we look at how they designed and decorated it, that they were modeling it after the Garden of Eden. Essentially by this correlation, we realize that the Israelites saw the Garden of Eden as the original “Temple” place. A place where they were planted and could be with God. 

300 Years Later… Here Comes the Kingdom!

When Jesus appeared on the scene, there had been 300 years of silence from God. No prophets speaking. No audible words from heaven. And then suddenly… there was a man in the desert preaching about repentance, baptism and the coming of the King.

Next, the latest gossip is that this carpenter turned Rabbi from Nazareth was preaching about the Kingdom of God. And not just about it- that it was coming… at hand… present… but not quite yet. (Side note- this would have been a red flag to the present Roman empire… someone’s preaching about another Kingdom that’s coming?) Jesus started by preaching in the book of Mark,

Mark 1:15

“The Kingdom of God is at hand.” 

 

The Shulamite

As the king surrounded me at his table,
the sweet fragrance of my praise perfume
awakened the night.
A sachet of myrrh is my lover,
like a tied-up bundle of myrrh resting over my heart.
 He is like a bouquet of henna blossoms—
henna plucked near the vines at the fountain of the Lamb.
I will hold him and never let him part.

The Shepherd-King

Look at you, my dearest darling,
you are so lovely!
You are beauty itself to me.
Your passionate eyes are like gentle doves.

The Shulamite

My beloved one,
both handsome and winsome,
you are pleasing beyond words.
Our resting place is anointed and flourishing,
like a green forest meadow bathed in light.
 Rafters of cedar branches are over our heads
and balconies of pleasant-smelling pines.

Song of Songs 1:12-17

This was the first thing that Jesus preached about (he talked about it over 100 times over his ministry that are recorded… so… may have been his favorite!) but it was also the last thing he preached on after his resurrection. He single-handedly taught his disciples about the intricacies of the Kingdom in his last days on Earth.

New Kingdom = New Creation

In fact, those same disciples (and later Paul, the apostle) wrote about a new creation coming… (doesn’t that sound like another garden?)  They wrote over and over about new things that came with Christ, and how a new heaven and a new earth would be established.

The new Creation? It’s the same thing as the Kingdom. The disciple, John, wrote in the final book of our Bibles about what the final commencement of this New Kingdom would look like.

Revelation 21:1-27

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” …

So- this picture shows us the future fulfillment of the Kingdom. But how does that help us picture what the Kingdom looks like for us today?

What Does the Kingdom Look Like Today?

If we think about the Kingdom, like it’s already here but not yet completely fulfilled… we can picture it almost “advancing.” As if the spread of the Kingdom, the rise of a new King… is on it’s way. (More on the King in the next post.) Here’s something else to help with that picture of what the Kingdom looks like for us today.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Here’s the thing, when we decide that the King of this new Kingdom (this New Creation) is the King of our lives, we become a New Creation ourselves. Like we are mini-New Creations running around and spreading the Kingdom news to everyone and anyone we come into contact with. We get to show others what Kingdom Life is like: living full of grace, peace, love and faith in God. We get to experience unity with God within ourselves (this brings the Holy Spirit into play). We get to walk and talk with God every single moment of our day.

And if we don’t understand this- if we don’t understand the Kingdom of God- we don’t understand the first part of the Gospel that Jesus preached on.

So, what did Jesus define the Kingdom as?

More on that to come! (Kinda like the Kingdom…)

Stay tuned for Part Two of The Kingdom of God