THE KINGDOM OF GOD is close at hand. Turn about and believe it. This sums up what the launch of Jesus’ Galilean mission was really all about. And the declaration caught on quickly, spreading out like wildfire. But the actual words Jesus would probably have used were Aramaic, the common language of the area: malkuta dishemaya – ‘kingdom of the heavens’.

That did not, however, signify the ‘Heaven’ of later Christian hymns or visions of the after-life. ‘The heavens’ is simply one of the substitute phrases that devout Jews preferred to use instead of naming God directly, similar to ‘the Most High’, or ‘the Lord’, or even ‘the Place’. So the Gospel of Matthew, reflecting its Jewish-Christian background, makes great use of the idiomatic ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, while Mark and Luke give the intended meaning of the phrase, which is ‘Kingdom, or reign, of God’.

John V Taylor
Kingdom Come, chapter 2, page 17

What should the ‘reign of God’ look like in British lives at the dawn of the twenty-first century? If we were to ‘turn about and believe it’ (close at hand rather than some future state beyond the grave) what would be the effect upon the life of this world? What would be the effect upon our own lives now? What would Jesus have meant when he taught his hearers to turn about and believe …? What would the reign of God,  in the silence and conscience of our hearts, really have to say to our Western insistence that we live in a state of scarcity when the reality is that, compared to huge tranches of the world’s population we live every day in the midst of super-abundance.

Life in the nearer presence of God “would be heavenly” someone said to me the other day. But would it? Doesn’t drawing closer to God make some pretty challenging demands upon our lives? Malkuta dishemaya. The kingdom of the heavens is close at hand. But are we minded to pay it, to pay God, the slightest real attention? How would the life of the world change if we did? How would my life change if I did? How many fewer burials might take place in East Africa in the coming weeks? What would “Church” look like? Would I be moved to a deeper silence before ‘the reign of God’? Would I come to understand a bit more what is meant by the poetic silent music of his praise? Or will I keep on belting out my own song in the Lord’s strange land?