The Kingdom Goes Underground

(5 of 8 in a series)

With the exception of the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane, the passion week remained a public week for Jesus right up to His crucifixion.  His death was very public.  His trials bounced from leader to leader with stops before the crowds clamoring for His death.  He carried His cross through the public streets and died in a public place of execution.  His death made news throughout the entire city and beyond.  Remember the two disciples on the road to Emmaus the next Sunday who, not suspecting their guest was Jesus said, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here these days … concerning Jesus the Nazarene?” (Lk 24 18-19).  Christ died a very public death.

So less than a week after Palm Sunday, the king was dead.  Now silence.  The dead king is buried.  In the world’s eyes, the very public figure, who less than a week earlier accepted the multitude’s praise as Messiah King, is dead.  But something is stirring in our minds.  What are we to make of Isaiah 61?  Jesus said it referred to Him.  What are we to make of His claim to be God’s Son?  And what about His own prediction that He would be “delivered up to the Gentiles to mock, scourge, and crucify Him, and on the third day He would be raised up.” (Mt 20:19)?  What are we to do with “the king is dead” but wait?

What happens next is dramatic in more ways than just the awesome miracle of the resurrection, as powerful and incredible as that was.  The miracle of the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith and without it we are of most men to be pitied (I Cor 15:19).  Its publicity, however, is the opposite of the Palm Sunday drama.  The drama of the resurrection is that it was witnessed by very few people.  It was basically a private event.  Have you ever thought about that?  We, including the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15, like to use eyewitness testimony to support our claim that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.  And Jesus did make enough public appearances to provide a foundation for our faith.  But think about the numbers.  The best Paul can come up with at one time is 500.  What?  500?  Where are the appearances before 5000?  Where is the appearance in the temple, a place where Jesus had regularly addressed the crowds just a week earlier?  Where are the appearances before the skeptics, the Pharisees, and the rulers?  For some reason, following His resurrection, Jesus took His kingdom almost completely underground.

So to summarize the timeline of events surrounding the announcement of the coming of the kingdom we have the following.

  • Jesus’ early ministry:  announced the arrival of the kingdom of God.
  • Jesus’ earthly ministry:  public, but downplayed the King title.
  • Palm Sunday:  public, and embraced the King title.
  • Death:  public place of execution, witnessed by many.
  • Resurrection:  private, witnessed by very few people.
  • Ascension:  Very private, by invitation only.  And poof, Jesus was gone, back to heaven.

And this is where we live today; citizens of a secret kingdom.  Identifying the kingdom of God as a secret kingdom was a large part of Jesus’ teaching here on earth, particularly in His parables.  Following His resurrection, the secret kingdom became home for us, His people.  Understanding the secret nature of God’s present kingdom and our place in it has tremendous implication for not only how we interpret the gospels, but also how we live as secret kingdom citizens.  It is my experience that all kinds of topics from the believer’s relationship to sin, the growth of the universal church, the presence and power of evil in today’s world to prayer, politics, wealth, church life, etc. all come into clearer focus when understood in light of the secret kingdom Jesus inaugurated during His first advent.

Fleshing out the details what that looks like for new covenant believers will be the topic of the next several posts.