When God created Adam, He commanded Adam to “subdue” (steward) the earth (Gen 1:28). Primarily, this is a cultural mandate.
Physically, earth already belongs to God. Scriptures taught that all things were created in, for and through Christ (Col 1:16). Not a single inch of earth does not belong to the Kingdom of God. (That is, until Adam lost his God-given authority over earth to the devil)
But while there was ownership of the physical, God’s Kingdom culture still has to be cultivated throughout earth for her flourishing. This was the cultural mandate to Adam.
The Essence of God’s Kingdom
Let’s pause to think what a kingdom is. A kingdom is the realm where a king has dominion over. It includes the king’s subjects and His land, and his governance over them.
Now think about what a healthy kingdom should look like. A king may have subjects but what if his subjects are disloyal to him? The king may be overthrown in a coup and his kingdom lost in an instance.
Therefore, a healthy kingdom includes more than just subjects, lands and governing rules. It would include non-physical qualities like loyalty, willing submission, respect, trust, equity, justice, mercy, love, meaningful communication, strong relationships, welfare, wellness etc.
These non-physical values within the subjects make up the culture of the kingdom. Culture is like the ground zero reflection of the values of a people.
A healthy kingdom would have a flourishing culture. God knows this clearly. In fact, in God’s Kingdom, culture is His priority. Jesus Himself says: “The kingdom of God does not come with observation,” (Luke 17:20). He then declares, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (v21)
What’s “within” us are the intangible values we carry
What’s “within” us where the Kingdom of God is found? It’s none other than the intangible values God’s people carry. In God’s eyes, these intangible values are more precious than physical emphases. Remember what God told Samuel who was looking for the next king of Israel to anoint – “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7). Samuel eventually anointed David, an insignificant shepherd boy, but whom God said, was “a man after mine own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14) Israel grew powerful and prospered under David’s leadership, who then passed the throne to his son Solomon, who built God a glorious temple. Under Solomon, Israel became the wealthiest, most glorious nation on earth, and world’s leaders paid tribute to them. Yet God had no qualms judging Israel when Solomon turned away from Him (1 King 11:11). Israel’s glory was destroyed in one generation of disobedience. The kingdom of Israel split into half with in-fighting.
Less you think this a precedence, it has in fact been God’s pattern of dealing with Israel’s disobedience. God almost destroyed them all for worshipping a golden calf (Exo 32:10); for refusing to enter the promise land (Num 14:12). God destroyed the glorious temple Solomon built for Him. When God’s people do not submit to His Lordship or carry His priestly values, all physical, material, religious achievement mean nothing to Him.
Therefore, the essence of God’s kingdom is cultural, not physical. God rejects all our religious offerings when our hearts are not right before Him. But when our hearts are fully surrendered, we manifest the most basic quality of Kingdom – Kingship i.e. complete obedience to the King’s will.
Kingship i.e. complete obedience to the King’s will – the most basic quality of Kingdom
Only when God’s will is done can thy kingdom come. This is why Jesus taught, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” (Mat 6:10) In fact, salvation comes from Kingship; and once saved always saved i.e. assurance of salvation, only makes sense if the person has Kingship. Kingship inevitably will conform us into the King’s image (Rom 8:29); and we will bear the King’s value i.e. fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).
Therefore, for the end of kingdom on earth, what God needs most is not big congregations, physical monuments, material wealth, or religion. What He needs is a people who would revere Him as King and exhibit His values as priests. This culture of Kingship and the counter-cultural values of this kingdom community would inevitably rub against the communities of the world steep into other cultures. This is how salt and light impact marketplaces and nations.
Is the Kingdom culture in your church? Among your community? Or are we just a bunch of religious people steep into religious routines? The converts we make are culturalised into a dead and irrelevant religion, making zero to little impact on the cultures of the marketplaces and nation. Are we content with church growth making quick converts without discipleship that produces disciples of nations? Are we content with preaching about all the means of what makes up kingdom but never pursuing God’s kingdom on earth as our end?
The cultural mandate given 6000 years back by the King to Adam is in fact the Kingdom mandate. And Christ recommissioned the Kingdom mandate to the church – through the great commission. The great commission states that we are to “make disciples of all nations” (cultural mandate), “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Kingship). Contrary to widespread practice, this is different from “converting everyone everywhere by getting them to say the sinners’ prayer.” Two important clarifications need to be made.
1. Disciples, not Converts
First is about discipleship. A sinners’-prayer-spiritual-conversion-focused-evangelism without subsequent emphasis on a lifestyle of Kingship leads to widespread nominal practice of Christianity. Such has never been God’s intent or church. Deviation from His Word and Kingship has led to devastating consequences. During reformation, the “church” was a continental empire. But their might was used to suppress worship; and they killed hundreds of thousands to retain their power. In more recent history, Hitler’s Germany was 50% Protestant and 45% Catholic, but it did not stop the nation of “Christians” from embracing “Positive Christianity,” where Christ was presented as Aryan and the Jews denounced. One has to ask again – what’s the point of mass conversions when Kingship and the King’s values are compromised?
2. The Cultural Mandate is missing because we have not understood “Nations”
Secondly, the understanding of our cultural mandate is missing because we don’t understand why the great commission would use the word “nations”. This is partly because we have looked at the great commission in isolation, and had not considered it from the parts of Scriptures where He reveals His Kingdom heartbeat.
God’s Kingdom heartbeat is revealed right at the beginning of creation, when He commanded Adam to “subdue” the earth. After Adam failed, God chose Abram and told him “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:8) and “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 22:18) While God would call individuals, it was clear that His greater purpose has always been for the world – its peoples and their cultures. God is jealous for His Kingdom on earth and is in the process of appointing kingdom agents who would advance His Kingdom culture throughout earth!
Note how God calls Israel His “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exo 19:6). Israel was more than just “numbers” to God. It matters that His people manifest priesthood not by robes but by values – the only way for a nation to exhibit a culture of holiness. Once again, this implies that it was more than a group of people – the physical component – God is after, but the cultural mandate. As God’s people, it is paramount that we reflect the values that represents the King and His Kingdom.
The spotlight on Israel then shifts to Christ, Israel’s Messiah. When Israel as a nation rejected Him, He began another entity called the Church. But less you think God’s story with Israel as His ekklesia is over – it’s just postponed till the times of the gentiles is fulfilled.
Unlike Israel, the Church is not a nation. As an entity, they are not supposed to operate with political sovereignty, amass military might or possess territorial land. But the Church was His ekklesia. Jesus emphatically taught all believers to pray daily, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Reexamine Christ’s statement. Isn’t that the Kingdom mandate? God wanted earth! All peoples; all cultures; all nations. Church is His chosen agent to advance His kingdom to earth, as Adam and Israel was!
But it is important to clarify: How would an entity not supposed to have political sovereignty, military might or territorial land bring about the Kingdom of God over all the earth? The answer is found in the gospel Christ preached and the life He lived.
Unlike modern evangelism which often fails to expound on Kingdom, the gospel Christ preached was the gospel of the Kingdom – about the Kingdom of God. And how was the Kingdom like? Christ laid down the most unbelievable standards of Kingdom living. The beatitudes (which I like to see it as the “be” attitudes) begins: Blessed are the poor in spirit.. Blessed are those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness etc. These are non-physical values “within” the believer. Conventionally, kingdoms advance physically by sword and might, but Christ was telling people that the Kingdom of God is discovered in those who live counter-culturally with full dependence on God.
But the Kingdom culture was just too radical as an alternative reality to the world’s. How can anyone believe that by being meek, one can inherit a kingdom? Jesus showed the church how it was done. While Christ never preached His death and resurrection as the gospel, He DEMONSTRATED IT! Through which reveals the EVIDENCE of God’s Kingdom and the EPITOME of Kingdom living! By submitting His will completely to the Father’s even unto death, Christ won a lion-like victory over sin in a lamb-like way. The love and power of the crucified Christ became a reality, through which the church overcame the shackles of unbelief, fear, death, bondage to sin, condemnation etc. From then on, it was undeniable that a better Kingdom beckons. To those who are willing to deny themselves and the world, abundant life filled with the spirit and its fruit of love, peace, joy and fulfilment awaits them.
Christ’s death and resurrection was The King’s best testimony about His Kingdom – and today, salvation through Christ forms the central piece of the gospel. However, we have dropped the whole context by which this central piece hangs from – the Kingdom of God. This has led to deep misunderstanding of the mission of the gospel, as we have reduced the end of “kingdom on earth through a culture of Kingship” to “make heaven-focused spiritual converts.” Without emphasis on Kingship as discipleship, and the cultural mandate as mission, the church has grown numerically by means of conversions but is largely devoid of Kingdom culture and the conviction to transform nations.
Spiritual conversions are not without merit – but it merely begins a process and is not the end. To “make disciples of all nations” meant that God is invested in the values of individuals AND cultures of communities – from families to marketplaces to nations. There are at least three important components. First is personal: Are we first and foremost a disciple? Second is communal: Are we making disciples? (not just converts) Third is societal: Are we discipling nations? God’s end is to move in and through these three components till all the nations in the world are culturally reflecting His Kingdom in heaven. Woe to us if we build church as our end; instead of perfecting her to be the means for God’s Kingdom as end. (On this note, God has warned that the Singapore church with our apathy to justice and indifference to truth, is complicit to evil and injustice; and we are living in the 11th hour when the time of judgement is approaching.)
Revelations 5 records the “beginning of the end”, when the heavenly seals are broken. Christ who was slain is the one worthy to “break the seals and open the scrolls.” As He did, the elders sang: “from every tribe and language and people and nation.. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God” (v9;10). The vision of God from creation in Genesis, to His end in Revelation, has always been about a Kingdom of priests who He could call His. He will soon return to see to the completion of His restoration of Kingdom on earth, but meanwhile, the church is to “occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13) and to preach (plus live out) the gospel of the kingdom.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
– Mat 24:14
- The Old Testament Template – Landa Cope. One of the classics on how gospel is “reduced” if it is only salvation focused and not about discipling nations.
- Myles Munroe’s take on Rediscovering The Kingdom. The cultural mandate very clearly explained. Well watched.
- Dutch Sheets on how the great commission is about discipling nations to see God’s culture on earth:
- NT Wright, scholar and academic on making God King on earth as He is in heaven. There are shorter versions of his videos online.