“I’m the king of the world,” Leonardo DiCaprio famously crows from the bow of the Titanic in the movie of that name. The irony of that statement for anyone who can see beyond the incredibly contrived romantic plotline of the movie is profound.
This pops into my head as we continue to explore Matthew 6:33. We’ve already determined that in order to claim the promise of that verse we must seek something ahead of everything else, but what are we to seek?
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
The kingdom of God? That’s slightly more difficult to grasp.
If you had been bopping around England in about 1525 and stopped by Hampton Court, the home of King Henry VIII, he might have offhandedly dropped, as you two were swapping stories around the barbeque grill, that he was the king of England and France. You, as a guest, would politely smile and nod, quickly turning the subject to what sort of grouse he had on the charcoal.
You see, when English kings in the Renaissance era claimed to hold England and France, what they really meant was that they actually held England and wished they held France. The only portion of France that Henry VIII actually controlled was the port and immediate environs of Calais. It would be like setting up control of Corpus Christi and claiming to be the ruler of all Texas.
In human terms, a kingdom, in any meaningful sense, is a place where the king actually exercises some measure of control. Henry the VIII could claim to be the king of France, but if he couldn’t collect taxes, enforce laws, conscript soldiers, or otherwise act kingly, then he wasn’t really the king of France. There’s a guy right now, Louis Alphonse, who is considered the rightful king of France. While he dresses well and plays polo, I don’t see the French Republic asking him to move in to Versailles.
A kingdom, I would argue, is not where somebody, Henry VIII or Louis Alphonse or somebody else, says they’re in charge. It is a place where they actually exercise at least reasonable control.
If we accept that last claim, then the kingdom that Matthew 6:33 calls us to seek is a place where God actually rules. If somebody else rules there–like Francis I, the actual King of France in 1525, when Henry VIII claimed to be the guy–then it really isn’t their kingdom at all.
Does that move us closer to understanding the kingdom of God in Matthew 6:33? Perhaps we get a clue from Revelation 11:15:
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom
of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.
As I read that–and I’d be remiss not to point out that it echoes the Lord’s prayer talking about God’s kingdom coming “on earth as it is in heaven”–it’s almost as if Jesus is admitting that there are two kingdoms, but that the kingdom of God is eventually going to overtake the kingdom of this world, sort of like Henry VIII, in his back porch dreams, probably dreamed of restoring actual control of France.
Does this help? Perhaps a little, but we’ll need to revisit this question.