What will it look like for God’s Kingdom authority to reign on Earth? Most of us understand authority through the lens of power. We want to know who has power over who. But Jesus’ understanding of power was not about his position. For Jesus, the ultimate demonstration of power was in a demonstration of love by laying down his life. Listen to Session 5 of the Renaissance Conference, with Julian Adams.
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Julian: Right, Luke 3. If you haven’t found Luke 3 by now, you can give up. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being the tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip the tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is it written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
I believe God is doing something very significant in our nation. I believe God is doing something very significant on the earth today, and God is beginning to shift the way we think about what it means to be the people of God on planet Earth. I grew up in a time when we all thought that Jesus was coming back in the year 2000, and thank God he didn’t because I wouldn’t have met my beautiful wife. I’m quite glad for that. But I grew up in a context where to escape this planet Earth was better than to change planet earth. And God is beginning to shift the way we think, so we begin to understand that heaven is coming to Earth, and I love what John the Baptist represents. He is a forerunner as you might know, and he comes in the Bible, says an incredible thing that the message that he brings was a message of change the way you think because the Kingdom of God is within arm’s reach.
A little bit later in the book of Luke, just a few verses later, you’ll see that the Bible says that all of Israel was in expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Now you need to understand that for a Jewish understanding of Messiah, it was not just a savior who was gonna come and save them from their troubles. This was one who would come and establish Yahweh’s rule and reign on the earth and establish a government of His goodness and His Shalom all over the earth. They would have understood Messiah could be the one who would come and overthrow all of the illegitimate powers and authority of the day. They were expecting a conquering Messiah that will come and turn over the evil regime that was established in their context. They lived in an apocalyptic worldview, which meant that the end was near. It meant that there was an expectation that something was gonna shift, but the end for them was not an understanding of us leaving the earth. It was an understanding of God sending His Messiah to establish His throne on the earth.
You see, many of us have bought into unhelpful and unbiblical theology and so we’re waiting for the rapture. God bless you. And if you wanna stock up on baked beans and toast, God bless you. When the truth is that heaven was made for earth. When you read the book of Genesis, you’ll see that they are of opposites, that we begin to get an understanding of marriage. We see night and day. We see how they meant for each other. We see man and woman, how they meant for each other. But the first thing that God creates are the heavens and the earth. You see, heaven is meant for earth. They’ve been meant to be married. It’s why the miracle in John 3, where the water gets turned into wine was so profound. It was a sign because, for the first time in history since the beginning in the Garden, there was this beautiful picture of a marriage where heaven and earth join together and the dynamic power of God multiplied a whole lot of wine.
And in Jewish understanding, when wine came, when wine was produced, it was a sign of the blessing of heaven on the earth. I love that miracle. It’s the most unnecessary miracle in the Bible. It just reveals how good God is. I mean, I’m not quite sure what to do with that theologically. The guys were already drunk and Jesus turned a whole lot more water into wine. You can try work that one out. And so we see John comes and he says, “Change the way you think.” That’s the message he was preaching. The Kingdom of God is at hand and the Jewish people understood that what he was saying is Messiah is about to turn up and every illegitimate power’s about to be overthrown.
The problem is that for most of the Pharisees, most of the religious leaders of the day, they expected a conquering king, but Jesus came as the suffering servant. And so they could not recognize the day of their visitation because they presupposed they had the majority revelation on how God was moving in their day. I’ll move on quickly. And we see Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate in John 18, and he says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It’s not a great translation. A better translation is “My kingdom is not from this world,” because sometimes when we think of my kingdom not being of this world, we tend to think that it’s this external reality somewhere out there that we’re gonna go to when we die. But the truth is the Kingdom of God is the government of His gracious rule and reign coming on earth, so when heaven and earth join together in a beautiful marriage, so the government of His peace is established on the earth.
But the thing I love about Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom is that for most of us when we think about kingdom, we think about position and power, but Jesus, when he’s standing in front of Pontius Pilate, he says, “My kingdom is not from this world. Therefore, my disciples aren’t gonna fight to try and overthrow anyone.” This is not a battle Apollo. Let me help you a little bit here. You see, most of us understand authority through the lens of position. Most of us understand authority through the lens of who has power over who? Jesus, King of the universe, who holds the very breath of Pilate, says to him, “No one takes my life, I lay it down.” You see, Jesus’ understanding of power was not about his position. That’s why it says in Philippians like he did not count equality with God as something could be grasped, but he humbled himself and took on flesh. Because he understood something about the nature of going low and going slow, and for him, the outcome of demonstration of power was not the place of authority I have in society, but in a demonstration of love by laying down my life.
My kingdom is not from this world but it is for this world. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst.” He was referring to himself at that point. He was saying, “Here I am. Can you not see what I’m doing? Can you not see how I’m working with the poor, with the oppressed, with the…how I’m lifting women up into a different place in society? How I’m shifting what it means to understand equity and justice and mercy.” You see, for Jesus, the understanding of his kingdom coming was not about an ability to take over everything, but an understanding that in the kingdom, it’s not about your power or your position, it is about your posture.
Let me help you. Luke is writing in Luke 3 and listing the powers, the position of authority, not because he’s a good historian, but because for the Jew, they understood that earthly powers represented a heavenly reality or a spiritual dimension. In other words, the powers that be were not the people you see, but the demonic strongholds behind them impacting the way they lived. When you begin to understand that, you begin to realize that for Jesus, his authority was not expressed through who he could smite. His authority was expressed in how he laid down his life. You see, for many of us, and I wish I could… All the stuff that Eric and Barbara’s been speaking about, I felt like they were reading my notes, so it’s a little bit unfair that I’m here now. But the truth is this, friends, that the leadership dynamic that Luke is speaking of when John gets this word and we’ll get there in a moment, he’s wanting us to understand the principalities and powers that’s at work in that context. He’s wanting us to understand the political climate and the religious climate into which the word of God lands.
Now, here’s what I wanna say about this very quickly. The word “principality” means first ruler. The church is called to be the only principality over your region. Let me help you again. We are called to be co-rulers with Christ. And because we’ve abdicated the place of responsibility in laid down lives of love, because we thought that, “If I can just get a position of power to exert influence over something, then maybe the Kingdom of God will come.” Which is exactly what the people of Israel and Jewish leaders were thinking, “We just need to get a new king.” But Jesus demonstrates his kingship, not through looking for authority, but in laying down his life. Let me just unpack this just a little bit more and we’ll get there. I fear that in the church we’ve heard this great theology by people like my friend, Lance Wallnau, who I love and he’s incredible, about seven mountains. How many of you heard the Seven Mountains story?
And we can think that if we get to the top of the mountain, that’s when we really have influence, but the nature of the kingdom is most often discovered in obscurity and hiddenness first. You don’t need to get to the top of a mountain to serve that mountain. Because for most in the church, we still have an illegitimate understanding, an old covenant view of authority. We still are like the people of Israel who want a king like Saul. Power in the new covenant is love expressed through a laid down life. We had to change the way we think. I wanna say this very clearly. I do not believe that God wants to give the church dominion over anything. I believe God wants to give the church a heart of love over and for everything.
We do not need another Christian party in South Africa to effect change. We need more Christians in every single political party to serve it with love. We do not need a Christian nation. You cannot legislate heart change. If you legislate a heart change, it’s called legalism and that’s the old covenant. Ooh, shika bazooka. I could throw this in just because I feel like having a little bit of fun here. You see, I am so tired of the church trying to change the law around abortion and no one’s willing to adopt. Oh, I sense a little bit of white privilege getting uncomfortable here. In love, of course. Luke lists these powers and he says this, “The word of the Lord came to John in the wilderness.” God overlooked the places of power. God overlooked the position in the palace and he goes to a crazy man in the desert.
You see, for many of us, we expect the presence and the power of God in the kingdom to look like worldly institutions of politics and religion. Oh, I come here with a mandate tonight because something has to shift in our nation because it’s not a government that’s gonna effect the change in this nation. It’s the people of God living in the reality of the new covenant, extending that through love. Let me get back to my notes in case I get into some trouble here. John received this word in the hidden place of obscurity. Some theologians believe that John was part of a particular group of people who lived out in the desert, they were mystic, they were weird, they were crazy. And John gets raised up and I love what God does in this moment of transition, in this moment of change. He calls the people of Israel back to the desert to hear a crazy man declaring the word of God.
And the Bible says that they all went out and there were three types of people who went out. There were the masses of Israel who were beginning to be awakened to something of an expectation that Messiah was about to show up. And then there were the religious leaders and the political leaders of the day who went out to critique what God was doing. John rebukes them and I love this because this is classic of the religious spirit. He says, “You think you are of your father Abraham and you celebrate what Abraham did, but you’re persecuting what God’s doing right now. You’re missing your moment of visitation.” You see, the religious spirit loves to celebrate what God did last year, loves to look forward to what He might do next year, but what He’s doing right now, we persecute.
Oh, no, no, no, no, that church is just a little bit on the edge, out there with the weirdoes, concerned about their theology. But there’s something about receiving the word of God in the place of obscurity, that word, the word of the Lord, the phrase that the Bible talks about it’s called rhema, it’s the rhema word, it’s the now word of God. It’s the prophetic word of God. It’s the word of God that springs up into life. It’s different from logos, which is the written word of God, and it’s the word of God on which He’s breathing right now to establish and to create the future now. That’s what rhema means. And John receives a rhema word in the wilderness, in the desert place, and that word disrupts the narrative of the day and begins to change both the political and the spiritual climate for a whole nation.
I wanna say to you friends and I wanna submit humbly to you, that the prophetic nature of what God is saying to us is not meant to stay in the full buildings of…four walls of a building. It is meant to disrupt the narrative of the political and spiritual climate of our nation. It’s meant to echo and reverb and make noise. So the people came out…I love what happens here. All the people went out to see him. I believe this next move of God is not gonna be defined by one or two leaders, it’s gonna be defined by hungry people. At least people are gonna get baptized, they head of the Pharisees and the political leaders of the day. And there’s something about the word of God that comes into a place, that comes into a particular context that begins to disrupt the narrative, begins to bring a new sound. And to the level that you agree with that sound is to the level that you begin to see the disruptive nature of the prophetic begin to shift some things. And it comes into two specific contexts and I’m so glad Eric touched on this because now I feel like I’ve got freedom just to push this one a little bit.
It comes into a political climate and it comes into a religious climate. Luke is writing this because he wants us to understand there’re two strongholds, there’re two demonic principalities at work, and God’s super seeks those and He goes to a man in the desert and releases a rhema word that prepares a way for the promise to be fulfilled in Jesus. And God wants to release the rhema word to you to shift political dynamics and climates. And you know, if I can just be so bold and I’m not probably gonna win many friends right now, but I’m gonna go for it.
We live in a context of systemic oppression that came out of both the apartheid era and our current government, and it’s perpetuated a system that divides the rich and the poor as far and as long as possible. Now, I understand that everybody thinks they’re an activist because they’ve got a Facebook account, and you can be an amazing activist from the comfort of your arm chair. The way the government of God is expressed is not through social justice because social justice without the king of the kingdom is just a lot of hard work. It is expressed through communities who begin to take responsibility for the spheres of influence and begin to love. Oh, Jesus, forgive me. I don’t wanna be too reductionist right now, but you know the issue around land in South Africa… Can I sense, that stronghold just suddenly…whoa. The issue of land, friends, is not about who had it first. The issue is about the Christian community being biblical and sharing all things with all people, which is what the Bible says.
Just gonna leave that hanging a little bit. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, I don’t mean to be political, but what I’m telling you is God is not calling us to be politically correct, He’s calling us to be prophetically direct. And until we shift some stuff, until you dig into your multiple properties, until you work your domestic helper out of a job because she gets educated, because she gets her driver’s license, because she gets some property and changes the legacy for her family, you are not understanding what it means to be part of this kingdom. It’s probably not a good time to take up an offering, hey? You see, the political spirit comes to control and to confine people in order to serve a systemic agenda. And this happens in the church too. That we prize our systems and our positions over freedom for the very people God has called us to serve. And so as long as my people… I love it when pastor said “my people.” Oh, I didn’t realize they were yours. As long as my people serve me and serve my vision… I tell you if you ever want a popular job, go and become a prophet.
You see, the political spirit will confuse serving the system with serving God and therefore never release people into greatness. You see, these politicians, Herod, they were all about what they could get out of the system and so they kept the people in the system. You see, I’m just gonna shift… I’m not talking about South African politics now, I’m talking about church politics for a moment. Because we’ve confused leadership with politics, and we’ve confused flattery with honor because if I can tell you what I think you need to hear so that you can serve what I want, it’s a great deal, isn’t it? God is looking for a people who’ve received rhema word that cuts through all of that junk. There is a word I wanna say, it’s actually in the Bible. It’s the word, skubala, go and have a look. I think poop, that’s what it means. It’s in the Bible.
You see, the political spirit will seek to get agreement on issues and keep us in a perpetual argument when God is looking for agreement of heart. The word of the Lord comes to John in the midst of that and cuts across that. You see, the political spirit will seek loyalty to an organization and to a memory of past heydays rather than pursuing the current purposes of God for our generation.
I just wanna stay here for a little bit because I feel like I’m hitting a stronghold in this city right now. The ultimate expression of the political spirit is my territory. Who are my people? With Pentecostal Amens right now.
Julian: I want you to hear my heart. I’ve served in local churches, I’ve served in apostolic movements, I’ve been a pastor for eight years at one local church, I’ve served as…I get the dynamic of knowing your flock, it’s important, it’s biblical. But when ownership of who’s who and how many trumps the leading of the spirit, that’s politics. When the memory of what God did in previous moves of God through my particular movement, through my particular church becomes the thing that you value most rather than pressing on into the purposes of God, and so you demand submission and you demand following at the expense of individual destiny and purpose…the word of the Lord comes to John into that context and he begins to disrupt that. He began to say, “It doesn’t have to be the same. There’s a new government coming. There’s a new establishing coming.”
And you see, John…I don’t have time to hit the religious spirit, but I’ll just say this very quickly. One of the key things that the religious spirit will do is overemphasize our distinctive over and above our calling. You see, the people of Israel were distinct because they had the sign of circumcision. It was a distinctive and that distinctive was never meant to be an exclusive in or out thing, it was meant to be a sign to the nations that the covenant-keeping God was blessing this nation so that all nations could enter into the same covenant. And what was meant to bless the nations, what was meant to be their call became a distinctive that separated those people from these people.
I wanna say to you, when you start to feel that your group is on the cutting edge, something’s wrong. If you’re sitting here thinking, “Oh my gosh, I wish my pastor was in this meeting. Oh my gosh, I wish so and so was hearing this,” you probably have a religious spirit because if this stuff doesn’t shift your hearts, something is wrong. And John receives the rhema word.
I wanna end with this. The thing that set John apart as a prophet was that he saw something in the future and he began to live in it today. The thing that sets us apart as the people of God is that we have seen a future reality and we are gaining, striding that in community right now. It’s why we do multicultural churches, not because we’re trying to be politically correct, not because we want to fill the quota system, but because heaven looks like every tribe, every tongue, every nation. The reason why we’re going in our local house after equality for men and women is because in heaven, men and women co-equally rule and reign. That’s what heaven looks like so it needs to look like that on the earth.
The reason why we give to the poor, the reason why we think about justice and mercy is not because we want some good work program and a little social justice kick with some wonderfully poor child on our website with a little donate button. We do it because in heaven, justice means that the oppressed and the oppressor go free. You didn’t get that. The reason why Daniel could serve an evil king is because God saw the intrinsic worth in what everyone else saw as evil. Let me help you a little bit, friends. Until we begin to understand that the Bible calls us to see humanity through the image-bearing nature of a beautiful kind God, we will always despise what we think is evil, and therefore, never engage in order to redeem and bring them into the fullness of the purpose of God for their lives.
And you see, John saw a future and the Bible says…that it says that the least in the kingdom is greater than John. You see, what John prophesied, Jesus fulfilled, and what we, as image bearers of Christ, as those who we have received the spirit of Messiah get to do is not just prophesy to something, but begin to demonstrate to that reality right now. John could only ever look, he never tasted, he never saw, and he never entered in. You and I, by virtue of our being filled with the spirit, we get to enter in to the fulfilment of promise. And John’s job was to do this. He was raised up as a new Moses and he’s at the Jordan in the wilderness. The Jordan speaks of the promises of God and he calls the people back to the promises of God because he’s gonna declare who the Messiah is, the one in whom all of those promises find their “yes” and their “amen.” And those waters of baptism are not waters of cleansing for Jesus. They’re waters of revelation.
All of Israel’s longings found in this one. All of Israel’s promises are found in this one, and what John only got to see and declare, we get to declare and demonstrate. Friends, we’re a people of the future. We’re a people of the future who live in the reality of that future right now. Some people have said to me, “Julian, you have an over-realized eschatology.” That means I want too much of heaven right now. I am guilty as charged.
Because the prince of peace is establishing a new government. It’s not a government of power, it’s a government of peace. Shalom, wellbeing, justice, equity for the poor, not just equality for the poor, equity for the poor.
One of the greatest things that I’ve seen, if I may be so bold and humbly say, and the church in South Africa, is that religion and politics have governed the way we live our Christian life. See, I just want you to know that the government of God does not look like Christian television. It does not look like Christian culture. The government of God establishes peace so it makes it easy for people to choose the king of peace. It doesn’t force anyone. It’s why I pray we never become a Christian nation, but we become Christians in this nation who extend peace through laid down lives of love, so the atmosphere is so charged with heaven that people go, “Who runs this country actually? Where do I find the king in this kingdom?”
God’s calling a forerunner people to make it easy. You see, John’s job was to be a new Moses, who made a highway in the desert place so that it was easy for people to cross into the promise. That’s our job. Will you become a laid down lover highway for this nation to enter in to their promises? I wanna release right now an impartation for a forerunner anointing that would take people out of the wilderness into the promise, that will make it easy for people to enter into the kingdom. Please, I just wanna say this, I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I love people who are Christians in politics. We need that. I don’t want you to misunderstand me about the whole Christian nation thing. I just want you to understand that the Kingdom of God does not look like church. It looks like peace established on the earth.
I believe God wants to commission a people who will be a forerunner nation, kinda run ahead and make it easy. We will not pursue places of power to influence. You know, the Bible says that in the end, God will separate the wheat from the tares and there’s something beautiful about that because wheat, or tares, when it is fully grown, stands tall and its head is empty with no reproductive seed. Wheat, when it is fully grown, is bowed over low full of reproductive seed. It’s why it’s gonna be easy to separate wheat and tares. Because in the kingdom, it is not your position, it is your posture that changes everything, and so I’m asking for a forerunner people who will lay down their lives to love this nation, to love communities, to share what they have liberally, to live as the people of Shalom on the earth.
If your understanding of prosperity is about your personal gain, you’ve missed the point of the kingdom. Prosperity is about a community coming under the goodness of God and we do that by being filled with the spirit. John never got to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s why even though he was great, those who are now at least in the kingdom and filled with the spirit is greater than John the Baptist. Because not only do we get to declare that Messiah is here, not only do we get to say, “Behold the lamb,” we get to demonstrate Messiah’s kingdom wherever we go.
And so if you wanna enter into the forerunner ministry of being a people of the future, I wanna ask you to stand.