Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple. (Luke 21:29-37)
My dog recognizes the sound of my wife’s footsteps on the front porch. His tail reacts immediately, long before the front door actually opens. Jesus used similar images so that his disciples would understand that the kingdom of God was near. In fact, not long before he was crucified, Jesus announced to his disciples that God’s kingdom would arrive before their generation had passed away.
So where is this kingdom of God that Jesus promised his disciples? Was Jesus wrong? Or are we misunderstanding something? Repeatedly, Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of God was near. Repeatedly, he told parables to describe what the kingdom of God was like. And never once did his description sound even remotely like a political entity.
Like the disciples, we tend to misunderstand what the kingdom of God was all about: it was first of all about God taking up residence and ruling in the hearts of his people. With the coming of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and then with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the church became something separate from the old earthly nation of Israel. We became a kingdom of priests, worshiping God in Spirit and truth. Our worship was no longer—and could never again—be conducted in an earthly temple. The kingdom of God began when Jesus came and it has been expanding ever since—and will continue to do so until Jesus returns as he promised.