Another critical component of the kingdom is that is grounded in relationship. Life in the kingdom of God is not an individual endeavor. You cannot find a single place in the teaching or life of Jesus that even implies that kingdom life is solitary. Relationship is a cornerstone of the kingdom and a consistent theme in Scripture. In fact, one way to describe the story of Scripture is God working to restore the relationships lost in the fall.
A central element of the Jewish expectation of the kingdom was Shalom. Shalom means peace, but it also implies wholeness in life. Part of shalom is the sense of wholeness or being fulfilled that comes from living the life we were created to live, and we were created to live in community.
The only thing God declared not good in his creation was a companionless Adam. God brought all the animals to him, but couldn’t find a suitable companion. So he put Adam to sleep and created Eve in a way that no other creature was created. (Genesis 2:18-22) We were created for community. Notice all the relational notes in the first chapters of Genesis.
Adam and Eve had an intimate relationship with God. He interacted directly with them, speaking to them, instructing them, and even walking with them in the garden (Genesis 3:8). You see another level of the wholeness of shalom in Adam and Eve’s relationships with themselves and one another when Genesis tells us they were naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:25) There is even a relational connection with creation as Adam is responsible for naming the animals and caring for the Garden (Genesis 2:20, 15).
Relationships were perfect. They were whole. There was shalom in the garden, but watch how that changes when sin enters the picture. When they hear God walking in the garden, Adam and Eve hide from him (Genesis 3:8). They became ashamed of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Adam blames Eve for their sin. (Genesis 3:12) One of sin’s consequences is marital discord (Genesis 3:16), and another consequence impacts our relationship with creation. The ground itself is cursed and it will only provide food through toil and sweat (Genesis 3:17-19).
From this moment on Scripture tells the incredible story of God’s progressive efforts to restore these relationships. He calls Abraham and promises to make his descendants into a nation that the entire world will be blessed by. (Genesis 12:1-3) He reveals his name to Moses and declares that the Israelites would be his people. (Exodus 6:2-7) He dwells in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) and eventually the temple built by Solomon. (1 Kings 8:10-11) Then he identifies with us on an unprecedented level in the incarnation. In Jesus, God actually becomes one of us. (Matthew 1:23) He is killed. He rises from the dead and ascends to heaven. Then the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts. (Acts 2:1-4) God’s presence isn’t in one particular temple in Jerusalem. He is in the hearts of his people. And now we look forward to the final and complete restoration of all humanity and creation. (Revelation 21:1-8) The story of Scripture is the story of a God who is working to reestablish the relational shalom that was lost in the fall.
It is in our relationships that we experience the life of the kingdom. It is not solitary. We experience and live out the life in the kingdom in our relationships with God, self, others and creation. There is much more to say about relationships, but we’ll save that for another time.