Two Kingdoms

Aren’t God’s laws supposed to make people live by justice and fairness so that good triumphs over evil? That’s what we’ve been taught and what we mostly wish was true. But laws describe things . . . through actions and results, causes and effects, offenses and punishments.

Those two trees in the garden identify the two, non-overlapping eternal realms, or kingdoms. We choose between them for our citizenship by whom we believe in, put our faith in, rely upon . . . trust.

For Sure There’s Death

The tree of death corresponds to the law of sin and death in the New Testament. I call it the “tree of death” because God said “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (from Genesis 2:16-17). And the name of the law comes from this passage in Romans . . .

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2)

The kingdom of death is for those who are separated from God. It’s where we all began.

You see, only He has the authority to decide what’s good and what’s evil. Yet Eve exposed her envy by eating that tree’s fruit. She wanted His position: to be the Supreme Judge, the Ultimate Authority (from Genesis 3:4-5). We were all like her. It’s proved out by our lingering judgmental ways.

Remaining a citizen of that kingdom is the result of continuing to rely upon ourselves, justifying our own innocence and assessing others’ guilt (convinced of our rightness and their wrongness, our goodness and their badness). It’s what Job did in his first 41 chapters.

There’s Also Life

The tree of life corresponds to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. It’s the other law in Romans 8:1-2. The gist of it is: the Holy Spirit lives within you as proof that you have eternal life because you’re joined with Jesus.

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,

even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him He may give eternal life.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:1-3)

Right here and right now, because we put our faith in Him, we’re citizens of the kingdom of life (the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven). Being joined with Jesus and entering His kingdom was the result of humbly trusting God, realizing our initial separation and the futility of our independence. That’s what Job finally did; it’s recorded in Job 42:1-6.

Those two laws describe how to recognize our original condition as citizens of death, and how to obtain eternal life as citizens of the kingdom of God.

We’ve Crossed the Threshold

We started out in death’s kingdom, under its reign, and we couldn’t escape by walking up to the tree of life and eating its fruit. Genesis chapter three explains that tree was taken out of human reach and angels stand guard.

They carry a blazing sword that serves as a welcoming beacon for those who seek eternal life . . . and as a foreboding deterrent to those who are still trying to be God, the Judge. By faith we’ve seen that tree of life: the cross, and by faith we’ve eaten its fruit: Jesus’ blood and flesh (from John 6:51-58).

Please take another look at this passage from Romans and consider that transition’s profound effects on this life you’re living.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2)

Remember Your Citizenship

Dual citizenship isn’t an option. Are you going to continue being the Authoritative Judge, evaluating who (and what) is good and evil, using worldly values or even Scripture verses as the basis for your complaining? That’s natural for citizens of the kingdom of death, insisting that they’re good and wanting justice to punish the bad. Or will you, as a citizen of God’s kingdom, let Him do the judging while you represent Him to those you meet?

That’s the choice Jesus gave His disciples with the parable of “The Unrighteous Judge” . . . sometimes labeled “The Persistent Widow” (Luke 18:1-8).

It begins with “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” Most of the time this verse is used as inspiration for us to keep asking God for what we want, hoping that He will eventually relent and fulfill our requests. But there’s more to the story.

The Parable . . .

There was a judge who really didn’t care about anyone except himself, not even God. And there was a widow who repeatedly went to that judge begging for help against an opponent who had been goading her. Finally, after tiring of her begging, the judge agreed, not for her good, but so that she would quit troubling him.

Jesus equated the widow with God’s chosen people. (Both of them wanted to put an end to their opponent.) Then He asked the heart-probing (and often overlooked) question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

This is the crucial point in His message, and we can’t understand it if we stay focused on such a few verses. Let’s back up to where His message began, at Luke 17:22. There He was telling them about His return on Judgment Day, when justice will be finalized. The parable about the widow and the judge was to provoke the disciples’ thinking about their future (and all of mankind’s).

Would they allow God to transform them using adversity? Soon they would see their beloved Jesus crucified by the Romans and they’d be betrayed by their own people. Could they trust Him to be the Judge, realizing it might be a long time before His reckoning? Or would they decide for themselves who and what were good and evil, like the widow did?

Surely, they were to “pray and not lose heart” . . . trusting Him to know what He was doing. His imminent crucifixion (followed by their own suffering) would memorialize the opening of the gates to His kingdom, the kingdom of life.

Israel had essentially declared that God was dead; she was indeed the widow that He was talking about. And soon Pilate was going to be the unrighteous judge who would carry out her demands for His (Jesus’) execution. This was the plan that was set into motion at the beginning.

When the Son of Man comes, will He find you being the Judge of good and evil? Or will He find you living by faith while facing adversity, trusting God to be patient and merciful with everyone just like He has been with you?