“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
From the beginning, God commissioned humans to be rulers of the land and the rest of God’s creation. We were made in God’s image to share the responsibility of ruling the world with Him.
What would this look like? Well, the first clue God gives us is in verse 28 when he told humanity to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “rule.” This command is about harnessing the raw potential of the earth and using it to create something new for the benefit of all. This at a basic level can be applied to cultivating the earth through farming and gardening. This is also seen in growing families, which turn into communities that then develop culture, all for their flourishing. This all is good to God.
However, with this real responsibility God gave to humans to rule comes tremendous risk, and it doesn’t take long for humans to rebel against God to establish a kingdom on earth by their own rules. Therefore, from Genesis 3 on in the story of humanity, it’s not just God’s will that matters anymore in the story; the rest of the Bible illustrates the clash of kingdoms that ensues when humans turn away.
At this point, there is a major problem on the earth: a fallen, broken, sinful humanity with the authority to rule the world. Therefore, God performs a hostile takeover of his kingdom through one family: the family of Abraham, which becomes the 12 tribes of Israel. We all know how that goes (see the entire Old Testament). Now, there are 2 major problems on the earth: a fallen, broken, sinful humanity and a fallen, broken, sinful supposed vehicle for salvation of all of humanity. Things are not going well.
“’The time has come,’ he [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
This is when Jesus comes on the scene (after 400 years of silence). I used to think that Jesus’s main teaching was about the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:35-40 or Mark 12:28-34) or caring for the least of these, but far and away, what Jesus talked about the most during his time on earth was the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. Jesus announced that the kingdom of God arrived through him. How does that work?
We saw in Genesis 1 that heaven and earth were two realms made to be completely united with each other. Of course, we messed this up with the fruit and the sin, etc. Jesus came to announce that he is reuniting heaven and earth, and that reunion is the “kingdom.” Therefore, the kingdom of God is not a place or a thing; it is an encounter with the living God, King Jesus, that leaves one utterly changed and convicted to live differently, so much so that one cannot go back to their lives prior. The cross was the meeting place for heaven and earth, and Jesus becomes enthroned to rule at that moment. He received a robe and a crown, and he was exalted up for all to see. This was not how we thought our king would come to save us. It seems like at the moment of the crucifixion Jesus failed at establishing his kingdom. This is the upside-down nature of this world—we cannot comprehend that ruling is not about power and dominance and conquering. Many of us get a bad taste in our mouths at the very thought of humans ruling over the world (since we’ve done a terrible job thus far). This is precisely what Jesus came to reveal about this world: true rule (the rule that God shared with us at the beginning) means sacrificing oneself for the needs of all others, dying to oneself for the benefit of all. This is what Jesus displayed perfectly on the cross, where he established the most beautiful kingdom this world has ever known.
To “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “rule” (Genesis 1:28) were commands to take care of this world and all who live in it. If everyone participates in that rule completely, there is no room for lack because no one would be left behind. That is what the kingdom of God was about. That was what Jesus showed us in his ministry. He forgave criminals and prostitutes. He healed the sick and wounded. He rescued people from demonic powers of evil. He washed the feet of his disciples. This is how we are to heal this world.
So what does the kingdom of God look like practically? Many feel called to travel across the world preaching the Word of the Lord and caring for those they encounter. They are surely bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. However, what about the rest of us? We all live in communities and have a local church body to interact with. This is where the kingdom of God grows and spreads from. Our part is to cultivate that community through forgiveness of others, reconciled relationships, and fostering connections with others to display the love of Christ. We were never meant to live this life in isolation. God’s love by its very nature is relational since from the beginning God existed in his triune form. Therefore, we understand and feel his love and kingdom through the bonds we make with others. The kingdom of God will come through the body of Christ as a whole. We must work together.
This gives us the opportunity to examine the aspects of community and sift through how we live our lives to glorify God. This earth has not been forsaken by God, nor will it be. The entire Bible reveals how God’s intention is to reunite heaven and earth and restore his creation. What we do on this earth and how we take care of it matters. This should inform how we bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. This is where environmental protection and animal consideration come into play, which is where I also bring in veganism. The vegan diet by far is the most sustainable diet on the planet with regard to resource preservation, economic stability, health promotion, and environmental recovery. To research these aspects of veganism, I recommend looking through my recommendations on a previous post, found here.
Another aspect of community development that we must take into consideration is culture. As diverse as they are colorful, cultures paint this world vividly with rich history infused into human experience enjoyed through all five senses. From the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the music we hear to the very houses we live in, culture informs it all. During my time in my church, I noticed a secondary culture emerging from the culture at large where I live in Texas, and that is church culture. We have created for ourselves alternative music that praises the Lord and tells stories of incredible grace. We have fashioned for ourselves alternative clothing that is modest as a rule yet still stylish compared to the status quo. Why should our food be any different? Why don’t we take a hard look at what we are eating and determine the environmental, moral, and human health implications of it? I know this lack of in-depth consideration may be because of lack of knowledge that anything is amiss, though we need only to glance from our left to our right to notice that something is not right with our food system. As Christians, we put everything on the table: family, friends, politics, money, jobs, etc. Why do we leave food off the table?
We have noticed that culture is beautiful and enthralling, but it is laced with sin because it is a product of human hands. It is our duty as Christians bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth to sift through what we have created and slowly weed out the tares. We all support structures of violence. We will not be perfect on this side of eternity, but we must have the spirit to say no to the machines of greed that are fueling our globalized world and choose to live simpler, to live smaller, to live with enough to take care of ourselves so we can give the rest away. To me, this looks like family or community gardens, local artisans, handmade textiles, and families gathered around their tables sharing in home-cooked meals straight from their yards. These goals involve local food production, minimalist living, and conscious spending to support fair-trade, non-slave-labor-produced products. While we work through these efforts to positively impact the world as a whole from abstaining from its globalized harm, we can also work to build and renew relationships with our neighbors and families, which is where the kingdom of God can flourish. This is how I believe we are to rule the world.