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The Upside-Down Kingdom

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The Upside-Down Kingdom

Kevin Deisher

Fresno Pacific University

The Upside-Down Kingdom


The Upside-Down Kingdom is Donald B. Kraybill’s effort to look at the Kingdom of God from a perspective that is very different from what we expect of a traditional kingdom on Earth.  When it comes to the conventional wisdom of what an earthly kingdom should be, most people would think of a powerful ruler who is attended by and served by many people from advisors to peasants who make up the majority of their subjects.  When the Jews, who were alive at the time of Jesus’ ministry, thought of Messiah, they were expecting this kind of powerful king.  They thought Messiah would come in and overthrow the oppressive Roman Empire that was ruling over Israel at the time.  They were expecting a conqueror who triumphantly enters Jerusalem at the head of an army to establish God’s kingdom on Earth at their present time in history.  From Herod the great through his son, and from Caiaphas and all of the Jewish religious leaders of the day, they completely misunderstood the prophecies in their scripture.  The Jewish Bible, our Old Testament, clearly depicted a Messiah who would be humble yet strong, and who would be crucified for the sins of man.  Messiah would then be raised from the dead showing his power over death and the grave.  

When Jesus came, he established the Kingdom of God on Earth, but his kingdom was upside-down from the expectations of everyone.  He led as one with power and authority, but he did so as a humble servant to others.  He opened his kingdom to not only Jews but to sinners and Gentiles as well to the disbelief and astonishment of the Jewish leaders and even his disciples.  Jesus consorted with sinners and the unclean, throwing the entire concept of what Messiah should be upside-down.  For these and other reasons, the religious leaders wanted to kill him.

Upside-Down Jubilee – Chapter 6

Zacchaeus was the epitome of the evil tax collector, shunned by polite Jewish society.  He was like a mafia Don sitting atop a financial empire built on greed, theft, embezzlement, and extortion.  The Pharisees and Sadducees would never consider defiling themselves by associating with Zacchaeus in any way.  Jesus embraced him as a child of God, worthy of his love and compassion.  Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house, and the two probably talked about his business dealings over a power lunch.  Whatever Jesus spoke about to Zacchaeus fell upon ears that were ready to hear, and the words melted his heart of stone.  How do we know this without actually reading the text of their conversation?  We know this because, after their lunch, Zacchaeus came out and publicly announced that he would give up half of his possessions to the poor.  Further, he said that he would pay back four times as much as he initially took from people he may have defrauded (Kraybill, 2003, p. 115-117).  

Kraybill goes on to draw a comparison of Zacchaeus to the rich young ruler with whom Jesus speaks.  The rich young ruler wanted salvation but was unwilling to do what it takes because he would not part with any of his money or possessions.  He knew his theology of the Jewish Bible, but he did not know or understand about Jubilee.  Therefore, he faced condemnation.  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, knew little of theology and was apparently not concerned with salvation.  However, because after his conversation with Jesus, he began to practice jubilee and he was granted salvation.  Through this comparison, a further comparison can be drawn between the rich Pharisees, who were full of theology but not salvation, and the sinners and Gentiles who followed Jesus.  They were poor in theology but rich in their salvation because they believed in Jesus.  The comparison shows how upside-down the Kingdom of God is.

Upside-Down Power – Chapter 11

According to Kraybill, Jesus was not the typical King.  He did not command generals, nor did he threaten his subjects.  He could have come that way, but it was not his style.  Instead, those he made to be heroes in the kingdom were the children and the least in society.  He honors servants and slaves as role models for virtue in their service.  Jesus, as a man, was powerless, although he could have commanded legions of angels to do his bidding and destroy the oppressors of God’s chosen people (Kraybill, 2003, p. 235).  Indeed, at some point in the future, he will do that very thing.  

Jesus wielded such great power in his meekness and humility that he became a great threat to the political and religious leaders.  He condemned the rich for their treatment of the poor.  He challenged the oral law that dictated almost all of the behavior of the religious elite.  His new upside-down kingdom model had deep religious and political implications, and it threatened to undo the social order and religious life of the day.  Although Jesus had only a small number of devout followers, he attracted large crowds and support from the common people.  The religious leaders saw the threat to their power base and ultimately the Roman governor, wanting to avoid a rebellion, had him crucified at the request of the Jewish leaders.



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