The laws of the Kingdom of God are contrary to the ways of men (Mat 13:44). Hidden from the casual seeker or church-goer, the Kingdom is not superficial to be stumbled upon. It does not lie on the surface and is not obvious, it is like a treasure hidden in the field, a lost coin, or a pearl hidden in the secret place of an oyster. It is in fact, concealed, obscured from our natural perceptions.
Christ the King - the Rock of Offence
This fact brings light to the birth of Christ. The promised Messiah did not come as the anticipated Warrior-King delivering Israel from Roman control. On the contrary, born in obscurity he came as a humble Nazarene, the son of Joseph riding on a donkey. Thus, Nathaniel's statement of the Christ in John 1:46. Defying human expectation of an earthly kingdom he became a stumbling stone, the rock of offence (Rom 9:32-33). Even after associating with him as his closest friends, throughout his earthly ministry, the disciples still misunderstood the Kingdom. Despite forty days of Jesus speaking concerning the Kingdom of God, they still nursed hopes of a worldly kingdom (Acts 1:6). They still perceived the Kingdom in terms of external criteria, particularly social and political ones. However, while the Kingdom will manifest through external signs, which I will discuss in a moment, it is primarily an inner and hidden reality. It is therefore, not discernible to the natural senses or cognitive abilities.
An Invisible Kingdom
Jesus underlined this in Luke 17:20-21. Whether the original text refers to Christ standing among them or being present within them is a moot point. Either way, the Kingdom was present through the presence of Christ. The Kingdom is, therefore, only present in its fullness when Christ dwells among men by the Spirit. There is only one concise New Testament descriptor of the Kingdom of God in, Romans 14:17 " for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Here we learn that the Kingdom is not only experiential but that it is "in the Holy Spirit. His presence is supernatural and, therefore, cannot be detected by natural observation. Therefore, the first and primary sign of the Kingdom is invisible. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col 1:27). This is personal and experiential. No one will be able to say, "Look, here it is!" or "There it is!" No external or natural criteria will assist in locating the Kingdom. It will not be found by looking at the outward at the crowds, the leader or the success. Nor will it be located in any particular structure, group or event. Neither will it be found in a political presence, community impact or social transformation. We make a mistake to equate the Kingdom with any of these things. This is not to deny that they may occur through them, but they are not the Kingdom nor are they the primary signs of the Kingdom. The nature of Jesus' Kingdom is revolutionary and reforming, completely defying every human expectation of worldly influence and power (Jn 18:36).
With our contemporary quest for church growth, on one hand, and social transformation on the other, this lesson is crucial to the integrity of our high call in Christ Jesus. If we are desirous of pursuing Christ alone, we must not confuse that call with any lesser thing. If we do, it will be easy to trade the Kingdom for visible results, perceived success, for numbers or community impact. The scary thing is that God may give us our desires, but with it "leanness of soul" (Ps 106:15).
Signs of the Kingdom
Flowing from the supernatural presence of Christ, some essential signs of the Kingdom are the preaching of the Gospel (Mt 4:23; Lk 4:18), healings and miracles (Mt 4:23; Lk 7:22 ), deliverance (Mt 12:28), the new birth (Jn 3:3; Acts 26:18 ; Rom 14:17 ), Christ-likeness (Col 1:27, 28) and suffering (Acts 14:22; 1 Pet 2:21; 2 Tim 2:12). Consequently, the Kingdom advances in the earth not through campaigns of moral, political or social reformation, not even church growth, but through the primary sign of its presence, Christ dwelling in the hearts of men. As individual hearts yield one by one, the regenerating power of the Spirit the Kingdom will increase and eventually accelerate to transform whole cities and nations. Nation building and social transformation will only flow to the degree, individual hearts are transformed. We can be confident, however, that the river of God's Spirit will continue to flow in restoration to the ultimate healing of the nations (Rev 22:1-2).