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The following is the introduction from my book Jesus in 3D which came out this past month. (The Amazon search feature only gives half of the intro, so I figured I’d offer it here in full.) Of course I’d love for you to buy it, read it, and let me know what you think. (And if you like it, post a favorable review there on Amazon!)

About a year ago I saw my first 3D movie. (Yes, I know, I’m a little behind.) The film was beautiful, but after a while I got a bit tired of it. So I took off my 3D glasses to see if I could enjoy the film without them. I could see the basic images and for the most part follow the movement, but focusing was very difficult and I about gave myself a headache. So I gave up, put the glasses back on, and took in the rest of the show.

Reading the Gospel stories of Jesus is for many of you not unlike watching a 3D movie without wearing 3D glasses. You can make out a few details and get a vague sense of what’s going on, but the whole screen is fairly distorted and if you stare too long, your head starts to hurt.

I hope this book changes that. Its purpose is to take a close look at Jesus as a real person—the real person you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.[1] These four books tell the story of Jesus, and this story inspires, encourages, enlightens, and even transforms us. But it also confuses us.

I (perhaps naïvely) believe anyone will benefit from reading this book, but I’m especially writing to you who have read the Gospels and walked away confused. Maybe you love a verse or two from Matthew or Mark, or perhaps a story from Luke or John. But even the parts you love feel like individual puzzle pieces without a box top to clarify how they fit together.

The box top you’re looking for is something Jesus called the “kingdom of God.” Or to return to our original metaphor, if Jesus’ mission is a 3D film, God’s kingdom is a pair of 3D glasses. It integrates the individual layers of color to form a single coherent image.

Some of you have never thought twice about the kingdom of God, even if you’ve gone to church your whole life. This is kind of weird, considering that the kingdom of God formed the centerpiece of Jesus’ entire movement. If you don’t believe me, check out the following list of some of the many ways we see Jesus and the Gospel writers talking about God’s kingdom.

  • How Jesus began his ministry: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1.14-15; also Matthew 4.17[2])
  • What God sent Jesus to do: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4.43)
  • What Jesus actually did: Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8.1)
  • What Jesus said to seek above all else: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6.33)
  • What Jesus sent his disciples to proclaim: When Jesus had called the Twelve together . . . he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9.1-2, 61; also Matthew 10.5-8)
  • The center of Jesus’ model prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6.9-10)
  • The meaning of Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms: “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11.20; Matthew 12.28)
  • The subject of Jesus’ parables: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables.” (Luke 8.9; also Matthew 13)
  • How Jesus explains his defenseless acceptance of death:  My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18.36)
  • The summary of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4.23; 9.35)

Clearly, God’s kingdom was a big deal to Jesus. But what is it?

Jesus never defines it, no doubt in part because a definition alone could never tell the whole story. It might help us get a good start though, so I’m going to give it a shot. Building especially on Jesus’ model prayer, here is our working definition of the kingdom of God: the realm over which God rules as king, where his name is properly honored and his will is promptly done.

I’ll spend the rest of this book unpacking what that means. In chapter one, I’ll overview the story of God up to the coming of Jesus. (In other words, the whole Old Testament in about twenty pages!) Chapter two will explore the first century world of Jesus—what expectations they had for someone like him. The next three chapters lay out four interlocking goals of Jesus’ mission: establish God’s kingdom and reform God’s family (three), warn of God’s judgment (four), and clarify God’s will (five). The final two chapters examine the meaning of Jesus’ death (six) and the impact of his resurrection (seven). By the end, you’ll have a better grasp not only of the individual elements of Jesus’ agenda, but also how they fit together within the overall story of God’s search for a kingdom.

[1] I believe Jesus was more than just a man. I believe, in fact, that he was and is the incarnation of the one true God and the exact representation of God’s being. But he also was and is a real person. He lived, ate, and slept. He laughed, drank, and wept. He did some pretty impressive stuff and led a revolution of sorts, but wound up getting himself killed. Then God raised him from the dead. But through it all—from the beginning of his life on down to the present—he remained 100% human. Without denying the divinity of Jesus, this book focuses on his humanity.

[2] Matthew often uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God.” There is no difference between the two. Matthew replaces “God” with “heaven” out of reverence for God’s name. The Jewish people had a history of not saying God’s name because of its sacredness, and Matthew’s readers were mostly Jewish. Also, anytime you see a portion of Scripture highlighted, the emphasis is my own.