What Jesus Said We Are to Pursue

What Jesus Said We Are to Pursue

To illustrate what he meant by his command to seek first the kingdom of God, Jesus told the story of a pearl merchant who goes looking for a beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime pearl. Somewhere in an oriental bazaar he finds it: lustrous, beautiful, perfect. He wants it. And when he hears the price, never betraying his excitement, he makes one swift calculation—it will cost him everything he has. EVERYTHING.

His cool, down-to-earth friends, if they could talk with him now, would advise him: “Don’t go overboard. You can’t afford this pearl. The price is too high. Don’t be a fool. Don’t throw everything away for that pearl!” But he cannot help himself. He must have it. He sells everything. Now this treasure is his! Now this once-in-a-lifetime pearl belongs to him! This is what the kingdom of God is like… a fabulous pearl—a great, great treasure. But it will cost you everything! “My followers,” says Jesus, “are to SEEK the most valuable treasure they can obtain—the kingdom of God.”

But what does that treasure look like? This episode provides a biblical definition of the term kingdom of God and when that becomes clear, we will see why Jesus said that PURSUING THE KINGDOM OF GOD is the most valuable objective anyone could ever build his life around!

This is the second episode in our series, “Focused and Effective for the Master.” Jesus devotes the entire sixth chapter of Matthew in his Sermon on the Mount to telling us what NOT to seek—the approval of men, what moth and rust can destroy, what thieves can steal, career advancement because no one can serve two masters, or accumulating a nest egg because no one can pursue God and Mammon. We must resist allowing our anxieties to preoccupy us—being driven by the questions, what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or what shall we wear? “No,” says Jesus, “that is the focus of the lost—what THEY seek. But YOU have something much more valuable to be YOUR focus, a fabulous treasure to pursue, something priceless to seek. It is called, the kingdom of God.

The problem with pursuing this precious treasure, as we saw last week, is that the phrase, kingdom of God, is so hard to define. For example, it is:

  • an ordering of society in which there will be superiors and inferiors (Mt 5:19)
  • a community in which the king exercises dominion with his followers on his left and right (Mt 20:21)
  • a place where there is a certain perspective (Lk 9:62; Mk 12:34)
  • a gift from the Heavenly Father (Lk 12:32)
  • a condition of peace and happiness in which kingdom members will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mt 8:11)

No wonder Christians have so much difficulty understanding what seeking first the kingdom of God means! Last week, we tried to clear up the fuzziness of this term by unraveling the rich thread of kingdom in Scripture. We noted that the Bible distinguishes between God’s sovereign rule and his moral or preceptive rule. Jesus uses the term, kingdom of God NOT to refer to God’s sovereign rule but God’s moral, preceptive, righteous rule. Adam was to make his kingdom, earth, into a kingdom that God ruled (i.e., in which righteousness prevailed), by exercising dominion and shaping culture so that God’s perfect moral rule was established—making earth a true “kingdom of God.” Adam failed, choosing instead to rule for himself, causing earth NOT to be a kingdom of God but a kingdom of evil and destruction. But, a second Adam has brought the kingdom of Godhis righteous rule—down to earth, invading Adam’s kingdom, overthrowing its illegitimate rulers, Satan, sin, and death, and establishing God’s kingdom of righteousness on earth, thereby making Adam’s kingdom, earth, a true kingdom of God.  

This understanding that seeking first the kingdom of God refers to spreading the righteous agenda of Christ over every square inch of earth is further confirmed by correctly understanding the difference between the English word, kingdom, and the Greek word for kingdom, BASILEA. The English word, kingdom, usually refers to a spatial reality defined by physical boundaries. The king of Spain rules over the territory of Spain. But, unlike the English word kingdom, which is defined by its spatial boundaries, the Greek word BASILEIA can simply mean, “the sphere of the king’s rule,” “his kingship,” “kingly dominion.” Collin Brown’s New International Dictionary of NT Theology defines the phrase “kingdom of God” as kingly rule. It is the realm of submission to the righteous rule of Christ. The kingdom is not a geographical sphere but the sphere of human life where Christ’s righteous rule is established. To seek first the kingdom of God is to seek the rule of Jesus’ kingdom of righteousness over every part the earth. This understanding is substantiated through a correct understanding of the word BASILEA but also throughout the rest of Scripture. For example:

  • Matthew 6:33 itself. Jesus does not just tell us that our top priority is to seek the kingdom of God, he explains what he means by adding “and his righteousness.”  Dutch scholar Herman Ridderbos explains, “In Matthew 6:33, the kingdom of God and righteousness are spoken of in the form of a “hendiadys,” (a grammatical structure used to show parallel meanings). It may rightly be said therefore, that the kingdom and righteousness are synonymous concepts in Jesus’ teaching” (The Coming of the Kingdom).
  • Matt 5:10 and Luke 18:29. Comparing these texts shows that suffering persecution “for the sake of righteousness” in 5:10 is replaced by that of suffering persecution “for the sake of the kingdom” in Luke 18:29, further showing that Jesus used the terms interchangeably.
  • Matthew 28:18-20. Many Christians cite the Great Commission, “to go and make disciples” from verses 19-20 but leave off the verse before it. Verse 18, however, is critical. We now have the power to return to Adam’s calling to make disciples of the nations only because Jesus has taken back Adam’s kingdom from slavery to Satan, sin, and death. Verse 18 says, ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME. GO THEREFORE and make disciples of all nations. What authority was given to Jesus? He was already God the Son, the sovereign ruler over all. This “authority” is Jesus’ authority as the second Adam, now reigning over Satan, sin, and death. Author, Tim Keller writes, “The kingdom of God is the renewal of the whole world through the entrance of supernatural forces. As things are brought back under Christ’s rule and authority, they are restored to health, beauty, and freedom” (Ministries of Mercy) For things to be “brought back under Christ’s rule and authority” is another way of saying that Christ’s righteous rule has been sought and established in those spheres. So, seeking the kingdom of God is seeking to spread Christ’s kingdom of “rightness” over earth.


Many Christians hear the term “righteousness” and automatically think of “the imputed righteousness of Christ.” They hear “seeking righteousness” as “seeking self-righteousness.” But such a narrow definition of righteousness is unbiblical. True believers are saved by grace alone through faith alone. But true salvation leads to a hatred of sin (Romans 12:9) and pursuit of a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18). In fact, one of the eight heart attitudes that Jesus said characterize kingdom members is hungering and thirsting for righteousness. (Matt 5:6). God’s grace, which has set me free from enslavement to the kingdom of sin, darkness, and destruction must lead to a yearning to see Christ’s agenda of righteousness prevailing in every sphere of my own life and over every sphere of earth.


1. Sharing the gospel. To say that the true gospel is the gospel of the kingdom not just the gospel of personal private salvation does NOT devalue the strategic importance of sharing Christ with others. The best way for the gospel of the kingdom to spread is through an individual surrendering to the Lordship of King Jesus and them being equipped in discipleship to implement Christ’s agenda of righteousness in every sphere of his life. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. How can we NOT weep for those who are desperately looking to fill the hole in their heart that we know can only be filled by walking intimately with a God who loves them? Pursuing “rightness” over the earth begins with helping others get into a “right relationship with God.”

2. Highly valuing your secular work. A view of Christianity that does not understand that Jesus is the second Adam, who has recovered Adam’s original calling to cultivate his kingdom—earth—will devalue our calling to the workplace. “This physical world is the source of temptation and is just going to burn up. We must withdraw from it and focus on spiritual things like reading the Bible and sharing the gospel.” In contrast, Scripture teaches that King Jesus has restored you to your Adamic role to develop his earth because God loves it, it is a mirror of his glory, and kings cultivate their kingdoms to develop their full potential. Such perspective fills our 50-hour workweek with significance. Vocation is the way we develop the potential of creation. Teachers and coaches develop the potential of humans. Scientists discover creation’s potential, whether magnetism, petroleum, or diamonds. Engineers build tools to increase productivity. Serving vocations like farming, medicine, restaurant ownership sustain life. Government employees bring order to culture. Artists, musicians, and story tellers show their God-like creativity and make life more enjoyable.  

3. Highly valuing the physical world of creation even though fallen. Al Wolters writes, “Whether we look at societal structures such as the state or family, or cultural pursuits such as art or technology, or bodily functions such as sexuality or eating, or anything at all within the wide scope of creation, we discover that the wide handiwork of God has been drawn into the sphere of human mutiny against God” (Creation Regained). “The whole creation,” penned the Apostle Paul, “has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:22). Wolters continues, “Yet we must be careful to keep creation and sin distinct, however closely they may be intertwined in our experience. Prostitution does not eliminate the goodness of sexuality; political tyranny cannot wipe out the divinely ordained character of the state; the anarchy and of much modern art cannot obliterate the creational legitimacy of art itself” (Ibid). Evil does not have the power to undo creation’s great goodness. The Bible does NOT teach a dualism that locates sin in the created order. The physical world is not the enemy; sin is. “The kingdom of God is hostile to nothing but sin alone” (Bavinck, Dogmatics). Both the incarnation and the bodily resurrection of Christ show that “Christianity doesn’t adopt a hostile attitude towards anything that is human or natural but intends only to deliver creation from all that is sinful, and to sanctify it completely” (Ibid). The command, “Do not love the world” is not directed at the creation but at the world system that opposes God. To the contrary, Christians love God so much that they love his creation—devoting themselves tirelessly to being salt that retards the decay of sin in the culture and being light to those made in God’s image who are walking in darkness. 

4. Understanding salvation not as ESCAPE FROM this world but RENEWAL OF LIFE IN this world that then leads to eternal life. A sub-biblical view of our salvation is betrayed when we envision eternal life as going to heaven. Our spirits do go immediately into God’s presence when we die. But the biblical truth is not that we die and go to heaven for eternity, but that heaven will one day come down to earth, make all things new, and we will dwell together with God on the renewed earth forever (Rev 22:1-6). It is significant that virtually all the biblical words describing salvation imply returning to an originally good state. Consider three:

  • Redemption. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “In him we have REDEMPTION through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph 1:7). To redeem is to buy free, literally to buy back. The image is of a once-free person who has been kidnapped or has sold himself into slavery. Someone else pays a ransom on behalf of the captive to buy back his or her original freedom.
  • Renewal. Paul writes, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being RENEWED in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Eph 4:23). Literally, this word means making new again. The old self is returned to an originally good state.
  • Regeneration. To Titus, Paul writes, “He saved us…by the washing of REGENERATION and renewal of the Holy Spirit” The key biblical concept of regeneration means a return to life after death (3:5).

Scripture insists that being saved means restoration, i.e., the return to the original good, unscathed creation. As Dutch scholar Herman Bavinck argues, “It would have been much simpler if God had destroyed the whole fallen world and replaced it with an entirely new one… But instead, it will be cleansed of sin and recreated, reborn, renewed, made whole” (Ibid). Seeking first the kingdom of God means that our mission is joining Jesus in his present work of restoring everything in this world broken by sin. Our calling is not to SEPARATE from culture but ENGAGE culture to redeem and restore it.

Think of the implications of this calling when it comes to justice. The word righteousness is often translated justice. No Christian who understands Matt 6:33’s call to seek to spread Christ’s kingdom of righteousness over earth could have rationalized overlooking the evil of American slavery. That could only be done by spiritualizing the concept of the kingdom of God. Historically, Christians have not usually done that. To the contrary, we have understood our mission to be opposing oppression. Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), William Wilberforce, and other Christians fought the African slave trade. Christians brought the practice of widow immolation to an end in India, and the practice of slaughtering the wives of chieftains upon their deaths across Africa. Christians opposed the abusive practice of the foot-binding of Chinese daughters and are engaged across the globe today fighting the sex trade and bringing restoration to those enslaved by it.

Pursing Christ’s kingdom of righteousness today means doing all in our power to protect blacks or other minorities from racial bias, the unborn from abortion, the poor and marginalized from oppression by the economically strong, tender-hearted boys from gay predators, and pubescent girls from mutilating their bodies because gender ideologues have pushed them down the path of gender change. We have a compelling mission that calls out to us right now!  

5. Understanding Christ’s mission to be more than just the pursuit of personal righteousness but the establishment of his righteousness over planet earth. Professors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert of Covenant College composed a survey asking, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” The vast majority answer, “Jesus came to die on the cross to save us from our sin so that we can go to heaven.” Though this statement is true, such a response is not the complete answer Jesus himself would give to that question. Jesus inaugurated his mission by saying “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Centuries earlier Isaiah had prophesied that a king was coming who would usher in a kingdom unlike any kingdom they had ever seen. This kingdom would “bring healing to the parched soil, the feeble hands, the shaking knees, the fearful hearts, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the mute, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the sinful souls and would proclaim the year of jubilation for the poor (When Helping Hurts, Corbett and Fickert). In the same way that the curse is cosmic in its scope, bringing decay, brokenness, and death into Adam’s kingdom, so Jesus, the second Adam, is bringing healing and restoration to the entire cosmos through the arrival of his kingdom of righteousness. Just as the first Adam was the head of the fallen world, the second Adam is the head of a redeemed world. His perfect life and sacrificial death are the basis for a new orientation for all creation. The scope of the deliverance in Christ is magnificent. Redemption is as wide as creation itself. King Jesus has come “to reconcile to himself ALL THINGS” (Col 1:20) and has entrusted to US the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18.)  He is putting into right relationship everything he has created. As Corbett and Fickert point out, Jesus has come to reconcile all four foundational relationships required for humans to flourish, their relationship with themselves, with God, with each other, and with creationall broken by sin. The kingdom of God brings restoration to all four of these relationships—and WE are to be the agents of reconciliation!


This present age, during which the kingdom of God is invisible, will one day give way to the return of Christ and consummation of the kingdom. Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin, and death inaugurated an unstoppable process that will finally be fulfilled in the new heaven and new earth. The spiritual power behind this recovery of Adam’s throne is present now as we seek to restore, spread, and demonstrate the reality of human life as God intended it to be. Though insisting that the kingdom of God is already present, it is the breath-taking vision of the full, final restoration of the universe that fuels the passion of kingdom disciples. A paragraph from the book, “All of Life Redeemed” describes the scene:

Imagine the excitement! The regal splendor! God’s kingdom is established in all of its completeness, after years of anticipation and struggle. The old, created order is changed into the new, and God’s people are adorned as the bride of the King’s Son. Sorrows are soothed; mourning, crying, and pain are wiped from memory. Thirst is quenched without cost and the longing of God’s people is satisfied forever by the immediate presence of God and the Lamb, from whom they draw their meaning and light, their sustenance and healing. (Frey et al).

So why is the kingdom of God like the pearl of great price—worth giving up everything for? Because the kingdom of God is THE RESTORATION OF LIFE as it was intended to be without the destructive cancer of sin. It is PARADISE RESTORED—wherever the righteous agenda of Jesus rules. It is the mission of spreading LIFE.

For further prayerful thought.

  1. Why is seeking the kingdom of God like a pearl merchant pursuing and finding a fabulous pearl?
  2. What Scripture comes to mind to support the idea that the kingdom where Jesus wants righteousness to prevail is Adam’s kingdom, earth?
  3. How would you answer, the objection, “seeking righteousness” is at its core depending upon yourself instead of Christ?
  4. We saw that a clear understanding of our mission to seek first the kingdom of God leads to a) sharing the gospel, b) a high view of “secular” work, c) a high view of the physical word, d) realizing that salvation is not about escaping from the world but engaging the world seeking to spread Christ’s righteousness, e) that as agents of reconciliation Christians are to help others restore their relationship with themselves, God, others, and creation. Which of these five do you most want to remember from this episode? Why?