Radical Identification and the Kingdom of God: Finding God in One Other

The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. (Matthew 10:40)

Up until this point in Matthew 10, we’ve seen Jesus call over and over for radical identification with himself and his mission. But the tables are turned here — this is where Jesus promises to radically identify with us.

In a deep and holy sense, this is what the kingdom of God is all about. It is about human beings abandoning their old sense of self, their old context, their old families, their whole way of locating themselves in the world, in order to identify fully with God.

And it is about God humbling himself, leaving heaven and incarnating himself as a human being on the earth, in order to identify fully with us.

The kingdom of God is about our stepping outside of all our usual human categories, boxes, loyalties, and principles in order to find ourselves in God. And as we change our concept of who we are and how we fit in this world, we must also change the way we understand and relate to others.

Welcoming God in Me

Jesus identified with the Father in a unique way. Because he was (and is) the “only begotten” or “unique” Son of the Father, preexistent as one third of the Trinity, he and the Father are truly one — “one essence” with each other, as the Athanasian Creed states.

Although Christians are called to become one with God, this doesn’t mean somehow becoming God or losing our individuality in order to merge into a greater whole, as some Eastern or New Age teachings might argue.

Instead, the Bible calls us to a “oneness” with God that is pictured as a marriage. Humanity and God become united, one, in the same sense that a husband and wife become united and one. Neither partner ceases to be unique and separate, yet they join together in intimacy, mutual knowledge, and a voluntary sharing of life.

I say all of that to preface this: Jesus claims that he will identify with us so radically, so completely, so wholly that when people welcome us, they will be welcoming him; and when they welcome him, they will be welcoming the Father.

In other words, even though there are distinct differences in the way Jesus and the Father relate and the way we relate to God, Jesus is offering us the same kind of total acceptance and embrace that he experiences with the Father. He is offering to identity with us just as completely as he identified with the Father.

If you’ve ever been in a really close relationship with someone, you have an inkling of what this is like. Think of your spouse or child or close friend. Think of how identifying yourself with them creates a shared experience of life. When you treat my friend badly, you are treating me badly. When you treat them well, you are treating me well. Hurt someone I love, and I am hurt. Care for someone I love, and I feel cared for.

Jesus says, here in Matthew 10:40, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes Me.” Stop and think about that. That means everything anyone ever does to you, they are doing to Jesus. When someone buys you a cup of coffee — they’re buying Jesus a cup of coffee. When someone loans you their car — they’re loaning Jesus their car. When someone shares a meal with you — they’re sharing a meal with Jesus.

Wherever you go, Jesus goes, because that is how deeply he identifies with you.

Practically, what does that mean? Besides the obvious comfort of knowing God is with you and so ridiculously on your side, and besides the responsibility of being a representative of God at all times, there are a couple of implications I can think of.

First, it’s interesting to me to contemplate that Jesus usually blessed those who received him in some way, whether by praying for them, healing someone in the house, bringing food, teaching, or taking time for a long conversation.

We may have different gifts to offer than he did, or we may have some of the same, but when someone shows us hospitality of any kind — from sharing their home to waiting on our table at a restaurant to giving a smile and a nod on the street — I think it’s important to bless them back.

Second, I also think it’s interesting that Jesus prayed that God would forgive his enemies. If he is in us wherever we go, and whatever is done to us is done to him, then I think we have a special responsibility to intercede for those who hurt us and to ask God to move in their lives and to forgive and restore them.

(I also think that doing so moves us from the position of powerless victim to empowered voice before God, which is … healthy.)

And then of course, there’s the flip side of the equation — that if Jesus is in me, he is also in you.

Welcoming God in You

Love is kind of a double-edged sword in the Bible. I do not get to welcome the love of God for me, and rest and rejoice in it, without also choosing to acknowledge his love for you and doing my best to share in that love and walk it out.

In the case of fellow believers, Jesus is clear: he identifies just as strongly with our brothers and sisters in the faith as he does with us. There really isn’t a “good behavior” clause here; it’s not like he only identifies strongly with Christians with whom we get along or agree.

And that means when it comes to our relationships with each other, there’s a sense in which we aren’t allowed to relate just or even primarily to each other; we always have to deal with him first.

We need to learn to see Jesus in each other before we see the other person. We need to learn to love, serve, and care for Jesus in each other.

There are times when this is an absolute joy, because love for particular “one anothers” flows so naturally — at least at times — that loving Jesus at the same time, and in the same way, as loving that person is almost too delightful to contemplate.

And there are times when it’s like eating sand, because it’s really, really hard to treat that person like Jesus — and yet, when we can do it, when we learn to see past the person’s current behavior to the Lord who loves them so much and identifies with them so completely, as his child and his disciple and a part of his bride, we come into the greatest liberation possible.

When someone can annoy, inconvenience, frustrate, and even hurt us, and we still love them because we love Jesus, we’ll find ourselves tapping into incredible freedom and incredible joy. I know it’s true because I’ve done it. Not perfectly. Not consistently. Not nearly as much, as often, or as thoroughly as I want to. But I’ve done it, and I can tell you the taste is sweet.

Coming to terms with Jesus’s words in this passage means understanding that we are deeply loved, and that God has committed himself to us more profoundly and wholly than we can imagine.

It also means realizing that the same is true for others who believe — and that God longs for those who are not already experiencing his embrace to come into it.

Before Jesus came, it might have seemed reasonable just to deal with human beings as human beings. But we can’t do that anymore. We have to see them with his eyes — ourselves first, then others.

It might be the most challenging way to live. But it’s also the most freeing, the most joyful, and the most fully united with the God we love.


This is Part 155 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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ALSO: I am deeply grateful to everyone who has taken time to write to me over the past several years. Unfortunately, due to life constraints, I am no longer able to read or respond to email from readers. I thank you for your thoughts and please know that I am praying for you. Comments on the blog, however, are welcome.


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