The Church and the Kingdom
What is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God? This is a thorny theological issue, and biblical interpreters have wrestled with it for generations. Here’s John Frame’s response in his introduction to systematic Theology:
In Chapter 11, in connection with the kingly office of Christ, I emphasized that the Gospel, the good news, is originally the message about the coming of the kingdom of God. Recall from that discussion that Isa. 52:7, 61:1-2, Matt. 3:2 and 4:17 all present the gospel as the news that a king is coming. The gospel, then, is the coming of the Kingdom; that is, the coming of the King to make things right. Incidentally, there is no dichotomy here between gospel and law. The coming of the King means that he will enforce his law in the world, that he will bring righteousness. That is the gospel, the good news. It is important for us to distinguish between salvation by grace and salvation by works. But I don’t think Scripture justifies a sharp distinction between law and gospel.
Now, what is the kingdom? Geerhardus Vos defined it this way: “To him (Jesus) the kingdom exists there, where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings men to the willing recognition of the same.” [Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 50.] Kingdom of God is not merely a synonym for God’s sovereignty. Rather it is a specific historical program. God is always sovereign, always king in a general way. But since the fall, he must, as king, put down opposition and bring human beings to acknowledge his kingship. The Kingdom of God in the New Testament is that historical program, the series of events by which God drives his Kingship home to sinful human beings. And, of course, he does this by sending his Son as a sacrifice for sin and raising him up in victory over Satan and all the forces of evil. But even after the Resurrection of Christ the Kingdom will make further advances, as the people of God spread all over the earth to subdue men’s hearts to the rule of the King.
Where does the church fit into this kingdom program? The church consists of those who have been conquered by God’s saving power, who are now enlisted in the warfare of God’s Kingdom against the Kingdom of Satan. Those who do not voluntarily give allegiance to God’s Kingdom will be conquered by God’s judgment and, eventually, destroyed by his power.
The church, then, is, to maintain the military metaphor, the headquarters of the Kingdom of God, the base from which God’s dominion extends and expands.
-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord