Category Archives: Kingdom of God
I apologize for the delay in getting to the next entry in our Theology Memeology series. So other responsibilities feel into my lap. I’ll be working to get some writing done this week. In the meant time, here is this golden nugget:
God’s cosmic purposes are also intensely personal and particular, seen in the way God has chosen to bring about these purposes through covenant promise and fulfillment, mediated through the line of Abraham. After demonstrating God’s creational origin of the whole universe and his salvation of all animal and human life through the Noahic flood, God builds a vision of the end of all things through covenant promises with a chosen people, beginning with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant promised material land, a name of great renown, and a multitude of offspring (Gen 12:1–7; 17:1–14).
Thus, faith itself is defined as forward-looking and eschatological from the beginning—as Abraham offered up the promised son, knowing God could raise him from the dead (Gen 22:1–19; Heb 11:17–19) and as Joseph pleaded with his brothers to carry his bones into the promised land, knowing that his death could not annul God’s covenant purposes for Israel (Gen 50:25; Josh 24:32; Heb 11:22).
With the foundation of the Abrahamic promise, God further reveals the contours of biblical hope. Through the Mosaic covenant he outlines the blessings of an obedient nation and the curses of a disobedient people. In the Davidic covenant he promises a son to David who will build a dwelling place for God, defeat God’s enemies, and rule the people in the wisdom of the Spirit (2 Samuel 7; Psalms 2; 73; 89). In the prophesied new covenant God promises to unite the fractured nations of Israel and Judah into one people, a people who all know Yahweh, are forgiven of their sins, and are restored as a nation in the promised land (Jer 31:31–40).
The covenants look forward—past Israel’s then-present disobedience—to the day when the vine of God bears fruit (Ps 80:8–19; Isa 5:1–7; 27:6; Ezek 15:1–8; 17:1–24; 19:10–14; Hos 10:1–2), the harlot of God’s people is a faithful bride washed of all uncleanness (Isa 54:5–6; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:1–63; Hos 2:1–23), the exiled refugees are returned to a secure homeland, and the flock of God is united under one Davidic shepherd who will feed them and divide them from the goats (Jer 3:15–19; 23:1–8; Ezek 34:1–31; Mic 5:2–4; 7:14–17). In this coming future Israel will be what she is called to be, the light of the world, a light that the darkness cannot overcome (Isa 60:1–3). In this future God’s favor on Israel is clear to the nations because he is present with his people. The repeated promise of the covenants is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” As Joel prophesies: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27).
With this in view, the covenants picture their fulfillment not just in terms of inheritance blessings but also in terms of a restoration of Eden (Ezek 36:33–36; 37:22–23), the building of a glorious temple (2 Sam 7:13; Ezek 40:1–47:12), the return of a remnant from exile (Isa 11:12–16), and the construction of a holy city of Zion in which Yahweh dwells with his people in splendor (Pss 48:1–14; 74:2; Isa 18:7; Lam 5:17–22; Ezek 48:30–35).3 The covenants will come to their goal when Israel is judged for sin, raised from the dead, and anointed with the Spirit of Yahweh—a public act in the face of the hostile nations (Ezek 20:21, 35–49; 37:11–27). These eschatological covenant promises are then inherently eschatological and messianic—a truth seen in the fact that the patriarchs themselves died and rotted away without seeing the realization of the promises (Heb 11:13–16). – Russell D. Moore, A Theology for the Church
In the following quote, Russell Moore ties together (as does the Bible) the ascension of Christ and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant:
Pentecost is tied to the resurrection of Christ because it is the ascended Christ, exalted as the Davidic King, who is given the authority to pour out the Spirit, as exposited in the apostle Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2. [Sinclair] Ferguson suggests, “The coming of the Spirit is, therefore, the enthronement of Christ, just as the resurrection is the evidence of the efficacy of the death of Christ as atonement.”
From here Moore touches upon the relationship of the ascended King to the hope of his Kingdom people the church:
Scripture sees the relationship of believers to heaven as tied to the presence there of their King and Messiah, not as the place of their ultimate abode. This contention bears the scrutiny of New Testament theology, especially the Pauline epistles, in which “heaven” seems to have a present, Christological referent (Eph. 1:3; 1:21; Phil. 3:20-21; Col. 1:5; 3:1-2; 1 Thess. 1:10) and thus is more emblematic of the “already” of the Kingdom than of the “not yet.”
Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ
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
- The Kingdom can draw near to men (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; etc.); it can come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 17:20; etc.), arrive (Matt. 12:28), appear (Luke 19:11), be active (Matt. 11:12).
- God can give the Kingdom to men (Matt. 21:43; Luke 12:32), but men do not give the Kingdom to one another.
- Further, God can take the Kingdom away from men (Matt. 21:43), but men do not take it away from one another, although they can prevent others from entering it.
- Men can enter the Kingdom (Matt. 5:20; 7:21; Mark 9:47; 10:23; etc.), but they are never said to erect it or to build it.
- Men can receive the Kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), inherit it (Matt. 25:34), and possess it (Matt. 5:4), but they are never said to establish it.
- Men can reject the Kingdom, i.e., refuse to receive it (Luke 10:11) or enter it (Matt. 23:13), but they cannot destroy it.
- They can look for it (Luke 23:51), pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10), and seek it (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31), but they cannot bring it.
- Men may be in the Kingdom (Matt. 5:19; 8:11; Luke 13:29; etc.), but we are not told that the Kingdom grows.
- Men can do things for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 19:12; Luke 18:29), but they are not said to act upon the Kingdom itself.
- Men can preach the Kingdom (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9), but only God can give it to men (Luke 12:32).
-George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 193.
(HT: Kevin DeYoung)
With his usual polemical edge, N. T. Wright, in How God Became King, both corrects common Christian misunderstandings of the term” Messiah” and instructs us to view the significance of Jesus’s humanity and deity in a vocational, redemptive-historical light:
As we contemplate the scene at Caesarea Philippi [in Mark 8:27-30], it is vital that we do not short-circuit the messianic meeting in our quest for creedal affirmations about Jesus’s “divinity.” Yes, the four Gospels do indeed a firm, often in subtle and profound ways (not so often in the rather clunky in obvious ways that some would clearly prefer), that Jesus is the embodiment of Israel’s God, come back at last to rescue his people. But the meaning of Peter’s confession of Jesus’s the messiahship is not, “you are the second person of the Trinity,” but “you are Israel’s Messiah.” The phrase son of God in this connection is of course once more an echo of the messianic passages as Psalm 2, 2 Samuel 7, and elsewhere. And in those contexts it’s primary meaning is ” Israel’s messiah, adopted and anointed by God as his own son.”
The much fuller meanings that the phrase “son of God” came to carry quite early in the Christian movement (as early as Paul; see, e.g., Romans 8:3-4, Galatians 4:4-7) are fresh depths that the early church discovered within this Jewish meaning. They did not indicate that the meaning of “Messiah” had been abandoned and something else (“divinity”?) put in its place. We approach that full or meaning – and, ultimately, trinitarian theology itself – through the messianic, kingdom-bearing gateway. That is, in fact, the gateway to the meeting both of Jesus is “divinity” and of his “humanity.” But how much better to replace those dry, abstract categories with their biblical originals. As Messiah – as the about-to-be- crucified Messiah! – Jesus embodies the vocation of Israel, and within it the vocation of the human race itself. But he also embodies the returning, rescuing, promise-keeping God of Israel himself.
Russell Moore on the cosmic scope of Christ’s redemption:
The kingship of Israel, with its Davidic line, is…presented in terms of a Spirit-anointed king charged with subduing and defeating the enemies of the people of God (1 Sam. 8:19-20). Indeed, the removal of the Israelite kingship from Saul takes place precisely because Saul refuses to destroy utterly the enemies of Yahweh (1 Samuel 15), resulting in the loss of Saul’s monarchy and the anointing of the Spirit of God, both transferred instead to the house of David (1 Sam. 16:1-3, 12-14). Indeed, as soon as David receives the anointing of oil by the prophet Samuel, he is anointed with the Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13), and immediately David as the “anointed one” leads the nation in the defeat of the Philistine attackers (1 Sam. 17:20-58), an activity that Saul recognizes as inherently kingly (1 Sam. 18:6-9). The definition of Jesus’ messianic identity as the “anointed one,” the bearer of the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19), is therefore set within this context of the anointed warrior-king.
This means that, contra dispensationalist traditionalism, there is no dichotomy between the “offer of the Kingdom” and the “forgiveness of sins,” as though the forgiveness of sins can be anything other than a Kingdom act. Instead, in the Gospel of Luke, for example, messianic salvation is defined in terms of Jesus’ promised Davidic kingship (1:32-33); the forgiveness of sins (1:50, 72, 77); the defeat of all enemies (1:51, 71); the crushing of political pretenders-to-the-throne (1:52); the provision of material blessings (1:53); the covenant restoration of national promises to Israel (1:54-55); the redemption of the Gentile nations (1:79; 2:32); and the monarchial anointing of the Spirit (4:18). In Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, salvation is a Kingdom activity whereby the Second Adam, the Son of David, displays His anointing by God and His faithful obedience to His mandate as King by protecting the created order, crushing the head of the ultimate enemy of the Kingdom, the Serpent (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:9). The dispensing of the Spirit on those united to Him in faith is possible only because of union with the messianic King who is declared to be the Son of God (Gal. 4:4-7). It is this Christocentric focus of salvation that ties the salvation of human beings to the motif of the Kingdom of God and to the broader aspects of cosmic salvation. The defeat of Satan by the man Christ Jesus is pictured by the apostle John as the establishment of the Kingdom (Rev. 12:10; also John 12:31; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). The cosmic extent of salvation is seen as the Second Adam offers up to the Father a created order in which He has subdued every enemy (1 Cor. 15:24-26), and there is nothing unclean in the garden over which He rules (Rev. 21:1-8). Thus, salvation is portrayed in the New Testament as more than simply the salvation of so many individual souls. Redemption is the transfer from the satanic kingdom to the eschatological Kingdom that God the Father has prepared for His Messiah (Col. 1:13), a transfer that is by definition a violent act of subduing “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:3-4, NIV) or “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:1-7).”
– Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective
The following are lessons from the Third Millennium Ministries (commonly called “Third Mill”) series titled Kingdom, Covenants, and Canon of the Old Testament. I’ve had the privilege of studying with Richard Pratt, and I must say that to hear the content of the second lesson (“The Kingdom of God”) presented in the classroom was (and still is!) absolutely revolutionary to my understanding of the Bible. The goal of Third Mill is to make seminary level biblical education available to the world for free. While not in agreement with every sentence of the lessons (I don’t agree 100% with anybody!), I wholehearted and without reservation recommend Third Mill.
If you’re looking to strengthen your understanding of the Old Testament, and in fact the whole Bible, this 4-part series is an excellent place to start.
Additional resources for a better understanding of the Old Testament (click on the links for more information:
- God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible
- The Servant King: The Bible’s Portrait of the Messiah
- A Better Way: Jesus and Old Testament Fulfillment
- The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament
- From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology
- From Creation to New Creation: Making Sense of the Whole Bible Story
- The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made
- Ancient Love Song: Finding Christ in the Old Testament
- Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament
- The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story
- The Symphony of Scripture: Making Sense of the Bible’s Many Themes
- According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
- As Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption
- Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship
- Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from Creation to New Jerusalem
- A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament
We’ve now taken a very quick look at the theme of the kingdom of God as the unifying perspective of the Bible. But here we are, more than 2,000 years after I’ve said Christ ushered in the Kingdom of God. What’s wrong with this picture? Currently the church is living during the overlap of two ages. We’re living during a time when God is spreading His truth through people like you and me. We know that Jesus has won the final battle, so we work with confidence.
God’s big picture is much bigger than the salvation of my soul. God is renewing everything, as far as the curse is found. Christ had come to fulfill the message of the prophets and to usher in the olam haba, the great age to come. In this age to come, God’s love and justice would be brought to bear upon creation. God is out not only to restore His fallen images (though surely He is doing that!), but also to restore the world to rights, as N. T. Wright would say. This doesn’t just fit with the teaching that all authority belongs to Jesus, but actually gives it legs. As an example, my passion is teaching. Seeing the Kingdom as God’s rulership fully acknowledged on earth as it is in heaven nearly kills any thought of elitism a budding Christian educator might have.
One day Jesus will return to bring all that he started to a final, and dramatic climax. In the meantime, God’s people are to work toward the renewal of creation. This happens this the spreading of the gospel, acts of mercy, and justice. Whether it’s the study of theology or trigonometry, Bible or biology, preaching or painting, our goal as God’s royal image bearers is to spread the rule of God, both for his glory and our good. Ordained ministry isn’t necessarily more important to the Kingdom than is being a good and just tire mechanic. The point is that if you are fair and just in your pricing, if you seek to serve God’s images, then as a tire mechanic you are reflecting God’s reign in your sphere of work. This is the type of thing young Christian people need to hear. Too often they are lead to believe that only in ministry can they truly work for the kingdom, and that is nonsense.
Closing observations. Kingdom theology gives us with large enough “thought boxes” to make much sense out of various Christian ministries. We strive for social justice. Why? Because the kingdom is more, not less, than the salvation of the individual. It’s about displaying the mercy of God toward the downtrodden and his justice for those who have been wronged (as Christ indicated in Luke 4 and James). We paint and make music as Christians. Why? Because God created the world to display the splendor of His beauty and we, as created in his image, are to cultivate the world and beautify it. We study science because we are stewards over God’s world and must understand the world and it’s details if we are to subdue it to the glory of God and the good of his people. The list could go on and on indefinitely, but the point is that ordained ministry and common labor are enlivened when every endeavor is seen as a channel through which God’s kingdom is manifest in his creation. And surely one day, the earth and God’s throne room will appear identical.
In the first post, I noted the promise of God to Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3:15). This concept of “the seed of the woman” is the beginning hope for salvation. Later, the seed is understood to be the son of David and the son of man (a human figure to which God has granted authority to judge the earth). By the time of Daniel, the seed was known as the Messiah (the specially anointed one of God). All of the promises made to Abraham, Moses and David were to be fulfilled in the Messiah. He is the one that brings ultimate unity to the purposes of God in redeeming the world. Jewish messianic expectations around the time of Jesus were varied, but a general sketch is still helpful. Here are some of the common points:
1. The Messiah is King
2. The Messiah will defeat the powers of evil
3. The Messiah will rebuild the Temple
4. The Messiah will fulfill all prophecies regarding him and bring Israel’s history to its climax
5. The Messiah will act as Israel’s representative
6. The Messiah will also represent God
In general, these expectations are exactly what you find being attributed to Jesus by the New Testament writers. The gospel of Matthew and Paul clearly speaks of Jesus being descended from King David (Matt. 1 and Rom. 1) and thus having proper kingly right and authority. Paul speaks of Jesus defeating the evil powers in the heavenlies (Eph. 3) , and Rom. 10 speak of Jesus being the goal of the Law of Moses (addressing point 4). In Galatians, Paul speaks of Jesus being the true Israel, representing them as the one faithful Israelite (point 5), and in the book of Acts, Jesus is spoken of as a prophet, one that represents God to the people (point 6).
In Luke 11:20, Jesus, after making a demonstration of both His power and kindness said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” God has kept His promises, even when the fulfillment doesn’t look like what we’d expect!
Chances are that if you stepped into a Christian church more than 3 times, you’ve heard what’s commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer,” or as Roman Catholics call it, the “our Father.” There Jesus prays to God, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If one misses the centrality of the Kingdom of God in the preaching and teaching of the Prophets and Apostles, much of the historical books in the OT and even the gospels become obscured.
God’s overall project of restoring creation is carried out in various stages or phases, with each phase expanding and transforming the previous one. God is working to make the earth full of his glory, just as is the heavenly throne room. His Kingdom breaks into real history in multiple stages. These stages are grounded in real history and mainly through various covenants (the Bible speaks of covenants made with Adam-though this is disputed-Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the “New Covenant”). So, for example, God’s covenant established with Moses is broadened and transformed with the divine promise to Israel’s King David, the promise that his family line would always be on the throne of the nation of Judah (this is known as the “Davidic” covenant).
With Adam, the pattern of God’s kingdom on earth is established. The images of God were to live their lives in obedience to and trust in His loving, guiding word. After the Fall (in Gen. 3), humanity gets worse and worse, finally causing God to judge the world by a flood (Gen. 6). But, God makes a promise (i.e. a covenant) with Noah, saying that he would never again destroy the earth in the same manner. This covenant with Noah was God’s way of stabilizing the stage for the drama of salvation-history. If His kingdom is to come on earth, then we can’t have his images having to start from scratch every so often! Back in Gen. 3, after the God punishes humanity and the snake, God makes a veiled promise to our first parents. The “seed” of the women would crush the “seed” of the snake. Eventually, the “seed” of the woman (i.e. Eve) is passed down to Seth, the godly son of Adam.
As time progresses, we get to Abram, whom God calls out from his family and homeland. The point? God’s kingdom will come through Abram’s, now Abraham, family. From there, we move to Moses and the deliverance of the people of Israel (Abraham’s larger family) from Egypt. God then takes these former slaves and forms them into a nation, and promises them their own land. As we fast forward, we find the establishment of the Davidic kingship. Now, we see God’s plan for his kingdom expand in the direction of an empire, with David’s son of the throne. The loyalty of the nation to God is measure by a couple of things, 1) their faithfulness to the covenant made at Mount Sinai (with Moses), 2) their faithfulness to the temple in Jerusalem (the proper meeting place with God), and 3) their allegiance to the Davidic king (God’s representative).
Unfortunately, the nation of Israel doesn’t honor their responsibilities to the covenants, so God sends them into exile. While in exile God still shows his love through the prophets. The same prophets, Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, who condemn so much of what the nation was doing are also the ones promising that one day God would restore David’s throne and the Kingdom would be established. This is known we the “New Covenant” spoken of in Jeremiah. This promised covenant will do what the covenant made with Moses could not, it will give the people the power to obey it. The problem is with the people, not the Law.
In out next post we’ll take a look at how this historical build-up is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.