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[This is part 5 of a series on the NT teaching on the Kingdom of God.]

Kingdom: God’s People in God’s Place under God’s Rule
In the prior posts I’ve brought up descriptions here and there (it’s spiritual, it’s powerful, etc.), but overall I’ve not spent much time saying what the kingdom is, or how it’s described. The quote by Ladd already cited is as close as we’ll get to a definition. “The Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among human beings, and…this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into the blessings of God’s reign.”[1] Definitions of fixed words can be helpful, but when it comes to big concepts, metaphors, and ideas a definition often shrinks the breadth and depth of it. Defining kingdom is simple. It can refer to reign, rule, territory, dominion, etc., and most of us know what “kingdom” conveys. But, it is much more challenging to define something as layered and complex as “the kingdom of God.” Vos says we look in vain to find a definition of the kingdom. The Bible rarely lays out definitions but it does build and develop themes. Our brief survey of “kingdom” in the OT and first-century Judaism helps us see the way it’s used and fleshed out as the story progresses. Jesus speaks into the kingdom from this starting point, “Hence we never find Him defining, but always describing the kingdom.”[2]

Graeme Goldsworthy provided a well-used description in his book Gospel and Kingdom. “There is a king who rules, a people who are ruled, and a sphere where this, rule is recognized as taking place. Put another way, the Kingdom of God involves: (a) God’s people (b) in God’s place (c) under God’s rule.”[3] This classic framework fits for how kingdom is used from the Garden in Genesis 1 to the New Earth in Revelation 21-22. “The entire biblical story…is consistent in its emphasis on the reign of God over his people in the environment he creates for them.”[4] In the kingdom of God as it was fulfilled in Jesus, Goldsworthy says the King is Jesus the Christ, the people is the New Israel (those “in Christ”), the place is the New Temple (where Christ dwells), and the rule is the New Covenant (Christ’s rule).[5]

King (Jesus the Christ)
People (New Israel—those “in Christ”)
Place (New Temple—where Christ dwells)
Rule (New Covenant—Christ’s rule)

We’ve already looked at Jesus’ presenting himself as the King, and how his kingdom is presently active in power with him on the Davidic throne. This will be explored further when we look at Pentecost and Kingdom. Here, we’ll briefly consider People, Place, and Rule as it ties together a description of the Kingdom of God.

God’s People
The People are all those Jews and Gentiles who have repented of sin, put their faith in Jesus, and have been united to Jesus Christ. It is any Christian whose individual identity is a person “in Christ” and whose corporate identity is belonging to the people “in Christ.” This people can be called the New Israel, since they are the offspring of Abraham who receive all the promises of God through Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:29; 6:16; Rom. 2:29; 2 Cor. 1:20). Just in case we think this a Pauline construct, when Jesus told the Jews the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a people producing its fruits, he is telling us who the “People” of the kingdom of God will be under his reign—a New Israel of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Mt. 21:43). This corresponds with what we’ve seen already with Jesus’ understanding and development of Kingdom beyond what the Jews expected. “When we move to the New Testament, the theocracy of Israel is replaced by the kingdom of God, which is inaugurated through the coming of Jesus.”[6] Goldsworthy sees those in Christ as the New Israel in part by showing Jesus comes as the true Adam, the seed of Abraham, the true Israel, and the Son of David. He fulfills these messianic and kingly expectations fully, and in doing so composes the true people of God in him who receive all the promises belonging to the people of God.[7] These citizens are given the great privilege of life with the King and under the King.

In God’s Place
The Place of the kingdom is one of the trickiest parts of the equation to nail down. Without a doubt there is a future, physical consummation on a new Earth where Jesus will reign over his redeemed, resurrected, and restored people…forever. The new earth is the physical land fulfilling a new garden, a new temple, and a new city (similar to how Eden was a garden-temple-city). Almost no one disputes this future aspect of an external, earthly kingdom. The disputed question is where is the Place of the Kingdom in this current stage of Christ’s kingdom? I want to propose that there is a heavenly and earthly aspect of the Kingdom of God, both tied to Christ as the New Temple. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God being near or in their midst because it’s no longer primarily about the location of the physical land but the location of the King (Lk. 11:20; 17:20).

Since the place (location) of the kingdom is tied to the King, we must recognize that the kingdom of God resides with Christ in his heavenly reign. When Jesus says “my kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36) he points us to the heavenly (where God is) residence of the kingdom. Consider the criminal being crucified next to Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus replies, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:42-43). Christ’s kingdom in this verse is tied to the Davidic throne in heaven he knew he was soon to sit upon. In Colossians 3:1, Paul tells us that Christ is seated at the right hand of God—the Davidic throne of the Kingdom of God. Just as Jesus expands our understanding of a new Exodus from merely a physical pilgrimage to deliverance from sin, so also we should not be surprised if he develops our understanding of the place we’re brought into beyond merely a physical land.

Jesus exercises authority and rule over the kingdom from his Temple, so there’s a heavenly location of the kingdom of God. In the OT, Jerusalem or Zion becomes increasingly important as the land where the kingdom of God is manifested (Is. 35:10; 51:11). In large part, this is tied to the location of the Temple, since the Temple is the place where God dwelt with his people and therefore was the heart of Jerusalem.[8] In the NT, Christ is the New Temple (Jn. 1:14; 2:19) and so his reign in heaven is tied it to being a new Zion (Heb. 12:18-29). The author of Hebrews says those in Christ are part of the new covenant people (12:24) and an unshakeable kingdom (12:28). In Christ and in his Kingdom we have been brought to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, and the Mount of Zion (12:22). “Hebrews 12:22 indicates that a Jew comes to Zion by being converted to Christ. Zion is where Jesus reigns now at the right hand of God and this is where we come by faith in the gospel.”[9]

I believe there is also presently an earthly aspect of the kingdom of God tied to the presence of the King. In Jesus’ earthly ministry the kingdom was in their midst because the King was among them. Similarly, since the kingdom is in heaven because that is where Christ is seated, so also we can speak about the kingdom of God being on earthy since Jesus is present through his Spirit. At Pentecost, Jesus sends his Spirit and in the NT where the Spirit is present and active in power he is doing so as the Lord’s Spirit, or as the mediator of the presence and power of King Jesus (2 Cor. 3:17).[10] This is why the Church can be called the temple of God, because Jesus is present among his people through his Spirit. The kingdom of God is also present on this earth wherever the Spirit is moving in the Church. Or, to say it differently, the King—and his Kingdom—is present by his Spirit and through his Church in a real and powerful way. “The NT makes clear that although Christ’s reign is unseen, his inaugurated rule is exercised over the realm of the entire earth (Rev. 1:5; 2:26-27) through his church, which is empowered to begin to rule by his Spirit even on the old earth (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). The book of Acts can be rightly summarized as Christ’s rule through his church on earth, empowered by his Spirit.”[11]

G.K. Beale also brings together temple and kingdom as it relates to the kingdom’s presence on earth here and now. “[Jesus] is also the king of the heavenly temple and has caused it to descend through his Spirit. Hence, Jesus is both sitting on the prophesied Davidic throne, which is the locus of the temple in heaven, and is extending that temple on earth.”[12] This unites the mission of God’s Edenic kingdom to go, multiply, and fill the earth with the glory and image of God (Gen. 1:26-28) to the mission of Christ’s kingdom now filling the earth with God’s glory and image as we make disciples (Mt. 28:18-20; Col. 1:6, 10, 14). The kingdom of God is expanding and growing now through the Spirit working in the Church’s testimony and Word as people become loyal to the King. It also points us to the mission’s future completion on the new earth when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Under God’s Rule
Third, we have the Rule of the kingdom of God. The good news of the gospel of the Kingdom is not only that we find forgiveness in Christ and freedom from slavery to the law but that we are made citizens of Christ’s kingdom. “This is not, in other words, simply about the rescue, or salvation, of God’s people from their present plight. It is about their being rescued in order to be enthroned.”[13] This entails the blessings and the responsibilities of living under Christ’s rule. We are no longer slaves under the law but sons under God (Gal. 4:7). “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Too often we read “kingdom” in the Epistles as if it’s a general notion instead of reading it with the NT theology of Christ’s rule over the Kingdom of God.[14] Being under the rule of Jesus isn’t the harsh reign of tyranny but the gracious reign of a King who shows us what is right, who protects and leads, and who draws near to his people.

Thankfully, for Israel after the exodus and for Christians after redemption in Christ, God does not leave us as refugees but makes us full-fledged citizens of the kingdom. The NT concept of kingdom unites gospel and law. “The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that life with God, under the rule of God, is made immediately available to us through Jesus, our King. He arrives as one who restores, rules, and provides access to God’s kingdom.”[15] God’s rule over us isn’t separated from God’s relationship with us. The God who rescues us makes us His own, and then he promises: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Ex. 6:7; Heb. 8:10). God’s kingdom rule in different epochs (eras) has been carried out through covenant. Richard Gaffin says the covenant “is the constitution or polity of the kingdom.”[16] In Kingdom through Covenant, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum argue that it is “through the biblical covenants that God’s kingdom comes to this world.”[17] In the NT, “It is only through this obedient Son, God the Son incarnate, that we have God’s long-awaited kingdom inaugurated in this world (through the new covenant).”[18]

Everyone in Christ is a part of his kingdom and lives under the “constitution or polity” of the New Covenant. In this New Covenant we have full forgiveness of sins—even to the deepest recesses of our being—and we’re no longer under the law as our master (Heb. 8:12; 10:22). At the same time, we are given the Spirit and he writes on our hearts the law of God so that we can now obey out of delight in God’s law rather than dreading its punishment. The good news of the kingdom is that we live under the rule of Jesus. This rule offers to maximize our joy by nearness to the King and being part of his people, by knowing all our sin and shame is washed away, and by having changed hearts that now love God (Heb. 8:8-12). We give the King our worship, our obedience, and our very lives and he turns us into image-bearers characterized by fruitfulness and holiness. The New Covenant gives us all these things as gifts the King won for the people he loves, not wages the King pays for what we’ve earned.

Footnotes:
[1] George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 89-90.
[2] Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” 311.
[3] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Crownhill: Paternoster Press, 1981), 54-55.
[4] Graeme Goldsworthy, “Kingdom of God,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 620:615-620.
[5] Ibid., Gospel and Kingdom, see Figure 7 on page 121.
[6] T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 89.
[7] See Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 110-12. See also: G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011); Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). Many covenant theologians then ask what promise through covenant was given to national Israel that Jesus has not earned as the true fulfillment of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Temple, Israel, and David? And, if all the promises have been earned by Christ and are given to all those “in him,” why should we conceive of any remaining promises only to national Israel and not the true Israel. One is not required to take this position to agree with what’s said in the body of the paragraph above, but it is a theological question worth asking. See Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 766-772.
[8] “One other important focal point in the locality of God’s kingdom is the Temple. The Temple could function as such a focal point because it represented the dwelling of God among his people. It demonstrated that the promised land was not merely living space for people but was the setting for a relationship between God and man. The Temple was thus integral to the existence of the Kingdom of God and by it the Kingdom could be identified.” Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 114. J.G. Millar sees NT connections of land in the doctrine of adoption for Paul, and in the idea of rest in Hebrews. J.G. Millar, “Land” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 626.
[9] Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 113. In the OT, the Jews looked to restoration to the land to know that God was returning them from exile and shining his favor upon them. However, in the New Covenant Jesus doesn’t take us into physical land as demonstration of our salvation. “Redeemed people do not go to a geographical place to be redeemed; rather, they flee to Christ and God for their salvific restoration.” Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 750.
[10] Acts 1:1 bridges the Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts. It refers to Luke as “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” and leads us to read Acts as all that Jesus continued to do and teach by his Spirit and through his Church.
[11] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 770, fn. 39.
[12] Ibid., 769.
[13] Wright, How God Became King, 193.
[14] For an explanation of why Col. 1:13 is tid to the Davidic Kingdom of 2 Sam. 7:12-16, see: G.K. Beale, “Colossians”, in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 850.
[15] Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper, Faithmapping (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 35.
[16] Gaffin, “Kingdom of God,” 367.
[17] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 591. See also: Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 115-118.
[18] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 595.

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