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[This is part 6 in a series on the Kingdom of God in the NT]

Vos’ Fourfold Description of the Kingdom
The kingdom of God has many layers and aspects to it in the NT. It’s not simply one stream running its own course but it merges into many other tributaries of theology. In the last post we explored how it relates to New Covenant, to the Davidic kingdom, to the New Israel, land, and other important themes in the Bible. One source I found helpful in describing the fundamental aspects of the Kingdom of God is Geerhardus Vos. His fourfold description shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to what we’ve already unpacked but as complementary to it.

First, the kingdom of God is theocentric, meaning it points to the supremacy of God and the centrality of His glory above all else. Thankfully, God’s glory is not opposed to our joy or even our own glory, but it is nevertheless the highest priority of the kingdom.

“The conception is a theocentric conception which must remain unintelligible to every view of the world that magnifies man at the expense of God….The kingdom means the subjection of all temporal affairs, of all ethical activities, of all spiritual experiences to a transcendent life-purpose in God…And because the kingdom is thus centered in God Himself and in His glory, it can be represented by our Lord as the highest object after which men are to strive.” [1]

In monarchical nations, the glory of the King is the glory of the people. So too in the kingdom of God we not only prize Jesus’ glory more than anything else but we see ourselves as sharing in it. This worldview changes or reorients the focus and the authority of our lives. Will it be God or will it be us? Inside the kingdom of God all its inhabitants see everything else in its relationship to how it proclaims and promotes the glory of Jesus.

Second, “It is the sphere in which God manifests His supreme, royal power.”[2] Kingdom is associated with power, prestige, dominance, and strength. Any good King is known partially for his power, grandeur, and strength in a way that parallels his kingdom. The Kingdom of Christ is also a powerful one, which is necessary since Jesus came to step into the octagon with Satan and defeat him through his death, resurrection, and exaltation.

“The kingdom of God is a kingdom of conquest….The foes He thought of as about to be conquered were Satan, sin, and death. It is kingdom against kingdom, but both of these opposing powers belong to a higher world than that to which Rome and her empire belong….While with reference to Satan and his kingdom this power is a destructive and subduing force, it is towards the members of the kingdom a life-giving and life-liberating activity.”[3]

We’ve dealt with this above when clarifying the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus came not to immediately set up a physical kingdom of this world that overthrows the power that be, namely Rome. He came to defeat the greatest foe of God and Man, Satan, and to conquer the chains of sin and death he held us in. The strength of God’s power in defeating Satan and conquering the grave is now the same power working in those in the kingdom. In the NT, the Holy Spirit is the dynamic power of the kingdom of God. When we look at how Pentecost relates to the kingdom of God we’ll see that the Spirit is the one launching us and empowering us as go out on the King’s mission.

Third, it is a kingdom of righteousness. Shortly after teaching the disciples to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10), Jesus identifies the kingdom of God with righteousness and tells us to seek this first. Similarly, Paul tells us “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). “What our Lord means is that the standard, the norm of righteousness, in the kingdom of God lies in God Himself, that not any lower rule abstracted from purely human relations, but the holy nature, the supreme perfection of the Father in heaven is the pattern to which all must conform.”[4] One of the problems with earthly kingdoms is that while some were powerful almost none of them were at the same time characterized by righteousness. Jesus is a true King who is both powerful and righteous, just and merciful, glorious and yet near. This led Vos to an application regarding the kingdom of God we also should remember.

“The underlying principle is that every disposition of righteousness realized by the members of the kingdom, every righteous act performed by them, reproduces what God the King is, so that in the sphere of ethical life, everything will be reduced to terms of God, and He alone reign supreme, not merely by exacting obedience but also in the profounder sense of filling all with the reflected glory of His own holiness.”[5]

Fourth and finally, it is the kingdom of God because “all its blessings are gifts sovereignly and graciously bestowed by God.”[6] The reality in the kingdom we should live in awareness of is that everything we have is a gift of God. God has rescued us from our slavery and rebellion, he’s given us mercy instead of justice, and it’s all been unmerited, unprovoked, and undeserved. Great Kings don’t oppress their people or keep all of their gifts to themselves. Instead, they spread the gifts to the people, share the wealth, and seek the joy of the people. Jesus has done that and more, being not only the King who gives us everything we have but the King who purchased those gifts by his very own blood. As Vos alludes too in the next quote, the greatest of these gifts is himself. Jesus is not a King who avoids the people and merely sends his gifts. He brings his gifts to us and he comes to the homes of lowly citizens so we might know him and be known by him.

“Everything predicated of God as Father may be also predicated of Him as King and considered an integral part of the kingdom. To the kingdom belong all the gifts of grace—the forgiveness of sins, the reception into sonship, the enjoyment of the love of God, the bestowal of life—in short, the entire content of the idea of salvation in its widest range. Especiaily the state of communion with God and of blessedness into which redemption issues is for this reason identified with the kingdom.”[7]

Footnotes:
[1] Geerhardus Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillips: P&R Publishing, 1980), 311.
[2] Ibid., 312.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 314.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 315.

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