What is the "Kingdom" of God?
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
The Kingdom of God (Basilea, Greek), put simply is the reign and rule of God. This theme is the focal point of the Bible. The Kingdom of God is the concept from which the metanarrative of Scripture is developed as a uniting thread from beginning to end. The purpose or goal of history is for the Kingdom of God to pervasively influence all areas of life and thought (1 Cor. 15:21-28). The Kingdom is God’s programmatic message of sovereign victory.
In the garden of Eden, Adam was tasked by the Lord to be his kingly representative here on Earth, by bringing God’s will into full expression into every area of life. To put it simply, he was to heavenize the created order. Adam abdicated his kingly responsibilities by challenging the authority of God’s words and in doing so, introduced covenantal cursing upon all of the created order; sin, suffering, death, etc. But God in his infinite mercy became the first preacher and presented what is known by theologians as the protoevangelium or the first gospel declaration. And what was the content of his message/promise? Victory. God promised victory through one that would come from the seed of the woman who would crush the head of that slimy lizard (Gen. 3:15).
The rest of Scripture is the story of the gradual development of Genesis 3:15. Thus, we begin to understand as Dr. Peter Leithart points out that “Bible-reading is more of an art than a science. The Bible is a story, not a lexicon of systematic theological definitions.” And so if Bible-reading is more of an art, the picture it is painting points to the Messiah-King and his kingdom. The first part of the story, the Old Covenant, points to a future reality spoken of through promises and prophecies about a King who would come one day to establish his kingdom. And so we encounter seed-form Kingdom promises like the one made with Abraham, where God himself swears upon his own existence to bless all of the families of the Earth through Abraham’s offspring, to make him the father of many nations, and to make his inheritance as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand in the sea (Gen. 12, 15, 17). We hear of the psalmist singing the confirming tunes of the universal kingdom-reign of the Davidic King, where at His coming “all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.”(Ps. 2, 22, 45, 72, 110, e.g.) or how about the prophetic declarations and warnings of the covenant-lawyers telling about the time of the Kingdom of God:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it” (Isa. 2:2)
Don’t forget the wonderful Christmas passages declaring the future birth of sweet little baby Jesus, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”, but have you ever finished reading those passages? To our dismay this is where the Hallmark cards normally cut the verse off. Notice the remarkable description of the nature of this kingdom that was to be inaugurated at the coming birth of the Messiah:
“...and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isa. 9:6-7)
Fast forward with me to New Testament times, is the message the same? Is the Kingdom of God still consistently spoken of in the same manner and vigor? Were the promises of the coming King with his kingdom delayed or postponed? By no means! In the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4-7), the uncreated met the created, the promise turned into fulfillment. God himself took on flesh and came to the world proclaiming one message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17). Jesus casted out demons declaring that “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Lk. 11:20). Hence, we see the in-breaking fulfillment of the victorious promise of Gen. 3:15 described by Jesus as the Gospel of the Kingdom. The quintessential declaration of his kingly reign being inaugurated took place after the resurrection, when Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father and was coronated with his crown and scepter (Gen. 49:10), as King over all kings and Lord over all lords (Rev. 17:14), being given all authority in heaven and earth to reign and rule over the created order (Gen. 1:26-28; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:18-22; Heb. 2:8).
What great news! Hallelujah! We rejoice as we remember that the telos, the purpose of all of history was once concealed from humanity, but now the mysterious will of God has been revealed to us, in Christ, God the Father is uniting all things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9-10). How is he accomplishing such a grandiose plan? What are the means to achieve his ends? What is the vehicle being used to take us to our final destination? The Kingdom of God! Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin explains:
The kingdom reveals God’s objective as his life-giving, joy-inspiring, world-flourishing rule in the cosmos. As the cosmos’ Creator, God knows what’s best for it, what delights and benefits man, what brings both him, and man himself, consummate glory. To willingly submit to Jesus Christ as Lord according to the Father’s command by the Spirit’s power is to live life to the fullest, life as God intended from Eden. The gospel is therefore truly the good news of the kingdom (Lk. 8:1). The good news is that in Jesus Christ, God is overcoming the bad news of sin, corruption, and condemnation. Just as the bad news is not limited to the individual heart and destiny, so the good news is not limited to the individual heart and destiny. The curse afflicts all creation. But the gospel goes “far as the curse is found.” That means everywhere.
We begin to understand how King Jesus inaugurating his reign and rule (his kingdom), unites all of the message of the Bible together. The gospel of the kingdom then, truly ties together our protology (first things) together with our christology (the person and work of Christ) and eschatology (last things); which in turn leads us to have a faithful biblical theology of all of the Bible from beginning to end.