The LORD Reigns – Reflections on the Kingdom of God

Biblical Theology is an approach to the Scriptures that observes the development of important themes from Old Testament to New Testament. One central theme to Biblical Theology is the topic of the kingdom of God. This post will begin a series of reflections on the promise and realization of God’s reign on this earth.

This past summer I served on a jury for a trial that lasted four days. During that time I had the chance to observe the way the judge ran the trial and kept the courtroom in order. He was a knowledgeable judge who made sure that the trial was conducted according to the law. He was also a considerate judge who was sensitive to the practical needs of the jury and other participants. Most important, he was a fair judge who made decisions based on justice rather than favoritism. It was fun to watch a skilled judge provide effective leadership over the courtroom and the trial.

On the grandest scale possible, God judges and reigns perfectly over the world he created. A number of Psalms in the Bible celebrate God’s reign over Israel and over all the nations of the world.  Psalm 96 depicts a celebration of God’s reign and reveals the character traits and actions associated with God’s reign.

"Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy."

“Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

The psalmist poetically summons all of creation to sing God’s praises (verses 1 and 9). This includes even the seas and its creatures, the fields and its plants, and the trees of the forests (verses 11-12). This is appropriate, since God made all of creation in the first place. There is something so fitting about God’s creation reflecting praise back to its creator.

God’s glorious reign is to be proclaimed among the nations, so that all people can see his greatness and reject the worthless gods or idols that they have made for themselves (verse 5). God is the only one worthy to be praised, since he alone is the ruler of the world, and he alone has the power to act for the good of his creation.

The psalmist associates God’s reign with his salvation, holiness, judgments, righteousness, and faithfulness. These are all attributes that describe God’s character and the way that he exercises his rule. These descriptors confirm that God is the type of king this world needs. He created the world and its people, and he knows what is best for us.

A kingdom that is governed by a wise, powerful, and good king is a kingdom to be celebrated. Sadly, we experience the consequences of living under flawed rulers in our world today, whether selfish and corrupt political leaders, greedy and reckless business leaders, or flawed and untrustworthy religious leaders. Even on a personal level, when we rule our own lives without God’s guidance, we make a mess of things.

In contrast, God’s kingdom brings deep joy, because he will rule perfectly and in such a way that this world can flourish under his reign. “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!”

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The Authorship of Colossians and Ephesians – A Closer Look

Todd Scacewater has posted a review of my book, Portrait of an Apostle: A Case For Paul’s Authorship of Colossians and Ephesians, on his blog, Exegetical Tools. Scacewater has shared some kind words as well as points of substantive critique. I appreciate that he has extended to me the opportunity for a brief response. I think the whole exchange will reflect what should happen in biblical studies and other scholarly arenas – engaging in a respectful yet challenging discussion of ideas as part of the pursuit of greater insight into important issues.

Here is the link to Scacewater’s review. My response will also be posted in a few days. Perhaps the main question up for debate: what methods are most appropriate for examining the authorship of the letters that are written in Paul’s name?

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Pictures from Rome (and Vatican City)

I have posted pictures from Rome and the surrounding area, including the Roman Forum, Coliseum, Arch of Titus, Pantheon, San Callisto Catacombs, and the Vatican City.

The pictures can be accessed from a link on the top of the home page or by following this link.

These pictures were taken as part of a January, 2015 study tour in Greece and Rome.

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Greece Pictures Added

I have added a page of pictures from Greece that features sites of biblical or historical interest. The cities included are Thessaloniki (home of the recipients of 1 and 2 Thessalonians), Philippi (Philippians), Berea (whose residents are mentioned in a positive light in Acts 17:10-15), Vergina (near where Philip II of Macedon is buried), Delphi (famous for its oracle at the Temple of Apollo), Athens (see Paul’s sermon there in Acts 17:16-34), and Corinth (recipients of 1 and 2 Corinthians).

I traveled to Greece and Rome this past January with a great group of students (and a faculty colleague) from Taylor University. Dave, Elizabeth, and David Sparks were our excellent guides and teachers.

Look for the “Pictures of Greece” page at the top of the home page, or follow this link.

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Epistle to the Trojans

Students in my Pauline Epistles class formed groups and wrote letters from the apostle Paul to Taylor, as an in-class exercise (each group had 20-25 minutes to write a brief letter).

The letter written by Brennan, Brittany, and Will earned the most votes, and so we are posting their words here – enjoy!

Prayer chapel at Taylor University

Epistle to the Trojans

Paul, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the people of Taylor University, may grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the abundant feast of Chicken Cordon Bleu (editor’s note: from Taylor’s Dining Commons). Although I am aghast at the technological advancements I see at your university, I am impressed about the learning you emphasize in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Your love for one another has been an encouragement to me. Every day I am encouraged in my thoughts about you and remember you in my prayers always. When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, be sure to admonish one another as well as encourage, as you have always done. Continue to pursue the wisdom of the elders who have been appointed before you by the power of our God and Father.

I have heard said of Taylor that you say, “Ring by spring.” But I say, there is no appointed time for a ring that you can know. Until that time, continue in God’s grace for one another, not focusing upon this goal but the goal of following Christ. I am saying this not to bind you in any way but that you may know the true love that Christ has for you.

Now you who bleed purple and gold, continue to love one another as you have always done. Pray continually, greet all brothers with a holy high-five, remain with one another even after God’s time for you at Taylor, and abstain from every evil. Be sure to admonish one another in love for each other in the name of our Lord. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. Amen.

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Integrating Faith and Learning, Truth and Life

Thinking rabbitStudying the Bible in an academic context provides a great opportunity to explore the broad relevance of a number of Biblical themes. What are some potential ways the Bible relates to other areas of learning or significant issues in our world?

The Trinity – worship, purpose, full relationships with God and others, how Christianity is distinct from other world religions.

Creation – the sciences, creation care, beauty/order/design in the world, stewardship of resources/gifts/life, fruitfulness, culture, creativity, sexuality/marriage/family, the wisdom of God.

Image of God – the value of human life, living as representatives of God, identity formation, vocation and calling.

Incarnation and physical resurrection – the value of the physical world and physical bodies, physical presence/touch and relationships, the “embodied” life and communication/social media, benefits and dangers of technology to human interaction and growth, medical ethics.

The kingdom of God – power structures and their relationship to God, justice/righteousness/shalom, what God’s reign looks like now and in the future in our world, kingdom ethics applied to various areas of life.

Christian virtues – cultural analysis, sexual morality, business ethics, hospitality, generosity to the needy, other humanitarian issues.

The cross/death of Jesus – “cruciform living” in an indulgent and selfish world, the depths of sin/evil/suffering and brokenness in a fallen world, the power of forgiveness – with God and others.

The church – how Christians are distinct from the world, how Christians should engage with the world, reconciliation and unity within the church, church planting and missions – contributions from various gifted people, ministries to the poor/needy/oppressed.

Justice and judgment – restorative and punitive justice, temporary and final judgment and their functions, divine and human justice, social justice in various arenas, reconciliation between political/social/tribal enemies, war and pacifism.

Biblical covenants – mission and purpose in light of the new covenant, middle east politics in light of the old and new covenants, church and state, living as strangers and exiles.

Union with Christ – identity formation, growth and maturity as disciples, sharing in Christ’s suffering, the persecuted.

New creation – worship and vocation, human flourishing, the value of the physical, beauty, creativity.

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Series Conclusion – the Bible and Same Gender Sexual Activity

sunset

Christian congregations (particularly in Europe and North America) exist within cultures that are rapidly changing in their moral norms. In the years and decades to come, Christians will need to combine a wise and compassionate pastoral approach with biblically informed doctrine when we encounter people inside and outside the church who experience same-sex attraction.

Thankfully, God has given sufficient revelation to guide us in our theological convictions. The topic of same-gender sexual activity is addressed indirectly and directly in Scripture, as we have seen in this blog series.

Very early in the biblical story, marriage is defined explicitly as being between a man and a woman. This definition is maintained (though not always practiced) throughout the rest of the Bible. Genesis 2 establishes God’s clear intention for marriage – between one man and one woman. Jesus affirms this definition in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Paul reiterates this definition in Ephesians 5. Marriage between man and woman is invested with deeper meaning in these passages, as signposts to God’s eternal plans in creation and redemption.

Same-sex practices are portrayed in a negative light and/or spoken against in both the Old and New Testaments. Often, “righteous” and “unrighteous” behavior is divided clearly in these passages, with same-sex practices being listed under “unrighteous” behavior.

Same-sex practices surface in the “wicked” cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Law God gave to Moses (the Law that reflected God’s holy character and specified how the Israelites were to be his holy people) prohibited same-sex practices, along with other sexual activity that fell outside the bounds of a faithful marriage between a man and woman. While the new covenant in Jesus nullifies ceremonial aspects of the Law as well as specific penalties, there is no indication that God’s demands for moral purity in heart and actions have been discarded.

Jesus did not speak specifically about same-sex practices (probably since his Jewish audience already rejected such behavior because of Leviticus 18 and 20), but he did affirm male-female marriage as God’s design (Matthew 19 and Mark 10). Jesus is also clear that immoral behavior (as opposed to customary rituals) makes a person truly defiled before God (Mark 7:14-18, Matthew 15).

Paul associates same-sex practices (between men and between women) with immorality that characterizes people groups that have denied the knowledge of God in Romans 1.

Paul insists that same-sex practices are among the behaviors that are incompatible with Christian belief and participation in the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6, and he groups same-sex practice with other forms of lawless and ungodly behavior in 1 Timothy 1. But as is the case for all of us, these passages remind us that because of the good news of Jesus Christ sin need not have the final word in our lives. Jesus Christ came to save sinners and re-shape our lives into his image, by the Spirit.

Thus concludes this series. Here are the links to the rest of the posts in the series:

 

Section 1 – Overview

 

Section 2 – Marriage in Genesis, the Gospels, and Ephesians

 

Section 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible

 

Section 4 – Leviticus 18 and 20

 

Section 5 – Romans 1:18-32

 

Section 6 – 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1

 

Section 7 – Matthew 7:15-20 – A Tree and its Fruit


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