Tag Archives: biblical theology

The Kingdom of God Defined

In the previous two blog posts (here and here) we have talked about the kingdom of God without examining a detailed definition of the kingdom. What does God’s reign look like? If Jesus came to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God, why does so much of our world still look so broken and disordered? We can find answers to these questions in the Gospels, and in a famous prayer in the Gospels in particular.

In Matthew 6:7-13 Jesus told his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray this because only God can establish his kingdom on the earth. The fact that we still need to pray for God’s kingdom also suggests that even though Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God when he began his ministry, the kingdom has not yet arrived in full. What will the full arrival of the kingdom look like? The next line gives us an important clue: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom’s final arrival will consist of God’s perfect will being carried out on earth as completely as it is in heaven. Everything in the universe will be restored to its proper order and harmony. Human life will revolve around God’s glory, and believers will experience the peace, love, and righteousness that characterizes God’s reign.

The topic of the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ ministry. Many of his parables describe what the kingdom of God is like. Other statements in the Gospels show that Jesus’ early ministry could be summed up as “proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom of God” (see Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35; Luke 4:43). Every miracle, every healing, and every casting out of demons gave the crowds a glimpse or sneak preview of the kingdom of God. These miracles and wonders displayed what it was like for God to have authority over the natural and supernatural world. They gave a vivid preview of the kingdom of God, of God restoring order to the seen and unseen world. Jesus’ earthly ministry in the first century A.D. represented the “already” of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is already present through the works of Jesus, and the kingdom continues to be witnessed through the power of the Spirit working among his people (as in Luke 9:2).

Church of St. Paul outside the walls

There is still a “not yet” aspect to the kingdom of God. God will one day send Jesus back to exercise his perfect authority over all of creation, so that God’s will is done on earth, as it is in heaven (see Acts 3:19-21). At that time, Jesus will banish all sin, evil, and suffering, and his eternal kingdom will be consummated. Hebrews 9:27-28 and other passages explain that Jesus came to our world a first time to die as a sacrifice for our sins. But he will come a second time to judge his enemies, bring salvation for his people, and rule over the world.

From our study in this series so far, here is a working definition of the kingdom of God:The kingdom of God is the complete and abundant reign of God on the earth, through Jesus, in fulfillment of Old Testament promises. This reign will be characterized by eternal life, justice, righteousness, love, and peace.

Praying the prayer of Matthew 6:9-11 can shape and fuel our desire to see God’s kingdom come. Let’s use this prayer as a way to express to God our longing to see his kingdom come.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical Theology, Gospels, New Testament

An Eternal Kingdom: Promised and Unveiled

Temple of Artemis remains, Ephesus

Temple of Artemis remains, Ephesus

When I was in Ephesus, Turkey, our tour group saw the remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the famous Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The site had one tall pillar and another shorter one. The pillars were not unearthed in this shape – they had been stacked with sections from pieces of sculpted stone that had been scattered around the site. Nothing besides these two reconstructed pillars were left from what was once one of the marvels of the ancient world. This was a stark visual reminder that even the most impressive structures do not stand the test of time. Only God’s kingdom will endure.

Daniel 7:9-14 describes this vision of an eternal kingdom. In this passage, which comes in the form of a heavenly vision, the prophet Daniel sees a judgment scene taking place, with the Ancient of Days (God) taking his seat as the judge. God judges a number of beasts, which are symbolic for powerful earthly kingdoms that have raised themselves up against God’s kingdom. One by one, these kingdoms, which seemed so permanent and dominant at the time, have their power removed from them by the One who has final and complete authority.

The scene shifts in verse 13. The Ancient of Days still presides over the proceedings, but instead of beasts, “one like a son of man” approaches God’s throne. In other words, Daniel sees someone who looks like one of us. When the son of man comes before the Ancient of Days, he is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” The passage says that all people and nations will recognize his authority, and his reign will be permanent. This is the one kingdom that will stand the test of time!

We learn several things about God’s kingdom from this passage. First, God’s kingdom has been opposed throughout the history of the world. But no kingdom ever prevails against God’s kingdom. Additionally, although God in some sense has always and will always rule over this world, he has designated a special representative, the son of man, to implement this kingdom directly on the earth.

In Mark 1:14-15 Jesus describes this kingdom as “good news” or “gospel” (these are the same word in the Greek language). This emphasizes again the idea that God’s good and perfect reign is cause for hope and celebration. When Jesus says that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand (or near),” he means that according to God’s timetable the promised kingdom of God is ready to be unveiled. The kingdom was drawing near with the arrival of the King – the Son of Man – Jesus. In fact, in all four Gospels, “Son of Man” is Jesus’ preferred title for himself. Jesus understood that his ultimate calling was to rule over the world as God’s Anointed One.

Jesus makes it clear that the arrival of the kingdom rests in God’s hands alone. Jesus doesn’t tell his listeners to build the kingdom. Instead, he simply announces the coming of the kingdom. What did Jesus tell the people to do in response? He told them to “repent and believe in the gospel” (the good news he had just spoken about). God is bringing his kingdom to the world, but people cannot enter in their current state of resistance to God. They must humbly repent and believe.

The proclamation of the arrival of God’s long-awaited kingdom was and is good news for a world that needs God’s leadership and authority. In response, we must get on board with God’s kingdom agenda by repenting from our sin and our own agendas. We must humbly believe in God, his kingdom, and his king – Jesus.

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Theology, Turkey

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!”

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Theology

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical Theology, Education, New Testament, Old Testament, Teaching

The Story from OT to NT

(This is a copy of a response to an astute question raised in the comment section of the previous post. It seeks to show how the same good God worked out a single plan from OT promise to NT fulfillment.)

The OT on its own terms presents a story that is headed somewhere yet is incomplete and pointing forward. The NT presents Jesus as the completion to the story.

The direction in which the OT story is heading is God ruling over a perfected world, with a perfected people living in right relationship with him (see Gen 1:26-30 and Gen 2 for a glimpse of this end goal). The Israelites received the first taste of this perfected rule and loving relationship through the covenants God made with them (and God promised blessing to all nations through Israel – Gen 12:1-3). But because of deep-rooted sin (towards God and others) they fell short of experiencing God’s reign, and the relationship was broken, pending a new work of God (promised in Jer 31:31-34 and elsewhere).

Jesus comes as the faithful, sacrificial savior and vindicated, resurrected victor, both to provide for the sins of Jews and Gentiles (giving us relationship with God) and to inaugurate the reign of God (“the kingdom of God”). All of this will come to fruition when Christ returns.

In short, the “old method”/old covenant was a good part of God’s overarching plan that was fulfilled in Christ. This was the plan God always had in mind (2 Tim 1:9; Eph 1:9-10) and was even foreshadowed throughout the OT (see the entire book of Hebrews for examples). The shortcomings under the old covenant were related to human failure rather than deficiency of divine design (see Rom 7 for this argument from Paul).

That is a very simplistic overview of the OT and NT, but I hope it helps for starters!

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Theology, New Testament, Old Testament