The Kingdom of God - NT Perspective
Pr. Gibson Joy
The word “Kingdom” is a very weighty word. It speaks of royalty, dominion, reign, and kingship. The Kingdom of God is any place where God has dominion or exercises His reign and authority to accomplish His will and for His glory. This is a dominant theme right through the Bible. A bulk of Jesus’ message centred on the Kingdom of God. Starting from His first recorded words in Mark 1:15 - “Repent for the Kingdom of God has come” to His final parting words with His disciples (Acts 1:3). He taught His disciples much about the Kingdom. Whether they understood what Jesus said is questionable. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, they were still thinking in terms of a physical, geographical sphere of Kingdom rule (Acts 1:6).
Kingdom with Limits?
The disciples and Pharisees of Jesus’ day cannot be blamed for fostering thoughts of a physical kingdom. This is largely due to the fact that much of the Old Testament prophecy and their interpretations in Rabbinical tradition pointed to a Messiah, a political leader, a deliverer (Is 9:1-7; 35:5-6; 61:1-3; Micah 5:2) who would overthrow world powers thereby establishing Israel as chief among all nations of the world (Is 2:2). With phrases such as government, freedom, deliverer, ruler it is all but natural for humans in their limited capacities to think in terms of the physical, cultural and geographical.
But seeing through the finished work of Christ on the cross, and the wisdom of God revealed therein (1 Cor 1:18, 21, 24), we as people who have the privilege of hindsight see God’s “mystery which for ages past was kept hidden in God...but now revealed... that God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Eph 3:9-11; Col 1:26-27) We also see how Jesus in His own life fulfilled the entire collection of over 100 prophecies pertaining to the Messiah.
A closer look at the Old Testament teachings, prophecies and understanding of the Kingdom of God and how God desired it will reveal to us (in light of what Christ has accomplished) that God had it in His mind all along to establish a Kingdom (Ex 19:4). A people who would be His own and whose God He would be. In fact what we see as the Covenantal formula - “You will be my people and I will be your God” was actually a progression starting with Abraham to the people of Israel and ultimately the whole world (Gen 17:8; Lev 26:12; Jer 31:33; Rev 21:3). Looking at Abraham’s call described in Genesis 12:1-3, we have a window into God’s ultimate plan which is not limited to Abraham or the people of Israel but in fact for the whole world. “Through you all peoples on earth will be blessed”. How was God going to accomplish this? Right from the time judgement was passed on Eve along with a prophecy that her “seed would crush the head of the serpent” (Gen 3:15), every generation looked forward to this Deliverer. God told Abraham that his offspring would carry that blessing.
What we need to understand about God’s Kingdom is that it has no beginning and no ending (Dan 4:34). It has existed as long as God and is established wherever God has extended His rule. It is not an earthly Kingdom limited to time, space, caste, colour, creed or any other humanistic categorizations. It transcends the physical to include all of creation both physical and spiritual and heavenly realms. (Rev 5:13). When God created the world, He gave dominion of this part of His domain to humankind to do whatever they pleased with it. His will was that humans would rule on His behalf, representing Him in every way toward all creation (Gen 1:28). For where God’s rule is, there is justice, righteousness, peace and joy (Ps 89:14; Rom 14:17). But humankind yielded to the devil’s temptation and tried to cut himself off of God’s guidance and rule. Thus when they came into agreement with the devil to do his will, they were giving dominion of the earth into his hands making him the god of this age (Luke 4:6; 2 Cor 4:4). Thus the state of world affairs as we see it now is the consequence of the world not coming under the rule of God and the devil exercising his will over lives and nations. To counter this, God devised a plan whereby this dominion would be taken away from the devil. For this, there had to be a human, a “second Adam” who would chose to do God’s will (Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:44) whereby he can snatch from the devil’s grip all authority and dominion. This second Adam - Jesus was victorious where the first Adam failed. Through His victory on the cross and subsequent resurrection, Jesus has been given all the authority and power and is the Name above every name (Matt 28:18; Eph 1:20-22). And all who would put their trust in Him would come under His rule. Coming under the rule of God means a shift in our citizenship, our allegiance from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God’s Son (Col 1:13).
God waited for centuries long for this promise to be fulfilled for various reasons. First of all He needed to reveal His perfect nature to humankind in the law He would give to the people of Israel (Ex 20). And for this purpose He chose Abraham and the people of Israel to whom He would reveal Himself. Secondly humankind needed to understand the importance of God’s salvation. In the revelation of God’s law, was also a revelation of human sinfulness and the futility of trying to live up to God’s perfect standard while under the power of sin (Rom 7:20; Gal 3:21,22). Upon realising our need for a saviour and the importance of God’s rule of freedom and grace upon our lives, humanity is in the perfect place to see their need for God’s rule. Within the law, the grace of God was revealed within the sacrificial system offering atonement for sin. But this was only a deed done in faith testifying and even prophetically pointing to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Lev 16; Heb 9:22; 10:4, 10). Thirdly, Jesus who is God the Son needed to be born under the law, as a Jew and fulfil it completely so as to become the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world for all time (Gal 4:4,5). And fourthly, through the way opened by Jesus, all of humanity is now able to come into a covenantal relationship with God (John 3:16; Gal 3:28,29). Therefore into the Kingdom of God.
Entering the Kingdom
Jesus had already stated that His Kingdom is not an earthly one (John 18:36). So how do we as sinful beings inherit the Kingdom? By rebirth. We need to be born into it. A new start, a new heart, a new beginning in a new world. Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied that God would make a new covenant with His people whereby they will receive a new heart and spirit, be moved to obey God’s laws and they will all know Him (Jer 31:31-33; Ez 36:24-26). In Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus he makes it very clear that being born into the Kingdom is nothing short of a miracle of God done by the Spirit of God (Jn 3:5-8; cf. Jn 1:12,13). To be born into the Kingdom is to be born of God. It is received by faith and given completely by the grace of God (Jn 3:16; Eph 2:8,9). It is only when we come under the rule of God as His Children can we escape the slavery of sin (Rom 6:22), the inevitable wrath of God (Rom 1:18) and eternal damnation in Hell (Rev 20:15). Jesus said we need to receive it with the innocent, bold and humble faith like that of little children (Matt 18:3, 4). This is how we enter in. By renouncing the ways of the enemy and his dominion over our lives and accepting the rule of God over our hearts and the trusting Him to give us a new birth into His Kingdom. We are Children of God. It is when we consciously do this that God gives us His Holy Spirit who sets us free (2 Cor 4:17) and we are set on a course of knowing God and living out our new God-given identity as sons of God.
The Culture of the Kingdom
As in any Kingdom and organization, the Kingdom of God comes with a culture of its own. It is a culture that flows out of the very nature of God. The reason why Jesus’ message was so astounding to the people of His day was not because He contradicted the Law of God but because He stretched it to its truest heights of perfection. Be it adultery, murder, divorce or lying, Jesus brought it up to perfection. “Love your enemies”, Jesus said, “Do good to those who persecute you... Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:21-48). Jesus was living out the culture of the Kingdom that He embodied. When Jesus had compassion on the sick and healed them, when He touched the lepers, raised the dead and calmed the seas, He was living His earthly life not from an earthly perspective but from His Kingdom’s purview. He modelled what would happen through any person who would be born into His Kingdom. He was of God, with no beginning and no end. When we are born again, we are born of God by the power of His Spirit.
Two things characterize life in the Kingdom. Firstly, a life of love that is free from fear, forgiving, uniting across racial, gender, cultural, economic and religious barriers (1 Jn 4:18; 2:9,10; Eph 2:14; Gal 3:28,29). Secondly, a life led by and lived out by the help of the Spirit of God so that our lives would increasingly look like Jesus’ life here on earth (2 Cor 3:18; Gal 2:20; 4:16,24,25; 1 Jn 2:6; 2 Pet 1:3,4). And both of these characteristics are lived out only by faith in God (2 Cor 5:7)
The admonition of the apostles is that we don’t live according to the patterns of this world (Rom 12:2) but live as citizens of the Kingdom of God (Phil 3:20) as those who are born of God (1 Jn 5:4). In other words, we live our lives true to our calling and new identity (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:1). This Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power (1 Cor 4:20) - The power of God enabling human beings to live the Christ-life on the earth now making us true ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20). This is the life Jesus came to give us.
The Future of the Kingdom
There is a forward looking aspect to this Kingdom in the way that it is experienced in present day. Paul explains in Romans 8:19 that “creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed”. Even creation awaits that representative rule that needs to be exercised over creation on God’s behalf. What we see today by way of earthquakes, famines, tsunamis are all groanings awaiting a day when the Lord will make “all things new” and the “kingdoms of this world become the Kingdoms of our God” (Rev 11:15; 21:3-5). Daniel prophesied this in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2:24-48). In his interpretation Daniel spoke of a Kingdom that God would establish that would overthrow all the other kingdoms of this world but would span the entire world and endure forever (Dan 2:44). But what is interesting is how the Kingdom started. It started as a rock not cut by human hands, but soon became a mountain that covered the whole earth. This pointed to the mode in which God would establish His Kingdom.
When Jesus came and proclaimed those historic words, “The Kingdom of God has come upon you”, it was the rock striking against the foot of the statue; the rock that would ultimately span the entire world as the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is like yeast”, Jesus said, “that works through the entire dough”. Again, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants...” (Matt 13:31-33). The Kingdom of God is slowly working through the cultures, and kingdoms of this world to bring transformation from a worldly pattern to a pattern after the Kingdom of God. The New Testament looks forward with futuristic expectation and hope of this influence and transformation affecting the entire world for the glory of God culminating in the new world order where God Himself will rule.
As citizens of the Kingdom, as ambassadors of Christ those who have been born again, we are called to exercise our influence upon the society we live in as the Light and the Salt of the Earth (Matt 5:13) so that we may increasingly see His Kingdom come and His will being done on earth just as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10). All this is done as we eagerly wait for the day when He comes as King of all kings and makes all things on earth new again.