The Destructive Kingdom of God
In my Protestant background, I heard many claims that “the kingdom of God is advancing.” Yet in my experience, very few Christians know where scripture actually defines what Jesus so often spoke about: the kingdom of God. A proper definition of the kingdom can dramatically color our experience of scripture, pointing us ultimately to the Eastern understanding of atonement, “Christus Victor.”
DEFINING THE KINGDOM
When I ask believers for a definition of the kingdom of God, they either lack a definition altogether or offer some thing like, “The kingdom of God consists of all those who obey God.” When asked where scripture offers such a definition though, the crickets become overwhelming. Across the Protestant canon,1 only one verse uses the words “kingdom” and “God,” and provides a definition. Daniel delineated the kingdom of God as he finished explaining King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of earthly kingdoms:
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” Daniel 2:44
By Daniel’s words, we may define the kingdom of God as “an eternal reign which destroys earthly authorities.” Jesus spoke constantly about this kingdom of God from His first proclamation of the gospel of God in Mark 1:14-15 until his post-resurrection appearances summarized in Acts 1:3. He made it clear that God’s kingdom had “come near”2 as Daniel prophesied, in order to defeat the spiritual authorities of this world rather than human authorities. Jesus waged such an obviously spiritual war that all four of the gospels recorded the Pharisees as accusing him of having demonic authority. One of those accusations came when Jesus healed a blind and mute man by casting out a demon. Jesus answered the charge of demonic authority then by declaring:
“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Matthew 12:28
His words not only answered the accusation, but also established the Holy Spirit as the destroying force of God’s kingdom. The indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit destroys demonic authority so powerfully as to be termed a second birth. By the preaching of Jesus, we can clarify the kingdom of God as “an eternal reign which destroys demonic authorities by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”
Daniel’s prophecy of God’s kingdom also matches Psalm 2 from which the ancient Jews and the Apostles took the term “Messiah” in Hebrew and “Christ” in Greek, literally meaning “Anointed.” Psalm 2 opened with war between earthly rulers and the “Anointed” of the Lord. In verses six and following, God promised to establish as King His “begotten” Son who would crush every earthly kingdom:
“You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Psalm 2:9
The Apostles did not proclaim a peaceful Jesus, meek and mild. They systematically called him by the formulaic title of “Christ, Son of God,” a combination of titles found in Psalm 2 alone out of all of the Hebrew scriptures, a passage which they quoted often and at length in the scriptures. The Apostles preached Jesus as God’s “Anointed” King who exhibits peace and goodwill toward men, but who also brings a rod of iron to crush the ruler of this world and his underlords. If we conform the definition of God’s kingdom to the Jewish and apostolic emphasis of Psalm 2, then it becomes:
the eternal reign of God’s Anointed King which destroys demonic authorities by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit
Atonement is “at-one-ment,” the process of bringing humans into peaceful unity with God. Roman Catholics began in the 13th century3 to teach the atonement as the satisfaction of God’s wrath by the death of Jesus.4 Neither Eastern Orthodoxy, nor Oriental Orthodoxy , nor the Assyrian Church of the East have ever taught atonement as the satisfaction of God’s wrath.
When Protestants rose up in the 16th century against Roman authority, they not only embraced Rome’s relatively new doctrine of atonement, but they took it even further. In Protestantism, God the Father appeases His wrath by meting out punishment upon the God the Son. In contrast with Rome and her Protesters, all three Eastern forms of Christianity have always taught atonement as what is now called “Christus Victor,” the destruction of demonic authority for all those who believe that Jesus is the “Christ,” the Anointed King of Kings and Lord of Lords. These three Eastern branches of Christianity had been tragically divided from one another since the fifth century. We should lament their division, yet their division ensured there was no collusion against Rome. Three distinct and apostolic branches of the faith were able to uniformly bear witness to the ancient doctrine, handed down by tradition from the Apostles.
The doctrine of atonement as the satisfaction of God’s wrath is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (shortened here as PSA). I find PSA to be logical, plausible, and scripturally defensible. My first problem with PSA however, is the fact that it is taught in Protestantism without the admission that it is novel and without an explanation of the ancient alternative doctrine. PSA also causes me the most concern in its ability to bypass the central and essential message of Jesus which He termed “the gospel.” That is, PSA enables believers to overlook the fact that the kingdom of God came near when God’s Anointed walked among us, casting out demons and marching to the climactic battlefield called Calvary, while training a new generation of spiritual warriors.
How great and grand is the gospel of the kingdom! We in the West have largely replaced it however, with the message of a pacified Parent and a vacation in the distant future, neither of which appeal very strongly to men. Scripture paints Jesus as the rebel King who terrified the tyrants, broke open the doors of Hades, and sent supernatural commandos out across the globe. Why do women outnumber men in Protestant churches today?5 I submit that it is because men do not hear the destructive message of the kingdom of God. They hear instead about love, forgiveness, and asking someone into their hearts. Call us Neanderthals if you must, but some of us are far more interested in explosions, warfare, and breaking stuff!
- Seven additional books have been universally affirmed as Holy Scripture since the earliest centuries across all of the other four branches of Christianity: Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the Assyrian Church of the East.
- Many translations read instead, “the kingdom of God is at hand,” allowing readers to believe that Jesus claimed the kingdom could come soon. Rather, He used the verb engizo in the perfect past tense, indicating a completed action. The completed action of engizo comes from the root engus, meaning “hand” or “near.” He did not claim the kingdom “is near” in the present tense or in a future tense, but in the past and completed tense.
- The work of Aquinas was preceded by Anselm’s introduction of satisfaction theory. I mean no insult by pointing to these two as innovators, but such is my sincere assessment of their work.
- For information on the distinction between the Roman theory of Penal Substitution and the Protestant theory, see Bryan Cross’s article for example at CalledtoCommunion.com.
poll at Barna.org showed 44% of American women and 36% of men attending
church weekly – a 22% gap. PBS.org polled a 35% difference (31 to 23),
and PewForum.org showed a 29% gender gap of 44 to 34 respectively.