Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus

photo by Stuart Yeates, cc-by-sa-2.5, via wikimedia commons

What is the Kingdom of God?

    Even though Jesus proclaimed God's kingdom is the gospel (for example here, here, and here), we evangelicals have some pretty foggy ideas about what exactly is God's kingdom. We often speak of "advancing the kingdom," but what exactly are we advancing? Many of us talk about social work, charity, and scripture-preaching as "kingdom work," but those definitions don't come from scripture.

    When pressed for a definition, I find Christians readily offer something like, "The kingdom of God consists of all those who obey God as king." Jesus' words do not agree however. He preached the kingdom as something new. Obeying God as king was nothing new when Jesus preached as a new event: "The kingdom of God has come near." Therefore we cannot define the kingdom as simply obedience to God.

    I once thought Jesus preached that the kingdom could start at any moment because a lot of Bible translations have Him saying the kingdom "is at hand." Rather, Jesus used the word ηγγικεν, the verb for "approach" in the past tense. That is, He preached that the kingdom of God had approached. Therefore many translations read, "The kingdom of God has come near." (NIV, HCSB)

    Strangely enough, Jesus never provided a definition of God's kingdom, even though it was His number one topic of discussion. He often told us what the kingdom of God is like, but never what it actually is. He said the kingdom is like a mustard seed, growing impossibly large from the least likely sources. The kingdom is like a man who casts seeds, rejected by many, showing sparks of life in a few, and multiplying fantastically in others. "The kingdom of heaven is like..." "The kingdom of God is like..." In such messages, we learned how the kingdom operates, but never what it is.

    Jesus taught as if His Jewish audience already knew what the kingdom of God was and only needed to rethink how the kingdom operates. If we turn to His ambassadors we hear the word "kingdom" throughout the book of Acts, the epistles and even the book of Revelation: yet His ambassadors too gave us no definition. The Apostles treat us like Jesus treated the Jews - as if we should already know what exactly is the kingdom of God. If not the New Testament, then surely the Old Testament will define God's kingdom.

    Searching the Jewish scriptures for "kingdom of God," I find only Psalm 45:6 and Daniel 2:44. While Psalm 45:6 gives us no help for defining the kingdom, Daniel 2:44 is highly instructive:

"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." (NKJV)

    Immediately we find difficulty using this text to define the kingdom which Jesus preached because His message was non-political and non-violent like the kingdom statement of Matthew 5:3. If however, we trace the New Testament theme of battling spiritual authorities (Eph 6:12; Mat 12:26-28) rather than human ones, then Daniel 2:44 defines the kingdom of God in perfect agreement with the New Testament. From Daniel 2:44, the kingdom of God is:

An eternal kingdom which God establishes to destroy all other authorities.

    Paul said "For to us, wrestling is not toward blood and flesh, but toward the authorities, powers, world-rulers of this dark age, and evil spirits on high." Jesus said, "Yet if I by God's Spirit cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God came upon you." The kingdom of God does not destroy human politics or human governments. The kingdom of God conquered the authority of Satan, the authority of sin, and the authority of death.

    By no coincidence, the Old Testament passage which drives the New Testament title of Christ closely mirrors the Daniel 2:44 definition of God's kingdom. Christ (literally "Anointed") occurs in just 3 Old Testament passages as a prophetic noun. While 1Samuel 2:10 and Daniel 9:25-26 call Him a king and a prince, Psalm 2 tells us He will rule over all other authorities and "shatter them as pottery" just like Daniel 2:44 says, "it shall break in pieces" all other kingdoms.
    If we believe Christianity demands including Jesus as the "Anointed" or Christos King of God's kingdom as the New Testament calls Him, then we will define the kingdom of God as:

The eternal reign of God's Anointed King which destroys all other authorities.

    Finally, we should note how New Testament scriptures tie the kingdom directly to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in John 3:5, Matthew 12:28, Romans 8:9,  and Romans 14:17; then we can complete the definition of the kingdom of God as:

The reign of God's Anointed King as established by
the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which destroys all other authorities.

    With such a definition of the kingdom, we might understand better what happened when the Anointed King took on flesh. After being anointed with the Holy Spirit, Mark says that King Jesus preached as gospel, "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

  1. The kingdom of God came near to humans when God sent His Anointed King in human flesh.
  2. The kingdom of God came near to humans when earth's rightful Ruler began casting out demonic tyrants.
  3. The kingdom of God came near to humans when earth's rightful Ruler resisted earth's rebel ruler.
  4. The kingdom of God came near to humans when earth's rightful Ruler began His march to battle with earth's rebel ruler.
  5. The kingdom of God came near to humans when earth's rightful Ruler began His trek toward glory so that the Holy Spirit could indwell believers and destroy the power of sin in them.
  6. The kingdom of God came in power just as Jesus prophesied it would after our King's ascension His citizens received the Spirit of Christ in such an indwelling manner as to fulfill the John 3:5 phrase "born of the Spirit."
  7. The kingdom of God destroys the authority of the usurping tyrant in everyone who is born of the Spirit of Christ by believing that Jesus is the Psalm 2 Christ, Son of God.
    The promised King has come to us. The promised King has defeated the usurping tyrant. The promised King has proven1 His rightful authority by rising from the dead, never to die again. We know He rose because the witnesses who saw Him rise from the dead were willing to die - not for their beliefs, but for their eyewitness testimony.

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1. Acts 17:31, Romans 1:4
"What is the Kingdom?" by Matthew Bryan was first published at August 2nd, 2014
and updated May 11th, 2015. All rights are reserved.