What is the “Kingdom of God”?

In a day and age when the “kingdom of God” seems to be given every title in the book, it seems that it’s harder and harder to truly under what Jesus meant when He said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

So far in Mark’s account of the gospel, before we read this statement by Jesus, we have learned that God has broken into human history in the person of Jesus, John the Baptizer (whom we call Johnny B) was used by God to baptize Jesus to show God’s affirmation of Him as His son (and our sonship or daughtership, if indeed we follow Him), and then the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness to encounter Satan and begin to undo that which has been broken:

“Christ invaded the fallen world where Satan was laying claim to the kingdoms of men… it is here where the Prince of Peace begins His combat with the Prince of the world.” Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 28.

Now at this point, Jesus has been inaugurated by God as king (baptism/right of passage, dove/anointing, God’s declaration/kingly pronouncement), He has waged war on Satan, and now it’s time to reveal the secret weapon: THE KINGDOM OF GOD! THE PAST GOOD NEWS IS A PRESENT REALITY! THE FUTURE GOOD NEWS IS A PRESENT HOPE! What do I mean by this statement?

A FIRST CENTURY JEWISH UNDERSTANDING

Among first century Jews, hope was alive that God would one day strike down all the powers that oppose Him on earth and would redeem His people from slavery and crush her oppressors, namely Rome.

They called this greatly desired state of affairs the kingdom of heaven, not because this reign would take place in heaven, but because they did not dare use the name of God Himself, lest they misuse it, misspell it, and mispronounce it. So the term, the “kingdom of heaven” is treated the same as the “kingdom of God”.

This “kingdom of heaven”, this “new age” was also referred to as “the time of God’s rule.” It signified the new world, the comprehensive rule and reign of God in heaven and on earth. For example, according to the prophet Isaiah, this new age would be a time of righteousness and justice for the marginalized (Isaiah 11:4-5), where people would experience shalom (Isaiah 2:2-4) and the physical creation would also experience renewal (Isaiah 11:6-9).

From the prophet Joel we learn that it would be a time where God’s Spirit is poured out onto all flesh (Joel 2:28-30). In Jeremiah, we learn that it will be a time when the new covenant would be realized (Jeremiah 31: 31-34, 32:38- 40). From Zechariah, we learn that sin and sickness would be done away with (Zechariah 13:1). This is what would be going through the minds of the first century Jews upon the hearing: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).

But if we were to have “Christ-centered” lens focused in on Scripture, then we would hear that statement and think this: “The great future of God’s all-encompassing redemption has become present time in the person of Jesus.” Herman Ridderbos (the late great Dutch Reformed Theologian). Or as the Anglican theologian and professor NT Wright puts it, “The future has come into the present” in the person of Jesus.

In the years building up to Christ’s arrival (and years after) there were many who claimed to be the “liberator” (the Messiah), but they were all killed off and there was no following because there was no power in their words or their works. None the less, there was great political and social unrest in Israel, as they were longing for this “new age” to come.

Herman Ridderbos would go on to say that there are two main elements of the kingdom of God, that at the core of our understanding, we must understand: an intensive dimension and an extensive dimension.

THE INTENSIVE DIMENSION

By intensive (or the concentrated; focused) dimension, he is referring to the fact that salvation, forgiveness, justice, reconciliation, adoption into God’s family, etc… are no longer (to the Jew) a future matter that they must labor to “hopefully” attain when they die. Jesus is the One who has brought the hope of the future to the present.

A physical picture of this is seen by the church today through communion: “This is my body and this is my blood, of the new covenant.” Do you know what this means? Oh, this is such wonderful news!

Jesus first taught His disciples about this communion meal that represents his body and blood during a Jewish celebration called the Passover (I don’t have time to get into the details of this celebration, but it was Easter for them). A good Jewish family always celebrated the Passover as a family, and so the fact that Jesus is celebrating it with His disciples is giving us a glimpse into what is actually happening; Jesus is including His disciples into the family of God.

But it gets better. Not only have the disciples been invited into Jesus’ family dinner with the Father and the Spirit, but He has given Himself completely to them. To offer one’s body as a sacrifice for the benefit of the whole family is the greatest act of love and of inclusion. This adoption that is taking place is legally going to be sealed at the cross, but relationally, the disciples are family.

This is the core of the good news of the kingdom; not that God has come in the person of Jesus Christ to forgive us of our sin (which is a part of the good news), but that Jesus has come to give Himself to us. The presence of God in the person of Jesus. In the Garden of Eden (Gen. 1-2), God created man and woman in His image and likeness, and shared Himself with humanity. Shalom was real. Universal peace and flourishing, with God being fully present with mankind was God’s plan.

If this is the beginning of the story of God, then this is the beginning of the good news. When this shalom was broken in Genesis 3, the whole narrative of Scripture begins to head in a totally different direction. Now man is separated from God and in need of shalom to be restored. All of the Old Testament (OT) from this point on is basically a commentary on the history of God’s good creation gone wild, and how this chaos leads us to Jesus and the need for a new and perfect Adam.

I give this narrative, because much of our gospel presentations begin with the need for forgiveness of sins (of which I do not want to belittle, nor remove from the gospel), but the narrative doesn’t begin at the brokenness of shalom. It begins in Genesis 1 with God dwelling with man and it was very good, and the gospel of Jesus begins with Jesus saying, “I’m back!”.

The message Jesus brings at first isn’t, “Good news! You’re a sinner and I’m going to forgive you!” This is good news that starts at the fall of man, with sin.

But when you hear, “Good news! I’m back! I’m not going to leave things this way.” This is the good news that starts with God’s love in creation; He has given us His image. This is the core message of the kingdom and Jesus is back to restore that image and the creation, that has been terribly marred.

The first and most important reason why Jesus came was to “adopt us” out of a dying family, and bring us into the only family that can promise life. This is of the utmost importance for us to understand. Yes, forgiveness must happen, and it’s crucial that it does, but adoption is the first and main part of the good news that frees us to come to Jesus and have our sin exposed and be forgiven.

If your view of salvation is more predominantly a “legal and rigid” view of being forgiven of your sin, then you have cheated yourselves of the actual good news of the gospel, and your life is probably proof of that. You cognitively know that your sins are forgiven, but it’s not personal to you… it’s a legal issue that God took care of in court and there’s no real intimate relationship with Jesus. This is not good news in it’s biblical form!

THE EXTENSIVE DIMENSION

What Ridderbos is referring to here is that this adoption into God’s family is not limited to one people (only Israel), and the worship and service of God is not concentrated in the temple alone. The coming of Christ announces to every nation, every tongue, every tribe, every language, to receive this adoption into God’s family!

The anthem in heaven goes like this: “And they sang ua new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ ” (Revelation 5:9-10)

At Pentecost (Acts 2), the Spirit of God busts open the doors and drives the disciples outside, into the streets, indeed, into the whole world, to announce that the kingdom of God is accessible through Christ Jesus. The forces of the future kingdom are rushing into our present reality because of Christ, and this invitation is to all who have ears to hear!

As we will learn in weeks to come that Christ has entered the house of “the strong man” and plundered his goods; there is no longer any power that the thieves have over those who have partnered with the Strong Man, Jesus. This is a universal reign. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given and to Jesus (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:19-21). No power is able to stand against Jesus. Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, that Jesus is the King and Lord of all (Phil 2:10-11).

The miracles that we will see Jesus perform in the coming weeks are signs of the redeeming power of His Word and Spirit for the whole of life. As the Head over all things, Jesus has been given to the Church as her Head, her Boss, therefore she should know she is no longer to be submitted to the powers and demons who wish to govern and control life, but to submit to Christ alone.

SECRETS OF THE KINGDOM

But in all this, we must remember that Jesus did not receive all might over the kingdoms of the world by giving obedience to the temptation of Satan in the Judean desert, but by going the way which God set out before Him; the new way to battle, the way that led to the cross. Power and authority through giving up power and authority.

So the kingdom of God enters the world, with the vehicle of the Word of God through the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, there must be plowing and sowing and cultivating and suffering because the kingdom is not fully here yet. You ask, well why is that so?

Because Jesus is more patient than you and I are. He’s also more generous as well. When His kingdom has fully come, then eternal justice is done and those who have not received the invitation to be adopted into Jesus’ family (are not kingdom citizens) will be forever citizens and family members of the prince of this world’s puny and twisted kingdom.

Christ Jesus does not want that, so He waits and is patient through the plowing, the sowing, the cultivating, the suffering. Indeed, He uses all these elements to display the beauty of His kingdom and to help us experience our future reality more and more here in the present, as well as helps us grow up and long for Him, not things that kill us.

THE MISSION OF KINGDOM CITIZENS

So for now, the kingdom of God is at hand, and any increase of this kingdom is from God, not from us. We extend the kingdom of God to others, and we live out realities of His kingdom to others, and display this reality in many ways, but the kingdom is God’s to build and advance. He’s in control, not us.

The power we have is to go, to speak, to forgive, to reconcile, to fight for the helpless, go to the desperate places of others, in the name of Jesus, because Jesus went to our desperate places. We are to be foster parents, and adopting parents, we are to labor to bring unity and love between the rich and the poor… and at the end of the day, we trust that it’s God who brings forth the harvest, thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold, not us.

Christians are a “model” of the kingdom, a counter-culture, a royal colony of heaven here to “display” how human society can be under the Kingship of Christ (2 Peter 2). Christians are to be agents of the kingdom, spreading its healing both in word (Acts 8) and through benevolent deed (1 John 3:17-18), spiritually, psychologically, socially, physically. Our spiritual gifts are kingdom powers which heal people as they bring people under the Kingship of Christ. Those who acknowledge the coming King’s lordship, will experience His rule as adoption, blessing, life and salvation. Those who reject His lordship, will experience Him as their conqueror and judge.

This is the Kingdom of God, and our mission is to live as citizens of His kingdom here on earth, and rival all the puny “gods” of all the fraudulent “kingdoms” that lie to the masses, and say that the good life can be found without Jesus.

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