The kingdom of God is one of the major themes within the story of God found in Scripture. Unfortunately, during the last century the interpretations of the kingdom has moved from one extreme to another. The Builder and Boomer generations gravitated towards defining the kingdom as the redemptive reign of God with the emphasis on God’s rule over an individual’s heart. The focus was personal salvation disconnected from the physical plight of man seeing the church as an agent of the kingdom.
For the millennials and the emerging Z generation the kingdom of God has become about making the world a better place in the name of Jesus or just doing good deeds in the world. Their focus is on justice and peace with little or no interest in evangelism, and the church is becoming more and more irrelevant in the effort. Neither one of these perspectives capture the full essence of the kingdom of God as expressed in the Scriptures.
Defining the kingdom of God in the fullness of Scripture is essential for understanding the gospel, salvation, the church, missions, and the consummation of this present evil age and the union of heaven and earth. To understand the kingdom of God we must discover the multiple layers found in the thematic development of the kingdom in the story of God reestablishing his kingdom on earth through his redemptive work through Christ to all nations.
The Thematic Development of God’s Sovereign Rule
In the first three chapters of Genesis, God is introduced as the sovereign God and ruler of his creation through five events. First, his sovereign authority is revealed in speaking things into being. Next, his sovereign authority is expressed in granting man authority to rule over his creation. Third, God reveals his sovereign authority as he decrees how man is to live in the garden. Fourth, God’s sovereign kingship is revealed in his right to judge Adam, Eve and the Serpent, and finally his sovereign rule is revealed in the hope of redemption in Genesis 3:15.
The Biblical Declarations that God is King
Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Psalm 149:2
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted! Psalm 47
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations
and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. Jeremiah 10:7
Defining Kingdom Through a Word Study
- Malkut (Hebrew) - used 91 times in the Old Testament. The primary definition is royal power, dominion, reign. It’s secondary meaning is realm or people belonging to a realm.
- Basileia - (Greek) - used 162 times in the New Testament. The primary definition is royal power, kingship, dominion or rule. The secondary meaning is the territory subject to the king.
The Day of the Lord
Matthew introduces us to John the Baptist and the essence of his message in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John, he delivers a firm rebuke which reveals John’s perception of “the kingdom that was at hand”, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7) in the next five verse John uses the language of the Day to the Lord, spoken of by the Old Testament prophets, (Zephaniah 1:14-18, Isaiah 66:15-21, Psalm 96:10-13. Joel 2:28-32; 3:12-17, Amos 5:18-20, Malachi 3:1-6). John connects the coming kingdom with God’s wrath in statements like, an axe in its final stock to fall a tree, unquenchable fire, and separation of the wheat and the chaff prepared for God’s final judgement. The only hope is for those who bear fruit that validates their profession of repentance.
Jesus is the Promised King
The longing of all of Israel was the coming of a king like David, the one spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. (Psalm 89:1-4, Isaiah 9:1-7, 40:9-11, 52:7-10). Matthew’s gospel presents evidence to his Jewish audience that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah King promised by those prophets. In the first four chapters of his gospel, Matthew establishes this by announcing the genealogy of the king, telling the story of the Magi looking for the one born king of the Jews, that John the Baptist was preparing the way of the Messiah (King), and that Jesus declared that the kingdom of heaven was at hand as he traveled proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.
The five major didactic sections of Matthew’s gospel all focus on an aspect of the kingdom. The ethic of the kingdom is presented in chapters 5-7; the mission of the kingdom in chapter 10, the mystery of the kingdom in chapter 13, guidelines for the community of the king, in chapter 18, and how Jesus’ followers should live in anticipation of the return of the king and the reestablishing his kingdom rule on earth, in chapters 24-25.
Throughout his gospel Matthew emphasizes the sovereign authority of Jesus over all things. Jesus reveals his authority over Satan and the demonic, over sin, death, sickness, creation, and authority over the Sabbath, (4:1-11, 12:22-32, 4:23-24, 8:14-17, 8:28-34, 9:18-26, 9:1-7, 8:23-27, 12:1-8). Matthew gives us a glimpse of the transcendence of the king, 17:1-13; the triumphal entrance of the king, 21:1-11; the wrath of the king, 21:12-27; the declaration of the return of the king, 13:41-43 & 24:29-31; the death of the king, 28:1-10, and the commissioning of the king, 28:18-20. There is no doubt that Matthew believes Jesus was the promised Messiah, the anointed king, God with us, the one who has all authority on heaven and earth.
The Message of Paul - The Lord Jesus Christ
Throughout the book of Acts, Luke describes Paul’s ministry as proclaiming the kingdom of God. In Ephesus, Paul spent three months reasoning in the synagogue about the kingdom of God, (19:8), and years later during his farewell tour in Ephesus Paul summarized his years of ministry as about proclaiming the kingdom (20:25). When Paul arrived in Rome he met with the local Jewish leaders to testify about the kingdom and convince them from the Scriptures that Jesus was the promised Messiah (28:23). During the two years that Paul spent in Rome he welcomed all who would come to him, “…proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (28:30-31).
In this closing statement in Acts, Luke further describes Paul’s kingdom message preached throughout his life and ministry. His message focused on the king of this kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is Paul’s favorite kingdom phrase. Paul uses the phrases “the Lord Jesus Christ” or “Jesus Christ our Lord”, sixty-six times in his letters to the churches, the discipling communities of the king. These three titles: Lord (supreme in authority, master), Jesus (the God who saves), and Christ (Messiah, anointed king), are the foundation of Paul’s gospel, his understanding of the kingdom, and Paul’s soteriology.
“At the heart of Paul’s concept of the kingdom of God is the risen and enthroned Christ. Without suggesting yet another “center” of Paul’s theology, it is safe to say that the reality of the reigning Christ is a key component of Paul’s theology. In each case, these kingdom texts in Paul are connected to the central Pauline theme of redemption through the cross. Paul’s soteriology and his concept of the kingdom are inseparable.” (The Kingdom of God in Paul’s Gospel, Brian Vickers,
A People Under the Rule of the King
The people under the rule of the King are those who have been delivered (redeemed) by the sovereign God and King of all creation, to live in His intimate presence, instructed to surrender to the blessing of His sovereign rule and authority, called to be a light and witness to the nations. The people of God in the Old Testament are the Jews delivered from slavery in Egypt, invited to walk with God and experience his intimate presence, to live out the reality of his rule obeying his covenant and commandments, in order to glorify God among the nations. (Exodus 19:4-6, Leviticus 26:12, Exodus 20-24 & 35, Deuteronomy 4:5-8, II Samuel 7:23, Ezekiel 20:9-22, Zechariah 8:20-23).
In the New Testament the people of God are those from among the nations, Jews & Gentiles), that make up the ekklesia of God that have been delivered from the slavery of the dominion of darkness, sin and death, and to live in His intimate presence in community with the King (the church), empowered to keep his commands, and sent into the world to plant indigenous discipling communities of the King in all nations. (Romans 1:5-6,16:26, Galatians 3:28-29, Ephesians 2:11-22, Ephesians 2:4-6, Colossians 2:13-14, John 17:3,20-23, Ephesians 1:20-23, Revelation19:6; John 14:15-17, Matthew 28:18-20)
The Mission of the Kingdom
The mission of the kingdom is expressed in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The result of the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom to the nations is the establishment of indigenous communities of King Jesus and the church among all peoples. The God infused genetic coding of the biblical DNA of the church mandates the reproduction or multiplication of itself among all nations, both locally and to the ends of the earth.
The church is a living manifestation to the nations that the kingdom of the Christ has come. This redeemed community of the king is to live out loudly the reality that he has delivered them from the dominion of darkness, from the slavery of sin, and the fear of death. (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18-19: Colossians 1:13; Romans 6:6; Hebrews 2:15) As the church is privileged and called to live in the intimate presence of their king (John 17:3,21-23), the church will be transformed into the same image of their king from one degree of glory to another reflecting the beauty of Christ among all peoples. (II Corinthians 3:16-18)
As the church lives in obedience to the will of their God and King, there is shalom as the walls of separation are broken down in the church. (Isaiah 9:6, 52:7; Ephesians 2:13-22) When the community of the king yields to his reign there is hope for the displaced, the poor, the widow and the orphan within the church and in the community where the church is planted. (Psalm 9:7-9, 10:16-18; Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:6-8; Galatians 6:2) When the people of King Jesus yield to his authority in the church the “one another” verses become a reality and the church not only preaches the gospel… the church lives out the gospel of the kingdom. Whereas millennials and Zs desire to help the oppressed apart from the church, it is in and through the church that God’s kingdom mission to the poor and disenfranchised is accomplish. There is no kingdom or kingdom mission outside the church. (Dr. Scot McKnight)
Therefore, the mission of the kingdom is to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to all nations, resulting in redeemed citizens of the king from all peoples forming indigenous communities of the king, living in love, harmony and care as they yield to the will of their king in service to each other and to the world, both locally and to the ends of the earth. This is why the mission priority of the church is the planting of churches, communities of the King, defined by Scripture, not the latest expedient or contemporary model, among those who have never heard. Those churches that are planted become the indigenous manifestation that the kingdom as come to that people, as the communities of the king continue to proclaim the “Good News of the Kingdom” and live out the reality of that good news of the kingdom locally and to the ends of the earth.