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People & Place: The Central Focus of the Kingdom

The Bible presents two main elements – topics of central focus – of God’s kingdom here on the earth – the place and the people. Let’s preview these now because they become central to the rest of the discussion of the kingdom moving forward.

The Place of the Kingdom

  • God’s kingdom on earth is moving.
  • From the Garden to the whole earth.

The People of the Kingdom

  • From one man (Adam) to “every people, tribe, tongue and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
  • We, humanity, have a big role to play in the kingdom of God here on the earth. We, the people of God, have been tasked with laboring to make the whole world the throne room of God and all the people of the earth his subjects.

Throughout the study of God’s unfolding kingdom here on the earth, we will continually come back to these two main elements because they are so central to understanding God’s kingdom. People and place. Place and people.

Throughout this series, we will investigate the coming of God’s kingdom here on the earth. And then we will be tasked with bringing God’s heavenly kingdom to bear on the earth. That is God’s purpose and our mission: to see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven: perfect, unopposed and complete. And it starts with the people and the place.

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Eden as a Type of the Kingdom

When we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” this is what we are praying for. We are praying for God’s kingdom and rule on the earth to be perfect, unopposed and complete, just like it is in heaven. The Garden of Eden, of which we read in Genesis 1-2, serves as a type – a model or picture – of God’s kingdom here on the earth. It serves as a reference point for us of what could be.

God’s reign in the Garden was: Perfect*

  • At creation, God’s kingdom on earth was perfect. There was no sin or death.

God’s reign in the Garden was: Unopposed*

  • At creation, God’s kingdom on earth was without enemies. His rule was unopposed.

God’s reign in the Garden was: Not Complete

  • Even at creation, God’s kingdom on earth was not complete. From the beginning, God’s plan included sending Christ. God had a plan for history that was not complete.

So, to answer the question of what will the kingdom of God look like, look at the Garden. There, his kingdom was perfect and unopposed. But it was still not enough because it was not complete. We must go beyond Eden.


*Yes, I know the serpent opposed God and the Fall (end of perfect) came in the Garden. Go farther back. There was a time before the serpent slithered his way in front of Adam and Eve that the Garden was perfect and unopposed. We’ll see, soon enough in this series, the implications of the Fall.

God’s Kingdom in Heaven

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom reign and will would be done on earth just like it is in heaven. So what, then, is God’s reign like in heaven? Let me pose three core features of God’s reign in heaven that form the heart of the prayer that God’s kingdom would come on the earth like it is in heaven.

God’s heavenly reign is: Perfect

  • Everything in heaven is just as it should be. There is no sin and there is no death. God’s heavenly kingdom is perfect.

God’s heavenly reign is: Unopposed

  • In heaven, God has no enemies. He has cast all who would oppose him from his presence. God’s heavenly kingdom is unopposed.

God’s heavenly reign is: Complete

  • Heaven cannot ever be more God’s kingdom than it is today. There is no sense of developing. In heaven, God is on his throne and is all in all. God’s heavenly kingdom is complete.

So the next time you say that Lord’s prayer, this is what you are asking for. You are asking that, just like God’s reign and will in heaven are perfect, unopposed and complete, God’s reign and will would be perfect, unopposed and complete here on the earth.

Interact: Has this world (earth) ever demonstrated one or more of these core features of God’s heavenly reign?

What the Kingdom is Not, Part 3

The kingdom of God is not just that of law fulfillment and conquering a la the Pharisees (Post 1) nor is it this false dichotomy of more Christians versus a social welfare gospel (Post 2). It is also not an earthly kingdom… yet.

Psalm 2 declares, “I have installed my king on Zion” (Ps 2:6). The Jews were waiting for Jerusalem to be restored as the royal throne room. And one day, the Great King will reign in the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2).

But until that day, God’s kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. Listen to Jesus’ words when he was on trial, just before his death. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

More on this to come later in this series, but we need to get this point. God’s kingdom is not an earthly kingdom… yet. The danger here is making the not yet, already. That is to say, at the end of history, God’s kingdom will be an earthly kingdom. But not yet.

 

What the Kingdom is Not, Part 2

The kingdom of God is coming. But it won’t, as I outline in the previous post, be the kingdom the Pharisees had envisioned. It will also not be the kingdom that we typically envision either. While the Pharisees anticipated a kingdom of law fulfillment and conquering king, we, today, often have a very different perspective. And it starts with a false either/or dichotomy.

The kingdom of God is either…

Just more Christians

There are some who think evangelism is the only thing that Christians should concern themselves with. Our job is the kingdom is only to make more Christians through the preaching and sharing of the gospel. The danger here is that the kingdom is overly spiritualized and missed the call to care for the hurting and the oppressed.

or

Social Gospel

Some take the opposite perspective that social welfare is the only thing that Christians should concern themselves with. Our job in the kingdom is only to give people food, care for the poor, etc.

Both of these positions are flawed. It’s a false either/or dichotomy. The kingdom comes both in the preaching of the gospel and in the meeting of the needs of the hurting. Consider the example of Jesus. He fed the hungry and he called himself the bread of life (John 6). He healed the blind man and called himself the light of the world (John 9). He healed a man of his paralysis and he forgave him of his sins (Mark 2). The kingdom task is about multiplying the image of God through new Christians and caring for the outcasts, outsiders, sick and hurting people around us.

Summary: The kingdom of God is evangelistic and it is caring for the needy and hurting. It’s both/and, not either or. A true understanding of the Kingdom shows us that is both word and deed – proclamation and action – so that as we talk our walk, sharing how Christ is king of what we do and what we say.

What the Kingdom is Not, Part 1

Before truly understanding what the kingdom of God is and what it will be like when it fully comes, it is helpful to first clarify what we are not talking about. Over the course of three short posts, I will outline three major faulty understandings of the kingdom…

Pharisaical Understanding of the Kingdom

At the time of Jesus’ birth, there were several different Jewish sects. Each had their own interpretation of Scripture and understanding of the kingdom. For example, the Essenes believed the biblical promises were being fulfilled in their group alone. But let’s focus primarily on the kingdom perspectives of the Pharisees, as they were the most influential then and the most well known now of the Jewish sects. There are two primary (and inter-related) issues that a 1st century Jew would have heard when they went to temple.

Law Fulfillment: The kingdom is primarily about fulfillment of the Old Testament law. And not just the 10 Commandments. The Mishnah (a book of law) and the Talmud (a commentary on the Mishnah) contained a combined 613 commands – 365 negative commands (don’t do this) and 248 positive commands (do this).The kingdom hope was primarily about the coming of Messiah to free Israel from Roman control so that they would be free to carry out the law.

Davidic Kingship: God promised David that from him would come the Great King who would reign forever. “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-16). That was the hope. Messiah would come, defeat all of Israel’s enemies (primarily Rome) and restore the throne of David. What they missed was that this same conquering king (Psalm 2:6,9; 110:2) is also the suffering servant of Isaiah. Some of the Pharisees even began to look for 2 Messiahs – one a suffering servant and one a mighty king. Regardless, what none of them saw was a helpless babe born in a stable.

Summary: The Pharisees were looking for the throne of David to be restored with the Messiah and the defeat of all Israel’s enemies. They were looking for a king enthroned in Jerusalem, not a baby in a manger in Bethlehem.

The Two Senses of the Kingdom

Continuing on in the study of the kingdom, there arises an important distinction to make. That is, the Bible seems to talk about the kingdom is two different ways. The tension is that God is the Creator and King over all. It’s all his. And yet, somehow, the Bible seems to talk about the kingdom as in process, in development. These are the two senses of the kingdom, briefly outlined below.

The Kingdom of God in the Broad Sense

  • The broad sense: God reigns over the world. He created it and he rules over it.
  • God is in control of all creation – always has been, always will be
  • Psalm 93:1-2 – “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty… and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from eternity.”
  • Whole world is and always will be his kingdom
  • Abraham Kuyper – “There is not a square inch on the whole plane of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not proclaim, ‘This is mine!’”

The Kingdom of God in the Narrower, Developing Sense

  • In contrast to the broad sense of the kingdom is the narrower sense
  • That is (and this is the frequent sense of the term in Scripture), the kingdom is something that is in process, that is still developing
  • The narrower sense: God’s kingdom is developing in history, moving toward a climax
  • So we can rightly say, “your kingdom come”
  • Consider the image of God’s heavenly kingdom painted in Daniel 7:9-10 – “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.”
  • God’s glory in heaven is beyond our imagination
  • When we pray, “your kingdom come,” we are asking God to make earth look like heaven
  • That is, the transformation of earth to mirror heaven – that God’s presence would fill the earth as it does heaven – we are asking for, literally, heaven on earth
  • From Eden to the New Jerusalem
    • Genesis 1-2 paint a picture of what God’s kingdom could look like on earth – a Garden fit for a king
    • Revelation 21 discusses earth’s final reality – “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (21:3).
  • In the meantime, God is extending his kingdom from the Garden to the whole of the earth
  • And in this time, our job is to labor toward that end – bringing the kingdom of God to bear on the earth

Jesus is both king now and yet, his kingdom is not here completely yet. This tension creates the two senses of the kingdom. Robert Seiple, helpfully, captures God’s purpose, our mission  and the two senses of the kingdom this way:  “Planet earth needs to be reclaimed for the King.”