Among the most misunderstood subjects in the Bible is that of the Kingdom of God. From wildly speculative scenarios of cosmic holocausts preceding its establishment (yet to come 1,000 year reign) to the diminution of the kingdom to that of a sectarian church, the grand theme of the rule of God over his creation has suffered at the hand of men. Just what does the Bible say about the kingdom of God and how does the story of the kingdom tie in to the overall story of the Bible?
Again we must go back to the beginning – back to creation – back to the nature and purpose for which God created man in order to understand his kingdom. God, as Creator is entitled to the rule over all things he has made. When God made man it was for him to have dominion – rule – over all creation alongside the Creator. This does not mean that God abdicated his place as Ruler over all he had created. He had made man to rule with him; to share with him in that rule.
Before man sinned he shared in that tremendous responsibility in the way God intended. When sin entered the world, man lost his right to rule with God. He was separated from God. He was dead. Dead in sin and separated from the source of life. God’s plan from before he ever created all things was that man be restored to his rightful place beside him, sharing in the exercise of his rule of loving, benevolent care. As long as man was in sin, though, he could not share in the great work of God. God ruled but without a man beside him as co-ruler. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, recognized the then present rule of God over the kingdoms of the earth. Before going into battle he prayed …
“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.” (2 Chronicles 20:6).
God never vacated his throne. He continued to rule over the kingdoms of men. This is seen during the time of the kings of Israel and Judah The kingdom of Israel under David and his descendants was a limited rule on God’s throne, a shadow of the kingdom to come.. For example …
“And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods.” (2 Chronicles 13:8).
“Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king in place of David his father. And he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him.” (1 Chronicles 29:23).
David and his sons (descendants) sitting upon the throne of the Lord was a type of the Messiah who was to come. This is the meaning of what God told Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:18. If Solomon would walk in the ways of David his father … “then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’”
This was pointing forward to the coming of God’s kingdom in its full manifestation. Prophecies of the coming kingdom continued through the Old Testament. Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is perhaps the most familiar of these prophecies …
“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,” (Daniel 2:44).
When both John the Baptist and Jesus began preaching, their message was identical …
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:1).
“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17).
All throughout his ministry Jesus was teaching about the coming kingdom. Through his teaching, through parables and through his miracles he continually held the nearness of the kingdom before his hearers. The kingdom was the central message of Jesus’ teaching and at the heart of his purpose in coming to earth. He taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come. Even (or maybe, especially) the casting out of demons was seen as an indication that the kingdom “has come upon you.” The kingdom was near or close to them in the person of Jesus who was the Messiah, the coming king over God’s kingdom.
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28).
In the days between his resurrection and ascension …
“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3).
In a vision Daniel saw what would happen at the coronation of the new King. Through that vision we are privileged to be a witness to that great scene …
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
Don’t miss the significance of this being “one like a son of man.” This was Jesus, the Son of God who also bore the title, Son of Man, who came into the world and took upon himself the form of a servant, who humbled himself to the will of the Father and died on the cross so that we might live (Philippians 2:6-11). This was the resurrected Messiah, the one who came to be king over God’s kingdom. This was the man, Christ (King) Jesus. He presently mediates between man and God as “the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5).
This means that there is now a man sitting at the right hand of God, ruling with him in his kingdom. Redeemed mankind, represented by the perfect man, Christ Jesus, is now enabled to rule with him. We are raised up as a new creation to take our place, sitting with him in the “heavenly places.” Paul says that God has …
“…made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:5-10).
That is one of the most powerful statements in all the word of God. To be seated in the heavenly places means that we are co-rulers with him! It means that we have been restored to the place we were always meant to occupy from the time of creation!
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17).
New creation has begun! Redeemed human beings constitute a new humanity – a restored humanity – and are now suited to reign with him. Paul makes it plain in Romans 10:6, we have not ascended on high to bring Christ down. We have done no mighty works to earn our salvation or our exaltation. We have been exalted by God to sit with him in the heavenly places. We receive this exaltation as a gift just as salvation is a gift. That is part of what it means to be saved.
What does the kingdom mean to us personally? It is said that the kingdom consists of the rule of Christ in the hearts of human beings. That certainly is a part of it. If he did not reign in our hearts he would not be Lord and King to us. But it also means that we are made to reign with and through Christ and he through us. It means that we have been exalted to the highest of all places – the place man was always intended to occupy!
But how are we to exercise this rule? Surely it must be in the same manner in which Christ exercises his rule. How does he do that? Is it not as he exemplified to his disciples when he washed their feet? He told them …
“Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:16-17).
His disciples had been arguing among themselves as to who would be greatest in the kingdom. Jesus demonstrated the nature of his kingdom by this lowly act of service. In this passage he tells them that if he, their Lord and Master stooped to wash their feet, that would be the kind of rule they would be expected to exercise when he came into his kingdom where they would indeed be reigning with him. That is exactly the kind of rule we are to exercise in his kingdom today.
More tomorrow …