Friday, January 21, 2011

The Kingdom of God

If you're an avid reader of the New Testament, you've probably noticed that "the kingdom of God" is all over the Gospels; it's Jesus' main message: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The good news Jesus preached was that the kingdom of God had arrived. But what exactly is God's kingdom? Is it a land or a physical realm? Is it the church? Furthermore, how come Paul and the other apostles didn't preach or write much about it? Is the New Testament in conflict?

In his magisterial New Testament Theology, George Eldon Ladd argues that basileia theou ("kingdom of God") really refers to neither a realm nor to the church, but to the active, dynamic reign of God--his "kingship" which extends to both people and places (cf. John 18:36 RSV). In a similar vein, over at Kevin DeYoung's blog, Russell Moore provides a similarly helpful clarification--one of the best I've heard yet. His explanation is not only in line with the Gospels, but also shows that the kingdom of God was in fact the Pauline and apostolic message.

Sometimes even those who've followed Jesus for a long time find the kingdom message a difficult one to grasp. We sometimes assume "kingdom" is just a metaphor for "getting saved" or for another denominational program or political crusade. We hear chatter all around us about the Prince of Wales or the local school homecoming queen or the advertising slogans of the "King of Beers" or the "Dairy Queen."

Against this kind of potential confusion, the mission of Christ starts and ends not just in the announcement of forgiveness of sins or of the removal of condemnation--although both those things are certainly true. The mission of Christ starts and ends with the announcement that God has made Jesus emperor of the cosmos--and he plans to bend the cosmos to fit Jesus' agenda, not the other way around.

The kingdom of God, then, is the good news that the right rule of God, and the right rule of man--a rule our ancestors Adam and Eve lost--have come together in the right rule of one right God-man: Jesus of Nazareth. In his sin-resisting life, his wisdom-saturated teaching, his demon-exorcising power, his substitutionary, conquering death, and his justifying, victorious resurrection, Christ is king.

That king, through his Spirit, invites all men to believe by faith what they'll someday see by sight--what everyone will someday see by sight: Jesus is Lord. Jesus forgives. Jesus is king. And his reign will extend to every corner of the galaxy, forever.

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