The Kingdom of God
Both in the church and in theology, divergent opinions often have led to new discussions of important issues. When others point out to us certain facts from Holy Scripture and state that we do not sufficiently take them into account, we may not dismiss that in a simplistic way.
Prof. Dr. H.J. de Jonge is of the opinion that the atonement by the sacrifice of Christ should not be central. For him it is either atonement or kingdom. He opts for the kingdom.
Despite all that can be said against his argument, the question remains: does the message of the Bible not deal first of all with the kingdom of God?
The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament
With the word “kingdom,” we tend to visualize a realm in which a king is ruling. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, that is different. There it refers more to the government than to the realm of the king. The kingdom of God is God’s royal rule. That is found everywhere throughout the Old Testament. We can say that the theme of God’s kingship belongs to the main aspects of the Old Testament revelation of God.
“The Lord is king forever and ever” (Psalm 10:16). “His kingship rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). God is king of the entire earth and he rules over peoples, and the poets of Israel may even call him “our” king (Psalm 47:7-9). He is a great king, and at the same time he is like a shepherd to his people. That is how he saves, protects, and cares for those who are his.
The kingship of the Lord is a unchangeable fact and reality, but it is not acknowledged by all. Especially in the prophecies, the breakthrough of his royal rule was promised for the future: “And the Lord will be king of the entire earth. Then the Lord will be the one and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9). He is a king who will come to judge because of the sins of mankind and to make his people share in his salvation.
In the book of Isaiah we read the promise: “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty.” It is a kingship that brings salvation: “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:17, 22).
In one of the books dealing with the theology of the Old Testament, we read: “The kingdom of God may be seen as the central message of gospel preaching. Yahweh is king and one day he will bring that kingship to complete manifestation” (Th. C. Vriezen).
The Kingdom of God in the First Three Gospels
That we reflect more on the New Testament message of the coming kingdom is because the New Testament says so much more about it.
As we can see in concordances, most of the references to the kingdom are found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Mostly those are the words spoken by the Lord Jesus himself. The Gospel writer Matthew states almost every time: the kingdom of heaven. It basically has the same meaning as the words “Kingdom of God”.
Also with the New Testament terms about the kingdom, we should first of all think of God’s royal rule and not of the area over which he rules. Some say that it is not a static concept, but something dynamic. That comes to the fore very strongly in the prayer the Lord Jesus taught us, in which the coming of the kingdom is placed next to the hallowing of God’s name and the fulfilling of his will. The kingdom will come when his name is hallowed and his will is done.
Often, and certainly when there is mention of the inheritance of the kingdom, one may think also of the concrete expansion of God’s royal rule in the lives of those who recognize him as king.
The kingdom of God has a present and future aspect. It is here now and it is coming. For the first aspect we can refer to a text such as Luke 17:21: “For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you”; for the second aspect we can refer to Matthew 13:43: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
The expectation of the kingdom of God as well as the messianic anticipation are already connected with one another in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament that connection is revealed even more clearly.
John the Baptist announces the coming of the kingdom of heaven and points at the same time towards him who comes after him. The herald of the kingdom is also the herald of the coming king. The coming of the kingdom coincides with the coming of the Son of Man. The kingdom of heaven is called the kingdom of the Son of Man (Matthew 13:41).
The name “Son of Man,” which Jesus uses regularly when he refers to himself, reminds us of the prophecy of Daniel: “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” (Daniel 7:13, 14).
So God is entrusting the universal, royal rule to this Son of Man. We see that fulfilled in him who after his resurrection proclaimed his unlimited power (Matthew 28:18).
The Son of Man is also Servant of the Lord, in whose life is fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 53. Precisely because he accomplishes all that the Father has charged him to do, he receives royal power and glory.
It strikes us that the name “the Son of Man” occurs in several announcements of suffering, just as it also occurs in the words of Jesus referring to his coming to serve and to give his life as ransom (Mark 10:45).
Through his suffering and death, and his resurrection, the proclamation of the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins is from now on connected to his name (Luke 24:46, 47).
The Lord Jesus has proclaimed the coming of the kingdom with these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
He who does not repent and does not believe the gospel will not share in the salvation of the kingdom. It is totally incorrect to translate the text from Greek as “purify your lives,” as de Jonge does. The repentance that is demanded goes far deeper than “purifying” of one’s life. It means a radical and total change of conviction that goes together with contrition and confession of guilt.
The Kingdom of God in Other New Testament Books
The fourth gospel and other books of the New Testament does not deal as much with the kingdom of God. The book of Acts and the Epistles are focusing more on the “congregation of Christ.” About one century ago someone stated, “Jesus foretold the kingdom, but what has arrived is the church.”
However, in Scripture there is no contrast between the kingdom of God and the church. Especially in the church the royal rule of God is confessed and established. The gospel that goes out into the world and finds faith, is the gospel of the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12). God uses the gospel to bring people into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Colossians 1:5-14).
In some places in the Gospel according to John, the kingdom is dealt with as well. In order to enter the kingdom of God one needs to be born again. That is a birth through the Spirit (John 3:3-9). This renewing work of God reveals itself in faith in the only begotten Son of God. He who believes in him will not be lost but has eternal life (John 3:3-16). To have eternal life is the same as entering into the kingdom of God.
This article was translated by Bert Stulp.