(July 23, 2017) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, continues his series on selected Greek words…
The first mention of ‘kingdom’ in the Bible is Genesis 10:10 where it states, in reference to Nimrod, ‘The first centres of his kingdom were Babylon.’ In biblical thinking Babylon often represented that power that was constantly opposed to God.
While many nations were ruled over by kings, for many years after the Israelites had settled in Canaan they had refused to appoint a king of their own because they accepted a theocratic system of leadership in which Yahweh was recognised as its king.
In this lay the secret of Israel’s uniqueness and its strength as a nation. From time to time other leaders were appointed on a temporary basis – we read about many of them in the book of Judges – however those leaders were never recognised as kings nor was their leadership hereditary. At other times a high priest or a prophet appears to have had a leadership role – such as Eli and Samuel – but God was still regarded as the ruler of his people.
The neighbouring nations of Israel had kings who could lead them into battle and some in Israel began to wish that they a ‘real’ king of their own – one who would lead them in battle, one whose regal splendour they could admire. Samuel, the prophet-leader at that time, was approached by the elders of Israel who said to him, ‘… appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have’ (1 Samuel 8:4).
Samuel was feeling personally rejected when he brought the matter to God who told him, ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king’ (1 Samuel 8:7). God instructed Samuel to accede to the people’s wishes and give them a king and he appointed Saul as the first King of Israel.
The history of the kings of Israel, especially after the division of the kingdom in 931 BC, is not a good one as many of the kings exercised disastrous reigns. Yet the concept of the kingship of God was not wholly abandoned. Psalm 10:16 affirms, ‘The Lord is King for ever and ever.’ And King David, in Psalm 24:10, made this strong assertion: ‘Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – he is the King of glory.’
In the New Testament we find a very strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God, especially in such phrases as ‘Kingdom of God’ or ‘Kingdom of heaven’ (which are interchangeable terms) or just ‘kingdom’ which, in reference to God’s kingdom, are found at least 111 times in the gospels
The word basileia, which has been translated ‘kingdom,’ is used in a way which refers more to ‘reign’ as in ‘sovereign authority’ than to ‘kingdom’ as a ‘location.’ What can we discover about the ‘kingdom of God’ as it is used in the New Testament?
1. The Church is not the Kingdom
Sometimes the church has been identified with the kingdom of God; however that identification confuses both the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom. (It is worth noting that the word ‘church’ appears only twice in the gospels: Matthew 16:18 and 18:17).
If we understand that the kingdom of God refers to the reign of God, then we must acknowledge that his reign presently is over all the earth (‘How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth!’ Psalm 47:2) whether or not people recognise it or respond to it. To equate the kingdom with the church is to place limitations on the kingdom.
Yet the two are related in the sense that the church consists of those who do accept the reign of God and acknowledge that they are within his kingdom. Furthermore the church is also a sign of the presence of the kingdom and an agent to which has been given the responsibility to continue Christ’s mission of proclaiming God’s kingdom in the world.
- When Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy, he told them to proclaim the message, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’ (Matthew 10:7; Luke 10:9).
- During the forty days that he was with his disciples before his ascension, he ‘spoke to them about the kingdom of God’ (Acts 12:3).
- And just before his ascension he told his disciples – and through them, his church – to proclaim his message throughout the world (Acts 1:8).
2. The King of the Kingdom
Before Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel told Mary, ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end’ (Luke 1:33). Throughout his ministry, his constant theme was the kingdom of God. Parable after parable begins, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like …’
When Jesus was being tried by Pilate, he was asked if he were a king. Jesus gave Pilate this clear reply, ‘My kingdom (basileia) 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. … You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’ (John 18:36-37).
Jesus was, in effect, telling Pilate that he was not seeking to declare himself as the king of the nation of Israel in any political or geographical sense nor would his reign be established by armed warfare. And it is clear that Pilate acknowledged that that was what Jesus was saying for in verse 38 he said that he found no fault with Jesus.
Yet the fact is that Jesus did affirm to Pilate that he was a king and that his business was to establish God’s rule in people’s hearts.
- Jesus is the king of the kingdom that he proclaimed.
- Paul declared, ‘For he [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom (basileia) of the Son he loves …’ (Colossians 1:13).
- In Hebrews 1:8 we read, ‘But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom.”’
- And Peter wrote about ‘…the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:11).
Jesus alone is the king of the kingdom.
3. Values of the Kingdom
The values of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed were totally opposite to those by which men and women normally live. They are so radical that they may even appear to be foolish to us who have been brought up with a wholly different set of values. Because of the fall many ‘life-principles’ were so distorted and ‘turned on their head’ that they harm us rather than help us. Let us look at a few.
The kingdom principles Jesus outlined to his disciples in the Luke 6 sermon on the mount sound ‘upside-down’ to us! After he had talked about blessings Jesus pronounced in verses 27-30 the values of the kingdom –
‘But I tell you who hear me:
- Love your enemies
- Do good to those who hate you
- Bless those who curse you
- Pray for those who mistreat you
- If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also
- If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic
- Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.’
And in Matthew 18:4, Jesus also said: ‘Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ And in Matthew 23:11, ‘The greatest among you will be your servant.’
And Paul added such comments as, ‘… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). ‘Power is perfected in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).
At first this appears to be a list of moral impossibilities, but on reflection is seen to be the only truly moral possibilities. If only humanity could embrace the kingdom principles of the sermon on the mount, our world would be utterly transformed. Those principles are much more than a moral code; they are the atmosphere of the kingdom of God!
Do these values appear to be extreme or even a bit ridiculous? How could anyone live by them? Why would anyone want to live by them?
They sound so outlandish to us because we have been deceived into thinking that the values of a fallen world are the true values. At first those New Testament statements appear to list moral impossibilities, but on reflection are seen to be the only truly moral possibilities. In reality true moral standards have been – and continue to be – overturned. And the values of the kingdom of God, which may appear to be ‘upside-down’, are in truth the only values that make human relationships workable!
At Thessalonica the charge was made against Paul and Silas: ‘These that have turned the world upside down are come hither’ (Acts 17:6). In a sense that was what Paul and Silas were precisely trying to do because if the world were to be ‘turned up-side-down’ again, it would be ‘right way up’ and conform to the principles of the kingdom!
4. Entrance into the Kingdom
Accepting the kingdom message and recognising God’s claim on us makes us subjects of Jesus the King and citizens in his kingdom. Paul writes that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (Philippians 3:20) and that ‘…you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people …’ (Ephesians 2:19.
While the scope of Christ’s kingdom is universal, not everyone is nor will be citizens. No one can accidentally find himself a citizen. We cannot drift into the kingdom. Jesus said, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door’ (Luke 13:24). The Greek word which has been translated ‘make every effort’ is agonizomai which means ‘agonise’ or ‘make a deliberate and earnest effort.’ Such an effort is worthwhile for that is where we find salvation. Jesus was not implying that we are saved because of any work we may do to secure salvation – the ‘agonising’ is related to the intensity of our desire to be saved and to serve him.
There is universality about the kingdom of God. It reaches out to everyone, everywhere, and everything. It extends an invitation to anyone, whatever their background, to be part of this kingdom. No one is disenfranchised! ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:21).
But notice that entrance into the kingdom is by our choosing. And the choice is related to receiving Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Sovereign. There is no other way because the choosing of Jesus to be our king means also a rejection of Satan’s claim to rule over us. We change allegiance and we change our citizenship when we respond in faith to Jesus. But while we may choose not to take up Jesus’ amazing offer, there are consequences which follow that refusal.
Jesus said, ‘Those who reject me publicly, I will reject before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:33 GNB). But for those who enter the kingdom there is given ‘the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory’ (2 Timothy 2:10).
5. The Indestructibility of the Kingdom
Jesus came to earth with a mission – the complete transformation of the world and everything in it! His coming marked the beginning of his kingdom and he announced it with the words, ‘… the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Matthew 12:28). By word and action Jesus demonstrated the reality of the presence of the kingdom – a new age had dawned – and it was a kingdom that would never be destroyed. The permanency of that kingdom was declared by the Old Testament prophets; for example, in Isaiah 9:7 we find…
‘Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.’
Daniel also was given a revelation into that kingdom that would be established, and wrote, ‘He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed’ (Daniel 7:14).
The angel Gabriel said to Mary, ‘The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end’ (Luke 1:32-33). It will not be overthrown or superseded; and despite the predictions and the attacks by the enemies of the kingdom of God, it will never be destroyed for God has so declared! And the gates of hades will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18) for it is safe within Christ’s indestructible kingdom. ‘Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe’ (Hebrews 18:28).
6. The War of the Kingdoms
The kingdom of God is not unopposed. Satan, who was described by Jesus as the ‘prince of this world’ (John 13:31; 14:30; 16:11) and by Paul as ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2), has been constantly opposed to the kingdom of God.
Before becoming Christians, the pervading agenda in our lives is an evil one. Paul wrote, ‘… you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient’ (Ephesians 2:2). The devil is constantly scheming to bring down Christ’s Kingdom. Christians are at war! Paul issued this reminder, ‘… take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:11-12).
And, according to the scriptures, at the head of these forces of evil is Satan who, with malicious power and clever cunning, daily pits his forces against the kingdom of God and all who belong to it. Yet our weapons, which may look weak, are powerful. They are ‘… the belt of truth … the breastplate of righteousness … feet fitted with the gospel of peace … the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’
While we need to be aware of the warfare, we do not need be afraid of it, for the Bible tells us that we are on the winning side!
7. The Future Kingdom
With Christ’s coming the kingdom of God arrived but only, as it were, in embryonic form. The period between Christ’s first coming as a baby and his second coming as the King of Glory is one in which there are signs that the kingdom is present, but not in all its fullness.
While the message of the kingdom of God is one which teaches the transformation of every part of life, clearly that has not yet happened. There is evidence of a present divine dynamic, but not in all its fullness. People are being delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light – as Paul wrote in Colossians 1:13 GNB, ‘He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son’ – but not everyone!
The will of God is being done, but not by everyone or everywhere. While we may encounter the power, glory and holiness of God, yet we are still in a world where sin is all around us. Satan’s stronghold has been invaded and his power-hold has been broken, but it is not yet eradicated. By the cross Jesus accomplished Satan’s defeat, and by his resurrection his triumph was revealed, but the full manifestation of the kingdom of God is yet to be.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus told the disciples to ask God for the coming of the kingdom, ‘Your Kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10) implying that it was still in the future. Paul also, who elsewhere wrote of the Kingdom as being present, also had an understanding of its future full manifestation. ‘And the Lord will rescue me from all evil and take me safely into his heavenly kingdom’ (2 Timothy 4:18 GNB).
The Old Testament prophets too foresaw the day when ‘… the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord’s glory as the seas are full of water’ (Habakkuk 2:14 GNB). That day will come, and Satan’s power will then be wholly and finally destroyed, ‘And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur …’ (Revelation 20:10). Then the kingdom of God will be seen in all its resplendent fullness, ‘I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true”’ (Revelation 21:3-5).
In that day of triumph for the kingdom, Jesus Christ, the King of Saints (Revelation 15:3) will be declared to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16) and the Kingdom of God will be forever established.
‘Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!”’ (Revelation 19:6-7).
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
His new book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, has just been released and is available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org