What is the Kingdom of God?

In our Wednesday evening life group, we’ve been working through Russell Moore’s book, Onward (reviewed here), which to say the least, challenges what many think of as status quo among theologically conservative evangelicals with regard to how the church should engage with the wider culture. One of our more interesting discussions centered on Moore’s chapter on the kingdom of God. I was pleased that Moore spent a good chunk of space on this, as it has always seemed to me that this is one of the more foggy areas of Christian belief. That is, when someone uses the phrase ‘kingdom of God,’ it is not often clear what exactly is meant. Even a quick study of what various Christian denominations believe about the kingdom of God (as a biblical and theological concept) will reveal that there is no consensus about what exactly it is. And even more befuddling is the myriad of practical implications that stem from one’s definition of ‘kingdom of God,’ and how strikingly different some of the conclusions are.

What follows is a combination of material from Onward and from other sources, put together for the purpose of painting a clearer biblical picture of ‘the kingdom of God.’

First, let’s start with a definition: “The kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal sovereign God over all creatures and things (Ps. 103:19; Dan. 4:3).”[1]   This is a workable definition, in that it captures the original meaning of ‘kingdom’ (basileia) in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, which is sovereign rule.

In the abstract, this definition of the kingdom of God is fine and well, but it still seems to hover a bit above reality, as if I could affirm it and yet not have it really intersect with my life. Yes, God is in charge and yes, He is ruling over all things, but these truths still seem rather lofty and ethereal. If this is the assumption, it is one that misunderstands the immanence and nearness of God’s kingdom to everyday life. Given the sin, pain, and suffering in the world, it may appear that God’s rule over all things is not something that is presently taking place; something that must be reserved for the future only. This, too, is misguided. So then, one of the more important questions about the kingdom of God is not just what, but also when. God is ruling, but when? Now, or later?

The best way to understand the kingdom of God is to think of it as both “already” and “not yet” (or already/not yet). This little dichotomy, introduced by George Eldon Ladd, succinctly captures a biblical vision of God’s kingdom. His kingdom is both present and future, or to put it more clearly, God’s kingdom has been “inaugurated but not yet consummated.”[2]

God’s vision for His kingdom was initiated in the Creation, but a key turning point in bringing this vision closer to reality was the life of Jesus. Moore explains:

Jesus relived the story of Israel. He was brought out of Egypt, through the waters of the Jordan. He was tested in the desert. He applied the imagery of Israel – the temple, the vine, the shepherd, the light to the nations – to himself and then to those who were united to him. He was cursed and condemned and handed over to Satan, but raised from the dead and marked out by the Spirit (Ezek. 37:1-14; Rom. 1:4). In his teachings, with stories and pictures and signs, he prepared those with ears to hear for life in his new kingdom.[3]

So we find ourselves as believers in the year 2015 situated in the midst of something that is, in a sense, happening, but hasn’t fully happened just yet. In Revelation 1:8, God speaks of himself as the One “who is, who was, and who is to come.” The Lord is “to come,” and we look forward to His coming, but right now, as I type these words, He “is.” God is ruling even in the midst of the darkness of this present world, but He has called us to be as a shining lamp, as a city on a hill. All the redeemed of God have not yet trusted in Him, and thus we have both an obligation and an opportunity to participate in God’s already-but-not-yet kingdom.

*My next post will discuss how God’s kingdom should order the believer’s priorities.

 

 

[1] http://www.monergism.com/topics/kingdom-god

[2] See George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959)

[3] Russell Moore,

Onward

(Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015) pg. 57-58

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