The Kingdom Theme
Having previously looked at the covenant theme in Scripture; let us know turn our attention to another of the main intercanonical themes – the kingdom theme. We will summarize the kingdom theme, discuss its overt proclamation in the gospels, analyze the core components in Eden, trace its development in the Old Testament, and briefly discuss its development in the New Testament.
What is the theme of kingdom? Well, to describe the idea before tracing the foundations, the kingdom theme contains four key components implicit in the idea of a kingdom. Those components are a king, a king’s domain, a king’s people, and a king’s rule. Graeme Goldsworthy (2013) defined the kingdom of God as God’s people in God’s place under God’s Rule (p. 54). These core components of the Kingdom will be visible as we trace its development in subsequent paragraphs.
If we’re discussing the Kingdom of God as a main intercanonical theme, perhaps you’re wondering why we don’t read of that term more often in Scripture. If you look for the specific verbiage “the Kingdom of God” in the Old Testament, you may be surprised to realize you’re hard pressed to find it anywhere. However, once we get to the Gospels, the term is found throughout the ministry of Jesus. He often proclaimed the arrival of “the Kingdom of God”. Take in a sampling of such verses in the Gospels:
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” – Mark 1:14-15
“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.’” – Mark 9:1
“but [Jesus] said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’” – Luke 4:43
“When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.” – Luke 9:11
“And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Luke 11:19-20
Interestingly, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom as though everyone knew what he was talking about. Nowhere in Scripture is there a record of anyone asking Jesus to clarify what “the Kingdom of God” was. We must surmise that this idea was well known by the Jews of Jesus’ day. If we trace the development of the Kingdom from Genesis, we will see how that came to be.
We can see the key components of the Kingdom of God in the Garden of Eden.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth….The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15-17
We see God, God’s people – created man and woman, God’s place – Eden, and God’s rule – the commands to be fruitful and multiple and not eat of a certain tree. The four components of the Kingdom of God are present in the first two chapters of Genesis. Of course, in the third chapter, the Fall occurs and the relationships in the Kingdom amongst God’s people to God and God’s rule are marred. The rest of the Old Testament traces a hopeful recovery and progressive development of the Kingdom of God.
How then was the idea of the Kingdom evolved through the Old Testament? Let us look at some major developments. After God delivers the Israelites from Egypt in Exodus, he gives the Old Covenant at Sinai. Through the subsequent wilderness wanderings and eventual inhabiting of the Promised Land we see the components of the Kingdom present: God’s rules via the Old Covenant over God’s people – the Israelites – in God’s place – the Promised Land. In this era, the repercussions for following or breaking God’s covenant were manifested or provided commentary via intermediaries such as Moses, the judges, priests, and prophets. Eventually, Israel asks for a king, and the king of Israel becomes a tangible manifestation of one who should be applying, following, and/or enforcing the law of the Old Covenant. Of course, problems arise in the kings of Israel and the nation of Israel eventually splits into northern and southern parts. As a result of sin, both kingdoms are eventually conquered and displaced, and the idea of the Kingdom of God seems to be lost. However, we see a future hope in the writings of the prophets. What emerged was a future anticipated “day of the Lord” which would bring both judgement on God’s enemies and a restoration of scattered nation of Israel. A restored kingdom was the longing of many Jews. The following excerpts from the Prophets show how such a motif developed.
The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. – Zephaniah 1:14-17
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. – Isaiah 13:9-11
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. – Jeremiah 29:10-14
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 33:14-16
Now the Jews did return to the land as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, the kingdom was far from restored. After the Babylonians, the Jews would then be subjugated by the Greeks and Romans. Consequently, the Jews continued to long for “the day of the Lord” wherein they would be free of foreign oppression and their nation fully restored. This was the context within which Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the “Kingdom of God”. However, the Jews anticipated that the kingdom to be restored would be purely physical, as in the past. We can even see this assumption of a tangible physical kingdom from Jesus’ own disciples.
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” – Acts 1:6-8
How then was the idea of the Kingdom of God developed in the New Testament? To truly answer that question, we need to study how Scripture describes the relationship between Israel and the Church, established through the death and resurrection of Jesus. How does the Church of the New Covenant relate to Israel of the Old Covenant? I’ve written on this subject prior, and it is at this point I must direct you to that article or books that address the subject more fully. Nevertheless, I will provide some summarizing points: After the ascension of Jesus, we see the Kingdom of God inaugurated, but not in the way many Jews assumed. As opposed to a physical kingdom, we see the advent of the Church and an inaugurated, not yet consummated supra-physical kingdom. In the Church age, we have God’s people - the Church, under God’s rule - the New Covenant, with a yet to be manifested place - the new heaven and new earth. Once Jesus returns, we will see the consummation of the restored Kingdom of God. God’s people - the church composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, will be in God’s place - the New Heaven and Earth, under God’s sovereign rule for all eternity.
I hope this tracing of the development of the Kingdom theme has been enlightening. From the overt proclamation of the Kingdom in the Gospels, we analyzed its core components in Eden, and traced its development from Genesis to Revelation. For book recommendation on this subject, see the recommendations tab above.
Goldsworthy, G. (2013). The Goldsworthy Trilogy. Crownhill, England: Paternoster.