Introduction to the Kingdom

Prolegomena, Definitions and Scope of the Study

In the spring of 2017, I had an unusual experience at my job. I work as a commercial electrician, wiring everything from restaurants to high-rise hotels. One day, I showed up to work in downtown Greenville and clocked in. Before I could even greet my boss, he said, “Nate, you’re going to hate me today.” He paused, then added, “I need you and Ben to put lights on the crane.” Now, the crane was one of those tower cranes, and when I say tall, I mean twenty-three stories tall. By the time I got to the top, I was 230 feet from the ground.

After I got over my intense fear of heights, I was able to take some pictures of where I was. At this stage in construction, they were doing site work. Site work involves clearing the land of trees, rocks and debris, and then preparing the landscape for the foundation. In this particular location, they were blasting out the bed rock to make room for the new sky scrapers that they had planned. They had to clear out trees, bed rock, and dirt in order to pour the footings for the foundations.

Like a construction site, the study of theology has a similar process. Before we can build a good theology, we must clear away the theological inaccurate interpretations, wrong definitions, and heretical theology. Then we must prepare our minds for the study by defining our terms, setting the scope of our study, and understanding foundational principles. After these things, then we can build solid theology.

This lesson is much like that initial site work. We need to prepare our minds to build a theology. Some people enjoy the site work more than others, but if the site work is not done, you cannot build a good building. And if we do not take the time to prepare landscape of our theological study, we cannot build a good theology.

Why Study the Kingdom?

What type of theological building are we going to build? We are preparing to build a theological skyscraper, a theology of the Kingdom of God.  Building a theology of the Kingdom of God is a massive undertaking. I do not claim the ability to design a complete theology of the Kingdom, nor are we able to cover every aspect of the Kingdom. But it is necessary for us to understand the kingdom because of its significance in Scripture. So, I found a book by a master theological architect who will guide us along. His name is Michael Vlach and this series is loosely based on his book He Will Reign Forever. While not duplicating what he says, I intend to borrow several of his helpful points and structures.

If someone asked you, “what is the Bible about?” What would you say? Could you give that person a clear answer? Suppose that you just won someone to Christ and you decide to disciple them. Could you give them a central theme of what the Bible is about? If your answer is no or maybe, do not feel bad. Most theologians and pastors debate this subject. Some people argue that God’s glory is the central theme of the Bible. Some people argue that it’s the story of redemption that is the central theme of the Bible. Other people argue that it is the kingdom. Still others say that it is the people of God.

Why is it hard to find a central theme in the Bible? The Bible is a very long book and at least 40 different authors over 1500 years wrote it. The contents of each book are very different. Some are narrative, others are poetry, still others are legal documents. Then there is the human side of the equation. We are sinners and when we read the word of God, we tend to turn away from the truth.

Despite these odds, the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the Bible. He is the grand Author behind the human authors. Sometimes He dictated the words as in prophets, but most of the time He guided the authors inspiring the words which they wrote. Since he is in our hearts, He is the one who helps us hear the truth, so that we can understand divine mysteries.

Among all the prosed central themes of the Bible, I believe that the central theme is the Kingdom. Kingdom appears in the first chapter of Genesis and continues to the last chapter of Revelation. The covenants in Scripture revolve around the kingdom. Jesus focused on the kingdom in his preaching. And the Kingdom is the climax of God’s creation.

Another reason the primacy of kingdom is that the kingdom theme encompasses every other Scriptural theme. Take for example the redemption theme: to be a Kingdom citizen, God must redeem you. The theme of inheritance: the Kingdom is the inheritance of the saints. The theme of the Messiah: Jesus is the King. The point of eschatology is the establishment of the kingdom.

Some people argue, however, that the central theme of the Bible is the glory of God, because that is why God made everything. There is a difference between the subject matter and the purpose of the Bible. The subject matter of the Bible does not focus on the glory of God. But the purpose of the Bible is to glorify God. If I turn to the stories of David, God’s glory is not always under discussion. However, I can say that David and his recorded accounts glorify God. So, while God’s glory is not the theme of the Bible, it is the purpose of the Bible.

With these thoughts in mind, we prepare our minds for building our theology of the kingdom. We will clear the theological landscape of a common misunderstanding in theology. We will prepare our study by laying the ground rules of our understanding. Then, we will dig the foundation by giving a brief overview of the kingdom.

Clearing the Site

The Accuracy of God’s Words

Every true Christian believes that the concepts which God gives to us in Scripture are truth. We agree on the necessity of salvation and the redemptive work of Christ. We all understand the goodness of God and His righteousness. We believe that God loves humanity and that He desires a relationship with us. All these concepts are theological ideas that lie behind the text of Scripture.

Taking it a step further, we do not just believe that God inspired concepts behind the text of Scripture, but He inspired the text as well. In that mysterious doctrine of inspiration, God used human authors, who wrote from their own experience, to pen exactly the words He intended them to write. Therefore, the words God used are just as important to understand as the concepts they portray.

And because God intentionally wrote every word, the original meaning of those words is critical for building a good theology. God said exactly what He meant to say. He did not promise to the patriarchs one thing, but mean something different. He did not promise them the land, and mean the church. God said what He said, and He meant what He said. We may not know how God will carry out what He promised, but we know that He can and will do it.

However, there are a large body of scholars who disagree with this statement. They believe that the church has replaced Israel and the promises given to Israel are now fulfilled in the church. Many of them deny that there will be a tribulation or Millennium. They take these prophecies and spiritualize them and claim that the prophecies are fulfilled in the present age.

In his book He Will Reign Forever, Vlach has a great illustration of what this looks like:

In American football there are misdirection plays where the offense tries to make the defense think the play is going one way only to shift and take the football in another direction. The play may seem to be going right but then the runner shifts direction and actually runs to the left. The desire is for the defense to run one way only to find that the ball carrier is going the other way. But God is not running misdirection plays with His revealed purposes. He is not leading us to think He is going one way only to go another. God does not direct us to think Israel, land, and physical promises are important and part of His kingdom purposes only to shift direction and say later that these matters are no longer significant or are transcended. In Galatians 3:15 Paul said that once a covenant is ratified “no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.” When God commits himself to a promise or covenant He does not alter what He promised.[1]

Regarding the promises of God, Balaam asserts that God cannot go back on His word. When the king of Moab summoned Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam said to the king, “God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Has he spoken and will he not make it good?” In context, God had promised to bless the nation of Israel, and God could not go back on his promises. Therefore, Balaam could not curse Israel. The same is true to this day. God cannot go back on His word to Israel.

God’s verbal accuracy in his promises is critical for trusting God. If God could promise one thing to the Patriarch and then change it, why should we trust His promises to us? If we can “radically rethink” God’s promises to Israel, then we have no confidence that His promises to the church mean what we think they mean. And if we cannot trust what God promises, how can we trust God. But if God’s promises are accurate to Israel, then we can trust His promises to us.

God’s accuracy in the written word is fundamental for building a solid theology of the kingdom. On the one hand, if we do not take God words about the Kingdom at face value, we will skew our concept of the kingdom. Ultimately, this concept of the kingdom becomes a product of a person’s own imagination, and it ignores much Scriptural data. On the other hand, if we take God’s works at face value, then we will arrive at an accurate concept of the Kingdom. This concept of the kingdom becomes a product of God’s mind—not ours—and it accounts for all the Scriptural data.

 

Preparing the Site

Theological Presuppositions

Before we start tracing the Kingdom theme, there are several things that we need to consider as we approach this study.[2] First, all the Bible passages harmonize and complement each other. The NT does not supersede the OT so that what the OT meant is inapplicable. Along the same lines, one passage does not contradict the another. The whole Bible is in complete unity and God does not contradict Himself.

Second, the proper approach to understanding the kingdom is through a consistent use of the grammatical-historical-literary interpretation. In other words, we consider the grammar of the text, how it is structured and what the text says. The plain meaning of the text in its context is what the text means. Another consideration is the history in which the text was written. This history sets the general context for the text and helps us grasp the broader meaning and significance of the text. Additionally, it helps us find applications to the text which parallel our lives today. The final consideration is the kind of genre did the author use. If the text is a legal document, like Deuteronomy, then we will not find many figures of speech. However, if the text is poetry, like the Psalms, then we expect to find many figures of speech. There are different rules for interpreting one genre over the other, so it is critical to understand the differences.

Third, symbolic language in kingdom passages have real, physical meaning. Just because God communicates in symbols, does not mean He intends to give a literal fulfillment. For example, when Joseph dreamed that the sun, moon, and stars bowed down to him, God fulfilled those symbols literally. Joseph’s parents and brothers bowed down to him. In the same way, God may communicate kingdom truths to us through symbols, but they have a literal meaning which be fulfilled.

Fourth, the New Testament builds upon the Old Testament passages in their original context. While the New Testament may draw some different application from the Old Testament text, the Old Testament text still retains its original meaning. The New testament does not supersede or remove what the Old Testament says.

Fifth, the primary meaning of a passage is in its original location, regardless of how it is used later.  For example, when Joseph moved back from Egypt, Matthew said this event fulfilled what Hosea wrote, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” However, Matthew’s quotation does not fit the context of Hosea. In Hosea, God spoke about Israel and not Jesus, and He referenced a past event, not a future king. When Matthew applied this passage to Jesus, he found a typological fulfilment in Jesus, but he did not supersede Hosea’s words. In other words, just like God called Israel out of Egypt, so He called Jesus, identifying Him with the nation of Israel. But this typology does not negate or supersede what the OT text said about Israel. The primary meaning of this phrase is in Hosea. Later, Matthew uses it with a second meaning pointing to Jesus.

Sixth, God will fulfill his promises of the Kingdom through the two advents of Jesus. We see this fact clearly when Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2, which says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.[3]

But Jesus stopped reading at the end of the first line of verse two. In the second half, God speaks of the restoration of the nation Israel. The rest of the verse through verse three reads:

And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.[4]

The rest of the chapter details what this restoration entails. They will rebuild cities (4). They will have servants (5). They will be priests and they will have the riches of the world (6). They will be incredibly joyful (7). They will enter the New Covenant (8). They will be recognized as blessed of God (9).

Jesus stops in the middle of that verse because his first advent was to proclaim the Gospel. The time for the rest of the chapter is not ready yet. In his second advent, he will come and fulfill the rest of the chapter.

Seventh, the kingdom will involve a restoration of all things. When Jesus sets up His kingdom, He will restore everything to its original state, but not all at one time. In Millennium, Jesus lifts the curse and restores nature to its original order. He removed fear in the animal world. “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.”[5] People will turn their swords and spears into farming implements. And they will not learn how to fight.

At the end of the Millennium, the nations will rebel, but God will crush them. After this time, God will build a new heaven and new earth. In that new earth, there will be perfection forever. This is the final restoration of all things—rebuilding the world back into what he originally built.

Eighth, just because God did not repeat an OT promise in the NT, does not mean that it is no longer in effect. When God makes a promise, it is sure. When God signs a contract, no one can undo it. When God swears an oath by his own character, no one can make it go away. And God only needs to swear one time for it to be final. Whether or not God repeats a promise is up to him. But if he swears to do it, then he will do it.

Ninth, when God establishes His kingdom, it will include nations as well as individuals. It is not the case that the kingdom will be one national identity. Rather, Jesus’ kingdom will be more of a universal empire—one primary kingdom, with conquered kingdoms under its power. Isaiah mentions Egypt and Assyria will be there in the Millennium. Zechariah (14:17) mentions that God will withhold rain from nations who do not come up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of booths. God says that every tongue, tribe and nation will be in his kingdom. These people do not lose their identity, but they maintain the ethnicity.

Tenth, God will fulfill both His general and detailed promises. Some promises of God are general, like the promise to Abraham that “in you all the nations of the world will be blessed.” But other promises God gives are detailed, like the promise to David that he should never lack an heir to sit on his throne. God will fulfill both the general promise to Abraham and the detailed promised to David.

On Vlach’s eleventh point, I have a slight disagreement. He states that “by God’s sovereign design human responses can influence the timing of fulfillment of some prophecies.”[6] He then quotes Jeremiah 18 where God says:

Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.[7]

If God declares judgment on a nation, He has the right to revoke that judgement if they repent. If God declares blessing on a nation, God has the right to judge that nation if they turn from him.

Vlach applies this principle the Kingdom Postponement Theory. When Jesus came, He offered to set up the kingdom at that time, if the nation Israel would repent. The nation did not repent. So, God thought “better of the good with which [He] had promised to bless it” and postponed the kingdom which he offered. Although I agree that God does change his mind, I do not think Vlach is right about the Kingdom Postponement Theory. The main reason that I think he is wrong is that it makes the church a parenthetical or unintentional side project of God. But the OT clearly predicts the church as Paul explains in his statements and centers the church as God’s redemptive plan.

Digging the Foundation

The Two Kingdoms of God

There appears in Scripture two kingdoms of God. One Kingdom is what we call God’s Eternal Kingdom, His sovereign right over all things. Daniel says that God does what He wants in the affairs of men and none can stop his hand or say to him, what are you doing. Isaiah says that God sits enthroned in heaven, surrounded by the Sepherim who chant Holy, Holy, Holy.

The second kingdom we call the Mediatorial Kingdom of God. This kingdom is the rule of a man who mediates God’s rule on the earth. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that Eve would have a son who would defeat man’s enemies. God began to narrow the kingly line through Seth, to Noah, to Abraham, to Judah, and finally to David. God promised to David that He would have a Son who would reign forever. The Son is Jesus. He is the Mediator of God’s kingdom on earth. Right now, He is redeeming the citizens of his Kingdom. In the future, he will reign for 1000 years and his citizens will reign with them.

After the 1000 years, God will unite the two kingdoms into what we call the Eternal State. God’s sovereign rule in heaven comes down to rule on earth. The two Kingdoms will be united into one eternal kingdom. For the purposes of this class, we are discussing the Mediatorial Kingdom of God.

The Definition of the Kingdom

At this point, we need to look at what a kingdom is. The Webster Dictionary defines kingdom as “a politically organized community or major territorial unit having a monarchical form of government headed by a king or queen.” Notice that the kingdom has three main parts. First, it has community. Second, it has a monarch. Third, it has territory.

God’s kingdom also as these three essential elements. First, as Christians, we are the community whom God will reign over. Second, God is in control. He is the king. But that third part—the land—does God’s kingdom have a land? This question is the most debated part of God’s kingdom.

Many scholars deny that God’s kingdom will have land. Most of these scholars are Reformed in their theology. In other words, they believe the doctrines as developed by the reformers. Most of the reformers did not believe in an actual physical kingdom on this earth. As a consequence, many Reformed Theologians deny that God ever intended to have physical land as part of His Kingdom. They spiritualize the land promises, arguing that there is a deeper spiritual meaning fulfilled in the church. Some Reformed Theologians, however, realize that spiritualizing the promises of God is not a good interpretation.[8] They do believe that God will give kingdom actual physical land. But this land will only come in the new heaven and the new earth, not the land of Israel.

However, if we take God at his word, the land is significant. God promised to Abraham that he would give him every place where his foot had trod. He promised to Jacob that the ground that he slept on would be his and his descendants’. He swore to the patriarchs that the land from the Nile river to the Euphrates would be theirs. Even when he predicted that Israel would sin and go into captivity, he promised to them that he would bring them back into the land which he swore to his for fathers. In Micah, God promised to give them a ruler born in that land. In Romans, God declares that has not abandoned his people or his promises. When Christ returns, he will establish his kingdom in the land of Israel. Therefore, we can declare without hesitation that God will bring his people to the land, because God means what he says.

God is the King. We are the subjects. God intends to give his subjects the land. Therefore, the proper definition of the Kingdom of God as the people in the land ruled by God.

Timeline of the Kingdom

How does the Bible present that Kingdom? Vlach proposes an acronym for summarizing the kingdom program in Scripture. CFPRR: Creation, Fall, Promise, Redemption, and Restoration. Creation is the beginning point. In creation God blesses the man and his wife with dominion over the earth. Not long after creation, Adam and Eve fell into sin resulting on the curse on the earth. God promises that a person will come and remove that curse. Jesus is that promised one. When he came, he achieved redemption. In the end times Jesus will restore all things to the created order.

In this lesson, we have prepared for ourselves to understand the kingdom as taught in Scripture. Here, we have prepped the cite work for the building that we will build on it later. I’m looking forward to the next lesson where we will begin to build our concept of the kingdom.

 

[1] Vlach, Michael J. He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God (Kindle Locations 808-815). Lampion Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] These considerations I am borrowing from Vlach.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 4:18–19.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Is 61:2–3.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Is 11:6.

[6] Vlach, Michael J. He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God (Kindle Locations 952-953). Lampion Press. Kindle Edition.

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Je 18:6–10. Emphasis Added.

[8] Anthony Hoekema

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