Rethinking the Kingdom
Adapted from a presentation at the 2nd Annual Carlsbad Eschatology Conference
Importance of the Kingdom
Some believe the kingdom has come, others do not. One whole wing of Christendom – premil-dispensationalism – holds that the kingdom has not come. But what if it could be shown that in fact it has come, and was a present reality? That would invalidate that whole system, would it not? That makes understanding the kingdom very important. And, indeed, quite apart from considerations of what we think or say about it, the kingdom of heaven is an enormously important issue because of what the scriptures think and say about it. It is one of the most prominent themes of scripture, New and Old.
We begin to first hear of it with the appointment of David as king, and it gradually builds from there, until it becomes a central theme among the prophets who place it at the very heart of God’s plan for his people; it is the place where all their hopes intersect. 1) The kingdom would be Messianic; it would be introduced by the promised Seed, the kinsman Redeemer, the seed of David, whose coming was the earnest expectation of Israel: 2) The kingdom would be redemptive; it would bring salvation from sin and the doom of death. 3) The kingdom would be eschatological; it would mark the culmination of God’s plan; the mystery hidden from the beginning of the world. 4) The kingdom would be salvific; it would bring salvation to God’s little flock from fear of their earthly and temporal enemies.
Moving to the NT, we find the kingdom central to Christ’s and the disciples’ teaching: Jesus’ ministry begins by announcing the kingdom’s imminence, ends by instructing his disciples concerning it, and is punctuated in between with parables about the kingdom.
Tangible Results of Misunderstanding
The intersection of the kingdom with so many themes central to salvation and redemption means that if we misunderstand it, we will likely take a wrong turn and end up out in the boonies regarding important aspects of these others. For example, Premillennialism operates upon an erroneous concept of the nature of the kingdom – Premillennialism sees the kingdom in precisely the same terms Jews in Jesus’ day did – they see it essentially earthly, national, political, and imperialistic. In consequence of this, their whole system of belief about the very gospel and mission of Christ is horribly distorted and skewed – To listen to them, the cross and church were not part of God’s eternal plan for man’s salvation, but are a mere parentheses, based upon the unforeseen contingency of the Jews’ rejection of Christ – In fact, if things had gone as God intended (according to the Premils), the cross would not have occurred at all and we would all still be in our sins. Big stuff!
And we have only touched the theological implications – what about its implications for the world view that inures from these ideas? What tangible results come from the premil view of the kingdom? Our support of the modern state of Israel is based in part upon the premillennial paradigm dominate among evangelicals that “he who blesses Israel is blessed, and who curses is cursed” etc. No matter how egregious their violation of Palestinian rights, we support Israel! This has earned us nothing but the resentment and hatred of the Arab world. Would 9/11 have happened if premillennial errors about the nature of the kingdom were not prevalent among evangelicals today?
The back ground I come from defines the kingdom as the church. This definition is preferable to Premillennialism’s, but as we will see, it is imperfect itself. This view has it that the church is the “called out” – specifically, called out of the world and therefore the church is more or less to be unconcerned with things of the world. There is a slightly “monkish” withdrawal from the mundane matters of the world. We are discouraged, even told not to preach about issues of culture, society, government in many – maybe even most - of our churches.
The public schools can teach that life comes from nothing, returns to nothing, and therefore means nothing, but the pulpit is not supposed to say anything; they can teach tolerance of immoral lifestyles and educate pre-pubescent children about sex; have them read books entitled “Heather has two mommies” “Johnnie has two daddies,” they can subtlety teach the liberal social agenda and world view, but the pulpit is expected to remain silent. Preachers are politely told only to preach the gospel. It is easy to see where that definition of the kingdom and church will lead and has led. 70-90% loss of our children to the world! Admittedly, we are not to love the world, or the things in the world. But neither are we to be unconcerned for the world either – Souls are in the balance! 10’s, 100’s of millions of school children are being led down the road to hell and destruction; and we cannot even talk about the elephant standing in the room.
Yes, misunderstanding the kingdom has real, tangible consequences in terms of human souls and the sort of world we live in.
A third definition of the kingdom is that prevalent at the nation’s birth. Many of the founding fathers saw the kingdom as Christ’s rule and dominion over the world, and that all of our institutions – be it government, marriage, culture, society, husband wife, parent child - ought to bear the imprint of Christ’s rule. I would submit that this view is much more in accord with biblical teaching. In fact, it seems to be to be a synthesis of the two: The one that would make it purely earthly; the other that would make it purely spiritual and other worldly. Here is my working definition of the kingdom:
The kingdom speaks to the restored spiritual and temporal dominion of the saints through Christ and the gospel.
In the Beginning
To gain a proper sense and view of the kingdom it is helpful to start at the beginning.
God created man in his image. If asked, most of us would probably say that this image was essentially moral and spiritual; God impressed man with his moral and spiritual attributes – the fruits of the spirit – but that when man fell, the image of God was lost or defaced in Adam’s biological descendants.
When man sinned, he lost the inspiration of God; he became carnal, sold under sin and death. Instead of having dominion, he came under dominion. In churches where the kingdom is defined as the church, redeeming man from bondage of sin and death is a well understood aspect of the kingdom – perhaps to the exclusion of all else. That brings us to the next part of Adam’s participation in the divine image. In the beginning, God gave Adam world-dominion: In fact, this is the only aspect of Adam’s creation that is expressly connected with the image of God. We discern, we deduce that the divine image involved man’s moral faculties, but it is in the context of dominion that this image is first expressed:
Gen. 1:26 - And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So, part of the divine image of Adam’s sonship (Lk. 3:31) was dominion. Although this is the only aspect of man’s image that is expressly stated in scripture, the idea of dominion is largely omitted from discussion about the kingdom. We tend to focus on spiritual justification, and overlook temporal dominion almost entirely.
The dominion given to Adam as a son was lost through sin. Spiritual dominion was lost to sin; temporal dominion was lost to the sons of disobedience. The world quickly came under the power and dominion of the wicked. They were like weeds that spread and took over. By the time we get to Genesis six, existence of a righteous seed is at the threshold of perishing. Through mixed marriages with the daughters of unbelievers, a righteous seed was imperiled in the earth, and the world is filled with violence. To prevent the complete extinction of a righteous seed, God brought in a flood upon the kosmos of the ungodly.
The flood wipes out the whole population of man, save Noah and his sons. 101 years after the flood, man is living in a single socio-political community where the wicked – Nimrod and his successors – are in power. The common language of mankind, contributes to their having a single culture and political community, and the righteous seed is again threatened in the earth.
God must divinely intervene a second time lest the wicked choke out the righteous seed. He confounds man’s language so that they disband and spread across the face of the earth, and form themselves into smaller socio-political groups and nations.
That is a brief survey of Genesis 1-11. In Gen. 12 we are introduced to Abraham, whom God calls to leave his county and kin that God might make of him a separate nation. Among God’s promises to Abraham was that he would be heir of the world.
Rom. 4:13 - For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, [was] not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
World dominion would be returned to the saints in and through Abraham’s seed.
In forming the seed of Abraham into the nation of Israel, God’s purpose is to keep them pure from the nations around them; he wanted to preserve a righteous seed in the earth in order to work out his great plan. Meanwhile, however, dominion of the world was clearly in the hands of unregenerate and uncircumcised men: Babel, Egypt, Philistia - all the great powers of the world were of the lost.
Kingdom of Solomon – A Type
We now skip ahead to the Davidic throne and the kingdom of Solomon:
II Sam. 7:12-14 - And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son.
The immediate referent here is to Solomon, but it is plain that its ultimate object is Christ. Solomon and Solomon’s reign were typical of Christ and Christ’s reign. Like the world dominion promised to Abraham and his seed, Solomon was given world dominion in typological prophecy of Christ
Ps. 72:8-11 – [A psalm entitled a “psalm for Solomon”] He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth….Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
Solomon’s kingdom was the world power of its day; Egypt was in the decline, and Assyrio-Babylonian power had not yet risen. All the kingdoms of the Mediterranean world brought tribute to Solomon and were subject to him.
It is important to understand the typological nature of Solomon’s kingdom because of the light it sheds upon the Kingdom of Christ. The Messiah would bring back the glory days of Solomon. The Messiah was to lead spiritual Israel to world dominion, just as Solomon had led national Israel to world dominion.
However, meanwhile, apart from the brief moment when Solomon’s kingdom was the power of its day, the world power lay with the wicked. Egypt, Midian, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome – all trod upon the people and nation.
Isa. 25:13 – O Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us:
Matt. 11:12 – And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.
But this was all going to change: the restoration of the captivity from Babylon and the revival of the political kingdom were foreshadows of the world dominion that would belong to the saints in Christ.
Kingdom and Dominion Restored
We see the restored kingdom and glory in Daniel: Daniel is in captivity in Babylon: God gave him a vision of the glory to come:
Dan. 7:13, 14 - I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
I don’t know of any one in my church background that doesn’t acknowledge this as Christ’s coronation at his ascension. The whole imagery of his coming to heaven upon clouds, to the Ancient of days, etc brings scenes of Christ’s ascension to our minds.
Christ is expressly stated to then receive dominion over all peoples and nations. The prophetic type of Solomon is here seen to be fulfilled in Christ. But, and here is the point, look what it says about the saints:
Dan. 7:21, 22 – I beheld, and the same horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.
“Kingdom” here does not mean the church; it is not saying the time came when the saints possessed the church. They possessed the church from Pentecost, but this follows the persecution of the little horn. Possessing the kingdom signifies world dominion.
Same with the word “judgment” – it does not mean the act of adjudicating so much as it signifies the act and power of ruling. When God asked Solomon what he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom to judge his people – this did not mean wisdom merely when sitting as judge, adjudicating a case; he meant wisdom to rule.
The point of Daniel’s vision is that the kingdom and dominion that had been the beasts’ would become the saints with Christ.
Dan. 7:27 - And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom [is] an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
If we can think of the kingdom in terms of Israel under Solomon, in which there are those that are sons of the kingdom and there are strangers who are under subjection and pay tribute, we would have a proper concept of the kingdom.
This is why the Jews thought the kingdom of heaven meant they were to receive the dominion of the world; it is why Premillennialists believe it today. It is because that is what the scripture said of the Messiah. Like Solomon, his rule would be world wide; and the saints would rule with him.
Isa. 2:2 – And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it.
Hills & mountains are symbols for nations and peoples: The kingdom would be exalted and have dominion over all others.
Ps. 2:8, 9 - Ask of me, and I shall give [thee] the heathen [for] thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth [for] thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
The fact that the nations are under the kingdom’s dominion pretty well shows that his kingdom is much, much bigger than the church.
Just as Rome was a city, but its empire was world wide, so the church is the new Jerusalem, and our kingdom and dominion is world wide!
This is the true significance of the term ecclesia; the term does not mean that the saints are not called out of the world; rather the term signified a body politic; an assembly gotten together to conduct the business of the realm. Ecclesia: an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating. That is the point of calling the church the ecclesia – we are members of the ruling body politic with Christ. We reign with him as princes over the nations of the world.
Rev. 5:10 - And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
This is the true significance of the New Heavens and Earth. They represent the world in which the tables are finally turned. No more forever crushed, bruised or oppressed; we are sons and daughters of God almighty and he is guiding all of history in favor of his people, ruling the nations with a rod of iron. The implications of this for the world are immense. Rather than abandon the world to its own devices, we are challenged to conform the world to Christ.
The kingdom is the restored spiritual and temporal dominion of the sons of God through the reigning Christ.
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