Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Article IX of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
“The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God’s will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.”
The terms kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, and kingdom (with reference to the kingdom of God/heaven) appear nearly 150 times in Scripture. None of these passages offers a straightforward definition of the kingdom. Yet the kingdom is proclaimed throughout the Old Testament and is the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching.
Many of Jesus’ parables tell us what the kingdom is like. The apostles preach the gospel of the kingdom – the good news of redemption and restoration received through faith in Jesus Christ. And biblical prophecies of the last days point toward a time when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness.
So, what is the kingdom of God? Simply stated, the kingdom is God’s reign, his authority to rule.
As George Ladd notes, “The primary meaning of both the Hebrew word malkuth in the Old Testament and of basileia in the New Testament is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king. A basileia may indeed be a realm over which a sovereign exercises authority; and it may be the people who belong to that realm and over whom authority is exercised; but these are secondary and derived meanings. First of all, a kingdom is the authority to rule, the sovereignty of the king.”
Creation, fall, redemption, restoration
Perhaps the kingdom of God is best understood in light of the biblical account of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
God created everything and declared it “very good indeed” (Gen. 1:31). Initially, all creatures in the invisible and visible realms served their creator faithfully. There was peace throughout God’s kingdom.
But Satan led an angelic rebellion against the Lord and his authority. Then, under the influence of the evil one, Adam fell, and a competing kingdom rose up in opposition to God – a kingdom over which Satan reigns.
In reply, God promised a virgin-born redeemer who would strike the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). The Old Testament expanded this view with nearly 400 prophecies of a coming Messiah. When the Son of God came to earth, he essentially invaded Satan’s rebel kingdom.
Jesus’ sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection brought salvation to sinful humans. And his promised return one day will completely reverse the effects of sin and restore the created order to its pristine perfection.
The kingdom in the Old and New Testaments
In the Old Testament, the kingdom is revealed as God’s rule over creation. The writers depicted God as a king whose sovereignty extends to the ends of the earth (Ps. 47:2,7; 95:3-5). This means the Lord orchestrates the rise and fall of nations (2 Chron. 20:6; Job 12:23; Ps. 22:28). Further, benevolence and justice characterize his rule (Ps. 99:4).
The Old Testament writers understood that God’s purposes would be worked out in the unfolding of human history, according to Charles Kelley, Richard Land, and Albert Mohler in their study of The Baptist Faith & Message. Even so, the Old Testament picture of the kingdom of God is incomplete, pointing to the works of the coming Messiah.
In the New Testament, Jesus preaches about the kingdom and tells parables to reveal what it’s like. Early in his ministry, he declares that the kingdom “has come near” (Matt. 4:17), meaning where Jesus is present, the kingdom of God is present. His miracles – turning water into wine, calming the seas, raising the dead, and casting out demons – validate his authority to rule and provide a window into the future, when the kingdom in its fullness is void of death, grief, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:4).
The mystery of the kingdom
Finally, it’s important to understand the “mystery” of the kingdom of God, which Jesus addresses in his parables (Matt. 13:11). The Greek mysteria means what we can know only by divine revelation. This has particular value in helping us understand the already / not yet quality of the kingdom. That is, some aspects of the kingdom are to be experienced in the present, while others await future fulfillment.
First-century Jews were looking for a political and military kingdom based on their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. They largely ignored the prophecies in Isaiah 53 and elsewhere of a Suffering Servant and thereby rejected Jesus, who declared that his kingdom “is not of this world” (John 18:36).
So, the mystery of the kingdom is that it must first come without fanfare in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The kingdom is present where Jesus is present – on the earth briefly 2,000 years ago, and today, in the hearts of believers. One day, it comes in fullness as the Lion of Judah returns to claim his throne, judge all people, cast the usurper (Satan) and his followers into the lake of fire, and create new heavens and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 19:11-16; 21-22).
As we await the full revealing of the kingdom, Christians should pray, as the apostle John prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Next: Article X of the BF&M: Last Things.