The Eternal Kingdom-Already Initiated in Christ, But Yet to Come in its Fullness

Timothy M. Monsma
Thursday, July 5th 2007
Sep/Oct 2000

Christians everywhere are called to battle the forces of evil in this world. Understanding biblical teaching on God's Kingdom should be a powerful weapon in this battle against evil.

The Bible's Kingdom Vision

The four gospels mention the Church (Ekklesia) only twice (Matt. 16:18 and 18:17), but they mention the Kingdom (Basileia) 125 times. Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come." He also said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:33).

Why is the Kingdom, which is mentioned often throughout the New Testa-ment, so important? To answer that question, let us consider question and answer 102 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What do we pray for in the second petition? In the second petition, which is, Thy Kingdom come, we pray that Satan's kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it: and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

There is a kingdom of darkness (Satan's Kingdom) in the world, and the Kingdom of Light (or of Grace) grows at the expense of the kingdom of darkness. The Kingdom of Grace was present already in Old Testament times in the Kingdom of Israel. In New Testament times, this Kingdom of Grace is called the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Christ, or the Kingdom of God.

When I was a college student I learned this simple definition of God's Kingdom: "It is the rule of God in the hearts and lives of his people." There are two problems with this short definition. First, it does not do sufficient justice to all that God has revealed about his Kingdom(s)-past, present, and future-in Scripture. Secondly, it brings nothing concrete to mind that people can apprehend. God's people cannot develop enthusiasm for that which they cannot grasp. Most, therefore, have no vision for the blessings of Kingdom living. Allow me to present three outstanding characteristics of God's Kingdom today.

Three Characteristics of the Kingdom Today

1. The Kingdom is both realm and rule. "Realm" points to dominion or territory while "rule" points to jurisdiction over this territory. Scholars who place a heavy emphasis on Kingdom as rule or jurisdiction, see no need to distinguish God's rule over all the earth from his rule over his people both before and after the coming of Christ.

But the Bible makes a clear distinction: "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exod. 19:5,6). Herman Ridderbos, Dutch Biblical theologian, recognizes this distinction when he writes, "The Old Testament speaks of a general and a particular kind of kingship of the Lord. The former concerns the universal power and dominion of God over the whole world and all the nations, and is founded in the creation of heaven and earth. The latter denotes the special relations between the Lord and Israel." (1)

The "authority both in heaven and on earth" mentioned by Jesus in Matt. 28:18 was given to Christ when he ascended into heaven and was seated at God's right hand. This authority is not the same as his kingship over his people, because they willingly serve Christ as Lord and King, whereas all others are under his ultimate control whether they want to be or not. I agree with Biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos that although "Kingdom" originally pointed to the authority to rule, in the New Testament it came to mean "if not a territory or body of subjects, at least a realm, a sphere of life, a state of things, all of these more or less locally conceived." (2)

2. Christ's Kingdom is both present and future. On this point both New Testament scholar George E. Ladd (3) and Herman Ridderbos agree. Christ came during the first century and established his Kingdom in a provisional way; he will come again with power and glory fully to establish his Kingdom at some future date.

The congruence of thought by these two scholars is important because Ladd is premillennial and Ridderbos is not. Their agreement establishes a platform on which many Christians can stand together even before they have sorted out their specific eschatological views.

The coming of the Kingdom in the person of Jesus on this earth 2,000 years ago is especially apparent in his power over the demons. The miracle of healing the demon possessed was not just a sign of God's mercy for suffering humanity. It was a sign of his triumph over Satan's kingdom of darkness. "But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you" (Luke 11:20).

The fullness of the Kingdom is still to come. But there are already many signs of a Kingdom presence in this world even now. Therefore God's people can take heart. They don't see the sunrise as yet, but they see the first rays of the dawn, assuring them that the Kingdom of Glory is surely on the way.

3. The Kingdom of Christ in this present age includes a body of people. Ridderbos comes very close to espousing this position when he describes church members as follows: "They are also those in whose life the Kingdom takes visible form, the light of the world, the salt of the earth, those who have taken on themselves the yoke of the Kingdom; who live by their King's commandments and learn from Him (Matt. 11:28-30)." (4)

If the Kingdom came in a provisional way in the person of Jesus Christ, and if all believers share his anointing, they, too, participate in this provisional Kingdom. New Testament believers are like Old Testament believers in the wilderness. The Israelites in the wilderness possessed no territory with boundaries. But they are a nation of people anticipating bounded territory when they entered the promised land. New Testament Christians are a nation drawn from all parts of the earth anticipating a promised land that will be theirs when Christ returns (Matt. 5:5).

Several parables of the Kingdom describe it as a body of people. They hear the word, understand it, and produce fruit (Matt. 13:23). They are like wheat that grows in spite of the weeds and will eventually be gathered into the barn (Matt. 13:30). They are like good fish that will be separated from the bad fish (Matt. 13:49). They are like virgins, some wise and some foolish.

God's people are Kingdom citizens. "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Col. 1:13). "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father" (Rev. 1:5-6).

Kingdom citizens are not all those who happen to do civic good under the influence of God's common grace. If the rule of God's New Testament Kingdom could be extended that far, it would become so attenuated as to leave it without power. God's Kingdom of Grace, past, present, future, is a Kingdom of saving grace purchased by the death and resurrection of its king.

When God's people realize that the Kingdom is both realm and rule, present and future, and counts all Christians as its citizens, then these citizens will begin to have a clear vision of the obligations that accompany their citizenship. Christians will visualize the Kingdom still more fully when they see both the close relationship and the distinction between Kingdom and Church.

Kingdom and Church

Medieval Roman Catholic theology identified Kingdom and Church. In their reaction to the Reformation, Catholic theologians used this identification to insist on loyalty and submission to the institutional church. The pope in this view is Christ's representative on earth, and in a monarchy one does not question the king's representative. Hierarchy necessarily accompanies monarchy.

The reformers separated Church and Kingdom. Their key text was Luke 17:20-21: "Jesus replied, the Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, Here it is, or, There it is, because the kingdom of God is within you." The Kingdom, they said, is the invisible church and the attributes of this church cannot be used to define the visible church.

The view of Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper that all Christians are called to honor God throughout human society allowed confessional Christians to see biblical teaching in a new light. The Kingdom became a sphere of activity broader than the institutional church but accountable to Jesus Christ the King. Ridderbos observed: "Perhaps one could speak in terms of two concentric circles, of which the Church is the smaller and the Kingdom the larger, while Christ is the center of both." (5) He demonstrated in his exhaustive study of the Gospels (6) that many parables and sayings of Jesus were intended to help the Jews of his day to understand that his Kingdom was entirely different from the nationalist Kingdom of Old Testament times. Nonetheless this spiritual New Testament Kingdom fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.

To all that, one can add an important observation: The ancient Israelites were often called to gather together for worship, instruction, and decision-making. Silver trumpets were used to summon the people (Num. 10:1-10). Such special meetings were called in Hebrew Quhal or 'Edah. The Septuagint translators often used the Greek word Ekklesia to translate these Hebrew words. The Israelites, therefore, were Israelites seven days a week regardless of where they were or what they were doing. But on specified occasions the Israelites went to "church" (Ekklesia) or assembly.

In New Testament times God's people are always Kingdom citizens. But on Sundays and on other days they become a church when they assemble for worship and instruction. If we are clear on the difference between the Israelite nation and the Qahal, we will also understand the difference between Kingdom and Church. Kingdom is the more basic category because God's people are, by definition, Kingdom citizens wherever they are and whatever they do. They become a church when they assemble for worship, instruction, or spiritual business.

Church and Kingdom are intimately related as an engine is intimately related to the car in which it is placed. The engine is the most essential part of the car, but an engine without the rest of the car is useless. The Church is to the Kingdom like an engine is to a car. When God's people are in church they are to be instructed on how to live as Kingdom citizens the rest of the time when they are not in church.

The diagram illustrates the relationship of Church, Kingdom, and the world. The cross at the center stands for Jesus Christ who is head of the Church and King over his Kingdom. The inner circle represents local churches, or the gathering of God's people for worship and instruction. The vertical lines, surrounded by a wavy circle, represent God's Kingdom people who are in church on Sunday but out in the world the remainder of the week. The horizontal lines represent citizens of the kingdom of darkness who generally have no interest in attending church.

Kingdom citizens interact with the citizens of this world often on a daily basis, and the intersecting lines represent this interaction. Their goal should be to live in the light of the Gospel and in alliance with other Christians, in such a way that they become a light in this dark world. They are ever to remember Paul's instruction to the Roman Christians: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21).

The institutional Church also has contact with the world every time it seeks to fulfill the Great Commission, and the diagram does not convey this aspect of the Church's work. Nonetheless, this is definitely an important part of the work, for the Great Commission was given to apostles who became foundation stones of the Church (Eph. 2:20). As the Church fulfills its primary task to preach and to teach, all Kingdom citizens are to let their light shine by their deeds so that what they do ratifies before the world what the Church is teaching.

When both the intimate relationship and the distinction between Kingdom and Church are understood by God's people, they will by God's grace have the vision and the energy needed to be telling witnesses for him in every sector of human society. Furthermore, they will not confuse the vocation of Christians in the world with the calling of the Church as an institution. A vision of God's righteous Kingdom sending its light into the darkness of this world is a tool in the Christian armory that has grown rusty from lack of use. Let's take it out and use it!

1 [ Back ] The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), p. 4.
2 [ Back ] The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (New York: American Tract Society, 1903), p. 28. (Reprinted with a new format by P & R Publishing in 1972).
3 [ Back ] Ladd wrote extensively on the subject of the Kingdom. See The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959) and The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974).
4 [ Back ] "Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven" in The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, ed. (London: InterVarsity, 1968), p. 693.
5 [ Back ] Ibid.
6 [ Back ] The Coming of the Kingdom (see footnote 1). When the Time Had Fully Come (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).
Thursday, July 5th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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