If I were to ask you what was the most fundamental theme of the Bible from beginning to end, what would you say? In all likelihood, your answer would consist of God's plan of salvation or something similar. To be sure, this plan is very important, with the first mention of it occurring in Genesis 3:15. However, there is another idea, even more foundational in the revelation of God, that stretches all the way back to the first chapter of Genesis.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
In the first recorded words God spoke to Adam and Eve, He gave them authority to rule the earth and all it contained. This is the first manifestation of the Kingdom of God, in which the Lord chooses people to express His rule by their submission to His Kingship. In my perspective, this is the key aspect that permeates all the Scriptures. (Given the scope of what I'm going to discuss, this article will be somewhat longer than average. Please bear with me.) After the Fall, only a very small minority have been willing to have God as their King. Rejection of God's rule became so systemic that He had to purge the whole world with water and start over with one faithful family.
Sadly but predictably, Noah's descendants also rejected the Lord's dominion, and He compelled them to fill the earth when they wouldn't do it willingly. However, with the call of Abraham, God commenced the sequence of events that would lead to the creation of the nation of Israel as a visible expression of the Kingdom of God on earth. Shortly before delivering the Law to Moses, the Lord told him:
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
Under the Law, the role of the priesthood was to mediate God's covenant to Israel. Also, we see here that Israel itself is to be a kingdom of priests, expressing God's rule to the other nations of the world. God would bless the children of Israel when they obeyed His commands, and by reaping these blessings Israel would in turn display the glory of having the God of Heaven as their King. Moses pointed this out in his messages to the children of Israel before they entered the Promised Land.
Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.
Consequently, the Israelites were supposed to keep themselves pure from any intermingling with the surrounding kingdoms, but they were unable to maintain this purity with much consistency. They even wanted to worship these other nations' idols! Additionally, there was another significant way Israel wanted to be like the heathen nations.
Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.
Despite some other shortcomings, Gideon understood the importance of having no King but the Lord. However, Abimelech, the son of his concubine, did not heed Gideon's words. After Abimelech slew all of Gideon's sons except Jotham and was consequently made king, Jotham shared an insightful parable (Judges 9:7-15) with the new ruler and his followers. The olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine all refuse to be king of the trees because it would require them to give up the bearing of fruit. However, the bramble is willing to accept the offer. What is the "fruit" of the bramble? Thorns. There are obvious similarities with the imagery of good fruit and thorns in the teachings of Jesus (e.g., Matthew 7:16-20). Eventually, Abimelech and his supporters turned on each other. After this debacle, the Israelites temporarily dropped the issue of having an earthly king, but they returned to their idea in time of Samuel.
And [the elders of Israel] said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
(1 Samuel 8:5-9)
Just like the rest of humanity, the people God had chose to be His Kingdom of priests had rejected His Kingship. Nevertheless, by telling Samuel to warn them, God gave Israel one more chance to reconsider.
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
(1 Samuel 8:18-20)
As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for--you may get it. Israel became just like all the nations in having one of their own as king, instead of God. Some of the kings of Israel, and later Judah, had a genuine heart to serve the Lord, but eventually both of the divided kingdoms descended into widespread idolatry. That we also may be like all the nations. When Israel's rejection of the Lord's dominion was complete, God wiped it out as a physical nation.
I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes? I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.
Israel briefly reestablished independence as a nation during the Maccabean period between the Old and New Testaments, but it had been thoroughly subjugated by Rome by the time of Jesus. However, some of the messengers sent to Israel by the Lord had left prophecies of another King yet to come who would be a superior expression of God's rule.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
As I indicated earlier, God had offered Israel the chance to show the world what it means to have the Lord as their King. For the most part, Israel failed. Despite this, God's declaration of His Kingdom not only continued but grew more pronounced in the New Testament, in fulfillment of the prophets' words. Preparing the way for his Lord, John the Baptist declared:
Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus confirmed this with the opening statement of His ministry.
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
This is why Jesus had come--to preach the Kingdom of God, which He succinctly defined in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." He spoke more about the Kingdom than any other subject in His teachings. Most of His parables described what the Kingdom was like. This was to be a spiritual Kingdom, not a physical one, and Jesus was to be the only King. Now, Jesus was not an earthly king, forcing people to obey Him. He refused such a position when offered (John 6:15). Jesus offered the Kingdom of God to any who would receive it, but He used no compulsion. His Kingdom is manifest now in the willingly obedient hearts of those who acknowlege Him as King (Colossians 1:13). The Kingdom is a present reality, not some future time period. The following verses, although comprising a sizeable list, are only a fraction of references to the Kingdom of God in the Gospels.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.
And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,
And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.
And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
My goal here with all these verses is to demonstrate how important is the subject of God's Kingdom. Jesus would not have emphasized it so much (to the tune of about a hundred references in the Gospel accounts) if it were not vital for us to grasp its significance. He was still discussing it with the apostles after His resurrection (Acts 1:3). The Kingdom of God is the Gospel. The word grace only appears in four verses in all of the Gospels, and Jesus never used the term in any of His teachings. Jesus talked about the Kingdom far more than even His death for our sins. I'm not saying these doctrines are not essential, but I'm trying to show how the Kingdom is the central message. God's rule had to come to earth in bodily form in the Lord Jesus, and His death on the cross was the culmination of His submission to His Father's will. Jesus could have gotten Himself crucified by leading a glorious military revolution to free Judea from foreign rule like the Maccabees did. That's not what He did. He got crucified for insisting that He was King!
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Just like in the Old Testament, the majority of the Jews had rejected God's Kingship over them. As the embodient of that Kingship, Jesus had to die.
And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
When we repent and put our faith in Christ, we are saved from our sins, but more than that, we acknowledge that Jesus is our King. Then can we truly say the Kingdom of God is within us. Jesus suffered many trials, including death, to offer the Kingdom to us. If we are serious about extending this offer of the Kingdom of God to the nations of the world, we must be prepared to face persecution as well (2 Timothy 3:12). This is no "health and wealth" gospel.
There are two parables in particular about the Kingdom that I want to look at. They are both in Matthew 13, and Jesus has fully explained what both of them mean. The first is the parable of the sower. What is the seed that was sown?
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandethit not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
The sower's seed is the word of the Kingdom of God. The second parable concerns the wheat and the tares. Once again I ask, what is the seed that was sown?
The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
Children of the Kingdom! Is the message of God's Kingdom getting a hold of you? Israel having rejected the role, the Kingdom of priests and the holy nation are now the followers of Christ (1 Peter 2:9).
What the nation of Israel failed to show the rest of the world about the glory of our God, it is our responsibility, as the holy nation, to demonstrate, thus enlarging the Kingdom of God on earth. You will also notice what category those who are not children of the Kingdom fall into.
For the sake of thoroughness, I will mention that the theory of dispensationalism teaches that everything I quoted above about the Kingdom does not apply to followers of Jesus. As I understand the theory, the gospel of the Kingdom of God was meant for the Jews, and when they rejected it, God replaced it with the "gospel of grace" which was preached to the Gentiles by the apostles, especially Paul. Another explanation I've heard is that the Kingdom teachings of Jesus were just an extension of the Law. Supposedly, by setting an "impossible" standard, Jesus would drive us to accept God's grace. In response to this, let's go to the book of Acts to see just what gospel the apostles were teaching.
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Confirming the souls of the disciples,and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
And he [Paul] went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
And now, behold, I [Paul] know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.
And when they had appointed him [Paul] a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,
Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.
Those final verses are the concluding words of the Acts of the Apostles. The Kingdom of God is also discussed in the epistles and Revelation. I know I have already listed a lot of Scripture, so I'll just give these references if you wish to check them: Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20, 6:9-10, 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; James 2:5; Revelation 1:9, 12:10. As with the Gospels, this list is not exhaustive. If God intended for a different gospel to supplant the gospel of the Kingdom, then the Holy Spirit must have neglected to inform the apostles. Of course, Paul said:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
He said it twice just to make sure we don't miss it. Now, lest I give the wrong impression, I do not believe we earn our salvation by our works. Our salvation would be impossible without God's grace. But does God save us just so we don't go to hell? Where we go when we die is not all there is to Christianity. Those of us who serve Jesus as King have been redeemed so that we may be vessels meet for the Master's use in expressing His rule to the nations.
Obviously, there are many practical applications to be made for living the life of the Kingdom. I think it was an accurate appraisal when one brother said that the Sermon on the Mount is the Constitution of the Kingdom of God. The words of Jesus should always be our starting point. Many of my other posts attempt to address these applications in a Scriptural manner. There are a few very important applications I would like to examine before I close. They have to do with the matter of allegiance. Who is our sovereign? If Jesus is our King, then obviously He is. Can we have more than one king? To put it another way, can Jesus and the federal government both be our sovereign? Both Jesus and the governing authorities want the absolute loyalty of their subjects. Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. Therefore, in my view, if we give our allegiance to Caesar, then Jesus is not really our King.
Before the cry of anarchy is heard, I'll let you know that I believe the governing authorities are given their power by God to keep order in society, and that followers of Jesus should obey their laws (Romans 13)--conditionally. We obey Casear not because he is our king, but because our King tells us to. At some point, it is inevitable that some of the laws of the earthly kingdom we inhabit will conflict with the laws of the Kingdom of God. In such cases, who we obey shows who our king is. Peter and John told the Jewish authorities that they had to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
For example, Jesus taught that subjects of His Kingdom are to return good for evil and love their enemies (Matthew 5:44). Let's say that the nation we live in decides to settle its differences with another nation by killing as many of its citizens as possible. Naturally, Caesar cannot effectively wage war without a strong military. So, the governing authorities start rolling out the propaganda to convince folks to join the armed forces in order to defend our great country. If that doesn't produce enough recruits, conscription is always an option. If a draft card shows up in your mailbox, do you submit to Caesar's command to join the military, or do you submit to Christ's command to be as harmless as doves? Without doubt, you could find many people who profess Christianity, and very loudly at that, to tell you that fighting for your country is not only acceptable but a Christian duty. If you refuse, you could be called a coward, an ingrate, a traitor, or many other such epithets. Nowadays, the U.S. military usually recognizes conscientious objectors, but in times past followers of Jesus have been thrown in prison, had all their possessions confiscated, or even been subjected to such harsh treatment that it lead to their death for not participating in America's wars. But if Jesus is our King, all that doesn't matter. He is the Prince of Peace, not war. In fact, the early Christians (before Constantine) believed that it was their commitment to their King's teachings on peace that was responsible for the two-century period of peace now referred to as the Pax Romana.
The next step that seems clear to me is that followers of Jesus should abstain from becoming part of the governing authorities (Mark 10:42-45), just as our King did. We are not called to enforce order or righteousness for those outside the Kingdom. We are to invite people to join the Kingdom and help them to follow Jesus, while God deals with those outside (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). I would even venture to say that the selection of who is to wield earthly power in the nation where we physically reside should be of no concern to citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). No authority on earth can supersede the authority of our King.
I realize I have gone on for a long time, and I still feel like there are so many things I haven't covered. I pray that the Lord can use my feeble attempts to convey what I believe is the message of the Kingdom of God. I would like to acknowledge that I was inspired to write this treatment of the development of the Kingdom in large part by some excellent studies on this subject given by a brother named John D. Martin from Shippensburg Christian Fellowship. I appreciate his definition of the Kingdom as "what the whole world would look like if everyone obeyed the King." I am also grateful for the insights I received from a work by Peter Walpot, who was an early Hutterite servant of the Word. Any oversights or errors of course are mine. I welcome any comments or corrections from the Scriptures, from which I leave you with one final passage.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.