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Lesson 18: The Theme Of The Kingdom Of God

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With this final theme, we will take a closer look at God’s kingdom, which many believe is the dominant theme in Scripture—the one which best encapsulates biblical history from Genesis to Revelation. How does Scripture develop this theme? The theme of God’s kingdom is introduced at the very beginning. When God created the earth, he appointed Adam and Eve, king and queen over it. In the creation narrative, kingdom language is used. Genesis 1:26, 28 says:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” … God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.”

They were called to “rule” or have “dominion” over the earth, including the animals. Again, this is kingdom language. God was the ultimate King, and Adam and Eve were his vice-regents, overseeing the earth.

The Kingdom Lost

However, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they lost their rule to a usurper. In fact, Scripture speaks of Satan as having some type of rule on this earth, though still under God’s sovereignty. Consider the titles of Satan in the following verses:

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

John 12:31

in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience

Ephesians 2:2

among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4

He is called “ruler of this world,” “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” and “the god of this age.” Revelation 2:13 actually says Satan has some type of throne on this earth, from where he exercises his rule. It says:

‘I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives.

In Matthew 4:8-9, when Satan tempted Christ by offering him the kingdoms of the world if he would only bow down to Satan, it was a literal offer. God originally planned for his earthly kingdom to be ruled benevolently through righteous humans. But now Satan rules this earth, enforcing his will through the unrighteous, though still under God’s sovereignty.

The Promised King

After Adam and Eve’s fall, God promised to restore a righteous human leader. The Old Testament is full of prophecies about this future ruler. Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and you will attack her offspring’s heel.” A son coming from a woman would one day crush the head of Satan, the usurper—destroying all his works—and ushering in the benevolent rule God originally intended for the earth.

Again, prophecies about this person abound throughout the Old Testament, each one revealing more information. From Abraham we learn that a person would come who would bless all nations. Genesis 22:18 (ESV) says, “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” From Abraham’s grandson, Judah, a ruler would come to whom all nations would submit. Genesis 49:10 says, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him.” This everlasting king is most clearly pictured in the Davidic Covenant. Second Samuel 7:12-13 says:

When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent.

The prophetic details become even clearer in the book of Daniel, as he prophesied about the four kingdoms—Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9)—who would rule on this earth right before the kingdom of God was established. God’s kingdom would eventually crush those kingdoms and eternally rule the earth. Daniel 2:43-44 says:

And in that you saw iron mixed with wet clay, so people will be mixed with one another without adhering to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay. In the days of those kings the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed and a kingdom that will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of all these kingdoms. But it will stand forever.

Likewise, after describing four world powers that would rule the earth, Daniel 7:13-14 describes how God would establish the everlasting kingdom in those days:

I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed.

The prophecies in Daniel clearly state that God’s final kingdom would be established during the reign of the fourth kingdom, which would one day destroy God’s temple (cf. Dan 9:25-27, Dan 7:19-28). Since Rome was the ruling power while Christ was on the earth and eventually destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, as Daniel prophesied (cf. Dan 9:25-27), Rome is clearly the fourth kingdom, the kingdom of iron, which will eventually be crushed along with the others (cf. Dan 2:43-44). Therefore, many believe that a revived Roman kingdom (a conglomerate of European nations) will assume world power before Christ’s return.

The Kingdom In The New Testament

When we get to the Gospels, they clearly demonstrate how the Jews were waiting for the messiah and his final kingdom. They were under Roman rule, waiting for God to set them free by a deliverer like Moses and for God’s kingdom to be physically established.

However, this final kingdom would not initially be established as a physical kingdom, but instead as a spiritual one. While Christ lived and ministered here on earth, people continually asked him about this coming kingdom. For example, in Luke 17:20-21, Christ said this to the Pharisees, who were asking when the kingdom would come: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” God’s kingdom was established during the time of Rome, but it was as a spiritual kingdom. God’s kingdom exists wherever God rules through his people. Matthew 4:23 describes how Christ traveled to various places “preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” It was Christ’s custom to invite people into the kingdom—accepting, through Christ, the rule of God in their hearts.

An Interim Period Of The Kingdom

One of the ways Christ taught about God’s kingdom was through parables that described the spiritual reality of the present kingdom. For example, in Luke 19:11-27—the Parable of the Minas—Christ described an interim period in the kingdom. A nobleman made travel plans to receive his appointment as king. Before he left on his journey, he gave his servants the responsibility of investing his money (minas) for the purpose of making a profit. After receiving his throne, he returned to reward his servants for faithfulness or judge them for laziness.

Christ currently sits at the right hand of the Father as King and soon will return to rule the earth and reward his faithful servants with varying types and degrees of rulership. Those who are faithful will be given cities to rule in the future kingdom (Lk 19:17-18). During this interim season, believers have been given an extraordinary stewardship: the advancement of God’s kingdom. When Christ returns, he will reward them in accordance to their faithfulness.

Unredeemed And Redeemed In The Kingdom

Christ also taught, in the Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:24-43), that throughout this interim season, weeds will be planted by Satan, and wheat will be planted by God. The weeds and the wheat grow side by side during this interim period; however, at the end of the age, the angels will throw the weeds into the fire and bring the wheat into the barn. Since the kingdom is the place of God’s rule, it seems that the weeds represent false believers and the wheat represent true believers. Consequently, in this season, the church will experience false teaching, ungodliness, and corruption propagated by weeds (and immature wheat). But one day God will separate the false from the true.

Matthew 25:31-46, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, also illustrates this truth. During this interim season, the true believers, represented by the sheep, will demonstrate acts of mercy to the hungry, thirsty, unclothed, and imprisoned. When they perform these acts of mercy “to the least of these,” they are ministering to Christ and proving the validity of their salvation. At the end of the age, the sheep will enter the kingdom, and the goats, who called Christ ‘Lord’ but didn’t live lifestyles of mercy, will be rejected and experience eternal punishment. When Christ returns to establish his kingdom on earth, he will separate the true from the false (cf. Matt 13:47-51, the Parable of the Net; Matt 7:21-23).

The Kingdom’s Explosive Growth

During this interim period, the kingdom will also experience explosive growth as people share the gospel and live out their faith amongst unbelievers. The Parable of the Mustard Seed in Matthew 13:31-32 illustrates this. In it, Christ described the kingdom as a mustard seed which, though tiny, grew into a tree. When this happened, the birds of the air perched in its branches. The seed growing into a tree represents the explosive growth of the church. After Christ’s death, there were 120 followers praying together in one room when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost in Acts 2. Almost immediately after, 3,000 were saved (Acts 2:41), which soon grew to 5,000 (Acts 4:4). When persecution came, the gospel spread throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Though persecuted, the church grew and continues to grow. Currently, Christianity is the biggest religion in the world: 31.2% of the world’s population, which equals about 2.3 billion people.1

However, with that said, many believe the birds perched on the branches represent evil within the church. In a previous parable—The Parable of the Sowers of the Seed (Matt 13:1-23)—the birds, as explained by Christ, represented the devil. Therefore, though the kingdom would experience this rapid growth from humble beginnings, it will be polluted with evil, as seen in church corruption, false teachers, and cults, among other manifestations of evil. Though the final stage of the kingdom will be perfect, the current stage is not. This corruption will cause many to fall away from the faith and keep many from ever accepting the faith.

The Earthly Kingdom

The final stage of this kingdom will begin at Christ’s return as he establishes his eternal rule on the earth. He will judge sin and restore peace and righteousness in creation. The righteous will rule with Christ for eternity. Revelation 11:15 says: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’”

Established at creation, lost at the fall, prophesied throughout the Old Testament, currently present in spiritual form, one day, the kingdom will be a physical reality on earth. Lord, let your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10)!

Conclusion

One of the things that makes the Bible unique is its themes: the theme of God’s revelation, sin and its consequences, God rewarding faith and obedience, election, Jesus Christ, covenant, and kingdom.

Reflection

  1. In the reading, which aspect of God’s kingdom stood out most to you and why?
  2. In what ways have you seen evil, as described in Christ’s parables (Matt 13:19, 31-33, 37-43, 47-51), saturate the church?
  3. How should the present state of God’s kingdom, evil existing beside good, affect believers within the church?
  4. Does the reality that Christ will reward believers at his return for their faithfulness in serving motivate you? Yes or no, and why?
  5. What other questions or applications do you have from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

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1 “Christians Remain World’s Largest Religious Group but They Are Declining in Europe” accessed 8/13/19 from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Bibliology (The Written Word), Kingdom

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