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On the Kingdom of God: By Matt Tuininga

18 February, 2008

n651423419_66681.jpgThoughts on the Kingdom of God

The Bible is to a large extent a book about politics. From cover to cover its words address reality that is political in the deepest sense of the term. The opening chapters, as Meredith Kline demonstrated in his well known Kingdom Prologue, are filled with kingdom allusions, allusions underlying God’s first words to man, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion….[1] The entire Old Testament revolves around God’s promise to Abraham that he will make him into a great nation through which all nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3), and the fulfillment of that promise in the nation of Israel.

Even before Israel received a king her faithful citizens thought of God’s salvation in terms of political realities. Thus when her prayers for a son were answered, Hannah could exalt

My heart exults in the LORD;

My strength is exalted in the LORD.

My mouth derides my enemies,

Because I rejoice in your salvation.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich;

He brings low and he exalts.

He raises up the poor from the dust;

He lifts the needy from the ash heap

To make them sit with princes

And inherit a seat of honor.

The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;

He will give strength to his king

And exalt the power of his anointed. (1 Samuel 2:1,7-8,10)

It is notable that Hannah spoke these words before Israel even had a king. The apex of Israel’s history, both physically and spiritually, came in the reign of the two great kings David and Solomon. From then Israel faced discouraging decline and exile. The hope for a kingdom never went away, however.

Hundreds of years later another woman praised God for the promised birth of a son. The virgin Mary also made use of political language,

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

He has shown strength with his arm;

He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

He has brought down the mighty from their thrones

And exalted those of humble estate;

He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel,

In remembrance of his mercy,

As he spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham, and to his offspring forever.

Mary knew that even after Israel’s decline, the prophets had articulated visions of a future king greater than David, and a kingdom greater than Solomon’s Israel. This king and his kingdom would bring blessing to all the peoples of the earth. She knew that it was in her son that this would come about. Later Matthew would summarize Jesus’ preaching ministry through the call, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17), and Jesus himself would say “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God … for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Scripture’s message is clearly a political message. This does not mean it is about elections, legislation, party platforms, and congresses. It means that it is about laws and justice. It is about peoples and kings. It is about great battles, great oppression, and great deliverance. It is about the whole of life, the spiritual and the physical, human beings and all creation.

Oliver O’Donovan writes of the biblical language of kingdom,

It postulates an analogy – not a rhetorical metaphor only, or a poetic image, but an analogy grounded in reality – between the acts of God and human acts, both of them taking place within the one public history which is the theater of God’s saving purposes and mankind’s social undertakings. The Kingdom of God is not a mere kingdom, but it is a real kingdom. [2]

Our God is a great king and our Savior Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He has “delivered us form the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). This truth has powerful implications. It also raises difficult questions. What is the relationship of the kingdom of God to the kingdom of Israel? To the kingdoms of this world? To the United States? If it is a real kingdom, what demands does it make on my life?

Lord willing this post is the introduction to a series of “thoughts” on the kingdom of God and its relevance for the lives of both believers and unbelievers.

~Matt T.

[1] Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, Wipf & Stock, 2006), 1-90.[2] Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1996), 2.

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10 Comments
  1. 19 February, 2008 7:42 pm

    Matt, in my redemptive-historical reading I have enjoyed John Bright’s The Kingdom of God

    He explores the biblical texts, themes, history, and pastorally speaks to the questions of Israel and America. It’s a good complement to Vos, Kline, Ridderbos, Gaffin, etc.

    Let me know what you think.

  2. 19 February, 2008 8:41 pm

    Thanks for that Baus! Always interested in a new read.

  3. 20 February, 2008 9:33 am

    Matt,

    This is definitely a topic worth writing about, since this was Christ’s favorite theme. Unfortunatly the idea of the kingdom of God is under attack (what else is new–right?) Brian MacLaren has declared that kingom language is out of date. It was language that Jesus employed because his listeners understood what he meant by kingdom. Nobody today understands kingdom, therefore we need to change our language–contextualize it for today’s society. One of the words that he proposes is dream–the dream of God–rather than the kingdom of God. I guess God is no longer a king but a dreamer. Oddly enough, MacLaren was an English teacher (he was better off there than as a pastor), so you’d think that he’d understand the basic pricinples of language. When you change the words you change the meaning; Oh well, his loss.
    Anyway…I look forward to the rest of your posts.

  4. 20 February, 2008 11:46 am

    Hahahaha, I shouldn’t laugh. But “dreamer?” Yikes, We are bold with Him who can kill both body and soul. Psalm 2 reminds us that we must “kiss” the Great KIng.

  5. 20 February, 2008 10:11 pm

    Judging by the success of films like the Lord of the Rings, I don’t think kingdom language is out of date at all. Actually, the ideas of kingship, kingdom, a people, justice, and peace, resonate with us in a very deep way. We were made to be servants of a covenant Lord, serving him with all our gifts, and receiving gifts in turn from him. All of us yearn in particular for the kind of kingdom we think is limited to fairy tales and fiction: a kingdom in which people live happily ever after, with no pain, sorrow, and suffering. We all long for a beautiful world without tsunamis and hurricanes that kill thousands of people. We all long for forgiveness and favor with both God and men. The kingdom of God includes all of these ideas. I doubt you’d find many people with whom that does not resonate in some way.

  6. 21 February, 2008 10:36 am

    Good point, Matt. Even a child understands what a King is. The many children’s books that talk about King’s and kingdoms are still in circulation and have not gone out of print–even in democratic societies.

  7. 21 February, 2008 10:37 am

    Wow, it must be horrible grammar day. I meant “kings.”

  8. 21 February, 2008 11:56 am

    Good points. However, I think it’s obvious that being more relevant to a culture in transition is not what drives BM’s language innovation. He whole heartedly rejects the gospel. His vocabulary images the Church’s understanding of the atonement as “cosmic child abuse.”
    In doing that he rejects not only the Kingdom founding covenant demands which Christ the true King fulfills on behalf of his people (in his life and death), he also rejects our only means of reconciliation with God.
    For more on BM’s linguistics check out my roommate’s (Chris Coleman)piece on his Feb 13th post–> http://apemantusforum.blogspot.com/

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