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Definition

The kingdom of God is the rule of God over his people in his creation, established through his Messiah in the new covenant, which is now present in the world, though it is awaiting its fulfillment at the second coming of Christ.

Summary

The kingdom of God is central to the biblical story of redemption. The story follows the narrative of the fall of Adam and Eve, the calling of the nation of Israel, and the coming of the promised Messiah. When Jesus came as the Messiah, he established God’s kingdom in the new covenant through his death and resurrection, and now reigns from heaven. One day he will return to consummate the blessings of the kingdom, at which time he will set up the new Eden of God’s kingdom in the new heavens and new earth. In the meantime, we live in the already and not yet of the kingdom, serving our King and looking for his return.

“The kingdom is the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place” (see Patrick Schreiner, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, 18). The kingdom of God has its roots in the Old Testament and is launched in Christ’s public ministry, as he teaches, performs miracles, and casts out demons (Matt. 13:1–50; 12:28). The life, death, and resurrection of Christ accomplishes the kingdom promises of a new covenant. When Jesus ascends to God’s right hand, the place of greatest power, the kingdom expands (Eph. 1:20–21), and thousands enter the kingdom through the apostles’s preaching (Acts 2:41, 47). The fullness of the kingdom awaits Christ’s return, when he will sit on his glorious throne (Matt. 25:31). Jesus will judge the world, inviting believers into the final stage of the kingdom while banishing unbelievers to hell (25:34, 41).

Kingdom of God, Past

The kingdom of God speaks of God’s universal rule (Ps. 103:17–22; Dan. 4:34–35; 7:13–14), but it is also his particular rule over his people. Even though the expression “kingdom of God” does not appear in the Old Testament, the concept does, with God reigning over his people Israel in a unique sense (Exod. 19:6). God creates humankind for his glory, making promises of a deliverer to Adam and Eve, a nation to come from Abraham that will bless the world, and an eternal kingdom to David and his descendants, which include the Messiah.

God creates for his glory and his people’s good. He creates human beings in his image to love and serve him and to rule his creation (Gen. 1:26–31). In the fall, Adam and Eve rebel against God’s goals, bringing in the rule of sin and death (Gen. 3). In mercy, God promises a deliverer (Gen. 3:15) and later enters into a formal relationship (a covenant) with Abraham, promising him a land and a people, through whom God will bless all families of the earth (Gen. 12:1–3). At Sinai, God gives the Ten Commandments and establishes the descendants of Abraham, the people of Israel, as the people of God.

God expands his promises to Abraham in a covenant with David, to whom God promises a dynasty and an eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12–16). Isaiah foretells the coming of one who will be both God and man and will reign on David’s throne forever (Isa. 9:6–7). Finally, God promises a new covenant characterized by obedience to his word, widespread knowledge of God, forgiveness, and newness of life (Jer. 31:31–34). The Old Testament ends at the book of Malachi with God’s people continuing to turn away from him, but also with a promise of one who will come to prepare the way for the Messiah (Mal. 3:1).

So, although the kingdom of God appears in the Old Testament, both in God’s universal rule as well as in his particular rule over Israel, it comes with newness and power in the New Testament. Jesus, the Messiah, inaugurates the kingdom in his coming, expands it in his exaltation, and will consummate it at his return.

The Kingdom of God, Present

In the New Testament, the promised Messiah comes as “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Through his incarnation, sinless life, crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus fulfills the messianic promises, accomplishes the messianic mission, and brings redemption to a lost world.

Jesus is the King whose words and deeds bring the spiritual kingdom of God. He proclaims the coming of the kingdom (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43), preaches the parables of the kingdom (Matt. 13:1–50), and declares the ethics and nature of the kingdom (Matt. 5–7). His deeds, especially his casting out demons by the Spirit, usher in the kingdom: “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28; cf. Luke 11:20). Christ’s mission always leads “up to Jerusalem” and his death and resurrection, where he brings salvation through his sacrifice.

In his ascension, Jesus moves from the limited earthly sphere to the transcendent heavenly one. He sits at God’s right hand “in the heavens—far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion” (Eph. 1:20–21) now and forever. When Jesus pours out the Spirit on the church at Pentecost, God’s kingdom expands mightily as thousands come to Christ (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4). Peter explains: “God exalted this man to his right hand as ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). God rescues sinners “from the domain of darkness” and transfers them “into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13–14).

The “kingdom,” as God’s reign over his people, will finally and ultimately “come at the end of the age in a mighty irruption into history inaugurating the perfect order of the age to come.” And yet this kingdom “has already come into history in the person and mission of Jesus,” and thus the “presence of the future” is already evident (see George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 144–49). So, God’s reign is present and future, already and not yet, his active invasion of history now and his final establishment of the age to come. It is a sovereign rule, a dynamic power, and a divine activity. As the bearer of this kingdom, Jesus requires repentance to enter his kingdom community, since the present way of the world must be rejected and the new age of God’s rule and its corresponding way of life embraced. As such, repentance is not only the way into the kingdom but also the way of the kingdom.

The New Testament also proclaims that Jesus will return to reign as king, bringing justice, peace, delight, and victory. We live, then, in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” The kingdom was established with Israel, inaugurated with Christ in his coming, and achieved in the events of Christ’s death and resurrection. Even though the kingdom effects have begun, their full results await Christ’s return.

The Kingdom of God, Future

Although Jesus in his earthly ministry brings the kingdom, which expands exponentially at Pentecost, the fullness of the kingdom awaits until “the Son of Man comes in his glory” and sits “on his glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31). Then the angels will proclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Jesus will judge the world, inviting believers to “inherit the kingdom” while consigning the lost to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31–46). At “the end,” Jesus will hand “over the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Cor. 15:24).

Thus the new heavens and new earth will be the final stage of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God will be at peace only in the end. Though Jesus’s victory has been won, the battle rages until his second coming (1 Pet. 5:8). God’s people conquer through Christ, who loves them and has given himself for them (Gal. 2:20). “The Lion from the tribe of Judah” who “has conquered” is the slain Lamb (Rev. 5:5–6). When the final installment of the kingdom arrives, the struggles of the present life will be past. By God’s grace, believers will reign with Christ. Human life will flourish, and human culture will thrive in the city of God (Heb. 2:5–10; Rev. 21:24–26). Jesus will return, deliver his people, and bring the final installment of his kingdom (Rev. 11:15).

Heaven involves God’s people serving their great King as subjects of his kingdom now and forever: “They are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night” (Rev. 7:15). The Evil One is a defeated foe who will one day be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). Through Christ, believers overcome death, so that at death they go to be with him (Phil. 1:23), and in the resurrection, death will be banished (1 Cor. 15:26; Rev. 21:4).

Conclusion

The kingdom of God is central to the biblical story of redemption. The story follows the narrative of the fall, the calling of the nation of Israel, and the coming of the promised Messiah, while prophesying his return one day in the culmination of all things, at which time he will set up the new Eden of God’s kingdom in the new heavens and new earth. In the meantime, we live in the already and not yet of the kingdom, serving our King and looking for his return.

Further Reading