Study 1. The Kingdom of GodIntroduction
In this study we will examine a concept which pervades the Bible from beginning to end. It provides the structure for studying theology and therefore the shape for this series of notes. It concerns the Kingdom of God - the reign of God over the people of God.
The Biblical Theology of the Kingdom
God has created us so that we might share in his existence - so that we might experience life in its fullest and most intimate form. He is a loving and kind God and he wants us to share what he already possesses.
The Bible describes this community of friends as the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a dimension where God is the King and his friends are its subjects. His subjects receive the blessings of membership and accept the responsibilities of that membership.
The blessings of membership can be summed up in the phrase "eternal life". Eternal life is not just life lived forever, but rather life lived on a profound level. This life involves "knowing God" for eternity. The central blessing of membership in God's Kingdom is the experience of an intimate personal relationship with God and each other. The Bible uses such words as "love", "unity" and "oneness" to describe the depth of this relationship.
The responsibilities of membership are best summed up in the word "faith" - a willing trust in, and commitment to, God in Christ.
So, God's intended purpose in creation is to gather a people to himself, to bless that people with his presence and to rule over them in love. In simple terms, to set up a Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
The Bible relates an epic story of a loving God who created a Kingdom called Eden. This was a perfect Kingdom, without frustration or pain. He ruled it wisely and well. In fact, there was only one rule in this Kingdom, don't eat that apple ( or was it a banana?). Every evening God would visit his friends in the garden, walk with them and talk with them. In the garden everything was wonderful.
The creator King had made his subjects like him; they had free will. He could have made them robots, but he was a loving God and he wanted his subjects to experience what he experienced. They could live responsibly, or they could do their own thing without reference to God. They chose to live for themselves.
In tears, God drove them from the garden. He drove them out into pain, trouble, frustration, and death. Yet it was not the end. From that time on he worked to gather to himself a new people who would love him and be with him forever. He has gathered, and is gathering at this very moment, a people to be with him. He is forming a Kingdom, and the day will soon come when that Kingdom will be fully realized in power and glory. In that day it will be an everlasting Kingdom. The Heavenly Kingdom. God's son will return to gather together all that are his, and they will be with him forever. Rev.21,22. Being part of this new age, being part of this Kingdom, is all that matters in life. These present shadows can never compare with the brilliance of the age to come.
In the interim between the Creation Kingdom and the Heavenly Kingdom, God has been working to gather a people to himself - a new community, the Kingdom of God. The Bible is the record of that work.
We may then ask, how has he been doing this? He has been doing it by setting up manifestations of the Kingdom at different times in human history. It's as though images of the future have burst into the present. As time has moved closer to the coming age of the Heavenly Kingdom, so the picture has become more vivid. Mind you, these manifestations are not just pictures. For that moment in time, each manifestation of the Kingdom was the real thing. The members of each image of the Kingdom experienced a taste of the reality to come, and because they were members then, they will be members in the coming age.
The different manifestations of the Kingdom of God
Let us look at the many ways the Kingdom is revealed in the Bible:
1. The Creation Kingdom
This is described above. It is the garden of Eden.
2. The Post-Flood Kingdom
God, with a mighty hand, saved Noah and his family from the flood. He brought them to safety through the surging water and into a bright new world. This Kingdom finally collapsed with the building of the tower of Babel.
3. The Abrahamic Kingdom
Abraham was led by God to the Promised Land of Canaan. His family continued to live there until they ended up as slaves in Egypt.
4. The Historic Kingdom
God with a mighty hand saved the slaves from Egypt and met them in the desert at Mt. Sinai. After the wilderness wanderings, he led them into Canaan, stood beside them in their struggle until finally, under king David and David's son Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel was established. Soon everything started to go wrong. The prophets then told the people a secret - The Kingdom, as they experienced it, wasn't the real thing. The Kingdom, in all its glory, was still future. In 590BC the Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Babylonians.
5. The Restored Kingdom
In 536BC God saved a remnant of the Israelite people from their slavery in Babylon. He brought them through the desert, stood beside them in their struggle, until they were finally able to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Sadly it was only a poor picture of the Historic Kingdom, and in the end was wiped out by the Romans in 70AD.
6. The Present Kingdom
In 27AD Jesus appeared in Palestine and announced that the Kingdom of God was about to burst in upon the world. After his testing in the desert for forty days, he then set out on his ministry to struggle against the powers of darkness with many signs and wonders. It was these great events which foretold that the new age had dawned. Finally, at Calvary, he was victorious over the power of sin and death and demonstrated this by his resurrection on the Sunday morning. Forty days later his disciples were to see him go to be with the Father God and then later, in the upper room in Jerusalem, to see him come again in power in the person of the Holy Spirit. On that occasion a crowd gathered and Peter was able to explain to them that what they were witnessing was the outpouring of God's Spirit. This showed, without doubt, that the new age had dawned; the Kingdom is now.
At this moment, Christians are members of the Present Spiritual Kingdom. Living in the Present Kingdom means:
Experiencing the blessings of having a relationship with God through Jesus. It means knowing God, being united to God through Christ.
Sharing the responsibilities of discipleship. Our primary responsibility is to look to God's gracious favor extended toward us in Jesus. To trust him, to believe in him for our new life in Christ, both now and for eternity. For the present we look to Jesus to shape us into that new person we are as his friends; to make us partakers of holiness, Heb.12:10; to be moulded into the likeness of Jesus.
7. The Heavenly Kingdom
In 36AD Jesus gave his life for humanity. By his death he was able to rescue us from the bondage caused by our rebellion against God. The consequences of that rebellion was death - eternal separation from God. He now leads his followers into the tests and trials of life. Living in the world, for Christians, means struggling to make real the Kingdom in our personal lives, in the life of our church and in our broken world. It involves struggling against great odds. We reach out to the lost to seek and save; we reach out to our brothers and sisters to nurture and encourage them in their Christian lives; we struggle with our own humanity and spirituality. In all this we grow, by the grace of God through faith.
The Bible says the last days will be filled with violence and pain. Evil humanity will rise up to destroy everything God calls good. For the sake of his followers, Jesus will return to wind up this little game called life, and set up a new reality - the Kingdom of Heaven. All those who are God's friends, all those who were members of the different images of the Kingdom from the beginning till the last day, will rise from the grave to meet Jesus and dwell with him for eternity in this heavenly reality.
We have seen that God has created us so that we can share what he has. Cut to the bone, he wants us to share an eternal friendship with him. Our God has created us so that we may know self, each other and him; he created us to form a group, a community, a Kingdom experiencing an eternal friendship.
Friendship implies freedom. To love someone I must choose to love them. Mankind chose to love self and not to love God. The result of that choice was a messed up world. God, because he is loving, still holds out his hand in friendship to those who want to be part of his community of friends. To get into the Kingdom, all we need do is want to get in the Kingdom, and Jesus has provided the way. So, in our world today our God is gathering together a group to be with him forever. He has been doing that from the beginning, and he is doing it today. The Kingdom of God is a present reality for those who want it. Yet, in its ultimate form, the Kingdom is still to come - it is not yet. What's important is that to be in the Kingdom now means we will be in it then.
The Bible often uses the image of the "city of God", "Zion", "Jerusalem", to convey an understanding of the Kingdom of God. Imagine this city with its wall, housing, population and temple, cf., Rev.21.
Where is God in the city?
How do we get into the city?
Where will we be in the city?
Who provides the provisions of the city?
Will we need any lighting?
What protection have we in the city?
Think what it means to be in the city now and what it will be in the day of Christ's return.