The Already Not-Yet Kingdom

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[This is part 4 in a series on the kingdom of God.]

The Kingdom: Already-not-yet
Throughout Acts the followers of Jesus are the witnesses that Jesus is Messiah, crucified by men but raised up by God, who offers forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (an OT sign the Messianic kingdom is active). Luke—the author of Acts—calls this message the gospel of the kingdom. It encompasses the current reign of Jesus who can deliver from the reign of sin and his future return on the day of the Lord when he will swallow up death forever. Both stages are part of Christ’s established kingdom that will never be halted and both are essential to its exercise. “The Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among human beings, and…this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into the blessings of God’s reign.”[1] As we outline the temporal pattern of the kingdom of God I will be relying heavily upon the work of Richard Gaffin. One might simply speak of the kingdom as present and future, but when speaking about Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God Gaffin breaks it down into three temporal patterns: its present in Jesus’ ministry, there’s an immediate future after his death, and there’s a distant future associated with the coming Day of the Lord.

First, Jesus talks about the kingdom as being present in some ways even prior to his death and resurrection-ascension. Likely, this is at least partly proleptic in that Jesus’ speaks with the end-result of his ministry in mind. “The disciples are blessed, just in distinction from those most prominent under the old covenant, because they have been granted and experiential knowledge of ‘the secrets of the kingdom’ as a present reality (Mt. 13:11, 16-17). The ‘least’ one presently in the kingdom is greater in this respect that John the Baptist (Mt. 11:11; cf. vv. 12-13).”[2] This reminds us that Jesus doesn’t talk about a future kingdom dependent on Israel accepting him. He declares with authority the kingdom has come near to them because the King is here, he is about to defeat Satan and take the throne of David through his death.

Second, Jesus does speak about the kingdom coming immediately in the future. This anticipates the inauguration of the kingdom at his resurrection-ascension and is what we are living in now. Although Jesus speaks of the kingdom during his ministry at times in anticipation of the victory he will achieve, other times he tells the disciples about the kingdom’s coming in power when he leaves them. When Jesus tells his disciples that some standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God (Luke 9:27; Mt. 10:23; 16:28; Mk 9:1), he was not saying that the “final day” will come before they see death but that the kingdom will come in power—in its inauguration.[3] There is an immediate future to the kingdom (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15) that is “best understood as arriving in the death and exaltation of Jesus (including Pentecost).”[4] Whereas this climactic coming of the kingdom when Jesus is exalted to the throne of David at the right hand of God (Rom. 1:4; Acts 2:33) is spoken of as future by Jesus, it is the “already” part of the kingdom we’re living in now.

Third, Jesus speaks of a coming in the distant future, which for us today occupies the “not-yet” stage of the kingdom. “Faithful Jews and Gentiles will gather for the great kingdom-banquet at the same time that unbelieving Jews (as well as other unbelievers) are excluded, that is, at the time of final judgment (Mt. 8:11, 12).”[5] This view isn’t dependent on a particular view of the millennium, since whether pre-, post-, and amillenial views hold to a remaining consummation. “The challenge for us in this age is to avoid both underrealized and overrealized eschatologies of the kingdom.”[6] In other words, Christians in this present age are participating here and now in the age to come. We are those in the kingdom of God—Christ’s kingdom—and so we should see ourselves as living with him and under his rule. And yet, at the same time we should live in light of his return when the kingdom will be consummated in both a spiritual and a physical form.

The kingdom isn’t something wholly in the future but something we are living in now as those who by Jesus’ blood have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col. 1:13). “The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”[7] Living in light of the kingdom means both “great moments” are always in view. The Kingdom of God brings great weight and meaning to the present since we’ve received the privileges and the power of God’s kingdom, but it also reminds us that there is a kingdom to come when all evil, pain, and sin will finally be eradicated as we will dwell with God forever. N.T. Wright is worth quoting at length to close out this section.

“What I miss, right across the Western tradition, at least the way it has come through to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, is the devastating and challenging message I find in the four gospels: God really has become king—in and through Jesus! A new state of affairs has been brought into existence. A door has been opened that nobody can shut. Jesus is now the world’s rightful Lord, and all other lords are to fall at his feet. This is an eschatological message, not in trivial sense that it heralds the ‘end of the world’ (whatever that might mean), but in the sense that it is about something that was supposed to happen when Israel’s hopes were fulfilled; and Israel’s hopes were not for the demise of the space-time universe, but for the earth to be full of God’s glory It is, however, an inaugurated eschatological message, claiming that this ‘something’ has indeed happened in and through Jesus and does not yet look like what people might have imagined. That is the story the gospels are telling.” [8]

Footnotes:
[1] George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 89-90.
[2] Richard B. Gaffin, “Kingdom of God,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 368.
[3] Another possible interpretation is that its fulfillment is in the very next scene, the transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John experience the glory of Jesus in a profound way. However, even if this interpretation is taken, many commentators see the Transfiguration as a preview of Christ’s resurrection-ascension glory that will be demonstrated at Pentecost.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Horton, The Christian Faith, 543.
[7] George Ladd, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 218.
[8] Wright, How God Became King, 38.

The Coming King Arrives

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[This is Part 3 of a series on the Kingdom of God. See Part 1 and Part 2.]

The Coming King Arrives
The Gospel of Mark is a non-stop action story. Mark moves with brevity from scene to scene, often carried along by the words “and” or “immediately.” The very first scene of his Gospel brings into focus John the Baptist, a Bear Grylls like character living in the wilderness eating from nature’s original fresh market. John is a prophet bridging the two testaments, but more importantly, he fulfills the OT role of the Messianic forerunner. According to the OT prophets, we’ll know the Messiah is coming when an Elijah like figure prepares the way by calling the people to repentance (Is. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6). All four Gospels highlight the ministry of John the Baptist because anyone familiar with the OT would have expected such a character to precede the Messiah. In older kingdoms one would expect heralds to enter a city before the King so the people could prepare and pay attention. The message of John is to repent, to turn from your ways and your idolatry, and make room for the King. The response is a corresponding baptism symbolizing such purification. The reason for such a declaration: the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt. 3:2). As we’ve seen, the OT expectations of a Messiah and King and the role of John the Baptist as heralding the arrival of this Christ make it clear that this kingdom of heaven is the arrival of God’s anointed Messiah and Son of David.

Jesus, the Christ, proclaims a message similar to John, only he points to himself as the one John had spoken of (Mt. 4:17). Jesus calls people out of their individual, tiny kingdom and invites them into the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom available to them only through submission to the King himself.[1] The birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension are retold in such a way to demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ. Through the events themselves and how they’re narrated, the gospel writers are each describing in their own way “the story of how God became king of the world.”[2]

Two Misunderstandings on the Kingdom
Some dispensationalists have misunderstood Jesus’ message of the kingdom in the NT. They say that Jesus was offering a physical, political, national kingdom to Israel—since they say all OT prophecies to Israel must be fulfilled in a literal (i.e., physical) manner—but since he was rejected the kingdom of God has been postponed until he returns (for a millenial kingdom). Two of the problems with this view must be expressed to help us better grasp Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom. First, Jesus seems to understand kingdom from the outset in a different way than the Jews in his day (and present dispensationalists). Second, Jesus and the NT as a whole do not speak of the kingdom as wholly future—and certainly not postponed—but as inaugurated, present, and active. Let’s look at each in turn because these are key to understanding the kingdom of God.

1) What Kind of Kingdom Did Jesus Offer?
First, as been hinted at, the clash between the Jews and Jesus comes in part because they seem to have different understandings of the kingdom. The Jews could only accept a kingdom that was physical and earthly, where the Messianic king brought defeat to the worldly power of Rome and restored glory to Israel. Jesus does in fact see himself fulfilling the OT understanding of the Messianic King, but for him it appears different than many Jews anticipated. As I’ve said, this should not be surprising because the Jews in Jesus’ day missed the boat quite often when it came to interpreting the OT rightly. Jesus’ kingdom “answers to the great OT expectation. What Jesus announces is the realization of Israel’s hope, the fulfillment of the covenant promises made to the fathers; the new and final order at the end of history has arrived at last with Jesus.”[3] Yet, he describes it as coming in organic, hidden, and spiritual ways that were unexpected. This is not to say that Jesus never uses external metaphors to speak of the kingdom—and as we’ll see there is a future element to it—but he primarily understands it as a spiritual kingdom where God’s rule extends over the lives of His rescued people.

One example of this would be Jesus’ response to the religious leaders of his day. When the Pharisees asked when the kingdom would come, Jesus says “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21). In the parables, Jesus repeatedly explains the kingdom of God in internal, spiritual, and organic terms not external, political ones. “Both the present reality and the organic-spiritual character of the kingdom are most clearly taught in the great kingdom parables (Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8)”.[4]

There is a distinction here between the kingdom Jesus brought and the kingdom the Jews wanted. We also see this in the primary enemy of the kingdom in mind, not a national one but a spiritual one (Mt. 12:28; Lk. 11:20). “What forms the contrast of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ mind is never any political power, e.g., that of Rome, but always a superhuman power, viz., that of Satan.”[5] When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” (Jn. 18:36), he doesn’t speak of this other-worldly kingdom as the Plan B or backup-kingdom but as the very nature of the kingdom he came to bring.

Beginning with the Gospels and throughout the NT, the kingdom of God is seen as having been inaugurated and now actively carrying on under the rule of Jesus Christ. No NT author speaks as if the current kingdom is anything other than the kingdom alluded to in the promises and prophecies of the OT. Christ has been exalted to the right hand of the Father and has poured out his Spirit upon the people as the power of the kingdom (Acts 2). This kingdom is the kingdom of the New Covenant and has brought the ‘age to come” and the “new creation” into the present day. When we consider the teachings of Jesus on the kingdom he has brought—not as an offer dependent on their acceptance but as a reality dependent on his Messianic victory—and the rest of the NT teaching that we’re now citizens in this kingdom, then we must conclude that the kingdom of God in Christ now looks different than many of the Jews expected (I Cor. 4:20; Col. 1:13). And, this should help formulate our theology so the kingdom we live in already and the kingdom not-yet in its consummate form are understood based upon its Christological fulfillment.

2) The Kingdom Has Come and Is Coming
The second misunderstanding of the kingdom in many people’s minds is that it’s wholly future and therefore postponed. This theory is usually dependent on the first mistake. If one cannot hear Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom because they’re only focused on an external, physical kingdom then they will have to say the kingdom is all in the future. The NT clearly teaches that the kingdom has come—in part—and so this view has become unpopular among most theologians today. Jesus does not settle for a second-class spiritual kingdom for Jews and Gentiles, waiting for the real kingdom to come in a physical manifestation only in Jerusalem.

The later section on Pentecost and the Kingdom will provide further support to the fact that the kingdom has come, but we’ll move forward by unpacking the already-not-yet idea of the kingdom. The NT teaches that with the resurrection-ascension of Jesus he has taken his place on the throne of David, which is to say that the New Covenant Kingdom is the Kingdom of God under the rule of Jesus. This kingdom is here in an inaugurated form, but equally important in the NT is the fact that there still remains a future, fully consummate aspect to the kingdom. Michael Horton writes, “As difficult as it is to hold both simultaneously, the New Testament eschatology indicates that the kingdom of Christ is present now but not yet in its consummated form.” [6]

One book or one NT author might stress more of what is present (realized) or what is still to come (unrealized), but the NT as a whole teaches an already-not-yet scheme where the kingdom has come and will come. Jesus has inaugurated (launched) it but will one day consummate (finish) it. “These present and future aspects cohere not as two or more kingdoms but as the one, eschatological kingdom arriving in successive stages or installments.”[7] One installment is primarily spiritual and hidden and one will be a physical kingdom over all of creation. The apostles preached the good news of the kingdom because they realized Jesus’ kingdom was what they had been waiting to arrive. It’s not the good news of a wholly future kingdom to come and it’s not the disappointed news that they had to settle for a spiritual kingdom because Jesus’ plan A got squelched. Instead, part of the confusion in the first century and still today is that we don’t listen to the kingdom Jesus describes. Instead, many bring their assumed expectations from the OT of a kingdom that can only be physical and so this framework obscures the NT teaching on the kingdom. We will see this more clearly in our next post by outlining the two stages of the kingdom’s coming.

I want to briefly mention two reasons why this matters. First, we must read the Bible as progressive revelation. This means that the Bible is like other stories in that as the narrative unfolds we have more details and clarity to help us look back. So, while the NT does not change the OT story and they should not be read in conflict, we should allow the NT to helps us interpret the OT. This is an overgeneralization of course, but one of the problems many covenant theologians have with dispensationalists is they often fail to allow the NT to give us clarity as to what the OT was pointing towards. The OT should inform our understanding of the NT but it shouldn’t strain seemingly clear NT teachings because of our need to see it fulfilled in physical ways (literal) exactly as stated. Second, the type of kingdom Jesus brings rebukes our constant seeking of glory. The kingdom of Jesus now is hidden and aims first at transforming hearts and bending wills to the authority of Jesus. The Jews wanted a kingdom that exalted them not want that called for them to serve others or remain under the rule of Rome. It’s in all of our hearts to want a kingdom right now of prestige, power, and glory among other people. The kingdom of Jesus is all about Jesus, so while we might share in his honor and victories through union with him we should not expect or want the world—who doesn’t recognize his kingdom—to sing our praises.

The OT Backdrop to Jesus’ Good News of the Kingdom

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[This is Part 2 of a series on the Kingdom of God. See Part 1.]

The Backdrop to Jesus’ Good News of the Kingdom
At the very outset of Genesis 1 there is kingdom language for both God (as High King of all) and Adam (as God’s representative king on earth). The language of “image” parallels other Ancient Near Eastern customs when a king would set up his image throughout the kingdom as a representation and reminder of who ruled.[1] God gives Adam a place (kingdom land) and tells him to exercise dominion (kingly rule) and spread (kingdom expansion) throughout the whole earth. Adam and Eve fail to protect the kingdom and even try to stake their claim to God’s throne so they’re exiled from Eden.

Throughout the OT this kingdom theme remains an important part of the storyline.[2] Israel becomes dissatisfied with God alone being their king so they cry out for a physical king to rule over them. This becomes a source of struggle as throughout their history Israel is largely governed by corrupt kings—both from within and without. Along the way, there are sparks of light pointing them to the need for and promise of a great King, a son of David who will rule forever in righteousness and justice, punishing God’s enemies and bringing salvation to His people (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 2, 110). As the OT storyline begins nearing its end (or the beginning), the Prophets voice the ever-increasing rumble of the remnant wanting their King (Is. 11:1; Jer. 33:15; Zech. 6:9-14; 9:9). “The coming of the King…would thus be the focal point of the great deliverance.”[3]

Although the NT phrase of “kingdom of God” isn’t used in the OT it should be clear by now that the ideas were fundamental to Israel’s theology and are a key stream in the Bible’s storyline. Richard Gaffin highlights two dimensions of kingdom in the OT, which parallel two dimensions in the NT. First, there is a “general and eternal kingship”, where God is King over all since He is Creator of all (Ps. 47:2; 103:19; 145:13).[4] Second, there is a “covenantal kingship,” where “God is the king of his covenantal people, Israel” (I Sam. 12:12; Is. 41:21; 43:15).[5] The Jews, therefore, anticipated a coming King who would rescue Israel from exile and reestablish Israel as God’s light to the nations. This Kingdom would bring in the new age and the OT prophets see it as the dawning of a new creation.

Clashing Views of the Kingdom
With this OT history in mind, when Jesus and John the Baptizer speak about the kingdom of God it is not something new and unheard of but something old and hoped for. There wasn’t a birthday party one year where the cousins got together and came up with framing Jesus’ ministry around a clever concept they created, kingdom. “Our Lord did not come to found a new religion, but simply to usher in the fulfillment of something promised long beforehand.”[6] Part of the clash between Jesus and the Jews is what the proper understanding of kingdom is and what it should look like. Jesus brings a kingdom that is not first political but spiritual. The conflicting views on what kingdom should be points us to the reality that first-century Jews had a concept of kingdom, so when Jesus and his followers preached the kingdom of God it is expected that their audience would have OT expectations and categories in their minds. Thomas Schreiner summarizes what those expectations might have been.

“Those hearing Jesus did not ask for a definition of the kingdom. They understood him to be proclaiming the dawn of a glorious new era in which Israel would be exalted and the nations made subservient to Israel’s God. The Lord would reign over the whole earth, the son of David would serve as king, and the exile would be over. The new covenant would be fulfilled, God’s people would keep his law, and the promised new creation would become a reality. The Lord would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, and the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed, to the ends of the earth, would become a reality.”[7]

As we move forward in looking into the NT teaching on the Kingdom of God we must remember this backdrop so we don’t think Jesus speaks on the kingdom in a vacuum. The OT anticipates the coming of the King and a Kingdom. The Jews who reject Jesus not only refuse the King but they repudiate his understanding of the kingdom itself. Jesus and the NT authors, however, describe the “mystery” (secret)[8] of the kingdom of God which came to us in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension as fulfilling the OT expectations while doing so in a way most Jews might not have expected. This shouldn’t surprise us, since time and time again we see the Jews misunderstanding the fullness of the Scriptures as they replace the agenda of God’s kingdom with their own agenda.

In light of the notion of kingdom being fraught with political, earthly, and material expectations Jesus could have chosen a term less prone to confusion or misunderstood expectations. However, kingdom theology belongs to God and is at the heart of Scripture’s story and Jesus’ identity and mission. It could even be that Jesus also uses the term exactly to undercut and change their misguided assumptions on what they’re waiting for and what God promised in the Scriptures. As we make our way through the pages of the Bible’s story we’re often pleasantly surprised as God’s ways of bringing about his promises goes beyond what we had imagined or expected. So, while OT and Jewish understandings of kingdom are helpful, it is through their Christological fulfillment in the NT that we have greater clarity on its meaning. As John Flavel wrote, “Even so the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, like a clue, leads you through the whole labyrinth of the scriptures.” [9]

Application
In order to keep things brief I won’t be unpacking a lot of direct application as we move forward. However, two immediate applications can be mentioned here for why what’s been written even matters. First, since the kingdom of God is a primary theme in the Bible it will help our understanding of the Scripture, God’s ways, and Christ’s person and work if we better understand the kingdom of God. If we simply choose to ignore the kingdom of God or to allocate it wholly to future things to come then we’ll miss out on our reading of both testaments. Second, this is a good reminder that all of life is lived with the tension of who will be king. God creates us to live under His rule and then to mirror Him to the world. The temptation for man in the Garden of Eden and ever since has been to live under no one’s authority but our own—to crown ourselves as king. Everyone will live with someone as king, and a deeper understand of the kingdom of God under Jesus will help us live faithfully with him and under his gracious rule.

Footnotes:
[1] T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 76-79.
[2] For a good survey of kingdom in the OT, see: Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Crownhill: Paternoster Press, 1981), 58-103; Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
[3] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 320.
[4] Richard B. Gaffin, “Kingdom of God,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 367. See NT parallels to this dimension of kingship: I Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8.
[5] Ibid., 367. See NT parallels to this dimension of kingship: Mt. 21:5; 28:18; Acts 2:24-36.
[6] Geerhardus Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillips: P&R Publishing, 1980), 304.
[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 45.
[8] See Mark 4:11. Geerhardus Vos writes, “This mystery, this new truth, we may find in the revelation that the kingdom is realized gradually, imperceptibly, spiritually, for in comparison with the Jewish exclusively eschatological expectations this was so novel and startling a thought that it might be fitly called a mystery.” Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” 307.
[9] John Flavel, The Fountain of Life in The Works of John Flavel, volume I (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, reprinted 1997), 34.

Kingdom of God Intro: Jesus’ people in his kingdom under his rule

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The Kingdom of Jesus: His Rule, His Place, and His People
“Though we do not have kings in America, or want them, our unconscious mind both has them and wants them. We all know what a true king is, a real king, an ideal king, an archetypal king. He is not a mere politician or soldier. Something in us longs to give him our loyalty and fealty and service and obedience. He is lost but longed for and will some day return, like Arthur.”[1]

The Bible is the story of kings and kingdoms through and through.[2] From Genesis 1 when God commissions his image-bearers to exercise dominion until Revelation 21-22 when Jesus restores a kingdom on the new earth, the whole story smells thick with the aroma of kingdom. And yet, in the opening quote Peter Kreeft pins down an interesting reality that has haunted American evangelical theology.[3] Because we are a people who prize democracy—which means we dislike, dread, or don’t understand kings—American churches have taught very little about “the kingdom of God.” Not that this is the only reason we’ve avoided teaching on the kingdom of God.[4]

The shock of it all is that we haven’t downplayed a theme on the margins of the Bible but one of the primary themes in the NT—and the Bible as a whole. It’s clear that for Jesus, the Kingdom of God was both at the heart of his teaching and his role. John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus by preaching that the kingdom is nearing (Mt. 3:2). Jesus tells the Jews—who would have heard him with Messianic and Kingly expectations from the OT—that the kingdom is now among them (Lk. 11:20; 17:21). He commissions his disciples before and after the resurrection to preach the good news (gospel) of the kingdom (Lk. 9:2; Acts 1:3). In the Epistles, the exact phrase “kingdom of God” becomes less prominent but the same ideas are retained (Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:18-29). All of that to say, if the Kingdom of God was a priority in Jesus’ teaching and mission, and if it’s at the heart of NT theology, then we should probably make it a priority in our understanding of the NT.

A thorough investigation of kingdom would require tracing its importance and development through every epoch, as well as more in-depth exegesis on a host of NT passages rich with a theology of the kingdom. That can’t be done here—and others have already done it—so I will try to give a fast-break summary of major ideas and descriptions of kingdom in the NT. I will also be arguing for the present (already) aspect of Jesus kingdom being the Davidic kingdom Israel had been looking for. My hope is that by providing a basic framework of the kingdom of God we can begin to take next steps in understanding and then living in light of Christ’s Kingdom we are a part of right now.

A View from the Chopper
Recently I’ve enjoyed doing travel research. I’m a huge fan of history but also like good food, different cultures, and beautiful sights. Researching a location usually begins with the 30,000 foot view. What are the eye-catching zoomed out views of a worthy site (city, landmark, scenery)? How is the place generally described and what gives you a basic feel for the place? It’s similar to a helicopter tour that shows you the city as a whole. But, soon after that, you have to start getting into specifics. What are the specific buildings to see, where is a good hotel, where do I get on a bus? The helicopter view is great in its breadth but walking in the streets is where you really see the depth of a city. This summary will start with the helicopter view and then later on allow us to start navigating the roads and stepping into the must see landmarks when it comes to the kingdom of God. As we take this tour, there will be sites I don’t have the time to point out—not because they aren’t important—so you’ll just have to go back and check them out on your own.

Where We’re Headed
There is much to be said so I will unpack this important idea in 7-8 posts. If you stick with this you will not be an expert on the kingdom of God, but, you will hopefully know a little bit more than when you started. I’ll be honest up front, I’m primarily summarizing a Reformed understanding of the kingdom of God in the NT in its present (already) form, and making a theological defense for why this present kingdom is the promised Davidic kingdom. Here’s a summary of the upcoming posts.

• The OT backdrop on kingdom
• Two misunderstandings on the kingdom
1) Jesus fundamentally understood the kingdom of God promised in the OT differently than the Jews of his day.
2) The kingdom is already present in a real sense and is not wholly future
• The already-not-yet temporal pattern to the kingdom
• How the kingdom of God could be described
1) Working off of Graeme Goldsworthy: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule
2) Working off of Geerhardus Vos: It’s theocentric, powerful, righteous, and based on God’s graciousness.
• The importance of Ascension to understanding that it is the Davidic Kingdom
• The importance of Pentecost to understanding that it is the Davidic Kingdom
• The Kingdom of God is the eschatological new creation kingdom

Footnotes:
Header image courtesy of the images & graphics Jedi, Greg Pilcher.
[1] Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 44.
[2] The word for “kingdom” is used 162 times in the New Testament.
[3] Kreeft does not here make the connection between American democracy and the misunderstanding and downplaying of kingdom from the Bible. In the beginning of the section on Kingdom, Faithmapping does hint at the connection. Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper, Faithmapping (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 29-30.
[4] Two other reasons could be mentioned. First might be our need for proof texts where the word “kingdom” is used rather than being able to make connections with thematic allusions like “throne,” “reign,” “David’s Son,” and others. Second, the prominence of dispensational theology in much of America, which until the last 20 years saw the kingdom of God as almost entirely future, minimized preaching and teaching on the kingdom of God.

Jesus, the Davidic King

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“Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’” (Acts 2:30-35)

It’s hard for me to believe that Dispensationalists would claim that Jesus is not the Davidic King reigning right now on the Davidic throne over the eternal Kingdom of God promised to David’s Son. That view has however become a minority as classical and revised dispensationalists are either on or nearing the theological endangered-species list (at least in academic and biblical-theology circles). Among the numerous responses that I’ve found helpful, here are some quotes from Progressive Dispensationalism (which on a spectrum is closer to Covenant Theology than Dispensational Theology) by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock.

Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock bring up three of the most common classical or revised dispensational objections to Jesus’ reign as Davidic King. I’ll mention the first two and quickly summarize their response (although I recommend reading this section in their book in its entirety).

In sum: “Beginning in Acts 2, Jesus’ apostles began to preach that His resurrection was the fulfillment of the covenant promise to ‘raise up’ David’s descendant. The promise to raise up a descendant, in 2 Samuel 7:12, is connected with the promise to establish His kingdom or, putting it another way, to establish His throne. Peter argues in Acts 2:22-36 that David predicted in Psalm 16 that this descendant would be raised up from the dead, incorruptible, and in this way, He would be seated upon His throne (Acts 2:30-31). He then argues that this enthronement has taken place upon the entrance of Jesus into heaven, in keeping with the language of Psalm 110:1 that describes the seating of David’s son at God’s right hand.” (p. 177)

Objection 1. “The throne Jesus received at His ascension was not the throne promised to David.”.
“First of all, the objection fails to observe the fact that every New Testament description of the present throne of Jesus is drawn from Davidic covenant promises….In Acts 2:30-36, the resurrection, ascension, and seating of Christ in heaven at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1) are presented in light of the prediction ‘that God had sworn to him [David] with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne’ (Acts 2:30). No other throne is discussed in this text except the Davidic throne.” (p. 182)

“The second problem with the objection is that it fails to comprehend the relationship between God’s heavenly rule over Israel and the rule of His chosen king….Because of the covenant orientation of the heavenly throne to Israel, Jesus’ enthronement there makes Him the Christ, the anointed king of Israel. And because God, the King of Israel, had covenanted to David that his descendant would rule Israel and all the nations, this installation of Jesus (the son of David whom God has raised up from the dead) in heaven by the divine King of Israel portends an imminent descent to the Jerusalem throne.” (pp. 184-85)

Objection 2. “Jesus’ present activity is best understood as divine sovereignty, not Davidic kingship.”
“First of all, we note that the Bible explains Jesus’ present activity in Davidic as well as divine terms….Repeatedly through the Book of Acts and the Epistles, it is as the Christ (that is Messiah, the anointed Davidic king of Israel), seated at the right hand of God (the Davidic position) that He is active today.” (p. 185)

Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 174-283. Pages 182-187 are worth reading in their entirety.

Links to articles

A few people have asked where they could find the articles I wrote a couple of weeks ago so I thought I’d link them here.

Here is a link to my article “What Does It Mean to “Remember” in the Lord’s Supper?” from The Gospel Coalition.

And, here is a link to my article “8 Characteristics of Gospel-Centered Sanctification” from Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

I recently did a radio interview with Pilgrim Radio about my article on sanctification. Their radio stations are out West so anyone local interested in listening would have to stream it as it’s being played. It’s airing tomorrow (Thursday) at 5:30AM and 3:30 PM and then 12:30 AM Friday morning (Thursday night).

Don’t Confuse or Divide Indicative & Imperative

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“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

More often than not when somebody throws out the “we’re not under law but under grace” phrase it’s either used to say, “Hey, come on! I’m a Christian so my sin’s not all that big of a deal,” or “Don’t give me any commands. That’s old-school, like Moses and the Old Testament era old-school.”

In light of this, we might forget that the phrase is actually tied to an exhortation for holiness, “sin will have no dominion over you.” That statement is both a fact based upon our dying and being raised in Jesus (Romans 6:1-13) as well as a reminder of what reality should look like in light of that fact: we shouldn’t let ourselves live under sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:15-23).

As someone who wants to daily find refreshment in free grace while also wanting to mature in Christ in a manner propelled by that grace, I find Romans 6:14 to be a huge help. It gives me an encouragement to pursue holiness without making either my energy in that pursuit or how far I make it in that pursuit the source of my confidence before God. Douglas Moo provides a helpful explanation as to why the indicative and imperative should neither be confused nor separated.

“‘Indicative’ and ‘imperative’ must be neither divided nor confused. If divided, with ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ put into separate compartments, we can forget that true holiness of life comes only as the outworking and realization of the life of Christ in us. This leads to a ‘moralism’ or ‘legalism’ in which the believer ‘goes it on his own,’ thinking that holiness will be attained through sheer effort, or ever more elaborate programs, or ever-increasing numbers of rules. But if indicative and imperative are confused, with ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ collapsed together into one, we can neglect the fact that the outworking of the life of Christ is made our responsibility. This neglect leads to an unconcern with holiness of life, or to a ‘God-does-it-all’ attitude in which the believer thinks to become holy through a kind of spiritual osmosis. Paul makes it clear, by the sequence in his paragraph, that we can live a holy life as we appropriate the benefits of our union with Christ. But he also makes it clear, because there is a sequence, that living the holy life is distinct from (but not separate from) what we have attained by our union with Christ and that holiness of life can be stifled if we fail continually to appropriate and put to work the new life God has given us. Jeremiah Bourroughs, a seventeenth-century Puritan, put it like this: ‘…from him [Christ] as from a fountain, sanctification flows into the souls of the Saints: their sanctification comes not so much from their struggling, and endeavors, and vows, and resolutions, as it comes to them from their union with him.'”[1]

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 391.

The Father’s Love in Adopting (Part 3)

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In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is called our Father, an endearing term unlike the formidable Deity of other religions. We are known as God’s children, sons and daughters, beneficiaries of adoption, and heirs. J.I. Packer writes, “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”

Before Christ we were enemies of God, separated and condemned because of our sin. God is holy and will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. However, when we believe in Christ—the one who God did not spare so that he might take the full punishment of our sins—we are no longer enemies but children. Consider the following three verses as examples.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (I John 3:1)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal. 3:26)

The longing in every person’s heart for a father who cares, loves, and protects points us to the perfect Father. Our greatest earthly examples of fathers are but a tiny glimpse of the goodness of God. Here again we must let the Scriptures speak for God and refuse any seditious thoughts Satan or self might project on God. God holds himself out to us as a Father who will always love his children. This love is unconditional, free, eternal, and undeserved. It is not won or kept by performance but is given as a promise. We should embrace him as sons and daughters, not fear him as servants. God wants to be known and seen in this way which is why he uses intimate and familial language of Father and children. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:4-7). Paul was well aware how quickly we retreat back to fearing God as slaves so he presses the truth we can trust him like children.

Here’s one way I think about it. Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you know how much you’re loved and accepted. Maybe that’s a spouse, parent, best friend, or a person at church. When you’re with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Imagine a second person you feel like you always have to measure up for, or who you don’t ever really feel at ease with because it seems you always have to impress them or be on your best behavior. You think if they saw the real you or you don’t do things just right then they wouldn’t like or accept you. Maybe this person is a parent, an employer, or a “friend”.

Now, think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with the first person either watching TV, reading, or talking. How free do you feel? Now imagine the second (intimidating) person is hanging out in your living room? How do you feel? You probably feel fearful or anxious, like you have to be on. Unfortunately, many of us think about God as if he’s this second person. We relate to him as if we’ve got to impress him or convince him we’re good. We don’t think he loves us and accepts us. This changes our relationship and how we act.

The Bible describes our relationship with God differently. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Because of our justification in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and therefore find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known and yet fully loved and accepted. The Father doesn’t hold back love until we do change or earn it. It’s a full stream of love that is unconditional.

Imagine if we thought of and related to God on these terms. How different would your daily Christian life be if you believed and experienced that God is completely for you? This freedom puts oxygen back in our lungs that had been sucked out by fear. It’s the difference of practically living according to the gospel and living according to works. God is a Father who sees us and knows us, yet still loves us. He doesn’t put up with us, instead, he loves us and even likes us. This releases us from anxiously keeping up a façade or toiling to attain his love. We can rest in the way he delights in us. We don’t have to dress up before him in our nice clothing like we’re entertaining a guest. Instead, since he’s family, we can put on our jeans and enjoy the company. “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Additional Resource:
One book I would recommend in this area is Scotty Smith’s Objects of His Affections.

The Father’s Love in Sending (Part 1)

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Loving God is hard. That’s a strange thought in light of the fact God is the only perfect being with boundless love and unending goodness, untainted by even the tiniest spot of evil. And yet, our experience proves that loving God is in fact curiously hard for us. Even more remarkable is how difficult it can be to let ourselves be loved by God. There is no richer, more desirable and comforting place for the Christian than in the love of the Father. But, there is no more alienating and lonesome place than to feel estranged from His love.

For many Christians, the love of Jesus comes through loud and clear, but God the Father often seems distant and looming. Unfortunately, many of our perceptions of God have been distorted by earthly shadows. Usually topping the list are experiences of fathers who failed, dealt with us according to our performance, or were a figure invoking more fear than freedom. Coming in at a close second might be religious leaders or other authority figures heavy on the “truth” and light on the “grace. Because of those inadequate human representations of God and because of performance-driven tendencies assuming God relates to us according to what we deserve, we must hit the refresh button on our false notions with the truth of God’s Word. Not just once, but we need to go back to the Scriptures repeatedly to let God’s priceless promises silence our false fears. Rinse and repeat.

Throughout Scripture, God reveals himself in relationship (covenant) through his words and actions. These demonstrate his character, motives, purposes, and attributes. God being the perfect being that he is, his attributes aren’t like human traits that strengthen or weaken nor are they like moods that come and go. God is all his perfect attributes perfectly, all the time. One of those attributes is love. God is love and therefore expressions and illustrations of his love fill the Bible.

Those are the facts, but unfortunately our experience doesn’t often beat to the drum of those facts. We might read the Bible and yet struggle to see the Father’s love. We find it hard to believe it can be true. We resist and keep God at arms distance. Sometimes we do this because we don’t feel his love on a day to day basis like we desire and so walls of doubt begin to shut him out. Other times we unwittingly read his word not through the lens of God’s love and grace to us in Christ but through tinted lens of condemnation and fear.

For some then, it takes work and careful reading so as to not misread the Scriptures with their assumptions of God—based on past experiences or personal feelings—but to read and see beautiful ways God expresses his care, compassion, and kindness to us. Rest assured, the work required and the patience you might need to keep at it in the midst of discouragement are worth it in the end. Growing in both believing and feeling the Father’s love leads to the warm embrace of assurance and the joy that it brings. My hope is that our grasp of God’s love will move from a general and vague idea to a sweet and personal experience. God desires as much and once the fountain of the Father’s love is opened we’ll find ourselves stepping into new streams of gratitude, contentment, joy, and safety.

The examples in the story of the Bible proving and picturing God’s love abound. Here are seven such examples—one at a time—from the NT of how God clearly and convincingly conveys his fatherly love to his children.

1) The Father Gives His Only Son To Gain Adopted Sons and Daughters
The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself. We love Jesus for his sacrificial suffering on the cross to rescue us from sin. No question about it, Jesus deserves every ounce of gratitude and love we possess. But, don’t miss that the same Scriptures showing us Christ’s love in dying also reveal the immense love of the Father in sending and sacrificing. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son. No verse has been placarded in more places than John 3:16 and yet somehow we miss the particular and pursuing love of the Father as the dispatcher. The Father is the fountain of the love and Christ is the stream that carries it to us. Every time we return to the cross and find ourselves awash in the love of Christ be amazed at the Father who sends.

The Lie
Whether from the lies of the accusers or deception from our own minds, Christians can act as if Jesus is the good guy who convinces the fear-inducing father to show mercy. It’s as if we think the NT story is that God wants to bring down the gavel because he’s fed up with our unrelenting bent to ruin things. So, to patch things up, the Son sneaks away from heaven and shows us love by dying in our place. Now the Father is compelled to become a tad bit gentler with these new and unwanted family members Jesus brought home. Of course, we wouldn’t say we believe anything close to that but that’s how all too many people unconscientiously view God the Father.

The Truth
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Father dearly wants to be in a loving and intimate relationship with us so he sends the Son to bring us back. Both the Father and the Son stagger us in the way the cross expresses their love. The Bible reminds us that the Father sent Christ for us with a full awareness of how sinful, broken, and messy we were. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Isn’t that the point of grace? We certainly didn’t deserve it before receiving Christ nor do we earn or keep it because how we act as Christians. The all-encompassing work of Christ covers our sins from the past, our sins today, and our sins in the future. There are no exceptions. No “but you don’t understand what I’ve done” and no “my case falls outside the lines.” There is no sin too filthy to outmatch the purity of Christ’s blood. There is no one who has sinned so often or to such a degree that they’ve exhausted the infinite grace Christ purchased for them.

This unmerited and unprompted love of God shines even brighter against the backdrop of our dark and ill-deserving condition. That’s why John erupts into saying, “Here is love!” when he thinks about the Father giving Jesus to get wayward children into his family. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10). God knows all things fully and so make no mistake, he knew better than you how undeserving you are, but he still sent Jesus to save us from our sins because he loves us and he wants us back.

John Owen called this the great discovery of the gospel.[1] Without the gospel we can only think of God as offended and angered by our sin—and rightly so—but through the gospel our relationship is reconciled and changed so that we can now know him as love. In the gospel God offers some amazing benefits of salvation but none are greater than the gift of himself. It is a gift of communion with God as our Father, full of an affectionate love our hearts ache for.

Every day we have vivid reminders of our sin and so we return to the gospel to find grace that justifies us not because of what we’ve done but because of what Jesus has done for us. This glorious and free grace comes to us through Christ but finds its initiating source in the Father. In his wonderful book The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes pushes us to not only see the beauty of Jesus in willingly taking the commission of Savior, but also to “see the sweet love of God [the Father] to us,” in commissioning his Son for the work of our salvation. “This saving object [Jesus] has a special influence of comfort to the soul, especially if we look not only on Christ, but upon the Father’s authority and love in him”[2]. The cross is the exclamation and the evidence of how much the Father loves us.

I watch the following video often as a reminder of the “mega-love” (Piper) of God.

Footnotes:
[1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, 24 vols (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, republished 1997),II:19. Owen says we have communion with the Father in his love that is free, undeserved, and eternal. We are to eye it, to receive it, and to return it as we are delighted in it. “This is the great discovery of the gospel…here he [Father] is now revealed peculiarly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the particular work of the gospel.”
[2] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, Reprinted 2008), 2.

Remember Remember

In the movie V for Vendetta, the masked man frequently speaks these key words: “remember, remember.” Referencing Guy Fawkes and the failed Gunpowder Plot on November 5, 1605, the character known only as V quotes the famous poem: “Remember remember, the fifth of November…” Throughout the movie, the call to remember is a call to action. V is not merely interested in history for history’s sake (though he recognizes history’s importance and power), but he sees it as a catalyst for the past speaking into the present.

Continue reading Remember Remember