Another Great Civil War Quote

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Last week I posted a beautiful quote written by Frederick Douglass where he captures what it was like for a slave to see ships of free men sailing in and out of port each day. Here is another great entry from the Civil War. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was Colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers and a strong abolitionist. Here he captures part of the events at Camp Saxton on the evening of January 1, 1863. Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on this first day of January. On this “Emancipation Day” 3 million slaves from the confederate states were given the legal framework for their freedom. One could argue about why Lincoln issued the Emancipation and Proclamation and why it was only for slaves in the confederate states, but those discussions don’t diminish just how celebratory a day this was for Black Americans. Most cared little about the details of the Proclamation. What they knew was it was a turning point for them and now, maybe for the first time, there is hope for a new level of freedom and personhood to them and their families. Even for those in states not given such freedom, the light in the distance finally shining dawned hope where only a hopeless darkness had prevailed.

On this Emancipation Day, there were celebrations in many places, but the following account form Higginson’s diary comes from Camp Saxton in South Carolina (see image above). It tells us the festivities of the day and the planned celebrations, but more importantly it gives us a sense of what it must have feel like for those people who tasted their bite of freedom.

“…About ten o’clock the people began to collect by land, and also by water,–in steamers sent by General [Rufus] Saxton for the purpose; and from that time all the avenues of approach were thronged. The multitude were chiefly colored women, with gay handkerchiefs on their heads, and a sprinkling of men, with that peculiarly respectable look which these people always have on Sundays and holidays. There were many white visitors also,–ladies on horseback and in carriages, superintendents and teachers, officers and cavalry-men. Our companies were marched to the neighborhood of the platform, and allowed to sit or stand, as at the Sunday services; the platform was occupied by ladies and dignitaries, and by the band of the Eighth Maine, which kindly volunteered for the occasion; the colored people filled up all the vacant openings in the beautiful grove around, and there was a cordon of mounted visitors beyond. Above, the great live-oak branches and their trailing moss; beyond the people, a glimpse of the blue river.

The services began at half-past eleven o’clock, with prayer by our chaplain, Mr. [James H.] Fowler, who is always, on such occasions, simple, reverential, and impressive. Then the President’s Proclamation [from September 22, 1862] was read by Dr. W. H. Brisbane, a thing infinitely appropriate, a South-Carolinian addressing South-Carolinians; for he was reared among these very islands, and here long since emancipated his own slaves. Then the colors were presented to us by the Rev. Mr. French, a chaplain who brought them from the donors in New York. All this was according to the programme. Then followed an incident so simple, so touching, so utterly unexpected and startling, that I can scarcely believe it on recalling, though it gave the key-note to the whole day. The very moment the speaker had ceased, and just as I took and waved the flag, which now for the first time meant anything to these poor people, there suddenly arose, close beside the platform, a strong male voice, (but rather cracked and elderly,) into which two women’s voices instantly blended, singing, as if by an impulse that could no more be repressed than the morning note of the song-sparrow,–

‘My Country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing!’

People looked at each other, and then at us on the platform, to see whence came, this interruption, not set down in the bills. Firmly and irrepressibly the quavering voices sang on, verse after verse; others of the colored people joined in; some whites on the platform began, but I motioned them to silence. I never saw anything so electric; it made all other words cheap; it seemed the choked voice of a race at last unloosed. Nothing could be more wonderfully unconscious; art could not have dreamed of a tribute to the day of jubilee that should be so affecting; history will not believe it; and when I came to speak of it, after it was ended, tears were everywhere. If you could have heard how quaint and innocent it was! Old Tiff and his children might have sung it; and close before me was a little slave-boy, almost white, who seemed to belong to the party, and even he must join in. Just think of it!–the first day they had ever had a country, the first flag they had ever seen which promised anything to their people, and here, while mere spectators stood in silence, waiting for my stupid words, these simple souls burst out in their lay, as if they were by their own hearths at home! When they stopped, there was nothing to do for it but to speak, and I went on; but the life of the whole day was in those unknown people’s song.”

A Few Links

Here are the links to a few recent things I’ve written for other websites.

Our church is hosting Dr. John Piper this weekend for our THINK|14 conference. To start tilling the soil of our hearts I provided two blogs.
Why Theology Matters…For Everyone
A Primer on Philippians

Here was an article giving three reasons the ascension matters for us right now. The Ascension: What’s Jesus Up To?

On this blog I did seven individual articles on ways God the Father loves us. I condensed them into a summary article for Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Calvin on the Spirit and the Word

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A portion of Calvin’s Institutes was written with “the fanatics” in view. These people were claiming direct revelations from the Spirit of God, often incompatible with God’s Word. Calvin’s response was a pastoral and theological defense of the inseparability of the Word and the Spirit.

“Therefore, the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.” (I.9.2)

“From this we readily understand that we ought zealously to apply ourselves both to read and to hearken to Scripture if indeed we want to receive any gain and benefit from the Spirit of God…But on the contrary, if any spirit, passing over the wisdom of God’s Word, foists another doctrine upon us, he justly deserves to be suspected of vanity and lying (Gal. 1:6-9).” (I.9.2)

“For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn may embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word. So indeed it is. God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display, intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it. Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word.” (I.9.3)

“…Certainly a far different sobriety [than forsaking the Word for private revelations] befits the children of God, who just as they see themselves, without the Spirit of God, bereft of the whole light of truth, so are not unaware that the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers. For they know no other Spirit than him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, and by whose oracles they are continually recalled to the hearing of the Word.” (I.9.3)

Spirit and Word in Acts

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There are certain “hot topics” tied to passages in Scripture. We often then read these passages with the expectation that our questions would be answered instead of listening to the questions being raised. This might cause us to completely miss the point because our eyes are intently scanning for something, or it might cause us to reverse the priority by muting an author’s emphasis in an attempt to hear about a secondary issue. For example, think of how we so often read Genesis 1 through lens of our “science debates.” We might be so focused on figuring out if these are literal days or if its proposing an “old earth” or a “new earth” theory that we fail to lean into the main point: God alone is the Sovereign Creator of all things. We could learn much more about the power, the care, the authority, or the creativity of God but we’re blinded by our interests and modern debates. Or, to go from the opening to the ending of the Bible, think of how hesitant many of us are to read Revelation because we think the aim is to figure out the secret meaning behind every verse. We’re so focused on our theories, views, and interpretations related to eschatology that we might fail to feel the force of the book’s call to endure as we wait for the return of the King who will make all things right.

Acts
The book of Acts can fall prey to similar problems. Too often we’re trying to figure out (or more likely just find some proof-texts for our already held views) how much of the seemingly abnormal stuff going on should we expect today. Wherever one lands on the charismatic or cessationist spectrum, we must be careful to see the main points and emphases in Luke’s narrative of Acts rather than get stuck on individual events. As we do this, it becomes more clear that in Acts the things repeated aren’t the ecstatic or supernatural occurrences but the basic elements consistently emphasized in other books. Or, when we think about the role of the Holy Spirit in Acts, we can (and should) ask questions related to issues like “the gifts” but we shouldn’t miss other things spoken about more often and more consistently.

What The Holy Spirit Does In Believers In Acts
One example of that would be the relationship between the Spirit of God and the Word of God. One might ask, what the filling of the Spirit in Acts leads to or what the Spirit regularly does in individuals throughout Acts. If you’ve seen the movie i, Robot then you might remember what the dead Dr. Alfred Lanning says to Will Smith’s character via the hologram: “now that is the right question.” If only we had such a hologram confirming for us the right or wrong questions when we read the Bible! In Acts, the right question might be what do we most often see the Holy Spirit causing the believers He indwells to do?

As I read Acts recently I tried to go through and note when the Holy Spirit is mentioned in conjunction to a specific effect or result in a person. What becomes clear is that the overwhelming prerogative of the Spirit is to lead people to boldly speak the Word of God. The Spirit is always tied to the Word. Surely He does many things in the believers in Acts but what we cannot miss is that usually it’s leading them to speak the Word of God. First, he leads them to speak truth, not just do something (although that happens too). Second, He leads them to speak the Word of God and not other things. The Spirit’s revelation to His people and message to unbelievers isn’t something new but is tied to the Word. Let me provide the examples and hopefully this will be more clear. Not every mention of the Spirit relates to speaking the Word but you’ll see just how pervasive it is. To repeat, the point of this isn’t to argue one way or another on questions related to gifts, tongues, etc., but to really see a theme of Luke in Acts.

Spirit and Word in Acts
Acts 1:1-3 “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Verse 3 repeats 1-2 so we see the commands given through the Holy Spirit parallels the speaking about the kingdom of God over the 40 days between the resurrection and ascension.

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Notice in the following verses that being a witness is a primary task of the apostles and early Christians, and their witness is the bold (receiving power) proclamation of Jesus as the crucified but risen Messiah…according to the Scriptures.

Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This is the first of four mentions of a group speaking in tongues. Each time tongues are mentioned in Acts it pictures the gospel spreading to a new group of people (the focus in Acts isn’t individuals speaking in tongues) to demonstrate the Spirit has come upon them, in a Pentecost-like manner. In Acts 2 the Spirit comes upon the Jews gathered as Jesus told them, in Acts 8 the Spirit comes upon the Samaritans, in Acts 10-11 the Spirit comes upon Gentiles, and in Acts 19 the Spirit comes upon the disciples of John the Baptist. We might also note here in Acts 2:4 that the speaking of tongues is speaking coherent truths but in other languages, not speaking babble or a private prayer language like in 1 Corinthians.

Acts 4:8 “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders'”

Acts 4:31 “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Acts 5:32 “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” The Holy Spirit and the first followers of Jesus are the witnesses of these things (Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension). Again, the witness is primarily a verbal testimony to others of what they have seen and heard.

Acts 7:55 “But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Here the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of Stephen to see the glory of Jesus before entering into that glory. We might also note in Acts 6:5 that Stephen is characterized as a man full of the Spirit, and then Acts 7 consists of his sermon to the Jews. So in Acts 6-7 one might argue for an indirect relationship between Stephen’s filling of the Spirit and his being led to boldly preach about the person and work of Jesus.

Acts 8:29 “And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.'” The passage continues: “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31 And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him….35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” The Spirit leads Philip in a supernatural way to go to a specific place, and once he’s there he has the chance to explain the Word of God.

Acts 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” The Spirit comforts his people, just as Jesus had promised (John 14:16, 26).

Acts 11:12-14 “And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction.These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’” Here again the Spirit leads Peter to go somewhere, Joppa, and to speak the message of salvation in Christ to others.

Acts 13:4, 9 “[Paul] being sent out by the Holy Spirit…” “But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?'” Shortly before Paul preaches one of my favorite sermons in Acts (13:16-41), he speaks in a powerful to this person in a way that exposes their core.

Acts 13:52 “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Paul and Barnabas are persecuted by the Jews after his sermon, but we see here that joy is dependent on the Holy Spirit and not our circumstances.

Acts 16:6-7 “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” The Spirit restrains them from going to Bithynia and even restrains them from speaking the word at this time in Asia. The implicit conclusion is the Spirit also led them to going somewhere else and leads them to speaking the Word in that somewhere else.

Acts 19:21 “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem,” Paul is again led by the Spirit (another repeated theme in Acts), and the reason the Spirit leads him to a specific place is for a divine appointment to boldly speak the Word as he testifies (witnesses) to Jesus as crucified and resurrected.

Acts 20:22-23 “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by[c] the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

Acts 21:5 “And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”

Quick Implications
There certainly are other themes in Acts (kingdom of God, the Word spoken and spreading, importance of persecution, the gospel going to all nations, formation of the church, prayer, etc.) but it’s clear from these few verses that the Spirit more than any other thing leads his people to testify through bold proclamation/speaking about who Jesus is as the crucified, risen, and ascended Messiah. Here are a few very quick things for me to take from this.

  • The Spirit is tied to the Word. It should not read or speak the Word apart from the Spirit’s help and power and I should expect the Spirit’s normative mode of operation to take place through the Word.
  • To speak the Word boldly and witness to who Jesus is I need to both rely on the Spirit’s help as well as regularly be in the Word of God so I really do know the story and message of Christ.
  • Deeds are important in Acts as evidence of how changed people love others, and the Spirit does lead the people of God into deeds. But, the emphasis is on verbally telling others about Jesus. In a culture of evangelicalism becoming excited about deeds (which we should be) but hesitant about boldly speaking words of truth we must see that the Spirit convicts and reveals through the spoken Word of the gospel.
  • The filling of the Spirit leads to boldness and power. In ourselves we fear and shrink back from others and so we need the Spirit to give us the strength we lack.
  • The Church grows and spreads first and foremost through the regular and right preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God given to His people. Other things are important, but it is the preached Word that builds and spreads the Church of Jesus. Let’s make sure we and our churches have our priorities straight.
  • The Holy Spirit in Acts definitely leads his people, often in pretty dramatic and clear ways. However, the leading of the Spirit isn’t simply to direct our normal course of events but the leading in Acts is tied to appointments where the Word can be spoken and the gospel can be proclaimed. It’s tough to tell if this powerful leading of the Spirit is descriptive and/or prescriptive, but in either case the leading is always tied to speaking the gospel and not necessarily simply an answer to our circumstantial life questions.

The New Creation Kingdom

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[This is the final post in a series on the present aspect of the kingdom of God.]

In the following quote, Thomas Schreiner unpacks some of the OT categories for the kingdom of God the Jews would have had in their mind, one of them being the new creation. “They understood him to be proclaiming the dawn of a glorious new era in which…The new covenant would be fulfilled, God’s people would keep his law, and the promised new creation would become a reality.”[1] For many Theologians an essential part of the New Covenant Kingdom is that it is also the New Creation Kingdom. American evangelicals have often exchanged the biblical promise of a new creation for the hope of escape from the world. For Israel, “God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay.”[2] At the Fall, God’s good creation was corrupted and the process of de-creation began. With Jesus’ inaugurated kingdom we see the reversal of that process beginning through the lives of his people, but is a foretaste of the full reversal when the new creation will be fully realized on the new heavens and new earth. It is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus that brought about the inbreaking of that new creation. What he participated in through his resurrection is brought into our present existence.

In the New Testament, old creation and new creation categories again fall under the domain of this present, fallen world under Adam (old creation) and the coming, restored world under Jesus (new creation). In his resurrection, Jesus has already stepped through the doors of the old creation and entered the new creation. As those united to him, we therefore participate in this new creation and this is what the kingdom is all about. There is definitely a fulfillment to come when evil is eradicated and all of the earth and all God’s people are restored and resurrected, but this future fulfillment does not diminish its present existence. “That new creation has ‘already’ arrived in the dawning of the new covenant in individual Christians (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-10) and the church (Eph. 2:11-21) and it will be consummated when Christ returns and ushers in the new creation in its fullness (Revelation 21-22).”[3]

The clash of the kingdoms involves the overlap of time where the new creation kingdom is coming into the old creation. G.K. Beale sees this as a fundamental aspect of New Testament Biblical Theology. “These pivotal events of Christ’s life, trials, death, and resurrection are eschatological in particular because they launched the beginning of the new creation and kingdom. The end-time new-creational kingdom has not been recognized sufficiently heretofore as of vital important to a biblical theology of the NT.”[4] Because resurrection is so tied into the new creation, all of our life in Christ and the work of Christ through his church must be seen as the new creational-kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is not about expanding physical borders through the power of the sword but rebirthing people’s hearts the power of the Spirit and the Word. Beale compares Isaiah 43:18-19 and 65:17 to 2 Corinthians 5:17 and highlights how the linguistic connections tie together the new creation with the “new things” that cause us to forget the “old things” that are passing away. That includes both the physical world that will day be remade and our old self in Adam that has been remade in Jesus.

The new creation we experience now in Christ’s kingdom is primarily spiritual, but we must also remember that since Jesus was physically resurrected the new creation itself is not without a physical element. Jesus’ resurrection is the first-fruits and assures us that we will one day experience the same. The new creation taking place in the kingdom and its citizens is also a down-payment of the new creation we will one day experience in its fullness. This should excite us to see God’s work in our lives not as a minor thing but as the re-creation He is beginning in his world. As we experience a transformation from our old self to our new self, and as we image our King, we provide the world with a taste of the world to come. As we experience the newness of the New Creation-Kingdom it also stirs the inner longings for the return of Jesus and the consummation of his kingdom on a new earth.

Footnotes:
[1] Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 45. See fn. 12 above for the whole quote.
[2] Wright, How God Became King, 45.
[3] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 607.
[4] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 19. Beale’s emphasis is consistent with a range of other biblical theologians in recent years: N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection and the Son of God; Thomas Schreiner’s New Testament Theology; Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant.

Pentecost and Kingdom

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[This post is part 8 of 9 on a series of the Kingdom of God in the NT.]

Pentecost and Christ’s Kingdom
One of the most famous passages in the NT is Matthew 28:18-20. A lot of attention—and rightly so—has been given to the mission to go, make disciples, and to do so by baptisms and teaching. However, what is talked about less often is why Jesus now gives us this mission, or at least why it’s possible. In verse 18 Jesus tells the disciples that as the resurrected (and soon to be ascended) Messiah and King “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to him. The authority here isn’t simply his inherent authority as the Son of God but the authority earned through his life, death, and resurrection. It is consistent with what we’ve seen in Acts 2 and the fact that Jesus is raised and exalted to the throne of David, meaning that he is the King over the world. The Davidic King comes to rule Israel but he does so with the mission of opening the gates of Israel so that all nations will come into his kingdom. The commission to go into all nations is tied to both Jesus’ authority as King over all the earth and Jesus’ authoritative mission to expand the kingdom of God to all nations.

This is important because when Jesus tells his followers to go into the world—a place where they have no power and will be persecuted by spiritual enemies and enemies from other religions or from the government itself—how in the world can they accomplish this impossible mission? The reason is because Jesus as King has claimed his sovereignty and rule over all creation, and he sends us into lands that he has authority over. This verse is also important, especially as seen in a parallel verse of Acts 1:8, because they will go into the world and make disciples only because the Spirit is with them. At Pentecost we see that the Spirit is sent by the King as both the proof that the King is reigning and as the power within the kingdom. “In particular, the coming of the promised Spirit at Pentecost is intended to be understood as evidence testifying to how Jesus was raised from the dead (vv.22-28)…Christ has begun to sit on the throne of the end-time kingdom, which he did not do in his ministry, though he was at that time inaugurating the kingdom.”[1]

It is the Spirit who works through the kingdom citizens to announce the gospel news that Jesus is King. It is the Spirit who leads, guides, and protects the citizens. It is the Spirit who uses the Word to convict, reveal, and change people so that the kingdom increases. It is the Spirit who brings glory to the King. The work of the Spirit through believers (citizens of the kingdom) is how Jesus’ exercises and expands his rule on earth.[2] In the gospels the kingdom is among them because the King (Jesus) is standing in their midst. In Acts, the kingdom of God is among us because the Spirit brings the presence of Jesus to us.[3] The Spirit doesn’t replace or take over for Jesus, instead, he is the presence and the power of Jesus is with us. “Jesus ascribes all the power involved in the establishment of the kingdom to the Holy Spirit as its source….If, then, in its very essence the power of the kingdom is the power of the Holy Spirit, it must extend as far as the latter’s operation extends and include the entire liberating, renewing, sanctifying work of grace in the hearts of men.” [4]

Thus, both the ascension and Pentecost are essential to Jesus’ purpose and to the very life and mission of the church because through them the King sends his powerful spirit to the people he is sending to the world. Pentecost is when the church is enlisted into the King’s army and is equipped by the Spirit for what lies ahead.[5] Pentecost is the launching and deploying of the citizens from the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of the world. Our mission isn’t self-imposed, self-governed, or self-generated. We take our orders from the King who rightfully reigns from his throne.

Hopefully you can already see why the ascension is good news in this point. Among the possible implications, we can see from Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 that the ascension assures us that Jesus is the King with authority over all the world, that he is still with us through the Spirit he’s sent, that we’re participating with the King in the mission of the kingdom, and that we’re now to go to all peoples and all nations announcing the good news of an open invitation to the kingdom. The ascension propels us on the mission of bringing glory to Jesus and making disciples. It tells us that we are the empowered messengers, given the powerfully Spirit, sharing a powerful gospel, and serving a powerful King.[6]

Footnotes:
[1] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 239.
[2] “…the gift of the Spirit becomes ‘the key to the ongoing presence and intensification of the salvation/kingdom of God which the disciples, began to experience through Jesus’ ministry.’” Peterson, Acts, 62.
[3] To understand the relationship between the resurrected Jesus and the Spirit, see: Gaffin, Perspectives, 18-20.
[4] Geerhardus Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillips: P&R Publishing, 1980), 313.
[5] I think there is a connection between Pentecost and God’s commission in the Genesis account. At creation God breathed into Adam, his image-bearer and son who was supposed to rule over the earth and fruitfully multiply throughout it. At Jesus’ baptism, there might be a correspondence when the Spirit comes upon Jesus and the Father says this is my Son in whom I’m well pleased (both Adam and Jesus immediately face temptation; however Jesus obeys where Adam sins). At Pentecost, Jesus breathes the Spirit onto his church who is then to go represent the king (image-bearer) and bear fruit throughout the earth. God’s commission to his image-bearer Adam in the garden has thus led to the recommissioning of Christ’s image-bearers (the Church) to go multiply and fill up the earth.
[6] See my blog posts: “The Day of Ascension and the Great Commission” and “Ascension: What’s Jesus up To?”

The Ascended King

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[This is part 7 of 9 in a series on the Kingdom of God in the NT.]

Christ’s Ascension to David’s Throne
The redemptive events in Christ’s life are all tied together and interdependent. We can see this in how resurrection and ascension are so closely linked. The act of resurrection vindicates Jesus and declares victory over sin and death. But, Jesus is also raised from the dead in order to raise him up and exalt him to the heavenly throne. In other words, his resurrection earns the ascension, and the resurrection directly leads to ascension. He could have just gone from the tomb to heaven, but he stays to show himself to his disciples, to teach them, and to demonstrate that we will be physically resurrected people. “The ascension was not the beginning of his heavenly exaltation. It was the ultimate confirmation of the status that had been his from the moment of his resurrection.” [1]

However, not only is the ascension back-ward leaning towards the resurrection but it’s forward leaning to the day of Pentecost. While the ascension is tied to the resurrection as its “ultimate confirmation” and the time at which he actually takes his throne, it is at Pentecost when we see the demonstration that Jesus is now in fact enthroned. We’ll look at this in greater detail next time but it’s important to note here that resurrection is tied to ascension which is tied to the event of Pentecost. None of them stand independently from others although each has its own meaning and significance. Therefore, as we think about Christ’s initial ascension we must keep in mind resurrection as well as Pentecost.[2]

Ascension is tied to the resurrection and to Pentecost as the proof that Jesus is the promised Davidic Messiah and King who has been exalted to the throne of David and is ruling over the Kingdom of God. That’s quite the sentence but it means there are at least three related Kingdom results of the ascension. 1) It proves Jesus really is the Messiah and King. 2) It proves he’s the Davidic King because he’s on the Davidic throne. 3) As the Davidic King reigning from the Davidic throne we are now participants in the Kingdom of God. This exaltation in the ascension isn’t a general crowing of Jesus as King but it’s tied to the promise that the messiah would be the greater Son of David who reigns over the kingdom of God. Some theologies would call Jesus King but fail to acknowledge that he must then have a real kingdom right now.

Declared to be the Son of God in Power
Let’s look at a couple of examples from the NT. Romans 1:3-4 says that Jesus is the descendant of David (the Messiah and King) and he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Why is Jesus now through the resurrection declared to be the Son of God in power? It’s clearly not that he for the first time becomes the Son of God. Rather, he is the Davidic Messiah and King who through his resurrection and ascension to the Davidic throne at God’s right hand is now enthroned in power as King. It is a resurrection-ascension in mind here. As the resurrected and exalted Christ he takes his rightful throne and is appointed or shown to have all power. John Murray writes, “By his resurrection and ascension the Son of God incarnate entered upon a new phase of sovereignty and was endowed with new power correspondent with and unto the exercise of the mediatorial lordship which he executes as head over all things in his body, the church.” [3] In Acts 2:33 we see the same thing as Jesus’ resurrection is tied to his ascension. Thomas Schreiner connects the dots for us.
“At Jesus’ resurrection God ‘made him both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). We know from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was the Christ during his earthly ministry, and therefore this verse does not teach that Jesus ‘became’ Lord and Christ only when raised from the dead. The point of the verse is that Jesus became the exalted Lord and Christ only at his exaltation. He did not reign as Lord and Christ until he was raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand.” [4]
These two texts (Rom. 1:3-4; Acts 2:9-36) are a sample arguing that in the NT, the resurrection-ascension is when Jesus is shown to be the Davidic king because he’s exalted to that throne.

In Acts 2:17-21 Peter explains that the events of Pentecost are a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel that the Messianic King has arrived. It tells us that the last days are tied to the New Covenant age (Jer. 31:34) since all are given the Spirit. Peter then goes on in verses 22-36 to explain that the last days/Messianic era/New Covenant age are here because David’s greater Son and eternal King has come in the person of Jesus the Christ.[5] Peter explains that Jesus is killed by the Jews (his audience) but is raised by God, in accordance with the OT Scriptures. In verses 25-28 he quotes Psalm 16:8-11 to show that the Son of David would be resurrected, which happened when God raised Jesus. God raises up Jesus from the dead—in part—so he might “set one of his [David’s] descendants on his throne,” which again Peter says in 31-36 is fulfilled in Jesus who is both raised up by God and exalted to his right hand, the throne of David (probably alluding to Ps. 132:11).

It should be clear here but let me reemphasize that the text says Jesus is raised to be set on the throne of David (v. 30) and that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God (v.33)—which is the location of the throne of David.[6] He then ties this back into explaining Pentecost because as the exalted Messianic King, Jesus is the one who gives the Holy Spirit. “The use of ‘therefore’ (oun) in verse 33 shows that the pour out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is evidence of the reign of the Lord Jesus from the throne of David.”[7] G.K. Beale agrees and shows us how the strands of ascension, Pentecost, and kingdom weave together.
“The main point is that Jesus’s resurrection and ascension are the beginning of an even more escalated kingship that was commencing in the midst of his ministry. He has now begun to fulfill the messianic prophecy of Ps. 110:1 (cited to indicate fulfillment in Acts 2:34-35). The Spirit is poured out on believers to enable them to witness to this great redemptive-historical accomplishment (Acts 1:8; cf. 1:22; 3:15; 4:33; 13:31)…” [8]

David’s Greater Son
What we’ve seen in Acts is that Peter (and Paul in Acts 13) says the ascension is essential because in it we see Jesus raised and exalted as the King. He’s King because he takes the throne of David (Messianic King) at the right hand of the Father (God’s Son) and thus fulfills the OT promises about the Christ and King. Pentecost is directly tied to this ascension because the giving of the Spirit and the signs related to it prove that the Messianic age (the last days/the age to come) has begun. The coming of the Spirit upon God’s people is the proof that Jesus is who he claimed to be, the Messianic King who brings forgiveness and new life through his death and resurrection. His kingdom is the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom promised to David’s son, although it doesn’t have the earthly, political expectations the Jews had about the kingdom (although that is to come in the future in a sense). Again, quoting David Peterson’s commentary proves very helpful.
“David’s son [Ps. 110] is his superior, and the messianic kingdom is not simply a renewal of David’s earthly dominion. For Jesus, the enthronement of the Messiah at God’s right hand is clearly a transcendental event (cf. Lk. 22:67-69). The apostles of Jesus proclaim his resurrection-ascension as that event. By this means his heavenly rule as the savior-king of his people was inaugurated. Teaching about the resurrection of Jesus is inadequate if it does not incorporate the notions of heavenly exaltation and eternal rule.” [9]

Acts doesn’t seem to be arguing that the enthronement and inauguration of Jesus’ kingdom is something only to come in the future—although a future, earthly installment is still to come—but that Jesus is enthroned to the son of David’s spot at the Father’s right hand and the kingdom has been inaugurated and is active through the power of the Spirit right now. Acts doesn’t present the OT prophecies regarding kingdom as having been postponed but that they are being realized in Jesus as King and proven in the sending of the Spirit to his people. This isn’t to say that the kingdom is here in its fullest sense—since Luke points us to the return of Jesus in judgment and salvation—but it is to say that the kingdom is here already.

Footnotes:
[1] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 115. “One might be able to say that Jesus’s glorification had begun with the resurrection, even though his full glorification at his ascension had not yet happened (or alternatively, the resurrection, at least, was the beginning of a process inextricably linked to the glorification at the ascension).” G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 572.
[2] “Together with these other events Pentecost is part of a single, unified complex of events and is epochal on the order that they are. In their mutual once-for-all significance the one event could not have occurred without the others.” Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1979), 17.
[3] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 11.
[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 292-93.
[5] Paul gives a very similar sermon to the Jews in Acts 13:16-41. See especially verses 29-39 for parallels on how Jesus’ resurrection-ascension demonstrates he is the Davidic Messiah and King, and that through him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed (38). “Paul in his speech draws on Ps. 2:7 to say that God has ‘begotten’ Jesus by raising him from the dead (Acts 13:33). In its historical context the psalm refers to the installation of the Davidic king (Ps. 2:6-7). The installation of the Davidic king is traced to Jesus’ resurrection in Acts, for as the risen one, he also ascended to heaven and sits at God’s right hand (Acts 1:9-11; 2:34-35), and hence he is installed as the messianic king.” Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 292.
[6] “In fact, the two themes of the sermon so far—an explanation of the gift of the Spirit (vv. 16-21) and a proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Messiah (vv. 22-32)—are tied together here. As a sequel to his resurrection, Jesus was ‘exalted to the right hand of God.’ In the ancient world, the right hand was often identified with greatness, strength, goodness, and divinity. From Psalm 110:1 it will shortly be demonstrated that the right hand of God is the proper place for the Messiah (vv. 34-35).” Peterson, Acts, 150. See Appendix 1 at the end for a further defense of why Jesus’ kingdom has to be the Davidic kingdom.
[7] Alan J. Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 50-51.
[8] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 239. “In particular, the coming of the promised Spirit at Pentecost is intended to be understood as evidence testifying to how Jesus was raised from the dead (vv.22-28)….the resurrection fulfills the promise to David ‘to seat one of his descendants upon his throne’ (vv. 30-31). Christ has begun to sit on the throne of the end-time kingdom, which he did not do in his ministry, though he was at that time inaugurating the kingdom.” Ibid.
[9] Peterson, Acts, 152.

Geerhardus Vos’ Fourfold Description of the Kingdom

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[This is part 6 in a series on the Kingdom of God in the NT]

Vos’ Fourfold Description of the Kingdom
The kingdom of God has many layers and aspects to it in the NT. It’s not simply one stream running its own course but it merges into many other tributaries of theology. In the last post we explored how it relates to New Covenant, to the Davidic kingdom, to the New Israel, land, and other important themes in the Bible. One source I found helpful in describing the fundamental aspects of the Kingdom of God is Geerhardus Vos. His fourfold description shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to what we’ve already unpacked but as complementary to it.

First, the kingdom of God is theocentric, meaning it points to the supremacy of God and the centrality of His glory above all else. Thankfully, God’s glory is not opposed to our joy or even our own glory, but it is nevertheless the highest priority of the kingdom.

“The conception is a theocentric conception which must remain unintelligible to every view of the world that magnifies man at the expense of God….The kingdom means the subjection of all temporal affairs, of all ethical activities, of all spiritual experiences to a transcendent life-purpose in God…And because the kingdom is thus centered in God Himself and in His glory, it can be represented by our Lord as the highest object after which men are to strive.” [1]

In monarchical nations, the glory of the King is the glory of the people. So too in the kingdom of God we not only prize Jesus’ glory more than anything else but we see ourselves as sharing in it. This worldview changes or reorients the focus and the authority of our lives. Will it be God or will it be us? Inside the kingdom of God all its inhabitants see everything else in its relationship to how it proclaims and promotes the glory of Jesus.

Second, “It is the sphere in which God manifests His supreme, royal power.”[2] Kingdom is associated with power, prestige, dominance, and strength. Any good King is known partially for his power, grandeur, and strength in a way that parallels his kingdom. The Kingdom of Christ is also a powerful one, which is necessary since Jesus came to step into the octagon with Satan and defeat him through his death, resurrection, and exaltation.

“The kingdom of God is a kingdom of conquest….The foes He thought of as about to be conquered were Satan, sin, and death. It is kingdom against kingdom, but both of these opposing powers belong to a higher world than that to which Rome and her empire belong….While with reference to Satan and his kingdom this power is a destructive and subduing force, it is towards the members of the kingdom a life-giving and life-liberating activity.”[3]

We’ve dealt with this above when clarifying the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus came not to immediately set up a physical kingdom of this world that overthrows the power that be, namely Rome. He came to defeat the greatest foe of God and Man, Satan, and to conquer the chains of sin and death he held us in. The strength of God’s power in defeating Satan and conquering the grave is now the same power working in those in the kingdom. In the NT, the Holy Spirit is the dynamic power of the kingdom of God. When we look at how Pentecost relates to the kingdom of God we’ll see that the Spirit is the one launching us and empowering us as go out on the King’s mission.

Third, it is a kingdom of righteousness. Shortly after teaching the disciples to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10), Jesus identifies the kingdom of God with righteousness and tells us to seek this first. Similarly, Paul tells us “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). “What our Lord means is that the standard, the norm of righteousness, in the kingdom of God lies in God Himself, that not any lower rule abstracted from purely human relations, but the holy nature, the supreme perfection of the Father in heaven is the pattern to which all must conform.”[4] One of the problems with earthly kingdoms is that while some were powerful almost none of them were at the same time characterized by righteousness. Jesus is a true King who is both powerful and righteous, just and merciful, glorious and yet near. This led Vos to an application regarding the kingdom of God we also should remember.

“The underlying principle is that every disposition of righteousness realized by the members of the kingdom, every righteous act performed by them, reproduces what God the King is, so that in the sphere of ethical life, everything will be reduced to terms of God, and He alone reign supreme, not merely by exacting obedience but also in the profounder sense of filling all with the reflected glory of His own holiness.”[5]

Fourth and finally, it is the kingdom of God because “all its blessings are gifts sovereignly and graciously bestowed by God.”[6] The reality in the kingdom we should live in awareness of is that everything we have is a gift of God. God has rescued us from our slavery and rebellion, he’s given us mercy instead of justice, and it’s all been unmerited, unprovoked, and undeserved. Great Kings don’t oppress their people or keep all of their gifts to themselves. Instead, they spread the gifts to the people, share the wealth, and seek the joy of the people. Jesus has done that and more, being not only the King who gives us everything we have but the King who purchased those gifts by his very own blood. As Vos alludes too in the next quote, the greatest of these gifts is himself. Jesus is not a King who avoids the people and merely sends his gifts. He brings his gifts to us and he comes to the homes of lowly citizens so we might know him and be known by him.

“Everything predicated of God as Father may be also predicated of Him as King and considered an integral part of the kingdom. To the kingdom belong all the gifts of grace—the forgiveness of sins, the reception into sonship, the enjoyment of the love of God, the bestowal of life—in short, the entire content of the idea of salvation in its widest range. Especiaily the state of communion with God and of blessedness into which redemption issues is for this reason identified with the kingdom.”[7]

Footnotes:
[1] Geerhardus Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillips: P&R Publishing, 1980), 311.
[2] Ibid., 312.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 314.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 315.

God’s People in God’s Place under God’s Rule

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[This is part 5 of a series on the NT teaching on the Kingdom of God.]

Kingdom: God’s People in God’s Place under God’s Rule
In the prior posts I’ve brought up descriptions here and there (it’s spiritual, it’s powerful, etc.), but overall I’ve not spent much time saying what the kingdom is, or how it’s described. The quote by Ladd already cited is as close as we’ll get to a definition. “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] Definitions of fixed words can be helpful, but when it comes to big concepts, metaphors, and ideas a definition often shrinks the breadth and depth of it. Defining kingdom is simple. It can refer to reign, rule, territory, dominion, etc., and most of us know what “kingdom” conveys. But, it is much more challenging to define something as layered and complex as “the kingdom of God.” Vos says we look in vain to find a definition of the kingdom. The Bible rarely lays out definitions but it does build and develop themes. Our brief survey of “kingdom” in the OT and first-century Judaism helps us see the way it’s used and fleshed out as the story progresses. Jesus speaks into the kingdom from this starting point, “Hence we never find Him defining, but always describing the kingdom.”[2]

Graeme Goldsworthy provided a well-used description in his book Gospel and Kingdom. “There is a king who rules, a people who are ruled, and a sphere where this, rule is recognized as taking place. Put another way, the Kingdom of God involves: (a) God’s people (b) in God’s place (c) under God’s rule.”[3] This classic framework fits for how kingdom is used from the Garden in Genesis 1 to the New Earth in Revelation 21-22. “The entire biblical story…is consistent in its emphasis on the reign of God over his people in the environment he creates for them.”[4] In the kingdom of God as it was fulfilled in Jesus, Goldsworthy says the King is Jesus the Christ, the people is the New Israel (those “in Christ”), the place is the New Temple (where Christ dwells), and the rule is the New Covenant (Christ’s rule).[5]

King (Jesus the Christ)
People (New Israel—those “in Christ”)
Place (New Temple—where Christ dwells)
Rule (New Covenant—Christ’s rule)

We’ve already looked at Jesus’ presenting himself as the King, and how his kingdom is presently active in power with him on the Davidic throne. This will be explored further when we look at Pentecost and Kingdom. Here, we’ll briefly consider People, Place, and Rule as it ties together a description of the Kingdom of God.

God’s People
The People are all those Jews and Gentiles who have repented of sin, put their faith in Jesus, and have been united to Jesus Christ. It is any Christian whose individual identity is a person “in Christ” and whose corporate identity is belonging to the people “in Christ.” This people can be called the New Israel, since they are the offspring of Abraham who receive all the promises of God through Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:29; 6:16; Rom. 2:29; 2 Cor. 1:20). Just in case we think this a Pauline construct, when Jesus told the Jews the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a people producing its fruits, he is telling us who the “People” of the kingdom of God will be under his reign—a New Israel of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Mt. 21:43). This corresponds with what we’ve seen already with Jesus’ understanding and development of Kingdom beyond what the Jews expected. “When we move to the New Testament, the theocracy of Israel is replaced by the kingdom of God, which is inaugurated through the coming of Jesus.”[6] Goldsworthy sees those in Christ as the New Israel in part by showing Jesus comes as the true Adam, the seed of Abraham, the true Israel, and the Son of David. He fulfills these messianic and kingly expectations fully, and in doing so composes the true people of God in him who receive all the promises belonging to the people of God.[7] These citizens are given the great privilege of life with the King and under the King.

In God’s Place
The Place of the kingdom is one of the trickiest parts of the equation to nail down. Without a doubt there is a future, physical consummation on a new Earth where Jesus will reign over his redeemed, resurrected, and restored people…forever. The new earth is the physical land fulfilling a new garden, a new temple, and a new city (similar to how Eden was a garden-temple-city). Almost no one disputes this future aspect of an external, earthly kingdom. The disputed question is where is the Place of the Kingdom in this current stage of Christ’s kingdom? I want to propose that there is a heavenly and earthly aspect of the Kingdom of God, both tied to Christ as the New Temple. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God being near or in their midst because it’s no longer primarily about the location of the physical land but the location of the King (Lk. 11:20; 17:20).

Since the place (location) of the kingdom is tied to the King, we must recognize that the kingdom of God resides with Christ in his heavenly reign. When Jesus says “my kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36) he points us to the heavenly (where God is) residence of the kingdom. Consider the criminal being crucified next to Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus replies, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:42-43). Christ’s kingdom in this verse is tied to the Davidic throne in heaven he knew he was soon to sit upon. In Colossians 3:1, Paul tells us that Christ is seated at the right hand of God—the Davidic throne of the Kingdom of God. Just as Jesus expands our understanding of a new Exodus from merely a physical pilgrimage to deliverance from sin, so also we should not be surprised if he develops our understanding of the place we’re brought into beyond merely a physical land.

Jesus exercises authority and rule over the kingdom from his Temple, so there’s a heavenly location of the kingdom of God. In the OT, Jerusalem or Zion becomes increasingly important as the land where the kingdom of God is manifested (Is. 35:10; 51:11). In large part, this is tied to the location of the Temple, since the Temple is the place where God dwelt with his people and therefore was the heart of Jerusalem.[8] In the NT, Christ is the New Temple (Jn. 1:14; 2:19) and so his reign in heaven is tied it to being a new Zion (Heb. 12:18-29). The author of Hebrews says those in Christ are part of the new covenant people (12:24) and an unshakeable kingdom (12:28). In Christ and in his Kingdom we have been brought to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, and the Mount of Zion (12:22). “Hebrews 12:22 indicates that a Jew comes to Zion by being converted to Christ. Zion is where Jesus reigns now at the right hand of God and this is where we come by faith in the gospel.”[9]

I believe there is also presently an earthly aspect of the kingdom of God tied to the presence of the King. In Jesus’ earthly ministry the kingdom was in their midst because the King was among them. Similarly, since the kingdom is in heaven because that is where Christ is seated, so also we can speak about the kingdom of God being on earthy since Jesus is present through his Spirit. At Pentecost, Jesus sends his Spirit and in the NT where the Spirit is present and active in power he is doing so as the Lord’s Spirit, or as the mediator of the presence and power of King Jesus (2 Cor. 3:17).[10] This is why the Church can be called the temple of God, because Jesus is present among his people through his Spirit. The kingdom of God is also present on this earth wherever the Spirit is moving in the Church. Or, to say it differently, the King—and his Kingdom—is present by his Spirit and through his Church in a real and powerful way. “The NT makes clear that although Christ’s reign is unseen, his inaugurated rule is exercised over the realm of the entire earth (Rev. 1:5; 2:26-27) through his church, which is empowered to begin to rule by his Spirit even on the old earth (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). The book of Acts can be rightly summarized as Christ’s rule through his church on earth, empowered by his Spirit.”[11]

G.K. Beale also brings together temple and kingdom as it relates to the kingdom’s presence on earth here and now. “[Jesus] is also the king of the heavenly temple and has caused it to descend through his Spirit. Hence, Jesus is both sitting on the prophesied Davidic throne, which is the locus of the temple in heaven, and is extending that temple on earth.”[12] This unites the mission of God’s Edenic kingdom to go, multiply, and fill the earth with the glory and image of God (Gen. 1:26-28) to the mission of Christ’s kingdom now filling the earth with God’s glory and image as we make disciples (Mt. 28:18-20; Col. 1:6, 10, 14). The kingdom of God is expanding and growing now through the Spirit working in the Church’s testimony and Word as people become loyal to the King. It also points us to the mission’s future completion on the new earth when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Under God’s Rule
Third, we have the Rule of the kingdom of God. The good news of the gospel of the Kingdom is not only that we find forgiveness in Christ and freedom from slavery to the law but that we are made citizens of Christ’s kingdom. “This is not, in other words, simply about the rescue, or salvation, of God’s people from their present plight. It is about their being rescued in order to be enthroned.”[13] This entails the blessings and the responsibilities of living under Christ’s rule. We are no longer slaves under the law but sons under God (Gal. 4:7). “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Too often we read “kingdom” in the Epistles as if it’s a general notion instead of reading it with the NT theology of Christ’s rule over the Kingdom of God.[14] Being under the rule of Jesus isn’t the harsh reign of tyranny but the gracious reign of a King who shows us what is right, who protects and leads, and who draws near to his people.

Thankfully, for Israel after the exodus and for Christians after redemption in Christ, God does not leave us as refugees but makes us full-fledged citizens of the kingdom. The NT concept of kingdom unites gospel and law. “The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that life with God, under the rule of God, is made immediately available to us through Jesus, our King. He arrives as one who restores, rules, and provides access to God’s kingdom.”[15] God’s rule over us isn’t separated from God’s relationship with us. The God who rescues us makes us His own, and then he promises: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Ex. 6:7; Heb. 8:10). God’s kingdom rule in different epochs (eras) has been carried out through covenant. Richard Gaffin says the covenant “is the constitution or polity of the kingdom.”[16] In Kingdom through Covenant, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum argue that it is “through the biblical covenants that God’s kingdom comes to this world.”[17] In the NT, “It is only through this obedient Son, God the Son incarnate, that we have God’s long-awaited kingdom inaugurated in this world (through the new covenant).”[18]

Everyone in Christ is a part of his kingdom and lives under the “constitution or polity” of the New Covenant. In this New Covenant we have full forgiveness of sins—even to the deepest recesses of our being—and we’re no longer under the law as our master (Heb. 8:12; 10:22). At the same time, we are given the Spirit and he writes on our hearts the law of God so that we can now obey out of delight in God’s law rather than dreading its punishment. The good news of the kingdom is that we live under the rule of Jesus. This rule offers to maximize our joy by nearness to the King and being part of his people, by knowing all our sin and shame is washed away, and by having changed hearts that now love God (Heb. 8:8-12). We give the King our worship, our obedience, and our very lives and he turns us into image-bearers characterized by fruitfulness and holiness. The New Covenant gives us all these things as gifts the King won for the people he loves, not wages the King pays for what we’ve earned.

Footnotes:
[1] George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 89-90.
[2] Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” 311.
[3] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Crownhill: Paternoster Press, 1981), 54-55.
[4] Graeme Goldsworthy, “Kingdom of God,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 620:615-620.
[5] Ibid., Gospel and Kingdom, see Figure 7 on page 121.
[6] T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 89.
[7] See Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 110-12. See also: G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011); Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). Many covenant theologians then ask what promise through covenant was given to national Israel that Jesus has not earned as the true fulfillment of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Temple, Israel, and David? And, if all the promises have been earned by Christ and are given to all those “in him,” why should we conceive of any remaining promises only to national Israel and not the true Israel. One is not required to take this position to agree with what’s said in the body of the paragraph above, but it is a theological question worth asking. See Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 766-772.
[8] “One other important focal point in the locality of God’s kingdom is the Temple. The Temple could function as such a focal point because it represented the dwelling of God among his people. It demonstrated that the promised land was not merely living space for people but was the setting for a relationship between God and man. The Temple was thus integral to the existence of the Kingdom of God and by it the Kingdom could be identified.” Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 114. J.G. Millar sees NT connections of land in the doctrine of adoption for Paul, and in the idea of rest in Hebrews. J.G. Millar, “Land” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 626.
[9] Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 113. In the OT, the Jews looked to restoration to the land to know that God was returning them from exile and shining his favor upon them. However, in the New Covenant Jesus doesn’t take us into physical land as demonstration of our salvation. “Redeemed people do not go to a geographical place to be redeemed; rather, they flee to Christ and God for their salvific restoration.” Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 750.
[10] Acts 1:1 bridges the Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts. It refers to Luke as “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” and leads us to read Acts as all that Jesus continued to do and teach by his Spirit and through his Church.
[11] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 770, fn. 39.
[12] Ibid., 769.
[13] Wright, How God Became King, 193.
[14] For an explanation of why Col. 1:13 is tid to the Davidic Kingdom of 2 Sam. 7:12-16, see: G.K. Beale, “Colossians”, in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 850.
[15] Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper, Faithmapping (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 35.
[16] Gaffin, “Kingdom of God,” 367.
[17] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 591. See also: Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 115-118.
[18] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 595.

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.