It gradually dawned on me. I’d waded slowly and carefully through the Second Temple literature (Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Josephus) so as to see with their eyes, to gain their worldview. And there it was! The reason Jesus never defined the kingdom of God for his hearers was that it was perfectly obvious to them. It was the story they were living in—their whole story!
It all began when the heavenly sovereign created two realms: the realm where he lives (heaven) and the realm where we live (earth). There was a rebellion against his authority to rule earth when humans grasped the power to decide good and evil rather than submit to his edict. That rebellion introduced conflict and struggle into his earthly realm. People took power over the lives of others: that’s what Cain did with Abel. The result was a tragic spiral into unsustainable violence and anarchy.
That’s just the opening chapters of the story of God’s reign and human resistance. The way our heavenly ruler reasserted his authority over his rebellious realm reveals the amazing character of our sovereign—so radically different from the way human rulers abuse their power and oppress people. It’s a long story—the length of the entire Biblical narrative. It involves people like King David who reigned on behalf of the heavenly king, and King Josiah who was killed by earthly powers. The whole story comes into sharp focus in the person of Jesus, the son of David who was killed by the rebellious powers, and yet shown to be God’s anointed ruler (Christ) by his resurrection. He is Lord—master over everyone and everything. He re-establishes God’s reign. Ultimately every knee will bow to his kingship; every tongue will acknowledge his authority.
Yes, that’s right: the entire Biblical narrative is the plotline of the kingdom of God, the reign of our heavenly sovereign. Everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen on God’s watch is the story of his reign. No wonder Jesus thought the kingdom of God was the core of everything!
God is reigning. He is addressing the rebellion, the abuse of power that should reside with God. Our heavenly king sent his own son not to quash the rebellion but to bring his recalcitrant realm back under his Father’s management. Jesus is the hope of the world. He reconnects everything. He renews everything. Our planet, our life, and our future all reside in him.
As I realized that this is the single plotline of the entire narrative of Scripture, I felt as if I had missed the main story of the Bible all my life. The central story is God’s reign, how he brings his rebellious earthly realm back under his authority. I realized I needed to start all over again and read the Scriptures as the revelation of the most amazing ruler the earth has ever known.
So I did. I went back to the beginning, to read Genesis as the story of the kingdom of God. Care to join me? Next week we’ll begin reading the Bible narrative this way.
What others are saying
John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips (HarperCollins, 2010), 114:
At the heart of the gospel message (in the Old and New Testaments) is the idea of God’s rule as king, in other words, his kingdom. When the first Christians proclaimed this gospel of the kingdom, they were not copying the “gospel” of the Roman kingdom; they were exposing it as a fraud. It was God, not any human king, who ruled over all. This is the central theme of the Christian gospel.…
Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 23:
Therefore, the major theological ideas in the NT gain their fullest meaning within the framework of this overriding plotline thrust of the new creation and kingdom and are but facets of it.