The significance of kingdom in New Testament letters

Jesus built his theology around the kingdom of God. But is that a central theme in the epistles? Even the most basic texts come to life through this lens.

Here’s one we skip over:

Ephesians 1 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus.

Is this just the boring bit about who the letter is from and to? Absolutely not! There’s an authority claim here that could revolutionize our worldview.

The modern Western world restricts God to the religious compartment of life: worship, prayer, church, and personal piety. We don’t conceive of God as someone with political power, so we don’t understand how God is sorting out all the injustices on earth through his anointed ruler (the Christ).

Ephesians 1:1 describes the chain of command from which we derive our identity, our place in what God is doing:
God => Jesus => Paul => us.

  • God is the ultimate sovereign, the rightful ruler of heaven and earth.
  • Jesus is God’s anointed ruler (Christ), appointed by the will of the heavenly sovereign who raised him out of death to the throne.
  • Paul is a commissioned ambassador (apostle) of Jesus’ kingship. Jesus appointed apostles to proclaim and enact his kingship (Matthew 10:2, 7).
  • The recipients are those devoted to God’s holy reign (God’s holy people), those with loyalty to King Jesus (the faithful in Christ Jesus).

Now, you might be wondering, “Why do you see all that in this verse, Allen? Aren’t you reading too much into it?” If so, you’re reading Ephesians in isolation, missing the canonical context that packs these phrases with meaning.

The story begins with God as sovereign, and humans commissioned as his agents (Genesis 1). When the nations reject God’s kingship, God commissions Abraham as his agent (Genesis 12). When Jacob’s descendants are oppressed by evil kingship (Pharaoh), God commissions Israel as the holy people who represent divine kingship to the nations (Exodus 19:6).

But the holy people so misrepresented God’s kingship that he took the kingdom from them, and they found themselves under foreign rule (Ezekiel 34). So God announced he would take the kingdom from the beasts, and give it to one like a Son of Man. (Daniel 7:13-14). The holy people of God receive the kingdom in him:

Daniel 7 18 The holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever. … 27 The sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High.

God is sovereign. His anointed is the Davidic king. God’s holy people are those under his kingship. And Paul finds his identity in this chain of command as ambassador (apostle) of King Jesus.

Confirming this canonical reading, God’s holy people are identified as the faithful in Christ Jesus. As discussed (here and here), the word group for faith (pistis) means both faith and faithfulness. The faithful in Christ are those who place their trust in King Jesus, giving loyalty and allegiance to God’s anointed.

The ultimate evidence that this is a kingdom story is the way the letter unfolds this message:

  • What God has done in the Messiah is what he had always planned to do (1:3-10).
  • If only our eyes could see Jesus’ kingly reign (1:15-23)!
  • In the Messiah’s resurrection, we are released from the reign of of sin and death (2:1-8).
  • God has reunified both streams of humanity, giving Jews and gentiles citizenship in the Messiah, his anointed king (2:14-22).

The whole letter is saturated in divine kingship, the wonderful news of the kingdom of God being reconstituted over all the people of the earth in God’s anointed ruler (in Christ). It’s a call for God’s holy people (those who give fealty to King Jesus), to be the kingdom of God in the present, to live in Christ (in God’s Anointed) every day, for the benefit of his world.

Ephesians 1:1 (interpretative translation)
From Paul, an ambassador of King Jesus, the one anointed to rule the world by God’s design.
To the devoted people who represent his kingship, the kingdom subjects loyal to King Jesus.

The centre of Jesus’ theology (the kingdom of God) gives life to even the most basic texts. Join me in re-reading Scripture (including the epistles) as the revelation of God, our ruler.

Related posts:

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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