Here’s a single question to clarify Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom: Who is the king?
That question has two answers:
- God is king. It’s the kingdom of God.
- Christ is king. God entrusted his kingship on earth to his anointed (Christ).
Our heavenly sovereign doesn’t impose his rule on us; he exercises his reign through us. He designed us to be images of his dominion, for the benefit of all the creatures on earth (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8).
That’s why God promised to restore his reign through humans, through Abraham’s family. When Israel asked for a king, God agreed to have a son of David representing his reign on earth (2 Samuel 7:11-16). God’s reign is through “the Lord and his anointed” (Psalm 2:2).
So Jesus is God’s Anointed (the Christ). But Jesus rarely promoted himself. If we don’t realize that he’s talking about his own kingship, his kingdom teaching can sound cryptic.
The problem is that when he does speak about himself, Jesus is accused of self-promotion:
John 8 12 He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
That’s why Jesus rarely makes the kingship claim. Instead, he demonstrates he is God’s anointed by setting things right, and he expects people to make the connection for themselves:
Matthew 12 22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
The Gospel writers expect us to recognize Jesus’ regal authority. They constantly promote his authority. (See Matthew 7:29; 8:9; 9:6-8; 10:1; 20:25; 21:23-27; 28:18; Mark 1:22, 27; 2:10; 3:15; 6:7; 10:42; 11:28-33; Luke 4:6, 32, 36; 5:24; 7:8; 9:1; 10:19; 12:5, 11; 20:2-8, 20; 22:25; John 2:18; 5:27; 7:26-28; 10:18; 14:20; 17:2).
When you realize it’s about who is king, Jesus’ teaching and kingdom activity comes into sharp focus. The kingdom is there if the king is there:
Luke 17 20 On being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
The kingdom is in their midst because the king is in their midst. Jesus is (as Origen called him) the autobasileia — the kingdom in himself.
The son of man is the human who restores God’s reign. The Christ is God’s anointed ruler. Our Lord is the ruler to whom we give allegiance.
We now refine our definition:
The kingdom of God is: earth as the community under divine governance, through Christ Jesus our Lord (King Jesus our ruler).