A couple of people have commented that they’re hearing the same thing no matter which text I’m talking about. Is it time to move on to something different?
What I’m trying to show is that the kingdom of God is not one topic among many. Jesus was right to build his theology with the kingdom of God at the centre.
God’s kingship over the earth is the core narrative of the Scriptures:
- Creation is structured on the relationship between heaven and earth, with Israel established as a prototype of divine rule for the nations (the Torah).
- Israel’s sovereign warned his people not to stray from him, calling them back to his governance (the Prophets).
- God’s people value his reign and yearn for its restoration (the Writings).
You can build a Biblical Theology around other themes, such as covenant or salvation. These are recurring motifs of great value, but for Jesus they were not the hub.
Covenants in the Ancient Near East were legal documents. Rulers regularly established covenants with their people, but we have no other examples of gods making covenants with their people. The covenants in Scripture enact God’s kingship, so covenant theology is a subset of kingdom-of-God theology.
Salvation language is also part of a bigger narrative, namely God’s sovereign faithfulness in rescuing his creation from oppression under evil, restoring it into his care and governance. The exodus is the prototypical salvation event, so Exodus verbs reverberate with the salvation motif: God saves, rescues, liberates, frees, emancipates, delivers, redeems his people. But the goal of salvation is not independence; it is serving YHWH rather than Pharaoh. At Sinai, they meet their sovereign who instructs them in his law. Accepting his covenant defines them as his nation, governed by his law. They build a throne for their king (“enthroned between the cherubim”), holy space for the glorious sovereign who now leads them. Salvation isn’t the goal; salvation moves them towards the goal — life under God’s reign.
It may sound radical, even prideful, to claim any one framework as the overarching one. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m claiming too much.
What I set out to do was to re-read Scripture through Jesus’ lens, where the kingdom of God is the story that finds fulfilment in its king. After 9 years, I’m more excited than ever about where this is going.
The kingdom of God feels like the 3D framework where everything has meaning. God’s kingship gives shape and significance to a world that would otherwise be formless and void.
Why does it matter?
Recognizing Jesus as the God-appointed leader of humanity (the Christ) restores us as the community under his kingship (the kingdom). That identity defines who we are and what we do. We exist to embody his reign, servants empowered to ensure everyone is cared for as the king intends.
If we don’t understand our calling to be the communal expression of his kingship, we might end up doing something completely different.
What others are saying
Martin J. Selman, “The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament” in Tyndale Bulletin 40:2 (1989): 161-162:
While there seems little doubt that the kingdom of God is the central tenet of Jesus’ teaching, in the Old Testament the role of the kingdom is much more problematic. …
Understandably, it has had a large place in some Old Testament theologies, though mainly those of a former generation. Even for Eichrodt, the centrality he attached to the notion of covenant did not obscure the significance of the kingdom of God. Indeed, Old Testament covenant was for him almost the equivalent of the New Testament kingdom of God. The major failing of these larger enterprises, however, is that they are only loosely based on the actual occurrences of the terms, ‘king, kingdom, kingship’ in the Old Testament. Although John Bright, for example, rightly wished to avoid artificially transposing New Testament ideas of the kingdom of God into the Old Testament, his understanding of the term still ‘involves the whole notion of the rule of God’. A more promising recent attempt to provide securer textual support for this approach, however, has concluded that references to Yahweh’s kingship ‘come from all segments of the canon and from all eras of Israel’s history’. The kingdom of God may therefore be regarded as a comprehensive Old Testament scheme, and the teaching of Jesus as a genuine and natural development of it.
For all its attractiveness, however, this approach has not proved widely convincing.