How do you wrap your head around a topic as big as the kingdom? Here’s a great summary from New Zealand scholar, Mark Keown.
The first volume of his Discovering the New Testament surveys the Gospels and Acts. The rest of the book (pages 417–548) then pulls the whole story together as the kingdom of God.
I’m taking a break this week. I think you’ll enjoy this sample from Mark Keown:
To many thinkers, the kingdom is one of the key ways of understanding the whole Bible story. The creation account is the account of the establishment of a world completely submitted to the reign of God. Humanity is created in God’s image, which in the ancient Near East had royal significance, with rulers considered the sons of the gods or their representatives (cf. 2 Sam 7:13–16; Ps 2:7). As such, “Mankind is appointed as God’s royal representatives (i.e., sonship) to rule the earth in his place.” However, at the fall (Gen 3), due to human disobedience, the authority of God was usurped by Satan and sinful humanity, and evil and sin entered God’s creation. Thus, humanity opted for another king and, while God remained King, his realm was violated, and a new ruler emerged.
The story of Israel is the story of God as King calling to himself a people and walking with them. The treaty at Sinai between God and Israel (Exod 20) was a treaty whereby God saved Israel and was established as her King, the law giving the terms of the covenant. The story continues with Israel falling in and out of relationship with God, a cycle of obedience and disobedience. The monarchy was in many ways a rejection of God as King, and it accelerated the idolatry of the nation as it opted for other gods and rejected the one true God. The call of the prophets was a call to honor God as King. They foretold his coming to establish his reign and to restore his world.
The coming of Christ is the decisive moment culminating God’s redemption and Israel’s story. Jesus came as Messiah (anointed King) to take back God’s world from those who usurped his kingdom and so establish the reign of God. Jesus came to call a people to himself, to save them through his death and resurrection, and then to work in and through them for the restoration of God’s world. This work is being done by the Spirit through God’s people amid a world still broken with the enemies of God working against him and his purposes. Ultimately, Christ will return when the work of God through his people is complete to his satisfaction, and all will be well.
The mission of the kingdom then is a great mission of the restoration of the whole cosmos. As N. T. Wright puts it: “The world is God’s great project. Just as a bride and bridegroom plan their wedding day, and work to make it perfect, God is working at bringing his world to perfection and doing what is necessary to make it complete.” This may be termed the “Great Cosmission” of God in which God is on a mission to transform his cosmos, removing evil’s taint, so that goodness, love, and shalom are established.
At the heart of this glorious project, or Great Cosmission, is the transformation of the apex of creation—humanity—restored to right relationship with the King so that it will be the Imago Dei as God intended it to be. Evangelism, personal conversion, transformation, and discipleship are at the center of the kingdom (the Great Commission). Yet, the mission will always be greater than these central concerns. Those who heed the call of the King and experience conversion and transformation are thrust out into every part of God’s world, whether it be politics, justice, education, health, economics, sport, the arts, science, or business, and seek to reflect God’s ideals and be transforming agents in these spheres. There is nothing in life that stands outside the notion of the kingdom and the work of the King. Central to this, too, is local gatherings of Christians—the church. Each church in its local community is to embody the faith and ethic of the kingdom and bring Christ to the people among whom they are established.
— Mark J. Keown, Discovering the New Testament: An Introduction to Its Background, Theology, and Themes: The Gospels & Acts, volume I (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 434–435.
Do you like his wordplay on the Great Cosmission? Everything finds its meaning in God’s mission to restore the cosmos, including us, the servants of the King.