Kings and kingdoms is stuff of books, movies, fairy tales, history, and foreign lands. The reality and experience in the United States is that of presidents and elections in a republic. The reality and experience of ancient Israel and the world of the Roman Empire which the early church knew was kings and kingdoms. Therefore this is the language used in a significant and central metaphor in Scripture to reveal God’s relationship to creation, to humankind, and to his people.
As Creator, God by right is king over his creation. The rule, power, and sovereignty over creation are God’s. “In principle the entire universe constitutes the realm over which God exercises kingship.” All of creation is his kingdom. However, “God has given humans the privilege and responsibility of acknowledging his rule,” of yielding themselves to God in faith and obedience. What happened? What continues to happen? Humankind rejected and continues to reject the kingship of the Creator. So the earth has become home to a rebellion. One who has no right to kingship, no right to rule, appears to rule as humankind chooses to reject God and to follow this illegitimate ruler, Satan.
The story of Scripture is the story of God’s love for his creation. It is the story of God’s love for his kingdom. Scripture reveals God working to transform hearts and bring people to faith in him. God’s purpose is to cause people to acknowledgement of God, to willingly submit to his kingship. His desire is to bring people out of rebellion into his kingdom.
The focus of this story is Jesus Christ. Jesus came testifying to the claim of God’s kingship. Jesus embodied the kingdom of God. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus demonstrate God’s claim to kingship. God exalted Christ to God’s right hand as King and Lord over all. In Christ God’s kingship, his kingdom, is proclaimed. Through Christ, through his gospel, people are called to forsake the false ruler, Satan, to throw off the chains of servitude to him. We are called to confess Jesus as Lord, acknowledging God as real, as true, as alive, and as the rule, power, and sovereignty over creation, and over our lives. With that confession and the yielding of heart, mind, spirit, and body to Christ, God by his grace brings believers into his kingdom to live under his rule, power, and sovereignty. (The quotes and the direction of this and the above paragraphs are from Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 475-6.)
“[God the Father] has delivered us [who have placed faith in Jesus Christ] from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
“And from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us [Christians] and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:5-6).
Being God’s people and the body of Christ, Christians are in the kingdom of God and of Christ. The church can rightly be identified as the kingdom of God, as the kingdom of Christ. Not that the church is the whole of the kingdom. The kingship of Christ, his rule, his power, his sovereignty, his kingdom is over all creation. The apostle Paul speaks of the great and immeasurable power of God “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:20-22).
Within this broad concept of the kingdom of Christ and of God, there is the earthly manifestation of his kingdom, the realm of people over which he rules. Those people are those who have confessed Christ as Lord. They have yielded their lives in faith and obedience to the kingship of Christ and of God. These are the people of God, the body of Christ, the church. Christ has freed them from their sins and made them a kingdom of his God and Father. God, the Father, has delivered them from the domain of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated the false ruler, the leader of those in rebellion. Jesus now reigns at the right hand of God, above all rule, authority, power, and dominion. Satan, however, will fight until the very last, even through he knows he has lost. The people of God find themselves still living in the midst of a world in rebellion against God. In the midst of this darkness the body of Christ is that people who have accepted the true king, the almighty God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is the people who live in loyalty to the kingship of Christ, who have become by the grace of God the kingdom of Christ and of God. In the darkness which still envelops humankind and God’s creation, the people of God are an outpost of Christ’s kingdom of light. Christians are “a chosen race…a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). As God’s chosen, as God’s holy nation or kingdom, the purpose of God’s people is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
I close Part One with a lengthy quote from Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (476)–
“Although the kingdom is here, this presence is partial and not yet consummated. For this reason there remains a future, eschatological aspect of the kingdom. One day all persons will acknowledge the lordship of Jesus (Phil. 2:10-11). Likewise one day the principles of God’s kingdom will be universally actualized in the new human society that God will inaugurate. At that time, what is God’s by right (de jure) will also be true in the fact (de facto). The entire universe will be the realm of God’s rule.
“In short, the kingdom of God is both present and future. On the one hand, the divine reign is related to Christ’s first advent. It is a reality that people can enter (Mark 9:47; Matt. 21:31-32), for it is the kingly power of God. Hence, the kingdom is a ‘sphere of existence’ in which people are called to live. It is an incorporation into God’s powerful invasion of our world. As such it consists in doing the will of God (Matt. 6:10; 7:21-23), and it demands a radical decision (13:44-46). To enter the kingdom means to participate in ‘the already inaugurated explosion of God’s power into the world,’…
“On the other hand, the consummation of the divine reign awaits the glory surrounding Christ’s second advent. One day all creation will be brought into conformity with the divine intent. Only then will the kingdoms of this world truly become the kingdom of God and God’s will truly be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).