007 – The Not-so-Magic Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 7
Series: Journey Through the Old Testament
Let me back up and talk a little bit more about Kingdom. While Genesis chapters 1 and 2 do not explicitly refer to God’s creation as a Kingdom, it does use kingly language. Dominion, subdue, and fill –this is royal language and certainly the ancient culture of the day would have understood it that way.
And by the way, our modern language: we still use these same kinds of terms in that context of kingly rule over a place in people. We have monarchies and kings and queens as political entities here. Today, you think of Queen Elizabeth and the British Commonwealth.
As we’ve said, Act 1 of the Bible’s big story is creation. And we recognize that the Kingdom of God is being birthed at this point. In our next episode, we’re going to begin delving into Genesis Chapter 3 and the Fall. But before we do that, let me bring this conversation about the theme of Kingdom to a clearer starting point.
Here is a simple exercise. Think about stories. Think about the great stories that we love that we tell our kids that we grew up hearing. In the stories and how many of them involve royal courts, a prince or princesses, knights, things like that. We love stories like that. Fairy tales are full of them and just look at how many movies Disney has built around that theme.
The very idea of Kingdom — it involves the way in which relationships, resources and power are managed within a society in order for people to live together. And so when you talk about a Kingdom, what do you have to have if you’re going to have a Kingdom? Well, there are three basic things you have to have. At the very least, what’s first? What’s the first thing you have to have?
I asked this question in school chapel one time and a little 1st grade girl loudly piped up and said, “A queen!”
I busted out laughing. I said, “You’re probably absolutely right, but I might not ought to comment on that!”
Well, queen or whatever it may be, the first thing you have to have is a ruler. Somebody or somebodies must govern. Second, you have to have people. And the third thing, by any definition, is land. The concept of a Kingdom very much concerns these three simple pieces: ruler, people, and land or realm.
We can get more sophisticated with this definition. For example, when you talk about a ruler, you’re automatically now into conversations about different forms of government. What are options there? You’re talking about a system of law, and what those laws are, where they come from. How are they enforced? How are they interpreted? Who decides, as in the case of judges and systems like that? When you talk about a people, you’re talking about culture. You’re talking about language. You’re talking about values, social values; you’re talking about the resources that are used and involved in things like trade, communication, education. All of that centers around people.
And if you talk about land now, you’re talking about the place that these people inhabit. And that gets you into questions like real estate and property and possession and defense and transactions of trading these different things back and forth. What happens when you need to expand and have more room for people to live? What happens when that land is being used the wrong way? How do you make that land more productive in order to take better care of people?
These are all kingdom questions and there you have the whole basis of the discipline of government or economics or politics. But at its heart you have to have three things: ruler, people, and land. Now we can substitute other words for “kingdom” in our modern Western context — nation, society, whatever it may be, state — but we’re going to continue just using “kingdom” because of the biblical narrative.
And when one of these three fundamental pieces is missing, you have a Kingdom that is in decline, disarray, or collapse. For thousands of years, humanity has fought wars over the desire to preserve, claim, or regain one’s kingdom, whether that be because of land or simply power. In literature, some of the best stories that we can think of involve that conflict of reclaiming or restoring the lost kingdom. Sometimes those stories involve laying claim to somebody else’s kingdom.
OK, so you must have a ruler and you must have people and you must have land. And that’s exactly what we have going on here in Genesis 1 and 2. The ruler, who is the eternal, pre-existing creator God, creates the world. That’s the land he inhabits it with his people, Adam and Eve. And then he establishes his rule over it with them. This is a Kingdom. In Genesis 1 and 2, God has set up and established his Kingdom.
I’m a visual thinker and I like to see pictures and images, so I found it very helpful to get a good simple picture in my head that captures this whole picture of creation and what is going on with God in his world. And I’ve been taking so much time, by the way, to get us to this point, because this understanding of Kingdom is foundational for everything that comes after this in the rest of the biblical story. If we don’t understand what God intended to create, the question about what happened to it and the question about what he’s going to do to redeem it doesn’t quite fit together fully or doesn’t quite make sense to us.
Remember that the Bible essential plot is about creation, fall and redemption. The narrative of creation means that the matter of redemption and salvation is much richer and much more comprehensive than just the matter of our spiritual salvation from hell or our standing before God regarding atonement for our sin. Now, hell and atonement percent are unquestionably a part of all of this, but the picture itself is vastly greater.
In my view, I have found that generally as Protestants, we’re maybe not very good at understanding this part about creation itself when it comes to redemption. We have generally taken the world and split it into two pieces. It’s this old, sacred, secular divide. And if you could take an honest poll, most Protestant Christians at least probably would embrace some version of this idea of the sacred secular dividing of the world.
A divided worldview means that the secular world consists of physical matter and it’s the world here and now. This physical material world. That’s the realm of science and facts. It’s the objective public space. The sacred realm, on the other hand, that’s the realm of spirit, not matter in that spiritual realm is where faith and belief and religion all belong. That space over there is the private. That’s the personal, that’s subjective. And many people, including many Christians, assume this division of the world to be true, that’s just the way it is.
And so, believers will often then naturally conclude the spiritual realm is the more important one. That’s the one that God ultimately inhabits, right? Because he’s spirit. If that’s the case, then that must be the one that God is most concerned with by the end. And that leads to the view that the matters of salvation and redemption are primarily about the personal and the spiritual, not the social and material.
Well, of course, a materialist a secularist would hold just the opposite view that it’s the material world that matters. This is the world of fact and science. This is what counts the most. The spiritual realm? We can’t even prove that it exists. It’s irrelevant, it’s inconsequential. Keep it to yourself. Keep it private.
Although today you have people like Richard Dawkins, what we’d call neo-atheists who are arguing with great influence that even wanting to talk about even in private ways the existence of a spiritual realm is destructive to the well-being of society at large. And so our modern world, going back to the Middle Ages, that’s where we can see this all happening. It’s split the world in half and most of us think in these terms to some degree or the other without even being aware of it.
Here’s the thing. The Bible doesn’t let us do that. The Bible puts the world together because of God’s way of creating the world. It is spirit and matter. It’s both dimensions. It’s both realms unified as one good creation. And we have to get our head around that as we move forward.
Now back to this picture. I’ve got this diagram drawn out where you can see it. I’m going to describe it here for you, but you may find it more helpful if you go online to the episode page on the website and there you can download or take a look at this diagram. So what you have to do is go online to rspodcast.org and click on the episode 7 link right there.
I want you to picture a simple equilateral triangle with the peak at the top of the page. At each corner is a word, 3 words, three corners. And the words are Presence, People, Place. So at the top of the triangle, write presence. This is God’s presence. As King, God himself dwells in and is active in his creation. On the next corner, right people God made a community, Adam and Eve, in order to express his image as a relational being. He himself is a community: one God existing in three persons. Now that concept of the Trinity is one that we will get into in later episodes, but we see it right here in Genesis chapter 1.
On the remaining corner, write Place. God made a beautiful, good physical space for his people to inhabit and to use and to grow as his image bearers. We’ve talked about that already. But this is the Garden of Eden. God with Adam and Eve. It’s in perfect harmony together in a good world for them to use and enjoy with him.
This is the biblical vision of creation. And we can say it this way to further explain our triangle. Remember the three words: Presence, People, Place? God’s people in obedient fellowship with him, living in Perfect Fellowship with one another, and then in responsible enjoyment together of his world, his physical world.
And these adjectives they matter greatly. Obedient fellowship with God: that fellowship is contingent upon our worship. We talked about this previous episode. Perfect fellowship or we could say, harmonious fellowship with one another as we cooperate and bring unique things to the shared task of work. Like we talked about in the last episode, this has to do with the complementary design that God made between man and woman; that we work together and that we all bring something unique and meaningful and necessary to the shared task of his work. And then finally, responsible enjoyment of his world. Creation is there for us to enjoy but also to use in a way that makes it bigger and better. We are caretakers and stewards of it.
So, I would argue, and many biblical scholars would argue that this is a great way to summarize Kingdom created, creation itself. This is what God had in mind. In his heart was to let it all flow from here and just get bigger and bigger and bigger and better.
But here’s why I stress this and talk and give you this diagram. We’re going to be able to use this picture of the triangle at every major sequence and at every major narrative plot point from here through the Book of Revelation, the whole story. And it’s this triangle as the story unfolds. It’s this triangle that will help really explain in much greater detail God’s redemptive work in his broken world. And his triangle is present from beginning to end in the narrative of scripture. At each major step in the journey, God is slowly expanding, magnifying this redemption of his people, his rule over the world, and ultimately the reality of his presence in that world. And the further into the biblical story we go, more specific we get as we move closer and closer.
For example, to Jesus and the church. These three things — Presence, People, Place — they keep showing up in different ways and in more particular ways, but the picture of the triangle always applies. Let me illustrate this. We started here in Genesis 2, but what can we say about the Kingdom with this triangle if we jump way ahead? So let’s go to the Gospels. What does God’s presence look like after the incarnation? He is present in flesh. God is an actual flesh and blood person. So, his presence inhabits a body.
Well, who are God’s people there in the gospels? Well, those who follow Jesus, the disciples, others that listen to him, the poor, those in need of miracles, those that respond to his teaching. How about the place there? It’s not abstract, but it’s actually very geographically specific. Nazareth, Galilee Judea, Jerusalem, Israel, right. God’s work at redeeming creation at this part of the story is very particular in concrete, but we’re in a different place than the Garden of Eden. We have different people than Adam and Eve and God’s presence looks different than it does in Genesis 1 and 2.
What if we go to the book of Acts? What does the presence of God look like there after Pentecost? God is obviously present in a fuller way because of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He now inhabits all the people. Well, who are those people of God after Pentecost? Believers all around the world, right? And not just ethnic Jews. But all those who had believed the many who were there from all over, gathered in Jerusalem, and then the people are beginning to spread when they go back to their homes at different parts of the world.
So what’s the place? Well, take a look at Acts 1:8. Jesus tells us this. He says to his followers there, “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will have power and you will be witnesses to me, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth.” Earth, that’s a geographical expansion, a city to a region to a larger region and then, really, globally all across civilization. So what’s the place that’s in view in the book of acts and the rest of the New Testament at this point? The entire world, all of civilization.
So this is Act 1, the creation of the Kingdom of God. As God’s image bearers, we were made for four purposes: dominion, work, relationship, and worship. And the picture we have is of God’s people living an obedient fellowship with him in harmonious fellowship with one another and in responsible enjoyment of God world. And the vision of that Kingdom is to grow from two people to many nations. From one garden to where the entire globe — and maybe even beyond — has become itself a garden that way.
And guess what we find at the end of the story? And here’s a spoiler alert! This is exactly what has happened. In the new creation, the world is an internal garden. And it too has trees of life. Look at Revelation 22:1. And that garden, that is the whole globe, is filled with every tribe, in every tongue, in every nation. And there in the midst, Jesus, in the flesh, ruling as their dwelling, perfect, good king.
And then Jesus says to John in the vision, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and to the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. And those who are victorious will inherit all this. And I will be their God, and they will be my children.”
In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, it is just getting started. God made us to have dominion, to engage in beautiful life-giving, culture-expanding work. And to do it in fellowship together with God and others like us. What is the Kingdom of God? God’s people dwelling in God’s presence under his rule as we use and enjoy God’s place, his world together for his glory. This is the Kingdom of God. What a gift to us.