What is the “kingdom”?

National Geographic has this very interesting article about kingdoms.

A kingdom is a piece of land that is ruled by a king or a queen. A kingdom is often called a monarchy, which means that one person, usually inheriting their position by birth or marriage, is the leader, or head of state. Kingdoms are one of the earliest types of societies on Earth, dating back thousands of years. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of different kingdoms throughout history. 


The Greek word basileia, which we translate as “kingdom,” appears 162 times the New Testament. 126 of those are in the Gospels, mostly from the mouth of Jesus. When Jesus began his public ministry, he announced it by saying, ““The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!Kingdom was the theme Jesus talked about the most. And it is central to the Lord’s Prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

But what, exactly, is a “kingdom”?

You have to have three things in order to have a kingdom: (1) a ruler, (2) people, and (3) land (or realm). The very idea of kingdom involves the way in which relationships, resources, and power are managed within a society for people to live together. We don’t use the word “kingdom” in our modern, American political context — we reject monarchies — but the principle is still true. A people living in a geographical area under a form of government or rule. The United States is a kingdom even though we don’t use that language nor function under the sovereignty of a single ruler.

But a kingdom very much concerns these three simple pieces. When one is missing, you have a kingdom that is in disarray, collapse, or decline. Across thousands of years, humanity has fought wars over the desire to preserve, claim, or regain one’s kingdom, whether that be land or power.

John Piper argues that kingdom in the Bible is God’s reign — R-E-I-G-N — not realm or people.” I respectfully disagree. It requires all three. You cannot separate the authority of the ruler from the territory or the people over which that authority is intended to govern. And this is the clear message of Scripture, especially the Old Testament. At Mount Sinai, the first words God spoke to the new nation of Israel was to remind them of what he had done to deliver them from Egypt and to declare his intention that they be for him “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” And, of course, this is early in the journey from slavery in Egypt to take possession of Canaan as the Promised Land. The covenant that is central to the Old Testament (and, indeed, the whole Bible) involves the desire of the King of kings to see a group of people act and live in a particular way (like him) in the land he was going to give them. As the prophets pointed out, this people in this land was the model for the rest of humanity, a symbol for God’s design for the whole world.

So a place where God’s people would dwell in his presence is absolutely central to the Bible’s story. In Genesis 2 and 3, the kingdom is centered on the specific geographical region of Eden with Adam and Eve as the divinely formed first couple. In the New Creation in Revelation, the kingdom consists of the whole earth, newly remade, with all nations, tribes, and tongues dwelling in it with Jesus as their king in the flesh dwelling in their midst. This, after the final decisive and ultimate victory over all kingdoms and rulers of this world have at last fallen.

The kingdom of God means “God’s people dwelling in God’s land under God’s rule.
Check out this RSPodcast episode for more on the Bible’s big story and kingdom.

So what exactly is the kingdom? In the Bible’s big story of ultimate reality, the kingdom consists of the three required elements. God’s people dwelling in God’s land under God’s rule. God’s people living in harmonious fellowship with one another, in joyful obedience to God as their king, and in responsible enjoyment of God’s good, physical world in their role as divine image bearers and viceroys over that creation (Psalms 8:6).

The kingdom of God is absolutely God’s reign. But over what? It is not merely the spiritual dominion of our eternal salvation and souls without bodies. Christian faith does not hold, as gnosticism teaches, that the spiritual realm is eternal and good but the physical realm is corrupt and temporary. Instead, God’s creation itself, physical and spiritual, reflect his image and is declared good by its Creator! Thus, God’s kingdom must and does include the fullness of the created world in all of its goodness and potential.

It’s a fallen world and a kingdom being held hostage by human sinfulness and the spiritual forces of Satan. Scripture is clear on that point, that we are engaged in a spiritual battle of good and evil. In one of his more famous and compelling lines, C.S. Lewis wrote:

“Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

And that’s precisely the point of the biblical story: God is taking his kingdom back in its entirety! What does that mean for our lives in every aspect here and now? Well, for one, it means that there is great hope that God can make crooked things straight and give hope where despair once reigned. And the promise comes from both Old and New Testaments that the time will come when that “great campaign of sabotage” will triumph in ultimate victory!

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