The Kingdom of God
by Prof. David J. Engelsma
1. The Kingdom of God’s Dear Son
“Who … hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Col. 1:13)
The kingdom of God is not as well known among us as are the covenant of God and the church of God. It does not receive as much attention in the teaching as do the covenant and the church. This is a weakness, for the kingdom is of central importance in the revelation of Holy Scripture.
If the kingdom of God is seen, not as something different from the covenant but as the distinct form of the covenant, the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Ridderbos was right when he said that the kingdom of God is “the central theme of the whole New Testament revelation of God” (The Coming of the Kingdom). Mark tells us that Jesus began His ministry “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14, 15). Everyone knows that Jesus’ favorite form of preaching was the parable, and the parables set forth the kingdom of God. In explanation of this form of teaching, Jesus Himself described the content of the parables as “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11). Usually, the parable is introduced by the words, “The kingdom is like unto….” In Luke 4:43, Jesus said that preaching “the kingdom of God” was the very purpose of His ministry. This was His mission: “Therefore am I sent.”
The importance of the kingdom of God, especially in these last days, is plain from the book of Revelation. The theme of the book is the victory of the kingdom of God and its king in the great war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the dragon.
As Jesus indicated in Mark 1 when He said that the coming of the kingdom fulfilled the time, the kingdom of God was also central in the Old Testament. At the heart of the Old Testament was the history of Israel, which was the kingdom of God. At the very center of that heart was the coming of Messiah the king.
The biblical truth of the kingdom of God is also of great interest to us because of the controversies that swirl about it. The Roman Catholic Church identifies the kingdom of God with its own papal organization. Liberal Protestantism makes the kingdom of God the peaceful, prosperous condition of society that results from carrying out Jesus’ teaching on love and brotherhood. The World Council of Churches and similar agencies are striving for the kingdom of God, which for them is a world of united nations; the absence of war, poverty, disease, and discrimination; and the enjoyment of earthly well-being.
For many fundamentalists and evangelicals all over the world, the kingdom of God is a future Jewish nation in Palestine that will be ruled by Jesus and that will continue for 1000 years. These are the premillennial dispensationalists. This view of the kingdom is very influential among religious people. Today it makes inroads into the secular world, at least in the United States. The last few months books in a series called “Left Behind” are high on the New York Times bestseller list. These books are the fictionalized and popularized presentation of the doctrinal notion that the kingdom of God is to be a restored nation of Israel.
Closer to home, certain Reformed and Presbyterian theologians teach the kingdom of God as mainly a worldwide earthly rule of all nations by the church in the future before the second coming of Christ.
We may not overlook that the kingdom of God has practical significance for us. We are citizens of the kingdom of God according to the apostle in Colossians 1:13. Implied are our blessedness and our calling.
By the kingdom of God in this and following editorials we have in mind God’s reign by Jesus Christ in distinction from God’s rule over all things by His almighty power. The kingdom of God that is central in the gospel of the Scriptures is God’s reign of grace by the Spirit and Word of the incarnate, crucified, and risen Son of God. This is proved from Jesus’ announcement at the beginning of His ministry, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). The kingdom was then near to be established. God’s sovereign rule of all as Creator, of course, was always a reality.
That the kingdom of God is God’s reign of grace in Christ is also proved by the second petition of the model prayer: “Thy kingdom come.” The coming of the kingdom implies a progressive realization of the kingdom of God. One day in the future, as the Heidelberg Catechism explains in Lord’s Day 48, “the full perfection of [God’s] kingdom [will] take place.” This cannot be said of God’s almighty rule over all by His power. God’s rule of power does not come, but is. But it is true of God’s gracious reign in Jesus Christ that it comes.
The kingdom of God is the same as the kingdom of Christ. Sometimes the New Testament speaks of the kingdom of God; at other times it speaks of the kingdom of Christ. One and the same kingdom is in view. Kingdom of God emphasizes that the triune God conceived and established this kingdom and that the kingdom exists for His sake. Kingdom of Christ brings out that God conceived and established this kingdom in Jesus Christ and that Christ governs this kingdom on God’s behalf, as the servant of God.
Since some deny that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ are identical, explaining them as two different kingdoms, and since this results in serious error about the kingdom of God, the identity should be demonstrated. In Colossians 1:13 the apostle tells us that we have been translated into “the kingdom of God’s dear Son,” that is, the kingdom of Christ. In I Thessalonians 2:12 the same apostle tells us that God has called us unto “his kingdom,” that is, the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God’s dear Son and the kingdom of God are one and the same. Ephesians 5:5 calls the kingdom by both names: “the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
The kingdom of God, therefore, is the Messianic kingdom of salvation and glory. In his commentary on the second petition of the model prayer, Herman Hoeksema describes it as “the commonwealth in which God is King, in which He is known and acknowledged, loved and freely obeyed, by willing subjects as the only Sovereign of all, whose Word is law, written in the hearts of all the citizens of the kingdom” (The Triple Knowledge, vol. 3, p. 518). It is the kingdom typified and prophesied in the Old Testament by the nation of Israel, especially in connection with the kingships of David and Solomon. It is the kingdom established as a reality in the world by the incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ and extended throughout the world by the preaching of the gospel, first by the apostles and then by a church faithful to the great commission.
The kingdom of God brings deliverance from the tyranny and death of sin and bestows righteousness and eternal life. To be in the kingdom is to enjoy God, whereas to be outside the kingdom is to perish under His wrath. According to Colossians 1:12, 13, when God translated, or transferred, us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, He blessed us in two wonderful ways. He rescued us from the power of darkness, and He made us partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.
Revelation 22:15 represents the final state of the damned as exclusion from the city, which is the “full perfection of the kingdom of God” spoken of by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 48. Outside the kingdom will be dogs, sorcerers, whoremongers, murderers, idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.
The kingdom of God will be the kingdom of Jesus Christ forever. It is a mistake to suppose that the kingdom of Christ will end with the second coming of the Lord Jesus, when He has perfected the kingdom of God His Father. Some make this mistake on the basis of a faulty understanding of I Corinthians 15:24-28. Verse 25 teaches that Christ must reign “till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Verse 24 teaches that when Christ has finally put all enemies under His feet, He will deliver up the kingdom to God the Father. Some explain the passage as teaching that this will be the end of the Messianic kingdom. Christ will no longer be king. Kingship over the perfected kingdom of God in the entire renewed creation will be exercised directly by the triune God.
But the Bible elsewhere clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is an everlasting king and that the kingdom of Christthe Messianic kingdomis everlasting. According to Daniel 7:14, the kingdom that is given to the Son of Man by the Ancient of Days is “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Revelation 22:1, 3, which pictures the kingdom of God which Jesus Christ has established, defended, and perfected, unmistakably speaks of the “throne of God and of the Lamb.” Correctly, Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism calls Jesus “our eternal king.”
In I Corinthians 15, the apostle does not teach that Christ will one day cease being the king of the kingdom of God under God His Father. But he teaches that the goal of Christ’s reign is the subduing of all His enemies. When He accomplishes this at His second coming and when at the same time He perfects the kingdom in all the new world, He will, in a solemn ceremony, present the kingdom to God as the accomplishment of the work that God gave Him to do. Under God and on behalf of God, Christ will continue to reign over the kingdom forever.
This honors Christ and delights us, as William Symington states at the end of his fine defense of the everlasting kingship of Christ against the mistaken interpretation of I Corinthians 15:24-28:
“It cannot but be honouring to Christ to regard him as reigning for ever and ever; and it cannot but be pleasing, beyond all description, to his saints to think that they are never to lose sight of him as their King, never to cease to be his subjects, never but to yield him their grateful heartfelt homage. It cannot but rejoice them to know that they are to be ever under his rule, and that, even after they are taken to glory, they shall continue to behold him as the Lamb in the midst of the throne for ever and ever. What a prospect! How should it excite us to prepare for its being realized! Happy they who, having submitted themselves to him in time as King of saints, shall be eternally under his sway as King of glory!” (Messiah the Prince, p. 348).
- The Kingdom of God’s Dear Son
- The Kingdom of the Rule of God
- The Kingdom is not Carnal
- The Kingdom is Spiritual
- The Kingdom is the Church
- The Church as Kingdom
- The Kingdom in the Lives of the Citizens