The Kingdom of God
by Prof. David J. Engelsma
2. The Kingdom of the Rule of God
“Who … hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Col. 1:13)
The basic idea of the kingdom is the rule of Godthe living, actual, liberating, saving, blessed rule of God in Jesus Christ. We may think of it this way. The whole world lies enslaved to the reign of Satan. Into this world breaks the reign of God, freeing many from the misery, terror, sin, death, and hell of the dark lord, translating them into the knowledge, righteousness, peace, and life of His reign. This is what Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of His ministry: The rule of God is at hand! This is the explanation, why the gospel is called the gospel of the kingdom: the content is the rule of God in Christ.
It is a mistake to understand the kingdom exclusively, or even mainly, in terms of a realm, or in terms of citizens. The kingdom of God is certainly a realm, a territory, just as the United States is a certain land-mass with clearly defined boundaries. Jesus spoke in John 3:5 of entering the kingdom. The church has the keys of the kingdom, giving entrance into the realm to some and barring others from it. This realm is the church, including the godly lives of her members in every sphere of earthly life.
The kingdom of God has citizens, just as every earthly nation has citizens. These are the elect out of all earthly nations and races. In the day of the final judgment, the Son of Man on His throne will say to the sheep on His right hand, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). These persons show themselves citizens by obeying God the king: They believe the gospel, and submit to the laws of the kingdom.
The citizens of the kingdom include the childrenthe infant childrenof elect believers. It is a grievous error on the part of Reformed ministers and churches to minimize the seriousness of the Baptist heresy. Indeed, this error will prove fatal to the Reformed faith in these churches. Reformed ministers are guilty of this error. They cooperate freely with Baptists in public religious activities. They refuse sharply to condemn the Baptist exclusion from the covenant and church of God of many for whom Christ died and to whom the Spirit of Christ is promised (see Heid. Cat., Q. 74). In flat contradiction of their own creed, which declares that the Reformed faith detests the error of the Baptists, they write openly that the issue of infant baptism is not of fundamental importance (see Bel. Conf., Art. 34).
The inclusion of the children of believers in the kingdom of God, by infant baptism, is an essential truth of the kingdom. It is a truth that must be vigorously defended and promoted wherever the Reformed faith makes its distinctive witness. It is a truth that is fundamental to the oneness of the kingdom of God in the Old and New Testaments. It is a truth that is fundamental to the rejection of the miserable corruption of the kingdom by dispensationalism.
Concerning infant children (and this is what they were according to the Greek word that is used in the passage), Jesus said, “of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:17). As regards its citizens, the kingdom of God is made up of such infant children. Mark 10:14 tells us that Jesus was indignant with His disciples for attempting to exclude the infant children from Jesus’ kingdom. What earthly king would not be irate at the attempt by some underling to strip a substantial number of his people of their citizenship and banish them from his realm?
In addition to being a realm and having citizens, the kingdom of God provides benefits. The kingdom can be identified with these benefits, just as one might have said in the early days of World War II, that England was liberty in the midst of the tyranny of a Europe overrun by Nazi Germany. Paul identifies the kingdom of God with its wonderful blessings in Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
Important as realm, citizens, and benefits are as aspects of the kingdom, they are not the main thing. The main thing is the rule of God. First and central in the kingdom of God is the king. The kingdom of God is simply God the king and His kingship.
We modern Westerners have a hard time grasping this, familiar as we are with democracy and unfamiliar as we are with real monarchs. An Englishman during the reign of King Henry VIII would have had no problem understanding. Recent history, however, has shown us something of the primacy and centrality of the “leader” in his kingdom. The mighty kingdom of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was the creation of Adolf Hitlerthe extension of his powerful will. Hitler dominated that kingdom. It existed for him. That was certainly true of the great empires of Old Testament times. Babylon was simply Nebuchadnezzar enlarged. This will be the case also with the coming kingdom of Antichrist.
What is true of earthly kingdomsthe centrality of the ruleris originally and supremely true of the kingdom of God in Christ. It is the kingdom of God because God establishes, maintains, and perfects the kingdom. He conceived and planned it in His decree. He founded it in the cross of the incarnate Son. He builds it by the preaching of the gospel in all the world in the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. He brings every one who is a citizen according to eternal election into the kingdom by the sovereign wonder of regeneration: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Having regenerated, He sanctifies every citizen to live the life of the kingdom and preserves him to the glory of the perfection of the kingdom. He will perfect the kingdom in the Day of Christ, raising the dead and renewing the entire creation of heaven and earth.
God, God only, is the creator, the origin, of the kingdom. The kingdom comes from Him, not from man. The kingdom, therefore, depends upon Godupon God only.
In part, this is the meaning of the description of the kingdom as the “kingdom of heaven." When Jesus said to Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world ... my kingdom [is] not from hence,” He was saying something about the origin of His kingdom. His kingdomthe kingdom of Godis not from this world; it does not have its origin in this world. Implied, positively, is that Jesus’ kingdom originates in heaven; it comes from God.
The kingdom is the kingdom of God also because it is for God, has its ultimate goal in His glory, and is about Him. The kingdom of God is God-centered. How Christ and the apostles proclaim this! We think at once of the conclusion of the model prayer in Matthew 6: “For thine is the kingdom.” The Heidelberg Catechism explains: “... and all this we pray for, that thereby not we, but Thy holy name may be glorified forever” (Q. 128). Describing the perfection of the kingdom, when Christ shall have put all enemies under His feet, the apostle declares that then God will be all in all (I Cor. 15:28).
The kingdom is for the sake of God in these respects. First, the message, or gospel, of the kingdom is all about God, is a God-centered message. This is the content of the gospel in Scripture. This was the content of the gospel preached by the Reformation. This is still the content of the gospel proclaimed by the true church. How much is this true in the preaching and teaching of evangelical and even Reformed churches today?
Second, in the kingdom God’s will governs the life and behavior of the citizens. God’s law governs our personal lives: regarding church membership; regarding dating and marriage; regarding life in the family; regarding business and labor; regarding civil government; regarding eating and drinking.
God’s law also governs the life of the instituted church: regarding worship; regarding doctrine; regarding discipline; regarding offices; regarding denominational connections.
Third, in the kingdom our will, pleasures, friendships, families, and very lives are so subject to the king, that we are called to sacrifice them to God’s glory when this may be necessary. The kingdom is the kingdom of God. The king does not exist for the citizens, but we citizens exist for the king. When professing Christians, facing some personal suffering or loss, whine, “Christ would never require such hardship and pain of me,” they show that they do not know the kingdom as the kingdom of God.
What all this truth about thekingdom of God comes down to is the grand testimony of the Reformed faith, that salvation is by sovereign grace alone to the glory of God only. The message of the kingdom of God is nothing other than the gospel of sovereign grace. God saves His elect by regenerating grace, apart from any worth of theirs, any faith or decision of theirs, any acceptance of an offer that distinguishes them from others whom He is supposed to love also. God preserves His elect, regenerated people. God so rules His own by the sanctifying Spirit that they yield to His lordship, obeying His law in every sphere of life and gladly suffering the loss of all for His sake. God builds His church.
That God is God in Jesus Christ is not some queer, parochial, and even sectarian message of a small Reformed denomination in North America, but the very gospel that Jesus came preaching and that He Himself still preaches by a faithful church and her ministry.
By this criterion must every proposed “kingdom of God” be tested. Is God central in the kingdom? Is He all in all?
Where now is this kingdom of God, this rule of God in Jesus Christ?
It is in heaven, according to Philippians 3:20, where Christ the king is, at God’s right hand.
It is also in the world. It is wherever Christ the king is. Since Christ Jesus is present in the preaching of the gospel and in the administration of the sacraments, wherever the gospel is preached and the sacraments administered, there is the kingdom of Godthe blessed, saving, God-glorifying rule of God. We ought to press into it, as Jesus taught in Luke 16:16. We do this by believing in Him, the king.
By the gospel and the sacraments the rule of God, which liberates sinners, is established in the heart and life of every one who has been born again by the Spirit.
The institutional form of the kingdom is the church. The relation of the kingdom and the church will be the subject of following editorials.
Are we in the kingdom? Has God translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son?
He has, if we see it, if we live its life, if we find in ourselves some zeal for glorifying God the king.
What a privilege! Let us be thankful.
What a blessing! It is salvation.
What a calling! Our life must be our seeking the kingdom first.
What a hope! We will reign with Christ forever in the new world.