When John the Baptizer and Jesus Christ began proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15), what were they talking about? What was the crowd’s frame of reference for the “kingdom of heaven?” These are often difficult questions to answer. A (diminishing) number of scholars believe that the “good news of the kingdom” referred to the literal fulfillment of the promises in the Old Testament. However, many theologians hold that Jesus in fact redefined the nature of the kingdom during His ministry. I’d like to examine the nature of the Old Testament Theocratic Kingdom, and its development in New Testament revelation.
DEFINING THE TERMS
The kingdom is a central theme running throughout the entirety of Scripture, and one that is in fact very closely related to the Gospel itself. As such, it is paramount that we seek to understand this important doctrine. Before any discussion of the nature of “the gospel of the kingdom” is entered, it is always helpful to define the terms. A kingdom is usually understood to be a country or territory ruled by a king or queen (obviously). However, many Christians have redefined what a kingdom is to allow for the word to be applied to the spiritual reign of God over all individual believers — some even suggesting that it is a crippling misunderstanding to look forward to a literal, earthly reign of Christ. Alva McClain, the founding president of Grace Theological Seminary and College, disagrees that the term kingdom can be applied in this way (the spiritual reign over our hearts) at all, arguing that a king is not truly a king without a real kingdom in which to reign.
McClain says that the term and concept of kingdom cannot be applied to “a bare divine sovereignty.” McClain argues that in order for a kingdom to be present, a minimum of three components must necessarily be present.
- There must be a monarch who has authority; a kingdom is not a kingdom with no king.
- There must be a realm in which subjects are ruled—the king has no real authority unless he is exercising that authority over someone.
- There must be a real exercise of authority—“a function of rulership.”
The king is, of course, the most significant and primary aspect of the idea of a kingdom. However, a kingdom does not exist in the truest and complete sense without all three of these components being in place — “the ruler, the realm, and the reigning function,” and all three of these aspects are fully present in the Old Testament understanding of the prophetic kingdom.
So the question then is, are all of these present in the prophetically promised kingdom? What about the kingdom promised in the good news, or gospel, of the kingdom?
Did Jesus legitimately offer the kingdom that was anticipated by the Jews, or did Jesus redefine the kingdom? This is the issue we will explore in the following few posts. In our next post, we will look at a very brief overview of the Old Testament teachings on the features of the kingdom.
In the meantime, enjoy some on-topic Rend Collective (with some needed discernment of course)!