RPM, Volume 17, Number 30, July 19 to July 25, 2015

The Kingdom of God

By M. Jeff Brannon, PhD


Any attempt to identify an overarching theology or overarching theological model of the Bible is fraught with difficulty. A number of models have been proposed (e.g. salvation, redemption, creation, grace, covenant, Kingdom, etc.) but difficulties arise when the models are not large enough to encompass the numerous and various Biblical emphases. In my study of Scripture, I have been persuaded that the Kingdom of God represents the overarching theology, or "meta-theology," of the Bible. 1 To be more specific, throughout all of Scripture (and thus throughout all of history), God is working to bring about and to establish his reign throughout the entire earth. The purpose of this article is to provide an introduction to the Kingdom of God and to briefly trace its development in Scripture. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is significant for Biblical interpretation as it makes sense of the various parts of Scripture which often seem unrelated. At the conclusion of the article, I will also offer some thoughts on how the Kingdom of God should shape and impact our Christian lives.

Old Testament Development of the Kingdom of God

The Biblical and theological background for the Kingdom of God is found in Genesis 1. On day six of creation, when God considers the crown of his creative activity, God says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (Gen 1:26). 2 Although there have been numerous proposals for what it means to be made in the image of God, from the context of Genesis 1, to be made in the image of God means that humanity is to rule, to reign, and to have dominion. After creating humanity in his image, God blesses the man and the woman and gives them the command, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen 1:28). This blessing and command, sometimes referred to as the Cultural Mandate, gets at the heart of the Kingdom of God. God, who is the great king, creates humanity in his image to rule alongside and underneath God! Indeed, God gives humanity the wonderful privilege of being his vice-regents. Accordingly, as humanity multiplies (thereby multiplying God's image), fills the earth, and extends its dominion, God's reign also extends throughout the entire earth. This is the wonderful task and privilege of humanity – to extend God's reign throughout the earth by multiplying his image and by bringing the entire creation under the lordship of the great king.

Although Adam and Eve are granted the wonderful task and privilege of being God's vice-regents, they quickly turn away from God and his word when they choose to listen to the serpent and disobey God's command (Gen 3:1-7). This rebellion against the Lord has disastrous consequences for the Cultural Mandate. For the man, labor will be marked by hardship and difficulty (Gen 2:17-19). Similarly, the woman will give birth to children but it will be marked by pain (Gen 2:16). Furthermore, humanity has rebelled against God, and will now forever be split into two camps – one which submits to God and one which submits to the serpent (Gen 3:15). The implication is that, after the fall, the multiplication of humanity throughout the earth does not necessarily extend God's reign throughout the earth. We find a poignant picture of this reality in Genesis 4 where Cain, who is undoubtedly allied with the serpent, refuses to listen to and submit to God, and murders his brother Abel. It is evident that, after the fall, humanity is in need of redemption. The first promise of redemption comes in Gen 3:15 when God promises that, though there will be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the seed of the woman will one day crush the head of the serpent. For our purposes, it is important to note that: 1) it is still humanity's task to extend God's reign throughout the earth 2) there must be redemption in order for humanity to accomplish its God-given purpose and task.

Throughout the remainder of Genesis 1-11, we catch a glimpse of just how heinous Adam's rebellion against God was. In the account of Noah (Genesis 6-9), since only Noah is allied with God, God decides to start over by wiping out humanity. After God spares Noah and his family from the flood, God again gives the Cultural Mandate (Gen 9:7), emphasizing once again humanity's call to extend God's reign throughout the earth. In Genesis 11, we find a similar picture of humanity in rebellion against the Lord at the Tower of Babel. Consequently, for God to bring his Kingdom and redemptive purposes to the world, the sin and rebellion of humanity must be addressed.

In Genesis 12, God takes a significant step in redemptive history when he chooses Abraham and his descendants as his people who will bring his salvation to the world. Genesis 12:1-3 records God's call and promises to Abraham:

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

God's promises to Abraham can be summarized accordingly: 1) a great nation (i.e., many descendants) (see also Gen 15:5; Gen 17:4-7) 2) a land 3) God's blessing of Abraham will lead to the blessing of all the families of the earth. The promises God makes to Abraham share some close correspondences with the Cultural Mandate. First, in Genesis 2, God gives the Garden of Eden as a starting place for Adam and Eve; in Gen 12:1, God also promises to give Abraham and his descendants a land which will serve as a starting place. Second, just as God calls Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, he promises Abraham that he will have many descendants and be a great nation. Third, God's call for Adam and Eve and their descendants to fill and subdue the earth corresponds with God's promise that he would bless all the families of the earth through Abraham. As a result, we find great continuity between God's purposes in creation and his election of Israel as his special people. In both cases, God's purpose is to extend his reign throughout the earth. While Gen 3:15 promises that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, Gen 12:1-3 records God's election of the family that will bring this salvation to the world.

As we continue through redemptive history, by the time we reach Exodus, Abraham and his descendants have grown from a family into a nation. God continues to bless his people by liberating them from their life of slavery and calling them to enter the land of promise. After Israel's miraculous deliverance from Egypt, Moses and Israel celebrate through the worship of the Lord in song (Exod 15:1-18). In Exod 15:11, Moses proclaims that Yahweh is the great God of heaven and is greater than all other gods. Moses recognizes that it is only the great God of heaven (Yahweh) who could redeem his people from their earthly plight. At the end of the song, Moses and the people declare, "The LORD will reign forever and ever" (15:18). Moses' proclamation is significant since this is the first place in Scripture where Yahweh's kingship is explicitly mentioned. The Lord is the great king of heaven and he works on the earth to bring salvation to his people.

In Exodus 15, we learned that Yahweh is the great king in heaven who works to bring salvation to his people on the earth. Genesis 12 clarified that this chosen people of God are Abraham and his descendants – the nation of Israel. In Exodus 19, when God enters into a covenant with the nation of Israel, this is made explicit as the Lord speaks these words to Israel through Moses:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exod 19:4-6)

In these verses, we find explicit references to both the universal kingship of Yahweh and also a narrowly-focused kingship of Yahweh. God makes it clear that the whole earth is his; indeed, there is nothing that is outside of his sovereignty (see also Ps 103:19 and Ps 113:5). However, God also makes it clear that Israel will be special to him. If Israel keeps God's covenant, they will be his treasured possession and a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. 3 Exodus 19:4-6 clarifies that Israel is not only the Lord's chosen people, but also his kingdom on the earth. Consequently, from Exodus 15 and Exodus 19, we see that God is the great king in heaven who brings salvation to Israel, his chosen people on the earth, who also represent his kingdom.

By the time we reach the end of Joshua, Israel has not only grown into a great nation but has also entered the land of promise. We note here the Old Testament fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. 4 Though there is strong leadership under Joshua, which leads to a time of relative prosperity for Israel (Josh 24:31), the time period of the judges is marked by moral confusion, a lack of spiritual and political leadership, and the need for a king. The oft-repeated refrain throughout the book of Judges, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes," concludes the book to emphasize the need for a king (Judg 21:25). Though some scholars have questioned whether it was God's design for Israel to have a human king, many passages 5 in Scripture emphasize that this was God's intention and design all along. Perhaps most convincing is God's promise to Abraham and Sarah that kings would one day come from them (Gen 17:6, 16).

While it was God's design for Israel to have a human king, Israel's request for a king is both premature and for the wrong reasons (1 Sam 8:1-7, 19-22). The result of this lack of faith in God's provision is the appointment of Saul as king over Israel (1 Samuel 9-10). Though Saul experiences some initial military success, God ultimately rejects Saul as king because of his unfaithfulness to the Lord and to the word of God (1 Samuel 15). As a result, the Lord chooses David, a man after God's heart, as king (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). God's appointment of David and David's heart for the Lord lead to God entering into a covenant with David and his descendants. 6 This covenant reveals another significant milestone in redemptive history. In 2 Sam 7:7-16, we read God's covenant promises for David and his descendants:

In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"' Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.

Whereas David desires to build a house for the Lord, God instead declares that he will make David's name great, that he will build David's house, that he will establish David's kingdom, and that David's throne will be established forever. In line with the covenant promises given to David, God continues to bring great blessing to Israel during the early reign of Solomon (1 Kings 3-10); however, as Solomon is unfaithful to the Lord and as his heart turns after other gods, the Lord brings covenant curses upon Solomon and the Kingdom is stripped from him and divided in two – the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

As Biblical history continues to unfold, because of Israel's and Judah's unfaithfulness to the Lord and his covenant, God brings covenant curses upon both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The worst of these curses are exile from the land of promise, the destruction of the Temple, and the removal of the Davidic king from the throne. Even in the midst of these disastrous covenant curses, the hope for Israel and Judah is always centered on a restored kingdom which would be ushered in by the Lord's anointed one – the Messiah. In line with the covenant promises of 2 Samuel 7, the prophets of Israel and Judah also understood that this great end times Messiah would come from the line of David and would usher in an unprecedented and glorious age for the Kingdom of God. 7 By the time of the prophet Daniel, the hopes for restoration and for the eschatological Kingdom of God have been pushed off into the distant future until four kingdoms have ruled over God's people (Dan 2:24-45; Dan 7:1-14).

New Testament Vision of the Kingdom of God

In the New Testament, we find an unexpected development in redemptive history and the Kingdom of God. What is so surprising is that the Kingdom of God does not come in all of its fullness at one time. Indeed, the New Testament emphasizes that the Kingdom of God is both present and future, that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated at Christ's first coming, grows and develops through the proclamation of the gospel, and comes to final fulfillment at Christ's second coming. Some Bible scholars have referred to these present and future elements of the New Testament kingdom as the "already" and the "not yet" (the kingdom has "already" arrived at Christ's first coming but the kingdom has "not yet" reached its final fulfillment). For our purposes, I will outline the New Testament vision of the Kingdom of God in three stages: 1) Christ's first coming, represented in his life, death, and resurrection (Inauguration) 2) the entire time period between Christ's first and second coming (Continuation) 3) Christ's second coming (Consummation). 8

New Testament Kingdom of God – Inauguration

In Mark 1:15, Jesus says, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." When Matthew gives his summaries of Jesus' earthly ministry, he writes that Jesus taught, healed disease and sickness, cast out demons, and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 4:23-25; Matt 9:35-38). Such passages reveal an explicit connection between the "gospel" or "good news" and the Kingdom of God and no doubt represent the fulfillment of Old Testament promises and prophecies such as Isa 52:7 ("How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'"). Similarly, in Luke 4:14-21, near the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus stands up in the synagogue and reads Isa 61:1-2, an eschatological passage about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and astoundingly proclaims, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." The New Testament emphasizes that the promised eschatological Kingdom of God has been inaugurated and is present in Christ's first coming, represented by his life, death, and resurrection.

While the passages above reveal a connection between Jesus' ministry and the arrival of the Kingdom of God, we would be remiss if we neglected the connection between the kingdom and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 1 Cor 15:1-8, Paul reminds his readers of the gospel that he preached to them when he writes, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…." (1 Cor 15:3-5). In this passage, we find a clear connection between the gospel (recall the connection between the good news and the arrival of the Kingdom of God) and Christ's death and resurrection. As we noted above, after the fall, for humanity to accomplish its God-given purpose, there had to be redemption. As Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15, Christ's death atones for sin (15:3) and his resurrection destroys death so that those who are united to Christ in faith might be resurrected with him (15:12-58). Thus Christ's death and resurrection are essential to the gospel and to the good news of the Kingdom of God because, by defeating sin and death, Christ makes it possible for believers be a part of his Kingdom and to fulfill their God-given purpose of extending God's reign throughout the earth.

New Testament Kingdom of God – Continuation

While the New Testament makes it clear that the Kingdom of God is present at Jesus' first coming, Jesus also teaches that the kingdom has not yet come in all of its fullness. In fact, Jesus describes the kingdom as a mustard seed which becomes a large tree, so that the birds of the air can nest in its branches (Matt 13:31-32). 9 While the kingdom starts small, it grows and becomes a large and even worldwide Kingdom. In fact, Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18-20) is his call to his followers to actively play a role in the growth and extension of the kingdom. Acts 1:6-8 makes this connection even more explicit. After his resurrection, when pressed by his disciples if Jesus is now going to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), Jesus answers, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:7-8). Note the connection Jesus makes between the final restoration of the kingdom and the responsibility of the disciples. The disciples are not to worry about dates or this sort of thing but, in the power of the Holy Spirit, should focus their efforts on being Christ's witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. The work which the apostles began in Acts continues today as the church proclaims the gospel and as believers are witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth.

New Testament Kingdom of God – Consummation

The New Testament also clarifies that there is a future fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In Matt 26:29, Jesus says, "I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." The future fulfillment of the kingdom that Jesus refers to is the wedding feast of the Lamb with his people after his second coming. Revelation 11:15 provides further clarification of this glorious future for the Kingdom of God and reads, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." Indeed, this is what all of redemptive history has been moving toward – the extension of God's reign throughout the entire earth! Finally, in Revelation 21-22, we read of a new heaven and new earth where God's reign is complete and comprehensive. God promises that he will dwell with his people and will make all things new. With Christ's second coming and the new heaven and new earth, we have reached the end of redemptive history. What God began in Genesis 1, he has worked to bring to completion – the reign of God throughout the entire earth!

The Kingdom of God: Implications

In our survey of redemptive history, we have seen that from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, God is working to establish and extend his reign throughout the entire earth. If this is the meta-theology of the Bible, we should reflect upon and consider some implications of the Kingdom of God for our relationships with Jesus Christ. First, the Biblical view of salvation is large and comprehensive. Yes, salvation is forgiveness from sins and being declared righteous before God, but salvation is also reigning with Christ in the new heaven and new earth. Believers will have new and glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15) and will for all eternity bring glory to God by fulfilling their God-given purpose. Second, because the Biblical view of salvation is so wonderful and comprehensive, we have a full and rich gospel to proclaim to the world. The gospel is about forgiveness from sin, reconciliation with God, adoption into God's family, a new heart, reigning with God forever, fulfilling the purpose for which we were created, and life in God's kingdom where all things are made new and there is no more sin, death, injustice, or pain. This gospel is rich, comprehensive, and wonderful enough to meet the needs of all people in a broken and lost world. Third, because of their wonderful and glorious future, Christians can sacrifice in this life, knowing that they will receive God's great inheritance in the life to come. The call of the gospel is to follow Christ's call to take up our crosses and follow him, and to lose our lives so that we can save them (Mark 8:34-38), because our light and momentary troubles are nothing in comparison with our eternal glory (2 Cor 4:17).

M. Jeff Brannon, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, Belhaven University


  1. Vaughan Roberts has similarly referred to the Kingdom of God as the "big picture" or the "storyline" of the Bible, God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012). The Kingdom of God as the overarching theology of the Bible is not novel but has received more attention in recent years. For what follows in this paper, I am particularly indebted to Richard Pratt and his courses from Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL, especially his Hermeneutics Course (Spring 2002). Of course, I take responsibility for the discussion which follows. For a more thorough introduction to the Kingdom of God, see Vaughan Roberts, God's Big Picture.
  2. All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
  3. Emphasis mine.
  4. As for the final promise, that Abraham would be a blessing to all the nations, we need look no further than the deliverance of Rahab and her family, and their conversion to Israel (Josh 2, 6), for an Old Testament fulfillment.
  5. See e.g., Gen 17:6; Gen 17:16; Gen 40:10; Num 24:7; Num 24:17-19; Deut 17:14-20; Judg 21:25.
  6. Although 2 Sam 7 does not use the term "covenant," other places in Scripture clarify that this was indeed a covenant between the Lord and David and his descendants; see e.g. Ps 89 and Ps 132.
  7. See e.g. Isa 9:7; Ezek 37:24-25; Jer 30:9; Jer 33:14-26; Hos 3:5.
  8. The terms "Inauguration," "Continuation," and "Consummation" are from Richard Pratt's Hermeneutics course at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Spring 2002, although it is common language to speak of the Kingdom as "inaugurated" at Christ's first coming and "consummated" at Christ's second coming.
  9. The birds which nest in the branches of the tree are a reference to the Gentiles, or the nations of the world, which also join in the Kingdom of God.
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