Concept of God’s kingly or sovereign rule, encompassing both the realm over which rule is exerted (Matt. 4:8; 24:7; Mark 6:23; Luke 4:5; Rev. 16:10) and the exercise of authority to reign (Luke 19:12; Rev. 17:12, 17–18). The kingdom of God is significant in the nation of Israel, the proclamation of the gospel, and presence of the church. The idea is a point of integration for both Testaments.
Old Testament God rules sovereignly over all His works as King. He desires His rule to be acknowledged in a bond or relationship of love, loyalty, spirit, and trust. Not surprisingly, then, one of the central themes of the OT is kingdom through covenant.
This theme is revealed on the first page of Scripture when God creates man in His own image. According to the grammar of the original text, ruling over the creatures in verse 26b is a result of creating man in the divine image. The fact that mankind is male and female prepares us for the command to be fruitful, and the fact that mankind is the divine image prepares us for the command to rule over the creatures.
The fact that mankind is male and female in itself has nothing to do with the divine image. Instead we should understand the divine image according to the background of the ancient Near East where the setting up of the king’s statue was the equivalent to the proclamation of his domination over the area in which the statue was erected. Accordingly man is set in the midst of creation as God’s statue. He is evidence that God is the Lord of creation. Man exerts his rule not in arbitrary despotism but as a responsible agent, as God’s steward. His rule and his duty to rule are not autonomous; they are copies. Hence the concept of the kingdom of God is found on the first page of the Bible. Adam begins to rule the world under God by naming everything created on the earth just as God ruled by naming everything created in the heavens.
Careful attention must be paid to the language of the promises given to Abraham in Gen. 12 that are later incorporated into the covenant made in Gen. 15. The first promise that God gives to Abram is that He will make him a great nation (12:2). The last promise is that in Abram all the clans or families of the earth will be blessed (12:3). God speaks of Abram as becoming a great nation through three considerations. (1) The term “nation” emphasizes a people as a political entity defined by cultural, ethnic, geographical, or social factors. (2) In 12:3 the nations of the world are not called “nations” but rather “clans” or “families.” The term family emphasizes a people with no real political structure and in which no system of final governmental headship or rule operates. (3) The background to Gen. 12 is chapter 11. There we have the history of Babel, where we see a complete confidence and naive optimism about human achievement and effort. Man is at the center of his world and he can achieve anything. This philosophy comes under divine judgment. By contrast Gen. 12 presents us with a political structure brought into being by God, with God at the center, and God as the governmental head and rule of that system. In other words, we have the kingdom of God brought into being by the promises to and covenant with Abraham (cp. Heb. 11:8–10).
When Abram’s family does become a nation, God initiates with them the Sinai covenant or law of Moses as a means for the people being rightly related to God, to each other as God’s true humanity, and to the creation as His stewards. Therefore, the covenant is the means for establishing His kingdom. The book of Judges proves that although each person did what was right in his own eyes (17:6), nonetheless, the Lord ruled over His people as King. Later God raised up a king after His own heart and made a special covenant with David. The Davidic covenant was God’s king seeking to bring the people of God, and indeed all the nations, under this rule made explicit in the covenant (2 Sam. 7:19). Thus the king was the mediator of the covenant and the means of extending God’s rule.
When the people failed to abide by the covenant, the prophets and the wise men were sent by God to call the people back to the covenant, the terms of God’s rule. Zephaniah, for example, based his warnings on the covenant as found in Deuteronomy (cp. Zeph. 1:2 and Deut. 32:22; Zeph. 1:3 and Deut. 28:21; Zeph. 1:4–6 p 988 and Deut. 28:45; Zeph. 1:8–13 and Deut. 28:45; Zeph. 1:13 and Deut. 28:30, 39; Zeph. 1:15 and Deut. 28:53, 55, 57). Moreover, the literary structure of Zephaniah is chiastic with 2:11 as the center of the book: “The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land” (NIV). Zephaniah’s theology, then, can be summed up by the theme, kingdom through covenant.
Although the prophets sought to bring the people back to the covenant, the Sinai covenant (law of Moses) failed to achieve the goal of establishing God’s kingdom because it did not and, in fact, could not guarantee the obedience of the people of God. Hence the prophets begin to speak of a new covenant (Jer. 31) in which God’s rule is guaranteed by an obedient people. As the failure of the Davidic line of kings became evident in history, the hope for a future king came more and more to the fore along with the promise of a new covenant through which God’s kingship would be acknowledged in the hearts of His people in a new creation—new humanity in a new heavens and a new earth.
The OT ends (in the Hebrew Canon) with Chronicles, a book which focuses on good kings as the ideal of the future Messiah in whom Yahweh will be truly Lord over His people and over all His creation. So the last words of the OT call for a temple-builder from among the people to make this hope a reality—likely the Messiah Himself (2 Chron. 36:23).
New Testament In the NT the fullest revelation of God’s divine rule is in the person of Jesus Christ. His birth was heralded as the birth of a king (Luke 1:32–33). The ministry of John the Baptist prepared for the coming of God’s kingdom (Matt. 3:2). The crucifixion was perceived as the death of a king (Mark 15:26–32).
Jesus preached that God’s kingdom was at hand (Matt. 11:12). His miracles, preaching, forgiving sins, and resurrection are an in-breaking of God’s sovereign rule in this dark, evil age.
God’s kingdom was manifested in the church. Jesus commissioned the making of disciples on the basis of His kingly authority (Matt. 28:18–20). Peter’s sermon at Pentecost underscored that a descendent of David would occupy David’s throne forever, a promise fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:30–32). Believers are transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God (Col. 1:13).
God’s kingdom may be understood in terms of “reign” or “realm.” Reign conveys the fact that God exerts His divine authority over His subjects/kingdom. Realm suggests location, and God’s realm is universal. God’s reign extends over all things. He is universally sovereign over the nations, humankind, the angels, the dominion of darkness and its inhabitants, and even the cosmos, individual believers, and the church.
In the OT the kingdom of God encompasses the past, present, and future. The kingdom of God had implications in the theocratic state. The kingdom of God is “already” present but “not yet” fully completed, both a present and future reality. The kingdom was inaugurated in the incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s kingdom blessings are in some measure possessed now. People presently find and enter God’s kingdom. God is now manifesting His authoritative rule in the lives of His people. God’s kingdom, however, awaits its complete realization. His people still endure sufferings and tribulations. When fully consummated, hardships will cease. Kingdom citizens currently dwell alongside inhabitants of the kingdom of darkness. God will eventually dispel all darkness. The final inheritance of the citizens of God’s kingdom is yet to be fully realized. The resurrection body for life in the eschatological kingdom is a blessing awaiting culmination.
God’s kingdom is soteriological in nature, expressed in the redemption of fallen persons. The reign of Christ instituted the destruction of all evil powers hostile to the will of God. Satan, the “god of this age,” along with his demonic horde, seeks to hold the hearts of individuals captive in darkness. Christ has defeated Satan and the powers of darkness and delivers believers. Although Satan still is active in this present darkness, his ultimate conquest and destruction are assured through Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Sinners enter Christ’s kingdom through regeneration.
Many of Jesus’ parables emphasize the mysterious nature of God’s kingdom. For example, an insignificant mustard seed will grow a tree, as God’s kingdom will grow far beyond its inception (Matt. 13:31–32). The kingdom of God is like seed scattered on the ground. Some seed will fall on good soil, take root, and grow. Other seed, however, will fall on hard, rocky ground and will not grow. Likewise, the kingdom will take root p 989 in the hearts of some but will be rejected and unfruitful in others (Matt. 13:3–8). As wheat and tares grow side by side, indistinguishable from each other, so also the sons of the kingdom of God and the sons of the kingdom of darkness grow together in the world until ultimately separated by God (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43).
Although closely related, the kingdom and the church are distinct. George Eldon Ladd identified four elements in the relationship of the kingdom of God to the church. The kingdom of God creates the church. God’s redemptive rule is manifested over and through the church. The church is a “custodian” of the kingdom. The church also witnesses to God’s divine rule.
The kingdom of God is the work of God, not produced by human ingenuity. God brought it into the world through Christ, and it presently works through the church. The church preaches the kingdom of God and anticipates the eventual consummation. See Jesus Christ; Salvation.
Norman, S. with Gentry Peter. (2003). Kingdom of God. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 987–989). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.