The themes of God’s kingship and the eastern kingdom run throughout Scripture. God’s kingdom is a favorite motif of the psalmists and prophets, and was an especially comforting symbol to the Israelites who struggle under unjust and oppressive kings throughout history. In a general sense God is King over all creation because he made all things: “LORD of Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned the angels. You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the world. You made heaven and earth” (2 Kings 19:15). Elsewhere we read, “Greatness power, splendor, glory, and majesty are yours, LORD, because everything in heaven and on earth is yours. The kingdom is yours, LORD, and you are honored as head of all things” (1 Chron, 29:11). More specifically, God is King over Israel. In fact, that is the reason it was problem when Israel sought an earthly king: “You told me, ‘No, a king should rule over us,’ though the LORD your God was your king” (1 Sam 12:12). Earthly kings ruled over Israel as symbols of the true King who would bring his eternal kingdom to earth. After the coming of Christ, God’s rule extends to all nations (Rev 15:3-4) rather than being restricted to Israel alone.
A KINGDOM THAT DEFIES EXPECTATIONS
When Jesus came on the scene, it was clear that the Israelites were expecting an earthly, political Messiah to rule over them (Luke 2:25, 38). Jesus made clear that his kingdom is not political. “The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, ‘People can’t observe the coming of the kingdom of God. They can’t say, “Here it is! or “There it is!” You see, the kingdom of God is within you'” (Luke 17:20-21). By this he meant that the kingdom was within their grasp, present in the ministry of Christ, Paul echoed this idea when he told the Romans that “God’s kingdom does not consist of what a person eats or drinks. Rather, God’s kingdom consists of God’s approval and peace, as well as the joy that the Holy Spirit gives” (Rom 14:17). It does not consist of external rules or political power, but of true power that comes from God working within each person.
A KINGDOM THAT IS NEAR
Jesus’ arrival on earth ushered in the beginning of the fulfillment of his kingdom, He declared repeatedly that he fulfilled the law and that the kingdom was near (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9). But in one sense it is not completely fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is still in some ways symbolic until the second coming of Christ when it reaches its full effect. The imagery Jesus used to describe his coming kingdom is full of violent terms, indicating that conflict between good and evil is ongoing: “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people have been seizing it” (Matt 11:12).
The kingdom of God, though near and accessible to all, must be entered into intentionally, through a conscious and sincere decision. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 illustrate this beautifully. Those who wish to enter into the kingdom must do so through repentance (Matt 21:28-32), and those who are part of the kingdom yield the fruit of changed hearts (Matt 21:43). At the same time, the kingdom of God is said to be inherited (1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21). In this way it is a symbol that illustrates the mysterious cooperation between human agency and divine predestination.
IMAGES FOR THE KINGDOM
The kingdom of God is represented by various images that illustrate further truths about it. It is a place of festive abundance, a time of feasting rather than fasting (Matt 22, 25; Mark 2 Luke 14). It is also an exclusive place, one that welcomes some and rejects others (Matt 18:23-35; 25). Most of all it is a thing of extreme value, compared to a treasure in field (Matt 13:44) and a pearl of great worth (Matt 13:45-46).
The kingdom of God is an image that reminds us of salvation history. It started with the nation of Israel alone and then expanded to included people from every nation. This ongoing revelation of salvation began with the inferior earthly kings who pointed out our need for a Messiah and continued with the unfolding promise of a Messiah. The story entered a new phase with Christ’s first coming and sacrificial death and will culminate in the full flowering of the heaven and new earth at his second coming. Through all of these acts of God, we eagerly await the final day when “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will rule as king forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). What a glorious day that will be, when we can rest in a time of eternal peace under the rule of a holy and loving king.