This brief series of posts is not so much a direct critique of DeYoung and Gilbert’s argument in their chapter on the kingdom of God in What’s the Mission of the Church?. While it is the starting point, this post is my attempt to sketch how I define the kingdom. My definition of the kingdom, as I noted in the last post, will inform both my understanding of the gospel and the mission of the church.
Here’s my opinion about the DeYoung and Gilbert’s discussion of the kingdom: as is the case with their view of the mission of the church it is subbiblical. In other words, in their attempt to be more biblical, they are not biblical enough. But this is not a criticism directed at them. Neither of these guys are New Testament scholars; they are pastors—and good ones I imagine. But they have to depend on experts in the field of New Testament studies for the explanation of biblical texts and ideas. Truth is most scholars, even evangelicals, are subbiblical on the question of kingdom; and this is because the godfather of inaugurated eschatology, George Ladd, was subbiblical. We are not being biblical when we separate realm from reign. This dichotomy you will not find in the Bible. I should say, rather, you will find it only if you’re looking for it. Ancient Jews just did not think this way.
DeYoung and Gilbert assert that the phrase “kingdom of God”, ubiquitous in the triple tradition of the gospel (the term “kingdom” is only used twice in John), is not found in the Old Testament. This assertion they likely found among the things they read in the secondary literature on the subject. It is, however, not entirely accurate. In the Old Testament there is actually one verse that uses an equivalent phrase, nearly identical to “kingdom of God”. Additionally, the context in which the phrase is used is extremely important for understanding the meaning of the phrase on Jesus’ lips. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say: the omission of this passage from consideration is devastating to an accurate, biblical definition of kingdom of God. But this is not their fault. Most discussions I’ve ever read of the kingdom of God overlook this passage. If they were depending on others for their understanding of the meaning of kingdom of God, they surely would have missed too.
So what is the passage and where is it found?
1 Chronicles 28:4-5 (NIV)
“Yet the LORD, the God of Israel, chose me from my whole family to be king over Israel forever. He chose Judah as leader, and from the house of Judah he chose my family, and from my father’s sons he was pleased to make me king over all Israel. 5 Of all my sons—and the LORD has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel.
- “the kingdom of the Lord”
- basileias kuriou (LXX, ancient Greek translation)
- malkut yhwh (MT, Hebrew)
This is of course David announcing to “all the officials of Israel” (28:1) his the will of God as it had been shown to him. David is referring to the covenant God made with him as recorded in 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17. I tell my students this every semester: you cannot understand what Jesus meant by kingdom of God if you don’t know about God’s promise to David and its earth-reaching implications. I believe that the Davidic covenant is the most overlooked, yet without doubt most essential, element for one’s understanding of the kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus.
To DeYoung and Gilbert’s credit they at least reference the Davidic covenant in a brief section “The Kingdom of God Is the Reign of the Messiah, Jesus”. But the problem with their interpretation is it has not fully appreciate the significance of 2 Sam7/1 Chron 17 for defining the kingdom of God. In light of the Davidic covenant and seen quite clearly in the above 1 Chronicles passage, God’s kingdom in time and space is David’s kingdom, the kingdom of Israel: “he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel.”
So to be biblical here’s how we should define the kingdom of God:
The “kingdom” is the government of God in the incarnated in Israel’s Davidic Messiah.
I think “government” is a useful synonym for “kingdom”. The kingdom of God is essentially intangible. A government is not a thing; it is not a person; it is not a place. Government is authority, power, ideals. But a government without tangible expression is nonexistent. As Scot McKnight has pointed out recently, a kingdom has a king, land, and people. A government becomes tangible when it elects; when it acts; when it builds; when it fights. A government is made tangible in its citizens, its territory, its ruling class.
Through the progress of the Bible’s story of Israel, God’s government becomes forever and inextricably linked with David and his Son. When John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles reference the kingdom of God, it is this they have in mind. It maybe in some form here now and not yet, but it is nothing less than this Davidic kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, the kingdom of God.