So what does “kingdom of God” mean?

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.

  • daren redekopp

    Thanks for this, Joel. I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with it. This idea that kingdom is linked with David makes the whole concept feel more concrete.

  • daren redekopp

    Thanks for this, Joel. I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with it. This idea that kingdom is linked with David makes the whole concept feel more concrete.

  • nb

    Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations may be of help to you. His is an ethical account that attempts to deal with the whole canon. I think you are right on–a failure to appreciate the witness of the OT likely lurks behind many atrophied definitions of kingdom.

  • nb

    Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations may be of help to you. His is an ethical account that attempts to deal with the whole canon. I think you are right on–a failure to appreciate the witness of the OT likely lurks behind many atrophied definitions of kingdom.

  • Dan Hanlon

    Also, possibly, Obadiah 21

  • Dan Hanlon

    Also, possibly, Obadiah 21

  • Andrew Cowan

    “A government is not a thing; it is not a person; it is not a place. Government is authority, power, ideals.”

    I know that in the next sentence you say that government does not exist without tangible expression, but what is the difference between kingdom of God = government of God (not thing/person/place) and kingdom of God = reign/rule of God (not realm)? I haven’t read the D-G book, but advocates of the “reign” view do not generally think that the reign is without any tangible expression.

    Please don’t read this as a hostile question (I’m not trying to advocate for Ladd’s definition); I’m just not sure what distinction you intend to draw by using “government” over against “reign” since reigning is what governments do.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Andrew. I don’t have a problem with the intangible element of the kingdom advocated. What I’m arguing for is the inextricable relationship between realm and reign. D & G expressly disconnect the two. This is unbiblical in my view because the tangible expression of God’s government
      is the Davidic kingdom, the kingdom of Israel. It’s the government of God in the FORM of the Davidic kingdom. Does that make sense. So I’m quite comfortable with this statement in the book:

      “The church acts as a sort of embassy for the government of the King. It is an outpost of the kingdom of God surrounded by the kingdom of darkness. And just as the embassy of a nation is meant, at least in part, to showcase the life of that nation to the surrounding people, so the church is meant to manifest the life of the kingdom of God to the world around it” (127).

      I’ve used this very analogy myself. I extend the analogy a bit further however, in a direction which I don’t think they’d be happy with. The imagined embassy sets on geography, a geography which then becomes essential to its identity and its “manifestation of the life of the kingdom”. This of course is only a “foretaste” (as some one commenter has liked better) of the full realization in the future.

      Simply put, if you define kingdom with out both realm and reign, you end up with a church mission that is idealistic – pure idealism. If however you view the kingdom as the realm and reign of the Davidic messiah invading the present evil age, then you have not only the government of God in theory, but in reality.

  • Andrew Cowan

    “A government is not a thing; it is not a person; it is not a place. Government is authority, power, ideals.”

    I know that in the next sentence you say that government does not exist without tangible expression, but what is the difference between kingdom of God = government of God (not thing/person/place) and kingdom of God = reign/rule of God (not realm)? I haven’t read the D-G book, but advocates of the “reign” view do not generally think that the reign is without any tangible expression.

    Please don’t read this as a hostile question (I’m not trying to advocate for Ladd’s definition); I’m just not sure what distinction you intend to draw by using “government” over against “reign” since reigning is what governments do.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Andrew. I don’t have a problem with the intangible element of the kingdom advocated. What I’m arguing for is the inextricable relationship between realm and reign. D & G expressly disconnect the two. This is unbiblical in my view because the tangible expression of God’s government
      is the Davidic kingdom, the kingdom of Israel. It’s the government of God in the FORM of the Davidic kingdom. Does that make sense. So I’m quite comfortable with this statement in the book:

      “The church acts as a sort of embassy for the government of the King. It is an outpost of the kingdom of God surrounded by the kingdom of darkness. And just as the embassy of a nation is meant, at least in part, to showcase the life of that nation to the surrounding people, so the church is meant to manifest the life of the kingdom of God to the world around it” (127).

      I’ve used this very analogy myself. I extend the analogy a bit further however, in a direction which I don’t think they’d be happy with. The imagined embassy sets on geography, a geography which then becomes essential to its identity and its “manifestation of the life of the kingdom”. This of course is only a “foretaste” (as some one commenter has liked better) of the full realization in the future.

      Simply put, if you define kingdom with out both realm and reign, you end up with a church mission that is idealistic – pure idealism. If however you view the kingdom as the realm and reign of the Davidic messiah invading the present evil age, then you have not only the government of God in theory, but in reality.

      • CarolJean

        I’m not following your distinction of realm and reign. Are you saying that in the current age the church is the realm of the kingdom of God in which the Messiah reigns? And then to extend or increase the kingdom would be an addition of souls to the church?

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  • Pastordnelson

    I think you meant I Chronicles 28:4-5, instead of II Chronciles

    • Anonymous

      Thanks and fixed!

  • Pastordnelson

    I think you meant I Chronicles 28:4-5, instead of II Chronciles

    • Anonymous

      Thanks and fixed!

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  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston

    You also have “kingdom of the LORD” in 2 Chron 13:8 and similar phrases in 1 Chron 17:14, 29:11, and many other passages in the OT (e.g. Ps. 22:29; Dan 2:44; 4:3; 6:26; 7:14, 18, 27; Obad 21). Moreover, the concept of God ruling as King over creation is quite widespread (e.g. 2 Kings 19:15; Isa 6:5; Jer 46:18; Pss. 29:10; 99:1-4, et al.). Most of all, Jesus’ announcement that “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom is at hand” (Mk 1:15) assumes that it’s been anticipated.

    But even if the phrase “kingdom of God” is used relatively infrequent in the OT, the concept of God’s rule over creation breaking into history through Israel (and then the Messiah) is ubiquitous. Many would see it as the main theme of Gen 1-2, which finds fulfillment in Rev 21-22.

    To say that the theme/phrase/idea of the “kingdom of God” is not in the OT (or at most a subsidiary theme) is a bad argument.

    Moreover, I really think more attention needs to be given to the primacy of concept over the actual phrase. For instance, the word “hospitality” doesn’t occur in the OT, but we still see hospitality all over the place. The word “regeneration” is very rare even in the NT (used two times; once of humans and once of creation [Titus 3 and Matt 19 respectively]), but we’d all acknowledge that the concept is much more widespread (Rom 8; 2 Cor 3; et al.).

    So I’d thrown my vote in for Joel’s view–if indeed, you’ve correctly read D & G (haven’t read it myself).

    Just a footnote: I don’t know why we would need to sideline one theme (e.g. kingdom of God) to make room for what one would see as more important (e.g. preaching the gospel).

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Preston. Actually D & G make the point you made here. They don’t deny that the kingdom of God is a predominate theme in the OT. They say that the phrase doesn’t appear, but while the concept does. I point out that in fact the phrase does appear in 1 Chron 28:5 exactly as Jesus used it. The other passages you mention are to varying degrees related (esp 1 Chron 17:14), but 1 Chron 28:5 is nearly exact. So D & G don’t “sideline” the Kingdom of God theme. It is important. But they don’t define it properly in my view. I’m protesting their denial of realm with reign. They want only reign and no realm. Furthermore, I am attempting to show essential Davidic/Israel element in the term/concept subsequent to the Davidic Covenant. Certainly God’s kingdom is in the Garden, but it takes a new tangible form with the establishment of the Davidic throne over Israel. God’s transcendent kingdom is incarnated on the earth in the Davidic throne.

  • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston

    You also have “kingdom of the LORD” in 2 Chron 13:8 and similar phrases in 1 Chron 17:14, 29:11, and many other passages in the OT (e.g. Ps. 22:29; Dan 2:44; 4:3; 6:26; 7:14, 18, 27; Obad 21). Moreover, the concept of God ruling as King over creation is quite widespread (e.g. 2 Kings 19:15; Isa 6:5; Jer 46:18; Pss. 29:10; 99:1-4, et al.). Most of all, Jesus’ announcement that “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom is at hand” (Mk 1:15) assumes that it’s been anticipated.

    But even if the phrase “kingdom of God” is used relatively infrequent in the OT, the concept of God’s rule over creation breaking into history through Israel (and then the Messiah) is ubiquitous. Many would see it as the main theme of Gen 1-2, which finds fulfillment in Rev 21-22.

    To say that the theme/phrase/idea of the “kingdom of God” is not in the OT (or at most a subsidiary theme) is a bad argument.

    Moreover, I really think more attention needs to be given to the primacy of concept over the actual phrase. For instance, the word “hospitality” doesn’t occur in the OT, but we still see hospitality all over the place. The word “regeneration” is very rare even in the NT (used two times; once of humans and once of creation [Titus 3 and Matt 19 respectively]), but we’d all acknowledge that the concept is much more widespread (Rom 8; 2 Cor 3; et al.).

    So I’d thrown my vote in for Joel’s view–if indeed, you’ve correctly read D & G (haven’t read it myself).

    Just a footnote: I don’t know why we would need to sideline one theme (e.g. kingdom of God) to make room for what one would see as more important (e.g. preaching the gospel).

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Preston. Actually D & G make the point you made here. They don’t deny that the kingdom of God is a predominate theme in the OT. They say that the phrase doesn’t appear, but while the concept does. I point out that in fact the phrase does appear in 1 Chron 28:5 exactly as Jesus used it. The other passages you mention are to varying degrees related (esp 1 Chron 17:14), but 1 Chron 28:5 is nearly exact. So D & G don’t “sideline” the Kingdom of God theme. It is important. But they don’t define it properly in my view. I’m protesting their denial of realm with reign. They want only reign and no realm. Furthermore, I am attempting to show essential Davidic/Israel element in the term/concept subsequent to the Davidic Covenant. Certainly God’s kingdom is in the Garden, but it takes a new tangible form with the establishment of the Davidic throne over Israel. God’s transcendent kingdom is incarnated on the earth in the Davidic throne.

  • Anonymous

    Preston reminds me of the important passage of 2 Chron 13:5-5.

    Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? . . . “And now you plan to resist the kingdom of the LORD [basileias kuriou/malkut yhwh], which is in the hands of David’s descendants.

    Again the inextricable connection between the kingdom of God and David/Israel. I would encourage folks interested in a discussion of this to consult my Matthew’s Messianic Shepherd-King: In Search of “The Lost Sheep of the House of Israel” (2007), pgs. 168-72.

  • Anonymous

    Preston reminds me of the important passage of 2 Chron 13:5-5.

    Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? . . . “And now you plan to resist the kingdom of the LORD [basileias kuriou/malkut yhwh], which is in the hands of David’s descendants.

    Again the inextricable connection between the kingdom of God and David/Israel. I would encourage folks interested in a discussion of this to consult my Matthew’s Messianic Shepherd-King: In Search of “The Lost Sheep of the House of Israel” (2007), pgs. 168-72.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Joel,
    Speaking of kingdoms in the Bible, a bit of trivia:
    What was the first kingdom mentioned?
    Babel(Babylon) Genesis 10:10, the interesting thing is the end of that “kingdom” is not mentioned until Revelation!
    Who did God give the prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ to?
    The serpent in the garden!
    Wasn’t “the daughters of men” the first target? resulting in the flood?
    It turns out this “mystery Babylon” religion, which began at Babel, had a counterfeit virgin birth, “mother of god(Semiramis/Ishtar/Easter), queen of heaven”(mentioned in Jeremiah) & son god Tammuz(Ezekiel8), this religion was taken 70 ways with the language split, whose practices have been syncretized into Christianity, starting with the council of Nicaea(Easter), and then the council of Laodicea, where they thought to change times by moving God’s Sabbath to the opposite day of the week, the day of the sun god, Mary veneration, etc.
    That’s pretty sneaky, a counterfeit thousands of years before the original!

    BTW it’s great to see OT quotes, and some good comments here!

    • Tomprober

      Is there a possibility that you are following a counterfeit prophet and false teacher in ellen white?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Joel,
    Speaking of kingdoms in the Bible, a bit of trivia:
    What was the first kingdom mentioned?
    Babel(Babylon) Genesis 10:10, the interesting thing is the end of that “kingdom” is not mentioned until Revelation!
    Who did God give the prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ to?
    The serpent in the garden!
    Wasn’t “the daughters of men” the first target? resulting in the flood?
    It turns out this “mystery Babylon” religion, which began at Babel, had a counterfeit virgin birth, “mother of god(Semiramis/Ishtar/Easter), queen of heaven”(mentioned in Jeremiah) & son god Tammuz(Ezekiel8), this religion was taken 70 ways with the language split, whose practices have been syncretized into Christianity, starting with the council of Nicaea(Easter), and then the council of Laodicea, where they thought to change times by moving God’s Sabbath to the opposite day of the week, the day of the sun god, Mary veneration, etc.
    That’s pretty sneaky, a counterfeit thousands of years before the original!

    BTW it’s great to see OT quotes, and some good comments here!

    • Tomprober

      Is there a possibility that you are following a counterfeit prophet and false teacher in ellen white?

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  • Scot McKnight

    Scot McKnight doesn’t like the “when it fights” clause!! Ha.

    But, Joel, you are right in thinking of “kingdom of God” in concrete terms. Too many evangelicals have combined “realm” with “personal salvation” in a way that makes “kingdom” almost meaningless to a 1st Century Jew.

    Good post.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Scot. Of course you don’t! I think you meant “reign” when you noted the coalescence with “personal salvation”.

  • Scot McKnight

    Scot McKnight doesn’t like the “when it fights” clause!! Ha.

    But, Joel, you are right in thinking of “kingdom of God” in concrete terms. Too many evangelicals have combined “realm” with “personal salvation” in a way that makes “kingdom” almost meaningless to a 1st Century Jew.

    Good post.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Scot. Of course you don’t! I think you meant “reign” when you noted the coalescence with “personal salvation”.

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  • Allen Browne

    Joel, this is a very good summary. Will look forward to Part 2. :-)
    Psa 89 is central to this: starting with faith in God’s “hesed” (covenant faithfulness), but ending with longing and questioning (assuming the final verse is the book division, not part of this Psalm).
    I’d never noticed 2 Chron 13:8 like that. If the golden calves (in Bethel and Dan) mean “withstanding the kingdom of the Lord”, it may explain why Ephraim and Dan are absent from the stylised list in Rev 7:5-8.

  • Allen Browne

    Joel, this is a very good summary. Will look forward to Part 2. :-)
    Psa 89 is central to this: starting with faith in God’s “hesed” (covenant faithfulness), but ending with longing and questioning (assuming the final verse is the book division, not part of this Psalm).
    I’d never noticed 2 Chron 13:8 like that. If the golden calves (in Bethel and Dan) mean “withstanding the kingdom of the Lord”, it may explain why Ephraim and Dan are absent from the stylised list in Rev 7:5-8.

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  • John Thomson

    Joel

    I have no difficulty with what you say about the Kingdom thus far. The issue for me is how we are to understand the present manifestation of the Kingdom. Here I would reiterate my comment in the previous posts that the Kingdom presently ‘realm’ wise is ‘the heavenlies’. It is revealed in ‘mystery’ form as in Matt 13. There is an incogito aspect to the Kingdom in the present. It is entered and known only to faith. Just as our life is presently hid with Christ in God and our sonship is not yet manifest so too the Kingdom remains ‘hidden’.

    Christ is the Davidic King enthroned in the heavens. We do not yet see all things under man but we see Jesus…crowned with glory and honour. We see him, that is, by faith. We sit with him (in rule) by faith (Eph 1). And, by faith, all things are ours, and we are Christs.

  • John Thomson

    Joel

    I have no difficulty with what you say about the Kingdom thus far. The issue for me is how we are to understand the present manifestation of the Kingdom. Here I would reiterate my comment in the previous posts that the Kingdom presently ‘realm’ wise is ‘the heavenlies’. It is revealed in ‘mystery’ form as in Matt 13. There is an incogito aspect to the Kingdom in the present. It is entered and known only to faith. Just as our life is presently hid with Christ in God and our sonship is not yet manifest so too the Kingdom remains ‘hidden’.

    Christ is the Davidic King enthroned in the heavens. We do not yet see all things under man but we see Jesus…crowned with glory and honour. We see him, that is, by faith. We sit with him (in rule) by faith (Eph 1). And, by faith, all things are ours, and we are Christs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Arnold/1138810315 Scott Arnold

    I agree with “government” as synonymous with “kingdom.” This leads me to think of Isaiah 9:6-7 where we learn of the coming incarnation and of a king whose government’s INCREASE will never end (from henceforth). How can this mean anything else but that this kingdom must have begun in the earth, at latest, with the incarnation and increasing eternally from this point forward? This has to include both realm and reign and cannot point to the second coming as the beginning of the reign. Once this happens, how will the kingdom continue to increase? Unless you this is a veiled reference to universalism? ;-)

    • John Thomson

      Scott

      There are definitely complex questions as to when the Kingdom began. In one sense it arrives with the King. Yet in another sense, it didn’t. The Son of Man goes to the ancient of days to receive a Kingdom. This is surely ascension. This is when Christ was enthroned as King and his reign properly began (Dan 7). But, as I say, the ‘mystery’ form of this kingdom needs taken into account – it is NT revelation re the Kingdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Arnold/1138810315 Scott Arnold

    I agree with “government” as synonymous with “kingdom.” This leads me to think of Isaiah 9:6-7 where we learn of the coming incarnation and of a king whose government’s INCREASE will never end (from henceforth). How can this mean anything else but that this kingdom must have begun in the earth, at latest, with the incarnation and increasing eternally from this point forward? This has to include both realm and reign and cannot point to the second coming as the beginning of the reign. Once this happens, how will the kingdom continue to increase? Unless you this is a veiled reference to universalism? ;-)

    • John Thomson

      Scott

      There are definitely complex questions as to when the Kingdom began. In one sense it arrives with the King. Yet in another sense, it didn’t. The Son of Man goes to the ancient of days to receive a Kingdom. This is surely ascension. This is when Christ was enthroned as King and his reign properly began (Dan 7). But, as I say, the ‘mystery’ form of this kingdom needs taken into account – it is NT revelation re the Kingdom.

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