I found this article by Dr. D.A. Carson really difficult to understand or profit from. I simply don’t think the Kingdom of God should be such a difficult problem. The fact that it spawns such verbiage is itself evidence that there is something wrong with Evangelicals.
Can I, off the top of my head, convince you, the reader, that you cannot possibly have a general grasp of the Bible if the Kingdom of God is a riddle that remains to be solved?
Like most things, it begins in Genesis One. God creates the world by his sovereign word, but he does so with the intention of ruling through delegated sovereignty.
Then God said, “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.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “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.”
So Genesis 1 is a story about, yes, a God who has power. But it is the story of the beginning of the Kingdom of Humanity–a kingdom that is at the same time the Kingdom of God. The whole point of the story of the Bible is that God prefers for us to exercise authority on his behalf rather than doing it himself.
Mankind sins and is exiled from their palatial garden. Angels are put in their place to guard that garden. But, after Christ, Paul assures us that we will judge angels. God would not allow sin to foil his plan for humanity to be the mediator between heaven and earth. Angels were just a temporary stopgap.
In Christ, humanity is restored to his role as king under God. Christ’s exaltation is the exaltation of all believers–though they may experience their personal role in this reign differently. Thus, consider what Jesus writes of Psalm 2–a Psalm we would all tend to consider Messianic and never apply to ourselves. But Jesus applies it to us:
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 2:26-29, ESV)
Likewise, when Daniel sees a vision of “one like a son of man” receiving a kingdom, he is told not that this is a prophecy of one man’s exaltation, but rather of the Kingdom being given to a group of people the saints. Daniel explains what he observed first:
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14, ESV)
Then an angel explains to Daniel what his vision really means:
But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’ (Daniel 7:18, ESV)
And then Daniel 7 concludes with a song that reiterates the interpretation:
And the kingdom and the dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ (Daniel 7:27, ESV)
Except that may not be the translation. The ESV offers another possibility in a footnote:
their kingdom shall be an everlasting
kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them
Jesus took upon himself the title of the figure Daniel saw. And he invoked this handing over of authority when confronted with the charge that he had blasphemed by telling a paralytic that his sins were forgiven. The crowd knows the story of Daniel’s vision and they conclude that humanity now has been delegated new powers.
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:6-8, ESV)
My point in these few passages is that the kingdom is exactly what the Bible is about, what it says it is about, what it begins and ends with, and what it repeatedly comes back to.
Genesis doesn’t just happen to end with the story of a man who becomes king of the world at the right hand of the emperor.
Or consider the book of Proverbs–a book I sometimes think intellectual Evangelicals are embarrassed by.
If you are a believer in a religion that is best expressed as four spiritual laws or a flow-chart or a chart about the dispensations of history, or a scheme of double predestination, or many other things (some of which may or may not be true–the issue is not veracity but primacy), then it will be a mystery to you why God wrote the book of Proverbs and put it in our Bibles.
If you are a practitioner of a religion centered on a story that begins with how God made men and women to relate to Him and one another as they take dominion over the world, and move downstream from their garden home, and find gold, and start trading and have to raise children and eventually build cities that are supposed to further reflect the glory of God, then you will completely understand why the book of Proverbs had to be included as Scripture.
The kingdom of God (and of Humanity by creation and then redemption) is, in fact, what makes wisdom so important. This isn’t an association invented by Solomon; it again starts in Genesis. The first time wisdom is mentioned in the Bible, it is used to describe what tempted Eve about the tree–that it was desirable to make her wise.
This seems to be the equivalent of gaining the knowledge of good and evil, having one’s eyes opened… and being like God.
At the end of Genesis 3 God seems to agree with these equivalences:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil…”
Adam and Eve are naked in the beginning of Genesis. Genesis ends with a man who, after repeatedly losing his robe of authority through injustice, gains authority over the whole world… precisely because he is wise.
This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck.
So nakedness means one has not yet been clothed in authority. God had prepared humanity to learn such wisdom and rule. In Christ that plan is restored and elevated. This is a basic image in the book of Revelation where priest-kings are given robes to wear.
The point of all this is simple: No one can possibly claim to understand the Bible and have it basically right, and yet treat the Kingdom as some kind of puzzle to be sorted out after all the really important stuff is settled. If Evangelicals are really puzzling over the Kingdom then they haven’t understood the Bible.