Lecture 1, Definition of the Kingdom

Lesson 1 Definition of the Kingdom

Ridderbos 1-2

Historical Introduction:

The Kingdom in Scholarship: Ridderbos gives two basic views of the kingdom of God from 50 years before his work in 1962. Ridderbos is the most important thinker on the subject in the history of the Church. For example, today Ridderbos is still the standard textbook on the subject in reformed seminaries around the world.

Two Wrong Views: Ridderbos charted out two views over the course of the early 20th century, Consistent, and Realized eschatology.

Scholars debated as to whether the kingdom was consistently future (and therefore the commandments were purely future, consistent), or if the kingdom was realized fully in the laws of Christ.

Three arguments against:

 1) Neither view can deal with both Law and Gospel. Consistent eschatology destroys the law, and realized eschatology destroys the gospel.

2) Frankly these are both biblically inadequate.

3) They are a priori philosophical systems placed upon the scripture

A Third Way: Ridderbos gave a third way, following Oscar Cullman, called inaugurated eschatology. The kingdom is already present and working, but not fully so until the second coming of Christ. Jesus is already ruling, but not yet fully (“already and not yet” for short).

D-Day V-Day: Cullman came up with the excellent illustration from WWII. D-Day, or “decision day,” refers to when the Allied Troops landed on Normandy in April 1942. The battle resulted in the decision of the ultimate victor of the war, V-Day, or “victory day”. The victory would not come for many months, but the ultimate victor was certainly and decisively found on the beaches of Normandy.

Similarly, the cross of Christ was D-day for the Christian Church. It was the decisive battle which resulted in the ultimate Victor at V-Day. The Christian V-Day is the second coming of Christ. This paradigm is the basic outline of the course of this world. The cross won the war, but there will still be battles, Jesus will take ground, and the end will come with the victor certain and already decided.

1. Kingdom in the Old Testament

Broad and Narrow Definition:  God’s kingdom has been in the making since the creation. God rested on the seventh day, not out of weary, but as he was enthroned. God created Man to “rule” the earth as God’s vicegerent, which points to God’s ultimate kingship. God is king over all the earth universally, and it does his bidding. This is the broad sense of God’s rule. For example, Exodus 15:11-18, 1 Kings 22:19, Isaiah 6:3-5, Psalm 47:3; 103:19. The point is that God is the King of All the earth, nations, and in the heavenly realms.

Future and Progressive: Ridderbos points out that there is also a narrow sense in which one can say that God is King of Israel, his Covenant people.[1] God is King in the sense that he is taking rule for himself.  God’s kingship in Israel is the locus of revelation for the Kingdom in the narrow sense. 

Old Testament Eschatology is Future: Ridderbos mentioned the tension created by Israel’s loss in battle. If God reigns, and we lose, is God true in his promise? It became clear from the fact that Israel was losing battles, that God was reigning in some progressive sense, but was primarily in the Future kingdom. This led to the development of the doctrine of the future kingdom.

Daniel’sprogressive” Eschatology: Ridderbos also mentioned Daniel’s view of the kingdom. The Kingdom in this narrow sense is also progressing forward into the future. God is taking ground that His kingdom will spread to the whole earth. See  Dan 2:44; and 4:3.

Redemptive and Cosmic Salvation: The fact that God is taking rule implies that in a sense he is not currently ruling in some way. Obviously the Sin of Adam created such a breach between God and his creation by the curse. Humanity is in need of both reconciliation to God, and recreation analogous to that original creation.  God’s work of Gospel reconciliation and cosmic recreation is the work of the kingdom in the narrow sense.

Here we think in a broader sense than just the institutional worship, but with regards to the whole of human life. Yes, the Gospel ministry initially reconciles, and fundamentally changes the way the believer acts, but there are also cosmic recreative implications to the kingdom.

By cosmic we mean that there are implications for the natural order. All things will once again be without curse, without rebellion, and without sin. So, this begins in the church institution, but God’s kingdom encompasses all nations, realms, families, etc.

For example, We see these cosmic implications for the coming Kingdom in the promise of the coming salvation. Salvation is not just reconciliation (though it definitely is based on that, and we will study that in the New Testament) but that reconciliation has cosmic implications. “Salvation” does not just refer to justification, but to the whole of salvation which includes the whole ordo salutis. One does not “get saved” in an instant. Rather, one instantaneously “gets Justified.” Rather, Salvation refers to the whole work of God consummated at the last day.

See for example the cosmic salvation portrayed in Isaiah 40-55, especially 40:9-11, and 52:7. Also, Obadiah 21, Micah 4:3, Zephaniah 3:15, Zechariah 14:17-17. Ridderbos pointed out that these images of Israel ruling and reigning with the Lord on the throne were types of Jesus and his church.[2]  Ridderbos also mentioned that these were primarily pointing to the “universal” (cosmic) implications of the “supernatural reality” which will come at the end of the age.[3]

                This cosmic scope gives the trajectory for the coming kingdom and the interesting turn in the New Testament. It must be stressed here that the Old Testament primarily saw things in cosmic terms. There is not much nitty-gritty. That is where the New Testament comes in (except for perhaps Daniel, who speaks with specificity and sets precedence for the New Testament tern Kingdom, Dan 3:33, 7:9-18).

2. Kingdom in 2nd Temple Judaism

Contexts and Caution: The study of Second Temple Judaism is useful for the context of New Testament phraseology. Words mean things in context. Though this period is outside of the Biblical record, there is a great deal of information about it. However, we should be cautious because we cannot come to theological conclusions from Second Temple Judaism studies. This would be a hypothetical analogy fallacy (since A is this way, then B must be as well). This study properly pursues to interpret the context against which the New Testament defends.

 Paraphrasis: “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Kingdom of the Messiah,” and “Kingdom of God” are all equivalents in the narrow sense which we discussed earlier. Thes were all used in the intertestamental period for the sake of defining the coming future rule of God.  “Heaven” hashem, is still used by Jews today to refer to God. It is a replacement for the Divine name Yahweh. This sprouts from the legalistic interpretation of the third commandment.

Basically the View was still future, Ridderbos said:

“The Miserable state of this world will be followed by the days of the Messiah which will culminate in the establishment of the malkuth shemaim on the earth. This is the future world that will begin after the resurrection and judgment day.”[4]

The Kingdom was the objective of the Old Testament.

3. Kingdom in the New Testament

The Painting:  What the Old Testament prophets foresaw concerning the kingdom (in the narrow sense) can be likened to a painting. They saw the background. Imagine a painting with rolling hills, a rising sun, clouds burning off early in the day, and perhaps mountains in the background. All is far off into the distance.

Now imagine in the foreground a busy city street , with a crowd of people hustling and bustling right in front of you. There are dogs barking, children tugging at their mothers’ arms, and people haggling over prices.

The Old Testament saw all the events as a sparse background, but the New Testament portrays the bits and pieces that lead up to and consummate that background.

The Old Testament pictured the coming cross and judgment one right after the other. The Prophets foresaw the first and second comings of Christ flatly as all in the future and as one great “coming of the Lord.” However, the New testament has this tension of time between the incarnation of Christ and the coming judgment of Christ. It has now been 2016 years since the incarnation. The point is that the Kingdom did indeed come, and is progressively taking ground.

 The Old Testament was primarily focused on the future full coming of the kingdom, but the New Testament made it clear that God how God was going to bring it about progressively in time.

Notice How the New Testament authors all mentioned this tension: Mat 12:28-29, Mark 3:27, Luke 11:20, 1 Peter 1:3-6, 10-12. Col 1:5-24. Frankly, Paul makes no sense if this is not the case. If the Kingdom is not inaugurated, there is great difficulty interpreting Paul. I would venture to say that 90 percent of the debates in Pauline theology could be clarified by this paradigm, and left unambiguous.

General NT Characteristics: The kingdom is more complicated in the New Testament. Ridderbos gave several general New Testament aspects of the Kingdom. The New Testament portrays the Kingdom as theocentric, dynamical, messianic, future, and present.

  • Theocenric: (God centered) The Terms “kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” point to the ruler of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is God’s ultimately. God does rule over all things, and though they rebel, he will reconcile and renew them.  The end product of the kingdom life is God’s rule. It is obedience to God, in other words, to glorify God by obeying his laws. See, Matthew 6:9-10, 34; 16:27, 24:30. So, redemption was the means to the end of God’s rule over the cosmos, and especially humanity as his vicegerent on earth.   
  • Dynamical: the meaning of the word basileia changes according to its contexts. It is not location, or time, as it is rule, ruler, and Divine action to reconcile and recreate. God is fighting battles for his kingdom in the incarnation, on the cross, in the resurrection, sending the Spirit, giving power to the preaching of the gospel, and even helping the Christian live a kingdom life. See the Parables of the Sower (Mat 13:24ff), the Servants (Mat 18:23ff), the Vineyard (Mat 20), Stewards (Mat 25:14ff).  
  • Messianic: The kingdom would be ruled by the Messiah. The Messiah is King (Luke 1:32-33, 68). The predictions are vague by design.[5] All we are told in the New Testament and Old Testament is that the Christ will come to reconcile, judge and recreate the world. Specifics are filled in by the Man Jesus Christ. Suffice it to say that the point is that Jesus will accomplish the rule of the Triune God over the cosmos by reconciliation through the cross. See Col 1:20.
  • Future: “eschatos” is the word for last things. We refer to the end as the eschaton. John Spoke of the ultimate coing of the Spirit and Fire, or renewal and judgment, See Matt 3:8ff, and Joel 2:28, Ez 36:26ff, Zech 12:9-10. Jesus also predicted the ultimate in the Beattitudes, Mat 5, Mathew 19:28ff
  • Present: Jesus is currently taking his rule, and the Spirit is recreating and reconciling men on the basis of the cross of Christ. See Matt 28:18-20. Thought the ultimate effect of the kingdom is still future, Jesus is progressively working and taking ground. Jesus proclaimed the presence of the Kingdom work, Luke 4:18-19, which Isaiah predicted.  


Application: The Contemporary tendency to deny the Cosmic (dispensational/marxist) or the Reconcilliatory (liberal/emergent/Rastafarian) components of the kingdom is analogous to the older bifurcation between the old liberal and progressive liberal positions of consistent and realized eschatology. Theologians still fight for a purely future Kingdom, or a purely present one. 

Worse yet, one thinks in one of these paradigms even if one are is aware of it. It is even possible that one may hold to several different elements from each paradigms. Some believe that the kingdom work is only Gospel reconciliation, or that the Kingdom is only cosmic and legal. Both of these views are as inadequate today as they were one-hundred years ago when they prevailed in the  thought of Weiss and Ritschl.

Not only are there cosmic implications, but there are also eternal implications. Our view of the Kingdom denies that the earth will be annihilated and then re-created at the end of the age, but rather will be recreated and resurrected. Therefore the kingdom work done in this world will last into the next life. Because if God has already begun the work of the consummation, then it would be incongruous to say that he would later annihilate that which was already glorified in part by the coming of the Holy Spirit.  This is what R.C. Sproul means when he says that “right now counts forever.” Your life in this world does matter. And it has cosmic and eternal implications.

The thing to take away from this lecture is that since the kingdom is both future, and progressing into the future, then there are both reconciliatory and cosmic implications. Right now counts forever.

Practically, if the Kingdom is present, there are cosmic implications for your life and understanding of the Gospel and Kingdom work in which you should be engaged in this life.

[1] Ridderbos, Coming 4

[2] Ridderbos, Coming, 5

[3] Ridderbos, Coming, 6

[4] Ridderbos, Coming, 11

[5] Ridderbos, Coming, 29