Jesus promised that the kingdom of God would come in power before some of His hearers faced death (Mark 9:1). After His resurrection, He again spoke to His disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). On the day of Pentecost, Peter announced that Jesus had been seated at God’s right hand in heaven, fulfilling God’s ancient promise to put David’s descendant on his royal throne (Acts 2:30–35). These texts, as well as many others, express the New Testament’s unanimous witness that God’s long-awaited redemptive reign, invading this sin-stained world to recapture it for its rightful king, had begun in the preaching, miracles, death, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly enthronement of Jesus the Messiah.
Yet life went on in the Roman Empire. Caesars still ruled, sometimes in ruthless violence and disgusting decadence. Christians still endured sickness, prison, flogging, and even martyrdom. Storms still swept down on the Mediterranean, sinking ships and taking lives. Famine, plague, poverty, oppression: if God’s peaceable kingdom in which predator and prey are reconciled (Isa. 11:6–9) had dawned, world conditions in the political or physical spheres gave no hint of it.
Little has changed in two millennia. Bloodbaths in Baghdad, in Darfur, and on America’s urban streets and suburban campuses seem to belie the claim that the Prince of Peace now reigns over this earth. Sordid scandals and schisms in the church cast doubt on His rule even over those who confess Him as king.
The New Testament authors, however, convey the Holy Spirit’s infallible affirmation that Jesus’ victorious sacrifice and vindicating resurrection did indeed inaugurate God’s redemptive kingdom. Moreover, they show the difference that the kingdom’s coming makes in the lives of still sinning, still suffering, believers today.
At the heart of Jesus’ Revelation to John stand twin visions that portray the decisive turning point in the cosmic conflict of the ages (Rev. 12). John first saw the woman’s Son threatened by the Dragon but caught up to God’s throne to rule the nations, fulfilling Psalm 2 (Rev. 12:5). Then John saw battle in heaven, and the Dragon defeated and expelled; and John heard the significance of that victory: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down…. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (vv. 10–11). The coming of God’s kingdom in the death and exaltation of His Christ has disbarred Satan, our accuser, from the heavenly courtroom. His charges against us have been answered fully by the suffering and righteousness of Jesus our advocate.
Because Jesus is the priest-king who reigns at God’s right hand (Heb. 8:1; 10:12–14), His intercession from the throne silences every accusation that plagues our consciences (Rom. 8:33–34). Living in the kingdom means resting in the perfect righteousness of Jesus the king: “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there who made an end to all my sin” (Charitie Lees Bancroft, “Before the throne of God above,” 1863).
Yet, as comforting as it is to know that Jesus our king sits enthroned in heaven, securing our justification by His blood and righteousness, we might still wonder if His inauguration of the kingdom of God makes any difference in our current struggle against sin on earth. The Bible’s answer is a resounding yes!
God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13, emphasis added). Our relocation into the realm that Jesus rules has real ramifications for our daily pursuit of holiness. When the Holy Spirit drew us to faith, uniting us to Christ in His death and resurrection, He broke sin’s lethal, tyrannical grip on our hearts and set us free to live as glad and grateful subjects of the King of kings.
Of course, this liberating exodus does not spell the end of Satan’s efforts to reassert his power over us. Temptation persists, and believers still stumble and too often succumb to Satan’s assaults on our faith and faithfulness. But we are no longer his helpless subjects, enslaved to the powers of darkness. Because sin no longer has dominion over us, we must not let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Rom. 6:12–14).
Because we are seated with Christ, our representative head, on His royal throne in heaven (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1–4), by His Holy Spirit’s power we can put to death evil habits of the heart (Col. 3:5–9) and clothe ourselves instead in the graceful attributes of our king: “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12). The attributes that distinguish God’s kingdom from the domain of darkness — “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17) — are not reserved for a future era. Rather, they are to characterize Christians’ lives and relationships now.
As clear as the New Testament’s announcement that Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection inaugurated God’s kingdom is its insistence that only His second coming will consummate it. We have seen and entered the kingdom by our birth from above through the Spirit (John 3:3–5). Yet God still calls believers to enter His coming kingdom (2 Tim. 4:1, 18; 2 Peter 1:11). The kingdom that directs and energizes our present struggle against sin is also our future inheritance (1 Cor. 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; James 2:5).
Christ’s apostles frankly forewarn us that sufferings are amply strewn along the path that leads kingdom citizens to our final inheritance of the kingdom. As Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps to fledgling churches in Asia Minor, they did not hide this sobering reality from newborn converts, “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). If the anointed king Himself had to pass through suffering into the glory of His messianic reign (Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 1:11), how could it be otherwise for us who, by God’s grace, share Jesus’ royal inheritance? In fact, suffering for Jesus’ sake characterizes the heirs to whom the Father promises the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10; see 2 Thess. 1:5). Partnership in tribulation and partnership in the kingdom go hand-in-hand (Rev. 1:9)
The fact that God’s kingdom has come in the coming of Jesus the king also has profound implications for our worship as the new covenant people of God. On the one hand, like Israel in the desert, we are on the way toward our royal inheritance, en route to the city that is to come (Heb. 13:14), the new Jerusalem that will be temple through-and-through (Rev. 22:1–5). On the other hand, as pilgrims in the wilderness even now we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” and its joyful worshiping assembly (Heb. 12:22–24, emphasis added) and are “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (v. 28).
Because we have been redeemed to be constituted a kingdom and priests to our God (Rev. 1:6; Ex. 19:6), our weekly assembly on the first day — now consecrated as “the Lord’s” by His resurrection — is, by faith but in fact, a royal audience. Through the Holy Spirit’s presence we gather before the throne of our triumphant king, to extol His majesty, to celebrate His victory, and to receive from His hand His spoils of war: Spirit-gifted servants — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers — through whom Christ nourishes every member of His body (Eph. 4:8–16). Every worship service is a sign that Jesus now reigns in sovereign grace and will return in glorious splendor.
Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection His disciples were still looking for Israel’s restoration to royal dominance (Acts 1:6); but the king Himself showed them that their hopes were too small, as He lifted their eyes to glimpse the spread of His kingdom “to the end of the earth” (1:8, alluding to Isa. 49:5–6; see Acts 13:47). From then on, their proclamation of the kingdom’s coming was inextricably tied to Jesus and what He had accomplished in His death and resurrection (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
John’s vision of a kingdom of priests ransomed “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9–10) reminds us that the first earthly evidence of Jesus’ heavenly enthronement was the proclamation of the “mighty works of God” in the languages of people “from every nation under heaven” on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5–11). This burst of international evangelism was the work of Jesus the Messiah, now enthroned at God’s right hand, who “has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (v. 33). The coronation of this king has set into motion a worldwide expansion of the boundaries of Christ’s saving domain to embrace all earth’s peoples.
Because the kingdom has come in the display of the king’s sacrificial grace, we can broadcast His summons: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” (Isa. 45:22), with a joyful confidence that His Spirit draws all sorts of people to repent and believe through that royal Word. Because the kingdom has not yet come in the final display of the king’s just wrath, we must carry that summons to people near and far with a joyful urgency, as befits royal ambassadors.
First published in Tabletalk, December 2007.
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