Who’s on the throne?
Of course the Lord God is the one on the throne (Judges 21:25; 1 Samuel 8:7; Revelation 19:16)! There’s never been a time when the universe has been left untended, so there’s always been a kingdom — frequently mentioned in the Old Testament (Psalm 103:19; Isaiah37:16; Jeremiah 10:10). And by virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ has been enthroned. A crucial, yet too-often skimmed, section of Peter’s Pentecost message is Acts 2:29-36. Jesus began to reign after this series of events: Resurrection — Ascension — Accession. Because of his resurrection, he ascends to heaven to accede to the throne of God. Ultimately, according to Paul, Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Since there has always been a king, it follows that there has always been a kingdom. But what exactly is a kingdom? After a brief digression, we’ll attempt to answer that question.
Kouame Koudou I
About 10 years ago, before thousands of Ivorians and on national television, I was made an honorary chief. The elders led me in procession, special robes were given, and I was enthroned under the (French African) name Kouame Koudou le Premier. (Kouame for Sunday, the day of the enthronement, Koudou — an antelope, presumably for my athleticism [kidding], and le Premier because I was first in my family to receive this title.) It was quite an honor. When my kids heard about it, they thought that was so cool. (“Guess what? My dad’s an African chief!”) But wait a minute. I may be a chief, who are my subjects? And where is my territory? And has anyone seen my throne?
Of course this sort of thinking isn’t like the message of Jesus. When he explained the kingdom, he never delivered tidy definitions or implied that the God’s kingdom is only a celestial version of our own earthly kingdoms. They are institutional, yet the kingdom of God can never be equated with an institution! Rather, Jesus began his explanations, “The kingdom… is like…” (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 34, 45, 47; 18:23; 22:2). Now, le us move into the second half of our lesson.
Kingdom: Rule vs. Realm
There are two meanings of kingdom we are concerned with. One is realm, the other is rule. The realm is all territory over which God is sovereign. It becomes clear that this means the entire universe. Since the Lord is king forever and ever (Psalm 10:16), this sense of kingdom does not change.
Whereas the realm is universal — even God’s enemies are in that kingdom — God rules the hearts of his subjects only when they are willing. His reign, or rule, comprises the sphere of obedience. Naturally in this sense the kingdom is far, far more than the church of Christ. It includes the quick and the dead — humans, obedient angels, and other celestial powers. Thus to limit the kingdom, as some do, to those alive today who are committed Christians is a narrow view indeed.
Instructor of angels?
Thirteen years ago, in an effort to recognize a serious need for biblical teaching in our fellowship, a small group of men were publicly recognized as “kingdom teachers.” Understanding the kingdom to include myriad beings in the entire cosmos, we couldn’t help but chuckle (and never actually used our title). For to be a teacher in the kingdom would require us to teach angels, not just men; the dead as well as the living. (And the Bible forbids communication with the dead.) I opted for the more modest “Director of Education.” We may not like to hear it, but put bluntly, the kingdom is not the church — much less a single fellowship.
Thy kingdom come?
Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Note the parallelism: the kingdom coming is identified with God’s will being done. This is not a prayer for the kingdom to “come” at Pentecost, for the kingdom continues to come wherever and whenever God’s will is done. More on in the next lesson.
Kingdom has two senses. Every being in the world is in the kingdom in the broader sense — God’s realm. There are many beings within his realm — apparently the large majority — who are not living under his rule. Prizing their own autonomy, they refuse to honor Jesus Christ as Lord (Luke 19:27). God’s kingdom in the second sense is his rule, voluntarily accepted in the hearts of his subjects. When and where God’s will is done, there is the kingdom.
Having laid a foundation for going forward, hopefully now we’re prepared to appreciate the message of the kingdom. It’s vastly misunderstood, deceptively simple, exciting beyond our wildest dreams, and crucial to grasp if we are to be true followers of the King.