Thy Kingdom Come? The Kingdom, the Church, & Social Justice (Part 1)

This article first appeared in the Baptist Bulletin. © Regular Baptist Press, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Used by permission.

On a recent vacation, I took the opportunity to spy on another church. My family was visiting friends out of state who took us to their nondenominational, nonaffiliated church. My radar was tuned in. From the moment we stepped onto the property to the moment we left, I was analyzing everything.

In such settings, I play a game: see how quickly I can figure out the pastor’s theological perspective and his alma mater. As I was collecting evidence, I noticed several points of interest. A statement at the bottom of the bulletin made an impassioned plea for more people to help in various ministries. The motivational tagline at the end said, “Come join us as we build God’s kingdom.” Interesting. Using a theology of the kingdom to motivate ministry service.

I peered into the church library and spotted the Left Behind series prominently displayed. Interesting. At the end of the service, the pastor announced that they would soon begin a study of Daniel. At this point I was certain the pastor was most likely pre-millennial in theology.

After the service, I identified myself as a fellow pastor. The pastor and I chatted briefly, and then I asked the million-dollar question. “So, in your Daniel series, are you taking a premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial position?”

He replied, “To tell you the truth, I really haven’t figured that out yet.”

I was shocked! He’s using kingdom language in the bulletin to motivate Christian service and is preparing to preach from Daniel (a book announcing the triumphant arrival of God’s kingdom), but he hasn’t answered some of the most important questions regarding the doctrine of the kingdom.

Fortunately, this scene did not take place in a Regular Baptist church. In fact, I can’t imagine this scene happening in any Regular Baptist church, because premillennialism, especially dispensational premillennialism, has always been a hallmark of our association. However, even within Regular Baptist churches, do most church members truly understand the far-reaching implications of kingdom theology?

Kingdom themes pepper people’s language, missions programs, church bulletins, songs, books, and many other church-related activities. Devoid of adequate understanding, people employ phrases like “working to build the kingdom” and “preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” The consequences of misunderstanding are deep and wide. Even the gospel itself is at stake unless viewed through a proper kingdom lens. Grasping the practical applications of kingdom theology is vital for our mission, both personally and corporately.

It’s All about the Kingdom

Theology that matters

Why does kingdom theology matter so much? Contrary to what many people might think, the kingdom is a much bigger concept than just the thousand-year period at the end of the ages. The actual millennial reign of Jesus is the culmination of kingdom theology because it is the culmination of God’s unfolding plan throughout world history. God is all about the kingdom. Jesus was and is all about the kingdom. The Bible is all about the kingdom. The kingdom is the overarching theme of all the Scriptures.

It is impossible to read the Bible without constantly bumping into the kingdom. Consequently, it is not possible to understand the Bible without a proper framework of the kingdom.

The beginning, middle, and end of the Bible

Every good story has six essential parts. Using them, let’s map out the Bible’s plot line.

Introduction. God creates a perfect world, a perfect Garden, and perfect humanity and gives mankind rule and dominion over the creation (Genesis 1:28-30). Mankind was stewarding and governing the earth as vice-regent of God.

Conflict/foreshadowing. Man sins and fails to carry out his duties as the governor of this planet. The world is cursed with the results of sin. However, God promises that a seed of the woman will conquer Satan and win back the governorship of the planet (Genesis 3:16).

Rising action. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, Satan gives his best effort to prevent Messiah’s coming. He attempts to thwart God’s plan by apostatizing God’s people.

Climax. Jesus bursts onto the scene in the New Testament, dies for the sin of the world, and rises again in victory over sin and death. He ascends to Heaven and promises to return to establish His kingdom.

Falling action. The church receives the commission to make disciples of all nations, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

The resolution. Jesus comes back and ties together all the prophetic loose ends by establishing His kingdom, which constitutes a return to the conditions present in the Garden of Eden. Once again a Man (who is also God) is stewarding and governing the earth as God intended.

Thus, the Bible’s story line is all about ruin and restoration. God was ruling this planet through a human mediator in Genesis, and God will rule this planet through a human mediator in Revelation. A good name for this arrangement is the Mediatorial Kingdom. Everything between Genesis and Revelation is the story of God gradually reestablishing the Mediatorial Kingdom. Thus, the kingdom is the story line of the Bible!

The “When” of the Kingdom Impacts the “What” of Our Labors

The expectations of the coming kingdom

The basic concepts of ruin and restoration are generally agreed upon by all theologians. At a minimum, most would concur that earth will be restored to Eden-like conditions in the eternal state under Jesus’ reign. What’s debated, however, is whether or not a portion of that kingdom has already been established. Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (ESV). Texts like this seem to indicate that Jesus has already inaugurated the kingdom. However, could there be another way of looking at it? Could the kingdom exist in heavenly abeyance awaiting its arrival on earth? I believe God is setting the stage for the grand arrival of King Jesus, as spoken of in Revelation 19 and 20.

This is where it gets confusing. The Bible’s picture of the coming kingdom and the reality of life in the world today obviously and painfully do not match! If the kingdom has been inaugurated, how many of its conditions should we expect now? Do we have a responsibility to “bring in” the conditions of the kingdom? Let’s briefly peruse the picture the Bible paints of the kingdom.

First, the Bible depicts a world wherein warfare will be abolished. This is clear from texts like Hosea 2:18, Micah 4:3, and Isaiah 9:6, 7.

Second, the Bible predicts that complete social justice will prevail. This means the rights of the weak and poor will be protected. People will have enough to eat, receiving their fair share (Isaiah 65:21, 22; Amos 9:11, 14; Isaiah 40:10, 11).

Third, the Bible says that human wastefulness will be eliminated, and the broken-down, desolate, or unproductive places on earth will rise again (Isaiah 61:4; Psalm 72:16). Many other things could be said about the glories of the coming kingdom.

Since these beautiful realities have been predicted, and since the Bible can be trusted, either Jesus somehow already fulfilled these things in a spiritual sense, or He intends for His followers to institute the attributes of the kingdom. A third option is that the kingdom has not been fulfilled, but awaits final and full consummation. The third option makes the best sense of the Biblical evidence and of the present blight of current events. In Millennialism: The Two Major Views, Charles Feinberg says,

In a day when the minds of men are occupied with thoughts of war, as they have been for years, how can anyone logically reconcile that with what Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel foretold of the reign of peace on the earth during the kingdom age? Where is the renovated earth? Since when is Satan bound, no longer to tempt men?

Mike Augsburger bio


Mike Augsburger (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is pastor of Willow Creek Baptist Church, West Des Moines, Iowa, and is a member of the GARBC Council of Eighteen. Mike also wrote the chapter “Leading Effectively through Change” in The Pastor: A Guide for God’s Faithful Servant (Regular Baptist Books).

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There are 6 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

I appreciated this article. The issue of the mediatorial kingdom is something that has always intrigued me. I am a dispensationalist. However, I think we often put too much emphasis on Jesus' millennial reign. You wrote:

The actual millennial reign of Jesus is the culmination of kingdom theology because it is the culmination of God’s unfolding plan throughout world history. God is all about the kingdom. Jesus was and is all about the kingdom. The Bible is all about the kingdom. The kingdom is the overarching theme of all the Scriptures.

I don't see the millennial reign as the culmination of anything good at all. It ends in man's rebellion, after all. Perhaps we ought to look at the millennial reign as the culminating proof that men will always choose Satan, because that's exactly what a whole bunch of them did once Satan was loosed out of the bottomless pit.

Instead, I see the culmination of everything in the new heavens and the new earth, when Christ and the Father share the same throne and all the saved people (both pre-Israel, Israel, and the Church) have access to the holy city and the tree of life. Only then will the curse of sin be completely reversed and eradicated. 

Dispensationalists rightly make a distinction between the Church and Israel, and the promised millennial reign of Christ is an important part of that. I think we often make a terrible mistake, though, when we focus all our energies on the millennial reign at the expense of the true endgame in eternity, on a new earth in a new creation. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

Have you ever wondered about the statement and attitude  "heaven is my home" when the ultimate end is NOT us living in heaven, but on a New Earth where God comes down from heaven and lives on the New Earth?

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Tyler, I understand exactly what you are saying, but I think you are missing the point of why dispensationalists emphasize the kingdom.

The millennial kingdom will be the fulfillment of history especially in terms of God's promises to Israel regarding her future in this world. As opposed to amillennialism, premillennialism teaches that God obtains the victory in this world. He does not have to tear this world up and start over like a child who messed up his homework... He beats Satan right here within history.

Christ will restore the original conditions of this world (cf. Matthew 19:28).

Also, from our vantage point, the big change begins with the millennial kingdom, as it begins the rule of God upon the earth (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28).

 

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I get what you're saying. Let me respond:

  1. It's encouraging beyond words that God will fulfill His promises to Israel
  2. I'm not sure what's so encouraging about your focus on "this world." The testimony of Scripture about "this present evil world" (Gal 1:4) is pretty, well . . . negative.
  3. Even though Christ will restore the original conditions of this world (the prophets go on and on about this), he doesn't restore these conditions completely. Sin is still very present, and the 1000-yr reign ends in deliberate rebellion against the Risen Christ - even though He'll be personally reigning in Jerusalem. This is why I see the man's rebellion in the millennium as an excellent teaching tool on total depravity. No matter what the incentive is, men will always choose Satan. People rejected Christ in His first advent, and they'll do the same during the millennial reign during the second advent. 
  4. I suppose this is all a matter of how you look at the same evidence. We're both dispensationalists; I just prefer to emphasize the eternal state in a new earth in the New Jerusalem. This is a much cheerier endgame than a 1000-yr reign which ends in rebellion. We'll have access to the tree of life; that's pretty encouraging stuff. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, you are quite correct. Heaven is not our home. It's a temporary stop before we return with Christ to earth during the Millennium, and before the new creation is formed. In eternity, we'll be walking a new earth in an entirely new creation. We won't be sitting in heaven on fluffy white clouds, playing harps! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Steve Davis's picture

TylerR wrote:

I appreciated this article. The issue of the mediatorial kingdom is something that has always intrigued me. I am a dispensationalist. However, I think we often put too much emphasis on Jesus' millennial reign. You wrote:

The actual millennial reign of Jesus is the culmination of kingdom theology because it is the culmination of God’s unfolding plan throughout world history. God is all about the kingdom. Jesus was and is all about the kingdom. The Bible is all about the kingdom. The kingdom is the overarching theme of all the Scriptures.

I don't see the millennial reign as the culmination of anything good at all. It ends in man's rebellion, after all. Perhaps we ought to look at the millennial reign as the culminating proof that men will always choose Satan, because that's exactly what a whole bunch of them did once Satan was loosed out of the bottomless pit.

Instead, I see the culmination of everything in the new heavens and the new earth, when Christ and the Father share the same throne and all the saved people (both pre-Israel, Israel, and the Church) have access to the holy city and the tree of life. Only then will the curse of sin be completely reversed and eradicated. 

Dispensationalists rightly make a distinction between the Church and Israel, and the promised millennial reign of Christ is an important part of that. I think we often make a terrible mistake, though, when we focus all our energies on the millennial reign at the expense of the true endgame in eternity, on a new earth in a new creation. 

 

Tyler, 

I probably didn't appreciate the article as much as you did but I'm glad you pointed out the fallacy of seeing the millennial kingdom as the "culmination of God's unfolding plan ..." I would add that the author's following statement demonstrates the danger of reading Scripture with a dispensational lens forcing meaning upon the text that isn't there because it doesn't fit the system.. 

"What’s debated, however, is whether or not a portion of that kingdom has already been established. Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (ESV). Texts like this seem to indicate that Jesus has already inaugurated the kingdom. However, could there be another way of looking at it? Could the kingdom exist in heavenly abeyance awaiting its arrival on earth? I believe God is setting the stage for the grand arrival of King Jesus, as spoken of in Revelation 19 and 20."

Am I missing something? Has God "delivered us from the domain of darkness" AND "transferred us to be the kingdom of his beloved Son" or just the first part and the second is "heavenly abeyance"? Jesus announced "the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15). Unless one holds to the postponement theory of the kingdom it is clear that the kingdom in some sense was inaugurated. It's too bad it doesn't fit into one's system. One area I would agree with the author. We are not building the kingdom. But we are, to use the word of N. T. Wright and others, "bearers" of the kingdom. 

One final note about texts which speak of war being abolished. Can we say war's abolished if the millennium ends in a worldwide conflagration? On second thought maybe it's just in abeyance until the end. Or maybe "war no more" really means that and its fulfillment is found in the eternal kingdom. In the millennium it will have to be said "war one more time."

Steve Davis

 

 

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