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 (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).