The Reign of God or the Realm of God

As I have looked at the topic of the kingdom of God over the past month or so, I have noted that the words malkûth (Old Testament Hebrew for the word kingdom) and basileia (New Testament Greek for the word kingdom) chiefly refer to God’s rule and reign. Earlier, we saw how Ladd briefly, yet helpfully, defined these two words:

‘The primary meaning of both the Hebrew word malkuth in the Old Testament and of the Greek word basileia in the New Testament is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king.’ (The Gospel of the Kingdom)

In all, the kingdom of God can simply be defined as God’s authority to rule. God is King, His kingdom has come, especially through His Son and the ministry of the Spirit, and therefore, God’s rule has broken in to human history. It’s here!!

Yet, to keep a healthy and Biblical balance, we must also recognise that God’s rule is not fully here. It’s still something we wait for to be consummated at Christ’s return. In knowing we still await a future fulfilment of the kingdom, there still stands one pertinent topic to consider. It revolves around this questions: Is the kingdom of God chiefly the rule of God or the realm of God?

Just a moment ago, I said that the kingdom is simply God’s authority to rule. But, when we read other passages that speak of the kingdom of God, especially in the New Testament, there is a sense in which it is also a realm in which we enter. Here are some passages below:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. (Matthew 23:13)

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell (Mark 9:47)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)

Other such passages that speak of the kingdom of God as a realm are as follows: Matthew 5:20; 18:3; 19:23-24; Mark 10:15, 23-25; Luke 18:24-25; John 3:5; 2 Peter 1:10-11.

Thus, just as we noted that the kingdom of God has a future aspect along with its present reality, so should we recognise that the kingdom is both the reign of God and a realm into which we enter.

Yet, I believe Ladd brings a helpful summary in regards to the discussion about God’s kingdom being His rule or a realm into which we enter:

‘A basileia may indeed be a realm over which a sovereign exercises his authority; and it may be the people who belong to that realm and over whom authority is exercised; but these are secondary and derived meanings. First of all, a kingdom is the authority to rule, the sovereignty of the king’ (The Gospel of the Kingdom)

Thus, it comes back to what I’ve concluded about the kingdom of God from the beginning: the kingdom is ultimately about the rule and reign of God. Even more, I am an adamant believer that Scripture teaches that the rule of God has broken into our present age and we are called to pray that this powerful reign of God would continue to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Yet, the truth is that we do find ourselves still living in this present age in which evil, sin and sickness are still at hand. Therefore, we patiently wait for that day when the age to come of the fullness of God’s kingdom will take over and conquer this present evil age. This is the day when Christ will return to make a new heaven and new earth full of righteousness and peace, with sin, evil and sickness having been completely eradicated.

Remember, God is not at tension with Himself when we speak of the current reality of His kingdom now and the final aspect that we expect at Christ’s return. But, it is in His gracious patience that He holds back the return of Christ so that more and more may come to repentance (see 2 Peter 3:9-10).

George Ladd captures the unique ‘now and not yet fully’ tension concerning God’s kingdom:

‘As there are two advents [comings] of Christ, one in the flesh which we call the Incarnation, the other in glory which we call the Parousia or Second Advent, so there are two manifestations of God’s Kingdom: one in power and glory when Christ returns, but one which is present now because God’s Son has already appeared among men.’ (The Gospel of the Kingdom)

Another noted theologian also brings a great balance with this statement:

‘Although such attempts [to reconcile the full New Testament’s teaching in regards to the kingdom] are not looked upon favourably in some circles, it would seem that fairness demands that we at least make such an attempt, for perhaps Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was both present in some new and unique way as well as future.’ (Robert Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings)

I am grateful the kingdom has come, but I want to keep praying that it continues coming into this present age and that the Son returns to marry His bride soon!

Click here to read my thoughts about the relationship between the kingdom and the church.

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