For all of my Christian life (over four decades), I tended to see the kingdom of God and the church as the same thing. In my mind there was no differentiation between the two. When Jesus prayed “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” I thought he was referring exclusively to the church because that is where kingdom values could grow and flourish among God’s redeemed, covenant people. Outside of that, not so much. The kingdom to me was something specifically “spiritual,” something that really couldn’t happen outside of the confines of God’s people. Out there was God’s common grace, as Jesus says, the sun shines and it rains on the just and the unjust. In my mind the “spiritual” kingdom of God had nothing to do with this fallen world which is passing away. I was wrong, but more on that in a minute.

I look back at this with a sense of irony because ever since I discovered Francis Schaeffer in college, I’ve been a big Christian worldview guy. I believed the Christian faith applied to all of life, and rejected any kind of sacred/secular distinction. As the great Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper said, and I believed, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Yet there was a bifurcation in my mind, a fork in the road where God’s kingdom and the church went off in one direction, and the fallen world inevitably in the opposite direction. I now believe this is not the biblical understanding of the kingdom of God, the church, or the world. This goes back to my eschatological epiphany of a year ago August that entirely changed my perspective on what it is God is doing in history.

This is a big topic requiring far more space than a blog post can adequately address, but we can briefly focus on the first three chapters of Genesis to make the point. The entirety of redemptive history is found in these three chapters, creation, fall, and redemption, and they will help us see why the kingdom and the church are distinctive entities in God’s economy.

Creation and Fall
When God created the heavens and the earth he emphasized its goodness, that it was for His glory and the flourishing of man who was to exercise dominion over it. We call this the cultural or dominion mandate. We read His charge to Adam and Eve in Gen. 1:28 (KJV):

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

First let’s notice God’s desire for humanity, the apex of his creation: He wants them to be fruitful. When we look at a tree and see fruit on it, what do we think? There should be many things Christians think, but one is that bearing fruit is what trees do, it’s what they are made for, their telos or purpose. When God made man, male and female he created them, it was to bear fruit, it is what they were made for. It is critical to understand, though, that this is not solely referring to creating little humans, but bearing fruit in every area of our lives. God, as the book of Genesis makes very clear, wants to bless us, as I wrote about here recently. The word is used over 60 times in the book, the first of which is in this verse. Contrary to the devil’s lie, God is no big meany out to keep all the goodies for himself and make us miserable. Sinners easily believe that, but it’s not true. 

The secret to true happiness is found in this verse. The first is to have babies, if you are married and can. God is clear throughout Scripture, more babies, more happiness. It is our telos! One of the ways to unlock this secret is to become both less self-absorbed and self-obsessed, and marriage and babies will most certainly do that. 

Then, we are to subdue and have dominion, i.e., rule. What does that mean? A lot! God uses two different words for a reason. Subdue according to Strong’s means to “bring into bondage, force, keep under, subdue, bring into subjection.” Unlike Rousseau thought and his current secular leftist followers think, “nature” is not our friend. It must be brought into subjection—we call that civilization. Dominion or rule is more positional, in that it gives us the authority over creation to act as its rulers as God’s vice regents, His image bearers. We are Christ’s body on earth, so it is our responsibility to exercise dominion in his place, as he exercises it over all rulers and authorities and powers, both spiritual and temporal. The fall didn’t change God’s charge to man made in his image.

When Adam and Eve decided to trust the serpent rather than God, the creation with man fell into sin and death. At that moment, the creation didn’t transfer ownership to the devil. Psalm 124:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” All he could do was pervert and distort what God created good, but he could not change the fundamental goodness of creation, of material reality. Modern Christians tend to think the dominion mandate doesn’t apply to us anymore, but it most definitely does. When you wake up every morning and fight to put bread on your table and a roof over your head, you are exercising the dominion mandate as God’s image bearer, and more importantly as a Christian.

Jesus as the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49) fulfilled the covenant that Adam could not. What Adam lost, a world blessed by God without sin, Jesus came to redeem, and not just individual sinners, but the earth, creation itself. Thinking Christianity is primarily about dying and going to heaven misses the larger point, as Paul says in Romans 8:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

In eternity, God promised the Son that this fallen creation, including man, would be given to him to redeem and restore (the covenant of redemption). This promise is given to God’s people in Genesis 3:14-15, where we learn the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about crushing—it is total, it is absolute. Jesus accomplished this crushing by his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and reign at the right hand of the Father. This is already done; working it out is just details, of which you and I get to be intimately involved. We are, to put it bluntly in redemptive terms, in the crushing business! 

Sadly, most Christians don’t believe this, thus the salvation is dying and going to heaven focus. We think on a practical level that Jesus came to redeem our souls, and not so much the earth, creation, this material fallen world. Of course we know how it ends; Revelation 21 and 22 make that perfectly clear. But we are under the impression that the new heavens and earth comes down out of heaven as a one-time event, a complete rupture in the space-time continuum, old fallen earth out, new redeemed earth in. As I used to see it, the devil has the upper hand “down here” and basically wins the world war of material reality in a fallen world. When Jesus returns he cleans up the mess, puts the furniture back where it belongs, and we live happily ever after. The only problem with my previous perspective is that it was utterly wrong.

Christology as the Key to Church and Kingdom
The study of Christ, Christology, is seeking to understand his nature, who he is, and his mission, what he came to earth to accomplish. As we delve into him more deeply, we’ll see that we’ve been constricting his mission to a narrow sphere of existence we call “spirituality.” Modern Christians tend to live a dualistic existence, upstairs-downstairs, where the spiritual, eternal next-life stuff is more important than the mundane, material everyday this-life stuff. It is not. This is the bifurcation I mentioned above. 

Let’s say we do our morning Scripture reading and prayer, the “spiritual” part of our day, that’s one road, the most important road, by far. Then we go down the other road where the fork is, and it has a sign that says, “The Rest of Life,” and that’s what we do every day after our worship time with the Lord. Mind you I did not think this at all. I knew everything I did was “unto the Lord,” but my theology missed the mission of the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus now seated reigning at God’s right hand. Or course I knew he is there and interceding for me before the Father, wretched sinner that I am, but that’s just it. It was for me! What about the rest of creation? That, my friends, is a huge question, and our answer will determine how we look at life. The answer will broadly fall one of two ways: victory or defeat.  

I believed creation, the earth, will be redeemed at the end, but I missed that Jesus started redeeming and transforming it when he ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This redemption Jesus accomplished and the Holy Spirit is applying, is a package deal, his people and his earth. Remember the crushing? That started 2,000 years ago. Adam lost his ability to rule, to exercise dominion, and Jesus gave it back. He is now exercising the dominion Adam forfeited through us! Does that sound strange to you? Not too long ago, it sure sounded strange to me. How does this actually work? We read about the authority Jesus was given when he was coronated as King at the ascension in several passages, including Ephesians 1:15-23, and Daniel 7:9-14. We further read that his reign is not only over the hearts of Christians, his people, but over his enemies and is happening now and until they are all defeated. We learn this in I Corinthians 15:25, and Psalm 110 says the same thing: 

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

These enemies are not just in our hearts and in our struggle to overcome sin, they are everything and everywhere in a fallen world. Keep in mind, Jesus is conquering his enemies through us his church until the final enemy, death, is destroyed at his second coming. The church is the staging ground, and from there  we are daily sent into the world to transform it.  It is a gradual thing, not a one-time cataclysmic event like I used to believe. And we’re only 2000 years into it, so we’re just getting started!

John the Baptist got the ball rolling when he declared: Repent, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus started his ministry with the exact same words. It is instructive to note the word kingdom, basileia- βασιλεία in Greek, is used over a hundred times in the gospels. The word church, by contrast, ekklésia- ἐκκλησία, is used three times in two verses in Matthew. You can come to your own conclusions, but something tells me we’ve ignored the kingdom of heaven and of God to the church’s and societies’  detriment. The ἐκκλησία was the assembly of citizens in the city-states of ancient Greece, those who helped govern and rule the Greek polis (i.e., city). In the same way, the church, this spiritual assembly, is to participate in the reign of Christ over the earth. The church has the authority to minister the word and the sacraments, and Christians go into the world extending Christ’s reign, advancing this kingdom of heavenly and Godly values, and building his church. Through His word and our words, not swords and violence, we bring the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control, and justice. In Hebrew this is called Shalom.

The devil doesn’t stand a chance. He’s already been crushed.

Next time you sing the Christmas carol, Joy to the World, think about the Lord is come, the Savior reigns:

3 No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.



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