In the last post, I introduced the idea that God became King of the nations via the cross and the resurrection. It is, indeed, a major theme of the four Gospels, as described by N. T. Wright in How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.
Obviously, it’d take a book to fully explore the idea, but here’s the briefest of introductions.
Let’s work through Matthew.
Early on, John the Baptist is found preaching –
(Mat 3:2 ESV) 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Remember that “heaven” was a euphemism for “God” (to avoid accidentally taking the Lord’s name in vain) much as we might say “Heaven, help us!” Moreover, D. A. Carson explains in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary that “kingdom” has an active sense and might be better translated as “reign.”
The BDAG Lexicon notes that the translation “kingdom” “dilute[s the] primary component of reigning activity.” Thayer’s suggests the translation “the kingdom over which God rules.”
Thus, John the Baptist really said,
(Mat 3:2 ESV) 2 “Repent, for the reign of God is at hand.”
Obviously enough, the fact that John prophesies the coming of the reign of God indicates that God would soon begin to rule when previously he had not — or had not in the same way or the same extent. There would be a major change in God’s exercise of authority — such as was predicted by Daniel –
(Dan 7:13-14 ESV) 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
(Dan 7:27 ESV) 27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’
Notice that Daniel pictures the kingdom as ruled by “one like the son of man” in the first passage, which he later explains as the kingdom of the “Most High.” And notice the use of “Most High,” which suggests that there are others not most high.
You see, we utterly ignore the point of “kingdom” by mentally translating “kingdom of heaven” as “the church,” as though John is speaking of the coming of a new human organization. Yes, the Kingdom and church are inseparably connected, but calling the Kingdom the church is like calling an aircraft carrier a “mode of transportation.” True enough, but hardly a comprehensive description.
(Mat 4:8-9 ESV) 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
In Matthew, Satan’s final temptation was to give Jesus exactly what he came to obtain. How could Satan make such a promise if the nations weren’t under Satan’s authority at the time?
(Mat 4:23 ESV) 23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
Next, Matthew adds the word “gospel.” Ask most American Christians what the “gospel” is, and they’ll say something like “Jesus died for your sins and you can be forgiven if you have faith.” But Jesus preached the gospel long before he was thought of as the Messiah, much less crucified. How could he preach the gospel?
Well, because the gospel is the subject of prophecies well known to any First Century Jew. They were familiar with such passages as –
(Isa 52:6-10 ESV) 6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” 7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 The voice of your watchmen–they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
(Compare the prophetic Psalm 47.)
The prophecy “Your God reigns!” had not been fulfilled when Isaiah was written, and the Kingdom had not yet come when Daniel was written, but Jesus changed all that.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray –
(Mat 6:9-10 ESV) 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” modifies all three petitions –
* Hallowed be your name (your name be considered holy) on earth as it is in heaven
* Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
* Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
The parallels give us three facets of the same jewel. For the kingdom to come is parallel with God’s name being revered and with God’s will being done.
“Kingdom come” ultimately speaks to the opening up of the Kingdom to the Gentiles, that is, to the entire Creation. After all, God’s name is hallowed in all of heaven.
Jesus was challenged after he cast out a demon. He responded,
(Mat 12:28-29 ESV) 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Jesus declared that the kingdom was clearly near because Satan was being bound. That is, Jesus spoke of the coming of the Kingdom as a defeat for Satan.
Jesus then predicts that the Kingdom will be given to the Gentiles –
(Mat 21:42-44 ESV) 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Thus, in some sense, the Kingdom was possessed by the Jews until they (not all, but most) rejected Jesus as Messiah. (Paul deals with this paradox in Rom 9 – 11, of course.)
Jesus again predicts his rejection by (most of) the Jews –
(Mat 22:2-7 ESV) 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”‘ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
Sure sounds like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, doesn’t it?
In Matthew’s account of the Passion, he uses irony to repeatedly assert that Jesus himself is King of the Jews.
(Mat 27:11 ESV) 11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.”
(Mat 27:28-30 ESV) 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
(Mat 27:37 ESV) 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
(Mat 27:42-43 ESV) 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
Of course, the Old Testament prophets speak of God himself as reigning over the Jews. The use of “king” to refer to Jesus, using a title reserved for God, is quite intentional. Both are king — either because Jesus and God the Father are co-regents or because they are one person. Both are true, you know.
Thus, when Jesus becomes King, so does God. The Scriptures speak in both terms, almost interchangeably. And my understanding of the Trinity allows me to see the riddle and the paradox as revealing, not obscuring, the truth.