Some Thoughts on the Kingdom of God

I have been soaking up Bruce Waltke’s magnum opus A Theology of the Old Testament. Waltke, one of the world’s foremost Hebrew and Old Testament scholars has given the church a great resource in this, his latest book. It is a wonderful addition to the work of biblical theology which is sorely needed by pastors and teachers. The tendency for therapeutic moralism, so prominent in evangelical pulpits is a result of ignorance in biblical theology. The same could be said for the fanciful interpretations of modern millenarian dispensationalism which also could be corrected with a proper understanding of biblical theology.

If you are wondering at the term “biblical theology” I certainly understand. What, after all, is theology if not “biblical”? But biblical theology is a technical term associated with a particular approach to understanding the central themes of the biblical text. James Barr has written, “Biblical theology is concerned with the vital central ‘message’ of biblical texts.” This, he writes, is to make possible “a composite and yet unitary ‘witness’ to ultimate theological truth.” Gerhard Hasel writes that the task of biblical theology “is to provide summary explanations and interpretation to the final form of these blocks of writing[the books of the Bible], with a view to letting their various themes emerge, to indicate their dynamic interrelationship, including their continuities and discontinuities with one another, and to expose the progressive revelation of divine matters.”

Waltke understands the Kingdom of God to be the central unifying theme of the Bible. He seeks to establish that “the center of the Old Testament, the message that accommodates all its themes, is that Israel’s sublime God, whose attributes hold in tension his holiness and mercy, glorifies himself by establishing his universal rule over his volitional creatures on earth through Jesus Christ and his covenant people”
(p. 144).

Certainly, the central theme of Jesus’ preaching was the Kingdom of God. His perfect obedience was a model of the moral perfection and holiness of the King. The miracles, including those over nature, sickness, and demonic forces, showed off the supreme power of the King. The teachings of Jesus communicated, to those who had ears to hear, the nature and values of the King and His Kingdom. Jesus declared that he summed up the Kingdom of God; that he was the very in-breaking of the Kingdom.

In the model prayer Jesus instructs us to petition God: “Your kingdom come.” That petition, Walkte writes, “entails that God establishes his rule over his elect covenant people through the kingship of Jesus Christ, who by the Holy Spirit places God’s imperative rule upon the hearts of those whom Christ has freed from the slavery of Satan, sin, and death. This center entails that the God of the Old Testament is the Father of Jesus Christ in the New Testament; that he world is in rebellion against him; and that to fulfill his purposes he acts in history according to his inscrutable elective purposes, choosing when, where, how, and with whom he breaks in, without necessarily explaining why. He is the ruler of creation and of history, the two themes that dominate the praise psalms in Israel’s psalter”
(p. 145).

The point that God works within history must not be missed. Certainly, God is over and above history. He is not subject to the limits of time or special dimensions. However, God uses means to establish his kingdom and he does so progressively. In other words, it is true that in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom had come. And yet, there is a “not yet” reality to the Kingdom of God. While his rule and authority are unassailable and ultimate the final consummation waits to be established. “The holy and merciful God continually irrupts into history to establish his kingdom for the hallowing of his name…In this he will not fail because of the faithful, unsullied obedience of Jesus Christ, to whom every knee will one day bow.”