The Kingdom of God is central to Jesus' message. It is a theme in the Bible that spans from page 1 all the way to the second to last paragraph of the Bible.
In this episode, Tim and Jon look at a key Biblical theme that traces throughout the entire Bible––the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is central to Jesus’ message, but it can be confusing to understand completely. The guys will discuss why Jesus talked about the Kingdom so much and what that should mean to us as Jesus followers. Before they dive into the discussion, Tim will give a brief explanation of the concept of the Kingdom and its introduction into Scripture in Genesis 1.
In the first part of the episode (01:05-07:00), Tim and Jon talk about Jesus’ message in the Gospels. The New Testament authors boiled down Jesus’ message to, “repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” We tend to think of Jesus as a moral teacher, but his lessons on morality and love only make sense if the Kingdom of God and his reign are coming to change the world.
In the next part of the episode (07:20-14:02), the guys talk about what it means for the reign of God to arrive in Jesus. The image of God is an idea in Scripture that is connected to this Kingdom, and both of these ideas are anchored in Genesis 1.
In the final part of the episode (14:24-29:18), the guys look at what it means for God’s Kingdom to be seen through humans. Psalm 8 is a poetic reflection on Genesis 1 and humanity’s role in God’s creation. God rules the world through humans, and human rule is tied to being made in God’s image.
Video: This episode is designed to accompany our video called, “Gospel of the Kingdom." You can view it on our youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmFPS0f-kzs
Scripture References: Genesis 1 Psalm 8
Show Music: Defender Instrumental by Rosasharn Music Blue Skies by Unwritten Stories Flooded Meadows by Unwritten Stories
Podcast Date: November 03, 2015
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: In this episode of The Bible Project podcast, Tim and I are going to be dialoguing
about a theme in the Bible that begins at the very beginning of Scripture, it goes all
the way to the end. It's a theme that's central to Jesus' message, but it's incredibly
difficult for us to understand. Well, I should say, at least for me to understand. It's
the theme of the Kingdom of God. This dialogue was super helpful for me in
wrapping my mind around why that was so central to Jesus' message and what it
should mean to me if I'm trying to follow Jesus.
We broke this up into three parts. In this first part, Tim introduces the concept of the
Kingdom of God and shows us how it is staring us in the face in Genesis chapter 1.
Tim: One of the most interesting little mental exercises to do is to ask yourself, "Have I
tried to boil down everything I know about what Jesus ever said? If I had to
summarize it in one sentence or think of one saying or teaching that is the essence
of what I think he taught, what would that be?"
Jon: So what would it be?
Tim: Well, you tell me. We have done it before.
Jon: Yeah, we just did this. We already went from this exercise. But I said, "Love your
neighbor." Is what I said.
Tim: Yes. Love your neighbor, popular number one. Coming in at hot second would be
the golden rule, "do unto others as you would have them do to you." Maybe
somebody who's really passionate about social justice might think of "love your
enemies, forgive them, pray for them," that kind of thing.
Jon: Someone who deals with a lot of anxiety like me, I always go to "do not worry." For
some reason that one feels like an important.
Tim: Birds don't worry about food, so why should you? Here's what's interesting about
that is that how I summarize what I think is the main message or teaching of Jesus
tells me a lot about who I think Jesus was. In contrast to that is an interesting fact.
The three of the four accounts of Jesus' life in the New Testament, the Gospels
according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they summarize the whole message of Jesus
for us. In the first sentence that they put in is his mouth when he comes on to the
public scene in each of those gospels. And that summary sentence is, "Repent for
the Kingdom of God is here, or it has arrived."
So from the Gospel authors point of view, the moral teachings of Jesus, love your
neighbor, the scandalous moral teachings, forgive your enemies, that kind of thing,
those are not the essence of Jesus' message. Those are subordinate to some larger,
more important idea. Those behaviors only make sense in light of some bigger
thing. And that bigger thing is that the Kingdom of God is here.
Jon: Would you say because the gospel authors summarize it as "the Kingdom of God is
here" or near...What are they saying? Here or near?
Tim: Near or has arrived is kind of way I like to paraphrase it.
Jon: Since they're doing that, that's how a Christ follower should do?
Tim: Yeah. We tend to, by those summaries, think of Jesus primarily as a moral teacher.
The gospels are interested in portraying Jesus as a prophet in line with Israel's
prophets who was announcing and heralding the great day of God's justice and
Jon: Do you think that we don't emphasize that because we just don't understand? I
mean, it's a lot harder to understand this idea of the Kingdom of God, how that ties
into all this prophecy? I mean, it's really dense.
Tim: It's a foreign narrative to us. We in the West have a grand narrative of moral
progress. Really. I mean, that's the driving narrative of the Western world is of moral
Jon: Good point.
Tim: So, we like to tie Jesus into that where we can, but Jesus' grand narrative was about
the covenant story of God in Israel and the world coming to its climax in himself and
the arrival of the kingdom. That's weird. Because kingdom and prophecy has an
American Christianity mostly been dominated by end of the world left behind
weirdness that we don't know what to do with this part of who Jesus is.
Jon: Yeah, that makes sense. And that's why this project so much it's going back and
saying, "Okay, what is this kind of crazy story that's unfamiliar to us. We get
feedback that the word "crazy" is a bad word to use. And we like to use it. It's
unfamiliar, surprising, strange story. And so this idea of God's kingdom, that's one of
the strangest things for us to think about.
Tim: I mean, there are still kingdoms in the world today but they're more likely kind of—
Tim: The United Kingdom. Britain have a queen and prince and princess and that kind of
thing. But for the most part of their archaic revivals from an earlier era of human
history. So kingdom and kings isn't a social reality for most Westerners or for most
of the modern world. So we think of democracy not kings. So the word is foreign,
and its imagery. And then the story, the biblical story that Jesus sees himself fulfilling
is also foreign to us because it's not our grand narrative.
The whole point is that for Jesus he summarized his message the Kingdom of God is
what Jesus talked about more than any other topic hands down. So just in the
Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus mentions the kingdom over 50 times, which is 1.5
times per page of the 28-chapter Gospel of Matthew. So it's clearly that's what he
dominated. That was the dominating theme of his teaching.
So if we want to understand who Jesus is and who he sees himself as, we need to
learn what this term meant and how it fits into the story in the Bible.
Tim: The English word "Kingdom" if you look in the dictionary, it primarily refers to a
place. And the Greek and Hebrew words, Greek, basileús, and Hebrew, malkuth
refers to an activity, an action or—
Jon: In English, it refers to a place, and Hebrew and Greek—
Tim: The biblical term Old Testament and New Testament refers primarily to an action
that includes a place. So here's how I say in the notes here, that in Bible it refers to
an action - the rule or the reign of a king over Israel people, which is going to be
Jon: So like your kingdoming someone?
Tim: Yeah. I actually think the verbs "rule" or...we have a noun and English "the reign of a
king," which obviously has to take place somewhere—
Jon: So by saying, "The reign of the king" is the same thing as saying the kingdom of the
Tim: In the Bible, yes.
Jon: In the Bible?
Tim: Yeah. The word "Kingdom" has stuck with us from older English from the King James
and Tyndale before him, and that noun has just stuck in English translations over
time. But the biblical word refers to the activity of a king reigning over his people.
Jon: So when Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is here," you could translate that "the
reign of God is here"?
Tim: Correct. And the importance is that especially because Matthew was the first gospel
in the New Testament, the frequent phrase and Matthew is "the kingdom of
heaven," which Jesus uses anonymously with "the kingdom of God." "Heaven" is just
paraphrase for talking about God's reign or the reign of heaven. But the problem in
the history of Western interpretation has been because kingdom of heaven is what
people read first in the New Testament, they think of it as a place.
Jon: Yeah, because Heaven is a place.
Tim: Heaven is God's space in the cloud somewhere.
Jon: And so there's a kingdom up there.
Tim: There's a kingdom up there and it's arriving here. I mean, that's not too far from the
idea, but it's more talking about there's God's space where God is king and where
Jon: There's a reality in which God reigns.
Tim: There's a reality in which God reigns and where everything that is done is God's will.
The story of the Bible as it goes on, the earth has become a place where God's will is
not done because we assert our will over it. And God's allowed us to do that. And so
Jesus is announcing the arrival of God's reign to take back His world from us. That's
at least phase one. It's not quite as simple as that.
Jon: Phase one meaning idea one?
Tim: Idea one, yeah. There you go. Kingdom in the Bible refers to an activity. Primarily, it
assumes a place. So if a king is reigning, he's reigning over some people somewhere.
Jon: So that idea is taken for granted in Hebrew thought?
Tim: Yeah. Whereas in English, it refers we think of a place as opposed to the person and
the way that the person is reigning.
Jon: The word kingdom, is that Latin dom? What's dom even mean?
Tim: Dom. The Latin root dom. Well, on Wiktionary, it forms a noun that denotes the
condition, power, dominion, authority or state from proto-dramatic [SP] domas.
Tim: Ah, so forming nouns that denote condition or state. Boredom, freedom, martyrdom,
Jon: Okay. So a state of the kingdom?
Tim: Forming nouns that note the dom, domain or jurisdiction. Christendom, fiefdom,
kingdom. Those are the two main ones. A condition or domain.
Jon: A domain kind of speaks to land.
Tim: Yeah, exactly. Geography. It can also form a condition.
Jon: But that's what you're speaking to is the condition.
Tim: In Bible, it's referring to a condition or a state of activity. So boredom is a state of
being bored. Kingdom is a state of being ruled - a state of being under someone's
rule. If you're in the kingdom, if you are bringing the kingdom, you are reigning.
Jon: You're bringing the rule.
Tim: You're bringing the rule, yes. Some of my favorite New Testament scholars on this
whole topic, RT France or NT Wright or a German guy, [unintelligible 00:12:31], they
translate it as "the rule of God or the reign of God has arrived." And I think that's
helpful. Just twisted in English a little bit to make it fresh. And then it gets you to ask
a question: what does it mean for Jewish prophet to come onto the scene 2,000
years ago, saying, "The rule of God has arrived?" Has God not been ruling?
Jon: And it's helpful because it's a word we still use.
Tim: It's a word we still use. To rule.
Jon: I don't go around really talking about kingdoms.
Tim: And even rule or reign, it's not like you wouldn't...like a manager doesn't reign in the
Jon: Who's in charge?
Tim: We would say, who's in charge?
Jon: Who is the boss?
Tim: NT Wright paraphrase is running the show or in charge. Which just begged the
question, so what does it mean for the reign of God to arrive in Jesus?
Jon: And how would a Jewish person perceive that.
Tim: That's right. There, I think we have to go back to just the biblical story. The Kingdom
of God is one of these themes that run from Page 1 to the very last page. Literally,
from Page 1 to the second to the last paragraph of the Bible.
Jon: Nice. So it's truly a theme that runs straight through the Bible?
Tim: A good Bible trivia fact, great at parties to now, where's the first time that the word
rule or reign or anything to do with a king or reigning appears in the Bible? I guess
I've already given it away.
Jon: You have. But if I hadn't looked at your notes, I probably would have guessed...I'm
looking at your notes though now and so I'm—
Tim: It's ruined.
Jon: It's ruined.
Tim: There's one more. There's one more Bible trivia fact that I won't reveal to you yet.
Where in the Bible is the first time the idea of ruling or reigning appears? Page 1. Or
in some Bible, the way the page might be formatted, page 2. It's closely connected
to the image of God.
Jon: The idea of reigning is.
Tim: The idea of reigning is. So God makes a really good world full of potential, it's
exploding with potential and life. The culmination of Genesis 1 is the famous line,
God created mankind in His own image; in the image of God, He created him; male
and female he created them. God blessed them, said to them, Be fruitful and
increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it, rule over the fish in the sea, the birds
in the sky, every other living creature that moves on the ground."
So that word "rule," it's one of the standard Hebrew words for what kings do - to
rule or to reign.
Jon: And it's not the word "kingdom"?
Tim: It's not the word kingdom. No. In studying biblical themes, you need to be sensitive
to not just assuming—
Jon: Not do word studies.
Tim: Yeah. Theme studies are distinct from word studies. An idea can be represented by
lots of different words or even metaphors. So the idea can be present in executing
Jon: But if the word "kingdom" kind of means the verb "rule," there's another word that
also means rule.
Tim: Yes. There's multiple - probably about three different verbs that describe the act of
ruling and reigning as a king and they all have different nuances. But this one has to
do with ruling - having an authority to oversee and to steward and manage.
Jon: Does it have kind of kingly connotations?
Tim: Yes. It's a great translation because you to say rule, who uses that word? right?
That's not what your boss does at Subway. He doesn't rule the place. Even in English
that we think of someone in a state of governing authority, that's what we use the
word rule for. And that's similar here.
So it's depicting humans as having some royal task. And that connects back to the
Image of God. So here's the big question, do we do a quick movement on the Image
of God in this video?
Jon: We did that in Genesis 1.
Tim: We did that quickly in Genesis 1, but this would be to bring out a different nuance of
it. That's Genesis 1.
Jon: Did we ever talk about just doing a video on Image of God. I thought so and then I
looked in our theme videos—
Jon: I know it's on the list, but I think we had discussed it before.
Tim: Yeah, we had. I think it's actually will be wrapped up in the new humanity. I think
that we're doing something on new humanity. So that would be that one.
Jon: So, when you say it's a royal task, I mean, I don't even really understand royalty and
kingdoms that well, but it seems like that had a certain very special meaning, royal.
Tim: Yes, it does. So let's look at Psalm 8, and then let's think about the Image of God,
and then this all comes together in a really, I think, profound way. So Psalm 8 is a
poetic reflection on Genesis 1 and specifically humanity's role in the world.
So Psalm 8:4 begins with this line, "What is mankind that you are mindful of him;
what's humanity that you care for him. You've made him a little lower than the
Jon: Which is pretty awesome.
Tim: Right. That's reflecting on this: Human beings are made out of dirt, so we're
Earthlings, literally, but there's also something transcendent or sacred. The biologists
call this what? An emergent form or something. This is physics. An emergent form,
where in evolutionary development, there are these leaps that happen where the
complexity of a form isn't reducible to any one cause, but to multiple factors. And
it's a new entity.
Jon: A lot of people think of consciousness that way.
Tim: That's right. Exactly right. And it doesn't mean we can't trace the development, but it
doesn't mean at some point, it stops being a whole bunch of the things from the
previous stage and it is a new genuine thing in its own right. What am I talking
Jon: We were dust but there's something there.
Tim: Something other about humans.
Jon: Other than dust.
Tim: In Genesis 1, that's reflected as image of God. Genesis 2, it's called the divine breath
that animates the humans. But it's that humans are a mix of heaven and earth, would
be the Bible's way of talking about it. And notice immediately it goes, they are
crowned with glory and honor, you made them rulers over the works of your hands
and everything. So, crowned and rulers.
Jon: And under your feet, that's a very royal—
Tim: Yeah, that's right. It's about being on a throne with having like a footstool, or an
image of again of authority.
Tim: Within the narrative world of Genesis 1, God is the Creator-king; he speaks things
happen. He makes people who are going to live under His reign. He makes these
people in a certain way and gives them a unique role. They are the image of God.
Traditionally, in western history, image of God has been studied as some trait that
makes humans unique from animals.
Jon: Like our ethics or—
Tim: Ability to forgive, relationship, or covenant or the intellect, consciousness, something
like that. So by far, the consensus in biblical studies, like every commentary, is that
the meaning of the image of God is anchored one in Genesis 1, the way the
sentence has put together, but two, in its ancient Near Eastern context. I don't know
if we have time to go into this, but it's interesting.
"Then God said, 'Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness, and let them
have dominion over the fish of the sea.'" In Hebrew, there's no periods, so let's take
out that period. Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness and let them
rule or let them have dominion."
So in the first time, the image of God is used, it's directly connected to reigning. So
humans are the way that God reigns the world. It's a very interesting narrative
beginning. The image of God is something that humans are and something's
humans do. They embody and image God's rule and reign over the world.
That's how the narrative of the Bible sets up is that God's plan was to share His
world with humans and to have His reign and His rule and His will be brought out in
the world through human beings. If you start thinking through the stories of the
Bible, there are very few store is where God acts or does anything that doesn't
happen through a human.
Even think of the Exodus, like the parting of the Red Sea. If you're just an Israelite
looking on, you would see Moses put the staff over the waters. So the way the God
of the Bible works is through image-bearing human beings. And that's how God
reigns the world through humans.
This is the ancient Near Eastern context is that the word "image" refers to statue, and
it is used to refer to idol statues in Israel's history. Israel was not supposed to ever
make images to represent God.
Jon: But they were one.
Tim: But the Bible begins with God making an image of God's own self in humans. Most
of the large scale, like large statues that have survived from the ancient world are
images of gods or kings. Specifically, Egyptian and Assyrian and Babylonian kings
viewed themselves in their cultures as deities. So in Egyptian, the phrase "image of
God" is used but only ever to describe the king as the Image of God. And it's the
same in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian.
Jon: So this is very flattening democratic kind of thing happening at the beginning of
Tim: Yeah. This is what's cool. Genesis one, I think is intentionally making a charged
statement in its day that being the image of God is not something that only the elite
do, but rather it's a reality that all human beings are.
And you see that in the narrative. All humanity as a whole is given this task to rule
and reign. It's all humanity. Which is why in Genesis 9, image of God is connected to
the sacredness of all human life. So if someone murders another human, if you shed
blood, your blood shall be shed because humans are made in the image of God. So
the point is that all humans are the—
Jon: There isn't classes.
Tim: There's the classes within the narrative world of the Bible. There's just humans who
image God. And humans have this royal task.
Jon: And I guess that's not very scandalous for modern Westerners.
Tim: No. What scandalous is that this is a biblical idea. Like that's where the idea comes
Tim: It's not something that we have received from—
Jon: It wasn't a Greek idea?
Tim: Not a Greek idea and certainly wasn't an Eastern idea. It's a Jewish Christian idea that
humans are sacred because they are made in the—
Jon: And in this moment it was a very revolutionary idea.
Tim: Yeah. Wrapping all this together, I think Genesis 1, the first time the idea of reigning
or ruling or of God reigning or ruling in the Bible...no, of anybody. Actually, God
reigning, that's the other trivia question. So the first time the word or the concept of
ruling and reigning appears it humans ruling and reigning over creation and it's tied
to their nature as made in God's image.
So God's the king, He reigns, but the Bible begins with God sharing that rule and
asking humans to embody that rule and reign over creation. So it's tied to the
human project of humans managing and ruling the world on God's behalf.
Jon: The video for the Kingdom of God will be up on YouTube before the end of the year,
December 2015. That's what we're shooting for. The rest of this conversation will be
in the next two episodes. In the next episode, we talk about what went wrong with
the Kingdom of God and then God's plan to fix it.
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