Jesus’s ministry, as foretold by John the Baptist, was concerned with the kingdom. The word kingdom appears 118 times in the Gospels, of which fifty-two use the expression “kingdom of God” and thirty-one refer to the “kingdom of heaven.”
The difference between the two expressions is normally seen as stylistic, with Matthew preferring “the kingdom of heaven” for his more Jewish audience, who would not utter the name of God. At its core, Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom is summed up in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2).
The prayer is that God’s kingdom will come to earth and that God’s will be done on earth as is the case in heaven. Earth is spoiled by sin, but the question is whether it is spoiled beyond restoration. Jesus’s prayer clearly implies that there is hope.
HOPE FOR RENEWAL
Any view can be pushed too far and fall into error, and this is true for a one-kingdom cultural mandate view. We may be tempted to think that our commitment to the earth will result in its renewal. This is not what the Bible teaches.
Ultimate renewal will not be realized until the time of Jesus’s return to earth, and he will do it. But that does not mean that we should not advocate for how it will be then by how that future is anticipated now. This is what New Testament readers refer to as the “now/not yet” tension of the kingdom.
What will the kingdom be like? It will be a place of justice, healing, and reconciliation (and many other qualities). Such kingdom values are to be seen in the present as we await the consummation of all things.
The question is, should Christians divide themselves between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God? If the answer to this question is yes, it raises all sorts of complications. At what time are they serving which kingdom? Does a Christian politician deal with the kingdom of this world on weekdays and the kingdom of God on Sunday? What kingdom is a mother serving as she cares for her children? How many kingdoms are there?
Of course, many theologians who hold to a two-kingdom view do not see things in such black-and-white categories. They see God working in various vocations. But at some point, a line needs to be drawn between the two kingdoms.[i]
THE REAL DIVIDE
The Gospels clearly identify two kingdoms, but the division is not between sacred and secular; the division is between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. On one occasion, in response to healing a mute man, some people accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Luke 11:14–15). In response to this charge Jesus said: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand” (Luke 11:17–18)?
The miracles of Jesus are presented as evidence of a battle between two kingdoms: one of God and the other of Satan. Jesus continued, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:20–22).
The ministry of Jesus is seen as that which disarms the power of Satan. These two kingdoms continue to exert influence, although the kingdom of Satan is defeated. These two kingdoms cannot be divided between sacred and secular.
Sadly, the kingdom of Satan is all too evident within the church! But, fortunately, the kingdom of God also exerts its power over all parts of society. Christians know that the kingdom of Satan has been conquered and the strong man (Satan) has been conquered by the stronger man (Mark 3:27), but the effects of sin still abound.
NOT OF THIS WORLD
The battle between these two kingdoms comes to the fore in Jesus’s trial. In answer to Pilate’s question about whether Jesus is the king of the Jews (John 18:33), Jesus answered: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
As already noted, Jesus is discussing the origin of his kingdom, not its domain. He does not mean that his ministry is only spiritual or inward, as opposed to that which is seen and tangible. Indeed, at his trial Jesus alluded to the fact that his kingdom is very concerned with the things of the earth.
In response to the high priest’s question, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61), Jesus replied: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). In this reply, Jesus is citing Daniel 7, which says:
There came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 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. (vv. 13–14)
The dominion that is given to the Son of Man is similar to the dominion that was given to Adam in the garden of Eden. It is dominion over this world. Jesus’s repeated use of the title “Son of Man” (eighty-four times in the Gospels) identifies him as the eschatological king who is the King over all the earth. Jesus restored and expands Adamic dominion.
The two kingdoms we see in the Gospels cannot be divided along the lines of secular and sacred. One has been affected by the fall and the other is from heaven—this is how they are divided.
The effects of the fall can be just as sorely felt in the church as in the workplace. Similarly, the effects of the kingdom of God can be lived out on Mondays as well as on Sundays. Jesus is Lord over all. He is committed to his creation.
The Son of Man fulfilled all that Adam should have fulfilled, and all that Israel, corporate Adam, should have fulfilled.
As we engage in his work, we are involved in the work of the kingdom.
[i] A helpful and balanced example of a two-kingdom view that values work and vocation is G. E. Veith Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002).
Content taken from Not Home Yet by Ian K. Smith, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
Ian K. Smith is the principal of Christ College, Sydney, where he also teaches Greek and New Testament. He has also served in parish ministry and as a missionary in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. He speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and other venues.