The Bible is a big complex book. There is no doubt about it. People struggle to understand it. They find it hard to put all the pieces together. The Bible can seem like a thousand piece puzzle spread on the table before us. Struggle as we may we just can’t seem to make all the pieces fit. We need some help. All puzzle lovers know that there is help in putting together large and complex puzzles. There is the box top. The seven keys to unlock the treasure of the Bible is like the box top in putting together all the pieces of the Bible. Without them we can get some of the pieces to fit, but not nearly all. We can never put all the pieces of the Bible together perfectly, but we can come a lot closer with these seven keys. This article explores the fourth key.
In the unfolding story of redemption in the Bible we find many important themes that thread their way through the whole Bible forming the great tapestry of God’s plan of salvation. These themes put the meat on the bones of the story of the Bible. They also give us the application of the biblical story to our own story. Each book of the Bible has numerous themes, but just a few major themes. Some of these major themes are: sin, sacrifice, love, judgment, temple, grace, hope, and many others. But the central theme of the Bible is the Kingdom of God.
All the Bible’s many themes relate in some way to this central theme of the kingdom of God. This was the main focus of everything Jesus taught (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; John 3:3). As Jesus expressed the meaning of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of all its promises in him, he did so in terms of the kingdom of God. It helps to understand the biblical teaching of the kingdom of God in two ways. First, we see the universal kingdom of God. God is sovereign over all things. As the late theologian, R. C. Sproul said, “There are no rogue molecules in the universe.” We see this in Psalm103:19, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” The second way we see the kingdom of God in the Bible is God’s rule in the hearts and lives of people. This is where the struggle of the kingdom of God is seen. While all the universe obeys the will of God, people do not submit to the rule of God in their lives. We are all cosmic rebels. So God is working in the world and throughput history to establish his kingdom among people. The ups and downs of the kingdom of God is the plot line of the story of the whole Bible. God set up his kingdom on earth in creation with humanity as its stewards. God blessed them and gave them dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:28). The kingdom fell into ruin when the man and the woman rebelled against God’s one command (Genesis 3). The struggle throughout the Old Testament is to re-establish the kingdom of God, which is his sovereign reign in the hearts of his people. But the people of the earth continue to rebel against the rule of God. God called his chosen people, Israel, to be the instrument through which he would establish his kingdom. The Messiah, the Savior of the world would come through Israel. But even his chosen people would rebel against him time and time again.
Finally, in accordance with God’s eternal plan and the prophecy of the Old Testament, Jesus comes to re-establish the kingdom of God and set all things right. According to God’s eternal plan the kingdom of God after Jesus has two phases. The first phase is the kingdom already here through Jesus’ first coming, but not yet fully complete. Believers in Jesus Christ living today and since the time of Jesus are in the kingdom of God and look forward to its full completion. The second phase of the kingdom of God begins at Jesus’ return, which brings in the fully consummated kingdom of God. We see how this works out through the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.
The kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching exhibit several tensions. First, there is the “when” tension. Is the kingdom of God in the present with the coming of Jesus, or is it in the future? This tension in the teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God is resolved by saying that the kingdom is already here in the coming and ministry (and specially the passion) of the king, but it is not yet fully consummated. It will be consummated in his second coming. This can be seen in the teaching of Jesus and in his parables.
The second tension in the teaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom of God is a “where” tension. Where is the kingdom of God? Is there some physical place the kingdom resides, or is it just in the hearts of Jesus’ followers? This is a reign vs realm question. Again, the tension is resolved by understanding Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world and is now among us, but will one day in its consummation be gloriously global.
The third, and final, tension is a “who” tension. By who, I mean who is in the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom personal and individual, or is it communal and social? Jesus said that one must enter the kingdom. The kingdom is entered by personal faith, so in that sense the kingdom is individual. But when a person enters the kingdom they enter the community of the redeemed, the people of God. They have a relationship with the king, but also with all others in the kingdom. The kingdom ethic is to love God supremely and love our neighbor as our self. The kingdom has a wonderful communal aspect that cannot be neglected. So the kingdom of God is the central theme upon which all the Bible turns. In the Old Testament the kingdom of God was promised through the king Messiah, In the New testament we find Jesus coming as the long awaited Messiah who brings in the glorious kingdom of God.
We’ve noted that all the themes the Bible explores are related to the central theme of the kingdom of God. But there are three other important themes that are more closely related to the kingdom of God. They are the themes of atonement, mission and spiritual conflict. Atonement is the work of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to bring fallen and sinful humanity into a right relationship with himself. Our sin is the problem that keeps us out of the kingdom of God. We are fallen, so we cannot, and we are sinful, so we will not submit to the rule of God. God provides a sacrifice to pay for our sins, thus reconciling us to himself. The old covenant sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of the true and ultimate sacrifice, the cross of Jesus Christ. We can now enter and live in the kingdom by repentance and faith in Jesus.
The message of atonement, the gospel of Jesus Christ must now be communicated to the world. This is the mission of the Church. The kingdom of God is re-established by the mission of God. God is on mission to fulfill his plan and he uses his people to accomplish that mission by calling them to be on mission with him. God’s plan is to redeem people so that they may enter his kingdom. Throughout the Old Testament God called his people to be on mission with him leading to the coming of the Messiah. When Jesus comes as the Messiah, Christ, he is totally committed and dedicated to the mission of God to save sinners that is centered in himself. In the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), the resurrected Jesus gives his disciples their mission orders. They are to go make disciples of all nations. The book of Acts and the letters of the New Testament show how that mission happens.
Since the first man and woman surrendered the kingdom to the Tempter (Satan) in the garden, there is a battle, a spiritual conflict in the mission of bringing the kingdom of God into the world. The spiritual battle rages throughout human history and is always a factor, even if in the background. We see it in the Old Testament as Israel is continually being drawn into idolatry. In the life of Jesus the spiritual conflict is focused on Jesus and his disciples. After the ascension of Jesus to heaven we see the spiritual battle being waged against the Church. We see the spiritual conflict most clearly and movingly in the book of Revelation. Satan does all he can to defeat or frustrate the plan of God. But God is victorious. The devil is defeated and the new heavens and the new earth come into reality. God’s kingdom is completely realized through Jesus Christ!
Therefore, the central theme of the kingdom of God gives shape to the story of the Bible and meaning to it message. We must keep our focus on the central theme of the kingdom of God as we read and apply the Bible to our lives. If we overlook this key to unlock the Bible’s treasures we will fail to grasp the full picture of God’s plan for the world or for our own lives. God is doing something fantastic and miraculous in the world. He is bringing to reality his eternal kingdom, in which all believers are called to enter and live.