This was written as an Excursus for a chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’
I am well aware of the view held by many respected scholars who believe that “the Kingdom of God” is the main theme of the Bible. But it must be admitted that it has not been an overarching theme of Genesis, and therefore of the first several thousand years of history. Though it may be rightly intimated from the image of God of Genesis 1:26-27, and the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28f., that man was to rule over the world for His Maker, the idea of a kingdom of God had not yet taken clear shape in the biblical text, especially from the time of the Fall. What we see, rather, is the story of fallen humanity moving away from their Creator and His program, and a providential counter-movement through Noah to Abram finalizing at some future point in a coming potentate from Judah. Hence, the kingdom theme emerges very gradually from the Hebrew narrative. Surely a more prominent theme has been the figure of the coming “Deliverer King” who is promised at the beginning and the end of the Book (Gen. 3:15; 49:8-10).
I am prepared to accept this thesis about the important status of the kingdom of God, but only if one allows certain objections to have their full weight. The fact is that there are several reasons which militate against this opinion, and it withstands them only on the strength of the totality of the Bible’s broader teaching about the Messiah, seen mainly through the prophetic writings in both Testaments. Let me unpack these objections below.
Firstly, one cannot brush over the fact that the Book of Genesis places little or no direct emphasis on the kingdom of God, and it is only through making the term do several chores at once that an argument from Genesis can be made. By “kingdom of God” are we to mean the universal rule of God over all He has made? If so then I respectfully point out that we are asserting a truism about providence which hardly requires an argument: God is going to be God! Of course, what can be said about God in this sense cannot be said of man.
Secondly, we might agree with “the recent scholarly consensus [which] largely contends that the kingdom, while present in some sense, nevertheless still awaits a future consummation at the second coming of Jesus Christ, although the kingdom came in provisional fashion at his first advent.” That is how many people view it, but it requires us to read Genesis, and in fact the Old Testament, with the New Testament already in hand; something which my method here does not permit me to do.
Thirdly, if we define the kingdom of God as God’s reign over the earth and mankind in fellowship with us as vice-regents, we shall have to admit that such a kingdom is eschatological; that it is the goal of the Bible’s eschatology. Hence, teleology and eschatology move towards the realization of the kingdom of God. It has not been manifested yet in history. As Saucy observed,
God’s kingly rule is brought to the earth through the mediation of the kingdom of the Messiah… This pervasive mediatorial kingdom program, ultimately fulfilled through the reign of Christ, is the theme of Scripture and the unifying principle of all aspects of God’s work in history.
With this I agree, and here the realization of the kingdom of God and the Creation Project are virtually synonymous. Here one encounters the “mediatorial” idea where God entrusts aspects of the nascent kingdom of God to chosen vessels (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.). I think this view has been successfully championed by men like Peters, McClain, Pentecost, Saucy, and Vlach. But in my opinion the actual kingdom of God, understood as “the earthly kingdom of Messiah” is proleptic; that is, seen in advance of its materialization. It is anticipated more than it is perceived. The Law of Moses and the throne of David provide concrete yet imperfect instances, not so much of Messiah’s kingdom, but rather of intensified illustrations of God’s universal reign in a fallen world. Understood this way it is rightly called “mediatorial.”
We find a theocracy, but not the one ushered in at the end of history by “he who comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10). If we wish to look for such a kingdom where God’s blessings are mediated to the nations, we will have to wait. However one sees it, “the earthly kingdom” will always suffer from contingency until the prophesied Messiah comes to rule.
This is why I prefer to think of the arrival of the coming King as the telos of the Bible. It is the King who brings about the realization of the Kingdom of God. For example, in the time of Jesus, as we shall see, the kingdom was thought of mainly in terms of the future, not the present. The same is true in the Prophets, as I hope to show. The mediatorial kingdom view prior to the advent is at best a shadow of the actual kingdom of Messiah. The consummation of the mediatorial kingdom will be when it is “brought into conformity with God’s Universal Kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24, 28).” It oughtn’t to surprise us that the idea emerges as the person of the Messiah comes more and more into focus in the progress of revelation.
King and Kingdom
The term “kingdom” occurs only twice in Genesis (Gen. 10:10; 20:9), and neither usage concerns the kingdom of God. Genesis 3:15 is at best a pale intimation of this kingdom, with nothing of any substance on the issue being broached to Noah or Abraham. What can be asserted is that God’s covenant with Abraham included the grant of a land in perpetuity to Abraham’s heirs (Gen. 15).
It is a similar story with the word “king” (melek). Although it is used many times in Genesis it is not employed to designate the coming Ruler over the future kingdom until Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:7. Added to this, and as was already noted above, Genesis 41:40 is the sole mention of “throne” in Genesis, and that is a reference to Pharaoh’s throne. So, to repeat, we find no real development of the kingdom of God concept in the Genesis period. (more…)