Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

What is the kingdom of God? Part 7: where we are now, and what we can look forward to

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10 minutes to read God’s end-game is a human kingdom that is not just restored, but glorified, with believers taking their place as new sons of God, ruling with Jesus forever.

Continued from part 6, on how God is retaking Adam’s kingdom from Satan

I’ve argued that Psalm 82 is an anchor-point in redemptive history. Returning to it now, we’ve learned enough to explain more fully what I mean:

We have learned that God has begun executing the sentence against the gods of this world, but he has not yet completed it. The ruler of the earth has been stripped of his authority over Adam’s kingdom by the second Adam, the perfect ruler, who completely obeyed God and is perfectly qualified to represent God’s rule because he is not just made in the image of God, but he is the image of God—the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3). He has stripped Satan of his authority, but not of his power yet. He has done what is necessary to finally depose Satan and the other corrupt sons of God—and he has begun to take back the nations from them. Their power is weakened, and will ultimately be brought to nothing. But that final judgment has not yet happened, and so they still have some power over the world even as God is annexing it from them.

This is why we see Paul, for instance, saying that the gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing, because in their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Anointed” (2 Corinthians 4:3–4). Similarly he says we “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1–2). But then what happened to us?

God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, and we being dead in trespasses, he made us alive together with Anointed (by grace you are saved), and raised us together and seated us together in the heavenly places [literally? No—] in Anointed Jesus [he is in the heavenly places], in order that he might show in the coming ages the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness upon us in Anointed Jesus.Ephesians 2:4–7

Perhaps reading this series has encouraged you not to gloss over phrases like “seated us in the heavenly places” any more. To understand what it means that God has done this, we only have to ask who we have seen in the heavenly places already.

It is the sons of God. His divine council.

Our future hope is thus truly remarkable, because the kingdom of God that we are inheriting—the kingdom that God is now establishing through us—is not just a kingdom in which we are citizens. It is a kingdom in which we are kings. Viceroys of Jesus. It is a kingdom in which we replace the sons of God as rulers of the world. Jesus represents us, but we also represent him. We are rulers on his behalf—which means that if we are truly representing him, we have his authority: authority even over the gods. This is possible because we have his Spirit:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Anointed, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.Romans 8:14–17

We have been reborn into God’s family. We have become Jesus’ siblings. And if Jesus is the king of kings with all power and all authority given to him, we are part of the royal family. We are God’s dynasty.

Look at Revelation 2:26–28:

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.Revelation 2:26–28

The use of the term morning star is obviously suggestive—but the main point is this: Jesus is adopting a new royal family right out from under the noses of the previous royal family who ruled us…and there is nothing they can do.

That is what Psalm 82 is pointing us to—and that is why the Holy Spirit inspired it. He didn’t add it to the songbook of Israel because he wanted us to know about a one-time indictment of divine beings—something basically irrelevant to the history of human redemption. He inspired it because it is ultimately about us.

Psalm 82 is in our Bibles because it is a turning point in human redemption: a touchpoint for the gospel itself.

It is a promise that the evil rulership of the nations will not continue forever, but that it will be dealt with and replaced by the rulership of God. That is the whole purpose of the Psalm: it is messianic (v. 8)—imploring God to rise up and to execute his judgment against the gods by taking back the nations that they rule. The consequence of him doing this is what the gospel—the good news of the kingdom—is all about.

But this does not revolve around “heaven.” The end-game is not us being together with Jesus in an ephemeral spiritual state when we die. To borrow the colloquial caricature, the gospel is not about how to get our own cloud, harp, and wings. The hope to which we are called is far greater, and quite honestly far more outrageous, in at least three ways:

1. Heaven will be physical

This may sound like a contradiction in terms—since God is spirit, surely heaven is a spiritual (read: disembodied) place. This is true with respect to what we see in most of the Bible; but when it comes to the eternal kingdom we find that heaven and earth merge: the dwelling-place of God becomes a physical, embodied state on earth, permeated by his Spirit. This is perhaps clearest in Revelation 21, where we see the new heavens and the new earth—with the assembly of God’s people coming down out of heaven to it (Revelation 21:2, 9–10), followed by God’s declaration:

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.Revelation 21:3

Indeed, this is already partially fulfilled today, since we are temples of the Holy Spirit—but we see in the consummated kingdom that this is vastly amplified, both because the whole physical world is our undisputed territory, and because God dwells with us there physically. Although the imagery of the New Jerusalem is poetic, the reality it points to is real:

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.Revelation 22:3–5

So we are not simply waiting to be with Jesus in a disembodied state when we die. That state itself is merely an imperfect, temporary situation until we are resurrected to rule as his viceroys, in his very presence, on a new, restored earth. What this will be like I do not exactly know. I don’t think John means for us to press his images into such literal use that the new earth will have no sun nor moon—that would require a different universe with different laws of physics, and seems to obviously miss the point. The world as it is now will be “made new” (Revelation 21:5); not destroyed and then recreated as an utterly different fantasy-world. As the old world was once cleansed in water, so the present one will be cleansed in fire (2 Peter 3:7)—not as an utter annihilation, but as a destruction of the wicked; a fresh start.

Presumably this fire encompasses—and is perhaps limited to—the second death; the lake prepared for the devil and his angels. Peter certainly intimates as such with his description of the “heavenly bodies” burning as the heavens pass away with a roar (2 Peter 3:10). It hardly seems fair to his intelligence to imagine that he doesn’t have Isaiah 34:4 (cf. Isaiah 24:21–23) in mind. That being so, the sun and the moon in Revelation are surely the same spiritual beings we’ve seen in Deuteronomy 4:19—not the physical astronomical bodies.

Although the world will not be annihilated, it will be renewed; and how much more, then, our bodies, which are united to God through his Spirit. Paul says that our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like Jesus’ glorious one (Philippians 3:21): our physical form in the resurrection will be as superior to our current form as an oak is superior to an acorn (1 Corinthians 15:42–49). John agrees that “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). Becoming “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4; cf. Ephesians 5:31–32) has significant consequences, not just for our spiritual state, but our physical state also—because the physical images the spiritual. What exactly those consequences will look like is not explained—nor, I imagine, would we understand it if it were. We presumably lack the conceptual faculties to comprehend an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17).

2. We will be members of God’s family-council

As I’ve already mentioned, we will not merely be citizens of God’s kingdom in glorious embodiment; we shall be his royal family—and because we represent him perfectly, having been freed from the bondage of sin, we have the right to reign with him (2 Timothy 2:12). Once again, the Bible does not provide details on the mechanics nor the logistics of this; but it does show that partaking of the divine nature elevates us above the gods we were created lower than (1 Corinthians 6:3; cf. Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7). Since we are heirs with Jesus, we are the new sons of God; since we are in Jesus, we have been put over every ruler in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:21; cf. Luke 20:35–36).

Without wishing to speak ill of anyone, I find it hard to overemphasize the importance of this, given how the gospel is typically preached today. Most Christians either don’t consider, or merely pay lip-service to being sons of the King—without really considering that sons of the King will be called upon to rule. Having a clear understanding of the divine council, and how we replace it, brings both grave import and great awe to our calling as Christians.

3. Jesus has an inheritance too

Even more outrageously, the thing underpinning all this is not, ultimately, that Jesus is our reward and inheritance; it is that we are his. It is this single-minded divine affection, this unbreakable dedication to onetogetherness with his holy ones, that the whole history of redemption is built on. This is the joy to which Jesus himself looked as he contemplated the cross—and what was on the other side of it (Hebrews 12:2; cf. Isaiah 53:10–12; 65:19). Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor anything else can separate us from the love of God in Anointed Jesus our Lord.

So he will certainly continue to adopt a family to himself, a great multitude as an inheritance and a reward, from every tribe and language and nation, until such time as he returns to complete his judgment of the earth. Then he will finally depose the gods of this world, he will secure his inheritance exactly as Psalm 82 says, and he will renew the earth to physically rule it with the new sons of God—us.

Understanding this as the endpoint of redemptive history adds an intriguing double meaning to Genesis 15:5; 26:4, when we remember that the host of heaven is also a great multitude, and that we are offspring of Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:7; cf. John 8:39–44). We tend to think of the stars of heaven as purely stellar objects, but surely Yahweh is here obliquely alluding to how he is one day going to replace the divine council with a human one. This is the topic of an interesting series by David Burnett, who argues that the qualitative reading of Genesis 26:4 is well-attested in Second Temple literature: David Burnett, Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions (2017).

In short, Psalm 82 is a linchpin of redemptive history—it points us to how God is superseding the rulership in the spiritual realm with the rulership of his new people, the elect, who will someday judge the world and live forever with the Lord.

This returns us to the thesis that I started with: that the Bible views the spread of the gospel as God’s transforming of Adam’s kingdom, ruled by Satan, into his own kingdom, ruled by Jesus—a spiritual territory of restored human hearts, no longer separated from God by rebellion, but rather annexed from their previous rulers by God himself to dwell and govern there.

We can now see clearly how this works—at least in the biblical-theological sense. We can see how the gospel sits at the peak of the trajectory of the history of redemption—if you will forgive me so many ofs in one sentence. But this still leaves many questions, the most notable of which have to do with our own role in bringing about this restored world. What are the practical implications for us as Christians in the twenty-first century? What is the task God has given us to do? To answer this, we need to look at the Great Commission—and especially at one little word that it does not contain…

Continued in part 8, on the gospel as a message of triumph

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