This blog is having an
existential crisis

While I tinker with a new design, I’m also pondering how, what, and why I write here. I don’t know how long that will take, but you’re welcome to email me and see how things are progressing.

Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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

Why do the gospels represent the good news as being about the “kingdom of God”? What is this kingdom, and how does it relate to us today? In this series I trace the surprising biblical narrative of kingdom, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Part 7 concludes by looking at God’s end-game: the final, restored kingdom, and the glorification of believers as the 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 Christ” (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 Christ, 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

7 comments

  1. Chavoux

    Great series!

  2. G

    Question re: imaging God/being divine imagers, replacing the divine council…. A friend “F” wrote that he was questioning God why “S” died from cancer. F said God told him that the question was not why God let S die, but why did F/the church let S die. The church failed in their job to exercise their full authority, spiritual gifts, prayer, etc. F continued, made in God’s image, given Jesus’ authority, God wants us to use his authority in dependence on him and bring his church to maturity. In other words, God wanted to heal S, but could not/did not/allowed his hands to be tied because the church didn’t step up with the authority God had given them (his means to heal, and when that means failed, he didn’t give/release healing)…… That was F’s argument. I’m a little uncomfortable with that. It seems to give us too much power. I have trouble reconciling it with some of the prophet’s statements on God’s sovereignty (Isaiah knowing end from beginning, Amos bringing trouble as well as good, Isa. 46:10 his purpose will stand, etc.) Thoughts? Is this giving too much power to imaging? Or is that part of what it means to be an imager? I hope I made sense.

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey G, this is very interesting because I think it illustrates how you can go quite far astray quite quickly with kingdom theology. In my experience, a lot of the enthusiasm I’ve seen for ideas around the divine council has actually been motivated by humanism rather than a deep, thoughtful, careful appreciation of the Scriptures. Many of the “naked Bible” guys are, ironically, incorporating it into a highly Americanized cultural Christianity, complete with Arminian accretions, and the trappings of secular self-autonomy.

    I’d want to put no small amount of pressure on the implicit assumption that, because God delegates authority, he is therefore not meticulously arranging all events of human history. I think that assumption is not only unwarranted, but demonstrably false and unbiblical.

    To answer your question more directly, I think your friend’s position is a half-truth. There is obviously merit in the idea that we have genuine authority as representatives of God, provided we are genuinely representing him. And it is certainly true that the church has, in many respects, forgotten this and shrunken the gospel down to a message about how to go to heaven when you die. But in my experience, both sides suffer a lack of balance:

    On the one hand, there are Christians who really do appreciate the kingdom angle of the gospel, and want to take hold of that authority. But most of them are so eager to wield the power that they devote little study to our instructions for wielding it—namely, Scripture and theology. They are driven too much by experience and emotion, and not enough by careful consideration of God’s word and systematic theology. So although they are quick to take up the role of representing God, they don’t know how to do it accurately.

    On the other hand, there are Christians who really appreciate Scripture and systematic theology, but have little to no appreciation for representing God in power, rather than mere knowledge. They are, perhaps, so nerdy, or so put off by the excesses of the first group, that despite knowing how to represent God accurately, they lack any enthusiasm for actually doing it.

    It seems your friend is in the first camp. The danger with that camp is that despite what it wants to say, it very quickly collapses into experientially-based humanism. They take any experience as normative, and become very incautious about declaring what God will and will not do, rather than letting God speak for himself.

    I am more familiar with the second camp, which tends to the opposite error of rejecting all experience and human exaltation whatsoever, lest it appear we are overriding the word of God.

    I believe there is a moderate path between these extremes, which will show that your friend is partly right and partly wrong. Partly right in the sense that God does delight to bless more abundantly than we sometimes dare ask for, but—as the saying goes—“those who don’t ask don’t get.” Partly wrong in the sense that God does not guarantee us healing in any particular case, but rather instructs us to ask for healing with genuine trust (James 5:14–15; cf. James 1:6), and to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). Indeed, it strikes me that the reason we both feel uncomfortable about your friend’s position is that it is a kind of “boasting in tomorrow” (James 4:13–17)—putting the Lord to the test. There is a difference between receiving God’s promises through submissively representing his rule in the world, and presuming on his promises by trying to skip straight to the end of redemptive history when we are actually still in the middle.

  4. Nick

    I concur re. dominion theology, and lump healing and prosperity theology in with it. These doctrines have the lure of pride, which is how “even the elect” are deceived. That’s not to say that God will move for those of slack faith. But we are for “fear and trembling”. Our fervent submission he acknowledges, our treasonous self-aggrandisement he rejects.

    Job is the best answer on healing and suffering. Although his health and estate are restored and enlarged, his original children remain killed. Either he met them in paradise later, or they were unregenerate and God executed judgment on them through Satan. The point is God is sovereign over all things and circumstances. The Sons of God rejected this, and the outcome of their legacy will forever be held as the example.

  5. Nick

    Re. annihilation/renovation though, we know our sun will eventually nova and even now we see the stars and galaxies accelerating away from each other (redshifts). So whether the earth is razed or obliterated I think is moot, but the idea of a sunless future world without stars certainly gels with current scientific cosmology. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine then, this future heat death universe of zero entropy as having fundamentally different physical properties at the quantum level. After all, I surmise for one that the new heavenly city would be too massive for the earth to maintain a consistent spin. But without a sun, nor a galaxy, perhaps planetary orbits and spins are a thing of the past. If we share in the resurrection of Christ to supernatural bodies, and we will be on earth, then it follows that the new earth will also be supernatural i.e. having a nature different the current one. The sun will kill everything on earth, in fact it’s already doing it. But once it’s finished its job it’ll be a fundamentally different physical universe in which God renews the world. Revelation 21: 5 “Behold I make ALL things new”!

  6. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    That is an interesting point—there seems to be a mingling of the physical and spiritual worlds in the eternal state, in a way we don’t understand probably don’t even have any vocabulary for. There’s also a related question around the purpose of the stars and the sun. If these were to point us to spiritual realities, and those are fulfilled in the final state, then that suggests there is no need for them any more.

  7. Nick Hardman

    Yes, is there a dual meaning for “heavenly places”? Are the estates of the divine council limited to earth in the invisible spiritual realm, or are the heavenly places literal celestial locations (planets) from where their dominion extends? The latter is the more expansive idea, and therefore the more appealing to me, but it’s pure conjecture. On the other hand we know that Jupiter does act like some kind of shield in our solar system, its immense gravity protects us from incoming asteroids and comets etc. So it could be that the physical universe simply had to be as vast and as elaborate as it is for earth to exist. Still it is hard to imagine that there is not some major ontological purpose to them, and their many references in scripture.

    Just want to say again also, and as an expat kiwi in Melbourne, blessings and well done. The work you’ve done here, parts 1-7, has been transformative. It’s really rammed home for me the idea that the word of God is a precise and objective thing, and that we should not shy from trying to understand scripture in concrete terms.

    I think strongly that this idea of objectivity has been lost, and the church, now influenced by our secular post-modern western culture, is guilty of embracing a kind of intellectual ecumenism. To our secular culture the exclusive claims of Christianity on the identity of God are verboten, but likewise Christians are reticent to propound objective exegesis as if it were somehow insensitive. I’m not espousing dogmatism here. But there is indeed a hidden-ness to the word, and the imperfection of human language is certainly a factor, maybe even an obstacle (a stumbling block?), but rather than overcome it we have sort of capitulated…no doubt gifting the enemy much leverage.

    Clearly that’s an indictment against us. We are starving in the pews for knowledge, and in our lack of understanding many have opted for a phony experientiality that’s totally inadequate for the kingdom of darkness in which we live. We do not seek and thus do not find true spiritual power, but even worse, some in our ranks have made a substitute and around it built industry (viz. Ezekiel 28:16)

    For example. Deuteronomy 32:8. That Yahweh would divide the pagan nations among the sons of “Israel” (as many versions have it), who were yet to exist, makes no sense whatsoever. However, that he divided them among the sons of “God”, the same sons of God from Genesis 6, who are also the “principalities and powers”, and “the rulers of this present age”, makes FAR more sense.

    That one word can have such an impact on one’s comprehension and apprehension of God, is alarming. In which other parts of scripture, and in turn our lives, is our council similarly darkened?

    This raises the issue of biblical inerrancy. I’ll leave it to you or other scholars to answer, but my take on it is that although the word of God is perfect, human language is not. Our human translation of the word carries the imperfections of language as a matter of course. However if we hold to the objectivity of scripture (that there is a “most correct” explanation of its meaning out there), and are not lazy, the Spirit of God will lead us to a complete understanding of his word despite these imperfections. Seek and we shall find, not merely the word, but He who speaks it.

    Peace and strength.

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