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The Kingdom of God As Scripture’s Central Theme: A New Approach to Biblical Theology, Part 1

 

God is King

God is the Almighty Sovereign King who sits upon his throne from all eternity. He administrates his rule over his creation and specifically over mankind through a relationship of covenant. The Kingdom of God gradually and progressively unfolds in Scripture through the covenants God establishes with his people. While God is the rightful ruler over creation, his rule over it in this present age is not yet fully realized. This is all according to his plan. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).

 

The Israel/Church Relationship

For the Jewish people today, the church is that antisemitic Gentile institution which has arrogantly divorced itself from its Jewish roots and wantonly persecuted them throughout the centuries for their religious beliefs.11 The church has earned this reputation well, but in so doing has separated itself from its true nature. Theologically speaking the church is not a Gentile entity. Rather, it consists of believing Jews and Gentiles sharing together in the covenant promises of God (Eph. 2:14-16, 19; Gal. 3:28-29). Under the New Covenant the church becomes the heir of the covenant promises, not in place of Israel but because of Israel (Eph. 2:11-18). The promises belong to Israel, but through Jesus Christ they have been extended to believing Gentiles as well. Together in Christ Jew and Gentile form one body, one people of God—the church (Eph. 3:6).12 God’s present and future work with Israel is for the purpose of bringing from both groups the full number of the elect into that body (Rom. 11:12, 25-26).

Seeing one people of God under the New Covenant does not negate ethnic, cultural, or historical differences (Rom. 1:16; 3:29). More importantly, it also does not do away with the special position that Israel has within the span of Redemptive History, either past, present, or future (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-6; 11:25-32). Israel has played a significant role in God’s kingdom work and she continues to do so. This is an important concept because it is only through Israel that Gentiles have any hope of salvation (John 4:22; Eph. 2:11-13). Under the Old Covenant, Israel alone existed as the one and only chosen people of God. However, under the New Covenant, the one people of God has been expanded from Israel to also include Gentiles. Thus, God is not finished with Israel (Rom. 11:1-2); he has not temporarily set Israel aside; Gentiles have not become Israelites; nor has the church has become new or true Israel. Rather, the church consists of the original heirs to the covenant promises, believing Israel, and those believing Gentiles who through Israel’s Messiah have been given the privilege of sharing together with Israel in the covenant promises (Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6).

Embracing all peoples under a New Covenant as a new people of God called the church has been God’s goal from the beginning. He did not choose to stop his plan with Israel, or to abandon Israel. Rather, through a despised and downtrodden people God has always planned to bring his gracious work of redemption to all peoples (Rom. 16:25-27; Eph. 3:6-11). Israel was and is the catalyst. Remove the catalyst and the reaction stops. Remove Israel from God’s redemptive plan and all hope of salvation is gone.

The olive tree of Romans 11:17-24 symbolizes the new people of God by picturing the natural olive branches that remain as believing Israel and the wild in-grafted olive branches as believing Gentiles. Gentiles can only gain inheritance by being grafted into the olive tree. Both groups share in the nourishing sap from the olive root. Whether the root represents Jesus (Rom. 5; 9:5), Abraham (Rom. 4; 11:1), the Patriarchs (Rom. 9:5; 11:28) or the covenant promises given to Abraham (Rom. 4:16; 9:4), it is still a Jewish root.13

The branches that were cut off symbolize unbelieving Israelites who are not privileged to enjoy the benefits and blessings of God. Being a natural heir of Abraham does not guarantee reaping the covenant blessings, but disobedience does guarantee reaping the covenant curses. Romans 11:25 says that in the present age there is a hardness in part (not in totality) upon Israel. In concluding his parable of the tenants Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43, NIV). Strictly within the context of the passage, the responsibility for the propagation of the gospel of the Kingdom will be taken from the corrupt religious leaders who spiritually guide the nation (Mt. 21:45) and given to the disciples (ethnos as group or people). The parable in no way implies that God is finished with the Jews or has temporarily set them and his Kingdom program aside, as some have said.

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2001

About the Author: David D. Burns, M. Div. served as a pastor for seven years. He presently attends a nondenominational charismatic church and is the father of five home-schooled children, one of which has graduated and is attending college. He has worked over 16 years developing his Kingdom of God Theology and has taught it on several occasions. He is available to do seminars in churches.

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