By now it is common consensus that no one theme adequately captures the message of the Scriptures.
It is not my intention to dispute that hypothesis here, for almost any center chosen tends to domesticate one theme or another. I maintain that there are a number of different ways to put together the story line and theology of the Scriptures that are legitimate. We should not insist, therefore, that one theme captures the whole.
Indeed, the word ‘center’ is ambiguous. Are we talking about the central theme of the story or the ultimate reason for the story?
Here my focus is on one of the major themes in the narrative. I have argued elsewhere that the ultimate reason and purpose for the story is the glory of God, and hence I will not focus on the reason for the story. Here the intent is to focus on the story line as it unfolds. The theme pursued must be flexible enough to comprehend several different interlocking themes in Scripture so that it summarizes the fundamental message of the Bible. I intend to argue that the ‘kingdom of God,’ if that term is defined with sufficient flexibility, fits well as a central theme of the entire Bible.
Let me hasten to say that such a thesis does not rely upon a word study approach, for it is quite obvious that the kingdom of God cannot be a central theme if we count up how many times the word ‘king,’ ‘kingdom,’ or ‘rule’ and ‘reign’ appear, for in many books of the Bible they do not appear at all. Instead, the contention here is that the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ thematically captures, from a biblical theology standpoint, the message of Scripture. Now I would immediately add that God brings in the kingdom for the glory and praise of his name.
Scripture unfolds the story of the kingdom, and God’s glory is the reason for the story
Perhaps it will help if I sketch in what I mean by ‘the kingdom of God.’
First of all, the kingdom of god designates the rule of God.
In one sense, God is always the King of kings and the Lord of lords, reigning over everything that happens. But in another sense, God’s rule has been flouted since the fall of humankind, and the Scriptures tell the story of the kingdom regained. The objection to seeing the kingdom as central is that it does not seem to fit with the Writings of the Hebrew Bible—for example, the book of Proverbs. I would argue that Proverbs (and the other books from the Writings in the OT) fits with such a notion, even though the term ‘kingdom’ is virtually absent in Proverbs. I will demonstrate that the Wisdom literature features the supremacy of God in everyday life, showing that he rules over the particulars of our existence. We will see that Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes teach that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. To fear the Lord is to live under his lordship.
The focus on God as King is evident in the regular refrain found in Scripture, particularly the OT, where God is identified as the Lord. As Lord, he is the sovereign one, the creator of all, the one who deserves praise and obedience. In other words, saying that the theme of Scripture is God’s kingship is verified and confirmed by the constant refrain that God is the Lord.
Second, the kingdom of god makes human beings the subjects of the King.
Focusing on God as King in the abstract apart from human beings does not do justice to the breadth found in the Scriptures. For the central message of Scripture also includes human beings—the crown of creation—who are created in God’s image. Since God is King and Lord, it is his purpose and design that he be glorified in all things and by all people. Some have complained that such a God is narcissistic, but that objection misses the point.
For God as King glorifies himself by giving himself to his human beings in love
God is honored as King when human beings receive and depend upon his love and experience in salvation. God’s glory and God’s love must not be placed into two separate compartments. Rather, God is glorified as Lord in his love for human beings. The sovereignty of God and his kingship take place in history, in the story recounted in the Scriptures, revealed supremely in the ministry and person of Jesus Christ.
A close relationship exists between God’s kingdom and his covenant. Indeed, the divine covenants are the means by which God’s rule is established. God’s lordship becomes a reality as he dwells with his people, as they experience his gracious presence. This fits with Desmond Alexander’s remark that ‘the theme of God’s presence on the earth is especially significant for understanding the biblical meta-story.’ God’s love for human beings is manifested in his covenants with human beings, for in the covenants God promises that he will accomplish salvation for his people and be their God.
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The lordship of God, however, cannot be confined to God’s love, for the Scriptures call attention to another dimension of the story. God expresses his kingship also in punishing his enemies, in judging those who resist the overtures of his love. Some of God’s subjects rebel against his kingly rule and his sovereign love. Their recalcitrance and rebellion will not ultimately succeed. The story line of the Scriptures indicates that evil will be destroyed and pacified. The subjects who refuse to bow the knee will be judged, and God’s rule over all and glory will be manifested in judgment as well.
Third, the kingdom of god is worked out upon the earth.
We must beware of another abstraction in understanding God’s lordship. God’s kingdom certainly consists of his rule over angels and human beings, but the emphasis on rule must not blind us to the truth that there is also a realm.
History does not take place in an ethereal sphere. God created the entire universe, and the lordship of God and his relationship with human beings take place on earth. Place matters in this story. God is King over the world and over the universe, but history raises questions about his lordship over this world. The incursion of evil represents a rebel kingdom that threatens God’s sovereignty and seeks to undo his love. This world, with all its beauty, is vitiated by sin.
The drama of God as King and human beings as his subjects is worked out in history and in a certain place. The story of Scripture is not only the relationship between God and human beings; it also relates to the universe. What is the destiny of the world that God has made? The Scriptures promise that there will be a new heaven and a new earth—a new creation where the glory of God will illumine the cosmos.
So, the kingdom of God has a threefold dimension, focusing on God as King, on human beings as the subjects of the King, and the universe as the place where his kingship is worked out.
Taken from The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments by Thomas R. Schreiner, © 2013, pp. xii-xv. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.