Monday, November 22, 2021

Trinity & We: How God’s Relationship Shapes Ours

Why Trinity? Why Hospitality?



I would propose that when the majority of good-Bible-believing-Christians hear the word “God,” they don’t also hear ‘Trinity’ in all its glorious unity, distinction and mystery. I would also assert the Christian “God” we conceive isn’t as vast or glorious in our fallen evangelical minds as he is in reality. Eastern Orthodox believers would say the Triune God is in a continual, perichoretic dance. While potentially blasphemous to a Baptist’s ears, this picture presents us with a bigger imaginative story, and bigger love within the imminent Trinity than we might have first conceived. Ultimately, I believe our small view of God impacts the way we view the gospel, ourselves, others, God’s mission and Biblical hospitality. While the explicit focus of this project will be slanted towards a deeper understanding of Christian hospitality, we will also explore the broader impacts of a more robust trinitarian theology in our lives. While the Greek word for hospitality ‘philoxenia’ (φιλοξενία), connotating a “generous and gracious treatment of guests,” only shows up seven times in the New Testament, its heartbeat spans both testaments.[1] Simply put, the heart of hospitality is relationship, and ultimately the hospitality of God is Him giving us himself. Within Himself, God is the perfect community that perfectly models sacrificial and servant hearted love. 


In Rosaria Butterfields profound book, ‘The Gospel Comes with a Housekey’, she recounts the profoundly simple way she was brought into the Kingdom as a former lesbian feminist through regular dinners at a pastor’s house. For Butterfield, “hospitality is the ground zero of the Christian faith,” and I heartily agree.[2] Over a kitchen table filled with food, a person’s guard is softened as they experience a tangible filling of love. Some of my favorite times in life were when I, as a college student myself, had 25-40 people over for dinner on a Saturday night after a church service. The night represented a weekly open invite to anyone who desired to come. From nerds to jocks, a variety of people showed up (even international students) and everyone was welcome. 


In the context of widespread persecution, the author of Heb. 13:2 reminds a fledgling church community to not stop showing hospitality. I believe now, maybe more than ever, hospitality is critical for those Christians living in the United States. Hospitality is more than just cooking, it’s a decision towards relational openness and vulnerability. In my church context I currently oversee the Greeting Team ministry and I’m always looking for ways to encourage my team’s willingness to serve, and I believe table fellowship could be the way forward. One day in the future I hope to return to some level of pastoral ministry in the church and I see hospitality as a primary way of community engagement. For now, my wife and I have witnessed firsthand the power of sharing food with neighbors and what this does for deeper conversations. In this project I hope to walk away with deeper hospitality convictions and application for Portland in 2021. In this project we will make observations of God within himself (in what theologians call the immanent trinity), God’s hospitality towards us and our hospitality towards others. 


Hospitality and Service Within the Trinity 




“God is Trinity primarily for himself and only secondarily for us.”[4]


God exists in three distinct persons, yet there is only one God. Father, Son and Spirit being unique within themselves are in unending, triumphant relationship with each other. Each member seeks to serve without the need to first be served. Reeves writes that “The Triune God is the love behind all love, the life behind all life, the music behind all music, the beauty behind all beauty and the joy behind all joy.”[5] Unlike pagan ANE gods, the God as revealed in the Bible is intrinsically love within himself. If there was no time, no universe, no creation, it would be of no matter. He would be loved. He wouldn’t be alone. Fred Sanders states that “Imagining God without the world is one way to highlight the freedom of God in creating.”[6] God is fully complete within his own divine community of love. This is a most foundational truth for the Christian to grasp. As God is free of need, He can pursue others without need or agenda. In this Trinitarian community, all God ever needed is found within himself, freeing Him up from seeking affirmation somewhere outside of himself (Ps. 115:3). Humans often talk about ‘finding themselves’ to be made whole, when the God of the Bible is intrinsically ‘whole’. While we can mentally misplace or forget God’s particular provision to us over our lifetime, God the Holy Spirit searches and finds the deep things of God in perfect unity with his desires (1. Cor 2:10). 


We can only know something of the ‘imminent’ life of God because he has chosen to reveal himself to us ‘economically’. Wayne Grudem writes that, “The only distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and to the creation.”[7] We know from John 1:1 that the incarnate Son was with God before the foundation of the world in intimate relation with God the Father. Like a good Father, God glorified the Son with his very self in relationship to him (17:5). God the Father was loving God the Son with a perfect love (17:24) while sharing his glory with him (17:22). “The relationships of the Trinity are relationships of love. They are marked by devotion to the others.”[8] Jesus affirmed that all he had was the Fathers and all the Father had was the Sons (17:10). Before creation, God, in his own presence, felt “an overwhelming sense of joy, fulfillment and pleasure,” as he served himself (Ps. 16:11).[9] Prior to God creating humanity, God the Spirit was hovering over the darkness (Gen. 1:2), possibly imagining what could be as He Hovered over the deep void. The Father is spoken of in scripture as the ‘sender’ of the Son who in turn does all the Father commands him to do (John 14:31). “God the father is preeminently the one who plans and ordains and initiates the course of history and the events that take place.”[10] All things have been graciously handed over to the Son from the Father while both are vibrantly living (Matt. 11:27). The son accomplishes what the Father had ordained. “We could say, for instance, that in the case of God, the happy land of the eternal Trinity is God's actual home, while the economy of salvation is his home away from home or the home he makes hospitably among his creatures. We could even call the imminent Trinity God’s family of origin.”[11]


            At the onset of Jesus’ ministry we see a most profound and beautifully relational Trinitarian moment in the words of Matt. 3:16–17: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We here see a Trinitarian type of gospel. Before Jesus ever accomplished anything in his earthly ministry, he was loved by God the Father and empowered by God the Spirit. His identity was secure in who He was, not what He did. “When we hear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bear witness to each other in this manner, we are overhearing the doctrine of the Trinity from three privileged insiders, and learning about nothing less than the inner life of God.”[12] Out of extravagant love, God speaks relational truth over his Son, the Son is obediently baptized and the Holy Spirit descends to empower him for earthly mission. “Here at one moment we have three members of the Trinity performing three distinct activities,” each sought to serve the other out of love.[13] In a similar vein, while we were still sinners, before we had done anything remotely worthwhile, the Triune God loved us (Romans 5:8). Being loved, frees you to love others freely in the context of Christian service as we have witnessed within the Trinity (1 John 4:10). In Phil. 2:6-11 we’re told that Jesus’ ministry modeled servant-hearted hospitality and humility, and this leads us into our next section as God prepares a table for us (Psalm 23:5). 


Trinitarian Hospitality Towards Us


“The gospel is that God is God for us, that he gives himself to be our salvation.”[14]


In Genesis 18 a most curious interaction occurs between Abraham and the LORD (YHWH). As the singular YHWH approached his tent in the heat of the day, Abraham saw three men. In light of scripture, we can conclude that this was no mirage Abraham was encountering, or early onset of heat stroke, but an encounter with the Triune God. Abraham humbles himself in v.2 addressing the three with the singular title ‘Adonai’, before beckoning them to stay for rest and refreshment. In v.5 the three say in unison, “do as you have said.” Abraham then personally prepares dinner (while having over 300 men under his leadership) and presents the feast to his guests who then enquire about his wife. In v.10 the hosting ‘tables’ are turned, so to speak, as YHWH states that a child will be born in a year. The hospitality has shifted from Abraham to YHWH who takes charge of this afternoon scene. While inviting laughter from the aged Sarah who overheard the words of the LORD in v. 12, it nevertheless became true. The LORD would graciously provide for their deepest felt needs and hurts. As YHWH moved down the road towards Sodom, our picture of hospitality is expanded. Biblical hospitality doesn’t just mean provision of food but also protective shelter and covering. In Gen: 19:8, Lot offers protection to his angelic visitors by welcoming them out of the square and (horrifically) offering the substitution of his daughters for the lives of his guests. Like Abraham’s encounter, the ‘tables’ of hospitality are turned in v. 10 as the angels forcefully pull Lot into his own house and then provide the former host a safe exit for him and his family by blinding the mob v.11.


Throughout the OT, the Triune God is a God who is deeply concerned for the hurting and broken. Lack of hospitality from other nations angered the Lord and Israel wasn’t to be like them or repeat their mistakes (Deut. 23:3-4). When He spoke to Moses on Sinai, he advocated for the gracious treatment of orphans, widows, and sojourners. Long before the days of Safeway and Target, hospitality was a matter of life and death. Traveling across the desert and being refused hospitality (both food and shelter) could lead to your inevitable demise. YHWH presented hospitality in connection to the memory of their gross mistreatment in Egypt (Exod. 23:9). God hospitably led the Israelites out of Egypt before requiring anything of them; now he would expect them to follow suit loving the foreigner among them even if that foreigner couldn’t benefit them in any way (Lev. 19:33-34). For longer staying Israelite guests, they were invited to join the Hebrew rhythms of life and submit to their laws. God makes hospitable provisions for the poor, exhorting the landowner not to glean their fields all the way to the edges; in this way food would be available to the most vulnerable and susceptible to starvation (Lev. 23:22). For the Israelite who overlooked those most in need of hospitable grace, God would bring about justice on behalf of the poor (Deut. 10:18).


In the New Testament God presented us the supreme gift of relational hospitality with the gift of another miraculous child; Jesus. There could be no greater gift from the Trinitarian God than his very self. Jesus presents himself in continuity with the great shepherds of old, Abraham and Moses who provided for their people. Luke 19:1-9 presents an incredible interaction with a spiritually broken man named Zacchaeus. Jesus boldly invites himself over to his house where he’s simultaneously the guest and host, providing something far more lasting than a side dish; salvation. In John 10:27-29 Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He hospitably provides them with truth worth following and eternal protection from death. This isn’t merely from the Son’s initiative but on behalf of the Father as well. In John 14:2-3 he compares the offer of divine hospitality to eternal lodging in a room which is part of his Father’s house. He will one day guide them to this safe haven so his people can be intimately invited into eternal lodgings (Psalm 16: 9-11). In John 17 Jesus prays for the safety of his disciples in his absence. While he was physically with them, he was able to protect those who were His, and keep them safe. In 17:15 his hospitable prayer includes asking for their protection in this lifetime from the evil one during his absence. The God we serve is not one who pledges to remove danger and hardship from our path but to lead us through it as a shepherd would a helpless sheep in a dark valley. As Jesus time of physically being on earth was coming to a close, he had no plan of leaving his own to their own devices as orphans (John 14:18).  


            In John 14 Jesus exhorts his disciples to show their love to him by keeping his commands. This wouldn’t be done in relational isolation from the 3rd person of the Trinity though. “The Holy Spirit applies the accomplishments of the Son to those who are united to the Son by faith.”[15] Jesus asked God the Father to send God the Spirit, the forever helper to enable the believer to be brought into the generous life of God. “A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put you personally in the presence of God is too small,” God desired nothing less for us than entering His very life.[16] In this way the Father who sent the Son, asked for the Spirit to be sent. Each and every Trinitarian member had their part to play on inviting God’s people into their very own life. Jesus says it’s actually better for him to go away so that the Advocate can come, convicting the world of sin, judging the ‘prince of this world’ and guiding the believer in truth (16:7-11; 13). “Finally, when the Holy Spirit comes to believers, he comes as the Spirit who comes from the Father and the Son (John 15:26). Through his presence, the Father and the Son dwell in believers (14:23).”[17]


            Paul writes in Eph. 2:18 that through God the Son we have relational access through God the Spirit to God the Father. Beyond mere invitation into the house of God, we’re invited to share in the very life of the Trinitarian family with God as our Father (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit of the Son is now in the hearts of all who believe, enabling us to cry out “Abba” to our true Dad. Paul also writes in 1st Cor. 8:6 that creation was from the Father through the Son, they wanted a creation that could experience their love. With Jesus incarnation, he taught about how true hospitality goes beyond the borders of your team and tribe (Luke 10:25-37) and to give to those who couldn’t repay you (Luke 14:12-14). This is a radical reframing and shaping motivation for both then and now which leads us to our final section


Our Hospitality Towards Others


“God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All that we were made to be comes from knowing that. Our need for relationships, the importance of serving others, what it means to be sexual beings - all come into true light when seen in relation to our Trinitarian God.”[18]


            In Matt. 28:19 the resurrected Christ says to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” essentially inviting lost children into relationship with God the Father. But why would there ever be lost children? Sanders writes “By graciously giving his creatures the room to exist, the triune God allows them the freedom to turn away without himself being the author of evil.”[19] This is where God’s adopted children shine forth. The heart of hospitality is relationship, and as God has sought relationship with all humanity, his children are uniquely positioned to invite those who are not yet His, into their Fathers house. As I stated earlier, many good-Bible-believing-Christians don’t automatically think ‘Trinity’ when they hear ‘God’. Sanders helps ground salvation into Trinitarian ways of thinking as full gospel adoption means encountering the Trinity. He helpfully reframes the Christians way of thinking about salvation in relational terms and Trinitarian community: “Getting saved = being adopted as sons by encountering the gospel Trinity. Knowing Jesus personally = the Spirit joining believers to the life of Jesus. Devotional Bible reading = hearing the Father's Word in the Spirit. Conversational prayer = the logic of meditation; prayer in the name of Jesus.”[20]


Out of all the incomplete Godhead analogies, Trinitarian hospitality might be best represented by a healthy marriage and family.[21] Husband and wife as covenant image bearers provide a fuller picture of Trinitarian relationship. In the beginning of a human relationship, a man and woman enter into a marriage relationship that says, ‘I will be with you until the end, til death do we part.’ From this profound covenantal love, a child enters in as a product of this sacred union. This marriage union wasn’t dependent on the child; the marriage was a complete and loving union prior to the child. Without this love between the man and the woman, the newborn baby wouldn’t exist. Through the completeness of the parents love a child is invited into something much bigger than themselves, a family. In a similar vein, we as adopted children of the Trinity desire to invite those into something bigger than themselves; something they were made for but never aware of. Out of the overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak (Luke 6:45; Psalm 23:5). I believe scripture would present those who have been forgiven much as loving much as well (Luke 7:47). When you know you’re loved by the Triune Father God of the universe, you’re freed to truly pour out hospitable love towards others (Matt. 6:19-21; 1 John 4:19). Allberry notes that in the West, greatness is measure by how many people are serving you, but Jesus used a different benchmark: “The son of man came to serve and not be served,” (Mark 10:45).[22] For Jesus, greatness was measured by how many we served, not how many serve us. We’ve been wired for relationships and happiness is most profoundly felt when shared whereas suffering is compounded in isolation.[23] Hospitality means entering the others story at the point of their brokenness and hurt.

            When the church community was first inaugurated in Acts 2 by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, this community dedicated itself to the apostles teaching and to the regular breaking of bread. Since day one, table fellowship has been a critical element of the gospels proclamation and is an aspect that needs to be reinvigorated in the American Church. Days after Rosaria Butterfields home was broken into and all her earthly possessions were stolen, her and her husband had the neighborhood over for a meal as they sifted through the wreckage of their battered home.[24] Hospitality goes beyond sharing openness when skies are blue, but is an embodied way of life (Heb. 13:2). All throughout the NT Christians are encouraged to show hospitality to all people (Rom. 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9) while being warned about extending hospitality to intentionally unrepentant believers (1 Cor. 5:11).[25]


            In Rev. 3:20 we see that divine salvific hospitality is open to all and couched within the setting of a meal; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” From scripture we see that the Bible begins and ends with a meal. In Gen. 3, humans shared a small snack with the serpent; in Revelation 19:7-10 there will be a feast in heaven with King Jesus. We regularly anticipate this feast through the communion our Lord inaugurated on the night he was betrayed (Luke 22:14-22).


Practical Outworking for Ministry


            In the last 18 months since moving to Portland, my wife and I have sought to live hospitable, generous lives by hosting travelers, students and our church community over for meals and/or lodging. We have both been the recipients of God’s (and humans) gracious hospitality towards us, and this is something that is deeply important to us. I was captivated by Rosaria’s conversion story which centered around her invitation into the life of a Christian family through table fellowship and gospel rhythms. While we aren’t officially in any pastoral roles at a church, we don’t miss opportunities to pastor and love those around us. Our hearts desire is to give folks a brief snapshot of heaven when they enter our home and lives. I’ve discovered over my life that gathering groups of people over meals or activities is the catalyst for relationships. One day when we re-enter ministry, I would systematically host families in leadership positions over at our home for a meal, modeling for them a potential way of serving others. If given the opportunity to teach, I would use each of the three sections: ‘Hospitality and Service Within the Trinity’,Trinitarian Hospitality Towards Us’ and ‘Our Hospitality Towards Others’, as the basis of a month-long series to unpack the foundations of hospitality. One of the biggest issues I see today among people surrounds loneliness which causes a slew damage. What if we as a body, loved by God, were prepared to radically invite and love others into something bigger than themselves? I believe this act would have long ranging Gospel implications.



[1] Wilson, D. K. (2016). Hospitality. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).

[3] Kyle Donn’s creative visual rendition of Gerry Breshears lecture notes from 11/12/21

[4] Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, 2nd edition. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 83. Italics mine. 

[5] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, Illustrated edition. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 62.

[6] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 64.

[7] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 1994), 250.

[8] Sam Allberry, Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2013), 88.

[9] “What Was God Doing before He Created the Universe?,” GotQuestions.Org, accessed November 18, 2021,

[10] Vern S. Poythress, The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2020), 94.

[11] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 132.

[12] Ibid., 81.

[13] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 230.

[14] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 125. Italics Mine.

[15] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 125.

[16] Ibid., 106.

[17] Poythress, The Mystery of the Trinity, 97.

[18] Allberry, Connected, 96.

[19] Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 58.

[20] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 59.

[21] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 241.

[22] Allberry, Connected, 85.

[23] Ibid., 81.

[24] Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

[25] Wilson, D. K. (2016). Hospitality. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. 

Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.



Allberry, Sam. Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2013.

Butterfield, Rosaria. The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 1994.

Poythress, Vern S. The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God

Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2020.

Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Illustrated edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012.

Sanders, Fred. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. 2nd edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017.

“What Was God Doing before He Created the Universe?” GotQuestions.Org. Accessed November 18, 2021.

Wilson, D. K. (2016). Hospitality. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D.     Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary.            Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Kingdom of God in the Old and New Testament


I always struggled to understand what ‘The Kingdom’ was growing up in the church. It sounded so abstract, medieval and ethereal to my young western ears. As an American it can be hard to grasp the idea of kings and a kingdom. Our nation was founded on a Declaration of Independence from an earthly kingdom. We were to be a nation dependent under God with autonomy from all others. I feel this desire for American autonomy has bled into our relationship with the creator as well. In American Christianity we’re use to singing songs like “I am a friend of God,” which is a correct theological truth that might get over-emphasized in certain circles over the terrifying, “our God is a consuming fire” of Heb. 12:29. We want a god who shows up on our prayerful cue to rescue us (and our human kingdoms) when we need him forgetting Ps. 115:3 that says “our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Scripture tells us to seek his Kingdom first, and everything else like clothes and shelter will be added unto us if we’re going after God with everything. 

So, What is the Kingdom?

The NT uses Kingdom of God (KOG) and Kingdom of Heaven (KOH) interchangeably. One is based in a Hebrew context, the other Greek. While scholars have widely debated the exact meaning of the Kingdom, this doesn’t mean its understanding is out of our reach. Preparing for this paper, I read two useful definitions about the Kingdom; 1) the 30,000-foot approach of George Eldon Ladd, “The Kingdom of God is basically the rule of God. It is God’s reign, the divine sovereignty in action;” and 2) the 5,000-foot approach of Patrick Schreiner “The kingdom is the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place.” These are concise and personally helpful, but still a little abstract for me as a pastor of people who’ve probably never picked up a theology book.

In the Old Testament ‘Kingdom’ is used 215 times, 103 of which show up as מַמְלָכָה (mamlakah), most notably used in Exod. 19:6, Deut. 17:18 and 2nd Samuel 5:12; 7:12-16. In the New Testament, βασιλεία (basileia) is used 162 times most notably in Matthew and Luke before decreasing in the Pauline writings. If our Lord and Savior’s good news had everything to do with the Kingdom, why does it seemingly disappear in later NT writings? In this summary project I will briefly survey Kingdom origins in Jesus’ Bible before briefly unpacking the ‘Kingdom for today’ in the NT gospels. The focus will then shift to Acts, Paul as well as ‘the Kingdom for tomorrow’ in Revelation.

Kingdom Beginnings in the Old Testament

“The Biblical idea of the Kingdom of God is deeply rooted in the Old Testament…”

The word Kingdom first shows up in the Gen. 10:10 table of nations in reference to a member of Noah’s line. It later shows up in Exod. 19:6 in a big way highlighting the unique ministry Israel was to hold among the nations to the world. When Adam and Eve forfeited their rights to reign, rule and subdue creation as King and Queen under God in the mountaintop garden (Gen. 1:26-28), the kingdom was corrupted. After Noah’s fall, which begins on a mountain, it’s not until Abraham’s family enters the scene in 11:27 that Kingdom hopes began to be revived. These hopes were seemingly dampened when the family was enslaved (Exod. 1) but YHWH was still shaping his kingdom people. 

The Law

The seed of Abraham was preserved through captivity and led out of Egypt by Moses. When all had looked dark, hopes for God’s kingdom were revived. Moses received the law from God on a mountain in which the people were given their heavenly assignment to be a Kingdom of Priests (Exod. 19:6). “God was constructing a community, nation, through which he would reign, and his people would govern with him, bringing order to a disordered world.” The Torah was to be the lifeblood to this people, nourishing their godward roots. Ultimately, the people fail so the sacrificial system foreshadowed in Gen. is instituted in Lev. Deut.17:18-20 talks about an ideal King who would one day reign. Better kingdom days were on the horizon.

The Prophets

As Israel transitioned into the Land promised to them, they were able to live in the space given to them for communion with God. They were to be a light to the nations but ended up desiring to look like them (2nd Sam. 8:20). Their desire for a king wasn’t wrong but the heart behind it was. Samuel who was the last Judge and first prophet, anoints the first King of Israel. The first king Saul is a small fiasco, but God establishes a kingdom covenant through David’s line in 2nd Sam. 7. In Samuel’s prophetic writing, the future eternal kingdom of a King who would reign forever is established. Once more, exile threatened this kingdom. Isaiah writes of a coming king in the line of David (Isa. 1-39). This ruler would be a light to the nations (ch. 9) through whom the nations would be healed (ch. 53). This Spirit-anointed ruler from God will announce good news to the poor, heal, and announce freedom to the captives (Isa. 61:1-3). “The kingdom God brings is through power and a person, and for a place.” Through a symphony of voices the prophets announced that the kingdom would come through God fulfilling his covenantal promises. A better day was coming still. 

The Writings 

So what would life in God’s Kingdom look like? “Through proverbs, songs, laments, stories, and more history,” these writings painted a picture of what things could be like when God’s wisdom was implemented at large under a good king. When Torah wisdom is implemented, people experience garden-like-flourishing and shalom. Acquiring knowledge by fearing the Lord leads to the ‘good life’ and blessing. The good king (and coming King) will be obedient to Torah and this is what success will look like. Success doesn’t mean suffering avoidance, but those who are ‘successful’ will remain steadfast in praising the Lord through suffering. “Both Esther and Daniel have pulled back the curtain of history to show that in the midst of exile, Yahweh is still preserving his people. His kingdom will be victorious in due time.” Part of the coming Israelite struggle with Jesus, and his upside-down Kingdom, came from an outwardly victorious and conquering messiah in Daniel 10. They had no idea his kingdom exaltation would come from being lifted up on a Roman torture device. Rather than killing his (their) enemies, he gets killed. 

The Kingdom is at Hand

Within the NT understanding of Kingdom there includes elements of present and future dimensions; this age and the age to come. It’s the announcement of what God in Christ has done and will do. On a soteriological level, the reign of Christ means the eventual destruction of all hostile powers when he returns in the Second Coming; the last enemy of which is death (1 Cor. 15:26). The incarnation of Jesus and his inaugurated Kingdom landed behind enemy lines in contested territory. More than just abstract ideas of a spiritual realm, Jesus’ kingdom is invading the kingdom of Satan in physical ways in historic time and space as good news is announced to those who need it most. Matthew presents the King’s place, Mark presents the King’s power, Luke the King’s people and John, kingdom life. We will now explore the present nature of the Kingdom as it’s developed in the gospels, Acts and Paul. 

The Gospels 

After 400 years of prophetic silence, a lone voice cried out in the wilderness. No longer was the kingdom merely foretold. No, the command in Matt. 3:2 was to “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” John the Baptist heralded a critically important evangelistic message for both his day and now. Like Christ’s teaching on the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31), the Kingdom had small, fragile beginnings like Jesus did coming as a pitiful infant born in a dump. John’s message paved the way for Jesus’ ministry, a message in which Jesus would amplify after his period of testing in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). The last OT prophet would later become the first Christian martyr after his time in prison. While John was arrested, Jesus preaching ministry began fulfilling the words of Isaiah in 9:2 that “…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light…” Jesus began boldly proclaiming the KOH. 

‘The kingdom’ terminology wasn’t unfamiliar language, having been used in the OT with the most mentions in Daniel. The kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming wasn’t anything like what the Israelites were expecting though. In Matt. 5, Jesus’ kingdom proclamation the: poor, distraught, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted were called blessed. In a later gospel, Luke would focus on these marginalized and broken people as they were the ones Jesus came for (Luke 4:18); Good Samaritans and forgiven sinners like Zacchaeus were welcome at the Kings table in the King’s Kingdom. Matthew’s “you have heard it said…” statements go well beyond the demands of the 613 Mosaic laws. Jesus teaches kingdom centered prayers (Matt. 6:10) and pursuit above everything else (6:33). The Kingdom was absolutely central to Jesus’ life and ministry and right out of the gate the New Testament authors declare him the King in the Davidic line; simply put, He was the kingdom. He fulfilled the way that everyone since Adam had barely tried to do, but failed. Matthew highlights the immediacy of the Kingdom and all its requirements in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus paints a picture of what it looks like for the KOH to subdue and order the space around it the way the first man, Adam, should have brought heavenly order to his surroundings. Jesus was the ‘stronger’ man in Matt. 12:29 who confronts Israel (and humanities) true enemy, and binds him. Israel thought Rome was keeping them from earthly Kingdom glory when Jesus expands the script of their brains. His binding of the ‘strong man’ to establish his Kingdom was done in a counterintuitive way. Mark highlights Jesus’ power through profound suffering and service. Jesus proclaimed himself “The Son of Man” from Dan. 7 to showcase his kingly authority to forgive and heal. Jesus remains in complete control, knowing he will be betrayed by a person close to him (14:18). It’s in his last breath that Mark records the centurion’s response to Jesus sacrificial death (15:39). This “Son of Man” is in complete control over the fate of his Kingdom. “The authority of the King has been established through the most shocking means: a bloody cross and an empty tomb.” It’s counterintuitively through death and dying to self that our eternal life is found (John 3:16). For Christians, in light of all this, living the Kingdom can be initially summarized by stating that we must embody it in our daily lives and practices by dying to ourselves like Jesus did. Without the Holy Spirit, and a Kingdom community around us, this is impossible.

Embodied Community of the Kingdom


            The mustard-seed-Kingdom-movement exploded. Acts picks up the thread where Luke’s gospel left off; Jesus commanded his disciples to preach repentance to all nations as witnesses of himself (Luke 24:47). While explicit Kingdom language decreases, it’s centrality doesn’t. The Kingdom is only specifically mentioned eight times in Acts, but in critical places. The book begins and ends with KOG language. Right out of the gate Acts 1 introduces us to the resurrected Jesus who keeps teaching his disciples about the KOG for 40 days (1:3). Even up to the Ascension there is confusion surrounding what the KOG is, as his disciples were still looking for a physical and glorious restoration of the earthly kingdom to Israel (1:6). Their expectation was that “God's Kingdom would change the political order and displace all human rule and authority (Isa. 2:1-4),” in a way that happened immediately; but this wouldn’t be the case. God had other plans and purposes for his Kingdom of priests. In chapter 28, the book closes with Paul preaching from morning to night proclaiming the KOG (v. 23; 31). This Kingdom inclusio is no accident, skillfully reinforcing the kingdom focus and intent by its author. The 11-plus-1-disciples had been trained to build for this kingdom. As the church, they themselves weren’t the KOG. Men can’t actually build it themselves but they can preach it and proclaim it; on the other side men can either accept it or reject it with their lives.   

            In Acts 2, the promised Holy Spirit is poured out and Peter preaches a kingdom-centric sermon that is critical for our understanding of the gospel of the Kingdom. Gerry Breshears states that the gospel itself is simply the news that the Kingdom of God is here through what God has done in Jesus. Breshear’s summary of Peter’s sermon can be outlined as such; Incarnation: Jesus is Emmanuel, Lord and Messiah; Crucifixion: Jesus was crucified and died by the Fathers plan; Resurrection: Peter states that Jesus was raised from the dead; Exaltation: He was exalted over the hostile powers; the Holy Spirit is poured out on those who believe. Acts 2 provides the revelation of what God did to firmly establish his Kingdom. Our necessary response of conviction, confession, repentance, baptism, trust and faith must follow if we are to enter the kingdom. This preaching of the Kingdom didn’t go without suffering, in fact it was suffering that made it expand. In Acts 4, Peter (including the believers) pray for greater boldness as they quote Psalm 2 about the nations raging against the kingdom of King Jesus. Herod, Pilate, gentiles and even fellow Israelites had missed the boat on what God had predestined to do through Christ (4:23-28). This contested area would lead to the Kingdoms advancement through the power of the Holy Spirit and the gospel proclamation of a new king. It’s no mistake when Herod dies in Acts 12 showing that God was over human affairs and human kingdoms. In Acts 7, Stephens Christ-like suffering and forgiveness of his assailants was probably echoing in Paul’s subconscious when Jesus’ kingdom enveloped Paul’s life. Prior to his conversion, the great persecution against Christians led to the expansion of the gospel. There’s a clear connection between Christian suffering and Kingdom spread. Jesus told his disciples to expect it (John 16:33), and the paradigmatic model of Jesus life should lead his followers in every age to expect it. In Acts we see the superiority of Christ’s kingdom spread through suffering. As Ladd states, “the kingdom is now here with persuasion…” This compelling persuasion was modeled in believer’s selfless lives and broken, poured out bodies. As the transformed Saul sat in prison awaiting the trial that would lead to his death, he boldly proclaimed the KOG from morning to night, unhindered for two years (28:23; 30-31).

Paul and the Kingdom 

As we have seen from Acts, the KOG is far from being a peripheral issue following the Gospels. For Paul, the KOG is clearly central even though the phrase itself is only mentioned eight times in Pauline literature. The KOG is what undergirds all his writings. The epistles are never divorced from the KOG but are in fact Kingdom manifestos to specific churches and people. Each is to be viewed as a masterful gospel-application-response, deeply imbued with Paul’s all-encompassing Kingdom thoughts. For Paul, “the Kingdom of God is something which straddles the dimensions of time, being both present and future.” Christ is clearly the beautiful King that Paul can’t get enough of. In Phil. 2:6-11 the King emptied himself, taking the role of an unselfish, humble servant, obedient to the point of death. J.A. Motyer notes that this “mind of Christ” language could mean to “take what is best, greatest and most desirable to oneself, and abandon it, freely, in the interests of a more cherished purpose.” The cross was his exaltation and God’s Kingdom the more cherished purpose. Through his death and resurrection, he was crowned King over the world. His life was the cruciform pattern for all future kingdom people who would build for the Kings kingdom. Generally, within Pauline literature he differentiates this ‘present age’ with the ‘age to come’ by using the KOG for the future consummation in the parousia, while using the ‘Kingdom of Christ’ (Col. 1:13) language to talk about what King Jesus is doing in the present today. In Col. 1:15-23 the King is the dominant, unrivaled boss over all beings who set us free from the opposing kingdom of darkness (v. 13). It was for this reason that Paul was compelled to give his life out and suffer for the King on the behalf of other Kingdom followers (v. 24). Paul commandeers language reserved for fragile earthly emperors and kings to show the absolute superiority of Christ through gospel service. For Paul, Jesus was the unmatched king over the entire earth, who, because he set us free from darkness, is worthy of our total reverence and allegiance. “Christ the King is the center of Paul's theology; preaching him is the means of forming the Kingdom people.” Earlier we talked about Kingdom being the King’s power, over the King’s people in the King’s place. For Paul, to enter this Kingdom meant to pursue all the things the King pursued. Now that the King is physically away, the Spirit allows his people to live his Kingdom mission. In Romans 1:3 Jesus is talked about as the descendent of David who reigns through resurrection (1:4) whose Kingdom, unlike David’s, was completely just. Through a profession of repentance and faith in this King (Rom. 10:9), believers will have access and entry into this Kingdom. “The righteousness required for entrance into the future realm of God's Kingdom is the righteousness with which results from God's reign in our lives [today].” Paul encourages all the churches that he’s planted to live rightly, and in unity under God’s rule as slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:15-16). This is how the Christian will be built up and the Kingdom built for. 

The Kingdom Tomorrow

Revelation is a book which spans the present age, and the age to come. With Jesus, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension the last days were inaugurated (Heb. 1:2). The world as it is now, and the world to come, have overlapped and we live in the space between the times. “In this age there is death; in the Kingdom of God, eternal life. In this age, the righteous and the wicked are mixed together; in the Kingdom of God all wickedness and sin will be destroyed.” Revelation climaxes when the Kingdom goal, which began in Genesis, is fulfilled. A great transference of power occurs as “the Kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” These two Kingdoms have been at war since the beginning. At the very heart of the book in 12:10 John states, “…Now the salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down…” The serpent’s downfall is sealed, and the Christs’ reign is here. Kingdom victory is achieved, and the dragon is crushed by the sacrificial death of the Lamb. Reminiscent of Matt. 18:6, the representative kingdom of this age (Babylon) is drowned by a millstone. The city which caused so many to stumble is destroyed. “The kingdom concept in revelation is not just about the power of God, but the power of God displayed for the sake of his people to establish them in their new home.” The Kingdom in Revelation shows the unsurpassed power of the King to protect his people, in his place, by righteously judging all those who would oppress his children. The Kingdom of Priests (Rev. 1:6; 5:10) has a permanent place with its King. In Revelation 21 the ultimate Kingdom goal is achieved, and everything is put right.

Significant Takeaways and Application to Ministry

It seems today that everyone wants to identify with powerful, compelling political leaders of earthly kingdoms. Regardless of where a person lands politically, they want their mouthpiece to level the opposing force; even many Christians desire this. In a real way, I feel like we’ve lost sight of our ultimate home and ultimate rest when Christ returns to make things right in Rev. 21. The persuasion of the Kingdom should compel people who witness our lives to desire our King. Our Kingdom power experience comes through gospel proclamation, suffering and service. As a community we need to remind our people that the Kingdom hasn’t come all the way yet and that while we get to enjoy many of the aspects, we shouldn’t seek it today in a physical place. Our purpose isn’t to be comfortable but to follow our King.

  When Jesus talked to the woman at the well in John 4, he didn’t reference a correct physical place but a correct spiritual posture of the ideal worshipper. The disciples were very confused about what kind of kingdom to expect until persecution came; first it was social, then physical. It seems evident to me in ways I’ve not seen before that persecution and mission go hand in hand. Service to King Jesus will inevitably lead us to challenging locations. George Ladd said it so well when he critiqued the modern Christian sentiment of (paraphrased), “oh, life is such a burden because of x,y,z… but that’s my cross to bear.” He states, “The cross is not a burden, the cross is a place of death. When you take up your cross, you are ready to die.” Being a pastor is about applying loving-pastoral-pressure to our people to prepare them for a good death, one that honors the King. We don’t know when our life journey on earth will end, so finishing well means living well today. Our individual kingdoms need to be daily put to death. Dying a good death means living a good life in humble service to the King. When we approach life with this mindset, it prepares us for the deepest joys and disappointments we will encounter. Everything we are and face is for King Jesus. 

For a long while, I’ve understood that a central theme to the Bible is redemption. I never fully saw how kingdom was too. One of my main takeaways is that the Bible presents God as a King – not father, not friend, but King. How massive this shift is! We’re adopted children of the King, our Father the King who must be followed wherever he leads us. After Jesus did battle with Satan in the wilderness, he was then able to minister effectively and proclaim the KOG. Christian spiritual formation is similar as we follow our King into places we’d rather not go. Ultimately, it’s a death sentence which leads to life. If living for the kingdom is the goal, a cruciform life is the means. The Kingdom cannot be understood apart from the cross. In conclusion, my largest takeaways are the complete Biblical scope of the Kingdom (even in Acts and Paul!), the persuasion it brings, the good death it entails, and how this necessitates our complete submission to King Jesus.


Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. 2nd Revised ed. edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1984.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2 edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: 

Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K: Baker Academic, 2001.

Hawthorne, Gerald F., Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. 1st Printing edition. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 1993.

Ladd, George Eldon. Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. Later Printing. edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1990.

Motyer, J. Alec. The Message of Philippians. Revised edition. Downers Grove, Ill.; Leicester, England: IVP Academic, 2020.

Schreiner, Patrick, Dane C. Ortlund, and Miles V. Van Pelt. The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2018.

“Food Trucks in Babylon: What Is the Gospel? Part 2 on Apple Podcasts.” Apple Podcasts. Accessed July 5, 2021.