Few students of Christianity seem to be aware that believers in Jesus are destined for royal office. An extraordinary conspiracy of silence hides from churchgoers the very point and purpose of the Christian life. Yet the biblical writers knew very well what was involved in discipleship.
Our New Testament documents record that Jesus came heralding the Messianic Kingdom of God (Matt. 4:23; 9:35) and recruiting executives for the universal government which the Father had promised to entrust to him. If any truth is calculated to inspire and embolden, and humble the people of God, it is that Christian believers — those properly instructed in the truth and baptized according to the New Testament pattern — are now ambassadors residing in the alien territory of the present evil world-system (2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 6:20; Gal. 1:4) awaiting the return of their Master to take them as co-rulers in the new world system of tomorrow. For this astonishing privilege the faithful are to strive now with the help of God’s spirit.
This, patently, is what the Bible teaches and the reader is challenged to reconsider any other view which he may have accepted without careful consideration of the biblical facts.
It cannot be denied that Jesus was preoccupied above all with the message about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:19) as the dynamic tool by which converts were moved to abandon all for him and the Kingdom. Entrance in to the Kingdom of God was the supreme goal at the end of the Christian road. That goal inspired early Christian sacrifice, even of life itself: “Through much tribulation we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). All present trials were to be borne cheerfully in view of the spectacular prize awaiting the faithful believer at the return of Jesus to inaugurate the Kingdom. This theme underlies all the New Testament writings.
Jesus cannot be understood apart from his background. His mind was saturated with the words of the Old Testament prophets. For him it was axiomatic to believe that God had revealed to His servants the prophets the secrets of the future (Dan. 2:45, NAS; Matt. 24:15). The book of Daniel, for example, had conferred on the faithful in Israel an outline of world history in which the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13), the Messiah, was to play the leading role. Jesus knew himself to be the Son of Man (his favorite self-designation), a figure whom Daniel had seen in a remarkable vision. The Son of Man was seen appearing before the court of heaven to receive a Kingdom and Kingship (Dan. 7:14).
Daniel’s seventh chapter provides us with a fundamentally important insight into Jesus’ mission and the destiny of his followers. The meaning of this chapter is in no sense difficult. Neglect of the Old Testament has long deprived the average churchgoer of these basic building blocks of Jesus’ gospel message. It is unfamiliarity with this material, not the material itself, which may create difficulty. Christians are everywhere in the Bible urged to search and study.
All scholars agree that the Kingdom of God was the central topic of all Jesus’ teachings. What Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God may be readily understood by tracing the Kingdom to its Old Testament source in Daniel 2:44. Looking at the close of the present era of human history, Daniel foresaw that “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left to another people; it will crush and put to an end all these [previously mentioned] kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” Its location is to be “under heaven” (Dan. 7:27) — on this earth.
This Kingdom to be set up by the God of heaven quite naturally became known as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God (the terms are synonymous: Matt. 19:23-24), and it was that Kingdom which Jesus came to announce as good news, the Gospel (Matt. 4:23; Luke 4:43). Jesus evidently believed, with Daniel, that the vision “made known to the king [Nebuchadnezzar] what will take place in the future” (Dan. 2:45). Christ knew that he, of all members of the human race, was the chosen King appointed as ruler in that great future Kingdom of God.
There is further vital information about the Kingdom of God to be found in Daniel 7. In verse 11 the dominion of the “beast,” clearly an evil ruler, is taken away when he is “slain and his body given to the burning fire,” whereupon “a Son of Man,” the Messiah, is presented before God “and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away and his kingdom one which will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14).
As is well known, Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man described in Daniel 7, thus claiming to be the king to whom the Kingdom of God would be entrusted. Before the high priest of Israel, Jesus affirmed that he was indeed “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed” (i.e. the Son of God, Mark 14:61). In the same breath Jesus quotes Daniel’s vision and promises that the Son of Man will be seen “coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Evidently the title “Son of Man” is an equivalent for the titles “Son of God” and “Messiah”; and this is exactly what we would expect from reading about the Messianic function ascribed to the Son of Man in Daniel.
Matthew 16:16 had already equated Messiah with “the Son of the living God”: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”). All these titles are purely Messianic and have nothing whatsoever to do with the post-biblical theories about the so-called two natures of Jesus, a concept which both Jesus and Paul would have found baffling. It was only when the Messiahship of Jesus was misunderstood by the Greeks who began to dominate the Church after apostolic times that the reality of the coming Messianic Kingdom of God on earth was largely lost.
Contemporary theology continues to weary itself in an attempt to pry apart the titles “Son of God” and “Messiah.” In the Bible these are equivalents, designating the same royal office.
There is an underlying problem with Christianity as it has been generally understood. This has to do with Jesus’ Messiahship. People have long been taught that Jesus rejected the “Jewish” expectation that the Messiah would overthrow the political power of present human government and set up a real kingdom; that Jesus expected that the kingdom would be established only in the hearts of men and not externally as a real government. All this is a dangerously misleading half-truth. It is true that Jesus did not, at his first coming, make any attempt at all to overthrow the existing political system (John 6:15). He came to proclaim the Kingdom (Luke 4:43) and to die. This, however, does not alter the fact that at his second coming he fully intended to take up the political role of Messiah in the Old Testament and “Jewish” sense (Mark 14:62).
Not for one moment did Jesus deny his function as King of Israel and ruler of the world. To have claimed to be Messiah and yet to have disclaimed the right to sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem and govern the earth would have been nonsensical. It would have been to reject the Bible’s view of Messiahship, while claiming to uphold the Scriptures!
Jesus always looked forward to the second coming when he would assume his full role as King of the world. It was not that he was not already Messiah. He was always Messiah, and it was the essence of the Christian faith to recognize this (Matt. 16:16-17). To make this known publicly too early in his ministry was, however, to ask for unnecessary trouble — hence the so-called Messianic secrete (Mark 1:34). Theology departs from the New Testament when it tries to convince us that because Jesus did not in the first century take up the position of Messiah in the expected sense, he will never do so!
This is simply to reject the Gospel of the Kingdom which contains a promise that the Kingdom will be inaugurated when Jesus returns. Jesus and the apostles constantly make their appeals for repentance on the basis of belief in the future Kingdom (Mark 1:14; Luke 9:2; Matt. 24:14; 13:19; Acts 8:12; 28:23, 31). E. Earle Ellis is right when he says that “the term ‘Kingdom of God’ is used in Acts only of a future event” (New Century Bible Commentary on Luke, p. 13).
Now the knowledge of the Kingdom of God as a vital part of the Gospel is in no sense an academic acknowledgment of a remote future event. It is the key to the believer’s involvement with Christ. Daniel 7 provides information not only about the individual Son of Man, to whom the Kingdom is granted, but also about all those who are to be associated with him in rulership. Daniel 7:22 speaks of the time to come when “the saints took possession of the kingdom.” Jesus echoes this prediction exactly when he says to believers, “Fear not, little flock, for your Father is delighted to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Daniel 7:27 is even more explicit: “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Supreme God; their royal power will never end and all rulers on earth will serve and obey them” (see NEB, RSV and Good News Bible). Let it be carefully noted, however, that no political power is to be asserted by the saints until Jesus returns.
In 1 Corinthians 6:2 Paul makes an appeal to a recognized fact, a basic principle of Christianity: “Do you not know that the saints are going to manage the world?” (see Moffatt’s translation). The remark is made in the context of settling disputes and recalls the passage in Isaiah 2:1-4 which foresees the Messiah as arbiter of international disputes.
In the book of “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1) where the mind of Jesus is disclosed continuously for 22 chapters, the coming reign of the saints is a principal theme. The two elements of the Gospel — the death of Christ and the subsequent reign of the Messiah and the saints — are combined in the jubilant outburst of 5:9-10: “Worthy are you [the Lamb, Jesus] to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign on the earth.”
This central importance of the Kingdom of God and the co-rulership of the saints should put beyond doubt the need to proclaim the Kingdom as the heart of the Gospel message. The announcement of the Kingdom serves as an invitation to royal office in the coming reign. This is both the goal of human history and the destiny of the church. No wonder, then, that Jesus urges his church on with the promise of the supreme reward: “He who overcomes and keeps my deeds to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I have received authority from my Father” (Rev. 2:26-27).
This is an echo of Psalm 2, of Daniel 7:27 and, of course, Luke 22:28-30: “You are those who have stood by me in my trials, and just as my Father has covenanted to me a kingdom, I covenant with you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to administer the twelve tribes of Israel.” (“Judge” is equivalent to “administer” or “rule,” according to Hebrew usage. See, for example, the Good News Bible, Moffatt and the International Critical Commentary on 1 Cor. 6:2).
Jesus insists also in Revelation 3:21: “He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit down with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.”
It is in Revelation 20 that we find the ultimate denouement of the Bible’s constant anticipation of effective divine rule on earth. Once again there is the promise of royal office for the faithful: “They came to life and began to reign with Christ” (Rev. 20:4).
On the firm foundation of Jesus and his teaching — on the message of Jesus, not only on the messenger — a believer is assured of a place of responsibility and privilege in the coming Kingdom. It remains a fundamental truth of the New Testament that the Gospel of the Kingdom was preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8). And to Abraham was promised an inheritance of the world (Rom. 4:13). To his spiritual descendants will be granted an inheritance of the earth (Matt. 5:5). With the Messiah, King of Israel and Savior of the world, they will reign as kings on earth (Rev. 5:10). To that honor and service they are summoned by the good news of the Kingdom. In their blessing lies the power to bless others (Gen. 12:1-2).