The Sweep of Scripture and The Kingdom of God

biblesOver the last several years I have spent most of my commutes listening to Scripture read or performed in order to be immersed in and formed by the story of God’s work in the world. (Far better than spending the time immersed in talk radio (HT T)). Toward the end of what became a rather long post a few weeks ago I sketched my current thoughts on the sweep of Scripture (see the end of Human Evolution and the Bible). The sweep of Scripture is not adequately captured in the “introduction – problem – solution – conclusion” format, most commonly stated as “creation-fall-redemption-new creation”. Although there are elements of problem (the persistence of chaos and the rebellion of humans) and there is certainly a solution (we need to take atonement seriously), the sweep of Scripture is far deeper than this version allows.

Another take. In his book Kingdom Conspiracy Scot McKnight outlines a somewhat different view of the sweep of Scripture.

⇒ It starts with God as king of his people (Genesis – 1 Samuel 7). This is plan A. The people rebel, but they are still under God’s direct kingship.

⇒ In 1 Samuel 8 the story moves to plan B. The people of Israel ask for a human king as they follow the desire to be like the surrounding nations. As the Lord told Samuel “it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (8:7) God accommodates Israel by granting them a human king. God alone is still king – he doesn’t abdicate, but a human king is enthroned. This is definitely a plan B. Eventually this attempt as a human kingdom leads to exile, an exile that will only end when God is again enthroned as king.

⇒ In the New Testament we find a move back to God himself as king. Plan A revised. God himself is the savior, redeemer, and ruler of his people through his son, the Messiah, Jesus.

Jesus is all of Israel’s major leaders, and more: he’s a new Moses and especially a new David and a new Solomon and a new Servant and a new Son of Man and a whole new redemptive order. Joseph and Mary name him Yeshua because he will “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The story is that in Jesus God now rules, and God’s kind of ruling is saving, rescuing, atoning, justifying, and reconciling. (p. 35)

When Jesus said “the kingdom of God has drawn near,” he announced a new day in an old story. … It is first and foremost the story of God as King, and God is King in King Jesus, so the story begins right there – just as the one and only gospel reveals: it’s a story about Jesus, the Lord, the King, the Messiah, and the Savior. He is those titles now, and he will be those titles when the kingdom is fully established. … That is the story that alone makes sense of Jesus’ choice of the word “kingdom” to explain the mission of God in this world. (p. 35)

This provides a far better picture of the sweep of Scripture than creation-fall-redemption-new creation because it doesn’t skip from Genesis 3 to Matthew, leaving the remainder of the Old Testament in the category of interesting side trip (or worse yet, moral lessons for the church), it doesn’t focus everything down on my salvation, and it doesn’t make Jesus a “plan B” answer to a human-created problem. However, plan A, plan B, plan A revised is descriptive of history rather than descriptive of the mission of God. The mission of God remains constant. From beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation, God is King and is establishing his kingdom.

Although the flow of God’s kingship over his people describes the sweep of Scripture, I think it needs some fleshing out. To do this it may help to step back and look at some of the elements I outlined in my earlier post, now rearranged and revised.

The Sweep of Scripture, Round Two.

1. God is king and the mission of God is to bring about his kingdom.

  • God is Sovereign, and this includes God as Creator.
  • God is producing his kingdom from Chaos and disorder.
  • God’s people are central the the establishment of his kingdom. (As Scot emphasizes, a kingdom has subjects or it isn’t a kingdom.)
  • God has made known his law. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

2. Humans are unfaithful, but God is faithful.

  • Humans are fallen and have been fallen for all of remembered history. There is no perfect golden era.

Once humans are on the scene the primeval history in Genesis 1-11 is a tale of fallenness. This continues throughout Genesis and beyond. Certainly none of the patriarchs followed perfectly. Nor did Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, or any of the Judges. Not even Samuel! In Scripture we see the relationship between God and his people warts and all. The period with God as king was not a time where humans were, by and large, faithful subjects of God’s kingdom.

  • When God relents and anoints a human king nothing changes for the better.

All God’s anointed human kings fail, even David. David aspires to follow God (a man after God’s own heart) but human failings surface … rooted in human desire; power, sex, and money. It goes downhill from from David. There are occasional kings in Judah who endeavor to follow God, but most do not.

  • The major theme of the story is the faithfulness of God. God is faithful, though humans are not. We see this faithfulness from Genesis 1 through Revelation, but it is especially the connecting theme from Genesis 3 through Acts. It isn’t that the individual authors always saw the faithfulness of God as a primary theme, rather that God is always faithful as we move through the story.
  • The prophets provide a poignant reflection on the human failings and a vision for God’s future. We overlook these books to our peril.

3. Incarnation is required to establish God’s Kingdom. I don’t think the incarnation itself is a response to the fall or a response to Israel’s rebellion in seeking a human king, although exactly how it played out is a response to human rebellion.

  • Jesus’ actions recorded in the Gospel’s are framed in terms of his identity as God’s Messiah. (The prophets are essential for understanding this, we don’t get it from the sequence of events alone.)
  • Paul (and others) bring to the Old Testament story the new realization that God’s faithfulness involved incarnation. While God was always sovereign, he once again established direct rule over his people.
    • Jesus is the faithful human (as well as the faithful Israelite and the faithful seed of Abraham)
    • Jesus is the answer to the promise of an eternal Davidic Dynasty
    • The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
    • In the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

The high Christology of the New Testament is significant. God himself did what humans not only did not do but could not do. Somehow our inability is part of being mortal – not God – in the context of God’s creation.

  • Through Christ we are made whole. We have been reconciled through his blood.
  • We enter into the Kingdom of God to live as His people. The church is this already/not yet people.

The church doesn’t replace Israel. God remains faithful. But the people of God now includes all who call on his name without requiring Jews to become gentiles or gentiles to become Jews. Paul is pretty adamant on this.

  • God’s law for us hasn’t changed. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
  • God’s plan for the ultimate future is something we cannot really begin to fathom. It will be something different, where night and sea (chaos) and human sin are no longer part of the picture. Our science and reason, based on this world, cannot get us from here to there.

All of Scripture is essential for this story.

Thoughts?

Is this a faithful description of the sweep of Scripture?

What might you say differently?

Is something missing?

Are we calling people to enter the kingdom of God?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you would like to comment please see The Sweep of Scripture and The Kingdom of God at Jesus Creed.

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