Kingdom or Family?

This morning at our local assembly in the Boland College Hall, we had a continuation of a series on Jesus not preaching salvation per se, but rather the Kingdom of God, and it got me thinking again about the nature of our relationship with God. It’s been a while since I first started thinking, reading and praying about this, so now may be an appropriate time to write it all down.

The first point was: God’s purposes will ultimately prevail, no matter how many twists and turns are taken and how many apparently “wrong directions” are made at times. Much like a large river (e.g. the Mississippi in the US) does in it’s many snaking turns on it’s way to the sea, ultimately, it flows from north to south and ends up in the sea.

Secondly, it was God’s intention to establish His kingdom in the physical world, without physically coming into it. This I have often wondered about, since it does not appear to be what he actually did. Why? Well Gen 1:26-27 tells us that mankind is designed to have authority over the animals, plants and all of creation, but it does not establish dominion over fellow humans. Jesus also made that really clear in Mat 23:8 that we are all brothers and we have one Father. So the notion of kingdom per se is not in the picture at this stage. But let’s continue for the moment to the next point.

Looking at the what the purposes or original plan of God was, they could be listed as being to

  1. establish a spiritual family, and
  2. a kingdom of kings, not of subjects. Also
  3. a commonwealth of citizens, not religious subjects, and
  4. have relationship with mankind, not establish a religion, and lastly
  5. extend his government on earth and influence earth from heaven through mankind

The first point and the second are somewhat contraditory though, as are the third and fourth. Let me explain what I mean by starting from some principles.

Alexander Campbell, a wise man by any standard, formulated seven rules of biblical interpretation. Alan Dale quotes the first of these principles in an excellent essay on “Women Speakers” as being that “we must consider the historical circumstances that existed at the time of writing of a book of the bible, as well as the reasons that caused the book to be written.”

If we apply this to the topic at hand, some interesting realisations will be made.

When God created Adam (and Eve), he walked with them in the garden. He was there in person, the “Father of All” himself. Surely, if he did that, it was his intention to be with his creation physically, not so, and not just for Adam and Eve to represent him? Of course he instructed Adam to rule over creation, but it does not seem to be his primary purpose. His relationship with them seems foremost. So, whatever came after that, was not his primary original intention and purpose, otherwise he would have deceived Adam into believing that Eden and daily fellowship with God was only a temporary diversion for the sake of some greater goal (or whatever else we may want to call it).

At the fall things changed for the worse. What did not change, however, was that Adam was a son of God and Eve his daughter. They where His creation and he intended to be their Father.

So where does the notion of kingdom come from?

The first reference to a kingdom is in relation to what Nimrod established. (Gen 10:8-9). Wesley has this to say about Nimrod: “Nimrod was a mighty hunter – This he began with, and for this became famous to a proverb. Some think he did good with his hunting, served his country by ridding it of wild beasts, and so insinuated himself into the affections of his neighbours, and got to be their prince. And perhaps, under pretence of hunting, he gathered men under his command, to make himself master of the country. Thus he became a mighty hunter, a violent invader of his neighbour’s rights and properties. And that, before the Lord – Carrying all before him, and endeavouring to make all his own by force and violence. He thought himself a mighty prince; but before the Lord, that is, in God’s account, he was but a mighty hunter. Note, Great conquerers are but great hunters. Alexander and Caesar would not make such a figure in scripture history as they do in common history. The former is represented in prophecy but as a he-goat pushing, Dan 8:5. Nimrod was a mighty hunter against the Lord, so the seventy; that is, he set up idolatry, as Jeroboam did, for the confirming of his usurped dominion; that he might set up a new government, he set up a new religion upon the ruin of the primitive constitution of both.” The Geneva Translation (footnote f) says: “His tyranny came into a proverb as hated both by God and man: for he did not cease to commit cruelty even in God’s presence. ” Strong comments on the word gibbĂ´r (mighty) as being: “by implication warrior, tyrant”, so the implication of Nimrod’s kingdom is negative for certain.

Then in Gen 20 we read of Abimelech’s kingdom and his interaction with Abraham and Sarah, but not a word at all in the relationship between God and Abraham.

Then in Exodus 19:4-6, God says to Israel “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” (WEB). So God starts to use the paradigm that the Israelites see around them, that of a kingdom, for the first time, to explain to them that as their Father, he is also their King and as his children, they are his kingdom. He uses it rather as showing that they are not like the kingdoms, a system of subjects and rules, but rather relatives (my own) being priests, separate (holy) for Him. He communicates to them what he’s wanted all along – an intimate family related to Him – all priests, all able to approach him, converse and commune with him.

But the “greener grass on the other side syndrome” hit them and the world systems soon appeared better to the Israelites, it seems, and they insisted on also having an earthly king too. 1 Sam 8:4 says “Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to Ramah and they said to him, Behold, you are old, and your sons don’t walk in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. Samuel prayed to Yahweh. Yahweh said to Samuel, Listen to the voice of the people in all that they tell you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not be king over them.” (WEB)
So, firstly God took their terminology (king / kingdom) and then he, on their insistence, gave them an earthly king as well. We must not be deceived, though, into thinking that this was God’s purpose or intention. I think it is very clear that it was the case, but that by their ungoldly ways, Isreal brought this state onto themselves.

Yet, despite all this, God still goes with that which they now relate to, in order to try to woo them back.

The kingdom of David is established, as is Solomon’s kingdom and eventually he aligns the birth of His Son with that of the line of David. He, Yeshua, becomes the first born of the children of God, those that are not under the dominion of Satan anymore, due to their acceptance of the salvation Yeshua brought. And although he speaks of His Kingdom, he makes it really clear that it is nothing like the earthly kingdoms around them.

Let’s put this train of thought on hold for a moment and look at the historical circumstances under which Yeshua spoke of his dominion – his kingdom. In a world where all authority was vested in the kings of the Romans and their delegates, the provincial governors, it would have been really difficult to explain Godly authority outside of this paradigm. How would the Isrealites understand now what they had missed for so long? In the same way that Yeshau used parables, he now explains his authority to them by embraces thier terminology. But he very clearly points out the difference:

  • Don’t give each other titles, you are all brothers (sigh – where does this leave the charismatics with their incessant titling of pastor to all that bear their system’s stamp of approval?)
  • Servants are the most important in His order (diaconos: servants, but we have made it sound all religious by translating it as ‘ministers’ and all chauvinistic by translating ‘submission’ when is applies to women)
  • Die to self to live (a message not popular at all in the wake of the skewed prosperity twist on the gospel, which became just as over the top as the roman catholic orders that avowed themselves to poverty)
  • Give freely and without expecting back (not the legislation of tithes – and the curse be upon all who dare to defy it – which has bound believers into a dogmatic dungeon where God can be manipulated into blessing them)
  • Smaller is better (He sends them 2 by 2, picks only 12 eventually and only three go with him to pray in Getsemane). Gatherings in the homes of “men of peace”: the wise, experienced elders of the city, leading the flock of believers and watching over their souls. Believers – disciples – that drive out demons, heal the sick, feed the poor, care for the orphans, dispense justice and deal righteously in civil matters and in that way bring the Kingdom wherever they are and operate (not the extremely proficient business moguls that run franchise-style, mega-church enterprises under the guise of church growth to somehow advance the Kingdom of God)
  • One God – Yahweh, the Father; One King – Yeshua, the Christ, the Savour, The oldest of the brothers and sisters; One Teacher – Parakletos, the Helper, Teacher and guide. The simple nature of it all boggles the minds of wise and learned to this day as they attempt to add all sorts of extras to improve on God’s simplicity. In doing so, they sideline millions of simple people who really love God and should have been encouranged, strengthened and loved.

In a sense Parenthood and Kingship are directly opposed to each other. Parents reproduce by nature, their children inherit and reproduce. Kings on the other hand have subjects that at most share in the king’s wealth, but they never inherit, nor do subjects produce kings.

So in relation to each other and our Father, we are family, yet in relation to the rest of creation we are kings.

Is it God’s Kingdom or God’s Family? I believe in relation to the outside we are a Kingdom, yet by nature and structure we are a family. Are we schizophrenic? No, never. Nothing in all eternity can take away that I am the son of my earthly father, Eberhard. In the same way, I am a son of God by re-birth into his family.

Today there are hardly any kings left. Most people have no idea what a real king was like, nor do the Hollywood portrayals of ancient rulers do justice to true royalty, that, like Solomon, lead their people to prosperity, peace and a good life, instead of war, destruction and conquest. So how can people relate to a God that is proclaimed as a King? Is he mean, ill-tempered and does he wipe those he dislikes from the face of the earth? The fact few have insight into the way God chose and used Israel as his dispenser of justice or the earth, makes the matter even worse. Then, persuant to that course, the church is now the replacement for Israel, right? However, Paul clearly states that the assembly of the believers (I strongly dislike the term church – it is devoid of the meaning it was originally used for) is the plan of God since before the foundation of the world. Eph 3:10-11 “… to the intent that now through the assembly the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (WEB) So the model that Israel followed is not the pattern, but merely the way that God chose to deal with the nations and people of the world at that time in the way Isreal choose by rejecting God’s better way. It does, however, teach us a lot about the nature and character of God, and that we should apply diligently.

Would God then have chosen a modern leadership model to reveal himself, had he done it at this time? Would he have called himself the president? In a democratic society, the president may be ousted tomorrow by the popular vote. Even the public company in the business world is not fit either – public opinion can kill it within weeks.

It seems that that most appropriate way is the family model. After all, Christ and the assembly are modelled by the husband-wife relationship! The dilemma is, of course, that the enemy, Diabolos, has made great efforts to remove this bastion of society from the scene. Fatherhood is made as pathetic as a loser American sitcom Dad, motherhood is portrayed as superior, without need of a father, children as supreme beings that can raise themselves without parental correction or guidance, and so the battle rages for the minds of mankind. But deep in the heart of every person is the need to have a loving, caring father and mother, albeit numbed by the pain of rejection, absence and lack of care in many cases. That may be the greatest reason why we need Parakletos to possess us and heal us as humankind.

The family dynasty is still the way God originally chose to reveal and relate to his creation, his children. Even the kingdom paradigm must be understood that context.

Ultimately we are God’s family. All other models must be understood in that light.