1/09/2008

Kingdom and the Image of God

In light of Scot McKnight's current series at Jesus Creed called "Keys of the Kingdom," it got me thinking...
How does "Kingdom" relate to the Image of God (or the "Eikon" in Scot's vernacular).

The Kingdom of God is the gospel that Jesus preached. This is how Jesus’ ministry is described in Matthew: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23). And as we read through the Gospels, it becomes clear that this was how he expressed his mission, time and time again.

Kingdom
A kingdom is a place and a people that are ruled over by a sovereign. This king (or queen) decides what is best for the kingdom and the people go about doing this ruler’s will. “Kingdom” is a very human term for the governing of a place and the society that lives in that place. In fact, by far the most common reference in the Bible is to human kings and kingdoms.

King
The King, then, is the person who is sovereign (the ruler) over that place and that people. As an American, I do not fully understand kingdoms or kings, because I have no experiential reference point for it. But as I watch nations with monarchs and read the history of kings and queens, I am struck by how those under their sovereignty show devotion to the ruler. In our western democratic political philosophy, we scoff at this because we know the evil of absolute power, that individuals with this kind of power will always be corrupted by it. We know that humans in power inevitably distort shalom. But imagine, if you can, a King or Queen that is benevolent, caring, wise, charitable, seeking universal flourishing for all his subjects. We know that nobody in power can be all these things all the time, but just imagine if they were this way most of the time.

Now imagine if God were the King: always benevolent; always loving; always wise; always full of grace and mercy; always seeking shalom. This is how YHWH is pictured in the Old Testament. We are introduced to this when Moses sings, “The LORD will reign for ever and ever” (Ex 15:18). YHWH confirms himself as King, proclaiming, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1).

Now, just imagine how human beings would have been had there had been no Fall. We, too, would always be benevolent, loving, wise, gracious, merciful, seeking universal flourishing for all humans and for the rest of Creation.

Imago Dei
Remember that humanity is created in the image of God (Imago Dei). According to the first chapter of Genesis, this means we are given the authority to rule over the earth as God’s viceroys. We are to rule as kings over the earth, representing the ultimate KING to the creation. This is truly amazing, especially in light of Ancient Near Eastern thought, where the gods would allow kings to be their "images" in particular places. The Genesis account democratizes the authority of king to all of humanity, and places under our care the earth that God has created.

So God created man in his own image,
_____in the image of God he created him;
_____male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
(Genesis 1:27-28)

However, because of the Fall, this ability has been severely damaged and twisted. Though we were created to be kings, we are instead a catastrophe.

Jesus came to redeem our image-bearing capability. Jesus, God in human flesh, is the Christ. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, which literally means “Anointed One,” or “King.” Jesus is the “Son of David,” the anointed king par excellence from the line of David. As both “Son of God” and “Son of David” Jesus is the catalyst for redeeming humanity’s image-bearing purpose.

King of kings
This is why, I believe, Jesus is called the “King of kings and Lord of lords” in Revelation 19:16. We skip over that phrase thinking that it simply means that Jesus is the head honcho, the most powerful sovereign in the world, and that all the other "kings and lords" (the rulers of the nations) are nothing in comparison.

I think that misses the point. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords in a positive way. As the redeemer of the image of God in humanity, he is the King of us little kings, the Lord of us little lords... I think that is us we're reading about! All of us, not just the heads of nations. We are all meant, as the human race, to rule over this earth.

We have been redeemed to rule, to "have dominion" over the earth. And because of the grace of God who heals us of our sin and cleanses us of our selfish desire for power for our own sake, we will one day again rule with benevolence, love, wisdom, grace, and mercy...
Seeking universal flourishing for all God's creation.

technorati: , , ,

7 comments:

RonMcK said...

Bob
I like your thought of king over us little kings.

The fact that you have no experience of kingship maked it hard for Americans to understand what is means for Jesus to be King or Lord.

When pledging allegiance to our political leaders, we call them president or prime minister. We pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God by saying Jesus is Lord or King. The truth is that we have pledged allegiance to masters. We justify this divided loyalty by calling one king or lord and the other president or prime minister.

If my nation had a king and I have pledged allegiance to him, it will be quite hard to call Jesus king, because it will be obvious that I have divided loyalty. If I believe Jesus is king, it would be hard to pledge allegiance to a human king, because I cannot serve two kings. We just dont get that dilhemma

In America, where people have no experience of kingship or lordship, “Jesus is President” might be a better paraphrase of “Jesus is Lord”. However, it would be hard to pledge that "Jesus is President" because it would exposes a divided loyalty. A pledge of "No President but Jesus" would be a subversive statement, because republic cannot have two presidents.

Bob Robinson said...

RonMcK,

I think I understand your point: That we must put our allegiance to Jesus alone as King.

But, as I understand it, this also means that God has given authority to local governments on earth.

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1)

This means that when we pledge allegiance to the governing authority, this is NOT a split allegiance. It is our submitting to that which derives its authority from the ultimate authority.

Where we get into trouble, and I think this is what you're getting at, is when we place nation ABOVE God, pledging our allegiance to country, flag, or leader regardless of how this subverts our primary allegiance to God. Right?

RonMcK said...

Romans 13:1 seems to cover a multitude of sins.

Jeff Greathouse said...

Very thoughtful. I will have to dwell deeper into this thought process.

Bob Robinson said...

RonMcK,
Good point.
Romans 13 has indeed been used by many to subjugate peoples under bad and even evil government leadership.

joe said...

hey bob. good stuff here. i am working on a sermon for "big church". i may borrow some of this,if its ok. i'll give credit where it is do. did i hear youre working on a book?

Bob Robinson said...

Joe,
I'm honored that you'd borrow from me!

Yes, that rumor is true (though I hesitate to make it too public since it is such a daunting task). This post is a part of that book - about the Imago Dei and its implications for the gospel, our proclamation of the gospel, and our practice of the gospel.