What is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God?

Following up on a comprehensive oral exam question about that distinction with a graduate student yesterday, I thought I’d post this relevant quote from Herman Ridderbos’s monumental work, The Coming of the Kingdom  (P&R, 1975):

“We want to define accurately the position of the idea of the ekklesia [church] in the scope of Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom. The ekklesia is the name of those who have been united into one community by the preaching of the gospel. First of all we would point out that the concept of basileia [kingdom] nowhere occurs in the sense of this idea of the ekklesia. Nor is it used in the sense that the kingdom of God in its provisional manifestation on earth would be embodied in the form and organization of the church. It is true that these concepts sometimes seem to be nearly parallel, and it would be possible to speak of “borderline cases.” This is in the first place due to the very complicated linguistic usage of the concept of basileia in the gospels.

“We have already observed that by the term kingdom of God we can denote not only the fulfilling and completing action of God in relation to the entire cosmos, but also various facets of this all-embracing process. Thus, e.g., the territory within which this divine action occurs and in which the blessings of the kingdom are enjoyed is called the basileia of God or that of heaven. Well-known examples of this are e.g., the sayings about entering into the kingdom, etc. (cf., e.g., Matt. 5:20, 11:11, 23:13). Among them there are also passages in which we may assume with a great measure of certainty that Jesus speaks of the presence of the kingdom, e.g., Matthew 11:11; 18:3,4; Mark 10:15. It is not always easy to ascertain what ideas is connected with such usage. It is clear that we are confronted here with a certain derivative meaning of the concept basileia.”  (The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 343; emphases added)

Ridderbos notes that, for some time, ekklesia was “isolated” from its “organic place” in Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of heaven.  But now “texts containing the word ekklesia have been liberated from their former isolation,” he argues, “due to the return to a more correct understanding of the concept basileia (p. 342).

The book of Acts, which is Luke’s second volume of explication and fulfillment of the Gospels in the early church, clearly gives emphasis and priority to the kingdom of God. “The kingdom” is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, of the book of Acts, its  inclusio, as seen in the book’s first three and last two verses:

Acts 1:1-3:  In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, (2) until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (3) He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Acts 28:30-31: He [Paul] lived there [Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, (31) proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

All that happens in between Acts 1 and Acts 28–and beyond–is the unveiling of the kingdom of God, not just the ekklesia.

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