Does the Kingdom Grow?

Excellence, again, from Kevin DeYoung:

When you look at the Gospels and examine the verbs associated with the kingdom, you discover something surprising. Much of our language about the kingdom is a bit off. We often speak of “building the kingdom,” “ushering in the kingdom,” “establishing the kingdom,” or “helping the kingdom grow.” But is this really the way the New Testament talks about the kingdom? George Eldon Ladd, the man who put kingdom back on the map for evangelicals, didn’t think so.

The Kingdom can draw near to men (Matt. 3:24:17Mark 1:15; etc.); it can come (Matt. 6:10Luke 17:20; etc.), arrive (Matt. 12:28), appear (Luke 19:11), be active (Matt. 11:12). God can give the Kingdom to men (Matt. 21:43Luke 12:32), but men do not give the Kingdom to one another.

Further, God can take the Kingdom away from men (Matt. 21:43), but men do not take it away from one another, although they can prevent others from entering it. Men can enter the Kingdom (Matt. 5:207:21;Mark 9:4710:23; etc.), but they are never said to erect it or to build it. Men can receive the Kingdom (Mark 10:15Luke 18:17), inherit it (Matt. 25:34), and possess it (Matt. 5:4), but they are never said to establish it. Men can reject the Kingdom, i.e., refuse to receive it (Luke 10:11) or enter it (Matt. 23:13), but they cannot destroy it.

They can look for it (Luke 23:51), pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10), and seek it (Matt. 6:33Luke 12:31), but they cannot bring it. Men may be in the Kingdom (Matt. 5:198:11Luke 13:29; etc.), but we are not told that the Kingdom grows. Men can do things for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 19:12Luke 18:29), but they are not said to act upon the Kingdom itself. Men can preach the Kingdom (Matt. 10:7Luke 10:9), but only God can give it to men (Luke 12:32). (The Presence of the Future, 193)

I’ve quoted this section several times, probably on this blog before. But when I’ve used it in the past I’ve been uncomfortable with the line “we are not told that the kingdom grows.” It seemed to me that the parable of the sleepy farmer (Mark 4:26-29) and the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32) clearly teaches that the kingdom grows. But as I’ve studied the passages more carefully I think you can make a good case that Jesus is not teaching about the growth of the kingdom as much as he is demonstrating that the kingdom of small beginnings will, at the close of the age, be the kingdom of cosmic significance. The kingdom may look unimpressive now, with nothing but a twelve-man band of fumbling disciples, but one day all will see its glorious end.

To borrow a tired cliché, the kingdom is what it is. It does not expand. It does not increase. It does not grow. But the kingdom can break in more and more. Think of it like the sun. When the clouds part on a cloudy day we don’t say, “the sun has grown.” We say, “the sun has broken through.” Our view of the sun has changed or obstacles to the sun have been removed, but we have no changed the sun. The sun does not depend on us. We do not bring the sun or act upon it. The sun can appear. Its warmth can be felt or stifled. But the sun does not grow (science guys, don’t get all technical, you know what I mean). This seems a good analogy for the kingdom.

God certainly uses means and employs us in his work. But we are not makers or bringers of the kingdom. The kingdom can be received by more and more people but this does entail growth of the kingdom. We herald the kingdom and live according to its rules. But we do not build it or cause it to grow because it already is and already has come. As Ladd put it, “The Kingdom is the outworking of the divine will; it is the act of God himself. It is related to human beings and can work in and through them; but it never becomes subject to them…The ground of the demand that they receive the Kingdom rests in the fact that in Jesus the Kingdom has come into history” (A Theology of the New Testament, 102).

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

2 thoughts on “Does the Kingdom Grow?

  1. Our Father:
    Designer, Sustainer;
    ‘Image’ imparter,
    Provider, protector;
    Trinity and unity,
    With Spirit and Son
    The loving Holy One.

    Who art in Heaven:
    God’s dwelling place
    ‘Above’, ‘Beyond’, ‘other’ than
    Material: time and space.
    Yet from each of us not far away,
    When we draw near to Him and pray

    Hallowed be Thy Name
    The resplendent glory,
    The full story
    Shrouded in His name,
    He will not give to another:
    ‘Yahweh’. His fame:
    “I am” and “will be”
    Lord Most High.
    One day we’ll see.
    Now with awe and reverence
    We come with penitence,
    In faith and love bowing
    His great name hallowing.

    Thy Kingdom come
    Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven
    ‘Basileia’, kingly rule and government:
    Not a vision of social improvement;
    Not a present reality solely,
    Nor a future event exclusively.
    God breaking through,
    The ‘now’ but ‘not yet’.
    Messianic promises were met,
    But there’s a future fulfilment too!
    Lord, human society, the whole Creation
    Groans with longing expectation
    For your will to be done on Earth:
    Bring justice, and shalom to birth
    Through our actions and responsibility,
    Then through your purposes for all Eternity.

    Give us this day our daily bread:
    Lord we take so much for granted
    The plenty that others have planted.
    Forgive us that in our haste
    There is food that we waste.
    Thank you that You have said
    “You are the Living Bread”.
    “This is My body, take and eat”,
    Communion as together we meet.
    We labour for bread that will perish
    Forgetting food we should cherish

    And forgive us our trespasses
    As we forgive those who have
    Trespassed against us
    ‘Graciously dealing’
    ‘Sending away’, ‘loosing’.
    God is merciful, gracious
    Long suffering,
    Abundant in goodness
    And truth
    Mercy keeping
    For thousands
    Iniquity forgiving
    Transgressions blotting
    Guilt and sin pardoning.
    A sacrifice atoning
    For the penitent confessing,
    Wrath assuaging
    At the .mercy seat propitiating:
    Jesus our ransom, redeeming
    His death substituting
    Representing and justifying
    To God reconciling.
    The Father initiating,
    The Son accomplishing
    The Spirit convicting
    Remission applying,
    As we too are forgiving
    Of those who are offending,
    Against us who are sinning

    “Oh the depth of the knowledge of the grace of our Lord”

    And lead us not into temptation
    But deliver us from evil
    Lord do not bring me to hard testing.
    I am tempted by my evil desiring
    Pride and appetites conspiring.
    You test the genuineness our loyalty
    To strengthen our maturity,
    But Satan seeks to seduce and destroy
    Disgracing with strategies he’ll employ.
    Lord, deliver me from the Evil One.
    Give me strength to overcome.
    For Thine is the kingdom
    The power
    And the glory
    For ever and ever

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