Bob Dylan wrote a song called "Gotta Serve Somebody." The song echoes the deep human need to worship something, anything. Whether people know it or not they listen to a particular authority, and, in turn, some entity has ruling influence over them. Today, this mysterious entity is the pop culture. People constantly seek out the popular messages in the culture so they know how to act, how to think, even what to wear. We can also classify that the pop culture represents a kingdom. It's a sort of ruling authority that has full control of people's life.
In this article, we'll identify what the legitimate kingdom is today and how to identify it.
The ruling power and authority of people throughout the centuries have come from kingdoms. In ancient time, kings ruled kingdoms, and these kings personified the kingdom. In fact, the king was worshiped as a god. Because of the king's power, ancient society was obsessed with following these king rulers in the kingdom state.
In his wisdom, God used human beings infatuation of “king worship" by making a covenant bond to his people through a certain hand-selected king - King David. David was a meek shepherd boy that was described as a "man after God’s own heart" (Psalm, 89:20, 1 Samuel 13:14, Isaiah 44:28, Acts 13:22). Through King David, God promised Israel an exalted kingdom. However, God's kingdom would be dramatically unlike these petty earthly kingdoms.
David’s kingdom was not centered on worshiping the king but worshiping God. This was a dramatic switch from the popular way of thinking. Typically, kings said, "Look how amazing I am." However, King David never did that. Rather, he continually announced how great God was not how great he was (see Psalm 145).
King David preferred to be a priest rather than a king (Psalm 110:4, 2 Samuel 8: 18). He wore priest clothes, and his kingship was centered around the precise method of worship to God. For example, David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 6). He was meticulous in offering the Todah sacrifice. He wrote many of the Psalms, introduced singing and music into worship. Finally, David wanted to build God a house - a dwelling place where God and Israel could unite. However, as the prophet Samuel articulated, instead of David building a house for God, God wanted to build a house for David. This "house" was to be a royal dynasty in which David's descendants would reign as kings over this kingdom. As the prophet declared, "Your house and kingdom will endure forever” (2 Samuel 7: 11-13, 16).
Now, it looked like this kingdom had taken off shortly after the prophet announced this. It was David's son, Solomon, that built the temple (God’s house) on a large rock known as Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1). Because King Solomon was known for his wisdom, other kings came to listen to Solomon’s God-given knowledge (1 Kings 4:30, 34). Consequently, flocks of people from other nations began to journey to Israel to start worshiping God. However, the kingdom began to slowly crumble due to Israel's sin. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, caused a crisis that consequently split the kingdom in revolt. This division resulted in the tribe of Israel to move up north while the tribe of Judah stayed down south. Slowly, but surely the kingdom began to deteriorate and Israel experienced Divine judgment. In 586 BC, the Babylonian kingdom crushed Israel and deported the people back to Babylonian far away from God's temple. Here, Israel began to worship foreign gods, most specifically the king of the Babylonian empire - King Nebuchadnezzar.
Here, in Babylon King Nebuchadnezzar had a vivid and powerful dream that only the Israelite Daniel was able to correctly interpret (Daniel 2: 1-45). In the dream, the king saw a large bright statue before his eyes. The head of the statue was pure gold. The chest and arms were silver, the belly and thighs were bronze, the legs were iron, while the feet was a mix of part iron and part clay. As the king starred in awe at the statue, a stone was taken from a mountain and struck the statue with a great blow. The gold, silver, bronze, and iron all crumbled into pieces as a mighty wind whisked it away. This stone that struck the statue became a great mountain that eventually filled the whole earth.
Daniel went on to then interpret the deep meaning of the dream in that the gold represents the current kingdom of Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar while the silver, bronze, and iron signify the kingdoms that will come after. The stone that destroyed these kingdoms acts as a metaphor of God's kingdom built on a rock that overtakes these earthly kingdoms and rules forever.
Historically speaking this image illuminates the historical fact of kingdoms that ruled the earth that we can see today.
- Babylonian Empire 605-539 BC (Gold)
- Persian Empire 538-311 BC (Silver)
- Greek Empire 330-169 BC (Bronze)
- Roman Empire 167 BC - 470 AD (Iron)
- God's Kingdom - 33 AD - Forever (Rock)
What is also significant is the feet of the statue being a mix of iron and clay illuminate that they will be sealed together by "intermarriage." (Daniel 2: 41-43). In the Gospels, we witness how the Jewish and Roman authorities had shared a strategic arrangement in which the Romans appointed Jewish high priests and the high priest worked with the Romans to have Jesus executed.
We can safely say that the fulfillment of the kingdom is complete in Jesus. The king is Jesus. The rock that destroyed the statue is very likely the Church Jesus established. Isn't it interesting that Solomon was instructed to build God's temple (God's house) on a large rock and then Jesus told Peter, "On this rock I will build my church. . . I will give you the keys of the kingdom" (Matthew 16: 18-19).
Isn't it also interesting that the Church is called the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). The "house of God" statement mirrors Samuel's prophecy in that God will build David a great house (i.e royal kingdom). So, we can see a close link with rock and church, as well as house and church. What about the connection of kingdom and church?
Throughout his time on earth, Jesus repeatedly mentioned the phrase "the kingdom." "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4: 17). "The kingdom of heaven is like...." (see Matthew 13 ). In fact, the word "kingdom" is used roughly 54 times in Matthew's Gospel alone. All this kingdom talk would have immediately triggered the Israelite people back to the kingdom God promised King David. But notice that after Jesus died and ascended into heaven, we don't see kingdom talk anymore but we do see repeated mention of the phrase "the church." In fact, the phrase "the church" appears roughly 113 times after Jesus's ascension. So, because all this kingdom language then switches to church language can't we safely assume that the church is the kingdom. For example, suppose a pregnant mother continuously used the phrase "the baby" while writing in her journal. Then, after a dramatic event happens (she gives birth), she ceases to use the term "the baby" and instead repeatedly uses the word "Michael." You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Michael is the baby. That is the promises stated in the phrase "the baby is to come" is fulfilled when she later uses the word "Michael." The same concept applies to the kingdom and the Church.
Moreover, if you put your detective hat on and add up all the clues, you'll see that the end product of the kingdom that was promised is the Catholic Church.
When theologians have contemplated the kingdom - church connection it often leaves them with a sort of disappointment about the kingdom. It's much like the phrase, "My parents went to Hawaii, and all I got was this lousy shirt." People tend to express the same bored sentiment to God's kingdom: "My messiah promised me a kingdom and all I got was this church." Yes, this kingdom seems bland and uninteresting on the surface. Indeed, Jesus's parables allude to the fact that the kingdom may seem small and hidden initially, but below the surface, it's a great hidden treasure (see Matthew 13: 31-32,44)
The question remains why must the kingdom be located in Rome? There appears to be a shift in the book of Acts as Peter and Paul begin to see the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy where the Son of Man receives the Gentile secular kingdoms from the ancient of days. That is, the transfer from all secular empires to God happens with the transfer of the Roman empire to Jesus’s kingdom. So, God is no longer king of Israel. He is King of Romans, Persians, Greeks, etc. What Daniel's vision alludes to is that God wipes out the corrupt earthly kingdoms and their ideas that come with it, and builds his kingdom right where the last earthly empire once stood. Therefore, the last empire in Rome is now taken over by God's kingdom. We can see this as Peter and Paul went to Rome knowing that Christ had received the Roman Empire. In this setting, Christ takes over the Roman empire and transforms it into his kingdom, which is his Church.
The best analogy I can come up with is from a scene in Star Wars episode 4 (the original film). In the scene, Luke is flying into the alley of the Death Star with Darth Vader flying behind him. Luke hears Obi-Wan Kenobi say, “use the force.” Luke then closes his eyes turns off the computer and fires two torpedo shots down the shaft. He pulls out, and the whole Death Star blows up. Those two torpedoes represent Peter and Paul entering into the heart of Rome. When Peter and Paul are executed in Rome, their blood blows up the Roman Empire and replaces it with Christ’s kingdom – the Church. These two apostles are literally embedded into Rome. Their blood and their teaching triggers the unlikely conversion of the Roman Empire and fulfills the book of Daniel that the Son of God has received the Roman kingdom and from this will implant his own kingdom – the Church.
This is why the early Christians repeatedly made reference to Peter and Paul implanting their blood into Rome thereby allowing the Church they formed in Rome to have authority over them. Here is a small sampling of early Christian writings that reflect this:
"We indicate that Tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. . . For it is a matter of necessity that every church agree with this church on its preeminent authority." (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3:3:2 A.D. 189)
“Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3:1:1, A.D. 189)
"Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our hands the very authority. How happy is its church, in which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood. Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's!" (Tertullian of Carthage, Prescription Against Heretics, 36, A.D 200)
"To what rule of faith the Galatians were brought for correction; what the Philippians, the Thessalonians, the Ephesians read by it; what utterance also the Romans give, so very near to the apostles, to whom Peter and Paul conjointly bequeathed the gospel even sealed with their own blood." (Tertullian, Against Marcion 4:5, A.D. 209)
"You cannot then deny that you know that upon Peter first in the city of Rome was bestowed the episcopal cathedra, on which he sat, the head of all the apostles, that, in this one cathedra, unity should be preserved by all." (St. Optatus of Milevis, Schism of the Donatists 2:2 A.D. 367)
"I think it is my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to the Church in Rome whose faith has been praised by Paul." (St. Jerome, Letters 15:1, A.D. 376)
Jesus died on a Roman cross under a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate. The mystery of salvation history happened under a Roman context for a reason. God transforms the Roman cross from a sign of torture into a sign of love and hope. Rome goes from an evil emperor to the center of Christ’s mystical body.
In taking Rome from good to bad, God's showcases his wisdom in which he writes straight with crooked human lines.