ABC Extra – Two Kingdoms, One Ruler

February 27, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

This weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a series called, “King Me! Life Lessons from Israel’s Lieges.”  In this series, we are taking a look at some of Israel’s kings and seeking to learn from both the good and the bad of their rules and reigns.  The theme verse for this series comes from Judges 8, where, after leading a valiant charge against the Midianites, the Israelites want to install their judge, Gideon, along with his family, into an Israelite royal dynasty.  Gideon responds, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23).  Gideon understands that, ultimately, it is the LORD who is King over all.  No earthly king can dare or deign to take God’s place.  Indeed, the subtitle for this series, “Life Lessons from Israel’s Lieges,” alludes to this.  A “liege” can be either one who rules or one who is ruled.  Earthly kings are both.  They may rule over others, but they themselves are inescapably and inexorably ruled by God.  For God is King over all.

Like Gideon, Martin Luther understood that God rules and reigns over all.  In his writings, Luther often spoke of two kingdoms.  On the one hand, Luther explains, there is a left hand kingdom, which incorporates the world and its rules and rulers. On the other hand, there is a right hand kingdom, or a spiritual kingdom, which consists of all those who have faith in Christ and are guided by the Gospel.  When teaching on these two kingdoms, I will often refer to the right hand kingdom as the Kingdom of God and the left hand kingdom as the Kingdom of Man.  “Who rules the Kingdom of God?” I will ask when I teach on this topic.  People quickly and confidently respond, “God.”  But then I follow up, “Who rules the Kingdom of Man?” Many respond, “Man.”  But the glory of the Kingdom of Man is that, despite its name, it is not ruled by man, but by God!  The Lutheran Confessions explain:  “It is taught among us that all government in the world and all established rule and laws were instituted and ordained by God for the sake of good order.”[1]  This statement echoes the words of the apostle Paul:  “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).  Because God institutes and establishes the rulers in the Kingdom of Man, He is also the ultimate ruler over the Kingdom of Man.  As the prophet Daniel says, “God sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21).  There is no kingdom – be it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Man – where God does not reign and rule.

Though God reigns and rules over both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, it should be noted that God rules differently in these two kingdoms.  Luther explains:

One must carefully distinguish between these two governments. Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds. Neither one is sufficient in the world without the other. No one can become righteous in the sight of God by means of the temporal government, without Christ’s spiritual government. Christ’s government does not extend over all men; rather, Christians are always a minority in the midst of non-Christians. Now where temporal government or law alone prevails, there sheer hypocrisy is inevitable, even though the commandments be God’s very own. For without the Holy Spirit in the heart no one becomes truly righteous, no matter how fine the works he does. On the other hand, where the spiritual government alone prevails over land and people, there wickedness is given free rein and the door is open for all manner of rascality, for the world as a whole cannot receive or comprehend it.[2]

Thus, God rules in the Kingdom of God by the redemption of men through the cross of Christ and He rules in the Kingdom of Man by suppressing the wickedness of men through the auspices of earthly rulers.  We thank God for both kingdoms.  And we thank God that He is King over both.  He is King over us.

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[1] AC XVI:1

[2] AE 45:92

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