The Kingdom of God: Sovereignty, Servitude, and Salvation
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In contemporary society, the concepts of slavery and kingdoms often elude our full understanding, yet these are foundational to comprehending Christian teachings. Modern examples of monarchy, such as the symbolic role of King Charles, contrast sharply with the biblical portrayal of absolute monarchies. Unlike today’s constitutional or ceremonial monarchs, biblical kings wielded unequivocal power and authority, commanding total allegiance from their subjects. This distinction is crucial for Christians, who are called to wholly submit to Jesus Christ as the sovereign ruler within the Kingdom of God.
Understanding the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is akin to earthly kingdoms in structure but unparalleled in its essence and governance. Earthly kingdoms operate under the authority of a monarch who possesses absolute control over a defined territory, responsible for the welfare of his subjects. This monarch, regarded as both king and lord, embodies the supreme authority—a concept foreign to democratic, socialist, or republican systems, where leadership is elected and authority is distributed.
A king’s sovereignty stems from birthright, making him the inherent lord over his realm. This lordship conveys ownership over the kingdom’s land and people, establishing a unique relationship between the monarch and his subjects. In the Kingdom of God, these elements are present: God is the sovereign ruler, the entirety of creation is His domain, and those who follow Him are His privileged citizens, subject to His laws and under His protection.
Components of a Kingdom
Every kingdom, including the Kingdom of God, comprises several key components:
- The King and Lord: The absolute ruler whose authority and ownership span across the entire kingdom.
- The Territory: The domain under the king’s rule, inclusive of its resources and inhabitants. The king by right owns all and, therefore, is considered lord over all. Ps24:1
- The Citizenry: The community of subjects whose citizenship is a privilege granted by the king, entitling them to the kingdom’s benefits.
- The Law: The decrees set by the king, immutable and binding for all within the kingdom, ensuring order and access to royal favour. The laws in a kingdom cannot be changed by the citizens, nor are they subject to a culture change, citizen referendum or debate.
- The Army: The force tasked with securing the kingdom’s boundaries and safeguarding its citizens, akin to the angelic host in the Kingdom of God. It is important to understand that in a kingdom the citizens do not fight in the heavens, but enjoy the protection of the army. However, we are soldiers of Christ (Phil2:25, 2Tim2:3, Philemon1:2) on the earth. This is why, in the Kingdom of God, the angels are called the host of heaven. The word host means army and identifies the angels as the so-called military component of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Luk12:31-32 But seek the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
Slaves to Sin or Servants of Christ
“You are bought with a price” (1Cor6:20) and “You are not your own” (1Cor6:19).
Anyone who does an in-depth study of human history discovers that all the great and small nations and empires, for thousands of years, have been scarred by people enslaving other people. The Bible also teaches about an even greater worldwide slavery, and it is this greater slavery that we’ll focus our attention on.
During the time of Jesus and the first-century church, as much as one-third of the Roman population were slaves, and another third had been slaves earlier in life.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term for “slave” (Hebr: ebed) is found approximately eight hundred times, yet in the King James version, this term is only rendered as “slave” on a singular occasion. (Jer 2:14) Moving to the New Testament, the Greek word for “slave” (Greek: doulos) surfaces in 127 instances in the King James version but is never translated as “slave.” The practice among New Testament translators has been to reserve the translation “slave” specifically for contexts involving literal, physical slavery or metaphorical references to non-human entities, such as being “slaves to sin” or “slaves to righteousness.” This approach has effectively obscured the biblical concept of slavery from English-speaking readers. This obscuration is intentional, as the term “slave” is deemed a crucial and defining descriptor for Christians in the New Testament. Yet, when the text pertains to Christians, the term is not translated as “slave.”
The Greek word in question is “doulos,” which unequivocally means “slave” and does not carry any other connotations such as “servant,” “worker,” “hired hand,” or “helper.” While there are six or seven Greek terms that convey the idea of “servant” in some capacity, “doulos” is not among them. The distinction is significant: a servant is employed to perform tasks, whereas a slave is owned. Despite this clear difference, the New Testament consistently uses terms like “servant” or variations thereof to mask the original word “slave.”
The reluctance to translate “doulos” as “slave” stems from the negative connotations associated with slavery, including the notions of humiliation and degradation. As a result, translators have chosen to substitute “doulos” with less contentious terms such as “servant” or “bondservant,” reserving “slave” only for instances of actual, physical slavery or when referring to inanimate concepts like sin or righteousness.
Doulos is used in the context of human slavery, which, sadly, was very common throughout the ancient Roman Empire for hundreds of years. Doulos also describes spiritual slavery. This profound truth is foundational towards understanding the redemptive work of Christ, which is the love of God reaching down, through His Son’s sacrifice, setting souls free by faith, from the bondage of their sin.
Rom6:16 reads, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves to obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” In other words, those who live the sinner’s life are slaves to sin and the father of it. Those obedient to God are slaves to obedience resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 22 then wraps up these thoughts for the obedient believers: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”
So people are either slaves to sin, resulting in death, or slaves of God, resulting in eternal life. What’s clear in scripture is that everyone, in reality, is a slave to spiritual powers greater than they are. Rom1:1 reads, Paul, a doulos or slave of Jesus Christ. Many translations choose servant or bondservant, but that’s not being honest with the original meaning of doulos. Servant comes from a completely different Greek word. A servant was a paid labourer; a slave was owned by a master for a lifetime. Paul gladly saw himself to be owned by his new life-giving Master, Jesus Christ.
Now the doctrine of redemption works in perfect harmony with this truth. To be redeemed means to be loosed or set free from being a slave to sin. The ransom price for being redeemed or set free from being a slave to sin was paid by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross. Satan and sin are the masters of the unredeemed. Christ is Master of the redeemed, of all those whom He bought with the price of His blood.
Eph1:7: “In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood,”
1Cor6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
So spiritually, the scriptures teach that you are either a slave owned by the devil and sin, which leads to death, or by God and obedience, which leads to righteousness and the gift of eternal life.
Spiritual slavery is greater than any human slavery, for it applies to everyone, and its ramifications are eternal. This spiritual perspective of humanity is Bible-based, and therefore of the true Christian faith. Faith based on scripture, is the means to being set free from this sin enslavement.
There is a story about a man named Aphineus, who was imprisoned by the Romans due to his unwavering commitment to Christ. He was subsequently brought before an inquisition, where he was pressured to answer their questions, renounce his devotion to Christ, and pledge his allegiance to Caesar. Regardless of the questions posed to him, his response remained consistent: “I am a slave of Christ. I am a slave of Christ.” It was for this declaration that he was ultimately executed.
The fundamental aspects of slavery are the very features of our redemption that Scripture puts the most stress on. We are chosen (Eph1:4-5, 1Pet1:1, 1Pet2:9); bought (1Cor6:20, 1Cor7:23); owned by our Master (Rom14:7-9, 1Cor6:19, Tit2:14); subject to the Master’s will and control over us (Act5:29, Rom6:16-19, Phil2:5-8); and totally dependent on the Master for everything in our lives (2Cor9:8-11, Phil4:19). We will ultimately be called to account (Rom14:12); evaluated (2Cor5:10); and either chastened or rewarded by Him (Heb12:5-11, 1Cor3:14). Those are all essential components of slavery.
Masters and Slaves
The term “master” serves as a counterpart to “slave” within the biblical context, highlighting a fundamental aspect of Christian identity. This relationship is encapsulated in the core confession of faith: “Jesus is Lord.” According to Rom10:9-10, acknowledging Jesus as Lord is essential for salvation. “Kurios,” the Greek term for “Lord” or “master,” corresponds to “doulos,” which means “slave.” Therefore, if Jesus is the Lord, by implication, we are His slaves, underlining the inseparable bond between a master and his slaves.
This relationship challenges the often man-centred interpretation of Jesus as merely a personal saviour, akin to a buddy whose main role is to fulfil desires. Such a view misrepresents the New Testament’s teachings, which assert the lordship of Christ over believers, positioning them as His slaves—obliged to obey. This concept underscores that declaring Jesus as Lord inherently acknowledges a commitment to servitude and obedience, a truth that has been somewhat eclipsed by avoiding the term “slave” in biblical translations.
Jesus’s words in Joh15:14, “You are My friends if you do what I command you,” might initially seem at odds with conventional notions of friendship, which typically do not involve obedience to commands. This statement presupposes a relationship where one is in authority, and the other obeys, akin to a master-slave dynamic. However, Jesus elevates this relationship by also offering the privilege of friendship, characterized by a shared understanding and openness about His mission and purposes, unlike the traditional master-slave relationship where the slave might be kept uninformed.
This nuanced relationship is further illustrated by comparing it to a queen who regards one of her slaves not only as a servant but also as a friend. This slave, while enjoying a closer relationship and certain privileges, remains a slave, respecting and honouring the queen’s authority. The status of friendship enriches the relationship without altering the fundamental dynamic of authority and servitude.
The term for “master” in Greek is “despotēs,” from which the English “despot” derives. Originally describing an absolute ruler, the term now often connotes tyranny. Yet, in the context of our relationship with Christ, it emphasizes His sovereign authority over us. Jesus’s call to discipleship, to deny oneself, take up the cross, and follow Him, is a call to relinquish personal control and embrace a life of devoted service under His lordship—an invitation that demands a profound understanding of His role as our only “despot” or master, highlighting the depth and exclusivity of His authority over us.
Embracing faith in Jesus Christ fundamentally means becoming His slave. This signifies that our lives are no longer steered by personal desires, ambitions, or wills but are governed by His purposes, desires, and will. This core principle underpins Christianity, declaring Jesus as the sovereign ruler of our lives. To identify oneself as a Christian is to acknowledge Jesus’s lordship, submitting wholly to His desires. This submission is the primary understanding of the Christian life, establishing two pivotal truths: firstly, Jesus is Lord, and secondly, Christians are His slaves, referred to as “douloi” in the plural, indicating ownership.
The concept of slavery in this context can be understood through the process of purchasing a slave in ancient times: selecting, buying, and thereby owning and controlling the slave, with responsibilities for their provision, protection, discipline, and reward. Analogously, salvation is depicted as Jesus entering the ‘slave market’ of sin, choosing us, paying for us with His precious blood rather than silver or gold, thereby owning us. As His slaves, we are chosen, bought, and owned; we are provided for, protected, disciplined, and rewarded by Him.
The image of slavery often evokes scenes of individuals shackled and coerced through whips and lashes, a portrayal deeply rooted in the transatlantic slave trade that occurred between the 1500s and the 1800s. In contrast, slavery during the time of Jesus was markedly different. Slaves were typically not restrained in chains. Instead, they had a certain degree of agency, including the choice to obey and serve their master or to flee and offer their services to another master.
This concept of slavery, while it carries a stigma today and even more so in the first century, was central to the early Christian proclamation that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord, requiring us to become His slaves. This was a cornerstone of preaching in the Book of Acts and is echoed throughout the New Testament, with figures like Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John identifying themselves as slaves of Christ. This identification as Christ’s slaves encompasses being chosen, owned, subjected, dependent, disciplined, rewarded, provided for, protected, and obedient. Despite its potential offensiveness, this message is essential to the Christian faith, as 1Cor12:3 states that no one can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
In this relationship, we find a Master who is not only loving but all-wise, compassionate, generous, powerful, resourceful, protective, kind, merciful, and forgiving. This Master elevates us from mere slaves to friends, and from friends to sons and daughters, making us not only members of His family but also joint heirs and citizens of His kingdom. This transformation illustrates the profound depth of the relationship between a believer and Christ, marked by a journey from servitude to intimate kinship and shared inheritance.
Being a slave of Christ is both a positive and biblically accurate concept for several reasons:
- Firstly, our spiritual liberty is already compromised to various extents because, as Jesus stated in Joh8:34, anyone who sins becomes a slave (doulos) to sin, not merely a servant. This indicates that any belief in our complete freedom without Christ is an illusion.
- Before we come to faith and obedience in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the devil effectively acts as our master, placing us in varying degrees of bondage. Under his rule, our capacity to make choices and take action is severely hindered, as he aims to inflict the same level of cruelty found in human slavery.
- The redemption offered by Jesus through His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha represents the significant price paid to buy our freedom. Scriptures such as 1Cor6:19-20 remind us that we have been purchased at a price and are no longer our own. Having Christ as our Master frees us from the malevolent grip of Satan, who seeks our destruction (Rom6:16).
- Importantly, serving Christ does not strip us of our inherent, God-given freedom of choice. We retain the autonomy to obey willingly or to resist; however, our fundamental status as slaves to Christ remains unchanged.
- This relationship with Christ empowers us to realize our potential for good. Acknowledging our servitude to Christ fosters humility, helping us to abandon pride and adopt a stance of total humility. It enables us to confront and conquer our sins and weaknesses by relying on His strength and guidance. Recognizing Christ as our Redeemer enhances our devotion and love for God, fulfilling the greatest commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark12:30).
- God elevates our spiritual status from slaves to heirs, promising an intimate relationship with Him. Being considered a friend by Jesus (Joh15:15), becoming God’s children (Joh1:12-13), and being named joint heirs with Christ (Rom8:17) are profound transitions that illustrate the depth of God’s love and the transformative power of His grace.
In summary, the concept of being Christ’s slave encapsulates a journey from bondage to sin and Satan to liberation, empowerment, and ultimate elevation to a status of friendship, sonship, and co-heirship with Christ. This transformation underscores the profound and life-changing relationship we are invited to have with God through Christ.
From Slaves to Bond-Slaves
In the book of Exodus, specifically in chapter 21, verses 1 to 6, we find a significant command from God right after the Hebrews’ dramatic escape from slavery in Egypt. God instructs that Hebrew slaves should be set free after six years of service. However, there’s an option for the slave to choose to stay with their master out of love and devotion, but this decision must be made freely, without any compulsion.
Moving on to Deuteronomy 15:12-17, the text presents a vivid and somewhat shocking ritual. If a slave, out of love, decides to serve their master voluntarily for life, they would undergo a ceremony at the doorframe of the master’s house. An awl, a tool used for making holes, would be used to pierce the skin of the slave’s earlobe, leaving a permanent mark or scar. This act symbolized a lifelong commitment to the master, much more visible and significant than the small, barely noticeable piercings for earrings we are familiar with today.
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 6:17), speaks about carrying the “scars of Jesus” on his body. The word for scar here means a mark incised or punched for recognition of ownership. These scars are symbolic, representing marks of ownership or service, similar to how ancient slaves and soldiers were marked to show allegiance to their masters or commanders. Paul’s scars signify his devotion and bond to Jesus, marking him as a servant of Christ.
Jesus himself bore scars, the result of his flesh being pierced on the cross, out of love and willing submission to serve humanity. His scars are a testament to his ultimate servanthood and love, far beyond any duty imaginable. These scars remain on his hands as a permanent reminder of his sacrifice.
The concept of the door is also significant in the Bible. The Greek word for door, “thyra,” appears 39 times in the New Testament. Jesus refers to himself as the door, symbolizing the gateway to salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven. Joh 10:1-9
The imagery of the door is linked to the moment of liberation for the Israelites in Exodus when they transitioned from slavery to freedom, entering into a covenant with God.
The blood on the doorframe during the Passover, the blood of Jesus on the cross, and the blood from the slave’s ear all represent a transition from slavery to willing service to a new master. This act of crossing the threshold through the door, symbolized by Jesus, must be voluntary, an opportunity for us to choose to serve God willingly.
In conclusion, the message here is about freedom, choice, and love. We are free to choose, but the invitation is to love the Lord so much that we willingly bear His scars, surrendering our lives to serve God forever. In doing so, we follow His commandments, and while our lives are not our own, we are assured that God will take care of our needs, enabling us to fulfill His will.
Rather be seated with Christ
Many Christians have a serious problem with the idea of being a slave, especially within certain cultures of colour. A comment was made that they would rather focus on the fact that we are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ.
This scripture was used by the Word of Faith movement, teaching that we are seated next to Christ having the same authority and power as Him and that we are therefore ‘gods’.
We read in Rev 11:16 that there are only 24 elders seated on their thrones BEFORE God. Then what does Eph2:6 mean?
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (PURPOSE – SO THAT:) that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
We are seated before His Throne because we are IN CHRIST and we are IN CHRIST because of His MERCY, LOVE and GRACE.
Therefore the scripture has nothing to do with spiritual authority as advocated by the Word of Faith movement, but to show His grace and kindness toward us.