The Kingdom of God According to George Eldon Ladd
George Eldon Ladd was professor of Biblical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. During his lifetime, Mr. Ladd wrote several books about the kingdom of God, among which are Critical Questions About the Kingdom of God (1952), The Gospel of the Kingdom (1959), and The Presence of the Future (1974). Without a doubt, Mr. Ladd's books concerning the kingdom of God have had a powerful influence on the evangelical Body of Christ in modern times. It behooves us then to critically examine exactly what Mr. Ladd wrote concerning the kingdom of God, so as to ascertain whether or not his teachings are Biblical. All the while, it is important to consider what effect Ladd's teachings might have on the maturity (Eph.4:13) level of the Body of Christ; not only on "practical Christian living," but also on a believer's knowledge and understanding of God and the Bible, for "God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1Tim.2:4), "increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col.1:10).
Recall earlier that we learned that the eternal kingdom of God the Father in heaven rules over all, including the "kingdom of men" on earth. We also found that, within "the kingdom of God," there was a mediatorial kingdom of God over Israel, the throne of which kingdom belongs to David and his seed, which throne is ultimately inherited by Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of David. We thus found that there are two distinct kingdoms referred to as "the kingdom of the LORD (God)": the kingdom of God the Father, and what ends up being the mediatorial kingdom of God the Son. The Bible says that the kingdom of God the Son will not be "set up" (Dan.2:44) until the second coming of Christ (Matt.19:28, 25:31). Until that time, the Lord (Jesus) sits at the right hand of the LORD, waiting for His Father's timing to restore the kingdom to Israel, when His enemies will be made his footstool (Acts 1:5-6, 2:30-33); then Jesus Christ will reign till He has put all enemies under His feet (1Cor.15:26).
"THE KINGDOM OF GOD"
George Eldon Ladd's understanding of the kingdom of God deviated from the above Biblical truth in several respects. To begin with, Mr. Ladd did not see the need to distinguish between the "kingdom of God" the Father and the "kingdom of God" the Son, from the time of His "coming in the flesh" up until the end of the millennial (Rev.20) kingdom1. Now as we learned in Chapter 3, it is true that both kingdoms (that of the Father, and that of the Son) may be called "the kingdom of God," but that doesn't mean they are both exactly the same kingdom. As we learned earlier, the kingdom of God the Father is a heavenly kingdom, with God the Father sitting on the throne as King (usually without a mediator), which kingdom has existed from eternity past (Ps.93:2) and will continue to exist into eternity future (Dan.4:3, Lam.5:19). But the mediatorial (Davidic) kingdom of God ("not of this world," but "from" heaven, John 18:36) is mainly an earthly kingdom over Israel, and by definition was not originally established until the time of King David, and will not be established again until the second coming of Jesus Christ from heaven (Dan.2:44), which kingdom will eventually be handed over to God the Father (1Cor.15:24). It is important for us to note then that when Ladd wrote of "the kingdom of God" (as it "came to men"2), Ladd was actually referring to the mediatorial "kingdom of God" the Son, which kingdom Ladd believed was inaugurated at the first coming of Christ and continues at present3. In thinking of "the kingdom of God" in this way, Ladd committed a "black-or-white" logical fallacy in his argument: Either "the kingdom of God" (the Son) presently exists to rule in ("come to") the kingdom of men on earth, or "the kingdom of God" does not rule at all in the kingdom of men on earth. Of course, the latter of the two options sounds foolish. But there is a third option which Ladd neglected to recognize: The eternal kingdom of God the Father in heaven presently rules (without a mediator) in the kingdom of men on earth, as it always has - this is indeed what the Bible teaches, as we learned earlier.
THE REIGN OF GOD
Another key element to Ladd's teaching about the kingdom of God was his definition of the "kingdom" of God itself, which definition is quite different from what we learned in Chapter 2. Recall in Chapter 2 that we learned that the Hebrew word MALKUTH ("kingdom") primarily means, "reign; rule." Also, according to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, the Greek word BASILEIA (lit. "kingdom," Strong's #932), primarily means, "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule." Mr. Ladd, claiming to be in line with the usage of "kingdom" as found in the Old Testament and Rabbinic Judaism4, disregarded what most of the Bible teaches about the "kingdom" of God (what the previous chapters in this book seek to present), and instead keyed in on the primary meanings of MALKUTH and BASILEIA5 to conclude that,
Fundamentally, ... the kingdom of God is God's sovereign reign; but God's reign expresses itself in different stages through redemptive history6.
By employing this "primary meaning" argument, Ladd opened the door for himself (and his followers) to feel justified in interpreting New Testament occurrences of the word "kingdom" to mean "reign" or "rule," and then to interpret "rule" as "power," and as we shall explore later, interpret "power" as DUNIMAS, a Greek word commonly known in the New Testament to indicate the power of the Holy Spirit to work miracles, leading Ladd to the tendency of reducing "the kingdom of God" (a subject we just spent eleven chapters exploring) to simply mean the power of the Holy Spirit to work "Signs and Wonders," a neoplatonic Kingdom-of-the-gaps.
Ladd's "primary meaning" argument:
"kingdom" = "reign/rule" = "power" = DUNIMAS
HOFFMAN'S "REDEMPTIVE HISTORY"
In order to further understand why Ladd defined the kingdom of God as we read above, that "God's reign expresses itself in different stages through redemptive history," it is necessary to examine the apparent theological influences on Ladd that seem to have led him to his "fundamental" conclusions regarding the nature of the kingdom of God. In his book, A Theology of the New Testament, Ladd documents the history of New Testament theology7. Ladd wrote that J.C.K. Hoffman, a German theologian (c.1850), saw the Bible as a record of the "history" of "redemption" ("Heilsgeschichte" in German)8. This kind of thinking apparently led Ladd to conclude that, "Biblical theology ... is basically the description and interpretation of the divine activity within the scene of human history that seeks man's redemption"9. Ladd further concluded that, "The kingdom of God in the New Testament is the redemptive work of God active in history for the defeat of his enemies, bringing men to the blessings of the divine reign"10. Hence Ladd's language above, that "God's reign expresses itself in different stages through redemptive history"11. Ladd simply synthesized Hoffman's "redemptive history" idea with the primary meanings of Hebrew and Greek words (that are translated "kingdom") to come to the conclusions he did above, that "the kingdom of God is first of all the divine redemptive rule manifested in Christ; and it is secondly the realm in which men experience the blessings of His rule"12.
DELIVERANCE FROM SATAN
Ladd's application of the word "redemption" in defining the kingdom of God is curious, since "redemption" is never emphasied in the Bible to define the kingdom of God. This is an example of what Ladd often did: Use Biblical vocabulary in an unbiblical manner13, setting up the undiscerning reader to be seduced by Ladd's biblical-sounding words to believe his teachings.
We must examine the context of Ladd's use of "redemption" then to find out exactly how he related "redemption" to the kingdom of God:
As the divine redemptive rule of God, the Kingdom of God has come among men ... to deliver men from the domination of satanic power14.
It seems that Ladd had the idea of "deliverance" in mind when using the word "redemption", specifically "deliverance" from "the domination of satanic power." That Ladd used "redemption" to mean "deliverance" is confirmed in other summary statements by Ladd:
The New Testament interest [in Satan] is altogether practical and redemptive. It recognizes the supernatural power of evil, and its concern is the redemptive work of God in Christ delivering men from these malignant forces15.
The Bible also equates “deliverance” with “redemption”, and speaks of the kingdom of God in the same passage:
... giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the authority of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col.1:12-14, c.f. Acts 26:18).
All Christians have been delivered (= redeemed) by God from “the authority of darkness,” and (as we learned in Chapter 10) in the future will enter the kingdom of the Son of His love, which kingdom is their inheritance. But the Bible does not teach of a “redemptive kingdom of God” on a mission of, “deliverance from Satan.”
THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
How was Ladd able to relate the kingdom of God to "delivering men from satanic forces" from the Bible? This was indeed a very important concept for Ladd, for he wrote in his A Theology of the New Testament, "Our purpose [in writing this book] is primarily to show that the theology of the kingdom of God is essentially one of conflict and conquest over the kingdom of Satan"23. Disregarding the eternal kingdom of God the Father (without a kingly mediator) that "rules over all" (Psalm 103:13) as a present spiritual reality, Ladd pointed to Matthew 12:28-29, which Ladd considered "the strongest statement" that "the Kingdom of God" is "a present spiritual reality"24, embodying "the essential theology of the kingdom of God"25:
"But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house" (Matt.12:28-29).
With reference to Matt.12:28-29, Ladd wrote:
What is the Gospel of the Kingdom? What means the announcement that the Kingdom of God has come near? It is this: That God is now acting among men to deliver them from bondage to Satan. It is the announcement that God, in the person of Christ, is doing something - if you please, is attacking the very kingdom of Satan himself. The exorcism of demons is proof that the Kingdom of God has come among men and is at work among them. The casting out of demons is itself a work of the Kingdom of God26.
Above, we learn that, with regards to "the gospel of the kingdom," Ladd exchanged the warning of Jesus to Israel to repent in view of the imminent arrival in history of the Messianic kingdom of God (see Chapters 4-7) with another "gospel of the kingdom" announcing that God is attacking the kingdom of Satan by casting demons out of people - such was the "gospel" of George Eldon Ladd. These are two totally different gospels, affecting our very understanding of what Jesus' mission was prior to his death on the cross.
DODD'S "NEW AGE" IN JESUS' PERSON AND MISSION
Another equally important influence on the thinking of George Eldon Ladd relating to "history" and the kingdom of God seemed to be C.H. Dodd, and English theologian (c.1930), who "found the unity of the New Testament message in the kerygma ["preaching of the gospel"], the heart of which [gospel] is the proclamation that the New Age has come in the person and mission of Jesus"16. This kind of "gospel" led Ladd to conclude that, "This evil age has been assaulted by the Age to Come in the person of Christ"17. Synthesizing the primary meaning of BASILEIA, Hoffman's ideas, and Dodd's ideas together, Ladd wrote, "God's Kingdom [reign, the age to come] came into history [this present age] in the person and mission of Jesus"18.
To justify his teachings Biblically, Ladd pointed out that the Bible makes it clear that the (what we know as the Messianic) kingdom of God will exist during "the Age to Come"19 (what Dodd apparently referred to as the "New Age"), following the second coming of Christ. Ladd then appealed to Hebrews 6:5, which suggests to us that "the works of power of the age to come" may be "tasted" in this present age20. Ladd reasoned that since "the works of power" that will be experienced during the age to come may also in part be experienced today, why couldn't we say (what the Bible doesn't say,) that the (Messianic) kingdom of God which will exist during the age to come may also be experienced in part now, in this present age? That's like saying, "It rains in Seattle. It's raining, therefore I am in Seattle." Hence Ladd's fallacious reasoning with Hebrews 6:5: "This new transforming power is the power of the age to come; in is indeed the power of the kingdom of God ... God's Kingdom has entered into the present evil Age"21. Isn't it true though that the eternal kingdom of God the Father (Chapter 3) has always ruled over all in this present evil age? Why did Ladd need to drag the Messianic Kingdom into this present age, when God the Father's eternal kingdom can exercise its "transforming power" (as it has constantly since the creation of the Earth) just as easily as the Messianic Kingdom will following the second coming of Christ? Having reduced the kingdom of God to the realm of miraculous activity alone, Ladd acknowledged, "God's Kingdom was active in the Old Testament. In such events as the Exodus and the captivity of Babylon, God was acting in his kingly power to deliver or judge his people. However," Ladd continued, "in some real sense God's kingdom came into history in the person and mission of Jesus"22. This sounds more like Hoffman and Dodd than what the Bible teaches.
THE MYSTERY OF THE KINGDOM
In his appearance in the 1977 work, The Meaning of the Millennium (Ed. by Robert G. Clouse), Ladd has this to say relating to the above:
Hoyt writes, `At no point does Christ intimate that His conception of the kingdom is any different from that of Old Testament prophesy' (p.85). This in my view misses the central message of the Gospels. Jesus said, `But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you' (Matt.12:28). Jesus claimed that in his person - a man among men - resided the power of the Holy Spirit, and its activity was nothing less than the power of the reign of God. Here is something utterly different from the prevailing Old Testament hope. Before the Kingdom comes in eschatological power and glory, it has come to men in an unexpected form - in the person and message of a Nazarene teacher. This, to me, is the "mystery" - the revealed secret - of the kingdom of God27.
Regarding Matthew 12:28 referred to above, we learned in Chapter 8 that Jesus taught that the kingdom of God had come upon the Pharisees in the person of "the Son of David," the kingdom of God. In saying this, Jesus gave no hint that He was unveiling a "mystery" about the kingdom of God. Recall also in Chapter 11 that we found that the accounts of Jesus' explanations of the "mysteries" of the kingdom of God were for the most part not recorded for us in the Gospels, and thus we decided that it would be best to base our understanding of the kingdom of God on explicit statements in the Bible concerning the kingdom of God itself. Nowhere does the Bible ever define the "mystery" of the kingdom of God to be what Ladd claimed, the activity of "the coming of the Kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation"28.
Ladd understood the same "mystery" as being taught by Jesus in Matthew 11:2-6 (see Chapter 8). Paraphrasing Jesus' response to the disciples of John the Baptist who had asked Jesus, "Are You the coming One, or do we look for another?" (Matt.11:3), Ladd wrote:
There is a mystery - a new revelation about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here; but instead of destroying human sovereignty [i.e. Dan.2:44], it has attacked the sovereignty of Satan. The Kingdom of God is here; but instead of making changes in the external, political order of things, it is making changes in the spiritual order and the lives of men and women29.
But the Jesus of the Bible never said, "The kingdom of God is here." Yet according to Ladd, the "mystery" of the kingdom of God is that "the kingdom of God is here"; That God, in the person of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit (the power of the reign of God), is attacking the kingdom of Satan in history (this present age), in advance of its "apocalyptic manifestation." Ladd's "mystery of the kingdom" sounds more like the mystery of Hoffman and Dodd than anything we can find in the Bible.
ENTERING INTO GOD'S KINGDOM NOW
Ladd also taught that the kingdom of God (Christ) is "a new realm of redemptive blessing into which men enter by receiving Jesus' message about the Kingdom of God[`s] ... present inbreaking into history in his own person and mission"30. Once again, this was Ladd's expressed understanding of the gospel Jesus preached. According to Ladd, God, the Creator of the Universe, went to all the trouble to send His Son Jesus to Earth so that Jesus could tell the world that the kingdom of God has come to earth in His person and mission. If this isn't the "gospel" Jesus preached (which it isn't), then Ladd (and those who are like-minded with him) misunderstood the gospel Jesus preached, a rather tragic side effect to the theology of George Eldon Ladd.
Ladd further pointed to Matthew 11:11-14 & Luke 16:16 (see Chapter 10) to support his teaching, which Scriptures read:
"Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the law and prophets prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come" (Matt.11:11-14).
"The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it" (Luke 16:16).
Both of these passages are very hard to understand on their own31; neither of them explicitly say what Ladd interpreted them to mean, that "the Kingdom of God is the dynamic rule of God active in Jesus," and that "it is also a present realm of blessing into which men may enter who receive Jesus' word ... The new age of the kingdom ... had begun with Jesus' ministry"32. But neither of the above passages teach that "the new age of the Kingdom" has begun with Jesus' ministry, nor do they teach that believers "enter" the kingdom of God during their life on earth (see Chapter 10). The law and the prophets prophesied until John of the coming of "the Son of Man" (Matt.11:19), who according to God's plan and foreknowledge would fulfill all the prophesies concerning the first advent of the Messiah (which Ladd acknowledged33). But none of the prophesies that were fulfilled at the first coming of Jesus had anything to do with the "beginning" of the coming of the Messianic kingdom of God itself! The fulfillment of the Messianic kingdom prophesies (see Chapters 4 & 7) are reserved for the second advent of the Messiah. The only way in which we may say that the Messianic kingdom of God came at the first advent of the Messiah was in the person of the Son of David Himself (see Chapter 8), who is no longer "here," but waits in heaven at His Father's right hand to come and establish the throne and kingdom of David on earth.
JESUS' PRESENT REIGN
Another aspect of George Ladd's teaching of the kingdom of God was his belief that, "The exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God means nothing less than his enthronement as messianic King"34. Ladd seemed to come to this conclusion based on Scriptures such as Acts 2:30-36 & 1Cor.15:22-26.
With regards to Acts 2:30-36, Ladd keyed on verse 36, which quotes the apostle Peter as saying, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Ladd interpreted this Scripture to mean that "Jesus [has] entered in upon a new stage of his messianic mission. He has now been enthroned as messianic King"35. Commenting further on the occasion, Ladd wrote,
... the new redemptive events in the course of Heilsgeschichte have compelled Peter to reinterpret the Old Testament. Because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter transfers the messianic Davidic throne from Jerusalem to God's right hand in heaven. Jesus has now been enthroned as the Davidic Messiah on the throne of David, and is awaiting the final consummation of his messianic reign ... Jesus is enthroned as the Messiah, but his reign is not complete. He must reign until all his enemies are made a stool for his feet37.
Rather than Peter being "compelled" to reinterpret the Old Testament, it seems that Ladd was compelled by the thinking of Hoffman to reinterpret the Bible. Peter never "transferred the messianic Davidic throne from Jerusalem to God's right hand in heaven." Nor did Peter "mean to say" in Acts 2:36 that Jesus "has entered a new stage in his messianic mission ... enthroned as the messianic King." Peter had just quoted Psalm 16:8-22 & Psalm 110:1, which he identified as speaking of "the Lord" and "Christ" being raised from the dead and sitting at the right hand of the LORD in heaven. So when Peter said, "God has made this Jesus ... both Lord and Christ," he was simply stating that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus proved that God had appointed38 Jesus to be "the Lord and Christ" which the prophetic Scriptures had spoken of. The apostles never described Jesus as presently reigning as the king of the kingdom of God, but as acting exclusively as High Priest (Heb.8:1) and Head (not "King") of the Church (Eph.1:20-23), angels and authorities and powers having been made subject unto Him (1Peter 3:22). Jesus is seated with His Father (Rev.3:21) at His Father's right hand, waiting for the Father to make His enemies His footstool (Acts 2:34-35), when Christ will reign. Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus has now been enthroned as the Davidic Messiah on the throne of David and is awaiting the final "consummation" of His reign. Considering that the Messiah sitting on the throne of David is such a strong and important prophetic theme in the Scriptures (see Chapters 3-7), how strange it would be for the apostles to have refrained from specifically mentioning that Christ "has now been enthroned as the Davidic Messiah on the throne of David" if indeed it were true (which it isn't). Jesus taught in Matt.19:28 & 25:31 that He would not sit on His own (the only throne the Messiah can call His own, cf. Rev.3:21) throne of "glory" until His second coming. Jesus wasn't a false prophet!: The Bible never speaks of Christ actually "reigning" until Revelation 20:4,6, during the Millennium following His second coming (Rev.19:11 - 20:6). There is no hint whatsoever in the New Testament that God changed His plans from what He foresaw in the Old Testament: When the sun and moon shall "be ashamed," the LORD39 of hosts will "reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously (Isaiah 24:23, c.f. Matt.19:28). It is as if Ladd was making up his own teachings in spite of what the Bible clearly teaches about the real Jesus Christ.
Ladd interpreted 1Corinthians 15:26 the same way, taking it out of context to make it sound like Jesus currently reigns as King40. But the passage is speaking of Christ's "reign" after His coming for those who are His (v.24). 1Corinthians 15:
24 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming.
25 Then the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts and end to all rule and all authority and power.
26 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.
There must be a time gap between verse 24 and verse 25 for Christ to "put an end to all rule and all authority and power," which time is spoken of in verse 26, the time when Christ "must reign till he has put all enemies under His feet." The passage does not teach what Ladd claimed it taught, that Christ reigns now.
THE CHURCH & ISRAEL
Recall in Chapter's 5 & 6 that we learned that Jesus' mission was to preach the (Messianic) kingdom of God to Israel, and thus "the gospel of the kingdom" He preached was the announcement exclusively to Israel that they needed to "repent" in view of the imminent arrival in history of the "kingdom of God," which kingdom Jesus later taught would not "appear immediately" (Luke 19:11) but actually arrive at His second coming (Luke 19:15, 21:31; cf. Matt.19:28, 25:31).
Undoubtedly influenced by Hoffman and Dodd, Ladd understood the mission of Jesus to be "to bring the powers of the future Age to men in the midst of this present evil age"41, and thus Ladd understood "the gospel of the kingdom" to be the announcement to Israel of the kingdom's "present inbreaking in history in his [Jesus'] own person and mission," announcing "a new realm [i.e., a "kingdom"] of redemptive blessing into which men enter by receiving Jesus' message about the Kingdom of God ... [that] had come upon them to defeat Satan and to deliver men from his rule"42.
This "Kingdom of God" Ladd also referred to as "the messianic salvation"43 and the "age of fulfillment"44. Ladd reasoned that
if Jesus proclaimed the messianic salvation, if he offered to Israel the fulfillment of her true destiny, than this destiny was actually accomplished in those who received his message. The recipients of the messianic salvation became true Israel ... the people of the Kingdom ... to this believing remnant have been added believing Gentiles. Paul's metaphor of the olive tree suggests the unity of the old people of God - Israel - and the Church. The olive tree is the one people of God ... the true Israel ... the spiritual Israel45.
Thus Ladd believed that
when Israel rejected the Kingdom, the blessings which should have been theirs were given to those who would accept them ... our Lord purposed to bring into existence a new people [the Church who would take the place of Old Israel who rejected both his claim to Messiahship and His offer of the Kingdom of God [Matt.21:43]47.
However, Ladd also acknowledged that "all Israel," the [Jewish] people as a whole, "will be saved"48 as well.
The problems with Ladd's view are many. Rather than the Messianic "Kingdom of God" we learned about earlier, Ladd thought the "Kingdom of God" which Jesus was actually talking about was a "messianic salvation"49 that could be immediately experienced by any Jew who would receive it. Rather than an exclusive fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies concerning the Messianic kingdom of God upon the second coming of Christ, Ladd believed a partial "spiritual"50 fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic Kingdom prophesies (see Chapter 4), and not just the Messianic prophesies like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, were actually accomplished in those Jews who received His message, who became "the true Israel," which soon after His resurrection included Gentiles, making "one new people of God." And what "gospel" did these Gentiles believe in? A gospel about "a new realm [kingdom] of redemptive blessing into which men enter by receiving Jesus' message about the Kingdom of God ... [that] had come upon them to defeat Satan and to deliver men from his rule"51. This was surely not the gospel that Jesus was preaching to the Jews, nor does it have anything to do with the gospel that the apostles were commanded to preach to the world following the ascension of Jesus Christ.
Also, Ladd seemed confused in his thinking to argue that the Church is "the new Israel," and yet affirm that "all Israel" (after the flesh52) will be saved as well. Ladd couldn't explain what "form the salvation of Israel" (after the flesh) would take, and thus he appealed to "Heilsgeschichte" (i.e. "redemptive history"53) to somehow (?) explain the apparent54 contradiction between the Church being the new "Israel," and yet Old "Israel" still being "Israel" as well, which contradiction doesn't exist in the Bible because the Church is never called "Israel." Nor does the Bible say that the olive tree in Paul's metaphor represents "the people of the Kingdom," the Church. All the Bible implies in the passage is that those who "partake" (Rom.11:17) of the olive tree are those who obtain imputed righteousness (salvation) by faith in God (Rom.9:30-33, 11:7,20), as non-Israeli Abraham did (Rom.4:3,24). Paul prophesied that "all Israel" would one day partake of the olive tree, that the remaining portion of elect ethnic Jews would obtain salvation as a previous portion (who happen to be part of the Church) had (Rom.11:24-28). "The blessings of the kingdom" (a phrase missing in the Scriptures) were not taken away from Israel and immediately received by the Church, but the kingdom of God itself was taken away from the Jews who rejected Jesus (Matt.21:43), and will be received by the Church (and Israel according to Matt.19:28, Acts 1:6-7) at Christ's second coming, as we learned in Chapter 10.
THE KINGDOM & THE CHURCH
Ladd's understanding concerning the kingdom of God and the Church led him to some noteworthy conclusions. Because Ladd believed that Jesus currently reigns on the messianic throne of David in heaven, Ladd was able to conclude that, "the Kingdom of God which in the Old Testament dispensation was manifested in Israel is now working in the world through the Church"55. Because Ladd believed that the kingdom of God is primarily concerned with defeating Satan and his forces in order to redeem men from their power, Ladd was able to conclude that the Church is made up of "redeemed men who have given themselves to the rule of God through Christ"56, that the conflict between the kingdom of God and the powers of darkness continues as the Church bears the good news of the God's Kingdom to the nations of the earth, ... assaulting the kingdom of Satan"57, and that the Church is "the instrument of God's dynamic rule in the world to oppose evil and the powers of Satan in every form of their manifestation ..."58. But the Bible never uses such biblical vocabulary to say such things. In the Bible, the Church is described as being "the Body of Christ" (1Cor.12:27), consisting of those who have believed "the gospel of salvation" (Eph.1:13) and have been "baptized" by the Holy Spirit into one Body (1Cor.12:13), which body has Christ as its "Head" (Eph.1:22-23), not its King! Confused himself, Ladd's teachings regarding the Church and Israel can do nothing but confuse the Body of Christ, leaving a vacuum for even greater error to exist in its midst.
THE CONTENT OF THE GOSPEL CONCERNING JESUS' DEATH ON THE CROSS
This idea of Ladd, that the kingdom of God is all about defeating Satan, and that Jesus' mission was all about this "Kingdom of God," had adverse effects on Ladd's understanding of what gospel the Church is to preach, but also influenced the emphasis in Ladd's mind as to why Jesus died on the cross. In The Gospel of the Kingdom (1959), Ladd wrote that Christians were to preach his "gospel of the kingdom" to the world59, yet one searches the pages of his book in vain to find any mention whatsoever of Christ's substitutionary and propitiatory death on the cross which enabled God to justify and impute righteousness on those who believe in Him and thus be reconciled to God, forever saved from His wrath. That these important theological concepts were missing from Ladd's "gospel of the Kingdom" is no surprise, since the content of "the gospel of the kingdom" which Jesus preached never contained any reference to His death on the cross! But Ladd explained this away, writing that, "It was unavoidable that the gospel, the good news of salvation, should be couched in different terms before the event [of Christ's death] than those used by the apostles after the event of the messianic death and resurrection had become part of redemptive history"60. This is Hoffman jargon and should be rejected on that basis.
The reason "the gospel of the kingdom" which Jesus preached had different "terms" than the gospel that the apostles preached is due to the fact that, although both gospels are "good news," the two gospels are different!: Different messages ("Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," vs. "To make it to heaven, you must believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again"), preached at different times (c.30-33 A.D. vs. 33 A.D. - present), to different audiences (Jews vs. Jews & Gentiles).
What was the actual content of Ladd's "gospel of the kingdom" relative to Christ's death on the cross? Ladd wrote,
It is through His death that Christ has destroyed Satan ... Christ in death did something which was a defeat for the devil in that his activity, his power, was in some real way curtailed ... God has already accomplished this first great stage in His work of redemption. Satan is The God of This Age, yet the power of Satan has been broken that men may know the rule of God in their lives ... [By] his death and resurrection, Christ has already destroyed death. He has broken its power. Death is still an enemy, but it is a defeated enemy ... Yet sin, like death and Satan, has been defeated. Christ has already appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb.9:26). The power of sin has been broken ... Therefore, we are to be no longer in bondage to sin ... The power of the Kingdom of God has invaded This Age, a power which can set men free from their bondage to sin61.
Above we read Ladd's understanding of the meaning of Christ's death: Christ's death "broke the power" of Satan, sin, and death over men; Men no longer need to live under the controlling power of Satan (a Satan who leads men into a sinful lifestyle leading to death), because Christ has died on the cross to break the power of Satan, and thus the power of sin and death, that men may know the rule of God (Christ) in their lives, experiencing the blessings of righteousness, peace, and joy62. But is this the Bible's exclusive emphasis concerning the meaning of Christ's death on the cross? Did Christ die just so that I could live a righteous lifestyle and have a peaceful and joyous life abundantly63? Ladd's understanding of the kingdom of God produced a dangerous trend in his teaching concerning the meaning of Christ's death on the cross: the critical, saving information concerning the meaning of Christ's death on the cross is missing from the pages of Ladd's book about the "gospel"! Missing from Ladd's "gospel" is what Ladd later affirmed in his A Theology of the New Testament (1974): the doctrines of substitution64, propitiation65, justification66, reconciliation67, and imputed righteousness68, all via Jesus' death on the cross. But these doctrines were not taught in Ladd's, The Gospel of the Kingdom (1959). Is it possible that those who hold to Ladd's views concerning the kingdom of God tend to repeat the same grave error which Ladd made in neglecting to emphasize the saving information regarding the meaning of Christ's death on the cross, instead emphasizing Christ's death exclusively as a spiritual warfare event that "broke" the controlling power of Satan, sin, and death over man?
Note also that Ladd's understanding of Scriptures like Hebrews 9:26 (which Ladd quoted above) seemed to be sabotaged by his understanding of the kingdom of God, for Hebrews 9:26 is not speaking of the "power of sin" being "broken" in one's life, but of Christ's death on that cross that "put away sin," redeeming men from the penalty of sin so that men could be eternally justified and forgiven of their sins (cf. Heb.9:12, 15, 22; 10:1).
We have found that George Eldon Ladd, apparently under the influence of such men as Hoffman and Dodd, believed that Jesus' mission at His first coming was to mysteriously inaugurate the fulfillment of His "reign" in the lives of men, redeeming them from the powers of Satan by the power of the Holy Spirit of God and the works of power of the age to come, so that men may presently enter Jesus' kingdom to experience its blessings, a kingdom that has Jesus as its King, a Jesus who presently reigns in heaven on the throne of David over the people of God, the Church, the new Israel, who are on the offensive against the kingdom of Satan. We also found that Ladd's "gospel of the Kingdom" had a tendency to distract Ladd away from emphasizing the saving information of the gospel of Jesus' death on the cross.
1George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Eerdmans, 1959), pp.17, 115.
2Robert G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium (IV Press, 1977), G.E. Ladd, "A Historical Premillennial Response", p.93.
4G.E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1974), p.63.
6The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.107.
7A Theology of the New Testament, pp.13-33.
10The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.107.
13Other examples above include "blessings," and "for the defeat of his enemies." The reader may notice other examples as we go on.
14Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp.114-115.
15A Theology of the New Testament, p.51.
17The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.139.
19A Theology of the New Testament, pp.46-47; The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp.40-42.
20The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.41.
21Ibid., pp.42, 93.
22Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, p.69.
26The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.47.
28Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, p.93.
29The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.55.
30A Theology of the New Testament, p.70.
31In attempting to understand Matthew 11:11-14 and Luke 16:16, it is important to consider that after John the Baptist was put in prison (Mark 1:14), his mission as "Elijah," preceding the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5), was fulfilled. Thus, as was argued in Chapters 5 & 6, Jesus was able to say in Mark 1:14-15, "The time is fulfilled" for the great and dreadful (Judgment) Day of the Lord to come, and therefore the "kingdom of God" (which will come with the great and dreadful Day of the Lord - see Chapter 4 & 5) "is at hand," imminent in time. That is why Jesus then preached to Israel, "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).
32A Theology of the New Testament, p.72.
36Recall that this term means "redemptive history," Hoffman's idea.
37Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, pp.336-337.
38Thayer defines "made" (EPOINSE, Strong's #4160) here to mean, "to (make, i.e.) constitute or appoint one anything", cf. Rev.5:10, William Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, p.525.
39Yes, Jesus is also referred to as "the LORD" in the Old Testament, in accord with the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity.
40Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, p.411.
41The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.111.
42Ibid., p.108; A Theology of the New Testament, p.70.
43A Theology of the New Testament, pp.76-77.
44Ibid., pp.80, 107.
45Ibid., p.108, 538.
47The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp.107, 112.
48A Theology of the New Testament, p.539; The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp.119-121.
49Once again, Ladd employs Biblical vocabulary ("messianic", "salvation") in an unbiblical manner, distracting the reader away from what the Bible actually teaches.
50Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.62.
51A Theology of the New Testament, p.70; The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.108.
52The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.119.
53Ladd further explains it as "two stages of a single redemptive purpose of God", The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.120.
54A Theology of the New Testament, p.539; The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.120.
55The Gospel of the Kingdom, p.117.
57Ibid., pp.121, 137.
60A Theology of the New Testament, p.33.
61The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp. 46, 50, 128, 129, 130.
62Ibid., pp.16-18, 102.
64A Theology of the New Testament, pp.188, 427-428.
The Doctrine of the Kingdom of God