Kingdom and Cultus

Scott Aniol


God created man to be a king and priest in his garden sanctuary, an extension of the palace/temple of heaven. Adam failed, however, and he was cast out of God’s sanctuary.

In the interim, between the First Adam’s failure and the Second Adam’s success, the curse resulted in a separation between kingdom and cultus (the worshiping community). First, God provided a means of stability and peace for the kingdoms of the earth. In the midst of his common curse upon all, Kline notes that “common grace was introduced to act as a reign to hold in check the curse on mankind, and to make possible an interim historical environment as the theater for a program of redemption.” Even after Cain murdered Abel, God promised preservation of justice to this unrighteous man, implying the establishment of legal systems that would prevent unbridled evil in the world (Gen 4:13–16). And indeed, Cain built a common grace city where that measure of justice was maintained (Gen 4:17).

God further established other common grace institutions through which he works providentially to preserve peace and order in societies filled with depraved people. Before the fall, he had already established the institution of marriage—and by extension, family—as one of the fundamental building blocks of human society and one of the central common grace human institutions he would use to cultivate and preserve order and flourishing in his world (Gen 2:18–24). After the fall, the family continued to be an institution of blessing for all people (Gen 4:17–22). The work that God had established in the garden as a blessing for mankind, though now cursed because of sin, continued for all mankind as a means of prosperity, including the development of husbandry, the arts, and metallurgy (Gen 4:20–22).

Further, God formally instituted human government as another common grace means for maintaining a semblance of order in what left to themselves would be chaotic societies. In Genesis 9:6, God gave the responsibility of capital punishment to all humankind as a common grace means through which he would providentially control man’s sinfulness and preserve the world and its order. This responsibility, which takes shape in formal human governments over the course of history, has been given to humankind collectively as a common grace institution for their temporal good until the Second Adam establishes his earthly rule. Thus even pagan magistrates can enforce God’s moral law involving peaceful relations between citizens since they are still made in God’s image (though marred by sin), “the law is written on their hearts” (Rom 2:15), and by God’s common grace (Matt 5:45), even unbelievers often recognize that society simply works better when certain morality is enforced.

In other words, the regal aspect of Adam’s garden role continues imperfectly for all humankind as non-redemptive, common grace means to imperfectly preserve a degree of order and peace until Christ establishes his perfect theocratic Kingdom on earth.

The regal aspect of Adam’s garden role continues imperfectly for all humankind as non-redemptive, common grace means to imperfectly preserve a degree of order and peace until Christ establishes his perfect theocratic Kingdom on earth.

However, God also called out a subset from among the common kingdoms as a cultic community to worship him. This distinction between two subsets of humanity was declared already in the promise of Genesis 3:15 when God declared that there would be enmity between Satan’s offspring and the woman’s offspring. When it comes to worship, only two options exist: Christ or Antichrist. There is no neutral middle ground—individuals worship either Christ or Satan, and thus there exists a spiritual antithesis between believers and unbelievers for all of human history. This enmity was manifested immediately after the Fall with Cain and Abel. Abel drew near to God in worship through the sacrificial means God prescribed, thus demonstrating righteous fidelity to the woman’s offspring (Heb 11:4). Cain “was of the evil one and murdered his brother . . . because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).

Unlike within the common grace institutions of the world, where all humans share a measure of commonality, God’s cultic community is set apart from unbelieving humanity. God called out Noah and his family as a redeemed cultic community, saving them from the judgment that fell upon the rest of wicked humanity. In God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:1–8), God called out a redeemed people for his name. As exemplified by Abel, Noah, and Abraham, the requirement for redemption and membership in this cultic community is faith—“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”; “by faith Noah . . . constructed an ark for the saving of his household” (Heb 11:7); and Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

Abraham and his family were a called-out cultic community. And as such, though they were part of the common kingdoms of the world, they were sojourners and pilgrims. Abraham sought “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). God’s redeemed people, though still sharing commonalities with the rest of humanity, are nevertheless “strangers and exiles on the earth,” since “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:13, 16). Their temporal citizenship is in common grace earthly cities, but their cultic identity is in a heavenly temple by saving grace.

Even Israel’s cultic identity pictured this reality. Though by means of the Mosaic covenant, Israel became a proto-typical theocratic union of kingdom and cultus, Israel’s cultic activity was a shadow of the true form of the real worship of heaven seen by Isaiah and John. The author of Hebrews later explains this when he distinguishes between “the true tentthat the Lord set up” and the one set up by man (8:1–2). This heavenly tent is “greater and more perfect” since it is “not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (9:11). He calls the earthly places of worship and all that they entail “copies of the heavenly things” (9:23) and “copies of the true things” (9:24). The Mosaic Law in general is “a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (10:1). The forms and rituals of Israel’s earthly worship pictured the true worship of the heavenly temple.

Furthermore, even though Israel as a nation was a union of kingdom and cultus, it is important to recognize that the two were still distinct in a significant sense, made clear by the fact that no one leader held authority over both kingdom and cultus. God established political leaders (judges and kings) to rule the kingdom and priests to lead the cultus. Only Moses himself served as a political leader and entered into the presence of God to mediate on behalf of the people.

Later, when Israel is exiled and no longer a holy theocracy, the separation between kingdom and cultus are clearly apparent, emphasizing the antithesis between true and false worship—faithful Hebrews “sat down and wept” as they gathered for worship by the waters of Babylon, amidst captors who mocked them (Ps 137). But on the other hand, in terms of the common grace institutions that God set up for the good of all humanity, the Hebrews shared much commonality with their captors. The prophet Jeremiah commanded the people as they were being taken into Babylonian exile to build houses, plant gardens, take wives, and bear children. He told them to “seek the welfare of the city” and “pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29.4–7).

In common grace matters, God’s peculiar people could participate alongside unbelieving people. For example, Daniel and other young Hebrew men learned the literature and language of the Babylonians and served in political leadership (Dan 1:3–4, 2:48–49), and Daniel went on to serve in Persian leadership as well (Dan 6:1–3). In fact, Daniel himself acknowledged the good of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule when he says to the king, “You, O king, [are] the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all,” clearly alluding to Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26–27 (Dan 2:37–38).

In common grace matters, God’s peculiar people could participate alongside unbelieving people.

This reveals once again the common grace blessing of even pagan governments, which, even though not acknowledging God’s authority, nevertheless serve as his servants for the common good of mankind (Rom 13:4). However, what Israel in exile also clearly demonstrates is the distinction between common grace kingdoms and the set apart worshiping community. Though Daniel willingly submitted to education and served in political leadership, he refused to eat meat that was associated with pagan worship, and he refused to stop worshiping Yahweh as he required (Dan 6:10). Likewise, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego refused to worship pagan gods, proclaiming, “Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:18).

The point is that although the exiled Israelites could participate in the common grace institutions of the nations in which they lived, their worship was distinct. As portrayed in Psalm 137, when faithful Hebrews gathered by the waters of Babylon to worship, they could not help but recognize the clear antithesis between true worship and false worship. God designed for kingdom and cultus to be united in the garden as an earthly extension of the heavenly reality, and his design was typified in the holy theocracy of Israel in its promised land; but as a result of sin, kingdom and cultus have become separated. Both the patriarchs in their sojourning and Israel in exile typify God’s people living in and participating with the common kingdoms of this world while remaining distinct as a cultic community in the pure worship of God.

Either way, however, the purity of God’s worship is the emphasis. God intended for worship in the garden sanctuary to be pure, following God’s clear revelation. Worship during the sojourning of the patriarchs was to be according to God’s revelation. God gave the nation of Israel clear and explicit instructions regarding how he wanted to be worshiped. And Israel in exile was required to continue this pure worship regulated by the revelation of God. Whether or not kingdom and cultus were united or distinct, pure worship was that which follows the clear revelation of God, and pure worship then impacted how they lived in the common grace kingdom.

Whether or not kingdom and cultus were united or distinct, pure worship was that which follows the clear revelation of God, and pure worship then impacted how they lived in the common grace kingdom.

Yet as God promised in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, he intends to unite kingdom and cultus once again, when the Second Adam succeeds where the First Adam failed in fulfilling his duties as the perfect king/priest. Scripture prophesies the reign of a perfect King, when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9), when Christ will “have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:8). He will “rule in the midst of [his] enemies,” and his people “will offer themselves freely on the day of [his] power in holy garments” (Ps 110:2–3).

But he will not only be the king that Adam failed to be, he will also be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). Christ will be both king and priest, Psalm 110 prophesies. David was never a priest like this; his son Solomon was never a priest like this. Only David’s Son whom he would call Lord would be both king and priest, and the New Testament tells us that this is Jesus. Jesus the Anointed One offered himself for all time a single sacrifice for sins, God raised him from the dead, he ascended into heaven, then he sat down at the Father’s right hand, signifying both his right to rule and his finished priestly work. God intended for his sovereign rule to be expressed through humanity in Adam, the king/priest.

Adam failed, and David was never designated as a priest. Yet his Greater Son will be both king and priest, just as God originally intended in the Garden.

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Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.