A Study on the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God or Reign of God (Greek: Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ - Basileia tou Theou,) is a foundational concept in Christianity, as it is the central theme of Jesus of Nazareth's message in the synoptic Gospels. The phrase occurs in the New Testament more than 100 times, and is defined almost entirely by parable. According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is within (or among) people, it is approached through understanding, and entered through acceptance like a child, spiritual rebirth, and doing the will of God. It is a kingdom peopled by the righteous and stands in stark contrast to the only other kingdom available to people: the kingdom of Satan.
In the synoptic Gospels (which were written in Greek), Mark and Luke use the Greek term "Basileia tou Theou," commonly translated in English as "Kingdom of God," while Matthew prefers the Greek term "Basileia tōn Ouranōn" (Βασιλεία τῶν Ουρανῶν) which has been translated as "Kingdom of Heaven." Biblical scholars speculate that the Matthean text adopted the Greek word for "heaven" instead of the Greek word for "God" because, unlike Mark and Luke, it was written by a Jew for a Jewish audience so, in keeping with their custom, avoided using God's name as an act of piety. In Matthew, "heaven" stands for "God." The basis for these terms being equivalent is found in the apocalyptic literature of Daniel 2:44 where "the 'God of heaven' will set up a 'kingdom' which will never be destroyed."
The word “kingdom” is a translation of the Greek word “basileia” which in turn is a translation of the words "malkuth" (Hebrew) and "malkutha" (Aramaic). These words do not define kingdom by territory but by dominion. Jesus said of the Kingdom of God that one cannot say, “Look here it is!” or “There it is!” Luke 17:21. According to C.H. Dodd, the common translation of “malkuth” with “basileia” in Greek and hence “kingdom” in English is therefore problematic; a translation with “kingship,” "kingly rule," “reign” or “sovereignty” should be preferred..
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that the word basileia can be translated as "kingship," "kingdom" or "reign" (CCC 2816).
From a purely etymological viewpoint, the word "basileia" is believed to have derived from the Greek word for base or foundation. Some writers prefer this root definition because it eliminates the confusion with monarchy.
Scholars during the current third quest for the historical Jesus have translated the phrase "Kingdom of God" as "God's imperial rule", or sometimes "God's domain", to better grasp its sense in today's language.
The Jesus Seminar has chosen to translate basileia as ‘empire.’ John B. Cobb points out that this has the disadvantage of implying a hierarchical nature to the realm of God, a concept clearly lacking from Jesus thought, in Cobb’s view.
Fr. Richard Chilson, C.S.P., suggests the term "Love's Domain," "Love's Dominion," or "Love's Rule" because the Kingdom of God is where the God who is Love rules.
Even with the debate over the translation of the term, modern scholars see the concept of the kingdom of God as the main message of Jesus.
Discussion of the basileia dates back for centuries. Eusebius identified basileia with monarchy while Augustine foresaw a merger of the church and basileia. Aquinas, however, ignores the concept and, considering its prominence in Jesus' dialectic, it was relatively little discussed by Christian theologians until Johannes Cocceius (1660) and Hermann Samuel Reimarus in the 18th century, during what has become known as the "first quest" for the historical Jesus.
Jesus assumes his hearers understand the Kingdom foundation that was laid in the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven (both meaning the same thing) he speaks of the time of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. A time of a restored earth where the faithful will worship and serve their God forever under the rulership of a righteous leader of the Davidic line. This was the Messianic hope of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and was carried over and echoed in the words of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and others in the Greek Scriptures.
Jesus would attach the theme of the gospel message itself with this Kingdom idea. Luke 4:43 tells the reader that Jesus' very purpose for being sent was to "preach the gospel about the Kingdom." He then would send out his disciples to speak this message even before they understood anything about his death and resurrection. Compare Luke 9:1-6, Matthew 9:35, Matthew 10:7, Matthew 16:21-23, etc. The initial seed that must be sown in the hearts of men was also identified as the word of the Kingdom by Jesus in Matthew 13:19. Shorthand for the word of the kingdom was given in Mark and Luke's version of the parable of the sower as "the word" (Mark 4:14) and "the word of God" (Luke 8:11).
Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God as the theme of his gospel as well as the destination for the righteous in the end of days . Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount shows that those who follow the "beatitudes" are rewarded with the Kingdom of God/inheriting the earth/comfort etc. Matthew 19 gives an account of Jesus equating popular terms such as "eternal life" and "saved" as the same thing as entering the Kingdom of God when it is established upon the earth. Jesus even taught his disciples to pray: "Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." defining just what the Kingdom will be - the time when God's will is done on the earth as it is done in heaven.
The Kingdom of God as spoken of by Jesus carried with it more than a picture of the wolf and the lamb dwelling together and the end of war (see Isaiah 11:1-9). In fact Jesus used the Kingdom as the reason why men should repent (see Mark 1:14-15). There was a good side as well as a judgment side of this Kingdom that was communicated in many of the parables (ex: tares and wheat of Matthew 13 and the sheep and goats of Matthew 25, etc). Paul and others would continue this theme in their preaching of the same gospel (Acts 17:30-31 - Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to the world that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead). When they spoke of Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead they were saying the same thing as the Kingdom coming because he was in fact appointed to be the King of the Kingdom.
Viewpoint of historical Jesus scholars
The method of historical Jesus scholars essentially aims at investigating the social, religious, political and cultural climate of the early first century in order to place the human figure of Jesus within and around these structures. One of the major areas of conflict among Jesus scholars is the proximity of Jesus’ “Kingdom”. Some believe it is wholly manifested in the presence of Jesus’ words and deeds, others believe that it is completely in the future, and some acknowledge the arguments of both these camps and place Jesus’ “Kingdom” somewhere in between being manifested in the present and also more completely manifested in the future.
C.H. Dodd and John Dominic Crossan argued that the “Kingdom” was fully manifest in the present teaching and actions of Jesus. Through his words and deeds the “Kingdom” was brought into the present reality of Palestine. Dodd coined the term “realized eschatology”  and largely based his argument on Luke 11:20, and Luke 17:21 claiming that “the kingdom of God has come to you” and “the kingdom of God is within you”. Crossan imagined Jesus as a cynic-like peasant who focused on the sapiential aspects of the “Kingdom” and not on any apocalyptic conceptions .
Albert Schweitzer, Rudolph Bultmann, Norman Perrin and Johannes Weiss argued that Jesus’ “Kingdom” was intended to be a wholly futuristic kingdom. These scholars looked to the apocalyptic traditions of various Jewish groups existing at the time of Jesus as the basis of their study , , , . In this view, Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who would bring about the end times and when he did not see the end of the cosmic order coming Jesus embraced death as a tool in which to provoke God into action.
The most common view of the “Kingdom” in recent scholarship is to embrace the truths of both these parties – present reality and future manifestation. Some scholars who take this view are N.T. Wright and G.R. Beasley-Murray. In their views, the “Kingdom” that Jesus spoke of will be fully realized in the future but it is also in a process of “in-breaking” into the present. This means that Jesus’ deeds and words have an immediate effect on the “Kingdom” even though it was not fully manifested during his life. Even greater attention has been paid to the concept of the “Kingdom of God” by scholars during the current third quest for the historical Jesus (of which N.T. Wright is associated. Another important recent observation on the meaning of the “Kingdom” was made by Rudolph Otto who took a feminist approach to the study of Jesus. He claimed that “it is not Jesus who brings the kingdom; on the contrary; the kingdom brings him with it…”. This approach attempts to take Jesus out of the Jesus movement that followed after his death and resurrection; by doing this the communal aspects of the “Kingdom” become emphasized and not just the focus on Jesus as a man.
Viewpoint of evangelical Christian scholars
The Gospels describe Jesus as proclaiming the Kingdom as something that was both "at hand" and a future reality (see Mark 1:15). The phrase "inaugurated eschatology" has achieved near consensus among evangelical interpreters as expressing the essence of the present/future tension inherent in the teaching of Jesus regarding the kingdom of God. "Inaugurated eschatology" posits that Jesus Christ, through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation, has ushered in the messianic age so that the kingdom of God may be understood to be present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age following the second coming (parousia) of Christ.
The tension between the present and future aspects of the Kingdom has been referred to as the "Already/Not Yet" of God's Kingdom. Traditionally, Catholic, Liberal Christian and Pentecostal denominations have tended to emphasize its present aspect, while conservative Fundamentalists and evangelicals have emphasized its future aspect.
The present aspect of the Kingdom refers to the changed state of heart or mind (metanoia) within Christians (see Luke 17:20-21), emphasizing the spiritual nature of His Kingdom by saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within (or among) you." The reported activity of Jesus in healing diseases, driving out demons, teaching a new ethic for living, and offering a new hope in God to the poor, is understood to be a demonstration of that Kingdom in action.
Some groups, such as Sabbatarians or Adventists, reject the idea of a present Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, they preach of a Kingdom of Heaven that exists only in heaven, but that will later be extended over the Earth after the Second Coming of Jesus.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church accepts the doctrine of the Kingdom of God dividing it into two phases. These are, the Kingdom of Grace which was established immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, and the Kingdom of Glory which will be fully established when Christ returns to earth for the second time.
Roman Catholic interpretations
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that the coming Reign of God will be a kingdom of love, peace, and justice (CCC 2046). Justice is defined as a virtue whereby one respects the rights of all persons, living in harmony and equity with all (CCC 1807). The Kingdom of God began with Christ's death and Resurrection and must be further extended by Christians until it has been brought into perfection by Christ at the end of time (CCC 782, 2816). The Christian does this by living the way Christ lived, by thinking the way Christ thought (CCC 2046) and by promoting peace and justice (CCC 2820). This can be accomplished by discerning how the Holy Spirit (God) is calling one to act in the concrete circumstances of one's life (CCC 2820). Christians must also pray, asking God for what is necessary to cooperate with the coming of His Kingdom (CCC 2632). Jesus gathered disciples to be the seed and the beginning of God's Reign on earth, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide them (CCC 541, 764). Jesus continues to call all people to come together around him (CCC 542) and to spread His Kingdom across the entire world (CCC 863). However, the ultimate triumph of Christ's Kingdom will not come about until Christ's return to earth at the end of time (CCC 671). During Christ's second coming, he will judge the living and the dead. Only those who are judged to be righteous and just will reign with Christ forever (CCC 1042, 1060). Christ's second coming will also mark the absolute defeat of all evil powers, including Satan (CCC 550, 671). Until then, the coming of the Kingdom will continue to be attacked by evil powers as Christians wait with hope for the second coming of their Savior (CCC 671, 680). This is why Christians pray to hasten Christ's return by saying to him "Marana tha!" which means "Come, Lord Jesus!" (CCC 671, 2817).
According to Fr. William Barry, S.J., we can understand the Kingdom of God as God's intention for the universe. God has revealed that His intention for our world is that all humans live as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of God (Is 2:2-5, Is 11:6-9, Is 40:4-5, Eph 1:3, 9-10). Our thoughts and actions can either be in tune with God's intention or not. Only by being in tune with God's intention will we ever know true fulfillment or happiness in this life. Prayer, discernment and knowledge of God's revealed Word are needed to discover how one can be in tune with God's intention.
According to Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., the Kingdom of God primarily refers to the era when Christ comes again to bring the final establishment of God’s rule over all creation, which will include a final judgment where the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished. The concept of the Kingdom of God offers the goal for Christian life: those who follow the example and teachings of Jesus will be vindicated when the Kingdom of God comes and will reign with Christ forever.
In Biblical scholar John P. Meier's Mentor, Message, and Miracles (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, v. 2, 1994, pp. 235-506), the 'Message' is the kingdom of God. The book examines that the subject as found in:
the Old Testament and Pseudepigrapha and at Qumran
Jesus' proclamation of a future kingdom
the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus' words and deeds as already present in his ministry (pp. 451-53).
A number of groups take a political/eschatological approach to the Kingdom of God emphasising a physical reign of Jesus Christ on earth after the parousia. These groups often place special emphasis on the role of a restored kingdom of Israel.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers the church itself as the Kingdom of God on the earth. However, this is limited to a spiritual or ecclesiastical kingdom until the Millennium when Christ will also establish a political Kingdom of God. This will have worldwide political jurisdiction when the Lord has made "a full end of all nations" (Doctrine & Covenants 87: 6). However, Latter-day Saints believe that this theocratic "kingdom" will in fact be quasi-republican in orgnaization, and will be freely chosen by the survivors of the millenial judgements rather than being imposed upon an unwilling populace. See Council of Fifty; Theodemocracy.
Jehovah's Witnesses extend the idea of the Kingdom of God to more than just a state of mind or heart. The belief is that the Kingdom is a government headed by Jesus Christ as King, ruling in heaven since 1914, coinciding with the end of the prophesied Times of the Gentiles. Referring to Revelation 12:7, the battle with Michael in heaven was a war waged by God's Kingdom that ended with Satan and his demons cast down to the earth. Right after that a voice in Heaven said "Now has come ... the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ..." (Rev 12:10 ) Whereas, until God's Kingdom rule is extended to earth, a "loud voice" in heaven warns those on earth about Devil "having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." The miracles and preaching of the Kingdom that Jesus carried out while on earth is a work that gave hope, illustrating the benefits the Kingdom would bring, and urged efforts to gain God's favor. In short, the Kingdom is the means through which God vindicates His name and sovereignty  and accomplishes His will through Christ, and restores conditions on earth to those similar in the Garden of Eden. Additional information on the Kingdom in relation to the Last Days and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Christadelphians also believe in an end time political kingdom. This viewpoint says that in the last days Christ will return to rescue Israel (the nation), judge all who are responsible to God's judgment, and make an immortal administration for the Kingdom of God re-established on earth. It will be based in Jerusalem, and will provide the faithful of all generations with the land promised to them because they are heirs of the land of the middle East, with Abraham. The Kingdom will grow to rule over all other nations, with Jesus as the King and with his administration (immortal saints) ruling over the nations with him. Those ruled over will firstly the Jews who are alive then (although mortal) and all other nations (also mortal). During that time, lifespans of mortals will be greatly increased, and justice will be carefully maintained. Thus the world will be filled with peace and the knowledge of God.
Leading feminist theologians, especially Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza emphasize the feminine gender of the word basileia and the feminist nature of the early teachings of Jesus and the important and counter-cultural role and contributions of women in the Jesus sect.
Jesus use of the phrase "Kingdom of God" is believed by the liberation theologists to have been a deliberate but indirect criticism of the Roman system of domination.
Some scholars (most notably P.D. Ouspensky, in his book A New Model of the Universe, chapter 4) propose that "The Kingdom of Heaven" could actually be an esoteric group, that one should 'seek' within our own society.
Jehovahs witnesses preaches that the Kingdom of God is the kingdom mentioned in Daniel 2:44 "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." - KJV. Thus the prayer for it to come; "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10).
"Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed the nearness of God’s kingdom (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15). A literal translation is "has come near." The long-awaited rule of God was near. This message was called the gospel, the good news. Thousands were eager to hear and respond to this message of John and Jesus.
But consider for a moment what the response would have been like if they had preached, "The kingdom of God is 2,000 years away." The message would have been disappointing, and public response would also have been disappointing. Jesus may not have been popular, Jewish religious leaders might not have been jealous, and Jesus might not have been crucified. "The kingdom of God is far away" would have been neither news nor good.
John and Jesus preached a soon-coming kingdom, something that was near in time to their audiences. The message said something about what people should do now; it had immediate relevance and urgency. It aroused interest—and jealousy. By proclaiming that changes were needed in government and in religious teachings, the message challenged the status quo.
First-century Jewish expectations
Many first-century Jews knew the phrase "kingdom of God." They eagerly wanted God to send them a leader who would throw off Roman rule and make Judea an independent nation again—a nation of righteousness, glory and blessings, a nation everyone would be attracted to.
Into this climate—eager but vague expectations of God-ordained intervention—John and Jesus preached the nearness of God’s kingdom. "The kingdom of God has come near you," Jesus told his disciples to say after they healed the sick (Matthew 10:7; cf. Luke 10:9, 11).
But the hoped-for kingdom did not happen. The Jewish nation was not restored. Even worse, the temple was destroyed and the Jews were scattered. The Jewish hopes are still unfulfilled. Was Jesus wrong in his prediction, or was he not predicting a national kingdom?
Jesus’ kingdom was not like the popular expectation—as we might guess from the fact that many Jews wanted him dead. His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). When he talked about the "kingdom of God," he used a phrase the people knew well, but he gave it new meaning. He told Nicodemus that God’s kingdom was invisible to most people (John 3:3)—to understand it or experience it, a person must be renewed by God’s Spirit (verse 6). The kingdom of God was a spiritual kingdom, not a physical organization.
Present condition of the kingdom
In the Olivet prophecy, Jesus announced that the kingdom would come after certain signs and apocalyptic events. But some of Jesus’ teachings and parables explain that the kingdom does not come in a dramatic way. The seed grows quietly (Mark 4:26-29); the kingdom starts as small as a mustard seed (verses 30-32) and is hidden like yeast (Matthew 13:33). These parables suggest that the kingdom is a reality before it comes in a powerful and dramatic way. In addition to being a future reality, it has reality right now.
Let’s look at some verses that indicate the kingdom is already functioning. In Mark 1:15, John announced, "The time has come…. The kingdom of God is near." Both these verbs are in the past perfect tense, which indicates that something has happened and its results continue. The time had come not just for the announcement but also for the kingdom.
Jesus said, after casting out demons, "If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20). The kingdom is here, he said, and the proof is in the exorcisms. This proof continues in the church today, because the church is doing even greater works than Jesus did (John 14:12). We can also say, "If we cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is working here." The kingdom of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is continuing to demonstrate its authoritative power over the kingdom of Satan.
Satan still exerts some influence, but he has been defeated and condemned (John 16:11). He has been partially restrained (Mark 3:27). Jesus overcame Satan’s world (John 16:33), and with God’s help we are overcoming it, too (1 John 5:4). But not everyone does. In this age, the kingdom contains both good and bad (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 24:45-51; 25:1-12, 14-30). Satan is still influential; we still look forward to the glorious future of the kingdom.
The kingdom active in the teachings
"The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing," Jesus said in Matthew 11:12. And forceful people are laying hold of it. These verbs are in the present tense—the kingdom existed in Jesus’ day. A parallel verse, Luke 16:16, also uses present-tense verbs: "everyone is forcing his way into it." We don’t need to decide who the forceful people are or why they use force—what is important here is that these verses talk about the kingdom as a present reality.
Luke 16:16 replaces the first part of the verse with "the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached." This variation suggests that the kingdom’s advance in this age is, for practical purposes, roughly equivalent to its proclamation. The kingdom is—it already exists—and it is advancing by being preached.
In Mark 10:15, Jesus indicates that the kingdom is something we must receive in some way, apparently in this life. How is the kingdom present? The details are not yet clear, but the verses we have looked at say it is present.
The kingdom is among us
Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom would come (Luke 17:20). You can’t see it, replied Jesus. But Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is within [NIV footnote: among] you" (verse 21). Jesus was the King, and because he was teaching and performing miracles among them, the kingdom was among the Pharisees. Jesus Christ is in us today, too, and just as the kingdom was present in the ministry of Jesus, it is present in the ministry of his church. The King is among us; his spiritual power is in us, even though the kingdom is not yet operating in its full power.
We have already been brought into God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13). We are already receiving a kingdom, and our proper response is reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28). Christ "has made us [past tense] to be a kingdom" (Revelation 1:6). We are a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9)—already and currently a holy kingdom—but it does not yet appear what we shall be. God has rescued us from the dominion of sin and transferred us into his kingdom, under his ruling authority.
The kingdom of God is here, Jesus said. His audience did not need to wait for a conquering Messiah—God is already ruling, and we should be living his way now. We don’t yet possess a territory, but we do come under the reign of God.
The kingdom of God is yet future
Understanding that the kingdom already exists helps us give greater attention to serving others around us. But we do not forget that the completion of the kingdom is still future. If our only hope is in this age, we don’t have much hope (1 Corinthians 15:19). We do not harbor illusions about bringing the kingdom with human efforts. When we suffer setbacks and persecutions, when we see that most people reject the gospel, we gain strength from the knowledge that the fullness of the kingdom is in a future age.
No matter how much we try to live in a way that reflects God and his kingdom, we cannot transform this world into God’s kingdom. It must come through dramatic intervention. Apocalyptic events are needed to usher in the new age. Satan must be completely restrained.
Numerous verses tell us that the kingdom of God will be a glorious future reality. We know that Christ is a King, and we yearn for the day he will exercise his power in a great and dramatic way to stop human suffering. The book of Daniel predicts a kingdom of God that will rule the earth (Daniel 2:44, 7:13-14, 22); the New Testament Apocalypse describes its arrival (Revelation 11:15, 19:11-16).
We pray for the kingdom to come (Luke 11:2). The poor in spirit and the persecuted await their future "reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:3, 10, 12). People "enter the kingdom" on a future "day" of judgment (Matthew 7:21-23, Luke 13:22-30). Jesus gave one parable because some people thought the kingdom would become powerful right away (Luke 19:11).
In the Olivet prophecy, Jesus described dramatic events that would come before his return in power. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus looked forward to a kingdom in the future (Matthew 26:29).
Paul speaks several times of "inheriting the kingdom of God" as a future experience (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 15:50; Galatians 5:21; cf. Ephesians 5:5), and otherwise indicates by his language that he thinks of it as realized only at the end of the age (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; Colossians 4:11; cf. 2 Timothy 4:1, 18). When Paul wants to focus on the present manifestation of the kingdom, he tends either to introduce the term "justice" or "righteousness" along with "kingdom" (Romans 14:17) or in place of it (Romans 1:17; for the close association of the kingdom and the justice of God, see Matthew 6:33), or (alternatively) to connect the kingdom with Jesus Christ rather than God the Father (Colossians 1:13). (J. Ramsey Michaels, "The Kingdom of God and the Historical Jesus," chapter 8 of The Kingdom of God in 20th-Century Interpretation, edited by Wendell Willis [Hendrickson, 1987], page 112)
Many "kingdom" scriptures could apply equally to the present kingdom or to the future fulfillment. Lawbreakers will be called least in the kingdom (Matthew 5:19-20). We leave families for the sake of the kingdom (Luke 18:29). We enter the kingdom through tribulations (Acts 14:22). The important thing for this article is that some verses are clearly present tense, and some are clearly future tense.
After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). How was Jesus to answer such a question? What the disciples meant by kingdom was not what Jesus had been teaching. The disciples were still thinking in terms of a nationalistic kingdom rather than a slowly growing nation of all ethnic groups. It would take them years to realize that Gentiles were welcome in the new kingdom. Christ’s kingdom was still not of this world, but it was to be active in this age. So Christ did not say yes or no—he simply told them there was work to do and power to do it (verses 7-8).
The kingdom of God in the past
Matthew 25:34 tells us that the kingdom has been in preparation since the foundation of the world. It has been in existence all along, albeit in different forms. God was a King to Adam and Eve; he gave them dominion or authority to rule; they were his vice-regents in the Garden of Eden. Although the word "kingdom" is not used, Adam and Eve were in a kingdom of God, under his rule and ownership.
When God promised Abraham that his descendants would become great nations and that kings would come from him (Genesis 17:5-6), he was promising a kingdom of God. But it started small, like yeast hidden in a batch of dough, and it took hundreds of years to be seen for what it was.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and made a covenant with them, they became a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), a kingdom that belonged to God and could be called a kingdom of God. The covenant he made with them was similar to treaties powerful kings made with smaller nations. He had saved them, and the Israelites responded—they agreed to be his people. God was their king (1 Samuel 12:12; 8:7). David and Solomon sat on the throne of God, ruling on his behalf (1 Chronicles 29:23). Israel was a kingdom of God.
But the people wouldn’t obey their King. God sent them away, but he promised to restore the nation with a new heart (Jeremiah 31:31-33), a prophecy that has been fulfilled in the church today, which participates in the new covenant. We who have been given the Holy Spirit are the royal priesthood and holy nation that ancient Israel was unable to be (1 Peter 2:9, Exodus 19:6). We are in the kingdom, but there are now weeds growing among the grain. At the end of the age, the Messiah will return in power and glory, and the kingdom of God will again be transformed in appearance. The postmillennial kingdom, in which everyone is perfect and spiritual, will be dramatically different from the millennial one.
Since the kingdom has historical continuity, it is proper to speak of it in past, present and future tenses. In its historical development, it has had and will continue to have major milestones as new phases are established. The kingdom was established at Mt. Sinai; it was established in Jesus’ ministry; it will be established at his return, after the judgment. In each phase, God’s people rejoice in what they have and look forward to more yet to come. As we now experience some limited aspects of the kingdom, we gain confidence that the future kingdom will also be a reality. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee of greater blessings (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:14).
The kingdom and the gospel
When we hear the word kingdom, we are reminded of the kingdoms of this world. Kingdom in this world is associated with authority and power, but not harmony and love. Kingdom can describe the authority God has in his family, but it does not describe all the blessings God has in store for us. That’s why other metaphors are used, too, such as the family term children, which emphasizes God’s love and authority.
Each term is accurate, but incomplete. If any one term could describe salvation perfectly, the Bible would use that term consistently. But all are metaphors, each describing some aspect of salvation—but none of the terms describes the complete picture. When God commissioned the church to preach the gospel, he did not restrict us to using only the term "kingdom of God." The apostles translated Jesus’ sayings from Aramaic to Greek, and they translated them into other metaphors, especially metaphors that were more meaningful to a non-Jewish audience. Matthew, Mark and Luke use "the kingdom" often. John and the epistles also describe our future, but they prefer other metaphors to do it.
Salvation is a more general term. Paul said we have been saved (Ephesians 2:8), are being saved (2 Corinthians 2:15) and shall be saved (Romans 5:9). God has given us salvation, and he expects us to respond to him with faith. John wrote of salvation and eternal life as a present reality and possession (1 John 5:11-12) and a future blessing.
Metaphors such as salvation and family of God—just as much as kingdom—are legitimate although partial descriptions of God’s plan for us. Christ’s gospel can be called the gospel of the kingdom, gospel of salvation, gospel of grace, gospel of God, gospel of eternal life, etc. The gospel is an announcement that we can live with God forever, and it includes information about this is possible—through Jesus Christ our Savior.
When Jesus talked about the kingdom, he didn’t emphasize its physical blessings or clarify its chronology. He focused instead on what people should do to be part of it. Tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of God, Jesus said (Matthew 21:31), and they do it by believing the gospel (verse 32) and by doing what the Father wants (verses 28-31). We enter the kingdom functionally when we respond to God with faith and allegiance.
In Mark 10, a man wanted to inherit eternal life, and Jesus said he should keep the commandments (Mark 10:17-19). Jesus added another command: He told him to give up all his possessions for the heavenly treasure (verse 21). Jesus commented to the disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" (verse 23). The disciples asked, "Who then can be saved?" (verse 26). In this passage, and in its parallel in Luke 18:18-30, we see several phrases used to indicate the same thing: receive the kingdom, inherit eternal life, have treasure in heaven, enter the kingdom, be saved. When Jesus said, "follow me" (verse 21), he was using another phrase to indicate the same thing: We enter the kingdom by orienting our life to Jesus.
In Luke 12:31-34, Jesus indicates that several phrases are similar: seeking the kingdom, being given the kingdom, having a heavenly treasure, giving up trust in physical possessions. We seek God’s kingdom by responding to what Jesus taught. In Luke 21:28, 30, the kingdom is parallel to redemption. In Acts 20:21, 24-25, 32, we learn that Paul preached the gospel of the kingdom, and he preached the gospel of God’s grace, repentance and faith. The kingdom is closely connected with salvation—the kingdom would not be worth preaching if we couldn’t be part of it, and we can enter it only through faith, repentance and grace, so those are part of any message about God’s kingdom. Salvation is a present-tense reality as well as a promise of future blessings.
In Corinth, Paul preached nothing but Christ and his crucifixion (1 Corinthians 2:2). In Acts 28:23, 29, 31, Luke tells us that Paul in Rome preached both the kingdom and about Jesus and salvation. These are different aspects of the same Christian message.
The kingdom is relevant not merely because it is our future reward, but also because it affects how we live and think in this age. We prepare for the future kingdom by living in it now, in accordance with our King’s teachings. As we live in faith, we recognize God’s rule as a present reality in our own experience, and we continue to hope in faith for a future time when the kingdom will be filled to the full, when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.
References and notes
^ Strong’s Greek Dictionary, webpage, retrieved June 24, 2006
^ The exact phrase above occurs not at all in the Hebrew Bible and only once in the deuterocanonical/apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (10:10) (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, v. 2, 1994, p. 248).
^ Kingdom is within: "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within [or among] you." Luke 17:20-21
^ Kingdom approached through understanding: "When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Mark 12:34
^ Kingdom accepted like a child: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Mark 10:15
^ Kingdom entered through spiritual rebirth: "no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" John 3:5
^ Kingdom entered through doing the will of God: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21
^ Kingdom peopled by the righteous: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?" 1 Corinthians 6:9
^ Kingdom contrasts kingdom of Satan: "If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?" Luke 11:18
^ Dodd, C.H., "The Parables of the Kingdom," (Fontana 1961), p.29. (public domain)
^ Strong’s Greek Dictionary, webpage, retrieved June 24, 2006
^ Cobb, John and David Tracy, Talking About God: Doing Theology in the Context of Modern Pluralism, Seabury Press, 1983, webpage, retrieved June 24, 2006
^ Chilson, Richard (2001). Yeshua of Nazareth: Spiritual Master. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books
^ Kevin Hart, The Experience of the Kingdom of God, webpage, retrieved June 24, 2006
^ "Von dem Zwecke Jesu und seiner Junger." Noch ein Fragment des Wolfenbuttelschen Ungenannten. Herausgegeben von Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Braunschweig, 1778, 276 pp. (The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples A further Instalment of the anonymous Woltenbiittel Fragments. Published by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Brunswick, 1778.)
^ For references of the Kingdom as gospel, see Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43, 9:2, 6, & 11; 16:16, etc. For evidence of the destination for the righteous see Matthew 7:21, 25:31-34; Luke 13:28-29. Also compare Jesus equating "eternal life," "entering into life," the "kingdom of heaven," "kingdom of God," "being saved," and "eternal life" in Matthew 19:16-30.
^ Dodd, C.H., "The Parables of the Kingdom," (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961) (public domain)
^ Crossan, John Dominic, "The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant," (Harper, 1991) (public domain)
^ Schweitzer, Albert, "The Quest for the Historical Jesus," (Black, 1910) (public domain)
^ Bultmann, Rudolph, "History and Eschatology: the presence of eternity," (Harper & Row, 1962) (public domain)
^ Perrin, Norman, "The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus," (SCM, 1963) (public domain)
^ Weiss, Johannes, "Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God," (Scholars, 1985) (public domain)
^ Beavis, Mary Ann, "Jesus & Utopia: Looking for the Kingdom of God in the Roman World,” (Fortress Press, 2006) (public domain)
^ Barry, William (1990). Paying Attention to God. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press
^ Harrington, Daniel J., "The Now and Future Kingdom," American Catholic (May 2006), online at http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/JHP/aq0506.asp, accessed August 26, 2006.
^ ‘The Great Crowd to Live in Heaven? Or on Earth?' "Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom 1984, p. 167.
^ [Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, Crossroads, New York, 1992
^ http://www.jerusalemites.org/jerusalem/islam/41.htm, Website, accessed September 30, 2006
^ http://www.angelfire.com/planet/koran/cover/, Website, accessed November 13, 2006
to be continued