"Do buses, because the kingdom of heaven has come close!" John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed the proximity of the kingdom of God (Matthew 3,2; 4,17; Mark 1,15). The long-awaited rule of God was at hand. This message was called the gospel, the good news. Thousands were eager to hear and respond to this message from John and Jesus.
But think for a moment what the reaction would have been like if you had preached: "The kingdom of God is still 2000 years away." The message would be disappointing and the public response would also have been disappointing. Jesus might not be popular, religious leaders might not be jealous, and Jesus might not have been crucified. "The Kingdom of God is far away" would not have been new news or good.
John and Jesus preached the soon-to-come kingdom of God, something that was close in time to their listeners. The message said something about what people should do now; it had immediate relevance and urgency. It sparked interest - and jealousy. By proclaiming that changes in government and religious teachings were necessary, the embassy challenged the status quo.
Jewish expectations in the first century
Many Jews who lived in the first century knew the term "Kingdom of God". They eagerly wanted God to send them a leader who would throw off Roman rule and make Judea a dependent nation again - a nation of justice, glory and blessings, a nation that everyone would be drawn to.
Into this climate - eager but vague expectations of a God-determined intervention - Jesus and John preached the proximity of God's kingdom. "The kingdom of God has come near," said Jesus to his disciples after they had made the sick well (Matthew 10,7; Luke 19,9.11).
But the hoped-for kingdom did not come true. The Jewish nation was not restored. Even worse, the temple was destroyed and the Jews scattered. Jewish hopes are still unfulfilled. Was Jesus wrong in his statement, or did he not foretell a national kingdom?
Jesus' kingdom was not popular expectation - as we can guess from the fact that many Jews liked to see him dead. His kingdom was out of this world (John 18,36). When he spoke of the "Kingdom of God" he used expressions that people understood well, but he gave them new meaning. He told Nicodemus that God's kingdom was invisible to most people (John 3,3) - to understand or experience it, someone must be renewed by God's Holy Spirit (V.6). The kingdom of God was a spiritual kingdom, not a physical organization.
The current state of the empire
In the Mount of Olives prophecy, Jesus announced that the kingdom of God would come after certain signs and prophetic events. But some of Jesus' teachings and parables explain that the kingdom of God would not come dramatically. The seed grows silently (Mark 4,26-29); the empire begins as small as a mustard seed (V. 30-32) and is hidden like sourdough (Matthew 13,33). These parables suggest that the Kingdom of God is a reality before it comes in a powerful and dramatic way. Besides the fact that it is a future reality, it is already a reality.
Let's look at some verses that show that the Kingdom of God is already working. In Mark 1,15, Jesus announced: "The time has come ... the kingdom of God has come." Both verbs are in the past tense, which indicates that something has happened and that its consequences are ongoing. The time had come not only for the announcement, but also for the Kingdom of God itself.
After driving out demons, Jesus said: "But if I drive out the evil spirits through the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you" (Matthew 12,2; Luke 11,20). The realm is here, he said, and the proof lies in the expulsion of the evil spirits. This evidence continues in today's Church because the Church is doing even greater works than Jesus did (John 14,12). We can also say: "If we drive out the evil spirits through the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God will work here and today." Through the Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God continues to demonstrate its imperative power over the kingdom of Satan.
Satan still has an influence, but he has been defeated and sentenced (John 16,11). He was partially restricted (Mark 3,27). Jesus conquered the world of Satan (John 16,33) and with God's help we can overcome them too (1 John 5,4). But not everyone overcomes them. In this age, the Kingdom of God 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 are still waiting for the glorious future of the Kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is active in the teachings
"The Kingdom of Heaven still suffers from violence and the violent seize it" (Matthew 11,12). These verbs are in the present form - the kingdom of God existed at the time of Jesus. A parallel passage, Luke 16,16, also uses verbs in the present tense: "... and everyone is forced into it". We don't have to find out who these violators are or why they use violence
- important here is that these verses speak of the kingdom of God as a present reality.
Luke 16,16 replaces the first part of the verse with "Is the Gospel Preached by the Kingdom of God". This variation suggests that the advancement of the empire in this age is practically equivalent to its proclamation. The Kingdom of God is - it already exists - and it is progressing through its proclamation.
In Mark 10,15, Jesus points out that the kingdom of God is something we must somehow receive, obviously in this life. How is the kingdom of God present? The details are not yet clear, but the verses we looked at say that it is present.
The kingdom of God is among us
Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come (Luke 17,20). You cannot see it, Jesus replied. But Jesus also said: «The kingdom of God is within you [a. Ü. in the middle of you] » (Luke 17,21). Jesus was the king, and because he taught and worked miracles among them, the kingdom was among the Pharisees. Jesus is in us today too, and just as the kingdom of God was present in the work of Jesus, so it is present in the service of his church. The king is among us; its spiritual power is within us, even if the kingdom of God is not yet operating in its full power.
We have already been transferred to God's kingdom (Colossians 1,13). We are already receiving a kingdom and our correct answer to that is worship and awe (Hebrews 12,28). Christ «made us [past tense] a kingdom of priests» (Revelation 1,6). We are a holy people - now and now - but what we will be has not yet been revealed. God has freed us from the rule of sin and put us in his kingdom under his ruling authority. The kingdom of God is here, said Jesus. His listeners did not have to wait for a conquering Messiah - God is already ruling and we should now live in His way. We do not yet have a territory, but we come under the rule of God.
The kingdom of God is still in the future
Understanding that the Kingdom of God already exists helps us pay more attention to serving others around us. But we do not forget that the completion of the Kingdom of God is still in the future. If our hope is alone in this age, we have little hope (1 Corinthians 15,19). We have no illusion of bringing about the Kingdom of God with human effort. When we experience setbacks and persecutions, when we see that most people reject the gospel, we draw strength from the knowledge that the fullness of the empire is in a future age.
No matter how much we try to live in a way that reflects God and His Kingdom, we can not turn that world into God's kingdom. This must come through a dramatic intervention. Apocalyptic events are necessary to usher in the new age.
Numerous verses tell us that the Kingdom of God will be a wonderful future reality. We know that Christ is a king and we long for the day when he will use his power in a great and dramatic way to end human suffering. The book of Daniel predicts a kingdom of God that will rule over the whole earth (Daniel 2,44; 7,13-14. 22). The New Testament Book of Revelation describes his arrival (Revelation 11,15:19,11; 16).
We pray that the kingdom may come (Luke 11,2). The poor in spirit and the persecuted await their future "reward in heaven" (Matthew 5,3.10.12). People will come to the Kingdom of God on a future “day” of judgment (Matthew 7,21: 23-13,22; Luke 30). Jesus shared a parable because some believed that the kingdom of God would come to power in a moment (Luke 19,11). In the Mount of Olives prophecy, Jesus described dramatic events that would occur before His return in power and glory. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus looked forward to a future kingdom (Matthew 26,29).
Paul speaks several times of "inheriting the kingdom" as a future experience (1 Corinthians 6,9-10; 15,50; Galatians 5,21; Ephesians 5,5) and, on the other hand, indicates through his language that he regards the kingdom of God as something that will only be realized at the end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2,12:2; 1,5 Thessalonians 4,11: 2; Colossians 4,1.18; Timothy,). When Paul focuses on the present manifestation of the kingdom, he either tends to introduce the term "justice" together with the "kingdom of God." (Romans 14,17) or to be used instead (Romans 1,17). See Matthew 6,33 for the close relationship between the Kingdom of God and God's righteousness. Or Paul tends (alternatively) to connect the kingdom with Christ instead of God the Father (Colossians 1,13). (J. Ramsey Michaels, "The Kingdom of God and the Historical Jesus", Chapter 8, The Kingdom of God in 20th-Century Interpretation, edited by Wendell Willis [Hendrickson, 1987], page 112).
Many “Kingdom of God” scriptures could refer to the present Kingdom of God as well as future fulfillment. Lawbreakers will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5,19: 20). We leave families for the sake of God's kingdom (Luke 18,29). We enter the kingdom of God through tribulations (Acts 14,22). The most important thing in this article is that some verses are clear in the present tense, and some are clearly written in the future tense.
After Jesus' resurrection, the disciples asked him, "Lord, will you re-establish the kingdom for Israel at this time?" (Acts 1,6). How should Jesus answer such a question? What the disciples meant by "empire" was not what Jesus had taught. The disciples still thought in terms of a national kingdom, rather than a slowly developing people made up of all ethnic groups. It took them years to realize that pagans were welcome in the new kingdom. Christ's Kingdom was still out of this world, but should be active in this age. So Jesus didn't say yes or no - he just told them there was work for them and strength to do that work (Vv. 7-8).
The kingdom of God in the past
Matthew 25,34 tells us that the Kingdom of God has been in preparation since the foundation of the world. It existed all the time, albeit in different forms. God was a king for Adam and Eve; he gave them rule and 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 property.
When God gave Abraham the promise that his descendants would become great peoples and that kings would come from them (Genesis 1: 17,5-6), he promised them a kingdom of God. But it started small, like sourdough in a batter, and it took hundreds of years to see the promise.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and made a covenant with them, they became a kingdom of priests (Exodus 2: 19,6), a kingdom that belonged to God and could be called a kingdom of God. The covenant that he made with them was similar to the contracts that 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 and ruled in his name (1Chr 29,23). Israel was a kingdom of God.
But the people did not obey their God. God sent them away, but he promised to restore the nation with a new heart (Jeremiah 31,31-33), a prophecy fulfilled in the Church today that shares in the New Covenant. We, to whom the Holy Spirit was given, are the royal priesthood and holy nation that ancient Israel was unable to do (1 Peter 2,9; Exodus 2). We are in the Kingdom of God, but weeds are now growing between the crops. At the end of the age, the Messiah will return in power and glory, and the kingdom of God will be transformed again in appearance. The empire that follows the millennium, where everyone is perfect and spiritual, will be drastically different from the millennium.
Since the kingdom has historical continuity, it is correct to speak of it in the tense of the past, present and future. In its historical development, it has had major milestones and will continue to do so as new phases begin. The empire was established on Mount Sinai; it was raised in and through Jesus' work; it will be set up on its return after the judgment. At every stage, God's people will rejoice in what they have and they will rejoice even more in what is to come. As we now experience some limited aspects of the Kingdom of God, we are confident that the future Kingdom of God will also be a reality. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee of greater blessings (2 Corinthians 5,5:1,14; Ephesians).
The kingdom of God and the gospel
When the word Kingdom or Kingdom is heard, we are reminded of the realms of this world. In this world, kingdom is associated with authority and power, but not with harmony and love. Kingdom can describe the authority that God has in his family, but it does not describe all the blessings that God has for us. That is why other images are used, such as the family term children, which emphasizes the love and authority of God.
Every term is accurate but incomplete. If any term could perfectly describe salvation, the Bible would use that term throughout. But they are all pictures, each describes a certain aspect of salvation - but none of these terms describes the whole picture. When God instructed the Church to preach the gospel, he did not restrict us from using only the term "Kingdom of God." The apostles translated Jesus' speeches from Aramaic to Greek, and they translated them into other images, especially metaphors, that were important to a non-Jewish audience. Matthäus, Markus and Lukas often use the term “the empire”. John and the apostolic letters also describe our future, but they use other images to illustrate this.
Salvation is a more general term. Paul said that we were saved (Ephesians 2,8), we are saved (2 Corinthians 2,15) and we will be saved (Romans 5,9). God has given us salvation and he expects us to respond to him in faith. John wrote about salvation and eternal life as a present reality, a possession (1 John 5,11: 12) and a future blessing.
Metaphors like salvation and the family of God - as well as the kingdom of God - are legitimate, even though they are only partial descriptions of God's plan for us. Christ's gospel can be called the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of salvation, the gospel of grace, the gospel of God, the gospel of eternal life, and so on. The gospel is an announcement that we can live with God forever, and it includes information that this is possible through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
When Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, he did not emphasize his physical blessings or clarify his chronology. Instead, he focused on what people should do to have a part in it. Tax collectors and prostitutes come to the kingdom of God, said Jesus (Matthew 21,31), and they do so by believing in the gospel (V. 32) and do the will of the father (Vv. 28-31). We enter the kingdom of God when we answer God in faith and faithfulness.
In Mark 10, a person wanted to inherit eternal life, and Jesus said he should keep the commandments (Mark 10,17-19). Jesus added another commandment: He commanded him to give up all of his possessions for the treasure in heaven (V.21). Jesus remarked to the disciples: "How difficult it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" (V.23). The disciples asked: "Who can then be saved?" (V.26). In this section and in the parallel passage in Luke 18,18: 30, several terms are used that point to the same thing: receive the kingdom, inherit eternal life, collect treasures in heaven, enter the kingdom of God, be saved. When Jesus said, "Follow me" (V. 22), he uses another expression to indicate the same thing: we enter the kingdom of God by aligning our lives with Jesus.
In Luke 12,31: 34-21,28, Jesus points out that several expressions are similar: seeking the kingdom of God, receiving a kingdom, having a treasure in heaven, giving up trust in physical possessions. We seek God's kingdom by responding to Jesus' teaching. In Luke 30:20,22 and 32, the kingdom of God is equated with redemption. In Acts, we learn that Paul preached the gospel of the kingdom, and he preached the gospel of God's grace and faith. The kingdom is closely related to salvation - the kingdom would not be worth preaching if we could have no part in it, and we can only enter through faith, repentance, and grace, so these are part of every message about the kingdom of God. Salvation is a present 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 in Rome Paul preached the kingdom of God as well as about Jesus and salvation. These are different aspects of the same Christian message.
The kingdom of God is not only relevant because it is our future reward, but also because it affects how we live and think in this age. We are preparing for the future kingdom of God by living in it now, in accordance with the teachings of our king. As we live in faith, we acknowledge God's reign as the present reality in our own experience, and we continue to hope in faith for a future time, when the kingdom will come to fulfillment, when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.
by Michael Morrison