Kingdom Of God

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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]

Kingdom Of God (or Heaven . The Biblical writers assume that the Creator of the heavens and the earth must needs be also the everlasting Ruler of the same. The universe is God’s dominion, and every creature therein is subject to His power. And so the Hebrew poets conceive God as immanent in all natural phenomena. Wind and storm, fire and earthquake, lightnings and torrents of waters are but so many signs of the activity of the Almighty Ruler of the world (  Psalms 18:7-15;   Psalms 68:7-18;   Psalms 104:1-35 ). The same heavenly Power is also the supreme Sovereign of men and nations. ‘The kingdom is Jehovah’s, and he is the ruler over the nations’ (  Psalms 22:28 ). ‘Jehovah is king over all the earth’ (  Zechariah 14:9 ). ‘He sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the Inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers … He bringeth princes to nothing’ (  Isaiah 40:22 ). This general idea of God’s dominion over all things receives various forms of statement from the various Biblical writers, and the entire presentation constitutes a most important portion of the revelation of God and of Christ. But the Biblical doctrine has its OT and NT setting.

1. In the Old Testament . Apart from that general concept of God as Maker and Governor of the whole world, the OT writers emphasize the Divine care for individuals, families, tribes, and nations of men. It is God’s rule over those creatures who exist in His own image and likeness that calls for our special study, and this great truth is manifest from various points of view. (1) From   Amos 9:7 we learn that Jehovah is the supreme Ruler of all the peoples: Syrians, Philistines, Ethiopians, as well as the tribes of Israel, were led by Him and settled in their separate lands. So He gave all the nations their inheritance (  Deuteronomy 32:8 ). But one most conspicuous feature of the OT revelation is God’s selection of Abraham and his posterity to be made a blessing to all the families of the earth. When this peculiar family had become a numerous people in the land of Egypt, God led them marvellously out of that house of bondage and adopted them to be ‘a people for his own possession above all peoples upon the face of the earth’ (  Deuteronomy 7:6 ), and ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (  Exodus 19:6 ). The subsequent facts of the history of this chosen people reveal a noteworthy aspect of the Kingdom of God among men. (2) Along with this idea of the election and special guidance of this people there was gradually developed a lofty doctrine of the Person and power of the God of Israel. Out of the unique and sublime monolatry, which worshipped Jehovah as greatest of all the gods (  Exodus 15:11;   Exodus 18:11 ), there issued the still higher and broader monotheism of the great prophets, who denied the real existence of any other God or Saviour besides the Holy One of Israel. He was conceived as seated on a lofty throne, surrounded with holy seraphs and the innumerable hosts of heaven. For naturally the highest embodiment of personal power and glory and dominion known among men, namely, that of a splendid royalty, was employed as the best figure of the glory of the heavenly King; and so we have the impressive apocalyptic portraiture of Jehovah sitting upon His throne, high and lifted up (  Isaiah 6:1-3 ,   Ezekiel 12:26-28 ,   1 Kings 22:19 ). The mighty Monarch of earth and heaven was enthroned in inexpressible majesty and glory, and no power above or below the heavens could compare with Him. (3) This concept of the heavenly King became also enlarged so as to include the idea of a righteous Judge of all the earth. This idea appears conspicuously in the vision of   Daniel 7:9-12 , where the Eternal is seen upon His throne of fiery flames, with ten thousand times ten thousand ministering before Him. His execution of judgment is as a stream of fire which issues from His presence and devours His adversaries.   Zephaniah 3:8 also represents Him as ‘gathering the nations and assembling the kingdoms,’ in order to pour out upon them the fire of His fierce anger. And so in prophecy, in psalm, and in historical narrative we find numerous declarations of Jehovah about His entering into judgment with the nations and also with His own people. The unmistakable doctrine of all these Scriptures is that God is the supreme Judge and Ruler of the world. His overthrow of mighty cities and kingdoms, like Nineveh and Babylon, is a way of His ‘executing judgment in the earth,’ and the prophets call such a national catastrophe a ‘day of Jehovah.’ (4) The Messianic prophecies throw further light on the OT doctrine of the Kingdom of God. From the times of David and Solomon onwards the highest ideal of ‘the Anointed of Jehovah’ was that of a powerful and righteous king of Israel. The name of David became a synonym of the ideal king and shepherd of the Chosen People (  Hosea 3:5 ,   Jeremiah 30:9 ,   Ezekiel 34:23;   Ezekiel 37:24 ). These ideals became the growing Messianic hope of Israel. According to   Isaiah 9:3;   Isaiah 9:7 , the child of wonderful names is to sit ‘upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it in judgment and in righteousness for ever.’ In   Psalms 2:1-12 we have a dramatic picture of Jehovah establishing His Son as King upon Zion, and in   Psalms 110:1-7 the conquering hero, to whom Jehovah says, ‘Sit thou at my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool.’ unites in Himself the threefold office of king, priest, and judge. (5) In all these and in other Messianic scriptures we shoud notice that the Anointed of Jehovah is an exalted associate of the Most High. He executes judgment in the earth, but he himself possesses no wisdom or power to act apart from Jehovah. We also note the fact that God’s dominion over the earth is entirely compatible with divers forms of human administration. Ambitious potentates may usurp authority, and think to change times and seasons, but sooner or later they come to nought. Though Nebuchadrezzar, Cyrus, or Alexander wield for a time the sceptre of the world, it is still true ‘that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will’ (  Daniel 4:32 ). ‘He removeth kings and setteth up kings’ (  Daniel 2:21 ). When Israel desired a king like other nations, Samuel charged them with rejecting God as their King (  1 Samuel 8:7 ); but such rejection of God and the anointing of Saul for their king did not remove Jehovah from actual dominion over them; and the prophet himself admonished all Israel to fear and obey Jehovah lest He should consume both them and their king (  1 Samuel 12:15-25 ). And when, according to the apocalyptic imagery of   Daniel 7:13-14 , the ‘one like unto a son of man’ receives the kingdom from ‘the Ancient of days,’ it is not to be supposed that the Most High Himself is for a moment to abdicate His throne in the heavens, or cease to rule over all the kingdoms of men. (6) It is not given us to determine how fully or how clearly any OT prophet or psalmist conceived the real nature of the future Messianic Kingdom. It is not usually given to the prophets of great oracles to know the time and manner of the fulfilment, and such ideals as those of   Micah 4:1-5 and   Isaiah 11:1-10 may have been variously understood. The advent of the Messianic Son of David, expected among the seed of Abraham, would naturally be conceived as introducing a new era in the history of the people of God. He would not rule apart from Jehovah, or exercise a different authority; for the Kingdom of Messiah would also he the Kingdom of God. But it would naturally he expected that the Messiah would introduce new powers, new agencies, and new enlightenment for a blessing to all the families of the earth. According to   Isaiah 65:17;   Isaiah 66:22 , the new era was conceived as the creation of a new heavens and a new earth, but the prophetic language and its context do not justify the opinion that the dawn of the new era must needs be ushered in along with physical changes in the earth and the heavens, or involve any physical change in the natural constitution of man on the earth.

2. In the New Testament . In presenting the NT doctrine of the Kingdom of. God we should notice (1) the prevalent expectation of the Messiah at the time Jesus was born. There was no exact uniformity of belief or of expectation. Some enthusiasts looked for a warlike chieftain, gifted with an ability of leadership, to cast off the Roman yoke and restore the kingdom of Israel to some such splendour as it had in the days of Solomon. Others seem to have entertained a more spiritual view, as Zacharias, Simeon, and Anna (  Luke 1:67-79;   Luke 2:25-38 ), and to have united the general hope of the redemption of Jerusalem with the blessed thought of confirming the ancient covenants of promise, obtaining remission of sins, personal consolation, and a life of holiness. Between these two extremes there were probably various other forms of expectation, but the more popular one was that of a temporal prince. John the Baptist shared somewhat in this current belief, and seems to have been disappointed in the failure of Jesus to fulfil his concept of the Messianic hope (  Matthew 11:2-6 ). Nevertheless, John’s ministry and preaching evinced much spiritual penetration, and his baptism of repentance was a Divinely appointed preparation for the Kingdom of heaven which he declared was close at band.

(2) The chief source of the NT doctrine is the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself . His preaching and that of His first disciples announced the Kingdom of heaven as at hand (  Matthew 4:17 ,   Mark 1:16 ). Such a proclamation could have meant to the hearers only that the reign of the Messiah, of whom the prophets had spoken, was about to begin. The real nature of this Kingdom, however, is to be learned only by a careful study of the various sayings of Jesus upon the subject, ( a ) It should first be observed that our Lord gave no sanction to the current Jewish expectation of a temporal prince, who would fight for dominion and exercise worldly forms of power. He did not directly oppose the prevalent belief, so as to provoke opposition, but sought rather to inculcate a more spiritual and heavenly conception of the Kingdom. His views were evidently different from those of John, for while He extolled him as His immediate forerunner, ‘much more than a prophet,’ and ‘greatest among them that are born of women,’ He declared that any one who ‘is but little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’ (  Matthew 11:11 ). With all his greatness John was but a Jewish prophet, and never passed beyond the necessary limitations of the pre-Messianic age. ( b ) The spiritual and heavenly character of the Kingdom is indicated, and indeed emphasized, by the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven.’ This accords with the statement that the Kingdom is not of this world (  John 18:36 ), and cometh not with observation (  Luke 17:20 ). It belongs, therefore, to the unseen and the spiritual. It is the special boon of the ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘persecuted for righteousness’ sake,’ and whose righteousness shall ‘exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees’ (  Matthew 5:3;   Matthew 5:10;   Matthew 5:20 ). The great ones in this Kingdom are such as become like little children (  Matthew 18:3 ), and as to rulership and authority, the greatest is he who acts as the minister and bond-servant of all (  Mark 10:43-44 ).

It may be noticed that the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ (or ‘of the heavens’) is peculiar to the Gospel of Matthew, in which it occurs about thirty times. In  2 Timothy 4:18 we read of ‘his heavenly kingdom,’ but elsewhere the term employed is ‘kingdom of God.’ There is no good reason to doubt that Jesus Himself made use of all these expressions, and we should not look to find any recondite or peculiar significance in any one of them. The phrase ‘kingdom of God’ occurs also four times in Mt., and often in the other Gospels and in the Acts and Epistles. We may also compare, for illustration and suggestion, ‘my Father’s kingdom’ (  Matthew 26:29 ), ‘my heavenly Father’ (  Matthew 15:13 ), and observe in the parallel texts of   Matthew 26:29 ,   Mark 14:25 ,   Luke 22:20 , the interchangeable use of ‘my Father’s kingdom,’ ‘my kingdom,’ and ‘the kingdom of God.’ All these designations indicate that the Kingdom is heavenly in its origin and nature.

( c ) The parables of Jesus are especially important for learning the nature and mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven. They show in many ways that the heavenly Kingdom has to do with the spiritual nature and possibilities of man, and is, in fact, the dominion of Jesus Christ over the hearts of men. They show also that the Kingdom has its necessary collective and communal relations, for the same ethical principles which are to govern an individual life have also their manifold application to the life of a community and of all organized societies of men. Several of our Lord’s parables indicate a Judicial transfer of the Kingdom of heaven from the Jews to the Gentiles (  Matthew 21:43;   Matthew 22:1-14 ,   Luke 14:10-24 ). The parable of the Two Sons warned the Jewish priests and elders that publicans and harlots might go into the Kingdom of God before them (  Matthew 21:28-32 ). From all this it is evident that the Kingdom of heaven includes the dispensation of heavenly grace and redemption which was inaugurated and is now continuously carried forward by the Lord Jesus. It is essentially spiritual, and its holy mysteries of regeneration and the righteousness of faith can be only spiritually discerned, ( d ) The important petitions in the Lord’s prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth,’ are of great value in determining the nature of the Kingdom. This prayer assumes by its very terms a moral and spiritual relationship and the ideal of a moral order in the universe of God. As the word ‘kingdom’ implies an organized community, so the will of God implies in those who do it a conformity to God in spiritual nature and action. The coming Kingdom is not a material worldly establishment, but it has its foundations in the unseen and eternal, and its power and growth will become manifest among men and nations according as the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven. The performance of all that the will of God requires in moral beings may vary in degrees of perfect observance in heaven and in earth; we naturally predicate of heavenly things a measure of perfection far above that of earthly things. But the members of the Kingdom of God, whether on earth or in heaven, have this in common, that they all do the will of the heavenly Father, ( e ) So far as the Gospel of John supplies additional teachings of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God, it is in essential harmony with what we find in the Synoptics, but it has its own peculiar methods of statement. We read in   John 3:3;   John 3:5 , ‘Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ The Kingdom, then, is not a spectacle of worldly vision, but has to do first of all with the inner life of man. It accords with this, that in   John 8:23 and   John 18:36-37 Jesus says, ‘I am from above; I am not of this world: My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.’ To one of Pilate’s questions Jesus answered, ‘I am a king; to this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice’ (  John 18:37 ). So Christ’s Kingdom comes not forth out of the world, but is of heavenly origin. It makes no display of military forces or carnal weapons for establishing its dominion in the world. It is especially remarkable in being a Kingdom of truth. This conception is peculiarly Johannine, for in the first Epistle also Jesus Christ is set forth as the embodiment and revelation of the truth of God (  1 John 3:18-19;   1 John 5:20; cf.   John 1:17;   John 8:32;   John 14:6;   John 17:17 ). Jesus Christ is the heavenly King who witnesses to the truth, and whose servants know, love, and obey the truth of God.

(3) In the Pauline Epistles the Kingdom of God is represented as the blessed spiritual inheritance of all who enjoy life in God through faith in Jesus Christ. Its spiritual character is obvious from   Romans 14:17 , where, in discussing questions of conscience touching meats and drinks, it is said that ‘the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ So it is not a dominion that concerns itself about ceremonial pollutions; it grasps rather after the attainment of all spiritual blessings. It is impossible for the unrighteous and idolaters, and thieves and extortioners, and such like, to inherit this Kingdom (  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ,   Galatians 5:21 ,   Ephesians 5:5 ).

(4) Other portions of the NT add somewhat to this doctrine of the Kingdom, but offer no essentially different ideal. In  Hebrews 12:28 mention is made of our ‘receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.’ The context speaks of the removal of some things that were of a nature to be shaken, and the allusion is to the old fabric of defunct Judaism, which was a cult of burdensome ritual, and had become ‘old and aged and nigh unto vanishing away’ (  Hebrews 8:13 ). These temporary things and their ‘sanctuary of this world,’ which were at the most only ‘a copy and shadow of the heavenly things,’ must needs be shaken down and pass away in order that the immovable Kingdom of heaven might be revealed and abide as an ‘eternal inheritance.’ The old Jerusalem and its temporary cult must pass away and give place to ‘the heavenly Jerusalem,’ which affords personal communion and fellowship with God and Christ, and innumerable hosts of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect (  Hebrews 12:22-24 ).

(5) Eschatological elements of the NT doctrine . Questions of the time and manner of the coming of the Kingdom arise from the various sayings of Jesus and of the NT writers, which have seemed difficult to harmonize. From the point of view both of Jesus and of the first Apostles, the Kingdom of heaven was nigh at hand, but not yet come. The coming of the Kingdom is also associated with the Parousia , or coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven, the resurrection, and the final judgment of all men and nations. Jesus spoke of ‘the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory’ (  Matthew 19:28 ). His great eschatological discourse, reported in all the Synoptics (  Matthew 24:1-51 ,   Mark 13:1-37 ,   Luke 21:1-38 ), represents His coming and the end of the age as in the near future, before that generation should pass. It also clearly makes the sublime Parousia follow immediately after the woes attending the ruin of the city and Temple of Jerusalem. Also in   Matthew 16:28 and the parallels in Mk. and Lk. Jesus declares emphatically, ‘There are some of them that stand here who shall in no wise taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.’ The exegetical problem is to show how these statements may be adjusted to the idea of a gradually growing power and dominion which appears in Daniel’s vision of the stone which ‘became a great mountain and filled the whole earth’ (  Daniel 2:35 ), and is also implied in Jesus’ parables of the Mustard Seed, the Leaven, and the Seed Growing Secretly, ‘first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear’ (  Mark 4:26-29 ). The problem is also complicated by the fact that nearly two thousand years have passed since these words of Jesus were spoken, and ‘the end of the world’ is not yet. Of the many attempts at the explanation of these difficulties we here mention only three.

( a ) A considerable number of modern critics adopt the hypothesis that these various sayings of Jesus were misunderstood by those who heard Him, and have been reported in a confused and self-contradictory manner. The disciples confounded the fall of the Temple with the end of all things, but Jesus probably distinguished the two events in a way that does not now appear in the records. Some critics suppose that fragments of a small Jewish apocalypse have been incorporated in   Matthew 24:1-51 . This hypothesis makes it the chief work of the expositor to analyze the different elements of the Evangelical tradition and reconstruct the sayings of Jesus which are supposed to be genuine. The result of such a process naturally includes a considerable amount of conjecture, and leaves the various eschatological sayings of Jesus in a very untrustworthy condition.

( b ) According to another class of expositors, the prophecies of   Matthew 24:1-51 contain a double sense, the primary reference being to the fall of Jerusalem, whereas the ultimate fulfilment, of which the first is a sort of type, is to take place at the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. It is conceded that the two events are closely conjoined, but it is thought that   Matthew 24:4-28 deal mainly with the former event, and from   Matthew 24:29 onwards the lesser subject is swallowed up by the greater, and the statements made refer mainly to the still future coming of the Lord. But scarcely any two interpreters, who adopt the double-sense theory, agree in their exposition of the different parts of the chapter.

( c ) Another method of explaining and adjusting the teaching of Jesus and of all the NT statements about the coming of Christ, the resurrection and the judgment, is to understand all these related events as part and parcel of an age-long process. ‘The end of the age,’ according to this view, is not the close of the Christian era, but the end or consummation of the pre-Messianic age. The coming of the Kingdom of God, according to Jesus (  Luke 17:20 ), is not a matter of physical observation, so that one could point it out and say, ‘Lo, it is here!’ or, ‘Lo, it is there!’ Like the lightning it may appear in the east or in the west, or anywhere under the whole heaven, at one and the same moment of time. Nevertheless, no reported sayings of Christ are more positive or more notably reiterated than His declarations that some of His contemporaries would live to ‘see the kingdom of God come with power,’ and that ‘this generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled.’ The decisive end of an era or dispensation or a particular cult may be seen to be near at hand, sure to come within a generation, for ‘that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away’ (  Hebrews 8:13 ); but the coming of a kingdom and power and glory which belongs to the things unseen, heavenly and eternal, is not of a nature to be limited to a given day or hour. There need be, then, no contradiction or inconsistency in the sayings of Jesus as they now stand in the Gospels. No great and noteworthy event could more decisively have marked the end of the pre-Messianic age and the Jewish cult than the destruction of the Temple. But ‘the powers of the age to come’ were manifest before that historic crisis, and ‘the times and the seasons’ of such spiritual, unseen things are not matters for men or angels or even the Son of God to tell. But the fall of the Temple and the establishment of the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God were so coincident that the two events might well have been thought and spoken of as essentially simultaneous. Accordingly, ‘the regeneration’ (  Matthew 19:28 ) and ‘the restoration of all things’ (  Acts 3:21 ) are now in actual process. The Son of Man is now sitting on the throne of His glory, at the right hand of God, and ‘he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet’ (  1 Corinthians 15:25 ). Such a Kingdom is essentially millennial, and has its ages of ages for ‘making all things new.’ Its crises and triumphs are portrayed in terms of apocalyptic prophecy, and so the language of Jesus in   Matthew 24:29-31 and similar passages in other parts of the NT is to be interpreted as we interpret the same forms of speech in the OT prophets (cf.   Isaiah 13:9-10;   Isaiah 19:1-2;   Isaiah 34:4-5 ,   Daniel 7:13-14 ).

According to this last interpretation, the Apocalypse of John is but an enlargement of Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives, and the descent of the New Jerusalem out of heaven is a visional symbol of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the continuous answer to the prayer, ‘Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.’ The Apostles, like their Lord, thought and spoke of things supernatural and invisible after the manner of the Hebrew prophets. St. Paul’s picture of the Lord’s coming from heaven ( 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 ) is in striking accord with the language of   Matthew 24:29-31 , and yet has its own peculiar points of difference. In   Romans 16:20 he speaks of ‘the God of peace “bruising Satan” under your feet shortly,’ and in   2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 he teaches that the Antichrist, ‘the man of sin,’ is destined to be destroyed by the manifestation of the coming of the Lord Jesus. It was probably not given to the Apostle to understand that what he saw in the vision of a moment would occupy millenniums. In his forms of statement we may discern survivals of his Jewish modes of thought, and a failure to distinguish the times and seasons and methods in which the Kingdom of heaven is ultimately to overcome the prince of the powers of wickedness in high places. But in all essentials of content his prophetic picture of the coming and triumph is true to fact and to the teaching of the Lord Himself. St. Paul also speaks of the Kingdom of God as an inheritance. It is in part a present possession, but it contemplates also a future eternal blessedness. The redeemed ‘shall reign in life through Jesus Christ.’ Our heavenly Father ‘makes us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, delivers us out of the power of darkness and translates us into the kingdom of the Son of his love’ (  Colossians 1:12-13 ). Such heirs of God are ‘sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession’ (  Ephesians 1:14 ). According to this conception of the heavenly Kingdom, Christ is now upon His throne and continuously making all things new. His Parousia is millennial. He is drawing all men unto Himself, and the resurrection of the dead is as continuous as His own heavenly reign. Whenever ‘the earthly house’ of any one of His servants is dissolved, he has a new habitation from God, ‘a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’ (  2 Corinthians 5:1-10 ). Each man must have his own last day, and each one be made manifest and answer for himself before the judgment-seat of Christ. And when all things are ultimately put in subjection unto the Christ, then also shall the Son of God Himself have perfected His redemptive reign, and God shall be all in all. See Authority, Dominion, Parousia, Power.

M. S. Terry.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

The heart of Jesus' teachings centers around the theme of the kingdom of God. This expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-five times. It also occurs twice in John (3:3,5). It is found in such key places as the preaching of John the Baptist, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" ( Matthew 3:2 ); Jesus' earliest announcement, "The time has come The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" ( Mark 1:15; cf.  Matthew 4:17;  Luke 4:42-43 ); the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, "your kingdom come" ( Matthew 6:10 ); in the Beatitudes, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 5:3,10 ); at the Last Supper, "I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" ( Mark 14:25 ); and in many of Jesus' parables ( Matthew 13:24,44 ,  45,47;  Mark 4:26,30;  Luke 19:11 ).

It was once popular in certain circles to argue that the expressions "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" referred to two different realities. It is now clear, however, that they are synonyms. This is evident for several reasons. For one, the two expressions are used in the same sayings of Jesus, but where Matthew uses "kingdom of heaven, " Mark or Luke or both use "kingdom of God." Second, Matthew himself uses these two expressions interchangeably in 19:23-24, "it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Finally, we know that "heaven" was frequently used as a circumlocution for "God" by devout Jews. Due to respect for the third commandment ("You shall not misuse the name of the Lordyour God" [  Exodus 20:7 ]), pious Jews used various circumlocutions for the sacred name of God (YHWH) in order to avoid the danger of breaking this commandment. One such circumlocution was the term "heaven." This is seen in the expression "kingdom of heaven" but also in such passages as  Luke 15:18,21 ("Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you") and   Mark 11:30 .

Various Interpretations Despite the centrality of this expression in Jesus' teachings, there has been a great deal of debate over the years as to exactly what Jesus meant by it. One reason for this is that neither Jesus nor the Evangelists ever defined exactly what they meant by this expression. They simply assumed that their hearers/ readers would understand.

The Political Kingdom . According to this view Jesus sought to establish a Davidic-like kingdom in Jerusalem. This kingdom was political in nature and sought to free Israel from the Romans. Jesus was in essence a political revolutionary who sought to arm his disciples ( Luke 22:35-38 ), entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as a king ( Mark 11:11 ), challenged the political establishment by cleansing the temple ( Mark 11:15-18 ), urged people to rebel by not paying their taxes ( Mark 12:13-17; is reread to teach the opposite of its present meaning ), enlisted zealots as disciples ( Mark 3:18 ), used the taking up of the cross (which was a symbol of zealot sacrifice for enlisting disciples  Mark 8:34 ), and was crucified as a political rebel ( Mark 15:26 ) between two other rebels ( Mark 15:27 ).

This interpretation has found few supporters over the years, but it is continually raised. It is an impossible view, however, for the evidence against it is overwhelming. The presence of a tax collector among the disciples is impossible to explain if Jesus were a revolutionary, for tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the Romans and hated by zealots. Such teachings as  Matthew 5:9 ("Blessed are the peacemakers"); 38-42 ("If someone [a Roman soldier] forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles"); 43-47 ("Love your enemies");   Matthew 26:52 ("all who draw the sword will die by the sword");   Mark 12:13-17 ("Give to Caesar what is Caesar's") simply do not permit such an interpretation. To claim that all such sayings in the Gospels are inauthentic or to reconstruct their supposed original form in a radical way is to manipulate the evidence to sustain a thesis, rather than to allow the evidence to determine the thesis.

The "Liberal" or Spiritual Kingdom . During the height of theological liberalism the kingdom of God was understood as God's rule in the human heart. One of the favorite passages used to support this was  Luke 17:20-21 , "the kingdom of God is within you." Any eschatological thoughts associated with this expression were seen as unrefined, primitive, Jewish apocalyptic thinking that Jesus never outgrew and that was only the "husk" and not the "kernel" of his teachings. Or they were interpreted as symbols of the inner rule of God in the heart. The kingdom of God was God's spiritual reign in the life of the believer that resulted in an inner moral ethic. This ethic focused on Jesus' teachings concerning the universal Fatherhood of God, the infinite value of the human soul, and the love commandment.

Liberal theology, which was built upon a belief in continual evolutionary progress and the ultimate goodness of humanity, was dealt a mortal blow with the coming of World War I, and the subsequent years have done nothing to revive its naive optimism in humanity. This, along with the rediscovery of the eschatological element in the teachings of Jesus, brought about the demise of this interpretation. Like the liberal interpretation of the nineteenth century, modern attempts to eliminate the eschatological dimensions of Jesus' teachings by seeing them as symbols to which the present reader gives his or her own meaning, are also impossible to accept. One simply cannot eliminate the eschatological dimension of Jesus' teachings. The biblical evidence will not permit it.

The "Consistent" or Future Kingdom . At the turn of the nineteenth century the eschatological dimension of Jesus' teachings was rediscovered. It became evident that Jesus was not a nineteenth-century liberal but a first-century Jew. As a result it was clear that Jesus must have thought to a great extent like a first-century Jew. Since the kingdom of God was seen by most Jews in Jesus' day as a future, supernatural kingdom that would bring history to a close, it was logical to think that Jesus thought similarly. Jesus' sayings concerning the kingdom of God would have been understood by his audience as referring to such a kingdom, and since Jesus made no radical attempt to correct such thinking, we must understand his teachings on the kingdom of God as eschatological.

According to this view Jesus taught that the kingdom of God, which would bring history to its end, was future. Yet this event lay not in the far distant future. On the contrary, it was very near. It had not yet arrived, but it was to appear momentarily. Signs and powers of the kingdom were already at work, and prefigurements of its glory were already present. As a result Jesus taught along with announcement of the kingdom of God's nearness an "interim ethic" for this brief in-between period of history. Soon the Son of Man would come, the final judgment would take place, and world history as we know it would cease. During this in-between period believers were to live a heroic ethic. They were to avoid divorce, refrain from marriage, love their enemies, turn the other cheek, not retaliate, give to whoever had a need.

It is clear that this interpretation takes seriously the future dimension of Jesus' sayings concerning the kingdom of God. On the other hand, it ignored another kind of saying found in the Gospels, which involves the announcement that the kingdom has already in some way come. These sayings involving the arrival of the kingdom of God were usually seen as inauthentic and later creations of the church by advocates of this view.

The "Realized" or Present Kingdom . In response to the former view, which arose in Germany, there arose in England an opposing view. According to this view Jesus did announce the coming of the awaited kingdom. However, he did not announce that it was coming in the near future. On the contrary, he announced that it had already arrived. Now in Jesus' ministry the kingdom of God had already come. There was therefore no need to look for something in the future. The Son of Man had already come, and he had brought with him the kingdom. Nothing is still awaited. In its entirety the kingdom of God was realized in the coming of Jesus.

This view, like the "consistent" view, has the benefit of taking seriously certain biblical data. There is no doubt, as we shall see, that there are in the Gospels sayings of Jesus that announce that the kingdom has come. They do not announce simply that it is near. They announce that it is here . It is evident that these last two views, unless modified in some way, contradict one another. Yet both offer convincing biblical evidence in support of their views. (This cannot be said of the first two views.) Like the "consistent" view, this view also tends to see the biblical data that contradicted it as being inauthentic. Only in this instance it was the sayings that spoke of the kingdom of God being future that were inauthentic.

The Biblical Evidence It is evident that there is biblical evidence to support both the "consistent" and "realized" views. In certain passages, for example, it is clear that the kingdom of God is future. In the Lord's prayer we pray "Your kingdom come" (  Luke 11:2 ), and the kingdom must as a result be future. Jesus' saying that "Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord, ' will enter the kingdom of God" must also refer to a future event, for he continues "Many will say to me on that day " ( Matthew 7:21-23 ). Jesus' institution of the Last Supper also looks forward to "that day when I [Jesus] drink it anew in the kingdom of God" ( Mark 14:25 ). Other passages associate the coming of the kingdom of God with the final judgment ( Matthew 5:19-20;  8:11-12;  25:31-46;  Luke 13:22-30 ). It cannot be denied therefore that there are numerous passages in the Gospels that indicate that Jesus understood the kingdom of God to be still future.

In other passages, however, it is equally clear that the kingdom of God is already present. Jesus told his hearers "if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you" ( Luke 11:20; cf.  Matthew 12:28 ). In four of the other instances where the same verb "has come" ( ephthasen ) is used in the New Testament it clearly means "has arrived, " is "now present" ( Romans 9:31; 2Col 10:14;  Philippians 3:16;  1 Thessalonians 2:16 ). In the other instance where it is future, however, the tense is future ( phthasomen ,  1 Thessalonians 4:15 ). Elsewhere Jesus declared that his coming marked the end of the old era when he said "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached" ( Luke 16:16 ). Here two distinct periods of history are distinguished. The former is referred to as the period of the Law and the prophets. The second is the period of the kingdom of God. John the Baptist is seen as a bridge who both brings the "old" to its conclusion and announces the breaking in of the "new." This "new" thing, which cannot be mixed with the old ( Mark 2:21-22 ), which gathers the outcasts ( Matthew 11:4-6 ) and the lost tribes of Israel ( Mark 3:13-19;  Matthew 19:28 ), which manifests signs and marvels ( Matthew 13:16-17 ), which inaugurates a new covenant ( 1 Corinthians 11:25 ), is nothing other than the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus also announced that now already the long-awaited messianic banquet had begun ( Luke 14:15-24 ). The kingdom of God was now in their presence ( Luke 17:20-21 — "among" is a better translation than "within" ).

How should one deal with this apparently contradictory data? Should we decide the issue by majority vote? If so, the "future" interpretation would win over the "present" one, because there are more examples in its support in the Gospels. Yet rather than claim that one group of these sayings is "authentic" whereas the other is not, we should first analyze carefully exactly what the word "kingdom" means. Perhaps this will provide the key for understanding what Jesus meant by the "kingdom of God." How is the term "kingdom" to be understood? Should it be understood statically as denoting a realm or place? If this is correct and "kingdom" refers to a territory or piece of real estate, then it is evident that the kingdom of God cannot have arrived. There has been no geographical or cosmic changes that have taken place in the coming of Jesus. The planet remains today essentially as it was in the time of Christ. No new territory exists. No place on this planet can be designated "the kingdom of God." On the other hand, should we understand the term dynamically as referring to the rule or reign of a king?

Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament the term "kingdom" ( malkut [] and [] basileia []) is understood as dynamic in nature and refers primarily to the rule or reign of a king. It is seldom used in a static sense to refer to a territory. As a result, in the vast majority of instances it would be better to translate the expression "kingdom of God" as the "rule of God." That Jesus understood it this way is evident from such passages as  Luke 19:12 ("A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king, " literally "to receive a kingdom [basileia]"; cf. also v. 15);   Matthew 6:33 ("seek first his kingdom"); and   Mark 10:15 ("receive the kingdom of God like a little child").

Understood as the "reign of God" it is possible for Jesus to announce that in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises the reign of God has arrived. In Jesus' coming Satan has been defeated ( Luke 10:18;  11:20-22 ), the outcasts of Israel are being gathered as predicted ( Mark 2:15-16;  Luke 14:15-24 ), the Old Testament promises are fulfilled ( Luke 10:23-24 ), the resurrection of the dead has begun ( 1 Corinthians 15:20 ), a new covenant has been inaugurated ( 1 Corinthians 11:25 ), the promised Spirit has come as the prophets foretold ( Mark 1:8 ). Indeed the kingdom is "already now" realized in history.

However, the consummation of the "already now" still lies in the future. The coming of the Son of Man, the final resurrection, faith turning to sight, are "not yet." The kingdom of God is both now and not yet. Thus the kingdom of God is "realized" and present in one sense, and yet "consistent" and future in another. This is not a contradiction, but simply the nature of the kingdom. The kingdom has come in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. A new covenant has been established. But its final manifestation and consummation lie in the future. Until then we are to be good and faithful servants ( Luke 19:11-27 ).

Implications If the kingdom is both already now and not yet, the believer must be on guard against the danger of emphasizing one aspect of the kingdom at the expense of the other. A one-sided emphasis on the "already now, " which emphasizes miracles, healing, victory over sin, and gifts God has given his church, and ignores the "not yet" may lead to an optimistic triumphalism that will result in disillusionment. Jesus' teachings concerning the tribulation(s) that lay ahead (  Mark 13;  Matthew 24-25;  Luke 21 ) warn against such optimism. The symbol of discipleship Jesus gave to his disciples is that of bearing a cross! The crown awaits the consummation. The enjoyment of the firstfruits of the kingdom must be tempered by the fact that we still live by faith and not sight. We still long for the perishable to become clothed with the imperishable, the mortal with immortality ( 1 Corinthians 15:53 ). In the meantime we are called to endure to the end.

On the other hand, a one-sided emphasis on the not yet may lead to defeatism and despair in this life and a neglect of the joy and victory over sin and death in the Spirit's having already come. The "gates of Hades" ( Matthew 16:18 ) shall not overcome the church! Even in this life because the kingdom has come, we can be "transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory" ( 2 Corinthians 3:18 ). The now and the not yet must be held in tension. Believers can rejoice in having passed from death into life and in the abiding presence of the Spirit of God. But the victories in the present life, are also accompanied with all too many defeats.

Believers are thus encouraged both by the victories of the already now and the defeats of the not yet. The former having provided a taste of the glory which is to be revealed ( 1 Peter 5:1 ) causes us to long all the more for the not yet. Similarly, because of the experience of defeat, sorrow, and in seeing the corruption of the world around us, we also long all the more for the not yet that awaits. Thus Christians continue to look longingly toward the blessed hope ( Titus 2:13 ), when the Son of Man will return and bring the kingdom to its consummation. Having tasted of the firstfruits that are already realized, the believer prays all the more earnestly "your kingdom come" ( Matthew 6:10 ) and "Marana tha" (  1 Corinthians 16:22; cf.  Revelation 22:20 ).

Robert H. Stein

See also Jesus Christ

Bibliography D. C. Allison, Jr., The End of the Ages Has Come  ; G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God  ; B. Chilton and J. I. H. McDonald, Jesus and the Ethics of the Kingdom  ; O. Cullman, Christ and Time  ; R. H. Hiers, The Kingdom of God in the Synoptic Tradition  ; W. G. K mel, Promise and Fulfillment  ; G. E. Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom  ; G. Lundstršm, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus  ; N. Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus  ; R. Schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom  ; R. H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings  ; W. Willis, ed., The Kingdom of God in 20th-Century Interpretation .

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

Most of the biblical references to the kingdom of God are found in the teachings of Jesus recorded in the four Gospels. The subject of the kingdom of God was central in Jesus’ teaching. Yet nowhere did Jesus say exactly what the kingdom was, and neither did the writers of the New Testament who followed him, even though they too spoke of the kingdom.

Perhaps the reason for this was that people who knew the Old Testament should already have been familiar with the idea of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom was a development of the Old Testament teaching, showing that through him the kingdom found its fullest meaning.

What the kingdom of God is

Throughout the Bible the kingdom of God is the rule of God. It is not a territory over which he reigns, but the rule which he exercises. It is defined not by a geographic location, an era of existence, or the nationality of a people, but by the sovereign rule and authority of God ( Exodus 15:18;  Psalms 103:19;  Psalms 145:10-13).

Jesus likewise understood God’s kingdom as God’s rule rather than as a territory or a people. Those who seek God’s kingdom seek God’s rule in their lives ( Matthew 6:33); those who receive God’s kingdom receive God’s rule in their lives ( Mark 10:15). The prayer for God’s kingdom to come is a prayer that his rule be accepted, so that his will is done on earth as it is in heaven ( Matthew 6:10). The kingdom is a realm in the spiritual, not the physical, sense. Those who enter the kingdom of God enter the realm where they accept God’s rule ( Matthew 21:31).

The world at present is in a state of rebellion against God’s rule, because it is under the power of Satan ( 2 Corinthians 4:4;  1 John 5:19; see World ). Therefore, when the kingdom of God came among people in the person of Jesus Christ, the rule of God was demonstrated in the defeat of Satan. As Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, he healed those who were diseased and oppressed by evil spirits, and in so doing he gave evidence of his power over Satan ( Matthew 4:23-24). His deliverance of people from the bondage of Satan was proof that God’s kingdom (his authority, power, rule) had come among them ( Matthew 12:28;  Mark 1:27;  Luke 10:9;  Luke 10:17-18).

There is a sense, therefore, in which all people experience the kingdom; for all people experience (or one day will experience) the sovereign authority of God, either in blessing or in judgment ( Matthew 12:28;  Revelation 11:15;  Revelation 11:18;  Revelation 19:15-16). But the important aspect of the kingdom that the Gospels emphasize is that it came into the world through Jesus. Because John the Baptist announced the coming of the kingdom of Jesus, he brought to a close the pre-kingdom era ( Matthew 3:2;  Luke 16:16). Even the most insignificant person in the new era enjoys blessings that the greatest person of the former era never knew ( Matthew 11:11).

Note: The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are different names for the same thing. The Bible uses the expressions interchangeably ( Matthew 19:23-24). Jews liked to show great respect for the name of God; therefore, because they feared that they might use that name irreverently, they often used the word ‘heaven’ instead of ‘God’ ( Daniel 4:25-26;  Luke 15:18;  John 3:27). Matthew, who wrote his Gospel for the Jews, usually (but not always) speaks of God’s kingdom as the kingdom of heaven, whereas the other Gospel writers call it the kingdom of God ( Matthew 19:14;  Mark 10:14;  Luke 18:16).

Both present and future

In contrast to the popular Jewish belief that God’s kingdom was a future national and political kingdom to be centred on Israel, Jesus pointed out that God’s kingdom was already present among them. It was present in him ( Luke 10:9;  Luke 17:20-21).

When people willingly humbled themselves and submitted to the rule of Christ, they immediately entered Christ’s kingdom. And by entering the kingdom they received forgiveness of sins and eternal life ( Matthew 21:31;  Mark 10:14-15;  John 3:3). Not only those of Jesus’ time, but people of any era, when they believe in him, immediately enter his kingdom and receive the kingdom’s blessings ( Romans 14:17;  Colossians 1:13).

But Jesus spoke also of the kingdom as something belonging to the future ( Mark 14:25), whose establishment could take place only after he had suffered and died ( Luke 18:31-33;  Luke 22:15-16;  Luke 24:26;  Revelation 5:6-12;  Revelation 11:15). Even for those who were already believers, Jesus spoke of his kingdom as something yet future, which they would enter at his return ( Matthew 7:21-23;  Matthew 13:41-43;  Matthew 25:31-34). For this reason Christians, who are already in the kingdom, also look forward to the day when they will inherit the kingdom ( 1 Corinthians 15:50;  2 Peter 1:11).

A person may well ask how the kingdom of God can be something that is present here and now, yet be something that awaits the future. The answer lies in our understanding of the kingdom of God as the sovereign rule of God. Believers enter the kingdom as soon as they believe, but they will experience the full blessings of the kingdom only when Christ returns to punish evil and reign in righteousness ( 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; see DAY OF THE Lord; Resurrection )

To ‘enter the kingdom of God’ is to ‘have eternal life’ or to ‘be saved’. The Bible uses these expressions interchangeably ( Matthew 19:16;  Matthew 19:23-25). Just as believers experience the kingdom of God now and will do so more fully in the future, so they have eternal life now but will experience it in its fulness when Christ returns ( John 5:24;  John 5:29). Likewise they have salvation now, but they will experience the fulness of their salvation at the return of Christ ( Ephesians 2:8;  Hebrews 9:28). Eternal life is the life of the kingdom of God, the life of the age to come; but because the kingdom of God has come among them now, people have eternal life now ( Matthew 25:34;  Matthew 25:46;  John 3:3;  John 3:5;  John 3:15;  John 5:24).

The mystery of the kingdom

The truth that the teaching of Jesus makes clear is not simply that God’s kingdom is present in the world now, but that people can enter that kingdom now, even though the world is still under the power of Satan. This is a truth that people did not understand till Jesus explained it. He referred to this present aspect of the kingdom as a mystery, or secret ( Mark 4:11). By using the word ‘mystery’, Jesus did not mean that he was telling people something to confuse them. He meant rather that he was telling them something that previously God had kept secret but was now making known. (Similar uses of ‘mystery’ occur elsewhere in the New Testament; cf.  Romans 16:25-26;  Ephesians 1:9-10;  Colossians 1:26; see Mystery .)

In Old Testament times people expected God’s kingdom to come in one mighty act, when God would destroy all earthly kingdoms and establish his rule throughout the world ( Daniel 2:44-45;  Zechariah 14:9; see Son Of Man ). It seems that, to some extent, John the Baptist also had this idea of the kingdom of God. That may have been why he became worried when Jesus did not immediately set up a world-conquering kingdom ( Matthew 3:11-12;  Matthew 11:2-3; cf.  Luke 24:21;  Acts 1:6).

To reassure John, Jesus pointed out that the miracles of healing he performed were in keeping with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah’s mission. His kingdom had begun ( Matthew 11:4-6; see Messiah ; Miracles ). That kingdom was not yet established in the world-conquering sense that John and others expected, but it had begun to do its work by delivering people from the power of Satan and offering them new life in Jesus Christ ( Luke 17:20-21).

God’s kingdom is present now, though not in the form it will have after the great events at the climax of the world’s history. It is hidden rather than open. It is entered voluntarily, not forced upon people with irresistible power. This is the mystery of the kingdom, the previously unknown purpose of God that Jesus revealed.

Parables of the kingdom

Jesus emphasized this mystery of the kingdom in the parables recorded in Matthew 13 ( Matthew 13:11; see Parable ). The parable of the seed and the soils shows that because people are free to accept or reject the message of the kingdom, most reject it. But those who accept it experience great spiritual growth in their lives ( Matthew 13:18-23; cf.  Matthew 23:13). The parable of the wheat and the weeds teaches that in the present world those who are in God’s kingdom live alongside those who are not; but in the day of judgment, when God’s kingdom will be established openly, believers will be saved and the rest punished ( Matthew 13:24-30;  Matthew 13:34-43).

The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast illustrate that although the kingdom may appear to have insignificant beginnings, it will one day have worldwide power and authority ( Matthew 13:31-33). The parables of the hidden treasure and the valuable pearl illustrate that when people are convinced of the priceless and lasting value of the kingdom of God, they will make any sacrifice to enter it ( Matthew 13:44-46). Nevertheless, there are both the true and the false among those who claim to be in God’s kingdom. The parable of the fishing net shows that these will be separated in God’s decisive judgment at the close of the age ( Matthew 13:47-50).

Practical demands of the kingdom

Although people may desire the kingdom of God above all else ( Matthew 6:33;  Matthew 13:44-46), they cannot buy their way into it. The right of entry into that kingdom is the gift of God and, as with God’s other gifts, it must be accepted humbly by faith ( Mark 10:15;  Luke 12:32). The work of God produces eternal life within believers and introduces them into the kingdom of God. It is a work that people themselves cannot do, no matter how hard they try; but God does it for all those who trust in him ( Mark 4:26-29;  Mark 10:17;  Mark 10:23-27;  John 3:3;  John 3:15).

Neither good deeds nor social status can gain people entrance into the kingdom of God. What God demands is repentance – a total change that gives up all self-sufficiency for the sake of following Christ as king ( Matthew 4:17;  Matthew 5:20;  Matthew 19:23;  Luke 9:62). It is a decision that requires the full force of a person’s will ( Luke 16:16).

All who enter God’s kingdom come under his rule, where he teaches them the qualities of life that he requires of them. Yet they look upon his commands not as laws that they are forced to obey, but as expressions of his will that they find true happiness in doing ( Matthew 5:3;  Matthew 5:10;  1 John 5:3-4). They learn that the principles that operate in the kingdom of God are different from those that operate in the kingdoms of the world ( Matthew 20:20-28;  John 18:36). Having come into the enjoyment of the rule of Christ themselves, they then spread the good news of his kingdom throughout the world ( Matthew 10:7;  Matthew 24:14;  Acts 8:12;  Acts 19:8;  Acts 28:23;  Acts 28:31).

Those who serve the kingdom of God may bring persecution and suffering upon themselves ( Matthew 10:7;  Matthew 10:16-22;  Acts 14:22;  2 Thessalonians 1:5). God, however, will preserve them through their troubles and bring them into the full enjoyment of his kingdom in the day of its final triumph ( Luke 18:29-30;  2 Timothy 4:18;  2 Peter 1:11).

The kingdom and the church

God’s purpose was that when the Messiah came, the people of Israel would be the first to hear the good news of the kingdom. Upon accepting the Messiah, they would enter God’s kingdom and then spread the good news to all nations ( Isaiah 49:5-6;  Matthew 10:6-7;  Matthew 15:24). But when Israel on the whole rejected the Messiah, God sent the message to the nations direct. Gentiles who believed entered the kingdom, but Jews for whom the kingdom had been prepared were excluded ( Matthew 8:10-12;  Matthew 20:1-16;  Matthew 21:33-43;  Acts 13:46-47;  Acts 28:23-31).

The reason many of the Jews rejected Jesus was that he did not bring them the kind of kingdom they were looking for. They wanted a Messiah who would be a political deliverer, and they wanted a kingdom that would bring material prosperity. Jesus was opposed to both ideas ( John 6:15;  John 18:36). Even the apostles did not fully understand the nature of the Messiah and the kingdom, but they did not, as others, reject Jesus. They knew that he was indeed the Messiah of God who brought them the kingdom of God and eternal life ( Matthew 16:13-16;  John 6:66-69).

The believing minority among the Jews (the old people of God, the nation Israel) became the nucleus of the new people of God, the Christian church. To build the old people of God, God chose twelve tribes; to build the new people of God, he chose twelve apostles. As they preached the good news of Jesus Christ, the apostles opened the kingdom to all who wished to enter. They carried God’s authority with them, so that when they acted in obedience to his word, their work on earth was confirmed in heaven ( Matthew 16:18-19;  Acts 8:12;  Acts 20:24-25;  Acts 28:31).

As a result of the apostles’ preaching of the kingdom of God, people believed. The faithful of old Israel became God’s true Israel; believers of other nations became Abraham’s spiritual offspring ( Romans 2:28-29;  Galatians 3:28-29;  Galatians 6:16). The church came into being and grew. In the great acts of God seen on the Day of Pentecost and during the months that followed, the apostles saw the power of the kingdom of God at work in a way they had never imagined ( Mark 9:1).

However, the church is not the kingdom, just as Israel was not the kingdom. The church and the kingdom are things of a different kind. The kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a community of people. It is the new community of God’s people, just as Israel was the old community. The kingdom works through the church, but it is something far wider than the church. It worked in the days before the church was born, and it will continue to work till the day of God’s final triumph ( 1 Corinthians 15:24-28;  Revelation 11:15). In the meantime the church is the means by which God’s rule should most clearly be seen in the world ( John 17:23;  Romans 14:16-18;  Ephesians 3:10; see Church ).

Holman Bible Dictionary [4]

 Psalm 47:2 Psalm 103:19 Daniel 4:17 4:25-37

The kingdom of God was the central image in Jesus' preaching as clearly seen in  Mark 1:14-15 , a summary of the preaching of Jesus. The kingdom of God is the heart of the summary.

In His parables Jesus spoke of the kingdom in many different ways. He said that the kingdom is like a farmer ( Matthew 13:24 ), a seed ( Matthew 13:31 ), a yeast ( Matthew 13:33 ), a treasure ( Matthew 13:44 ), a pearl merchant ( Matthew 13:45 ), a fishnet ( Matthew 13:47 ), an employer ( Matthew 20:1 ), a king inviting people to a marriage feast ( Matthew 22:2 ), and ten young women ( Matthew 25:1 ). He spoke also of the glad tidings of the kingdom ( Luke 8:1 ) and of the mystery of the kingdom of God ( Mark 4:11 ).

Jesus spoke Aramaic; the Gospel writers translated Jesus' sermons and parables into Greek. Mark, Luke, and John translated Jesus' words as “kingdom of God.” Matthew sometimes used this phrase too, but often he preferred to translate Jesus' Aramaic words as “kingdom of heaven.” The two phrases mean exactly the same thing, because they are translations of the same Aramaic words of Jesus. See Aramaic; Greek.

What did Jesus mean when he spoke of the kingdom of God? He meant, quite simply, the rule of God. The kingdom of God is the reign of God.

This is best understood if it is distinguished from what Jesus did not mean. He was not speaking of a geographical area such as the Holy Land or the Temple. He was not speaking of a political entity such as the nation of Israel or the Sanhedrin. He was not speaking of a group of people such as His disciples or the church.

Rather, the kingdom of God is God's ruling. It is the sovereign reign of God. This rule is independent of all geographical areas or political entities. It is true that the rule of God implies a people to be ruled, and Jesus called upon people to enter the kingdom. The kingdom itself should be distinguished from the people who enter it.

Jesus taught that the kingdom of God looks unimpressive, but it is going to grow into something tremendous. The kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed which grows into a bush large enough to provide shelter for God's creatures ( Mark 4:30-32 ).

Jesus never said that people are to build the kingdom of God. On the contrary, the establishment of the kingdom is a work of God. God will reign, and people can contribute nothing to that reigning of God.

When will God establish his kingdom? In one sense, the kingdom will not come until some unspecified time in the future (see, for example,  Matthew 25:1-46 ). There is a sense in which modern Christians may still look forward to the coming of the kingdom of God.

On the other hand, Jesus also said that there is a sense in which the kingdom of God had come in His own time. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” ( Mark 1:15 ). He said in an even more explicit way: “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” ( Luke 11:20 ).

So the kingdom of God was the rule of God which He extended over human lives through the ministry of Jesus; and it also is His rule which will be consummated or made complete in the future. See Eschatology; Future Hope .

Since people cannot build the kingdom of God, what response are they to make to Jesus' message about the kingdom? First, they can make the kingdom their priority and seek it ahead of everything else ( Matthew 6:33 ). It is a pearl of such value that they should sell everything else they have in order to be able to purchase it ( Matthew 13:44-46 ). Second, they can repent and believe the good news of the kingdom ( Mark 1:14-15 ), and so enter the kingdom like little children ( Mark 10:14 ). Third, they can pray for the rule of God to come soon: “Thy kingdom come” ( Matthew 6:10; compare  1 Corinthians 16:22 ). Finally, they can be ready when the kingdom does finally come ( Matthew 25:1-46 ).

The Lord's Prayer contains three requests, as follows: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” ( Matthew 6:9-10 ). These three phrases mean just about the same thing, and they tell us a lot about the kingdom of God. “Hallowed be thy name” means: “Let Your name be hallowed, or honored”; or, “Bring all people to respect and reverence You.” “Thy kingdom come” means: “Extend Your rule over human lives.” “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means: “Extend Your rule over human lives here and now so that they will reverence and respect You.” See Lord's Prayer.

In His preaching Jesus regularly invited people to enter the kingdom of God, that is, to open their lives to the ruling of God. It is important to notice whom He invited.

He invited everyone. That is the great surprise. He did not restrict the invitation to the respectable people, or the religious, or the wealthy or powerful (in Jesus' day wealth and power were often thought to be signs of God's blessing). Jesus included everyone without distinction. He spoke of God sending His servants out to highways and hedges to urge people to come in to the kingdom. He even said that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle ( Matthew 19:24 ). He said that the tax-collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom before the moral and religious people ( Matthew 21:31 ). In brief, God is very gracious and loving toward all people, and His kingdom is offered to everyone.

After Jesus had returned to heaven, the apostles did not continue to make the kingdom the central theme of their preaching. Instead, they began to speak of eternal life, salvation, forgiveness, and other themes. In doing this, they were not deserting Jesus' concern for the kingdom of God. They were simply expressing the same idea in their way. To speak of salvation is to speak of the kingdom. We might express it as follows: God is graciously giving salvation as a free gift (extending His kingdom) to anyone who will receive it (enter the kingdom) through His Son Jesus Christ, and this salvation begins now (the kingdom is in the midst of you) and will be completed in the future (the kingdom will come like a thief in the night). As Paul put it, the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit ( Romans 14:17 ). See Jesus; Christ; Salvation .

Fisher Humphreys

People's Dictionary of the Bible [5]

Kingdom of God, of Christ, of Heaven. These terms describe: 1, a life of righteous allegiance to Christ, entered by faith, lived by love, and crowned with glory,  Matthew 6:33, etc.; 2, the condition of things Christ came to explain,  Luke 1:33;  Acts 1:3, and to bring on earth,  Matthew 4:17;  Matthew 3:1-17, Christ's rule over Israel,  Matthew 21:13;  Matthew 4:1-25, the rule that God offered or committed to Israel,  Matthew 21:43;  1 Chronicles 17:14;  1 Chronicles 5:1-26, the state of things in the history of the church during the conflict on earth of the so-called kingdom of grace, preparatory to the kingdom of glory,  Matthew 13:1-58;  Matthew 6:1-34, Christ's rule in spiritual and eternal righteousness over the redeemed earth,  Revelation 12:10, in contrast with the world-powers,  Daniel 7:18; then the kingdom will destroy and take the place of the four monarchies,  Daniel 7:1-28, and have its glorious manifestation; 7, the visible glory of Christ,  Matthew 16:28;  Matthew 8:1-34, the rule of God the Father over earth and heaven,  Matthew 6:10;  Matthew 9:1-38, the heavenly state.  Matthew 8:11. The kingdom of God is perfectly established in the heavens.  Matthew 6:10. The power and glory of the divine kingdom are shown in a measure in creation and providence. From the moral kingdom the earth has revolted. God reestablished it in Israel, taking the kingship himself.  Exodus 19:6;  Hosea 13:10. He made the kingship visible in David,  1 Samuel 16:1-23, and permanent in bis family.  Psalms 89:20;  Psalms 89:28;  Psalms 89:36. The kingdom ceased as a visible power, with the loss of its inner spirit, when the nation lapsed and persisted in idolatry. The prophets foretold its restoration,  Daniel 12:7-13;  Psalms 2:1-12;  Isaiah 2:1-22;  Micah 4:1-13;  Jeremiah 23:5;  Ezekiel 34:23; John the Baptist came to announce it.  Matthew 3:2. Jesus Christ preached it,  Matthew 4:17; explained its character and demands, as, for instance, that its citizens must be holy, meek, Christlike, etc., that when established it will be a condition of peace, purity, and glory,  Matthew 25:34;  Mark 9:47;  Acts 14:22; Christ came as the King to Jerusalem.  Luke 19:38; comp.  Luke 1:32, but was rejected, and took the kingdom from Israel.  Matthew 21:43. He taught its mysteries to the disciples, especially after his resurrection,  Acts 1:3; and sent them forth to preach it. He declared that the time of its manifestation was known only to the Father.  Acts 1:7. He laid the foundations of it on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and rules it from his throne in heaven. The disciples went everywhere preaching the word of grace,  1 Thessalonians 2:12, and persuading men to enter the kingdom by faith and holiness.  Acts 8:12;  Acts 20:25;  Acts 28:23. The kingdom is to be fully manifested at the coming of Christ, the Son of man.  2 Timothy 4:1;  Daniel 7:13;  Matthew 13:43;  Luke 22:29. At "the end" Christ is to deliver up to the Father the mediatorial kingdom that he received at his ascension,  Ephesians 1:20, after having reigned and put down all rule, authority, and power, and all enemies under his feet,  1 Corinthians 15:24; and the kingdom of God, without distinction of persons, shall be complete and forever.  Hebrews 1:8. The members of the "invisible church" are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [6]

 Matthew 6:33 Mark 1:14,15 Luke 4:43 Matthew 13:41 20:21 Ephesians 5:5 Mark 11:10 Matthew 8:12 13:19 Matthew 3:2 4:17 13:41

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [7]

or of Heaven ( Βασιλεία Τοῦ Θεοῦ or Τῶν Οὐρανῶν ) . In the New Testament the phrases " kingdom of God" ( Matthew 6:33;  Mark 1:14-15;  Luke 4:43;  Luke 6:20;  John 3:3;  John 3:5), "kingdom of Christ" ( Matthew 13:41;  Matthew 20:21;  Revelation 1:9), "kingdom of Christ and of God" ( Ephesians 5:5), " kingdom of David," i.e. as the ancestor and type of the Messiah ( Mark 11:10), " the kingdom" ( Matthew 8:12;  Matthew 13:19), and "kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 3:2;  Matthew 4:17;  Matthew 13:41;  2 Timothy 4:18), are all synonymous, and signify The Divine Spiritual Kingdom, The Glorious Reign Of The Messiah. The idea of this kingdom has its basis in the prophecies of the Old Testament, where the coming of the Messiah and his triumphs are foretold ( Psalms 2:6-12;  Psalms 101:1-7;  Isaiah 2:1-4;  Micah 4:1;  Isaiah 11:1-10;  Jeremiah 23:5-6;  Jeremiah 31:31-34;  Jeremiah 32:37-44;  Jeremiah 33:14-18;  Ezekiel 34:23-31;  Ezekiel 37:24-28;  Daniel 2:44;  Daniel 7:14;  Daniel 7:27;  Daniel 9:25;  Daniel 9:27). In these passages the reign of the Messiah is figuratively described as a golden age, when the true religion, and with it the Jewish theocracy, should be re-established in more than pristine purity, and universal peace and happiness prevail. All this was doubtless to be understood in a spiritual sense; and so the devout Jews of our Saviour's time appear to have understood it, as Zacharias, Simeon, Anna, and Joseph ( Luke 1:67-79;  Luke 2:25-30;  Luke 23:50-51). But the Jews at large gave to these prophecies a temporal meaning, and expected a Messiah who should come in the clouds of heaven, and, as king of the Jewish nation, restore the ancient religion and worship, reform the corrupt morals of the people, make expiation for their sins, free them from the yoke of foreign dominion, and at length reign over the whole earth in peace and glory ( Matthew 5:19;  Matthew 8:12;  Matthew 18:1;  Matthew 20:21;  Luke 17:20;  Luke 19:11;  Acts 1:6). This Jewish temporal sense appears to have been also held by the apostles before the day of Pentecost.

It has been well observed by Knobel, in his work On the Prophets, that " Jesus did not acknowledge himself called upon to fulfil those theocratic announcements which had an earthly political character, in the sense in which they were uttered; for his plan was spiritual and universal, neither including worldly interests, nor contracted within national and political limits. He gave, accordingly, to all such announcements a higher and more general meaning, so as to realize them in accordance with such a scheme. Thus, 1. The prophets had announced that Jehovah would deliver his people from the political calamities into which, through the conquering might of their foes, they had been brought. This Jesus fulfilled, but in a higher sense. He beheld the Jewish and heathen world under the thraldom of error and of sin, in circumstances of moral calamity, and he regarded himself as sent to effect its deliverance. In this sense he announced himself as the Redeemer, who had come to save the world, to destroy the works of the devil, to annihilate the powers of evil, and to bring men from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

2. The prophets had predicted that Jehovah would again be united to his restored people, would dwell among them, and no more give up the theocratic relation. This also Jesus fulfilled in a higher sense. He found mankind in a state of estrangement from God, arising from their lying in sin, and he viewed it as his vocation to bring them back to God. He reconciled men to God gave them access to God-united them to him as his dear children, and made his people one with God as he himself is one.

3. The prophets had declared that Jehovah would make his people, thus redeemed and reunited to him, supremely blessed in the enjoyment of all earthly pleasures. To communicate such blessings in the literal acceptance of the words was no part of the work of Jesus; on the contrary, he often tells his followers that they must lay their account with much suffering. The blessings which he offers are of a spiritual kind, consisting in internal and unending fellowship with God. This is the life, the life eternal. In the passages where he seems to speak of temporal blessings (e.g.  Matthew 8:11;  Matthew 19:27, etc.) he either speaks metaphorically or in reference to the ideas of those whom he addressed, and who were not quite emancipated from carnal hopes.

4. The prophets had predicted, in general, the re-establishment of their people into a mighty state, which should endure upon the earth in imperishable splendor as an outward community. This prospect Jesus realized again in a higher and a spiritual sense by establishing a religious invisible community, internally united by oneness of faith in God and of pure desire, which ever grows and reaches its perfection only in another life. 'he rise and progress of this man cannot observe, for its existence is in the invisible life of the spirit ( Luke 17:20), yet the opposition of the wicked is an evidence of its approach ( Matthew 12:28). It has no political designs, for it 'is not of this world;' and there are found in it no such gradations of rank as in earthly political communities ( Matthew 20:25). What is external is not essential to it; its prime element is mind, pious, devoted to God, and pleasing God. Hence the kingdom of Jesus is composed of those who turn to God and his ambassadors. and in faith and life abide true to them.

From this it is clear how sometimes this kingdom maybe spoken of as present, and sometimes as future. Religious and moral truth works forever, and draws under its influence one after another, until at length it shall reign over all. In designating this community, Jesus made use of terms having a relation to the ancient theocracy; it is the kingdom of God or of heaven, though, at the same time, it is represented rather as the family than as the state of God. This appears from many other phrases. The head of the ancient community was called Lord and King; that of the new is called Father; the members of the former were servants, i.e. subjects of Jd'hovah; those of the latter are sons of God; the feeling of the former towards God is described as the fear of Jehovah; that of the latter is believing confidence or love; the chief duty of the former was righteousness; the first duty of the latter is love. All these expressions are adapted to the constitution of the sacred community, either as a divine state or as a divine family. It needs hardly to be mentioned that Jesus extended its fulfilment of these ancient prophecies in this spiritual sense to all men." Referring to the Old-Testament idea, we may therefore regard the " kingdom of heaven," etc., in the New Testament, as designating, in its Christian sense, the Christian dispensation, or the community of those who receive Jesus as the Messiah, and who, united by his Spirit under him as their Head, rejoice in the truth, and live a holy life in love and in communion with him ( Matthew 3:2;  Matthew 4:17;  Matthew 4:23;  Matthew 9:35;  Matthew 10:7;  Mark 1:14-15;  Luke 10:9;  Luke 10:11;  Luke 23:51;  Acts 27:31').

This spiritual kingdom has both an Internal and External form. As internal and spiritual, it already exists and rules in the hearts of all Christians, and is therefore present ( Romans 14:17;  Matthew 6:33;  Mark 10:15;  Luke 17:21;  Luke 18:17;  John 3:3;  John 3:5;  1 Corinthians 4:20). It "suffereth violence,' implying the eagerness with which the Gospel was received in the agitated state of men's minds ( Matthew 11:12;  Luke 16:6). As external, it is either embodied in the visible Church of Christ, and in so far is present and progressive ( Matthew 6:10;  Matthew 12:28;  Matthew 13:24;  Matthew 13:31;  Matthew 13:33;  Matthew 13:41;  Matthew 13:47;  Matthew 16:19;  Matthew 16:28;  Mark 4:30;  Mark 11:10;  Luke 13:18;  Luke 13:20;  Acts 19:8;  Hebrews 12:28), or it is to be perfected in the coming of the Messiah to judgment and his subsequent spiritual reign in bliss and glory, in which view it is future ( Matthew 13:43;  Matthew 26:29;  Mark 14:25;  Luke 22:29-30;  2 Peter 1:11;  Revelation 12:10). In this latter view it denotes especially The Bliss Of Heaven, Eternal Life, which is to be enjoyed in the Redeemer's kingdom ( Matthew 8:11;  Matthew 25:34;  Mark 9:47;  Luke 13:18;  Luke 13:29;  Acts 11:22;  1 Corinthians 6:9;  1 Corinthians 6:20;  1 Corinthians 15:50;  Galatians 5:21;  Ephesians 5:5;  2 Thessalonians 1:5;  2 Timothy 4:18;  James 2:5). But these different aspects are not always distinguished, the expression often embracing both the internal and external sense, and referring both to its commencement in this world and its completion in the world to come ( Matthew 5:3;  Matthew 5:10;  Matthew 5:20;  Matthew 7:21;  Matthew 11:11;  Matthew 13:11;  Matthew 13:52;  Matthew 18:3-4;  Colossians 1:13;  1 Thessalonians 2:12). In Luke i, 33, it is said of the kingdom of Christ "there shall be no end;" whereas in  1 Corinthians 15:24-26, it is said " he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father." The contradiction is only in appearance. The latter passage refers to the mediatorial dominion of Christ; and when the mediatorial work of the Saviour is accomplished, then, at the final judgment, he will resign forever his mediatorial office, while the reign of Christ as God supreme will never cease. "His throne," in the empire of the universe, "is forever and ever" ( Hebrews 1:8). "There is reason to believe not only that the expression kingdom of heaven, as used in the New Test., was employed as synonymous with kingdom of God, as referred to in the Old Test., but that the former expression had become common among the Jews of our Lord's time for denoting the state of things expected to be brought in by the Messiah.

The mere use of the expression as it first occurs in Matthew, uttered apparently by John Baptist, and our Lord himself, without a note of explanation, as if all perfectly understood what was meant by it, seems alone conclusive evidence of this. The Old-Testament constitution, and the writings belonging to it, had familiarized the Jews with the application of the terms king and kingdom to God, not merely with reference to his universal sovereignty, but also to his special connection with the people he had chosen for himself ( 1 Samuel 12:12;  Psalms 2:6;  Psalms 5:2;  Psalms 20:9;  1 Chronicles 29:11;  2 Chronicles 13:8, etc.). In Daniel, however, where pointed expression required to be given to the difference in this respect between what is of earth and what is of heaven, we find matters ordered on a certain occasion with a view to bring out the specific lesson that 'the heavens do rule' ( Daniel 4:26); and in the interpretation given to the vision, which had been granted to Nebuchadnezzar, it was said, with more special reference to New Testament times, that 'in the days of those (earthly) kings the God of heaven (lit. of the heavens) should set up a kingdom that should never be destroyed ( Daniel 2:44). In still another vision granted to Daniel himself, this divine kingdom was represented under the image of' one like a Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven, and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him' ( Daniel 7:13-14). It appears to have been in consequence of the phraseology thus introduced and sanctioned by Daniel that the expression 'kingdom of heaven' ( מִלְכוּת הִשָּׁמִיַם , Malkuth Hashamayim) passed into common usage among the Jews, and was but another name with them for a state of fellowship with God and devotedness to his service. Many examples of this are given by Wetstein on  Matthew 3:2 from Jewish writings: thus, 'He who confesses God to be one, and repeats  Deuteronomy 6:4, takes up the kingdom of heaven;' 'Jacob called his sons and commanded them concerning the ways of God, and they took upon them the kingdom of heaven;' 'The sons of Achasius did not take upon them the yoke of the kingdom of heaven; they did not acknowledge the Lord, for they said, There is not a kingdom in heaven,' etc. The expression, indeed, does not seem to have been used specifically with reference to the Messiah's coming, or the state to be introduced by him (for the examples produced by Schottgen [De Messia, ch. ii] are scarcely in point); but when the Lord himself was declared to be at hand to remodel everything, and visibly take the government, as it were, on his shoulder, it would be understood of itself that here the kingdom of heaven should be found concentrating itself, and that to join one's self to Messiah would be in the truest sense to take up the yoke of that kingdom. (See Kingly Office Of Christ).

The scriptural and popular usages of the term "kingdom of God," kingdom of heaven," etc., serve as a clew to the otherwise rather abrupt proclamation of the Baptist and Jesus at the very beginning of their public ministrations. It is true that in the Old Testament the kingdom or reign of God usually signifies his infinite power, or, more properly, his sovereign authority over all creatures, kingdoms, and hearts. (See King). Thus Wisdom says ( Wisdom of Solomon 10:10), God showed his kingdom to Jacob, i.e. he opened the kingdom of heaven to him in showing him the mysterious ladder by which the angels ascended and descended; and Ecclesiasticus (47:13) says, God gave to David the covenant assurance, or promise of the kingdom, for himself and his successors. Still the transition from this to the moral and religious sphere was so natural that it was silently and continually made, especially as Jehovah was perpetually represented as the supreme and sole legitimate sovereign of his people. Indeed, the theocracy was the central idea of the Jewish state, (See Judge), and hence the first announcements of the Gospel sounded with thrilling effect upon the ears of the people, proverbially impatient of foreign rule, and yet, at the time, apparently bound in a hopeless vassalage to Rome. It was to the populace like a trumpet-call to a war for independence, or rather like one of the old paeans of deliverance sung by Miriam and Deborah. (See Theocracy).

Copious lists of monographs on this subject may be seen in Danz, Woirterbuch, s.v. Himmel-Reich, Messias Reich; Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 37; Hase, Leben Jesu, p. 72, 77. (See Messiah).