Return to the Main Menu
B  I  B  L  I  C  A  L     S  T  U  D  Y
Jesus and the Kingdom of God: A cause for rejoicing--as we look back and as we look ahead

WHAT DOES THE TERM the kingdom of God mean? How does one enter into the kingdom?

The "kingdom of God" is central to Jesus' teaching. (Matthew prefers "the kingdom of heaven," using "heaven" to avoid speaking the name of God, a common practice among Jews, e.g., Matt. 3:2; 4:17.) What is the background of the phrase? Although the expression does not occur in the Old Testament (OT), two central themes about God's kingship recur.

The first theme is that God is king of the whole world, because He created the entire universe and everything in it (Gen. 1; 2; Ps. 95:3; 97:1; 99:1). God's kingly rule also involves a realm where He reigns. Thus God rules the world for the good of its people.

The second theme about God's kingship is that He is king of Israel, in particular, and rules with the good of that nation in mind (Num. 23:21; Isa. 43:15). Hence He calls upon Pharaoh to free Israel from Egyptian bondage because God alone is Israel's true king (Ex. 5:1). Both themes come together at the end of the OT period, when Daniel prophesies that a kingdom set up by God will overcome the pagan nations (Dan. 2:44). The Creator-God will bring the whole world under His rule.

Just before the time of Jesus the idea of "the kingdom of God" had been invested with a variety of future expectations of God's rule. The phrase was understood differently among the various groups within Judaism. For example, the Pharisees saw it as a time when the law would be fully obeyed, while the revolutionaries believed that God's kingdom would be established by military means.

However, there was a common understanding of that future expectation that had two main components. First, it referred to the day when God's absolute rule over the whole world will be clear for all to see (Isa. 45:23; Zech. 14:9). Second, it referred to a day that would inaugurate "the age to come," a time when the world will be as God intended. This hope involved the renewal of creation, rather than its removal and replacement. Generally, it was seen as a time of great upheaval when God would vindicate the righteous and punish the unrighteous (cf. Dan. 12:1-3).

It was against this background that Jesus arrived on the scene proclaiming, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15;* cf. Matt. 4:23). A number of sayings, actions, and parables point to Jesus' belief that God's reign was active in His ministry. Jesus' widespread use of OT Scripture was a major source for understanding His own ministry. Jesus saw His ministry as God acting to bring about promises made by the prophets, especially those concerning God's reign being seen over all the world, as well as the vindication and restoration of God's people worldwide.

Follow me as we look at some passages that illustrate God's reign in Jesus' ministry.

1. Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20. In response to the claim that He casts out demons by demonic power ("by Beelzebub"), Jesus indicates that His exorcisms attest the presence of "the kingdom of God." According to Jesus, His exorcisms show that He is the one who has tied up the strong man, Satan, in order to release people from demonic captivity (Mark 3:22-30). Both passages suggest the presence of God's reign when Jesus frees people from demonization.

2. Luke 16:16 (cf. Matt. 11:12). John the Baptist was the precursor who preached about the coming of Jesus (Mark 1:2, 3; John 1:1-39). Since the time of John (when Jesus embarked on His ministry), "the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force." Luke implies that God's kingdom is present in the ministry of Jesus.

3. Luke 17:21. Jesus responds to the Pharisees' question about when the kingdom of God comes by the startling claim that "the kingdom of God is among you." Some translations have "within you," but it is unlikely that Jesus would tell His opponents that "the kingdom of God" was within them. It is most likely that Jesus speaks of the presence of God's rule in His ministry. Jesus points out to His opponents that they are missing the reign of God in His ministry, which they are reluctant to acknowledge.

4. Luke 4:21. In Nazareth, His hometown, Jesus goes to the synagogue and reads the prophet Isaiah's announcement of the key signs of the Messianic age of God's reign, which include freedom for captives, sight for the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and good news for the poor (Isa. 61:1-4; Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus implies that His healing ministry is a sign of the presence of God's reign.

Many of the parables of Jesus strongly suggest the presence of the kingdom in Jesus' ministry, especially:

  • The treasure in the field and the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44-46).

  • The banquet (Luke 14:15-24) and the wedding (Matt. 22:1-14). In both cases the invitation is issued and requires a response here and now.

  • The lamp under the bushel (Mark 4:21).

    Some sayings of Jesus suggest that the time of fulfillment has arrived, notably:

  • The saying that the prophets and kings looked forward to what the disciples now see (Luke 10:23, 24; Matt. 13:16, 17).

  • Jesus' answer to the criticism of His disciples not fasting suggests that He is the long-awaited bridegroom (Mark 2:18-20). Both sayings imply that in Jesus we experience the presence of the kingdom of God.

    God's Coming Reign
    There are, however, a number of themes in the teaching of Jesus that suggest that the reign of God will not be seen (at least in full) until the future. The most obvious include:

  • The Lord's Prayer, which contains the petition "your kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). The request is pointless unless God's reign is not yet fully seen.

    "There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power" (Mark 9:1) implies that when Jesus spoke, the kingdom had not been seen in its full power.

  • The gathering of people from all parts of the earth to dine with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom implies that the kingdom is still in the future (Luke 13:22-30).

  • Jesus further speaks of entering the kingdom as a future event (Mark 9:47; 10:15, 23; 13:30; Matt. 7:21-23).

    Some of Jesus' parables speak of growth involving a future aspect of the reign of God. For example, the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32 and par); the yeast (Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:20, 21); the sower (Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 and par); and the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). There are parables of judgment that locate the judgment in the future: the faithful and unfaithful servants (Matt. 24:45-51; Luke 12:41-48); the 10 virgins (Matt. 25:1-13); and the talents (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27).

    The Timing of the Kingdom
    It appears from the above evidence that the formula "now and not yet" describes Jesus' view of the timing of the kingdom's presence. On the one hand, Jesus implies in Mark 1:15 that the time has finally come for God's will to be accomplished on earth in His ministry. Jesus' teachings, healing, exorcisms, and miracles demonstrate the presence of God among His people (cf. Matt. 1:23). The actions of Jesus show that demons, diseases, and catastrophic forces of nature are vanquished in the power and presence of God. On the other hand, the final establishment of the kingdom of God is yet to come. However, what is common to the "now and not yet" aspects of the kingdom is the "good news" of God preached by Jesus Christ. The way we accept Jesus Christ and His message determines our fate in the kingdom now and in the future. As we gladly accept the gospel of Jesus Christ today, we receive God's kingly rule in our lives that will operate to defeat what is evil and bring about what is good for both now and the future.

    It's obvious that accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior has implications for both now and the future.

    *Bible texts in this article are from the New Revised Standard Version.

    Daniel S. Dapaah is an associate professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at Columbia Union College, Takoma Park, Maryland.

    Email to a Friend




    Exclude PDF Files

    Email to a Friend


    © 2005, Adventist Review.