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Kingdom of God
KINGDOM OF GOD, OF HEAVEN (ἡ βασιλεία του̂ Θεου̂, τω̂ν οὐρανω̂ν). The sovereign activity of God as king in saving men and overcoming evil, and the new order which is thus established.
The kingship of God in Old Testament teaching
Although the idea of the kingdom of God finds its main expression in the teaching of Jesus, it is a theme which is found throughout the Bible, and the teaching of Jesus can be understood only against the background of earlier thought. In the Old Testament the actual word “kingdom” is infrequent; the basic notion is of the active rule of Yahweh as King over the whole world. This is developed in three ways.
God as King of the universe
God as King of Israel
The future reign of God
The kingship of god in Jewish thought
During the period between the composition of the bulk of the Old Testament and the coming of Jesus, Jewish thought about the character of God’s rule did not stand still, and it continued to develop for a long period afterward. One may trace its growth in the apocalyptic writings some of them dating from the 1st cent. b.c. and the 1st cent. a.d., and in the rabbinic writings, which are of a much later date but contain the teaching ascribed to rabbis of the same period. Many different influences affected Jewish thought at this time, and there were several different schools of thought, often with highly individual points of view, so that it is impossible to present a system of beliefs generally held by all Jews or even to give a fully coherent account of the various shades of opinion which were held and of their historical development. The sources available are scanty and often imperfectly preserved; they present such problems of dating and interpretation that scholars are by no means unanimous in the conclusions which they draw from the evidence.
The eternal sovereignty of God
As in the Old Testament the concept of the eternal kingship of God over the world, established at creation, forms the background of Jewish theology. It is found in the apocalyptic writings (e.g. 1 Enoch 9:4.; 84:2f.; Pss Sol 2:33-36; 17:4; 1QSb 4:25f.), but is especially prominent in the rabbinic literature (SBK I, 172-178). God’s kingly power was regarded as being exercised primarily over Israel, the nation which recognized Him as its king in contrast to the pagan peoples of the world (Pss Sol 5:21f.; 17:51). Consequently it was the duty of the individual Jew to accept God’s rule over him, as Abraham had done (Jub 12:19). The phrase frequently used for this act is “to take upon oneself the yoke of God’s rule.” For all practical purposes this meant acceptance of His will as revealed in detail in the law of Moses. Since this law was expressed succinctly in the Shema, it could be said that to recite the Shema was to take the yoke upon oneself. The saying of Jesus, “Take my yoke upon you” (
The establishment of God’s future reign
The center of Jewish theological interest, however, lay not so much in the idea that God was now king, as in the expectation of His future activity, in setting up His rule visibly and powerfully among men. Within the gospels there is ample proof of the mood of expect-ancy which filled the people quite apart from any stimulus to their enthusiasm supplied by Jesus Himself. The raison d’etre of the apocalyptic writings was their claim to supply information on precisely this topic by reinterpreting the Old Testament prophecies and assuring the people that they were about to be fulfilled (e.g. Pss Sol 17-18; As Moses 10; Sib Oracles 3:46-50, 767-771). The Qumran community is the most notable example of a group of Jews who based their behavior on the hope that God would soon come in kingly power to lead them to victory over their oppressors (1QM 6:6; 12:7; the interpretation of 1QSb
The form and content of this hope are greatly varied. In the earlier Ap. Lit. the expectation was of an earthly rule of God, centered on Jerusalem with a rebuilt temple, and involving the defeat and destruction of Israel’s enemies and judgment upon the ungodly. The righteous dead would be raised up to share in the bliss of the new age, and the people would live in peace and righteousness. They would be under the rule and protection of God. Sometimes He is thought of as ruling Himself directly over the people (1 Enoch 6-36; 91-104; As Moses 10; Jub), at other times the Messiah is His agent (1 Enoch 90; Test XII Pat; Sib Oracles 3:652-784; Pss Sol 17-18; 4 Ezra 7:28f.; 2 Baruch 39; Targum on
Kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven
In the Aram. Targums (paraphrases of the Old Testament text) the phrase “the kingdom of God” was used to tr. Old Testament expressions about God reigning. The way in which the phrase is used shows clearly that it expresses God’s activity in ruling rather than the area or realm over which He rules, although of course the latter meaning is not excluded. In the rabbinic literature outside the Targums the phrase used was “the kingdom of heaven.” The two phrases are undoubtedly synonymous. The adoption of the latter was due to that same Jewish reverence for the name of God and consequent avoidance of uttering it which led to the substitution of “Lord” for the name “Yahweh” at the same time.
It is difficult to be certain which form of the phrase Jesus used. Mark, Luke and John use “the kingdom of God” in every case, but Matthew has the form “the kingdom of heaven” thirty-two times and “the kingdom of God” only four times (
The phrase “the age to come” (1 Enoch 71:15;
The kingship of God in the teaching of Jesus
The centrality of the theme
The word “kingdom” is found fifty-five times in Matthew, twenty times in Mark, forty-six times in Luke and five times in John. When allowance is made for the use of the word to refer to secular kingdoms and for parallel VSS of the same sayings of Jesus, the phrase “the kingdom of God” and equivalent expressions (e.g. “kingdom of heaven,” “his kingdom”) occurs about eighty times. The word “king” is used also of Jesus with considerable frequency but only rarely with reference to God (
The nature of God’s kingship
This way of putting the matter indicates that by the kingdom of God Jesus meant the kingly action of God at the end of the age rather than the present, eternal rule of God in heaven, for it would be strange to say that the latter was at hand. Certainly Jesus did speak of the eternal kingship of God (
What did Jesus mean by saying that the kingdom was “at hand”? The Gr. word ἤγγικεν may legitimately be tr. “is near” or “has arrived.” Did Jesus mean that at the time when He spoke the kingly action of God was about to take place or was already taking place? On purely linguistic grounds a decision is difficult, though the balance of probability favors the former interpretation. The problem must be solved by considering the whole teaching of Jesus.
The result of intense discussion during recent years has been to show that neither theory can stand on its own. Each can be defended only at the cost of explaining away, often by very dubious methods, the evidence for the other. The Weiss-Schweitzer theory paid a one-sided attention to the sayings about the future coming of the kingdom and ignored the sayings to which Dodd later drew attention. Dodd for his part was quite unconvincing in his attempts to interpret the future sayings in line with his view that the kingdom had already come. The most careful study of the evidence to date, that by W. G. Kümmel, has shown that Jesus spoke both of the presence and of the future coming of the kingdom.
Once this polarity or dualism has been recognized, the problem is to explain it. (a) R. Bultmann and his followers have stressed the primacy of the future elements in the teaching of Jesus, but have then reinterpreted His sayings in existential categories in such a manner that the concept of a real future coming of the kingdom has been effectively denied. (b) Kümmel’s own solution was to restrict the presence of the kingdom to its presence in Jesus; in His own person the future consummation already had come, but apart from His presence the kingdom is not present and its coming lies in the future. (c) Others, taking their cue from
It is prob. wasted labor to attempt to show that one aspect or the other of the coming of the kingdom had the greater significance for Jesus. Although the actual number of sayings referring explicitly to the future coming is greater, it remains true that the teaching about the presence of the kingdom was especially distinctive of Jesus and contained new ideas about its nature. The truth is that the two aspects were not rigidly separated by Him. The future coming was near because God had begun to act; the present time was full of significance because God already was bringing His final gift of salvation to men.
The presence of the kingdom
It is necessary to examine more closely both aspects of Jesus’ message about the kingdom. The evidence in the gospels is fully consonant with the usage of the rabbinic literature in that the phrase “the kingdom of God” refers primarily to the action of God who follows out His sovereign will toward mankind. This means that the kingdom of God never means an action undertaken by men or a realm which they set up. However noble may be the idea of laboring to establish the kingdom of God, the Biblical terminology is completely inconsistent with the language of modern liberal theology. The kingdom is a divine act, not a human accomplishment nor even the accomplishment of dedicated Christians.
At the same time, however, although the idea of action is primary, the word “kingdom” also means the realm set up by God and the benefits which are associated with it. Men may enter the kingdom (
The deeds of Jesus are, therefore, to be seen as signs of the coming and the presence of the kingdom. They are part of the message (cf.
In these various ways the “mystery” or secret of the kingdom is revealed (
From what has been said, it will be apparent that the message of the kingdom is a message of salvation rather than a message about God in Himself. Jesus said very little about God reigning or acting as king, and He associated the term “kingdom” much more with the blessings that it brought to men. He preferred to think of God not so much in terms of kingship as of fatherhood, and part of His message was the new filial relationship with God which men could enjoy in the kingdom (
The coming of the kingdom
The closest connection exists between the presence of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus and its future consummation. If the presence of the kingdom is closely associated with the person of Jesus (see III B 4), its future coming is associated with the coming of the Son of man. It is true that the connection is not explicitly made in the texts, but it is impossible not to believe that the two events formed part of one single eschatological hope.
The question of the imminence of the future kingdom has been the subject of much discussion. Against the contention of many scholars that Jesus expected its arrivel immediately after His death, W. G. Kümmel has shown that He certainly envisaged an interval between His death and its arrival. During this time the disciples were to preach the Gospel to all the nations (
Jesus and the kingdom
How was Jesus Himself related to the kingdom? Was He simply the herald of its coming like John the Baptist, or was it more closely linked to His person?
Earlier discussion has shown that Jesus brought the kingdom of God to men by His teaching and His mighty deeds. The point to be emphasized now is that they were His words and deeds or those of men sent out by Him. It was through Him that God had chosen to work. He was conscious that a new era had begun: the kingdom was pushing its way forward among men and being proclaimed as good news (
Furthermore, although Jesus was extremely reticent on the matter in His public teaching, He knew Himself to be the One who perfectly fulfilled the roles of the Messiah and the Son of man. In other words, He was conscious of being the key figure associated with the coming of the kingdom (for the Son of man exercising kingly functions, see
Jesus did not directly link the coming of the kingdom with His death upon the cross. Already before His death, the kingdom of God was present. Nevertheless, the connection is there, and the cross is to be regarded as one of the key stages in the coming of the kingdom. It’s probable that the coming of the kingdom “with power” (
All this evidence shows that the kingdom is inextricably linked with Jesus Himself. One may well agree with Marcion, who said, “In the Gospel the kingdom of God is Christ Himself,” and with Origen who described Jesus as being “Himself the kingdom” (αὐτοβασιλεία). It must be carefully observed that, since the kingdom of God is primarily God’s action, it is not the person of Jesus in separation from His deeds which constitutes the presence of the kingdom but rather the activity of Jesus in coming into the world from God and in exercising God’s power in bringing salvation and judgment to men.
The response of men
Entry to the kingdom
The preaching of Jesus about the kingdom demanded a response from men. They were to repent and believe the good news (
Jesus also spoke of entering the kingdom in the future tense, in the same way as that in which He spoke of receiving eternal life or being saved or having a share in the age to come (
In laying down this way of entry into the kingdom, Jesus was denying entry to any Jews who thought that the kingdom rightfully belonged to them and failed to show the evidence of true discipleship and humble trust in God (
The ethics of the kingdom
To acknowledge the kingship of God implies the acceptance of the kind of behavior which He prescribes. It means submission to the concrete demands of the king (
Weiss and Schweitzer erred in thinking that this ethic of Jesus was teaching conditioned purely by the imminent approach of the end of the world, a set of stringent rules to be observed in a time of crisis but unsuitable for ordinary, everyday life. But it is not the nearness of a crisis which determines the content of Jesus’ ethic but rather the nearness of God; and what is demanded is not something that can be fulfilled only by men who are keyed up by the expectation of imminent crisis, but is rather the unchanging requirement of God from His people. The ethic comes with new force in the context of the preaching of the kingdom, and it is expressed more radically than was possible in the legal code of the Pentateuch, but it remains the same ethic as that which is found in the Old Testament.
Once again one must beware of thinking that the ethic is a “condition” of entry to the kingdom, as if God were laying down certain qualities of character as the entrance requirements. Jesus’ message was the Gospel of grace, and the ethic expresses the response which men should make to the Gospel. It is the way of life for those who have already accepted the rule of God and experienced its blessings and who now look forward to the consummation of His rule.
The kingdom and the church
Although the word “church” was rare on Jesus’ lips, the idea of the church was certainly present in His teaching. The church is simply the company of those who accept the kingly rule of God and find themselves bound together by their common allegiance to God and His Son. During His ministry Jesus placed before men the need to commit themselves to Him in discipleship, and this group of disciples must be regarded as the church in embryo. Within this larger company the Twelve occupied a special place. To them, and in particular to Peter, Jesus entrusted the keys of the kingdom, i.e. the authority to preach the Gospel of the kingdom and to admit men to it (
The Church, therefore, is not to be identified with the kingdom. It is rather part of the manifestation of the kingdom in the world, for it is the company of those who accept the message of the kingdom, own Jesus as their Lord and Master, and act as His agents in continuing to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom.
The kingdom and the world
Although the old tr. of
The kingship of God in the Early Church
The epistles of Paul
The rest of the New Testament does not contribute much to the development of the theme. The
In the Early Church the concept of the kingdom of God was used, as in the teaching of Jesus, for the future triumphal reign of God. The Church expressed the present era of salvation in other ways, but it did not altogether give up Jesus’ manner of speaking about the presence of the kingdom, for it taught that He is now the exalted Lord and King to whom men must submit. At His Heaven.He will be displayed openly as king, and in the end will be seen to be all in all when the Son hands over sovereignty to Him. In this life believers share in the blessings of His reign, just as the disciples did during the earthly ministry of Jesus, and they look forward to the consummation of their hopes in the coming kingdom of God and of His Son. See
KINGDOM OF GOD (Gr. basileia tou theou). The word kingdom is capable of three different meanings: (1) the realm over which a monarch reigns, (2) the people over whom he or she reigns, and (3) the actual reign or rule itself. In English the third use of the word is archaic and so is not always given its rightful place in discussion of the term; but in Greek and Hebrew, this is the primary meaning. All three meanings are found in the New Testament.
1. The kingdom of God is sometimes the people of the kingdom. In
2. The kingdom of God is the realm in which God’s reign is experienced. This realm is sometimes something present, sometimes future. It is a realm introduced after the ministry of
Elsewhere the kingdom is a future realm inaugurated by the return of Christ. The righteous will inherit this kingdom (
3. The kingdom is also God’s reign or rule. Basileia is used of kings who have not received “royal power” (rsv) or authority to rule as kings (
This “abstract” meaning of kingdom is evident in many passages. Only those who “receive the kingdom of God,” i.e., accept God’s rule here and now, enter into the realm of its blessings in the future (
God’s kingdom is, however, not merely an abstract rule. The kingdom is God’s rule dynamically defeating evil and redeeming sinners. Christ must reign as King until he has destroyed (katargeō) all enemies, the last of which is death, and that he will then deliver the kingdom to God (
Jesus claimed that his ability to cast out demons was evidence that the kingdom of God had come among people (
Thus, the kingdom of God—his redemptive rule—has come into history in the person of Christ to break the power of death and Satan; it will come in power and glory with the return of Christ to complete the destruction of these enemies. Because of this present victory of God’s kingdom, we may enter the realm of its blessings in the present, yet look forward to greater blessings when Christ comes again.
We may now define the kingdom of God as the sovereign rule of God manifested in Christ to defeat his enemies, creating a people over whom he reigns and issuing in a realm or realms in which the power of his reign is experienced.
The diversity of the New Testament data has led to diverse interpretations. 1. The Old Liberal interpretation of Harnack views the kingdom as the essence of ideal religion and altogether a present subjective and spiritual reality, having to do with the individual soul and its relation to God.
2. Consistent Eschatology.held that the kingdom was in no sense a present spiritual reality. On the contrary, Jesus taught that (1) the kingdom of God was altogether a future eschatological reality that would come by a miraculous inbreaking of God to terminate human history and establish the kingdom; (2) this apocalyptic kingdom was to come immediately. Jesus’ mission was to announce the imminent end of the world and to prepare people for the impending day of judgment.
3. Realized Eschatology. C. H. Dodd has reinterpreted eschatological terminology so that it no longer refers to the “last things” at the end of the age but to the “ultimate” realities experienced in Christ. The kingdom of God is the eternal that has broken into time in Christ.
4. Inaugurated Eschatology is a mediating view between Schweitzer and Dodd. The kingdom of God is indeed being realized in the present, but there must also be an eschatological consummation. Many scholars follow Schweitzer in holding that Jesus expected an immediate end of the world but modify Schweitzer’s view by recognizing that in some sense the kingdom was also present in the person of Jesus. They hold that Jesus was right in the basic structure but wrong in the time of the coming of the kingdom.
Most schools of interpretation—liberal and conservative—believe that God’s present reign through Christ in this world has implications for the poor—both the spiritually and the materially poor. This recognition has been a cause of the rise of Liberation Theology (which comes in various forms), which is often the expression of the belief that if God is truly king he must be concerned about the deprived and despised peoples of the world (see
The importance of the gospel of the kingdom of God for evangelism and social and political service is recognized in conservative circles. There is, however, a debate as to the meaning of the Millennium and its relation to the kingdom of God. Here are four approaches:
1. Classical premillennialism teaches that the kingdom of God has to do primarily with redemption. The kingdom was offered to Israel; but when it was rejected, its blessings were given to “a people who will produce its fruit” (
2. Dispensational premillennialism looks to the Old Testament for its definition of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is theocratic, not soteriological. It is the earthly Davidic (millennial) kingdom destined primarily for Israel. It does not have to do chiefly with the church nor with the redemptive blessings brought into the world by Christ; rather, it concerns the earthly national blessings promised to Israel. This view believes that God has two plans that must be kept separate—an earthly national plan for Israel (theocratic) and a spiritual redemptive plan for the church (soteriological). The kingdom has to do with the former, not with the latter.
3. Amillennialism is a modification of classical premillennialism, accepting its basic definition and structure of the kingdom but omitting the millennial stage. The kingdom is God’s redemptive rule in Christ working in the world through the church. It will come to its consummation with the second coming of Christ to inaugurate the age to come. Most amillennialists deny that Israel has any future but see the church as the new Israel, which has experienced the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in spiritual terms.
4. Postmillennialism sees the kingdom as the reign of God in Christ through the church, destined to conquer all the world and to establish God’s reign in all human society through the triumphant preaching of the gospel. Only after this “Millennium” or Golden Age will Christ return for the final judgment and the resurrection of the dead to inaugurate the age to come.
Bibliography: J. Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, 1962; G. E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 1974; R. G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, 1977; John Bright, The Kingdom of God, 1978; John Gray, The Biblical Doctrine of the Reign of God, 1979; A. M. Hunter, Christ and the Kingdom, 1980; Evangelism and Social Responsibility: The Grand Rapids Report, 1982.——GEL and PT
This phrase (and the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” which is used often in Matthew's gospel with the same meaning) does not occur in the Old Testament or in Jewish literature, but its source is to be found there. The idea of God reigning is prominent especially in the Psalms. The messianic promises were concerned with a king who should reign. The apocalyptic writers stressed God's reign as something which would break into the present world order and establish a new one, while the rabbis saw the kingdom as being connected with obedience to the Law. In the New Testament, the kingdom of God plays a very important part, particularly in the synoptic gospels, of which it is the central theme. The Greek word basileia, like its English translation, suggests too strongly a “realm” rather than a “reign,” but it is the latter concept which, drawing its significance from the dynamic Hebrew work malkuth, is the more prominent in the New Testament.
A proper understanding of “the kingdom of God” in the teaching of Jesus has been bedeviled by the tendency of scholars to read into the gospels their own views of what Christianity is about. The liberal Protestants of the nineteenth century reduced the conception to a set of humanistic values (“the kingdom of self-respect,” etc.)., in reaction to this, found a revolutionary content in Jesus' message and the expectation of an imminent consummation of the kingdom. More recent scholars have tried to do more justice to the various sides of the teaching. Many of the parables of Jesus deal with the crisis caused by the coming of the kingdom, and if this in many cases is meant to have its primary reference to the response of the Jewish people to the ministry of Jesus, it may have a legitimate extension to the situation of the Christian Church as it waits for the final consummation.
There has been divergence of opinion as to whether the “drawing near” of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus (Mark 1:14f.) means that it had actually arrived when He began his ministry. There are passages which seem unquestionably to imply that the presence of Jesus meant the presence of the kingdom (Mark 14:25; Matt. 25:34; Luke 22:29f.). A number of other passages may refer to the Parousia or to some event such as the Resurrection or Pentecost which could be described as a coming of the kingdom (e.g., Mark 9:1). Whether present or future, the reign of God demands a response of commitment from men who are called frequently to enter the kingdom. This is also found in John's gospel (3:3-5). The term is comparatively rare in the rest of the New Testament. Since the time of Augustine there has been a tendency to institutionalize the concept of the kingdom by identifying it with the church.
A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1910); T.W. Manson, The(1931); C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (1935); R. Otto, The Kingdom of God and the (1943); R.H. Fuller, The Mission and Achievement of Jesus (1954); N. Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus (1963); G.E. Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom (1966).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(he basileia ton ouranon; he basileia tou theou):
I. MEANING AND ORIGIN OF THE TERM
1. Place in the Gospels
2. "" and "Kingdom of God"
3. Relation to the(Daniel, etc.)
II. ITS USE BY JESUS--CONew TestamentRAST WITH JEWISH CONCEPTIONS
1. Current Jewish Opinions
2. Relation of Jesus to Same
3. Growing Divergence and Contrast
4. Prophetic Character of the "Temptation"
5. Modern "Futuristic" Hypothesis (J. Weiss, Schweitzer)
6. Weakness of This View
7. Positive Conceptions of Jesus
III. THE IDEA IN HISTORY
1. Apostolic and Post-apostolic Age
2. Early Christian Centuries
3. Reformation Period
4. Later Ideas
IV. PLACE IN THEOLOGY
1. Danger of Exaggeration
2. Elements of Living Power in Idea
The "kingdom of God" is one of the most remarkable ideas and phrases of all time, having begun to be used very near the beginnings of history and continuing in force down to the present day.
I. Meaning and Origin of the Term
1. Place in the Gospels:
Its use by Jesus is by far its most interesting aspect; for, in the Synoptists, at least, it is His watchword, or a comprehensive term for the whole of His teaching. Of this the ordinary reader of Scripture may hardly be aware, but it becomes evident and significant to the student. Thus, in
2. "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Kingdom of God":
In these quotations, and in others which might easily be adduced, it will be observed that the phrases "the kingdom," "the kingdom of God," "the kingdom of heaven" are used interchangeably. The last of the three, "the kingdom of heaven," is confined to the First Gospel, which does not, however, always make use of it; and it is not certain what may have been the reason for the substitution. The simplest explanation would be that heaven is a name for God, as, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the penitent says, "I have sinned against heaven," and we ourselves might say, "Heaven forbid!" It is not, however, improbable that the true meaning has to be learned from two petitions of the, the one of which is epexegetic of the other, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Here the disciples are instructed to pray that the kingdom of God may come, but this is equivalent to the petition that the will of God may be done on earth; Jesus is, however, aware of a region in the universe where the will of God is at present being perfectly and universally done, and, for reasons not difficult to surmise, He elevates thither the minds and hearts of those who pray. The kingdom of heaven would thus be so entitled because it is already realized there, and is, through prayer and effort, to be transferred thence to this earth.
3. Relation to the Old Testament (Daniel, etc.):
Although, however, the phrase held this master position in the teaching of Jesus, it was not of His invention. It was employed before Him by
These passages in Daniel form undoubtedly the proximate source of the phrase; yet the idea which it represents mounts far higher. From the first the Jewish state was governed by laws believed to be derived directly from heaven; and, when the people demanded a king, that they might be like other nations, they were reproached for desiring any king but God Himself. With this sublime conception the actual monarchy was only a compromise, the reigning monarch passing for Yahweh’s representative on earth. In David, the man after God’s own heart, the compromise was not unsatisfactory; in Solomon it was still tolerable; but in the majority of the kings of both Judah and Israel it was a dismal and disastrous failure. No wonder that the pious sighed and prayed that Yahweh might take to Himself His great power and reign, or that the prophets predicted the coming of a ruler who would be far nearer to God than the actual kings and of whose reign there would be no end. Even when the political kingdom perished and the people were carried away into Babylon, the intelligent and truly religious among them did not cease to cherish the old hope, and the very aspect of the worldpowers then and subsequently menacing them only widened their conceptions of what that kingdom must be which could overcome them all. The return from Babylon seemed a miraculous confirmation of their faith, and it looked as if the day long prayed for were about to dawn. Alas, it proved a day of small things. The era of the Maccabees was only a transitory gleam; in the person of Herod the Great a usurper occupied the throne; and the eagles of the Romans were hovering on the horizon. Still Messianic hopes flourished, and Messianic language filled the mouths of the people.
II. Its Use by Jesus--Contrast with Jewish Conceptions.
1. Current Jewish Opinions:
Schurer, in his History of the Jewish People in the Time of
2. Relation of Jesus to Same:
Such was the circle in which both the Baptist and Jesus were reared and it was out of this atmosphere that the conception of the kingdom of God came into their minds. It has frequently been said that, in making use of this term, Jesus accommodated Himself to the opinions and language of His fellow-countrymen; and there is truth in this, because, in order to secure a footing on the solid earth of history, He had to connect His own activity with the world in which He found Himself. Yet the idea was native to His home and His race, and therefore to Himself; and it is not improbable that He may at first have been unaware of the wide difference between His own thoughts on the subject and those of His contemporaries.
3. Growing Divergence and Contrast:
When, however, He began, in the course of His ministry, to speak of the kingdom of God, it soon became manifest that by Him and by His contemporaries it was used in different senses; and this contrast went on increasing until there was a great gulf fixed between Him and them. The difference cannot better be expressed than by saying, as is done by B. Weiss, that He and they laid the accent on different halves of the phrase, they emphasizing "the kingdom" and He "of God." They were thinking of the expulsion of the Romans, of a Jewish king and court, and of a world-wide dominion going forth from Mt. Zion; He was thinking of righteousness, holiness and peace, of the doing of the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. So earthly and fantastic were the expectations of the Jewish multitude that He had to escape from their hands when they tried to take Him by force and make Him a king. The authorities never acknowledged the pretensions of One who seemed to them a religious dreamer, and, as they clung to their own conceptions, they grew more and more bitter against One who was turning the most cherished hopes of a nation into ridicule, besides threatening to bring down on them the heavy hand of the Roman. And at last they settled the controversy between Him and them by nailing Him to a tree.
4. Prophetic Character of the "Temptation":
At one time Jesus had felt the glamor of the popular Messianic ideas, and at all times He must have been under temptation to accommodate His own ideas to the prejudices of those on whose favor His success seemed to be dependent. The struggle of His mind and will with such solicitations is embodied in what is called the Temptation in the Wilderness (
5. Modern "Futuristic" Hypothesis (J. Weiss, Schweitzer):
It is very strange that, in spite of this, He should be believed, even by Christian scholars, to have held a purely futuristic and apocalyptic view of the kingdom Himself. He was all the time expecting, it is said, that the heavens would open and the kingdom descend from heaven to earth, a pure and perfect work of God. This is exactly what was expected by the Jewish multitude, as is stated in
6. Weakness of This View:
It was by
7. Positive Conceptions of Jesus:
In the nature of the case the kingdom must have been growing from stage to stage during His earthly ministry. He Himself was there, embodying the kingdom in His person; and the circle gathered around Him partook of the blessings of the kingdom. This circle might have grown large enough to be coextensive with the country; and, therefore, Jesus retained the consciousness of being the Messiah, and offered Himself in this character to His fellow-countrymen by the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But the citizens of the kingdom had to enter it one by one, not in a body, as the Jews were expecting. Strait was the gate; it was the narrow gate of repentance. Jesus began by repeating the initial word of the teaching of His forerunner; and He had too much reason to continue repeating it, as the hypocrisy and worldliness of Pharisees and Sadducees called for denunciation from His lips. To the frailties of the publicans and sinners, on the contrary, He showed a strange mildness; but this was because He knew the way of bringing such sinners to His feet to confess their sins themselves. To the penitent He granted pardon, claiming that the Son of man had power on earth to forgive sins. Then followed the exposition of righteousness, of which theis a perfect specimen. Yet it commences with another watchword--that of blessedness, the ingredients of which are set forth in all their comprehensiveness. In the same way, in other passages, He promises "rest" "peace" and the like; and again and again, where He might be expected to employ the term "kingdom of God," He substitutes "life" or "eternal life." Such were the blessings He had come into the world to bestow; and the most comprehensive designation for them all was "the kingdom of God."
It is true, there was always imperfection attaching to the kingdom as realized in His lifetime, because He Himself was not yet made perfect. Steadily, from the commencement of the last stage of His career, He began to speak of His own dying and rising again. To those nearest Him such language was at the time a total mystery; but the day came when His apostles were able to speak of His death and ascension as the crown and glory of His whole career. When His life seemed to be plunging over the precipice, its course was so diverted by the providence of God that, by dying, He became the Redeemer of mankind and, by missing the throne of the Jews, attained to that of the universe, becoming King of kings and Lord of lords.
III. The Idea in History.
1. Apostolic and Post-apostolic Age:
After the death of Jesus, there soon ensued the destruction of the Jewish state; and then Christianity went forth among the nations, where to have spoken of it as a kingdom of God would have unnecessarily provoked hostility and called forth the accusation of treason against the powers that be. Hence, it made use of other names and let "the kingdom of God" drop. This had commenced even in Holy Scripture, where, in the later books, there is a growing infrequency in the use of the term. This may be alleged as proof that Jesus was being forgotten; but it may only prove that Christianity was then too much alive to be trammeled with words and phrases, even those of the Master, being able at every stage to find new language to express its new experience.
2. Early Christian Centuries:
In the early Christian centuries, "the kingdom of God" was used to designate heaven itself, in which from the first the development of the kingdom was to issue; this, in fact, being not infrequently the meaning of the phrase even in the mouth of Jesus. The Alexandrian thinkers brought back the phrase to designate the rule of God in the conscience of men. Augustine’s great work bears a title, De Civitate Dei, which is a translation of our phrase; and to him the kingdom of God was the church, while the world outside of the church was the kingdom of Satan. From the time of Charlemagne there were in the world, side by side, two powers, that of the emperor and that of the pope; and the history of theis the account of the conflict of these two for predominance, each pretending to struggle in the name of God. The approaching termination of this conflict may be seen in Wycliffe’s great work De Dominio Divino, this title also being a translation of our phrase.
3. Reformation Period:
During the struggles of the Reformation the battles of the faith were fought out under other watchwords; and it was rather amongsuch sectaries as the Baptists, that names like Fifth Monarchy and Rule of the Saints betrayed recollection of the evangelic phraseology; but how near, then and subsequently, the expression of men’s thoughts about authority in church and state came to the language of the Gospels could easily be demonstrated, for example, from the Confessions andof the Scottish church.
4. Later Ideas:
The very phrase, "the kingdom of God," reappeared at the close of the Reformation period among the Pietists of Germany, who, as their multiplying benevolent and missionary activities overflowed the narrow boundaries of the church, as it was then understood, spoke of themselves as working for the kingdom of God, and found this more to their taste than working for the church. The vague and humanitarian aspirations of Rationalism sometimes assumed to themselves the same title; but it was by Ritschl and his followers that the phrase was brought back into the very heart of theology. In the system of Ritschl there are two poles--the love of God and the kingdom of God. The love of God enfolds within itself God’s purpose for the world, to be realized in time; and this progressive realization is the kingdom of God. It fulfils itself especially in the faithful discharge of the duties of everyone’s daily vocation and in the recognition that in the course of Providence all things are working together for good to them that love God.
IV. Place in Theology.
1. Danger of Exageration:
There are those to whom it appears self-evident that what was the leading phrase in the teaching of Jesus must always be the master-word in theology; while others think this to be a return from the spirit to the letter. Even Jesus, it may be claimed, had this phrase imposed upon Him quite as much as He chose it for Himself; and to impose it now on theology would be to entangle the movements of Christian thought with the cerements of the dead.
2. Elements of Living Power in Idea:
This is an interesting controversy, on both sides of which much might be said. But in the phrase "the kingdom of God" there are elements of living power which can never pass away.
(1) It expresses the social Power inside of Christianity. A kingdom implies multitude and variety, and, though religion begins with the individual, it must aim at brotherhood, organization and expansion.
(2) It expresses loyalty. However much kings and kingdoms may fail to touch the imagination in an age of the world when many countries have become or are becoming republican, the strength to conquer and to endure will always have to be derived from contact with personalities. God is the king of the kingdom of God, and theis His vicegerent; and without the love of and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ no progress can be made with the Christianization of the world.
(3) It keeps alive the truth, suggested by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer, that the doing of the will of God on earth is the one thing needful. This is the true end of all authority in both church and state, and behind all efforts thus directed there is at work the potency of heaven.
(4) It reminds all generations of men that their true home and destiny is heaven. In not a few of our Lord’s own sayings, as has been remarked, our phrase is obviously only a name for heaven; and, while His aim was that the kingdom should be established on earth, He always promised to those aiding in its establishment in this world that their efforts would be rewarded in the world to come. The constant recognition of a spiritual and eternal world is one of the unfailing marks of genuine Christianity.
See the works onby Weiss, Beyschlag, Holtzmann, Feine, Schlatter, Weinel, Stevens, Sheldon; and on the by Wendt, Dalman, Bruce; Candlish, The Kingdom of God; Robertson, Regnum Dei; Stalker, The Ethic of Jesus.