17. Kingdom of God

Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels

Lecture: Kingdom of God


All right we're going to talk today about the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God. The importance of Jesus teaching on the kingdom of God is evident on page 30 of your synopsis. Where Jesus' message, beginning at like 32, Mark describes Jesus after having been baptized and here's the message. "Preaching the gospel of God and saying 'The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.'"

So, the essence in Mark of the message of Jesus involves the kingdom of God is at hand. So central to the teaching of Jesus is the pronouncement about the coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches a pray to his disciples in Matthew 6.9 and what is the essence of the prayer? Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name thy kingdom come. So the essence of the prayer that identifies us as its followers has a reference to the kingdom of God, on page 197 and Luke 16.16.

You have Jesus saying, "The law and the prophets were until John, since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached." And everyone enters it violently. So, the teaching concerning the kingdom of God is at the very root and essence of the Jesus teaching. And yet I think if you were to ask people in our congregations "What is the kingdom of God?" You'd find great, great confusion. I don't think the average person would be able to answer very clearly, "What is the essence of Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God?"

And this is not especially helped with some of the songs we sing. Um, "Reign in me Sovereign Lord, Reign in me, Reign in me sovereign ord, reign in me. Captivate my heart, let your kingdom come, establish they're your scroll, and let your will be done. Reign in me sovereign Lord, reign in me. Reign in me sovereign Lord, reign in Me.", "May your kingdom come to the nations, you will be down to the people of earth so the whole world knows that Jesus Christ is Lord. May your kingdom come in us, may your kingdom come in us. May your kingdom come on earth.", "Father in heaven how we love you, we lift your name in all the earth. May your kingdom be established in our praises, as your people declare your mighty works? May your kingdom be established in our praises?" For the life of me I don't know what that means, but it sings nicely. Who needs to know what we're singing anyhow?

And interestingly enough, the, probably the average person would talk about the kingdom of God as being God's reign in our hearts. Without knowing that that is 19th century liberalism. It's very much of the essence of theological liberalism was the idea of God's reign in the human heart. Now, in light of that, we want to talk about Jesus teaching concerning the kingdom of God.

Now, there's another expression found in the gospels. The kingdom of heaven. And why don't we look at some of those references for a minute and make a point that they're essentially synonyms. Turn with me to page 50. Here we have attitudes. "'Blessed are the poor in spirit", Matthew 5.3, "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Luke, "Blessed are you poor for yours is the kingdom of God."  Now page 74, do you have in, Matthew 8.11, line 47, "I tell you many will come from East and West and sit at table of the kingdom of heaven while the Sons of the king will be thrown into the outer darkness. Their men will weep and mash their teeth."

Now if you go to Luke on line 42, "There you will weep and mash your teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God. And you, your self’s thrust out. Uh, page 115, The Parables. Uh, if you look at line five, Matthew has, page 115, "Judas' been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. But to them it has not been given. Mark has, he has been given the secret of the kingdom of God. But to those outside everything is in parables. Luke has. He has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables." 119 for a last reference.

Here you have the parable of a mustard seed, which in Matthew begins, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took." Mark has, "With what shall we compare the kingdom of God? Or what parables shall we use for it is like a grain of mustard seed? Which when, sown upon the ground." Luke, he said, "Therefore, what is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?" So it's very clear that Matthew's expression 'Kingdom of God' is the same expression excuse me, kingdom of heaven, is a synonym for 'Kingdom of God' in Mark and Luke.

Not only that, if you turn to page 218, Matthew himself uses these expressions interchangeably. Look at Matthew in 19, verse 23. "And Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly I say to you it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'" They're used interchangeably here. There was a time it's no longer very popular and maybe some people will still argue something like this, but when people talked about these being two essentially different kingdoms. In a very distant, sational background. The kingdom of heaven was for Jewish believers and it was also of this earthly kingdom, the kingdom of God was for gentiles and it was a heavenly kingdom. And they never met because apparently even in heaven you couldn't get Jews and gentiles to really work together, or something like that.

Very few would ever say that any more. They're synonyms. They mean the same thing. Matthew's is kingdom of heaven, and Mark uses kingdom of God along with Luke. Now, there's a good reason why Matthew, for instance, prefers the kingdom of heaven. What kind of an audience is he writing to? A Jewish audience. And the Jewish reverence for the name of God, was that even, not just today, but even in a time of Jesus, they tended to avoid it. To avoid using the name of the Lord, Dear God, in vain. So they didn't use the word 'Lord' at all. Unless they used it with sufficient reverence.

And so when you have to use the name of God you tend to look for some sort of a substitute. And one of the ways of doing this is for the prodigal son, like in our parable, to say, "Father, I've sinned against heaven." That way you could avoid God. Use substitution. "Kingdom of Heaven", "Kingdom of God", "The city of the blessed king" instead of "The city of [inaudible] garden", and so forth.

And still another way you could avoid using the name of God out of reverence was by putting things in the passive. For instance, when, in the [inaudible] Mark, Matthew 5.4 page 50, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Now if you wanted to put the second part of the verse, "They shall be comforted" actively, not using a passive, you would have to say something like, "Blessed are they, those who mourn for God shall comfort them." But you can avoid using God's name by putting in the passive. For they shall be comforted. The last thing in the world we should really hear is kind of a, "Well, you know, 'time heals all wounds. After a while it'll all get better.'" No. God will comfort them.

Then you have, in Matthews 7.1, "Judge not", page 60, "That you be not judged." What does that mean? "Judge not then God will not judge you." Ask and it will be given you. Ask and God will give it to you. Seek and you'll find not again, God will grant it to you, and so forth. So we have a perfectly good reason for understanding why Matthew tends to avoid the name of God here, and use 'Kingdom of Heaven' instead of 'Kingdom of God', but they are the same.

Now with respect to how to understand this expression, "Kingdom of God", there has tended to be four major interpretations of this. One is the non-eschatology school, and this was very popular with theological liberalism. This states that "If you associate anything like end of the world with the kingdom of God," you've got to remove that. That's not what Jesus is getting at. He is referring to the essence of the kingdom being God's personal rule in the human heart. That's where we get a lot of this thought from. Liberalism. It has nothing to do with eschatology, nothing to do with 'end of the world' stuff. It has only to do with God's personal reign in the human heart. Transforming the heart into the transforming of the human heart, transforming society, and so forth. That would be the non-eschatology school, the old liberal school.

The political one is, being somewhat popular today and that is that Jesus came to establish a new political organization in the world. A new world order, so to speak. I, he said, he intended to restore his greatness, and so forth and so on. Now, that is not none of those two views really are very close to the biblical teaching. The two that have more biblical support are the view called 'consistent eschatology' and this is most associated with Albert Schweitzer. The Albert Schweitzer. He argued this way, "That when Jesus talked about the coming to the kingdom of God, he was talking about the end of the world." He was talking about history coming to an end. It's completely eschatological. It is future, it's not right now with Jesus, but it's just around the corner. It's going to happen.

And the result is that this kingdom, which will bring history to an end, is about the coming. That's what he was proclaiming. Consistent eschatology, that's called. In response to that, CH Dodd argued, "No, what Jesus meant by the coming of the kingdom of God was not the end of history, but the fact that history had now, um, been realized in that the kingdom of God had completely come. It was now." It wasn't the future, it was now. And he brought the kingdom of God, he brought the blessings of the kingdom, and so forth. So the kingdom of God was a completely now. There was nothing future about it, it's now.

Well it, it's kind of interesting. Because if you look at the biblical text, there's sub passages that look like the kingdom of God is consistent to future. Some that seems that it's not yet. It's excuse me, already now, realized. Um, let's look at some of the biblical materials and turn with me to page 173, where we find the kingdom of God is, in some way, already a reality. It's not something future, it's now. It's now. Luke 11.20, beginning at line 27, Jesus says in Luke, "If I cast out demons by bells, by whom do your sons cast them out?" Therefore they shall be your judges. But, "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Already now, the kingdom of God has arrived. Why casting out demons, is proof that God's kingdom has come.

There's an already 'now' dimension. If you go to page 197, there's another passage, which talks about the kingdom of God being now. In Luke 16.16, the bottom of the page. "The law and the prophets were until John. Since then, the good news of the kingdom of God is preached. And everyone enters it violently." The law and the prophets, you'll hear a, ending with John.

Now, now the kingdom of God has come. Page 201, here you have, being asked by the Pharisees, the bottom of page Luke 17.20, being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them. "The kingdom of God is not coming with sign to be observed, nor will they say 'Lo, here he is', or therefore behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." Now the King James translated it, "Is within you." And the [inaudible] but, again, no where do we ever have the idea that the kingdom of God is within the heart. What he means is, "Within your midst and presence, the kingdom of God has come." Because the King is here.

He says that, "In my presence among you, the kingdom of God has already come." And there are other materials why do the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples not fast? Jesus, can you fast? When the bride [inaudible], the kingdom has come, in other words. It's time for, "How can you fast?" The kingdom of God has come. So you have these passages that talk about the kingdom of God as being already now.

But they're passages that are clearly future. The Lord's Prayer. Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. And now you're praying that God will send his kingdom. "Thy kingdom come." Father who art in heaven, hallow be thy name. And now you're praying that God will send his kingdom. "Thy kingdom come." Luke 11.2. Matthew 7.21 and .22, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of God.' Future", kingdom of heaven, I think it is there. "But he who does the will of my father, who is in heaven. In that day, in that day, when the kingdom of God has come, many will say, "Heaven I cast out demons in your name and done many works in your name", "No, save that part for me. I never knew you." In that day, when the kingdom of God comes, not everyone who says, "Lord, Lord" shall enter the kingdom of God, but the ones who do the will of God.

The Lord's Supper, let's turn to that. 284, when Jesus shares about the Lord's Supper. Down on page 284, line 28, a following mark, "Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day in the future, when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." So any passages with regard to the kingdom of God that looked like its future, others that look like its past. Or ready now, I should say.

Now, Albert Schweitzer, who talked about the kingdom of God being purely future, he knew these other verses. And CH Dodd who thought about the kingdom of God already being now, knew about those passages which said it was future. Schweitzer was the one who said it was present. So how did they argue? Well they argued kind of nicely, except Albert Schweitzer believed the kingdom of God is future, and all those references that refer to the kingdom of God as ‘already now', don't go back to Jesus. They are later additions of the church.

So only the future sayings were the ones that Jesus actually said. CH Dodd said, "All the references of the kingdom of God being already, now they go to Jesus." And those to talk about the kingdom of God being future, those are all added by the church later on. Well that's kind of nice. You just eliminate whatever that evidence you have, that goes against you.

So you have this struggle with already now, not yet, and there's a sense in which there seems to be references to both. Now, the word 'biblical', I think, is the understanding that there is a sense in which the kingdom of God is already now and still not yet. There's a sense in which the kingdom of God has already come in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. But the absolute consummation of the kingdom with all it brings is still future. So that we have the first fruits of the kingdom of God. There's an 'already now' aspect of it, although there is also that 'not yet' aspect.

The key to understanding the kingdom of God is the understanding of the word 'kingdom', here. Because I think most of us, in the English speaking world, when we think of 'kingdom' we think of it statically as referring to an empire of some sort. There's a sense in which, when we think of kingdom we think of a, a castle with a moat around it and some peasants out in the field uh, working the crops. That's a kingdom. That’s a territory.

But it's interesting that the word 'kingdom' is not used that way, primarily in the bible. The bible understands 'kingdom' not so much statically as a realm, or territory, but dynamically as a reign. And if you were to look up, even in English, in the Oxford, uh, Dictionary, this massive five volume kind of dictionary. And you looked up the word 'kingdom' in English, its first definition would be, "The reign of a King." It's a dynamic understanding, not a territorial static one.

Understood this way, and the word's used that way in a number of instances. Turn with me to page 229. Here you have reference to the parable of the pounds, Luke 19.11, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem and because they supposed the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said, "Therefore a nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return." Now what is he getting? This is probably an illusion, Jesus' parable to Herod the Great who did this. When, to Rome had, was given the kingdom and then he came back to conquer it and to rule over it.

What is he going to receive? He's not going there to receive territory. He's not coming there with camels laden with dirt, or something like this. He goes to receive the authority to rule. And he receives that authority to rule and we read of that in verse 15, when he returned having received the kingdom. Having received the authority and privilege of ruling, you have Jesus and Matthew 6.33 say, "Seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." Well he's not saying, "Seek first of all the territory of God", but the rule of God in your heart.

And finally Matthew 20, verse 21, page 226 there. Uh, actually 225, John and James' mother says, "Command that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your kingdom." When you come into your reign. When you come into your rule, and let my son sit on your right and left hand. In that sense, the reign of God can be now. Even though it's ultimate consummation is future.

So we generally talk about the now, not yet. The already now, the kingdom of God has come, yet it's full reign and, has not yet arrived. Now, in what way, then, since the coming of Jesus, is the kingdom of God a present reality? Why has he come and brought that changes things? Well let's word it differently. How are you better off as a believer, than Abraham? How is the New Testament believer better off than the Old Testament saint? He goes, "Well you have more knowledge", okay, yeah, that's true. You look back at the Messiah's coming and his death on a cross, sure. But hasn't something else happened? Yeah, there's something about the promise that in the coming of the kingdom, God would pour out his spirit upon all flesh. In other words it wouldn't just be upon the the head priest, or the prophet, or the king. But every believer would be so anointed with the spirit.

And there's a sense in which the Holy Spirit is the first fruits, then. Of the arrival of the kingdom. Uh, there’s a sense in which, when the kingdom of God would, would come, Satan would be defeated. And doesn't Jesus say, in his healing of the demonic, that the demon possessed, "I saw Satan fall from heaven." Is a sense in which Satan has been defeated? There's a sense in which the kingdom of God, which, in the kingdom they would take place the resurrection of the dead. This has started already. Resurrection’s? No. Christ the first fruits of the resurrection has already happened. Later in the consummation, then his followers. There's already a sense in which we have been transformed from this age to the world to come and we've been transformed into newness of life. In that we have the end of the ages having arrived upon us. There's a sense then that the reign of God has begun in a unique way in the coming of Jesus. However, it's evident that all the promises of the kingdom have not yet been fulfilled.

The resurrection of the dead for every believer is still future. Uh, Satan is defeated, the outcome is sure, but he still has authority in many ways. And so you have now, this tension between the already now and the not yet. And that tension is the I think the basic principle in which you have to understand all of New Testament theology. That is the cornerstone of an understanding of New Testament theology. That already now, the kingdom has arrived. Although it's consummation is future.

Now, in the gospels, that 'now, not yet' tension is expressed in the concept of the kingdom of God. Already now, although not in this consummated form. And in the [inaudible] letters, it's there, but it's expressed differently. And the technical terminology we use there is "The tension between the indicative and the imperative." There's a sense in which Paul can say, "We've died to sin."  He says, "You really died to sin!" And yet, he gives us a command, "Therefore don't sin. Don't live in sin." That's kind of dumb. If I died to sin, well tell me not to sin. Well, it's because of the tension. There's a sense in which 'already now' we have died to sin and have been raised to newness of life.'

But the 'not yet' dimension of the resurrection in its fullest sense is still future. In John you have the tension involving the concept of eternal life. Eternal life is not future life, its present life. It's now. And already now we've passed out of death, into life. And yet the fullest sense of that consummation of eternal life lies in the future where faith turns to sight. The early fathers, I think it was Augustine, spoke of life from a perspective of, when Adam was created, he was [inaudible], "Able not to sin." He was able not to sin.

Since the fall, he is no [foreign], not able not to sin. We're fallen. In heaven we will be not able to sin. And you have this progression of situations of, that in the coming of Christ, now, we are living in that tension. Let me try to give a diagram that I have found helpful and we use here. If you think of history from this point, perspective, you have here the fall in which sin enters into the world. And this gives birth to this evil age.

Now, you have the coming of Christ, which, inaugurates the age to come. Or, the kingdom of God. And the mystery of the kingdom of God is this overlapping period. Where the kingdom is already now, and yet it's not in its fulfillment. Then you have here the second coming, or the Pyrrosia, and at that point, this evil age comes to an end and the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.

I think this is helpful. Ah, I think it was Oscar Coleman who first did that. I got it immediate by George Lad and some others this way. Now, Oscar Coleman was teaching in Europe, and what he likened to this as an analogy, he said, "This is God's D Day. And this is God's V Day." Now, let me explain that. D Day, of course is the invasion of Europe, 1944, June sixth. And, um, when the allies successfully had a beach head established at Normandy, all the German high command knew the war was lost. There was no way of winning any longer. There were two Military commanders of the Germans that were in charge of the Western wall. One was [inaudible] and the other was [inaudible]. And they had a different way of figuring how to defeat the ally landing. One was to defeat them on the beaches, that was [inaudible] view, but [inaudible] said "We can't do that because the Navel bombardment would be too strong and what we have to do is allow them to get the beach head, and then attack them and drive them into the sea. But if the beach head's not defeated, the war is lost."

So everybody knew the war was lost. D Day. But there was still a period of a year, where the war went on. The many people died, because Victory Day would take another year. It was a sense in which, "D Day has come and the enemy has been Defeated. But there are still battles and we still await V Day" so the kingdom of God has come in D Day, but his ultimate victory and fulfillment comes in V Day when the kingdom of God comes in all of its fullness and like. Okay.

Now let me go on and talk about some of the dangers. There are, there's a danger of so emphasizing the 'now', that you lose sight of the 'not yet'. Now there's certain theologies that do that. For instance I think that charismatic theology, Pentecostal theology. I think holiness theology. So emphasized the victory that is ours in Christ. Victory over sin, some say victory over all disease and so forth. Victorious Christian living you could put other that, the Kazak movement, that they lose sight of the fact that there's a 'not yet' involved in this.

We're never going to be a victorious over [inaudible] in the absolute sense, until Jesus comes. Even if there is healing, the vast majority of people don't experience healing. Death is still reigning among us. And it's called upon us once to die. And even some really, pretty good Christian people, like the apostles all died. So if you emphasize the 'now', I think charismatic Pentecostal holiness theology loses sight of the fact that there is sorrow, there is pain, there is suffering, there is disease, there is no perfection in life and that those who are most sensitive to their own sinfulness, probably are the holier of all.

On the other hand, you have mostly the traditional groups. Think of Lutherans reformed, Baptists and others. We so emphasize the 'not yet', only in heaven will we have victory over sin. Only in heaven will there be healing, only in heaven would we really get along together well and so forth. And we lose sight of the fact that, "Hey. Something's happened at Pentecost. Things have changed." And if you emphasize the 'not yet' to the exclusion of the 'now', you have a warped Christianity to the same extent that if you emphasized the 'now' to the solution of the 'not yet' you have a warped theology.

We have to keep those in a healthy tension. You rejoice in the 'already now', but the experience of the 'already now' makes you long all the more for the 'not yet'. So you have to have both of those in a, a healthy tension. You also have the understanding of a one sided approach to the coming of the kingdom of God and you have some groups you have Mercian, which saw the old testament and the new testament as being completely separate realities. Mercian said the Old Testament was the religion of uh, of uh an evil being, ultimately. And that the, the real deviant in the new testament of the law and so forth and so on, comes in the New Testament.

You have Lutheranism that contrasts law and grace. Apparently there's no grace in the Old Testament. You have dispensationalist that does the same. And you emphasize the contrast and the differences between them. In contrast to this Mercian heresy, which emphasizes the difference between the new and the Old Testament, the early church tended to identify the Old Testament with the New Testament. And everything that's true in the New Testament is read back into the Old Testament. And the result is that in this particular theology, which, I think covenant theology would be guilty of reform. Covenant theology. We're often making that mistake.

Uh, there's really not much difference between the New Testament belief and the Old Testament belief. What happens at Pentecostals? [inaudible], I don't know, it didn't really amount to [inaudible] beings so forth and so on. And so they're all identical. Now, I would understand it this way. You do have the Old Testament covenant here and you do have the New Testament covenant. I mean, there has to be something new about the new covenant. Otherwise, what would Jesus call it? A new covenant. He didn't say, "This is the butt of the same old covenant again." There's something new that's taking place, that has been established. But, it's all part of the same covenant.

But this is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, but it takes the Old Testament to a new level. I think, in so doing, the, you have the differences between them, but the unity of the covenant. If you look at the book of Ax it doesn’t start out by saying, "Pentecost, hey listen, we're starting a new religion and we're looking for ground floor membership. Would you like to be a charter member of this new religion we're starting?" Doesn't start out that way. They said, "Look. What God promised to the fathers in the Old Testament, has now come to pass." The kingdom of God has come.

So you have something new here, they're not antagonistic to each other. They're not identical. It's the same covenant, but the new covenant, New Testament takes it up a notch and we get to a higher plane in that regard. I think you have to have some sort of resolution like this, otherwise, once again, you exaggerate the continuity to the diminishing of the discontinuity, or difference.

Or you emphasize the discontinuity so much that you lose sight of the continuity. Here you want to keep both of them together in some ways.