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kingdomQuestion: Describe what is meant by the phrase: “the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Answer:

The topic of the Kingdom of God is a complex and multifaceted one. It is spoken of by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2 when he says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” And Jesus continues this preaching when He synonymously proclaims in Mark 1:15 ‘”The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”’. Notice the reference term for the Kingdom of God as “the good news”, which is the Gospel. This central message is carried throughout much of Jesus’ teachings and is arguably the single most paramount element of His public proclamations. The term “kingdom” appears 50 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 39 times in Luke, and 5 times in John – it is definitively central to the Gospel.

Some have presented, the Kingdom as purely religious and purely future state (not present today in any way (Weiss). Some stated that Jesus expected the Kingdom to come during His ministry as it would arrive prior to the twelve returning from their mission and would mark the end of the present age (Schweitzer). However, as time progressed (at the middle of this century), this polarized understanding was blurred. Some began to acknowledge that Jesus made no error but still held that the Kingdom was too grand to miss – that is, it was so majestic that it couldn’t be something that is happening presently. Several other views have presented themselves, but for brevity we shall move to the most prominent view held today known as “inaugurated eschatology”. “Eschatology” simply means the study of the last days (Greek word “eschatos” means last days). “Inaugurated” means that the Kingdom was beginning to be revealed in Jesus’ preaching and actions but will only be fully consummated in the future.

Let us rewind for a brief moment to the audience Jesus spoke to, as we look to understand the context in which Jesus would have spoken of this Kingdom. Note that the terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” are used interchangeably (Jewish tendency was to not reference God by name – hence a representation of God as “Heaven” was often used). The Jews would have understood some aspects of a Kingdom as it was promised to David (2 Samuel 7:13) and Yahweh’s kingship was clearly seen (1 Samuel 12:12, Psalm 24:10, Isaiah 33:22, Zephaniah 3:15, Zechariah 14:16-17). Not only was the kingship of the Lord commonly understood, but His ruler-ship over Israel was also known (Exodus 15:18, Numbers 23:21, Deuteronomy 33:5, Isaiah 43:15). We even see references to Yahweh ruling over creation (2 Kings 19:15, Isaiah 6:5, Jeremiah 46:18) and possessing a royal throne (Psalm 9:4, Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 1:26). It is within this context that the Jew would have understood some elements of what would form the Kingdom of God but this is also what would lead them to believe it was a political and military restoration to a theocracy (God ruled kingdom) was the intent.

Jesus used the term “Kingdom” as a basis of understanding from which He then further defined. In essence, it was this basic knowledge the Jews had of the Kingdom concept and Jesus’ focused teachings on the characteristics of the Kingdom that allowed Jesus to add more depth and reveal the true meaning of this Kingdom. Jesus also taught the present aspects of the Kingdom as we are able to enter when we are called by God (1 Thessalonians 2:12) and given new birth (John 3:5) in a repentant state (Matthew 3:2). Jesus clearly encourages us to seek the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33) and yet to also pray for its arrival (Matthew 6:10) – we can see the tension between present and future.

Principally, Jesus used the term by redefining its meaning in the minds of His audience and introduced a kind of tension where some elements of the kingdom would be subtle (Mark 4:26-29, Matthew 13:33) while others obvious (Mark 13:24-26), where some elements would be experienced now while other elements were to be experienced in the future. These present and future tensions are at the core of the Kingdom of God.

One of the best ways I have heard the Kingdom of God summarized was presented by Darrell L. Bock (Ph.D.). He described it as “a long-running program that was declared and initiated in [Jesus’] teaching and work, but that will one day culminate in a comprehensive judgment. It is to this goal that the Kingdom is always headed.”

It is with this cursory perspective that we understand that “Kingdom living” is possible today. As we are being sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit and are commissioned to live as brothers and sisters in Christ and act as representatives of His kingdom. We are presently experiencing a glimpse of this Kingdom (of which the church is a part). We are to witness that Christ is the ruler of our lives and one day will be the ruler of all when He asserts His position and establishes the Kingdom of God in its consummated state. It is all about living a life that imitates Christ and provides a glimpse/light into the future – that is God’s glory in full capacity when the Son of Man comes that one indescribable day. It is about living a life that is consistent with the fact that God is on the throne of our lives now (where we yield to the Holy Spirit) resulting in glory to God and in the future the completion of His Kingdom that will further magnify His majesty.

In a future post I will more thoroughly investigate the 5 facets of the kingdom (Universal/Eternal Kingdom, Spiritual Kingdom, Theocratic Kingdom, Messianic Kingdom, and Mystery Kingdom).

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