The good news of the gospel writers was more than news of salvation from judgment. John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul all preached "the gospel of the Kingdom ofGod." To ignore the Kingdom of God is to ignore the context of both Christ's lordship and our salvation.
Old Testament Origins of the Kingdom
The Kingdom was neither a new concept nor a new term to the Jews of our Lord's day. Not only the coming but also the triumphs of the Messiah were clearly foretold by Scripture.1 Jeremiah 23:5, for example, had declared,
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
This Kingdom was seen as a coming with the Messiah of an age of true religion and universal peace and prosperity as the blessing of God spread with His dominion. Devout Jews are seen in the Gospels as anticipating this Kingdom. Most specifically we are told that Joseph "waited for the kingdom of God."2
Most Jews, including the apostles, envisioned a political, Jewish kingdom as the context for all the blessings prophesied. The Messiah would be the literal king of a Jewish state, institute religious reforms, usher in blessing and restoration, stand as a defender of Israel from foreign domination, and then eventually extend His dominion over the whole earth.
Given the tendency of the West to assume that future blessings will come through the same channels as the past (i.e., that God will revive His work through another Luther, or Calvin, or a revived Christian America), we ought not be too critical of the Jews for this assumption. They looked to the best example of kingdom that they knew, one blessed by the promises and miraculous intervention of God. They logically assumed the heir to David's throne would be a king after the same manner as Israel's greatest monarch.
King and Kingdom
The term kingdom of heaven is introduced to us by John the Baptist without any explanation. It was not at all a new concept for the Jews. The terms king and kingdom abound in the Old Testament as did the assumption of the sovereignty of God over both. The word theocracy does not refer to a form of government by men, but rather to the "rule of God." Jacob's ladder was a picture of God's government over the earth. He was the ultimate Sovereign over all kings and kingdoms. The doctrine of the Kingdom is no more than an extension of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
The association of the Messiah with a Kingdom was also an expectation of the Jews. Daniel declared that the God of heaven would set up a Kingdom that would never be destroyed and that it would be that of the Son of man who would come with clouds of heaven and would exercise an "everlasting dominion."3 The development is thus from the sovereignty of God to the role of the Messiah as the ultimate Sovereign. The implication of Jesus of Nazareth being introduced as the Lord of heaven and the earth is the necessity of acknowledging Him. One cannot be faithful to a kingdom without acknowledging its rightful king. The clear requirement is that those who claim the promise of the Kingdom must do so in the name of Jesus. The whole earth must, as the Christmas hymn reminds us, "receive its king," or it stands as an enemy of both the King and His reign. Because the doctrine of the Kingdom of God is an extension of the sovereignty of God, it is necessarily tied to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Lord means master or ruler; it is a common title for nobles and royalty. A sovereign is necessarily a king, a lord.
Man cannot see the future, only the present and, to a limited extent, the past. He thus envisions the future within the limitations of past experience. It is no wonder the Jews expected a very political and Jewish kingdom, given their centuries of experience with a Davidic king in Jerusalem.
The disciples obviously shared this view. They wanted a miraculous transition into the kingdom and found Jesus' reference to His death very disturbing. They envisioned themselves in positions of power once that kingdom was instituted.4 Even the disciples had to understand the tremendous paradigm shift in their understanding of "the Kingdom of Christ."5
Jesus would not be limited by the past-bound assumption of Jewish thought. His Kingdom would not be a Jewish state, but a heavenly government, a godly order.
Jesus would not merely usher in religious reform. His work was to destroy the work of Satan, to crush the serpent, to atone for sin as the Lamb of God, and to bring men of all nations from darkness to light.
Jesus came to do more than bring restoration and blessing to Israel. He came to bring salvation to all. Israel was the prototype covenant people. Jesus came to bring salvation to Jew and Gentile, to reconcile men of all nations and tongues to God.
Jesus came to do more than bless Israel: he came to bless a new, enlarged Israel, all those made part of the covenant family by the grace of the heavenly Father. The blessing was not limited to those of Jewish blood with others receiving only trickle-down benefit, but it was, as promised to Abraham, a blessing to all nations of the earth. The Jewish view was conveniently centered on Israel. It was a man-centered view of the "kingdom of God,"6 a Palestine-based view of the "kingdom of heaven."7
The blessing of the Kingdom of God is not one channeled through any political entity, Jewish or otherwise. The Kingdom belongs to God, not to any group of men. Citizenship belongs to a new entity, the body of Christ, all those who are united to Him in faith in His conquest of sin and death and who look to His lordship over heaven and earth. The Hebrew nation was blessed by God, and its purpose in God's covenantal salvation history transcended each and every one of its numbers. Likewise the Kingdom of God transcends the body of Christ, its citizens and the organizational church. The Kingdom of God is not to be equated with either of the latter, though they have an important place therein. The Kingdom of God is about God and His Son to whom has been given "[a]ll power ... in heaven and in earth."8
The Kingdom Is Present and Future
Attempts to see the Kingdom of God as a future event are mostly the product of the late nineteenth century's rise of dispensationalism. The Gospels tell us the Kingdom is to be sought in our lives,9 to be received now,10 that a man in Christ's day could see it and enter into it,11 and that it is found among us.12 Imposing a parenthetical "church age" into history to defer such references to an end-of-time eschatological millennium does not work, for Paul speaks of the Kingdom in the present tense.13
Other passages refer to the Kingdom as a progressive, developing fact. The Lord's Prayer petitions "Thy kingdom come,"14 whereas we are told that "the kingdom of God is come"15 and that it is on earth and in heaven.16 Many of the parables regarding the Kingdom describe it in terms of the growth of a seed, tree, or yeast that develops over a period of time.17
There is no denying that many references to the Kingdom are in the future as well. It is described as existing at the end of the world and after the final judgment.18 The angelic messenger told Mary it would have "no end"19 and the Epistles refer to it as "an everlasting kingdom"20 that is "for ever and ever."21
An Expanded View of the Kingdom
God is greater than man's mind can imagine. The Kingdom of God described in the New Testament is far more glorious than the one pictured by the Jews and even by Christ's disciples. It is all they imagined but in a more extensive power and glory.
The Kingdom of God takes the sovereignty of God and His providential governing and adds a dimension of total victory by Jesus Christ. His work is no mere political triumph, or a blessing that is extended far and wide. The Kingdom of God sees all the prophetic promises22 as foreseeing not just a glorious godliness in Israel but over all the earth. It sees the church as the heirs of Abraham's promise and all the earth as the Lord's. It is thus, like dispensationalism, very much an eschatological view and, in fact, cannot be separated from that tie.
The Kingdom of God and His Christ began with the ministry of Jesus Christ and will know no end. In history, it is whenever the Messiah reigns. We must preach salvation, but in doing so we must not reduce the gospel to a benefit. The gospel is "of the Kingdom of God." Salvation is our entry point, our submission to Jesus Christ as the Lord, or King, not only of our destiny, but of our lives, and of all heaven and earth. The gospel of salvation must lead us to the King and an understanding of ourselves as citizens in His Kingdom.
1. See for example, Isa. 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-7; Isa. 11:1-10; Jer. 32:37-44; Dan. 2:44.
2. Luke 23:50-51; regarding the expectations of Zacharias, Simeon, and Anna see Luke 1:67-79 and 2:25-38.
3. Dan. 2:44, 7:13-14
4. Matt. 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-34; Luke 9:46-49
5. So called in Matt. 13:41, 20:21; Rev. 1:9 and in Eph. 5:5 as "the kingdom of Christ and of God."
6. So called in Matt. 6:33; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43, 6:20; John 3:3-5.
7. So called in Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 47; 2 Tim. 4:18.
8. Matt. 28:18
9. Matt. 6:33
10. Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17
11. John 3:3, 5
12. Luke 17:21. [T]he Kingdom of God is within you" may be translated "among you."
13. Rom. 14:17; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 12:10
14. Matt. 6:10
15. Matt. 12:28
16. Matt. 16:19
17. Matt. 13:24-33
18. Matt. 13:43, 49
19. Luke 1:33
20. 2 Peter 1:11
21. Heb. 1:8
22. For instance, see Isa. 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-7; Isa. 11:1-10; Jer. 32:37-44; Dan. 2:44.