There is unanimous agreement among evangelical theologians that the “the Kingdom of God” was the central, foundational message of Jesus. Speaking to His followers He said; “I came to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God…” (Lk 4:43) Then after his apostles had been with Him for a while He sent them out; “To Preach the Kingdom of God…” (Lk 9:2) And there is even more evidence, in fact, the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven or their equivalents occur more than a hundred times in the four Gospels alone and a hundred sixty-two times in the entire New Testament. If the Bible says something once, it’s important, but if it says it over and over and over again, it’s supremely important.
Despite its significance, most followers of Jesus have not given much thought to the Kingdom of God. Maybe it’s because they speak, sing, and pray about the kingdom so often, they assume they know what it means. In fact they do not, at least that’s my experience after dialoguing with people about the Kingdom of God for more than forty years. Example: People who have faithfully prayed the Lord’s Prayer their whole life, do not know what they are asking when they pray; “Thy Kingdom Come…on earth as it is in heaven”? I’ve found that even mature believers are unable to explain it to me.
It’s the same with the phrase, “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” (Mat. 6:33) Most believers acknowledge they want to live like that, but ask them, “How do you do it,” or, “what does that phrase means,” and the usual answer is, “I’m not sure.” When people aren’t sure, it makes them vulnerable to erroneous teaching. Currently, the “Kingdom of God” has numerous aberrant interpretations like; “Kingdom Now Theology” also known as “Dominion Theology” which is promoted by the movement known as the “New Apostolic Reformation.” For more information about it, see my paper about the NAR, on my web page; “glennmurray.net”
Jesus told parables and stories about the Kingdom of God, but never gave a precise definition. One might ask why, but the people He was speaking to would not have asked that question, because they knew what He meant. He didn’t need to explain it to them any more than a speaker today would need to explain what a “State” is if he used the term, “All Fifty States.” Later, I will give two stories from the Bible to prove that point.
Believers acknowledge Jesus as King but ask them to explain what the Kingdom means, and most will have a similar definition as the dictionary. “a state or government having a king or queen as its head.” (Dictionary.com) It’s unfortunate, that people understand the Kingdom of God that way, because that is not what Jesus meant when He spoke about the Kingdom of God. He was not speaking about an area or group of people like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, or the United Kingdom. There is always a group of people over which a King reigns but it’s a secondary derived meaning. We need to return to the way the first-century believers understood the Kingdom of God.
The challenge of language is that the meaning of some words change over time, and some do not. “Kingdom” is a word that has changed because it had a uniquely different meaning in the first century. An illustration of how words change is found in the word “Charity” in the King James Version of the Bible, which was translated in 1611. The vocabulary of that day caused them to translate the Biblical word “Love” as “Charity.” You see it in Chapter Thirteen of First Corinthians, which is known as the love chapter. It uses the phrase; “Now abide these, Faith Hope and Charity.” Today, “I charity you,” would not be understood to mean, “I love you.” So, let’s return the meaning of the word, “Kingdom,” in the days of Jesus.
We’ll start with the original words used in the Scriptures for our English word “Kingdom.” The Old Testament used the Hebrew word, “Malkuth” and the New Testament uses the Greek word, “Basileia.” The primary meaning of each of those words is, “Authority to rule.” As is common in the English language, Kingdom had a number of synonyms that were used to describe it. Depending on the context of the passage, the Biblical translators use one of these synonyms; Authority, Rulership, Sovereignty, Dominion, or Power. I will leave it for others to write a deeper more complete theology of the Kingdom of God but a simple description would be; “It is the Rule or Reign of God.” We celebrate it with the song, “Our God Reigns.”
That means that when you see the word kingdom in the Scriptures, you can substitute one of those words, and you have the true meaning. Try it the next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer. When you come to the line that says, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In your mind and heart, say; “May your Authority be accepted on earth like it is in heaven” or personalize it by saying; “May you rule in my heart as you do in heaven.” For the phrase; “For Thine is the Kingdom,” recognize that it literally means; “You have all authority.” When you desire to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33) you do so by, “Allowing God to rule in your life.”
Let’s revisit two scenarios in the Bible that illustrate what the writers of Scripture had in mind when they used the Hebrew and Greek words for Kingdom. Authority, Right to Rule, Sovereignty, and Dominion are the literal meaning of the word Kingdom, but the context of the stories also confirm that meaning.
In the Old Testament: You will remember that the Babylonian’s took Israel into captivity and they also brought back the golden cups from the temple in Jerusalem. One night King Belshazzar had those cups brought in so he could drink a toast to the idols of Babylon. God was really upset by this and sent him a message. In a drunken stupor, Belshazzar saw the fingers of a hand writing something on the wall. It was in a language that he or his wise men could not interpret. (Dan. 5:26-31) Daniel was brought in and he interpreted the message as follows; “God has numbered the days of your Kingdom (Malkuth) and brought it to an end.” It’s obvious that the nation and people of Babylon did not end that night but Belshazzar’s rulership did. (Malkuth) The Bible says he was killed that very night and his kingdom (Authority/Rulership) was terminated, and given to Darius the Mede. (Dan. 5:31)
In the New Testament: Jesus told a very short parable about the Kingdom of God. When the people were perplexed about the Kingdom, He said, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom (Basileia) and then return.” (Luke 19:12) That doesn’t help those of us in the twenty-first century to understand the Kingdom, however, it was the perfect metaphor for His audience. That very situation had happened a few years earlier, so the people had the following context for what Jesus was talking about. In 63 BC, the Romans conquered Israel but could not subdue it. For twenty-three years, they controlled it by day but not by night, in the city but not the country, in the streets but not the alleys. So as Jesus stated, a nobleman who was a descendant of “Esau”, and a convert to Judaism had an idea. He had met the Cesar once so he went to Rome and proposed to the Roman Senate that they give him the Kingdom. (Basileia/Right to rule) Mark Antony, the Roman General/politician helped him convince them that he could end the chaos, subdue the country, and bring stability. The territory and people over which he wanted to rule was the place he left, so “Kingdom” could not have meant, an area or group of people. This man’s name was Herod and he literally went into a far country (Italy) to receive the right to rule his region. He was given that authority by Rome so he was the ruthless King of Judea when Jesus was born.
You now have indisputable evidence that the primary message of Jesus was the Kingdom of God and that the people understood Him to mean, “God has a Right to Rule.” Israel already knew that because God had given them the Mosaic Covenant but they had repeatedly ignored his rulership and violated this covenant. They were no different than we are today because every person is born with the desire to be autonomous. Even three-year-olds want to be in charge of themselves when they say; “I can do it myself.” Each of us inherited that in our DNA from our great-great grand-father Adam who was the first to say by his actions, I don’t want anyone to rule over me.
You may ask, why does God have the right to rule everything? If you agree that God is the creator, sustainer and highest authority in the universe, then it’s easy to answer. If you don’t then my answer will not satisfy you. I believe He has a right to rule because He owns everything, and like a landlord, He has authority over his property. God doesn’t just own the “Cattle on a thousand hills,” everything on earth and in heaven belongs to Him. (Psa. 50:10) He owns everything we possess, even our next breath. We are merely stewards or managers of what He gives us, death proves that conclusively. Oh yes, you can pass it on to your heirs but they will merely be stewards until they die.
God knew we were incapable of meeting His standard of righteousness, so He sent His Son Jesus to do it for us. First He preached the Kingdom of God, then went to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin which was death. Death in the Scripture is always, separation from God who is life. So He suffered death on our behalf and was separated from His Father so that we don’t have to ever be separated from God. He then instituted a “New Covenant” (Mat. 26:28) which allowed anyone who receives Jesus to become a Son of God and inherit the eternal life of Jesus.
Before Jesus went back to heaven He told His disciples; “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” (Mat. 28:18) Therefore, since the Kingdom of God is defined as, “Authority, Rulership, Sovereignty, and Dominion, it means that, Jesus and the “Kingdom of God” are synonymous. In fact, He is the embodiment of the “Kingdom of God” which can also be stated as; Authority of God, Rulership of God, Sovereignty of God, Dominion of God. Or you could just say Jesus, and correctly understood you have spoken about the Kingdom of God.
After Jesus ascended into Heaven, the early church leaders continued His teaching about the Kingdom of God but began to associate it with the name of Jesus. Philip, the first evangelist, went to Samaria preaching the “the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12) Everywhere in Scripture, Jesus is portrayed as the authority of God so everyone who receives Jesus receives the Kingdom of God. Salvation is a one-time event but those of us who are “Born again, Saved, Regenerate,” need to continue to daily receive the Kingdom, meaning Gods rulership in our lives.
God has graciously given mankind free will, so we can decide whether or not we want to give our allegiance to Him. I have chosen to let Jesus be the Lord of my life and I pray that the Good News of the Kingdom of God will be returned to its rightful place in the body of Christ. (Luke 4:43)
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
Some think the Kingdom of God is the church or all the believers in the world. It’s true that the church is the Church of God, (1 Cor 1:2), and the kingdom is the Kingdom of God, but they are not synonymous? The Church is a fellowship of believers who have received the Kingdom of God. (His Rulership) People received or rejected the Kingdom of God long before the church was instituted in the Book of Acts. Adam and Eve rejected the Kingdom of God, (Rulership of God) and we have original sin. In fact, sin is rejecting the Kingdom of God, i.e.; Rejecting God’s right to rule. Noah received the Kingdom of God and built an ark. Abraham received the Kingdom of God and went into another country. Moses received the Kingdom of God and went back to Egypt. Mary received the Kingdom of God and said to the angel; “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) Scripture teaches that the Kingdom of God is actually, “From before the foundation of the world.” (Mat. 25:34) Again, speaking of God, the Bible says; “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations” (Psa. 145:13)
A phrase often heard in some churches is; “Building the Kingdom of God.” They think they are building the kingdom by adding new believers to the body of Christ, starting new churches or other missionary efforts. However, if you understand the true meaning of the word kingdom, that is a ridiculous idea. How can we build, add too or extend; the Sovereignty, Authority, Rulership, or Power of God? The idea of laboring to establish the Kingdom of God is completely inconsistent with the language of scripture. The kingdom is a divine fact, not a human accomplishment. We are not asked to “build the Kingdom,” but we are asked to receive it and proclaim it.
Some think the Kingdom of God was the message of Jesus for the period before the cross, but the first chapter of Acts refutes that. This was after His resurrection but His message had not changed, because, for forty days Jesus continued to teach His disciples about the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3). Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles also continued to teach the Kingdom of God. Scripture says that he; “entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8) Later he went to Rome and preached first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, the Kingdom of God. (Acts 28:23,31) He lived for two years in Rome and “Boldly proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:31) These early disciples knew that kingdom meant authority and sovereignty so by preaching the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus; they were claiming that all authority in heaven and on earth reside in Him.