The Meaning of the Kingdom of God
In the scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and those of His disciples, revolve around the kingdom of God (Livingstone, 2000). There are many instances in the New Testament where the term ‘kingdom of God’ is mentioned.
For instance, when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them to pray to God for the kingdom to come. In the book of Luke, Jesus referred to the kingdom of God when he sent His disciples to preach the gospel. He told them, “Go and preach the gospel about the kingdom of God…” (Luke 9: 1-2). In the New Testament, apostle Paul talks about the kingdom of God in his preaching (Acts 20:25, 28:23, 28:31). In the book of Matthew, the term ‘kingdom of God,’ is referred to as the ‘kingdom of heaven.
‘ Religious scholars say that there is no difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. They argue that it was a common norm for Jews to use different words to substitute divine words in their writings. Therefore, they substituted the word ‘God’ with the word ‘heaven’ simply for circumlocution reasons, and not for other reasons. However, other scholars argue that the kingdom of God is different from the kingdom of heaven citing that, the kingdom of God is the present (already on earth) while the kingdom of heaven is the future (yet to come). The term ‘kingdom’ in general terms refers to rule, kingship, government, or sovereignty. In the New Testament, Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of God imply that, the kingdom of God is already in existence and it is here on earth (Livingstone, 2000).
Kingdom of God refers to the establishment of God’s rule on earth, through destruction of all evil, resulting into formation of world peace, health, and happiness for humankind in the future. According to Browning (1997), the synoptic readings provide evidence that the kingdom of God was in establishment during the time when Jesus Christ was on earth. This is because, in His teachings, Jesus would say that the kingdom of God was already in His ministry. A good illustration is in the book of Luke where Jesus said, “If I cast out the demons in the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come on you” (11:20). Jesus said these words when He was cursing-out demons from a young man who was mute.
In His parables, Jesus kept on referring to the mysterious arrival of the kingdom of God. For example, in the parable of the hidden treasure, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure. By referring to the kingdom of God as a hidden treasure, Jesus was implying that the kingdom of God was already on earth (Browning, 1997). It was upon the people to seek this kingdom of God: through refraining from all kinds of evil. In the New Testament, it has been mentioned that ‘who is greater than Solomon was there’ (Browning, 1997). This statement indicates that the kingdom of God, which was greater than the kingdom of man, was already on earth during the time when Jesus Christ was on earth.
To provide evidence that the kingdom of God is a thing of the uture, Bradshaw (1991) refers to the parable of the mustard seed. In the parable of mustard seed, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven with a mustard seed. In His parable, Jesus mentioned that a mustard seed is a very small seed, which is almost invisible. The seed is buried in the soil where it starts to germinate, resulting into a big tree, which continues to grow bigger and bigger as time goes by. Just like the mustard seed, Jesus compares the growth of the kingdom of God with the growth of the mustard seed.
In interpreting this parable, Bradshaw says that the kingdom of God started on earth when God sent Jesus Christ to earth (1991). The coming of Jesus Christ is compared to burying the mustard seed in the soil. While on earth, Jesus taught His followers how to refrain from evil. He demonstrated this by accepting suffering and enduring temptations. He later died and went back to His father. However, He left the mandate of preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God to His disciples.
For many centuries, the spreading of the gospel of the kingdom of God has continued across all nations of the world. Bradshaw compares this with the growth of the mustard tree (1991). In the end, after all evil have been eliminated from earth, Jesus will hand over the kingdom of God to God. From there, God will continue to rule over His kingdom for eternity. This analysis of the parable of the mustard seed gives a clear demonstration of what the scriptures refers to the kingdom of God: the reign of God’s rule on earth through Jesus Christ and then handing over of the kingdom to God who will rule for eternity (Bradshaw, 1991).The book of Mark also gives further evidence to demonstrate that the kingdom of God encompasses both the present and the future.
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). This scripture demonstrates that, to Jesus, the kingdom of God was established when He ascended on earth, and it took form through His work of spreading the gospel. Bradshaw argues that, Jesus said the words in Mark 1:15, with the intention of making His listeners understand that the kingdom of God was both a present and a future aspect, and that, the kingdom of God entailed desisting from evil, through accepting the gospel of Christ (Bradshaw, 1991). According to Ladd, the kingdom of God refers to establishment of God’s reign on earth through Jesus Christ (1959).
The ultimate objective of the establishment of the kingdom of God is God’s “perfect reign in the entire universe” (Ladd, 1959). However, this reign of God on earth is not accomplished in a single act. It involves three different stages. These stages are what gives rise to the present and the future aspects of the kingdom of God. Ladd refers to the teaching of Paul about the establishment of the kingdom of God: there is the preparation of the coming of the kingdom of God by John the Baptist, after that there is the coming of Jesus Christ, and finally, the coming of the end. The first two stages refer to the present kingdom of God, whille the third stage refers to the future kingdom of God, where Jesus will deliver the kingdom to the Father (Ladd, 1959).
From Ladd’s perspective, the meaning of the kingdom of God in the present aspect is demonstrated in the Revelation of Paul, who states that Jesus’ work is to defeat the enemies of God, in order to pave way for the establishment of eternal reign of God in the universe. The present kingdom of God will continue until Jesus has conquered all the enemies on earth. Jesus demonstrated His ability to conquer the enemies by resurrecting from death (Ladd, 1959). In this instance, Paul refers to death as one of the enemies that Jesus will have to conquer. Death is an enemy since when one sins, he/she is punished through death (Romans 6:23).
Once Jesus has conquered every evil, including death, then the future kingdom of God will take effect. The book of Revelation describes the future kingdom of God as characterized by God’s goodness on earth: there will be abundant peace, happiness, wealth, and goodness. There will be no evil, nor death. This kingdom will last forever. According to Bowker (1997), the term ‘the kingdom of God’ equates to the term ‘the kingdom of heaven.
‘ The teachings of Jesus based on the books of Luke, John, Matthew, and Mark presents the kingdom of God both in the present and in the future. The present kingdom of God is observed through Jesus’ parables. This point of view of the Concise Oxford Dictionary concerning the kingdom of God, is similar to those of other religious scholars discussed earlier. Therefore, it would be safe to say that the kingdom of God entails present aspects in terms of destruction of God’s enemies on earth, through His son, Jesus Christ.In the late antiquity period, religious scholars such as Augustine tried to define the kingdom of God by relating it with the Church. To Augustine, the kingdom of God is the practice of God’s will by the humans, or rather, the opposite of the kingdom of Satan (Bowker, 1997).
Religious scholars of the mediaeval period also related the kingdom of God to the church, whereby they viewed it to be visible through the hierarchical church (Bowker, 1997). In the contemporary times, theologians tend to view the kingdom of God as “the state of human affairs in accordance with God’s will” (Bowker, 1997). Different religious scholars and theologians have adapted different approaches in understanding the meaning of the kingdom of God, which has been numerously referred to in the New Testament through Jesus teachings. However, it is clear that the kingdom of God has present and future aspects. The present aspects are God’s work, through Jesus Christ to conquer evil. This started when God sent Jesus to earth.
Jesus preached about the kingdom of God through His gospel. He also mandated His disciples to continue spreading the gospel even after He went back to heaven. Christians conform to the teachings of Jesus, and hence, they are able to do away with evil. When Jesus’ work of conquering evil will be finished, the future kingdom of God will take effect where God will reign over earth for eternity.