BS402 New Testament Survey Assignment 3 Research Essay Question 3) Discuss the meaning of the “Kingdom of God” with reference to its present and future aspects in the synoptic gospels.
Table of Contents Research Essay....................................................................................................... ....1 Introduction............................................................................................... ..............2 What is the Kingdom of God............................................................................. .......3 The Present Kingdom..............................................................................................4 The significance of the present Kingdom................................................................5 The Future kingdom................................................................................................6 Implications to us as Christians...............................................................................8 Conclusion................................................................................................... ..........10 Bibliography................................................................................ .............................11
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Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246)
In this wonderful yet fearful time, men are asking questions. What does life all mean? Where are we going? Does mankind have a destiny? While the world looks towards materialism, the Hebrew-Christian faith expresses its hope in terms of the Kingdom of God.
The “Kingdom of God” has always been central in Jesus’ message; When He began His ministry, according to Matthew 4:23, Jesus went about Galilee announcing the coming of the kingdom of God (NIV, 2008). Therefore, it is important to understand this key theme in the Bible and to know its implications to us as Christians so that we can be assured that when we seek first His “kingdom” (Matthew 6:33, NIV, 2008), we are seeking the true “kingdom” that God has established through Jesus and is establishing in time to come.
The word “kingdom” is mentioned 342 times in the Bible, both in the Old and the New Testament. But for the purpose of this essay, we will focus mainly on the Synoptic Gospels1, which are the chapters Matthew, Mark and Luke in the Bible. There are about one hundred references to the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven” in the Synoptic Gospels (Hagner, 2000). This is the key theme, which we want to explore - what is the meaning of “kingdom”?
Matthew, Mark and Luke are referred to the ‘Synoptic Gospels’ because they not only share a common framework but also a basic theological perspective, almost representing a single Gospel account with its own distinct flavor to the narration of the life of Jesus. One of the key theologies in the Synoptics is the announcement of the kingdom of God by Jesus. Page 2 of 13
Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246)
What is the Kingdom of God
In our western idiom, a kingdom is primarily a realm over which a king exercises his authority (Ladd cited in Winter, 1999). The dictionary follows this line of thought by defining kingdom as “a politically organized community or major territorial unit having a monarchical form of government headed by a king or queen; dominion; realm” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2008). However, to understand the biblical meaning of “kingdom”, we must put aside all modern idioms to look at what the word of God says about the “kingdom of God”.
In the Synoptic Gospels, John the Baptist was the first to draw attention to the coming of the “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15, NIV, 2008). The Greek meaning of “kingdom” uttered by John the Baptist in Mark 1:15 (NIV, 2008) is “ originating from the word “
” meaning ‘king’ or ‘royal dominion’. In
Matthew, the author prefers the equivalent “kingdom of heaven”, which occurs 32 times (Hagner, 2000), due to Jewish sensitivity to using the name of ‘God’; while the “kingdom of God” is more commonly used in the other Synoptic Gospels – occurring 13 times in Mark and 32 times in Luke. No matter which term is used, the primary meaning of both the Hebrew word “malkuth” in the Old Testament and of the Greek word “basileia” in the Old Testament is the “rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king” (Ladd cited in Winter, 1999).
One reference in the Gospels makes this meaning very clear. In Luke 19:1112, “A noblemen went into a far country to receive a basileia and then return” (NIV, Page 3 of 13
Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246) 2008). The nobleman did not go away to get a physical realm, an area over which to rule. The territory he was to rule was the place he left. The problem was, he was not a king. What he needed was authority, the right to rule (Ladd, 1959). So, he went off to get a “kingdom”, i.e. kingship, authority (Ladd, 1959). From this passage, we can gather that the kingdom of God is God’s kingship, God’s rule and God’s authority. It is not a territory or a people.
The Present Kingdom
In Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20, this “kingdom” is said to have “come” (NIV, 2008). The Greek word here for “come” is “
”, which means “to come
suddenly and unexpectedly” (Zodhiates (Ed.), 2004). This emphasis on the present presence of the kingdom is a recurring message in the Synoptics. When a person becomes a Christian through the profession of one’s faith in Jesus Christ, the follower enters the kingdom immediately. In Colosians 1:13, Paul writes that God has “delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13, NIV). Likewise in Luke 16:16, Jesus proclaimed that “the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it”. These two verses make it very clear that once we believe, we are already in the kingdom of God.
Jesus said that we must “receive the Kingdom of God” as little children (Mark 10:15, NIV, 2008). What is received? Relating it to the true meaning of ‘basileia’, what is received is God’s rule (Ladd, 1959), not a physical realm. When we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10), we are petitioning for God to reign; “to Page 4 of 13
Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246) manifest His kingly sovereignty and power”; to put to flight every enemy of righteousness; and of His divine rule that God alone may be King over all the world (Ladd, 1959). When we give God sovereignty over our lives, we begin to experience the ‘kingdom of God’, His reign, which is His divine sovereignty,in our lives.
In Luke 17:21 (NIV, 2008), Luke writes that the kingdom of God is “within you”. If we read this verse as , ‘God’s rule is within you’, then this means that spiritually, the kingdom of God is ruling within the human heart (Zodhiates (Ed.), 2004) – our emotions, our decisions and our thoughts. It is a very real and vital sense in which God has already manifested His reign, His will, His Kingdom, through faith in the life and death of Jesus Christ (Ladd, 1959). Thus, the Kingdom is a virtue that we can experience here and now.
Similarly, Hagner (2000) explains also that the kingdom of God can be understood as a state or condition of the experience of the rule or reign of God in our life here and now. Romans 14:17 (NIV, 2008) refers to the kingdom as “not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. So, the kingdom is a present spiritual state or a real experience within a Christian. And to enter into the ‘kingdom’, one must submit himself in perfect trust to God’s rule here and now.
The significance of the present Kingdom
We all live in a fallen world. What Jesus did through His redeeming salvation is to offer to all human beings through His death and His resurrection a new life now. Page 5 of 13
Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246) From the moment Jesus resurrected from the dead, He had begun establishing His reign, His Kingdom, on earth. When we accept that Jesus died for us on the cross and was resurrected three days later for our salvation, we, in effect, is saying that we believe that Jesus reigns over men, the world and Satan. So, when we pray for Him to be the God of our life, we are essentially conceiving the kingdom into our lives. God had reestablished Hisgovernment in this age in the hearts and lives of those who yield themselves to Him, and in the next age over all the world (Ladd, 1959). So, through our salvation, the kingdom is a present reality that we can experience. We personally come to understand and accept the rule of God in our lives, in the present, when we acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus in our life. At the same time, it is clear from New Testament teaching that the Kingdom is not perfectly realized in this age. Central to the Christian theology is the doctrine of the “Second coming of Christ” (Ladd, 1959). God will bestow upon His people “an inheritance” when Christ returns (Ladd, 1595). This inheritance is the future kingdom. In Matthew 8:11 (NIV), Jesus tells His followers that, in that day,“many will come from the east and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). This is clearly referring to a future occurrence.
The Future kingdom
When we trace the word “aion” in New Testament, which translated means “age” (Zodhiates, 2004), we discover that there are two ages which are frequently called “This Age” and “The Age to Come”. In Matthew 12:32 (NIV, 2008), “anyone Page 6 of 13
Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246) who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”. Clearly, the Lord is not speaking of two worlds but two ages, which further translated is “an indefinitely long period or lapse of time, perpetuity, ever, forever, eternity” (Zodhiates, 2004). These two ages are separated by the second coming of the Christ.
In the Age to come, when Christ returns, He will establish His kingdom and get rid of the dominion of Satan, creating a new “heaven and earth”, which was revealed to John when he wrote the book of Revelations (Rev 21:1, NIV) where he proclaimed that he saw a new heaven and a new earth, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea”. Ladd (Cited in Wimber, 1989) writes, in A Theology of the New Testament, that “this age, is the age of human existence in weakness and mortality. The Age to come will see the realization of all that the reign of God means, and will be the age of resurrection into eternal life in the Kingdom of God” (Ladd, cited in Wimber 1989:48). The kingdom of God is therefore also a future realm we will enter. We often refer to this realm as “heaven” or “eternity”.
It is vital to understand an important biblical at this point, which is, we shall never experience the full blessings of God’s Kingdom in this Age until the victorious Coming of Christ (Ladd, 1959). Men cannot build the Kingdom of God. Christ will bring it.
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Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246) This future kingdom will be more than just a spiritual realm as Jesus’ followers experience a new existence. It will be a glorious time. Jesus told of the day when the angels “will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers…Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41, 43, NIV). On the other hand, when asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom will come, Jesus answered, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or, ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (Luke 17:20-21, NKJV). While it seemed like Jesus flat out discouraged the Pharisees to look for a future kingdom, it is clear that the Kingdom is at work in the present world and in the future (Goldsworthy, 2000). God is an omnipresent God who is not defined by human understanding, as was revealed to the prophet Isaiah "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). While this seems impossible to men, it is possible in God’s timeless reality.
So, this Kingdom of God belongs to the present as well as the future (Ladd, 1959). As Ladd so poetically writes, we are now living in the days of “the presence of the future” (Ladd, 1959). The kingdom exists now as a present experience of God’s rule in our lives when we decide to follow Jesus wholeheartedly (Matthew 21:31) but also as future realm into which we will enter (Matthew 8:11) as true children of God for eternity. Knowing our future inheritance forms the basis of our hope for our future in Christ and encourages us to stay strong now for the “prize before us” (Philippians 3:14, NIV) that is a promised reality to all Christians, when Christ returns and establishes His reign on earth.
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Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246)
Implications to us as Christians
Experiencing a new life in God’s kingdom brings blessings and victory over sin and death I believe that the journey of new life for every Christian begins with our professing of faith in Christ, but it must not end there. Every believer of Christ should learn to let God “reign” in our lives, thus, entrust our life to God, obey His word and seek His will. This is the process that is spoken of by Paul in his letter to the Romans when he encouraged the believers in Rome to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Then every believer will be able to find and know what God's will is, which is good, pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:2, NIV, 2008). When we observe God in this way, we are will begin to see His kingdom unfold within our very own lives.
Likewise, in Matthew 5:3, Jesus teaches that those who are ‘poor in spirit’ will receive the “kingdom of heaven” (NIV, 2008). Professor Finney (1844), explains that the poor in spirit “implied that we understand our own guilt and helplessness, and realize as a practical fact our own utter emptiness by nature of everything good, and of any tendency to that which is good”. So, those who are humble will thus, be able to let go of our own pride to let God lead our lives into His wonderful plans.
Walking in God’s kingdom is when we are totally free because we are living the life we are truly created to live – in an intimate relationship with Christ and fulfilling His purposes in our life. As we do that, Jesus will also bless us physically, though that should not be our incentive to serve God, but understand it as God’s Page 9 of 13
Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246) gracious blessing when we honour Him. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus taught his followers to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” and when they do, all their needs will be met as Jesus promised that “all these things will be given to you as well” (NIV, 2008). I believe that Jesus meant every word when He said “all” things, referring to all “needs” will be ours to receive when we are seeking His way and reign in our lives.
The kingdom and His church The church, the gathering of His people, is where God reigns. As Carson (1990) explains, “whatever our understanding of the future displays of God's kingship in Christ, we hold that the culminating, saving reign of God has already dawned in a preliminary fashion” in the church. The church is therefore, the exemplification of the running tension between the "already" and the "not yet" kingdom of God that we explored in previous parts of this essay. As Carson reminds all believers, we must remember that the church is an “eschatological community” that is tied with the new heaven and the new earth. It is intrinsically more important and more enduring than its ties with this world that is passing away (Carson, 1990). Christians are citizens of the “new Jerusalem” (Revelations 2:12) and the church plays a huge part in steering all believers towards the consummation of this reality in the future through its ministry and activities such as evangelism, teaching, social responsibilities and prayer (Carson, 1990). It is the church that joins every believer in every generation towards this common goal of the kingdom of God that awaits us in the future.
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Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246)
In conclusion, it is suffice to say that the kingdom of God is a threefold fact. Firstly, it is God’s reign. Secondly, some passages refer to the kingdom of God as the realm into which we now enter to experience the blessing of His reign. And thirdly, other passages refer to it as the establishment of God’s new heaven and earth when Jesus returns a second time to rule and reign for good overall creation, when we will enter into the fullness of His reign and experience God’s total glory on earth as it is in heaven. It is important to capture all three expressions of the kingdom of God so we understand the stages of its manifestation – it is a realm of spiritual blessing we can experience now and also the realm of the “age to come” in the future, popularly known as heaven. With this understanding fastened into our belt of truth, let us confidently proclaim “His kingdom come and His will be done” on earth now and in heaven in the future. And this is every Christian’s sure and blessed hope.
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Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246)
Bibliography Biblegateway (2008). Scriptural reference for New International Version, New King James Version and King James Version. Gospel Communications International. http://www.biblegateway.com. Bradshaw, R. (1991). “The Meaning and Significance of the Phrase "Kingdom of God" in the Teaching of Jesus as Represented by the Synoptic Gospels”. Mattersey Hall Bible College. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_kingdom.html (24 September 2008).
Carson, D. (1990). “Evangelicals, Ecumenism and the Church”. Kantzer & Henry (Eds.). Evangelical Affirmations. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books / Zondervan Publishing House. Cited in http://www.ccel.us/EV.ch9.html (18 October 2008). Finney (1844). “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit”. Gospel of Truth Ministries. http://www.gospeltruth.net/1844OE/441204_poor_in_spirit.htm (2000). Goldsworthy, G. (2000). “Kingdom of God”. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. England: Inter-Varsity Press. Grudem, W. (1999). Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian faith. England: Inter-Varsity Press. Hagner, D. (2000). “Synoptic Gospels”. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. England: Inter-Varsity Press. Henry, M. (1997). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, Tennessee. Ladd, G (1959). The Gospel of the Kingdom: Popular Expositions of the Kingdom of God. Michigan: The Paternoster Press. Ladd (1999). The Gospel of the Kingdom. Cited in Winter, R. (Ed.). Perspectives of the World Christian Movement. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library. McGrath & Forrester (1993). “The Kingdom of God – New Testament”. The Blackwell encyclopedia of modern Christian thought. Blackwell Publishing. Matera, F. (2002). “Ethics of the Kingdom of God – The Gospel According to Mark”. New Testament Ethics: The Legacy of Jesus and Paul. USA: Westminster/John Knox Press. Page 12 of 13
Olivia Loh (Student ID No: HBC0810246) Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2008). http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary (20 Oct 2008). NIV: New International Version (1984). Used with permission by International Bible Society. Biblegateway.com (2008). Gospel Communications International. http://www.biblegateway.com (16 October 2008). Present Truth Magazine (Vol. 23, Article 5). “The Synoptic Interpretation of the Christ Event—The Kingdom of God: New Testament Eschatology”. http://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/XXIII/23-5.htm (24 September 2008). Rheenan, G. (2000). “Kingdom Theology”. http://www.missiology.org/animism/Kingdom/page2.htm (20 October 2008). Wimber, J. (1989). Kingdom Come: Understanding What the Bible says about the Reign of God. London: Hodder and Stoughton. Zodhiates, S. et al. (Ed.). (2004). The Complete Word Study Old and New Testament Dictionary. Tennessee: AMG Publishers.