The Kingdom of God

What is the kingdom of God?

The kingdom of God was at the center of Jesus’ preaching. He announced at the very beginning of His ministry, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)


What did He mean by the kingdom of God?

Jesus did not mean to announce that He had now established a new territory over which He was going to rule as we might first think from His use of the term “kingdom.”  Jesus’ kingdom was not a domain won by conquest or purchased with money. In fact, Jesus said that His kingdom did not come in a visible way or with visible signs.

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; (Luke 17:20)


If Jesus’ kingdom was not visible, then what does it mean to say that it is “at hand” or that it has come?

Jesus’ kingdom comes when people submit to God’s rule and bow before Him as their king.  This is why it is invisible.  It is something that takes place deep in the heart of a man or woman and is not something that can be seen with the human eye.


This implies that no one before the coming of Jesus submitted to God’s rule.

Of course, this is not correct.  In the Old Testament, people did submit to God and followed Him.  In this sense, the kingdom of God has always been.  The term “kingdom of God”, however, has a specific meaning in the Bible.  It is a term which refers to that time when the King would come to earth and begin to take back what He lost in the fall.  This was prophesied in the Old Testament and began with the coming of Jesus who is the King of the kingdom.  It will be finished at the time of the great consummation when Jesus will deliver up the kingdom to the Father (1Cor 15:24) and history will come to an end. (Rev 21:6)


Why is this important for our understanding of the church?

It helps us understand the difference between the kingdom of God and the church.  The kingdom of God is invisible while the church is visible.  Vos writes:

if the church represents an advance beyond the internal, invisible kingdom, which had hitherto figured so largely in our Lord’s teaching, the advance must be sought in something else than the mere fact of its being a body of disciples. The advance lies in two points. In the first place, the body of disciples previously existing must now take the place of the Old Testament church and therefore receive some form of external organization. This the kingdom had not hitherto possessed. It had been internal and invisible not merely in its essence, but to this essence there had been lacking the outward embodiment. Jesus now in speaking of the house and the keys of the house, of binding and loosing on earth, and of church discipline, makes provision for this. In the second place, our Lord gives to understand that the new stage upon which his Messiahship is now about to enter, will bring to the kingdom a new influx of supernatural power and thus make out of it, not only externally but also internally, that new thing which he calls his church.  source


What other opinions exist on this point?

Denney writes that the difference between the kingdom and the church is almost negligible.

What, then, you may ask, is the distinction between the two [church & kingdom of God]? I am not confident that in principle there is any. The explanation of their use in the New Testament is to be sought, I imagine, rather in historical than in dogmatic considerations. When Jesus appeared among the Jews, preaching the glad tidings of the Kingdom, He proclaimed the grace of God the Father in a form which made it accessible to Jewish minds. They had already the idea that God was their King, and that they themselves were, or were to be, citizens in the divine kingdom. True, this idea was very far from corresponding to the idea which Christ brought; it was narrow, carnal, confused; the child of bigotry and pride as much as of divine inspiration; and a great part of our Lord’s teaching consisted in purifying it from base elements and raising it to the height of the truth. Nevertheless, the idea was there; it was a beginning of interest on which He could count; a point of attachment in their minds to which He could fasten what He wished to say. But when the gospel passed out of the Jewish circle altogether, what was the value of this form for the expression of it? In all probability it was very slight. In the synagogues it would still be possible to speak of the Kingdom of God, and hope to be understood; but to the mass of Gentile people in Asia, in Macedonia, in Greece, in Italy, it would convey nothing at all. Hence the apostles practically dropped it, and represented the social side of Christianity in the ecclesia or church.  … They did not lapse from His [Jesus] idea of the Kingdom, and discard it for an inferior one, because they could not carry all its contents; they practically exchanged it for another idea, when they found that through another the grace of God could find easier access into the minds of men.  source

Fairbairn writes:

The kingdom is the Church viewed from above; the Church is the kingdom seen from below. In the kingdom the society is conceived through its creative and informing will; in the Church the will is conceived through the created and informed society.  In the kingdom the king is emphasized; in the Church the citizens: in the one case we see man as he ought to be before God — poor in spirit, seeking His righteousness, doing His will, humble, teachable, without conventional goodness, good only in spirit and in truth; in the other case we see man as he ought to be for God in society — possessed of social virtues, exercising all the beneficences and charities that redeem and adorn life as man lives it with man. Hence Jesus preaches the kingdom — as King declares Himself, proclaims the kingdom constituted by the presence of the King; but the Apostles, by founding Churches, edify the Church, call men to become saints, and to enter into the society of the saved.   source


How does the kingdom of God become visible to a human eye?

Because those who have submitted to God’s rule gather together in a group and worship their Savior. In this gathering, they become visible.  This visible gathering is called “church” in the Bible.


Where does the Bible teach this?

We can see this in the very term “church” or ecclesia or εκκλησια. This term was not a word that Christians invented. This word was commonly used in the Greco-Roman world for a gathering of any kind. This can be seen even in the Bible itself.


Where does the Bible use the word ecclesia or εκκλησια but not referring to Christians?

Recall that when Paul was in Ephesus, he provoked a riot because his preaching threatened the trade of the silversmiths. (Acts 19:25f) The mob which formed is called an ecclesia.

Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly [ecclesia] was in confusion; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. … But if ye seek anything about other matters, it shall be settled in the regular assembly [ecclesia]. …  And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly [ecclesia]. (Acts 19:32, 39, 41)


What can we learn from this usage of the word ecclesia?

That the central idea behind the word ecclesia is a gathering of some kind. In Acts 19:32, the gathering is an unruly mob; in Acts 19:39, the gathering is an orderly political body. In either usage, however, the word is used to refer to some kind of gathering. This is likely why the apostles chose to use this word to define the followers of Christ. Where as the kingdom of God is something invisible, the church is something visible and constitutes a gathering of Christian believers.  The apostles often chose words which were already existence in the society of their time and used them to articulate Christian concepts;  see Robertson for a long list of such words. source


Who are members of the church?

The members of the church are those who are citizens, we might say, of the kingdom of God. They are those who have submitted to the Great King, are living under His protection, and are obeying His laws.


Where can we find Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God?

We find this in His speeches, His parables, and His miracles.


What do we learn about the kingdom of God from Jesus’ miracles?

Jesus’ miracles are signs marking the coming of the kingdom of God.