Let’s use the Q&A format for ease of understanding this major theme of New Testament, particularly the synoptic Gospels.
Without a long introduction, let’s get started with the questions and answers.
1.. What are the basic biblical data?
The word kingdom can be tracked in a variety of contexts and phrases.
“The kingdom of God” occurs these many times throughout the NT:
4 times in Matthew (12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43);
14 times in Mark;
32 times in Luke;
2 times in John (3:3, 5);
6 times in Acts;
8 times in Paul’s letters;
1 time in Revelation (12:10).
“The kingdom of heaven” (just a variation of the “kingdom of God”):
33 times in Matthew;
1 time in a variant reading in John;
“Kingdom”: 9 times (e.g. Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31; 22:29; 1 Cor. 15:24; Rev. 1:9);
“Your kingdom”: 2 times (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2);
“His kingdom”: 4 times (Matt. 25:34; Luke 12:32; 22:29; 1Thess. 2:12);
“The kingdom of their [my] Father”: 2 times (Matt. 13:43; 26:29);
“The good news [gospel] of the kingdom”: 3 times (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14);
“The message about the kingdom”: 1 time (Matt. 13:19);
“The subjects [sons and daughters] of the kingdom”: 2 times (Matt. 8:12; 13:38);
“The coming kingdom of our father David”: 1 time (Mark 11:10);
“kingdom” is used of the redeemed: 2 times (Rev. 1:6; 5:10)
2.. What are the totals?
Matthew: 52 times (and in addition 3 times it is used of worldly or satanic kingdoms);
Mark: 16 times (and in addition 3 times it is used of worldly or satanic kingdoms);
Luke: 38 times (and in addition it is used 4 times of worldly or satanic kingdoms);
Synoptic Gospels: 106 times (allowing for parallel passages in the Synoptics);
John: 4 times;
Acts: 7 times;
Paul’s epistles: 14 times (in addition it is used 1 time of the satanic kingdom);
General epistles: 4 times (in addition it is used 1 time of the worldly kingdoms);
Revelation: 6 times (in addition it is used 2 times of worldly or satanic kingdoms)
God’s kingdom: 141
Worldly or satanic kingdoms: 14 times
3.. What conclusions should we draw from these data?
In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus preached the kingdom of God often, indicating he was ushering in a new order, a new age.
The Gospel of John was written later, so the author focuses on revealing who Jesus is (God in the flesh; the good shepherd, the door, the bread of life, and so on). And he focuses on a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus (I am the good shepherd, so follow me and hear my voice; I am the bread of life, so partake of me; I am the vine, so connect with me, and so on).
Acts focuses on the progress of the church, and the key and timely appearance of the word kingdom reminds the readers that it is the kingdom of God that advances the gospel and the church.
Paul’s epistles focus on church problems (e.g. 1 and 2 Corinthians) and theology (e.g. Romans), but in key places he lifts his readers’ eyes towards God and the kingdom, and so they can gain a right and heavenly perspective—they are part of a new order, a new age that God rules over.
And the same is true of the general epistles. They focus on how to live in the here and now, or how the New Covenant supersedes the Old (Heb. 8-10), but a few times in key and timely verses, the authors lift the readers to a bigger and higher perspective: the kingdom of God.
To sum up, the word kingdom appears in the Synoptics more often than the rest of the NT, but this does not mean God’s kingdom is less important in the other sections. It is not a sheer numbers game, but the weight of the verses is more important. Instead, the kingdom stands above the church and creates the church in the epistles. Numbers are not decisive; it is the meaning and contexts that are decisive.
4.. What is the basic definition of the kingdom of God?
In worldly matters, “kingdom” means that a ruler has the authority to rule as king, and it means the realm over which he rules. So it means the king’s authority and his jurisdiction or area or domain.
In God’s case, kingdom means his authoritative rule over a realm. And the realm can be in an individual’s heart, or it could be a visible and invisible, but universal realm. In other words, God has kingly authority to rule over and sustain the entire physical universe, and it means he rules over the invisible universe—the ideas and politics of all other worldly kingdoms, and Satan’s kingdom.
He gets to be the king and perhaps the dictator (but a benevolent and good one!) over his creation, whether visible or invisible.
Kingdom means his active rule.
5.. But how does his rule as sovereign King square with all the evil in the world?
This is a sidetrack issue, so let’s answer it briefly, in three ways.
First, let’s deal with the physical creation. He spoke the universe into existence about 13.7 billion years ago, and now it is moving forward by secondary causes (natural causes and effects). When and why he intervenes is sometimes not a mystery, but ultimately it is. I just know that when people are in danger zones, like Tornado Alley, they need to prepare and pray! And in harmless nature, they can sunbathe and enjoy the beach or mountains. God’s creation is good, but he does not control the details, so one must learn how to work with it and in it.
Second, as for worldly, political kingdoms, the best way that God’s kingdom can advance is to preach the gospel and allow the kingdom to God to work through us as he builds his church, so people can learn to leave behind Satan’s kingdoms and the pollution of worldly kingdoms.
Third, as for the invisible satanic kingdom, God has temporarily allowed Satan his moment to test and tempt people; 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 2 Cor. 4:4 says calls Satan the “god of this age.” However, God has given people his very best—his Son—the gospel and his Spirit to bring them out of the satanic kingdom and into the kingdom of his light. Soon Satan’s partial reign will come to the end at the Second Coming. Until then, we preach the gospel to rescue people out of Satan’s kingdom.
6.. What is the goal or objective or purpose of God’s kingdom?
The goal is to offer people salvation, so they can be lifted above worldly kingdoms and out of Satan’s kingdom. The main goal is redemption. People live by their mammal nature and impulses (2 Pet. 2:12, 17-22). They need a new, divine nature to escape from the corruption of the world (2 Pet. 1:4).
Yet another goal, ultimately, is this one. God will subject everything under Christ, who will be subjected to the Father. Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:24-28 sums it up best:
24 then the end comes, when he hands over the kingdom to God and the Father, when he has destroyed all rulership, and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he puts every enemy under his feet. 26 Death is the last enemy to be destroyed. 27 For “he has subjected everything under his feet” [Ps. 8:6]. But when it says that “everything has been subjected,” it is clear that except the one [God] subjecting everything to him [Christ]. 28 And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself shall be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God will be all and in all. (1 Cor. 15:24-28, my tentative translation)
The last tool of Satan is death, and Jesus conquered it in his own life, so he is the firstfruits (the leader of the resurrection for us too), and now we too will have ultimate victory over it after our death—we will never die again. God’s kingdom will then have unrivaled and exclusive rule.
7.. What does “your kingdom come” mean?
It is used in the Lord Prayer (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). It is great because it shows that the kingdom is dynamic. It is not abstract.
Let’s explore four aspects of this kingdom dynamism.
First, God’s rule actively invades Satan’s kingdom. At Jesus’s baptism, God was inaugurating Christ’s invasion down here on earth and against Satan’s kingdom. In demon expulsion, Jesus expels the spirits of darkness that have taken up residence in people’s hearts and minds. Jesus will destroy Satan at his Second Coming (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10), but Satan is already defeated and he is bound by the stronger, Christ, so people can experience release (Matt. 12:29).
When the disciples are sent out, they have authority over Satan’s power and dominion, and he is overthrown for those with faith and enter God’s kingdom (Luke 10:18). In this way Christ could say God’s kingdom was present (Luke 17:21). So his kingdom is dynamic in fighting and defeating Satan.
Second, the kingdom of God has invaded history, during the rule of the Roman empire. In Christ’s birth and ministry, we can track the kingdom’s progress under various worldly rulers, like a variety of Herods and the governor Pontius Pilate at Christ’s passion (suffering) and death. We know that Christ’s kingdom invaded a geographical region called Israel, which had boundaries, established by culture, history, and Rome. If we have eyes to see, we can track the kingdom’s works in history. The four Gospels and the book of Acts can train our eyes to do this.
Third, the kingdom comes at the end of the age, and it sweeps aside the old kingdoms and governments of human rulers and Satan’s kingdom, and ushers in the new age of the unrivaled and unending Messianic reign. Jesus separated the present and future dominion. The fullness of the kingdom, which will finally be manifest at his Second Coming, is in the future.
And so it is not yet manifested fully before our eyes. Jesus taught us to pray for his kingdom to come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). However, as noted in the second point under this question, God’s kingdom, inaugurated by Christ, has already invaded history, and Satan is defeated. And therefore we have the already and the not yet of God’s kingdom. In the meantime, we are in a battle to see God’s kingdom advance so the not yet retreats, and the already advances.
Fourth, the kingdom is supernatural. Only a supernatural kingdom can defeat Satan’s supernatural kingdom. God intends to rescue people from Satan’s kingdom. In Jesus’s ministry, signs and wonders pushed back disease and darkness. In the book of Acts, signs and wonders did the same. Now what about today? Renewalists believe that they happen—must happen—today.
The parable of the seeds illustrates how the kingdom grows (Mark 4:26-29). A farmer sows seeds, and they grow of itself. Seeds represent the Word, and we preach it, and the kingdom grows by God, not us (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9; Acts 8:12; 28:23, 31). We don’t build the kingdom down here on earth by worldly methods or laws. God builds it, through the Word. People can receive the kingdom through the preaching of the Word, but God sends it forth; it is his kingdom working through people (Matt. 19:12; Luke 18:29; Col. 4:11; 2 Thess. 1:5). People can inherit it (Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:20), but on their death they cannot bequeath it to others.
So it is God’s supernatural, dynamic kingdom.
8.. But isn’t God’s kingdom a mystery?
Yes, but it can be revealed to those who have eyes to see.
Jesus said to his disciples: “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom” (Luke 8:10).
This scholar adds:
Before this eschatological [end times] consummation, before Satan’s destruction, before the age to come, God’s kingdom has entered this age and invaded Satan’s kingdom in spiritual power to bring in advance the blessings of forgiveness (Mark 2:5), life (John 3:3), and righteousness (Matt. 5:20; Rom. 14:17), which belong to the age to come. The kingdom involves an inner, absolute righteousness (Matt. 5:20, 48) that can be realized only as God gives it (G. E. Ladd, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 467-68, on which article this post largely depends).
Let’s look into a series of parables in Matt. 13 that reveal how God controls the kingdom, and not us.
God’s kingdom does (not yet) force people to hit their knees, but it is like the seed cast in the soil of the heart. The seed may grow or not, depending on the recipient (Matt. 13:3-8). So how the kingdom of God penetrates the heart (or not) is a mystery.
In God’s big kingdom, his people can grow next to Satan’s people, until harvest comes and separates the two (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). Such is the mystery of the kingdom.
God’s kingdom has come, not as a new and glorious order that mows everything down in its path, but like the mustard seed—the tiniest one in Jesus’s agrarian context—but which grows by God’s gifting it to a plant big enough for birds to nest in it (Matt. 13:31-32).
The kingdom is not presented in a world-transforming power, but like a little leaven hidden in a big lump of dough. The baker does not force it to grow, but sets it aside and waits for the leaven to work on its own. So it is with the kingdom; it’s a mystery as to how it works, but it is by God’s doing (Matt. 13:33).
9.. What does God’s “realm” mean?
It is his dominion or area of rule or jurisdiction. And it has two aspects—future and present.
People can enter the future kingdom by entering the present one. In this age, we experience suffering (2 Thess. 1:5) and tribulations (Acts 14:22), but we will be rescued out of all suffering and be brought into his heavenly kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18). Eschatological (end times, final consummation) salvation means entrance into God’s kingdom (Mark 9:47; 10:24), the age to come (Mark 10:30), and eternal life (Matt. 25:46; Mark 9:45; 10:17, 30). These three idioms are synonymous and interchangeable. In the present age, as noted, God’s kingdom has invaded, and we can experience its blessings right now, like deliverance from the evil kingdom and the power of darkness and the transference into Christ’s kingdom (Col. 1:13).
10.. How does the church relate to the kingdom? Are they the same?
G. E. Ladd is right:
The kingdom is not the church. The apostles went about preaching God’s kingdom (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 28:23); it is impossible to substitute “church” for “kingdom” in such passages. … [T]he kingdom creates the church. God’s redemptive rule brings into being a new people to receive the blessings of divine reign. Individually, the kingdom means either salvation or judgment (Matt. 3:12); historically, the kingdom effected the church’s creation … The kingdom also works through the church. The disciples preached and performed signs of the kingdom (Matt. 10:7-8; Luke 10:9, 17). The kingdom’s power operated in and through them .… The kingdom is God’s deed. It has come into the world in Christ; it works in the world through the church (pp. 468-69).
The main point is that the kingdom creates and works through the church. They are not identical. The kingdom of God existed before the birth of the church, and the church is imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people, while God’s active reign and rule is perfect. Therefore the church ≠ the kingdom.
So how does this post about the kingdom of God get me closer to God through Christ?
You are part of the great and glorious kingdom of God. We cannot see its glory in its full manifestation, but we can watch for it, in part, working in the gospel that goes forth and lands in people’s hearts. We can see it in changed lives. We can see it when down-and-outers come into the church and undergo transformation. We can see it when the dysfunctional become functional. We can see it when drug addicts are set free and leave the drugs behind. We can see it by deliverance from Satan’s power and clutches. We can see it when people are healed of diseases. We can see it in signs and wonders. We can see it when immature believers grow in Christ and become mature ones. We can see it when the Word of God renews people’s minds.
Reading the four Gospels and the book of Acts can train you to witness the kingdom’s works back then and therefore today.
God’s kingdom is dynamic, salvific (related to salvation), redemptive, and eschatological. It reflects his love for lost humanity and ultimate defeat of Satan. When Jesus returns, he will put all things right and his kingdom will be fully visible, authoritative, and final, never to be overturned.
ARTICLES IN A SERIES
At that link, see EDT.