The past few weeks I have written quite a few articles concerning the nature of the church. This is a topic that is of great importance to me, for I get a sense that many have built their basis of understanding from their culture rather than the Scripture. No doubt culture is very important as we look at impact the lives of people that we live with, work with, and relate to. But, in all things, the Scripture is our measuring stick in grasping the things of God.
When discussing the nature of the church, one thing I believe that should be carefully considered alongside such a discussion is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God.
In doing so, one must ask questions such as these:
- Are the kingdom of God and the church synonymous?
- Are they distinct from one another?
- Is one more important than the other?
It is these questions, and a few others, which I plan to look at over the next set of blog posts. Therefore, as we start, I give you a statement by George Ladd to consider:
‘Although the burden of Jesus’ message was the Kingdom of God, he nowhere defined it. It is not recorded that anyone asked him what ‘the Kingdom of God’ meant. He assumed that this was a concept so familiar that it did not require definition.’ (The Presence of the Future, p45)
The Bible actually does not define a lot of its words and concepts, at least in a technical sense. Many such ideas and beliefs would have been understood by Israel of the Old Testament times and the Jews of the New Testament times.
However, this does not always bode well for us who live in a different time period, culture and background, as well as speaking another language. The difficulty in grasping Biblical concepts and teachings was seen in my articles on the basic study of the word ‘church’, or ekklesia. The essence and understanding of such a word is not so clear to most people today.
The same difficulty stands true in regards to the kingdom of God.
There are typically four major views concerning the kingdom of God. No doubt, there are variations within the four views listed below, but for ease sake we will sum up things as below.
1. The Political School
In this view, the kingdom of God is seen as the establishment of a political kingdom on earth. Jesus came on to the scene wanting to set up a Davidic-like kingdom whose main city would once again be Jerusalem.
In more recent theology, we could also term this the ‘National Kingdom Idea’, as many people hold that the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:3-4) consists of a future physical-political kingdom established with the Jews in the land of Israel with Jerusalem as its centre.
2. The Noneschatological School
Eschatology simply refers to the study of last things. Therefore, this view holds that Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom did not mainly deal with the final summing up of human history, hence non-eschatological.
Thus, the kingdom of God is primarily seen as the present inner reign of God in the human heart with an emphasis on the inward moral ethic. There is a present re-interest in this view, especially amongst more liberal theologians, but with more of an emphasis on the kingdom of God and its relation to social interests.
3. The ‘Consistent’ Eschatological School
This view has a major focus on the kingdom of God being eschatological. Therefore, the kingdom of God refers to the end of history and the supernatural inauguration of a new age. However, some proponents of this view could teach that Jesus believed this future reign of God would commence in the very near future, not far-distant future.
Within more liberal circles, proponents either interpret away any references in Scripture that appear to teach that the kingdom of God was fully present in the ministry of Jesus or attribute them to the early church’s re-interpretation of Jesus’ words.
4. The ‘Realised’ Eschatological School
Finally, this school of thought teaches that the kingdom of God had already truly arrived in Jesus’ ministry and, therefore, was not just a future age to come. The harvest was a reality in Christ, for God was showing His rule and reign.
Again, within more liberal theology that hold to this view usually explain away any teaching about the kingdom of God being future or, again, it is credited to the early church’s re-interpretation of Jesus’ teachings.
(These four views are a summary of Robert Stein’s thoughts in his book, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teaching, p65-69.)
These are definitely some varying understandings of God’s kingdom, not to mention a little dangerous when people begin to explain away some of Scripture. But, suffice it for now, I just wanted to sum up some of the major differing views concerning the kingdom of God.
Beginning in my next article, I plan to jump into Scripture to try and get a solid Biblical understanding concerning the kingdom of God.