In the first article on this recent topic of the kingdom of God, I laid out four varying views concerning the kingdom. Then, in the subsequent article, I jumped into the Old Testament, looking to lay a foundation in what the Scripture teachings concerning the kingdom of God. In doing so, I specifically introduced us to a couple of important Hebrew words.
In this article, I want to pick back up in the Scripture and look at the New Testament, for I believe it will give us an even greater understanding of God’s kingdom since we will get into some of the teaching of the King Himself.
The Greek Word
When we turn to the beginning of the Gospels, we see that Jesus arrives on the scene to begin His earthly ministry by announcing this:
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:14-15)
The New Testament Greek word for ‘kingdom’ is basileia and ‘kingdom of God’ is basileia tou theou.
George Ladd, that great theologian in regards to the kingdom of God, defines basileia this way:
‘A basileia may indeed be a realm over which a sovereign exercises his authority; and it may be the people who belong to that realm and over whom authority is exercised; but these are secondary and derived meanings. First of all, a kingdom is the authority to rule, the sovereignty of the king.’ (The Gospel of the Kingdom, p19)
Thus, we can see a great similarity between the Hebrew Old Testament word for kingdom, malkûth, and the Greek New Testament word for kingdom, basileia. The basileia of God is the authority of God to rule as King.
Jesus and the Gospels
The kingdom of God is referred to some 110 times in the Gospels, though not every instance is found on the lips of Jesus. Therefore, there is no doubt that the kingdom of God was a highly important topic to Jesus, and Ladd reiterates this in another work of his, The Presence of the Future:
‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the burden of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15; Matt 4:17).’
We see the centrality of the kingdom to Jesus in passages like these:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom [basileia] of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom [basileia] and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23)
But seek first the kingdom [basileia] of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
…but he [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom [basileia] of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)
No doubt, though Jesus had clothed Himself in human form, He was still King of the universe. Thus, He had a direct mission to proclaim that God’s rule had broken in to human history in a special way. For Jesus, it was the gospel, or good news, of the kingdom of God that was His priority.
Book of Acts
Right before ascending back to the Father, Luke records that Jesus mainly spent His time teaching those first apostles about the kingdom of God:
He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
And even though Paul is under house arrest at the very end of Acts, we read the encouraging account that he was continuing to teach others about the kingdom:
23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets… 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:23, 30-31)
The priority of the kingdom was to continue. The apostles knew that the reality of the rule of God needed to be proclaimed to people, for it is God’s reign that brings salvation, healing, forgiveness, righteousness, peace, and all other qualities associated with the character of God.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, where many were debating whether certain foods should be eaten and whether certain holy days should be observed, Paul declared this about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
The kingdom of God is not to be equated with ideas about specific foods or special days, or even other trivial matters. Those of us who are in Christ, the King, realise that the kingdom rule of God is about the righteousness, peace and joy that are ours through the Holy Spirit.
Though this is just a very brief survey of references to the kingdom of God in the New Testament, for now, it is sufficient to see the importance of the message of the kingdom to Jesus and a few references to the kingdom in the rest of the New Testament. I will take up some more thoughts in the very near future.
A Lack of References
To end out this post, I wanted to briefly consider something peripheral, yet important, in regards to the discussion revolving around the kingdom of God in Scripture.
Some will note the lack of references to the kingdom of God in Acts, the epistles and Revelation, and rightly so. Whereas we said the kingdom is referred to some 110 times in the Gospels, it is only referred to about 30 times after the Gospels, with only 8 occurrences found in the preaching in Acts.
Why the decrease in recurrences of the word ‘kingdom’, or phrase ‘kingdom of God’, after the Gospels?
The word/phrase would have been a familiar term to Jews of the first century. But outside of Jewish culture, i.e. with the Gentiles, the term would not have been as familiar to the people. Therefore, the word, kingdom, or phrase, kingdom of God, would not have been used quite as often as the early Christians looked to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth. In its stead, other synonyms such as these would have been used:
- Salvation (see Acts 28:28; Ephesians 1:13)
- Eternal life (see Romans 5:21; 6:23)
- The Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9)
As George Ladd helpfully points out in The Gospel of the Kingdom:
‘The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, eternal life, salvation: they are all interchangeable terms.’
Therefore, in an attempt to reach and adapt to the cultures and peoples abroad, the first apostles were willing to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with the Gentile mindset. And this is something we can learn from today as we continue to proclaim the truth of the gospel to people – in our own culture and abroad. Yet, this never negated the solid foundation that the first believers had in regards to the reality of God’s rule.
Thus, we have now considered some solid Biblical teaching concerning the kingdom of God, and that which is set forth in both Old and New Testaments compliments one another quite well. Both teach that the kingdom of God is the authority of God to rule as King. It will do us well, especially as God’s people, to remember that He alone is King and it is His kingdom rule that has broken into human history.
My next post will consider whether or not the two phrases – kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven – are synonymous, since it is pertinent to most discussion revolving around the kingdom.