Defining “Kingdom of God”: A Paper (Part 2 of 3)

FlowerReturning to the teachings of Jesus, this understanding of the “kingdom of God” helps to explain sayings such as Matthew 6:33 (also Lk12:31): “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (New American Standard). In other words, seek first the reign and rule of God in your life and He will take care of the rest.

However, there are others teachings of Jesus that do not seem to fit with the concept of the kingdom being the active rule and reign of God. In these teachings, Jesus talked about the coming of the “kingdom of God” as if it was something that was coming soon, or something that had already come. In order to understand how these passages fit within the above definition of the kingdom of God, we will need to turn to the Old Testament writings.

Within the Old Testament there is a duality where God is described both as currently being the king of world and as some day in the future being king over the world. Psalm 103:19 states that the “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (New International Version). Yet, Obadiah 1 talks about the “day of the Lord” when God will become King of Israel and punish all those who do not follow Him.

This duality continues throughout Jewish intertestamental literature as seen in the first few verses of Psalms of Solomon 17:

O Lord, you are our king for ever and ever, For in you, O God, does our soul glory. How long are the days of man’s life upon the earth? As are his days, so is the hope (set) upon him. But we hope in God, our deliverer; for the might of our God is for ever with mercy, and the kingdom of our God is for ever over the nations in judgment.

In this passage, the writer starts off confirming that God is king at that moment in history before shifting gears and talking about the coming kingdom of God, which would bring salvation to Israel and judgment to all the nations of the earth.

In Daniel 2, God gives King Nebuchadnezzar a dream that is interpreted by the prophet Daniel foretelling of a divine “kingdom” that will destroy all earthly kingdoms and “endure forever.” Similarly in Daniel 7, the prophet himself is given a dream where “one like a son of man” establishes an “everlasting kingdom.” In other words, there would come a day in which God would redeem His people, punish all the evil nations of the world, and establish His kingdom or rule over all the earth.

Jesus’ proclamation that the “kingdom of God is near” (Mt 4:17; 10:7; Lk 10:9; 10:11) was a warning to all of Israel to get ready because the “day of the Lord” was at hand. It echoed Amos 5 where the prophet tells Israel to repent of their evil ways and turn back to God before the judgment of the Lord came upon the earth. John the Baptist declared the same message in Mark 1:15 (also Mt 3:2): “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (New International Version)

However, Jesus did not stop there – he went on to declare that the “kingdom of God has come” (Mt 12:28; Lk 11:20). That is to say that the future kingdom of God prophesied by Daniel and the prophets of old has come among men. To that extent, it is no accident that Jesus’ favorite name for himself was the “Son of Man”, which would have brought back memories of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the “kingdom” of God [Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 58.]

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