“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4:23 ESV)
What is the Kingdom of God/Heaven?
Matthew most often uses “kingdom of heaven.” There is debate about any nuance difference between “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” but most scholars say they are synonymous. So what is the kingdom of God?
Part of why it’s not a popular teaching subject is that there is some complexity to the concept. Do you remember this exchange between Pilate and Jesus after Jesus’ arrest and before his crucifixion?
“So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18:33-38)
Even after his resurrection, the disciples were confused. Moments before his ascension, what are they wondering about? “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.’” (Acts 1:6-7) There was a great expectation that when the Messiah came he would deliver Israel from the Romans and usher in a rule and reign as described in Old Testament prophecy. The assumption was that the kingdom would be political.
Then Jesus arrives and is radically different from the expectation. He made none of the political moves needed if you were going to assume power. Some people speculate that one reason Judas betrayed him was to force his hand toward a political revolution. But the kingdom Jesus is talking about was very, very different from the expectation, and ultimately, much more wonderful.
What is a kingdom?
A kingdom must have a king/ruler
In other words, there must be some form of authority structure. It could be a representative democracy or other form of governing authority structure. But a kingdom without any authority is not a kingdom. A kingdom divided will not stand. There has to be unity under authority; under the king. A kingdom without any authority is described in Proverbs: “When a land is in rebellion it has many rulers.” (Proverbs 28:2 HCSB)
A kingdom must have a realm
A kingdom will exert its authority in some realm. A king without a realm has no kingdom.
I saw a World War II documentary this week that said after Germany conquered France, the king of Germany who was in exile in the Netherlands wrote Hitler saying, “I hope now you will reinstate Germany’s monarchy.” Hitler read the note and said, “What an idiot.” Wilhelm was a king of royal lineage but without any kingdom; a ruler without a realm. Kingdoms have rulers and kingdoms have realms.
Here is where the kingdom of God is different from Prussia or England or the United States. The kingdom of God is the rule or reign of God through Jesus. The authority of the kingdom was given to Jesus the Son by God the Father. Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority…has been given to me.” God’s kingdom has absolute authority as it is sourced in God.
Have you read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis? You’ll get this even if you haven’t read it. Aslan is the king but he’s been gone from the kingdom of Narnia for a long time. In his absence, the White Witch has assumed authority in Narnia. With her provisional reign, everything was winter. Everything was cold and frozen. But rumor had it that Aslan was possibly back in Narnia. Nobody was sure but why else would everything be melting? Flowers were blooming. Frozen rivers were starting to flow. The presence of Aslan was having its effect even though his full power and presence were not yet seen.
The kingdom of God is like that. When Jesus came into the world, the kingdom of God came too. When the king shows up, authority comes with it. It’s kind of like Air Force One, wherever it goes, it is The United States of America.
So we have a king—Jesus. He has authority. But where is his realm? Where does he rule?
For now, the realm of God’s rule is the human heart in submission to Jesus as king expressed by faith in him as Savior.
The kingdom of God is the saving reign of God through Christ. The kingdom is not the people or the church or heaven or earth. The kingdom is the rule of God itself. This kingdom has a king—Jesus. He has authority—all authority has been given to him. He has a realm—redeemed people in willing submission.
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’” (Luke 17:20-21)
The present invisible nature of the kingdom is part of the challenge. When you leave Canada and come into the US, there is a sign that says, “You are now entering the United States of America.” The kingdom of God is not presently like that. It can’t be so easily “observed.” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) His authority and reign are not derived from any power in this world. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real and someday this kingdom will be very visible as Jesus returns and begins his earthly reign in the millennial kingdom and establishes an eternal reign in the new heaven and earth.
But for now, all we see is melting snow and flowers appearing. Sinners repenting of sin and turning in faith to Jesus. People uniting in churches around doctrine and mutual love. These are signs of the breaking in of the eternal kingdom which began when Jesus came and will come in fullness when he returns.
The kingdom of God is here but it is not yet what it will be.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.
Additional Scripture quotations taken from Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.
© 2016 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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