A paper on The Kingdom of Heaven by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
The message of the Kingdom of God was fundamental to the teaching of Jesus and is undeniably central to the whole of the New Testament. The Kingdom of God and it’s meaning has both captivated and divided scholars for centuries.
Matthew preferred to use the term ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, a term which is interchangeable with the Kingdom of God. This paper will look closely at the meaning of the Kingdom of God and will show that the Kingdom of God is extremely relevant to us today. Kingdom reign is not only a future reality which will be consummated with the second coming of Christ, but it is indeed a reality for us today.
Why does Matthew used the term Kingdom of Heaven?
This question has undoubtedly intrigued scholars for the last few hundred years and has been a dominant topic of New Testament study. (Lamerson, 2000: 343). The term Kingdom of Heaven is a term found only in Matthew. In all probability because Matthew was a Jew writing for a Jewish audience, he wished to defer to the Jewish practice of avoiding the divine name and substituted the name of God for Heaven (Gundry, 1994: 43) . Ladd puts it this way ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is the Semitic form and Kingdom of God is the Greek form of the same phrase’ (Ladd, 1959: 32).
Some scholars believe that kingdom language is not found much outside of the synoptic gospels because of the authors’ hesitation to use kingdom language to Romans (Bock, 1992: 19). Others have suggested that Jesus frequently used the term Kingdom of Heaven, then the disciples changed it to Kingdom of God because Gentiles may have not understood the term ‘heaven’ (Gundry, 2003: 119). Nevertheless, most scholars would agree that the two terms are interchangeable (Allen, 1999: 5), and are therefore synonymous.
The term Kingdom of Heaven does not appear in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the Kingdom of God was known as the reign of God over creation, with the coming of God introducing complete restoration of Israel as nation (Ridderbos, 1962: 5). Matthew writes to convince Jews that all the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus and therefore he is indeed their Messiah (Barclay, 1958: xxii) . Whilst the Kingdom of God is understood as Gods rule over the earth, the term Kingdom of Heaven then seems to point toward not only a sphere of rule, but its source.
Therefore the names Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God mean the rule or reign of God and the rule or reign of Heaven (Keathley: 38).
What is the Kingdom of God?
It could be said that there is no theme in the New Testament equal in importance than the message of the Kingdom of God. (Ridderbos, 1962: ix). But what is the Kingdom of God? To gain a greater understanding of this we will look at four areas which will help to answer that question.
What the does the term ‘Kingdom’ mean?
What is the message of the Kingdom?
What is its proximity?
What is the mystery of the kingdom?
The phrase the Kingdom of God is ‘characteristic of the whole New Testament’ (Barclay, 1958: 210). It is of primary importance and there is no phrase used more often. It is therefore significant that we understand it’s meaning.
The term Kingdom of God basically means the rule or reign of God (Ladd, 1959: 11). It is not just His realm, it is His reign. ‘The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all’ (Ps 103:19 AMP). His rule is over the heavens and the earth but He reigns over us, He reigns in our hearts. He is the King, when we enter His Kingdom it His reign that we seek in our lives (Ladd, 1959: 20,21). Daniel equates the word kingdom with power, might, and glory. All of which are synonymous with authority (Dan 2:37). Therefore the Kingdom of God is God’s rule, His Kingship, His authority (Ladd, 1959: 21). The triumph of Gods Kingdom is the defeat of all the enemies of God. ‘Christ must be King and reign until He has put all enemies under His feet’ (1Cor 15:25).
‘It is quite clear that the Kingdom of God was central to the message of Jesus’ (Barclay, 1958: 210) , to the point that he sees it as his mission on earth. Jesus was compelled to preach the message of the Kingdom, it was the reason he was sent, ‘I must preach the… Kingdom of God’ (Lk 4:43 NIV). It was so vital to the message of Jesus that even the word he spoke was called the word or message of the kingdom (Mat 13:19 NIV).
The Message of the Kingdom
The message of the kingdom was introduced in Matthew by John the Baptist. Both the messages of ‘John the Baptist and Jesus focused above all on the Kingdom’ of God and its coming (Gundry, 2003:118). John, Jesus and the disciples all preached about the same kingdom (Deffinbaugh:3). Jesus instructed the disciples to preach the message of the Kingdom wherever they went (Mat 10:7), the need for repentance and ‘the announcement of the imminence of the Kingdom’ (Bailey, 1999: 443). Jesus teaching was accompanied by power encounters. The kingdom and the authority of the kingdom over sin, sickness and death was present in the outworking of Jesus miracles. The power of the kingdom continued to be displayed through the teaching and miracles of the disciples. ‘The kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus coming to the earth. It had not only arrived in the person of Jesus, it had come upon us (Mat 12:28). Both Jesus and John preached that the kingdom was near (Mat 3:2, 4:17). Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. He was implying that the kingdom was within their reach, it was right in front of them.
‘Never did such individuals (other disciples and prophets) apply symbols for God to themselves so consistently as did Jesus, and none ever claimed that he was doing precisely what the scriptures said God himself would do.
Yet in the parables Jesus claims to forgive sin, sow his word into human hearts, welcome…sinners,…seek out and rescue his lost sheep, oversee the final judgement and distinguish those who will and those who will not enter the kingdom’ (Bloomberg, 1990: 320).
He was able to say this because He is the King. It is his Kingdom and where He is there his Kingdom will be (Deffinbaugh: 2). Therefore it could be said that ‘Jesus presence means kingdom presence’ (Bock, 2001: 13).
The Proximity of the Kingdom.
One of the most contentious issues regarding the kingdom concerns its proximity. Has the kingdom come, is it yet to come, has it already come but is also still yet to be consummated? Our understanding of the kingdom of God will be determined upon where we believe the kingdom to be. What does Jesus mean when he says the kingdom is near, is at hand? There is a plethora of debate on this question. Some like Ritschl and Von Harnack believe that the Kingdom has come in the form of the ‘brotherhood of man’ and there will not be a future consummation of the kingdom (Allen, 1999: 2). Weiss and Schweitzer share similar views and teach that the kingdom is entirely futuristic, even apocalyptic. That Jesus, under the impact of disappointing circumstances, postponed his coming (Ridderbos, 1962: xiii). Dodd believes that kingdom hope was totally realised in Jesus (Bock, 1992: 3). ‘Not yet’: Fuller and Joachim believe that ‘The kingdom of God is not yet present, it is imminent; it is dawning but it has not yet arrived’ (Fuller, 1954: 48). ‘God is coming he is standing at the door, indeed he is already there’ (Joachim, 1963: 102). Both believed that the kingdom was very close but had not yet come.
Theologians who preach inaugurated eschatology like Ladd, Bock, Carson and Ridderbos have an ‘already/not yet approach’ (Allen, 1999: 4). They postulate that the Kingdom of God has already come in an introductory form, but will not be fully consummated until the second coming of Christ (Allen, 1999). Carson states that, ‘the constant theme of Matthew is that the kingdom came with Jesus and his preaching and miracles, it came with his death and resurrection and it will come at the end of the age’ (Carson, 1995: 101). Jones puts it this way, ‘The kingdom of God is among you and within you; the kingdom of God is in every true christian…The kingdom has come, the kingdom is coming, the kingdom is yet to come’ (Lloyd-Jones, 1997: 16). This view is common among scholars and is well supported by many commentators.
The kingdom was near because Christ was in the world.
One of the more extreme views is that of Toussaint and Quine who hold a ‘No, Not Yet’ approach (Toussaint, 2007: 131). They believe that because Jesus was rejected by the Jews, the coming of the kingdom had to be postponed. They believe that the inauguration and consumption of the kingdom is still in the future. The kingdom will not come until Israel repents (Toussaint, 2004: 473). It is difficult to subscribe to this belief. The thought that Jesus had to postpone his plans seems to demean the omnipotence of God. Ernest Reisinger puts it best when he says, “My bible knows nothing about a God who does not have power to perform his plan…He is all-wise in planning and all powerful in performing” (Allen, 1999: 12).
The Mystery of the Kingdom
The mystery of the kingdom provides a key to understanding the kingdom of God and how it works. Jesus spoke in parables and in mysteries concerning the kingdom of God. Many times he would preface a parable by stating ‘the kingdom of God is like…’(Mat 20:1, 22:1). Some scholars like Brown believe that Jesus was giving a set of secret instructions or mysteries to an elect group of disciples (Brown, 1973: 74). A stronger view by Carson and other scholars is that the kingdoms arrival was no secret or mystery at all. The kingdom had come in power and the mystery was that it had come in advance of its consummation. The mystery of the kingdom is that it works in hidden or secret form within the lives of men (Allen, 1999: 14). That the kingdom will come is clear in Jesus teaching, but can it be said that it has begun? Jesus used many different parables to explain this. The parables of the ‘leaven’ and the ‘mustard seed’ are excellent examples of the way the kingdom works within the lives of men.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
In Matthews’s parable of the mustard seed, the mustard seed is the smallest seed (Mat 13:31-32).
At the start it is a tiny seed but when planted it grows into a large tree.
What this means is that Jesus was actually planting small kingdom seeds into the lives of men.
The mystery of the kingdom is it’s seemingly insignificant start. Jesus has planted the kingdom in seed form and it will have ‘phenomenal growth and a culminating judgment’ at the return of Christ (Bailey, 1999: 2). ‘Out of the most insignificant beginnings, invisible to the human eye, God creates a mighty kingdom, which embraces all the people of the world (Joachim, 1963: 12).
The Parable of the Leaven (Mt 13:33)
The major focus of the parable of the leaven is the ‘transforming power of the leaven’ (Barclay, 1959: 88).
It is the introduction of the leaven that transforms the whole loaf. The leaven slowly and gradually permeates the dough until the whole loaf is transformed.
‘So the Kingdom of God transforms the world by slow and gradual permeation’ (Ladd, 1959: 16). Similarly the Kingdom of God causes transformation in the life of the believer. In fact it is a significant indicator of the life of Christ in a believer. Just as the dough fills the whole bowl. The day will come when the Kingdom of God will fill the whole earth.
These parables and others like them are keys which unlock the mystery of the Kingdom of God. ‘The presence of the Kingdom of God was seen as God’s dynamic reign invading the present age without transforming it into the age to come’ (Ladd, 1974: 149). It was this in-breaking of the kingdom in power. This victory over Satan without the consumption of the kingdom, that was the mystery of the kingdom.
It is also the mystery of the transforming power of the kingdom outworking in the lives of kingdom citizens (Allen, 1999: 12). George Ladd puts it this way, ‘the mystery of the kingdom is this: The Kingdom of God is here but not with irresistible power’. It does not force itself on people’. The other mystery is that even though it is here, men are able to reject it (Ladd, 1959: 56). This was a confounding thought to Old Testament believers. Who can withstand God? They perceived the coming of the kingdom to be with universal power and domination. Not this mysterious inner transformation of lives. The kingdom must be received willingly by those who will allow God to reign in their hearts and to transform their lives.
Kingdom Living Today
What is the Kingdom about and how is it relevant today? ‘The kingdom is about the powerful, transforming presence of God’s rule through Christ…expressed today in the community of those whom he planted, what became the church’ (Bock, 2001:15).
The church is a kingdom of people who are in the process of being transformed and who are eagerly looking forward to his return. God’s investment in his church, in his people, is His Holy Spirit. Our primary task as the church, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, is to advance the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom of God refers to a society on earth where the primary desire is to obey and live according to the will of God. Any person who does the will of God is within the kingdom (Barclay, 1958: 212). Put simply, to be in the kingdom of God is to obey the will of the father.
The kingdom is at the heart of everything Jesus taught, the sermon on the mount, His parables, the Lords prayer. Jesus alone decides who will enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus explains that citizens of the kingdom consist of those who ‘do the will of my father in heaven’ (Legg, 2004: 240). At the sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a description of what it means to be a kingdom citizen. He gives ‘great ethical principles’(Deffinbaugh: 6) that we are to follow. To be a kingdom citizen means that we submit to the rule and reign of Christ in our lives. ‘We caNnot live in his kingdom without him being king’ (Deffinbaugh: 6).
The desire of our hearts today as believers should be to allow the complete reign of Christ the King in our lives. Our desire today as Jesus instructed by Jesus should be to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ (Mat 6:33). Like the parable of the pearl and the hidden treasure, we should be prepared to give up everything for the kingdom. It is of the highest value and it should be our highest priority. The kingdoms ultimate goal is the work of God to redeem humanity ‘according to his promise’ (Bock, 2001: 12).
Our mission today is to reach people of every kind (Mat 13:47). To be a community of believers who encourage one another to live in righteousness and to participate in spreading the news of the kingdom to all people (Mat 13:47). We are to extend an invitation to everyone. ‘Jesus established a kingdom which , when fully consummated, would embrace everything in heaven and earth’ (Carson & Moo 2005: 38,39). We are called to live as citizens here on earth but the highest authority in our life is Christ our King.
The Kingdom of God broke into the earth with the miraculous manifestation of Christ on the earth. It continues today in those who are His believers. It is the power, authority, glory and might of Jesus Christ reigning in the hearts and lives of believers. It began with the word of the Kingdom planted by Jesus and then permeated the whole of the known world by the first century disciples. It continues to grow and transform the lives of every believer. It will be consummated and the fullness of the kingdom will be seen upon the earth at the second coming of Christ. The Kingdom came in the person of Jesus. It is advancing through the lives of transformed citizens of the kingdom and it will be finally realised and complete in the power and authority of God at the second coming of Jesus Christ.
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