December 2013


K. Worring

The fullness of the kingdom still lies in the future.

The term kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven is a central theme in the teachings of Jesus. This article is an attempt to trace out its accurate meaning in the light of the Synoptic Gospels.

The Meaning
The term kingdom of God is found in the first three gospels (Mt.12:28;Mk.4:11;Lk.4:43) whereas kingdom of heaven appears only in Matthew (3:2). Both indicate the notion of activities within a realm. When we go back to the memoir, we see the Hebrew word malkut which is used in reference to the kingdom (Caragounis). In the Aramaic and Greek term, the words malku and basileia are used to state the same thing. All these expressions are abstract and dynamic, signifying the idea of a sovereign or royal rule. Hence kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven refers to the rule or reign of God where the will of the Divine prevails. It points toward God’s work in people’s lives. “The concern of the basileia (Greek for kingdom) as God’s action towards man is soteriological (for the salvation of all humanity” (Kittel and Bromiley). Thus, its scope including the saving act is not limited to a certain group of people, rather it is universal. Moreover, it is eternal – going beyond the earthly realm. It is also a fulfilment of the Old Testament promises and an inauguration to the age that is to come.

The Background
During the ancient era, poets yearned for an ideal society. Virgil dreamed of one who would bring deliverance from the suffering of the world (Ladd, Gospel). Also, people like Plato attempted to establish an ideal state of life based on the philosophical principles. But one’s futuristic hope did not become concrete. Unlike the dreams of those Greek poets and philosophers, the hope of Hebrew-Christian is expressed in reference to God’s kingdom (Ladd, Gospel). Thus the term kingdom of God lies and is rooted in the core of Hebrew religion.

The concept of God’s reign or kingdom originates from the late Jewish expectation in regard to the restoration and liberation of the Israelites from their enemies (Ridderbos). In the Old Testament, it appears only in Solomon 10:10. Nevertheless, the notion of God’s kingship is seen throughout the OT (Deut.33:5;Isa.6:5;Psa.93:1). For instance, God punishing Israel for violating the covenant and showing anger against the Gentiles depicts God’s rule over all nations (Amos.1:3-3:2;Isa.10:1:11). Besides, prophetic messages mostly talk about the promise of God’s reign on earth (Dan.2:44;Hag.2:20-23).

The initial hope of the Israelites was a well-established earthly Davidic kingdom (Isa.9,11), but they began losing hope after the exilic period because they had no stable kingship, nor did they have complete freedom from other nations. It caused them to hope for the apocalyptic infringement of a divine being which is beyond their history (Dan.7). During that period, the Qumran community hoped for the angelic beings to come and destroy their enemies—children of darkness—to achieve victory (Ladd, Theology). Similarly, the rabbinic writings have the concept of eschatological hope but frequently give more importance to kingdom where God is expected to exercise his supremacy. Another group of Jewish extremists, called the Zealots, were the people who desired to accelerate the coming of the kingdom through violent acts (Ladd, Theology). Their ultimate aim was to achieve a stable kingdom through insurrection.

And prior to Jesus’ coming was John the Baptist, whose message was an announcing of God’s kingdom and judgment that was to happen immediately. It was followed by Jesus’ coming, declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand. It was a call to repent and attain salvation in order to be a part of the kingdom (Matt.3:1-2)—a necessity to inherit the kingdom.

Present And Eschatological Aspects
Scholars conceptualise the presence of God’s kingdom variously. Weiss and Schweitzer are of the opinion that it is to come in the near future, and is known as consistent eschatology. C. H. Dodd views that it is already realised in the person and ministry of Jesus and terms it as realised eschatology (Ladd, Theology). The interpretation of the former ignores the kingdom’s present reality while the latter discards the futuristic aspect of the kingdom.

Contrary to Weiss and Schweitzer, Jesus declared that “the kingdom of God is already among (or in) you” (Lk.17:21). Besides, the Divine Being defeating Satan’s power is a clear evidence of the kingdom’s present reality (10:17-19). Jesus’ wonderful deeds—the blind received sight, the dead were raised, and good news was proclaimed to the poor (Matt.11:5), authenticated the presence of God’s kingdom. It was also a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa.61). Jesus’ exorcism accelerates the kingdom of God, proving that casting out of demons marked the genesis of God’s reign (Lk.11:19-20). The healing of the demoniac was also a break-through against the province of the evil one, invading what he owned (Matt.12:22-30). Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness, which was a dispensation given on this earth itself (Mk.2:1-12), exemplifies His dynamic rule here on earth. Hence, exercising of the absolute authority literally confirms the present reality of God’s kingdom (Matt.9: 6-8).

Interestingly, G. E. Ladd acknowledges the importance of both the present and the future kingdom of God Jesus referred to (Caragounis). How he conceptualises it appears to be very convincing, and the Scripture itself explicitly depicts the notion of a kingdom already existing but not yet fully accomplished (Lk.11:2). In addition to the references discussed above which support its present reality, some of the texts that point toward its eschatological (futuristic) aspects are: final destruction of the evil forces and genesis to eternal reign (Matt.8:29-32;25:41); conditions for inheriting God’s kingdom (Mk.9:47;10:15); sown seed that will grow (Mk.4:30-32); and the parable of judgment (Lk.12:41-48). Overall, Jesus’ ministry in person is to be perceived as a glimpse of what is to come, for the fullness of the kingdom still lies in the future.

The Miracles
The term ‘miracle’ emanates from the Latin word marari which means ‘to wonder at,’ and the terms ‘miracle wonder’ and ‘miracle-working’ originate from the Greek word thauma, indicating the notion of ‘wonder,’ ‘marvel’ or ‘amazed’ (Remus). Hence, the word ‘miracle’ can be best defined as an extraordinary event which is caused by supernatural force that marvel or amaze people. It happens directly and sometimes through humankind, but divine intervention always enabled the occurrence. It is worth noting what Geisler opines, “It is neither regular nor predictable because its manifestation is purposeful and divine interference.” It is so, because it is not natural and is beyond one’s comprehension. Moreover, it is not random acts. The accounts of miracle found in the Synoptic Gospels are typical exemplification of extraordinary events that occur through heavenly power (Matt.8:26;Lk.4:35-36;Mk.5:27-29).

In the pagan society, the miracle performers work for payment and sometimes commit immoral acts in the process, e.g., a barren woman conceiving after having intercourse through her ‘vision’ in Asclepius’ temple (Polhill). In contrast, Jesus performed miracles by exercising His divine power and authority for the benefit of others, not His own.

Some of the main thrusts of the miracle accounts in the synoptic gospels concerning the kingdom of God are:

I. Declaration of God’s rule: Matthew 12:28 talks about Jesus’ exorcism in which His exercising of the Spirit’s power is not simply a fight against the demonic world but the establishing of God’s reign among His people. It is Jesus “in whose coming God’s kingship is established, who now represents the true focus of divine authority on earth” (France). Another example of God announcing His reign is the healing of the sick ones (Lk.4:39;13:16) which is also a demonstration of God’s supremacy.

II. Destruction brought against satanic kingdom: As Twelftree rightly puts it, “The exorcisms themselves are the coming of the kingdom” (Evans). It happens when evil force is suppressed through casting out demons from a person. Mark 5 shows how Satan, being aware of his inferiority, pleaded with Jesus not to torture him. Here, the demoniac’s fear confirms Jesus’ superiority over Satan. Of course, while Jesus permits the unclean spirit to go into the swine, His ultimate power still remains in force (Guelich). The result is that He delivers the man from the demoniac realm, which is a sign of Satan’s losing his reign.

III. Assurance of resurrection: Christ’s crucifixion and overcoming of the death ensures believers’ resurrection after death (Mk.16).

IV. Fulfilment of prophetic messages: Through Jesus’ miracles the blind received sight, the lame walked, the lepers were healed and the dead were raised to life (Isa.35:5-6;61:1-2;Matt.11:5). All these accounts fulfilled what was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Besides, Jesus’ birth itself is a fulfilment of what was prophesied (1:22-23).

V. Announcement of forgiveness: The significance of forgiving sinners is stated in Luke 1:77 and 3:3. John the Baptist’s proclamation regarding forgiveness was proleptical but Luke 5:20; 7:48—healing and forgiving a paralytic, forgiving a sinful woman – illustrates explicit declaration of forgiveness. It is also an orientation to the future of that forgiveness which is also a way to attain its culmination (Nolland) in the form of eternal life.

VI. Assertion of God’s sovereignty over nature: Jesus calming the storm and walking on the water (Matt.8:26;Mk.6:48-51) prove His dominance over nature.

Overall, the term kingdom of God refers to God’s reign in which He is also at work in the lives of people. Jesus’ coming to the earth is a declaration of the presence of the kingdom of God, the fullness of which is yet to be attained. And in the person and ministry of Jesus, the miracles performed by Him are evidence for the establishment of God’s kingdom.

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