“…the things about the Kingdom of God”

“…through forty days being seen by them and speaking of the things about the Kingdom of God.”
(Acts 1:3)

Many of the notes and articles on the New Testament posted here reference the Kingdom of God—especially as the expression occurs in the sayings, parables, and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. I thought it worth devoting a separate article to look at this idea of the Kingdom of God (h( basileia/ tou= qeou=). The subject is so vast, however, that even this can only serve as an introductory study. It will be structured as follows:

    1. A survey of New Testament references, particularly the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels.
    2. A brief examination of eschatological aspects of the concept, especially related to the “restoration of Israel” (Acts 1:6)
    3. A glance at the unique tension which appears to exist between present and future aspects of the Kingdom concept in the New Testament

1. A Survey of New Testament References

The list which follows here is more or less exhaustive, though one could no doubt find additional passages which use other relevant royal language or imagery, or where the Kingdom may be implied. Also, I have made no attempt to address any significant textual variants or text-critical issues in these passages.

References in the Synoptic Gospels:

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the Gospel of John:

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the Book of Acts:

  • Specific references to the Kingdom (of God):
    • Acts 1:3 – Reference to Jesus speaking about the Kingdom of God following his resurrection
    • Acts 8:12 – Reference to preaching the “good news about the Kingdom of God” (see above)
    • Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31 —References to Paul proclaiming, testifying ,etc. to the Kingdom (of God)
    • Acts 14:22—”enter the Kingdom of God” (in description of Paul speaking to disciples in Antioch)
  • “Lord, in this time will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
  • Acts 17:7: reference to Jesus as “another king” besides Caesar
  • References to Christ (or the Son of Man) at the right hand of God (see also above): Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the Pauline Epistles (both undisputed and disputed):

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the remaining Epistles (Hebrews–Jude):

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the book of Revelation:

Even a brief examination of the passages referenced above indicate that the Kingdom (of God) is a relatively wide-ranging concept. I would isolate four basic senses of the term in the New Testament:

  1. The eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
  2. An eschatological Kingdom (on earth), which can be understood in two different aspects:
    a. An absolute sense: New heavens and new earth (preceded by judgment on the World)
    b. A contingent sense: Messianic kingdom (preceded by judgment of the Nations)
  3. The presence of Christ—His life, work and teaching, death and resurrection
  4. The presence of God/Christ (through the Spirit) in the hearts, minds, and lives of believers

The fundamental idea informing the phrase “Kingdom of God” is that of the rule of God—that is, His governing power and authority—coming to be present, or made manifest, on earth, in a manner beyond what one sees in the natural order of things.

If one examines the references from the New Testament Epistles (see above), senses #1 and 4 appear to dominate, with the following points of emphasis:

    • The Kingdom is of God and of Christ—He rules in Heaven at the right hand of God (from whence he will come to judge the world)
    • The theme of believers inheriting/entering the Kingdom, also found in Jesus’ teachings (see above), is related to life in Christ through the prevailing power of the Spirit and the promise of salvation from the Judgment to come

References in Acts generally follow those in the Synoptic Gospels (especially in Luke), so it is necessary to examine these—the vast majority of which are found in recorded sayings and parables of Jesus. With regard to these sayings and parables, an introductory notice is required:

Traditional-conservative commentators generally regard the sayings/parables as accurately reflecting Jesus’ words (translated into Greek and with minimal modification). Critical scholars, on the other hand, tend to view the matter differently: many of the sayings, to greater or lesser extent, are effectively products of the early church, and to judge them several key “criteria of authenticity” have been developed. I neither reject nor disregard these critical analyses; however, for the purposes of this study, I assume that the sayings in the Synoptic Gospels are authentic in substance—if not always the ipsissima verba, then at least the ipsissima vox.

One can examine all of sayings and parables, according to the detailed list above. In addition, I will here group them into several categories:

  • Sayings where the subject refers to those who hear Jesus’ words—particularly the disciples (lit. “learners”) and others who would follow him.
  • Sayings where the subject primarily (or effectively) refers to God’s action (or Christ as God’s representative)
  • Sayings which reflect the mysterious nature or “secret” of the Kingdom
a. Sayings centered on the disciples, etc.—in relation to the Kingdom

This comprises the bulk of references, including those which speak of seeking, receiving, inheriting or entering the Kingdom, as well as passages related to the status of those in the Kingdom, those who act/suffer for the sake of the Kingdom, and so forth. In particular, one should note the number of sayings centered on:

  • Entering the Kingdom:
    Matt. 5:20 – justice/righteousness must surpass that of scribes/Pharisees
    Matt. 7:21 – only those who do the will of the Father in Heaven
    Matt. 8:11 – Gentiles who trust (in Christ, implied), cf. par. Luke 13:28-29
    Matt. 18:3 – one must come to be as children (cf. Mark 10:15)
    Mark 9:47 par. – avoid/eliminate sin (cut off the offending eye, etc.)
    Mark 10:23-25 par. – difficulty of entering (especially for those with earthly wealth/riches)
    Matt. 21:31 – ‘sinners’ will enter ahead of key religious leaders (chief priest and elders, in context)
  • Receiving the Kingdom:
    Mark 4:11 par. – disciples have been given (de/dotai perfect passive) the secret of the Kingdom
    Mark 10:15 par. – must receive/accept the Kingdom as a little child (or will not enter)
    Matt. 21:43 – Kingdom will be taken away from rebellious/violent (parable of the Tenants) and given to a(nother) people
    Also:
    Matt. 16:19 – “keys of the Kingdom (of Heaven)” given (“I will give”) to the disciples (Peter, following his confession of belief)
    Luke 12:32 – God as subject to give the Kingdom to disciples (context of seeking the Kingdom, v. 31); cf. also Luke 22:29-30
  • Inheriting the Kingdom:
    Matt. 25:34 – those who act with love and mercy to the hungry, sick, stranger, etc.
    Matt. 5:3, 10 – the ‘poor in spirit’ and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness (inheritance implied: “theirs is the Kingdom…”); these two verses encompass all the Beatitudes
    Matt. 13:38ff – inheritance implied (“children of the Kingdom”), righteousness indicated (v. 43); cf. also Matt. 8:11-12
    See also Mark 10:14 par. – disciples must be as little children: “for the Kingdom of God is of such [as this]

Note the strong ethical dimension (righteousness/justice) to many of these passages; but also an emphasis on trust (“faith”) in Christ [implied], along with humility, mercy, etc. These very themes, along with the language of entering/inheriting the Kingdom would become an important part of early Christian parenesis and ethical instruction.

b. Sayings centered principally on God’s action, in relation to the Kingdom

Here I would include most of the general references to Jesus and the disciples preaching/proclaiming the Kingdom, as related to the basic message that the Kingdom is coming or has “come near”.

  • The Kingdom “has come near”: Mark 1:15 par.; Luke 10:9, 11 par.; Luke 21:31; cf. also Mark 3:2.
    In all of these passages the Kingdom is the subject, and the verb h&ggiken (perfect active of e)ggi/zw “come near, approach”), except for Luke 21:31 which uses the related adverb e)ggu/$ (“near”). Other passages imply an imminent coming of the Kingdom—e.g., Mark 9:1 par. (perfect participle of e)rxomai); Luke 19:11.
  • The Kingdom coming:
    • Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2 – Lord’s Prayer: “let your Kingdom come (e)lqe/to, aorist imperative)”
    • Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20 – Jesus’ miracles: “if in/by the Spirit of God I cast out the daimons, then (truly) the Kingdom of God has come suddenly upon you”. The verb translated “has come” is e&fqasen (aorist). Luke reads “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”.
    • Luke 17:20-21 – Pharisees’ question “when comes (e&rxetai) the Kingdom of God?” with Jesus’ reply: “the Kingdom of God comes not with parath/rhsi$ [lit. ‘watching alongside’, i.e. careful/attentive watching]”
    • Luke 22:18 – Last Supper: “now I will not drink from th(at which) comes-to-be [i.e. fruit] from the vine until the (time in) which the Kingdom of God should come (e&lqh, aorist subjunctive)”
    • For other Gospel references related to a coming/expected Kingdom, see Mark 11:10 par.; 15:43 par.; Luke 2:25, 38, as well as Jesus’ eschatological sayings and parables.
  • God giving the Kingdom (to believers/disciples):
    • Mark 4:11 par. – ” to you has been given (de/dotai, perfect passive) the secret of the Kingdom of God”
    • Luke 12:32 – “your Father thought it good to give (dou=nai, aorist infinitive) you the Kingdom”
    • Matt. 21:43 – “the Kingdom of God shall be carried (away) from you [the ‘wicked tenants’] and shall be given (doqh/setai, future passive) to a nation producing its fruits”
    • Luke 22:29f – “and I assign [lit. set through; present middle] to you, even as my Father has assigned [aorist middle] to me, a Kingdom…”
    • See also Luke 19:12, 15; Matt. 16:19; and Mark 10:15 par.

The range of meanings here in these passages is complex and fascinating, as are the tenses of the verbs involved:

    1. References to the Kingdom “coming near” typically use the same perfect form: h&ggiken (“has come near”)
    2. Other references to the Kingdom “coming” (e)rxomai, but also other verbs) tend to be in the aorist.
    3. References to God “giving” the Kingdom cover past (perfect/aorist), present and future.
c. Sayings centered on the (mysterious) nature of the Kingdom

These include many (or most) of the Parables: especially the Markan (4:26-32 & par.) and first Matthean (13:24-52, one par. in Luke) groups, as well as the triple-attested parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9, 14-20 & par.). Here images from daily life are used to represent and symbolize the mysterious and ineffable working of the power and presence of God (i.e. the Kingdom). Embedded in many of these one also finds the image of people searching or working in response to the Kingdom’s presence (symbolized by seed, pearl, hidden treasure, etc); one also finds at times an eschatological reference (cf. the parable of the Net, Matt. 13:47-50, etc.). The later Matthean parables (18:23-25; 20:1-16; 22:2-14; 25:1-30) are longer narratives, depicting the actions of disciples (or would-be disciples) in relation to the (coming) Kingdom in greater detail. The parables of the Talents/Minas (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27), and the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12 par.) all have a clear eschatological context.

A number of sayings also touch on the mysterious nature of the Kingdom, which may also be reflected in the idea of it’s coming suddenly or unexpectedly (cf. Matt. 12:28 par.). As indicated above, Jesus also refers at least once to the “secret[s] of the Kingdom of God” which have been given to believers (Mark 4:11; Matt. 13:11; Luke 8:10).

Perhaps most difficult of all is Luke 17:20-21, which may well combine two originally separate sayings:

20 And being inquired upon by the Pharisees (as to) ‘when comes the Kingdom of God?’ he answered them and said: “The Kingdom of God comes not with close watching, 21 nor shall they utter ‘See here! or (see) there!’ For see—the Kingdom of God is in(side) of you (pl.).”

Pages could be—and have been—written on these verses; as I have discussed them in some detail elsewhere, for the moment I won’t deal with them further here.

Perhaps the thorniest critical question related to the sayings of Jesus is the extent to which he speaks of an eschatological (earthly) Kingdom of God—that is, of a restored Davidic (Messianic) kingdom, along the lines of that hoped for by many of his contemporaries. It is to the eschatological aspect (or aspects) of the Kingdom I will turn next.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.