The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven is a concept so critical to the message of Jesus that I think it’s fair to say that if we miss this concept, we’ve missed most of what Jesus says. The Kingdom concept is synonymous with the gospel. Jesus central message, according to Matt 4:17 is “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. Jesus calls the gospel message, “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt 24:14). Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount talking about the kingdom, and mentions it frequently throughout the sermon. Most of Jesus parables begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like…” We are told to seek first the kingdom of God before anything else. The very first thing Jesus prays for in the Lords Prayer, after acknowledging the fatherhood and sanctity of God, is for the kingdom to come. When Jesus sends out disciples, they are instructed to preach about the kingdom of God. When the resurrected Jesus visits his Apostles for 40 days, what he teaches them are things “pertaining to the kingdom of God”. When (in the book of Acts) Paul goes to the synagogue or preaches in prison, his message is the kingdom of God. As a (very) informal measure of the importance of this concept, I did a simple search in the KJV version of the gospels for the following words:
Grace: 4 occurrences Sin: 18 occurrences Faith: 29 occurrences Kingdom: 127 occurrences
This is not to say that the concepts of grace, faith, sin etc aren’t important. But I DO think that if we misunderstand “the kingdom of God” then we can’t really hope to understand Jesus. And I think many Christians do NOT understand “the kingdom of God”.
The Meaning of “The Kingdom of God”.
The word used for “kingdom” in the New Testament is: basileia , which can apparently mean: royalty, rule, realm, kingdom, dominion, royal power.
The kingdom of God has been variously interpreted by Christians and Jews to mean:
1. An earthly political kingdom ruled by the messiah 2. Heaven. 3. The Church 4. An interior state of union with God.
Many Christians, especially conservative Christians, tend to put most of the emphasis on the kingdom of God being a future state in heaven, or, at best, a current state of being “saved” which is basically only a potential until arrival in heaven.
I would put forward that the vast majority of Jesus’ kingdom statements (particularly the earliest and most authentic of them) only make sense in terms of an “inner kingdom”, which is available in the here and now. The “kingdom of God”, then, is not a political, earthly, corporate or future “kingdom”. In modern terms, I think it would be the most helpful to call it “the dimension of God” or perhaps “The divine reality”
Here are some scriptures that I think make the best sense in terms of this interpretation.
Mat 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
I’ll use this as representative of all of the “at hand” scriptures. “At hand” indicates something has approached to the point of being right next to you. The kingdom of heaven, in other words, is now right in front of your nose. This does not indicate a future state in heaven.
Mat 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Not will be. Is NOW.
Mat 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
A difficult scripture to translate and interpret, but it clearly shows the kingdom of heaven as something that already exists.
Mat 12:28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
It’s here now.
Mat 13:44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
In this and several similar parables (the pearl of great price, the net of fishes), the seeker finds the kingdom of heaven hear and now, and it totally reorients his value system.
Mat 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
This has been a constant difficulty for those who see the kingdom as a future event. But easily understood if Jesus is promising that some will achieve the inner illumination.
Mar 12:34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
If the kingdom is a future event, it would make no sense to tell this man we was closer to it than others. It would make perfect sense if this man is closer to an inner transformation.
Luk 7:28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
If the kingdom of God is a future heaven, then this would seem to be saying that John won’t be in heaven. The better interpretation is that John, although blessed, was operating out of an old consciousness. Even the least person who has been transformed will be greater.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luk 17:20–21)
The classic, of course. Clearly pointing to an inner reality.
Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
I include this one, even though it CAN be interpret as saying “unless you’re born again, you won’t get into heaven”, because it makes even more sense as a simple statement of fact. Being born again IS the transformation wherein the inner divine dimension becomes visable.
Rom 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
This clearly seems to be talking about a present state of being.
1Co 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
Again, a present state.
Col 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
Again, this translation is an accomplished event.
Moving out of the canon, let me quote a few from the gospel of Thomas:
3. Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
Similar to Luke 17, but with this addition – the inner reality transforms the outer.
46. Jesus said, “From Adam to John the Baptist, among those born of women, no one is so much greater than John the Baptist that his eyes should not be averted. But I have said that whoever among you becomes a child will recognize the (Father’s) kingdom and will become greater than John.”
Confirming and amplifying our interpretation of Luke 7.
113. His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”
Similar again to Luke 17.
There are, of course, a number of scriptures that point to the kingdom as being a future event. I believe most of these come from a secondary, apocalyptic layer of scripture that does not as accurately reflect Jesus’ teaching.