The Kingdom of God
The Heart of Christ's Message
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A king is a supreme ruler. An absolute monarchy, the undivided rule of a single person, is not a form of government familiar to most of us. Most people are more aware of the personal profiles of princes and princesses, along with exposés of their errors and excesses, than they are of the monarchy itself.
Fewer still are aware that the concept of a monarchy is to be found in the New Testament and that it has a direct connection to the future of mankind.
In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus Christ gave a model for people who wish to learn how to pray effectively. Most people know this passage as the Lord's Prayer. But do they consider its content?
Twice in this prayer outline Jesus refers to the Kingdom of God. First is a plea for that kingdom to "come"; then follows an acknowledgment that God indeed has a kingdom. When we acknowledge that God has a kingdom, we also acknowledge that He is royalty.
Scripture shows that the Kingdom of God is yet to come, and the world will see an obvious, dramatic occurrence when it is established. Few religions, however, believe this. Few even acknowledge the word kingdom except in an ethereal sense.
What does the Bible have to say about the Kingdom of God?
Kingdom theme in the Gospels
The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible says this about the Kingdom of God: "The word 'kingdom' is found fifty-five times in Matthew; twenty times in Mark, forty-six times in Luke and five times in John. When allowance is made for the use of the word to refer to secular kingdoms and for parallel verses of the same sayings of Jesus, the phrase 'the kingdom of God' and equivalent expressions (e.g., 'Kingdom of heaven,' 'his kingdom') occurs about eighty times . . . These statistics show the great importance of the concept in the teachings of Jesus . . . There can, therefore, be little doubt that the phrase 'the kingdom of God' expresses the main theme of His teaching" (Vol. III, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976, p. 804).
Studying the preceding references to the Kingdom in the four Gospels gives us much understanding. Consider, for example, these points:
- The message Jesus commissioned His early apostles to teach is called the good news, or gospel, of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2).
- Jesus used the same words to announce the message His Church should broadcast through the ages: the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 8:1).
- The Gospels frequently summarize Jesus' teachings with the same terminology: "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14).
- Jesus equated gaining salvation with entering the Kingdom (Matthew 19:16, 23-24), and He explained the loss of salvation in terms of rejection from the Kingdom (Luke 13:28).
- The message of salvation is called the Word of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:19).
- The hope and comfort of a Christian are said to be in entering the Kingdom (Mark 10:15).
- The principal goal of a Christian is to seek first the Kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
- Righteous people are called sons of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:38).
- The undisputed theme of many of Christ's parables is the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven (verses 44-45, 47).
Duality within the office of the Messiah
When Jesus' impending birth was revealed to Mary by the angel Gabriel, the unborn child was declared to be the King of a kingdom (Luke 1:30-33). He is clearly the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah, the chosen leader who was to deliver God's people both as Savior and King (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Shortly before His crucifixion, Christ entered Jerusalem in a triumphant procession during which citizens, as a high tribute, laid their clothing in his path along with branches cut from nearby trees. To grasp the significance of this event, we must review an ancient prophecy-Zechariah 9:9-10, a prophecy of a Messiah King who is also the Messiah Savior.
There can be little argument that Jesus Christ is our Savior or with the concept that He rules in our minds through the indwelling presence of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25; Colossians 3:15). Yet there is even more to Christ's kingship than ruling in the minds of believers.
Many of Christ's own countrymen, like their ancestors, expectantly waited for a kingdom to be brought by a Messiah King. The overwhelming majority, however, missed the need for and significance of a Messiah Savior.
In a similar error, traditional Christian churches have long focused narrowly upon Jesus as Savior to the exclusion of His role as coming King.
Christ knew He was King
The bold prophecies of the Old Testament, combined with the Gospels and apostolic writings of the New, show that Christians ought to understand Christ both as Savior and as returning King (Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 11:15; Acts 1:1-11).
It was Jesus' deliberate association of Himself with the prophecy in Daniel that inflamed the chief priests and settled the resolve of the Sanhedrin that Jesus must die (Mark 14:53, 61-65).
Jesus did not want His followers to expect an immediate kingdom (Luke 19:11-12), but He did purposefully cultivate their expectation for a kingdom in the future with Himself as its Monarch. The act of cutting and scattering tree branches that marked His entrance into Jerusalem shortly before His death was done as a tribute to the Messiah King in fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy. This significance was not lost on the Pharisees (Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40).
This teaching cost Jesus His life. When He was soon to become the Messiah Savior through His death and resurrection, He would not deny being Messiah King (John 18:33-37). When Pilate questioned Him about His kingship, Christ replied, "For this cause I was born" (verse 37).
This became the focus of the soldiers' ridicule and torture (John 19:1-3). It also formed the closing argument of Christ's accusers, who used this seditious charge to force Pilate into issuing the order to have Jesus put to death (John 19:12-16). The derisive comments made to Jesus as He was crucified further confirm He was killed because He claimed to be the Messiah King (Mark 15:31-32). Jesus' kingship was clearly marked on the sign above Him as He died (John 19:19).
Continuing Kingdom message
Both Jesus and the writers of the New Testament had countless opportunities to sever links to expectations of a coming king and kingdom spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. But, rather than cut those links, Christ and His disciples deliberately built upon them.
Daniel 7:16, 18, 22 and 27 record the promise, not only of a kingdom, but that God would give believers a part of it. The words inheritance, inherit and heir in English translations of the New Testament are taken from Greek words meaning "a lot, or a portion," and "to possess" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, pp. 300, 325). They are used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 5:5 in the context of warning that habitual sins will prevent a believer from inheriting the Kingdom of God.
Paul again uses this language, in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52, a powerful reference to Christ's return, revealing that flesh-and-blood believers must be changed to spirit to inherit the Kingdom. James wrote that God selects those who are rich in faith, although they may be poor in material possessions, to be heirs of the Kingdom (James 2:5).
Jesus, in Luke 12:31-32, connected His teaching with Daniel's prophecy: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Jesus Himself summarizes much of the teaching of the prophets and apostles: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
The message of a kingdom to come is indeed central to the Bible. The power of God's Kingdom is present and active in individual believers, as well as collectively in the Church, but the Kingdom has not yet come. It does not come until Christ does.
So it is with good reason that we pray, "Your Kingdom come". GN