We have been thinking a lot about the Kingdom of God in the past few weeks, taking a few different perspectives. Firstly, there's the historical Kingdom in Israel, where God ruled through judges, prophets and kings, and which foreshadowed a future Kingdom of God that will fill the whole earth. Meanwhile, we can be living and sharing his Kingdom now, albeit in a rather limited way, through the kingship of Jesus and his influence in our lives. However, it is clear that God wants us to be looking forward to Jesus’ return and the establishment of the Kingdom in its fullest sense. This is the great good news which Jesus brought us!
The Kingdom of God: Past
The historical Kingdom didn't just start with kings Saul, David and Solomon. The Kingdom of God was there – at least in concept – from a much earlier point in history, since God was King from the start and he was preparing his people to be a Kingdom for many years before the political kingship was established. He told them through Moses that he wanted his people to be a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’(Ex19:5-6).
In 1Sam 8:1-22, the nation of Israel demand a King to rule over them, wanting to be like the idolatrous nations around them. But Samuel is told by God to warn the people that this will be bad news for them because, ultimately, the people had rejected God as King, not Samuel, or the judges who led them earlier.
Following an increasingly shaky start under King Saul (1Sam13:13-14), the Kingdoms of David and Solomon were majestic by all accounts. However, what followed was a mixture of Good, Bad and, frankly, Ugly Kings (morally speaking), leading ultimately to the fall of both the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah and the 70 year captivity in Babylon/Persia.
The Kingdom of God: Present
A Kingdom traditionally requires a King, a dominion, and subjects. But a number of New Testament references present a different perspective on the Kingdom of God, suggesting that it is something we can experience now to some degree. For example, Luke17:20-21 speaks of the Kingdom of God being either ‘within you’ or ‘among you’ (depending on your translation). Since Jesus was speaking with the Pharisees, it is difficult to believe that Jesus thought the Kingdom of God was within them, so it seems most likely that Jesus was referring to himself in their midst in this passage.
Many parables of Jesus e.g. in Matthew 13 and Luke 13 refer to the Kingdom of Heaven (aka Kingdom of God). These chapters seem to be presenting lessons for the present, not just the future. They often refer to growth (of a seed, or weeds) or the pervading influence (of yeast). So could it be that we are being encouraged to share our belief and, in doing so, spread some seeds of the Kingdom (Matt 13:51-52)?
If Jesus was referring to some manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the present, what form would it take? We're told that Jesus is the absent King (Matt 28:18-20), that the war with sin has been won but the battle continues (Heb 2:14), that the Kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, joy and peace (Rom 14:16-17), we have already been raised to dwell in heavenly places (Eph 2:1-10), been given the Spirit as a guarantee of what is to come (Eph 1:13-14, 2Cor 1:21-22), and been translated into his Kingdom now (Col 1:12-14).
The Kingdom of God: Future
But, the references in the New Testament to the present Kingdom of God are far outweighed by reference to the future Kingdom of God throughout the Bible.
The first mention of a Kingdom of God that would last forever comes during God’s promises to David (2Sam 7:13), an idea which is repeated elsewhere (Psa 145:11-13, Dan 2:44). The prophets, including Ezekiel (e.g. chap 34, 37) and Zechariah (chap 14) looked forward to a day when the scattered nation would be regathered and the Lord would be King 'over all the earth'. The disciples in Jesus’ day thought that the Kingdom would appear immediately (Lk 19:11) but had to learn that God's timescale was longer. After Jesus' death and resurrection the disciples were told 'This Jesus, who was taken into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven' (Acts 1:9-11). So, it's clear that Jesus will return to the earth (2Tim 4:1) but we aren't told when. Once the Kingdom is established, it will be a time of unprecedented peace and security (Psa 72, Isa 35). Jesus will eventually hand the Kingdom over to God, and then God will dwell with mankind and will be all in all (1Cor 15:24; Rev 21:3). What an amazing prospect! May it come soon.
By Jon and Jan S
Image: All the verses in the Bible that mention 'kingdom', via Wordle.