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THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE GOSPELS
Janice Chin Yen Ni
A Paper Presented to
Dr. Marienne Meye Thompson
and the School of Intercultural Studies
FULLER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
M. A. in Inter-Cultural Studies
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE GOSPELS..............................3
CHAPTER 2 THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT AND OTHER
JEWISH SOURCES .......................................................................................5
CHAPTER 3 JESUS' TEACHINGS AND PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM
REFERENCES CITED .........................................................................................10
The ‘kingdom of God’, including key words or themes related to this phrase, has always
been a fascinating subject, occasionally leading to debates. Mostly, interpretations vary and not
one view goes undisputed. Even though it is recorded in the Holy Bible that Jesus of Nazareth
often used this phrase, the ambiguity of the subject remains, and scholars have tried to uncover
the meaning(s) intended, with few agreeable points.
In our study of the life and ministry of Jesus, it is necessary to get a good grasp of the
Gospels, which contain significant information about this Prophet-Teacher. Nowhere can we find
more vivid descriptions of his activity, lifestyle, concerns, and emotions. From his parables,
pithy sayings, conversations with his disciples – in fact, from the bulk of what is recorded of his
life and ministry – we gain insight into the person of Jesus and his purpose. So to these Gospels
we turn, in our attempt to understand the kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus.
Given the diversity of Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom, there is no way we can cover in
detail the breadth and depth of those teachings. No other first-century prophet or teacher has
taught with such diversity on this subject, nor spoke of the ‘kingdom of God/heaven’ as often, as
did Jesus of Nazareth (Stanton, p.213). Who was this man according to Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John, and what was his message for the people of his time? And what does the Kingdom of
God mean for us today, in light of what it meant for them? Our understanding of this subject is
significant for the Church as witness to Christ and the Kingdom. In the following chapters, we
will take a look at what the Gospels and other sources say about the Kingdom of God, and then
on how the proclamation of the Kingdom was carried out through Jesus’ life and ministry.
KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE GOSPELS
In the New Revised Standard version of the Holy Bible, the Gospel of Mark mentions
‘kingdom of God’ 14 times, and Luke 32 times. There is little or no distinction between
‘kingdom of God’ and ‘kingdom of heaven’, aside from Matthew using this circumlocution for
the name of God (Achtemeier, p.215; Green 1992). In Matthew, the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’
occurs 32 times, and ‘kingdom of God’ 5 times. Nowhere else does ‘kingdom of heaven’ occur
in the Gospels, or in the rest of the Holy Bible. It seems that these two phrases can be used
interchangeably (Mt 4:17; see also Da 4:26). The Gospel of John only mentions it 2 times (Jn
3:3; 3:5). John’s emphasis on ‘eternal life’ could be interpreted as a restatement of the Kingdom
of God (see Thompson, "The Gospel According to John", p.191). The first mention of ‘kingdom’
by Jesus is found in Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15, Luke 4:43, and John 3:3 respectively. This is not to
say that the idea of Kingdom is present in the Gospels only when the exact phrase is used. This
idea can be found in implicit sayings, teachings and parables by Jesus; in Matthew alone, the
idea of kingdom is indicated at least 50 times (Aland).
Matthew marks the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry with the words ‘from that time
on’ (Mt 4:17), which he uses two other times (see also 16:21; 26:16). Jesus from the inauguration
of his ministry spoke of the Kingdom as one that is approaching. Thus, the coming of Christ
brings God’s Kingdom near (Mk 1:15; Lk 17:211). John the Baptist called people to repentance,
for “the Kingdom of God has come near”, as though preparing the way for a king to come (Mk
1:2-3; Lk 3:3-6; Jn 1:23). All three Synoptic Gospels apply Isaiah 40:3 to John the Baptist (see
1 As “among you” or “within you”.
also Mal 3:1). While Mark records, “The time has come”, this is not to mean chronological time,
but time for decisive action by God. Just like John the Baptist, Jesus also called for repentance,
but this is only recorded in Matthew and Mark. The word ‘euangelion’ is described by Matthew
as the gospel of the Kingdom, a gospel to be preached throughout the world before the
consummation of the age (Mt 24:14; cf. Mk 13:10). The way Mark uses ‘euangelion’ is found in
his opening words, “the good news of (about) Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.
From studying the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, we can deduce that the idea of
the Kingdom of God/heaven cannot be understood in conclusive terms. On most occasions, it
appeared deliberate on the part of Jesus to leave the audience in a state of ambiguity as to what
this Kingdom is and what he was really referring to, making definite interpretation difficult. The
secret (or secrets) of the Kingdom “has been given” to the disciples (Mt 13:10-15; 4:10-12; Lk
8:9-10), yet they do not always grasp the mystery from Jesus’ parables. It would be quite a feat
to expect that we can understand what these early followers of Jesus could not understand.
However, this is not to say Jesus manipulated his sayings so as to keep the meaning elusive. His
proclamation about the Kingdom evidently moved between the present and future manifestations
of God’s reign; it is his vision of this Kingdom that is hard to ascertain (Achtemeier, p.217-218).
KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT AND OTHER JEWISH
What was the Jewish hope for deliverance? Learning what Jews were anticipating during
Jesus’ time provides much insight for understanding the Kingdom as portrayed in the Gospels.
Psalm 145:8-13 speaks of God’s dominion, four times mentioning ‘kingdom’. Zion’s
heavenly king watches over his people with benevolent virtues, and as the following Psalms
concur, Zion’s God grants protection, provision and peace to his people (Ps 146:7-10; 147:12-14;
149:2). Psalm 149 in particular echoes with the expectation that God would restore the honor of
his people and inflict vengeance on those that assault his Kingdom (Ps 149:4-5; 6-7). The one
who is born of the Davidic line will rebuild the Temple and restore the priesthood, and his reign
will be universal and total. This promise of the Davidic king undergirds Israel’s national hope;
we see this pointed out in many portions of Scripture, such as the book of Daniel. Daniel 4:3b
bears striking resemblance to Psalm 145:13a, stating the Jewish faith that the kingdom of the
Most High “is an everlasting Kingdom; and his sovereignty is from generation to generation”.
The ‘anointed one’ is to appear as the ruler or prince; a new covenant will be established and the
sacrificial system disrupted (Da 9:25-27). Zechariah 9:9-10 gives an imagery of the Davidic
Messiah, “triumphant and victorious…humble and riding on a donkey…command[ing]
peace…[and having] dominion”.
Passages that describe this ‘king’ or ‘kingdom’ as ‘is’ rather than ‘will be’ are many in
the Old Testament. The daily repetition of the Shema was regarded as the “repeated taking upon
oneself of the yoke of the sovereignty of God” (Dt 6:4-10) (Ladd, p.131). In this sense, the
Kingdom is already established by means of covenant, a promise to Israel’s descendants by the
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This hope in the imminent future, juxtaposed against the
backdrop of foreign domination by the empires of Babylon, Persia, Macedonia, and Rome,
centered in “a restoration of Israel to the glory of former days, to freedom and independence,
which should be effected by the manifestation of God’s justice and power”, overthrowing the
oppressive empire(s), and sending his Messiah as representative and ruler (Grant, "Gospel of the
Kingdom", p.130-131). Prophecies contained in the Scriptures such as the ones in 1 Samuel,
Isaiah 40 and Haggai 2 bolstered this hope: God would raise up his anointed one to restore the
kingship of Israel. Then, an era of peace and righteousness would be ushered in.
Some Jews looked forward to this hope as a restoration of the nation of Israel in a
political sense. The Messiah, according to this perspective, would be a political savior. For
others, this hope is to be evidenced through the signs and wonders, as prophesied by Daniel (Da
4:3a). The arrival of the Kingdom would be accompanied by the supernatural in a climactic
drama at the time of the Apocalypse. It is to be these groups, with a broad spectrum of views of
this hope, to whom Jesus communicates.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the messiah is portrayed as one who will re-teach the Law. In
Psalm of Solomon 17, a righteous king will return the land to the people, have dominion over the
nations, and the righteousness of Jerusalem shall be restored (see vv1, 46; ‘kingdom of God’ in
v3; also vv21-22; 32-34). In the Pseudepigraphal Book of Jubilees, it is God himself, not a
servant, who would restore Israel. The ‘kingdom of God’ is rarely found in the apocalyptic
writings or in the other literature of the intertestamental period (Ladd, p.130).
JESUS’ TEACHINGS AND PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM
The Kingdom of God was the core of Jesus’ mission, the purpose for which he was sent,
as summed up in Mark 1:14-15 and Luke 4:43. In Grant’s words:
“It may be said that the teaching of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God represents his
whole teaching. It is the main, determinative subject of all his discourse. His ethics was
ethics of the Kingdom; his theology was theology of the Kingdom; his teaching regarding
himself cannot be understood apart from his interpretation of the Kingdom of God”
(Grant, "The Gospel of the Kingdom", p.129).
Jesus related his teachings and proclamation of the Kingdom to the Jewish hope for
deliverance, evident in the four pillars of Judaism: belief in one God, the land, the Law, and the
Temple. He did not spell out an understanding of the Kingdom different from the hoped-for
Kingdom of his time, but rather, used the language of the Old Testament to create a vision of its
manifestation for both the present and the future (Achtemeier, p.217). In that sense, his use of the
phrase was not unique. He emphasized the nature of this Kingdom in his parables, and how
God’s sovereignty shapes the way he carried out his ministry and the life of discipleship he calls
his followers to lead (Achtemeier, p.218).
By making the same declaration as John the Baptist did, Jesus seems to have affirmed the
prophet’s teaching regarding the Kingdom and the Messiah. He too made the call to repentance,
proclaiming God’s initiative in bringing near His reign, while calling for Israel’s response to this
divine initiative (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:15). We see he taught his disciples to do the same (Mk 6:12).
Jesus clearly spoke of the Kingdom of God as an eschatological reign in some of his
teachings (Lk 22:29; 23:42). When teaching his disciples how to pray, he prayed for the perfect
establishment of God’s reign as a divine act, not a future realm (Mt 6:10). As in Jewish literature,
the reign of God as being over a realm or locale is only an infrequent notion (Ladd, p.132-3).
Almost always, ‘Kingdom of God’ has the abstract meaning of his rule. At the same time, some
of Jesus’ teachings seem to speak of the Kingdom as a present reality. Among these are his
teachings on seeking the Kingdom first (Mt 6:33; Lk 12:31), receiving the Kingdom (Mk 10:15;
Lk 18:17; Mt 18:3), and entering the Kingdom (Mk 5:20; 7:21; Mk 9:47; Lk 18:24-25). The use
of Old Testament imagery and prophecy to define his mission is prevalent throughout the
Gospels, e.g. the crowds welcoming Jesus associated his riding in to Jerusalem on a colt with
‘Son of David’ (Mt 21:9), ‘the coming kingdom of our ancestor David’ (Mk 11:9-10), and ‘the
King of Israel’ (Jn 12:13). Multiple times, Jesus cited or is identified with Isaiah’s prophecies
(Mt 4:14-16; Mk 7:6; Lk 4:17; cf. Isa 6:9; 9:1-2). In Jesus’ judgment on the corruption at the
Temple, he was recorded as citing Isaiah 56:7. Most noteworthy is the longest Old Testament
quotation in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 12:17-21; cf. Isa 42:1-4), as well as the scroll Jesus read in
the synagogue (Lk 4:17-21; Isa 61:1-2). In this Messianic prophecy, we see a description (or
rather, summary) of Jesus’ own ministry, as the chosen one who brings justice and hope, and
proclaims the good news to the poor.
The authority with which Jesus ministered and taught was recognized (Mk 1:21-28; Lk
4:31-37). He saw himself as one with authority to teach the Law, forgive sins, heal the sick and
cast out demons. He sent his disciples on mission, giving them authority over unclean spirits (Mt
10:1; Mk 6:7; Lk 9:1). Healing and deliverance characterized Jesus’ proclamation of the Good
News; he not only proclaimed that the Kingdom has come, but demonstrated it by the
supernatural power of God (Mt 4:23). The Kingdom of God, as Jesus taught, is this: “that God is
now acting among men to deliver them from bondage to Satan…[this] itself [is] a work of the
Kingdom of God” (Ladd, p.47). This is by the Spirit of God, Jesus says, and by this “the
Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28; Mk 9:1; Lk 11:20).
From the Gospels, we find such richness in Jesus’ teachings and proclamation that cannot
be explored enough. This Messiah-King, when among his people, proclaimed it through teaching
and demonstration of power. He fulfills Old Testament prophecies, and does not proclaim a
Kingdom other than Israel’s hoped-for Kingdom but speaks to both Jew and Gentile of its
ultimate fulfillment (Rev 11:15; 19:6; see also Da 2:44; 7:27). But clearly, Jesus understands the
Kingdom as a Kingdom that has come with his act of inauguration by kerygma. Ladd states that
God’s Kingdom has become “dynamically active among [us] in Jesus’ person and mission”, even
as the eschatological appearing of this Kingdom approaches with the end of the age (Ladd,
p.139). But as in the Gospels, it is possible to not perceive the coming of this Kingdom, or to
limit God’s reign to a geographical sphere or period of time.
According to the Gospels, Jesus’ death did not stop the coming of the Kingdom. Our
understanding of the Kingdom is often narrow; we neglect study of the Gospels and believe with
little understanding of the reign of God the way Jesus taught and proclaimed it. Recognizing that
the Kingdom has come upon us, however, cannot stop there. We see this in the Gospels. The
King calls us to discipleship, not only to repentance but a true adherence to the Law: to love God
and love our neighbor. As his disciples acknowledged him as Messiah, not simply as Prophet or
Teacher, Jesus desires our response (Mk 8:30-38). So as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, let us
also be reminded that we cannot build the Kingdom of God, but we can be vigilant until the time
of parousia. So let Thy Kingdom come, Lord, and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Achtemeier, Paul J., Green Joel B. and Thompson, Marianne Meye. 2001. Introducing the New
Testament : its literature and theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.
Aland, Kurt. 2007. Synopsis of the four Gospels : Greek-English edition of the Synopsis
Quattuor Evangeliorum, on the basis of the Greek text of Nestle- Aland 27th edition and
Greek New Testament 4th revised edition, the English text is the second edition of the
Revised Standard Version. 13th ed. [Stuttgart]: German Bible Society.
Grant, Frederick C. 1917. The gospel of the kingdom. [S.l.: s.n.
Green, Joel B., McKnight, Scot and Marshall I. Howard. 1992. Dictionary of Jesus and the
Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Ladd, George Eldon. 1959. The gospel of the kingdom : scriptural studies in the kingdom of God.
London: Paternoster Press.
———. 1974. The Presence of the future. The eschatology of biblical realism. Grand Rapids
[Mich]: W. B. Eerdmans publ. Co.
Stanton, Graham. 2002. The Gospels and Jesus. 2nd ed, Oxford Bible series;. Oxford: New
Thompson, Marienne Meye. 2006. The Gospel According to John. In The Cambridge companion
to the Gospels, edited by S. C. Barton. Cambridge, UK: New York.