Kingdom of God

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(Redirected from Kingdom of Heaven)

The Kingdom of God or Reign of God (Greek: Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ - Basileia tou Theou,[1]) is a foundational concept in Christianity, as it is the central theme of Jesus of Nazareth's message in the synoptic Gospels. The phrase occurs in the New Testament more than 100 times,[2] and is defined almost entirely by parable. According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is within (or among) people,[3] it is approached through understanding,[4] and entered through acceptance like a child,[5] spiritual rebirth,[6] and doing the will of God.[7] It is a kingdom peopled by the righteous[8] and is not the only kingdom.[9]

English translations of the term

In the synoptic Gospels (which were written in Greek), Mark and Luke use the Greek term "Basileia tou Theou," commonly translated in English as "Kingdom of God," while Matthew prefers the Greek term "Basileia tōn Ouranōn" (Βασιλεία τῶν Ουρανῶν) which has been translated as "Kingdom of Heaven." Biblical scholars speculate that the Matthean text adopted the Greek word for "heaven" instead of the Greek word for "God" because—unlike Mark and Luke—it was written by a Jew for a Jewish audience so, in keeping with their custom, avoided using God's name as an act of piety. In Matthew, "heaven" stands for "God." The basis for these terms being equivalent is found in the apocalyptic literature of Daniel 2:44 where "the 'God of heaven' will set up a 'kingdom' which will never be destroyed."

The word “kingdom” is a translation of the Greek word “basileia” which in turn is a translation of the words "malkuth" (Hebrew) and "malkutha" (Aramaic). These words do not define kingdom by territory but by dominion. Jesus said of the Kingdom of God that one cannot say, “Look here it is!” or “There it is!” Luke 17:21. According to C. H. Dodd, the common translation of “malkuth” with “basileia” in Greek and hence “kingdom” in English is therefore problematic; a translation with “kingship,” "kingly rule," “reign” or “sovereignty” should be preferred.[10]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that the word basileia can be translated as "kingship," "kingdom" or "reign" (CCC 2816).

From a purely etymological viewpoint, the word "basileia" is believed to have derived from the Greek word for base or foundation.[11] Some writers prefer this root definition because it eliminates the confusion with monarchy.

Some scholars have translated the phrase "Kingdom of God" as "God's imperial rule," or sometimes "God's domain," to better grasp its sense in today's language.[12]

The Jesus Seminar has chosen to translate basileia as ‘empire.’ John B. Cobb points out that this has the disadvantage of implying a hierarchical nature to the realm of God, a concept clearly lacking from Jesus thought, in Cobb’s view.[13]

Fr. Richard Chilson, C.S.P., suggests the term "Love's Domain," "Love's Dominion," or "Love's Rule" because the Kingdom of God is where the God who is Love rules.[14]

Even with the debate over the translation of the term, modern scholars see the concept of the kingdom of God as the main message of Jesus.

The Meaning of the Term

Discussion of the basileia dates back for centuries. Eusebius identified basileia with monarchy while Augustine foresaw a merger of the church and basileia. Aquinas, however, ignores the concept and, considering its prominence in Jesus' dialectic, it was relatively little discussed by Christian theologians until Johannes Cocceius (1660) and Hermann Samuel Reimarus in the eighteenth century, during what has become known as the "first quest" for the historical Jesus.[15][16]

The premise of a Kingdom is integral to both Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) contains a set of laws, known as The Law, which governed the nation of Israel as a Theocracy. Prophecies throughout the Tanakh refer to this kingdom as eternal, later revealed to be fulfilled through King David's lineage. The Christian affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah (or Anointed One) stems from the original Hebrew theocratic belief in a Kingdom of God.[17]

Jesus assumes his audience understands the Kingdom foundation that was laid in the Hebrew Scriptures. When he speaks of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven (both meaning the same thing) he speaks of the time of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. A time of a restored earth where the faithful will worship and serve their God forever under the rulership of a righteous leader of the Davidic line. This was the Messianic hope of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and was carried over and echoed in the words of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and others in the Greek Scriptures.

Jesus would attach the theme of the gospel message itself with this Kingdom idea. Luke 4:43 tells the reader that Jesus' very purpose for being sent was to "preach the gospel about the Kingdom." He then would send out his disciples to speak this message even before they understood anything about his death and resurrection. Compare Luke 9:1-6, Matthew 9:35, Matthew 10:7, Matthew 16:21-23, etc. The initial seed that must be sown in the hearts of men was also identified as the word of the Kingdom by Jesus in Matthew 13:19. Shorthand for the word of the kingdom was given in Mark and Luke's version of the parable of the sower as "the word" (Mark 4:14) and "the word of God" (Luke 8:11).

Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God as the destination for the righteous in the end of days.[18] Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount shows that those who follow the "beatitudes" are rewarded with the Kingdom of God/inheriting the earth/comfort etc. Matthew 19 gives an account of Jesus equating popular terms such as "eternal life" and "saved" as the same thing as entering the Kingdom of God when it is established upon the earth. Jesus even taught his disciples to pray: "Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Some believe this defines the Kingdom as the time when God's will is done on the earth as it is done in heaven. Others contend that the two petitions are separate in the prayer, leaving the Kingdom of God to be more than simply a perfect execution of God's will on earth.

The Kingdom of God as spoken of by Jesus carried with it more than an eschatological image of peace symbolized by the wolf and the lamb dwelling together at the end of war (Isaiah 11:1-9). It appears that there were two sides to this Kingdom: a peaceful side as well as a judgment side. The latter message was communicated in many of the parables such as the tares and wheat (Matthew 13) and the sheep and goats (Matthew 25). Paul and others continued this double-edged message in their preaching (Acts 17:30-31).

The coming of God's Kingdom, described as Judgement, is also described in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Revelation, as a military conquest over the opponents of the Kingdom (See Rev. 20:7-10). Additionally, Revelations 21 speaks of the Kingdom of God in the new heaven after the establishment of His eternal reign. [19]

Viewpoint of historical Jesus scholars

Scholars of the historical Jesus aim at investigating the social, religious, political and cultural climate of the early first century in order to place the human figure of Jesus within and around these structures. However, such scholars disagree about what Jesus meant by the term “Kingdom.” Some believe it is wholly manifested in the presence of Jesus’ words and deeds, others believe that it is completely in the future, and some acknowledge the arguments of both these camps and place Jesus’ “Kingdom” somewhere in between being manifested in the present and also more completely manifested in the future.

C. H. Dodd and John Dominic Crossan argued that the “Kingdom” was fully manifest in the present teaching and actions of Jesus. Through his words and deeds the “Kingdom” was brought into the present reality of Palestine. Dodd coined the term “realized eschatology”[20] and largely based his argument on Luke 11:20, and Luke 17:21 claiming that “the kingdom of God has come to you” and “the kingdom of God is within you.” Crossan imagined Jesus as a cynic-like peasant who focused on the sapiential aspects of the “Kingdom” and not on any apocalyptic conceptions.[21]

Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann, Norman Perrin and Johannes Weiss argued that Jesus’ “Kingdom” was intended to be a wholly futuristic kingdom. These figures looked to the apocalyptic traditions of various Jewish groups existing at the time of Jesus as the basis of their study.[22][23][24][25] In this view, Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who would bring about the end times and when he did not see the end of the cosmic order coming Jesus embraced death as a tool in which to provoke God into action.

The most common view of the “Kingdom” in recent scholarship is to embrace the truths of both these parties – present reality and future manifestation. Some scholars who take this view are N.T. Wright and G.R. Beasley-Murray. In their views, the “Kingdom” that Jesus spoke of will be fully realized in the future but it is also in a process of “in-breaking” into the present. This means that Jesus’ deeds and words have an immediate effect on the “Kingdom” even though it was not fully manifested during his life.

Viewpoint of evangelical Christian scholars

The Gospels describe Jesus as proclaiming the Kingdom as something that was both "at hand" and a future reality (see Mark 1:15). The phrase "inaugurated eschatology" has achieved near consensus among evangelical interpreters as expressing the essence of the present/future tension inherent in the teaching of Jesus regarding the kingdom of God. "Inaugurated eschatology" posits that Jesus Christ, through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation, has ushered in the messianic age so that the kingdom of God may be understood to be present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age following the second coming (parousia) of Christ.

The tension between the present and future aspects of the Kingdom has been referred to as the "Already/Not Yet" of God's Kingdom. Traditionally, Catholic, Liberal Christian and Pentecostal denominations have tended to emphasize its present aspect, while conservative Fundamentalists and evangelicals have emphasized its future aspect.

The present aspect of the Kingdom refers to the changed state of heart or mind (metanoia) within Christians (see Luke 17:20-21), emphasizing the spiritual nature of His Kingdom by saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within (or among) you." The reported activity of Jesus in healing diseases, driving out demons, teaching a new ethic for living, and offering a new hope in God to the poor, is understood to be a demonstration of that Kingdom in action.

Some groups, such as Sabbatarians or Adventists, reject the idea of a present Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, they preach of a Kingdom of Heaven that exists only in heaven, but that will later be extended over the Earth after the Second Coming of Jesus.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church accepts the doctrine of the Kingdom of God dividing it into two phases. These are, the Kingdom of Grace which was established immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, and the Kingdom of Glory which will be fully established when Christ returns to earth for the second time.

Roman Catholic interpretations

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that the coming Reign of God will be a kingdom of love, peace, and justice (CCC 2046). Justice is defined as a virtue whereby one respects the rights of all persons, living in harmony and equity with all (CCC 1807). The Kingdom of God began with Christ's death and Resurrection and must be further extended by Christians until it has been brought into perfection by Christ at the end of time (CCC 782, 2816). The Christian does this by living the way Christ lived, by thinking the way Christ thought (CCC 2046) and by promoting peace and justice (CCC 2820). This can be accomplished by discerning how the Holy Spirit (God) is calling one to act in the concrete circumstances of one's life (CCC 2820). Christians must also pray, asking God for what is necessary to cooperate with the coming of His Kingdom (CCC 2632). Jesus gathered disciples to be the seed and the beginning of God's Reign on earth, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide them (CCC 541, 764). Jesus continues to call all people to come together around him (CCC 542) and to spread His Kingdom across the entire world (CCC 863). However, the ultimate triumph of Christ's Kingdom will not come about until Christ's return to earth at the end of time (CCC 671). During Christ's second coming, he will judge the living and the dead. Only those who are judged to be righteous and just will reign with Christ forever (CCC 1042, 1060). Christ's second coming will also mark the absolute defeat of all evil powers, including Satan (CCC 550, 671). Until then, the coming of the Kingdom will continue to be attacked by evil powers as Christians wait with hope for the second coming of their Savior (CCC 671, 680). This is why Christians pray to hasten Christ's return by saying to him "Marana tha!" which means "Come, Lord Jesus!" (CCC 671, 2817).

Pre-millennial approaches

A number of groups take a political/eschatological approach to the Kingdom of God emphasizing a physical reign of Jesus Christ on earth after the parousia. These groups often place special emphasis on the role of a restored kingdom of Israel.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers the church itself as the Kingdom of God on the earth. However, this is limited to a spiritual or ecclesiastical kingdom until the Millennium when Christ will also establish a political Kingdom of God. This will have worldwide political jurisdiction when the Lord has made "a full end of all nations" (Doctrine & Covenants 87: 6). Latter-day Saints believe that this theocratic "kingdom" will in fact be quasi-republican in organization, and will be freely chosen by the survivors of the millennial judgments rather than being imposed upon an unwilling populace.

Jehovah's Witnesses extend the idea of the Kingdom of God to more than just a state of mind or heart. The belief is that the Kingdom is a government headed by Jesus Christ as King, ruling in heaven since 1914, coinciding with the end of the prophesied Times of the Gentiles. Referring to Revelation 12:7, the battle with Michael in heaven was a war waged by God's Kingdom that ended with Satan and his demons cast down to the earth. Right after that a voice in Heaven said "Now has come … the kingdom" of our God, and the "authority of His Christ…." (Rev 12:10 ). Whereas, until God's Kingdom rule is extended to earth, a "loud voice" in heaven warns those on earth about Devil "having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." The miracles and preaching of the Kingdom that Jesus carried out while on earth is a work that gave hope, illustrating the benefits the Kingdom would bring, and urged efforts to gain God's favor. In short, the Kingdom is the means through which God vindicates His name and sovereignty[26] and accomplishes His will through Christ, and restores conditions on earth to those similar in the Garden of Eden.

Christadelphians also believe in an end time political kingdom. This viewpoint says that in the last days Christ will return to rescue Israel (the nation), judge all who are responsible to God's judgment, and make an immortal administration for the Kingdom of God re-established on earth. It will be based in Jerusalem, and will provide the faithful of all generations with the land promised to them because they are heirs of the land of the Middle East, with Abraham. The Kingdom will grow to rule over all other nations, with Jesus as the King and with his administration (immortal saints) ruling over the nations with him. Those ruled over will be, firstly, the Jews who are alive then (although mortal) and all other nations (also mortal). During that time, lifespans of mortals will be greatly increased, and justice will be carefully maintained. Thus the world will be filled with peace and the knowledge of God.

Other viewpoints

Leading feminist theologians, especially Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza emphasize the feminine gender of the word basileia and the feminist nature of the early teachings of Jesus including the important and counter-cultural role and contributions of women in the Jesus sect.[27]

Jesus use of the phrase "Kingdom of God" is believed by the liberation theologists to have been a deliberate but indirect criticism of the Roman system of domination.

Some universalists believe that God will use the Kingdom to bring about the salvation of all mankind.[28]

Possible Parallels in Other Monotheistic Religions

Certain writers assert that the Kingdom of Heaven is a concept detailed in all the three major monotheistic religions of the world — Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The Kingdom in Islam

For Muslims, belief in the Kingdom of God means God's absolute dominion over everything.Thus in Islam every place -all creation- is already God's kingdom. The establishment of God's kingdom on earth means the establishment and adherence to God's laws in our everyday lives, at all levels. This includes personal, criminal, state and international levels.

Other Muslims hold a view that the Kingdom of God is a caliphate/Imamate, an area under Islamic domination. Even Matt.13:31-33 has been suggested to allude to a caliphate spreading across three continents.[29] According to mainstream Islamic belief, the Second Coming of Jesus and the arrival of the Mahdi will usher in an ideal caliphate/Imamat which will put an end to the tyranny of the Antichrist, and this reign will ensure a period of tranquility and peace. In this light, the ultimate Kingdom of God for Muslims is spiritual and not material. After the Day of Judgment, when Allah is said to judge all humankind based on their deeds, one either goes to heaven or hell. That is the eternal kingdom.

The Kingdom in Judaism

The Kingdom of God is referred to frequently in the Tanakh (see 1 Chronicles 1 Chronicles 29:10-12 and Daniel 4:3 for example). It is tied to Jewish understanding that God will intervene to restore the nation of Israel, and return to rule over them. The Kingdom of God was expressly promised to the patriarch and prophet, King David, because he was a man "after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22); and God made the Davidic Covenant with King David, promising him that he would "never lack a man to sit upon His throne, forever" (1 Kings 9:5). Christians and Messianic Jews related this promise with Jesus Christ through His royal lineage recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, thus positioning Jesus Christ as the eternal king on Israel's throne.


  1. Strong’s Greek Dictionary, webpage, retrieved June 24, 2006
  2. The exact phrase above occurs not at all in the Hebrew Bible and only once in the deuterocanonical/apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (10:10) John P. Meier. A Marginal Jew, v. 2, (1994), 248).
  3. Kingdom is within: "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within [or among] you." Luke 17:20-21
  4. Kingdom approached through understanding: "When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Mark 12:34
  5. Kingdom accepted like a child: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Mark 10:15
  6. Kingdom entered through spiritual rebirth: "no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" John 3:5
  7. Kingdom entered through doing the will of God: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21
  8. Kingdom peopled by the righteous: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?" 1 Corinthians 6:9
  9. Other kingdoms: "If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?" Luke 11:18
  10. C.H. Dodd. The Parables of the Kingdom. (Fontana, 1961), 29. (public domain)
  11. Strong’s Greek Dictionary term "basileia", webpage, retrieved June 24, 2006
  12. See, for example, Robert J. Miller. The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholar's Version. (Polebridge Press, 1995.)
  13. John Cobb and David Tracy. Talking About God: Doing Theology in the Context of Modern Pluralism., retrieved June 24, 2006
  14. Richard Chilson. Yeshua of Nazareth: Spiritual Master. (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2001)
  15. Kevin Hart, The Experience of the Kingdom of God, webpage, retrieved June 24, 2006
  16. "Von dem Zwecke Jesu und seiner Junger." Noch ein Fragment des Wolfenbuttelschen Ungenannten. Herausgegeben von Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. (Braunschweig, 1778) (The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples A further Instalment of the anonymous Woltenbiittel Fragments. Published by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Brunswick, 1778.)
  17. Nick Carter. Thy Kingdom (Indianapolis, IN: Booksurge, 2007. ISBN 1419680242), 120.
  18. For references of the Kingdom as gospel, see Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43, 9:2, 6, & 11; 16:16, etc. For evidence of the destination for the righteous see Matthew 7:21, 25:31-34; Luke 13:28-29. Also compare Jesus equating "eternal life," "entering into life," the "kingdom of heaven," "kingdom of God," "being saved," and "eternal life" in Matthew 19:16-30.
  19. Dr. Ed Young. What Does the Bible Tell Us about Heaven? accessdate 2007-11-19
  20. C. H. Dodd. The Parables of the Kingdom. (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961)
  21. John Dominic Crossan. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. (Harper, 1991)
  22. Albert Schweitzer. The Quest for the Historical Jesus. (Black, 1910)
  23. Rudolph Bultmann. History and Eschatology: the presence of eternity. (Harper & Row, 1962)
  24. Norman Perrin. The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus. (SCM, 1963)
  25. Johannes Weiss. Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. (Scholars Press, 1985)
  26. ‘The Great Crowd to Live in Heaven? Or on Earth?' Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. (1984), 167.
  27. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. (New York: Crossroads, 1992)
  28. Seth Tipton, Merciful Truth, [1] Retrieved December 16, 2008.
  29. Koran, map of Kingdom, March 1, 2006, [2], Website, accessed November 13, 2006

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barry, William. Paying Attention to God: Discernment in Prayer. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0877934134
  • Beavis, Mary Ann. Jesus and Utopia: Looking for the Kingdom of God in the Roman World. Fortress Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0800635626
  • Bultmann, Rudolph. History and Eschatology: the presence of eternity. Harper & Row, 1962.
  • Carter, Nick. Thy Kingdom Come. Indianapolis, IN: Booksurge, 2007. ISBN 1419680242.
  • Chilson, Richard. Yeshua of Nazareth: Spiritual Master. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2001.
  • Cobb, John and David Tracy, Talking About God: Doing Theology in the Context of Modern Pluralism. Seabury Press, 1983.
  • Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. HarperOne, 1993. ISBN 978-0060616298
  • Dodd, C.H. The Parables of the Kingdom. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961.
  • Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroads, 1992.
  • Meier, John P. Mentor, Message, and Miracles. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. v. 2, Double Day, 1994. ASIN: B000GJHTCM.
  • Miller, Robert J. The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholar's Version. Polebridge Press, 1995. ISBN 978-094434449
  • Perrin, Norman. The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus. SCM, 1963.
  • Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Black, 1910.
  • Weiss, Johannes. Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. SCM Press, (1971) 1985. ISBN 978-0334017578.

External links

All links retrieved April 18, 2018.


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