The kingdom of God is a central theme of the Gospels as well as other NT books. It is the good news that Jesus preached (Mark 1:14–15), the message that John the Baptist declared in preparation for Jesus (Matt 3:2), what Jesus taught the disciples in the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3), and what Paul is recorded as proclaiming at the conclusion of the book of Acts (Acts 28:31).
If a kingdom is a place where someone has rule or governance, then someone’s kingdom is the realm where that person’s will happens. The same is true of the kingdom of God. As Jesus said in His prayer—“your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10)—the kingdom of God is the realm where God’s will is carried out.
Although the exact words “kingdom of God” do not appear in the OT as they do in the NT, the theological theme beneath the concept does. The psalmist speaks of God’s kingdom as an everlasting realm that endures throughout all generations (Psa 145:13). Isaiah declares that God will save (Isa 33:22) and speaks of a time when God will reign (Isa 52:7). The OT theme of God’s rule and reign is another way of describing the kingdom of God.
The Hebrew Bible portrays great anticipation for the time when God will reign. During the first century AD, many Jews believed that this reign would be initiated by the Messiah. They also believed that the kingdom would be established through political or military means, but Jesus ushered in the kingdom in a radically unexpected way. He announced that the kingdom had come upon those whom He freed from demons (Matt 12:28); He taught that the kingdom should be received like a child (Mark 10:15) and explained that it belongs to the poor (Luke 6:20). Jesus declared the kingdom of God as a present reality that could be experienced by those He ministered to and taught.
Jesus also taught in a way that assumed the kingdom was a future reality. While His disciples expected the kingdom to appear immediately, Jesus told them a parable about a ruler who had to leave before he could return to his kingdom in order to change their expectations (Luke 19:11–27). Jesus described what “good and faithful servants” could do in the meantime. Paul spoke of the kingdom as something that could be inherited (1 Cor 6:9–10) and that does not decay (1 Cor 15:50). Both examples describe the kingdom of God as a future reality.
To borrow the phrase made popular by George Eldon Ladd, the kingdom of God is “already/not yet.” God’s kingdom has a dual dimension. Jesus initiated the kingdom on earth, and wherever God’s will is carried out, the kingdom is a reality. The kingdom, however, had not been fully manifested in Jesus’ day—nor has it in ours. We do not yet live in a world where God’s will is a complete reality. We experience a tension whereby we experience God’s kingdom in our lives and communities, yet not in its full realization. We still see many instances of unbelief, brokenness, and sin that tell us God’s will is not yet fully expressed.
Many Christians neglect to focus on the present reality of the kingdom. Their concern centers on the future reality of getting to heaven. This focus can easily sever the relationship between the Christian life and the here and now. When Jesus prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” He asked that God would bring the experience of heaven to earth. Through Jesus, God’s reign, rule, and power is available to us today, not just in some distant future.
The present reality of the kingdom of God should prompt us to examine our lives and ask what areas we have not yet surrendered to God’s rule. What facets of your life are inconsistent with God’s will? As you reflect on your day, do you see times when you responded in anger or acted in a way that was unkind and unhealthy? Did you act pridefully when you could have acted in humility? Could you have served someone instead of being served? Did you treat someone in a way that did not represent Jesus?
On a larger level, the notion of God’s kingdom should lead us to examine our neighborhoods and the global community and ask what’s happening in both that lies outside of God’s desire. Where are children being neglected and abandoned? Where are people not being treated with the dignity and honor they deserve as God’s image-bearers? Who has been pushed to the outskirts of society and treated as “other”?
As we anticipate the time when all things will be made new (Rev 21:4–5), we can engage in the active participation of the kingdom of God now. As we surrender more of ourselves to the reign of God, our experience of the present kingdom will be richer. As we actively live out the hope of Jesus in hopeless places, we will extend God’s kingdom further. As we bring healing to places in the name of Jesus, we will bring the kingdom of God to life now. May we daily live Jesus’ prayer that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA