Session 1: Understanding the Kingdom of God

➡ Average Reading Time: 13 minutes

Session 1: Understanding the Kingdom of GodWhen you finish this session you should be able to:

  • Understand the idea of the kingdom
  • Comprehend the problems of interpretation of the kingdom
  • Define the kingdom of God
  • See the First Testament concept of the kingdom
  • Discern the Second Testament concept of the kingdom
  • Know the two ways the kingdom is viewed in the Second Testament

Session Preview

In this session we will introduce you to the kingdom of God, we will visit six different areas. First, we will introduce the idea of the kingdom of God. Then, we will examine the problem of interpreting the kingdom. Next, we will define the kingdom of God. Then, we will overview its concept as seen in the First Testament. Next, we will view its concept as viewed in the Second Testament. Finally, we will look at the two different views in which the Second Testament material has been seen.

Where We Are Going

Introduction
The Idea of the Kingdom
The Problem of the Interpretation of the Kingdom
The Kingdom Defined
Realm
Reign-Rule
The Kingdom of God in the First Testament
The Davidic Concept of the Kingdom
The Apocalyptic Concept of the Kingdom
The Kingdom of God in the Second Testament
Two Ways to View the Kingdom in the Second Testament
Satanward
Godward

Reading

Introduction

Central to the ministry of Jesus was the concept of the kingdom of God. The authors of the Synoptic Gospels fill their books with teaching about this concept. It seems like they had so much material about the kingdom that they often summarized it. The beginning of the Gospel of Mark is a great illustration. Mark 1.14-15 reads: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news.’” His brief summary told his reader what Jesus did and said during his ministry.

Matthew summarized in a similar fashion. He succinctly shows the ministry of Jesus in 4.23 and 9.35 as it centered on the kingdom. Jesus also summarized the message of the kingdom when he gave instructions to his twelve disciples (Matt. 10.1ff.). The gospel of the kingdom is the only gospel that he instructed his disciples to preach. When Luke recorded the sending of the seventy disciples (Luke 10.1ff.), Jesus used similar language. The term kingdom was frequently on the lips of Jesus.

The Idea of the Kingdom

The kingdom of God concept is rooted in the First Testament.

The kingdom of God concept is rooted in the First Testament. The prophets declared the kingdom as a day in which men and women would live together in peace; where social problems would be solved and the evil would pass away (Isa. 2.4; 11.6).

In the Second Testament (Matt. 4.17), the idea of the kingdom is central to the proclamation of Jesus. His words were designed to demonstrate for us how to enter the kingdom (Matt. 5.20; 7.21). His works authenticated that the kingdom was present in his ministry (Matt. 12.28). His parables informed us about the mysteries of the kingdom (Matt. 13.11). His prayers modeled for his disciples the desire of his heart, which was that the kingdom would come to earth (Matt. 6.10). His death, resurrection, and ascension made us the instruments of the kingdom (Acts 1.8). His Second Coming promises the consummation of the kingdom for his children (Matt. 25.31, 34).

The Problem of the Interpretation of the Kingdom

In history, the kingdom of God has been interpreted many ways. Here are a few examples:

  • C.H. Dodd held that the kingdom of God was realized fully in the ministry of Jesus. The kingdom of God is an earthly place where there is righteousness, peace, and joy. These are the benefits for those who live yielded lives to the rule of the Spirit. The kingdom as a present reality is based on such passages as Matthew 12.28; Romans 14.17; and Colossians 1.13.
  • A second way the kingdom is viewed is: it is a place of future blessing which occurs at the Second Coming for the people of God (1 Cor. 15.50; Matt. 8.11; 2 Pet. 1.11; Matt. 25.34). In this view, the followers of Jesus enter the kingdom when he returns. The coming kingdom would bring about an end to the old order of humanity and begin a new existence in a heavenly order. Thus, the kingdom is altogether “future and supernatural.” Its basic proponent was Albert Schweitzer.
  • Adolph Von Harnack suggested another theory. For him, the kingdom was reduced to a subjective realm. It is an inner spiritual redemptive blessing (Rom. 14.17). The kingdom is expressed by the new birth (John 3.3) and is an inward power which enters into the human spirit and takes hold of it.
  • Yet another view of the kingdom of God was created by St. Augustine. He believed that the kingdom and the ecclesia were the same things. This view is still common as suggested by some current language usage. Jesus followers often talk about bringing people into the kingdom, which is a synonym for the ecclesiae. He believed that as the ecclesiae grew, so the kingdom grew. As the ecclesiae takes the gospel into the world, the kingdom is extended.
  • Still, other views emphasize: that the kingdom of God should be likened to the governments and nations of the world (Rev. 11.15); that the kingdom is a realm into which one must enter now (Matt. 21.31); the kingdom is a realm into which one must enter tomorrow (Matt. 8.1 1); the kingdom is at the same time a gift of God given in the future (Luke 12.32), and a gift, which must be received in the present (Mark 10.15).

The Kingdom Defined

Realm. “kingdom” is normally understood as a realm over which a king rules. A modern-day example of this idea was the United Kingdom, which was made up of many nations: Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, etc. People live in the kingdom (a place) and are subjects of the King or Queen who exercises his or her authority over his or her subjects.

Reign-Rule. Another way to view the idea of kingdom is found in its dictionary definition: “The reign or rule a king/queen has over his/her subjects.” This definition is closer to the primary meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words than the concept of a realm. In Hebrew, the word for kingdom is malkût (mal-coot). The Greek word is basileia (bah-see-lay-a).

The Kingdom of God in the First Testament

Dr. James Kallas suggests in his book Jesus and the Power of Satan that Jesus never explained the kingdom because the people to whom he was speaking knew what it meant or thought they knew what it meant [ref] Kallas, Jesus and the Power of Satan. Westminster Press. 1968, 119[/ref]. The First Testament presents the kingdom in the context of Jewish messianic expectations and eschatology. They believed that God would deliver them, which was their hope for the future.

In the biblical story, Israel reached its apex during the rule of King David and King Solomon. From that point forward, Israel began to descend. At the death of Solomon, the kingdom divided into two kingdoms with their own kings and governments. This division set in place a longing among the Jews for God to restore to them their past blessings. There were two ways in which the kingdom began to be understood. The first is called the Davidic Concept and the Second the Danielic Concept.

The Davidic Concept of the Kingdom

Israel’s hope was that God would send a king like David. Israel’s focus was militaristic and geographic. Israel wanted a nationalistic kingdom to return. The prophets of the First Testament began using the phrase “the day of the Lord,” which was a two-sided belief system including restoration and judgment. Israel believed that the “day of the Lord” was a time when Israel would be fully restored (Amos 9.14; Isa. 11; Zech. 8.4-8). The nations would be judged (Amos 1). The message of Amos came to pass when the Northern kingdom virtually ceased to exist after the Assyrian invasion. When the Southern kingdom went into exile, the hope remained and glittered again during the Restoration Period when Zerubbabel a descendant of David became king. This hope is reflected in Psalm 126. The Davidic hope for military and political power emerged again during the time of Zerubbabel. Judah hoped that the descendant of David was the one to return them to the glory of David’s rule. Haggai and Zechariah mirrored the expectation, which surrounded Zerubbabel. But when his kingship failed, hope began to wane.

Once again during the Maccabean revolt, these old nationalistic aspirations had a revival. However, the rise of a Davidic king, an anointed one to bring them to political power with military might, did not occur. When you turn to the pages of the Second Testament, there is a remnant of those who still believed that God would restore a nationalistic kingdom to Israel (John 6.15; Acts 1.6).

The kingdom of God was thought to be a kingdom of this world which, would be peopled by the Jews. There was nothing spiritual or future about it. The kingdom was a dream of Jewish nationalism [Kallas. Jesus and the Power of Satan. Westminster Press. 1968, 119-121].

The Apocalyptic Concept of the Kingdom

The second view, which arose during the life of Judaism, centered around the Intertestamental Period (404 B.C. – 6 B.C.) or later called the Second Temple Period (ca. 400 BC-AD 135),[ref]N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 147.[/ref] hope did not diminish; it only assumed a new language with a modified meaning. The prophets hoped for a nationalistic kingdom, while the hope of the Apocalyptic writers was for a heavenly kingdom, which would end this present evil age.[ref] James Kallas, Jesus and the Power of Satan (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1968), 119-21. See also: Ladd, Theology, 119-121. Ladd also covers some of the same concepts about a Davidic and Apocalyptic Concept.[/ref]

During this period, there arose a new kind of writing within Judaism called Apocalyptic Literature and the term kingdom of God came into popular usage. Hope did not diminish; it only assumed a new language with a modified meaning. The prophets hoped for a nationalistic kingdom, while the hope of the Apocalyptic writers was for a heavenly kingdom that would end this present evil age. A new world would break into the present world and bring the rule of God. This view developed a belief that Satan dominated this present evil age; it was under his rule. When Antiochus Epiphanes unleashed his persecution on Israel (175-164 B.C.), this view began to flourish. This horrific deluge of evil could only be the result of a cosmic conflict. Evil was winning. Good was losing. The demonic and sickness were in control. It was here that the Jews’ consciousness of evil spirits began to develop. The books of the Intertestamental Period give us a window to view the beliefs of the people in a specific period of time. In First Enoch 54.3-6 Satan is pictured as the ruler of a kingdom of evil with many followers, the demons. The book of Jubilees 23.29 suggests a golden age to come in which God himself would usher in his kingdom reversing the evils of Satan. Good would triumph, healing would occur, the demonic would be defeated.

The Kingdom of God In The Second Testament

…you may be struck by the apparent war in which Jesus is immediately engaged.

When you open the pages of the Second Testament, you may be struck by the apparent war in which Jesus is immediately engaged. John the Baptist proclaimed that there was one coming in which the Age of the Spirit would come. The words of Jesus in Mark clearly denote that the kingdom had arrived with Jesus. The words and works of Jesus form a unity in which the kingdom of God is spoken about and demonstrated. In Jesus, we have the presence of the future. Jesus has brought the rule of God from the future into the present (see inserted chart p. 8). Then, we live in the presence of the future. This expression was often used by the late Dr. George Eldon Ladd to express the kingdom reality. He often said that the church is between the times; she lives between the inauguration and the consummation of the kingdom.

The following chart offers the views of both Ladd and Kallas of their view of the kingdom. While different in presentation, they are the same in essence.

 

The Kingdom View of George Ladd and James Kallas

This “now-but-not-yet” concept is seen throughout the Second Testament. Matthew illustrates it at 12.28 when he writes, Since I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, the kingdom of God has come upon you. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15.24, Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. John writes in 1 John 3.2, Beloved, we are God’s children now, it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him. What Jesus did was as important as what he said. Twenty-first-century Christians are often more preoccupied with what he said, too often forgetting that what he did carries the same message. He taught as much by doing as by saying.

It is fair to ask the question: What did Jesus do in his ministry? Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that the mission of Jesus was to destroy the activity of Satan in the world. He gave his hearers an optical illustration of the kingdom in his ministry of healing the sick and casting out demons. Jesus and Satan were in a cosmic conflict that was being played out in the battle for ownership and rule in the lives of men and women. In like manner, other battles were afoot: hunger (John 6), natural catastrophes (Mark 4.35ff.), sickness (Luke 7.21), and death (Luke 7.11ff.).

Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 12.22-31) clearly demonstrates that the war between Jesus and Satan is not a civil war within a kingdom. Rather, it is a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. The strong man, Satan, is bound (deo: to bind–a metaphorical term indicating the curbing of power) so the strong man’s house (Satan’s kingdom) may be plundered. The power is curbed, but not rendered completely powerless (Matt. 16.23; Mark 8.33; Luke 22.3; Ladd. 1974, 66).

In his book, The Real Satan, Dr. James Kallas says, “A war is going on! Cosmic war! Jesus is the divine invader sent by God to shatter the strengths of Satan. In that light, the whole ministry of Jesus unrolls. Jesus has one purpose—to defeat Satan. He takes seriously the strength of the enemy.” [ref]Kallas. The Real Satan 175, 60[/ref] Jesus won the war, but there are battles still left to be fought. Jesus gave his disciples the mission of continuing to bring the Rule of God into the world in their lives and proclamation (Luke 10.8-9). In their preaching and miracles, Jesus saw Satan’s defeat (Luke 10.18). The last words of Jesus to his disciples when he left (Acts 1.1-8) demonstrate that he would empower his disciples to continue in the cleanup of the war. An illustration from Oscar Cullmann’s book Christ and Time will help us understand this concept of cleanup. He shares a story from World War II’s D-day and V-day. D-day was June 6, 1944, a day that the result of the war was decided. However, the war did not officially conclude until May 7-8, 1945, on V-day (Cullmann. Christ and Time. 1964. 84). Between these two dates, almost a year, there were still battles being fought and allied lives being lost. In fact, more lives were lost during this period than in any other period during the war. Even though the battles went on, the war had been decided. So it was with Jesus. The earth was his. In his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God had overthrown Satan. God planted his flag in the form of a cross and Jesus said, “It is finished.” The war is over, but the aftermath still continues and will until the return of Jesus.

To understand the kingdom of God is to understand the theme from which the ministry of Jesus and the writings of the Second Testament flow. We live in the presence of the future, the “now-but-not-yet.” When we view any passage of Scripture in the Second Testament, we must put on the glasses of the kingdom of God and ask questions of that passage with that set of presuppositions.
The diagram to the right will help explain the present and future aspects of the kingdom:

The graphic illustration suggests that the kingdom of God was in the First Testament. It can be clearly demonstrated that the kingdom is seen in events like the Exodus and Israel’s captivity in Babylon. God acted in kingly power to deliver and judge his children. The kingdom came into history once-and-for-all in the person and works of Jesus.

Two Views of the Kingdom in the Second Testament

There are two ways in which the material of the Second Testament concerning the kingdom can be viewed: the Satanward view and the Godward view.

Satanward View

The Satanward view takes seriously the idea that Jesus came into the world to wage war against Satan. The tendency of the Western Christian is to accept so-called supernatural events that happened in Scripture in one of three ways:

  1. The events happened then, but they do not happen today.
  2. The events happened then and they still happen today.
  3. The events never happened as they are reported, therefore, they cannot happen today.

When the Second Testament material is observed from the perspective that the ministry of Jesus was indeed aimed at Satan in a cosmic war fought on earth, it is called the Satanward view. This term was coined by Dr. James Kallas and is meant to demonstrate that Christians should take Satan seriously as God’s enemy.

Godward View

The second manner in which the material of the Second Testament can be seen is called by Dr. Kallas as the Godward view. In this view, the mission of Jesus was to bring us salvation and return us to fellowship with God.

Which View?

Both the Godward and Satanward views are legitimate. According to Dr. Kallas, the following approximate percentages are found:

  • Synoptics and Paul: 80% Satanward; 20% Godward
  • John, Hebrews, Revelation: 80% Godward; 20% Satanward

The following chart clarifies these concepts, (expanded from Kallas. The Satanward View. 1966, 30-31).

Kallas’ View of Satanward and Godward View

Both interpretations are true. It is a fact that biblical truth can never be discerned by choosing one truth over another. Both truths must be held in tension. “When the two are separated,” states Dr. Kallas, “it is not that one has half a truth, but that one has no truth, but distortion.”

To accurately understand the kingdom of God, we must be committed to the Satanward view of Scripture as well as the Godward view. Within the Satanward view, the ecclesiae is seen as the army of God which continues the cleanup mission until the return of the King. In the Godward view, the ecclesiae is seen as the functioning body of the King left on earth to minister redemption to the ones outside and care to those inside the body.

Community Discussion Questions

➡ |CDQ Info|

  • How would you summarize the ministry in your life?
  • In what ways have the words and works of Jesus affected your life?
  • How do these two concepts affect the way you have traditionally understood the Kingdom of God?
  • How does the idea of Jewish nationalism fit into the current belief system which sees the need for Israel as the centerpiece of God working out the end-times?
  • In what aspects of your own life have you developed this idea of evil?
  • In what areas of your life does the “now-but-not-yet” concept help you sort out how life as a believer works?
  • What pattern of warfare does the enemy use on you?
  • In what way does D-day and V-day model help you understand evil around you?
  • On a scale of one to ten: how does the Satanward view strike you? Why?
  • How does the Godward view strike you differently or the same? Why?

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Read Me First

 

Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.

 

I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Second

 

Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Third

 

The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.

 

Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.

 

Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)

Read Me First

 

Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.

 

I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Second

 

Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Third

 

The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.

 

Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.

 

Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)