The kingdom of God – what do these words mean? A kingdom or realm is a political system; it is the orderly structure of a people in the work they do and their public relationships. It is a national community held together by justice and solidarity. This is the kind of realm the prophet Isaiah had in mind when he foretold the kingdom of God (Isaiah 9:6–7). Such a realm exists only where people are living in a lasting, binding order of justice in all relationships, a new order given to our human condition.
What is unique about the way Jesus has shown us is that no one but God is in authority, no one else has the right to say anything. So it is quite right to speak of God’s kingly rule. God alone has the rulership. He alone is king. That is the kingdom of God.
If the kingdom of God is in the present as well as in the future, believers must be able to live here and now in accord with God’s future kingdom. Then their lives will also be in keeping with the historical life of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and to all eternity, and we must become one with his life and his future by living today in accord with God’s kingdom, and with the way it will be manifest in the future.
People who want to assign to the kingdom of God a place outside the actual history of the whole human race – as if it were being prepared in a few converts only – ought surely to find a new and broader vision through the mighty language God speaks in history today. The increasing gravity of the times makes it imperative for all who believe in the truth to search the scriptures and find out what the conditions for God’s kingdom are and what effects it will have. We need to be steeped in the biblical truth about God’s kingdom, so that we can watch for the signs of the times and be found faithful when he comes (Matt. 16:3).
God’s kingdom is visible wherever Jesus is. That is why the First Letter of John begins with this testimony:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Where the kingdom of God, the rule of Christ, is being proclaimed, things start happening. That is why John the Baptist was challenged: Why are you asking? Look at what is happening, listen to what is being said, and accept it. This is what is happening here: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised (Matt. 11:5).
Jesus is saying that if only you could believe what is actually happening, Christ would be revealed to you, and your questions about God’s kingdom would be answered. That is what faith means. And because John the Baptist was not yet able to grasp this faith fully, Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you, there is none greater than John the Baptist among all the sons of women; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11). The least in the kingdom of God, the simplest in the church, understand what is happening in faith.…
The apostles went out to tell people: Now the word of the prophets is coming true. Now it is coming – you can see it happening! Part of what was happening in Jerusalem was that church community was being established. The kingdom of God was drawing near – healing given through faith witnessed to that.
When the story of the apostles was written down, it was called The Acts of the Apostles because it described what the apostles did and what happened through them. It is an account of the same miraculous powers, the same deeds and events, that took place in the life of Jesus. Here too the decisive thing was the proclamation of God’s kingdom; and because the kingdom of God came near, many signs and wonders took place.
As published in God’s Revolution (Farmington, PA: Plough, 1997).
Article edited for length and clarity.