“The Kingdom of God” (Part 1)

There is a phrase in the Bible that is pervasive yet is strangely ignored in modern evangelical life. At least it is not given the attention it deserves. It is certainly not given the attention it is given in scripture. For instance, the late theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. writes of this phrase that it is used

153 times in the King James New Testament. Basileia in the divine sense is used 52 times in the Gospel of Matthew, 43 times in Luke, and 16 times in Mark, but only five times in John. It appears eight times in the Acts, 13 times in the Pauline epistles, four times in the general epistles, and five times in Revelation.

In fact, Garrett writes, the importance of this neglected phrase in

both testaments can hardly be overstated. It is a “theme” that is “central not only to the faith of Israel but also to the Gospel.” It is “the bond that binds” the two testaments “together.”[1]

What is this neglected phrase, this phrase that is so pervasive throughout scripture and so neglected in the church today? It is this: “the Kingdom of God.” In Matthew’s gospel it will be rendered “the Kingdom of Heaven,” but this is just another way of saying “the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew was being sensitive to his Jewish audience by respectfully using “Heaven” instead of “God.”)

The neglect of this doctrine is deeply unfortunate, is injurious to churches, robs our witness and preaching of its full power, and gives us a stunted vision of who Jesus is and what He has done and is doing in the world.

Our challenge is this: to return to a full, robust, healthy, biblically-informed, church-shaping, witness-empowering, God-honoring, Jesus-glorifying, life-transforming, sanctification-enhancing, worship-encouraging understanding of the Kingdom of God. Our purpose this morning is to introduce the idea and say a word about its importance. Then, over the next many weeks, we will unpack the inescapable conclusions this important doctrine presents to us.

Jesus came to announce that the Kingdom of God had come and is coming.

If we are to value what Christ valued then we should value deeply the Kingdom of God, for the gospels reveal to us that Jesus preached the Kingdom. And when Jesus preached the Kingdom, He preached it as a reality that (a) had come in His coming and (b) would come definitively in His coming again. Whatever this Kingdom is, it has coming and is coming. It is the come and coming Kingdom and its having come and its coming is all bound up with Jesus having come and Jesus coming again.

The Kingdom was at the heart of Jesus’ preaching ministry. In Matthew 4, we read:

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

He will preach the same in Mark 1 after the arrest of John the Baptist.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Kingdom of God is “at hand.” “The time is fulfilled.” In Jesus, the Kingdom of God breaks into the fallen world in a unique and powerful sense. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Speaking of the phrase “is at hand” (i.e., “the kingdom of God is at hand), James Leo Garrett writes of

the present perfect tense of ēggizein, meaning as an intransitive verb “to draw near” or “to come near.” It has been variously translated: “is near” (Moffatt, TEV, NIV), “is close at hand” (Weymouth, JB), “is upon you” (NEB), and “has arrived” (Phillips). With Jesus’ initial proclamation (Mark 1:15 and par.) one finds the words “‘the kingdom of God is at hand (ēggiken)’” (RSV), and the variations as to translation are similar. Jesus said, “‘Ever since the coming of John the Baptist the kingdom of Heaven has been subjected to violence and violent men are seizing it’” (Matt. 11:12, NEB). He further declared in connection with his exorcisms, “‘But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come (ephthasen) upon you’” (Matt. 12:28 and par., RSV). The verb is the aorist active of phtanein, meaning “to come before, precede, anticipate, come to, or arrive at.”[2]

So the Kingdom has come.

Yet, in another sense, the Kingdom is coming. The New Testament contains many references to the future and full and complete coming of the Kingdom of God. For instance, at the last supper in Luke 22, Jesus announces to His disciples.

18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

Do you see? “…until the kingdom of God comes.”

So “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Kingdom, in Jesus, has come. But we wait “until the kingdom of God comes.” The kingdom that has come is yet coming.

The announcement of the Kingdom that has come and is coming is part of the gospel itself.

The Kingdom of God is so important to the Christian life that we find Jesus and the apostles speaking of it as part of the gospel, the good news, itself!

In Matthew 4, Matthew writes of Jesus that:

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

Did you hear that? “The gospel of the kingdom.” This kingdom come and coming is part of the good news that Jesus came to pronounce! Similarly, in Luke 4, Luke writes:

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

This gospel of the Kingdom was a gospel that Jesus “must preach.” This proclamation of the Kingdom come and coming was the “purpose” for which He was sent.

In Luke 8, we read this about Jesus:

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him

Jesus preached the Kingdom. And in that proclamation was good news about salvation and His being King and about how He had come to save His people and all who would come to Him.

The Kingdom was at the heart of the message Jesus preached.

Is it at the heart of the message that you believe and bear witness to?

Is the Kingdom as important to you and the living of your life as it is to Jesus?

The Kingdom of God may only be entered through Jesus…or may be missed with the rejection of Jesus.

This Kingdom come and coming, this Kingdom that is part of the gospel, is not a Kingdom that is forced upon men and women. The sovereignty of God is the great inescapable reality of all creation, yes, but the Kingdom can be entered through Jesus or rejected with the rejection of Jesus.

In John 3, Jesus proclaims:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Do you see? “Unless one is born again.” The Kingdom is a conditional reality. And what is the condition? Your standing with Jesus Christ!

Indeed, it is possible to be near the Kingdom but not in the Kingdom.

In Mark 12, after pronouncing the greatest commandment and the second that is like it, we read:

32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The scribe was close to the Kingdom because He was close to the King. He was near. Did he ultimately enter? I very much hope so! But note that one may be near the Kingdom without necessarily being in it.

Are you a citizen of the Kingdom? Have you given your life to Jesus Christ? Or are you far from the Kingdom? Have you rejected Jesus Christ? Or are you near the Kingdom, you are journeying toward King Jesus? I do so hope you will enter!

Life in the Kingdom is different than life in the world though it is lived in the world.

And when we enter this Kingdom, we experience a reality that is different form the reality of the world! Life in the Kingdom is different than our lives in the world though now our lives in the Kingdom are lived out in the world! In Romans and 1 Corinthians (among other verses), we find glimpses of the differences between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world.

In Romans 14, we read:

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

And in 1 Corinthians 4:20, we read:

20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.

Not eating, but righteousness.

Not drinking, but peace and joy.

No talk, but power.

This Kingdom stands in glorious and stark contrast to the world, and so entry into it, citizenship in it, and living life out of its values and ways will make us look markedly different to the world!

The coming of the Kingdom is the prayer of the church

This countercultural Kingdom come and coming is not only at the heart of the gospel, it is also the very heart of our prayers. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He responded thusly in Matthew 6:

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We are to pray for the realization of the Kingdom of God here and now in and through our Christ-shaped lives in the midst of the fallen world!

And I ask you: Are you doing this? Are you praying, “Your kingdom come, oh God! Your will be done, oh God! On earth as it is in heaven!”? Are you praying this?

Church, the Kingdom of God must take the same place in our message, our witness, our prayers, and our lives as it did and does in that of Jesus Himself. It must regain a place of prominence for us to read our Bibles well and follow Jesus with a clear understanding of what is happening.

A proposed definition

What, then, is this Kingdom? I would like to propose a definition. It is this:

The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God that has broken into the fallen world definitively in Jesus, is now proclaimed by and demonstrated in the lives of God’s people, and will come in fullness and completion with the victorious coming again of Jesus.

And when the Kingdom that has come comes in fullness, it will never ever end!

R.G. Lee, the legendary earlier pastor of Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, TN, spoke powerfully of what inevitably happens to the great kingdoms of the world. R.G. Lee said:

Saddened we are to think of how Babylon—glorious and great—became a vermin-infested, animal-prowling jungle. Sobered we are when we think that ancient Rome with her close-meshed code of laws and her victorious legions became as a branchless tree, dishonorable, fruitless. Regret assails our minds when we think of how ancient Greece, with all her art and philosophy and athletic prowess and philosophers, became a molded crust in history’s garbage can. Saddened we are when we read history’s book and learn how ancient Egypt with all her wealth and wonders, became a shabby sexton of splendid tombs. And we are awed into fear and trembling for other nations of our world today, when we remember ancient Spain, with her piratical ships that harassed all seas and filled the nation’s coffers with gold, felt the hand of God’s retributive Providence, and became a lousy, drowsy beggar watching a broken clock.[3]

But not so, the Kingdom of our God. It is eternal. It is unending. It will never falter. It will never fall. Its King is true. Its King is good. Its King loves His people. And our citizenship in this Kingdom is secured by His blood. The Kingdom is precious and powerful and beautiful and strong and will last forever and ever.


[1] Garrett, James Leo, Jr. Systematic Theology. Volume 2. 2nd edition. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 199), Logos edition.

[2] Garrett, James Leo, Jr. Systematic Theology. Volume 2. 2nd edition. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 199), Logos edition.

[3] Quoted in Crawford, Dan R. The Prayer-Shaped Disciple. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), p.68.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *