01 May 2020

The Kingdom of God

The "Kingdom of God" (or "of Heaven" in Matthew's Gospel) is a phrase unique to the New Testament. Even after two millennia there is little agreement on what it means. Some teach that the Kingdom is a way of living, some that it is the Heaven promised when we die. There are those that believe that the Kingdom will be established after the apocalypse, while others teach that it is already here. The biblical authors differ on what this phrase means, and when we look to the gospels, even Jesus seems to use the phrase in a number of ways. When faced with such a confusing topic, it is always helpful to look at the original source.

The first time we see reference to the Kingdom of God is in Mark 1:15 (Mark's Gospel is older than Matthew's.) When Jesus arrives in Galilee he proclaims, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News." Does Jesus mean that he is the kingdom, that the gospel is the kingdom, or that the kingdom is something else which comes with one or the other?

In Mark 4, Jesus gives several parables to explain the Kingdom of God: The Parable of the Sower (4:1-9), A Lamp on a Stand (4:21-25), The Scattered Seed (4:26-29), and The Mustard Seed (4:30-34). He tells these parables to crowds of people but to his disciples he gives the meaning of the parables (13-20). This is so that the crowds may hear, but not immediately understand (4:10-12). Perhaps this is because if they understood, they would not later be willing to crucify him.

Whatever the Kingdom of God means, it is intimately connected with the Gospel. In each of the parables, the preaching of the word is likened to the scattering of seed. Where the seed grows, it transforms the land (the hearts of those who receive the Gospel). So complete is the transformation that it produces an abundant crop which can be seen, felt, gathered, and distributed to others. So which is the kingdom, the seed that is spread or the land on which it grows? For the metaphor to work, the kingdom must be the land, which is the hearts of those who receive the Gospel.

In this context, does the Kingdom of God exist in the past, the present, or the future? Is it here in our world, is it in the afterlife, or in a world yet to come? The Kingdom of God is in the hearts of those who love him. As long as the Gospel is preached, as long as it is transforming hearts, as long as it is lived, the Kingdom of God is always here: regardless of whether "here" is on Earth, in Heaven, or on some future world to come. It was, it is, and it will be.

The Kingdom of God is salt. So have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.

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