We’ve seen people standing on street corners with signs quoting “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-2; Jesus in Matthew 4:17). But the sign-holders need to also remember that Jesus was “proclaiming the gospel [“good news”] of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) and telling his disciples to “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8). What does the Bible mean by this kind of kingdom?
Within his own kingdom, the king is acknowledged as the rightful ruler. When he gives orders, his subjects agree that he has a right to do so; they agree that it is their duty to obey those orders. That follows from the fact that the king is responsible for the welfare of his kingdom. His orders have the goal of keeping his subjects safe from enemies, healthy and well provided for, and peaceful and prosperous.
In world affairs, this dynamic is often (usually!) damaged. Kings become tyrants, giving orders that advance their own power and wealth at the expense of their subjects. Those subjects grumble, rebel, and revolt at the harsh conditions imposed. Neighboring kings push and pull at their shared borders, always trying to take someone else’s territory for their own.
The people at the time of Jesus were tired of being conquered by other kingdoms. They had been occupied by the Roman empire for nearly 100 years, since 63 B.C. Before that, they had a long history of other empires, like Assyria and Babylon, overrunning them. They knew that it was time for the Messiah promised by the prophets to arrive 1, and that the Messiah was to rule on the throne of their greatest king, David, forever (Isaiah 9:6-7). So they were more than ready for the kingdom of God to finally arrive!
A major factor in why many of the people did not recognize Jesus as their Messiah was that He didn’t come in building an army, overthrowing Rome, and ruling from a throne in Jerusalem. Jesus often referred to the kingdom of God 2, but He was not talking about the “overthrow Rome” type of kingdom. Before His crucifixion, He told Pilate 3 “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36).
If not a physical/military/national kingdom, then what is the kingdom of God instead? Jesus used many illustrations to describe what it is like:
- A mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19)
- Starting small but growing into something large
- Leaven (yeast) in bread (Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:20-21)
- A small amount having a large effect
- A hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)
- Not easily seen but incredibly valuable
- A costly pearl (Matthew 13:45-46)
- Worth more than all other possessions
- A crop in the field (Mark 4:26-29)
- Grows without the farmer controlling or knowing exactly how it happens
He also described how to gain citizenship in the Kingdom, and what its citizens are like:
- Repent (Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17)
- Change course away from rebellion against God
- Poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)
- Having no righteousness of their own (and realizing that fact)
- Persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10)
- Caring more about righteousness and pleasing God than about pleasing themselves or others
- Like a child (Matthew 18:4, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:16-17)
- Trusting and dependent
- Born again (John 3:3-8)
- Starting over with new life based on trust in Jesus
- Replacement guests at a dinner party (Matthew 22:2-14, Luke 14:16-24)
- Those who did not expect an invitation but welcomed it
And, He described what its citizens are NOT like, and how people will find themselves excluded from the Kingdom:
- Tares embedded among the wheat crop (Matthew 13:24-30)
- Imposters, looking like the real thing on the outside but really very different on the inside
- The “rich young ruler” (Mark 10:17-25, Luke 18:18-25)
- Trusting in and caring about human wealth and security rather than depending on God
- Claiming Jesus but not doing what He says (Matthew 7:21-23)
- Hypocrites thinking the right words are all that’s needed, without actions to back them up
- Bad fish mixed in among the good ones in the same net (Matthew 13:47-48)
- Mixing in among the real believers but not themselves really depending on Jesus
- Ungrateful servants (Matthew 18:23-35)
- Asking mercy for themselves but unwilling to extend it to others
- Replaced guests at a dinner party (Matthew 22:2-14, Luke 14:16-24)
- Those who received an invitation but did not appreciate or accept it
From the descriptions that Jesus gives, we see a kingdom where God is acknowledged as the rightful Ruler. His subjects obey Him, as He provides for them. The citizens know that they are welcomed as part of the kingdom not because of anything that they have done; they have simply accepted an un-deserved invitation. That invitation is extended to everyone, but must be accepted in order to enter the kingdom. No one can buy or pretend their way into the it; the King cannot be bribed or fooled.
This kingdom is subtle: starting small, growing one individual at a time, mixed among the non-kingdom outside world. But this kingdom will continue to grow until it is unmistakable and can’t be overlooked. This is the kingdom that Jesus gives to us as our ultimate goal when He says:
Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Matthew 6:31-33
So, as He directed, let us:
Pray, then, in this way:Matthew 6:9-10
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Daniel 9:25 gives a prophecy that the Messiah would arrive by 483 years (69 “sevens” or “weeks” of years) after the order to rebuild Jerusalem (after the Babylonian exile) which happened in about 444 B.C.
- I find the word “kingdom” used over 100 times in the Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew alone uses the word more than 50 times.
- the Roman governor who had authority whether or not to order His death