In a sermon that I gave at Vintage Church that can be found here, I suggested that the gospel, or good news, that Jesus came to bring wasn’t simply that he was going to die. When Jesus talked about the good news, he was talking about the coming of the Kingdom of God.
I felt as though I should explore this concept a little further. This series of blogs gives me the opportunity to do just that. So buckle up and put on your thinking caps. Remember, there is absolutely no downside to learning more biblical knowledge about something that was important to Jesus.1 The first three blogs in this series will be more research and biblical study based, while the final three will be focused on how Kingdom-based thinking can change the way we look at Christianity.
Let’s see how and when this word is used and what it means.
Jesus used the term, “Kingdom,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” or “Kingdom of God” 105 times in the gospels, the four books primarily concerned with the life of Jesus. That is a significant number of times. It is used by Jesus more times than the words “love,” “save,” “gospel,” “heaven,”2 or “hell.” Clearly, this was one of Jesus’ favorite phrases.
The greek word most commonly translated as “kingdom” is basileia. The word is much like our modern English word, dominion, in that it can be used to describe both the “kingship” or the sovereign rule of a person and the territory over which the king rules. Think of it this way, if a king were to look out of his window and say, “here is my kingdom!”, he could be saying, “Here is what I rule!” Or he could be saying “this is the land I rule!”
In the case of the Kingdom of God, it is both. The Kingdom to be established is going to be the recognized, sovereign rule of God and it is going to be over all of the universe.
I find myself wishing that there were another term to be used than kingdom.
Every word carries with it a denotation, what it actually means, and a connotation, what it implies. It is the connotation of the term kingdom that I find irksome. Most likely because I live in a time where there are very few kingdoms left and my only picture of the term is much more like King Arthur than what Jesus was describing.3 I offer some alternatives (and why I don’t like them):
- Dominion (I like this one best, but it is not well used enough to be familiar and connotes a dictatorship in my mind)
- Empire (Focuses too much on the territory ruled, not the ruler)
- Nation (This may be the closest modern parallel, but suffers from the same problem as ruler and only exists in light of other nations)
- Sovereignty (Focuses too much on the ruler, not the territory ruled)
- Rule (Same)
- Jurisdiction (Not bad, but sounds more like where a judge or policeman would serve, not rule)
Essentially, when Jesus refers to the kingdom, it is my contention that he is referring to the recognized rule and territory of God.
This, of course leads to the next natural question: who recognizes God’s rule and what territory will he have? Tune in next week as we answer that very question.
1To back down now for fear of “preacher talk,” “that seminary stuff,” or “its over my head,” would not only be lazy, but would be unbecoming of a follower of Christ. I fully believe that God has not called all or even most of his people to devote their lives to academic, biblical study, but he has called us all to study his Word. I hope to show this process in its fullness so that no matter your background, you can begin to study the Bible for yourself. If there is something that is difficult to understand, ask a friend, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or as a last option, consult Wikipedia.
2This count does not include the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” or usages which seem to be more likely to refer to the sky or the clouds. For instance, the greek term, ouranos, is translated as “birds of the air” in Luke 13:7 and as “joy in heaven” 15:19. However, this count still sustains usages that may be unclear such as the dove at Jesus’s baptism. It is unclear as to whether the dove descended from an opening in the clouds or in heaven itself.
3For those of you who are questioning my choice to question a word in the Bible, Bravo! Well done, I should be held accountable for doing that. However, I am simply doing the work of a translator. Jesus never said the word “kingdom.” In fact, he said, “basileia.” We most commonly translate that as “kingdom,” but that is only the closest translation that we have. A supporting example is that the English word, “love,” has four different counterparts in the Greek language. Unless we are able to read in the original languages (something I can’t do) and have wrapped our minds around the cultural world of Jesus (something no one can do), we must translate and that means that we must try to remain faithful to what Jesus was saying while putting it into a modern context and language.