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Holman Bible Dictionary
Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God was the central image in Jesus' preaching as clearly seen in Mark 1:14-15 , a summary of the preaching of Jesus. The kingdom of God is the heart of the summary.
In His parables Jesus spoke of the kingdom in many different ways. He said that the kingdom is like a farmer (Matthew 13:24 ), a seed (Matthew 13:31 ), a yeast (Matthew 13:33 ), a treasure (Matthew 13:44 ), a pearl merchant (Matthew 13:45 ), a fishnet (Matthew 13:47 ), an employer (Matthew 20:1 ), a king inviting people to a marriage feast (Matthew 22:2 ), and ten young women (Matthew 25:1 ). He spoke also of the glad tidings of the kingdom (Luke 8:1 ) and of the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11 ).
Jesus spoke Aramaic; the Gospel writers translated Jesus' sermons and parables into Greek. Mark, Luke, and John translated Jesus' words as “kingdom of God.” Matthew sometimes used this phrase too, but often he preferred to translate Jesus' Aramaic words as “kingdom of heaven.” The two phrases mean exactly the same thing, because they are translations of the same Aramaic words of Jesus. See Aramaic; Greek.
What did Jesus mean when he spoke of the kingdom of God? He meant, quite simply, the rule of God. The kingdom of God is the reign of God.
This is best understood if it is distinguished from what Jesus did not mean. He was not speaking of a geographical area such as the Holy Land or the Temple. He was not speaking of a political entity such as the nation of Israel or the Sanhedrin. He was not speaking of a group of people such as His disciples or the church.
Rather, the kingdom of God is God's ruling. It is the sovereign reign of God. This rule is independent of all geographical areas or political entities. It is true that the rule of God implies a people to be ruled, and Jesus called upon people to enter the kingdom. The kingdom itself should be distinguished from the people who enter it.
Jesus taught that the kingdom of God looks unimpressive, but it is going to grow into something tremendous. The kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed which grows into a bush large enough to provide shelter for God's creatures (Mark 4:30-32 ).
Jesus never said that people are to build the kingdom of God. On the contrary, the establishment of the kingdom is a work of God. God will reign, and people can contribute nothing to that reigning of God.
When will God establish his kingdom? In one sense, the kingdom will not come until some unspecified time in the future (see, for example, Matthew 25:1-46 ). There is a sense in which modern Christians may still look forward to the coming of the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, Jesus also said that there is a sense in which the kingdom of God had come in His own time. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15 ). He said in an even more explicit way: “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20 ).
So the kingdom of God was the rule of God which He extended over human lives through the ministry of Jesus; and it also is His rule which will be consummated or made complete in the future. See Eschatology; Future Hope .
Since people cannot build the kingdom of God, what response are they to make to Jesus' message about the kingdom? First, they can make the kingdom their priority and seek it ahead of everything else (Matthew 6:33 ). It is a pearl of such value that they should sell everything else they have in order to be able to purchase it (Matthew 13:44-46 ). Second, they can repent and believe the good news of the kingdom (Mark 1:14-15 ), and so enter the kingdom like little children (Mark 10:14 ). Third, they can pray for the rule of God to come soon: “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10; compare 1 Corinthians 16:22 ). Finally, they can be ready when the kingdom does finally come (Matthew 25:1-46 ).
The Lord's Prayer contains three requests, as follows: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10 ). These three phrases mean just about the same thing, and they tell us a lot about the kingdom of God. “Hallowed be thy name” means: “Let Your name be hallowed, or honored”; or, “Bring all people to respect and reverence You.” “Thy kingdom come” means: “Extend Your rule over human lives.” “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means: “Extend Your rule over human lives here and now so that they will reverence and respect You.” See Lord's Prayer.
In His preaching Jesus regularly invited people to enter the kingdom of God, that is, to open their lives to the ruling of God. It is important to notice whom He invited.
He invited everyone. That is the great surprise. He did not restrict the invitation to the respectable people, or the religious, or the wealthy or powerful (in Jesus' day wealth and power were often thought to be signs of God's blessing). Jesus included everyone without distinction. He spoke of God sending His servants out to highways and hedges to urge people to come in to the kingdom. He even said that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24 ). He said that the tax-collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom before the moral and religious people (Matthew 21:31 ). In brief, God is very gracious and loving toward all people, and His kingdom is offered to everyone.
After Jesus had returned to heaven, the apostles did not continue to make the kingdom the central theme of their preaching. Instead, they began to speak of eternal life, salvation, forgiveness, and other themes. In doing this, they were not deserting Jesus' concern for the kingdom of God. They were simply expressing the same idea in their way. To speak of salvation is to speak of the kingdom. We might express it as follows: God is graciously giving salvation as a free gift (extending His kingdom) to anyone who will receive it (enter the kingdom) through His Son Jesus Christ, and this salvation begins now (the kingdom is in the midst of you) and will be completed in the future (the kingdom will come like a thief in the night). As Paul put it, the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17 ). See Jesus; Christ; Salvation .
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Kingdom of God'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/k/kingdom-of-god.html. 1991.