The records of the New Testament open with the announcement that “the kingdom of God/Heaven” is “near.”
The preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles followed in the train of the prophets of the Old Testament, but most of the people of their day had been hearing—and were influenced by—another voice. It was the voice of Jewish apocalyptic thought, a vision not of history and its meaning, but of a longing for a cataclysmic end of history.
Professor Gregory Ladd, in his book, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism, has rightly characterized these apocalyptic writings as:
- dualistic: seeing the evil of the present age as mostly the work of Satan and evil spirits.
- non-prophetic: losing the prophets’ emphasis on correct judging/blessing acts of God and their relationship to human sin.
- pessimistic: having no hope except an eschatological one.
- deterministic: nothing new or good can come until certain time periods have elapsed.
- ethically passive: almost devoid of any challenge to repentance and faithfulness.
The misapprehension of both the kingdom and the prophetic mission of the earlier messengers animates Jesus’ (and John’s) preaching and teaching about the kingdom in the New Testament.
Jesus’s Teaching on the Kingdom
The prior manifestations of God’s rule, played out against the backdrop of human aspiration and folly, serve to usher in the “fullness of times,” when the person of his perfect rule is manifest among men and as a man.
The New Testament consistently and constantly witnesses that there is no discontinuity between what went before and what is now being manifest and what will be consummated in the future. Any apparent inconsistency is simply a mark of the mystery surrounding God’s plans and workings and of the insufficiency of the understanding of these things in the mind of a man—a mind seemingly infinitely capable of sloth, folly, and perversity (Mk. 4:11-13).
Into the mix of personal, national, and imperial misappropriation of God’s rule John and Jesus come to preach and, in Jesus’ case, to exercise authority. As N. T. Wright so eloquently puts it in one of his many books, Jesus goes about his business as one who is obviously “in charge.”
Here is a brief summary of what Jesus taught about the Kingdom:
- The kingdom is present in his work and that of his disciples, but the power to exorcise demons and/or heal earthly illnesses is no substitute for present and eternal salvation (Mt. 12:43-45, Lk. 11:24-26) or the complete elimination of evil powers (Mt. 25:41) and men who follow them.
- The kingdom is present in the preaching of the Gospel, but “the word” may still be rejected with eternal consequences (Mk. 4:14).
- The kingdom is present in the ongoing activity of God as he seeks out “the lost” (Lk. 15), invites them to his table (Mt. 22:1), and urges them to fellowship with him as father; but the rejection of his overtures by men can lead only to judgment.
- The kingdom is supernatural in its origin, progress, and consummation (Mk. 4:26-32).
- The kingdom can come near (Mt. 3:2), arrive (Mt. 12:28), appear (Lk. 19:11), and be active (Mt. 11:12).
- Men can enter, receive, possess, or inherit it—or they can reject it. They can also seek, pray, and look for it.
- Men can sacrifice for the kingdom (Lk. 18:29), preach the kingdom (Mt. 10:7), or they can prevent others from entering it (Lk. 23:13).
Jesus could confidently go to his crucifixion with the words “my kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36), otherwise, his servants would fight to prevent his death. It is clear that in contrast to the apocalyptic thought of the time, Jesus and his followers were preaching the Gospel of a theocratic kingdom now dawning on earth.
Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from the IFWE research paper, God and Government: A Biblical Perspective (The Bible and Limited Government) by Dr. Tom Pratt. Read the full paper here.