Meaning and Significance of the Phrase "Kingdom of God" - Robert I. Bradshaw

From:  "jagbir singh" <>
Date:  Sat Dec 4, 2004  5:17 am
Subject:  The Meaning and Significance of the Phrase "Kingdom of God" - Robert I. Bradshaw
—- In, jagbir singh
<adishakti_org@y...> wrote:
> Dear Jimmy,
> There will be no end to your questions because they are based on
> your religious upbringing and conditioning. (You must always
> remember that all Christian denominations and sects today trace
> their roots from the Catholic Church.) Just five centuries ago you
> would have sworn that the Earth is flat at a time when Eastern
> mystics had advance knowledge about the infinite universe, many
> centuries earlier. While Christians were seeking the Kingdom of
> God far, far away the mystics were exploring it within themselves.

The Meaning and Significance of the Phrase "Kingdom of God" in the Teaching of Jesus as Represented by the Synoptic Gospels
by Robert I. Bradshaw

From that time on Jesus began to preach. "Repent for the Kingdom of
God is near." Matt. 4:17.

It is clear from the Synoptic Gospels that 'the Kingdom of God'
formed the central theme of Jesus' preaching from the very outset of
his ministry. Although Matthew's Gospel only uses the phrase
'Kingdom of God' four times (12:28; 19:24; 21:21, 31, 43). it is
generally held that the phrase 'Kingdom of Heaven' used in this
Gospel is typical of the Jewish practice of circumlocution -
substituting another word for the divine name. The two terms are
therefore completely interchangeable (cf. Matt. 19:23 with v. 24;
Mark 10:23).(1)

Jesus did not invent the phrase, but built upon existing Old
Testament teaching (cf. Psalm 145:11, 13; 103:19; Isa. 45:23; Dan.
4:3; Zech. 14:9)(2) and Jewish Apocalyptic writings that follow the
same pattern of thought. The regular synagogue prayer of pre-
Christian times (the Kaddish), for example, reads: "May He let His
Kingdom rule... speedily and soon."(3)

J. Ramsey Michaels comments:

In many different ways Jesus affirmed traditional Jewish
expectation. yet he gives them at the same time what Henry James
would call a aturn of the screw', a new twist that shocks his
hearers and in some respect calls their behaviour and world-view
into question.(4)

It is now generally agreed that the Greek word Basileia referred
primarily to the abstract concept of God's rule or reign, but was
also (but less commonly) used to refer to the realm over which that
rule was exercised.(5) That being said, what did Jesus mean by the
term Kingdom of God? The simplest answer is that he used it to
summarise his entire mission, in all its aspects,(6) but this
statement requires further development lest the theological richness
of the term be lost.

For Jesus the Gospel was the nearness of the Kingdom of God (Mark
1:14-15).(7) This passage (and others that emphasise the nearness of
the Kingdom. e.g. Mark 9:1; Matt 12:28=Luke 11:20) were taken by
C.H. Dodd as evidence that Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was
present in his own ministry and "a matter of present experience".(8)
Closer examination of the texts illustrates the danger of
interpreting the evidence according to ones preconceived ideas.(9)
Study of Mark 1:15 has shown that the Greek texts (and the Hebrew
underlying them) are ambiguous in their meaning, which has led many
to conclude (rightly in my view) that Jesus intended his hearers to
understand that the Kingdom of God [henceforth abbreviated to "the
Kingdom"] had both a present(10) and a future aspect.(11) By way of
contrast Cranfield argues that the reference is not temporal but
spatial - the Kingdom has come near in the person of Jesus.(12)

C.H. Dodd felt free to alter the translation of Mark 9:1 by
inserting "...the adverb already' and interpret 'see' to mean
recognise in retrospect."(13) He wrote: "The bystanders are...
promised... that they shall come to see that the Kingdom of God has
already come, at some point before they became aware of it."(14) The
correct translation and an examination of the context reveals,
however, that for Mark (as for Matthew [16:28] and Luke [9:27]). the
term "coming of the Kingdom in power" referred first of all to the
transfiguration (which follows the statement in all three the
Synoptics (Matt. 17:1-l3; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:18-36). but also
pointed forward to the glory to come following the resurrection (cf.
2 Peter 1:16-18).(15) If it were to refer to the Parousia then it
would have to be conceded that Jesus was mistaken in his prediction
that some of the disciples would still be alive when it occurred(16)
(which is exactly what T.W. Manson seeks to prove).(17)

Jesus' exorcisms mean that "the sovereign power of God has come into
effective operation."(18) Matthew (4:23; 10:7; cf. 11:2-6)(19) and
Luke (4:40-43; 8:1-3;9:1-2, 11; 10:9) both link the proclamation of
the Kingdom with the defeat of demons and the cure of diseases.(20)
The contrast is made by Jesus between God's Kingdom and that of
Satan (Luke 11:18-20, cf. 4:40-43). In many of his parables Jesus
taught his disciples that the Kingdom of God would coexist in the
world with the kingdom of Satan for a time. In the parable of the
Weeds (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-44) he explains "how the Kingdom can be
present in the world without wiping yet not wiping out all
opposition.(21) The parable of the Dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50) likewise
speaks of a time of coexistence followed by a separation when the
Kingdom is fully established at the end of the age.(22)

Matthew 12:28 (=Luke 11:20) also teaches us that the kingdom is
established by the power of the Holy Spirit, in whom Jesus worked.
(23) Although it is done in the power of the Spirit, the work of
establishing the Kingdom is the Father's (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2).
(24) T.W. Manson has shown that Jesus revealed God as Father to his
disciples.(25) In the same way the teaching concerning the bestowal
of the Kingdom was also done in the context of private instruction
of the disciples (Matt. 13:43; 25:43; Luke 12:32; 22:29ff).(26) The
Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29) illustrates that the
kingdom grows on its own, apart from any visible external
assistance, as the Father causes it to grow,(27) "emphasising God's
initiative in the establishment of His rule."(28)

The Early Church was clear in their assertion that Jesus was the
Messiah, the Anointed One (cf. Matt .4:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke
3:21-22), who was Ruler and king (Matt. 2:2; cf. 21:5). Yet Jesus
did not publicly claim that title. preferring instead the self-
designation 'Son of Man'. Marshall suggests that just as Jesus used
this ambiguous term (which could mean "Son of God" [cf. Dan. 7:27]
or simply 'I') as a veiled manifestation of himself, so in the same
way he used the term 'Kingdom of God' to refer to "an authority and
rule that will be revealed openly in the future, but at present is
hidden and partly secret."(29) This is supported by an examination
of Jesus' parabolic teaching, such as the Parable of the Mustard
Seed (Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19) and the Yeast (Matt. 13:33; Luke
13:20-21). Blomberg points out that the Parables, "confronted people
with radical demands, and not all were willing to comply. Some
followed him in discipleship, but others were actually driven
further from his Kingdom."(30) (Mark 4:10-12; cf. Matt. 12:34).

The Kingdom also has a future aspect, which Weiss and Schweitzer
have over emphasised(31) at the expense of those passages where
Jesus taught a present Kingdom (see above).(32) Luke 13:22-31 is
particularly relevant to our discussion at this point, for it not
only gives a rare glimpse into events in the eschatological Kingdom
i.e. the feast (vv. 29-30). This concept would have been a familiar
one to his hearers (Isa. 25:6f; 64:3; 65:13f; Ezek. 32:4; 39:17-20),
(33) but Jesus gives ' turn of the screw' that would have shocked a
Jewish audience: there would be many surprises as to the final
membership of the Kingdom - even the Gentiles would be represented!
(cf. Isa. 45:6; 49:12).(34) The same theme recurs in Luke 14:15-25,
were Jesus does not correct his table companions declaration:
"Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God"
(v.15), as 'feast' is "a common Jewish metaphor meaning
eschatological salvation."(35) The Pharisees were deeply offended by
the way in which Jesus welcomed such people as Gentiles, Tax
Collectors and 'sinners' and ate with them (Matt. 9:9-13; Mark 2:15-
17; Luke 5:27-32). To which Jesus replied with the parables of the
Lost Sheep, the Lost Silver and the Lost Son (Luke 15). Of these
the "keynote is the joy in heaven over a son who repents (15:7, 10).
over a son who comes home."(36)

The question as to membership of the Kingdom leads to the commonly
asked question "Is the Church the Kingdom of God?" R.T. France
points out that this question is "meaningless... roughly on a par
with... 'Is Mrs. Thatcher patriotism?'"(37) because as we have
already seen, the Kingdom refers primarily to God's rule. Nowhere in
the New Testament is the church identified with the Kingdom of God.
George Eldon Ladd states:

The Kingdom is the rule of God, and the realm of his blessings; the
Church is the people of the Kingdom. who have received it, who
witness it, and who will inherit.(38)

There is a danger, however, of taking Perrin's concept of the Kingdom
(39) too far, as I.H. Marshall points out. Like other liberal
scholars Perrin derives his "understanding of the Kingdom of God
from a limited number of texts which he believed to be the authentic
sayings of Jesus,(40) and so his definition of the Kingdom "namely
the powerful action of God that can be expressed in a whole range of
situations"(41) is proved inadequate when the rest of the evidence
is examined. Marshall concludes that "the Church as the people of
God is the object of his rule and is therefore His Kingdom, or at
least an expression of it, imperfect and sinful though it is."(42)

Luke 17:20-21 is the only saying of Jesus that might be used as
evidence to attempt to prove that he saw the Kingdom as something
internal(43) (cf. Rom. 14:17). The Pharisees were looking for signs
that could be observed, but Jesus replied that the Kingdom was among
them - that is - it was present in His person and ministry.(44)

In contrast to the ideas current in his day, Jesus' statement
that "From the time of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of
Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of
it (Matt. 11:12; cf. Luke 16:16). These verses have given rise to a
great range of interpretations. F.F. Bruce sees them as a rebuke to
those of like mind to the Zealots, who sought to bring about the
Kingdom of God by force.(45) More likely is the view of D.A. Carson
who argues that:

From the beginning of Jesus' ministry the Kingdom had been
forcefully advancing (the point also made in Luke 16:16). But it has
not swept all opposition away as John expected.(46) What both John
the Baptist and the Pharisees were expecting was the sudden and
total establishment of the Kingdom. Instead, Jesus predicts that
those in the Kingdom can expect opposition and persecution.(47)

The idea of the 'scum of the earth' (prostitutes and Tax-Collectors)
entering the Kingdom (Matt. 21:28-32) while the 'righteous'
religious leaders remained outside is yet another example of Jesus
correcting mistaken notions.(48) His point is obvious, saying 'Yes'
to God verbally yet failing to do the will of God excludes one from
the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 7:21). "The gracious, redemptive activity of
God demands a response of radical obedience."(49)

The parables of the Hidden Treasure (Matt. 13:44) and the Pearl
(13:45- 46) teach that the Kingdom is of great worth. In the former
a man, having found the treasure, hid it again until he had bought
the field, because treasure belonged to the owner of the property,
not to the finder.(50) In the latter:

Jesus is not interested in religious efforts or in affirming that
one can 'buy' the Kingdom; on the contrary. he is saying that the
person whose whole life has been bound up with the 'pearls' will, on
comprehending the true value of the Kingdom as Jesus presents it,
gladly exchange all else to follow him.(51)

The parable of the Sower shows that productivity within the Kingdom
depends on the kind of response made by each individual who heard of
it. In ancient Israel a tenfold harvest was a good yield, and the
average about seven and a half. The hundredfold harvest predicted
was the result of two things - a correct attitude of heart and on
part of the disciple and a miracle.(52) This correct attitude is
further described in Luke 18. It is not self-righteousness, like
that of the Pharisee (vv.9-12, 14), but humility like the Tax
Collector (v.13). It is having the attitude of a child (vv. 15-16;
cf. Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16),(53) which implies total
dependence upon the good pleasure of God, having no power or
righteousness of one's own.(54)

For the Gospel writers the phrase "entering the Kingdom of God" is
interchangeable with 'being saved' as can be seen from Luke 18:25-26
(cf. Matt. 19:24-25; Mark 10:23, 26), where Jesus describes how hard
it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God and the disciples
reply "who then can be saved?" In the next few verses the Kingdom is
linked with 'eternal life' (Luke 18:30; cf. Matt. 25:29; Mark 10:30).
(55) This is further strengthened in Luke 21:28-30. for in verse
28 'redemption' is drawing near, but is v.30 it is the Kingdom of
God that is drawing near. Clearly the Gospels are linking the
salvation and redemption of believers with the coming of the Kingdom.

The term 'Kingdom of God' is a multi-ordinate term which includes
every aspect of Jesus' ministry, even the cross, which in some way
(that the Gospels do not make clear) is essential to the coming of
the Kingdom.(57) In His teaching Jesus built on and corrected the
current ideas about the Kingdom within Judaism and showed that it
has both a present and a future aspect. Now it suffers violence, is
resisted and requires total commitment to enter it; yet its growth
is not the work of man, but of the Father. The Kingdom is the rule
of God, but it also includes people, and these people are not a new
Israel ruled by the Twelve Disciples (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:29),(58)
but are different from the old in composition in that it is
universal rather than restricted to one nation.

The Meaning and Significance of the Phrase "Kingdom of God" in the Teaching of Jesus as Represented by the Synoptic Gospels


(1) George Eldon Ladd, "Kingdom of God," G.W. Bromiley, Gen. Ed.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), revised, Vol. 3.
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 24; B. Klappert, "King, Kingdom,"
Colin Brown, Gen. Ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament
Theology, Vol. 2. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 376-377.

(2) Wendell Willis, "The Discovery of the Eschatological Kingdom:
Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer," Wendell Willis, ed., The
Kingdom of God in 20th Century Interpretation. (Peabody,
Massachusetts: Hendricksen, 1967), 5. Schweitzer and Weiss agree
that Jesus drew on Jewish Apocalyptic; R.H. Hiers, "Pivotal
Reactions to the Eschatological Interpretations: Rudolf Bultmann and
C.H. Dodd," in Willis, 31. Dodd rejected this view in favour of a
Hellenistic background.

(3) R.T. France, "The Church and the Kingdom of God," D.A. Carson,
ed. Biblical Interpretation and the Church. (Nashville: Thomas
Nelson, 1964), 34; Klappert, 377.

(4) J. Ramsey Michaels, "The Kingdom of God And The Historical
Jesus," in Willis, 216.

(5) Ladd, 24; I. Howard Marshall, I.H. Jesus The Saviour. (Downers
Grove, Illinois, IVP, 1990), 215; Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God
in the Teaching of Jesus. (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1963), 24.

(6) France, 34; Robert O'Toole, "The Kingdom of God in Luke-Acts,"
in Willis, 153.

(7) William L. Lane, "Mark," New International Commentary on the New
Testament. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 63-64;

(8) C.H. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom. (London: SCM Press Ltd.,
1935), 29-31.

(9) Critics have suggested that Dodd's Jesus resembles more nearly a
Cambridge Platonist than a first century Jew. See Hiers, 22.

(10) Dodd, 28-35.

(11) W.G. Kummel, Promise And Fulfillment. (London: SCM Press Ltd,
1961), 19-24; Robert A. Guelich, "Mark 1 - 8:26," Word Biblical
Commentary. (Waco: Word Books, 1989), 44.

(12) C.E.B. Cranfield, "Mark," Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary.
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 67.

(13) Hiers, 21.

(14) Dodd, 37.

(15) Lane, 313-314.

(16) D.A. Carson, "Matthew," F.E. Gaebelein, gen. ed., The
Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 8. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1984), 382.

(17) T.W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus. (London: SCM Press Ltd.,
1959), 282.

(18) Dodd, 29-31; Hiers, 19.

(19) Carson, 121.

(20) Ladd, 27.

(21) Carson, 317.

(22) R.T. France, "Matthew," Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.
(Leicester: IVP, 1985), 230.

(23) Marshall, Saviour, 225.

(24) Marshall, Saviour, 225; O'Toole, 148.

(25) Manson, 85-115; Marshall, Saviour, 224.

(26) Marshall, Saviour, 224.

(27) Guelich, 245.

(28) Lane, 120.

(29) Marshall, Saviour, 228.

(30) Craig Blomberg, "Parable," ISBE, Vol. 3, 657.

(31) E.J. Epp, "Mediating Approaches to the Kingdom: Werner Georg
Kummel and George Eldon Ladd," in Willis, 36.

(32) Ladd, 24.

(33) I. Howard Marshall, "The Gospel Of Luke," The New International
Greek Testament Commentary. (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1989
Reprint), 568.

(34) Marshall, Luke, 568; Leon Morris, "Luke," Tyndale New Testament
Comentaries. (Leicester: IVP, 1989 Reprint), 248.

(35) O'Toole, 158.

(36) Ladd, 27.

(37) France, 31.

(38) Ladd, 28.

(39) Norman Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom. (London:
SCM Press Ltd., 1976), 29-34.

(40) Marshall, Saviour, 217.

(41) Marshall, Saviour, 216.

(42) Marshall, Saviour, 230.

(43) Marshall, Luke, 655; Morris, 284.

(44) Morris, 284.

(45) F.F. Bruce, The Hard Savings of Jesus. (Downers Grove,
Illinois: IVP, 1983), 117.

(46) Carson, 267.

(47) Carson, 267-268

(48) Carson, 250.

(49) Ron Farmer, The Kingdom Of God in the Gospel of Matthew in
Willis, 129-130.

(50) Carson, 328.

(51) Carson, 329.

(52) Larry Hurtado, "Mark," New International Biblical Commentary on
the New Testament. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendricksen, 1989), 72.

(53) O'Toole, 160.

54 Hurtado, 162-163.

(55) O'Toole, 155-156.

(56) O'Toole, 156.

(57) Ladd, 28.

(58) Marshall, Saviour, 229.


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