Kingdom of God (Christianity)
- For an overview of Christian viewpoints see Kingdom of God (Christian denominational variations)
- For an overview of all viewpoints see Kingship and kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God (and its equivalent form Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew) is one of the key elements of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Drawing on Old Testament teachings, the Christian characterization of the relationship between God and humanity inherently involves the notion of the "Kingship of God". The Old Testament refers to "God the Judge of all" and the notion that all humans will eventually "be judged" is an essential element of Christian teachings. Building on a number of New Testament passages, the Nicene Creed indicates that the task of judgement is assigned to Jesus.
The New Testament is written against the backdrop of Second Temple Judaism. The view of the kingdom developed during that time included a restoration of Israel to a Davidic Kingdom and the intervention of God in history via the Danielic "Son of Man." The coming of the kingdom of God involved God finally taking back the reigns of history, which he had allowed to slacken as pagan Empires had ruled the nations. Most Jewish sources imagine a restoration of Israel and either a destruction of the nations or a gathering of the nations to obedience to the One True God. Jesus stands firmly in this tradition. His association of his own person and ministry with the "coming of the kingdom" indicates that he perceives that God's great intervention in history has arrived, and that he is the agent of that intervention. His suffering and death, however, seem to cast doubt upon this (how could God's appointed king be killed) but his resurrection establishes his claim. The claim of his exaltation to the right hand of God establishes him as "king." Jesus' predictions of his return make it clear that God's kingdom is not fully realized but in the meantime the good news that forgiveness of sins is available through his name is to be proclaimed to the nations. Thus the mission of the Church begins, and fills the time between the initial coming of the Kingdom, and its ultimate consummation with the Final Judgement.
Any Christian interpretation or usage of the term "kingdom of God" needs to make sense of this historical framework. It must be consistent with the Jewish hope of a Messiah, the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, his return, and the rise of the Church in history.
The term "kingdom of God" has been used to mean Christian lifestyle, a method of world evangelization, the rediscovery of charismatic gifts and many other things. Others relate it not to our present or future earthly situation, but to the world to come. The interpretation of the phrase is often based on the theological leanings of the scholar-interpreter. A number of theological interpretations of the term Kingdom of God have thus appeared in its eschatological context, e.g., apocalyptic, realized or Inaugurated eschatologies, yet no consensus has emerged among scholars.
Etymology and usage
The word Kingdom (in Greek: βασιλεία Basileia ) appears 162 times in the New Testament and most of these uses relate to either Basileia tou Theou (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ), i.e. Kingdom of God or to Basileia tōn Ouranōn, (Βασιλεία τῶν Ουρανῶν) i.e. Kingdom of Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels. Kingdom of God is translated to Latin as Regnum Dei and Kingdom of Heaven as Regnum caelorum.
Kingdom of Heaven (Basileia tōn Ouranōn) appears 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew and nowhere else in the New Testament. Matthew also uses the term Kingdom of God (Basileia tou Theou) in a handful of cases, but in these cases it may be difficult to distinguish his usage from Kingdom of Heaven (Basileia tōn Ouranōn).
There is general agreement among scholars that the term used by Jesus himself would have been "Kingdom of God". Matthew's use for the term Kingdom of Heaven is generally seen as a parallel to the usage of Kingdom of God in Mark and Luke's gospels. Matthew is likely to have used the term Heaven due to the fact that the background of his Jewish audience imposed restrictions on the frequent use of the name of God. R.T. France suggests that in the few cases where Kingdom of God is used, Matthew seeks a more specific and personal reference to God and hence goes back to that term. Many scholars today prefer to call the Kingdom of God the "Reign of God," which avoids the patriarchal language of Kingship.
Kingship and kingdom
The Christian characterization of the relationship between God and humanity involves the notion of the "Kingship of God", whose origins go back to the Old Testament, and may be seen as a consequence of the creation of the world by God. The "enthronement psalms" (Psalms 45, 93, 96, 97-99) provide a background for this view with the exclamation "The Lord is King". However, in later Judaism a more "national" view was assigned to God's Kingship in which the awaited Messiah may be seen as a liberator and the founder of a new state of Israel.
The term "Kingdom of God" does not appear in the Old Testament, although "his Kingdom" and "your Kingdom" are used in some cases when referring to God. However, the Kingdom of God (the Matthean equivalent being "Kingdom of Heaven") is a prominent phrase in the Synoptic Gospels and there is near unanimous agreement among scholars that it represents a key element of the teachings of Jesus.
Historically, the Church Fathers presented three separate interpretations of the Kingdom of God: the first (due to Origen in the 3rd century) was that Jesus himself represents the Kingdom. The second interpretations (also by Origen) is that the Kingdom represents the hearts and minds of the faithful captured by the love of God and the pursuit of Christian teachings. The third interpretations (influenced by Origen but brought forth by Eusebius in the 4th century) is that the Kingdom represents the Christian Church composed of the faithful.
Over the centuries a wide range of theological interpretations for the term Kingdom of God have appeared. For instance, in Catholic teachings, the official declaration Dominus Iesus (item 5) states that the kingdom of God cannot be detached either from Christ or from the Church, for "if the kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed." Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that the Kingdom of God is present within the Church and is communicated to believers as it interacts with them. On the other hand, Jehovah's Witnesses (who hold the kingdom of God as a central theme) believe that their door-to-door preaching is part of a "sign" before God's kingdom destroys the world's governments, to have God's will done on earth.
R. T. France has pointed out that while the concept of "Kingdom of God" has an intuitive meaning to lay Christians, there is hardly any agreement among theologians about its meaning in the New Testament. Some scholars see it as a Christian lifestyle, some as a method of world evangelization, some as the rediscovery of charismatic gifts, others relate it to no present or future situation, but the world to come. France states that the phrase Kingdom of God is often interpreted in many ways to fit the theological agenda of those interpreting it.
In the New Testament the Throne of God is talked about in several forms. Including Heaven as the Throne of God, The Throne of David, The Throne of Glory, The Throne of Grace and many more. The New Testament continues Jewish identification of heaven itself as the "throne of God", but also locates the throne of God as "in heaven" and having a second subordinate seat at the Right Hand of God for the Session of Christ.
Interpretations of the term Kingdom of God have given rise to wide ranging eschatological debates among scholars with diverging views, yet no consensus has emerged among scholars. From Augustine to the Reformation the arrival of the Kingdom had been identified with the formation of the Christian Church, but this view was later abandoned and by the beginning of the 20th century the apocalyptic interpretation of the Kingdom had gained ground. In this view (also called the "consistent eschatology") the Kingdom of God did not started in the first century, but is a future apocalyptic event that is yet to take place.
By the middle of the 20th century realized eschatology which in contrast viewed the Kingdom as non-apocalyptic but as the manifestation of divine sovereignty over the world (realized by the ministry of Jesus) had gathered a scholarly following. In this view the Kingdom is held to be available in the present. The competing approach of Inaugurated eschatology was later introduced as the "already and not yet" interpretation. In this view the Kingdom has already started, but awaits full disclosure at a future point. These diverging interpretations have since given rise to a good number of variants, with various scholars proposing new eschatological models that borrow elements from these.
Hebrews 12:23 refers to "God the Judge of all" and the notion that all humans will eventually "be judged" is an essential element of Christian teachings. A number of New Testament passages (e.g. John 5:22 and Acts 10:42) and later credal confessions indicate that the task of judgement is assigned to Jesus. John 5:22 states that "neither does the Father judge any man, but he has given all judgment unto the Son". Acts 10:42 refers to the resurrected Jesus as: "he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead." The role played by Jesus in the judgement of God is emphasized in the most widely used Christian confessions, with the Nicene Creed stating that Jesus "sits on the right hand of the Father; shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end". The Apostle's Creed includes a similar confession.
A number of gospel passages warn against sin and suggest a path of righteousness to avoid the judgement of God. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:22-26 teaches the avoidance of sin and the Parables of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:49) state that at the moment of judgement the angels will "sever the wicked from among the righteous and shall cast them into the furnace of fire". Christians can thus enjoy forgiveness that lifts them from the judgement of God by following the teachings of Jesus and through a personal fellowship with him.
Given no general agreement on the interpretation of the term Kingdom of God, significant diversity exists in the way Christian denominations interpret it and its associated eschatology. Over the centuries, as emerging Christian denominations introduced new concepts, their teachings and experiments with the linking of personalism with new notions of Christian community often involved new interpretations of the Kingdom of God in various socio-religious settings.
Thus the denominational attempt at incorporating the ideals expressed in the Acts of Apostles regarding the sharing of property within the Christian community came to interact with the social issues of the time to produce various interpretations regarding the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Eschatological perspectives that emphasized the abandonment of the utopian visions of human achievement and the placement of hope in the work of God whose Kingdom were sought thus resulted in the linking of social and philanthropic issues to with the religious interpretations of the Kingdom of God in ways that produced distinct variations among denominations.
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- Philip Edgecumbe Hughes A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews p401 1988 "The theme of Christ's heavenly session, announced here by the statement he sat down at the right hand of God, .. Hebrews 8:1 "we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven")"
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