Kingdom of God (Christianity)

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God the Father on his throne, Westphalia, Germany, late 15th century.

The Kingdom of God (and its related form Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew) is one of the key elements of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.[1] Drawing on Old Testament teachings, the Christian characterization of the relationship between God and humanity inherently involves the notion of the Kingship of God.[2][3] 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.[4] Building on a number of New Testament passages, the Nicene Creed indicates that the task of judgment is assigned to Jesus.[4][5]

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 reins 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 yet fully realized according to inaugurated eschatology 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 Judgment.

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.[6] 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.[7][8]


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.[9] Kingdom of God is translated to Latin as Regnum Dei and Kingdom of Heaven as Regnum caelorum.[10] PpKingdom of Heaven (Basileia tōn Ouranōn) appears 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew and nowhere else in the New Testament.[11] 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).[11]

There is general agreement among scholars that the term used by Jesus himself would have been "Kingdom of God".[1] 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.[1] 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.[12] 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.[13] Many scholars today prefer to call the Kingdom of God the "Reign of God," which avoids the patriarchal language of Kingship.

Kingship and kingdom[edit]

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.[2][3] The "enthronement psalms" (Psalms 45, 93, 96, 97-99) provide a background for this view with the exclamation "The Lord is King".[3] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[3][6]

Jesus giving Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven", (Matthew 16:18),[16] depicted by Perugino, 1492.

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.[17][18] 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.[17][19] 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.[17][19]

Over the centuries a wide range of theological interpretations for the term Kingdom of God have appeared.[6][17][19] 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."[17][20] Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that the Kingdom of God is present within the Church and is communicated to believers as it interacts with them.[21]

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.[6] 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.[6] France states that the phrase Kingdom of God is often interpreted in many ways to fit the theological agenda of those interpreting it.[6]

In the New Testament the Throne of God is talked about in several forms.[22] Including Heaven as the Throne of God, The Throne of David, The Throne of Glory, The Throne of Grace and many more.[22] The New Testament continues Jewish identification of heaven itself as the "throne of God",[23] 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.[24]

End times[edit]

An angel blows the "last trumpet", as in 1 Corinthians 15:52, Langenzenn, Germany, 19th century

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.[7][8][25] 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 by some Christian Churches and by the beginning of the 20th century, some Protestant churches had adopted the apocalyptic interpretation of the Kingdom.[7][25][26] In this view (also called the "consistent eschatology") the Kingdom of God did not start in the first century, but is a future apocalyptic event that is yet to take place.[7] Many Christian Churches still hold to the teaching that the Kingdom is identified with the formation of the Christian Church at Jesus death.[citation needed]

By the middle of the 20th century realized eschatology, which 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.[7] In this view the Kingdom is held to be available in the present.[8] The competing approach of Inaugurated eschatology was later introduced as the "already and not yet" interpretation.[7] In this view the Kingdom has already started, but awaits full disclosure at a future point.[8] 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.[7][8]


See also: Last Judgement

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.[4] A number of New Testament passages (e.g. John 5:22 and Acts 10:42) and later credal confessions indicate that the task of judgment is assigned to Jesus.[4][5] John 5:22 states that "neither does the Father judge any man, but he has given all judgment unto the Son".[4] 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."[4] The role played by Jesus in the judgment 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".[27] The Apostle's Creed includes a similar confession.[27]

A number of gospel passages warn against sin and suggest a path of righteousness to avoid the judgment of God.[28] 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 judgment the angels will "sever the wicked from among the righteous and shall cast them into the furnace of fire".[28] Christians can thus enjoy forgiveness that lifts them from the judgment of God by following the teachings of Jesus and through a personal fellowship with him.[28]

Denominational variations[edit]

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.[6] 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.[29][30]

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.[29][30] 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.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Gospel of Matthew by R.T. France (21 Aug 2007) ISBN 080282501X pages 101-103
  2. ^ a b Mercer Dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Edgar V. McKnight and Roger A. Bullard (May 1, 2001) ISBN 0865543739 page 490
  3. ^ a b c d Dictionary of Biblical Imagery by Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III (Nov 11, 1998) ISBN 0830814515 pages 478-479
  4. ^ a b c d e f Introducing Christian Doctrine (2nd Edition) by Millard J. Erickson (Apr 1, 2001) ISBN 0801022509 pages 391-392
  5. ^ a b Systematic Theology Vol 2 by Wolfhart Pannenberg (Oct 27, 2004) ISBN 0567084663 pages 390-391
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Divine Government: God's Kingship in the Gospel of Mark by R.T. France (10 Mar 2003) ISBN 1573832448 pages 1-3
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth by Michael James McClymond (Mar 22, 2004) ISBN 0802826806 pages 77-79
  8. ^ a b c d e Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research by Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (Jun 1998) ISBN 9004111425 pages 255-257
  9. ^ Theology for the Community of God by Stanley J. Grenz (Jan 31, 2000) ISBN 0802847552 page 473
  10. ^ A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin by John F. Collins (Aug 1985) ISBN 0813206677 page 176
  11. ^ a b Matthew by David L. Turner (Apr 15, 2008) ISBN 0801026849 Baker Academic page 37
  12. ^ Matthew by David L. Turner (Apr 15, 2008) ISBN 0801026849 page 41
  13. ^ The Gospel of Matthew by R.T. France (21 Aug 2007) ISBN 080282501X page 480
  14. ^ Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi by Karl Rahner (Dec 28, 2004) ISBN 0860120066 page 1351
  15. ^ Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, N. T. Wright, Daniel J. Treier and Craig Bartholomew (20 Jan 2006) ISBN 0801026946 page 420
  16. ^ The Gospel of Matthew (Sacra Pagina Series, Vol 1) by Dainel J. Harrington 1991 ISBN 978-0-8146-5803-1 page 248
  17. ^ a b c d e Letter & Spirit, Vol. 3: The Hermeneutic of Continuity: Christ, Kingdom, and Creation by Scott Hahn and David Scott (Oct 15, 2007) ISBN 1931018464 pages 35-36
  18. ^ The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity by John Anthony McGuckin (Editor) 2010 ISBN 978-1-4443-9254-8 John Wiley page 439
  19. ^ a b c Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi by Karl Rahner (Dec 28, 2004) ISBN 0860120066 page 1354
  20. ^ Vatican website Dominus Iesus, item 5
  21. ^ Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader by Daniel B. Clendenin (Oct 1, 2003) ISBN 0801026512 page 197
  22. ^ a b Kittel 1966, pp. 164–166
  23. ^ William Barclay The Gospel of Matthew: Chapters 11-28 p340 Matthew 23:22 "And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it."
  24. ^ 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")"
  25. ^ a b An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity by Delbert Royce Burkett (Jul 22, 2002) ISBN 0521007208 page 246
  26. ^ A Theology of the New Testament by George Eldon Ladd (Sep 2, 1993) ISBN 0802806805 pages 55-57
  27. ^ a b The Oxford Companion to the Bible by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael David Coogan (Oct 14, 1993) ISBN page 157
  28. ^ a b c Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Volume III) by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (Jun 1966) ISBN 0802822452 pages 936
  29. ^ a b The Eastern Orthodox Church: Its Thought and Life by Ernst Benz (Jul 31, 2008) ISBN 0202362981 page 158
  30. ^ a b c Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues by Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss and Timothy C. Tennent (May 1, 2010) ISBN 0801026628 pages 139-141