Ever since my own personal discovery 40 years ago of the importance of Jesus’s announcement of the good news of the Kingdom of God — and his teaching about the importance of ‘entering the Kingdom’ — I have been emphasising this term as vital for the description of the gospel.
But gradually I have seen how the history of the term impacts on its present use. The millennia tell a terrible story of the way kings, in building their kingdoms, have so often been dictators and tyrants, the source of shock and awful devastation, violence against groups, abuse of the law, and the subjugation of women. In the Old Testament, the kings were usually authoritarian, hierarchical and patriarchal. For the first time in history, the democratic era declared each person to be free and equal, even though these rights still need to be realised in many cultures, especially for women.
Why in heaven’s name would one use the Kingdom of God with all those awful associations? More and more I began to use substitute terms like ‘Kindom of God’ or the ‘Family of God’ for the Kingdom of God emphasising, for the sake of our humanity, reconciling relationships and round table decision-making.
As another decade rolled by, I began to sense that these substitutes were limited as well. Had I been too quick to draw back from the term ‘the Kingdom of God’, on the basis of this sort of history? It led to a time of re-assessment, weighing up the importance of the pros and cons in using it. Finally, for the following reasons, I found the term to be so vital that too much is lost when not using and celebrating the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus’s core message, his teaching and his prayers are explicitly about the Kingdom of God and how to enter the Kingdom. Any lesser term lessens the scope of the good news.
- Jesus was aware of history’s distortion of kingship and warns his followers of Gentile kings and kingdoms where “they recognise as their rulers, those who lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:42-43)
- Jesus uses a familial Aramaic word for his Father, referring to The King of the Kingdom as “Abba Father”. The family relationship between Jesus and God is that of his beloved Son.
- The heavenly Father has made known through the cross and resurrection the mystery of his will in Christ, “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and earth.”(Eph 1:16). This fulfills Jesus’s prayer that “your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven”. This view of the Kingdom encompasses the totality of God’s restoration of the creation.
I concluded that instead of allowing human history to define the term, it is far richer to stay with Jesus’s use of the term as the totality of God’s living, future reality breaking into the present. The earth is the Lord’s, not ours. The Psalms have the trees and the fields praising God. Terms like ‘kindom of God’ and ‘family of God’ actually restrict our understanding of the Kingdom of God to ‘a human and relational perspective’. And as important as this is, the Kingdom of God is far greater than that.
The Kingdom of God is God’s reality, so amazingly and devastatingly shown in the life, death and resurrection of the Son. The Kingdom of God is given as a “foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation.” (par 3, Basis of Union). The Kingdom of God is where we find a healing, redeeming and restoring perspective for God’s creation, with God’s people and purposes as the ultimate framework of life.
And the reporting of this Kingdom so contrasts with the ‘kingdoms of this world’!
Recently, I attended a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. It was explained that King George II stood at an early performance of the Messiah during this key chorus. He was acknowledging Jesus Christ, the true king, who is the King of kings. This is a Kingdom of the cross which when heard as the glory of God, offers a view of grace for the future, the planet, communities and each of us.
Rev Professor Dean Drayton