The Kingdom of God: Understand and Enter It
The Kingdom of God was the central theme of Jesus’ preaching.
As soon as John the Baptist baptized Jesus and Jesus overcame His temptations, He was ready for His ministry. Jesus took over John’s message (Matthew 3:2) and started to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.
“From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
The Kingdom of God was the central theme of Jesus’ preaching.
However, Jesus did more than John the Baptist did. Through His healings and miracles, He demonstrated that the Kingdom of God is real and available now.
“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)
A Semantic Introduction
In the four Gospels, more than 125 verses refer to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. This is important because this number is equal to the combined number of verses including the words sin (52 verses), sins (31 verses), sinner (9 verses), faith (29 verses), and grace (4 verses).
Some theologians say that the Kingdom of God is not the same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven. However, many parallel Scriptures use the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew and the Kingdom of God in the other Gospels. Therefore, in my opinion, this distinction is not justified.
Instead, what I find significant is that Matthew uses almost exclusively the term “Kingdom of Heaven” (in 32 out of 37). All the other Gospels use the Kingdom of God (49 verses) only. This use seems to suggest that Mathew preferred to use the term Kingdom of Heaven. Mathew’s choice may be because of his background or the audience he was addressing.
Further, Jesus did not preach two different Gospels of the Kingdom. Matthew used this term in three verses without other clarification. If there were two meanings, to which was he referring?
Therefore, for the remaining of this article, I will hold that the two terms are equivalent and will use the term Kingdom of God.
The Jewish National Perspective
For the Jews, the Kingdom of God always has a national interpretation. The Old Testament and the Law addressed or represented all spiritual things on the physical level. In a way, the physical symbols were more important than the things they represented.
They believed they worshiped the only true God. Therefore, their kingdom was also God’s Kingdom.
Because they continuously struggled with national independence, they waited for the Messiah. The One who would finally free them from foreign bondage.
Nathanael’s response when he first met Jesus also reflects this nationalistic perspective:
“Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John_1:49)
Even when John the Baptist preached repentance, he interpreted it as a way to reconnect the backsliding nation with God and to bring about a national deliverance.
Then, he started to see that Jesus’ message lacked a nationalistic focus. Jesus was not the kind of Messiah the Jews expected. This is why John the Baptist became confused and sent his followers to Jesus to ask Him if He was the One they were waiting for (Luke 7:19-23).
Jesus’ Preaching Had a Spiritual, not a Political Perspective
Many of the things that Jesus did and said offended the Jewish leaders.
- When Jesus preached of the Kingdom, He did not address the Roman occupation of Israel. He disappointed many Jews.
- Jesus used a new language and perspective. His teachings dealt with the eternal, inner issues of life, not the political issues of the day.
- His parables did not incite the hearers to revolt against the Roman domination, but to love their enemies.
- Jesus ministered to tax collectors, prostitutes, unclean Samaritans, and Romans. Jesus addressed God as our Father. That did not sit well with the Jewish leaders’ self-righteous attitude.
- The Jewish leaders were greedy for power. They only wanted the defeat of the Roman enemies. They were self-righteous and did not feel the need for repentance.
Those who accepted Jesus were the needy, sick and poor because He had compassion for them. They followed Jesus because He delivered and healed them.
Even Jesus’ Disciples Were Confused About the Kingdom of God
The disciples shared the common held Jewish belief that the Messiah would restore the freedom of the nation of Israel. They hoped that Jesus was the One to do it, but His death on the cross seemed to destroy their hope (Luke 24:21).
During His ministry, Jesus’ preaching focus on the Kingdom had not been enough to correct their worldly perspective and beliefs.
“To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them’” (Mark 4:11-12).
Then, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples for forty days, again to teach them more about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Nevertheless, they still did not get it. Their question, as Jesus was leaving them to go to Heaven, makes this clear (Acts 1:6)
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6)
In the following verses, Jesus’ answer was the solution for their spiritual blindness. They needed the Holy Spirit to show the truth about the mystery Kingdom of God to them (Acts 1:7-8).
After the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, they still needed freedom from some of their Old Testament, religious ideas. This issue, however, no longer came up.
Seeking First God’s Kingdom Rather Than Worldly Pursuits
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
These verses explain the meaning and context Jesus gave to the Kingdom of God. They also disprove any nationalistic interpretation of Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom. They show that the Kingdom relates to:
- spiritual laws, not a physical kingdom
- our fears, desires and wants
- our priorities and attitudes
- our relationship with and trust in God
- our righteousness
These verses also show that, although seeking the Kingdom is not a materialistic pursuit, it can also satisfy our emotional and material needs.
The Kingdom of God Is not of This World
The chief priests delivered Jesus to Pontius Pilate because of their spiritual jealousy and because He did not fulfill their nationalistic aspirations. Then, Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews. Jesus’ answer was clear. His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom.
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’” (John 18:36)
Some Benefits of the Citizens of the Kingdom
The beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount show that your blessings and happiness come from this spiritual dimension.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
How to Become a Citizen of the Kingdom of God
Jesus also explained to Nicodemus, one of the religious leaders, how the natural man could not understand or enter the Kingdom of God. He needs to be re-born spiritually to become a citizen of this Kingdom because it is a spiritual kingdom.
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’
Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’
Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:3-8)
The Kingdom of God – Today
Today we have an advantage over Nicodemus and even the disciples. We have the New Testament to help us to understand what Nicodemus found confusing. We have many who have preceded us into the Kingdom. Jesus commissioned them to share their experience and recruit new citizens, us. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Once we are born-again, we also have the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the reality and dimensions of the Kingdom of God (John 16:13).
The Kingdom of God is not something we observe externally, it is within us, and it is revealed by the Holy Spirit inside us. We don’t need to go to Heaven to experience it. We can live in it now.
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
The Future Kingdom
There are Scriptures in the Old and New Testament prophetically describing the Kingdom that will be established at Christ’s return.
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev 11:15)
This future Kingdom is not more real than the Kingdom we can enter in now because the spiritual world is eternal and the source of all reality.
This topic is even more complex, and it raises some interesting questions I cannot deal with in this article.
I will continue on the topic of the Kingdom of God as it applies to us today to better understand and experience its reality.
Questions to Consider
- Share your experience and evidence of the existence of the Kingdom of God.
- How would you define the Kingdom of God in one sentence?