Kingdom of God (David McGregor)

Kingdom of God (David McGregor) July 18, 2012

David McGregor is a professor at Tabor Adelaide. Story: David and his wife took Kris and me out to eat in Adelaide, David made a wonderful choice for dinner … and then was interrupted by an emergency need at the hospital for his ailing father, he had to leave… and now we await another time to dine with David and enjoy some Barthian discussions!

Kingdom of God by David McGregor: The Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God ‘comes.’ It cannot be built, ushered in or extended by us – despite the way that many people talk of the mission and responsibility of the church these days – and despite the many prayers offered on Sunday mornings after the collection: ‘Lord these monies are for the extension of your kingdom’. Karl Barth maintained that any minister who thinks of his or her task as ‘building the kingdom of God’ should resign immediately!

Despite popular practice, one should not abstract the word ‘kingdom’ from the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ and use it as an adjective to identify a particular perspective or practice, as in ‘Kingdom Ethics’ or ‘Kingdom Living,’ for example.

What do you think about this “God” orientation of  “kingdom” and the way we use “kingdom” language?

Have you noticed the subjective genitives and the personal possessive pronouns in the biblical phrases ‘kingdom of God’, ‘Christ’s kingdom’, ‘his kingdom’, ‘my kingdom’ and ‘your kingdom’? This is because the kingdom of God is the kingdom of God. It has reference to God himself and not to anything else. It is about him and his action.

Drawing on his study of Jewish literature, the New Testament scholar Bruce Chilton tells us that the phrase is a reference to ‘the dynamic personal presence of God’. The kingdom of God, he says, is ‘God as he manifests himself for his people.’ It is ‘God in strength,’ ‘the sovereign activity of God,’ ‘the saving revelation of God himself.’

Joel Marcus, another New Testament scholar, tells us that it means ‘God’s Kingly power.’ It is for this reason that we must affirm, along with the early church father Origen, that Jesus Christ is the auto basileia – the kingdom of God in person. Jesus Christ is God himself come among us in Kingly power, acting to save us from the powers that enslave us in order to free us to be truly ourselves as we are truly his.

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  • Wolfgang Simson likes to say that a kingdom is the domain where the authority and rule of the king is unquestioned. And I believe he is right. So the Kingdom of the Most High is the domain where his authority and rule is unquestioned. If my life is fully submitted to him in complete obedience and worship, I am in the Kingdom. If my life is fully under my own control and I do whatever I like, I can hardly then claim to be in the Kingdom.

    In actual fact my life is partly one of submission and partly one of independence. I need to make some adjustments, I am not fully in the Kingdom.

    Isn’t there an element of obedience and obeisance about our King and his Kingdom? Any realm in which he is flouted and ignored is not de facto part of his Kingdom.

    If this is not correct, then what *is* the right view of Kingdom?

  • T

    I do think the verbs we see in the NT regarding the reign of God are helpful correctives. People “enter” the kingdom; they “receive” the kingdom (like children). It “had come upon” contemporaries of Jesus as he drove out demons by God’s Spirit. It “is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” God is pleased to “give” the kingdom. The Jewish leaders had the keys of the kingdom, (though they did not “go in” themselves and the prevented others from entering), and Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to his disciples. And many teach and announce the good news about the kingdom.

    I am curious why we talk about “expanding” or “advancing” the kingdom of God when the NT doesn’t really use that language.

  • Chris – perhaps you are getting at this same point from another angle, but, If I were to paraphrase my view of the Kingdom, I would not focus quite so much on submissive obedience as the “way” to be in the kingdom. Of course, those who live in the Kingdom now are obedient, but it is not an obedience the grows out of “I need to make some changes” as if kingdom life requires sacrifice. In its fullest expression kingdom life is obedience that flows naturally out of the heart of a person who knows that he is loved, accepted, and cherished by God irrespective of obedience.

    That’s my qualm with discussing the kingdom in purely “King” and “obedient subjects” terms. To me I implies that obedience is the goal, the Way to life in the kingdom. Obedience is certainly necessary, but it is necessary in that it is evidence of faith that I am secure in the love of God whether I am obedient or not. Obedience is the natural fruit of the freedom to relax in God’s presence, not something that needs to be done before we can stand in front of Him without fear.

    So I see the kingdom not so much as the realm where God’s authority is unquestioned, but as the realm where God’s love is the only authority, the only voice that is heard is that we need not sacrifice, but are sacrificed for. From this essence flows the natural response of obedience.

  • David’s lectures saved my faith. The time he took to explain Barth to me has assured my subtle Barthian undertones for life. The way in which he lives out his theology will be with me for life as an example. I hope you get another chance to dine with he and his wife.

  • CharlieO

    **What do you think about this “God” orientation of ”kingdom” and the way we use “kingdom” language?…. [The Kingdom of God] has reference to God himself and not to anything else. It is about him and his action.”**

    Yes. Certainly God’s kingdom is all about God, his initiative, his rule and reign, but to only be able to speak about it passively -like a bystander- seems really, well… wimpy. If the work of the Church is not somehow “advancing” God’s kingdom in the world, then what terminology should we use to indicate our participation(?) in that kingdom? Despite Barth’s objection, can we not legitimately ask that God would bless tithes and offerings for the work and purpose of his kingdom?

  • Scot McKnight

    T, advancing is in Matt 11:11-12 and par.

  • This feels like an important corrective gone too far. Our participation with God, most explicitly as the very Body of Christ, strongly suggests in language (if not explicitly in example) of the Church advancing the Kingdom through our faithfulness (a better term than obedience, in my mind).

  • Love it: “The kingdom of God ‘comes.’ It cannot be built.” This is why the verbs Jesus used matter. Never does he say that we are to build or expand the kingdom of God. Rather…”seek”…”enter”…”receive.”

  • J.L. Schafer

    I’ve always wondered about Matt 11:12. The old NIV says “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing,” which is consistent with this discussion; the kingdom is already advancing, we aren’t doing it. But the new NIV renders it like this: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.” Any ideas on what that could mean?

  • T


    I know about that one, but I didn’t mention it because of the interpretive problems. Also, the passage talks about the kingdom advancing, but it’s not really clear who the actors are and why. (Is John advancing the kingdom, or is he just a time marker in the passage? Is the “advancing” about Jesus’ ministry? Is the kingdom of God attacking or being attacked, or both? Are we supposed to follow the example of the “violent ones” or abhor them? Who are they? etc., etc.) In a nutshell, it’s not a passage that adds much clarity or support for the church to “advance the kingdom.”

  • T

    Sorry, meant to add a parenthetical “maybe?” after “the passage talks about the kingdom advancing.”

  • John W Frye

    “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” Acts 28:30-31

    Why was St. Paul so obsessed with proclaiming the kingdom of God if, indeed, we humans have nothing whatsoever to do with its presence?

  • If God’s Kingdom is a relationship or way or life or whatever, then is the term “Kingdom” a mistake that has lead many astray who interpret it in a straight-forward, modern way?

  • John W Frye

    If announcing the kingdom of God is a “speech act”, a proclamation that creates reality, then I disagree that we humans are passively resigned to just “receive” it.

  • Scot McKnight

    I want to defend those who use words like “establish” when it comes to kingdom. I think they are being accused of some kind of works righteousness…

    When I hear them say this they are not so much talking so much about what they are doing (though activism is often involved) but the values or substance of what their focus is. In other words, they are concentrating on such things as justice, peace, compassion and the like.

    They are, then, using “kingdom” over against “spiritual, private development.”

    So they are doing concrete actions that others are neglecting.

    Having said that, it is accurate to say the verbs with kingdom in the NT are things God does or things we do to receive or enter, and not things we do to make society better. Yet… I do wonder if working for the kingdom is not a fair-minded expression for those who want to follow Jesus in his own concerns with justice, peace, love and wisdom.

  • Kristin

    I thought that kingdom was akin to the Romans taking over and the soldiers going from town to town to simply inform people that hey, the Romans are in charge now. The kingdom of God is already “here”, Jesus has already defeated the enemy, and we simply proclaim that “hey, Jesus is actually the one in charge.” The difference between the Romans and Jesus is that the Romans forced everyone to do as they said right then and there, whereas Jesus has yet to *fully* assert himself as the true King and draw the final boundary of what belongs to him and what does not. We are forced into his submission, instead invited into the kingdom, but not even as subjects but as co-heirs with Christ.

  • Tim

    I can’t see how our participation in the Kingdom of God is not used in extending His Kingdom . One has already mentioned the Church being the body of Christ. God’s presence on earth today. I would like to add that we are His temple in whom He dwells. So i guess I do not see how we arn’t Kingdom of God particapants. All the while recognizing, He is King of, in and through our lives.

  • Kristin

    Oops, that last line meant to say “we are NOT forced into submission” Big difference.

  • Percival

    Is it still okay to pray ‘Your Kingdom come’ or should we just wait for it? I was always taught that any prayer that we pray comes with a possibility or a call that we may need to participate in the fulfillment of that prayer.
    It is a little unclear to me why this is an issue.

    It is interesting that you pointed to Matt 11:11-12 for the language of advancing but the eBible pop up window says the Kingdom ‘has suffered violence.’ What is the translation issue here?

  • Kristin

    To bring my comments full circle and to the topic at hand, I would say that “building” the kingdom doesn’t necessarily mean “conquest.” That type of kingdom building is obviously not up to us and I wouldn’t say converting people of “claiming territory for Jesus” is an act of kingdom building. However, once territory is claimed and kingdom established (by Christ) , the next step is to ‘dig in’ and build foundations, cities, and ways of life within that kingdom…I think this is the work of believers, guided by the Holy Spirit of course.

  • Scot McKnight

    Brief explanation:

    1. It is not entirely clear what biazetai in Matt 11:12 means: it can mean to “advance with powerful force” or “to suffer violence.”
    2. The parallel at Luke 16:16 says “evangelized” at the same place; otherwise it is quite the same.
    3. This leads to the options of whether biazetai is positive (advance, evangelize) or negative (suffered violence).
    No way to know with utter confidence with the evidence we have. I tend to think it is not necessary to make biazetai negative in Matt 11:12 since it would be two negatives (both saying the same thing largely) while the parallel at Luke clearly has a positive and a negative (though Luke might have two positives — “take it by storm”).

    Put together: those who want to say the NT never uses “advances” or see humans at work in kingdom work may well trip over this text; no need to make exaggerations; majority of texts are reception and waiting and yearning for (while also entering etc).

  • J.L. Schafer

    As I understand it, the key issue is not whether God’s people play a role in what God is doing to establish, proclaim, reveal, advance his kingdom. Clearly we do play a role. For me, the real question is, who’s in charge? Who’s instigating, directing, empowering? The essence of missional church (and I know that many people use and misuse that faddish term in so many ways) is that the church needs fresh understanding of how to give the agency for mission back to whom it belongs: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We need to put aside the notion of heroic and zealous Christians grabbing hold of a vision (for evangelizing the world, serving the poor, whatever) and making it happen by hard work and faith, and replace it with genuine interaction with the Triune God and continuous, humble reliance upon him.

  • DRT

    Nate W#3 says “but it is not … as if kingdom life requires sacrifice. In its fullest expression kingdom life is obedience that flows naturally.”

    That’s exactly the way I experience it. I am most content and most alive and most happy when I feel I am in the KoG. I believe those who say it is sacrifice and hard work are missing something, though it may require that for them….

    My brain says the kindom is not here, or there, but everywhere. It exists but many of not yet entered it. Therefore we help build the kingdom by bringing citizens, not by increasing its footprint on earth.

    We receive it where we are, enter it without moving, it is a change within us not without.

    So building the kingdom has more to do with people and their participation than anything else.

    The kingdom suffers by force when we win people away from god by temptation or plain old violence.

    just my view

  • T


    For my part, I wasn’t trying to contrast NT usage and modern usage and say the difference is passivity vs. activity. I do think that the difference of verbs is worth looking at, particularly if it belies a difference in understanding. I don’t think “seek first” “enter” “receive” or “proclaim” reflect passivity for the church vis a vis the kingdom of God.

  • T

    Also, FWIW, one analogy I like, for Americans, is the presidential “Administration” as in the Obama Administration or the Bush Administration. One of the best parts of the analogy, IMO, is that Presidents don’t do everything personally. They authorize and empower people to do things on behalf of or “in the name of” the President or the whole country. So, I do think that there is obedience and participation and all these things present in the kingdom or reign of God and that God’s activity most definitely does not mean our inactivity. We do things “in his name.” He has given his church the authority and power to do many things as such. When we “enter” the kingdom, I think it is more akin to entering an administration rather than just crossing an invisible geographic line. We are pulled into the activities and agenda of the king. The other best thing about the analogy, IMO, is the sense of motion. We tend to think of “kingdom” in static terms. But an “Administration” is on the move; it’s a noun with legs. The kingdom of God, the reign of Christ, is an administration; we enter with assignments and authority to act ready and waiting.

  • Lance Vaughters

    Just a couple of comments for # 9, 18, 20

    1. Matt 11:12- the specified time “from John until now” short duration of time. specifically the time during which Daniel’s prophecy was expected to be fulfilled. Messianic in scope and sequence. Therefore the kingdom was expected to come the big question was who would administer it? There is a group of people who think that violence and bloodshed (circumcision) is the only way to enter the Kingdom of which they are the self appointed gate keepers. These are the violent men. They are in opposition to both John’s doctrine of repentance and Jesus’ doctrine of repentance (tshuva – returning to torah as opposed to tradition of men) . The evidence of a true returning to Torah is that they receive Jesus and his teaching since they now have the author of Torah doing a book signing and interpretation. Once John and Jesus appear in the time and space that Israel is expecting the Kingdom of God there is instant conflict because the teachings of John and Jesus do NOT require human bloodshed (circumcision/ violence) only repentance and immersion, signifying a return to original Torah as taught by it’s original author, Jesus. Since the author of Torah is Jesus and it is this author who is also the king of the Kingdom, he is the only one who can make a statement about the level of violence in the His kingdom.
    In the first century the way you entered the Kingdom of God, (AKA commonwealth of Israel and ) was by being circumcised and being baptized into or under the rabbi that taught you his version of torah. ie. Paul would have had two baptisms, one under Gamaliel and one into Jesus. this is one of the reasons Paul is so hard on the circumcision issue because what is at stake is the entrance of the rest of Adam’s race into the commonwealth of Israel or God’s kingdom.
    2. When we repeat the prayer of Jesus called the Lord’s prayer we are repeating about 6 points of an ancient Israelite prayer called the Amidah ( ). the prayer on the lips of most Jews and Israelis for five centuries previous to Jesus was that Messiah’s kingdom would come. Jesus reinforces this petition and embeds it into his teaching on prayer. When we pray this back to God in our prayer times we are asking God to establish his kingdom in us as it is already established in the eternal realms. Since by His Spirit we now have an eternal realm in us it is appropriate that we continue to pray this and to act in concert with ALL the principles laid out in All scripture to establish it in OUR lives. This path, once embarked upon will lead us into deeper discipleship and conformity to Jesus. We then become the agents of establishing Messiah’s kingdom here on earth ( a kind of marines “a few good men” though we are not good except by his gracious gift of Spirit and life). We are called individually and corporately, to live the good news by walking and demonstrating THE Kingdom in every aspect of our life.

    My Grace & Peace be what marks our existence through Jesus,

  • Scot,

    Is it fair to say that part of this can be chalked up to synecdoche? Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven but is it heaven’s kingdom? No, it’s God’s kingdom. The same with phrases like “kingdom living” – it is just one snapshot of things involved in the overarching and overreaching kingdom of God. What does life in God’s kingdom look like? We would call that kingdom living, right? It is all about God just like “kingdom of heaven” is all about God. By the terms of this article (when he writes things like “It has reference to God himself and not to anything else.”) Jesus should have just stuck with kingdom of God – That is where synecdoche comes into play even in Jesus’ own use of kingdom language.

  • Tom F.

    Okay, abstract theology aside, what is missing right now is a good adjective.

    What do you put in “….” living or “…….” ethics if not Kingdom?

    Christian?- “Christian living” as a phrase evokes tepid images of not swearing and not drinking. It is generic and has become a domesticated phrase. “Christian ethics” is okay, and maybe helpful within non-Christian contexts, but becomes redundant within the church. It doesn’t really tell you anything about what kind of ethics the person is going to do, or what the focal point of those ethics are (i.e., love, the cross, the kingdom, reconciliation, liberation, ect.)

    Missional?- Perhaps better, but a lot of people still think this just means doing missions.

    Godly?- As in Godly living? Likely not.

    Or take “Kingdom work”- I get why this may not work, but there aren’t a lot of good options. “Christian work”- is at a church? No? Than why are you calling it Christian?

    I think Kingdom- happened because there is a very strongly felt need to use new language to get past old dichotomies. (Like church work-secular work SO Kingdom work, or love ethic-divine command ethic SO Kingdom ethic, or Christian living-“Being of the world” SO Kingdom living). I get that this is theologically sub-optimal, but I can tell you, people are going to keep saying it until better language comes along.

    If we made Kingdom of God into stock phrases, like “God’s kingdom ethics” or “living in God’s Kingdom” would that work theologically, at least temporarily until a better concise adjective came along?

  • Lance Vaughters

    wondering why my comments weren’t posted?

  • Lance Vaughters

    seems to be a bit of selective comment posting going on. why do some posts have to wait for moderation?

  • RJS


    Your comment was sent to trash by an automatic filter – no moderating or human decision involved. I think it was the links that caused the problem.

  • Lance Vaughters

    what was wrong with the links? they were in support of the points that were made. is there a way of retrieving the post and sending it back to me so that i can remove the “offending” links?

  • RJS

    I already retrieved it (#26 above) – and often it is not what the links are, but simply that there are two or more links.

  • Stephen Williams (Tabor Student Australia)

    Great post thank you to all participants for great thoughtfulness.
    While the surface of the question seems to me to be about how our language used in describing our partcipation in the KOG does or doesnt harmonise with the language used in our scriptural Story..and thats important and instructive… the more personal/less abstarct question seems at heart to be about how we interact with the KOG and how the KOG interacts with us…On this matter I have found Eugene Petersons explanation of what he called “willed passivity” helpful (see “Is Growth a Decision” pp.95-109 in his book The Contemplative Pastor)

  • Meri

    Maybe I’m showing my ignorance here, but with all the popular discussions of kingdom these last few years, I sometimes wonder if we’re overthinking it.

    We have to remember that Jesus was trying to change a paradigm of the old Israelite/Jewish notion of kingdom as a political and geographical empire, one in which historically they felt they had when they were faithful and lost when they were unfaithful. Now the Messiah arrives and spends most of his ministry reinforcing a Garden of Eden – like kingdom in which no one cared about politics or power or land ownership. At least not until the fall, that is. They were told to be caretakers. Jesus is simply trying to redirect us to want to be who God created us to be and understand how truly great a world we can live in when we function as caretakers.

    To argue about whether it is our works or God’s action or whether we should work to usher it in or wait for it seems to me to miss the point. God’s kingdom doesn’t get ushered or delivered; it simply is. We can choose to be a citizen of it –growing in our ability to be good citizens — or not.

    All kinds of good things happen when we love to love the garden, animals, and fellow man. This is God’s kingdom: where paradoxically, those who are humble are great, those who seek to love are loved, those who give away the most receive the most. It’s a win-win society. But we have to decide we want it and participate in it.

  • TJJ

    I think the distinction is a fair and correct one. We can enter, proclaim, live in accordance with, and pray for TKOG it to come in fullness, but we can’t don’t establish it or extend it make it happen.

  • Nate W (3) – I agree with you that love draws us to obey. Jesus said, ‘If you love me you will do what I say’. But that is just saying that if we love him we will be in the Kingdom (the realm in which he is obeyed).

    I think it’s like faith and works. If we have faith we will be active, but we don’t develop faith by working. Love results in obedience. Faith results in deeds.

    Perhaps there is little or no difference between us. Maybe we’re simply expressing the same thing in different ways! As you said, ‘the same point from a different angle’.

  • Thanks Scott for your tweets on the kingdom of God. My former prof and friend Mark T Nation enjoyed hearing your presentation at AAR.