Part 6 of series:
What Was the Message of Jesus?
Where is the Kingdom of God?
So far in this series we’ve seen that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God using a variety of words and works. The essence of his message is summarized in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Growing up as a Christian, I always read this verse as saying: “The time for your personal salvation has arrived. Be sorry for your sins and believe in Jesus as your Savior so you will go to heaven after you die.” After having spent much of my life studying Jesus, I no longer believe this is what Jesus meant in Mark 1:15, though I still believe in the truth of what I once attributed to Jesus. We do experience personal salvation through Jesus, partly through acknowledging our sins so that we might trust Jesus as our Savior. Our salvation does include life beyond physical death. But I don’t any longer believe this is what Jesus meant when he proclaimed the presence of the kingdom. Part of my problem in the past was that I wasn’t clear on the location of the kingdom of God.
The language of Mark 1:15 certainly suggests that God’s reign is coming on earth. This fits, as we have seen previously, with the promise found repeatedly in the Hebrew prophets: someday God will come to reign on earth, establishing justice and peace for his people and, indeed, for all nations.
The earthly location of God’s reign is also revealed in one of the core teachings of Christian faith, that which we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 6 Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven . . . . (Matt 6:9-10).
The parallelism of this prayer interprets “your kingdom come” as “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, we are to pray that God’s reign will be experienced on earth as it is right now in God’s own heavenly presence. When God’s rule is completely established in this world, then all things will be ordered according to God’s perfect design.
It’s fascinating to discover how much this prayer of Jesus is similar to the prayers offered up by faithful Jews in the first century. Consider, for example, the following prayer that many scholars believe to have been offered daily in the time of Jesus:
“May God establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time.” (Kaddish prayer)
Sounds quite a bit like, “Thy kingdom come”, doesn’t it?
Then there’s the eleventh blessing of the so-called Eighteen Benedictions that were spoken during weekly synagogue services:
“Restore our judges as at the first, and our counselors at the beginning; and reign Thou over us, Thou alone. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who lovest judgment!” (Benediction 11 of the “Eighteen Benedictions”)
By proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near, Jesus was saying that these prayers were being answered. God was beginning to rule on earth as he did in heaven – in the ministry of Jesus himself.
When I have taught before on the location of the kingdom of God, people sometimes remain unconvinced. “What about the kingdom of heaven?” they wonder. “And didn’t Jesus himself say his kingdom was not of this world? How do you explain these passages?” In my next post I’ll address these questions.