Where is Jesus’ Kingdom?

Where is Jesus’ Kingdom? September 23, 2019
“King of Hearts” by Ron Peters

An earthly kingdom is defined by the extent of the king’s authority. The limits of his authority are typically marked off geographically. A landmark, whether natural like a river or mountain range or one that is man made, indicates that on one side you’re under the king’s authority and on the other side you’re not.

Another thing that defines a kingdom is its capital city. This is where the king’s palace is. It is the seat of his authority. All the surrounding territory that looks to that city as its capital is part of the kingdom. Sometimes, like with Rome, the empire takes the name of the capital city.

So what are the markers of Jesus’ kingdom?

The Kingdom of Heaven

The NT uses two different designations for the kingdom. The more popular one is “Kingdom of God.” Matthew’s Gospel is unique, in that the favored expression is “Kingdom of Heaven.” Both are helpful for understanding the nature of the kingdom.

We’ll start with Matthew first. I think the reason he likes “Kingdom of Heaven” is because it places God’s kingdom in sharp contrast with worldly kingdoms. The traits that humans are used to using when defining kingdom don’t apply to God’s. It’s not defined geographically. It doesn’t have an army nor does it hold together through military might.

Nevertheless, there are some familiar traits that do apply to God’s kingdom. Since God reigns over the entire earth and his throne is in heaven, his kingdom is defined by its capital. The city in which the king resides defines the kingdom.

Matthew makes this explicit. When the magi come to find the child born King of the Jews, they naturally go to the capital city of the Jews. To their surprise, the child is not there. This is one of the many details that, for Matthew, illustrate how different this kingdom is. It doesn’t radiate out from an earthly city. The King of God’s Kingdom reigns from his heavenly throne.

As it says in Psalm 11:4, heaven is God’s throne room.

The Kingdom of God

The rest of the NT writers go with the designation “Kingdom of God.” God’s kingdom is defined by the extent of his reign. Wherever God reigns, you have his kingdom.

One the one hand, as we have already established, God is the sovereign ruler over all creation. There is no place where God doesn’t reign as king.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, this world is filled with rogue nations who do not submit to God’s reign. This is the paradox of God’s reign. His kingdom fills the world, a world that is filled with rogue states.

In Matt. 13, Jesus uses several parables to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. In 24-30, he uses the parable of the weeds to illustrate that, currently, God’s kingdom is mixed in with the world. However, there will come a day when the kingdoms will be separated. See 36-43 for Jesus’ further explanation of the parable.

In 31-32, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed, which begins small but grows into a large tree. Likewise, God’s kingdom, though currently small, will someday dwarf all the nations and kingdoms of this world.

Verse 33 echoes the parables of the weeds. In this parable, Jesus says that just as a small batch of yeast works its way into a large lump of dough, so too God’s kingdom is working its way into the entire world.

These parables teach us that God’s kingdom is currently in this world. It exists in the midst of these rogue nations that are destined to pass away. So how do we know when we’re within the boundaries of God’s kingdom?

The Reign of God

The extent of God’s kingdom is defined by people, not geography. In the OT, even after the Israelites lost their land and were taken into exile, they maintained their identity as a nation. This was because God’s reign over them as king could be maintained no matter where they lived.

In Deut. 10:12-22, God summarizes his requirements for his people. What does he require of them? That they fear the Lord, walk in his ways, love him, and serve him. As long as they do this, they demonstrate that he is their lord and king. Wherever this is practiced, God reigns.

The People of God

Israelites were defined by a number of key features that differentiated them from the nations around them. One of these features was circumcision. I think we know enough about this process that I can skip any further explanation. What I find intriguing is that, in Deut. 10:16, God tells the Israelites to “circumcise the foreskins of your hearts.”

This really helps us to understand how God’s kingdom is defined. In the same way a circumcised body looks different than others, so also a circumcised heart is different than others. A circumcised heart prioritizes the fear of the Lord. It values walking in God’s ways, loving him, and serving him.

The reign of God begins in the hearts of men and women. People who circumcise their hearts by embracing love for God and his ways are the citizens of God’s kingdom. This kind of heart circumcision is repeated by Paul in Rom. 2:29. Here Paul writes, “Real circumcision is a matter of the heart – it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.”

God’s people, the citizens of God’s kingdom, are people with circumcised hearts. God’s reign is present wherever there are people who have circumcised hearts. Since Jesus came, people who circumcise their hearts embrace him as lord. They love him, fear him, serve him, and walk in his ways.

This is why God’s kingdom can’t advance through force. People can be forced to act in certain ways through threats and violence. However, heart change can only happen when a person willingly submits to transformation. This can only happen when the person is completely free to accept or reject the transformation.

Conclusion

Jesus said, “Where two or more are gathered together, I am there among them.” You will find God’s kingdom anywhere people whose hearts are circumcised gather together. God’s kingdom reigns in the hearts of his people.

About Ron Peters
Ron Peters is Professor of New Testament at Great Lakes Christian College. He has numerous publications on the New Testament and Greek Language and Linguistics. He is co-host of the After Class Podcast. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS General Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Raymond

    What about the Vatican?

  • JAC Laferriere

    Since I have struggled with the whole Kingdom thing I appreciate your comments. Despite the many descriptions by Jesus, I don’t really understand the Kingdom, let alone have the ability to live it. I recently have been contemplating the Kingdom as described as one of the Sephiroth in the Kabbalah. Not sure if this advances the thinking in this, but it’s a start.

  • John Purssey

    The term “kingdom” is problematic. Despite the gospel writers trying to tell their audiences that God’s (or Heaven’s, for Matthews audience who avoided using “god” as a term ) kingdom is radically different from earthly government in general people confuse it with a political power organisation. This leads to such statements as saying that nations have not submitted to God’s kingdom, as though it could be a theocracy based on power.

    To avoid this, some theologians have preferred to use Godly reign rather than kingdom.
    I think we need to bridge our cultural distance more clearly, and suggest that we think in terms of a godly culture, which ISTM is a concept that better communicates the idea.

  • rationalobservations?

    A false conclusion appears to be: “This is why God’s kingdom can’t advance through force.”
    In the absence of evidence of the existence of any of the millions of fictional, undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men and the rapidly growing absence of belief in the religions that invented some of them – it appears that the only way that a regime that bases it’s authority upon the existence of one or another invented deity can impose its authority is through force.

    The history of christianity can be traced back to the 4th century when the Roman messianic “Jesus” based cult was cobbled together from mostly pagan components before being brutally and murderously imposed upon the then known world. The loyal and devout “pagans” accounted for some 95 % of the population of the Roman empire and it was only the decree to convert to “Jesusism” or die that introduced that then new heresy to a world in which only 5% followed any of the several messianic cults among which Mithra-ism was probably the most popular and widely followed by the Roman military in particular.

    “Jesusism” was imposed through force and enforced by force through dark ages of oppression terror and torture, 9 genocidal crusades and over 300 years of Europe wide inquisition.

    It is becoming clear that when education and free, secular democracy replaced the ignorance and totalitarianism of enforced religion – the authority of “the church” declined to the nonexistent state it represents today while education and godless free peaceful secular democracy is followed by the majority of citizens of the developed world.

    Fewer than 18% of Americans and fewer than 6% of Europeans remain active within any of the currently declining businesses of religion in the developed western world and unless another religionist tyrant dictator manages to overthrow democratic governments – the decline of religion appears set to continue?
    https://pics.me.me/in-the-entire-first-christian-century-jesus-is-not-mentioned-17397524.png
    https://religionnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/GallupImportance.png
    https://pics.me.me/atheist-logie-107-venus-vishnu-xipe-yam-ymir-or-zeus-8705872.png

  • billwald

    God’s kingdom is a concept, not a location, same as freedom, peace, happiness, safety, and their opposites. As the so goes “‘Freedom’s just another name for “nothing left to lose’.”

  • AntithiChrist

    Is there a way to be a member of the Christian faith, and NOT desire to live in a kingdom?

    Many of us folks still have a real big soft spot for living in a democracy.

  • davidt

    Ha now that’s funny.

    I always say be good or you will be stuck with those that most annoy you forever.

  • davidt

    Yes when we get rid of religion the world will be purified of the defective flawed humans that religion is. Then finally we can go about building our Utopia. Future as we see it!¡ Very southern Baptist in secular drag btw. Really deep.

  • AntithiChrist

    As long as I get that big ol’ mansion, and my morning harp-shaped bagel with lox and cream cheese, and all the gold I can eat, and all the breakfast, lunch, and dinner caffeine I can inject, I really don’t care what you call it.

    Cheers.

  • rationalobservations?

    Don’t be so silly.
    No sign of utopia but the absence of religious totalitarianism reduces distopia.