By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
Luke’s usage of the word, “kingdom” and expression, “kingdom of God” provides an invaluable insight into the whole concept as it was used in the first century. From my studies in Daniel, the kingdom of God is not something that is built, or set up. For Daniel, God’s kingdom is His rule in the heavenlies above all the kingdoms of human beings. The confession, or rather, the emphasis in that Prophet is that God’s kingdom is not something that “will be” or something that is “set up.” God rules the affairs of all human beings and controls history “according to his will”.
That being said, Daniel also foresees a kingdom that is “set up” in the form of a small rock that grows to become the only mountain on the face of the whole earth. This naturally suggests “growth”. A rock is nowhere near the size of a mountain, but becomes a mountain over time. As stated, in Daniel there is an obvious contrast between the kingdom of God, and the kingdom that will be “set up”. One may say that it is the Kingdom of God that will set up a kingdom of his people on earth.
For example, the kingdom was “given” to Nebuchadnezzar. This is not God’s kingdom itself, but rather the earthly powers to operate a kingdom on earth. Darius “receives” the kingdom after the fall of Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar. God “gives” a kingdom to “whomsoever he wills” according to Daniel. Thus, when we understand Kingdom/kingdom as one over the other, we can see that this insight falls right in line with Luke’s usage of the term as he recorded it from the mouth of Jesus.
Luke’s primary emphasis is on the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom that is, that is eternal, that has no beginning and no end. God’s Kingdom is God’s own rule itself and is closely associated with his own power and authority over all creation. God does not wait for a time when he will rule, but rather rules because that is His attribute (sovereignty) over all things of His creation. God’s Kingdom rules over both the “wicked and the righteous.” If there were to be any aspect in which the rule of God over all things is not currently possessed it would be the contrast between what is “seen” and what is “not seen.” Jesus likened the rule of the Spirit to the wind, which is always there (like wind), but it not seen. So, too, is the Kingdom of God omnipresent even though it is not “seen”. This is not at all a denial that its properties and design is a permanent fixture, or that it cannot be seen, for there were times when the Prophets did catch glimpses of the Kingdom behind the veil of “the seen” (the world of appearances). The marvelous aspects of Daniel’s visions are that God gives him occasional peaks behind the scenes of the historically mundane (mundus). Daniel is visited by angels, flashing glimpses of powers, and hears from a book (among many books opened before the Ancient of Days) that foretells the events of the mundane to come. Daniel’s message is clear: God’s Kingdom rules the affairs of human beings. Nebuchadnezzar learned this lesson the hard way: “I blessed the Most High and to him who lives to the age I praised and I glorified him whose Dominion is a Dominion of age, whose Rule is generation to generation. And all who inhabit the land are not taken into account. And he wills it, doing among the force of the heavens and those who dwell on the land. There is none to strike with his hand and say to him, ‘What have you done?’”
Now, seeing that we must pay heed to Nebuchadnezzar’s confession of truth, let us now look at Luke. In one place, Luke writes, “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” This demonstrates God’s power to heal at any time since he rules over all things. The Kingdom of God comes “near” to those who are so touched by the healing power of God. The verb “has come near” is in the Perfect tense in the Greek text, showing that when healing occurs – a direct touch of the Spirit – the Kingdom of God has come close; a person is brushing right up next to it! The Kingdom of God is being displayed. The unseen healing power of God over flesh is restoring corrupted, ill flesh. If the gospel message of the disciples was not heard with faith, then Jesus instructed them to say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ Again, through the message that was announced, the word of the Kingdom, provided that it was a word of the Spirit, the Kingdom has come near to those who heard it, but did not pay heed. It is in their hearing of the word of the Kingdom, and that is about as close (near) as one can get.
In the prayer of Jesus, the Kingdom as asked to ‘come’. The Father is in heaven and his name is hallowed. His will is that his very own Kingdom “come” so that his will is done “on earth” as it “is” in heaven. This powerfully demonstrates the contrast between the Rule of God in heaven over all the affairs of human beings, his will being done “in heaven” and that it comes to be that His Kingdom is manifested “on earth” in the same manner. This is not a longing for simply having the Kingdom near or close in the unseen, but “coming” to be seen in the world with all of its power and manifestation. It is a prayer for a new heavens and a new land.
Apart from this, Luke continues in the same fashion as above: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Again, the casting out of demons was demonstration of the closeness of the Kingdom power over all things – even the demons. “Has come upon you” (again, Perfect tense) is not the same verb in “Your Kingdom come”. The former reflects the sense of having come upon those who are witnessing Jesus cast out demons, demonstrating his power over all things; the Kingdom of God. When God’s Kingdom “comes upon” or “is near” it is in terms of His unseen power over all things; His power demonstrated in a rebellious world; a world not yet engulfed by the power of His Kingdom in terms of 100% eradication of all evil, which is expressed in the ultimate display of the prayer: Your Kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven! For now, until then, the Kingdom “comes upon” in demonstration of its power over all things, and “comes near” in the same manner.
Jesus says, “He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” He then proceeds to give a parable of a mustard seed. A very tiny seed that “grows” and “becomes a tree.” This is like the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in which he saw a mere stone “become” a mountain that displaced all the other mountains. Now, as we have discussed, God’s Kingdom, his power and rule “in heaven” does not “grow”. It is from generation to generation. It rules from on High over the affairs of human beings. However, as we know, God’s people is also called a “kingdom” and “nation of priests.” They are not the same as we stated. God’s Kingdom is over the kingdom of His people which does grow as it spreads out in its announcement to the world: the Kingdom of God is close and speaks through the word of its people to the rebellious world. The kingdom of God (His people on earth) is the vehicle through which the Kingdom of God comes near to those who need to hear the message of the Love of the Father to the Son, and the Son’s Love to the Father. For now, the only visibility of the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of God’s people on earth who have been filled with God the Spirit, who seeks only to bring glory to the Son and the Father. Their King is not seen, who sits at the right hand of the Father. But He is proclaimed by the Spirit who witnesses to the manifestation His Presence before the Father. The message of the Spirit is plain: “Jesus is Lord!” Yet, because of the still unseen presence of the Kingdom, faith is the transforming gift of the Spirit that enables one to see with their understanding. For a time, God’s Kingdom has decreed that His people live in the tension between the seen and unseen. The unseen will become the seen. “Your Kingdom come!” But, until then, God’s people, who are His loyal and obedient subjects (who are being made to be as obedient as the Son is obedient to only the will of the Father) proclaim an unseen Kingdom and an unseen King.
The expanding of the kingdom of God is further demonstrated in Jesus’ words; “And there shall come from the east and the west and the north and the south: and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” This is hardly the beginning of a mustard seed! Rather, it is an inclusion of all nations coming from all four quarters of the earth; it is the people of God who have been gathered into one Kingdom. A kingdom of The Kingdom of God.
There is an exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus in which they ask, “when does the Kingdom of God come?” The same verb (“come”) is used in the Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. This shows the contrast between the fact that the Kingdom was “close” to them, but had not “come” in the manner of toppling the world and ushering a new heavens and new earth. Jesus’ answer is telling: “”The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.” Another translation has, “”The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed.” The things “observed” (a somewhat rare word), or “seen” is reflected in another place in Luke: “And it came to pass, when Jesus went into the house of one of the Pharisees, on the sabbath day, that they observed him.” In other words, they were watching his actions, observing them. Jesus states that the Kingdom of God, his rule and power, is not something that comes in terms of the mundane. Jesus’ Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is not of the world. It is not something that is created and observed in the manner of created things. It does not take its place among other kingdoms. It comes and will engulf all the mountains, being the only mountain standing. The Kingdom comes, Jesus replies, “from within” the people who are called. The mundane, heaven and earth as they are now, will “pass away” for the Kingdom will come “out of” heaven and refashion all things; all things now observable will be remade. Since, as we have seen, that the Kingdom of God is indeed “seen” through the glimpses of the Prophets; the angels, and heavenly courts and places, and the various activity, we are not to suppose that God’s Kingdom is a mere gaseous, nebulous, invisible, never seen, never to be witnessed empty space. God’s Kingdom is real and actual. But it will not come through the means of things observed; things seen (it is not a kingdom built by men). Rather, it comes from within and works itself out in the lives of those who are called to it. God’s Kingdom comes through his people who bring the Kingdom near to the world. Jesus is not saying “the Kingdom is not ever observable” but that it does not come as, say, the Roman Empire came: with observation. Or, say, the rise of Stalin in the Revolution of 1917. God’s Kingdom is not of this world, but the world will be transformed by it. As surely as the LORD said, “Let there be light, and there was” – so shall the coming Kingdom be: “Let the earth be renewed, and it was.” Just like that.
Jesus, in Luke, presses home this fact: “As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was about to appear immediately.” They preached already that the Kingdom was near those who heard their gospel. And, like Jesus being ‘near’ Jerusalem (same word, “close to Jerusalem”) they thought God’s Kingdom would come immediately at that time, engulf the world from within to without and transform all things. In other words, they knew that the Kingdom of God would come without observation, but that it would nonetheless come in a fashion that would transform the world in one flash. Jesus corrects their timing by giving a parable that reflects even our current situation. “He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And calling his ten servants, he gave them ten pounds and said to them: Trade till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent an ambassage after him, saying, We will not that this man reign over us.” Notice this. The nobleman went far off to receive a kingdom, and return. He returns after he has received the kingdom. Thus, he was made a king over the citizens. However, because he was afar off, the citizens had a choice to accept his kingdom, his rule, or reject it. His rule was a fact. He was a king. But, because he was not seen, the situation gave some of the citizens the courage to reject his rule. Had been seen, had he come, there would have been no opportunity to reject his kingship. In the same maner, the Kingdom of God is near, but it is not seen, and so may be rejected. “When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.” The king in this parable could no longer be denied. Instead, the citizens had to given an account to him for upon his return his kingship could no longer be rejected.
Likewise, when Jesus, in Luke, dealt with the coming catastrophe of Jerusalem at the hand of the Roman alliances, he said, “But when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand.” In like manner, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” We have already seen that for Luke, the “Kingdom of God” being “near” means that is close at hand and doing what it does in terms of demonstrating the power of God. In the very same manner that the Kingdom was “at hand” or “close” when Jesus casted out devils or healed the sick, or when the disciples preached the gospel of the Kingdom, it was at hand, close, directly demonstrating its power over all things. Jesus announcement, then, of the war of Rome with Judah (70-73 AD; 135 AD) was an announcement of God’s Kingdom coming near and displaying his power. It was God’s will that Jerusalem be demolished. His will was being done on earth. But, this is not at all the “coming of the Kingdom of God” in an of itself. The King rules and has been installed and sits at the right hand of the Father. However, His rule can be rejected and his Kingship can be denied as even existing by the citizens of the world…for a time. When the King does return, when the Kingdom does “come” on earth as it is in heaven, these same citizens will have no choice but to acknowledge the obvious. May this King have mercy.
Coming to a close, Jesus says, “And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me.” This, perhaps, most clearly demonstrates the Kingdom/kingdom motif in Luke. Jesus is not giving the subjects of the Kingdom of God His very power and rule. Rather, he is making them a “kingdom and priests” in the Kingdom of God. All power belongs to the King, who is the King of the kings, his subjects. “That you may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom: and may sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” For Luke this very observable Kingdom in the heavenlies will be enjoined by those who have been gathered together from the east, south, north and west. Jesus said, “For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” That’s when “Your Kingdom comes!” and the King returns with the full manifestation of his Presence in heaven, transforming all things, renewing all things so that there will only be One Mountain from one tiny rock.
At his death, the thief said to him, “Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus came into his Kingdom and received all power and authority. His answer to the thief tells us this: “Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” The thief was remembered. Jesus received his Kingdom in heaven, but, for a time, may still be rejected by human beings. And with his rejection as King, so too is the Assembly of God that is his kingdom on earth. They too are rejected as priests in his Kingdom. They are scorned and ridiculed and mocked. As they seek to do His bidding on earth, they too suffer the shame and humility he suffered. The suffering is His Servants is due to the Suffering of God’s Servant on the cross, in that we share in His once and for all suffering. We share in His once and for all death. And we shall also share in His once and for all resurrection when all things will be made new. Thy Kingdom come!