Jesus came proclaiming “repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.” The synoptics portray preaching the good news of the kingdom of God as Jesus’ mission. We like to say the kingdom began at Pentecost, but the gospel places the kingdom near, earlier, and in Luke Jesus says the kingdom has come to you (Luke 11:20). The kingdom of God should be understood as now-but-not-yet even to this day. It breaks in in stages and will find it’s culmination in the coming of Jesus.
What exactly does kingdom of God mean, and where did Jesus get that language from? It is rare in second temple literature and in the Old Testament. Here are concepts that can clue us in on what the kingdom of God means. (1) Based on the promises of the OT that God would, sometime in the future, act for the salvation of his people (2) Isaiah links the kingship or sovereignty of God with delivering the oppressed and bringing salvation (3) Jesus didn’t share the vision of other Jews and other literature regarding the kingdom of God, but it is rooted primarily in Isaiah (4) The Aramaic targums paraphrase expressions about the Lord reigning as “kingdom of God.” For example “the kingdom of the Lord of hosts will be revealed on mount Zion,” instead of “God will reign on Zion” (Isaiah 24:23) and “the kingdom of God is revealed” instead of “Here is your God” (Isaiah 40:9). What seems clear is avoidance of saying God because of Jewish piety. The kingdom of God is the reign of God—it is God’s deliverance, his faithfulness to a fallen creation. From here on out, I will call the kingdom of God “the reign/rule of God.”
Now let’s look at seven marks of God’s reign from Isaiah from seventeen passages ( 9:1-7; 11:24:14–25:12 ; 26; 31:1-32:20; 33; 35; 40:1-11; 42:1—44:8; 49; 51:1—52:2; 52:12—52:12; 54; 56; 60; 61; 62.) : Deliverance or salvation occurs in all seventeen deliverance passages; righteousness/justice 16 of the passages; peace in fourteen, joy in twelve, God’s presence as Spirit or light in nine; healing occurs seven times and return from exile nine times.
All of these mark out what God’s rule would look like. Isaiah envisions a time when Eunuchs and foreigners will be included in God’s community. He envisions that the blind, deaf and lame will be healed—the results of sin and the fall reversed (Isaiah 33:5-6). He envisions a land of Israel with no violence (peace) Isaiah 60:17-19. Isaiah envisions where sicknesses and infirmities will be healed and broken people will be shown compassion (Isaiah 42:1-3). Isaiah envisions justice and righteousness being the standard among his people and the poor are giving food and drink (Isaiah 58:6-7), instead of the poor being oppressed and their faces grinded in the dirt (Isaiah 3:14-15). He envisions a time where slaves will be liberated and the year of the Lord proclaimed (the first century Jews understood Isaiah 61 to refer to Jubilee) (Isaiah 61:1-4). There is nothing wholly “spiritual” about Isaiah’s vision, it’s very concrete, “on the ground” social, political and spiritual.
So how does Jesus understand God’s rule? Jesus manifests the rule of God “in his life and deeds.” God’s reign had come in Jesus in feeding the hungry, healing the sick, paying attention to women and children (and defending them), forgiving debt (Matt 18:23-25); in the peacemaking of forgiveness and including social outcasts (harlots, tax collectors and eunuchs). When John ask if Jesus is really the Messiah, he does not point him toward some mystical spiritualism, but said “tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the poor have the good news preached to them” (Luke 7:18-28) (btw, these aren’t spiritually poor, just as lepers, blind, and lame aren’t spiritual ailments).
Similarly the beatitudes echo Isaiah:
Good news to the oppressed…the year of the Lord’s favor/ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Isaiah 61:1; Matt 5:43)
To bind up the brokenhearted…too comfort all who mourn/ Blessed are those who mourn , for they shall be comforted (61:1, 2; 5:4)
They will inherit a double portion in their land/ Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth (good news for exiled people, or any people who are not getting their fair share and being taken advantage of) (61:7; 5:5)
They shall be called oaks of righteousness/ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness (righteousness here goes back to justice and righteousness of Isaiah) (61:3; 5:6)
Notice these echoes come from Isaiah 61, specifically where he began preaching the good news is at hand, Luke gives us insight into his missional statement, the passage that identified his work and shaped his vocation (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 60:1-4), where as, Mark and Matthew just say “kingdom of God is near.” To proclaim liberty is certainly an echo of Moses’ proclamation of liberty during Jubilee (Lev 25:10). Yes, Jesus forgave sins and released people from the power of satan, but that can’t be separated from his healings, his table fellowship, and his defending his disciples against the authorities of his day.
To forgive and invite sinners to a table, was to restore them back to community, where they could be loved and protected, we must never miss the social-political and spiritual nature of Jesus’ deeds and words. As disciples we are participators in the rule of God and his grace . I am convinced that our doctors, social workers, scientists, accountants, whomever, are to be doing these very same things today.
Just as proclaiming Jesus as Lord after having killed most everyone in the town isn’t the good news, I think a good news message of God’s loving rule without a manifestation of that rule too is inadequate. It’s not, feed people so that they can hear the good news, or give people the good news so that you can feed them; the manifestation of God’s rule cannot be divided in such a way, feeding people IS God’s rule (Matt 25), and it cannot be separated from telling who Jesus is and calling people to repentance. It is not just rescuing people from the consequences of their sins but from their sins (Matt 1:18-25; Matt 5-7)
What is the kingdom of God? It is God’s loving rule over creation, that we participate in, through the power of his Spirit. God’s visible rule through the cross that Jesus bore and that we must bear.
“Repent and believe the good news”