Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza

Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God or Reign of God (Greek: Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ - Basileia tou Theou,) is a foundational concept in the three Abrahamic faiths, and most notably within Christianity, where it constitutes the central theme of Jesus of Nazareth's message in the synoptic Gospels. The phrase occurs in the New Testament more than 100 times, and is defined almost entirely by parable. According to Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God is within (or among) people, is approached through understanding, and entered through acceptance like a child, spiritual rebirth, and doing the will of God. It is a kingdom peopled by the righteous and is not the only kingdom.

English translation

In the synoptic Gospels (which most scholars believe were all written in Greek), Mark and Luke use the Greek term "Basileia tou Theou," commonly translated in English as "Kingdom of God," while Matthew prefers the Greek term "Basileia tōn Ouranōn" (Βασιλεία τῶν Ουρανῶν) which has been translated as "Kingdom of Heaven." Biblical scholars speculate that the Matthean text adopted the Greek word for "heaven" instead of the Greek word for "God" because, unlike Mark and Luke, it was written by a Jew for a Jewish audience so, in keeping with their custom, avoided using God's name as an act of piety. In Matthew, "heaven" stands for "God. The basis for these terms being equivalent is found in the apocalyptic literature of Daniel 2:44 where "the 'God of heaven' will set up a 'kingdom' which will never be destroyed."

The word “kingdom” is a translation of the Greek word “basileia” which in turn is a translation of the words "malkuth" (Hebrew) and "malkutha" (Aramaic). These words do not define kingdom by territory but by dominion. Jesus said of the Kingdom of God that one cannot say, “Look here it is!” or “There it is!” . According to C. H. Dodd, the common translation of “malkuth” with “basileia” in Greek and hence “kingdom” in English is therefore problematic; a translation with “kingship,” "kingly rule," “reign” or “sovereignty” should be preferred..

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that the word basileia can be translated as "kingship," "kingdom" or "reign" (CCC 2816).

From a purely etymological viewpoint, the word "basileia" is believed to have derived from the Greek word for base or foundation. Some writers prefer this root definition because it eliminates the confusion with monarchy.

Scholars during the current third quest for the historical Jesus have translated the phrase "Kingdom of God" as "God's imperial rule", or sometimes "God's domain", to better grasp its sense in today's language.

The Jesus Seminar has chosen to translate basileia as ‘empire.’ John B. Cobb points out that this has the disadvantage of implying a hierarchical nature to the realm of God, a concept clearly lacking from Jesus thought, in Cobb’s view.

Fr. Richard Chilson, C.S.P., suggests the term "Love's Domain," "Love's Dominion," or "Love's Rule" because the Kingdom of God is where the God who is Love rules.

Even with the debate over the translation of the term, modern scholars see the concept of the kingdom of God as the main message of Jesus.

Abrahamic faiths

Certain writers assert that the Kingdom of God is a concept detailed in all the three Abrahamic religions— Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Islam

For Muslims, belief in the Kingdom of God may refer to the belief in Allah's absolute dominion over all things. Thus in Islam every place -all creation- may be considered God's Kingdom if those that live there "hold onto good qualities and good actions".

The notion of God's kingdom on Earth, however, constitutes the establishment of and adherence to Allah's laws within human society, in order to maintain a lasting peace and unity within the lives of the devout, at all levels. These include personal, criminal, state and international levels. As such, some Muslim groups hold the view that the Kingdom of God constitutes a caliphate/Imamate -a geographical region unified under the faith of Islam- and even has been suggested by Islamic scholars to be in fact referring to a caliphate which will be spread across 3 continents.According to mainstream Islamic beliefs, the Second Coming of Jesus and the arrival of the Mahdi will usher in this ideal caliphate/Imamate, which will put an end to the "tyranny of the Antichrist", and this reign will ensure tranquility and peace for the world.

A third perspective among Muslims is that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual concept entirely, rather than a possibly material one. After the Day of Judgment, when Allah judges all mankind based on their deeds, one either goes to hell or to heaven; the latter being the Eternal Kingdom.

Judaism

The Kingdom of God is referred to frequently in the Tanakh (see 1 Chronicles and for example). It is tied to Jewish understanding that God will restore the nation of Israel to the land. The Kingdom of God was expressly promised to the patriarch and prophet, King David, because he was a man "after God's own heart" ().

Christianity

Discussion of the basileia dates back for centuries. Eusebius identified basileia with monarchy while Augustine foresaw a merger of the church and basileia. Aquinas, however, ignores the concept and, considering its prominence in Jesus' dialectic, it was relatively little discussed by Christian theologians until Johannes Cocceius (1660) and Hermann Samuel Reimarus in the 18th century, during what has become known as the "first quest" for the historical Jesus.

The premise of a Kingdom is integral to both Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible (the same biblical books as the Protestant Old Testament) contains a set of laws, known as The Law, which governed the nation of Israel as a Theocracy. Prophecies throughout the Old Testament refer to this kingdom as eternal, later revealed to be fulfilled through King David's lineage. The Christian view of Jesus as the Messiah (or Anointed One) is more than organized religion, but rather stems from the original Hebrew theocratic belief in a Kingdom of God.

Jesus assumes his audience understands the Kingdom foundation that was laid in the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God he speaks of the time of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. A time of a restored earth where the faithful will worship and serve their God forever under the rulership of a righteous leader of the Davidic line. This was the Messianic hope of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and was carried over and echoed in the words of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and others in the Greek Scriptures.

Jesus would attach the theme of the gospel message itself with this Kingdom idea. tells the reader that Jesus' very purpose for being sent was to "preach the gospel about the Kingdom." He then would send out his disciples to speak this message even before they understood anything about his death and resurrection. Compare , , , etc. The initial seed that must be sown in the hearts of men was also identified as the word of the Kingdom by Jesus in . Shorthand for the word of the kingdom was given in Mark and Luke's version of the parable of the sower as "the word" and "the word of God" ().

Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God as the theme of his gospel as well as the destination for the righteous in the end of days . Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount shows that those who follow the "beatitudes" are rewarded with the Kingdom of God/inheriting the earth/comfort etc. Matthew 19 gives an account of Jesus equating popular terms such as "eternal life" and "saved" as the same thing as entering the Kingdom of God when it is established upon the earth. Jesus even taught his disciples to pray: "Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Some believe this defines the Kingdom as the time when God's will is done on the earth as it is done in heaven. Others contend that the two petitions are separate in the prayer, leaving the Kingdom of God to be more than simply a perfect execution of God's will on earth.

The Kingdom of God as spoken of by Jesus carried with it more than a picture of the wolf and the lamb dwelling together and the end of war (see Isaiah 11:1-9). In fact Jesus used the Kingdom as the reason why men should repent (see Mark 1:14-15). There was a good side as well as a judgment side of this Kingdom that was communicated in many of the parables (ex: tares and wheat of Matthew 13 and the sheep and goats of Matthew 25, etc). Paul and others would continue this theme in their preaching of the same gospel (Acts 17:30-31 - Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to the world that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead). When they spoke of Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead they were saying the same thing as the Kingdom coming because he was in fact appointed to be the King of the Kingdom.

The coming of God's Kingdom, described as Judgement, is also described in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Revelation, as a military conquest over the opponents of the Kingdom. (See Rev. 20:7-10) Revelations 21 speaks of the Kingdom of God in the new heaven after the establishment of His eternal reign.

Historical Jesus scholars

The method of historical Jesus scholars essentially aims at investigating the social, religious, political and cultural climate of the early first century in order to place the human figure of Jesus within and around these structures. One of the major areas of conflict among Jesus scholars is the proximity of Jesus’ “Kingdom”. Some believe it is wholly manifested in the presence of Jesus’ words and deeds, others believe that it is completely in the future, and some acknowledge the arguments of both these camps and place Jesus’ “Kingdom” somewhere in between being manifested in the present and also more completely manifested in the future.

C. H. Dodd and John Dominic Crossan argued that the “Kingdom” was fully manifest in the present teaching and actions of Jesus. Through his words and deeds the “Kingdom” was brought into the present reality of Palestine. Dodd coined the term “realized eschatology” and largely based his argument on Luke 11:20, and Luke 17:21 claiming that “the kingdom of God has come to you” and “the kingdom of God is within you”. Crossan imagined Jesus as a cynic-like peasant who focused on the sapiential aspects of the “Kingdom” and not on any apocalyptic conceptions .

Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann, Norman Perrin and Johannes Weiss argued that Jesus’ “Kingdom” was intended to be a wholly futuristic kingdom. These scholars looked to the apocalyptic traditions of various Jewish groups existing at the time of Jesus as the basis of their study , , , . In this view, Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who would bring about the end times and when he did not see the end of the cosmic order coming Jesus embraced death as a tool in which to provoke God into action.

The most common view of the “Kingdom” in recent scholarship is to embrace the truths of both these parties – present reality and future manifestation. Some scholars who take this view are N.T. Wright and G.R. Beasley-Murray. In their views, the “Kingdom” that Jesus spoke of will be fully realized in the future but it is also in a process of “in-breaking” into the present. This means that Jesus’ deeds and words have an immediate effect on the “Kingdom” even though it was not fully manifested during his life. Even greater attention has been paid to the concept of the “Kingdom of God” by scholars during the current third quest for the historical Jesus (of which N.T. Wright is associated). Another important recent observation on the meaning of the “Kingdom” was made by Rudolph Otto who took a feminist approach to the study of Jesus. He claimed that “it is not Jesus who brings the kingdom; on the contrary; the kingdom brings him with it…”. This approach attempts to take Jesus out of the Jesus movement that followed after his death and resurrection; by doing this the communal aspects of the “Kingdom” become emphasized and not just the focus on Jesus as a man.

Evangelical scholars

The Gospels describe Jesus as proclaiming the Kingdom as something that was both "at hand" and a future reality (see ). The phrase "inaugurated eschatology" has achieved near consensus among evangelical interpreters as expressing the essence of the present/future tension inherent in the teaching of Jesus regarding the kingdom of God. "Inaugurated eschatology" posits that Jesus Christ, through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation, has ushered in the messianic age so that the kingdom of God may be understood to be present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age following the second coming

The present aspect of the Kingdom refers to the changed state of heart or mind (metanoia) within Christians (see ), emphasizing the spiritual nature of His Kingdom by saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within (or among) you." The reported activity of Jesus in healing diseases, driving out demons, teaching a new ethic for living, and offering a new hope in God to the poor, is understood to be a demonstration of that Kingdom in action.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church accepts the doctrine of the Kingdom of God dividing it into two phases. These are, the Kingdom of Grace which was established immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, and the Kingdom of Glory which will be fully established when Christ returns to earth for the second time.

Further reading

  • John Bright, "The Kingdom of God" (ISBN 0687209080)
  • George Eldon Ladd, "The Gospel of the Kingdom" (ISBN 9780802812803)
  • Arthur Glasser, "Announcing the Kingdom" (ISBN 0801026261)
  • H.R. Ridderbos "Coming of the Kingdom" (ISBN 0875524087)
  • Bruce Thomas "The Kingdom of God: How it began and How it will end" (ISBN 1419661698)
  • Charles Van Engen "The Good News of the Kingdom" (ISBN 1579102786)
  • Christopher Wright "The Mission of God" (ISBN 9780830825714)

Roman Catholic interpretations

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that the coming Reign of God will be a kingdom of love, peace, and justice (CCC 2046). Justice is defined as a virtue whereby one respects the rights of all persons, living in harmony and equity with all (CCC 1807). The Kingdom of God began with Christ's death and Resurrection and must be further extended by Christians until it has been brought into perfection by Christ at the end of time (CCC 782, 2816). The Christian does this by living the way Christ lived, by thinking the way Christ thought (CCC 2046) and by promoting peace and justice (CCC 2820). This can be accomplished by discerning how the Holy Spirit (God) is calling one to act in the concrete circumstances of one's life (CCC 2820). Christians must also pray, asking God for what is necessary to cooperate with the coming of His Kingdom (CCC 2632). Jesus gathered disciples to be the seed and the beginning of God's Reign on earth, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide them (CCC 541, 764). Jesus continues to call all people to come together around him (CCC 542) and to spread His Kingdom across the entire world (CCC 863). However, the ultimate triumph of Christ's Kingdom will not come about until Christ's return to earth at the end of time (CCC 671). During Christ's second coming, he will judge the living and the dead. Only those who are judged to be righteous and just will reign with Christ forever (CCC 1042, 1060). Christ's second coming will also mark the absolute defeat of all evil powers, including Satan (CCC 550, 671). Until then, the coming of the Kingdom will continue to be attacked by evil powers as Christians wait with hope for the second coming of their Savior (CCC 671, 680). This is why Christians pray to hasten Christ's return by saying to him "Marana tha!" which means "Come, Lord Jesus!" (CCC 671, 2817).

According to Fr. William Barry, S.J., we can understand the Kingdom of God as God's intention for the universe. God has revealed that His intention for our world is that all humans live as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of God (Is 2:2-5, Is 11:6-9, Is 40:4-5, Eph 1:3, 9-10). Our thoughts and actions can either be in tune with God's intention or not. Only by being in tune with God's intention will we ever know true fulfillment or happiness in this life. Prayer, discernment and knowledge of God's revealed Word are needed to discover how one can be in tune with God's intention.

According to Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., the Kingdom of God primarily refers to the era when Christ comes again to bring the final establishment of God’s rule over all creation, which will include a final judgment where the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished. The concept of the Kingdom of God offers the goal for Christian life: those who follow the example and teachings of Jesus will be vindicated when the Kingdom of God comes and will reign with Christ forever.

In Biblical scholar John P. Meier's Mentor, Message, and Miracles (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, v. 2, 1994, pp. 235-506), the 'Message' is the kingdom of God. The book examines that the subject as found in:

*the Old Testament and Pseudepigrapha and at Qumran
* Jesus' proclamation of a future kingdom
* the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus' words and deeds as already present in his ministry (pp. 451-53).

Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth, says there are "three dimensions" to the Church Fathers' interpretation of term Kingdom of God. The first, which comes from Origen, is that Jesus is himself the Kingdom in person. The second "sees man's interioriry as the essential location of the Kingdom". This second dimension also comes from Origen. "The third dimension of the interpretation of the Kingdom of God we could call the ecclesiastical: the Kingdom of God and the Church are related in different ways and brought into more or less close proximity". That is to say that the Church is the Kingdom of God.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Within the theological tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church the Kingdom of God is the future of all mankind and the created world, in that God will be in direct communion with the cosmos. This communion is that all mankind will experience their existence in the presence of God. God as being the Kingdom of God. God as paradise and punishment.

Pre-millennial approaches

A number of groups take a political/eschatological approach to the Kingdom of God emphasizing a physical reign of Jesus Christ on earth after the parousia. These groups often place special emphasis on the role of a restored kingdom of Israel.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers the church itself as the Kingdom of God on the earth. However, this is limited to a spiritual or ecclesiastical kingdom until the Millennium when Christ will also establish a political Kingdom of God. This will have worldwide political jurisdiction when the Lord has made "a full end of all nations" (Doctrine & Covenants 87: 6). However, Latter-day Saints believe that this theocratic "kingdom" will in fact be quasi-republican in organization, and will be freely chosen by the survivors of the millennial judgments rather than being imposed upon an unwilling populace. See Council of Fifty; Theodemocracy.

Jehovah's Witnesses extend the idea of the Kingdom of God to more than just a state of mind or heart. The belief is that the Kingdom is a government headed by Jesus Christ as King, ruling in heaven since 1914. Jehovah's Witnesses come to the year 1914 by two lines of reasoning: Bible chronology dealing with the end of the Times of the Gentiles and observed world conditions. The miracles and preaching of the Kingdom that Jesus carried out while on earth is a work that gave hope, illustrated the benefits the Kingdom would bring, and urged efforts to gain God's favor. Jehovah's Witnesses try to imitate that preaching work in their door-to-door work by highlighting the Kingdom of God. In fact, the full name of the Watchtower is "The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom." In short, the Kingdom is the means through which God vindicates His name and sovereignty and accomplishes His will through Christ, and restores conditions on earth to those similar in the Garden of Eden. Additional information on the Kingdom in relation to the Last Days and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Christadelphians believe in an end time political kingdom. This viewpoint says that in the last days Christ will return to rescue Israel (the nation), judge all who are responsible to God's judgment, and make an immortal administration for the Kingdom of God re-established on earth. It will be based in Jerusalem, and will provide the faithful of all generations with the land promised to them because they are heirs of the land of the middle East, with Abraham. The Kingdom will grow to rule over all other nations, with Jesus as the King and with his administration (immortal saints) ruling over the nations with him. Those ruled over will firstly be the Jews who are alive then (although mortal) and the survivors of all other nations (also mortal). During that time, lifespans of mortals will be greatly increased, and justice will be carefully maintained. Thus the world will be filled with peace and the knowledge of God.

Other viewpoints

Leading feminist theologians, especially Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza emphasize the feminine gender of the word basileia and the feminist nature of the early teachings of Jesus and the important and counter-cultural role and contributions of women in the Jesus sect.

Jesus use of the phrase "Kingdom of God" is believed by the liberation theologists to have been a deliberate but indirect criticism of the Roman system of domination.

Some scholars (most notably P.D. Ouspensky, in his book A New Model of the Universe, chapter 4) propose that "The Kingdom of Heaven" could actually be an esoteric group, that one should 'seek' within our own society.

Some universalists believe that God will use the Kingdom to bring about the salvation of all mankind.

See also

References and notes

External links

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