The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (6)

The Essence of the Kingdom: The Kingdom as the Supremacy of God in the Sphere of Saving Power

Chapter VI

The Question

It been shown in the foregoing how our Lord designates the new order of things he came to introduce “the kingdom of God,” and that not merely in its final outcome but in its entire course of development. The question must next be raised, Why did he adopt this name, what is the appropriateness of the designation to his own mind?

It certainly would be wrong to assume that he used it from mere accommodation to a popular parlance, that it was in no wise suggestive to him of important principles and ideas. This is excluded by the fact pointed out above, that it was not by any means the most familiar of the names current among the Jews for the Messianic age. If Jesus nevertheless favored it above all others, he must have had a positive reason for this. Nor can we explain his choice from mere dependence on the Old Testament. Jesus’ dependence on the Old Testament was never a mere matter of form. He always sought in the form the substance, in the terms appropriated the great ideal principles they were intended to express. We must therefore look for these. In looking for them we must not expect to find anywhere in his teaching a definition of the kingdom. Jesus’ method of teaching was not the philosophical one of defining a thing, but the popular, parabolic one of describing and illustrating it. Paul, though speaking much less of the kingdom, has come much nearer to defining it than our Lord, cf. Rom. 14:17. The absence of definition, however, does not involve a lack of order or correlation in the aspects and features described. In the great variety of statements made concerning the kingdom the careful observer will not fail to discover certain general lines along which the description or comparison moves, certain outstanding principles to whose elucidation it constantly returns. If we can ascertain these, we shall also have found the key to our Lord’s own view about the deeper meaning of the name “kingdom of God.”

Not a Mere Association of Men

At the outset we must reject as inadequate the favorite modern explanation that in the figure of the kingdom the point of comparison lies primarily in the mutual association of men so as to form a moral or religious organism. The kingdom is indeed a community in which men are knit together by the closest of bonds, and especially in connection with our Lord’s teaching on the church this is brought out. Taking, however, the kingdom-teaching as a whole this point is but little emphasized (Matt. 13:24-30, 47-50).

Besides, this conception is not nearly wide enough to cover all the things predicated of the kingdom in the Gospels, according to which it appears to consist as much in gifts and powers from above as in inter-human relations and activities. Its resemblance to a community offers at least only a partial explanation of its kingdom-character, and so far as this explanation is correct it is not ultimate, because not the union of men as such, but that in God which produces and underlies it, is the true kingdom-forming principle.

The Answer

The main reason for the use of the name by Jesus lies undoubtedly in this, that in the new order of things God is in some such sense the supreme and controlling factor as the ruler in a human kingdom. The conception is a God-centered conception to the very core. In order to appreciate its significance, we must endeavor to do what Jesus did, look at the whole of the world and of life from the point of view of their subserviency to the glory of God. The difficulty for us in achieving this lies not merely in that we are apt to take a lower man-centered view of religion, but equally much in that by our modern idea of the state we are not naturally led to associate such an order of things with the name of a kingdom. According to our modern conception, especially in its republican form, the institution of the state with its magistrate exists for the sake of the subjects, even the king, at least in a constitutional monarchy, may be considered as a means to an end. In the ancient state this is different. Here the individual exists for the state, and in the Oriental monarchy the state is centralized and summed up in the person of the ruler.

God & Israel

Now whatever may be the merits or demerits of such a principle as the constructive principle for our human political life, it affords obviously the only point of view from which we can properly construe the fundamental relation between God and man. It was on the basis of such a conception of kingship, that from early times the relation of God to Israel had been expressed in the form of a royal rule. The primary purpose of Israel’s theocratic constitution was not to teach the world the principles of civil government, though undoubtedly in this respect also valuable lessons can be learned from it, but to reflect the eternal laws of religious intercourse between God and man as they will exist in the consummate life at the end. Judaism had lost the sense for this, had shifted the center of gravity from God to man; in Jesus’ teaching the proper relation was restored. To Him the kingdom exists there, where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings man to the willing recognition of the same. It is a state of things in which everything converges and tends towards God as the highest good.

Thine Is the Kingdom…

The closing words of the Lord’s Prayer, according to the version in Matthew, are the purest expression of this kingdom-consciousness which Jesus desired to cultivate in the minds of his disciples: ”Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” Even if these words should not be authentic, since they are wanting in the text of Luke, and in the text of Matthew in some important authorities, whence the Revised Version places them in the margin, still they retain their weight as a very ancient witness to the conception of the kingdom in the early church. It will be observed that Paul in 1Cor. 15, where he speaks of the delivering up of the kingdom by Christ to the Father, describes the content of the final kingdom of God in precisely the same way as consisting in this that “God will be all in all“, cf. Rev. 11:15. Because the kingdom is thus centered in God himself, it can be represented by our Lord as the supreme object of human pursuit. This would plainly be impossible if the idea of the kingdom was conceived on any lower plane, for in that case some other object would be interposed between God and man as the absolute end of man’s religious aspiration.

  • First proof: Mark 12:34

Because the kingdom of God means the ideal of religion in this highest sense realized, Jesus declared the scribe to be not far from the kingdom, because the latter recognized the commandment to love God with all the heart, all the soul, all the strength, and all the mind as the supreme commandment (Mark 12:34).

  • Second proof: Matt. 6:33

In Matt. 6:33 the seeking after the kingdom is opposed to the seeking after earthly things, because it is, at the bottom, the seeking after God himself.

  • Third proof: Jn. 17:4

And the same God-centered view, which thus finds expression in the thought of the kingdom, is also the highest aspect under which Jesus views his entire work in the discourses of the Fourth Gospel. Here Christ at the close of his ministry speaks to the Father: “I glorified thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do,” 17:4.


We find, therefore, that though the name kingdom is absent, the main idea embodied in it is found in John as well as in the Synoptists. The principle thus disclosed is of the greatest conceivable practical significance. It teaches that in the very order of things provided for the salvation of mankind, everything is in its ultimate analysis designed to glorify God. The kingdom is a conception which must of necessity remain unintelligible and unacceptable to every view of the world and of religion which magnifies man at the expense of God.

How the Supremacy of God Is Revealed

The supremacy of God in the kingdom reveals itself in various ways.

It comes to light in the acts by which the kingdom is established, in the moral order under which it exists, in the spiritual blessings, privileges and delights that are enjoyed in it. The first constitute the kingdom a sphere of divine power, the second a sphere of divine righteousness, the third a sphere of divinely bestowed blessedness. These rubrics are not, of course, so many sections into which the content of the kingdom can be divided, but rather so many aspects under which it may be considered. What is kingdom-power from one point of view is kingdom-righteousness from another and kingdom-blessedness from still a third. The exercise of power is needed to render possible the realization of righteousness, the realization of righteousness to render possible the bestowal of blessedness. Remembering the descriptive character and the practical purpose of our Lord’s teaching we should not endeavor to draw any hard and fast lines, but make allowance for the easy passing over of one aspect into the other.

  • Kingdom Power in the Song of Moses

The element of power is one of the earliest and most constant elements in the Biblical disclosure of the divine kingship. The Song of Moses celebrates Jehovah as King because he has gloriously overcome his enemies, Ex. 15. And from these ancient times onward the note of conquest is never absent from the Old Testament utterances regarding the kingdom.

  • Kingdom Power in Daniel

Especially in Daniel the kingdom is presented from this side, when it appears as a stone breaking to pieces the image of the world-kingdoms Dan. 2:45.

  • Kingdom Power in Paul

How familiar this idea was to the Apostle Paul we may gather from his words in 1Cor. 15:25;

For he (Christ) must reign, till he (God) hath put all his enemies under his feet.”

Here the kingship of Christ is equivalent to the process of subjecting one enemy after another. After the last enemy, death, has been conquered, there is no further need for the kingdom of Christ; hence, it is delivered up to God the Father. Christ’s kingdom as a process of conquest precedes the final kingdom of God as a settled permanent state.

  • Kingdom Power in the Jewish Conception of the Kingdom

To the Jewish conception of the coming kingdom also this feature was essential. What our Lord did was to give to this Jewish mode of representation an infinitely higher content, while formally retaining it. He lifted it out of the political sphere into the spiritual. The conquests to which he refers are those over Satan and the demons, over sin and evil. It is kingdom against kingdom, but both of these opposing kingdoms belong to a higher world than that to which Rome and her empire belong. In the words, “If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” already commented upon in another connection, our Lord refers to the forth-putting of this divine conquering power as a sure sign of the coming of the kingdom.

  • Kingdom Power in Miracles

But we must broaden this idea; not merely the casting out of demons, all the miracles of Jesus find their interpretation at least in part from this, that they are manifestations of the kingdom-power. It is a mistake to think that Jesus looked upon them exclusively as signs authenticating his mission. Undoubtedly this was one of the purposes for which the miracles were intended, and it is brought out prominently in the Fourth Gospel. But in the Synoptists, where the teaching of Jesus is centered in the kingdom-idea, the miracles do not appear primarily in this light. Here they are signs in a different sense, viz., signs of the actual arrival of the kingdom, because they show that the royal power of God is already in motion. He rebukes the people because they can interpret the signs of the weather, but cannot interpret the signs of the times. These signs of the times are nothing else than the miraculous works which prove the kingdom to be there. The forces which will revolutionize heaven and earth are already at work.

  • Kingdom Power in Jesus’ Answer to John’s Query

On the same principle Jesus answered the inquiry of John the Baptist, as to whether he were the one that was to come, or they should expect another, with a reference to his Messianic works: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached unto them” (Matt. 11:5). The Messianic works are the works which inaugurate the kingdom.

  • Kingdom Power in Jesus’ Preaching

Still more clearly this appears from the discourse in the synagogue at Nazareth recorded by Luke, which had for its text the prophecy of Isaiah;

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: he hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” (Luke 4:18-19).

Here the acceptable year of Jehovah, the year of jubilee, in which all things return to their normal, wholesome condition, is none other than the era of the kingdom, and by the bestowal of the blessings enumerated it comes.

  • Kingdom Power in the Different Kinds of Miracles

It will be observed that the miracles which Jesus wrought were with one exception beneficent miracles. To give a sign from heaven, a sign not possessing this beneficent character, he persistently refused. The true signs had to be kingdom-signs, exhibitions of God’s royal power. This power, therefore, has two sides:

-so far as the enemies of God are concerned, it is a conquering, destructive, judging power;

-so far as man is concerned, it is a liberating, healing, saving power.

In the casting out of demons both sides are revealed. In the other miracles it is chiefly the beneficent side which finds expression. Jesus brings release to the captives and sets at liberty those that are bruised, for the satanic power not only renders man miserable but also reduces him to bondage, as is even externally indicated by the fact that the demons control the physical organism of those possessed.

Don’t Physical Miracles Mean a Physical Kingdom?

The question naturally arises, how can this identification of the kingdom with the effects of a power working largely in the physical sphere be reconciled with the emphasis placed by Jesus upon the spiritual nature of the kingdom.


The answer is that the physical evils which the kingdom-power removes have a moral and spiritual background. Satan reigns not merely in the body, nor merely in the mind pathologically considered, but also in the heart and will of man as the instigator of sin and the source of moral evil. Hence Jesus made his miracles the occasion for suggesting and working the profounder change by which the bonds of sin were loosed and the rule of God set up anew in the entire inner life of men. Because this real connection exists, the physical process can become symbolical of the spiritual. In the Synoptical Gospels, it is true, this is nowhere directly stated, although the external and the internal are sometimes significantly placed side by side as coordinated parts of one identical work (Mark 2:9).

In the Fourth Gospel, however, Jesus gives clearly to understand that the physical acts are intended to point to corresponding spiritual acts. The healing of the blind, the raising of the dead find their counterpart in what he does for the souls of sinners. On the other hand, it should not be overlooked that these physical signs have also a connection with the kingdom in the external sphere itself. The miraculous power is prophetic of that great kingdom-power which will be exerted at the end. It is especially in eschatological connections that a revelation of power is referred to (Matt. 24:30; Mark 12:24). All the supernatural phenomena that accompanied not merely the ministry of Jesus, but characterized also the history of the apostolic church, must be interpreted in this light. It had to be shown immediately, that the work inaugurated by Jesus aims at nothing less than a supernatural renewal of the world, whereby all evil will be overcome, a renewal of the physical as well of the spiritual world (Matt. 19:28). Because the Old Testament had treated these two as belonging inseparably together, and because in reality it would now appear that the two lay far apart in point of time, it was all the more necessary that some solid anticipations of the eschatological change should be given. Verbal prophecy was not sufficient; a prophecy in acts was required, and this the miracles furnished. In so far, there is an element of truth in the modern view which represents Jesus as looking upon the miracles as the beginning of the final arrival of the kingdom. Here, as on other points, our Lord’s teaching warns us against that excessive spiritualizing tendency, to which the external world becomes altogether worthless and indifferent or even withdrawn from the direct control of God.

The Holy Spirit & Kingdom Power

The source of this kingdom-power is, according to our Lord’s teaching, the Spirit.

In the saying Matt. 12:28, the point evidently is that, where the Spirit of God operates, there the kingdom of God comes. To His being anointed with the Spirit, Jesus ascribes all his power to do miracles (Luke 4:18). To accuse him of casting out demons in league with Beelzebub is to blaspheme the Spirit; (for the interchangeableness of the conceptions of “Spirit” and “power,” such passages as Luke 1:17, 35; 24:19, 49; Acts 1:8; 10:38).

Indeed our Lord’s references to the Spirit as the author of saving acts are almost entirely connected with his miracles. Still it would be inaccurate, as is sometimes done, to deny to Jesus the idea, so beautifully worked out by Paul, that the Spirit is the source of the moral and religious renewal of man, the author and bearer of the entire Christian life with all its graces and virtues.

In the Fourth Gospel the presence of this idea is acknowledged by all. Here our Lord teaches that man must be born of water and the Spirit in order to see and to enter the kingdom of God. In the closing discourses of this Gospel, the work of the Spirit as guiding all the disciples into the knowledge of the truth is made very prominent, and the knowledge of the truth in our Lord’s Johannine teaching distinctly includes its moral and spiritual saving apprehension and appropriation by the disciples, so that the Spirit is here brought into direct connection with the ethical and religious life of man.

Even from the Synoptical sayings the same idea is not entirely absent. Though the Spirit may work in the sphere of the miracles, yet these miracles are wrought for the moral purpose of overthrowing the kingdom of evil. The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan and thus appears as pursuing the end of the Messiah’s moral victory over the Prince of Evil. Satan exerts an evil influence over man in the moral and religious sphere, consequently on the principle of opposition the Spirit of God must have been believed to exert a good influence.

Probably also the saying of Jesus, that the heavenly Father out of his goodness is ready to give the Spirit to his children (Luke 11:13) does not have exclusive reference to the Spirit as the source of miracles.

Thus we see that the first outlines of the doctrine of the Spirit, as afterwards developed in apostolic revelation, are already drawn by Jesus. The full disclosure of this doctrine could not be expected then, because the full bestowal of the Spirit could not come until after the Savior’s death (John 7:39). But in His Messianic works Jesus exhibited in a revelation of facts the fundamental part taken by the Spirit in the salvation of man.

Thus Jesus stands at the transition point between the Old Testament doctrine of the Spirit on the one side and the full apostolic unfolding of the doctrine on the other side. In the Old Testament, the emphasis still rests on the charismatic character of the Spirit’s work as qualifying the office-bearers of the theocracy for their task. Jesus began to show how the official Spirit, which belongs to Him as Messiah, becomes a source of communication of the Spirit to others, and that not merely for the performance of supernatural works but also for conferring the religious and moral blessings of the kingdom. The part, however, of our Lord’s teaching in which the connection between the Spirit and the internal aspect of the kingdom finds clearest expression, and which approaches most closely to the apostolic type of doctrine, is that relating to the church. With this, we shall deal in a later chapter.



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