Luke records the final teaching of Jesus in the opening verses of Acts: “To [the apostles] he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (1:3) Luke ends the book in the final two verses with a note on Paul under house arrest in Rome: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30-31)
When we think of ‘kingdom’, typically our first thoughts may be of a castle and a king ruling over subjects within a certain geographical area. I’m smiling as I type those words because it is “sort of” right, but let’s see if we can make it clearer. The Greek word that is translated as kingdom is basileia (transliterated). Sometimes the word does carry the meaning of “realm”…again, emphasizing a geographical location. In fact, of the 162 occurrences in the New Testament, there are a small handful of times when it carries this very meaning. A good example of this is Matthew 4:8 when “…the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.”
It is impossible to cover the richness of kingdom language in a short blog. However, I do want to emphasize another aspect of its meaning in addition to the geographical one. In the overwhelming majority of times that basileia occurs in the New Testament it has reference to the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven – a synonymous term) and most often emphasizes functionality rather than geography. It refers to the sovereignty of God….the government of God…the rule of God.
The core of the gospel has to do with being born again on the basis of the Holy Spirit causing us to “repent and believe in the gospel.” It is a change of heart; a change in our desires….our wants. That radical change in our very natures affects a change in our behavior. Paul urges “…you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Eph. 4:1) It is a kingdom which God has already graciously initiated in our hearts. Woefully, His rule has not yet consumed us. But it is true that the kingdom of God promotes and encourages a life lived here and now on the basis of His coming…when He will fully establish His kingdom in us and in His re-creation. True, we obey the laws of the US government, but we also obey the law a higher Government.
My purpose here is not just to encourage us to improve our behavior; as believers in Jesus, it is not simply that we have to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling”, but that – in our ‘heart of hearts’….in our ‘inner man’…we want to. This meaning of the kingdom of God is NOT a separate branch of study apart from the gospel message; it is woven into the very fabric of the gospel proclamation itself.
I said earlier that I had smiled when thinking of our first thoughts when we hear the word kingdom. I know that there will come a day when what I said then will be true. When speaking of the heroes of the faith in the Old Testament, the writer affirms that they “….acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb. 11:13-16)
Paul writes:”… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)