From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
What Does the Kingdom of God Mean?
In Biblical languages, the term translated into English as “kingdom” usually meant “reign,” “rule,” or “authority.” Jewish people recognized that God reigned as king over the world he created (Psalm 22:28; 145:12–13; Daniel 4:3,34). Some believed that they affirmed this whenever they recited the Shema, acknowledging that there was just one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4).
But while Jewish people acknowledged God’s present rule, most looked for God’s unchallenged reign in the age to come (Daniel 2:44–45; 7:14,27). Many prayed regularly for God’s future kingdom—for him to reign unopposed, to fulfill his purposes of justice and peace for the world. One familiar prayer that came to be prayed daily was the Kaddish, which in its ancient form began: “Exalted and hallowed be his great name . . . May he cause his kingdom to reign.”
By Jesus’ day, many were familiar with Daniel’s prophecy about four kingdoms and believed the fourth and final kingdom to be the current Roman Empire (Daniel 2:37–43). Daniel prophesied that in the time of that fourth kingdom, God would establish an eternal kingdom, overthrowing the other ones (Daniel 2:44). This kingdom belonged to one who was “like a human being” whose rule was associated with the deliverance of God’s people and contrasted with the preceding empires that were compared with beasts (Daniel 7:12–14, 17–18, 20–22). Daniel spoke of these truths as “mysteries” (Daniel 2:28–29; compare Daniel 2:47). Thus it is not surprising that the Gospels speak of the “secret” or “secrets” of the kingdom (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10).
Jesus’ first followers in the New Testament, who believed that the coming Messianic king had already come once and that the first fruits of the future resurrection had occurred, often treated the future kingdom as also present. We recognize that just as the king has both come and will come again, his kingdom has already invaded this world but remains to be consummated. Where the other Gospels use “kingdom of God,” Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven” with just four or five exceptions. This Jewish expression appears elsewhere and reflects the Jewish use of “heaven” at times as a respectful and roundabout way of saying “God.” Please share new insights you’ve gained about the “Kingdom of God” from this article. What do you look forward to when Jesus reigns in God’s future kingdom?
Content from the:
NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Packed with expert insight into the customs, culture, and literature of the ancient world, the NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible helps you discover new dimensions of insight in even the most familiar Bible passages. Learn more here!