Jesus taught constantly about "the kingdom of God".
This concept was at the center of his teaching and life. It should also form a central place in your own Catholic faith.
This article will give you a solid understanding of this concept.
At the center of Christ's preaching
St. Mark announces to us the beginning of the public life of our Lord in these words: "And after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying: 'The time is completed, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mk 1:14).
St. Matthew says somewhat more briefly: "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say: 'Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Mt 4:17).
St. Matthew sums up the whole of our Lord's teaching in the words: "preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Mt 4:23), and our Lord himself, according to St. Luke, describes this as the object of his mission: "To other cities also I must preach the kingdom of God: for I am sent for this purpose" (Lk 4:43).
The good news of the kingdom of God was the starting point and the center of our Lord's whole public life. He was sent to announce this kingdom, to induce men by means of his miracles to believe in his gospel, and to unite all the faithful in this new kingdom.
The Gospels use the terms "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" to refer to this kingdom.
A main concept in the Old Testament
Christ's own references to the kingdom of God were not new—the concept was a central, constant part of God's revelation to Israel from the beginning.
Although the specific term "kingdom of God" is rare in the Old Testament, the idea which underlies this term is found everywhere: Yahweh, our God, is eternal King and Lord for ever and ever. We find this especially in the Psalms and the prophets.
(The free eBook Understanding the Kingdom of God provides a lot of detail about the Old Testament understanding of this concept.)
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people had a deep conviction about the kingdom of God.
The Old Testament repeatedly emphasized that it was to be regarded and expected as a divine, everlasting, universal, and spiritual kingdom.
- Divine in that it would be established by & ruled by God.
- Everlasting because both God's reign and this kingdom itself would have no end.
- Universal because although it starts with the chosen people of Israel, it must extend to include all the nations of the earth.
- Spiritual in that it is more than an earthly kingdom: it is in essence a heavenly kingdom even though it is begun on earth.
Ancient Israelites distort the kingdom
But the ancient Jews, desiring earthly things, transformed these characteristics of the kingdom of God more and more—and above all abandonded the spiritual nature of the coming kingdom.
By the time of Jesus, the Jewish people had come to expect a Messiah who would usher in an earthly kingdom, rule over all people through the kingdom of Israel, and require all people to first become Israelites in all things and take upon themselves the whole burden of the Jewish law.
And of course, in the observance of this law they emphasized more and more following the letter of the law and the external, ceremonial directions of the time.
The Israelites had lost the special significance of the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God.
Many passages of the Gospel also give clear evidence that a similar distorted concept of the kingdom of God was widespread in the time of our Lord (see Mt 18:1; 20:20; Jn 6:15; etc.).
And that kind of distortion is specifically why Jesus spent so much time teaching about the true nature of the kingdom of God....
Christ's teaching about the kingdom of God
Our Lord addressed his teachings on the kingdom of God to these Israelites, to those with false earthly ideas of the kingdom.
Jesus came before his people as the Messiah predicted by the prophets. He preached and announced the kingdom as it was known by the true meaning of the prophets.
Thus in the first place this kingdom is the realization of God's sovereignty over man. For this purpose, the fulfillment of the will of God is above all things necessary: "Not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that does the will of My Father who is in heaven" (Mt 7:21).
Second, this kingdom isn't simply God's reign over individual people. It was to be established in a true and real kingdom, a gathering together of a religious community which would have as its head the only begotten Son of God, and which shall be governed according to the constitution which he has given and in accordance with his laws. This is the kingdom of the Messiah as foretold by the prophets.
The seed & initial gathering of this kingdom is the Church, founded by Christ to preach the gospel of Christ and bring Christ's own means of salvation to the world through the sacraments.
Third, the kingdom of God is a true and actual kingdom of heaven—its foundation is in heaven, from which its King and Founder has descended from the bosom of the Father, and it will have its final consummation again in heaven where Jesus Christ will reign for ever with the saints in glory.
Finally, this triumphant final time of the kingdom will be preceded by the preparatory stage of the time of conflict in the kingdom of God on earth. This community of the new covenant is founded on earth for man, will embrace all nations, and will last to the end of time. The time of conflict shall be followed by the eternal enjoyment of the reward in the kingdom of glory.
The kingdom of God is one, although it has both these earthly and heavenly parts. Both parts of the kingdom coexist, each is related to the other, and each affects the other.
While our Lord always refers to this one single kingdom of God, at times he teaches more about the time of preparation on earth, and at other times he refers to the final consummation in heaven.
The parables teach about the kingdom
Jesus wished to use parables to illustrate his doctrine about the kingdom of God. In many parables we find an introduction such as, "the kingdom of heaven is like...", or similar words. But even where there is no such introduction, the parables all still have at least some reference to the kingdom of God.
In these parables we can see three principal points of view:
- The development of the kingdom, its nature, and its working;
- The members of the kingdom of heaven and their obligations;
- Christ the Head of the kingdom of God and his position among the members.
Jesus addresses these lessons first of all to his disciples, but also (at least partly) to the Jewish people as a whole to teach them the true character of the kingdom of the Messiah.
(Our free eBook Understanding the Kingdom of God provides more detail about these categories, and also lists the parables that correspond to each category.)
The Kingdom = salvation
Admittedly, the term "kingdom of God" is somewhat complex: it spans the Old and New Testaments, and it refers to several things at once. But at its core, the kingdom is fundamentally about salvation.
Pope John Paul II neatly summarizes the concept of the kingdom of God: