“Kingdom” in the New Covenant Scriptures
Brian Casey, 2003
In the New Testament texts, I have found that the referent/antecedent in some passages seems ambiguous and somewhat abstract, while some texts seem to refer specifically to the organism we know as “church,” while still other texts seem to refer to something much more far-reaching and eternal than the human—though divinely conceived—church. (In the scripture listing you’ll find below, I have endeavored to begin the task of delineating which pertains to which.)
Based on reading of the English alone, I have seen at least the following possibilities for our understanding of the word “kingdom” in the New Covenant writings:
1. Future kingdom (i.e., heaven). Sometimes, the words of Jesus and his apostles seem to relate specifically to heaven. In fact, Matthew is fond of the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” This may not mean heaven per se but could refer to some earthly concept of kingdom that is ruled by heaven, so to speak.
2. “Church” as an institution or organism
3. The spiritual “reign or rule of God” in human lives
4. A more tangible system of rule, dominion, power, and control (e.g., God’s or Satan’s kingdom, perhaps a more “political entity”)
There are doubtless other possibilities and nuances of understanding. Sometimes, more than one of the above seems to be a valid, possible reading of the text. Other times, I am less sure what is being referred to (and have just noted a “?” in the table below).
As I was writing these paragraphs, I was vacillating with regard to some of my conclusions, but then I opened up a standard Greek/English reference work, Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, for the first time in this study and found the following:
basileia (Gr.): 1. primarily (emphasis mine, bc) an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion
In addition, Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words gives the following notes, among others:
1. The Kingdom of God is the (a) sphere of God’s rule . . . since the earth is the scene of universal rebellion against God, e.g., Luke 4:5,6; I John 5:19; Rev. 11:15-18, the Kingdom of God is (b) the sphere in which, at any given time, His rule is acknowledged.
2. References to the Kingdom generally fall into two classes, the first, in which it is viewed as present and involving suffering for those who enter it, 2 Thess 1:5 (some of these references may involve “church” as in the common Church of Christ view -bc), the second, in which it is viewed as future and is associated with reward, Matt. 25:34, and glory, 13:43.
3. The fundamental principle of the Kingdom is declared in the words of the Lord spoken in the midst of a company of Pharisees, “the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” … that is, where the King is, there is the Kingdom.
4. The Apostle Paul often speaks of the Kingdom of God, not dispensationally but morally, e.g., in Rom. 14:17; I Cor. 4:20, but never so of the Kingdom of Heaven. “God” is not the equivalent of “the heavens.” He is everywhere and above all dispensations, whereas “the heavens” are distinguished from the earth, until the Kingdom comes in judgment and power and glory
In considering “kingdom,” it is important to note the usage patterns of the particular biblical author being considered; for example, though one seems to speak more of “kingdom of heaven,” another may speak more of the “rule of God” in the hearts of men and women.
Thayer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament offers these understandings/definitions:
1. royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
2. a kingdom, i.e., the territory subject to the rule of a king (using this definition, “church” could certainly be understood, but so also could “spiritual reign of God in our hearts” -bc)
3. the rule of God, the theocracy, viewed universally, not the Messianic kingdom
4. Jesus employed the phrase “kingdom of God or of heaven” to indicate that perfect order of things which he was about to establish, in which all those of every nation who should believe in him were to be gathered together into one society, dedicated and intimately united to God, and made partakers of eternal salvation. (Again, I suggest that while this understanding would include our notion of the New Testament church, there is more to be held onto than the organization/organism we know as “the church.” -bc)
Wigram’s Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament has a couple of additional tidbits of possible understanding of basileus (king):
1. a kingdom, realm, the region or country governed by a king
2. kingly power, authority, royal dignity
3. possessed of high prerogatives and distinction
~ ~ ~
Here are a few of my specific comments related to various texts and aspects of this study:
I would suggest that the key passage in the gospels in which “kingdom” is used is when Jesus says “the kingdom is within you.” It would be nearly impossible to understand “kingdom” there as “church,” though certainly He would have had in mind later members of the church who would also have the kingdom in their hearts.
Another passage worthy of note, and mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is the text that warns the rich that it will be difficult for them to enter the kingdom. Surely it is not difficult for rich people to enter an organization such as a synagogue or church, but to enter a sphere of God’s reign and control . . . well, that’s a different story!
I wondered about the mention of the thief on the cross next to Jesus. When he begged Jesus to remember him when He “came into His kingdom,” what could he have meant? Maybe he had a truly spiritual viewpoint and knew that Jesus’ kingdom was not earthly? Or maybe he had faith that Jesus would rise from the dead and perhaps would consent to raise the thief from his grave, too—giving the thief consideration in some earthly kingdom that Jesus might establish? Other possibilities exist, too.
When the texts say “the kingdom” was “preached,” do we want to understand them to mean that the church was preached or that God’s sovereignty was proclaimed?
Muddying the water somewhat further for me is my view of the book of Revelation: I think the book in general deals with not only the future kingdom, i.e., heaven, but that it provides a timeless view of God’s kingdom .. . which includes the church today, long ago, and in the future until the end of all things physical. Regardless of one’s view of Revelation’s meanings or of the word “kingdom,” it does seem that “kingdom” in Revelation should be read differently from “kingdom” in the gospels and letters.
I hope that you will gain something from this study (as I have!). I have often second-guessed myself in suggesting which concept of “kingdom” is most appropriate for a given verse. My suggestions are by no means the ultimate interpretations! I think I have as many questions as answers. Sometimes, I’m just not sure at all what is being referred to.
I want to remind myself and anyone who reads this that this study is mostly just a “word study” of isolated scripture verses. No semblance of justice has been done to the concept of “kingdom” until, at the very least, wider contexts have been considered, along with historical settings, literary themes and styles, and other factors. In no way do I present these things as containing all the answers!
As a conclusion to these comments and as an introduction to the list of texts and some possible understandings of the use of the word “kingdom,” I offer some words from my dad, who wrote these things in an introduction to an adult Bible study:
What did the Lord Jesus mean when He began His ministry (Matt. 4:17) with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is near”? Have we today somehow missed so important a part of His overall message that we can’t comprehend what following Christ is all about? Is our inability to grasp the nature of what is involved in being part of the kingdom of our Lord keeping us from the total joy and peace of truly being “in” Christ? Wonder what would happen if we really allowed Jesus to be in full control of this part of His kingdom, if we allowed the Spirit He left behind to work among us here as He wished?
– Gerald W. Casey, ca. 1995
May God be King over all those who name His name, accept His rule in their hearts, intentionally honor Him as sovereign, and promote his dominion both in the church we know on earth and beyond.
For the references below, the best interpretation of “kingdom” seems to be “church.”
Book Ch/Vs Notes/Comments
Matt. 16:28 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 8:11 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Mk. 9:1 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 22:16 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 22:18 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 22:29 ?
For the next group below, the best interpretation seems to be “reign/rule of God.”
Matt. 5:20 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 6:33 future kingdom, i.e., heaven? (this instructional prayer would probably not use “kingdom” to refer to “church,” which hadn’t been introduced in His teaching yet)
Lk. 7:28 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 4:17 new sphere of dominion
Matt. 4:23 new sphere of dominion
Matt. 5:03 new sphere of dominion
Matt. 5:19 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 6:10 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 10:07 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 11:11 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 13:43 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 13:44 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 18:03 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 18:04 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Mk. 1:15 new sphere of dominion
Mk. 9:47 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 6:20 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 11:20 system of dominion
Lk. 17:20 ?
Acts 14:22 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
1 Cor. 4:20
1 Cor. 15:24
Col. 1:12 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
2 Tim. 4:1
Heb. 12:28 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 21:31 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 23:42 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
In the next group of passages, either “church” or “reign of God” could be understood.
Matt. 11:12 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 13:19 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 16:19 new sphere of dominion
Matt. 20:01 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 9:27 destruction of Jerusalem establishment& its system of dominion
1 Thess. 2:12
2 Thess. 1:5
Rev. 1:09 new sphere of dominion, including the church as we experience it
For this last list of passages, I have no particular opinion or suggestions as to the interpretation!
Matt. 8:12 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 9:35 opposite/ Satanic kingdom
Matt. 12:26 generic
Matt. 12:28 rule of God’s adversary
Matt. 20:21 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 24:7 political entity
Matt. 25:1 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 25:34 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Matt. 26:29 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Mk. 3:24 political entitty
Mk. 6:23 political entity
Mk. 11:10 future kingdom, i.e., heaven? political entity?
Mk. 13:08 political entity
Mk. 14:25 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Mk. 15:43 political entity?
Lk. 1:33 future kingdom, i.e., heaven? political entity?
Lk. 11:17 system of dominion
Lk. 11:18 system of dominion
Lk. 13:28 future kingdom, i.e., heaven
Lk. 13:29 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 14:15 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Lk. 19:11 theocratic israel
Lk. 21:10 y
Lk. 22:30 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Acts 1:06 theocratic, new sphere of dominion
1 Cor. 15:50 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
1 Cor. 6:9-10 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Gal. 5:21 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Eph. 5:05 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
2 Tim. 4:18 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Heb. 1:8 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
Jas. 2:5 future kingdom, i.e., heaven?
2 Pet. 1:11
Rev. 5:10 new sphere of dominion, including the church as we experience it
Rev. 11:15 new sphere of dominion, including the church as we experience it
Rev. 12:10 spiritual sphere of dominion
Rev. 16:10 geopolitical sphere of dominion