We've been seeking clarity on the subjects of the kingdom, the church, and the relationship between the two. As we have seen, both historically and theologically, there has been a lot of ambiguity, confusion, controversy, and varying views on these issues.
I also said to you that a right understanding of these things begins with the teaching of Jesus—his interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures within his second temple Jewish context. What did he mean when he employed kingdom and church terminology?
Let's start with this question: What did Jesus teach about the Kingdom of God?
The first thing to understand is that for Jesus, as for the sages of Israel, kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God mean the same thing. The terminology is interchangeable.
The second thing to understand is that God's kingdom is distinct from his universal sovereignty over his creation. We tend to confuse those two things as being the same. To Jesus, God's universal sovereignty over all creation is one thing, while God's kingship over Israel is another thing. They are distinct.
Jewish tradition observes that while Genesis introduces God's creation, the first mention of his kingdom occurs in Exodus. God is sovereign and has the power and the authority to judge all men whom he has made. However, God's kingdom begins when there is redemption. The distinction is subtle but significant.
God redeemed Israel out of Egypt. He then brought them to Sinai, where he revealed his will for them by giving them instructions for holy living called Torah. They then had to accept their responsibility. "We will do, and we will hear all that you say." It's at that point, within the Jewish frame of reference, that the kingdom of God was proclaimed. When you have redemption, when you have revelation, and when you have corresponding responsibility, you have the kingdom of God.
So first, from Jesus' point of view, the kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God are synonymous. Second, God's kingdom is something distinct from God's sovereignty over creation.
Further, we can summarize Jesus' teaching in this way. In the new covenant, the kingdom:
entered this world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth
advances in this world in the power of the Holy Spirit
is embodied in this world, in the people of Jesus
I'll say that again because it's a memorable summation. The kingdom enters the world in the person of Yeshua; he is the king. The kingdom—as it did through him—advances in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom is embodied in this world now, in the people of Jesus, his disciples.
The kingdom of God is a person, a power, and a people.
King Jesus engaged in redemptive acts. That is the power of the Holy Spirit made manifest. Everything he did, he did by the Spirit. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life." In that power, he went forth and proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Again, biblically speaking, the kingdom of God is a person, a power, and a people.
It is made up of those who have submitted to the authority of the king and who have agreed to obey the will of the king. To the Jewish mind of Jesus, you don't have a kingdom unless you have subjects who are obeying the king. We, on the other hand, tend to think of the kingdom only in terms of his sovereignty.
Do you remember what it takes to think Hebraically, biblically? It takes two hands. On the one hand, the kingdom is God's redemptive acts by the power of the Spirit. On the other hand, the kingdom is the people who have experienced the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit and respond by acknowledging the king, Jesus, as Lord of their lives.
The kingdom then advances when we—his redeemed people—engage in obedient actions, in good deeds. Jesus says, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? You say you acknowledge my authority. For emphasis, you repeat it twice; you call me Lord, Lord. And yet you're not doing my will. Wake up! My kingdom isn't advancing through you!"
"The fact is, I am not your Lord because if I were, you would love me by keeping my commandments as I modeled and taught you."
This is so vital. The kingdom is, on the one hand, God's action. But on the other hand, it is the response of his people to his actions. God's initiative, our response. Are you clear on that? It is foundationally important yet so seldom understood.
The kingdom enters in the person of Jesus, advances in the power of the Spirit, and is embodied now in the people of Jesus. These are his disciples: those who acknowledge his authority, who are filled with and empowered by his Spirit, and who obey his instructions. And the Holy Spirit, as Paul makes explicitly clear to us, is none other than the Spirit of Messiah. Immanuel!
One last thought on this subject. For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is not a domain; it is dynamic.
We tend to think of the kingdom as a domain, like the United Kingdom. But in the Hebraic perspective of Jesus, the emphasis is on the verb, not the noun. It is dominion rather than a domain; it means reigning and ruling. It is a dynamic realm. We could say it this way; the kingdom is not a place but a people who are operating in its power.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.