By Rob Lampard
In speaking to his disciples about the signs of ‘the end of the age’ (Matthew 24:3), Jesus makes this statement:
“14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24)
This declaration builds on the words with which Mark introduces Jesus’s ministry:
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1)
What is meant by ‘the gospel of the kingdom’? What is its content?
First, we must note that the English word ‘gospel’ simply means ‘good news’. This should not be confused with the technical practice of calling the first four books of the New Testament ‘Gospels’, a practice which derives from the understanding that those books themselves in part contain good news.
Second, the term ‘the kingdom’ is a contraction of the fuller phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ (used about 50 times in Mark, Luke and John) or its equivalent in Matthew ‘kingdom of heaven’ (31 times). Beyond this, the contraction ‘the kingdom’ occurs another 20 times.
What is meant by the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’? Why might this kingdom be good news?
Considerations to be borne in mind
For a number of reasons, these are not easy questions to give simple answers to.
First, the terms are given content in a wealth of Biblical material. A full answer must adequately consider all of these. We have already noted that there are numerous references in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which need to be considered. Beyond that, the concepts are underpinned in a multitude of Old Testament passages.
Second, Jesus gives no summary teaching about the Kingdom. Instead he seeks to help his hearers build up a complex mental picture one step at a time. He gives his teaching on the subject not in summary form but in bite-sized chunks, not in top-down fashion but in bottom-up fashion.
Third, he also gives most of his teaching on the subject in parables rather than by direct teaching. For example, he says that the Kingdom is like: a man who sowed good seed in his field (Matthew 13:24), a mustard seed (13:31), yeast (13:33), treasure hidden in a field (13:44), a merchant looking for fine pearls (13:45), a net let down into a lake (13:47), a king who wanted to settle accounts with his subjects (18:43). The analogies go on and on.
Along with scholars such as George Eldon Ladd, we conclude that ‘the meaning of the kingdom cannot be reduced to a single concept, but is a complex concept with several facets’.
What is the Kingdom of God?
Lots can be written on this subject. But in order to keep this document brief, we will give only a summary answer here.
- It’s clear from the brevity of Mark’s introductory statement above that the Kingdom must have been a concept the Jews were already familiar with. We find that the Kingdom is God’s dominion (Psalm 145:13), his rule over all people (Psalm 103:19).
- The coming of the Kingdom means the coming of the state wherein God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
- The Kingdom is something which will only fully come at the end of the present age (Luke 19:11, Mark 10:17-31; cf Daniel 12:2).
- Its coming will mean the final destruction of the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), the formation of a redeemed society unmixed with evil (Matthew 13:36-43), and perfected fellowship with God at the messianic feast (Luke 13:28-29).
- It is in part a present experience and reality, a realm of present blessing. (See our comments on Matthew 11:4-5 below).
- It is something which advances forcefully (Matthew 11:12).
- It means the gift of life and salvation. It is a present gift (Luke 12:32), something to be sought after here and now (Matthew 6:33, 13:44-46).
- But it is also the future inheritance of the righteous (Matthew 25:34).
Why is the Kingdom of God good news?
When questioned by messengers from John the Baptist about the focus and content of his ministry, Jesus answers by summarising Isaiah 35:
4 “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11)
This is interesting in several ways. Jesus’s ministry was something to be seen and heard, to be experienced as well as listened to. It involved imparting good things to people there and then as well as announcing better things to come. Isaiah 35 itself is replete with qualities such as rejoicing, glory, splendour, salvation, holiness, safety and everlasting joy. The presence, impartation and experience of such things is surely good news. It appears to picture an idealised existence in this present age.
But Jesus does also present the Kingdom as something better to come. In his parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), he draws a clear contrast between ‘the sons of the kingdom’ and ‘the sons of the evil one’ (v38) and says that the end of this current age is like a harvest (v39).
40 ‘As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Why is the kingdom good news? Because its full coming will inaugurate an age when sin and evil will be done away with and when those sown by Jesus (v37), also known as ‘the sons of the kingdom’ (v38) and ‘the righteous’ (v43), will ‘shine like the sun’ forever. Amen and Amen.
 George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Lutterworth Press, 1981, p70.