COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–References to the Kingdom of God (or to the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom) are numerous in the New Testament, especially in the four Gospels.
It is a mystery why Christian teachers, preachers, scholars and writers have devoted so little attention through the centuries to the preoccupation of the New Testament on the Kingdom of God. The question is, why have the followers of Jesus neglected to heed his prayer for the Kingdom of God to come on this earth even as it is in heaven (Matthews 6:9-13)?
For a fact, there have been those individuals over the years who have called attention to the Kingdom of God in this world, but their number has been, and continues to be, few. However, it is both encouraging and enlightening to note that references to the Kingdom of God are beginning to emerge. Let me point out three of them.
— A most insightful writer in these modern times about the biblical emphasis on the Kingdom of God is Selwyn Hughes of Waverly, England, founder of Crusade for World Revival. In his recent book, “Treasure for the Heart,” he observes that “any pattern of praying that does not make the Kingdom a priority is not Christian praying” (p. 154).
He goes on to write, “One of the sad things about church history is that the church has never really been gripped by the vision of the Kingdom of God. There are notable exceptions, of course, but by and large the church has missed its way in this matter. One theologian points out that when the church drew up its creeds — the Apostle’s, the Athanasian, the Nicene — it mentioned the Kingdom only once in all three of them, and then marginally. The church will never move into the dimension God has planned for it until it puts the Kingdom where Jesus put it in the Lord’s Prayer — in a place of primary consideration and primary allegiance” (p. 154). In addition, Hughes writes that, “No wonder the church has stumbled from problem to problem when its priorities are not on the Kingdom of God as prioritized by God Himself” (p. 155).
— Our own Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written in his latest book, “The Prayer of Jesus,” that:
“While God’s kingdom is a coming event, it is also a present reality. So when we pray, ‘Your kingdom come,’ we are at one moment recognizing the fact that God’s ultimate rule is simply a matter of time, and we are also committing ourselves to participate in seeing it unfold before our eyes. And that is what’s really exciting!
“This aspect of the Lord’s Prayer continues to amaze me, not only because I missed the point for so long, but also because I now realize that it places me right on the cutting edge of kingdom living all day, every day.
“Again, just as the line between prayer and life begins to vanish through the ‘praying without ceasing’ mentality of the Lord’s Prayer, this kingdom focus dissolves the hard line between sacred and secular. If you take a good look at Jesus’ life, you see that all of it was sacred. Every event and occurrence in His life, no matter how ordinary or offhand, had a kingdom priority to it.
“His disciples didn’t always understand this. They would shoo the children away to keep Him on schedule, and hustle the crowds along so they could get some rest. But Jesus saw everything through the lens of the Father’s kingdom. Even with this sense of divine urgency, He never appeared rattled, stressed out or in a hurry. He simply watched to see where the kingdom was working, and He moved toward it with eyes and arms wide open. And so can we” (pp. 53-54).
— Ben Gill, chairman and CEO of Resource Services, Inc., of Dallas, has written in his book, “Stewardship, the Biblical Basis for Living,” that:
“Without question the central category of teaching in the ministry of Jesus Christ was the Kingdom of God. All understanding of His life and work must begin with a grasp of that Kingdom. A review of the synoptic Gospels demonstrates this clearly:
“‘Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). ‘He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom’ (Matt. 4:23).
“Interpretations of the Kingdom of God have varied over the centuries. From Augustine until the time of the reformers, the Kingdom was identified with the Church. Liberal Christian theology identified it with the Fatherhood of God, the ‘brotherhood’ of man, and the value of the soul. Some, such as C.H. Dodd, have emphasized the Kingdom as an altogether present reality. Dispensationalists have posited that the Kingdom was delayed until the coming reign of Christ. Still others see the Kingdom as a reality inaugurated in the first Advent of Jesus and yet to be consummated in His Second Advent.
“The Kingdom of God can best be understood by a careful understanding of the phrase ‘baseleia tou theou.’ Behind this Greek phrase rests the Hebrew word ‘malkut.’ The word carries the dynamic idea of the reign, rule, or sovereignty of God. For example: ‘The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all’ (Ps. 103:19). Hence, the Kingdom of God means the rule or reign of God.
“Without question, this rule or reign of God found a new and exciting expression in the earthly ministry of Jesus. One of His most expressive statements concerning the presence of the Kingdom is that of Matt. 12:28: ‘But if I cast our demons by the Spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you.’ Surely one of Jesus’ most characteristic acts was the exorcism of demons. He used this as a demonstration that the powers of the Kingdom had invaded human history.
“Thus, all Jesus does is an expression of the present power of the reign of God. The parables are parables of the Kingdom, the miracles are the miracles of the Kingdom, and the stewardship of the present is the stewardship of the Kingdom. Jesus clearly stated to the Pharisees that the Kingdom was already in their midst, albeit in an unexpected form” (pp. 102-103).
Southern Baptists are now focusing our attention on Empowering Kingdom Growth. In doing so, we are squarely in line with the call of the Lord Jesus to his people to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Just think about it. If Southern Baptists, with all of the vast resources God has given to us, could ever truly concentrate on the biblical meaning of the Kingdom of God on this earth, what a thunderclap for spiritual awakening that might create! It is almost too good and too hopeful to ponder. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
Driggers is the current co-chair of the SBC’s Empowering Kingdom Growth Task Force and executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.