What Do You Think Is Meant by "the Kingdom of God"?

Humiliated in the 1930’s, Germany yearned to be a great country again. Hitler appealed to that longing. After the breakup of the Soviet empire and the collapse of the Communist dream, Russians experienced the humiliation of food aid and economic collapse. Putin addressed the longing to be viewed as a great country again. President Trump made the focus of his campaign, “Make America great again.”

The Jewish people also longed for the fame that once was theirs as a nation. Since the glorious days of Solomon, they had lived through years of humiliation, being ruled by others. Without changing your physical address in Israel, you became a subject of the Babylonian empire, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and now the Roman Empire. When Jesus appeared preaching that God’s Kingdom was near, it must have resonated. The good old days, the ancient glory of Israel would return. People may have thought of the long expected Messiah who would deal with their enemies and oppressors in the way Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, or Caesar imposed their kingdoms. 

Jesus, in preaching the good news of God's Kingdom being near, used many illustrations to clarify the nature of that kingdom and how it would come about. “One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom.’ " (Matthew 13:37-38) He likened the Kingdom to a little yeast that leavened a whole lump of dough. He said that we are the light of the world, the salt of the earth.

Jesus’s parables describe the children of the Kingdom as united, but dispersed. They penetrate society. They are on the offensive, even knocking down the gates of hell, which can not prevail against the onslaught. (Matthew 16:18) What a contrast to the view of the church as a fortress defending itself from attack.

There is a universal tendency for believers to gather together and to stay clumped together, for many good, convenient, and comfortable reasons. Sometimes it is intentional, and other times it just happens. We all like to associate with people we have the most in common with. It is natural, but is it the Kingdom? Over the centuries church became associated with attending meetings instead of with our very identity. Separation from the world was viewed in the Old Testament as not associating with unclean foreigners. Jesus, who was scornfully called a friend of sinners, was criticized by religious leaders for his association with such people. In the perspective of God’s Kingdom, separation from the world is about values, not associations. Jesus prayed shortly before His death for his disciples, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world...  My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…” (John 17:15-20) 

Jesus called children of the Kingdom the salt of the earth, the light of the world. He also spoke of the futility of a light being put under a bushel or of salt that wasn’t salty. How can we climb out from under the bushel and climb out the salt shaker. We can begin to grasp the good news of the Kingdom that Jesus brought. The Kingdom is a 24/7 affair. Everyday is holy. Every place is holy when our lives are impacted by a Kingdom perspective. The natural, including the mundane and the ordinary, becomes spiritual, and the spiritual becomes natural (without added special effects).

The focus of Jesus’s teaching and life was on explaining the Kingdom. In place of an emphasis on the Kingdom, have we substituted something else? I've only touched on one aspect of the Kingdom. Jesus often made statements beginning with the words, "The Kingdom is like... " He is constantly illustrating it. How do you understand the Kingdom of God? I used to think it referred to heaven. Is that accurate? What particular truth or illustration about the Kingdom stands out to you? 

Comments welcome.


  1. Contributed by Donald McGilchrist of The Navigators:


    Very pleasing to hear from you…and intriguing to hear that you are stimulating dialogue on the implications of the Kingdom, especially the Gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom. King Jesus must be pleased!

    The most popular article in the two months since we launched our website navhistory.org is the attached article on The Kingdom of God. Although I do not “blog”, I offer it as a potential contribution to your discussion.

    Grace and Peace, Donald

    Steve: This document, which describes the history of how the Scriptural teaching on the Kingdom has impacted the ministry of The Navigators, is fascinating reading. I will be glad to email it to anyone who requests it. Google does not allow posts of over 4,000 characters. I can only publish a few excerpts here (in the next post).

  2. The Navigators History Project Text

    The Kingdom of God

    We see how we were broadly in line with the resurgent attention given to the Kingdom among evangelicals during the 1970s. This helped us establish our identity and legitimacy, as taught in our FOM Seminars. Nevertheless, many Navigators did not internalize the profound implications of the Kingdom until much later…

    At our Overseas Policy conference in 1961, Jim Downing emphasized the pursuit of Jesus’ prediction that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations”—(Matthew 24:14), but the focus of The Navigators was centrally the Matthean version of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), yet without exegeting the complete power and authority invested in King Jesus.

    Jim Petersen recalls that he first began reading the Bible in order to understand the Kingdom of God during 1965. Thus:

    “I read it through once, didn’t understand it, read it again and the penny dropped. I realized that here, indeed, was the key to many primary issues. I would never understand the Church until I could see it in the context of the Kingdom of God, I would never have the freedom to participate in taking the Gospel to the nations until I understood it. It took me several years to come to even a rudimentary understanding that could be of help in the practical matters of our ministry.”

    Lorne Sanny did not preach the implications of the Kingdom, before he introduced the Fundamentals of The Navigator Ministry (FOM, 1978). Indeed, he told his Leadership Team in 1970—“If you want a good one-chapter summary on the Kingdom, I don’t think you could do better than the first chapter of John Stott’s book Basic Introduction to the New Testament. For me, at least, it says it all and it says it succinctly.”

    Judging by the papers submitted to the first Lausanne Congress in 1974, the Kingdom was hardly mentioned in the formal sessions. The only plenary speaker who gives it particular attention was René Padilla. He declared at one point in his paper that:

    “Salvation is wholeness. Salvation is total humanization. Salvation is eternal life—the life of the Kingdom of God—life that begins here and now…Jesus personifies and proclaims a new alternative—the Kingdom of God. To say that Jesus is the Christ is to describe him in political terms, to affirm that he is king. His kingdom is not of this world, not in the sense that it has nothing to do with the world, but in the sense that it does not adapt itself to human politics. It is a kingdom with its own politics, marked by sacrifice.”

    Surprisingly, Waldron Scott’s acclaimed introductory slide show at Lausanne on The Task Before Us does not mention the Kingdom. However, when Jim Petersen returned from Brazil in the same year to work with Sanny on the FOM, Scott encouraged him to continue studying the Kingdom.

    Sanny had been also much influenced by E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) who wrote extensively on the Kingdom during his missionary experience in India.

    Why so little attention to the Kingdom in our earlier days? Several reasons. Some of our leaders had grown up in a dispensationalist environment, in which the Kingdom of God is for and of the future. Others were nervous because an emphasis on the Kingdom might lead us into what was seen as a liberal preoccupation with social and political justice. As Stephen Nichols shows in his essay on The Kingdoms of God: the Kingdom in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives —“There are about as many interpretations of the kingdom as there are theologians addressing it.” He argues that “like the tentacles of an octopus, how one understands the kingdom of God reaches and stretches out to all other areas of doctrine.”

    As Dallas Willard wrote:

    “The error of the liberals was to preach the Kingdom without Jesus…but the error of the conservatives is to preach Jesus without the Kingdom. The Gospel of the Kingdom is a Gospel that leads naturally to discipleship.”

  3. More excerpts from McGilchrist paper--

    The FOM sought to demonstrate how practical the Kingdom is. As the text says:

    “The Kingdom lifts us out of sectarianism. We are not merely working for a perishable organization nor are we in competition with any other laborers in God’s harvest. We are serving the King of an unshakable Kingdom. Our labors are never lost nor in vain—Hebrews 12:28.”

    Because we are citizens of the Kingdom our primary allegiance is to King Jesus rather than to The Navigators. We have access to a new way of life in which substantial healing, reconnected to Christ, can become the norm. Jesus is Lord.

    Nevertheless, one observes that the Kingdom was one of the least discussed segments of the FOM. With a focus on the legitimacy of our ministry and the component parts of our Calling, we tended to move quickly into the segment on Church and then into our particular responsibility of raising up laborers. This was in part because we were still largely working within cultures at least nominally Christian and because our pragmatic bias drew us into the what of our ministry. Many of us had a degree of insecurity vis-à-vis the rest of the family of God. Some suggested that we were merely “para-church.” Thus, the FOM concentrated not on the Kingdom but on how we formed a valid identity as part of the Church.

    During the process of preparing for what became our Scriptural Roots of Ministry (SRM) in the late 1980s, we also recognized that the Kingdom is a powerful lens for us and, indeed, is the point of integration for a hermeneutical community. Paul Hiebert writes:

    “The Kingdom of God is always prophetic and calls all cultures towards God’s ideals…citizens of the Kingdom are to form living communities that manifest the nature of the Kingdom. In such communities, understanding the Word of God must be an ongoing and living process that leads to discipleship, under the lordship of Christ in every area of life.”

    In his study on The Kingdom and The Church, Jim Petersen pointed out that “it is impossible for us to understand the Church or The Navigators without seeing both in the context of the Kingdom. We tend to become competitive and sectarian, trying to decide what are tares and what is wheat, when the Kingdom is not in our thinking.”

    He adds:

    An understanding of the Kingdom is key to indigeneity. We do not export an Americanized Christianity, nor do we Brazilianize Christianity. Both would be sub-Christian. There is a third option: the Kingdom culture. It transcends them both, calling on both to live like citizens of the Kingdom of God and to beware of the leaven of human precepts that would rob us of our uniqueness.

    * * *
    Another influence that had brought the Kingdom to the fore in the late 80s was our need for authentic access to restricted countries and our realization that churchly activities were hardly enough. We had known this, of course, but the circumstances of the day brought it to the surface. As Al Bussard commented:

    “…without an understanding or theology that has place for the Kingdom of God, it’s very difficult to gain the inner freedom to spend so much time working on creating a business or building a school or getting a baseball diamond set up. If one doesn’t understand the Kingdom of God in its biblical and broad sense, then you give up on those things because they take a lot of time, money and energy. Someone has to come to the place where they believe that if you are giving a seminar on sales techniques for a bank, that’s just as important and as much a part of God’s interest as anything else.”


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