Why the name change and what exactly does the cryptic sounding phrase sign of the kingdom mean? These are two frequently asked questions since I’ve revamped the blog. My last post attempted to answer the why question from a personal perspective and the next two posts will offer a theological rationale and explanation of the phrase sign of the kingdom. First, let’s look at the biblical concept of kingdom.
Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that the kingdom of God is a central (if not the central) focus of Jesus’ teachings. We are told to pray for the kingdom of God to come (Matthew 6), that it is all around us (Luke 17), that it is not of this world (John 18) and many other things that puzzle and perplex us just as they would have the original hearers. The original Jewish hearers expected a triumphal and warlike Messiah (King) to come and rescue them from the oppression they were enduring under the empire of Rome, to bring the rule of God to earth through a new creation that was often hoped for and described in the Old Testament as a society of justice, peace, love, and holiness (For example see Psalm 89 and Isaiah 54-55). Jesus did come to establish just such a society, yet not as a violent, earthly conqueror. What exactly then was the nature of this mysterious Kingdom if it was not a worldly empire like Rome?
If Jesus’ cryptic sounding statements don’t create dissonance when trying to understand the nature of the Kingdom of God, the proliferation of scholarly opinion will press the issue to dizzying heights of confusion. Most major New Testament scholars have weighed in on the meaning and nature of the Kingdom of God and their detailed explanations are far from synonymous. Among the various options are:
1. The Kingdom exists in the heart of believers
2. The Kingdom is correlated completely (or almost completely) with the church
3. The Kingdom is the entire world where God is at work
4. The church is part of the Kingdom in a specific way, while the entire world is part of the Kingdom of God in a different way
Which of these brief descriptions do you take to be the most accurate in describing the Kingdom of God? Is their a univocal definition of the Kingdom in Scripture? What is the relation between the church and Kingdom?
I’ll weigh in on these questions in my next post which will continue to discuss the Kingdom of God and prepare for the last in this series which will give an explicit answer as to the meaning of the phrase sign of the kingdom.