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The Kingdom of God / Heaven in the Gospels

Julian Spriggs M.A.

The Kingdom of God is not an earthly geographical kingdom, but the reign of God, predicted in the Old Testament and established through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There is a great emphasis on the kingdom in the synoptic gospels, where it is described both as a present reality, as well as a future expectation. It is now, but not yet. The good news of the kingdom formed the centre of the preaching of Jesus (Mk 1:14-15), confirming the declaration of John the Baptist (Mt 3:2). Jesus showed that the future had broken into the present. The good news is that the eschatological blessings of salvation and life in the kingdom are now available to those who believe.

Jesus used parables to teach the true nature of the kingdom, to counter the popular Jewish expectations of a military kingdom to be established in Jerusalem. The kingdom was a mystery, which was revealed to the disciples, but hidden from the crowds, because of their hard hearts (Mk 4:11f). The kingdom is like a mustard seed, which started small, but grew very large (Mt 13:31f), or like a seed which grows and bears fruit at the final harvest (Mk 4:26ff), showing that the kingdom will grow until its consummation at the final judgement. The parable of the sower showed that the growth of the kingdom depended on the receptivity of the hearts of his listeners (Mk 4). Jesus demonstrated the arrival of the kingdom by signs and wonders, through healing (Mt 9:35), and especially by the casting out of demons, a sign that the strong man, Satan, had been bound (Mt 12:28f). He also taught that the full establishment of the kingdom was still in the future, when the Son of Man will come in the clouds (Mk 14:62). Before that time, the message of the kingdom had to break out from Israel to reach all nations (Mt 24:14).

The term 'the kingdom of heaven' is unique to Matthew’s Gospel. It appears to be synonymous with kingdom of God (Mt 19:23-24). Probably, as a Jew, Matthew was reluctant to use the holy name of God, so used 'heaven' instead.

This apparent tension between the present and future aspects of the kingdom has led to much scholarly controversy. Some scholars have emphasised the present reality of the kingdom at the expense of future consummation, especially C.H. Dodd’s teaching on realised eschatology. Others see a social gospel, emphasising kingdom values in society, rather than in personal salvation. Dispensationalists emphasise the future kingdom, claiming that Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, who rejected it.

In John’s gospel, instead of eschatology breaking into the present seen in the synoptics, the life of above is made available to life below. The emphasis is on eternal life, rather than the kingdom. However, Jesus told Nicodemus that he could only see the kingdom by being born from above (or again) (3:3), thus linking the kingdom with new life of the Spirit. Later Jesus confused Pilate by saying that his kingdom was not of this world (18:36).

In the book of Acts, the disciples proclaimed the kingdom in their preaching. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter proclaimed that Jesus the Messiah had suffered and was now exalted at the right hand of God, on the heavenly throne of David (Acts 2:30-36). Paul argued persuasively about the kingdom in Ephesus, so all residents heard the word of the Lord (19:8-10), later describing it as the good news of God’s grace (20:24-25).

Although Paul does not mention it many times in his letters, the arrival of kingdom is implied in his writing. We now live in the kingdom and are expected to behave accordingly (1 Thess 2:12). Jesus will hand the eschatological kingdom to the Father at his second coming, but for now he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:24ff), again showing the kingdom as a present reality with a future consummation.

The writer of Hebrews mostly emphasises the humanity and the earthly sacrifice of Jesus, rather than the kingdom. However, he describes the future kingdom as unshakeable city to come (12:28, 13:14), when compared with the instability on earth.

The kingdom is not mentioned much in the general epistles. Peter draws on the description of Israel as a priestly kingdom and holy nation (Ex 19:6) to describe the believers as a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). He emphasises the future aspect of the kingdom when he describes the entry into the eternal kingdom provided for the believers (2 Pet 2:11).

The book of Revelation looks forward to the consummation of the kingdom in order to encourage believers currently facing persecution and martyrdom. God is described as “the one seated on the throne” (4:2), and the saints are made to be a kingdom of priests serving God (1:6), sharing the kingdom (1:9). All forces of evil led by the dragon, Satan, will ultimately be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10). A great debate rages over the interpretation of the millennium when the saints will rule with Christ (Rev 20:1-6). A pre-millennial interpretation expects Christ to return and establish an earthly kingdom for 1000 years. Dispensationalists expect this to be a Jewish kingdom in Israel. The amillennial view does not expect this physical kingdom, but sees the 1000 years as symbolic of the current age of the church when the saints or the martyrs share in the rule of Christ.

Through church history, theologians have argued about the relationship between the kingdom and the church. The Roman Catholic view, taught by Augustine, identified the kingdom with the Catholic church, implying that salvation was impossible outside the church. The Reformers emphasised the invisible kingdom made up of true believers. In the New Testament, the church is not identified as the kingdom but as the people of God who have received the word and who will inherit the kingdom in the future.


D. Guthrie. New Testament Theology. IVP 1981. Pages 409-431.
G.E. Ladd. A Theology of the New Testament. Eerdmans 1974.
G.E. Ladd: Kingdom of God, in International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE). ed. GW Bromiley. Eerdmans 1986
L. Morris. New Testament Theology. Zondervan 1986.
H.N. Ridderbos: Kingdom of God, Kingdom of heaven, in Illustrated Bible Dictionary. ed. JD Douglas. IVP 1986
G. Vos. Biblical Theology. Banner of Truth 1975. Pages 375-387.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.