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The Kingdom of God in Daniel To understand the “kingdom of God” one has to go back to the prophetic book of Daniel. During the time of Daniel, the Jews had been conquered by the Babylonians and dragged off to Babylon. The Babylonian captivity in 605 B.C. “marks the beginning of the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24), the prophetic period when Jerusalem is under Gentile control.”9 The “times of the Gentiles” ends when the Messiah returns. Daniel records that one night Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar had a perplexing dream about “an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance” (Dan. 2:31). Perplexed about the dream, he calls in his soothsaying “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers” (Dan. 2:2), but they are unable to tell him his dream and its meaning. As they were being rounded up to be put to death, Daniel, who was in the king’s service, tells King Nebuchadnezzar “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Dan. 2:28). He steps forward, not only with the interpretation of the dream, but recalling the details of the very dream itself. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that the four metals of the statue (gold, silver, bronze, and iron) symbolize four kingdoms. Babylon is the first kingdom. Three other kingdoms were to follow the Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Handbook (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 383.
Babylonians in influence and domination. Daniel ends his message to Nebuchadnezzar by telling of one more kingdom—the kingdom of God. “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).
Later Daniel has a dream of four beasts, again representing four kingdoms that dominate the earth. His dream ends with “one like a son of man, coming in the clouds of heaven [who was] given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). Daniel’s dream ends with the certainty that “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever” (Dan. 7:18). “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (Dan. 7:28). The stage is now set for the coming king and the coming kingdom.
The Kingdom and the Birth of Jesus By the time Jesus was born, Israel had been chafing and languishing under foreign control for over six hundred years. By the time B.C. turned the page to A.D. the Babylonians had been conquered by the Persians who were in turn conquered by Alexander the Great and the Greeks. Greece eventually yielded to the mighty hand of Rome whose kingdom consisted of fifty million inhabitants.10 The Romans were the kingdom de jour. Every Jew who understood history and understood the Scriptures knew that the next kingdom on the horizon was God’s kingdom as prophesied by Daniel and the air was thick with anticipation.
The births of John the Baptist and Jesus had been foreshadowed with prophecies and speculations that pointed to a coming king. John would do the lead blocking as the one who would go before Jesus and would “rescue [them] from the hand of [their] enemies” (Luke 1:74). The angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her, “You will…give birth to a son, and …he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever;
his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33). Jesus was the coming king! Shortly after the birth of Jesus, the Magi from the east came in search of the “king of the Jews,” (Matt. 2:1and they were not disappointed. Their gifts and homage were proof that they believed they found the king. When the baby Jesus was dedicated in the temple the eighty-four year old prophetess, Anna excitedly “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:36-38). Many reflected the anticipation of Joseph of Arimathea who twice is described as one who was “waiting for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 23:53, Mark 15:43).
Centrality of the Kingdom Message As previously noted, Matthew records John the Baptist’s first public words— “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2), and with anticipation, the crowds from Jerusalem and Judea responded by confessing their sins and being baptized in the Roman Empire; available from http://www.crystalinks.com/romanempire.html;
Internet; accessed 15 March, 2007.
Jordan (Matt. 3:4-11). If the king was coming, they wanted to be ready. After Jesus was baptized by John and returned from his desert temptation, he found himself in his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). When the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him, he scrolled down to Isaiah 61, where he read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” This verse and the verses that followed fleshed out his “great commission” and would prove to be his lode star.
Isaiah 61:1-6 depicts the gospel being preached through proclamation (“proclaim”) and demonstration (“bind up the brokenhearted,” “to comfort those who mourn,” “provide for those who grieve,” etc). The kingdom becomes a place of beauty, not ashes, gladness not mourning, praise and not despair (v.3 ). The transformed people—referred to as “oaks of righteousness,” are those who “rebuild, renew, and restore the city.” As Jesus began his ministry, the words of his first public sermon were, the same message as his older cousin’s—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17).
Jesus was announcing the coming kingdom. What shape that kingdom would take would unfold through his actions and teachings over the next three years, but wherever he went he spoke to people about the kingdom—“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matt. 9:35. cf. Luke 4:43, 8:1, 9:11) The first petition that Jesus taught his disciples to pray pertains to the kingdom and is found in Matt. 6:10—“…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus said one is to seek first (in priority and importance) his kingdom (Matt. 6:33). In the book of Acts (1:3), in his post-resurrection appearances “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” The kingdom is not ancillary but central to his message.
Jesus’ message was not confined to his own preaching. When he sent his disciples forth in mission (Matt. 10:7, Luke 10:9), he instructed them, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’”—the same message he and John had been preaching.
The central teaching of Phillip (Acts 8:12) was “the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ…” Similarly the apostle Paul preached the kingdom of God. When Paul was arrested in Thessalonica his accusers underscored the central message of his teaching—“These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…they are all saying there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).
When Paul came to Ephesus for three months he spoke out boldly, “arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). For two years he set up shop in the School of Tyrannus where he taught about the King and the kingdom (Acts 19:9). In Paul’s farewell address to these same Ephesians he says, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (Acts 20:25). When Paul arrived in Rome, even under arrest, he arranged to meet with Jewish leaders and “[f]rom morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God…” The closing curtain on the book of Acts finds Paul under house arrest welcoming all who came to see him “and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31; cf. 28:23). In Paul’s writing he refers to the kingdom no less than sixteen times.
The Kingdom Must Have a King It is clear that people polarized around believing or not believing Jesus was the king. The bookend passages of Jesus’ earthly life centered around his kingship. He was king in the manger (Matt. 2:1,2), and at his trial he was king before Pilate—“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world…” (John 18:37), 11 and even king on the cross, it was the thief that recognized his kingship by being asked to be remembered by Jesus when Jesus entered his kingdom that Friday afternoon (Luke 23:42). The central message of Paul’s teaching was not just about the kingdom but about the king. Certainly this aspect of Paul’s teaching was noted by the Thessalonians: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…they are all saying there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).
What is the Kingdom of God?
The kingdom of God is any place over which God has operative dominion.
Although “[t]he earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1) the kingdom of God extends only to those sections of geography or chambers in the hearts of people where God is honored as sovereign and his values are operative.
The kingdom of God has a king. His name is Jesus—Matt. 2:1-12, John 18:37. To preach the kingdom is to tell people about the King and the type of things he values in his kingdom and the world he wants to establish. Isaiah gives a picture of what community life is like when God’s reign is fully operative in the renewed community (Isa. 65:17-25).
1. There is joy—(v.19).
2. There is absence of weeping and crying (v.19).
3. There is no infant mortality (v.20).
4. People live out their full lives (v.20).
5. People will build houses and live in them (v.21, 22).
6. People will sow and reap (v.21, 22).
7. There is fulfilling work (v.22).
8. There is confidence that their children will face a better life (v.23. cf. Zech. 8:4).
9. People experience the blessing of God (v.23).
10. There is intergenerational family support (v.23).
11. There is rapid answer to prayer (v.24).
12. There is an absence of violence (v.25).
So any place where there is sorrow, weeping, infant mortality, premature death, etc. is actually an affront to the kingdom of God. This passage also helps explain the actions and miracles of Jesus. When five thousand Jews were hungry, it was an affront to the kingdom, so he fed them. When four thousand Gentiles (Mark 8:1-5) in the region of Decapolis were hungry, he also fed them also because the kingdom of God knows no geographic or ethnic boundaries. When people were sick or paralyzed, their infirmity also was an affront to the kingdom, so Jesus healed them. When the twelve-year-old girl had died, Jesus raised her from the dead (Luke 8:40-56) because children don’t die in the kingdom. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus raised him from the dead (John11:38-44) because premature death is an affront to the kingdom of God, and there is no premature death in the kingdom.
Through his miracles he was presenting attractive illustrations of what the kingdom of God is like. He didn’t heal everyone; he didn’t feed everyone; he didn’t raise every dead person.
He was creating a compelling visual illustration for what the kingdom of God is like.
When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister, they too were to preach the kingdom and do the same things Jesus did to show people what the kingdom of God is like (Matt. 10:7,8, Luke 9:2).
Parables About the Kingdom of God When Jesus preached about the kingdom of God he frequently used parables to reveal the differing facets of the kingdom. Each parable in itself is incomplete in describing the workings of the kingdom, but taken together, they provide a good picture of principles of how the kingdom operates. The scope of this project does not permit the development each parable, but what is important is to see how many different stories Jesus
told to explain the kingdom. The kingdom of God is like:
1. A man who sowed good seeds in his field—Matt. 13:24.
2. A mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field—Matt. 13:31.
3. Yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough—Matt. 13:33.
4. Treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field—Matt. 13:44.
5. A merchant looking for fine pearls—Matt. 13:45.
6. A king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants—Matt. 18:33.
7. A landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard—Matt. 20:1.
8. A king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son—Matt. 22:2.
9. Ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom—Matt.
10. A man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to
11. A man who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he doesn’t know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—Mark 4:26-27.
Each parable provides a different glimpse of operating principles of the kingdom and how the kingdom grows and multiplies.