Problem of the Kingdom of God

A Systems Analysis Solution

Harold R. Booher, Ph.D.

Copyright 2013 - Harold R. Booher

Chapter 1: Kingdom of God is Theme of the Bible

The purpose of this book is to propose an answer to what, where, and when is the kingdom of God. The problem of the kingdom being understood from reading the Bible is quite complex even though it is the contention of many that the kingdom of God is in fact the theme of the Bible. The primary assumptions for this effort are:

a. The Bible is a communication system that brings God’s word to us through human authors.

b. Those things that God intends us to understand can be found and comprehended from study of the Bible.

c. God intends for us to comprehend the kingdom

d. A systems analysis can be conducted on the Bible that can determine what, where, and when is the kingdom of God. 

A plain reading of scripture does provide nearly the same answer to our questions about the kingdom as that found through a formal systems analysis.  Our primary problem in understanding the kingdom is caused by our assumptions as Christians that lead us to make the kingdom something other than that actually described in the Bible. Our desire to make the kingdom anything we wish it to be has produced considerable noise greatly confounding the communication God has provided in his messages on the kingdom. To reduce the noise and determine the actual message on the kingdom, we will start by showing how important the kingdom of God is to the Bible.

The objective of this chapter is to reflect the results of Step 1 of the systems analysis (i.e., Determine the theme of the Bible). Our hypothesis is that the kingdom of God is in fact, the theme of the Bible.  This will require a great deal of scriptural support, along with a convincing argument that other contenders, like Christian Church doctrine and morality, the history of God's relationship with people, individual salvation, and Jesus Christ, himself; although critical features of the Bible, are not the overarching theme(s) or purpose of the Bible.  For until we understand the foundational role of the kingdom of God, as understood by the "law and the prophets" of the Old Testament, by the Jews at the time of Jesus, and by Jesus and the apostles themselves, there is little hope for progress in answering our questions about what, when, or where is the kingdom.

Theme of the Gospels

The strongest argument for the kingdom of God being the theme of the Bible comes from Jesus in the gospels. The kingdom of God is the first thing preached by Jesus after John’s baptism, being in the wilderness forty days, and being tempted by the Devil. In Mark’s first chapter he describes Jesus’ ministry as starting in Galilee, where Jesus is found “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 the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15 NKJV; see also Matthew 4:17; 23-24)  After Jesus selects his disciples, he calms them about their worries of this world, telling them to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matt, 6:33)  Jesus assures them the father knows of their worldly needs, and that these things will be provided; but they are to make the kingdom of God their priority.

Purpose for which Jesus was sent

In Luke, Jesus says the kingdom of God is the purpose for which he was sent.  After a day of great healing, when Jesus was trying to find a deserted place, a crowd found him and tried to keep him from leaving; but Jesus said:  “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43). Jesus was successful in spreading his word on the kingdom as “He went though every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). The kingdom of God soon spread through the disciples also.  As Jesus commissioned the disciples with power to cast out demons and cure diseases, “He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). In these verses of Luke we begin to see the association of healing with the kingdom of God.  Both Jesus and the disciples would preach the kingdom of God and demonstrate it through healing and casting out devils.

The kingdom of God then spreads to “seventy others” as Jesus directs them to go to houses two by two, and if a city receives them they were to “heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9).  Jesus taught the disciples to pray for the kingdom of God with, as all Christians are familiar, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Luke 11:2; Matthew 6:10).  The Lords prayer starts to tell us that there is something about the kingdom yet in the future.  The future aspect of the kingdom becomes more apparent in his parables and prophecies of the future. One very clear message is that some will not be able to remain in the kingdom. As Jesus addresses an imaginary group of “workers of iniquity,” he says, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:28).  For those who worked righteousness, the kingdom of God was their hope.  Joseph of Arimathea, the council member who arranged for Jesus to be buried in a tomb, is described as a “good and just man” who was “waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:50,51). 

Central subject of Jesus’ preaching

Whenever we find summary statements of Jesus’ preaching (like those above) they tell us his central subject was the kingdom of God.  When we find the gospels providing more detailed descriptions of what Jesus actually said when he was teaching, we can assume these are details concerning the main subject – which is – the kingdom of God. In both the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49) everything recorded on these sermons is describing characteristics expected of people who live in the kingdom of God. The beatitudes begin with “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The question of turning the other cheek that is taught in these sermons then is a behavior expected of people of the kingdom (Matthew 5:38-39; Luke 6:29).

Parables on the Kingdom

Much of the detailed descriptions of the kingdom are hidden in parables. The parables listed in Table 1 below are all parables that Jesus states is about the kingdom of God (or kingdom of Heaven, in Matthew’s gospel).  When we examine the various parables, we see that they are not just different ways of saying the same thing about the kingdom, but rather ways of describing different aspects of the kingdom. 

The parables of the weeds and the net speak of the kingdom starting with both good and bad people swept up in it together, until they are separated, some to remain, some not. 

The parables of the mustard seed, the leaven, and the growing seed, outline the kingdom’s growth from small to large, from one place to a whole area, and most importantly in stages as in starting with the blade, then the ear, and finally the full corn in the ear. 

The parable of the sower describes how different people will respond before the kingdom is manifest to the words given them from the Lord about the kingdom.

The parables of the hidden treasure, pearl of great price, and the rich fool tell us how wonderful the kingdom will be, not to be compared with any treasure today. We should make the kingdom of God our highest priority in thought, word, and deed. 

Only the parable of the ten virgins is concerned with when the kingdom will come. However, since it teaches about a future kingdom, it provides a clue that the kingdom manifest is neither here collectively (as in the church), or individually (within us) now.

Table 1.  Parables on the Kingdom of God



Special feature(s)        

1. Parable of the sower

       Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:3-20

Difference in people’s response to
the word of God concerning it

2. Parable of the weeds      

        Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

God allows the good and bad to grow up together in it                       

3. Parable of the growing seed

         Mark 4:26-29

It has stages of growth; blade, ear, and full corn in the ear

4. Parable of the mustard seed      

        Matt.13:31-32; Mk 4:30-32; Lu 13:18-19

It starts from a seed and grows very large

5. Parable of leaven

        Matthew 13:33; Luke 13: 20-21

It starts at one place and spreads until it fills the whole area

6. Parable of hidden treasure  

        Matthew 13:44

It is like finding a hidden treasure worth more than all a person has

7. Parable of pearl of great price

         Matthew 13:45-46

It is like spending all you have for one great possession

8. Parable of the net

         Matthew 13:47-49

It starts with the good and bad brought in together

9. Parable of the rich fool

          Luke 12:13-21,31-34

Seek it with one’s heart more than any worldly treasures

10. Parable of the great banquet

          Luke 14:15-24

Special guests will be invited first, but outsiders will fill it.

11. Parable of the workers in the vineyard

          Matthew 20:1-16

God keeps his bargains, but no limit to those who trust in his goodness.

12. Parable of the pounds

          Luke 19:11-27

When it comes, the righteous will be vindicated. Until then do His work.

13. Parable of the two sons

          Matthew 21:28-32

Those who sin, but repent will enter it before those who only pretend at following God

14. Parable of the tenants

          Matt. 21:33-44; Mark 12:1-12; Lu 20:9-19

It shall be taken away from Israel and given unto the gentiles

15. Parable of the wedding garment

          Matthew 22:1-14

Appearances are not what qualify one to enter it

16. Parable of the ten virgins

          Matthew 25:1-13

Always be prepared; it could come at any time

17. Parable of the talents

          Matthew 25:14-26

Be fruitful with what God gives you concerning it


Theme of Acts; Paul’s Epistles; and Revelation

Acts Period

The kingdom of God is the central theme of the Acts period. During the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the subject of his ministry was “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Also, the kingdom of God was the subject of the preaching of Philip (Acts 8:13). But teaching the kingdom of God was especially central to Paul. In Acts 14:22, we find Paul exhorting new disciples to continue in the faith, warning them “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Later, the kingdom of God was the subject Paul preached at Ephesus; when “he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). And as he departs after three years he reminds the elders of Ephesus that he had gone among them all “preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 20:25).  Near the end of the record of Luke-Acts, Paul calls the leaders of the Jews at Rome together and spends an entire day with them, “to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening (Acts 28:23). Here we see Paul uses “the law and the prophets” to persuade them that Jesus is the heart of the kingdom of God.  We could, in other words, see Paul convincing the Jews in Rome that it is through Jesus that the kingdom of God (which they await from Moses and the prophecies of the Old Testament) has begun. Luke-Acts ends with Paul spending two years in his own hired house “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). 

Paul’s epistles

Acts is Luke's reporting of Paul's activities, but what about Paul's writings themselves. Do they show Paul emphasizing the kingdom of God as his central message?  They do. Throughout his epistles, he mentions the importance of the kingdom and who will be worthy of it. From the earliest letters to the Corinthians and Thessalonians the kingdom is a central topic.  For example, in I Corinthians, verse 6:9-10 we find Paul listing those behaviors that will not be tolerated in the kingdom of God.  In I Thessalonians he stresses that they all should "work worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory" (2:12). In II Thessalonians, he praises them for their sufferings as evidence of their being counted "worthy of the kingdom of God."(1:5). In later epistles, the kingdom is again stressed as something that some are not worthy and will not enter (Ephesians 5:5) and others are to be praised as "fellow workers for the kingdom"(Colossians 4:9). In one of his last epistles, Paul outlines signs of the end of this present dispensation to Timothy and charges him with instructions of duties to carry out “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1). It is the kingdom of God that is Paul’s hope and expectation until the very end of his ministry. As he is finishing the letter he prays “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). 

Climax in Revelation

Finally, we see the kingdom of God reaching its climax in the book of Revelation where it is “mentioned prominently [e.g., 1:9; 5:10; 11:15; 12:10; 20:4.” and “ushers in the final eternal state (cf. Rev 21-22).”1 In Revelation 11:17, for example, we read of the twenty-four elders saying: “For You have taken to Yourself Your great power and You do govern (ebasileusas).”2

Theme of the Old Testament

Old Testament Kingdom Predicted in Future

The most difficult task of showing the kingdom of God is the theme of the Bible is showing it is the theme of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, and that the two are clearly linked.  This is because the term "kingdom of God" specifically is not mentioned in the Old Testament.  The term “kingdom” projected to the future is used continuously throughout the Old Testament and can be assumed to be the same Kingdom predicated for the future as the “Kingdom of God” in the New Testament. Moreover, just because the specific term used in the New Testament is not used precisely the same in the Old Testament is not sufficient reason to dismiss it as a theme.  Professor of systematic theology, Robert Saucy points out that the kingdom’s “features are the dominant content of Old Testament prophecy.”3 It is most obviously connected with the Davidic promise “which provides the central features for the kingdom in the Old Testament, especially in the aspect of the predicted messianic king.”4 Saucy is quick to note also, “that the kingdom theme of the Bible encompasses more than these explicit promises to David…  As the expression of God’s historical work… the kingdom of God is really the end of all of his biblical covenants.”5 He concludes, “The establishment of the kingdom of God on earth is, in fact, the ultimate goal of biblical history.”6

Old Testament Kingdom Links to New Testament Kingdom of God

How then, do we directly link the Old Testament covenants and prophecies to the New Testament kingdom of God?  First we should consider that during the four hundred years between the last book of the Old Testament and Jesus, terms like "Messiah" (occurring only twice in the Old Testament) and "kingdom of God" had become fully familiar to the Jews, and conveyed expectations gathered and summarized from the Old Testament. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the Jews needing a definition of the Messiah or the kingdom of God.7 They already had preconceptions about the Messiah and the kingdom of God and were anxiously awaiting their arrival. When the new disciple Philip located Nathanael, he said “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). When Jesus spoke with the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well, she responded “I know that Messias, cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things” (John 4:25).

Second, Jesus links the kingdom of God to the Old Testament through himself. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill…Whosoever … shall break one of these least commandments… shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven… “(Matt 5:17,19). The people had in mind a kingly ruler and deliverer (messiah) who would head up the kingdom of God and Jesus did not dispel them of this expectation.  What exactly was it, then, that the first century Jews must have expected with a kingdom of God headed up by the Messiah as king of the Jews? 

New Testament Jews could interpret every Old Testament promise and characteristic of a future kingdom for Israel as a portion of the expected kingdom of God. The Greek word translated “kingdom” in the New Testament is basileia, which in the first Century Greek essentially meant “government.”8 Every Israelite at the time of Jesus’ ministry understood the coming of the kingdom of God to mean the coming of a divine government. This was the national and personal hope of all in Israel.9 They knew from the scriptures that the coming of God’s government on earth was the theme of Psalm and Prophecy. “Thou shalt judge the peoples righteously, and govern the nations upon the earth” (Psalm 67:4).  “As I live saith the Yahweh Elohim, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule [be a king] over you.  And I will bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered” (Ezek. 20:33,34).

In the kingdom of God there would be a new temple (Isaiah 44:28), a new Jerusalem (Isaiah 44:24-28), and the Davidic scene restored (Jer 20:5-8). They believed Elijah would return to usher it in (Malachi 4:5) and many confused John the Baptist (Mark 6:15; John 1:21) and even Jesus with Elijah (Luke 9:18).  In the new kingdom, all of Israel would be regathered as lost sheep (Ezekiel 34:11-16) and the dead would be resurrected (Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:1-14). The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants would be fulfilled (Gen 12:20; II Sam 7:8-16) and a new covenant invoked (Jer 31:31-34).  Under the new covenant in the kingdom of God, everyone would know God in their hearts and need no instruction from others. God would put his law “in their inward parts and write it in their hearts ... and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they all shall know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them …” (Jer 31:33,34).  The Israelites at the time of Jesus ministry believed that in the coming kingdom of God, wars would cease (Psalm 46.9; Isaiah 3:4), violence would not be part of nature (Isaiah 11:6-9), diseases and infirmities would be healed (Ps 103.3; Isaiah 35:5-6); no one would become sick (Isaiah 33:24); and those in prisons would be set free (Isaiah 61:1).

An illustration of the prophetic divine government expected by the Israelites in the first century and still awaits Israel and the other nations yet today is found in Psalm 67.

1.  God be merciful unto us, and bless us;
and cause his face to shine upon us,
2.  That thy way may be known upon earth,
     thy saving health among all nations.
3.  Let the people praise thee, O God;
let all the people praise thee.
4. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy:
    for thou shalt judge the people righteously,
    and goven the nations upon the earth.
5. Let the people praise thee, O God;
    let all the people praise thee.
6. Then shall the earth yield her increase;
    and God, even our own God, shall bless us.
7. God shall bless us;
    and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.

What about other Themes?

There are many who would argue that the kingdom of God is certainly one of the themes that can be drawn from the Bible, but is not the major theme, even of the New Testament let along the entire Bible. They would offer other themes as more important that the kingdom of God.  For the remainder of this chapter, we will examine some of the other leading contenders for the theme of the Bible.

1.  Ethics and Morality
2.  The Church
3.  God and His relationship with Israel
4.  God and His plan of salvation for Jews and Christians
5.  The Messiah, Jesus Christ

While each of these can be argued to be important and presented in the Bible, no one of them is sufficient to be a theme upon which all others depend.

1. Ethics and Morality Certainly both the Old and New Testaments provide guidance on how to live a highly ethical life.  One might argue that the ten commandments of the Old Testament and Jesus' statement that all the law falls under two commandments (love God and your neighbor) is the major theme of the Bible.  These commandments are of course excellent guidelines to lead a life of high morality that would be pleasing to God.  It is just that such a life could be lead without being either a Jew or a Christian. At least seven of the ten commandments have been recognized by most civilizations, past and present, as ethical rules for society. Ethics and Morality are not broad enough to cover the majority of the Bible.  None of the other contenders fit under a theme of morality. Certainly the kingdom of God, the Church, and even Jesus himself do not fit under such a theme. We can however argue that ethics and morality are important as a sub theme under each of the other contenders.  Jehovah, the Church, and Jesus all expect their followers to lead highly moral lives.  All those admitted to the kingdom will meet high standards of morality for admittance (e.g., I Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5).

2. The Church.  The Christian Church can be eliminated as the major theme of the Bible, even if it is accepted as a central theme of the New Testament. That is because the church is not mentioned at all by word, characteristics, or inference in the Old Testament.  The Old Testament presents the law and the prophets that Jesus describes himself as coming to fulfill, but nowhere does he describe the Church as fulfilling that role. In the New Testament, it is Paul who presents anything directly related to the establishment of the church. And we have already determined, the theme of the kingdom takes precedent over the church as his major theme.  Some argue that the church is the kingdom of God, but a quick perusal of the Old Testament descriptions of the kingdom quickly dispels any likeness between the present day church and the kingdom of God.  We are also hard pressed to find any resemblance between the Acts of the Apostles and the current church.10

3. God and His relationship with Israel.  This could certainly be demonstrated as a central theme for Judaism, and even carries forward in the gospels and Paul.  However, it appears as a portion of Christianity, both in terms of history and projection of conditions into the future.  It is an important theme, but again would of necessity be subsidiary to the kingdom theme.

4. God and His Plan of Salvation for Jews and Gentiles.  This is such a personal topic for the reader of the Bible that knowing and believing God’s plan for salvation could be the single most important event of his or her life.  But when one actually looks at the Bible, relatively little actual text is devoted to this topic.  The Old Testament spends far more scripture on themes 1 and 3 for the Jewish reader and it is only with reinterpretation through Christian eyes that there appears anything at all on salvation of Gentiles.  Jesus, as we see above, preached the kingdom of God, not his salvation plan.  Salvation might be inferred, but when we ask salvation for what, it is again salvation for entering the kingdom.

5. The Messiah, Jesus Christ.  If Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah is the king of God’s kingdom, then Jesus is a part of the kingdom, not the other way around.  Even if we consider Jesus the most critical ingredient of the kingdom (it could not exist without him) Jesus would be the foremost portion, the entry to, the leader of – the kingdom.  The kingdom is still the major theme.  For example, the human brain might be considered the most critical part of the human body, but it would still be part of the body, not the body as part of the brain.

We conclude therefore that the major theme of the Bible is the kingdom of God In the following chapters, we describe various views of the kingdom of God and show the results of a systems analysis on these views. Ultimately we conclude that the kingdom is a future dispensational period on earth with a beginning and end. To get to what, when and where the kingdom is, our analysis takes the candidate views through ten kingdom facts and an evaluation of all 135 verses in the New Testament that mention the Kingdom and a matrix analysis of the major prophecies that describe characteristics of the future kingdom. Our systems analysis assumes that if the kingdom is the theme of the Bible, then surely the kingdom can be defined in such a way that it is consistent with everything the Bible has to say on the topic. Surprisingly, the most popular views of the kingdom are discredited when attempts are made to consistently support these views with scripture.  One view does prevail, however, that is consistent with the kingdom facts and prophecies. Importantly this study shows the kingdom is not something happening now spiritually. It is God’s rule on earth at some time in the future, but starts well before the return of Christ. There is much one can do in the here and now which is consistent with living a life that makes her a candidate to live in the kingdom, but we are not now living in God’s kingdom, spiritually or otherwise.




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