“Kingdom” According to Jesus
Scot McKnight provides an ideal on-ramp to capture the meaning of God’s Kingly rule and phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ as Jesus understood it. In his work “A New Vision for Israel” he states,
Jewish social and political circumstances permitted the religious hope of Israel to have its own delightful and despairing history. At the same time, this hope shaped the social and political identity of the nation and exercised a profound influence on the teachings of Jesus. His teachings on the present operation of the kingdom were shaped fundamentally by his vision of the future kingdom.
McKnight argues that any attempt to study the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ thinking and teaching must be kept within this context. Failing to do so would result in an erroneous belief that what Jesus is teaching is somehow new or uncommon. This would be inaccurate given the study above of Second Temple literature. In the past and for some in the present the action of believing that the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus were independent of contemporary ideas. Over time though, as literature began to be made available and scholarship on the topic multiplied, this perception began to shift. As Albert Schweitzer makes clear,
After the studies of Hilgenfeld and Dillmann had made known the Jewish apocalyptic in its fundamental characteristics, and the Jewish Pseudepigrapha were no longer looked on as ‘forgeries’, but as representative documents of the last stage of Jewish thought, the necessity of taking account of them in interpreting the thought of Jesus became more and more emphatic.
It is with this understanding in mind both from McKnight and Schweitzer that any hope of discovering what Jesus means by “Kingdom” must remain connected to his own sitz im leben. For study we will highlight key Scriptures where Jesus uses “Kingdom of God” in diverse ways. These texts will focus on Jesus seeing the Kingdom as present, ethical, and future. With the book of Mark being the earliest extant Gospel we will take our Scriptural examples from here. While it would be advantageous to go through the parables relating to the Kingdom of God, we will focus only on the direct statements of the Kingdom which connect most to surrounding outside literature we have already examined.
Mark 1:15 and the Kingdom Present
At the beginning of his ministry, the Gospel of Mark tells us in 1:15 that he exclaimed, “πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ· μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.” For Jesus the Kingdom of God in this sentence is one of present impact. From this text it is surmisable that this wasn’t something that was coming next week or next year. It was now. Along with the present arrival is a spatial connection in his usage of “ἤγγικεν.” In otherwards, it is near in this present space and time. The addition of “πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ” adds a devotional concept he is expecting his listeners to grab ahold of. To trust and to believe that this present Kingdom is discernable—the one that has been spoken of well before his arrival.
Joel Marcus in his Anchor commentary would agree with the above and views Jesus’ usage of the Kingdom of God here as having an immediate impact. He states
Kairos can mean either ‘decisive moment’ (cf. 12:2, 13:33) or ‘span of time’ (cf. 10:30; 11:13). Because of the combination with plēroun, ‘to fulfill,’ which implies linearity, the meaning ‘span of time’ is to be preferred in the present instance.”
He goes on to say that this understanding of God’s rule and reign being inaugurated at this present time lends to this being a both dynamic and apocalyptic pronouncement of Jesus concerning the Kingdom. Which, as we recall, was a strand of thinking found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and certain Pseudepigraphal texts.
Jesus is giving not only an invitation but a cosmic declaration to all who would hear, to come and experience that which is immanent. That God’s reign and Kingdom is discernable in the present through his ministry. It is with this urgency of the Kingdom that Jesus is compelled to go from village to village. It is an imminence, once again, that is not necessarily new in its origin. In T. Mos. 10:1 it reads, “his [God’s] Kingdom shall appear throughout his creation…” In the Kaddish Prayer we have another similarity that deserves notice. “May he establish his Kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and at a near time.” In speaking of this same immanence, Dale C. Allison brings us to a deeper place of clarity. Allison qualifies six of scholar Marcus Borg’s assessments of the Kingdom. In doing so he supports those who see the Kingdom as an eschatological pronouncement from Jesus and its present inbreaking in Mark 1:15. He states
If the Kingdom is indeed (6) an “ideal state,” that is, the eschatological state when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, this would explain why (5) the Kingdom is also a political metaphor (when the ideal comes Rome will be gone), why (4) it is something one can be in or out of (some will enter, others will not enter), why (3) it is associated with God’s kingship (God will then be universally recognized as king), why (2) it is linked with the divine presence (in the end God will be, as Rom. 15:28 puts it, all in all), and, finally, why (1) it is bound up with God’s power (the ideal only comes because of God’s might and only after a great struggle against evil).
From our first example of Jesus’ usage of Kingdom of God we can say with confidence that Jesus thought in the same apocalypticism that is in line with much of what we discovered from the Second Temple literature. Allison helps us see this from a multi-layered approach while Marcus shows that Jesus saw this as a present multi-dimensional reality for all who would place their trust in his message. He is pronouncing an invitation to a Kingdom with present implications seeking the trust of those who would listen.
Mark 10:14-15 and the Ethical Kingdom
Making the shift from Mark 1:15 to 10:14-15 and our journey of seeing “the Kingdom of God” through the eyes of Jesus is enough to cause us to scratch our head. How is it that in Mark 1:15 we see a “present tense” Kingdom but are now confronted with a Kingdom that is (appears to be) yet to come? In our second example the specific part of the text which we will engage reads, “ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.”
The obvious question we should bring to this text when read in conjunction with 1:15 is, “How is it the arrival of a Kingdom with present implications and yet it needs entered into as communicated in the negative with: οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.” Was not Jesus communicating that it was here? It had arrived. While interpretations differ, the text appears to give the connotation that this is a future Kingdom that is yet to come and those who welcome children—an ethical component of the present/future Kingdom—will reserve the right to enter it. The timing of the Kingdom according to Jesus is hotly debated. While timing is important for understanding the eschatology of Jesus, maybe it is a focus we are imposing hermeneutically more than the text is seeking to reveal. N.T. Wright suggests that the texts which are often thought of referring to the timing of the end of the world are more rooted in a deeper Jewish meaning. 
He argues that this then suggests that the crucial question is not so much that of the Kingdom’s timing but rather its content. Though the present text is not in reference to an apocalyptic ending of the world (though embedded within οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν” one could argue it is indirectly present), it nonetheless highlights what Wright is saying. What is important for our quest in understanding how Jesus understood the Kingdom is the welcoming of a child to himself. This is a marker of the Kingdom that is at work in the life of Jesus throughout his ministry. This ethical component of the Kingdom culture is in lock step with what was hoped for. More on the ethics of the Kingdom will be explored later in this paper. But for our present study of Mark 10:14-15 it is important to recognize how this present statement of a child being welcomed to himself is connected to the larger narrative. Scot McKnight writes
Kingdom evokes for may the grand and glorious, but Jesus sabotaged such an idea with an emphatic focus on the inauspicious nature of the present Kingdom of God. The Kingdom had inauspicious beginnings—like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32), it was comprised of inauspicious people—like children (10:14-15) and tax collectors (Luke 19:1-10), it was led by an inauspicious person—Jesus (Luke 17:20-21), and yet this inauspiciousness would someday turn into a grand a glorious display (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).
Mark’s inclusion of Jesus’ indignation and frustration at the disciple’s halting of children coming to him (of whom the likes of the inauspicious Kingdom is found according to McKnight) is unique to his gospel alone. In doing so he highlights with passion what Jesus viewed the Kingdom as being all about: a divine and subversive welcoming of that and those rejected by the ways of human governance and society. William Lane beautifully articulates what this text reveals and how Jesus views the inclusion within this present/future Kingdom. He states
The disciples’ attempt to turn the children aside because they were unimportant is one more instance of a persistent tendency to think in wholly human, fallen categories which Jesus had rebuked on earlier occasions (Chs. [Mark] 8:33; 9:33-37). The Kingdom of God belongs to children, and to others like them who are of no apparent importance, because God has willed to give it to them…. The Kingdom belongs to such as these because they receive it as a gift.
This second example displays an ethical dynamic to the Kingdom that falls in line with what was hoped for before Jesus in the above research. While the challenge of timing is certainly imbedded in this these two, that is not the priority of this specific text. In the process thus far, we see that the Kingdom has present impact (Mark 1:15) with ethical and cultural implications (Mark 10:14-15). The Kingdom according to the thinking of Jesus is setting up to be a status reversal in the present with an eye towards future consummation as we will see.
Taking a step back we can see that the actions and teachings of Jesus are happening to further this two-fold effort of (1) pronouncing a present Kingdom (2) with action that displays the evidence of a new Kingdom, breaking through the social order of first century Palestine. Wright detects this happening in Jesus and asserts that he believed with his own work and message that something “dramatically new was already happening.” As Wright says, “The days of preparation were over ; Israel’s god was now acting in the way he had promised of old.” This understanding though is kept in tension since at the same time Jesus was viewing the Kingdom as something about to burst on to the scene. If his followers were not careful it would come as a thief in the night. All of this can be described as a Kingdom that is both here and not yet. This paradox was enough to give even the disciples moments of confusion. But alas, the Kingdom is not marked by confusion. It is a wonderful and beautiful paradox expanded upon even further by our last Markan text.
Mark 14:25 and the Future Kingdom
Our first two examples highlight a linear movement of the Kingdom. Our first example from Mark 1:15 showcases the starting line of Jesus and all who would follow him. That the message and proclamation was to be Kingdom focused. The element of repentance was so that those who were “afar off” or wandering down paths of hopelessness wondering if the common pseudepigraphal or Isaian texts, which surely existed in the cultural milieu of the people, would ever surface. Our second text from Mark 10:14-15 highlights the distance this Kingdom will go in challenging the status quo of current social dynamics within the 1st century location of Jesus. It is with our final text that we see somewhat of a “finish line” from Jesus.
In 14:25 Jesus states, “οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ πίω ἐκ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸπίνω καινὸν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.” At first glance we must again grapple with the apparent confusion of timing. In an almost definitive sense Jesus is putting his cards on the table that the Kingdom is not yet here though it was in Mark 1:15. The βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ in this text with the accompanying language of banquet and drinking wine leads us to believe Jesus here is speaking not only of a future reality but more importantly a future fulfilment. In Jesus and Judaism E. P. Sanders defends this authentic statement by Jesus and askes a poignant question. He asks
Does this indicate that Jesus thought that the disciples would constitute a group which would survive his death and endure until the eschaton, or that the kingdom would arrive immediately, with no interval? Is the kingdom this-worldly or other worldly? We find here the uncertainty which generally characterizes discussion which attempts to specify the precise meaning of the saying’s material.
While much has been written on the proposed aims and intentions of Jesus surrounding the last supper and how he viewed his death, this paper is unable to give this question the attention it merits. This question though highlights the frame of questions which get us closer to assessing how Jesus saw the Kingdom. Suffice to say that Jesus was both proclaiming and experiencing something himself which he knew was at work within him and through him regardless how he saw his own future as the messiah. It was a Kingdom that was taking root while he ministered with an eye to the future fulfillment as even the prophets before him proclaimed.
From our final text we can see that Jesus viewed an impending restoration of all things and a bringing to order of that which is disordered. When Jesus says οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ πίω ἐκ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸ πίνω καινὸν, he was not speaking of any ordinary banquet. As Normin Perrin so wonderfully explains this text with its present and future implications he writes
The imagery of the Messianic Banquet teaches that it [the Kingdom] will mean a perfect participation in the ultimate blessings of God; and the imagery of the New Temple which is a regular apocalyptic symbol for the final blessed state, describes the community of the redeemed as enjoying a perfect sacral relationship with God.
As should be clear by now, Jesus cannot be pigeonholed into one viewpoint on the Kingdom from his era. There are present and future aspects. There are ethical inferences that affect this life and the life to come. These three examples (among many others) highlight a robust mindset on the Kingdom that Jesus communicated from. The logical outflow of these sayings of Jesus (whether they be attested or accepted) is to bring together a cohesive theological understanding of what Jesus means when he uses the phrase “Kingdom of God.” While the debate on timing, spatial components, and ethical dimensions will continue, it is imperative we not “miss the forest for the trees.”
We ought to ask, “So what that the Kingdom is here?” “So, what that the Kingdom has differing social dynamics?” “So, what that this Kingdom will one day be fulfilled fully?” While such questions may resemble a toddler asking this phrase to everything they are told, it is important for us to ask them, nonetheless. Persistently asking such questions will enable us to integrate a fresh Kingdom approach steeped in its natural context of Second Temple Judaism.
Before moving on to understanding this Kingdom mission in the wake of Jesus’ ascension and resurrection in Church history we must capture a glimpse of where scholarship has been on this same endeavor. More on this in Part 3.
 McKnight, A New Vision for Israel, 120.
 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2005), 222.
 The ethical components of Jesus’ understanding on the Kingdom of God will be more fully explored in the concluding area of this paper.
 For an in depth look at the Kingdom parables see Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, Second edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018). As well as Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
 In analyzing these three Markan Scriptures it is most appropriate that we do so in the original language.
 This perfect active indicative 3rd person singular verb denotes a movement in space has in effect taken place. Something has moved into the present time. BDAG lists the meanings of this word to include a reference point, a drawing near, a coming near, an approaching of humans and transcendent beings. This would of course imply also to the Kingdom of God. Whether or not this applies to the seen or unseen is debatable. For the present context the usage of ἤγγικεν signals a spatial approach with the teachings and message of the Gospel. (Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
 Joel Marcus, Mark 1 – 8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, First Yale University Press impression, The Anchor Bible, volume 27 (New Haven, Conn. London: Yale University Press, 2010), 172.
 Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 122.
 N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God, 1st North American ed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 222–23.
 See Enoch 10:1, 3-4 and our study of it above.
 Craig A. Evans, ed., Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (New York: Routledge, 2008), 356.
 William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publ, 2010), 360.
 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 1992, 466.
 This is especially true in the book of Acts in 1:1-7 where the disciples are continuing to confuse the Kingdom’s present implications with the national restoration of Israel as opposed to the more apocalyptic and eschatological Kingdom which was breaking in.
 It should be noted that because of space there cannot be an adequate exploration of each Scripture which highlights the ethical transformations of the Kingdom. However, in later parts of this project the implications for Christian ethics, church leadership, and ecclesiastical mission will be addressed further.
 E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 1st Fortress Press ed (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 148.
 Norman Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 188.