How do you describe the kingdom of God?

11 July, 2013 — 23 Comments

The “kingdom of God” is a phrase translated into English from something that was central to the teaching of Jesus. This phrase has become church jargon. What does it actually mean? Is the intended original significance lost in the way it gets used today?

How do you describe the kingdom of God?

Are you able to simply define the kingdom of God to someone not part of the church who has never been Christianised?

At my church on Sunday nights we have a shared meal. It’s pretty relaxed, and after we’ve eaten there’s usually a few planned ‘slots’ to help us engage with one another and with God.

One of the ‘slots’ we’ve been doing is called “stuff Jesus said”, where somebody reads out a conversation Jesus had with a person or a group of people. They then share a few reflections on the conversation, followed by a few questions for people around the tables to talk about together.

Questions like:

  • What was going on for the people having this conversation?
  • What did it mean for them?
  • What does this conversation mean for us? (in 21st century Christchurch)…

Recently Emma got us to look at a conversation where Jesus mentions the kingdom of God (Luke 6.17-22). One of the questions we talked about was:

What does Jesus mean by the kingdom of God?

I thought this was the perfect question.

I personally have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the phrase “kingdom of God” because of the ambiguity I have observed around its use.

There were five of us sitting around the table I was at, and I got quite keen when this question came up. This question was a real handbrake to the conversation. It wasn’t meant to be a trick question. Yet around the table of churched people, there was difficulty in clearly describing what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God.

Most people around the table would have been able to quote things like:

Jesus said the kingdom of God is like [insert interesting metaphor here]

But none of them did. We ended up having a good conversation but I was left unsatisfied with the responses from my church friends who struggled to communicate well that which is one of the most significant concepts for Christians.

One person used the word “sanctification” in their description of the kingdom of God.  This is a sidetrack to this post, but soon I’m going to do a post on “Words Christians should NEVER use.” Sanctification is one of those words. I think it’s a lazy church word that lacks meaning or significance in 21st century conversations.  We should choose other ways to describe what we mean with that word. Anyway.

I really am interested in how to explain the kingdom of God in 21st century conversations and society.

I’ve been thinking for several years how best to communicate the kingdom of God – and have been experimenting in various ways. Soon I’ll post my thoughts on where I’m at with this. In the meantime:

If you and I were at a cafe meeting for a drink, and the 19-year-old university-student barista, who had never been Christianised, overheard you mention the kingdom of God to me and asked you:

“What’s the kingdom of God?”

You have about 30 seconds to gently educate and create some intrigue with this 19-year-old:

What would you say?

Image “Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ” courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • Andrew Baldwin

    “What life looks like when we live God’s way rather than our way, it’s characterised by graciousness, gratitude and generosity.”

    Interestingly the church of which I’m a part has “making God’s kingdom visible” as it’s mission statement. We’re in the process of adapting this as in several conversations with people from within the church they have struggled to articulate what this actually means, which I think is the point you are making.

    • Hi Andrew! Nice. You have 20 seconds left, for, perhaps a “for example…”

      I’ll be interested to hear how your church’s mission statement evolves. My point exactly!

  • Andrew Meek

    Off the cuff, if you asked me the question, What is the Kingdom of God? I would say it is the result of what happens when/where God is King. What does that look like? Well, counter that with it’s opposite, what does the world look like where humanity is king? What do we see in our world throughout history? Violence, poverty, corruption, destruction, greed, pride. In God’s kingdom all of these things are absent and replaced with their opposite – peace, abundance, righteousness, creativity, sacrifice, humility. The list could go on.

    • I like your counter approach Andrew.

      Thinking of God as “king” causes me some problems because I end up thinking about the United Kingdom and their queen, and all my life, half a world away, she has seemed like an uninspiring-posh-old-lady with handbags and plump dogs with short legs.

      • Andrew Meek

        Yeah I guess it’s pointless to attribute a title to God normally attributed to a human leader. King, Prime Minister, President, CEO – none of these quite describe God. I guess that’s why God answered Moses – “I am who I am”

      • Rod Fleming

        I like the Queen’s Christmas messages though Mike! Check them out on Youtube if you haven’t watched the last few. I think the Queen is quite an evangelist.

        • Hi Rod! Yeah, my parents like the Queen’s Christmas message so I usually get to see it. I admit she does have some good points :)

  • It’s a radical way of living where people choose peace instead of violence, generosity instead of greed, forgiveness instead of hate.

    Sound good? Want to be a part of it?

    In the ancient east they seemed to communicate with word pictures and vague concepts. Our culture is all about analysis, formula, and prescriptions. No wonder it’s so hard to get what Jesus is saying.

  • Stu

    I wonder if Jesus was deliberately unclear about what the Kingdom of God was because God simply cannot be boxed up. That is why conversations like this always end up being a bit frustrating.

    But….. I would agree with those above and say that the KOG “Is when God gets what God wants” and what God wants is peace and a world of fairness (justice) where everyone is treated right. And this is found by practicing active, radical Love which is outworked by doing counter-cultural things in the world around us to make lives better in all ways for others all around us.

    • I’m so used to facebook I was looking for the “like” button…

  • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

    Hi Mike and everyone – I’m finding your comments really helpful as I’ve struggled with what the Kingdom of God actually means in this modern world. Can’t add anything at the moment but wanted to thank you for the comments and questions so far. Kate

  • Tim Bulkeley

    When Jesus taught his disciples to pray one pair of lines (like those pairs in the psalms) went:
    “Your [i.e. God’s] kingdom come,
    your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”
    The kingdom of God is ‘where’ God’s will is done, whether on earth or in heaven.

  • Thanks for all the comments. Very interesting.

  • Myk Habets

    Hi Mike, I was taught, and teach myself, that the KoG is where three Rs are present: The Reign (Jesus is King), the Realm (the place where Christ reigns), and the Reality (where people are in total allegiance to Christ the King). Works for me.

  • Jeannie Cochrane

    I have been pondering something that came to my mind when I first read this post so now I am going to think aloud. My pondering is this: Can the Kingdom of God be built, spread etc but those outside the Christian faith? For instance, if we believe that God deeply cares for the poor and marganilised, would a group of people in “secular” society who was working to bring about changes for this group of people be in effect building, establishing the kingdom of God? Or a group who was tackling head on a situation where there had been injustice? Or those who are working to care for the environment? The list could go on …

    • Hi Jeannie, thanks for your comment and ponderings!
      Some thoughts that come to my mind about what you’re saying are:

      1) Different churches draw different lines to define what is “outside the Christian faith” (perhaps through biblical interpretation, or ecclesiological differences such as “open set” or “closed set” Christianity, and process differences such as “in/out” verses “journey”…). This is not answering your question, but rather highlighting some blurriness or greyness of the contribution of those inside the Christian faith in establishing the kingdom of God.

      2) There’s that thing Jesus said when the Pharisees were trying to get him to hush the praise of his followers: “…if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” I’m not making a direct connection here between your pondering and this bit of hyperbole, but I like the idea that if, for example, the church isn’t solving the global poverty issue, God perhaps enables/encourages people and organisations such as the UN to tackle HIV Aids in Africa, etc…

      3) We embrace mystery in our certainty (eg, The Resurrection), why not embrace mystery in what is uncertain (eg, the Holy Spirit encouraging the establishment of the kingdom of God in ways that might surprise us: those not signed up to the Christian faith).

      So just on these quick few ponderings, I would say “yes” to your question. Some people would say “no”, or “maybe”. What do you think?

      • Jeannie Cochrane

        Thanks Mike. I particularly resonate with the “…if they keep quiet the stones will cry out” reference. It inspires me to keep an ear out for talking stones!

  • DrDon

    Mike – your comment “But none of them did. We ended up having a good conversation but I was left unsatisfied with the responses from my church friends who struggled to communicate well that which is one of the most significant concepts for Christians.” resonates with me. I could add to that the same conclusion about many sermons – leaving unsatisfied because the preacher struggled to communicate truth with authority.

    I must admit to increasingly asking myself what is the point of a good ‘conversation’ when we should be learning how to answer questions like “What is the Kingdom of God”. It certainly isn’t remembering what someone else has said, because that doesn’t build our faith. We need to be assured that our replies are based on the truth in the Bible, and be able to shape the answer to any given situation. Isn’t that what Jesus did.

    To develop authority from the scriptures we must learn to study and meditate in the scriptures. I often wonder why God put only one example in the Bible from the life of Jesus’ development years – the time he was at the temple interacting didactically with the teachers of the Law. There he was asking and answering questions (why questions???). I also say ‘good on the teachers for making themselves available to people’ – that is a sign of a true teacher.

    Imagine if we were taught to observe Christ’s commands by helping us learn to search Scripture for ourselves? For example, using free software available for PCs or laptops, or for Android smartphones or tablets (and probably for Apple devices), one can quickly search the Gospels for “Kingdom of God” and find approx. 50 verses. Even a quick review of the content of those verses will give an insight to the answer to your suggested question.

    What if at the end of every sermon we were given time to search Scripture to check up on what the preacher said – just like the Bereans (Acts17:11) – and then given time to ask questions – just like Jesus did and just like the disciples who asked questions of Jesus? Would we still have difficulty in clearly describing what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God (and other topics of equal importance)?

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