Great Words of the Bible—No. 6

Great Words of the Bible—No. 6: The Kingdom

The feminine abstract noun basileia is found in the New Testament more than 160 times. The primary meaning is "king­ship, royal power, royal rule." We mostly think of this term as "kingdom, territory, or the people ruled over by a king." We tend to ignore the first and basic meaning when we dis­cuss the kingdom.

Professor Emeritus, Andrews University

THE feminine abstract noun basileia is found in the New Testament more than 160 times. The primary meaning is "king­ship, royal power, royal rule." We mostly think of this term as "kingdom, territory, or the people ruled over by a king." As a matter of fact, this abstract term originally meant "the situation, the position, dignity, and authority of the king." The secondary meaning of "territory, the realm of the king, the people over whom he ruled," is not yet the first meaning we should stress when we speak of God's kingdom.

This New Testament Greek term, by and large, is equivalent to the Old Testament word malekuth. The initial meaning of this ancient Hebrew abstract noun is "kingship" in the sense of royal authority. With both the Hebrew and the Greek nouns, both meanings of "royal authority" and "a people or territory" are applicable today; but unfortunately we tend to ignore the first and basic meaning when we dis­cuss the kingdom.

Undoubtedly, in the almost 90 times malekuth is used in the Old Testament, the references are mostly to the authority and rulership of earthly kings in a secular sense. With Daniel, however, there enters the transcendent, eschatological sense that goes beyond the purely nationalist hope. The presentation in Daniel 7 must have in­fluenced the New Testament writers pow­erfully, and colored their presentation of the kingdom.

In a number of New Testament texts basileia is a designation of power, of royal authority, of royal power and glory. Fur­ther, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of Christ are synonymous. The main hope in writing this short introduction to the study of basileia in the New Testament is to en­courage us to emphasize the basic meaning of this term in all those texts in which the main thought is the Lord's royal authority, even though we have not realized it pre­viously. This is really essential, and we miss much when we fail to recognize that in no case is the church to be regarded, and pre­sented to the people, as the embodiment of the kingdom of Christ. The church is the sphere within which the basileia, the royal authority, is demonstrated, and is not itself the kingdom embodied.

More than thirty times Matthew speaks of "the kingdom of heaven." He is the only New Testament writer who uses this precise expression. Five times he uses the phrase "the kingdom of God." The two expressions are synonymous. The other two synoptics and John use the term "the kingdom of God"; so also Luke in Acts, seven times; Paul in Romans, once; in 1 Corinthians, five times; in Galatians, once; in Colossians, once; in 2 Thessalonians, once; and John, once in Revelation 12:10. In Ephesians 5:5, Paul has the expression "the kingdom of Christ," and in Colossians 1:13, the phrase "the kingdom of his dear Son." There are also other synonyms for further consideration in the more than 160 texts in the New Testament that have the noun basileia, a wonderful field for a study of the various truths connected with these correlates: "The kingdom of heaven," "the kingdom of God," "the Father's kingdom," "the kingdom of our Father," "the king­dom of Christ," "the kingdom of his Son," "his heavenly kingdom," and others.

As one studies the New Testament bas­ileia, it is seen that a number of texts speak of it without any qualification. When used with qualifications, these very expressions are used and bound up with the Being and activities of the Godhead. These attrib­utive and predicative qualifications used with basileia present a varied picture of the divine attributes exercised for the salva­tion of men; and not the least of these syn­onymous phrases are the ones that stress God's claims upon men.

As an example, we give some detail of Matthew 6:33, which, using the present im­perative, literally says, "Be seeking first of all the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Here is a supreme seeking to be carried on here and now; it is designated in Matthew 5:6 as "hungering and thirst­ing for righteousness," with the definite promise that the ones hungering and thirst­ing shall be filled. This is a promise for the present. The verb translated "be filled" is chortazo, used of the feeding and fatten­ing of cattle, and of the superabundance of food for men. It is the term in Revelation 19:21—"all the birds gorged themselves." (N.E.B.*)

The close connection of basileia and righteousness must not be ignored. To seek the kingdom is to become more and more entailed in righteousness, subjection to the Father's royal authority, under His rule of grace. Certainly the continual seeking (zeteite) means an expecting, an obtain­ing and enjoying. Here are the two key­notes of the Sermon on the Mount: the kingdom and the righteousness of the king­dom, in the pursuit of which all other things needful for the present life will be added to us.

This kingdom of heaven is operating now within the persons of all who are justi­fied, spiritually renewed, and progressing in a developing sanctification. The right­eousness of this kingdom is the character of the saints developed under the Holy Spirit in submission to God's royal au­thority. This character is described in chap­ter 5:3-16. In the persons of men of faith today, God establishes His kingdom, justi­fies His royal rule in the lives of men.

The apostle Luke speaks of the kingdom as present: "But if I, in conjunction with the finger of God, am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has already reached you" (Luke 11:20). The adver­saries accused Jesus of working in conjunc­tion with demons; but He forces the conclu­sion that He was working with God. The miracles were proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit; and the Lord then states that the presence and activity of the Spirit are proof that the kingdom had arrived, had reached to and overtaken them, was in their midst. The royal power and rule, the de­livering, saving grace of the Godhead, was in their very presence. Here is the signifi­cance of the verb phthano, followed by a preposition, as here, meaning "to arrive at, to attain." (See Rom. 9:31; Phil. 3:16; 2 Cor. 10:14; 1 Thess. 2:16.)

The apostle Paul regards the basileia as an ethical reality bestowing peace, right­eousness, and joy: "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but right­eousness and peace and joy in a personal relation with the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14: 17). Very definitely one is forced to realize that worldly concepts of kingdoms are not applicable to the kingdom of heaven.

Here we have two action words—the act of eating and the act of drinking. That is to say, the kingdom does not consist of human activities, for such activities are to­tally insignificant in comparison with right­eousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit —a lovely and comprehensive trio that means Christian living in harmony with God's royal rule. Righteousness means here right dealing with both God and man, rec­titude in its widest sense. Peace is that blessed state that characterizes one who is in accord with God and has concord with his brethren. Joy is that wonderful emo­tion that comes with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These are elements that are part of God's royal rule among men.

Again, the apostle characterizes the king­dom as present with us in deeds in harmony with, in a carrying out of, God's royal au­thority: "For the kingdom of God is not in connection with mere word, but on the contrary, is in connection with power" (1 Cor. 4:20). The apostle is telling us that the kingdom of God does not consist of mere talk, fine speeches, but is in the individual, in the church, as a manifestation of divine power and sway. Here the kingdom is an inward reality that underlies and activates the external active life of the Christian; and in and through these inwardly ener­gized activities, the kingdom of Christ real­izes and expresses itself. The kingdom is where God's authority reigns, where His saving grace is manifested, where His power to transform is evident in lives sub­mitted to Him.

A prerequisite for participation in this present kingdom is repentance: "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near" (Matt. 4:17). The apostle tells the people to be changing their thinking; and the reason he gives is that the kingdom of the heavens has approached, using the perfect indicative tense—has come and is still at hand. I repeat, God's kingdom is where His power, His sovereignty, His rul-ership holds sway. The believer today is a partaker of the kingdom. The revelation of God's authority and royal rule made by Jesus Christ was the presentation of the kingdom, thus making the kingdom near in Christ. The only way we can enter into it is by repentance and submission to the authority of God. Thus the Lord speaks of the kingdom as already come in His own ministry and Person. The cross and Pente­cost opened up the way for an outpour­ing of the Holy Spirit to be flooded into the hearts of men to enable them to sur­render to God's rule.

There is, then, a sense in which God's basileia means God's ways in dealing with men, His righteous demands, a soteriologi-cal concept embodied in the preaching of Jesus Christ. In this sense, God's kingdom coincides with His sovereignty. By the proc­lamation of the gospel setting forth what God demands of men, what He expects of them, His royal sovereignty is present. In this way the kingdom of God comes to men; men should submit themselves to it, pattern their lives after it. To enter in the kingdom of God is first and foremost to sur­render to His sovereign rule, His royal sway.

There is, to be sure, another group of texts that speak of the kingdom of the fu­ture, a conception that presents the saints sharing rulership with Christ on His throne in the life to come (Rom. 5:17); and John speaks of the reign of the re­deemed upon the earth (Rev. 5:10). Yet a prerequisite to sharing the kingdom of the future is a full surrender now to the present basileia of God, namely, His royal authority. Perhaps a larger stress and fuller presentation of this basic aspect would re­sult in a much smaller rate of apostasy from the church. It is this primary concept of basileia that Christ speaks of in the prayer He gave to His disciples—"Thy kingdom come." He is speaking of the surrender of men to God's rule. Where the will of God holds sway, there is God's basileia. Where men are fully surrendered to God, there is His kingdom. This is the basileia of Christ's prayer to His followers—individuals living in complete subjection to His royal author­ity now. "Thy kingdom come" is explained by "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." To have part in the future eternal kingdom one must be a member of the present one.

* The New English Bible, New Testament. © The Dele­gates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.

 

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Professor Emeritus, Andrews University

January 1962

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