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Kingdom of God

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The Gospel of Mark (Mark) does not give us a crystal clear encyclopaedic meaning of “the Kingdom of God” (the Kingdom) in the preaching of Jesus. The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking had a preconceived idea of what God’s Kingdom would look like. The people in Rome, to which the Gospel of Mark was most likely written, would also have had a picture of what a “kingdom” is. Regardless of the reader’s culture, a basic understanding of the meaning of “the Kingdom of God” is “an area or sphere in which … [God] holds a preeminent[1] position” and the realm in which He governs. (Merriam-Webster 1993)

In his preaching Jesus presents a kingdom of unique character, vastly different to any preconceived ideas of what a “Kingdom of God” might be like. In his preaching and teaching, Jesus shows how the Kingdom is not like any other kingdom in the world.

According to Mark, Jesus begins “…proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;”" (Mark 1:14-15)

Jesus preaches that the time is fulfilled; it is the time in God’s plan for His kingdom to be proclaimed. God’s kingdom is nearing its beginning. It is difficult from the preaching of Jesus in Mark to ascertain when this kingdom would actually begin. Jesus preaches with a call for immediate action, to "…repent, and believe in the good news.”" (Mark 1:15)

Jesus’ message suggests the coming of the kingdom will occur in the current generation of hearers. In Mark 9:1 Jesus says, "… “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”" (Mark 9:1)

Jesus gives very little away in terms of the extent of God’s Kingdom. Jesus says nothing of any physical boundaries of the Kingdom and Jesus deliberately keeps the full extent of God’s Kingdom a mystery, only revealing the meaning of his teaching parables to those who are closest to him. God’s Kingdom is for those to whom it has been revealed. In referring to the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20) Jesus explains to his disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;" (Mark 4:11)

Jesus, in responding to a question aimed at discrediting him, teaches that God’s Kingdom and rule can coexist with the current Roman empire when He says, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

Jesus does not proclaim or support the overthrowing of the ruling earthly authority in any of his teaching.  Jesus speaks two more parables of sowing seeds to illustrate what the Kingdom is like. (Mark 4:26-29 & Mark 4:30-32)  It is a kingdom that will grow exponentially and spread without human understanding. It will grow and provide a place of belonging, shelter and refuge.

Jesus speaks about who will enter the Kingdom, the conditions of entry and the behaviour of those who will enter.  Our first encounter with Jesus’ preaching calls for a response to the coming Kingdom of God. "…repent, and believe in the good news.”" (Mark 1:15)

In explaining the parable of the sower Jesus tells his disciples that the good soil refers to those who “…hear the word and accept it and bear fruit,” (Mark 4:20)

Jesus also teaches that to enter the Kingdom of God one must receive it in the way of a little child. Jesus said, “…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”" (Mark 10:14-15)

Jesus in his teaching warns against the distractions of the world that will lead people away from the Kingdom. Jesus equates entering the Kingdom with entering into life in contrast to the alternative of entering hell (Gehenna[2]). "And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell," (Mark 9:47)

Referring to a man with many possessions, Jesus says to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! … For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”" (Mark 10:23, 27)

Jesus refers to this sort of distraction when he says in the parable of the sower, "… these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing." (Mark 4:18-19)

During a conversation with a scribe[3] (Mark 12:28-34) Jesus teaches that the inward response of the heart in love toward God and loving other people is much more important and is much closer to what the Kingdom of God is about than the outward show of religious, ritual compliance. In contrast to the normal way of the world Jesus teaches that those who wish to be great in the Kingdom must be the “slave of all”. (Mark 10:43-45)

The “Kingdom of God” is where God rules, the realm in which God is preeminent. From the Gospel of Mark we read of Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God as coming soon. It is a Kingdom that comes in secret and mystery. It is not easy for the wealthy or those concerned with material things of this world to enter. One can be near to it without gaining entry. It is only those who hear and accept the word that can enter in repentance and child-like faith. It is a kingdom that will grow exponentially and spread without human understanding. It will grow and provide a place of belonging, shelter and refuge. A Kingdom in which there is love first and foremost for the King and also for each other. In contrast with the ways of the world but in line with the principles of the Kingdom, to become great requires being a servant.

Reference List

Achtemeier, P J 1985, ‘Gehenna’, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. Harper & Row, San Francisco

Freedman, D N, Myers, A C, Beck, A B 2000, ‘Scribes’, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, W.B.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.

Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1996, ‘Kingdom’, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed., Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass.


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[1]  preeminent : having paramount rank, dignity, or importance : superior to all others : a supreme ruler (Merriam-Webster 1993)

[2] During the monarchical period, ‘Gehenna’ became the site of an infamous high place where some of the kings of Judah engaged in forbidden religious practices, including human sacrifice by fire (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Because of this, Jeremiah spoke of its impending judgment and destruction (Jer. 7:32; 19:6). King Josiah put an end to these practices by destroying and defiling the high place in the valley of Hinnom (2 Kings 23:10).

Probably because of these associations with fiery destruction and judgment, the word ‘Gehenna’ came to be used metaphorically during the intertestamental period as a designation for hell or eternal damnation. (Achtemeier, 1985)

[3] The scribes were Torah scholars who preserved and interpreted the Law in order to maintain its centrality in Judaism after the Exile and in the Diaspora. (Freedman 2000)

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