The kingdom of God

Fredy Winkler

It’s interesting that the term “kingdom of God” isn’t used in the Old Testament, but appears frequently in the New Testament. The kingdom of God is central to the Gospels in particular. The message that was brought by Jesus, and before him, John the Baptist, was often called “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” The concept of a kingdom of God was a hot topic among the Jews at that time, although the most commonly accepted illusions were completely wrong. That can be seen in Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus (John 3). The Lord made it clear that the kingdom of God has spiritual dimensions and that entry into the kingdom is only possible through a spiritual rebirth, a concept that was hard for Nicodemus to understand.

In the Old Testament, the kingdom of God is always portrayed as a worldwide earthly kingdom. Some examples of this can be found in the Psalms (c.f. Psalm 72, but the clearest examples of this idea are found in the Book of Daniel: 4:34-37; 7:14, 18, 22, 27).

For the most part, the Jews saw the kingdom of heaven through their limited viewpoint as their own, sovereign “Jewish State.” The disciples were no exception. Even after the crucifixion and resurrection, but before the ascension into heaven, their most pressing question was, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6, NIV).

For the disciples, the national salvation of Israel was still the greatest concern, just as it had always been. Jesus steered them gently away from the question that was burning in their minds, and toward that which was more important; namely, that they should be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. The kingdom of God should be a worldwide kingdom that will include all the peoples and nations of the earth.

Due to the influence of their Jewish mindset, the disciples found it almost impossible to implement these mission instructions. Their religious thought process limited them and hindered them. God Himself had to intervene by giving Peter the vision of the unclean animals, in order to prepare him to take the message to Cornelius in Rome. When he arrived, he said, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28).

Although God taught Peter that lesson in an extraordinary fashion, neither he nor the other apostles were really free to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. It was mainly Paul, who wasn’t so burdened by Jewish prejudices—because he didn’t grow up in the land of Israel, but rather in Tarsus, among Gentiles—who became the apostle to the Gentiles.

The Jewish prejudices against non-Jewish believers in Jesus remained a concealed topic. Especially among those who came from the Pharisees, it was believed that non-Jews must first convert to Judaism, which meant they needed to be circumcised. Because of this issue, Paul made a special trip to Jerusalem, to settle the topic once and for all. There was a heated exchange of words, until Peter arose and reported his experience with Cornelius. He said that God doesn’t discriminate between Jews and non-Jews, “for he purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).

Even today, there are still those who say that external distinctions, like circumcision, are important. That only causes confusion. Paul understood the destructive power that these differences of opinion held. That was why he put so much effort into resolving the issue.

In Galatians 3, he looks for words to clarify this issue, then says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (verse 28).

External signs, such as nationality or other characteristics, are not the criteria for being part of the coming kingdom of God; only a new birth in the Spirit of God.

News from Israel - 09/2018

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