Perhaps no question is of more importance in relating Christ mission to his teachings as the question, “What did he mean by Kingdom of God?” Geerhardus Vos in a short classic, The Kingdom of God and the Church, surveys the possible answers to this question;

The Kingdom of God could “stand for the kingdom as something abstract, the kingship or rule exercised by the king. Or they may describe the kingdom as something concrete, the territory, the sum total of the subjects and possessions ruled over, including whatever of rights, privileges and advantages are enjoyed in this sphere.”

Vos answers this question by saying something to the effect that ‘rule’ would first carry the force of Jesus words but they would yeild in the concrete world a sense of a ‘new sphere of life’;

“From meaning at first “a rule” it would begin to mean, if not a territory or body of subjects, at least a realm, a sphere of life, a state of things, all of these more or less locally concieved…a single glance at the Gospel-discourses shows how utterly  impossible it is to carry through the abstract rendering in each single instance where our Lord speaks of the kingdom of God.” Pgs. 21-22

For Jesus, and for his new people, understanding the nature of the Kingdom of God has immense missiological import. For instance if the church sees her mission as only to be a witness or testimony to God’s rule then how she understands her relationship to cultural transformation will be affected. On the other hand if she understands her mission to be the ushering in of the Kingdom of God as a territory then she will find herself fighting for things such as ‘America’ or the ‘West’ or ‘Palestine’ in the name of God. But if she, as Vos suggests Jesus did, sees the Kingdom of God as a rule that creates a ‘new sphere of life’ the way she does mission will reflect a bit of the both/and tension of an inaugurated Kingdom. She will live in the power of the Spirit’s rule as King now, and seek to impart the benefits of the Kingdom of God to those without this taste of a ‘new sphere of life’.

Identifying what Jesus meant by Kingdom of God may be one of the most missiologically important exegetical labors we have today!

Thoughts, comments, disagreements…