Growing up in a Baptist Church, I had heard very little about the kingdom of God. But as you read through the Gospels, it's hard to ignore that it was Jesus' primary message throughout His ministry. There's many reasons for the seeming ignorance of "kingdom of God" theology in evangelicalism. The early part of the 20th century saw liberal mainline denominations adopting the terminology, where it was associated with social action divorced from adherence to orthodox Biblical theology. On the other hand, dispensationalism has pigeon-holed God's kingdom as being synonymous with heaven and the afterlife. In a more practical sense, Americans are hundreds of years removed from being in a true 'kingdom,' so the terminology seems archaic. But it's impossible to ignore Jesus' emphasis on the kingdom of God throughout.
When we hear kingdom, we often first think place or location. But a kingdom is not a realm, but a rule. It is anywhere the King rules and reigns. So when Jesus says "The kingdom of God has come near," He is speaking of the reality of God's rule and reign coming near. How was it coming near? In Jesus! Jesus, as the coming Messiah King, was ushering in the rule and reign of God here on earth. Throughout his parables, He used the phrase "the kingdom of God is like..." to introduce a picture of a God-reigning reality here on earth. In other words, through the life, works, teachings, and stories of Jesus, we see the kingdom of God coming near and revealing to the world - this is what it looks like when God is in charge!
Now understanding this opens up a whole slew of questions, most notably this one: If the kingdom of God has come near in Jesus, why suffering? Disease? War? Famine? How do we reconcile the statements where the kingdom of God is 'here and now' and those that say it is a reality still to come?
We'll deal with these questions in my next post.