The Kingdom of God in Scripture and Tradition
16. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Thus Jesus
inaugurated his public ministry and provided the point of departure for all later Christian reflection upon,
and action on behalf of, the kingdom of God. As noted in the Introduction, the present phase of
Reformed-Catholic dialogue began by returning together to our common sources in Scripture and
tradition, but soon opted also to consider narratives of recent witness to the kingdom by our two
communities. The first two chapters of our agreed statement reflect this journey. Chapter I explores
biblical teaching about the kingdom and the way it has been understood throughout history, leading to a
presentation of the converging theological perspectives emerging from our discussions. Chapter II then
presents several narratives of common witness that, by illustrating some ways in which Christians from
our communities have tried to live according to the values of the kingdom, provided a rich source for our
dialogue and reflection.
1. The Biblical Teaching
17. The theme of the kingdom of God was chosen as a basis for our ecumenical efforts in this third stage
in the dialogue, because of its solid biblical roots, its comparative neglect by both sides at the time of the
Reformation division (at least in the sense of modern biblical studies), and its helpfulness in addressing
the concerns of contemporary Christians which relate to hope for a greater measure of peace, justice and
joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17) in our turbulent world.
18. To speak of the kingdom of God entails a certain complexity. The biblical terms malkuth (Hebrew)
and basileia (Greek) can be translated in three different ways in modern, more differentiated, languages,
depending upon the context and accent of the original biblical text. When the term basileia refers to the
office of a king it should be translated kingship. When it refers to a king’s exercise of his government, it
should be translated reign. When it refers to the people governed and to the territory under the king’s rule
it should be translated kingdom. Modern translations of the Bible into English still tend to prefer the term kingdom. This has the advantage of preserving the concrete social and political connotations of the
biblical image, against tendencies to limit the term to something purely spiritual or otherworldly,
tendencies that separate the king (God, Christ) from the kingdom. On the other hand, for some the term
can sound not only archaic but also insensitive.
19. For some people today, the word kingdom can convey notions of feudal systems, monarchical
structures, authoritarianism, homogeneity, rigidity, exclusiveness, gender bias, and a control that strives
to suppress human freedom and justice. To be sure, kingdoms still exist on earth, and this form of
government, as limited by constitutions, is cherished by some. Biblically, God’s kingdom represents
justice, peace and a fellowship (koinonia) that invites all to involve themselves, to participate fully, and to
celebrate unity in diversity. We need therefore to use language about the basileia tou theou carefully.
Some options suggested in our discussions are: the reign of God, communion, the household of God, the
commonwealth of God. We should emphasize the empowering and energizing aspects of the concept
when choosing a term to designate the basileia tou theou.
20. The Bible speaks in symbols and metaphors, one of which is the kingdom of God. This symbol is
intended to convey something definite, albeit analogical, about God’s relation to, and plan for, this world.
It reveals God’s faithful commitment to creation, including the everyday lives of human beings. The
fullness of the kingdom is the great final grace of God for this world.
1.1. The God of the Kingdom
21. The theme of the kingdom can be used to tie together many different strands found in the Old
Testament, which also serve as a preparation for the gospel. While Old Testament scholarship has not
achieved a clear consensus, some of the elements of the broader picture include: (1) God as king over all
creation;10 (2) God as king over Israel (1 Sam 8:7); (3) eschatological hope for God’s rule;11 (4) the
concepts of a chosen people and election (e.g., Gen 12:3); (5) the Jubilee tradition of Leviticus 25, by
which land that has been sold reverts to its original owners every fifty years; and (6) the tradition of
worship in Israel which witnesses to the experience of God as sovereign Lord in the worship of the
22. The New Testament takes up Old Testament thinking. For Paul, the God revealed in Jesus Christ is
none other than the one God of Israelite monotheism.13 God is a living and true God.14 Each of the
so-called “gods” worshipped by the Gentiles were by nature “no gods” (Gal 4:8). Idols have no ultimate
reality (1 Cor 10:20-21). Satan is the force hostile to God.15 Satan and other powers are powerless before
God (Rom 8:38-39). For Paul, God is the creator of the cosmos.16 God orders all things providentially.17 God is the just judge.18
23. The Synoptic Gospels depict the God and Father of Jesus as compassionate and merciful,19 loving,20 forgiving (Matt 6:12; Mark 11:25), and caring.21 God sees in secret (Matt 6:1-6) and judges (Matt
25:31-46). God is the God of compassion and justice. The call to repentance in the preaching of Jesus is
urgent: God’s immediate and sovereign presence is at hand. The time for temporizing is over and the
establishment of right relationships is imminent. In such a day words alone will not suffice. “Not
everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the
will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46) We are called to be merciful just as God is merciful
and it is the failure to be merciful that brings us into conflict with the will of God (Luke 6:36).
24. The Gospel according to John emphasizes that God is Spirit (John 4:24). No one has seen God (1:18),
or heard God’s voice, or seen God’s form (5:37). The only true God (17:3) continues to act as Creator of
the universe (5:17), filled with love for all human beings (3:16). Family imagery is important for John.
The Father-Son relationship is used to emphasize the nearness and approachability of God. John
reinterprets the fatherhood of God, demythologizing or freeing it from all patriarchal constructions of
power. God sends the Son out of care for suffering and needy humanity (1:14; 3:16). This imagery
depicts a two-way dynamic movement of giving and drawing (12:32). God gathers the community of
believers (cf. 17:6), and through the Holy Spirit enlightens and teaches it (14:26; 16:12-13), sanctifying,
equipping and sending it (20:21-22).
25. For John, there is a link between the kingdom of God and the knowledge of God. In John 3:3-5, the
Evangelist writes that birth from above is equivalent to the knowledge of God; one sees the kingdom and
enters it. For John, the kingdom is a process of attaining knowledge, but the “from above” makes it clear
that the kingdom is not within one’s human capabilities; it is only God’s to give. God gives this
knowledge, which is the divine self-revelation, from above. This is the experience of eternal life (John
17:3), a growing knowledge of God by the power of this self-revelation. It is made possible by the Logos
becoming flesh (John 1:14).
1.2. The Kingdom as Future and Present, as Gift and Task
26. In the strict exegetical sense, the kingdom of God, understood as the divinely achieved world
government which succeeds to the four world empires (Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece) and which
extends God’s rule over Israel-Judea to the whole world, is found only at the very end of the Old
Testament, in the apocalyptic visions of Daniel.22 These visions directly influenced John the Baptist and
Jesus, especially the combination of kingdom and Son of Man (Mark 8:38-9:1). Also contributing directly
to Jesus’ vision of a kingdom of justice and peace was the vision of a future messianic kingdom in
Proto-Isaiah (11:1-10), itself nourished by Amos (4:1-13; 5:18-24) and Micah (4:1-4). Deutero-Isaiah
(61:1-2; 58:6-9) also played a role (see Luke 4:16-30, esp. vv. 18-19). Isaiah’s vision offers hope for
humanity and for all creation, even expressing it in the images of peace and non-violence among the
27. The coming of the kingdom is announced in the first words of Jesus’ public ministry;23 it belongs to
the heart of his prayer (Matt 6:10 parallel with Luke 11:2) and forms the horizon of his hope (Mark
14:25). This vision, message and promise is connected with the Son of Man and thus with Christology.
Because the hope of the kingdom of God coming to earth appears as part of a schema of successive eons
of salvation history,24 it contains the start of a Christian theology of history. The ethical content of the
kingdom of God consists of justice (Matt 6:33), and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).
Historically, the biblical promise of the future kingdom does not lead believers to passivity and quietism.
Rather, this promise relativizes the present – often oppressive – situation, makes it clear that the evil is not
God’s will, and emboldens believers to try to correct social evils.
28. Jesus spoke not of the end of the “world”, but of the end of the “age” (aion in Greek), the present period of salvation history. God was doing something new in Jesus. The Hebrew olam, Greek aion, and Latin saeculum all have temporal as well as spatial dimensions (age, period, eon, but also world).
Kingdom of God language in New Testament usage is primarily temporal, not spatial. The realization of
the promise will occur within history as its culmination, and not, as in Platonic, anti-material views, just
over the edge into eternity. So the kingdom hope is for this world, but in a new era.25
29. Jesus speaks of the kingdom not only as coming in the near future, but also as already present at least
fragmentarily, as sign, anticipation, foretaste (Matt 12:28, parallel with Luke 11:20). The kingdom of God
is already present in an incomplete, non-exhaustive way in this eon, in this world, and in the Christian
30. With power and grace, God makes the seed to grow (the parables of Mark 4). The kingdom of God is
a gift. God invites to the eschatological banquet (Matt 22:1-14). We may prepare ourselves for the
kingdom of God (Matt 25:1-13), we may seek it (Matt 6:33; Luke 12:31), but it is God who gives it (Luke
12:32). God promises it to the poor in spirit and to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt
5:3-10); in this sense God decides whose it shall be. The kingdom is also a task (Matt 25:31-46; 13:44-50). The task consists in the effort to live according to all the ethical instructions of the New Testament,
from the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6) to the exhortations of the letters (e.g., Rom 12-15). Its chief values are faith, hope, love, justice, knowledge, and wisdom. The Bible never speaks of our building the kingdom. Rather, Christians are called to the humbler tasks of (1) removing obstacles to the
coming of God’s kingdom, e.g., situations of injustice; (2) preparing people to receive the gift of the
kingdom when God decides to bring it, by religious and moral instruction and prayer. In these ways we hasten its coming (2 Pet 3:12). The kingdom is already present through: (1) the gift of the Holy Spirit; (2)
baptism into the risen Christ; (3) the Scriptures; (4) the proclamation of the Word; (5) the eucharistic
assembly; (6) prayer; (7) the love experienced in the community; (8) the celebration of the liberation of
the poor; (9) the healing of the sick and the expulsion of evil; and (10) the experience of forgiveness and
reconciliation. These all also give testimony to the coming fullness of the kingdom of God.
1.3. The Kingdom of God and its Cosmic and Eschatological Dimensions
31. God’s invitation to the kingdom has a universal scope (Matt 8:11; Matt 28:18-20). The kingdom will
be taken away from the disobedient, and given to a people that will produce its fruits (Matt 21:43). The
kingdom is fully realized when all things are put in subjection to God. Then God will be all in all (1 Cor
15:24-28). The church as the people of God should manifest the plan of God who leads the cosmos to its
final destiny, so that the whole of creation may partake of the unsearchable riches of God (Eph 1:9-10;
32. The cosmic dimension of the kingdom of God is foreshadowed in Isaiah 65:17: “For I am about to
create new heavens and a new earth.” The apocalyptic language of the Book of Revelation, often
influenced by the Old Testament prophets, describes the consummation of God’s kingdom thus: “Behold,
God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God
himself will always be with them” (Rev 21:3). The people of this renewed creation participate in the
never-ceasing worship of God (Rev 4). The different cultures will bring and offer their glory and their
honour (Rev 21:26; cf. Matt 2:11). God’s kingdom, even in its final manifestation, continues to bring
fullness and healing to all the people (Rev 22:1,2).
33. Jesus speaks also about Satan having a kingdom (Mark 3:23-27; Matt 12:24-29). The forces of evil,
representing those who have a vested interest in things such as injustice and war, work against God’s
plan. In the same sense John speaks a few times about the Antichrist (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7).
Mark 13:22 refers to the messianic pretenders that arose before and after Jesus. Recognizing the presence
of evil in the world is part of the sober realism of the Bible, but the forces of evil are subjected, not
without a struggle, to God through Christ.27 Therefore the figure of the Antichrist and other evil forces are
a subordinate element in the larger narrative of God’s sovereign and saving activity in the universe and in
human history. The hope for the coming of God’s kingdom represents one aspect of faith that in the end
God’s power will triumph, that his justice will prevail and overcome evil.
34. Scripture refers to evil as a mystery (2 Thess 2:7; Rev 17:5,7). Sin affects us as individuals, as
societies, as a cosmos. Violence is one of its manifestations. In the Bible God gradually weans people
away from violence: from the unlimited revenge of Gen 4:15,24, to the limited revenge of Exod 21:22-25;
Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21 (talion), to the golden rule of Matt 7:12 and Luke 6:31, and, finally, to the highest
and most perfect level, the renunciation of violence and the love of enemies.28
35. At times, as in Mark 9:43-48, Jesus speaks of life in a way that parallels his language about the
kingdom of God. Life here clearly means the fullness of eschatological life as intended by God for God’s
people in this age and in the age to come. The Gospel according to John picks up this parallelism and
develops it in its own way. In John, life and eternal life become the usual way to express the state of
eschatological blessedness. While present in this gospel (3:3,5; 18:36), the kingdom, in contrast to
fullness of life, recedes into the background.
36. Eternal life is eschatological blessedness and participation in God’s own life through the gift to us of
the Spirit. The Johannine terminology about mutual indwelling and abiding express the believer’s
experience of life in its fullness. John emphasizes realized eschatology, but his Christology looks forward
to the realization of eternal life at the coming of the Son of Man. In John (10:10), as the Good Shepherd
who protects his flock from thieves and murderers, Jesus says: “I came that they may have life, and have
it abundantly.” This saying expresses Jesus’ will to restore, to maintain and to increase human dignity,
that is, the divine image in us, by laying down his life out of love for us.
37. Christians affirm the hope of the resurrection and the enjoyment of eternal communion with God in
heaven. Biblical revelation affirms two interrelated aspects of hope: (1) the kingdom coming in its
fullness to earth as the goal and completion of history; and (2) resurrection and eternal life with God in
heaven. Both aspects of hope should be held in creative tension.
1.4. The Kingdom of God and the Poor and Marginalized
38. That there is a connection between the kingdom of God and the poor of the world is obvious from the
first beatitude (Matt 5:3; Luke 6:20). Indeed, from this beatitude one would get the impression that the
kingdom belongs to them in the first place, or, in a special way. Throughout the Bible, God, who led the
Hebrews out of the slavery of Egypt, surpasses the noblest earthly king in maintaining justice by
protecting the weaker, more defenceless elements of society: widows, orphans, the poor. The beatitudes
do not say that the poor are morally better than the rich. The Bible does not sentimentalize the poor, but it
takes their situation seriously. On the basis of Matt 25:40,45, the Christian is taught to see Christ in the
needy sister or brother, and to help them for his sake.
39. In the Old Testament, wealth and possessions are generally regarded positively, even as signs of
divine blessing. At the same time, in affirming God’s sovereignty over all of life, the prophets repeatedly
identify Israel’s treatment of the poor and vulnerable as a test of its covenant faithfulness. They denounce
indifference toward, and abuse of, the poor and vulnerable as disobedience to the will of God. In the New
Testament, this theme is repeated, particularly in James (2:1-7) and in the synoptic gospels. Jesus
exclaims to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God”
(Mark 10:23). Again he says, “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth…” (Matt 6:19) and “You
cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt 6:24; Luke 16:13). In itself wealth is not evil (cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19),
but it constitutes a profound spiritual challenge: to possess wealth without being possessed by it. Those
who have much may be distracted from the priorities of the kingdom of God. The faithful stewardship of
wealth, including its equitable distribution, remains a challenge today when a few nations have much and
many nations have little.
40. Jesus’ saying, “the poor you have with you always”, is not intended to encourage indifference to the
poor, because in the Marcan version (Mark 14:7), there is a clear allusion to Deut 15:11, where poverty is
regarded as an evil we must help to overcome. The qualified form of the first beatitude in Matthew, the
“poor in spirit”, remains a difficult phrase to interpret with perfect accuracy, despite the Qumran parallels.
Probably the phrase should be understood against the background of the frequent prayer of the poor and
the afflicted in the Psalms. The poor in spirit are those who acknowledge their need for God and their
dependence upon God, who strive to live according to the divine commandments and values, to walk
humbly before God, and who seek to live a simple life in order to live closer to God. In other words,
biblical concepts of poverty, while beginning with an economic situation that is regarded as evil, can also
generate profound spiritual orientations to life lived under the providence of God.
1.5. The Kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit and the Church
41. We have already referred several times to Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God ... consists ... in
justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Here Paul connects the kingdom of God with the work of the
Holy Spirit. First, concerning justice in the Spirit, Matt 19:28, parallel with Luke 22:29-30, is another
relevant text besides Matt 6:33. Here the twelve are commissioned to judge, that is, to govern, to establish
God’s eschatological justice of the end time. Second, as to peace in the Spirit, biblically, peace means
total wellbeing, wholeness, reconciliation, authentic harmony (cf. Luke 15:7). In John, Jesus’ mission is
to bring peace. The message of the risen Christ is peace.29 Third, regarding joy in the Spirit, joy is the
expression of the fullness of life and love (Luke 15:32; Matt 13:44-45).
42. The Synoptic Gospels indicate that God’s eschatological rule was already being manifested in the
present, particularly through the Spirit,30 whose powerful activity is regarded as the manifestation of
God’s kingdom. For John, the Holy Spirit is the Counselor (John 15:26) who will lead the community
into all truth (16:13). Paul thinks of the Spirit as the first instalment of the kingdom of God.31 For Jesus,
Paul and John, then, the Spirit is the presence already, as sign, instrument and foretaste, of the kingdom of
God still to come in its fullness. Creation is subjected to futility, but the consummation represented by the
kingdom of God will set creation free from the bondage of decay and sin (Rom 8:20-21).
43. The hope in the kingdom shapes a spirituality incarnate in Christian communities and in personal
lives. It is the church and the Spirit that cry out: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20). This spirituality
includes sacrament (Mark 14:25), prayer (Matt 6:9-13), and other elements. The early Christians prayed: Marana tha, Our Lord, come! (1 Cor 16:22), implying “with your kingdom in its fullness, in your power
and glory, into our hearts, into our lives, into our church and into our world”.
44. The prayer par excellence for the kingdom is the Lord’s Prayer, which expresses a longing for the
completion of redemption and salvation. It can serve as a model for all Christian prayer, which could be
further characterized by four qualities: compassion, passion, responsibility and thankfulness. Prayer for
the kingdom expresses compassion for the suffering people in the world, passion that God’s will for
justice and peace be done, and willingness to assume our modest but real responsibility to contribute to
the preparation for God’s gift of the kingdom. Thankfulness is expressed in the confession that the
kingdom is not primarily ours, but is rooted in God’s initiative. Thus the kingdom hope becomes the
principal goal of prayer.
45. The Bible also relates the church to the kingdom. This relationship remains a difficult area where
theologians struggle to arrive at some clarity and balance, in the light of Scripture, tradition and
experience. Matt 16:17-19 asserts explicitly that there is a connection between kingdom and church, that
Peter will hold the keys to the kingdom. Some interpreters think that Matt 16:17-19 refers to ongoing
church leadership; for others, these verses refer to a promise made to the historical Peter and to him alone.
46. The secrets of the kingdom are revealed to the disciples of Jesus (Matt 13:10-12). The church is the
new community grafted into God’s covenant relationship with Israel (Rom 11:17-24). In both Testaments
the covenant formula runs as follows: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” or “I will be with
you, and you will be with me.”32 This formula finds its eschatological fulfilment in the new covenant
in Christ, the people of God, the church. The church is the people of God who are called to live
the values of the kingdom consistently, which may often bring them into conflict with the world.
Paul, in a baptismal context, expresses this bold insight: “There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ
Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The church as ambassador of reconciliation is the sign of God’s new creation
(2 Cor 5:16-20). If reconciliation is viewed from the perspective of the Pauline communities,
then ethnic, economic and gender justice is very much a part of the experience of salvation.
Breaking the chains of injustice, promoting reconciliation and forgiving love are signs of the
presence of God’s kingdom. The church as people of God manifests the hidden saving plan of
God (Eph 3:3-10; 1 Cor 2:6-10). The church has to be seen in the perspective of God’s plan for
salvation, which in principle extends to all human beings and to creation as a whole (Rom
8:22-23; 1 Tim 2:3-4).
47. Of particular importance, the celebration of the kingdom of God occurs in worship and sacrament. In
the breaking of the bread (1 Cor 11:23-26; Mark 14:12-26), and in baptism (Rom 6:1-11; Matt 28:18-20),
the community’s hope of the kingdom of God is experienced as a tangible reality. In worship and
sacrament the community celebrates and experiences the kingdom breaking into the community’s life,
which enables, empowers and equips it for its mission of serving the kingdom.
2. History and Tradition
48. Not only does the New Testament offer the range of meanings relating to the kingdom of God
outlined in the previous paragraphs, but the subsequent history of the Church also presents a panorama of
visions concerning God’s reign. These reflect the contexts in which Christians found themselves at
various times and places. Those living in a time of persecution for their faith, for example, would tend to
emphasize the kingdom as pertaining to the next life, while those living in a situation where church
membership was promoted as an element of civic identity might tend to see service of the kingdom as the
establishment of a Christian society here on earth. Our discussions of this history focused primarily upon
the Patristic period and the centuries since the Protestant Reformation.
2.1. The Patristic era and afterwards
50. Several distinctive visions of the kingdom of God and of its relation to the church may be
distinguished within patristic literature. There is a social vision that looks for the coming of the kingdom
at the end, as in the Pauline theology of the recapitulation of all things in Christ at the end of time, a view
championed by St. Irenaeus of Lyons at the close of the second century. According to this view, the
church looks forward to the fulfilment of the kingdom within the historical process at the end of history.
There is also a view that puts the emphasis upon the aspiration for individual perfection, as developed by
the Alexandrian fathers Clement and Origen, in the early third century. With the toleration and eventual
adoption of Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea developed a
theology of history which saw the kingdom as actualized, at least to some extent, in the harmonious union
of church and state which was then emerging under Constantine and which would continue to exist, with
various modifications, for many centuries. In contrast, Augustine found it necessary to answer those who
blamed Christianity for the sack of Rome by the barbarians in the early fifth century by writing his
longest book, The City of God, which offers what might be called an ecclesiological interpretation of the
kingdom. The kingdom is now present in this world in the church, the heavenly city, which lives in a
constant state of struggle with the sinful earthly city. The monastic movement, as reflected in the final
words of the “Prologue” of The Rule of St. Benedict, intended to help Christians to share patiently in the
sufferings of Christ, through the faithful observance of a special way of life, so that they might also
“share in his kingdom.”
2.2. Protestant Reformation and Catholic Reformation
53. Catholic proclamation of, and reflection about, the kingdom of God has appeared in a variety of ways
since the sixteenth century. Through the Catechism of the Council of Trent, a resource for basic Christian
formation used until well into the twentieth century, the Catholic faithful were introduced to the various
dimensions of the kingdom present in the Scriptures, the creed and the Lord’s prayer. Thus the kingdom
was understood as coming at the end of time, but also as already present in some way in the church and in
the hearts and souls of individual believers. Catholic theologians of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries explored the ethical or moral approach to understanding the kingdom, seeing the church as an
agent promoting conversion and growth in virtue and thus serving to prepare for the transformation of the
world into the kingdom of God. The social doctrine of Pope Pius XI between the two world wars of the
twentieth century was predicated largely on the conviction that lasting peace and social welfare could
only be achieved by accepting the rule of the prince of peace. To further this end, Pius XI initiated a feast
dedicated to Christ the King, a liturgical development with broad ecumenical resonance.
2.3. The Twentieth Century
56. The new context created by Vatican II and by the ecumenical movement contributed to the emergence
of a distinctive approach to doing theology that was particularly attentive to the kingdom. The kingdom
of God took on the role of a hermeneutical key in the liberation theology that emerged during the 1970s
in developing countries, particularly in Latin America. The almost desperate economic, social and
political situation of the majority of people in these countries made for a different reading of the main
themes of the Bible like the Exodus, the prophets’ cry for justice, and the kingdom theme of the New
Testament. These great concerns of the Bible took on renewed meaning in settings that matched those in
which they were first written: abject poverty, oppression, dependence and gross injustice. Oppressed
people felt the Word of God was speaking directly to them, addressing their situation and giving them
new hope and courage to face their situation, and to do something about it. The kingdom of God was
experienced not as an abstract idea or a symbol but, first of all, as a principle for action that called for
change and for engagement on the part of all who would let its power into their lives. “The kingdom of
God consists not in talk but in power” (1 Cor 4:20). The Basic Ecclesial Communities, which were a
principal source from which liberation theology developed, are worshipping communities. It is in
celebrating the Word of God together and reflecting on it in prayer that they come to experience the
kingdom present among them and to understand that the kingdom message of Jesus demands active
engagement in the struggle for justice and freedom of one’s fellow human beings. The Synod of Bishops
of 1971 called action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world a
“constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel” (Justice in the World 6).
58. These issues have been prominent in the work of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and
elsewhere in the Reformed family. An influential thinker among Reformed theologians in this area has
been Jürgen Moltmann. His writings combine central themes of Christian theology, including
Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity, the theme of creation and the message of the kingdom of God
with a sense of contemporary and future-oriented political, social and ecological responsibility and offer
many points of contact with work in the Roman Catholic and other traditions. An especially positive
aspect of his theology is that it does not fall prey to the old dichotomies between “Faith and Order” and
“Life and Work” or between “theoretical” and “contextual” thinking. Instead, in understanding theology
as “critical reflection upon praxis” it pays attention to central and fundamental theological themes and
perspectives as decisive for that reflection but also as requiring to be re-thought in the light of praxis.
60. The present survey suggests at least two observations having special relevance for our present phase
of dialogue and for this report. First, we have chosen quite deliberately to examine not only the biblical
witness pertinent to our theme but also writings from later periods, especially from the patristic era and
from the time after our division. Both Reformed and Roman Catholics see the authority of post-biblical
witnesses as related to their faithfulness to the inspired Word of God in Scripture, though we have not yet
arrived at a common conviction about the extent of that authority. Second, our present phase of dialogue
has opted deliberately to give special attention to the way in which context serves as a conditioning factor
for Christian thought and practice, especially in the realm of the Church’s action in serving the arrival of
the kingdom in its fullness. “Context” should not be thought of simply as a locality; indeed, “context”
may refer to the spirit of an age which could extend to the whole world. Attention to context need not
imply an historical or cultural relativism regarding Christian faith about the kingdom of God and the role
of the Church in serving as God’s instrument for its arrival. The survey presented in this chapter suggests
that the historical and cultural setting in which the Christian community finds itself will play an important
role in discerning the nature and demands of the kingdom at any given time or place.
3. Converging Theological Perspectives
62. The kingdom of God is a multi-faceted reality, part of that mysterious design of God for the salvation
of the world. It includes various tensions or polarities: the kingdom is both present and future; it dwells in
the hearts of individuals and transforms society; it is religious and spiritual but has secular and political
consequences; it gradually grows but may also break out suddenly in a particular event. It is the work of
God, but is served by the actions of human beings. The kingdom is present with a special force and power
in the church, whose first members were those who believed Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and
were sent to proclaim the good news of its expansive reality through his death and resurrection. At the
same time, the kingdom is broader than the church; it is present in a hidden manner whenever the Spirit of
the risen Lord inspires individuals and communities to live according to the values of the Gospel. This
depth and complexity is intrinsic to the mystery of God’s plan of salvation. An adequate theological
exposition of the kingdom will maintain these tensions.
64. The kingdom proclaimed by Jesus provides the context for understanding the nature and mission of
the church. As the Faith and Order Commission stated in its 1990 study document Church and World (Chapter III 8),
The church is that part of humanity which has been led to accept, affirm and acknowledge ever
more fully the liberating truth of the kingdom for all people. It is the community of those who are
experiencing the presence of the kingdom and actively awaiting its final fulfillment. The church
is therefore called to live as that force within humanity through which God’s will for the renewal,
justice, community and salvation of all people is witnessed to. Endowed with the gifts of the Holy
Spirit and continually strengthened by Christ’s word and sacrament, the church is sent by God to
witness to, and proclaim the kingdom in and for, this broken world through word and deed, life
and suffering, even suffering unto death. In this mission the church is the new community of
those willing to serve the kingdom for the glory of God and the good of humanity. To the degree
to which this happens the church is an effective sign, an instrument of God’s mission in this aeon
In this perspective, one can say that the kingdom and the church are not identical. The kingdom is truly
already present in the church and yet it is beyond the church as the destiny of the whole of creation. The
church is meant to serve the establishment of the kingdom as a prophetic sign and an effective instrument
in the hands of God.
65. This means that Christians will be active in the promotion of justice, liberation of the oppressed,
peace and the protection of the environment and will join their efforts with all those who seek to foster
such values. The kingdom is therefore a reason for further dialogue and collaboration with the
representatives of other religious traditions and with all persons who seek to bring about a more humane
world, one governed by God and characterized by the kinds of behaviour about which Jesus speaks when
he announces the kingdom in word and deed. Christian faith does not exclude others from the care and
action of God; rather Christians rejoice in the fact that God is present among all people and that the fruits
of the Holy Spirit are found among the followers of many spiritual paths. When those of other religions or
even of no religious faith seek to reduce human suffering, to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, to
advocate effective responses to such crises as natural disasters, famine, the HIV and Aids pandemic, to
foster peace and reconciliation and to call upon governments and corporations to promote the care of our
planet, then these are our partners. Out of our Christian faith we wish to obey Christ’s command “Seek
first the kingdom of God”. We gratefully join together in solidarity with others who seek some of the
same goals here mentioned. This opens the way for a more creative dialogue and for collaboration with
adherents of world religions, as well as with any persons who seek to further the values of God’s reign.
- Isa 40:12-17,21-23; Ps 74:12-17; Ps 95:3-5.
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- Jer 23:5-6; Isa 2:2; 11:1-9; 25:6-10; 52:7-10; 60; 61:1-4; Hos 11:10-11.
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- Exod 15:13-18; Isa 6:1-13; 33:17,22; Zech 14:9; Ps 11:4; 24; 29:9-10; 47; 48:1-3; 68:32-36; 74:12-14; 89:15; 93; 95:1-7; 96; 97; 98; 99; 102:12-17; 145:1,10-21; 146:5-10; 149; 150.
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- Cf. 1 Cor 8:1,4; Gal 3:20; Rom 3:30. Cf. Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 1:17; 2:5; 6:15-16.
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- 1 Thess 1:9; Rom 9:26; 2 Cor 3:3; 6:16. Cf. 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10.
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- 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 Cor 12:7.
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- Rom 1:20; 4:17. Cf. 1 Tim 4:4.
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- Rom 13:1-5; 8:28-30; 9:19-22; 11:29-32.
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- Rom 2:6,11; 2 Cor 5:10.
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- Luke 6:36; 11:9-13; Matt 6:31-33; 7:7-11. Cf. Luke 15:11-32.
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- Matt 18:23-35; Luke 15:11-32; Matt 20:1-6; cf. 1 John 4:8-10.
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- Matt 6:26,28,31; Luke 12:24; Matt 18:10; 5:43-45.
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- Dan 2:1-49; 7:1-28, esp. vv. 13-14; every chapter in Daniel culminates in a reference to the kingdom.
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- Mark 1:15; Matt 4:17; cf. Luke 4:16-30, esp. vv. 18-19 = Isa 61:1-2; 58:6.
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- Cf. Rev 20:1-10; 2 Pet 3:8. The fullest of such schemas appears in the extra-canonical epistle of Barnabas (15:4,5) where seven eons are named from Adam to Noah; from Noah to Abraham; from Abraham to David; from David to the Exile; from the Exile to Jesus and the time of the church; from Jesus and the time of the church to his return in glory; followed by the Kingdom in its fullness.
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- Translations of Matt 28:20 have accordingly been changed from “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” to “unto the end of the age”.
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- Mark 12:34; Matt 25:31-46; but cf. Matt 12:30; Luke 11:23.
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- 1 Cor 15:27-28.
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- Matt 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-30; cf. Rom 12:19-21; Prov 25:21-22.
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- John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19,21,26.
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- Matt 12:27, parallel: Luke 11:20; cf. Acts 1:6-8.
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- 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14.
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- E.g., Lev 26:11-12; Ezek 37:27; 2 Cor 6:16; Matt 1:23; 18:20; 28:20; Luke 1:28.
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- From The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), para. 53.
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