Kingdom of God and Mission

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Kingdom of God and Mission

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How does understanding of the meaning of the Kingdom of God influence the theology of salvation?
How does this in turn have bearing upon the understanding of the nature of mission?


When the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples, He commissioned them with the same mission that He had received from His Father “as the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…” Mt. 28:19) “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mk 16: 15).
Jesus said he was sent by God to do Father’s work, “we must work, the works of Him who sent me”… (John 9: 4). In His early days of ministry, Jesus affirmed his work is “to preach the kingdom of God”(Lk 4: 13; Mk 1: 38), and in His high priestly prayer he prayed “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do.” (Jn. 17:4)

It is obvious that the “work” of Jesus was preaching of the kingdom of God, and if we work for Jesus then we must understand the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

What is the Kingdom of God?

There is a general consent among scholars to express the linguistic meaning of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God (Gk. Basileia; Heb. Malkut) means God’s “rule” or God’s “reign” rather than God’s ruling “realm”. (Ladd, p. 21)

However, The King of the Kingdom, needs the territory to rule. I think God’s rule without territory is like Mikhail Gorbachev who had the role of president of U.S.S.R. He was pushed out by Russian demonstrators because he was a president of the Soviet Union which had fallen apart (Boris Elchin was the president of Russia while Mikhail had no territory as the president of U.S.S.R.)

Senders saw the kingdom of God is a transcendent realm now in heaven, but in the future it will come to earth. “The kingdom of God is there, in heaven, where people will enter after death, and in the future, when God brings the kingdom to earth and separates the sheep from the goats.” (Senders, p, 176)

According to Acts 17: 24-28 the whole world is God’s reigning territory. Even Geerhardus Vos made a similar definition (1)

There are two different opinions about the time of the kingdom of God. Marshall and Vos acknowledged the kingdom of God as a present reality which has come with the ministry of Jesus Christ. (2)
Senders thinks that the kingdom of God is in the future. “One cannot take Luke 17: 20 as canceling that large number of sayings about the future kingdom including those that immediately follow in Luke. He thought that Jesus thought that the kingdom was in heaven, that people would enter it in the future, and that it was also present in some sense in his own work.” (Sender, p. 177-8)

R Padilla saw the kingdom as simultaneous reality, “The kingdom of God is a present reality and a promise to be fulfilled in the future: it has come, and it is to come”. (Padilla, in his Book Mission between the Times in Mission Reader)

I would like to summarize the kingdom of God as:

a) The kingdom of God can only be experienced by being “born again” (John 3:3) and it is related to personal salvation.

According to John 3: 3-5 Jesus refers to the kingdom as a spiritual re- birth. It means that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message about personal salvation, and the aim of our mission becomes the salvation of individual souls for eternal life…

b) The message of the kingdom of God is an invitation to eternal life

Eternal life is to know Jesus (John 17: 3). The condition to participate to the kingdom must proceed from repentance and believing in Christ. (Mark 1: 15) It is not possible to know Christ without repentance, repentance is vital to participation in the kingdom of God.

c) The kingdom of God represent the Church as a present kingdom manifestation

The Roman Catholic Church identified itself as the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth, and took Matt. 16: 18,19 as a foundation reference.
The Gospel in this sense is seen as an invitation to Church membership through baptism, because it is a sacrament that the grace of God can be found.

However in the Protestant tradition the Church has always been seen as the sign and instrument of the kingdom and mission has often been seen in terms of church growth or church planting. Padilla makes a clear division between the kingdom of God and the Church, and quotes Ladd and Lesslie Newbigin. “The church must not be equated with the Kingdom, but it must not be separated from it either.” (Mission Readers, p. 32)

But Ridderbos has a close view of the relationship between the Kingdom and the Church, Ridderbos summarize his view of the relation between the basileia and ekklesia. (3)

d) The kingdom of God involved social justice

This approach regards Jesus as a fulfilling Messiah in Luke 4: 18,19. Jesus’ kingdom brings good news not only to the spiritually poor but also to all that suffer poverty in all its dimensions. A good example of this approach can be found in the WCC, and it is known as the “social gospel”. It is a question of emphasis. Senders said that individuals cannot get together with others and create the kingdom by reforming social, religious and political institutions. “Jesus doubtless had views about the social, political and economic conditions of his people, but his mission was to prepare them to receive the coming kingdom of God.” (Senders, p. 188)

e) The kingdom of God is a manifestation of God’s power

Jesus’ healing miracles too are expressions of the presence of the inbreaking kingdom of God. Bringing sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and restored mobility to the lame and paralyzed are the promised miracles in Isa. 35: 5,6 and 61: 1, 2.

The miracles are the liberating restoration of the human being in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ preaching of God’s inbreaking reign means that God is now being revealed in strength; he is visiting his people with redemption, he has come to them.
This view has gained great popularity in recent years through the ministry of John Wimber and others.

For Wimber the gospel is more than a proclamation of the cross, it speaks of an active deliverance, the cross brings a “kingdom power”. However, the danger of this view, “kingdom power” or “power encounter” about which Young Gi Cho in Korea and Mission Department of Fuller Theological Seminary have a strong view is that it preaches that the cross of Christ brings only miracles of healing.

They emphasize God as our helper rather than the One we must serve. This view limits the gospel proclamation only to the signs and wonders. Then people have the tendency to interpret the gospel as a book of miracles and may stick to the basics instead of getting mature through seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness.

The central teaching of Jesus Christ and the cross is not the miraculous deliverance of the human problems, it is God’s power over death and it is miracle is it deliver people from their sin and change their lives into image of Christ which the mankind lost after the Fall.

The kingdom of God is within us now when we invite him to be our Lord and King Jesus. The next phase will be there after we die. We will have a primary kingdom life on this earth when Jesus comes again, and them we will live heavenly kingdom eternally.
God’s kingdom in every phase is entirely related with his rule and a question is who lives under his rule.

What is salvation?

When Jesus’ birth is announced the name given him at the command of God was “… and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21) It denotes Jesus as savior, redeemer. Ridderbos defines salvation as the remission of sins. (4)

Luke 7: 36-50; 15:11-32; 18:9-14; 19:1-10; John 8:1-11 show that gracious remission of guilt is the center and the basics of the gospel of the kingdom, as many parables and stories tell us; that of the prodigal son; the Pharisees and the publican; the story of the repentant sinner; the adulterous women; Zacchaeus.

Salvation is the restoration of a personal relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins (2 Cor 5: 18-21). Salvation gives a person a whole new set of values, and demands repentance for one’s dishonesty, corruption and unjust treatment of his neighbor. (Luke 19:1-10).

There is also institutional sin, which pervades social, economical and political structures in such a way as to bind people. So we must save not just from the personal sin, but also from the wider consequences of the effects of sin in society. However, we can’t make salvation by reforming society. Only the saved people as like leaven and mustard seeds will influence unjust society.

Salvation is not improving life standard by changing the institutional evil or sin as Ecumenical asserts. Kingdom of God has nothing to do with institutional evil. The people who have no direct rule of God cause institutional sin and they will never improve a perfect free life because they are evil by nature. True freedom, liberation and peace spring out by people’s heart and the freedom of the heart does not depend on changing situation rather it depends on the person’s heart.

Most people have no direct rule of God as Roman 1: 18-32. Only the people who are born again, and have tasted the present kingdom on this earth will live in the eternal kingdom. Salvation does not consist of merely being a member of the Roman Catholic Church nor is it being liberated from social structural sins, as suggested by liberation theologians. It is only by the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, which has remitted our sin through his blood.

What is mission?

Mission is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which comes through Jesus Christ and in his word. Mission is calling people to submit their life to Christ and serve him in the local
Church and proclaiming their Saviour through their lives and words so that people may glorify God, the Father of all. George Peters defines the mission as follows:

Mission is, by it I mean the sending forth of authorized persons beyond the borders of the New Testament Church and her immediate gospel influence to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in gospel- destitute areas, to win convert from other faiths or non- faiths to Jesus Christ, and to establish functioning, multiplying local congregations who will bear the fruit of Christianity in that community and to that country. (Peters, 1981, p. 11)

The theology of mission depends upon such basic doctrines as sin, salvation, the cross, the person and work of Christ, the promises of Scripture etc.
However there is three main different kind of theology of mission in the Christian Church

Evangelical theology

The evangelical theology stressed that “the heart of the gospel is the cross of Christ and perfected work of atonement of Christ” (Unit 5 p. 5,4) but it has begun to see the relation of the gospel to the social and cultural realities since 1966. (5)

The evangelical mission took a significant progress after the Lausanne Congress in 1974. The Lausanne Congress affirmed, in 1974, influenced by John Stott, third World leaders, Christian duty for socio- political involvement. And Lausanne, Manila, 1989:47; state:

In a spirit of humility we are to preach and teach, minister to the sick, feed the hungry, care for prisoners, help the disadvantaged and handicapped, and deliver to oppressed. Our continuing commitment to social action is not a confusion of the Kingdom of God with a Christian society. It is, rather, a recognition that the biblical gospel has in escapable social dimensions. (Unit, 5, p. 5.9)

On the contrary, after the Lausunne Movement, according to C. Peter Wagner evangelical circle diverted from original theology. “The Lausanne Covenant” opened a new terms of mission which is “The spiritual Warfare Network”. They divided three levels of Spiritual Warfare: “Ground- level spiritual warfare, Occult- level spiritual warfare and Strategic- level spiritual warfare”. (Wagner, p. 293)
Wagner emphasizes territorial spirits must be defeated first prior to gospel proclamation.

I believe evil spirits will be defeated naturally when we proclaim the clear gospel. I am afraid Wagner’s new terms of mission are making people to study and speak more about the evil spirits rather than eternal, living word of God. He has no Biblical foundation for his ideas… I am also afraid the evangelical has no clear view about mission. They think everything the church is doing is a mission. I think all the works the Church is doing is not the mission.

Liberation Theologies

Bible identifies itself with the oppressed. “The history of God’s redemptive working is a history of a group of oppressed people. Certainly the people of Israel were oppressed in Egypt. Indeed, the Book of Exodus is one of liberation theology’s favorite portions of God’s word.” (Ericken, 1993, p. 893)

The basic problem of society is the oppression and exploitation of the powerless classes by the powerful. Salvation consists in deliverance from such oppression.’ God is active. He is involved with the poor in their struggle. An evidence of this is the incarnation, by which God, for from remaining aloof and secure, came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and entered the human struggle. (Ibid p. 894)

Ecumenical Christians stress the “horizontal” dimension as well as on the “vertical” one- that is our relationship with others and with the world are as important as our relationship with God. WCC theology is our relationship with the world and how we can change it in conformity to the Kingdom of God.

Social priorities, such as justice, freedom, dignity become essential for the mission. Thus emphasis was “kingdom now” rather than the “not yet” of the kingdom. Uppsala also emphasizes that we are all neighbors of one another and therefore we have a responsibility for one another.

Bangkok 1973 went further than Uppsala, seeing salvation as liberation, and liberation as changing both people and structures in equal measure.

However, the gulf between the rich and the poor in the third world is abuse of power and extort of labor by authority. Mission cannot change the structure of power or authority. Helping the poor is not a real solution to the problem. Most people are poor not because they are poor but either lazy or there is no source of work because of the structure of power. To save poor people is not liberate them from the power or the problem. Liberated people by the gospel of God will liberate themselves from the institutional sins.
If kingdom of God brings the social change then that kingdom must failed in India, China and Africa because they are still living under the structural evils.

I prefer Peter Beyerhaus affirmation for modern mission theology; “Humanization is not the primary goal of mission. It is rather a product of our new birth through God’s saving activity in Christ within us, or an indirect result of the Christian proclamation in its power to perform a leaving activity in the course of world history.” (Unit 5, p 5.7)

Up to Vatican II, the Catholic Church saw itself as the only true Church and its mission as the only valid mission. The absolute authority of the pope was firm. It was the Second Vatican Council that attempted to make a theology reform of the Church.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, some of theologians pushed for a redefinition of the Church. Those theologians wanted the Church to open more to the world and made Catholic mission grow.

Pope John XII with Hans Kung realized changing factors around the world and its need, and this urged him to summon the Second Vatican Council.
Vatican II, discussion were focused on the renewal of the Church’s identity and its liturgies and the Church’s relationship with the world. They see the Church as central to the purposes of God, and equally center to the task of mission. Vatican II was influenced by Yves Congar and Karl Rahner. Yves sees the Church as the “people of God” while Rahner see the grace of God is at even to the outside people, irrespective of the Church.

Vatican II in its document called Lumen Gentium encouraged dialogue with other Christian denominations as the worldwide people of God’ and opened universal salvation which means salvation of the whole human.

The other significant document of Vatican II is Ad Gentes. Ad Gentes sees that the whole Church is missionary and the work of evangelization is the basic duty of the people of God. The Church is the heart of the mission but the conception of the Church in Vatican II embracing all people in all worlds is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.


The kingdom of God is not for all but its includes all. It is individual, national, racial and cosmic. It is personal, spiritual, moral and social. It is worldly and timely. It is also transworldly, transhuman and eternal. It is history, yet it is ultimate. It is timely, yet it is eternal. It is qualitative, yet it is also special.
As Senders said “The full revelation of the kingdom of God may lie in the future, but in the present people can experience some of its benefits (Senders, p. 178)

The kingdom of God in his direct rule is limited to his own people who have been saved through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it applies to the mission.
The heart of the mission is saving people from their sins (believing) and encouraging them to join a local Church (belonging) and teaching them to be responsible persons in the given society (behaving).
End Notes

1) In the Old Testament God is frequently represented as King of the universe not only, but also as the King of Israel in a special, redemptive sense. In this sense, as well as New Testament God’s kingdom as a present
dwelling in His people’s spiritual life
(I consider this as a God’s present reigning territory in his people) and as a future, eschatological sense, God’s rule or reign will be heavenly realm (future heaven is his reigning territory). (Geerhardus Vos, p. 304-305)

2) We must admit that the hope of the future coming of the kingdom (Luke 11:2; 22:29; 23:42) is not the center of Luke’ thought but he has certainly not given up the idea. His emphasis is on the presence of the kingdom. Through the preaching of Jesus the power of kingdom is manifested. (Marshall, p. 134)
In this sense God’s kingdom first meant a present, real relation between Himself and His people, not something whose realization was expected from the future. (Vos, p. 304)

3) The basileia is the great divine work of salvation in its fulfillment and consummation in Christ; the ekklesia is the people elected and called by God and sharing in the bliss of the basileia. Logically the basileia ranks first, and not the ekklesia. The ekklesia in all this is the people who in this great drama have been placed on the side of God in Christ by virtue of the divine election and covenant. This is no doubt why the kingdom is revealed in the ekklesia, so there is no question of basileia and ekklesia as being identical. (Lidderbos, p. 354)

4) The central and most profound meaning implied in this work of the Saviour is the fact that Jesus delivers his people from their sins.
Jesus has been authorized by God to deliver men from their sins, and central purpose of Jesus’ coming was the remission of sins. This fundamental conception of redemption as remission of sins not only distinguishes the gospel from all non- Christian religions but also from all humanistic and modern- dualistic interpretations of the gospel. The starting point of the gospel is not the value, but the guilt of man; and redemption is not the preservation of the soul, as in itself the imperishable and higher part of man; but the saving of the whole of human existence in the last judgment. (Ridderbos, p. 215)

5) Today evangelicals are increasingly convinced that they must involve themselves in the great social problems men are facing. They are concerned for the needs of the whole man, because of their Lord’s example, His constraining love, their identity with the human race, and the challenge of their evangelical heritage. Evangelicals look to the Scriptures for guidance as to what they should do and far they should go in expressing this social concern, without minimizing the priority of preaching the gospel of individual salvation. (Unit 5, p. 5.7)


Herman Ridderbos, 1962, The coming of the Kingdom, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing

G. Kittel, 1968, theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Eerdmans

I. Howard Marshall, 1988, Luke Historian and Theologian, IVP

Arthur F. Glasser and Donald A. McGavran, 1983, Contemporary Theologies of mission, Baker Book House

Millard J. Erickson, 1993, Christian Theology, Baker Book House

D.E. Nineham, Saint Mark, the Penguin NT commentaries

George Eldon Ladd, 1987, The gospel of the Kingdom, Korean version

D.E. Nineham, 1992, Saint Mark, The Penguin Book

Geerhardus Vos, 1980, Redemptive History and biblical interpretation, the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing

George W. Peters, 1981, A Biblical Theology of Mission, Moody Press

E.P. Senders, 1993, the Historical Figure of Jesus, Penguin Books


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