Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > R-RC > Final Report > Chapter I

quick menu

Chapter I. The Kingdom of God in Scripture and Tradition

   List of Participants

Chapter I

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 Temple.12

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 animals.

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 community.26

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; Col 1:20).

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 (aion).

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.



  1. Isa 40:12-17,21-23; Ps 74:12-17; Ps 95:3-5.

    Back to text


  2. Jer 23:5-6; Isa 2:2; 11:1-9; 25:6-10; 52:7-10; 60; 61:1-4; Hos 11:10-11.

    Back to text


  3. 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.

    Back to text


  4. 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.

    Back to text


  5. 1 Thess 1:9; Rom 9:26; 2 Cor 3:3; 6:16. Cf. 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10.

    Back to text


  6. 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 Cor 12:7.

    Back to text


  7. Rom 1:20; 4:17. Cf. 1 Tim 4:4.

    Back to text


  8. Rom 13:1-5; 8:28-30; 9:19-22; 11:29-32.

    Back to text


  9. Rom 2:6,11; 2 Cor 5:10.

    Back to text


  10. Luke 6:36; 11:9-13; Matt 6:31-33; 7:7-11. Cf. Luke 15:11-32.

    Back to text


  11. Matt 18:23-35; Luke 15:11-32; Matt 20:1-6; cf. 1 John 4:8-10.

    Back to text


  12. Matt 6:26,28,31; Luke 12:24; Matt 18:10; 5:43-45.

    Back to text


  13. Dan 2:1-49; 7:1-28, esp. vv. 13-14; every chapter in Daniel culminates in a reference to the kingdom.

    Back to text


  14. Mark 1:15; Matt 4:17; cf. Luke 4:16-30, esp. vv. 18-19 = Isa 61:1-2; 58:6.

    Back to text


  15. 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.

    Back to text


  16. 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”.

    Back to text


  17. Mark 12:34; Matt 25:31-46; but cf. Matt 12:30; Luke 11:23.

    Back to text


  18. 1 Cor 15:27-28.

    Back to text


  19. Matt 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-30; cf. Rom 12:19-21; Prov 25:21-22.

    Back to text


  20. John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19,21,26.

    Back to text


  21. Matt 12:27, parallel: Luke 11:20; cf. Acts 1:6-8.

    Back to text


  22. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14.

    Back to text


  23. E.g., Lev 26:11-12; Ezek 37:27; 2 Cor 6:16; Matt 1:23; 18:20; 28:20; Luke 1:28.

    Back to text


  24. From The Presence of Christ in Church and World (1977), para. 53.

    Back to text


Index | Centro Activities | Course | Publications | Conferences
Week of Prayer | Library | Interconfessional Dialogues
Directory of Ecumenical Study Centers | Society of the Atonement
Guest Book | Credits | Site Map

1999-2008 © - Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, Inc.
Remarks to Webmaster at webmaster@pro.urbe.it