We speak of the Kingdom of God as the active reign of God because the Kingdom is God’s and because God is active. The Kingdom is not the activity of men, nor does it spring from the work of a passive, abstractly sovereign God, but from one who is active in history. Ladd summarizes well when he says:
“The Kingdom is God’s Kingdom, not man’s … If the Kingdom is the rule of God, then every aspect of the Kingdom must be derived from the character and action of God” (Ladd, 171).
It is not surprising, then, that Jesus always spoke of an active God, one who seeks, invites, adopts, and judges. God’s kingdom is supernatural and springs from the activity of God.
Jesus painted a picture of a God who seeks the lost. The parables of the Lost Coin, Lost Sheep, and Lost Son are all tender parables about the relentless love of God. After Zacchaeus repented Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).
Jesus told a parable saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come” (Matthew 22:1-3ff). Those initially invited refused so the King sent more servants anyone they could find.
This is a parable of invitation and of judgment. The fact that God seeks and invites brings people to a moment of decision, to attend the banquet and enter the Kingdom of heaven or refuse and face judgment.
“The Kingdom” and God as “Father” are closely linked. Ladd explains: “Fatherhood is inseparable from the kingdom. Those who know God as their Father are those for whom the highest good in life is the Kingdom of God and its righteousness” (Ladd, 179).
Popular usage of God as Father places God as the “Universal Father.” We (all people) are God’s children. This is, in some sense, true. God is the Universal Creator. We are all God’s children through Adam. God loves everyone. However, in terms of the Kingdom, the use of God as “Father” was reserved for those who became as children and accepted the invitation of God. God is seeking to offer everyone his fatherly care, but only those who respond can rightly call him their Father, at least in terms of the Kingdom of God.
That God is a Father to those in the Kingdom again speaks to his Divine action. For, indeed, sonship is a gift. “The Kingdom of God gives men the gift of sonship and brings them into a relationship with God as their Father” (Ladd, 183).
The dominant picture of repentance in Jesus’ time placed the emphasis on the action of man. God was sovereign but it was up to people to first seek out God. If people genuinely repented then God would respond with mercy.
The Bible tells a story that begins with God. God seeks the lost and invites them into his Kingdom and man responds to that invitation. The Kingdom of God is a gift. It is something we can receive, not something we earn. God’s love draws us to a point of decision – to accept or reject, to find mercy or judgment.
Ladd is worth quoting once again, “The very fact that God is seeking love throws man into a predicament. Man must respond to this overture of love; otherwise greater condemnation awaits him” (Ladd, 184).
In fact, Jesus’ words are filled with pictures of judgment for those who reject him. He says, “Depart from me” for those who refused to help others in need (Matthew 25:41-43) and calls the Pharisees broods of vipers for killing God’s prophets (Matthew 23:33-36). His harshest judgment comes upon those for whom God has given the most opportunity to repent.
The Supernatural Kingdom
Hopefully the above discussion helps us see that the Kingdom of God is God’s Kingdom based on His divine action in history. God invites us to enter and we enter when we become as little children and humbly respond to his love.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of sloppy language amongst Christians when it comes to using the language of the “Kingdom of God.” I have heard many times how a particular organization endeavors to “expand the Kingdom” or “build the Kingdom.” I know what they mean but it’s important to be precise.
If we survey the verbs associated with the Kingdom we see that the Kingdom “draws near”, “comes”, “arrives”, and “appears.” God can “give the kingdom” or “take away the kingdom.” People can “enter”, “receive”, “inherit”, “posses”, “reject”, “look for”, “pray for”, “seek”, “preach”, and “do things for the sake of” the kingdom. But it is never said that people “build”, “establish”, “give away”, “destroy”, or “bring” the kingdom. We have a responsibility in light of the kingdom but it’s God’s kingdom, not ours.