Jesus Christ, Inauguration and Fulfillment of the Kingdom of God

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 18 March 1987, the Holy Father reflected on how, in prophecy, the promise of salvation was intrinsic to the mission of the Messiah.

"The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15). With these words Jesus of Nazareth began his messianic preaching. In Jesus the kingdom of God enters into the life and history of mankind, and it constitutes the fulfillment of the promises of salvation which Israel had received from the Lord.

Jesus was revealed as the Messiah, not because he aimed at a temporal and political dominion according to the mentality of his contemporaries, but because in his mission, which culminated in his passion, death and resurrection, "all the promises of God find their yes in him" (2 Cor 1:20).

In order to understand fully Jesus' mission one must recall the Old Testament message which proclaims the saving kingship of the Lord. In the canticle of Moses (cf. Ex 15:1-18) the Lord is acclaimed as "king" because he freed his people in a marvelous way and led them with power and love to communion with him and their brethren in the joy of freedom. Moreover, the ancient Psalm 29 bears witness to the same faith: ”the Lord is contemplated in the power of his kingship, which holds dominion over all created being and communicates energy, blessing and peace to his people (Ps 29:10). It is especially in the call of Isaiah that faith in the Lord as "king" appears completely permeated with the theme of salvation. The "king" whom the prophet contemplates with the eyes of faith "sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (Is 6:1), is God in the mystery of his transcendent holiness and merciful goodness whereby he is present to his people as the source of love which purifies, pardons and saves: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Is 6:3).

This faith in the saving kingship of the Lord prevented the monarchy from developing autonomously in the people of the covenant as was the case in other nations. The king was the chosen one, the Lord's anointed, and as such, he was the instrument by which God himself exercised his sovereignty over Israel (cf. 1 Sam 12:12-15). "The Lord reigns," the Psalms continually proclaim (cf. 5:3; 9:5; 29:10; 93:1; 97:1-4; 146:10).

1. A new covenant

In face of the sad experience of human limitations and of sin the prophets announced a new covenant, in which the Lord himself would be the saving and royal guide of his renewed people (cf. Jer 31:31-34; Ez 34:7-16; 36:24-28).

The expectation of a new David whom the Lord will raise up as the instrument of the exodus, of liberation and salvation arose in this context (cf. Ez 34:23-25; Jer 23:5-6). From this moment onward the figure of the Messiah will appear in intimate relationship with the inauguration of the full kingship of God.

After the exile, even though the institution of the monarchy ceased in Israel, there was a continuous growth of faith in the kingship which God exercises over his people and which will extend even to "the ends of the earth." The Psalms which sing of the Lord as king are the most significant witness to this hope (cf. Ps 96; 99).

This hope reaches it high point when the eye of faith, looking beyond the time of human history, will see that only in the future eternity the kingdom of God will be established in all its power. Then, by means of the resurrection, the redeemed will be in full communion of life and love with the Lord (cf. Dan 7:9-10; 12:2-3).

Jesus referred to this hope of the Old Testament and proclaimed its fulfillment. The kingdom of God formed the central theme of his preaching, as the parables show particularly.

The parable of the sower (cf. Mt 13:3-8) proclaims that the kingdom of God is already at work in Jesus' preaching, and at the same time it directs one's gaze to the abundance of fruits which will constitute the superabundant richness of the kingdom at the end of time. The parable of the seed which grows of itself (cf. Mk 4:26-29) emphasizes that the kingdom is not a human work. It is solely a gift of God's love, which acts in the hearts of believers and guides human history to its definitive fulfillment in eternal communion with the Lord. The parable of the darnel in the midst of the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) and that of the net cast into the sea (cf. Mt 13:47-52) show first of all the already active presence of God's salvation. Together with the children of the kingdom, however, the children of the evil one, the workers of iniquity are also present. The powers of evil shall be destroyed only at the end of time, and those who have accepted the kingdom shall be forever with the Lord. Finally, the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price (cf. Mt 13:44-46) express the supreme and absolute value of God's kingdom. Whoever understands its value is prepared to face any sacrifice and renunciation to enter the kingdom.

There is a wealth of profound enlightenment in Jesus' teaching. In its full and complete fulfillment, the kingdom of God is certainly of the future: "until the kingdom of God comes" (cf. Mk 9:1; Lk 22:18). The Lord's Prayer teaches us to pray for its coming: "thy kingdom come" (Mt 6:10).

At the same time, however, Jesus stated that the kingdom of God "has already come" (Mt 12:28); "it is in the midst of you" (Lk 17:21) by means of the preaching and works of Jesus. Moreover, from the whole of the New Testament it is evident that the Church, founded by Jesus, is the place where God's kingship is made present, in Christ, as the gift of salvation in faith, of new life in the Spirit, of communion in charity.

The intimate relationship between the kingdom and Jesus thus appears. It is so strong a relationship that the kingdom of God can also be called the "kingdom of Jesus" (Eph 5:5; 2 Pet 1:11), as indeed Jesus himself stated before Pilate by asserting that Jesus' "kingdom is not of this world" (Jn 18:36).

In this light we can understand the conditions indicated by Jesus for entrance into the kingdom. They can be summed up in the word "conversion." Through conversion the human person opens up to the gift of God (cf. Lk 12:32), who "calls you into his own kingdom and glory" (1 Thess 2:12); he welcomes the kingdom as a child (cf. Mk 10:15) and is prepared for whatever renunciation is required to enter it (cf. Lk 18:29; Mt 19:29; Mk 10:29).

The kingdom of God demands a profound or new "justice" (cf. Mt 5:20); it requires commitment in doing "God's will" (cf. Mt 7:21); it calls for the interior simplicity "of children" (cf. Mt 18:3; Mk 10:15); and it implies the overcoming of the obstacle constituted by riches (cf. Mk 10:23-24).

The Beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus (cf. Mt 5:3-12) could be called the Magna Carta of the kingdom of heaven which is given to the poor in spirit, to those who mourn, to the meek, to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, to the merciful, to the pure in heart, to the peacemakers and to those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. The beatitudes do not only indicate the requirements of the kingdom. First of all they manifest the work that God accomplishes in us by making us similar to his Son (cf. Rom 8:29) and capable of having his sentiments (cf. Phil 2:5 ff.) of love and pardon (cf. Jn 13:34-35; Col 3:13).

Jesus' teaching on the kingdom of God is witnessed to by the Church of the New Testament, which has lived it in the joy of its paschal faith. It is the community of the "little ones" whom the Father "has delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col 1:13). It is the community of those who live "in Christ," allowing themselves to be guided by the Spirit in the way of peace (cf. Lk 1:79), and who strive to avoid the works of the "flesh," and not "to fall into temptation," well knowing that "those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:21). The Church is the community of those who proclaim by their life and words the same message of Jesus: "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (Lk 10:9).

"As the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her" (DV 8). The Church prays to the Father in every Eucharistic celebration that his kingdom may come. She lives in fervent expectation of the glorious coming of the Lord and Savior Jesus who will offer to the divine majesty "an eternal and boundless kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, of love and of peace" (Preface of the Solemnity of Christ the King).

This expectation of the Lord is a constant source of confidence and strength. It stimulates the baptized, who have become partakers in Christ's royal dignity, to live every day "in the kingdom of the beloved Son," to bear witness to and proclaim the presence of the kingdom with the same works as Jesus (cf. Jn 14:12). The Council teaches that in virtue of this witness of faith, the world will be imbued with the spirit of Christ and attain more effectively its end in justice, charity and peace (cf. LG 36).