The term ‘kingdom of God’ crops up frequently in conversations about mission and ministry (see, for example, the recent use in Martyn Percy’s discussion of bishops), but it is not always very clear what the term means, or what relation it bears to Jesus’ use of the term in the gospels. It seems to me to be rather important to look carefully at the meaning of the term before we hitch it to our own agendas for a theology of ministry.
The first thing to note about the phrase is that it is presented by Jesus (and by John in Matthew 3.2) as the fulfilment of expectation. Its meaning cannot therefore be detached from OT and intertestamental expectation of God’s reign, even if Jesus’ teaching significantly reinterprets such expectations. The phrase ‘kingdom of God’ does not occur in this form in the OT, but the theme of God’s kingship runs like a thread through it, from the dominion God has over creation which he then delegates to humans made in his image, through his rule over his people in contrast to Pharoah’s control in the Exodus, to the theme of theocracy in the debate about whether Israel needs a king (1 Sam 8.6). A number of psalms express God’s sovereignty, and some include extravagant expositions of God as king: