Archive for the ‘Kingdom of God’ Category


January 17, 2009

*Ivo da Conceiçao SOUZA

Movement is a sign of life. A saintly life is a life of growth, of movement. Movement can be local/geographical, cultural, dynamic, existential. Movement is sign of growth in spirituality. Thus, geography  can become theology. Yes, it can  become  genuine holiness, it can bind us to God, our neighbour, ourselves and the Universe. God has entered human history by sending his Son to the earth. Even the  far-off people  can become our neighbour, of our kith and kin. God has called those “who were far-off” to become his own people.

But the local-geographical movement is a manifestation of the dynamism of faith and love. With a new vision and new heart there is a living encounter with new people, new cultures, other religions and quasi-religions.

Let us have a glance through the movement in the life of Jesus, whose follower Fr.Joseph Vaz was, and in his own life.

In  the life of Jesus, we find this geographical displacement: The  first mention  of  the annunciation of John the Baptizer brings  us  to Ayn-Karim,  where Mary visited Elizabeth; but soon Mary  receives the  message  of the birth of Jesus in Nazareth  of  Galilee  (Lk 1:26).  Mary goes to a town in Judah, Ayn-Karim (Lk  1:39).  Mary and  Joseph go to Bethlehem, city in Judea, where Jesus is  born. Wise  men come from the East to Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph  go with Jesus to Egypt (Mt 2:14), even though we may think of midrashic elements in the Infancy Gospel, where Jesus is portrayed as the new Israel. Then they go to the town  of  Nazareth (Mt  2:23), since Joseph had to work in the construction of a new city of Sephoris.  Jesus is presented in the Temple  of  Jerusalem  (Lk 2:28) and  from there they returned to Galilee, to their  town  of Nazareth (Lk 2:39). Jesus goes to the Temple of Jerusalem, when he was twelve  years old. Jesus comes from Nazareth to the river  Jordan at  the  age of thirty years fo be baptized by  John the  Baptizer ((Lk  3:23). Jesus comes back to Galilee, he attends the  wedding at  Cana  in Galilee; He goes to Capernaum, a  town  in  Galilee, where he casts out an evil spirit (Mk 1:21-23). Jesus begins his preaching  in the synagogues at Galilee (Lk 4:14), in  the  syna­gogue of Nazareth (Lk 4:17). Jesus settled down in Capernaum, on the shore of the sea of Galilee. He had a house by the house of Simon Peter (Mt 4:14). Jesus heals a palsied man in Capernaum (Mk 2:1). From Capernaum he goes to Nain (Lk 7:11), where he raised to life the son of a widow. He cured the mother-in-law of Simon  Peter; there was a storm in the sea of Galilee; he  went to  the territory of Gerasenes, across the lake opposite  Galilee.

He  raised  to life the dead daughter of Jairus (Mk  5:22)  and  healed a bleeding  woman (Mk 5:25). On the way to Jerusalem, passing  bet­ween Samaria and Galilee, he went to Bethsaida, across the sea of Galiee, and fed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes (Mk 6:33; Jn 6:2). He went to the neighbourhood of Tyre (Mk 7:25). He came by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee (Mk 7:33). He went  to Jerusalem  for the feast of Tabernacles. Then Jesus went into  the villages  around  Caesarea Philippi. His journey to Jerusalem was the climax of his life, of the mystery of cross and Resurrection.[1]

In the life of Fr.Joseph  Vaz, we find dynamism of faith and action. He was  always on the  move. He is “A Saint on the Move”. His  geographical displacement can fill up pages of heroic life. It was the sign of his heroic life of faith and love, faith working through love (Ga 4:6).

Born  in Benaulim at his mother’s home, on April 21, 1651, son of Christopher Vaz and Maria de Miranda, Joseph Vaas (as he used to sign) was baptized on the eighth day in the parish-church of St.John the Baptist, Benaulim, by a Jesuit parish-priest, Jacinto Pereira. He attended the elementary school at Sancoale (Sankvalli), his paternal village. Later on, his father sent him to a school at Benaulim to learn Latin as a preparation for his priestly studies. Then he decided tos end him to the city of Goa to follow a course of Rhetoric and Humanities in the Jesuit College of St Paul. After haing completed his humanistic studies with the Jesuits, Joseph Vaz entered the Academy of St.Thomas Aquinas for his philosophical and theological studies and was staying in the collegiate Church of Our Lady of Rosary. He was ordained a priest by the then newly appointed Archbishop of Goa, D.António Brandao. As he did not receive any appointment , he went to this home at Sancoale and assisted the parochial clergy. He was summoned to the capital city of Goa to preach. He was chosen as spiritual director by two prominent men of his time, D.Rodrigo da Costa and Luis Gonsalves Cotta (both of them were later called to act as Governors of Goa). He opened a Latin school at Sancoale to help the candidates for the priesthood and also to educate the young people. On August 5, 1677, he wrote his “Deed of Bondage (or Letter of Captivity)”, at the feet of the statue of Mary in the church of Sancoale, offering himself as a slave to the Blessed Virgin Mary and decided, like an Indian yogi, to carry out his mission barefooted. At this stage his heart was turning towards the island of Ceylon, through a Canon of the Cathedral of Goa, F. De Sardinha, who spoke of the dire needs of the Catholics of Ceylon. His heart was set on fire. But the Cathedral Chapter proposed to him to go and save Christianity of Kanara. Joseph Vaz was given the high title of “Vicar Forane of Kanara”. He went on foot from Goa to Canara, where he worked for four years. With his new vision, he built churches, chapels, schools and, above all, communities. Back in Goa, he found a newly formed community of Goan priests at the Church of the Holy Cross of Miracles, Old Goa. Its founder was Fr.Pascoal da Costa Jeremias. They were called “Milagristas”. He joined them and was elected as their Superior. He organized the Goan community into the Oratorian Institute of Milagristas of Goa, according to the model of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri in Rome and of Fr.Bartholomeu do Quental in Lisbon. He left Goa for Ceylon in March 1686, accompanied by his servant boy John.[2] His intense journey continues: he went from Goa to Cannanore, to Tellichery, to Kochi, to Quilon, then to Tope on the coast of Travancore, where the Jesuits had a college. They advised him to wear the garb of a simple class worker so as to enter Ceylon like a “coolie”. When he entered the Malabar Coast, he tried to study Tamil, which was the language of the north of the Island of Ceylon. By the end of March 1687, they reached Tuticorin, on the Fishery Coast, where there was a Dutch fort from where they could embark to Ceylon. It happened that the Jesuit priest in charge of the church had been a classmate of Joseph Vaz in the College of St.Paul in Goa. By indiscretion he suggested to him to celebrate the liturgical functions of Maundy Thursday together with him. When the Dutch Calvinist officer came to know it, he suspected that he wanted to eneter Ceylon in disguise and ordered that he would not allow anyone to embark for Ceylon without his special permission. But within three days the Dutchman died and the new officer allowed them to enter the ship. From Tuticorin to Jaffna, they took 20 days to reach due to a tempest, instead of three to four days. They embarked on Mannar island and then by first half of May arrived in Jaffna. It was providential, because they were taken as Ceylonese travellers and embarked unnoticed.

They were half dead inJaffna, they needed rest and food. But Joseph was attacked with acute dysentery and was helped by a lady in the forest with a bowl of canjee every day. He started his life without any support from the Church or colonial authority. Since it was dangerous for him to remain in Jaffna, the headquarters of the Dutch command in the north of Ceylon, he prudently decided to to secretly to Sillalai, ten miles away from Jaffna. There he performed his apostolate at night to small groups of Catholics. He organized his work through the catechists (Moppu). He would eat his rice on a leaf, sitting on the ground like the poor people, and slept on grass or bamboo mat. When Adrian Van Reede, the Dutch commander of Jaffna, was harrassing him, he fled from Jaffna deep into the jungle in December 1689, crossed to Vanny, went to Puttalam, which was a part of the Kandy kingdom, ruled by Vimaladharma Surya II. There he catered to a little over one thousand Catholics, till August 1692. He visited the villages of the Kalpityia peninsula, and the interior villages inhabited by Mukkavars such as Manattivu, Tetapola, Manpuri, all in the district of Puttalam, also on the borders of the disrict of Vanny, the village of Galgamuwa, where there is still a cross, planted by Joseph Vaz , because of dread of wild animals. He had also contact with villages of Sat Korales, the seven districts lying between the coast of Puttalam and Kamala. But he preferred to take refuge in Kandy, the centre of his apostolate. He was imprisoned as a Portuguese spy in Kandy, where he took pains to study Sinhalese and prepared a vocabulary in Sinhalese. New missionaries were sent there: Fr.Joseph Menezes, Fr.Pedro Saldanha, Fr.Miguel de Melo, Fr.Jacome Gonsalves, who became a specialist in Tamil and Sinhalese, and won name and fame in the literary history of Sri Lanka, as a classical poet in Sinhalese and a writer of about forty books, rightly called “the creator of Catholic literature in Ceylon”. The papal legate in the East, Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon, Patriarch of Antioch and afterwards a Cardinal, admired his work and wanted to appoint Joseph Vaz the first Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon, but he declined the offer, in order to avoid conflicts with the political power. Once Fr.Joseph Carvalho, his nephew, was stationed in Kandy, Joseph Vaz went to the west of the island: the city of Colombo, seat of the Dutch Government of Ceylon, in the guise of a beggar. He would assemble the Catholics by evening in house, like catacombs, and organized the pastoral work through the lay leaders and catechists, Moppus and Annavis. When the Dutch police officer was searching him, he left for Negombo, where he worked for the reformation of customs, and then he continued to Gurubavilla, Malvana and Sitawaka, and then to Soffragan. Back to Kandy, he went to Jaffna in the north of the island and passed to Vanny, where he met Fr.Pedro Ferrao. He returned to Kandy. When a dreadful small pox epidemic started in Kandy in September 1697, he together with Fr.Joseph Carvalho (who died of exhaustion in 1702), witnessed to faith through social service. He came for the second time to Colombo, continuing his apostolic journey through Negombo, Gurubawila, Malwana, Mantota, Mannar, Vanny, Kalpityia, Punarym, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Puliyadiva, Batticalao. During his third missionary journey in 17004, Blessed Joseph Vaz went to the end of Delft (Neduntivu island) in the north, where he converted 200 persons. In spite of his failing health he went to Kottiyar at the beginning of the year 1710. But he fell ill and died around midnight on Friday, January 16, of the year 1711, after 24 years of toil and moil in the mission of Ceylon, at the age of 59. He was loved and admired by the people of Ceylon as “Sammanasu Swami” (‘angelic priest’).

Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of kanara and Sri Lanka, and the Patron of Goa, was a man of God, a man of the people, a man on the move.


*Ivo da Conceicao Souza

Juze Vaz sopnam sopneta ani tim to sakar korta. To visvaxi sodanch to Devachi khoxi sodhun kaddta. Adlea Korarant Juze sopnelo ani sopnam iskuttavn dilim/parkhilim. Te bhaxen amcho Juze sopnam sopnelo ani sodanch visvaxi ravlo. Seilanvak  (Sri Lankent) vochun thoim povitr-sobha  thiraunk mhollear  techem  sopon  aslem. To hem sopon  sakar  korta.  Ponn thoinsor  bhitor sorunk zaite tras taka poddlet.  Aplea  utramnim ani  jivitache chalin Jezucho govai to zalo.

Bhoktivont Padri Juze Vazachem jivit teagi jivit; aple  gunn Jezu  pasvot bhettoile: gneanan huxar to aslo; to  umedin  xikta, ponn sogllench aplea havesa khatir laita. To Juanvak gheun bhikari-kuli koso, Tutikorin thaun  Jaffna-che  vatter  astanam, modd ieta ani te Mannar urtat.  Bhukek  ani tanik  te sampoddtat. Thoinsor te bhik magon dis kaddhtat.  Asro sodhit,  te Jaffna pavtat, ponn thoisor moddxi zaun  to  piddest-osokt zata. Lok tenkam poisaita and eksurea zagear ghaltat.  Ponn Dev tenkam soddhina: ek ostori tenkam pez ani ier gorjecheo  vostu dita. Thoinsor Katolk ghorabeant bhitor sorun, to aplem  munniar­ponn choloita: ekunntis vorsam uprant Jaffnant poilem Mis  tenkam favta.

Surokxa  na zaun te Sillalai vetat. Ponn thoinsoroi te  sam­poddtat. Kristi lokak Holandez Sorkar piddnuk dita. Thoimthann te Puttalam’  vetat.  Thoinsor Padri Juze Vaz  nettan  Devachem  Utor porghotta,  Mis  bhettoita,  sonvskar dita.  To  Kandy-nt  bhitor sorta.  Thoinsor te bondkhonnint poddtat. Ponn thoinsor te  prar­thon kortat ani Padri Juze, 1691 vorsa, Kristjoiantiche ratri Mis bhettoita. Vimaladharma Surya Razan teka suttka dili, ponn Kandy xharantlo  bhair sorunk porvangi diunk na. Padri Juzen  ek  sadhi igroz  bandhli. Teche vinontin ek vismit ghoddlem: pavs naslo  to pavs poddlo. Ten’na Razan teka soglli sot’tea dili.

Techo gutth mhollear prartnachem jivit. Jen’nam  Papsaibacho Protinidhi,  Antiokecho Patriark, Thomas Charles de Tournon,  teka  Bisp zaunk magta ani ek khursar khillail’lo Jezu dita, Padri Juze  Vaz Khuris gheta ponn Bisp zaunk kobul na. Teka vhoddvik naka,  mijas naka, rajki guspagonddoll naka–Seilanvacho  Bisp  zaunchem dennem to nakarta. “Padroado” ani “Propaganda”-che bangoddint to misoll zanvk sodhina, ponn ikmotin osle proxn suttave korta.

Tannem 15 igorzo ani 400 kopelam bandhlint. Dublleancho  mog kelo. Kristi Sannyasi koso jielo ani melo. Durboll-sadho  mision­ar.  Zatkaticher add urben-hikmotin to zhuzlo. Vatikani  Vixvsobha  ani odhunik  misanvxastri  xikoitat, tem tannem  adhim-fuddench  korun dakhoilem. Ponn khoim to hem sogllem xiklo? Aple dhimbier,  aplea kallzant, aplea moga vorvim to “sogttank sogott” zalo (1 Kor 9:22) ani mogachi vatt dakhoili (1 Kor 13:1-13).

Sopnam sopnevn Jezuk ani amchea apovnneak visvaxi ravum-ia!

[1] Cf.T.V.Rodriguez,  Life  of Christ. A Total Picture, Through a Thorough Analytical Study  and Synthesis of the Holy Gospels, Santhome Publications, 5, Crescent Road, Madras-600030, 1988, pp.15-238. It is to be read with a critical sense, in the light of modern biblical exegesis.

[2] Fr.Cosme José Costa, SFX, Life and Achievements of Blessed Joseph Vaz (Apostle of Canara and Sri Lanka), Pilar Publications, Goa, 1996, pp.52-81; Fr.Denis Pereira, Joseph Vaz, India’s Gift to Sri Lanka, Don Bosco Publications, Mumbai, 1995.



January 13, 2009


The concept of kingdom and kingship is today obsolete. We can imagine kings (rajas and maharajas), with their show-off of power, wealth and glamour. Times are gone when kings were ruling the subjects and battling to spread their territorial kingdom over the earth. Kings belong to the past, as an institution. There are today a few nominal “kings” or “monarchs”, who, in reality, are constitutional figure-heads. But the concept of “kingdom” as “ruling over”, “imperialism”, “oppressing” is still in vogue. Today we think in terms of neo-colonialism, globalization, hegemony of patent rights. We are all longing for a liberated, renewed “kingdom”, a “revolution of love”.

I shall dwell on the theme of God’s Kingdom, from the biblical perspective, by delving into the biblical texts dealing with “kingship” and “kingdom”, and then draw conclusions from the existential dimensions.

1.1: The Concept of Kingdom and Its Terminology:

The English word “kingdom” refers to the territory, where the King exercises his power, whereas the Greek term βασιλεία [basileia] (and the corresponding Semitic counterparts, Hebrew malekuth] and Aramaic malekhuta]), means primarily the state of being a king (or kingship), or to the exercise of royal power (sovereignty, reign, rule, dominion, dignity), and only secondarily the realm of territory. The cognate words are malak, “to reign”, and …melek, “king”.

If we pay attention to the Lord’s Prayer, the petition “Thy Kingdom come!” will clarify and confirm its meaning, namely it does not refer to a territory, but to a reign that may come to pass. It is not an area, it cannot be identified with the Church in its geographical and numerical extension, as when we say: “to spread the Kingdom of God”. It is a quality of existence rather than a territory, that could he covered by a flag.

1.2: The meaning of Kingdom and Kingship:

King is a sovereign ruler who exercises authority over a defined territorial area (or state). The title may be purely or partially hereditary, or elective. The king acts as a central symbol for the territory and population over which he rules. It symbolizes its prosperity, fertility, and security. Kingship refers variously to the rank, authority, office and dignity of the king, including the exercise of power over the subjects of the state. Kingship in Israel has shaped the history and the traditions, now preserved in the Hebrew Bible. It has had also a profound impact on the religious and secular history of Israel, as well as on the people, on the community as well as on its religious and literary traditions, and messianic beliefs. It left an indelible mark upon the religious traditions of humankind.

Monarchy is the most common form of government in agrarian societies throughout history. The development of the state with the king as the central symbolic figure represents a major stage in the evolution of political systems. The king was responsible for the maintenance of law and order within a defined territory, through the use of a professional and permanent military force and a dedicated central bureaucracy. Bureaucracy was modelled upon Egyptian patterns.

2.1: Kingdom of God in the First Testament:

The unifying theme of the Bible is the Kingdom of God—God’s perfect and undisputed rule over all that he has created. As we have seen, the word “kingdom” here means “kingly rule” or “reign” rather than “territory ruled by a king”.

We find God as King of Israel in numerous biblical traditions (Dt 33:5; Jdg 8:23; Is 43:15). The author of the books of Chronicles refers to the Davidic throne as God’s Kingdom (1 Chr 17:14; 28:5; 29:11).

In the Psalms, the idea of the kingdom plays an important role, but its function there is primarily devotional—that is, to provide images suitable for praising God—and the conception is much more fluid than in the prophets and apocalyptic writers. Sometimes Yahweh is spoken of as king of the gods (eg.95:3; cf.82:1), sometimes as king of all nations (eg.47:2.7.8), sometimes only as king of Israel (eg.149:2). The “Enthronement Psalms” (93; 95-99) emphasize his present sovereignty over all creation, as well as his future coming to judge the earth (96:13; 98:9; cf. Ps 94). More important than the question of the extent of God’s kingdom in space is the question of its location in time, whether it is to be regarded as a present fact or as a future expectation. In developed Jewish and Christian thought the idea of the kingdom is used in both senses. Because God is the omnipotent creator of all he must even now—at least potentially—be the king of all. But since at present his sovereignty seems to be widely flouted, there is another sense in which he will ascend to the throne of his kingdom only in the future.

God is king”: This was the feature of an annual feast of Yahweh’s enthronement, celebrated in pre-exilic Israel, during which God was believed ceremonially to reenact the drama of creation and each year re-ascend to the throne of the Universe for the coming twelve months.

2.2: From Creation to the End-Time:

The First Testament begins with the story of creation: The opening eleven chapters of Genesis are like ‘ouverture’ of the biblical symphony—they are not a record of scientific and historical events, but are a narrative of God’s love, of his royal and loving rule over wayward Man and the other recalcitrant forces in his creation. They are a prelude to the salvation history.

The first chapter of Genesis tells us how God out of formless chaos (tohu-wa-bohu) brought the Universe into existence as a cosmos, and declared that it was “very good” (Gn 1:31). With a powerful word God brings into existence the Universe out of chaos. Whereas the Yahwistic author emphasizes God’s providence, the Priestly narrative focuses on his power. At that moment, ideally speaking, the Kingdom of God was established. The author symbolically affirms Israel’s faith in one God who is the Lord of all that there is, the King of the Universe. Here there is implicit covenant of God with Man. Man shares in God’s kingship when he names the animals, since naming in the ancient world meant not only to know something intimately, but also to have a hold on it—Man has authority over animals.

But the First Testament goes on almost immediately to describe how the Kingdom was disrupted through the disobedience of the first couple (Gn 3:1-24). Thus, the theme of the kingdom—its founding, disruption and restoration—is an overarching topic, which extends from the first chapters of the Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation. It is this conception of the kingdom that gives unity to the Bible and significance to its various parts. The first Christians saw their own story simply as the climax and conclusion of the history of God’s Kingdom, which had begun in the First Testament. It is against this background that the words of Jesus must be understood, namely “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15), the epitome of his preaching. These words form an inclusion with the end of the story, found in the last book of the Bible, proclaimed by the chorus: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11:15).

This theological view is the result of a long process of Israel’s growing reflection on the meaning of her election and her covenant with God.

Let us turn now to the historical question: Where did the conception of God’s rule as a “kingdom” come from, and when? What was the origin of this concept?

It is true that Yahweh has always been regarded as the ultimate source of all authority—at least in theory. But when did the people of Israel first begin to conceive of God as a “king” and of his rule as a “kingdom”?

While answering this question, we can focus on another point, namely what was the extent of Yahweh’s dominion, whether called a “kingdom” or not? Was it only over the nation of Israel, over humankind in general, over other gods, or over the created Universe? Was it in the past, in the present or yet to be achieved in the future?

2.3: In the pre-Monarchic Period:

It is a commonplace of present-day scholarship that Israel before the rise of monarchy was organized in the form of an amphictyonysacred confederacy of tribes constituted for the purpose of supporting a religious shrine. (While this is merely a theory, based primarily on the analogy to the Greek amphictyonies, and the evidence is indirect and not necessarily conclusive, it may be accepted as a working hypothesis). What is perfectly certain is that the bond of unity among the Hebrew tribes was a religious one; their association was based, not on common “nationality” (or the occupation of a common territory), but on a common devotion to the God Yahweh.

In a profound sense, the Israelite confederacy was the first historical manifestation of the Kingdom of God. From this small group of relatively uncultured tribes, united solely by their loyalty to Yahweh, there ultimately developed the hope of God’s one day bringing the whole disordered Universe into conformity with his Will. On the level of historical fact the original nucleus of the idea of the kingdom is to see here not merely the beginning of the idea of the kingdom but also the inception of the actual historical process in which God has ever since been at work to establish his kingdom.

But it seems unlikely that the conception of the kingdom of God in the sense of political rule over Israel existed at this early period, during the period of the confederacy in Palestine (the age of the “judges”) or the preceding period of life in the desert.

2.4: During and after the Monarchy:

The establishment of the kingdom of Israel under Saul, David, and Solomon provided the political and cultural background that made possible in the long run the flowering of the idea of the kingdom of God. We have to remark that insofar as Yahweh was given the title of “king”, it was probably only as king of the gods or the forces of nature rather than as heavenly monarch of an earthly realm. Actually the first direct evidence of even this idea of kingship comes from Isaiah in the latter part of the 8th century.

Monarchy had a tremendous impact on the idea of the kingdom of God after it had disappeared. When there was no longer a human king sitting on the throne, men of Israel began to think of God as their king. Israel, being tribal and democratic, would feel monarchy as an alien importation. The passing of the earthly monarchy would incline them to think more favourably of the idea of a heavenly monarchy.

2.5: God’s Rule over Israel:

Israel’s religion had a strong social character, it was corporate, it was a religion concerned with the life of the group rather than with the life of the individuals. To put it more accurately, it was concerned with individual life only as seen in the context of a particular society—Israel. The idea of the kingdom of God is one way of expressing this sense of man’s social relationship to God. She was a kingdom under the dominion of Yahweh, seen no longer merely as king in heaven but as king of Israel.

2.6: The Concept of the Messiah:

The second contribution of the kingdom on earth was the figure of the Messiah, the “Anointed One”. In adopting the title “king” for her ruler, Israel of necessity took over with it a whole complex of associated ideas from neighbouring cultures. Among these was the belief in the divinity of kings. The king of Israel was regarded, at least in court circles, as a superhuman figure (cf.Ps 45:6, where the king is called “god”). At any rate he was God’s adopted “son”, charged with carrying out God’s Will (2 Sm 7:14; Pss 2:7; 89:27; cf.Ps 110). Through him the prayers of the people ascended to God, and God’s blessings flowed to the people (2 Sm 14:17; 23:4; Ps 72:6; Lam 4:20). His most characteristic and instructive title was “the anointed of the Lord”—he possessed a divine charisma through the act of anointing (1 Sm 10:1; 16:13). It was this conception of kingship that provided the soil from which the idea of the Messiah was eventually to grow.

The Messiah is the divine or semi-divine king transferred from the field of present experience to that of future expectation. But people were disappointed with many of the monarchs—misfits and worse—who sat on the throne of David. They could not fulfill the promises given in such grandiloquent language at their birth or coronation (cf. Ps 2; 45; 72; 110; Is 9:6-7). There was gradual decline in the power and prosperity of the Hebrew kingdoms. This led the nation to transfer its hopes to an ideal king of the future. This tendency was finally crystallized by the extinction of the earthly monarchy in 586 BCE. The actual phrase, “the kingdom of God/Lord”, is found for the first time in 1 Chr 28:5: “He has chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel”. The idea of the kingdom of God would become a framework for the truths of biblical religion, but the notion of divine rule had to be disentangled from all national, territorial and dynastic limitations. This would be the task or special function of the great radical prophets.

3.1: Prophetic Critique:

The first occurrence of the idea that God is king can be dated with certainty in Is 6:5, where the prophet declares: “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Theological emphasis on Yahweh’s kingship dates only from this time, originating partly, in a polemic against other gods who were called kings, especially Molech, “King”, (an intentional distortion of Melech, “King”, cf.1 Kg 11:7; 2 Kg 23:10). It is certainly primarily in the books of the great prophets that we must trace the full development of the idea of the kingdom of God.

3.2: The pre-exilic prophets:

Before the Exile the mention of kingship is infrequent. The conception of God’s kingship seems as yet underdeveloped. The idea of kingship would become far more attractive after the Exile. It was the prophets who first made it clear that God’s rule is not to be confused with the fortunes of the Israelite kingdoms. From the pre-exilic prophets it is clear the kingdom of God demands moral obedience: “Thy kingdom come!” His kingdom is also universal, he is not merely King of Israel but a universal King.

3.3: Exilic and Post-exilic Prophets:

With the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, and only after the Exile, the idea of the kingdom of God became a commonplace of OT thought. Even under the monarchy Yahweh’s kingship had been understood chiefly as his heavenly dominion over other celestial beings. This idea was not lost in the exilic and post-exilic periods. Further, since it was obvious that God’s rule was not universally acknowledged, even among the people of Israel, the belief in a full realization of the kingdom was transferred to a later date, when a new act of God would establish it. That is, the idea of the kingdom became eschatological—looking toward the final end of history. Some passages, taking over the message of the great pre-exilic prophets (vg. Is 2:6-21; Zeph 1:2-3:11), speak of a coming judgment of the wicked as a prelude to the establishment of God’s righteous rule (Is 33:7-16; 66:15-16; Ez 38-39; Joel 3:9-15.19; Mal 3:1-5). According to Zech ( 2:10-11; 8:20-23) the recognition of Yahweh’s goodness will be widespread among the Gentiles, so that many will join themselves voluntarily to the people of Israel (cf. Is 2:1-4, which may also be post-exilic) and God will have universal dominion (eg. Is 45:2356:7). Jeremiah spoke for the first time in the First Testament of a “new covenant” (Jr 31:31-34; cf.1 Cor 11:23; 2 Cor 3:6), while after twenty years, Ezekiel proclaimed the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit (Ez 36:23-28; Joel 3:1-5; cf.Acts 2:16-21). And Trito-Isaiah promises that there will be a new creation, for God will “create new heavens and a new earth”, where life will be lived under idyllic conditions (Is 65:17-25). In this period we have also the conception of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (Is 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). The servant is, in some sense, a “historical” figure and can be connected with the OT hope for the kingdom only in the most general way, as being God’s agent to bring “justice” and “law” to the earth (42:4), “light to the nations” (49:6), and through his death justification to “many” (53:11-12).

Likewise, for the prophets God was ruler over nations. He would devastate foreign nations for violating the covenant of brotherhood (Amos 1:3-2:3), but he would also punish Israel and Judah for breaking covenant (Amos 2:4-3:2; Is 10:1-11). There would be a “new covenant” between God and his people (Ho 2:16-20; Jr 31:31-34; cf. Ez 36:27.32), peace among all the nations (Is 2:2-4; 19:19-25) and among all the living beings (Ho 2:18; Is 11:6-9; 65:17-25). Such hopes, however, were not fulfilled during the biblical period.

Second Isaiah (Dt-Is 40-55) sought to comfort the exiles by assuring them that their time of punishment was over since they had received double for their sins (Is 40:2). For centuries, foreign nations continued to dominate the Jewish people and their homeland. No longer was it clear that God ruled the kingdoms of the earth—prophets and others promised and longed for the future coming of God’s kingdom or rule on earth (Dan 2:44; 4:17; Hag 2:20-23; Zech 14:9).1

4.1: Kingdom of God in the Second Testament:

The theme of Kingdom of God is central in the Synoptic Gospels. Mk uses it fourteen times and Lk thirty-two times. Mt has it four times only, but he replaces it thirty-five times by the equivalent “Kingdom of heaven”. In Pauline literature, the phrase “Kingdom of God” occurs only ten times and is replaced by such equivalents as “new Creation”, “life in the Spirit”, “age to come”, “glory of God”, “God’s inheritance”, “life eternal”. Life eternal” is a favourite rendering in the Fourth Gospel (seventeen times, plus six in the Johannine epistles) of God’s Kingdom, used only twice. Although the phrase “Kingdom of God” was actually one of the catchwords of Jesus’ preaching, there has been during the Second Testament times inculturation by the early Church—new way for its translation so as to adapt to the different cultural milieux, where the Gospel penetrated. In the Second Testament period, Jews and the emerging Christian communities lived under Roman rule. Moreover, Second Testament writings attest to Satan’s present rule on earth. In the temptation scene, the devil declares that he has authority over “all the kingdoms of the world“ (Lk 4:5-6). Satan’s minions, the demons, still afflict humankind. Paul understood that the world was subjugated to Satan or evil powers (1 Cor 2:8; 15:24-27; 2 Cor 4:4), while the Fourth Gospel considers Satan “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30). The most explicit expression of this understanding is in 1 Jn 5:19: “The whole world is in the power of the evil one”.

It is noteworthy that the term “Kingdom of God” is almost totally absent from the Gospel of John, occurring only in Jn 3:3.5, apparently, the author reinterpreted the concept in terms of his own interest in “eternal life”.

The author of Revelation looked for the establishment of God’s Kingdom both in heaven and on earth (11:15; 12:10), albeit a new heaven, and a new earth (21:1). In the end, new Jerusalem would come down from heaven (Rv 21:2.10), and God and the Lamb would “reign for ever and ever” (22:5). This would take place soon, “for the time is near” (22:6-7.10.12). The author identified the evil ruler of the present age as Rome (chs.13; 17-18), linked perhaps, with Satan, who was to continue his reign of terror on earth a while longer (chs.12; 20).

The Matthaean version “the Kingdom of heaven” does not refer to an ‘other-worldly’ reality, beyond the earth and beyond death—a purely eschatological conception of the Kingdom. In the Matthaean phrase, “heaven” is a circumlocution for God (a periphrastic term for God—Jews would replace the term Yahweh by such substitutes as the Name, the Power, the Glory, the Heaven…).

We should understand the term “kingdom of God or heaven” against the historical background of the People of God: Israel has gone through several crises, like foreign invasions, collapse of the monarchy, destruction of the Temple, Exile to Babylonia, Persian domination, encounter with Greek culture, Roman conquest, ambiguous reign of Herod, finally the ruthless rule of the Roman Procurators. Prophetic promises of ideal rule were not fulfilled, and consequently pessimism arose: the world was under cosmic, satanic forces (dualistic apocalyptic eschatology). But there was hope that God would overcome the powers of evil, that the Creator will not allow the power of evil to triumph, that the go’el (‘avenger’) of his people will not leave them in slavery. Therefore, God’s rule is the new order to be established through the eschatological upheaval, through God’s revolution. 2

4.2: Jesus and the Kingdom of God:

The Kingdom of God was an essential part of Jesus’ preaching. The summary and epitome of Jesus’ proclamation was as follows: “The time has come: the Kingdom of God is upon you; repent and believe the Gospel” (Mk 1:15; cf. Mt 4:17). Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, heals, exorcises and thus brings to fulfillment Gods’ liberating interventions in human history. The Church proclaims that in and through Jesus God’s “revolution of love” is setting humankind free from the evil powers that enslaved it. Exorcisms in Jesus’ ministry are basically liberating activity of God. With the coming of Christ, the powers of evil have been overcome, the world reconciled with itself and with God. As Jesus himself has explained his exorcisms: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out devils, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:26-28). God’s revolution has started in and through Jesus. Luke has “finger of God” (Lk 11:20), instead of “Spirit of God” (Lukan version of the saying is more primitive than the Matthaean and the “finger of God” is an allusion to Ex 8:19)—in Ex 8:19, the “finger of God” is God’s saving intervention to free his people from the bondage of Egypt. By attributing his exorcisms to the “finger of God”, Jesus gives us to understand that they are the continuation of the Exodus—the same divine might that crushed the power of Egypt to liberate Israel is at work in Jesus for the final fight against the ultimate forms of alienation of humankind.

The Kingdom of God is at hand (¥((4i,<, eggiken)” of Mk 1:15 means that the Kingdom has come or is upon you. With coming of Jesus the eschaton has moved from the future to the present, from the sphere of expectation into that of realized experience. We can ask whether the “Kingdom” or “Revolution” or “Liberation”, announced in the Gospel, is historical or eschatological. Does the liberation announced by the Gospel belong to this world or is it otherworldly? The answer is that it is present and it continues to the future. It brings about liberation in his struggle against the historical forms of alienation. And it will never be completed within the confines of man’s historical achievements. It calls for transformation of human relationships on earth. Jesus himself lived and died in service of the Kingdom.

4.3: Kingdom of God and its Implications for contemporary Christian life:

The Kingdom of God is necessarily linked with hope. It can never be fully realized in history. It emphasizes the incarnation of Christianity in real history, in the “joys and hopes, the sorrows and sufferings of humanity” (Vatican II, GS 1). The Kingdom of God is open to the oppressed and marginalized people of our time. One of the characteristics would be “preferential love” for the poor. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom through Beatitudes, parables, healings and exorcisms. Our preferential option for the poor is deeply rooted in the poverty, cross and compassionate heart of Jesus. Christian community should be joyful bearer of the news that God loves the world. It should be involved in the work for a better world. It involves reversal of values: the rich are sent away empty (cf. Lk 1:52f). It encompasses the whole cosmos—the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay, in the freedom of the children of God (cf.Rm 8:21). Spirituality of the Kingdom means to be Christlike, by building it in the midst of actual realities of history. In the real world social commitment may often entail persecution, even martyrdom.3


From this short survey we can glean how the concept of Kingdom of God was gradually purified and spiritualized. The Kingdom of God became the love, justice, the ideal revealed in the Gospel, in the Person of Jesus…

*Dr.Ivo da Conceiçao Souza

*Prof.Dr.Ivo da Conceicao Souza has been teaching since 1978 till 2006 in the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, GOA, biblical exegesis and sociology.

1 Cf.Peter Hünermann, “Reign of God”, Sacramentum Mundi. An Encyclopedia of Theology, vol.5, 1989, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 233-240

2 Cf.Lucien LEGRAND, “God’s Kingdom and Liberation”, The Living Word, vol.79, no.5, September-October 1973, 311-325

3 Cf.Jon SOBRINO, “The Kingdom of God in contemporary spirituality”, Theology Digest, 33:3 (Fall, 1986), 325-327