The kingdom of God is a vital concept in the Scriptures of Israel (which Christians have called "the Old Testament"); it focuses on God as the king of the universe, the fundamental force behind all that is, and on God's role in shaping human experience. The promise of the kingdom is that people will finally come to realize divine justice and peace in all that they do. Jesus made the kingdom of God the center of his preaching as well as of his activity, and it remains the pivot of Christian theology. Within educational settings especially, views of the kingdom of God have shaped conceptions of ethical behavior, and have provided motivations to persist in the acts of teaching and learning. Whether in present experience or in hope for the future, the kingdom of God was celebrated in ancient Israel in five different ways, all closely related to one another. They are all clearly represented in the books of Psalms.
First, the kingdom of God is behind the whole of created life, even as it is beyond the comprehension of any living thing. For that reason, the Psalms portray the kingdom as so near in time as to be present, and yet ultimate (the technical term is eschatological) from the point of view of full disclosure (Psalm 96:10):
Say among the nations that the LORD reigns. The world is established, so as not to move: he shall judge the peoples with equity. All the peoples are finally to know the truth that is now celebrated and sung in the Temple, but only in the future.
Second, the kingdom is transcendent in space as well as final in time. Although the usual setting of Israel's praise is in the Temple, every part of the creation will come to acknowledge what is known there (Psalm 145:10-13):
All your creatures will give you thanks, LORD, and your faithful will bless you; they shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your might, to make your mighty deeds known to the sons of men, and the glorious splendor of his kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your rule in every generation.
All his creatures are to give thanks to the LORD, but it is his faithful in particular who are said to bless him. What is rehearsed in the Temple, the "strength of the fearful acts" of God, is to be acknowledged by humanity as a whole (Psalm 145:6).
Third, the kingdom is an insistent force of justice that will ultimately prevail. The kingdom is ever righteous, but attains to a consummation (see Psalm 10:15-16):
Break the arm of the wicked, and evil; search out his wickedness until it cannot be found! The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his earth!
The punishment of the wicked is the dark side of the establishment of the poor. The vindication of the meek, the fatherless, and the oppressed (in verses 17, 18a) requires a reversal in the fortunes of those who do evil in order to be realized.
Fourth, human entry into the kingdom is contingent. Psalm 24 poses and answers a question which is central to the religion of Israel as reflected in the biblical tradition (Psalm 24:3-4):
Who will ascend the mount of the LORD, and who will stand in his holy place? The innocent of hands and pure of heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, and has not sworn deceitfully.
The point is that purity is affected by one's ethical behavior, as well as by the practices of purification (such as bathing and abstention from sexual intercourse) that were conventionally a part of ascending the mount of the Temple.
Fifth, Psalm 47 evokes how the recognition of God is to radiate from Zion, when it identifies "the people of the God of Abraham" as "the nobles of the peoples" (Psalm 47:9):
The nobles of the peoples are gathered, the people of the God of Abraham; for the shields of the earth are God's. He is highly exalted!
Israel is the nucleus of the larger group of those who recognize the God of Jacob. From its center, the power of the kingdom is to radiate outward to include peoples beyond the usual range of Israel within its recognition.
Jesus articulated all five of these ways of seeing God's kingdom. He taught his disciples to pray to God, "Your kingdom will come" (Matthew 6; Luke 11), because he hoped for it to be fully present to all people. The dynamic quality of the kingdom's transcendence in Jesus' teaching is evident in a famous saying from "Q" (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20): "If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has arrived upon you." Entry into the kingdom is also the dominant image in Jesus' famous statement about wealth (Matthew 19:23-24; Mark 10:23-25; Luke 18:24): "Easier for a camel to wriggle through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Jesus needed to cope with the issue of defilement as one member of Israel (with a certain set of practices) met with another member of Israel (with another set of practices). To deal with that question, a single aphorism of Jesus was precisely designed: "Nothing that is outside a person entering one can defile one, but the things coming from a person, these defile one" (Mark 7:15). Finally, in the course of Jesus' occupation of the Temple, Mark has Jesus say (Mark 11:17), "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of thieves." In Jesus' teaching, the five coordinates of the kingdom become the dynamics of the kingdom, that is, the ways in which God is active with his people. Because God as kingdom is active, response to him is active, not merely cognitive. The kingdom of God is a matter of performing the hopeful dynamics of God's revelation to his people. For that reason, Jesus' teaching was not only a matter of making statements, however carefully crafted and remembered. He also engaged in characteristic activities, a conscious performance of the kingdom, which invited Israel to enter into the reality that he also portrayed in words.
Once experience and activity are taken to be the terms of reference of the kingdom, what one actually does is also an instrument of its revelation, an aspect of its radiance. Jesus' awareness of that caused him to act as programmatically as he spoke, to make of his total activity a parable of the kingdom. In a similar way, by emphasizing one or several of the coordinates of the kingdom (ultimacy, transcendence, judgment, purity, and radiance), Christian spiritualities have proven to evolve over time, and educational strategies have correspondingly varied.