Evangelism and the Kingdom of God

As we continue this series of blog, seeking a theology of evangelism for “the transition zone,” our next challenge is to consider the goals of the evangelization process?  Earlier we noted that the evangelistic invitation of the Anabaptist tradition is to “turn around—to come back to God—to reorient one’s life according to the rule of God.”  The goal of the evangelizing process, then, is that people enter the kingdom of God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, in the fellowship of the Christian community—to become a part of God’s eschatological covenant community.

The Kingdom of God

What do we mean when we say “the kingdom of God?”  As I have said earlier, it is a reference to the realm where God is sovereign—where God is acknowledged and obeyed as ruler.[i]  The dawning of this kingdom took place in the advent of Jesus Christ, it continues today through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and it will come again in its fullness at the paorusia which God ultimate purpose for all creation will again be brought to fruition.[ii] 

At a time when one world view is dying (modernity) and a new and as of yet undefined world view is being formed, the Christian community has the unique opportunity to inform the developing paradigm with the message of the kingdom—God’s vision for the world.  Stanley Grenz says that God has given us this opportunity when he writes:

In our proclamation, therefore, we lift up a new world view, a view of the world under God.  And we assert that acknowledging the God who is at work in the world is the only sure alternative to the myriad of competing loyalties, which despite their lure fall short of ultimacy.[iii]


If the focus of our evangelism is the proclamation of the kingdom of God, and our goal is to invite people to enter the kingdom through repentance and the reorientation of their lives, then our next question must address the qualities of kingdom life.  What is life like in the realm where God is sovereign?  How is life different for those who place themselves under the rule of God?  In short, what is the kingdom life?

There is no clear systematic presentation of the kingdom of God in scripture.  Nevertheless, the kingdom of God is central to the teaching of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Matthew.  In Matthew, Jesus offers several descriptions of the kingdom of God, making use primarily of parables as his teaching instrument.  Yet while teaching through parables is one of the primary ways that Jesus communicates his lessons about the kingdom, it is not his exclusive method.  Jesus also illustrates the presence, power, and meaning of the kingdom through prophetic acts, the casting out of demons, the healing of the sick, and the raising of the dead.  By examining the deeds and teachings of Jesus, we can begin to develop a picture of the kingdom.

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is in the middle of conflict[iv]—conflict between what Paul would later call the “dominion of darkness” and “the kingdom of his beloved Son”  (cf. Col. 1:13)  This conflict is revealed in the parable of the farmer who planted good seeds in a field, only to have an enemy come behind him to plant weeds in the same field (cf. Mt. 13:24). This meaning of the parable is that conflict exists between the kingdom of God and the powers and principalities of this world (cf. Eph. 6:12).  As a result, those who place themselves under the rule of God will be rejected and despised by the world (cf. Mt. 5:10-12).  Historically this has been a very important to the Anabaptists who understood their suffering and persecution to be a sign of the conflict between the two kingdoms.

The kingdom starts small, but eventually permeates all of society.[v]  Jesus told two parables that illustrate this aspect of the kingdom.  One was about a mustard seed—the smallest of seeds—that eventually becomes the largest plant in the garden (cf. Mt. 13:31).   The other parable was about yeast permeating bread causing it to rise (cf. Mt. 13:33).  This is how the kingdom will advance in the world.  It will start small, but will move through society like yeast in dough until the whole load has risen.  It will be impossible to stop the kingdom.  Even the gates of hell will “not prevail against it.”  (cf. Mt. 16:18).

Jesus also taught that the kingdom was a possession of great value.[vi]  Two parables were told about the worth of the kingdom.  One was about a man who had found a great treasure in a field, the other about a person who had found an exquisite pearl (cf. Mt. 13:44-45).  In both cases Jesus said these individuals sold all they had in order to possess the treasure.  Jesus taught that the kingdom was so valuable that it was worth everything a person possessed.

The kingdom is also a realm of forgiveness.[vii]  Jesus told a parable about a man whose servant owed him a great deal of money.  The master wanted to settle the account so he called the servant before him.  The servant—who did not have the money to pay the debt—pleaded for mercy.  In response to his plea the master canceled their debt.  The servant then left the master’s house and came to a fellow servant who was indebted to him.  When he demanded payment, the fellow servant pleaded for mercy, but none was extended to him.  The servant, who had just had his debt canceled, ordered the fellow servant cast into prison for failing to pay what was due.  When the master heard about this he became so angry that he tossed this servant in prison because he did not extend to his comrade the same mercy that he had been given.  Jesus concludes this parable with a word of warning.  If you receive grace—the blessing of a forgiven debt—you are bound to share that grace with others.  Those who fail face judgment (cf. Mt. 18:23-35).

The kingdom of God is also a realm of grace.[viii]  To illustrate this point, Jesus told a story about a man who hired several employees to work his fields.  Each was hired for a substantial day’s wage (cf. Mt. 20:1-16). At several different times during the day, the land owner canvassed the community in search of more persons to work his field.  At the end of the day he paid each person the same wage—whether they had worked one hour or all day. Many of the workers complained about the apparent injustice.  A person working one hour should not be paid the same as a person who works twelve.  But this is not how the grace of God functions in human life.  God gives grace to all—and God’s grace is not dependent upon the labor.

Jesus also taught that God’s kingdom requires “sobriety and alertness,” as illustrated by the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the arrival of their bridegrooms (cf. Mt. 25:1-14).  Five were wise and had enough oil for their lamps.  Five were foolish and had insufficient oil. The unprepared missed their bridegroom.  In like manner, those unprepared for the arrival of the kingdom will miss its blessings.[ix] 

In these stories Jesus offers a description of what the kingdom of God is like.  Mennonite Pastor Paul Lederach summarizes these lessons, saying:

This, then, is Jesus’ view of the kingdom.  It is conflict.  It grows.  It penetrates.  It is worldwide.  It is the forgiving, gracious rule of God.  Where God is present in saving power, where God is acknowledged, where God us obeyed, where God’s will is being done—there is God’s kingdom![x]


One of the primary goals of evangelism is to invite persons to respond to the announcement of the nearness of the kingdom by repenting of their sin and reorienting their lives under the sovereignty of God’s leadership.  We are not simply talking about repentance as it is so often viewed in contemporary society—as sorrow for one’s sin.  The New Testament view is different.  The Greek word translated “repent” in the New Testament is metanoeo.  It means “to think differently or afterwards,”  “to reconsider.”  Entrance into the kingdom—the central goal or purpose of the entire  evangelistic enterprise—requires such repentance.  It requires a change of values, outlook, and allegiance.  

Such a change, however, does not take place overnight.  It is a process—a pilgrimage.  As such, evangelism also has as a primary goal the making of disciples—the making of kingdom citizens or followers of Jesus Christ.  This will be the subject of our next blog post.

[i] Paul M. Lederach, A Third Way:  Conversations about Anabaptist/Mennonite Faith.  (Scottdale, Pennsylvania:  Herald Press, 1980), 27.

[ii] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 654.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Paul M. Lederach, A Third Way:  Conversations about Anabaptist/Mennonite Faith, 29.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid., 30.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid., 30-31.

One Response to “Evangelism and the Kingdom of God”

  1. Thanks for the hard work on these articles. They are very uplifting. You give great reasons for seeing conversion as “whole life” decision and change. Not just a one time thing.

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