What does “The kingdom of God is at hand” mean?

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By BibleAsk Team


The statement “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” from the New Testament, specifically from the Gospel of Mark 1:15 in the New King James Version (NKJV), encapsulates a profound theological and eschatological message delivered by Jesus at the outset of his ministry. In this essay, we will explore the historical and contextual significance of this declaration, its implications for the understanding of the kingdom of God, and its ongoing theological relevance.

These words refer to a prophetic time where the Messiah would come and establish His kingdom (Matthew 13:30; 16:3; 21:34; 26:18; Luke 19:44; John 7:6; Romans 5:6; Ephesians 1:10). Jesus’ declaration, was the same as John’s message (Matthew 3:2). This phrase is also used in relation to the end of time (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:8; Ephesians 1:10; Revelation 1:3).

The Jews understood this announcement as a declaration that the Messianic kingdom was about to be set up. In their minds, as in John’s, this involved the setting up of an earthly kingdom and triumph over all their enemies (the Romans at that time). Throughout Jesus’ ministry this misapplication of the truth continued and was not fully understood by His disciples until after the resurrection (Luke 24:13–32; Acts 1:6, 7) although Jesus taught that His kingdom was not of this world but rather in the heart and that it was spiritual (Matthew 4:17, 5:3; Mark 13:1–52).

In a more direct sense, Jesus’ announcement, “The time is fulfilled,” referred to the 70 weeks in Daniel 9:24–27. Near the end of this period “Messiah the Prince” was to “confirm the covenant with many” and “be cut off.” In the days of Christ, some knew that this time period of Daniel was nearly at an end. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son” into the world (Galatians 4:4). When Jesus began His ministry, the time was ripe for the establishment of His kingdom.

The Time is Fulfilled

The Gospel of Mark, believed to be the earliest of the four canonical Gospels, presents Jesus’ ministry with a sense of immediacy and urgency. In Mark 1:15, Jesus makes a pivotal announcement that sets the tone for his entire mission. The phrase “The time is fulfilled” suggests that a predetermined period in God’s divine plan has reached its completion. To comprehend the full weight of this assertion, it is essential to delve into the Old Testament prophetic tradition, where various predictions about the coming of a Messiah and the establishment of God’s kingdom abound. In a theological sense, it suggests that the long-awaited and prophesied time for the fulfillment of God’s purposes, particularly regarding the coming of the Messiah, has arrived.

This proclamation sets the tone for Jesus’ ministry, emphasizing the urgency of responding to the message of the kingdom of God. The call to “repent and believe in the gospel” is an invitation for people to turn away from sin, change their ways, and embrace the message of salvation that Jesus is proclaiming. Overall, “time is fulfilled” signifies a pivotal moment in the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan, with Jesus marking the fulfillment of divine promises and the initiation of a new phase in God’s work.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament is replete with prophecies foretelling a time when God would intervene in human history to redeem and restore His people. For instance, the book of Daniel anticipates the arrival of the “Son of Man” who will receive an everlasting kingdom from the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14). The prophetic utterances of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others contribute to a rich tapestry of expectations surrounding the fulfillment of God’s promises. When Jesus declares that “the time is fulfilled,” he is signaling the culmination of these prophetic strands, affirming that the long-awaited moment has arrived.

Furthermore, the declaration “the kingdom of God is at hand” is pregnant with theological significance. The concept of the kingdom of God permeates the entirety of Scripture, reflecting God’s sovereign rule and redemptive purposes. In the Old Testament, the kingdom is often associated with God’s reign over Israel, but with the arrival of Jesus, the understanding of the kingdom undergoes a transformative shift. Jesus’ proclamation suggests that the reign of God is not a distant future event but is, in fact, imminent and accessible.

The phrase “at hand” conveys a sense of proximity and immediacy. Through his ministry, teachings, and miracles, Jesus is ushering in the reality of God’s kingdom, breaking into the present moment of human history. The kingdom is not confined to a geopolitical entity but encompasses a new spiritual reality characterized by righteousness, grace, and the reconciling work of God.

First-Century Judaism

To fully grasp the profound nature of this proclamation, it is crucial to consider the cultural and religious context of first-century Judaism. The Jewish audience of Jesus’ time was steeped in Messianic expectations, anticipating a political and nationalistic deliverer who would liberate them from Roman oppression. However, Jesus’ announcement challenges and transcends these expectations, introducing a kingdom that operates on spiritual principles and inaugurates a divine order that transcends earthly structures.

The call to “repent and believe in the gospel” encapsulates the appropriate response to this proclamation. Repentance involves a radical reorientation of one’s life—a turning away from sin and self-centeredness toward God and His purposes. Believing in the gospel entails embracing the good news that Jesus brings—the news of redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God.

As we reflect on the theological implications of Mark 1:15, we must also consider its ongoing relevance for contemporary Christian thought and practice. The proclamation of Jesus remains a clarion call for believers to recognize the continuing fulfillment of God’s time and the accessibility of His kingdom. It challenges us to examine our lives, repent from ways that hinder our relationship with God, and actively participate in the transformative work of the kingdom.

In conclusion, the declaration “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” encapsulates a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry with profound implications for understanding God’s redemptive plan. This essay has explored the historical, cultural, and theological dimensions of this proclamation, emphasizing its resonance with Old Testament prophecies and its transformative impact on the understanding of the kingdom of God. As contemporary believers, we are invited to respond to this proclamation with repentance, faith, and an active engagement in the ongoing reality of God’s kingdom.

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