When you talk to Jehovah's Witnesses about their claim to be the only true religion, the only true Christians, you will almost always find a statement among various arguments and allegations: "We alone proclaim the kingdom of God, the kingdom which Jesus has already proclaimed." Even though this statement in its conclusiveness is in itself questionable – worthy to be questioned – I would like to focus the following remarks on whether the witnesses really proclaim the kingdom which Jesus proclaimed like a herald.
Jehovah's Witnesses, as the colorful illustrations in their publications repeatedly show, bring people a message of a kingdom of peace, complete health, tame animals and carefree joy, which is actually a very material message. I will not say that certain aspects of this were not included in the Jewish hopes for the Messiah, as can be seen for example in Isaiah chapter 9, 11 and 65. But what was the sitemap of Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom?
The kingdom of God is near
The central message of Jesus was: "The kingdom of God is near", or "the kingdom of God has come". The reports show that this message was essential for Jesus' teachings. The word »kingdom of God« appears 122 times in the Greek scriptures; but it is interesting to note that 99 of these passages are contained in the three gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the other apostolic writings such as the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, even in the Gospel of John, this expression no longer plays a major role. There the »Good News of Christ« comes to the fore.
Even in the Bible concordance published by the Watchtower Society the expression »Good News of the Kingdom« appears only about 6 times, 5 of them in Matthew and Luke, whereas the expression »Good News of Christ« appears almost three times as often, and that after Jesus' ascension!
From this some theologians have made a doctrinal change in fundamental Christian statements; they say that the near expectation that Christ taught was not fulfilled and was therefore abandoned and replaced by a so-called »Christology«. Is that true? Did the apostles teach a different message, a different gospel from Christ? What was the kingdom that Christ announced?
In the past, some theologians in the kingdom of God have seen the age of the Church; but Jesus did not speak of it. Others taught a kind of kingdom of hearts; they said: "The kingdom is within you – misinterpreting the words of Jesus in Luke 17:20-21 -, an inward kingdom. But even that was not the message of Jesus.
But what did Jesus actually bring to the Jews of his time – and also to us – with his message of the Kingdom of God? (Matthew often uses the expression »Kingdom of Heaven« or »Kingdom of Heaven«, because according to Jewish custom at that time he replaced the expression »God« with »Heaven«.)
Jesus brought them God! Not that the Jews did not know God from their history and from His Word; but Jesus made God known to them in a completely new way (John 1:18; 14:9). He spoke with a new authority for them (Matthew 7:29; John 7:46). Basically, he just preached God to them! God is alive, God is there, God is reality. Jesus' message of the kingdom places God in the center, not the paradisiacal well-being of materially minded people. And that God is near! God's hour has come! God acts now! It is decision time!
Certainly, the Jews expected a Messiah and the reign of God – albeit with wrong ideas. Some people who call themselves Christians do the same, by the way. But let us consider Jesus' statements about the kingdom.