As the New Testament opens, we see John the Baptist announcing the Kingdom “at hand,” as do Jesus and his first disciples (Matt. 3:1-2; 4:17; 10:7). Jesus heals the sick, casts out devils, teaches about God’s kingdom and forgives sinners, claiming to do it all by God’s direct and immediate power. Jesus’ ministry thus embodies God’s kingdom on earth in a way more complete and concrete than it had been seen since before sin first entered Eden (Luke 11:14-23; Matt. 12:22-29).
In the person of Jesus, God’s kingdom comes with tumult and force, waging unrelenting assault on the fortresses and strongholds of Satan, the great usurper. Yet, ironically, God’s reign cannot be “forced,” and Jesus resists every temptation to bring in the kingdom of heaven through raw power or other human effort (Matt. 4:1-11; John 6:14-15; Luke 22:49-51). That does not mean there were not those who tried — either by political maneuvering (the Sadducees), pietistic posturing (the Pharisees), armed revolution (the Zealots), or separatist asceticism (the Essenes).
This kingdom of heaven constitutes Matthew’s great theme, and he builds his Gospel around five teachings of Jesus — concerning kingdom righteousness (Matt. 5-7), kingdom proclamation (Matt. 10), the nature and growth of the kingdom (Matt. 13), kingdom relationships (Matt. 18) and kingdom power and consummation of the kingdom (Matt. 24-25). Sandwiched between those teachings runs the Gospel narrative — stories of the King in action. Matthew shows us the Kingdom in word and in deed, by what Jesus said and by what he did.
But Jesus also foretells a future consummation of God’s kingdom, far brighter and greater than anything yet seen on this earth. He tells his disciples to pray for the time when God’s kingdom will be as fully present on earth as it is already in heaven (Matt. 6:10). He tells parables which urge watchfulness, for none but God himself knows the day and hour of the kingdom’s final revelation in power and glory (Matt. 25).