What Jesus Meant When He Said “The Kingdom of God Is at Hand”

Jesus and the New Creation

Compare the beginnings of the Gospels. Matthew provides a genealogy situating Jesus in the history of Israel followed by a birth narrative. Luke has a longer birth narrative and then a genealogy that traces Jesus back to Adam. John refers to Jesus’s eternal presence with God. Mark, in contrast, has Jesus burst onto the scene seemingly from nowhere. John the Baptist announces his arrival, and then we are simply told that “in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” (Mark 1:9).

But if Jesus seems to come from nowhere, his message has a history. The Isaiah quotation in Mark 1:2–3 establishes the continuity with the Old Testament, as do his first words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). The theme of the kingdom of God situates Jesus in the flow of redemptive history.

The Beginning of the Gospel

Peter Orr

In this addition to the New Testament Theology series, scholar Peter Orr offers an accessible summary of the theology of Mark, examining its relationship to both the Old and New Testaments. 

The announcement of the kingdom gives way to specific teachings on the kingdom throughout the Gospel (particularly through the parables) together with demonstrations of the kingdom’s inbreaking in Jesus’s healings, encounters with demons, and other miracles. We will see that the kingdom of God is not an abstract reality (e.g., a vague idea of “the reign of God”) but is tied to two concrete realities—Jesus Christ and the new creation.

The Time Is Fulfilled: The Kingdom Is at Hand

To grasp Jesus’s words, “the kingdom of God is at hand,” we need to first understand what he means by “the time is fulfilled” (peplērōtai ho kairos). The word kairos in Mark can refer to both a span of time (e.g., 10:30, where it parallels “age” [aiōnios]; Mark 11:13, rendered as “season”) or a particular, appointed time (e.g., Mark 13:33, “you do not know when the kairos will come”). So, in Mark 1:15, is Jesus saying that “the span of time has passed” or “the decisive moment has arrived”?

Although Eckhard Schnabel suggests that both are in view,1 most commentators think that Jesus means a “decisive time has arrived.”2 Admittedly the difference is subtle, but the meaning of the verb “fulfill” (plēroō) and its use here in the perfect passive push us toward the latter view. This perfect passive is probably best understood as stressing the present “state” of fulfilment, which is reflected in most translations: “The time is fulfilled” (rather than “the time has been fulfilled”).3 In other words, the emphasis is on the present: this is the time of fulfillment.

The fact that Jesus’s first words are “the kingdom of God is at hand” is also significant, for it shows how he summarizes the entire period of expectation. He does not say “the exile is over” or even “salvation has come”—although both of these are connected to the kingdom—but “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The expression “kingdom of God” does not occur in the Old Testament. However, God is frequently presented as a king. “The Lord became king in Jeshurun” at Sinai (Deut. 33:5).4 When Israel asks Samuel for a king, God reflects that “they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). Declaring that he will establish David’s line, God promises to confirm David’s offspring “in my house and in my kingdom forever” (1 Chron. 17:14). The Psalms perhaps reflect on God’s kingship the most. This is striking because this book articulates the experiences of the human kings (predominantly David) whom God has appointed over the people. The Psalms ground David’s kingship in the more fundamental reality of God’s reign. They reflect on the eternal nature of God’s kingdom5 and the supremacy of his kingship.6

Jesus’s opening words suggest that God’s kingdom is a dynamic reality. He says that the kingdom of God “is at hand” or “has drawn near”—using another perfect tense verb, ēngiken. This verb appears in the active voice, with the sense that the kingdom is on the cusp of dawning—indeed in some sense is already here. This tension between what has been called the “now” and the “not yet” of the kingdom runs throughout the New Testament and no less in Mark’s Gospel. This ambiguity exists because “for Mark and his readers, the kingdom is directly related to Jesus himself. The king is present so the kingdom is near. It has drawn near spatially in Jesus’s person and temporally in the actions of God to achieve eschatological salvation.”7 As R. T. France notes, the “main point of Mark 1:15 is not the precise timescale, but the fact that it is in the coming of Jesus that we are to see God’s revolution taking place. Indeed, it is in Jesus that we are to see God coming as king.”8


  1. Eckhard J. Schnabel, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 51.
  2. James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 47; Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1–8:26, WBC (Dallas: Word, 1989), 43.
  3. I am following the work of Robert Crellin. For a summary, see Robert Crellin, “The Greek Perfect Active System: 200 BC – AD 150,” TynBul 64, no. 1 (2013): 157–60. He does discuss passive examples in this article.
  4. Jeshurun is a poetic name for Israel (cf. Isa. 44:2).
  5. For example, “your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Ps. 45:6); “your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (Ps. 145:13; cf. Pss. 10:16; 29:10).
  6. For example, “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:3; cf. Pss. 47:2; 103:19).
  7. Mark L. Strauss, Mark, ZECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2014), 82.
  8. R. T. France, Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark (London: SPCK, 1990), 24–25 (emphasis in original).

This article is adapted from The Beginning of the Gospel: A Theology of Mark by Peter Orr.

Related Articles

Mark: An 8-Day Devotional Reading Plan

Over the course of eight days, be encouraged by Scripture and the wisdom of other women as you seek to apply the truths of Mark's gospel to your everyday life.

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.