01 January, 2006

The Kingdom of God

Defining The Kingdom
Reading through the previous posts, you'll begin to see that it is God's purpose to reward His faithful people with eternal life at the return of Christ. This eternal life will be spent on earth; God's repeated promises concerning this never imply that the faithful will go to heaven. "The Gospel (good news) of the kingdom of God" (Matt. 4:23) was preached to Abraham in the form of God's promises concerning eternal life on earth (Gal. 3:8). The "kingdom of God" is therefore the time after Christ's return when these promises will be fulfilled. Whilst God is ultimately the King of His entire creation even now, He has given man freewill to rule the world and his own life as he wishes. Thus at present the world is comprised of "the kingdom of men" (Dan. 4:17).

At Christ's return, "the kingdoms of this world (will) become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). Then God's will and desires will be completely and openly performed in this earth. Hence Jesus' command for us to pray: "Thy kingdom come (that) Thy will be done in earth, as it is (now) in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). Because of this, the "kingdom of God" is a phrase interchangeable with "the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 13:11 cp. Mark 4:11). Note that we never read of 'the kingdom in heaven'; it is the kingdom of heaven which will be established by Christ on earth at his return. As God's will is completely obeyed by the angels in heaven (Ps. 103:19-21), so it will be in the future kingdom of God, when the earth will only be inhabited by the righteous, who will then be "equal unto the angels" (Luke 20:36).

Entering the kingdom of God at Christ's return is therefore the end result of all our Christian endeavour in this life (Matt. 25:34; Acts 14:22); as such, it is absolutely vital to have a correct understanding of it. Philip's preaching of "Christ" is defined as teaching "the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:5,12). Passage upon passage remind us of how "the kingdom of God" was the main burden of Paul's preaching (Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23,31). It is therefore of paramount importance that we fully understand the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, seeing that it forms a vital part of the Gospel message. "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 4:22); it is the light at the end of the tunnel of this life, and therefore the motivation to make the sacrifices which the true Christian life involves.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, wanted to know the world's future (see Dan. 2). He was given a vision of a great statue, composed of different metals. Daniel interpreted the head of gold as representing the king of Babylon (Dan. 2:38). After him there was to come a succession of major empires in the area around Israel, to be concluded by a situation in which "as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken" (Dan. 2:42).

The present balance of power in the world is split between many nations, some strong and some weak. Daniel then saw a little stone hit the image on the feet, destroying it, and itself growing into a great mountain which filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:34,35). This stone represented Jesus (Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-8). The "mountain" which He will create all over the earth represents the everlasting Kingdom of God, which will be established at his second coming. This prophecy is in itself proof that the kingdom will be on earth, not in heaven.

That the kingdom will only be fully established in reality upon Christ's return is a theme of other passages. Paul speaks of Jesus judging the living and dead "at his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:1). Micah 4:1 picks up Daniel's idea of God's kingdom being like a huge mountain: "In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established"; there then follows a description of what this kingdom will be like on the earth (Mic. 4:1-4). God will give Jesus the throne of David in Jerusalem: "He shall reign...for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32,33). This necessitates there being a certain point at which Jesus begins to reign on David's throne, and his kingdom begins. This will be at Christ's return. "Of his kingdom there shall be no end" connects with Dan. 2:44: "The God of heaven (shall) set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: (it) shall not be left to other people". Rev. 11:15 uses similar language in describing how that at the second coming, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever". Again, there must be a specific time when Christ's kingdom and reign begins on earth; this will be at His return.

The Kingdom Is Not Now Established
There is a widely held notion that God's Kingdom is now fully in existence, being comprised of present believers - 'the church'. Whilst in prospect the true believers have been 'saved' and given potential places in the Kingdom, there can be no doubt that we cannot now be fully in the Kingdom, seeing that Christ has not yet returned to establish it.

"Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). We are "heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him" (James 2:5), seeing that baptism makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham - which promises comprise the basic Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 4:23; Gal. 3:8,27-29). It is therefore common to come across promises of inheriting the kingdom at Christ's return, when the promises to Abraham will be fulfilled (Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9,10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). The very use of this language of future inheritance shows that the kingdom is not the believer's present possession.

Jesus told a parable to correct those who thought "that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a Kingdom, and to return". In the meantime he left his servants with certain responsibilities. "When he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him", and judged them (Luke 19:11-27).

The nobleman represents Christ going away into the "far country" of heaven to receive the kingdom, with which he returns at the time of judgment, i.e. the second coming. It is therefore impossible that the "servants" should possess the kingdom now, during the time of their Lord's absence.

The following provide further proof of this:
  • "My kingdom is not of this world (age)", Jesus plainly stated (John 18:36). However, even at that time He could say, "I am a king" (John 18:37), showing that Christ's present 'kingship' does not mean that His Kingdom is now established. Even the faithful in the first century are described as WAITING "for the kingdom of God" (Mk.15:43).
  • Christ told his disciples that he would never again drink wine "until I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29). This clearly implies that the kingdom was to be in the future, which is how people understood Christ's preaching of "the glad tidings (i.e. advanced proclamation) of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:1). "Blessed is he that shall (in the future) eat bread in the kingdom of God", was their comment (Luke 14:15).
  • Luke 22:29,30 continues this theme: "I appoint unto you a kingdom. that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom".
  • Jesus explained signs which would herald his second coming, and concluded with the comment, "When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh" (Luke 21:31). This is nonsense if the kingdom is now in existence before the second coming.
  • "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). No wonder every suffering believer earnestly prays for the kingdom to come (Matt. 6:10).
  • God has "called you unto his kingdom" (1 Thess. 2:12); in response, we must seek entrance to that kingdom through a spiritual life now (Matt. 6:33).

The Kingdom Of God Is Within You?
Despite all this sizeable emphasis, many orthodox 'Christians' choose to base their belief that the kingdom now exists in the hearts of believers, on one single passage: "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). This is more correctly translated "the kingdom of God is among you" (see A.V. mg.). The context shows that Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees (v.20); the "you" therefore refers to them. They were certainly not Christian believers - the kingdom of God was not established in their hearts.

The Jews were making a great public show of their zeal in looking for Messiah. In this passage, "the kingdom of God" seems to be a title of Messiah, seeing he is to be the king of the kingdom. Thus when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people shouted, "Blessed is he (Messiah) that cometh in the name of the Lord: blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Mark 11:9,10). This parallels Messiah and "the kingdom". Thus John the baptist preached that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he (Jesus) that was (prophesied)" (Matt. 3:2,3). In our passage in Luke 17:20-24, Jesus answered their question about "when the kingdom of God should come", by speaking about the coming of "the son of man".

Christ's point was that the Jews were making so much show of being on the look out for Messiah's coming, expecting him to be suddenly revealed in power, that they failed to realize that Messiah - "the kingdom of God" - was already among them in the humble person of Jesus. Thus he warned them: "The kingdom of God (Messiah) cometh not with outward show...behold, the kingdom of God is among you" (Luke 17:20,21).


Blogger Mark said...

Like all of creation the kingdom has its begining in the spiritual realms and is manifested into the natural upon spoken words of faith. In this case God's word. Its a spiritual kingdom now for those who are led by the Holy Spirit and will be made natural upon the King's return

September 25, 2007 6:34 AM  

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