So begins a ten-part series. Though difficult to believe at first, our truly understanding the kingdom of God can just about clarify all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. So then, what is the kingdom? Can we define it biblically, or is the topic just too complicated? What does it mean for us today?
Generally, the church’s teachings nowadays seem to ignore the kingdom of God. Yet the reality of the kingdom was emphasized in the teaching of Jesus. He ushered it in. Why do we ignore it today? Are we missing something just to tickle the ears of the modern audience?
So what is the kingdom of God? Is it social justice? Is it an apocalyptic realm that will come only at the Second Coming? Is it reduced only to the heart? Is it the ideal pattern for history? Is it the reach of the gospel, so that when it goes around the world the kingdom is established for all to see, before the Second Coming? Is the kingdom just the church? Heaven? Answering these questions can explain Jesus’s main teaching.
The Hebrew Bible and New Testament promise that the flow of history is moving to a new age, an age where the wolf and the lamb will feed and live together (Is. 11:6-9; 65:25), when men will beat their swords into plows (Joel 3:10; Mic. 4:3). The one who will rule over this new age is the King, the Lord God (Is. 6:5) and His Son, who is also the King (Rev. 19:16), so both will rule as One, in unity.
If you were to look up every reference to the kingdom, the topic is complicated. The kingdom is a present spiritual reality: The kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy (Rom. 14:17). We can experience those three things right now. Yet the kingdom is a future inheritance: The king will say to those (the sheep) on his right to come in and inherit the kingdom prepared for them before foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34). How can the kingdom be a present spiritual reality and a future one?
Still another idea about the kingdom is that it is a realm into which one must enter. God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loved (Col. 1:13). So believers are already in the kingdom. At the same time, the kingdom is a future realm into which we must enter: God will provide entrance into the eternal kingdom of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:11). We enter it now, yet we enter it in the future. What gives? The future coming of the kingdom will be glorious and visible, so the righteous will shine like the sun (Matt. 13:41, 43). However, the kingdom of God is within or among us, imperceptible to the dull minded (Luke 17:20-21). The kingdom is present, like a mustard seed that grows into the large shrub or like leaven that permeates the lump of dough (Matt. 13:31-33). Yet Jesus replied to a question from Pilate that Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
And so the biblical teaching of the kingdom is complex. However, with a little thought maybe we can sort things out in this series.
Once again, what is a kingdom? We can’t appeal to the modern world, for a dictionary would say it is the “state,” or “monarchy is the kingdom; realm.” As we will see, this is a little off the mark, biblically speaking (but not too far off) because it does not capture its essence. Next, the kingdom is much more than the people over which the king rules. This idea, a little off the mark, conflates the worldwide Church with the kingdom. To elaborate further on the distinction, when we receive the kingdom as little children (Mark 10:15), we are not receiving the church. When we seek first his kingdom (Matt. 6:33), what do we seek? His church? Heaven in the sweet bye and bye? No. The church is just a subset of the kingdom, but it is not the kingdom. So let’s set aside these inadequate definitions for the moment.
The Hebrew word malkuth and the Greek word basileia may indeed be the realm over which the king reigns and the people who belong to that realm, yet the kingdom is bigger than those things. The primary meaning is the king’s rule. Ezra 8:1 speaks of the exiles’ return from Babylon “in the kingdom” of Artaxerxes, that is, his reign. 2 Chron. 12:1 speaks of the establishment of Rehoboam’s kingdom or rule. Kingdom as a human rule or reign can be seen in these passages: Jer. 49:34; 2 Chron. 11:17, 12:1; 26:30; Ezra 4:5; Neh. 12:22 (and so on).
Therefore, the natural inference is that God’s kingdom refers to his reign, his rule, his authority, his kingship, and his sovereignty. This definition is confirmed by other Scriptures. Ps. 103:19 says that the Lord has established his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all. God’s kingdom is his universal rule, sovereignty over all the earth. Ps. 145:11 says that God’s kingdom is his glory and power, and the power speaks of his sovereignty. God’s kingdom is his power. Ps. 145:13 says that his kingdom is everlasting and it endures throughout all generations. It is God’s rule that is everlasting, not his realm, for the realm may shift from one age to the next. Dan. 2:37 says that God of heaven has given Nebuchadnezzar the kingdom power, and the might and the glory—his rulership and sovereignty.
And so when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), we are not praying for a realm or people, but for his rule and reign and authority and sovereignty to come on earth. When we seek first his kingdom (Matt. 6:33), we seek his sovereignty and authority in our lives. When we receive the kingdom as little children, we receive his authority and rule over our lives.
Some object that this prayer of calling the kingdom to come down to earth does not include kingdom benefits like healing or prosperity. They say that marriage is not done in heaven, do we want to call down no marriage? Evangelism is not done in heaven. Do we want no evangelism to come down to earth? Death does not happen in heaven. Is it realistic to pray for death to stop in the current age? Of course these critics miss the point. The kingdom is coming gradually right now. It is partly present and partly absent. We can pray accurately for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, by checking out the ministry of Jesus as he was ushering it in. Death will be the last enemy to be defeated (1 Cor. 15:26). Until that time, let’s pray for kingdom healing to manifest because Jesus healed. Let’s evangelize until the kingdom fully manifests because Jesus sent out all disciples to make more disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). God allows many people to get married in this present age, too. Let’s keep praying for demon expulsion to happen, because Jesus expelled demons. Let’s keep calling on God to send his kingdom power for the salvation of souls. All these kingdom things are done by the power of the Spirit and by the authority of Jesus’s name.
Let’s move past this objection now, and continue with a definition of the kingdom of God and its citizens
A kingdom without a realm and citizens, God’s highest creation, is meaningless. God’s rule and authority and sovereignty has a realm over which those things are exercised and can be experienced by its citizens. The kingdom is a realm into which people enter, so God exercises his authority over people who surrender to it. Sometimes the Bible says it is a realm that we enter in the present, and other verses say it is in the future. Future: it is better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes and be thrown into hell (Mark 9:47; and see Mark 10:23; 14:25; Matt. 7:21) Present: The law and the prophets were until John the Baptist; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached and everyone forces his way into it (Luke 16:16). The tax collectors and prostitutes go into (enter) the kingdom before the religious guys (Matt. 21:31; cf. Luke 11:52).
So we must solve this problem: (1) Some verses say that kingdom refers to God’s reign; (2) other verses say that the kingdom is the realm into which we may now enter, where we can experience his blessings today in our lives; (3) other verses refer to the future realm which will be fully manifested only at the Second Coming. How do we set these verses side by side and conclude they make sense? Maybe this series will help clarify matters.
How does this post help me grow in my knowledge of God?
When we pray for God’s kingdom and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking for God’s sovereignty, rule, reign, authority, power, and kingship to be manifested down here on earth. We are not praying for the church’s will to be done or it to come on earth from heaven. When we receive the kingdom like little children, we do not receive heaven in the sweet bye and bye or the church. Rather, we receive his rule and sovereignty over our lives. The kingdom is also a realm into which we enter right now (and in the future, at his Second Coming).
As an historical matter, it is important not to conflate the church with the kingdom. When this has happened in the Medieval Age, for example, the Church became militant and passed all sorts of religiously oppressive and restrictive laws. (This is Islam’s big problem, throughout its history, and ancient Judaism could not accomplish all that God wanted, by religious law.)
Now what does the kingdom mean to us, practically? When God’s kingdom comes into our lives or we receive it as a little child, we give up our own sovereignty over our lives. We surrender all of our life to him. We say, “Lord, I surrender my own sovereignty and rule over my life. I have made a mess of it. I give it to you. You be the king of my life. Make of it what you will.” If you have not yet made a mess of it, then just wait; you will have messed up. By the time you get in your fifties and sixties, there is a good chance that you will mess up. At that time, it will still not be too late to surrender all your life to the King. But do it now. Then he will lead you towards righteousness and the blessings that you need to live a life of joy and peace and familial and neighborly harmony. Matt. 6:33: “Seek first his kingdom, and all these things [food, clothing, shelter and other things] will be added to you.” Seek his kingdom first.
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God
At that link, look for Ladd’s little book published in 1959. It’s still wonderful.