The phrase, “the kingdom of God” is a broad-reaching, generic term that is used in Scripture to portray different ideas. The common use of the word “kingdom” is in reference to an expanse of land over which a noted power rules, the people living in the land constituting those being governed. We find examples of this in Scripture. If we speak of the kingdom of God specifically, then we are referring to the reign and governance of God. Beginning at Mt. Sinai, the Jews under Jehovah were an example of this. It was a theocratic kingdom where God lived in the midst of the nation of Israel and governed His chosen people.
There were other ways this phrase was used. When Jesus delivered someone by casting out a demon, He would tell them that the kingdom of God had come upon them (Matt. 12:28, Luke 11:20). The idea presented in this use was that God was present in the person of Jesus Christ, and He was working on behalf of that individual, the rule of God over Satan’s power being demonstrated. The same thing could be accurately said for all those who ever benefited from the Lord’s ministry – all those He healed of disease or disabilities, all those He fed by multiplying bread and fish, all those He raised from the dead. If they could recognize it, the kingdom of God had come upon them.
The Pharisees once asked Jesus when He thought the kingdom of God would come (Luke 17:20–21). He answered them by saying the kingdom of God does not come with observation – people will not be saying, ‘See, it is here!’ or “See, it is over there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you. But how are we to understand this? I am certain that the Pharisees had no clue as to what He meant by it. But Christians have been given the Holy Spirit and have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:10–16). It shouldn’t be that difficult to perceive the spiritual understanding of His words.288
288 [Like all of Israel, the Pharisees were expecting the kingdom of God to come with power and force, delivering the Jews from all Gentile oppression. This would have been the kingdom of God with “observation.” But Jesus knew that the Jews would reject Him and that Israel would be set aside in judgment. He knew the Jewish dispensation would end as the result of His death. But He also knew it was God’s counsels to begin a new work and a new dispensation as the consequence of these events. “The kingdom of God is within you” is Jesus referencing the soon-to-come Christian dispensation, when the Holy Spirit would be sent down from heaven to live inside every believer – their bodies becoming the temple of God. This would constitute the kingdom of God within every true Christian during the time of the Christian dispensation (Rom. 8:9, 15–16). Actually, this use is a subtle reference to Christian redemption]
For the purpose of comparing dispensations, we will concentrate on the first use described above – and expanse of land or people under the governance of a superior authority. What we find in Scripture is that the kingdom of God takes on different forms associated with the three different dispensations. And again, we will find notable similarities between the Jewish and millennial dispensations, while the form of the kingdom of God during the Christian dispensation is quite different.
Before the beginning of the Jewish dispensation there were no discernable references in God’s word to any form of the kingdom of God. The principle of government begins with Noah after the flood; God places the sword in man’s hand to restrict his evil (Gen. 9:5–6). We soon see the rise of the kingdoms of men, Egypt and the Pharaohs becoming most prominent. Concerning the government of the earth, God is sovereign. Large or small, wherever it is found and whatever form it takes, God alone is responsible for establishing all civil authority. Scripture is clear on this point (Dan. 2:37, 4:32, John 19:11, Rom. 13:1–5).
It may be difficult for Christians to fully comprehend and accept, but, although God is never the author and source of evil, He always controls events on the earth by His hidden hand of providence (Eph. 1:11) – “He works all things according to the counsel of His will.” It is only by the eye of faith believers may glimpse the providential influence of God. As for civil government, the word declares that He changes the times and the seasons, He removes kings and raises up kings (Dan. 2:21). Anyone set up in a position of authority should consider this truth – their place was given to them by God, and they are now responsible to Him to use their authority and power in obedience to His will.
In the first part of the Jewish dispensation, the kingdom of God was a theocratic kingdom which had Moses and the Levitical priesthood as mediators between Jehovah and His people. The manifested presence and glory of God dwelt in the midst of Israel, and both the people and the surrounding Gentiles were well aware of this fact. Eventually Moses and Aaron passed and when the priesthood failed in the house of Eli, Jehovah was rejected by the people as their King (1 Sam. 8:4–9). Royalty was set up in Israel so the nation could be like the Gentiles. This still was a theocratic kingdom, still the kingdom of God, but now the mediators between Jehovah and His people were kings.
Saul, Israel’s first king, was an utter failure. He was a king according to the flesh and physical appearance (1 Sam 9:1–2). This perfectly fit the character of Israel and the time of the Jewish dispensation. The nation would have a history of wrestling with God in the flesh, until the dawning of a new day where they will see their blessing (Gen. 32:24–28).289
289 [Jacob’s struggles and troubles with his brother and father-in-law, his failure to walk before God in the examples of faith like his grandfather Abraham, and his preoccupation with material possessions, all serve as a predictive type of the history of Israel during the Jewish dispensation. It is not a mystery why, after wrestling all through the night with God, his name was changed to Israel – his history becomes a type of the history of the nation. The dawning of the new day will be the millennial dispensation]
David, the second king, was a man after God’s own heart. He and his son Solomon are the best examples of royalty in Israel. David tried to do the will of God and Solomon, in the first part of his reign, followed his father in this.290 But eventually Solomon’s responsibility turned to disobedience and upon his death, the nation was divided into two kingdoms – Israel in the north and Judah in the south.291 The disobedience of the royalty soon spread to the people, until the long-suffering of God had its fill. He first used the Assyrian to conquer the northern kingdom and disperse them. When idolatry in Judah became unsolvable, the presence of God left the temple, city, and the earth. God used the Babylonians to conquer Judah, destroying the city and temple. In reality, this marked the end of the existence of the kingdom of God in the Jewish dispensation. From this time to the end of the dispensation, the Gentiles ruled over the Jews.
290 [These two kings, David and the son of David, serve as types of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King of Israel. David was a king who suffered at the hands of his own people; so also did Jesus suffer from his own. David was the king who defeated all Israel’s enemies; Jesus will do the same when He returns to this world. Solomon was the king who built the temple, and reigned as king over a united Israel in peace and prosperity; the same will be for Jesus during the future millennium]
291 [No one should believe that the existence of two sets of kings was the counsel of God for Israel. The dividing of the nation and its royalty is an example of the ways of God with this nation. It was the consequence of Solomon’s disobedience to God’s law, especially the idolatry brought in by his many wives and mistresses (1 Kings 11:1–13). Although Solomon serves as a type of Christ in the counsels of God, his mediatorship between Jehovah and the people was based on his own responsibility (1 Kings 2:1–4, 9:1–9, 2 Chron. 7:16–22). The dividing of the nation into two kingdoms is an example of the chastisement of God in His ways with Israel and their royalty. The counsels of God for the nation are only seen in type, in the earlier years of Solomon’s reign as the son of David over a united Israel, when he served the Lord and judged the people according to God’s law, reigning in peace and prosperity over the nation]
What were the noticeable characteristics of the kingdom of God in the Jewish dispensation?
- God, the one true God in the name of Jehovah, had a manifested presence and glory on the earth and in the midst of Israel.
- This presence and glory was first at home in the tabernacle Moses had built. This could be dismantled and moved from place to place. But eventually Jehovah would have a permanent home in a fixed location – the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 7:1–3). The Levitical priesthood served Jehovah in both the tabernacle and the temple.
- Solomon, the son of David, was established on the throne of David as the king of Israel (1 Kings 2:12, 8:20). He judged the people in justice and righteousness (1 Kings 3:9, 10:9).
- The kingdom of God was seen and comprehended by the natural senses. It was a physical kingdom, with a land and a people, a capital city, and a human mediator king. But above the king, Jehovah was Israel’s God. The Jews practiced the law, their religion. It was the practice of eating and drinking certain things, various washings of the body, fleshly ordinances for a people in the flesh before God (Heb. 9:10). Everything in Judaism was adapted to man in the flesh, as was the particular form of the kingdom of God, as long as it lasted during the Jewish dispensation (until the Babylonian captivity). The kingdom of God in Israel was a kingdom of outward power and glory.
The kingdom of God on the earth during the future millennial dispensation will have a remarkable similarity in features to the above description of God’s kingdom during the Jewish dispensation.
- During the millennium, the manifested presence and glory will return to dwell in the midst of Israel, in the newly built temple in Jerusalem (Ez. 43:1–7).
- Jesus, as the true son of David, will build the temple in Jerusalem. The Levitical priesthood will again serve in the house of God (Ez. 44). Animal sacrifices and the practice of Judaism will be reinstituted for Israel. A new covenant will be made with the Jews, bringing back together the two kingdoms as one (Jer. 31:31–34, Heb. 8:6–13). God will write His law in the minds and hearts of every saved Jew, and also their children after them, for a thousand years.
- Jesus, as Israel’s Messiah and King, will sit on David’s throne ruling over Israel forever. He will judge His people in justice and righteousness (Psa. 72, 99:1–4, Rom. 11:26–27, Isa. 9:6–7, 16:5, 32:1 and Matt. 19:28).
- During the future millennium, the kingdom of God will be established in the promised land, and Jerusalem will be its capital city. The saved remnant of Israel, 12,000 from each tribe, will inherit the land divided to them (Ez. 47:13–23, 48:1–29). It is an earthly kingdom for a people with an earthly calling (the Jews), who practice an earthly, sensual religion. Jesus, as a royal priest, will be physically present again. He will sit on the throne of David and bring blessing to Israel. Under a new covenant, the Jews will do the law and prosper. The kingdom of God will again be demonstrated in outward power and glory in Israel. Only now, under Jesus Christ, there will be no failure. Every enemy of Israel will be removed from their land. Every enemy of God will be defeated and vanquished. The Gentile nations will be made to serve Israel. Like in the Jewish dispensation, during the millennium the kingdom of God in Israel will be observable to everyone – every eye will see, even the Gentiles.
In comparison, the form and character of the kingdom of God during the present Christian dispensation is quite different from the descriptions presented above for the Jewish dispensation and millennium. I’ll only give these in general points below, as we have discussed the differences extensively in previous chapters of this book.
- The form the kingdom of God takes during the Christian dispensation is labeled in Matthew’s gospel by the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven”. It is not a kingdom that may be seen with one’s eyes or perceived with one’s physical senses. Jesus said one must be born-again in order to be able to see the kingdom (John 3:3). This form has mysteries associated with it which may only be perceived and understood by faith. It is a kingdom predicated on things hoped for and unseen, for faith is the substance and evidence of such things for Christians (Heb. 11:1).
- The kingdom of heaven is unseen because it is not a kingdom of this world (John 18:36). There is no land mass or geographical borders associated with it (a difference with the form of the kingdom of God in both the Jewish and millennial dispensations). Although the church is being gathered by the Holy Spirit in this world and on this earth, the church is destined to be removed from this world and taken to heaven. Jesus said He is not of this world. He also said His disciples were not of this world (John 17:14, 16). All true Christians have a heavenly calling and a heavenly citizenship. They now enjoy a relationship with God as their heavenly Father, or as the Lord said, “Our Father in heaven.” After Jesus was raised from the dead, He went back to heaven. He went away so as to prepare places for all Christians in His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:1–3). He will return to gather up the church as one and take her to His Father. There she will enjoy every spiritual blessing given to her by the Father, and she will sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3, 2:6). All Christians are destined to shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13:43). It is no mystery why the Spirit through Matthew uses the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven” in reference to the form the kingdom of God takes during the Christian dispensation.
In summary, during the Jewish dispensation the kingdom of God took the form of an earthly kingdom easily seen in the world. There was the manifested presence of Jehovah dwelling in the midst of Israel. God had brought the Jews into the land He had promised to their fathers. However, the success of everything in the Jewish dispensation relied entirely on the responsibility of the corporate nation. Israel failed in keeping the law and covenant, and then rejected their Messiah when He was sent to them. This brought an end to the Jewish dispensation.
The millennium will see a similar form of the kingdom of God as was seen in the Jewish dispensation. There will again be an earthly kingdom easily seen in this world. The manifested presence of Jehovah will again dwell in the midst of Israel, in a new temple in Jerusalem. God will seal and save a numbered remnant of the Jews and bring them into the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The success of the millennium will depend directly on the grace and power of God in and through Jesus Christ. He will have returned to Israel and Jerusalem as their Messiah, the true Son of David. The remnant will receive Him as their promised King. He will defeat and destroy all Israel’s enemies. God will make a new covenant with the Jews, writing His law on their hearts and minds. The Lord will turn iniquity away from Jacob. Israel will sufficiently obey the law and be blessed. They will become the most prosperous nation on the millennial earth, and the Gentile nations will serve them.
But during the Christian dispensation the kingdom of God is invisible and unseen. It is not a kingdom of this world, but of heaven above. It does not have land or possessions on the earth and it does not involve Israel. There is no manifested presence of God dwelling in a temple in Jerusalem; there isn’t a temple in Jerusalem during the dispensation. The King of the kingdom is God in heaven above, known to Christians as their Father. Before the beginning of the Christian dispensation Jesus went back to heaven. Both the Father and Jesus are unseen by the world during the present dispensation. Also, unseen is the Holy Spirit. He dwells both in the individual Christian and in the corporate church. During the Christian dispensation the true church is on the earth; during the next dispensation, the church will be in the heavens. During the Christian dispensation the Christian suffers with Christ in the same world that rejected Him; during the next dispensation, the Christian will be seen with Christ in glory – they will shine as the sun in the heavens above, in the kingdom of their Father.