Summary: Written and published August, 2014: This article explains that a viable form of the kingdom of God does exist in the world today. However, its form doesn’t correspond to what is predicted by the prophetic passages and promises found in the Old Testament about a Messianic kingdom for Israel. The present form of the kingdom is the totality of the outward display of Christendom in the world. If you allow yourself to think that the kingdom of God can only be Jewish or Messianic, involving a present Messiah ruling over a restored Israel in the promised land, then you will be blinded to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven at this time and the reality of the Christian dispensation with its specific principles and character. Continue reading for a detailed explanation of this important understanding.
The kingdom of God is a term in Scripture used in a broad and general way. It depicts the idea of God being present and working, or the general reign and government of God. When God took on human flesh and came into the world, He came unto His own (John 1:10-11). He was Emanuel in the midst of Israel, and the elect among them could say, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23) When Jesus cast out demons He would say, “…the kingdom of God has come upon you.” God was present and His power was working on behalf of that person (Luke 11:20). The same could be said to all those He healed, the lepers He cleansed, and the multitudes He fed by multiplying the food. Not only this, but He also walked on water, calmed the storms, and called a mass of fish into the nets of His disciples. Also we read in Matt. 10:1, “And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” These are the things that only divinity can do, that is, only God can transfer His own power in this way. In the person of Jesus the Son, God was working in their midst (John 5:17-18), and so, the kingdom of God was there among or upon the Jews in Israel.
Jesus went about Galilee and Judea preaching the kingdom of God (Matt. 4:23, Luke 4:43). When He sent His disciples out before Him, they were directed to also preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:2). These specific passages involve the healing of the sick and the performing of various miracles. They are examples which reference the above explanation of how the kingdom of God was then manifested — in those circumstances the kingdom of God was present because there was the obvious exercise or exhibition of the ruling power of God. However, we must be cautious. So many other passages in the gospels which involve the use of the word “kingdom” — whether it is “the kingdom of God”, “the kingdom of heaven”, or simply “the kingdom” — do not fit the above explanation or use. It remains to be sorted out how these different phrases are used or applied differently by the Spirit of God in Scripture.
In figuring this out, we must be able to resist being locked into, by mere human reasoning, a ridged narrowed focus which ends up being erroneous. Allow me to share an example. Jesus was sent by God to Israel as their Messiah, the King of the Jews (Luke 4:17-21). Nobody can deny this. He is the son of David after the flesh, destined to sit on the throne of David forever (Is. 9:6-7, Jer. 23:5-8, 33:14-17, Ps. 89:3-4, 132:10-18, Zech. 6:12-13). This was according to promises made to the forefathers and Jewish prophecy (Matt. 1:1, 21-23, 2:4-6, 15, 17-18, 23). So the reasoning of our intellects say that every place the word “kingdom” is used in the gospels, it has to be referring to a Jewish, Messianic kingdom. Jesus is the promised Messiah and He has now come to Israel. And a Messianic kingdom is the only one ever promised to Israel in Scripture. Also, Jesus is only speaking to the Jews. Therefore, every place He uses this “kingdom” word, we know He is referring to Himself as King of the Jews and describing a Jewish, Messianic kingdom that was “at hand.”
If this is the reasoning, allow me to mention a few more inescapable facts about what a Messianic kingdom would look like if it was actually present — it would be a kingdom of this world. It would be a geopolitical kingdom — one with land and physical borders, and a physical king present on David’s throne, ruling over the nation of Israel. This Son of David would rule by the power of God in judgment over His people. He would clear the land of Gentiles and divide it, giving it as an inheritance to the physical descendants of Abraham. The Jews would take up residence in the land, living there and growing in numbers and material blessings. Israel would be considered the greatest nation on the face of the earth. The Gentiles will serve them. To accomplish this kingdom, God will make a new covenant with the Jews, writing His law on their hearts and minds, so they will do it and receive all the promised blessings. This new covenant will be the means by which God reunites the two kingdoms — Judah and Israel – back together again to form one nation. Israel hasn’t been one since the time of Solomon. Solomon and his kingdom serve as the types symbolizing the Messianic kingdom and its Messiah, the Son of David reigning over all Israel on David’s throne.
Obviously Jesus came two thousand years ago and yet there is no kingdom in the world today which looks anything like the above description. What gives? The “kingdom” word was used over a hundred times in the gospels. If this word always referenced the kingdom of God as a Messianic kingdom, where is it? The reasoning continues. Jesus was rejected by the Jews, so there is no Messianic kingdom in Israel at this time. Actually, there has never been a Messianic kingdom as a result of Jesus coming as the Messiah, King of the Jews. It is reasoned that there is no kingdom of God in the world today. We must wait for Jesus to return. When He does, then we’ll see a Messianic kingdom in Israel, in the world. We just have to wait. Everything is suspended.
What I can agree with is there will not be a Messianic kingdom until the Messiah King is present in Israel, until Jesus returns physically to this earth and world. The Messianic kingdom spoken of in Old Testament prophecy and promises waits to be fulfilled at a future time. But the above explanations fail to adequately answer all the lingering questions we have about the kingdom of God. These questions I ask below, along with some of my own understandings (hopefully understandings taught by the Spirit of God from Scripture).
Jesus did come to Israel, His own people. But they did not receive Him (John 1:11). In fact, they hated Him (John 15:22-25), rejected Him as being sent by God (Matt. 12:24, John 6:29-30), and put Him to death on the cross. The parable Jesus tells of the vineyard reveals the general history of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel (Matt. 21:33-44). God’s final effort in all His long-suffering with them was to send His Son to them saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But what does Jesus say would be the result? “And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” It isn’t difficult to understand that because of this, God rejected the Jews. He would make their house desolate for a long period of time (Matt. 23:37-39). He would set Israel’s calling aside, basically saying (Hos. 1:9), “You are not My people, I will not be your God.” He brings in the Roman army to destroy Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. From that time God would no longer deal directly with the Jews. His dealings with them are only in His providence, preserving the line of descent of the twelve tribes for their future restoration in a Messianic kingdom during the millennium — the kingdom we spoke of earlier. These realities and their implications should be easy to see in Scripture.
Does this confirm their reasoning that there is no kingdom of God today? Is there no present form of God’s kingdom in the world? The Baptist, Jesus, and the Lord’s disciples all preached that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven were at hand (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, Mark 1:15). Is nearly two thousand years of waiting what they meant as the kingdom being at hand? What this human reasoning is actually teaching is that the determined counsels of God were foiled by Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Yes, this is what it teaches if we would just closely consider all the implications of what is being said. Jesus was sent; He is Israel’s Messiah; any talk of a kingdom at that time must always reference a Messianic one. God’s plan, God’s counsel, for sending Jesus two thousand years ago was to accomplish the bringing in of a Messianic kingdom in Israel.
This is what I reject. Not that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, but that God’s purpose for sending Jesus into the world two thousand years ago was to establish the Messianic kingdom of prophecy. What was God’s real purpose for sending Jesus into the world? Scripture answers this:
Hebrews 10:5-10 (NKJV)
5 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’ ”
8 Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Jesus coming into the world two thousand years ago was expressly for accomplishing the will of God — becoming an eternally efficacious sacrifice for sin which would permanently sanctify all believers. To simplify our thinking, God’s purpose was the death of Jesus Christ. Philippians shows us more detail:
Philippians 2:5-8 (NKJV)
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Romans 8:3 (NKJV)
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
Mark 10:45 (NKJV)
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
In these verses there isn’t any mention of a Messiah being sent and a Messianic kingdom being presented to Israel. God’s will, God’s purpose seems to be something very different. The determined counsel of God for Jesus coming two thousand years ago was that He would be condemned to death, becoming the necessary sacrifice for sin. This is directly confirmed in the following passage:
Acts 2:22-24 (NKJV)
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
God’s purpose isn’t what so many theologians reason it to be. It wasn’t for Jesus to be accepted by Israel and to usher in a Messianic kingdom, throwing off from the Jews all the Gentile suppression. Rather, God’s determined counsels were the opposite of this reasoning. Jesus was to be delivered to death. Instead of a plan for being accepted, it was a plan based on Jesus being rejected. This is an opposite thought from the reasoning of so many teachers, whose misguided thinking is the basis of so much interpretation of Scripture. Would this make any difference? Well, if our reasoning is wrong, then it is certain our conclusions are wrong as well. Are the one hundred plus times the word “kingdom” is used in the gospels all referring to a Messianic kingdom, if, as we have shown, this kingdom was not the determined counsel of God at that time? If we would do the work, examining each use in light of the big picture, that is, knowing and understanding the purpose of God at the time in question, we would find that of the hundred plus, very few if any are actually referring to a Messianic kingdom in Israel. We would find they are referring to something else — the majority of them refer to a different form of the kingdom of God existing in the world today.
John 18:36 (NKJV)
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
Here it is obvious that Jesus is not using the “kingdom” word as He did when He and His disciples were healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons. This use is not the same as the “kingdom of God has come upon you” — the outward demonstration of God’s power in various ways to bless individuals in need. Instead, Jesus has a different application and intention. For our discussion, there are two important points in what Jesus is saying to Pilate in this passage. Not only is His kingdom characterized as not of this world, but there remains the fact that He has an existing kingdom at that time. His kingdom couldn’t be Messianic, because a Jewish kingdom would be of the world, one in outward power and glory as we previously outlined above. Instead the Lord’s kingdom is not this. Besides, as Jesus says, if His kingdom was of this world, which it isn’t, His followers would be fighting against the Jews to save Him. This doesn’t sound Jewish either. But, back to my second point – without doubt, there is an existing kingdom. Any reasoning that claims there isn’t any kingdom of God today is flawed.
Let’s dig a little deeper into Jesus saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” In John 17:14-16, Jesus says He is not of this world and His followers (Christians) are not as well. There is a present spiritual reality to these statements which at a later time will convert into a physical reality. But allow me to restate things in the positive. Instead of saying what is not, let’s state what is. Christians have been given a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1) and citizenship (Phil. 3:20); in Christ Jesus, they are destined to sit in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6-7) and receive every possible spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). We can make the same statement about these things — they are spiritual realities which believers presently have and enjoy, according to the measure of faith they may have, but all to be eventually converted into physical realities. It is the understanding of these truths which motivate Christians to walk as pilgrims and strangers through this world. Is this enough Scripture proof to show the kingdom of God exists today, as well as what form it is likely in?
The form of the kingdom of God in the world today is a Christian kingdom. It has an outward display for anyone to see — all of Christendom; all individuals and groups who profess faith in Jesus Christ, grouped together as one body. Someone might object saying, “How is this not a kingdom of the world if I’m looking out viewing Christendom?” Well, even though all true Christians still living can be seen in this world, their spiritual position before God is “not of the world.” The same is true of the Lord’s present kingdom, at least as it was initially set up by God, before it was given over to the responsibility of men to care for it (the purpose of this article is not to detail the condition the Lord’s kingdom has progressed to, under the care and responsibility of professing Christians. However, it is clear that the testimony of Scripture is that men have failed in their responsibilities and that today Christendom stands as corrupt and ruined).
Colossians 1:12-14 (NKJV)
12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
The saints who receive the inheritance are Christians. They are the ones who have redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins. As we can see in this passage, believers have been delivered by God from the power of darkness and into the kingdom of His Son. We are in that kingdom today. And it is a Christian kingdom.
What then did the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples mean by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?” (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 10:7). “At hand” does mean “not there yet” or “not established yet.” But, the integrity of God prohibits it referring to a long protracted period of time, now having lasted nearly two thousand years. At hand refers to the day of Pentecost, when the first believers were baptized into the church, the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This was when Christ started building His church (Matt. 16:18). It is when Christianity begins and when the Christian dispensation starts. “At hand” means soon in coming. The period of time they had to wait was the 3 1/2 years of the Lord’s ministry. Unless He left, the Holy Spirit couldn’t come (John 16:7). The Spirit’s coming had many outcomes and consequences, one of which is the present form of the kingdom of God today.