Ask Steve: The Kingdom of God

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is the Kingdom of God? Is it now, future, or both present and future?

Answer: The basic definition of the kingdom of God is the rule of the sovereign God over His creation (both animate and inanimate). The kingdom of God is composed of three elements: 1). A sovereign, authoritative ruler (God) 2). A realm to rule (earth and the created beings) 3). The exercising of authority (God over His subjects). However, there are different theories about both the timing and the literal/spiritual nature of the kingdom of God, which is an issue of debate among premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists. Is it something that happened in the past? Is it present? Is it future? Or is it both present and future? Based on the foundational definition provided, along with Scriptural evidences presented mostly in the Bible, we must conclude that the Kingdom of God often spoken of by Jesus is still to come in the future (but with present implications).

 We get an understanding of this truth beginning in Matthew 1-2. The author quotes from Micah 5:2: “For out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My peopleIsrael.” The religious leaders at the time viewed the coming king as “ruler” over “Israel.” They understood the kingdom of God to be a political rule in which the coming Messiah would rule temporally over the throne of David. Matthew never indicates that the Jewish leaders were wrong in their beliefs of an earthly kingdom, only that they failed to see the entire scope of the Messiah’s earthly mission, which was to be a spiritual Savior and die for the sins of mankind. Some skeptics make the mistake of leaning too much on the saving aspect of Jesus’ mission, thinking that it did away entirely with the political earthly rule of Messiah over Israel.

The “nearness” of the Kingdom of God, as first introduced in Matthew 3-4, is one of the most controversial yet insightful glimpses into the plan of God concerning His kingdom. When John the Baptist declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” some interpreters believe this to mean that the kingdom had already come in some fashion during the time of John the Baptist, but will not find its physical expression until Christ’s second coming to establish the eternal kingdom. Others simply interpret John the Baptist’s statement spiritually, speaking not of an earthly throne of David, but a spiritual kingdom that people enter into when they get saved.

However, we must understand John’s reference to the Kingdom of God future for several reasons. First, John never qualifies his statements concerning the kingdom. He does not reinterpret the kingdom or give any indication that it was a spiritual, mystical kingdom. John would most likely have had this in mind, knowing what his Jewish listeners already knew concerning the nature of the coming kingdom from the Old Testament. Second, the reference to the kingdom being “at hand” must be understood as a reference to imminence rather than immediacy. Since the kingdom is always on the tails of the Messiah’s coming (as seen in the Gospels and in the book of Revelation), the kingdom must be understood as the same literal kingdom spoken of in the OT. John could not have inaugurated the kingdom with his statement in Matthew 3:2 nor could Jesus in His three-year ministry since He hadn’t died, resurrection, and ascended yet. This would imply that the kingdom was already present before the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

What 3:2 means is that the kingdom was near with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, but had not fully arrived. Israel needed to repent and be saved in order for Jesus to usher in the Davidic Kingdom to Jerusalem. Since Israel did not repent, the kingdom went away and its moment of inception was delayed. In essence, Israel missed the time of its visitation (Lk 19:44). Jesus prophesied that there was a day coming when Israel would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (Matt 23:38). At that time, Jesus the Messiah will return to His people, a time when the Kingdom of God will be at hand once again. The only difference this time is that the people of Israel will accept the Messiah, and thus the kingdom will be established on earth.

Last, but not least, is the mention of Jesus’ plan to establish the kingdom upon His return. Matthew 25:31 reads, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” Jesus sitting “on His glorious throne” is a reference to Jesus’ rulership over His people and the establishment of the kingdom. This verse indicates that the kingdom is officially established when Jesus comes with “all the angels.” When King Jesus judges the world and separates the sheep from the goats, He will say to the saints, “Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This scene depicts believers coming to inherit the kingdom for the first time. There is no indication here that the believers are already in the kingdom in a spiritual sense, since entering the kingdom takes place after judgment. The Olivet Discourse places the establishment of the kingdom after the 7-Year Tribulation during which Israel finally repents and fulfills the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34).

When the Kingdom of God is mentioned in the Bible, the passage that best describes the Kingdom is Revelation 20:1-10. In essence, the 1,000 year period in which Christ rules (after His second coming) is the age in which the Kingdom of God is in effect in the world. The millennial kingdom is the Kingdom of God. This event, of course, is still future. In this kingdom, God the Son will physically rule over His people, and over the world, for 1,000 years in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. This is the messianic kingdom that the church is called to ideally pray and long for (Matthew 6:10; 26:29) each day. It is the kingdom that was often spoken about even by the OT prophets, offered to Israel by Christ, and was rejected by Israel when they spurned the Messiah. But in the future, Israel will be offered this kingdom again, and Israel will see it manifested when they come to repentance. 

One’s definition of the Kingdom of God, as well as its timing, is dependent on his view of the millennium. That is why your millennial position is highly influential in how you view the kingdom, what the mission of the church is, and the relationship between Israel and the church. Based on a faithful grammatical-historical hermeneutics, we see that the Kingdom of God is primarily a future event. However, Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God has much present implications. We enter into kingdom citizenship upon our salvation in Christ. Our view of the Kingdom should cause us to hope in the Lord’s coming, labor hard in pursuit of the Great Commission and other fruitful endeavors, and persevere in faith as we withstand trials, hardships, and persecution. For one day, the kingdom will become a reality, and we will enter into it with confidence and blessings if we have used our talents wisely (Matt 25:14-30).