Is the kingdom of God, as many assume, merely a warm feeling in one’s heart, or a vague idea about someday ‘going to heaven’? Or is the kingdom of God more real, tangible and powerful than most people have imagined?
John the Baptist preached the message of the kingdom of God (Matthew 3:1-2). The same message of the kingdom of God was preached by Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14-15). In fact, Jesus said preaching the kingdom of God was a purpose for which he was sent (Luke 4:43). The twelve apostles Jesus trained were also commissioned to proclaim the message of the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2). Paul, who also became an apostle, was at end of his life still testifying of the kingdom of God (Acts 28:23).
But what is the kingdom of God? To most professing Christians the kingdom of God is a familiar term but a vague one, having little concrete meaning. To many the kingdom of God is somehow connected with a warm feeling in your heart, or a vague idea about being in heaven. But what does the Bible itself reveal about the kingdom of God?
It’s not surprising that most people have not really understood the concept of the “kingdom of God,” because Jesus spoke of it as a “mystery” (Mark 4:11). The Greek term translated “mystery,” μυστήριον (mystḗrion), generally implied knowledge understood or known only to “the initiated,” or a select group. “In the NT it denotes, not the mysterious…but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a ‘mystery’ is knowledge withheld; its Scriptural significance is truth revealed…” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W. E. Vine). Actually, in the New Testament, it’s both knowledge hidden, and knowledge revealed, to those who are willing to receive it (Luke 18:17; Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 1:26).
Jesus commanded his disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). The Bible teaches that the kingdom of God may be inherited (Matthew 5:3, 10; 25:34; cf. Hebrews 6:12).
We see in comparing Matthew 5:3 with Luke 6:20 that the terms “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are used interchangeably. Matthew, whose gospel was originally intended primarily for a Jewish audience, favored the term kingdom of heaven because the Jews understood the Messiah would be sent from heaven and his authority would derive from hence. The term “kingdom of heaven” occurs often in Jewish writings.
One major deception is that the “kingdom of God” is “in your heart.” In other words, it’s not a real kingdom, but a “feeling” within one’s heart. Yet, the Bible nowhere says the kingdom of God is “in your heart.”
This idea has been read into a verse in Luke: “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you'” (Luke 17:20-22).
Note that Jesus was speaking to a group of Pharisees, who were, for the most part, bitterly opposed to Jesus’ teachings at the time (Matthew 12:14). Was the “kingdom of God” really in the hearts of those Pharisees, who sought to kill Jesus?
While the Greek word ἐντός [entós] (Luke 17:21), translated “within” in the KJV and NKJV could be translated “within,” it could also be translated “among.” “It may mean the new dispensation is even now among YOU. The Messiah has come. …he is now among you. Most critics at present incline to this latter interpretation” (Barnes’ New Testament Notes).
Note that Jesus went on to say by way of explanation to his disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it” (Luke 17:22). Of course, they were seeing “one of the days of the Son of Man” then, because he was among them. But, he went on to discuss how he would be rejected in that generation, but then come again at a later time (Luke 17:23-25).
The kingdom of God was among the Jews of that day, as Jesus himself, the Messiah, was among them. But many among them refused to recognize or acknowledge him, because he had not come in the manner in which they expected the kingdom of God to appear.
Jesus had not come, at that time, to establish his rulership over the earth. Rather, he appeared at that time to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind (Hebrews 9:26-28).
The Bible reveals that the Kingdom of God is not just some vague idea, or warm feeling in the heart, but that it is a literal, powerful, kingdom, destined to rule the world, replacing all the kingdoms, or governments, of mankind on this earth! Beyond that, the kingdom of God rules the entire Universe! (1 Chronicles 29:11).
Although God has supreme authority over all, he has allowed mankind more or less free reign to do as he will under Satan’s influence, since the first created humans sinned and rejected God’s rule over them (Genesis 3:1-6). Satan and the demons are the spiritual powers who hold sway over the present world as a whole, as God has allowed (Isaiah 14:6, 12-17; John 16:11; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12; Revelation 12:9). It is a reign of sin and death (Romans 5:12, 14, 17, 21).
However, the Bible reveals that in due time Jesus Christ will return to this earth to depose Satan, and reign as king over the entire earth. The kingdom of God will govern all nations of the earth.
The kingdom of God when it is established on the earth to replace the kingdoms of this world (or age) will include the following features: 1) King; 2) Territory; 3) Subjects; 4) Law.
Who is the King? Jesus referred to it as the Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Though divine, a member of the Godhead, Jesus is subject to the will of the Father in heaven (John 5:30). Though the Christ is subject to the Father, he too is a king, and he will personally rule over the kingdom of God on the earth as the Father has willed (Hebrews 1:4-5, 8; Daniel 7:13-14).
What is the territory? The kingdom of God is destined to rule the entire earth (Daniel 2:35, 44-45). It will supersede and consume all the kingdoms “under heaven,” that is, the entire earth (Daniel 7:27; Revelation 11:15; Zechariah 14:5, 8-9, 16). So while the Kingdom of God certainly rules over heaven, the emphasis as far as the future age is concerned, the age of the Messiah, the time following the return of Jesus Christ, is the earth. Jesus Christ is coming to literally establish the Kingdom of God on earth and to literally rule on the earth as it’s King, with his throne and bodily presence in Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:3).
Who are to be subjects? Everyone on the earth will be subjects of the kingdom of God under the rule of Jesus Christ (Daniel 7:14; Zechariah 2:10-13).
What is the law of the kingdom? The law of the kingdom will be the word of God. That law will include the same commandments that many people have been deceived into believing Jesus came to abolish. But those commandments, including the ten commandments given at Mount Sinai, and ancillary laws, will be the very laws by which Christ will govern mankind (Isaiah 11:3-4; Psalm 119:172; Isaiah 2:1-4; Deuteronomy 30:3-10; Jeremiah 31:31-33). The result will be peace, justice, and universal joy (Psalm 67:1-7; Isaiah 61:7-8).
While flesh and blood human beings living on the earth after the return of Jesus Christ will be subjects of the kingdom of God, flesh and blood cannot inherit a permanent status as sons of God in his kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:50). Converted Christians are placed under the divine authority of the kingdom of God, having a direct relationship with Christ as members of his body, which is the Church (Ephesians 5:30; Colossians 1:13, 18). But we await the full inheritance as sons of God, which shall be received upon the return of Jesus Christ, at the time of the resurrection of the saints (Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, 50-54; Galatians 4:6-7; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 20:4-6). When one repents in faith, being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit, he has a guarantee of a future inheritance in God’s kingdom, as long as he continues faithful (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13-14; Colossians 1:21-23).
Many have been led to believe that when a person dies, he doesn’t really die, but continues to live a conscious existence as a “soul.” And when “death” occurs the person “goes to heaven,” to “be with Jesus,” or “goes to hell.” Never explained in any meaningful detail is what a person is to do upon “going to heaven.” But, this idea is often vaguely associated with the “kingdom of God.”
Yet, the Bible teaches that no human being, other than Jesus Christ, has actually ascended to heaven, that is, the “third heaven,” where God presently dwells (John 3:13). Of all human beings, presently only Jesus Christ has immortality (1 Timothy 6:14-16; see What Is Death?).
As referenced earlier, receiving the reward of the kingdom of God is associated with the resurrection, in conjunction with the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. The saints are to reign on the earth with Christ in his kingdom, not in heaven (Daniel 7:27; Revelation 2:26-27; 5:10).
What then did Jesus mean when he said of those persecuted for his sake, “for great is your reward in heaven”? (Matthew 5:12). Peter explains that the reward of the saints is “reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). When Christ returns, he will bring his reward with him, “to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12; cf. Isaiah 40:10; 62:11).
Paul looked forward to receiving his “crown” on “that day,” the day of his (the Lord’s) appearing (2 Timothy 4:8; cf. Luke 19:11-26; Revelation 20:4-6).
It is at that time that the saints will be made immortal sons of God in his eternal kingdom (Daniel 12:2-3; John 5:28-29; Matthew 19:29; Hebrews 9:15; Revelation 2:11; 21:7).
Finally, when all enemies have been destroyed, including death itself, which shall have no power over those who remain, the kingdom will be delivered up to Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Revelation 20:14-15). God the Father will come down to the earth to receive the kingdom. He and Christ will dwell in the midst of their kingdom, in the New Jerusalem, among those who have been granted salvation (Revelation 21:1-3, 10-12, 22-27; 22:1-5).
The children of God, sons in his kingdom, will inherit “all things” (Revelation 21:7). God will share with his immortal, divine family, sons made in his likeness, bearing his nature, the entire creation (1 Corinthians 15:48-49; 2 Peter 1:4). God will “be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
The Kingdom of God is the eternal reward of every Christian who remains faithful to the end.
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Copyright by Rod Reynolds 2015
Messenger Church of God
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Wentzville, MO 63385