By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“The Kingdom of God means Heaven,” most people would answer the question in the title. This answer is partially correct – the Kingdom of God includes Heaven. However, that is not all it is.
Have you ever heard the Gospel? “Yes,” most people would think. “Of course!” How about another question: have you ever heard the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel which John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul preached?
If not, I encourage you to thoughtfully read this article, then go to your Bible and search out the truth about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel.
The Kingdom Foretold
The Kingdom of God did not simply spring onto the scene in the New Testament. Through the prophets, God foretold what would happen when His Kingdom was given to men.
In Isaiah 9:6-7, we read:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
This prophecy foretells the birth of Jesus. It reveals that He would be a governor and ruler. It also reveals how the throne of David was a forerunner or foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God ruled by Jesus Christ.
Another prophecy about the Kingdom was given by the prophet Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of an image with a golden head, silver chest and arms, brass belly and thighs, iron legs, and mixed iron and clay feet. The image was then destroyed by a great stone. Daniel told the king that he was the head of gold, and that his kingdom would be followed by other, progressively inferior, empires. Finally,
“in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter” (Daniel 2:44-45a).
In this prophecy, we notice, among other things, the following about the Kingdom of God:
1. It will be set up “in the days of these kings” – not at the end of the world.
2. It shall never be destroyed.
3. There is a basic enmity between the worldly kingdoms and empires and the Kingdom of God.
In Daniel 7, we have another prophecy related to the Kingdom of God. In the vision, Daniel sees several beasts representing different earthly kingdoms. Then,
“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire…I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:9, 13-14).
This prophecy shows that the Kingdom of God will be ruled by Jesus Christ. Notice that it is the same indestructible, everlasting kingdom mentioned in Daniel 2. Notice the extent of Jesus’ Kingdom: all people, nations, and languages would serve Him – not just worship Him, but serve Him.
The Kingdom Announced
About the year 5 B.C., the little town of Bethlehem had been stirred by the birth of a young boy in a stable – the son of a virgin, announced by angels, visited by shepherds. About 30 years later, a relative of the boy born at Bethlehem suddenly appeared, preaching in the wilderness and drawing huge crowds. What was his message?
“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! This fact motivated the people to repentance and receiving the baptism of John. Their repentance was not simply a sorrow for their sins – it was a turning from the old life. John preached a Gospel of repentance to prepare for the coming Kingdom. He told the Pharisees,
“Bring forth therefore fruits meet [suitable] for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:8-9).
John revealed the nature of the repentance necessary for readiness for the Kingdom of Heaven – fruits suitable for repentance must be brought forth. (In case you have been told that this emphasis on repentance was absent from the Gospel which Paul preached, see Acts 26:20.) Furthermore, mere genetic relationship to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not be sufficient grounds for an easy entrance into the Kingdom. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and the requirements for entrance would be the same for Jew and Gentile.
The Kingdom Defined
Jesus began His public ministry after being baptized by John the Baptist. The King of the new Kingdom had finally arrived! What kind of a Kingdom was it? What would His message be? What did Jesus first preach?
“Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17b).
It puzzled me for years why Jesus did not give a long, detailed, exhaustive theological explanation of salvation by grace, the relationship of faith and works to salvation, the atonement…Jesus discusses none of that. He simply announces the Kingdom and commands repentance, just as John had!
What else did Jesus preach? Well, soon after His first recorded “sermon” in Matthew 4, He gave the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. If you read through the whole Sermon (which I would highly encourage all my readers to do), you will notice that the entire sermon is about the Kingdom of God! In fact, the first sentence of the sermon is “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Amazing!
At this point I want to point out that the different terms “kingdom of heaven,” “kingdom of God,” and “kingdom of Christ” used in the New Testament are interchangeable terms. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” whereas the other Gospel writers use “kingdom of God” – sometimes in parallel passages. For instance, in Matthew 13:31-32 (parable of the mustard seed), the “kingdom of heaven” is the phrase used, whereas in the parallel passages in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19, the “kingdom of God” is used. They are clearly interchangeable. The “kingdom of Christ,” used for example in Ephesians 5:5, is also the same because Christ is the ruler of the Kingdom as shown in Daniel 7.
To return to our examination of the Sermon on the Mount, we notice that Jesus defines the “class distinctions” (if we can use that phrase) in the Kingdom.
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
In this verse, Jesus tells His followers how Kingdom citizens evaluate the “greatness” or “least-ness” of other people. Whereas the world looks at wealth, authority, military prowess, beauty, strength, or some other criterion, Jesus gives the criterion whereby He wanted His followers to think of people: the great are those who obey Jesus’ commandments and teach others to obey them. The “least” are those who disobey and teach other men to disobey.
Most of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is composed of laws for Kingdom life. Near the conclusion, Jesus said,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Would anyone think of becoming an American citizen just by waving a flag and saying “God bless America”? Of course not. It takes a bigger commitment than that. The prospective citizen needs to promise to obey the laws of America and submit to the military draft. In the same way, Jesus does not accept as citizens anyone who says “I love Jesus” and goes on in his old ways of sin. That is not the way the Kingdom of God works! It takes a much bigger commitment than a simple “I love Jesus.” One must do the will of God the Father.
In Matthew 13 (and paralleled in Mark and Luke), we have the Kingdom Parables of Jesus. These parables reveal the nature of the Kingdom of God. Most of them have the same basic message: the Kingdom would start small, grow over all the earth, and some false disciples would be present in it until the Judgment Day where they would be cast into Hell.
Do you remember what Jesus said not long before His transfiguration?
“Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1).
Because most churches view the kingdom of God as a future reality only, they have traditionally explained these words of Jesus as referring to His transfiguration. Perhaps this has an element of truth to it because in Matthew 16, Mark 9, and Luke 9, these words are put immediately before the account of the transfiguration. However, what about the transfiguration could truthfully be called the “kingdom of God” coming “with power”? A kingdom is not the glorification of one man – it is an entire system, complete with rulers, citizens, laws, and structure. Perhaps this verse needs to be reconsidered.
In John 3:3, 5, Jesus gave the entrance requirements for the Kingdom of God:
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…Verily verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
The New Birth is a radical change of the heart, accomplished only by the Spirit of God, imparting to a person a new mind, new desires, and a new heart, and is marked by a passing away of the old ways and desires. The man now despises and hates sin and with the Holy Spirit’s help fights it until it is vanquished in him. It is accompanied by baptism and followed by a new life of victory over sin and following Christ in His Kingdom.
In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus points out another condition of entering the Kingdom of God:
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
This sounds quite different from Martin Luther’s “gospel” of faith alone…
Not only did Jesus Himself preach the Kingdom, He also instructed others to do so.
“Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Mark 9:60).
The Kingdom was what Jesus wanted to be preached!
Jesus also explicitly said that the Kingdom of God was a present reality in His day.
“But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
There is no hint here that the Kingdom was simply an offer to Israel for an earthly kingdom or something strictly in the future.
The Pharisees apparently did not miss Jesus’ emphasis on the Kingdom of God. On one occasion, they asked Him a question about the Kingdom which gave Jesus the opportunity to give us one of the clearest statements on the nature of the Kingdom in the New Testament.
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
These verses ought to forever lay to rest the idea that the Kingdom which Jesus preached was simply an offer to the Jews of a restored Jewish kingdom on Earth, which when they rejected, God ushered in a “Church Age” as a backup plan until such time as the Jews would be ready for Jesus to rule them as a nation. No – the Kingdom which Jesus preached was much different. It was a kingdom unlike any other kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not limited to any earthly territory, although it has citizens throughout the globe. It is a kingdom which is “within you,” within the hearts of its subjects.
Just a couple chapters after this had occurred, Jesus told another parable “because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11b). Jesus was not offering any immediate physical kingdom to the Jews. The kingdom of God was much different than what they had imagined, and the earthly ruling of Jesus was going to occur much later.
Jesus also told us what the nature of authority would be in His Kingdom.
“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24-30).
In Jesus’ Kingdom, all would be in direct submission to Jesus Christ. There would not be people exercising hierarchical, religious authority over others. This does not mean there would be no human authority in the church, but rather that those who have authority would use it as servants.
In John 18:36-37, we learn more about the Kingdom:
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
Jesus reveals that His Kingdom is not an earthly one. It was not His intent to set up an earthly Jewish Kingdom, but an other-worldly kingdom come down from Heaven. This Kingdom does not operate the way the world’s kingdoms operate – for instance, regarding the sword. Jesus points out that if His Kingdom were like the kingdoms of the world, His servants would have fought for Him, just the same way any earthly kingdom works. Caesar’s servants fought for Caesar; Alexander the Great’s servants fought for him; Nebuchadnezzar’s servants fought for him, etc. But Jesus’ servants do not take up the earthly sword to fight for Him. This is a kingdom different from any other kingdom which has ever existed. Jesus’ servants do fight, but not with a physical sword. They fight spiritual wickedness with a spiritual sword.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:3-5).
The Kingdom Preached
Did Jesus’ Apostles continue to preach the Kingdom of God after His ascension to Heaven? The answer is yes.
Philip preached the Kingdom of God.
“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
Paul also preached the Kingdom of God. This should end the myth that Jesus and Peter preached the Gospel of the Kingdom while Paul preached a different Gospel, the Gospel of Grace.
“And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).
“And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more” (Acts 20:25).
“And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening…Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:23, 31).
Paul clearly preached the Kingdom of God in the places he went. The Gospel did not change between Peter and Paul.
But is the Kingdom of God found in Paul’s epistles? Yes it is!
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17).
“For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (I Corinthians 4:20).
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).
Notice how Paul continues to teach the Kingdom of God as a present reality. The Kingdom is
1. Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost
2. In power
3. We have already been translated into it.
If you have any lingering doubts that the Kingdom of God is a present reality, read Revelation 1:9:
“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).
Notice that John says he and the other believers were “in the kingdom” just as much as they were “in tribulation” and in “patience of Jesus Christ”.
The Kingdom Laws
There is no such thing as a kingdom without laws, and the Kingdom of God is no exception. Jesus and His Apostles gave the laws for the Kingdom of God, which are contained in the New Testament. Kingdom Christians take seriously these laws which Jesus and the Apostles gave. Search the New Testament and find the laws of the Kingdom, such as:
• “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32).
• “Swear not at all” (Matthew 5:34)
• “Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39)
• “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44)
• “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19)
• “ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14)
• “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (Romans 13:1)
• “Salute one another with an holy kiss” (Romans 16:16)
• “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (I Corinthians 14:34)
The Kingdom in Practice
The Kingdom of God is perhaps a radical new way for you to look at the Scriptures. I know that until it was pointed out to me, I had hardly noticed the many passages in the New Testament which speak of the Kingdom of God as a present reality. This reality does have an enormous impact on how we live. In this section, I want to outline only one such area – that of politics.
I am an intensely political person. I am heavily involved in politics. I have and continue to campaign heavily and actually hold a political office.
I do not have a party or a candidate; I have a Kingdom and a King: the Kingdom of God, ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ. My office in this Kingdom is that of ambassador to this present world. As such, I am not a citizen of this present world system (even though by my first birth I inherited a citizen status in the United States) but am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I am only a tolerated stranger and alien here. This is not my home – I will leave someday and go to my real home. As such, I have no business meddling in the politics of this world: not of the United States nor of any other country.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners [from God’s people], but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (II Timothy 2:3-4).
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (I Peter 2:11).
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Imagine for a moment an American citizen working temporarily in Germany. As an American citizen, he would have to pay American taxes and obey American laws regarding coming and going from the country, etc. As a guest in Germany, he would have to obey the German rules and pay the German taxes, drive the speed limits, do what they said in regard to working in their country, etc. But because he is not a German citizen, he would have no right nor reason to vote or get involved in any German politics whatsoever. He is only a guest, an alien, a “stranger and pilgrim” in Germany. However, he would have the right, as an American citizen, to vote in American elections even though he is not present in that country.
The Kingdom of God works the same way as our parable. Because the citizens of God’s Kingdom are not citizens of this present world system, they have no right or reason to vote, get involved in politics, or to run for political office. As guests in this world, we hope to be treated respectfully as human beings and be allowed to carry out our work for the Kingdom in peace. We have the responsibility to obey the secular state, including paying taxes and acknowledging their power to wield the sword (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-17). We also have the responsibility of praying for them and petitioning God that we may have peaceable conditions to be able to carry out His work.
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4).
Notice the bolded portion: can you honestly thank God for the President? If you are in God’s Kingdom and detached from the kingdoms of this world, it should not be too hard to do so.
Although the citizens of God’s Kingdom keep from getting involved in the politics of this world, just as in our parable of the American in Germany, we have the right and duty to be as involved as possible in God’s Kingdom. Every Kingdom citizen alive is an ambassador for God’s Kingdom and should be recruiting new citizens. This is our duty – not fixing up the political entities of this world. As John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” once said, getting involved in this world’s politics is like painting the captain’s cabin while the ship is sinking.
The Kingdom in Peace
Throughout this article, the present aspect of the Kingdom of God has been emphasized. This is not meant to detract from the fact that there are some aspects of the Kingdom which will only be realized in the future world. In the next life, the Kingdom of God will be completely realized, the battle will be won – all other kingdoms will be utterly vanquished. The Kingdom of God will be triumphant and the saints will reign with Christ. The Kingdom will be in peace.
I would encourage each and every reader of this article not to accept anything here just because I said it, but to search the Scriptures for yourself. Find out if what I have said is true. Study the Kingdom of God, especially in the New Testament, and see how many references to it show it as a present reality. Study, consider, and pray about the relationship of the Kingdom of God to the present kingdoms of this world, and how you should relate to the kingdoms of this world.
If you are not a citizen of the Kingdom of God but would like to be, I would encourage you to join. Jesus clearly gave the entrance requirements for the Kingdom in John 3:5: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Experience the New Birth, allow the Spirit of God to recreate you into a completely new man “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Begin living in God’s Kingdom in fellowship with your fellow citizens, and be sure to write to me and let me know of your decision!
The LORD sitteth upon the flood;
the LORD sitteth
King for ever.