The Good News for a Modern World | Part 7
What is God's Kingdom?
From the beginning, understanding the Kingdom of God has been a challenge. Even though the Kingdom was introduced by the Christ himself, his disciples and even his apostles had trouble understanding it. Initially, being all Jews, they believed the Messiah would be a savior and deliverer for Israel alone who would end the gentile rule, regenerate the Jewish nation as God’s chosen people and rule as the Kingdom of God over the earth from the throne of David. Jesus spent over three years teaching and instructing them, but their expectations did not change. (Luke 19:11; 24:21). Even after his death, their national hopes were still alive:
“When, now, they had assembled, they went asking him: ‘Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time.’”
– Acts 1:6
These faithful men did not understand that the Kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom and does not favor a particular race or people. That simply was not in their world view. But as time passed, they began to more clearly understand it.
Christians today who want to understand the Kingdom of God must focus on how Jesus explained the Kingdom, not on how the ancient Jews explained it. When we reach back to the ‘old wine,’ our understanding will be veiled. (2 Corinthians 3:15) If, instead, we look to the ‘new wine’ as contained in the Christian scriptures, we will come to a more clear understanding of the Kingdom and be better equipped ambassadors of it.
What is God’s Kingdom?
Because of the use of the word “kingdom,” many view God’s Kingdom as a government similar to the types of governments we are familiar with on earth. But Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is unlike any kingdom we have ever known:
“My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were a part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.”
– John 18:36
If the Kingdom Jesus taught about was like earthly kingdoms, his heavenly attendants would have fought to the death to prevent the capture and death of their king. That did not occur. Jesus was quite willing to subject himself to the hands of his enemies and would not allow even his earthly followers to interfere with that.
“But, look! one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest and took off his ear. Then Jesus said to him: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels?”
– Matthew 26:51-53
This tells us that the Kingdom of God does not subdue its enemies by carnal warfare, nor can it be defeated by carnal warfare. It is “not from this source,” meaning it does not originate or operate like earthly kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is a new idea, an ennobling concept, an elevated view of dominion that affects the heart of man, the mind of man, the spirit of man, not just his body. The Kingdom of God revealed by Jesus is the realization and acknowledgment of God's rule within the hearts of men. It is a spiritual brotherhood whose power exists not in the strength of armies or the might of riches, but in the glory of the divine spirit that rules in the hearts of its reborn citizens.
“But on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them and said: “The kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness, neither will people be saying, ‘See here!’ or, ‘There!’ For, look! the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
– Luke 17:20
Other translations express it this way:
“the kingdom of God is within you."
– The New International Version
“the kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
– Revised Standard Version
“God's kingdom is already among you."
– Common English Bible
But if Jesus was saying that the Kingdom is within us, why would he say that to the Pharisees? Hadn’t he denounced them as hypocrites? There are a few things we must remember about Jesus’ ministry.
First, not all the Pharisees were against Jesus; many became believers and later were members of the Jerusalem congregation. (Acts 15:5) In fact, many were secret believers in him as was Nicodemus.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus was his name, a ruler of the Jews. This one came to him in the night and said to him: “Rabbi, we know that you as a teacher have come from God; for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.”
– John 3:1-2
So we cannot say that Jesus could not have been telling certain Pharisees that the Kingdom was within them.
And we know that at least one of the scribes believed:
“Now one of the scribes that had come up and heard them disputing, knowing that he had answered them in a fine way, asked him: “Which commandment is first of all?” Jesus answered: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him: “Teacher, you well said in line with truth, ‘He is One, and there is no other than He’; and this loving him with one’s whole heart and with one’s whole understanding and with one’s whole strength and this loving one’s neighbor as oneself is worth far more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” At this Jesus, discerning he had answered intelligently, said to him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But nobody had the courage anymore to question him.”
– Mark 12:28-34
Further, the idea that the Kingdom would exercise its authority in the hearts of men is indicated in one of Jeremiah’s prophesies:
“For this is the covenant that I shall conclude with the house of Israel after those days,” is the utterance of Jehovah. “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.”
– Jeremiah 31:33
While it seems appropriate to call it a Kingdom or a divine government, it is truly more of a brotherhood – a family or a fraternity – where God is our Father, and we are all brothers. It is the experience of the spiritual relationship between God and man, and man with each other. We might liken entrance into the Kingdom of the Heavens to acceptance into a professional association, like an attorney who passes the State Bar or a doctor who acquires his medical license. From that point on, they are a part of their unique communities and are subject to higher standards of behavior, though they live and interact in the same world as everyone else.
Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom has a double nature. He taught that the Kingdom of God on earth would be accomplished by the doing of the will of God on earth; whereas the Kingdom of God in heaven is the ever-present reality that believers can share in the future where the will of God is done more divinely
“You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.”
– Matthew 6:9
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Exercise faith in God, exercise faith also in me. In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be. And where I am going you know the way.”
– John 14:1-3
Unfortunately, by describing the Kingdom of God as a government, the early Christians found themselves in direct conflict with the Roman government. Much of the persecution of early Christians originated from this misconception more than from their faith in Christ Jesus. And this misnomer continues to cause problems for Christians today.
By referring to the Kingdom of God as a coming government that will engage in carnal warfare with worldly governments, the Christian message appears to be a threat to national sovereignty. We create our own persecution when we advance theories such as that.
The truth is that the Kingdom of God will enhance the citizenry of any and every nation and government which will naturally create better living conditions for all who hear and exercise faith in the message, and enter into the spiritual brotherhood. In this way, the enemies of Christ are subdued, ‘not by a military force, nor by power, but by my spirit.’ (Zechariah 4:6)
Why is Jesus the ideal King?
Yes, we could say that Jesus is the king of the Kingdom of God. But it would be more accurate to say that he is the elder brother in the family of God. He is our exemplar:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.”
– Matthew 16:24
“Jesus said to him: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
– John 14:6
He is commissioned by our Father to bring us to perfection:
“So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
– Hebrews 12:2
And he is generous and shares his inheritance with us:
“The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.”
– Romans 8:16-17
Jesus is a qualified and well-equipped elder brother who deals with us as would our heavenly Father:
“He is the reflection of [his] glory and the exact representation of his very being, and he sustains all things by the word of his power; and after he had made a purification for our sins he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in lofty places.”
– Hebrews 1:3
By means of his earthly sojourn, he knows and understands his earthly brothers and can act in a priestly capacity (Malachi 2:7) as a sympathetic teacher:
“Seeing, therefore, that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold onto [our] confessing of [him]. For we have as high priest, not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin. Let us, therefore, approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”
– Hebrews 4:14-16
But Jesus is more than a mere king, and more than our elder brother. He is, in fact, our Creator by the Father’s will:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him.”
– Colossians 1:15-16
Who will rule with Jesus?
After Jesus was resurrected, and just prior to him being taken up into heaven, he told his disciples:
“All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”
– Matthew 28-18:20
So at that time, in 33 C.E., Jesus was given sovereignty over the Kingdom of God in heaven and as it develops on earth. Are we then to assume that he was ruling his entire universe alone? Of course not! He has myriads of attendants who were working with him prior to his bestowal on earth (John 18:36) and ‘legions of angels.’ (Matthew 26:53) Every living things in our universe was created by the Christ long, long ago. He surely created beings that are part of his administrative and executive staff, beings far superior in knowledge, wisdom and understanding than man.
Also, while on earth, Jesus said that he was going away to prepare places for us in heaven. (John 14:2-4) Is he doing this work all alone? Hardly! Knowing that Christ Jesus is perfect and complete, we have no doubt that his administration is now, always has been, and always will be fully staffed, lacking nothing or no one.
However, we know that the book of Revelation refers to a special administration of certain ones who will rule with Christ during a 1,000 year period.
“And they sing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought persons for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9-10
“And I saw thrones, and there were those who sat down on them, and power of judging was given them. Yes, I saw the souls of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand. And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”
– Revelation 20:4-6
Since this is prophecy, we are not certain who these individual will be. There are differing interpretations of these verses and who are represented. Some of us may be among that number, but it appears that most of us will not. We recall an account where certain apostles of Jesus asked him to appoint them to certain positions in the Kingdom of God:
“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons, doing obeisance and asking for something from him. He said to her: “What do you want?” She said to him: “Give the word that these my two sons may sit down, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus said in answer: “You men do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him: “We can.” He said to them: “You will indeed drink my cup, but this sitting down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
– Matthew 20:20-23
Since Jesus did not know, we do not suspect we will have prior knowledge of it either, at least not until the Father elects to specifically reveal it. But this is not at all bad news for us faith-sons of God. We suspect that when we begin the heavenly assent to the Father, our hearts will be focused on going forward. While some may have assignments that deal with the earth, but we suspect that the vast majority of us will be going on to bigger and better things:
“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:9
For ideas about what we might be doing in heaven, please see the series of articles under The Glorious Heavenly Hope.
What happened with Jesus began ruling?
As Jesus said at Matthew 28:18, ‘all authority had been given him in heaven and on earth’ upon his resurrection in 33 C.E. As such, we suspect that the heavens were cleaned out at that time. There would be no adversary of the Christ in heaven after he gained full sovereignty over the universe.
However, some point to a prophecy in Revelation that states that ‘the great dragon, the original serpent, the one called Devil, and Satan, and all his angels’ will be ousted from heaven:
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled but it did not prevail, neither was a place found for them any longer in heaven. So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser of our brothers has been hurled down, who accuses them day and night before our God!. . . On this account be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them! Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”
– Revelation 12:7-10, 12
Most look at that prophesy as an event that would occur at least some time after John’s (who penned the prophecy) death. But John was also told that the things he was to record included things that had already happened, things that were then happening then, as well as things that would happen in the future:
“Therefore write down the things you saw, and the things that are and the things that will take place after these.”
– Revelation 1:19
This is one reason why it is unwise to place our eternal hopes on the book of Revelation. We cannot be sure which things are truly in our future! But our point is that the great dragon may have been ousted from heaven in 33 C.E., which could explain the intense persecution of the first century Christians, “the remaining ones of her seed, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17) But, again, this is prophecy and just one way to look at an interpretation.
What does God’s Kingdom accomplish?
Jesus put it simply:
“You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.”
– Matthew 6:9
The Kingdom would accomplish the Father’s will on earth in the same way as it is being done in heaven. What is God’s will?
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone that beholds the Son and exercises faith in him should have everlasting life, and I will resurrect him at the last day.”
– John 6:40
“For he foreordained us to the adoption through Jesus Christ as sons to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
– Ephesians 1:5
“This is fine and acceptable in the sight of our Savior, God, whose will is that all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”
– 1 Timothy 2:3-4
The will of the Father is that all men come to know that they are His children – the sacred secret of our adoption! The Kingdom of God on earth develops men and women into spiritual faith-sons of the Father and fosters their desire to serve their fellow man as brothers and sisters. It creates a united family of mankind from the small beginnings of Jesus and his apostles:
“Another illustration he set before them, saying: “The kingdom of the heavens is like a mustard grain, which a man took and planted in his field; which is, in fact, the tiniest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the largest of the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and find lodging among its branches.” Another illustration he spoke to them: “The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three large measures of flour, until the whole mass was fermented.”
– Matthew 13:31-33
We are a confused planet of diverse opinions, adverse interests, false hopes, ignorant plans, and misplaced loyalties. The Kingdom of God can and will unite all mankind in a loving brotherhood that honors the Father, yet encourages the manifestation of our uniqueness and the expression of our free will.
It is by means of the Kingdom of God that mankind finds its true identity and destiny. And when that occurs, so many of our manifold problems dissipate as we focus on getting a hold of the real life – life in the heavens.
“Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.”
– 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Finally, the Kingdom of God is the means by which God reconciles all things to Himself, until even the sleep of death is nor more.
“Next, the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power. For he must rule as king until [God] has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing. For [God] “subjected all things under his feet.” But when he says that ‘all things have been subjected,’ it is evident that it is with the exception of the one who subjected all things to him. But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:24-28
After all is said and done, we must remember that the Kingdom of God is not ours. It is not given to man to change it to our own liking or conform it to our limited finite understanding. We are just its ambassadors. We are to preach it exactly as Jesus taught it, to the best of our ability.
We welcome your comments.