The Kingdom Of God
By Elder Tim Binion
The phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are troublesome and controversial subjects in the twentieth century. Controversy and confusion stems from a wrong kingdom theology that has produced a perverted concept of the second coming of Christ and has undermined Church authority. Views range from a first century commencement of God’s kingdom to a future commencement at the Lord’s second advent. Some teach that it refers to a personal reign of Christ on earth, while others teach that the kingdom is the Church with Christ reigning in the hearts of His people. When did Christ establish his kingdom, or is it yet to be established? What are the characteristics of the Kingdom? Is it visible or spiritual? What role does the Church play in the kingdom or is the Church the kingdom of God? Will there be a millennial reign between the commencement and the consummation of the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom of God progressive or future indicative? Erring on the time of the commencement of God’s kingdom will automatically produce multiple contradicting views of theology. Resolving the issue of when the Kingdom of God commenced will reduce controversy and confusion. If the Kingdom of God is not here, one must be looked for.
There is no difference in the meaning between “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven”. They both represent an idea deeply rooted in the Old Testament and constitute the central theme of Christ’s teaching (The Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bible 1962). When John the Baptist and Jesus Christ spoke of the Kingdom being “near” or “at hand” all understood that the Messiah was about to set up the long predicted kingdom. The prophets, especially Daniel, had foretold of the setting up of the Kingdom of God. The Jews were looking for and expecting this to happen when the Messiah arrived. The message preached by John and Jesus declared that the organization which Christ was about to establish, and did establish was this Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God Present
After John’s ministry had ceased Jesus proclaimed the fulfillment of the time designated by the prophets in Mark 1:15. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” The Greek New Testament reads: “hggiken h basileia tou qeou.” The Greek verb “Engiken” is in the perfect and not the present tense leaving no room for error in this matter (Thayer 1988, 716). Jesus said the Kingdom of God has arrived. (Robertson 1930, 257). The arrival of the kingdom of God superseded the old dispensation. Dayton best summed up these points and wrote:
The law and the prophets were until John, said the Savior, but since that time the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and every man presseth into it. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. And to the proud, self-righteous Pharisees and skeptical Sadducees, He said; The publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of God before you. This could not be if the kingdom had not already come (Dayton 1856, 35).
Jesus set up His Kingdom, Calvary and the Church being part of His divine sovereign plan. The first thing Jesus set out to correct in the sermon on the Mount was the misconception of a physical kingdom of God. This sermon answered the question in the mind of every Jew regarding the coming Messiah’s kingdom. Jesus defined the kingdom of God by outlining it spiritual nature and visible in purpose.
The Church is a visible manifestation of the kingdom of God. All the laws of the Kingdom of God apply to the Church and all the promise to the kingdom are promises to the Church. People get into the kingdom through the efforts of a militant Church fighting a spiritual warfare. The Gospel of Jesus is to be preached throughout all the world and those that are born into a spiritual kingdom are called out to unite with a visible church. Through visible ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s supper, there is a visible commitment to all the sayings, teachings and laws of the king, Jesus Christ. The Church is completely founded upon spiritual principles. However, practical application of these principles are visible.
The kingdom of God continues to be an organized institution made up of people who have separated themselves to Him by an open profession to their allegiance and have been initiated by the rite of baptism, as the King ordained (Dayton 1856, 46).
The church is also the executive body with authority from the King entrusted with a visible administration of His government. Jesus organized His Church in the Kingdom of God in His first advent and if the church is in the Kingdom of God it is safe to say that it is the Kingdom of God. The requirements are spiritual and life changing but not without commitment publicly and visibly. The Church in Christ Jesus occupies a heavenly place while in a rebellious world. Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32, KJV). Paul wrote that the Churches of Christ have been recipients of Christ’s offer. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrew 12:28, KJV). It is clear that the Lord did establish the Church and idealistically this is the kingdom that all believers were to enter into. The actions or reactions of men have complicated this idea and confused the issue. The truth is that there are people that are saved that are not in the Church. Some are in the wrong Church, but they have been saved. This is the reality that confuses the Kingdom question from the ideal or factual sense. Perhaps the present Church Kingdom era is less than a perfect accomplishment for now. The fact still remains that Jesus set up the Church while he was here and that this Church can and does fit the definition of a Kingdom.
Every passage that characterized the kingdom characterizes the church because the church is made up of citizens of the kingdom. The Scriptures characterize one kingdom present and future. Christ said, when Pilate was questioning him concerning the accusation which the Jews had made against him, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). It was in the world, but not of the world. The subjects of his kingdom are those that believe and obey the truth. The Pharisees demanded to know when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus said; “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation”. He goes on to say the that kingdom is within you. It is an internal or a soul kingdom. The kingdom of God that Christ set up is deeply rooted and intertwined with the souls of men. Jesus connected the Kingdom of heaven with the inner man. Jesus came to reign within the soul and not in Israel. The kingdom of God remains distant and unknown until one experiences spiritual life.
The kingdom of God becomes a living and an experienced reality to the converted soul. The question in the mind of Nicodemus when he came to Jesus was: If you’re the Messiah, where is the kingdom? Jesus answered the question before it was asked and said; “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, KJV). The presence of the king of God’s kingdom on earth brought vivid experimental victory and spiritual life to the sick and demon possessed. The dead were raised, the lame walked, and the blind could see. Sinners were transformed into saints. Jesus said: “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20, KJV). The verb here ejqasen is in the aorist tense and normally means “to arrive”. Jesus taught the kingdom of God as a progressive experience in the life of the believer. When one repents and believes, the carnal mind is turned upside down. “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). The search has ended. The pearl of great price is found. However, the object of our experience becomes the object of expectation. Our hope is securely grounded in our experience. Jesus taught the kingdom of God is like a seed that is planted and then grows to a point of climax and then harvest comes (Mark 4:26-29). He taught it growing among tares, starting out like a mustard seed and works like leaven (Matthew 13:24 – 33). These passages further teach a future consummation of the kingdom and a present progressive kingdom. Growing pains in the heart of a believer long for the complete victory and the destruction of the last enemy, death. God will reclaim Eden but not until a complete purging of the wicked and glorification of the saints. Then the kingdom in complete universal righteousness will be offered up to the heavenly Father at which time a united and universal reign of God will occur. “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). Glory be to God this writer is in the kingdom of God.