What Is the Kingdom of God?

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Image by Brady Bellini. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

Last edited on 21/Apr/2021

The Bible’s Answer

The phrase “the kingdom of God” (also known as “the kingdom of Heaven“) is mostly spoken of by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. It appears significantly less in the New Testament epistles, and doesn’t appear once in the Old Testament, although the Old Testament still refers to God’s kingship and dominion in various instances (Psalm 22:27–28Daniel 4:3). The kingdom of God refers to one of three things depending on the context. 1. Heaven, the eternal abode of all who have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation (2 Timothy 4:18). 2. God’s earthly reign in Christ (Luke 11:20). 3. God’s reign in the hearts of Christians (Revelation 1:5–6). Let’s discuss the first meaning.

Heaven

Paul refers to the kingdom of God as Heaven in his second letter to Timothy, as follows:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18, ESVUK)

In the first sense, the kingdom of God is something that we are still waiting for. As Christians, we believe that when we die, or when Jesus Christ returns to the Earth before we die, that God will deliver us safely into his heavenly, eternal kingdom, where we will live with him forever. Jesus also refers to the kingdom of God as Heaven when he said:

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:28–29; see also Matthew 8:11)

Here, Jesus describes one aspect of the kingdom of God as a royal banquet, where we will recline at table with our brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the world and recognise one another. It will be a place of joy and celebration. Furthermore, Jesus said that on the day of judgement he will declare to all Christians:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)

God’s kingdom is something that he has prepared for us even before we were born. Therefore, there is nothing that we can say or do to deserve or merit it, since God freely gives it to us because of his infinite graciousness alone. But, the journey towards entering God’s kingdom will not be easy. Luke recorded in Acts that Paul was:

… strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)

Since Jesus’ kingdom, which is the same as God’s kingdom (Ephesians 5:5), is not of this world (John 18:36), and those whom he has chosen are not of this world (John 15:18–19), we will face persecution in this life for believing in the Lord. But Jesus’ assuring words to us are that: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13), and “I give them [Christians] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). In fact, the Bible so strongly emphasises the assurance of salvation, that it can even say that all Christians have already received the kingdom:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, … (Hebrews 12:28)

God’s kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms that have the potential of falling to enemies, or becoming corrupt, but rather his kingdom is an unshakable sanctuary of peace, justice, and love. Furthermore, it is an eternal kingdom (2 Peter 1:11) that is perfect and free from all evil (Revelation 21:4, 27). Christians have the blessed, certain hope of entering God’s kingdom, because of the works of Jesus alone. On the other hand, those who are of this world, that is, those who do not believe in the Biblical Jesus and are not led by the Holy Spirit, the unrighteous, will not inherit the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 51 Corinthians 6:9–11Galatians 5:18–21).

God’s Earthly Reign in Christ

Let’s now examine the second meaning. Although when we think of the word “kingdom” we would usually picture things like castles, towers, governments, lands, and boundaries, there are many passages in the Bible which refer to God’s kingdom in a very different sense. In fact, when the Bible refers to the “kingdom of God” in such instances, the word for “kingdom” can be more correctly translated as the “reign”, “rule”, or “kingly authority” of God according to the Greek.¹⁻⁴ Let’s examine such passages. We see this when the Pharisees asked when the kingdom of God would come, and Jesus answered them by saying:

The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you. (Luke 17:20–21)

The Pharisees thought that God’s kingdom would be an external place, one that would take up land which the Messiah would establish and rule over, like the kingdoms they were used to, but Jesus gainsaid their thoughts by saying that this kingdom is one that can’t be “observed” with “signs”. In other words, he wasn’t talking about an external, physical kingdom here that they would have to wait for and receive in the future. Instead, the “kingdom”, or rather the “reign of God” was already there in the present, and it was manifested in Jesus himself and his kingly deeds.⁵ After the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of demons, Jesus answered them by saying:

Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? … 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:17–20)

Like in the last passage, here the kingdom of God isn’t described as a place. It isn’t the perfect, eternal abode of Christians, God, and his angels in Heaven. When Jesus said that “the kingdom of God has come upon” them, because he casts out demons “by the finger of God”, it’s clear that he wasn’t saying that “Heaven” or some “government” had come closer to them. Instead, here the kingdom, or rather the rule of God, is manifested in the divine actions of Jesus. By exercising authority over the forces of darkness, God’s rule on the Earth had just come near or upon them. Let’s also consider what Jesus said in Luke 9:27:

But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:27)

In what sense did Jesus’ disciples see the kingdom of God? It wasn’t in the sense that they went to Heaven, or that Jesus founded some kind of earthly government, but rather it was in the sense that they saw that Jesus was raised from the dead, and ascended into Heaven at the right hand of God, where he was returned to his rightful position of power, rule, and authority over creation. In the resurrection, they saw the true kingship (Matthew 28:18) and glory (Luke 24:26) of Jesus, and thus, in this sense they saw the kingdom (rule) of God. Jesus made clear that God’s reign in creation began when he came to the Earth:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)

When he said “The time is fulfilled”, he was referring to his incarnation. This is evident since Paul seems to refer it when he wrote “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman …” (Galatians 4:4).¹ By then saying that God’s kingdom was at hand, he was saying that God’s reign, governance, or rule is exercised on the Earth through him now that he has arrived. So, it is clear that God’s kingdom in these contexts of Jesus’ earthly ministry can be properly defined as the reign, rule, and lordship of God through Christ in creation.

God’s Reign in Christians’ Hearts

Finally, let’s examine the third meaning. Even after Jesus died, was resurrected, and ascended into Heaven, he still currently reigns over the Earth, and will continue reigning until he conquers all worldly powers and dominions, and crushes Satan under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:24–25). But how does God’s kingdom, or his rule, continue today? Jesus continues God’s reign in the hearts and minds of Christians through the Holy Spirit. When we are converted, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwells within us (John 14:23; Romans 5:5) and becomes the Master of our lives (Ephesians 6:9Jude 4). In Christ we become a new creation, and we no longer live for ourselves, but for Jesus our King, who died for our sake:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. … 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:14–15, 17)

This is why the Bible says that Jesus has caused those whom he redeemed to become a “kingdom” to God (Revelation 1:5–6). Whenever we bring Jesus to others through evangelism, we are actually bringing the kingdom of God to them,⁶ which Paul taught when he referred to his partners in the gospel as “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Colossians 4:11). By making disciples, they were building God’s kingdom—his sovereign rule in believers’ hearts.

During his ministry, Jesus invited everyone to enjoy God’s kind rule by living under his grace and righteousness.⁷ Notice how in Mark 1:15, straight after proclaiming “the kingdom of God is at hand”, Jesus told his listeners to “repent (to be converted from unbelief to faith) and believe in the gospel”, which means “good news”. It truly is good news that we may live under the Lord’s gracious rule, and let his purpose for our lives stand: the salvation of our souls (John 6:39–40). Paul touches on the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God in his letter to the Romans when he said:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

Here Paul distinguished the natural and external, eating and drinking, with the spiritual and internal, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and stated that the kingdom of God belonged to the latter. So, God’s kingdom is invisible and spiritual in the sense that it isn’t defined by geographical boundaries, but also visible in the sense that God continues his reign within Christians, wherever they are present. Therefore, in these contexts, the kingdom of God is properly defined as God’s spiritual rule in the hearts of Christians.

Conclusion

God’s reign isn’t yet complete on the Earth, which is why Jesus taught Christians to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). When we pray this prayer, we are asking for God’s rule to continue on the Earth so that his good purposes are accomplished here, just as they are in Heaven. Our desire is that God completes his reign on Earth by destroying all evil dominions and darkness, gathering all his elect under his authority, granting them forgiveness of their sins, and creating all things anew when Jesus comes back to the Earth, where he will graciously rule us in a perfect new Heaven and Earth (2 Peter 3:13).

Reference List

1. 2008, The New Testament and the Kingdom of God, A Lutheran Beggar, accessed on 17 April 2018, <http://alutheranbeggar.blogspot.com.au/2008/11/new-testament-and-kingdom-of-god.html>

2. Blue Letter Bible, accessed on 17 April 2018, <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G932&t=KJV>

3. Christian Cyclopedia, accessed on 17 April 2018, <http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.asp?t1=K&word=KINGDOMOFGOD#top>

4. Piper, J 2017, What Is the Kingdom of God?, Desiring God, accessed on 17 April 2018, <https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-the-kingdom-of-god>

5. 2009, Longing for a Kingdom, Lutheran Study Bible, Concordia Publishing House, pp. 1565-66

6. 2014, What is the Kingdom of God? Why did Jesus talk about it so much? (1080p HD available), 3-ology, YouTube, viewed on 18 April 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIcptDF-fc4>

7. 2009, Study Note: Mark 1:15, Lutheran Study Bible, Concordia Publishing House, p. 1656

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