No matter our political perspective here in the United States, we should be grateful that we still have the freedom to vote and voice an opinion about our government, unlike other places. Try asserting your voting rights in Cuba, for example, or go to China and see how far you'll get in casting a fair vote there. As Christians, however, we need to remember not only our blessings of freedom here and the opportunity to participate in the government of this nation, we must also remember that we belong to the government of another world as well. This government is referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God.
Jesus explained the duality of our situation when He answered Pilate concerning His true identity as the King of this other nation, or of this other government. Let us read Jesus' words to familiarize ourselves with this idea since it is the theme of our brief study.
33Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" 34Jesus answered, "Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?" 35Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?" 36Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."
- John 18:33-36
I want to describe the Kingdom of God, the government that we actually belong to that is present in this world and will exist in the world to come, when this world will no longer be. The first thing the Bible teaches concerning the Kingdom that is not of this world is the following:
1. This Kingdom was the subject of prophecy – Daniel 2:31-44
The government of the United States has existed for over two hundred years and rules over a vast nation with millions of citizens, however, no one in the distant past predicted when it would come into existence or when it would cease to be. The Kingdom of God, on the other hand, was the subject of prophecy centuries before it was realized here on earth. And, as previously mentioned, was spoken of in the book of Daniel some six hundred years before its arrival which makes it a truly amazing thing! In addition to this it was also prophesied that it would continue to exist without end.
We're familiar with the book of Daniel so let me just summarize what it said about the Kingdom. Daniel and other young Jewish men of noble blood were carried off into Babylonian captivity where they were, by the grace of God and their faithfulness to Him, raised to high levels in the court of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Soon after, Daniel was called upon to interpret a strange and disturbing dream that the king experienced. In this dream, God revealed the sweep of history that was to come, as well as historical markers for the arrival and the development of God's own Kingdom here on earth. Daniel's inspired interpretation of this dream was recorded in Daniel chapter two, and its accuracy concerning future earthly kingdoms was firmly established as history unfolded.
31"You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. 32The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, 33its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
- Daniel 2:31-35
We haven't read the entire passage in Daniel dealing with this topic, but I want to mention what a miracle this prophecy was. First of all, Daniel described the dream that the king had without any help from the king, who kept the nature of his dream secret as a way of testing the legitimacy of his interpreters. He said in testing his magicians and soothsayers, "I want you to interpret my dream." And they answered him, " Give us the dream and we will give you the interpretation." He said, "No, you tell me what I dreamt and you will interpret its meaning." Of course, none of them could do that until Daniel was summoned by the king. At this point Daniel not only described the King's dream but he also detailed the meaning of the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had. In his explanation Daniel accurately described the rise and fall of four world empires in correct succession over a period of six centuries into the future. Actually, twenty-six centuries, if you count the Kingdom of God and its continuation to this day.
If we examine his interpretation we note that the statue is made of many parts: a head of gold, a breast and arms of silver, a belly and thighs of bronze, and legs and feet of a mixture of iron and clay.
In the dream, a stone cut without human hands appears and strikes the statue not on the head, but on its feet of iron and clay, reducing the entire statute to dust, which is blown away. Daniel then describes that in the place of the statue the stone used to destroy it becomes a mountain that eventually fills the entire earth.
36"This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king. 37You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; 38and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.
39After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.
40Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. 41In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. 42As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. 43And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.
44In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy."
- Daniel 2:36-45
And so, in his interpretation, Daniel names five separate kingdoms.
1. Babylonian Empire – Head of Gold
This was a fitting symbol because Babylon was the finest of the ancient kingdoms, lasting over a hundred years, 625 to 539 BC.
2. Medo-Persian Empire – Breast of Silver
Daniel mentions two arms, which describes the dual nature of this empire ruled by a combination of the Medes and the Persians. They were noted for their great wealth often seen in the abundance of silver coinage during their period 539 to 331 BC.
3. Greek Empire – Belly and the Hips of Brass
Alexander the Great defeated the last of the Medo-Persian kings, Darius the third, in 330 BC. The Greeks innovated the arms of war by using brass armor as protection. Greece was then defeated and absorbed by Rome in 146 BC, their kingdom lasting from 330 to 146 BC.
4. Roman Empire – Legs of iron with the Feet of clay and iron
Iron, because the Romans innovated the use of this metal in warfare. As it grew, Rome would make alliances with foreign kings, which ultimately weakened its empire and was a factor in its demise in 476 AD, when Romulus, the last of the Roman emperors, was overthrown by the German leader Odoacer, who became the first barbarian to rule in Rome. The idea of the mixture of iron and clay suggested the following: normally Rome would simply conquer a people and take over, but with time as their empire expanded, did not conquer other peoples, they simply made alliances with them. This explains the clay/iron mixture imagery. These nominal alliances proved to be the weakness that led to the Empire's downfall.
Note carefully that all these kingdoms succeeded each other in history, and Daniel correctly described their appearance and their demise in proper order, doing so in the power and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Nowadays, no offense intended to meteorologists, but they try to figure out the weather and often make mistakes for predictions that are just a few days away, could you imagine correctly predicting four different kingdoms over a period of 600 years? Nothing short of Divine power could achieve this. Daniel not only mentions the four kingdoms, he also describes the arrival and ascent of the fifth and final Kingdom which we now know as the Kingdom of God. This was the stone that grew into a mountain which covered the earth just as God's Kingdom has done.
5. The Kingdom of God – Stone/Mountain
Note carefully what Daniel says about the fifth kingdom appearing as a stone that grows into a mountain:
- It's time of appearance – It appeared during the fourth kingdom, which was the time when Rome dominated the world scene.
- The place of its appearance – It says that the stone struck the feet of the statue, not the head. Now in the context of the Roman Empire the head would have been the capital city of Rome itself, which in reality was the continual target of all of its enemies. Yet in his dream and in his interpretation, Daniel says that the stone doesn't hit the head to destroy the empire, it strikes at the feet, representing the outlying provinces. This would include provinces like Judea, where Jesus ministered and established the Church.
- The type of kingdom – The stone cut without hands is a way of denoting that this would be a supernatural kingdom, not a temporal kingdom, like those before it. And note that unlike these other kingdoms, Daniel states that this fifth kingdom would be established by God (Daniel 2:44).
- Duration of this kingdom – The other kingdoms had periods of glory and power lasting centuries, but Daniel says that the fifth kingdom would be everlasting, never to fall. The image of the stone growing into a mountain, filling the earth, symbolizes a kingdom that would dominate every other kingdom in history.
Therefore, some 600 years before Christ, a Jewish prophet spoke of four kingdoms that would rise and fall until a fifth kingdom would be established that would dominate the world and last forever. The Bible tells us that for six centuries the Jewish people waited for this kingdom prophesied by one of their own prophets, Daniel. Then one day a prophet in the spirit of Elijah proclaimed, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:3. Can we understand then, why John the Baptist's preaching caused so much excitement among the people?
And so, in speaking of the Kingdom that is not of this world, we note first of all, that this Kingdom was spoken of in prophecy, which has since been confirmed by history.
2. The Kingdom is on Earth, but it is Spiritual in Nature
Daniel predicted that the Kingdom was to come, John the Baptist preached that it was at hand, and Jesus proclaimed that it was here. For Jews, as a people, who had actually lived through the four empires mentioned by Daniel, this was exciting news. For some it rekindled nationalistic aspirations that had appeared throughout their history.
Many had a Davidic concept of the kingdom. In other words, their hope was that God would send a king like David who would lead them out of bondage and regain their lost earthly and political territories. They believed that the day of the Lord was to be a time when the nation would be restored, Amos 9:14 and Zechariah 8:4-8. They believed that the nation would be restored and other nations would be judged. Their hope was kindled and dashed repeatedly throughout the post-united kingdom history. In other words, after the united kingdom, this hope of a Messiah kept rising and falling, as one leader after another appeared, claiming that they were the Messiah. From Zerubbabel leading the first wave of exiles from Babylon back to Jerusalem, to the Maccabean revolt. Their hope was for a kingdom of this world peopled by Jews. Their "kingdom dream" was a dream of Jewish nationalism.
During the inter-testamentary period (400 BC to 6 AD), another view of the kingdom began to develop among non-inspired writings of that time. Writings that we call "apocalyptic" literature. The writings of this era hoped for a heavenly kingdom that would end the present evil age. For example, in the book of Jubilee 23:29 the author suggests a golden age to come in which God Himself would usher in His kingdom, reversing the rule and the evil of Satan. Because of this type of uninspired literature, there were many false ideas of the kingdom that were swirling among the people for centuries before Jesus arrived.
These and various combinations of uninspired ideas were present in the minds of the people as John the Baptist spoke of the Kingdom. So I think we can understand, therefore, that when the people heard Jesus teach that the Kingdom had arrived, and they witnessed His powerful miracles, they were ready to crown Him King, whether He liked it or not. He fulfilled all of their aspirations.
Imagine if a candidate for president was able to do miracles? What would you think of him if at a rally with 10,000 people present he miraculously produced food to feed everyone there? Would you not want to vote for this person to be leader of the nation? This was the feeling at the time about Jesus, but then He began describing the Kingdom in detail, and it didn't fit any of the notions that the writers and the people had hoped for. In addition to this, Jesus explained the nature of the Kingdom in abstract terms with the use of parables and without references to political power, military dominance or any kind of economic features.
For example, He said that the Kingdom was like:
- A mustard seed
- A man who sowed seed
- Leaven, that leavens dough
- A net that catches fish
- A relationship between a master and a servant
- A person that finds a pearl, or a treasure
True to Daniel's words, Jesus began to teach the people that the Kingdom was supernatural in nature, not political; and furthermore the Kingdom, "...is not of this world." They were expecting a kingdom definitely of this world. Jesus didn't mean that the Kingdom had no power or authority, it simply meant that as a spiritual kingdom, its power and authority were derived and controlled by God, not armies or human leaders.
The Kingdom that Jesus and His Apostles announced,
- was small enough to exist in one person's heart
- was big enough to include all who would enter in
- was powerful enough to dominate every other kingdom
- was so precious that when someone found it they would abandon everything they owned in order to possess it
And yet, was so elusive that some people stood right next to it, but didn't even see it. Finally, the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of was being built in their lifetimes, exactly as Daniel had spoken.
3. The Kingdom was Something that has been Established
Many years ago I had a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for several years and when I would write to him, because we corresponded by conventional mail, I would address his envelope with the term, kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This was part of the address. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia included all the territory over which the king of Saudi Arabia ruled. And throughout history, this has been different according to how much land the king obtained through war and other means.
The point here is that the kingdom is that which belongs to the king. This is the earthly and physical understanding of the term kingdom.
9"Pray, then, in this way:
'Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10'Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
- Matthew 6:9-10
In this passage Jesus mentions one Kingdom existing simultaneously in two spheres. One kingdom is on earth, that had yet to be established and the other one was in heaven, already established. Therefore, Jesus was praying that the will of God be done on earth as it was already being done in heaven. An important point to note here is that the Kingdom of God exists wherever His will is being done, because the word kingdom comes from a Greek word which means sovereignty or will.
In Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus prayed that God's will be done here on earth as it was done in heaven. In essence He was praying that God's Kingdom be established here just as God's will was being done in heaven. When this happens, God's will (the Kingdom established) is being fulfilled in both the heavenly and the earthly realms. And so, if we want to know what the Kingdom looks like, we need to examine what God's will is for all men, because the Kingdom exists wherever and whenever God's will is being done. Paul writes,
3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
- I Timothy 2:3-6
What is God's will?
That all men come to know that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and be saved through Him. This is God's will. When that will is being accomplished, the Kingdom of God is being established. An important point to note here is that the Kingdom of God exists wherever His will is being done. And Paul summarizes His will in this brief passage.
As the Apostle writes, God's will is that all mankind recognize the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and they will be saved as a result. Insofar as the Kingdom is concerned, it is being established whenever and wherever people are confessing Jesus and expressing this faith in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). When they do that, the kingdom of God on earth is being established and the kingdom is growing.
This knowledge unlocks all of the parables about the kingdom.
- Isn't Jesus the pearl of great price, and are we not willing to abandon everything in order to have Him?
- Isn't the word of God the leaven that permeates the entire life of a man or a woman?
- Isn't preaching the gospel a great net that draws in many hearers, that are eventually reduced to just a few believers?
- Isn't Jesus the master that leaves His disciples to care for the Kingdom and will return one day to examine their stewardship?
- Isn't the knowledge of God's will small enough to exist in one believer's heart, yet big enough to reach every soul in the world?
- Isn't God's will powerful enough to destroy every human kingdom while sustaining His own Kingdom, to the end of time and beyond?
We are not Premillennialists who are waiting for the kingdom to come. Nor are we Post-Millennialists, who think much like the Jews of the first century, that the Kingdom will be some kind of golden age, where the church will dominate here on earth until Jesus returns. We don't believe that. Our view is much simpler to understand, taken primarily from the previously quoted Matthew 6:9-10 where Jesus prays that the Kingdom is simply God's will being done on earth as it is being done in heaven.
When seen through the lens of the Kingdom, we understand that all who are in heaven are obviously under the authority and will of God. And so, the Kingdom of God is firmly established there. Jesus' prayer is that God's will that man's salvation through Christ also be established here on earth.
Therefore, when someone asks when or how was God's Kingdom established here on earth? The reply, according to Scripture, should be the following: the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of Christ was established when the gospel began to be preached and people responded to it in faithful obedience. That's when the Kingdom was established. That's when the doors were opened. That's when people started coming in.
To be more specific, the Kingdom was established when Christ defeated sin and death with His resurrection, to accomplish the first part of God's will, and that was to provide redemption for man's sins through the sacrifice of His son, and the doors to the Kingdom were flung open as the Apostles were first to enter in, and then on Pentecost Sunday they began to preach the gospel to invite everyone who believed to also enter into the Kingdom of God. A familiar passage, but an important one.
36Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified." 37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
- Acts 2:36-44
As Jesus said to Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world." But as we have learned, it is very much in this world, and embodied by those who have been added to it through faith in Jesus Christ expressed in repentance and baptism Acts 2:38.
The Development of the Kingdom
So so far we've seen how and when the Kingdom was established. One other thing we need to examine: how the Kingdom grows because Jesus often spoke of its growth and development. Here is a summary of the two ways He referred to this phenomenon:
1. As it related to an individual
The Kingdom of God is within you, He said. He used the example of a seed or leaven, referring to agents that worked on the inside of a person to cause growth. These agents were figures representing God's Word given through the Holy Spirit and recorded by the Apostles. The Kingdom, that is, the ability to do God's will and become like Christ, the Kingdom grows within the individual as he internalizes and submits to the direction of God's Word. How do I grow in Christ? I obey His word.
The growth of the Kingdom within becomes evident externally, as the Kingdom dweller produces spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, holiness, service, etc. (Galatians 5:22). Paul calls it fruit of the Spirit, but we could just as easily call it fruit of the Kingdom, or the Kingdom within the believer. Therefore, when you see these things developed in one's life, in the name of Christ, you are seeing the Kingdom that is not of this world, living within the believer who is in this world.
2. The kingdom in a collective sense
Jesus, the Apostles, and other New Testament writers used different words when referring to the Kingdom collectively. In other words, many people in whom the Kingdom was present used terms like the church, the Saints, the household of God etc. This collective Kingdom grows in numbers and spiritual influence on the world as it spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom. And so, this Kingdom of God on earth is made up of individuals who have and continue to respond to God in Christ. Individually they are called Christians, saints, disciples, believers, to name a few. Collectively they're referred to as the church, or the body of Christ, among other things. If you've obeyed God's will and believe in obeying Christ, the Kingdom in the form of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are in you, as an individual. The Kingdom is in you. And, at the same time, you as an individual become part of the Kingdom of God, comprised of all those who have been saved both in heaven and on earth.
The Glorification of the Kingdom
The Apostles had a hard time understanding the nature of the Kingdom, to the extent where they never even asked the obvious question: what is the purpose of the Kingdom? Why was it formed? What is it all leading to? And so, in this study I've been talking about the Kingdom of heaven on earth, but I haven't really discussed the Kingdom of heaven in heaven. An important point to remember in all of this is, if we are the part of the kingdom here on earth, it means that we will also participate in the Kingdom of heaven that is in heaven. Praise God for that!
The Kingdom here on earth is the Kingdom, however it is not yet glorified, it is not yet exalted as the heavenly Kingdom. This is the end game of Christianity. The Kingdom of heaven in heaven is already glorified, and those who are part of it have things that we don't have yet, things that Paul mentions in I Corinthians 15, where he describes the features of the glorified body which are also the features of the glorified kingdom. For example,
- incorruptibility – no sin or weakness
- supernatural power – no subject to time or natural laws
- eternal existence – no death
- spiritual glory – spiritual gifts perfected to the point where they are a source of light that emanates from within us
The glorified state will enable us to become like Christ in power, as well as like Christ in personality and righteousness. This is the reward. Don't we get it? God sent Christ to show us what was waiting for us. The endgame is that you and I become exactly like Him. When preachers say, "Keep your eye on the cross or keep your eye on Jesus", they are saying, keep your eye on the One that you will become like, because this focus will guide your steps. The glorified state is what we are moving towards. The exalted position in the Godhead is our final destination.
The return of Jesus at the end of the world will signal the joining together of the Kingdom of God on earth with the Kingdom of God in heaven, and together with the angels and Jesus Himself, all will be united within the Godhead, to exist in this way for eternity (I Thessalonians 4:16-17; I Corinthians 15:23-34).
The Kingdom of God here on earth: Daniel predicted it, Jesus proclaimed and died for it, the Apostles opened its doors with their preaching, people have entered in through faith expressed in obedience, and we all await the return of Jesus for its glorification and its final eternal exaltation.
In the meantime, I want to remind you of one thing:
We are the Kingdom in this world. Not Muslims or Hindus or various sects claiming Christ. Let this be a comfort when feeling weak or dry or outnumbered. Let this be a comfort to the church, when it seems that we're not making progress or we're going backwards and seem to have many problems. Remember that despite these things we may be reduced, discouraged and unsure, but we cannot be defeated (Matthew 16:18).
And so, I pray that God blesses you as you build up the Kingdom of Christ and wait patiently for His return. Remember also that You Are The Kingdom! Let that direct the way that you live and let that be the substance of your strength and hope.
Finally, if you have not entered the Kingdom by confessing Christ and expressing your faith in Him through repentance and baptism, the opportunity to step in is always before you. On the other hand, if for some reason you've left the Kingdom because of unfaithfulness or continued willful sin, be restored through a prayer of repentance to secure your rightful place in God's glorious Kingdom.