THE KINGDOM OF GOD
There is certainly a sense in which the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator-God of heaven and earth rules over the entire universe. In his benediction, Jude wrote: “To God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen” (Jude 25). On the other hand, nothing is more obvious than the fact that since the fall of mankind in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3), the majority of God’s creation has been in rebellion to Him. The apostle John, writing to Christians near the end of the first century A.D., said, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the wicked one” (I John 5:19). The apostle Paul showed that there are two spiritual realms when he affirmed that Christians have been delivered “from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). Everybody is in one or the other of these domains: the power of darkness (the kingdom of Satan) or the realm of spiritual light (the kingdom of God’s dear Son) (Cf. Ephesians 5:8).
In the Old Testament God had a theocratic earthly kingdom composed of fleshly Israelites, the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. But this was not the ultimate kingdom that God had in mind for His people. The prophet Daniel spoke of a kingdom that the God of heaven would set up during the fourth empire of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s vision (the days of the Roman emperors)a spiritual kingdom “which shall never be destroyed … and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
In keeping with this prophecy, both Christ and His forerunner, John the Baptist, were born and carried out their earthly ministries during the world-wide rule of Rome (Luke 2:1-7; Luke 3:1-6). John’s message was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Shortly thereafter, Christ appeared on the scene and proclaimed the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Mark tells us, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel’ ” (Mark 1:14-15). To say that the kingdom of God was “at hand” was to say that it was near to being established. Just as Paul spoke of his departure (death) being “at hand” (not meaning that he had already died, but was approaching death, II Timothy 4:6), so both John and Jesus proclaimed that the long awaited kingdom of God was “at hand” (not meaning that it had already been set up, but that the time for its establishment was quickly approaching).
Throughout His ministry, Jesus spoke many parables that emphasized various features of His soon-to-be-established kingdom (see Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8; et al). He instructed His disciples to pray for the kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10). And while the disciples persistently misunderstood the nature of the kingdom (Matthew 18:1; Acts 1:6), Jesus emphatically stated: “My kingdom is not of this world … My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Rather than earthly in nature, Christ’s kingdom is heavenly in nature.
Christ said that the kingdom would come “with power” during the lifetime of some of His contemporaries (Mark 9:1). Just before His ascension back to heaven, He told the apostles that they would receive power “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). Thus, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles the power came, and when the power came the kingdom came! The second chapter of Acts tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost (verses 1-4). On that occasion they preached the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Christ (Acts 2:22-36). Daniel had prophesied: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven (the ascension of Christ, Acts 1:9-11, hf)! He came TO (not FROM, emphasis mine, hf) the Ancient of Days (a description of the eternal God, hf), and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall never pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (previously spoken of in 2:44) (Daniel 7:13-14).
Simply defined, the kingdom of God is the rule of God. God’s kingdom is composed of innocent children who have not reached the age of accountability for “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 18:16). As ministering spirits, obedient angels are part of God’s kingdom (Hebrews 1:7, 14). (It is worthy of note that some angels sinned, did not keep their proper domain, were cast down to hell [tartarus], and delivered into chains of darkness for the judgment of the great day [II Peter 2:4; Jude 6]. Clearly, they are not a part of God’s spiritual kingdom)!
It is sometimes alleged that the kingdom of God is composed of all who believe in Christ. This view is advanced to downplay the necessity of actually obeying the gospel of Christ in order to be a citizen of the kingdom. It is an effort to enlarge the umbrella and to include under the rule of God more than His word would allow. The demons believe and also tremble (James 2:19), but it would be ludicrous to say that they are citizens of God’s spiritual kingdom. Some believed in Christ during His personal ministry, but they would not confess Him (John 12:42-43). Jesus said if we will not confess Him before men, He will not confess us before the Father (Matthew 10:32-33). A believer who will not confess Christ surely is not a part of God’s kingdom. Therefore, merely to believe in Christ is not sufficient for making one a citizen of God’s kingdom.
With reference to accountable humans, only those who have been “born again … of water and the Spirit” are citizens of the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5). In so doing, they have been saved from their sins and added to the church (Acts 2:47), which is the same as being delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom (Colossians 1:13). From the standpoint of accountable humanity, the kingdom of God and the church are co-extensive in that only those persons who have obeyed the gospel and been added to the church are citizens of the kingdom. If any accountable person since Acts 2 is in the kingdom of God but not a member of the body of Christ, the church, who is that person?!
At the end of time, Christ will deliver the kingdom to God the Father “that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:24-28). In the meantime, faithful preachers are to preach “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12), including how one enters the kingdom (John 3:3-5). They are to be busy “preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 20:25), and diligent in “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence” (Acts 26:31). As citizens of the kingdom, we are to make it our priority in life (Matthew 6:33). We are to live in such a way that we might be preserved for the heavenly kingdom (II Timothy 4:18), and experience an abundant entrance “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:10-11), heaven itself!
August 16, 2016
August 24: Hillcrest Church of Christ, Springfield, TN
(Assigned topic: “The Fruit Of The Spirit”)