Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom of God. What did He mean by this? The Lord’s Prayer, recorded in the Gospels, included Jesus’ statement, “Thy kingdom come.” What is the Kingdom of God? What does it involve? How do we enter it?
There are various ideas about the Kingdom of God. Some believe it is the church. Others take it to mean the British Empire. Still others believe it is a state of mind, or a feeling in the hearts of men.
What does the Bible reveal?
Any dictionary will quickly tell us a kingdom is a politically organized community or major territorial unit having a monarchical form of government headed by a king or queen. Does the Bible have anything to say about this? The prophet Daniel spoke of various kingdoms that bear rule over portions of the world. Then he said God would set up a kingdom that would be given to the saints, a kingdom that would be an everlasting kingdom, a kingdom that would rule the whole world (Dan. 7:27). The kingdom Daniel spoke of was a literal kingdom composed of land, subjects, laws, and a king. Daniel was not speaking of churches. He was speaking of governments that rule over men.
Notice what Daniel said when he interpreted the image King Nebuchadnezzar had seen in a dream.
Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. . . . And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure (Dan. 2:37-40, 44-45).
These kingdoms were the world-ruling kingdoms of Chaldea, the Persian Empire, the Greco-Macedonian Empire, and finally, the Roman Empire. They were literal kingdoms, but in the end the world would be ruled by the Kingdom of God (Dan. 7:27).
Is the Kingdom of God in the Hearts of Men?
What is depicted above is something entirely different than a sentimental feeling in the hearts of men. Jesus spoke often of entering into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33, Luke 12:31; 13:29). He said that man must be changed from flesh and blood into spirit in order to enter this kingdom (John 3:5). The Kingdom of God, then, cannot be a kingdom of men composed of flesh and blood. It is a kingdom of spirit-composed immortals, who have been changed from mortal to immortal by the resurrection. Paul wrote,
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:50-53).
In spite of these clear and easy-to-understand texts some insist that, by Christians working together everywhere to bring about world peace, the Kingdom of God may finally be established in the hearts of men. The problem is, the real message Jesus brought was rejected and a counterfeit was substituted in its place. Few today have heard of the real purpose of our lives and what the Kingdom of God is all about. It may soothe the religious feelings of many to think the Kingdom of God is in the hearts of men, or is the church, or the British Empire, but the Scriptures make it plain that the Kingdom of God is a literal kingdom destined to rule the whole world.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:11-16).
Jesus Preached the Gospel of the Kingdom
We read, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). The message Jesus preached was not about His person. He did not go about proclaiming what He had done here and there. He preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God-a message of salvation, how men must be saved in order to enter that kingdom. Yet, many professing Christians today have no knowledge of that teaching. This was the same message preached later by the Apostle Paul (Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). That kingdom, as we have already seen, will be a world-ruling government. It was not a kingdom intended for the Jews of Jesus’ day. It was not to be another human kingdom. Jesus described His second coming, the time when He would take over all the governments of this world and establish the Kingdom of God. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:31-34).
The Kingdom of God Can Be Entered
Not all the religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected His message. One named Nicodemus came to see Him at night. What did Jesus tell him? “. . . Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus could not understand what this meant. He asked, “. . . How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4). Then Jesus explained,
. . . Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8).
The Kingdom of God, then, is something that can be seen (v. 3) but only by those who have been born again. We have already seen that this spiritual birth takes place at the resurrection of the dead. People who are flesh and blood can enter into churches, so the church cannot be the Kingdom of God. People of flesh and blood can enter the British Empire, so the British Empire cannot be the Kingdom of God. Only those born of spirit can enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, Jesus said, is not of this world (John 18:36). It will not be established until the return of Jesus Christ and those who are resurrected at that time will enter into it (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 50-53).
Was the Kingdom of God In the Hearts of the Pharisees?
In Luke 17:20-21 we read, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” What did Jesus mean by this remark? Is it possible He meant the Pharisees represented the Kingdom of God? Of course not! How could it mean that when they utterly rejected Christ as God’s true representative? (Luke 19:14). In the Bible the word “kingdom” is synonymous with king. Compare Daniel 7:17 with verse 23. Jesus was the King-the One who will rule over the Earth. The Pharisees did not recognize Him. The key to understanding this verse is in the meaning of “within you” in Luke 17:21. Notice the marginal rendering. It says “among you.” Jesus, the future King of the Earth, was standing among them at that very moment and they failed to see it. The Kingdom of God was not in the hearts of the Pharisees. But the King of the Earth was there as the sacrificial lamb to die for the sins of the world. At His return He would come to rule all nations with a rod of iron (Psa. 2:9).
The Kingdom of God Is Not Yet Here
Many take Jesus’ statement in Mark 1:15 to mean that the Kingdom of God was to appear at that time. “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). What did He mean “at hand”? Was He referring to the Church? Notice carefully. Jesus did not say the Kingdom of God would be established at that time, or that it was already there. He said the Kingdom of God was being preached. Luke 16:16 states, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” Jesus Himself corrected the false notion people had about the Kingdom of God. In Luke 19:11 we read, “And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11). The parable goes on to explain that the nobleman who would return was Jesus Christ. Jesus ascended into heaven after His resurrection (Acts 1:9) and will return with all power and glory (Acts 1:11, Rev. 19:15-16). Jesus has not yet returned. When He does, the Kingdom of God will be established and will rule over the Earth. Those who enter that kingdom will no longer be flesh and blood but will be composed of spirit. The nobleman’s citizens who rejected Jesus (Luke 19:14) were the Jews. The parable speaks of a literal government with a ruler. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Notice what will take place at His return. “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27). When Jesus made the statement that the Kingdom of God was at hand, He did not mean it was to be established immediately. With God, a thousand years is as a day (2 Pet. 3:8). The Kingdom of God will be established as a literal world-ruling government when Christ returns. Jesus was not talking about the Church.
When Will the Kingdom of God Appear?
The Bible speaks in many places of “the time of the end.” This time period is a very dangerous season for mankind. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Jesus foretold this time and said it would occur very near His return. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matt. 24:21-22). “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30). One does not have to look far today to see what a perilous world this is. On more than one occasion, it was only by moments that nuclear war was averted. Such a war would have destroyed the Earth. It has been said God created the world in seven days and man can now destroy it in one hour. These are the last days. The imminent return of Christ is near. He will come to save humanity from itself.
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. . . . And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:15, 18).
Daniel, the prophet, also foretold this time when He wrote, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44). Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). It is for the world tomorrow.
We Cannot Know the Exact Time
While we can know we are in the time of the end, and that the imminent return of Christ is near, we cannot know the exact time. Jesus said to watch. “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (Matt. 24:33). Yet, when asked the time by His disciples, He said, “. . . It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7). Earlier He had stated, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36). We can see some of the signs that it is near. “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). Yet, Peter explained when preaching to the Jews, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21). We must wait until that time period is fulfilled. When Christ returns and sets up His world-ruling kingdom, the saints will rule with Him. “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Dan. 7:27). Those called of God and overcome will rule with Him (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26-27; 3:5, 12, 21). Let us prepare ourselves for that great event now.