The phrase “kingdom of God” is used some 200 times in the Bible but much more than that in today’s preaching. Yet, in spite of its great use, rarely does a preacher/teacher define what he means by it. The phrase sounds good in preaching but it is a complex idea with many parts to it…one size does not fit all.
The preacher on television looked straight into the camera and declared enthusiastically, “we are kingdom people and we must give ourselves to kingdom work.” This, of course, got a number of “amens” from folks in the congregation. They were not exactly sure what this meant or what they should do, but it certainly sounded biblical. Most in the congregation and in the TV audience had forgotten that three weeks earlier the pastor had said that when Jesus comes He will set up the kingdom. So, is the kingdom of God something present or something future? In light of the regular use of the phrase “kingdom of God”, there needs to be some clarity on the matter. Hopefully, this article will help us define what is meant by “kingdom of God.”
Defining the Term: “Kingdom of God”
The “kingdom of God” is a great theme in the Scriptures. God is the eternal King who rules now and shall rule in the future. The phrase is used a little over 200 times in the Bible. When we look at the way “kingdom of God” is used, we can come to some important conclusions.
The term “kingdom of God” refers to the rule of the sovereign God over His creation. In both the general concept of a kingdom and in the biblical idea of the kingdom of God, three essential elements are found.
(1) A sovereign, authoritative ruler. There must be a ruler in a kingdom who has the authority and power to rule. God rules over the entire universe (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:6). In the book of Revelation, John uses the term “throne” some 40 times as he speaks of God’s sovereign rule over the heavens and earth.
(2) A realm to rule. There must be a realm to rule. This element of a kingdom focuses on the subjects to be ruled. In the biblical contexts, inevitably there is authority over someone or something is found.
(3) The exercising of authority. If there is to be a real kingdom, there must be the actual exercising of authority. In theory, of course, a ruler might temporarily be forced to leave his realm of authority and still be viewed as a ruler. But there can be no kingdom in a full and complete sense without the active exercising of authority. All three of these elements of a kingdom is seen in David’s statement in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12.
Biblical Distinctions in the Concept of the Kingdom of God.
As we read our Bibles on the matter of the kingdom of God, certain distinctions need to be observed. At first, some of these appear to contradict on another, but they are simply different aspects of a wonderfully diverse concept.
(1) Distinctions in the beginning of the kingdom of God. In some passages, the kingdom is seen as something that has always existed, but in others it is not yet come into existence. Sometimes the kingdom has a starting point (as in Daniel 2:44) while other times it is and has been in existence (as in Ps. 29:10).
(2) Distinctions in the scope of the kingdom of God. Sometimes the Bible speaks of the kingdom as being universal in its scope, including all created beings (Ps. 103:19). Yet on the other hand, the kingdom is seen as being earthly in scope (as in Daniel 2:44-45) where Messiah will rule from His throne in Jerusalem.
(3) Distinctions in the administration of the kingdom. The kingdom is sometimes revealed to be ruled directly by God Himself, with no human mediator ruling on God’s behalf. God administers His own rule (as in Ps. 59:13). In contrast to this, God’s rule is administered indirectly through a human mediator as in Psalm 2 where the Son rules the nations of the world.
(4) Distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven? The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is found only in Matthew’s gospel. In the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke it is the “kingdom of God.” This leads me to conclude that since Matthew was writing to the Jews with their keen sensitivity to misusing the name of God, he simply substituted the term “heaven” for “God.” This would have made his discussion more acceptable to his Jewish readers. So it seems that no distinction should be made between these two expressions. (Years ago, Dr. Couch and I found that we were in agreement on this matter).
Various Aspects of the Kingdom of God. As the Scriptures discuss the rule of God over creation, various aspects of the kingdom become apparent. If we are going to understand God’s kingdom rule, these must be observed. It also becomes clear that the context in which the kingdom is discussed will play a crucial role in determining which aspect is in view. The following aspects of the kingdom of God are presented for your consideration and study.
(1) THE UNIVERSAL KINGDOM OF GOD. This is God’s rule over the entire universe. In this kingdom, nothing happens outside of the control of the will of God because He is sovereign. (1 Chron. 29:12; Ps. 145:13). This would be the very broadest aspect of the kingdom.
(2) THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM OF GOD. This would be God’s rule over all those who believe, that is, those who have experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Though some do not think that such an aspect exists (perhaps out of fear of certain aspects of liberal theology), it does seem that this is the basic idea of several passages. (Col. 1:13; John 3:1-10). So this aspect would have been in existence since the days of Adam and Eve. And, it is worth noting, that this aspect of the kingdom of God is not what John the Baptist was announcing.
(3) THE THEOCRATIC KINGDOM OF GOD. This is being used to refer to the rule of God over a temporal earthly kingdom (as in the days of the Judges of Israel where God was the king and there was not a human king).
(4) THE MYSTERY FORM OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. In Matthew 13, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the mysteries of the kingdom. This is an aspect of the kingdom that simply was not revealed in the OT. This form would come about because Jesus, the King, had been rejected by Israel. This aspect of the kingdom would exist between the two coming of Christ. God rules over people on the earth who have related themselves is a positive, neutral, or negative way to “Christendom” (including believers, rejecters and professing people). Unlike the spiritual kingdom of God, unbelievers exist in this form of the kingdom.
(5) THE MILLENNIAL/MESSIANIC KINGDOM OF GOD. This aspect of the kingdom of God is yet future. The OT prophets wrote much about this aspect of the kingdom where Messiah will rule over all the nations of the earth, and not just over Israel. This is the aspect of the kingdom that John the Baptist declared was “at hand” and what he was offering to Israel. The nation of Israel rejected it when the spurned the Lord Jesus. But in the future time of tribulation, Israel will turn in faith to Jesus and He will return and sit upon the throne of His ancestor David.
(6) THE ETERNAL KINGDOM OF GOD. The kingdom of God eternal is actually established when Jesus returns at His 2nd Coming. Phase #1 is the messianic kingdom on the present earth; while phase #2 is connected with the new heavens and new earth that will be created (Rev. 21:1). Here ruling authority is turned back to the Father by the Son (1 Cor. 15:23 ff.).
So when the TV preacher declares that we are kingdom people that are to be doing kingdom work, he really needs to explain himself. He needs to make it clear, as a good exegete of the Word of God, just what he is preaching about.
We are, in fact, in several aspects of the “kingdom of God” and yet we go look forward to that marvelous future aspect of God’s kingdom.