In my previous post, I explored the Old Testament teaching on the concept of “kingdom” and specifically looked at the promised Davidic kingdom that would be ruled by one of his descendants in righteousness and be an everlasting kingdom. We saw how this kingdom appeared to be established with Solomon but was not, and we saw how Isaiah offered reassurances to Israel that Solomon’s sinfulness in no way negated the certainty of the coming Davidic kingdom. We also saw how the expectation of the kingdom was one of a physical, national kingdom that would be centered in Israel but would be global in scope.
So, when we get to the New Testament that is the expectation. Let’s look at the New Testament usages of “kingdom” and explore what’s said. As before, I’ve done this only with an English concordance, I list the usages of the word “kingdom” according to their meaning, and I’ve written some notes about references that are either important or may be slightly confusing. This is going to be a lot to process, so here goes:
The Kingdom: NT Usage –
1. Human empires & reign (national) or Satan’s empire and reign on earth.
Matt. 4:8, 12:25-26, Mark 6:23, 11:10, 13:8, Luke 1:33, 4:5, 11:17-18, 21:10, Heb. 11:33; Rev. 11:15, 26:20.
a. In Rev. 11:15 when the heavenly voices say “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever”, that’s saying that the earthly kingdom (i.e. all of the kingdoms of mankind) has become his kingdom. This is a blatant statement that he will have an empire and reign on earth as opposed to in heaven.
2. God’s universal empire and rule.
Matt. 6:10, 26:29; Luke 11:2
a. Matt. 6:10 (“your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) suggests that Christians should pray that God’s universal rule and expression of his moral will becomes the rule and moral nature of the earth in like manner and extent that it is in heaven.
3. General uses of “kingdom”, “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven”
Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 23, 5:3, 10, 19, 20, 6:10, 33, 7:21-22, 8:11-12, 9:35. 10:7, 11:11-12, 12:28; 13:11, 19, 24, 31, 33, 38, 41, 43, 44, 45, 47, 52, 16:19, 28, 18:1, 3, 4, 23, 19:12, 14, 23-24, 20:1, 21, 21:31, 43, 22:2, 23:13, 24:7, 14, 25:1, 34; Mark 1:15, 3:24, 4:11, 4:26, 30, 9:1, 47, 10:14-15, 23-25, 12:34, 14:25, 15:43; Luke 4:43, 6:20, 7:28, 8:1, 10, 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62, 10:9, 11, 11:20, 12:31-32, 13:18, 20, 28-29, 14:15, 16:16, 17:20-21, 18:16-17, 24-25, 29, 19:11-12, 15, 21:31, 22:16, 22:18, 29-30, 23:42, 51, John 3:3, 5, 18:36; Acts 1:3, 6, 8:12, 14:22, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 31; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20, 6:9-10, 15:24, 50; Gal 5:20-21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:13, 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim.4:1, 18; Heb. 1:8; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Peter 1:11; Rev.1:6, 9, 5:10, 12:10
a. Matt. 5:3 & 10 form an inclusio on the beatitudes, suggesting that the start and end of the list are characteristics of those who are citizens of the kingdom (and thereby every characteristic in between as well). This doesn’t at all suggest that these are only relevant to the millennial kingdom (as some Dispensationalists have wrongly suggested…or at least that’s the accusation I’ve heard), since every Christian is a citizen of the kingdom and should both evidence and aspire to these characteristics.
b. Matt. 5:20 suggests a loose temporal sequence; righteousness precedes kingdom entrance. Unless your present reality is a Pharisee-surpassing righteousness, your future reality can never include entrance into the kingdom. The entrance requirements for the kingdom are essentially moral in nature; you need to be righteous. This is also taught in 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal, 5:20-21; Eph. 5:5; 2 Peter 1:5-11.
c. Matt. 6:10 is a prayer for the kingdom to come, which logically assumes that it’s not already here but Matt. 6:7-9 suggests that this is a prayer for believers. When Jesus was standing in plain sight on earth, manifesting his power and forgiving sin, he told believers to pray that the kingdom would come. This suggests that it cannot be a prayer for people to “get saved” and it cannot be a prayer for some sort of esoteric manifestation of moral conduct (i.e. “Dear God, please rule in my heart today!”). The Jews would have no concept of a “spiritual” kingdom from the OT or the previous teaching of Jesus; the “kingdom” concept would have most certainly have included a king, a country, and servants in a non-metaphorical sense.
d. Matt 6:33 instructs believers to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” instead of seeking food, clothing and riches, with the promise that “all these things will be added to you”. This separates seeking the kingdom from seeking God’s righteousness (they’re not entirely synonymous), but they’re related (in a way that Jesus doesn’t explain). I would suggest that one seeks the kingdom (future) by seeking God’s righteousness (present). Also, the promise seems to ring false if believers don’t get money, food, and clothing though (“and all these things will be added to you”), unless the promise is ultimately a kingdom promise. It’s worth remembering that elsewhere in the NT believers are promised suffering in this life, not material bounty. God will provide the needs of believers in this life, but in the kingdom they will receive an actual material bounty as a tangible reward for their faithfulness to God’s commands in this life. Matt. 19:28-29also teaches something along these lines; future material reward for faithfulness in this life.
e. Matt. 7:21-22 talks about the entrance to the kingdom as a future event (“On that day…”). This is also the case in 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 2 Tim. 4:18.
f. Matt. 8:11-12 speaks of the reclining alongside the patriarchs in the kingdom as a future event (“many will come…”). If the kingdom is a present reality, one needs to explain the present reality of “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness…(where there is)…weeping and gnashing of teeth”. It sounds like the reclining with the patriarchs is a concurrent reality with the throwing out.
Also, in the context of the faith of the centurion and the juxtaposition of his faith and the lack of faith in Israel, the sons of the kingdom who are thrown out are likely the sons of the kingdom citizens; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e. unbelieving ethnic Jews who assume that they’ll be in the kingdom due to lineage).
g. Matt. 12:28 suggests clearly that there is present reality to the kingdom, for if Jesus casts out demons by the Holy Spirit, “then the kingdom of God has come upon you”. The idea is that Jesus, representative of the kingdom, is present and manifesting his kingly authority over Satan, which everyone can plainly see; if the king has arrived and is administering his authority, the kingdom is present (in some sense) and functioning. This is also the implication of Heb. 12:28 as Christians are receiving a kingdom.
h. Matt. 13:52 is very interesting in that it finishes Jesus’ revealing of kingdom mysteries (Matt. 13:11, 35). The one who knows the Old Testament well and is instructed in the kingdom will have ancient knowledge (i.e. the Old Testament kingdom promises) as well as contemporary revelation (i.e. the New Testament revelation regarding the strange nature of the kingdom’s beginnings).
i. Matt. 16:28 includes a promise that “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”, and this occurred in Matt. 17:1-8 at the transfiguration. I am well aware that some well known theologians wildly disagree with my understanding here, but I would side with the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:16 where, well before the destruction of the temple in 70AD, Peter claims to have already seen Christ’s parousia; his powerful return and unveiling of glory on the mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:17-18). Peter speaks with apostolic authority on this issue so that it is both settled and closed.
Related to Matt. 17:1-8, it’s worth noting a detail about the Transfiguration that I rarely hear. In Matt. 16:28, Peter is told that he’s going to see “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”, and so in Matt. 17:4 when he says “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”, it’s not Peter being a “Peter the dopey disciple” and recommending that they camp out there and bask in the moment. Peter knew his Old Testament well and knew that in the Kingdom, Zech. 14:16-19 says that the one feast that will be celebrated will be the Feast of Booths. In Matt. 17:4, Peter is expressing belief that this is the Kingdom, and in his excitement he wants to keep the Feast of Booths RIGHT NOW! He’s completely overwhelmed with emotion that the promised kingdom has arrived and he wants to do what Zechariah said would be done. He’s not as dumb as many suggest.
j. Matt. 18:1-5 has little to do with Christ’s sentimental love of children and far more to do with being a lesson on how one receives the gospel and the kingdom. The entrance to the kingdom comes with humility (18:4) and not seeking glory (18:1). A similar message is found in Matt. 19:13-15.
k. Matt. 19:23-24 comments on how it seems impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom because it’s a divine work of God for anyone to enter the kingdom. Money, power, intellect, influence, and even moral benevolence all exclusively condemn one as a sinner and in no way qualify one for kingdom entrance.
l. Luke 9:62 comments on how one cannot be fit for the kingdom if they’re double-minded; much like the inability of a believer to not love God and money equally, no person can love the world and it’s system/pleasures and equally love the kingdom.
m. Luke 10:9 & 11 are very interesting. When Jesus sent out the 72 to preach the kingdom, saying “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (10:9), and if they were rejected they were to shake the dust off their feet, move on and find solace in the fact that the rejecting town has had the kingdom of God come near (10:11). This appears to not be saying that the kingdom has come, but rather that the kingdom has come near to those who hear their message and witness their miracles. I suspect that those who witness the miracles and hear the gospel come near the kingdom in the sense that they are as close as one can be to the kingdom; they’re hearing the message of the kingdom and witnessing miraculous confirmation of the truth of that message. An overwhelming majority of people in history didn’t have that sort of proximity to the blatant truth and tangible proof of the kingdom.
n. In Luke 17:21 Jesus says “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you”, and that is in answer to their question of when the kingdom was coming. Jesus first said that the kingdom is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will people see it somewhere and say “look, here it is!”. These two negative qualifiers indicate that the coming of the kingdom is not something that can be prophetically predicted with an awareness to search for the “right” prophetic signs (since all the signs they should have looked for had already occurred), and the kingdom will not arrive in some form that only the discerning will see and then point out. When the kingdom comes, the Pharisees would not see it coming in any way, but I would suggest it’s because it had come (in Christ); they would not see it because they already did not. Also, the phrase “in your midst” doesn’t mean “in your heart”; Jesus is talking to unregenerate Pharisees after all. The phrase “in your midst” likely is a geographic location; namely right in front of your noses! Since Jesus was in the midst of the crowd of Pharisees and other people, the kingdom (represented by it’s monarch) was also in the midst of that very crowd.
o. In John 18:36, when Jesus says “my kingdom is not of this world”, he’s not saying that his kingdom is spiritual as opposed to carnal, or immaterial as opposed to material. Jesus explains himself in John 18:36 when he says in the last clause “my kingdom is not from this world”. Christ’s kingdom is one that will be on earth, but it’s not from earth. When Jesus returns to set up his kingdom, he’ll come to earth and bring his subjects with him (Zech. 14:5, 1 Thess. 3:13, 2 Thess. 1:10; Jude 14 all comment on this). When the kingdom finally comes, it will be a foreign invasion.
p. It’s high worth noticing that in Acts 1:3, after Jesus’ resurrection, he spent forty days with the apostles and taught them about the kingdom. That is explicitly the only subject matter that Jesus talked about for the time after his resurrection. Apparently he thought it was the most important matter for them to get straight in their heads…and after forty days instruction, in Acts 1:6, the apostles asked Jesus “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” What a telling question; talk of restoring, which insinuates a kingdom like it was in the past. This is one of the most definite indications as to the nature of the kingdom. If the kingdom was “spiritual”, or “Jesus living in your hearts”, or anything other than an everlasting earthly empire based in Jerusalem and ruled from David’s earthly throne (the seat of power, not the chair), why was Jesus’ response “it is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority”? If there was any confusion with regards to the physical nature of the kingdom, Jesus didn’t say a word of correction to the apostles. Jesus did not say “You slow of heart to hear the words of my mouth! The kingdom isn’t going to be like it was in the days of David and Solomon. Do you not understand that my kingdom is within you? The kingdom of God is not established from a throne in Jerusalem; the kingdom of God is established from the hearts of those who believe!” Jesus didn’t say anything corrective about the nature of the kingdom at all. The only corrective was one about the timing of the kingdom’s full manifestation on the earth; “don’t worry about the when”.
q. In 1 Cor. 4:20, when it says “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power”, Paul is making this statement in response to the rebellious talk of arrogant men in 4:18-19. He intends to discipline them when he returns to Corinth with the spiritual authority entrusted to him as an apostle, and the kingdom of God (like other kingdoms) is marked by order, hierarchy and authority (which Paul’s discipline will obviously show that he possesses and these rebellious talkers do not).
r. 1 Cor. 15:23-25 talks about the whole order of the end times, including the kingdom when it says how in Christ all will be made alive: “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The order here is clear: Christ’s resurrection, then the rapture and resurrection of believers, then the millennial kingdom (he can’t deliver the kingdom to God if there is no kingdom to deliver), and finally the deliverance of the kingdom to the Father after destroying every enemy, including death (15:26). This passage doesn’t use the term “millennium”, but it definitely makes the most sense when understood as being a broad chronological sequence of end time events that includes the millennial kingdom.
s. In 1 Cor. 15:50, the phrase “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” does not infer a “spiritual” kingdom at all. The following clause in the verse indicates this when it says “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable”. In the following passage (15:51-58), Paul unveils a mystery of how believers will all be changed (15:51) at the last trumpet when the dead will be raised imperishable (15:52), when our perishable bodies will be physiologically changed so that they’re “imperishable” (15:53-54). Believers will still have bodies, but they’ll be different bodies in the same way that Christ was both physical and yet vastly different after his resurrection. Paul doesn’t give details, but only unveils the mystery of the “imperishable” body that believers will receive at the resurrection. The kingdom is an earthly, physical kingdom, but believers will need to be outfitted with vastly different bodies to live for the duration of a 1,000 year kingdom that then merges with God’s everlasting kingdom.
t. Col. 1:13-14 comment on the present reality of the kingdom for believers, who have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ. This would be akin to saying that believers are positionally righteous, and yet do not fully possess the righteousness that they will have once they’re glorified. Believers are citizens of the kingdom, but they’re citizens that are currently on foreign soil and not living in the kingdom.
u. James 2:5 states that God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, but not because they are poor. The passage says that those two things (rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom) are those “which he has promised to those who love him”, meaning that their love for him is what qualifies them for those two blessings, and that love for God is produced in their hearts by God.
v. Rev. 12:10 marks the time when “now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come”. Why? The rest of the verse informs us when it says “for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God”. This is the future time when the kingdom arrives, and the arrival of the kingdom is synonymous with the “arrival” of salvation and power and authority of the Father and the Son, all of which are distinctly marked by the throwing down of Satan out of heaven (12:8). The eviction of the devil from Heaven marks the first stage of the actual earthly manifestation of the kingdom.
One thing – Rev. 20:4-6 is not mentioned in the list simply because the word “kingdom” doesn’t appear in the passage, not because it’s not about the kingdom. Just saying so some folks don’t think I’ve forgotten an important passage (among others I haven’t mentioned).
There’s actually a fair bit more to discuss than I’ve discussed yet, namely all the kingdom parables that Christ told. Instead of making this post horribly long, I’ll post a third post that goes through all the kingdom parables and offers a little commentary to help make sense of them. I’ll also save a summary of “what I’ve learned” for a fourth and final post that attempts to bring everything together.
I hope this has been both informative and stimulating to some good thoughts. As always, I welcome all interaction, questions, or even rebuttals.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Budding Kingdomologist” Unger