By: Josh Wamble
At our church’s Wednesday and Thursday morning Bible studies 2 weeks ago, one of the attenders asked if we could think about what the Bible’s authors mean when they talk about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. So, this past week, we did. As we studied these references, we concluded that the Kingdom of God consists of four elements.
1. The Kingdom of God has a King
The Kingdom is not a democracy or a republic. It is not a dictatorship. It is a monarchy. God himself is the King of the Kingdom. The Bible presents him as the Creator, the Law-Giver, and as the Judge to whom the world must give an account. Yet, it is a little more complicated than that. In the bible, we read about God handing his kingdom over to another to rule in his place.
In Psalm 2, David tells about how God has “set His King on His throne.” In Daniel 7, Daniel saw a vision of God (The Ancient of Days) handing over a kingdom to one “like a son of man.” In the New Testament, Jesus applies this title to himself confirming that he is the king mentioned in Psalm 2.
Jesus’ reign is also seen in what he does. He demonstrates that he is the ruler over the creation, over people, and over the angelic and demonic beings when he miraculously walks on water, turns water to wine, and multiplies the fish and bread, when he heals people reversing diseases, when he forgives sins, when he drives out demons, and when he gives dead people new life—both physically (as in the case of Lazarus) and spiritually (as in the case of Nicodemus). And, he claims to be the Ruler and Judge of the Kingdom when he speaks as the authority in the Sermon on the Mount (E.g. Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) and when he challenges the false authority of the so-called religious leaders of his day (confronting the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes all three in Mark 12).
This is why when both John the Baptist and Jesus preach the gospel it sounds like, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2 and 4:7). The Kingdom is at hand because the King is at hand!
2. The Kingdom of God has Subjects
In most kingdoms throughout history, people become subjects by birth and are removed because of acts of rebellion or treason. Because all people are born rebels to the Kingdom of God, the only way to become rightful subjects of the King is to repent, renounce allegiance to “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” and swear allegiance to the rightful King Jesus.
In Mark 10, Jesus tells his followers that those who will be subjects of his kingdom must be like little children—realizing their own helplessness and insignificance, simply and fully trusting in him to remake them in his own image. The subjects of the Kingdom have a new outlook on life and a new type of life which is described in the Sermon on the Mount (especially in Matt. 5:1-48). Those who will be his subjects are those who seek his Kingdom first (Matt. 6:3) and look to him as their primary allegiance in this life and the next.
3. The Kingdom of God has a Realm or Reign
Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:3 that if he is even to see the Kingdom, he must be born again according to the Spirit. Jesus’ Kingdom is not a physical one. It is not of this world at all and yet it does extend to the uttermost parts of this world.
In Matthew 13, Jesus uses a series of parables to describe what his kingdom is like. He says it starts off like a tiny seed. It is unimpressive by the standards of this world. It is small and unimposing. Yet, given time and cultivation by the Father through the Holy Spirit, it eventually grows into the largest tree in the garden and proves itself more valuable than all the riches and gain that this world has to offer.
The Kingdom of God includes people from all parts of the world. There is no place so remote that the King’s authority and presence is not felt. However, in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus tells a parable that shows how the sons of the world will one day be revealed and separated from the sons of the Kingdom, but until that day comes, the subjects of these two kingdoms remain mixed together in the world, the true King reigning and ruling in the hearts of those who have sworn their allegiance to him.
4. The Kingdom of God has a Time Frame
Sometimes the New Testament seems to indicate that the Kingdom of God is here now and has already been instituted. In Matt. 3:2 and 4:17, we read that the Kingdom of God is “at hand.” Later in Luke 11:20, Jesus declares that if he casts out demons by the power of God then “the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” From these passages, it seems clear that God’s Kingdom is here now.
But, other New Testament passages seem pretty clearly to teach that the Kingdom is still yet future. In Matt 6:9, Jesus teaches his followers to pray to God that his Kingdom would come. At the end of Luke’s gospel one of the thieves crucified next to Jesus asks that he be remembered when Jesus comes into his Kingdom suggesting that it is still future. Finally, in Matt. 25:31, Jesus says that he will not sit on his throne until the Son of Man comes in glory with his angels.
When we put these passages together, we conclude that the Kingdom of God has both already come and is still coming in the future. To use the imagery of one of the parables in Matthew 13, it is here in a small seed form but has not yet been fully realized. In the future, the seed will grow into a large tree, and its branches will extend across the entire creation and its shade will smother the life out of all counterfeit kingdoms that seem so large and vibrant to us today.
In the meantime, let’s live as true subjects of the Kingdom bowing to our King in every thought we have, every decision we make, every action we take, every word we speak, and in every way we relate to those around us—both fellow subjects of the Kingdom and rebels against it, and let us truly and sincerely long for and pray for his Kingdom to come in its fullness.
May that day come quickly!