Mention the term "kingdom" among a group of Christians, and you're likely to start a debate. Perhaps you haven't heard that Christians disagree on the Bible's teaching concerning the kingdom of Christ, but within the church you can encounter wildly different views of the kingdom.
Some contend the kingdom has already arrived and we're living in it now while others teach the kingdom has yet to arrive. Some hold the Bible teaches a literal kingdom on earth while others maintain the kingdom is merely a metaphor and exists only in the hearts of believers.
Proponents of each view will turn to scripture to find support for their arguments, but how can this be? We know the word of God doesn't sow confusion, so how do we explain so many different points of view with the Church? Which view is correct?
The answer is all of them...at least in a sense.
In scripture the kingdom is actually a concept that progresses through four stages of development from Genesis to Revelation. According to scripture, the kingdom is:
In Genesis, the kingdom began as a promise given by God to Abraham, when the Lord declared that Abraham and his descendants would receive an inheritance in the land of Canaan as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. As the writer of Hebrews explains, however Abraham never received that inheritance during his earthly lifetime:
Heb. 11:9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;
Heb. 11:10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Heb. 11:13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Heb. 11:14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.
Heb. 11:15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
Heb. 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
Since Abraham never received the land as promised, do we conclude God was unfaithful to His promise? No, because God never said Abraham would receive the land during his earthly lifetime. In fact as Hebrews 11:13-16 indicates, Abraham himself understood that the promise would be fulfilled in a future kingdom that would arrive after Abraham's death and resurrection. Therefore, in Abraham’s day the kingdom was never more than a promise.
Later when Jesus came into the world, the kingdom concept changed from a promise to a proposal. As Jesus walked in Galilee, He proposed to set up the kingdom for the Jewish nation in their day:
Matt. 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus said the kingdom was “at hand,” meaning God was now ready to fulfill His promise to Abraham and establish a literal kingdom on earth...provided the Jewish nation repented and accepted Jesus as Messiah. Of course, Israel did not do so, and as a result, Jesus withdrew the proposal at a certain point in His earthly ministry:
Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!
Luke 13:35 “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Though Jesus spoke of an imminent kingdom in His day, we can see He was speaking of the potential for Israel to receive the promised kingdom in their day. Had Israel embraced Jesus as Messiah, they would have witnessed the immediate arrival of the literal kingdom on earth but Israel’s unbelief stood in the way. Therefore, Jesus retracted His offer when Israel formally rejected Him in Luke 11-13.
As a result, the arrival of the literal kingdom was delayed until a future time when Israel will receive their Messiah as predicted in scripture (see Zech 12; Rom 11). Once Jesus withdrew His kingdom proposal, the kingdom concept became a program directed by the Holy Spirit and entrusted to Jesus’ disciples to carry forward:
Matt. 13:11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
The kingdom program of the Church consists of believers recruiting and receiving new citizens for the kingdom who will populate it in a future day. The Lord assigned this mission to His followers and commanded us to carry out this program in His absence, as recorded in Matthew 28:
Matt. 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
Matt. 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Matt. 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Therefore, we can say the kingdom is here today only in the sense that we have been given the Great Commission program of collecting future kingdom citizens in anticipation of the kingdom’s literal arrival on earth. When the literal kingdom does arrive, these citizens will take their place with Christ to rule over the nations.
This kingdom program is necessary to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed. As Jesus told us to pray, we long for that day in the future when the kingdom arrives in full:
Matt. 6:10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
On an appointed day, the kingdom program will come to completion and with it comes the end of the Age of the Gentiles, when the Lord will return and the kingdom will move into its final stage: a literal place. The true physical kingdom will be established at Christ’s Second Coming, and all those citizens who were previously recruited will become its inhabitants:
Matt. 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
Matt. 25:32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
Matt. 25:33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
Matt. 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Notice those who enter the kingdom were selected earlier. They are now told they may enter to receive the inheritance prepared for them in the kingdom.
Since the literal arrival of the kingdom is still yet to come to earth, we know we are currently in the third stage of the kingdom program. This distinction is often overlooked by some Christians, which explains how confusion has crept into the church's understanding of the kingdom.
Let's help spread the word to clear up that confusion!