Kingdom of God, or of Christ

There are few more complex themes in Scripture than that of the kingdom.

The theme of the kingdom defines the mission and message of Christ in the synoptic gospels. Matthew uses the expression kingdom of heaven some fifty times and kingdom of God only five times. The rest of the NT uses kingdom of God or equivalent expressions and the nearest approach to a mention of kingdom of heaven is in 2 Tim. 4:18, “his heavenly kingdom.”

In common parlance kingdom carries the idea of a territory or a realm over which a king exerts his rule. It has that significance at times in Scripture. God’s kingdom is the extent of His sovereign rule. In this sense it is universal, for His “kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19).

What the Kingdom Is

However, the terms kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven have a much more specific significance in Scripture. They denote the rule of God through His Son. God’s kingdom is the kingdom of heaven because it is heavenly in its origin and authority. But the sphere and realization of its rule have to do largely with the earth. Thus it confronts men here on earth with the message that the King Himself has come into the world, preaching repentance and submission to His kingly authority. Those who accept this gracious gospel of the kingdom (Acts 20:24, 25) will at once enter into eternal life and will forever enjoy the security and ecstacy of eternal glory (Matt. 8:11–12; 25:34).

The terms kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven are synonymous. W. E. Vine sees a dispensational distinction, but the data do not support this. The expressions are used interchangeably (see Matt. 19:23, 24 with Mark 10:23, 24; Matt. 4:17 with Mark 1:15; Matt. 13:11 with Mark 4:11; Matt. 13:31 with Mark 4:30, 31; Matt. 13:33 with Luke 13:20, 21; Matt. 18:3 with Mark 10:15; Matt. 19:14 with Mark 10:14; Matt. 8:11, 12 with Luke 13:28, 29).

The Kingdom Is Present

It Came with Christ. The NT speaks of the kingdom as coming with Christ. It is the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13). It is now present (Matt. 12:28; Luke 17:21, where within you means “in the midst of you”). For a liberal misuse of this truth, see Realized Eschatology.

The Kingdom and Eternal Life. Kingdom of heaven is also a synonym for eternal life (Matt. 19:16, 23). It demands a response of repentance as the only way of entrance (Matt. 4:17). The preaching of the kingdom is the preaching of the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24, 25) promising all who repent and receive Christ an immediate place in God’s kingdom.

The Kingdom and the Church. It is clear that the kingdom and the church are closely related. In Matt. 16:16, 18–19 Jesus speaks to Peter about building His church and proceeds at once to promise him the keys of the kingdom. While kingdom and church are not altogether synonymous, they stand in a special closeness. The kingdom is the mediatorial rule of Christ and the sphere in which He exercises that rule. The church is the fellowship of the people who have received the offer of the kingdom. So, kingdom emphasizes Christ’s gracious sovereignty, and church emphasizes His redeemed people.

The Kingdom Is Future

It Will Come with Christ. The dying thief asked the Lord, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42), and the Saviour immediately assured him of a place in paradise (v. 43). But the thief’s words indicate that he was anticipating a future kingly reign for Christ. He was not mistaken, for while the kingdom is in one sense present, in another it is still future. We pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). Paul looked forward to Christ’s “appearing and his kingdom” and rejoiced that the Lord “will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1, 18).

Living in the Light of the Kingdom to Come. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) and the various parables of the kingdom Jesus told (Matt. 13, 25) speak of the personal and corporate development of the people of God on earth in submission to the kingship of Christ. These passages deal with the deep ethical, evangelical, and eschatological issues that arise as the gospel confronts men and calls them to Christ. They show that the kingdom is both a present and future kingdom of messianic, or mediatorial, grace.

Millennial Kingdom Is Messianic and Mediatorial. Dispensationalists draw a sharp distinction between messianic and mediatorial in regard to the kingdom. This is unwarranted. The Scriptures identify the Messiah and the Mediator as the Lord Jesus Christ. There is therefore a deep unity of purpose and operation in every aspect of His kingdom. Dispensationalists see no essential continuity between the present mediatorial kingdom of Christ and His messianic, millennial kingdom. But these cannot be divorced. The whole idea of the kingdom as eternal life for all who respond to Christ in repentance precludes the notion of the Jews of the millennial kingdom being forever an earthly people in contrast with the church of the mediatorial kingdom who are a heavenly people.

Postmillennialists and amillennialists deny any reign of Christ on earth as part of His future kingdom and use the vagaries of dispensationalism to show the eminent reasonableness of their position. This is as unwarranted as the dispensational theories they despise. The Scripture speaks of “the ages to come” (Eph. 2:7). It is a very inadequate treatment of OT and NT prophecy that sees only the eternal state to follow this age. The evidence is that the kingdom to come is both millennial and eternal (Rev. 11:15). The millennial kingdom will be Christ’s. It will be a reign of grace. It will mark the fulness of God’s purpose for Israel united to the church. The religion of the kingdom will be Christianity with Christ present on earth, not the revived Judaism dispensationalists anticipate.

The Eternal Kingdom. The kingdom is “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). Its full and eternal expression will come when all things are finally summed up in Christ the head (Eph. 1:10) and all other authority and power have been put down never to rise again (1 Cor. 15:24, 25).

The Kingdom Not of This World

From all this it is clear that the kingdom of God must not be thought of in the terms of liberalism and ecumenism, which reduce it to a man-made social order. Paul equates “the gospel of the kingdom” with “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24, 25), showing that the kingdom is not the product of any social or political activity. It is not the result of any so-called “liberation” movement. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Social gospellers strive to reverse this divine decree, but their effort is doomed to failure. Christ’s kingdom proceeds by other means. It is the product of saving grace, and its subjects are those saved by grace through faith in Christ.

Summary

In summary, then, we note that the kingdom is historical, for it “comes” in time and is even now at work in the world (see the parables of Matt. 13). It is ethical as the Sermon on the Mount makes clear. It is spiritual for it signifies eternal life. And it is eschatological, for it is associated with the prophesied consummation of the ages (Matt. 8:11, 12; 13:24–30, 36–43; 25:31–46).

Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms. Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

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