One of the main themes of Jesus’ teaching during His earthly ministry was the Kingdom of God. As soon as He began His ministry, “Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of God… ‘the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:15). When He sent out His disciples, their message was similar: “These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them to proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand‘” (Matthew 10:5). After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples continued to “preach the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12), and even at the end of the apostolic age we see the apostle Paul basing his teaching on the Kingdom (Acts 28:30 – 31). But what is the Kingdom, and how can we be servants of the Kingdom in this world?
The first concept to understand is that the Kingdom is God’s realm where He rules as almighty sovereign. This means that the Kingdom grows and is given where Jesus says it will, and nowhere else. The Kingdom can draw near to men (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15); it can come (Matthew 6:10; Luke 17:20), arrive (Matthew 12:28), appear (Luke 19:11), and be active (Matthew 11:12). God can give the Kingdom to men (Matthew 21:43; Luke 12:32), but men do not give the Kingdom to one another. Further, God can take the Kingdom away from men (Matthew 21:43), but men do not take it away from one another, although they can prevent others from entering it. Men can enter the Kingdom (Matthew 5:20; 7:21; Mark 9:47; 10:23), but they are never said to erect it or to build it. Men can receive the Kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), inherit it (Matthew 25:34), and possess it (Matthew 5:4), but they are never said to establish it. People can reject the Kingdom by refusing to receive it (Luke 10:11) or enter it (Matthew 23:13), but they cannot destroy it.* This means, then, that we should be earnest and full of zeal when we pray “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) in the Lord’s Prayer, because only God can bring about His kingdom, and it is only by His sovereign power that we can enter into it.
Similarly, when we understand God’s unique Kingdom, we will strive to not confuse His Kingdom with the kingdoms of this world. When Jesus was being interrogated by Pilate, He reminded him, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). The Kingdom that Jesus established in His ministry is not like the kingdoms built by men. Further, it doesn’t spread like other kingdoms. Governments and kingdoms of this world need strength and power to grow. But Jesus says that His Kingdom looks small and weak, but grows from a divine power (Matthew 13:31 – 33). In the same way, Paul teaches us that we must not attempt to spread the Kingdom of God using the same techniques that worldly kingdoms employ (II Corinthians 10:4 – 6). Praying for God’s Kingdom to come might look or feel weak when we are used to growing through spending money, buying and selling, building and expanding, or worldly strategies; but God promises to grow His Kingdom through the ministry of Scripture, prayer, and His ordinances.
As Christians, we are waiting for God’s Kingdom to be fully revealed. We now see it in part, and most of what we see of the Kingdom is revealed in the Church. However, there are two errors to avoid. First, we cannot overly identify the Kingdom with the Church, and secondly, we cannot separate the Kingdom from the Church. All that the Kingdom will be is more than the Church is, and we still experience injustice, evil, and the need for God’s grace even within the Church (Matthew 5:10 – 11; 13:47 – 50). However, just because the Church is still imperfect does not mean we should reject it, because it is through the Church that Christians experience the foretastes of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:18). As covenant members of Christ’s Church, we are pilgrims awaiting the day when we will enjoy the fullness of His Kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth.
Praying with you for the coming of His Kingdom,
*Much of this material and more can be seen in George Eldon Ladd’s book, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Eerdmans, 1996) p. 193.