In my previous post, I explored the Old Testament teaching on the concept of “kingdom” and specifically looked at the promised Davidic kingdom; a kingdom that would be ruled by one of Davids’ descendants in righteousness and be an everlasting kingdom. I looked at 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. I also commented on how the expectation of the kingdom was one of a physical, national kingdom that would be centered in Israel but would also be global in scope.
So, when the New Testament era came around, it’s fairly logical to think that this kingdom mentioned in the OT was the expectation, right? Let’s look at the New Testament usages of “kingdom” and explore what is said. As before, I’ve done this only with an English concordance so this is far from comprehensive or exhaustive, but it’s a definite start. 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 summarized in the phrase “the kingdom of the world”) 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. Also, though it seems obvious, it’s worth pointing out that if Christians pray for “”your kingdom come” and “your will be done”, that seems to suggest that the kingdom is not currently here and God’s will is not currently being done on earth like it is in heaven.
3. General/passing references to “kingdom”, “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” in the gospels.
(This third point ended up being a rather long exploration, so I’ve broken it into two separate posts: the gospels and the rest of the NT).
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
a. Matt. 5:3 & 10 appear to be an inclusio on the beatitudes, which I take to suggest 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 that would seem to deny the current reality of the kingdom; every Christian is a citizen of the kingdom (see below) and should both evidence and aspire to these characteristics.
b. Matt. 5:20 suggests a general temporal sequence; righteousness precedes kingdom entrance. Unless your present reality is a Pharisee-surpassing righteousness, your future can never include entrance into the kingdom. The entrance requirements for the kingdom are essentially moral in nature; entrance requires moral perfection. 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 in the gospel of Matthew; 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 at that moment). I would suggest that one seeks the kingdom (future) by seeking God’s righteousness (present); Jesus has already suggested this temporal progression in Matt. 5:20. 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”; it seems like a golden prosperity gospel promise), unless the promise is ultimately a promise that is fulfilled, in full, in the kingdom. 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. 19:28-29 also 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. If the “throwing out” hasn’t occurred yet, neither has the “reclining”.
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 gain entrance into 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”. I’d take a stab in the dark and suggest that the idea is that Jesus (as a 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 (though not present and functioning in the way that it will eventually be present 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 and why this “kingdom” currently looks so bizarre).
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 Pet. 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 Pet. 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 “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 some have portrayed him to be.
j. Matt. 18:1-5 has little to do with 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 (Matt. 18:4) and not seeking glory (Matt. 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 (remember Matt. 5:20). Money, power, intellect, influence, and even philanthropic 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 is very interesting. When Jesus sent out the 72 to preach the kingdom, saying “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 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 (Luke 10:11). This appears to not be saying that the kingdom has come (in some sort of full manifestation), 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 reality kingdom.
It’s also worth recognizing the subtle difference between Luke 10:9-11 and Matt. 12:28. When Jesus performed miracles, “the kingdom of God has come upon you”. When Jesus’ disciples preached and performed miracles, “the kingdom of God has come near to you”. Jesus’ disciples had a share of his power and authority, but Jesus’ disciples weren’t the same as Jesus.
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. Again, this is a passage that I would suggest points out the “already” aspect of the “not yet” kingdom.
Also, the phrase “in your midst” doesn’t mean “in your heart” or “inside you”; that’s likely not the case since Jesus is talking to unregenerate Pharisees when he says it (seems obvious, right?). 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 its monarch publicly exercising his authority) 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” meaning immaterial as opposed to material (I’d suggest reading this to understand my confusion). 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 1:14 all comment on this).
When the kingdom finally comes, it will arrive in the form of a foreign invasion led by Jesus Christ.
Next post, I’ll continue on and look at all the rest of the general/passing references to “kingdom”, “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” outside the gospels.
As always, I welcome all interaction, questions, or even rebuttals.
* It is really hard to find a picture having to do with God’s universal kingdom and rule without finding something horribly cheesy or grossly insufficient. I made the (admittedly cheesy) Masters of the Universe/Scutum Fide picture to visually communicate a concept, not give an actual representation of anything. If I offended anyone, I plead “mind-altering drugs”.