In my previous post, I explored the New Testament usage of “kingdom”in reference to human empires & reign (national) or Satan’s empire and reign on earth, God’s universal empire and rule, and general/passing references to “kingdom”, “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” in the gospels. That led to some rather interesting discoveries in various passages of scripture, but the New Testament still has plenty of passages left to explore. Today, I’ll continue on with the remaining portion of point three.
General/passing references to “kingdom”, “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” outside the gospels
Acts 1:3, 6, 8:12, 14:22, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 31; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20, 6:9-10, 15:24, 50; Gal. 5:20-21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:13, 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim.4:1, 18; Heb. 1:8; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Peter 1:11; Rev.1:6, 9, 5:10, 12:10
a. It’s high worth noticing that in Acts 1:3, after Jesus’ resurrection, he spent forty days with the apostles and taught them about the kingdom. That is explicitly the only subject matter that Jesus talked about for the time after his resurrection. Apparently he thought it was the most important matter for them to get straight in their heads…and after forty days instruction, in Acts 1:6, the apostles asked Jesus “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” What a telling question; talk of restoring, which insinuates a kingdom like it was in the past. This is one of the most definite indications as to the nature of the kingdom. If the kingdom was “spiritual”, or “Jesus living in your hearts”, or anything other than an everlasting earthly empire based in Jerusalem and ruled from David’s earthly throne (the seat of power, not the same physical chair David sat on), why was Jesus’ response “it is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority”? If there was any confusion with regards to the physical nature of the kingdom, Jesus didn’t say a word of correction to the apostles. Jesus did not say “You slow of heart to hear my words! The kingdom isn’t going to be like it was in the days of David and Solomon. Do you not understand that my kingdom is within your hearts? The kingdom of God is not established on a throne in Jerusalem; the kingdom of God is established on a throne in the hearts of those who believe!”
Jesus didn’t say that. He certainly could have laid all confusion to rest with some sort of hint about the matter, but he didn’t.
In fact, Jesus didn’t say anything corrective about the nature of the kingdom at all. The only corrective was one about the timing of the kingdom’s full manifestation on the earth; basically “don’t worry about the when”.
b. In 1 Cor. 4:20, when it says “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power”, Paul is making this statement in response to the rebellious talk of arrogant men in 1 Cor. 4:18-19. He intends to discipline them when he returns to Corinth with the spiritual authority entrusted to him as an apostle, and the kingdom of God (like other kingdoms) is marked by order, hierarchy and authority (which Paul’s discipline will obviously show that he possesses divine authority and power to establish order, and these rebellious talkers do not). I’m not exactly clear what Paul means when he writes “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power” (1 Cor. 4:19), but I’d confidently suggest that it most likely was alluding to forthcoming church discipline, given the subject matter of 1 Cor. 3-4 (the passage is not talking about miracles, but rather divisions in the church and Paul being judged) and the specific language of 1 Cor. 4:21 sounds like some sort of church discipline language (the “rod” is likely the rod of discipline).
c. 1 Cor. 15:23-25 talks about the whole order of the end times, including the kingdom when it says how in Christ all will be made alive: “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The order here is clear: Christ’s resurrection, then the rapture and resurrection of believers, then the millennial kingdom (he can’t deliver the kingdom to God if there is no kingdom to deliver), and finally the deliverance of the kingdom to the Father after destroying every enemy, including death (1 Cor. 15:26). This passage doesn’t use the term “millennium”, but it definitely makes the most sense when understood as being a broad chronological sequence of end time events that includes the millennial kingdom.
Also, I’d interject here that 1 Cor. 15:23-25 may cover a whole lot of history and not a compressed series of events that occur within a matter of days/months. 1 Cor. 15:20 says “ Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That makes it clear that in the immediate context, the resurrection is what is meant by the first clause of 1 Cor. 15:23-25 (“Christ the firstfruits”). After that is the resurrection that occurs at his coming, which obviously has not happened yet. The large temporal gap between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of believers gives me reason to think that “the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father” may not occur within the next few hours after the resurrection (like some folks suggest who tend to compress this passage to essentially be referring to a single event that apparently occurs in a short amount of time; the “second coming”). Since there has been at least 2,000 years between the first and second events listed, I have ample exegetical precedent to suggest that a thousand years, constituting the period of the earthly kingdom, occurring between the second and third events is easily within the realm of being reasonable.
d. In 1 Cor. 15:50, the phrase “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” does not infer a “spiritual” kingdom at all. The following clause in the verse indicates this when it says “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable”. In the following passage (1 Cor. 15:51-58), Paul unveils a mystery of how believers will all be changed (1 Cor. 15:51) at the last trumpet when the dead will be raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:52), when our perishable bodies will be physiologically changed so that they’re “imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:53-54). Believers will still have bodies, but they’ll be different bodies in the same way that Christ was both physical and yet vastly different after his resurrection. Paul doesn’t give details, but only unveils the mystery of the “imperishable” body that believers will receive at the resurrection. The kingdom is an earthly, physical kingdom, but believers will need to be outfitted with vastly different bodies to live for the duration of a 1,000 year kingdom that then merges with God’s everlasting kingdom.
From an engineering standpoint, our human bodies could easily survive for 1,000 years (and the fact that they don’t suggests that all the “aging cures” that are out there are simply snake oil). To phrase it in a little more technical language: your body is an absolutely astonishing piece of self-constructing organic nanotechnology that is self-replicating, self-repairing, runs on organic fuel and regularly replaces every single component (you have an entirely new liver every 150 days). The problem is that we just that we have a hamartiologically compromised chassis/operating system (and absolutely no human engineering will ever solve our “sin” problem). When the manufacturer does the factory recall and fixes the problem, we’ll become physically immortal.
e. Col. 1:13-14 comment on the present reality of the kingdom for believers, who have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ. This would be akin to saying that believers are positionally righteous, and yet do not fully possess the righteousness that they will have once they’re glorified. Believers are citizens of the kingdom, but they’re citizens that are currently on foreign soil and not living in the kingdom. I’ll take a stab at an analogy that hopefully will transmit the idea: as I Canadian, if I go visit Washington DC I’ll be on American soil wherever I go…except if I go to 501 Pennsylvania Avenue. If I show my Canadian passport and walk through the doors, I’m all of a sudden on Canadian soil even though I’m hundreds of miles from the nation of Canada. Christians are, in a somewhat similar way, residents of another country (or kingdom) on foreign soil. Our citizenship isn’t from this current earth, nor any kingdom of this current era…but when Christians gather together to worship our king on the first day of the week, you might possibly say that we are (in some way) temporarily on home soil.
f. James 2:5 states that God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, but not because they are poor. The passage says that those two things (rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom) are those “which he has promised to those who love him”, meaning that their love for him is what qualifies them for those two blessings, and that love for God is produced in their hearts by God. God gives both faith and entrance into the kingdom, and he gives those things to those whom he has changed into being “those who love him”.
g. Rev. 12:10 marks the time when “now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come”. Why? The rest of the verse informs us when it says “for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God”. This is the future time when the kingdom arrives, and the arrival of the kingdom is synonymous with the “arrival” of salvation and power and authority of the Father and the Son, all of which are distinctly marked by the throwing down of Satan out of heaven (Rev. 12:8). The eviction of the devil from Heaven marks the first stage of the actual earthly manifestation of the kingdom, though there are more stages.
One thing – Rev. 20:4-6 is not mentioned in the list simply because the word “kingdom” doesn’t appear in the passage, not because it’s not about the kingdom. Just saying so some folks don’t think I’ve forgotten an important passage (among the many others I haven’t mentioned).
There’s actually a fair bit more to discuss than I’ve discussed yet, namely all the kingdom parables that Christ told. Instead of making this post unbearably long, I’ll explore all the kingdom parables in the next post.
I hope the previous posts, as well as this one, have been both informative and stimulating to some good thoughts; it’s always good to fill your mind with the scripture and topics therein. Also, I hope thinking at length about the kingdom makes you long for that kingdom that is coming and provides some renewed perspective on this life and this world. Both will pass away, but the kingdom that is coming will be everlasting.
I’m somewhat longing for that day.
As always, I welcome all interaction, questions, or even rebuttals.