November 25, 2014

A Biblical Exploration of “Kingdom”: The New Testament Ctd.

by Lyndon Unger

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

Kingdom of God

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).

Paul Elymas

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.

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him didn’t.
  • Mr. Mike

    Another fantastic post. Thank you so much for that exposition. It really is an amazing subject that is, sadly, not only misunderstood but rarely discussed. Great job and as always, Scripturally sound.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks so much Mr. Mike! I’m glad it is edifying!

  • tovlogos

    Thanks for the work, Lyndon.

    “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”. This dichotomy persists throughout the Bible.

    I see the kingdom coming upon us as the Spirit of Christ, which will make the kingdom familiar when we have arrived and fully realize.

    Also, I find John 21:25, one of the most alluring passages in the Bible.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Yeah, I’d love to have volumes 2 through 2 million of the gospel of John.

      • tovlogos

        Ha — Amen!

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Lyndon, you mention how after Jesus’ resurrection, he spent forty days with the apostles and taught them about the kingdom, claiming that was regarding a literal earthly empire. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve always believed that time to be when Christ instructed the apostles in matters of faith, repentance, obedience and love, (kingdom citizenship) as reflected in the gospels and epistles.

    I was also under the impression that when the apostles asked if Christ was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at that time, they still had in mind a political/military restoration (i.e. Luke 24:21). And that it wasn’t until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they would fully grasp the meaning of true redemption and restoration. (Perhaps that’s why Jesus followed the statement that it wasn’t for them to know the times or dates with, “BUT, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”

    Now please don’t misunderstand that I don’t believe there will be a literal kingdom, I do. But at the same time I’m not sure if those verses you chose are speaking of that. Just a thought. (I’m already seriously nervous that I’m going to get theologically pounded here, so please be gentle.)

    • Lyndon Unger

      Jane, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re nervous about asking questions here. I hope that I haven’t given you reason to fear honest inquisition, but if I have, I’d love to have that pointed out to me. Chances are that the gracelessness I condemn in others is alive and well in my own heart.

      As for Acts 1, all I have to go on is this:

      “(3) He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (4) And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; (5) for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (6) So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (7) He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” – Acts 1:3-8

      Acts 1:3 only explicitly tells me that Christ spoke about the kingdom. He may have discussed other issues, but Acts 1:3 doesn’t tell me that and I try hard to not fill in the blanks of scripture with educated guesses.

      After that instruction, Acts 1:6 records only one question that the apostles had, and it was “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

      Again, they probably asked him more, but I have absolutely no idea what those questions were.

      With regards to Rom. 14:17, I would suggest that 14:17 is a general principle that Paul applies to the situation in 14:13-19. I don’t believe that Paul is giving a lesson on the kingdom outside of his general point that the Kingdom isn’t about food or drink but righteousness, peace and joy…hence believers who make it about outward regulations aren’t walking in love (i.e. aren’t acting in a way befitting a citizen of the kingdom). Another way to say it is that if a believer focuses on all the outward regulations and not their own inward condition, they’re misrepresenting the kingdom and are actually discouraging and harming kingdom citizens (though they wrongly think they’re encouraging and helping them).

      With regards to the national restoration, I’d suggest that the disciples rightly expected a political/military restoration, but their error was in the timing. I’d also suggest that in Acts 1:8, Jesus is making a contrast: “the coming kingdom isn’t something you need to be concerned with, but you DO need to be concerned with the coming Holy Spirit.” The apostles had the promise of the Spirit (i.e. in Acts 1:4-5) and the promise of the kingdom (assumed to be discussed in Acts 1:3). They focused on the coming kingdom rather than the coming Holy Spirit and Jesus was correcting their wrong focus.

      Does that make sense?

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Yes, that makes sense. Thanks for the reply, Lyndon.

        And I did not mean to imply in any way that you were graceless. I meant that sometimes asking or countering someone with the knowledge you all have can be quite intimidating. Kinda like the little kid on the playground who wants to play with the big kids only to discover how terribly short he is.

        Topics of eschatology and the details of what is beyond can be confusing to the average believer (like me) whose mind stops at the rapture. It’s good to view these things through a different lens. Thank you for that.

  • David Alves

    Hi Lyndon,

    I always find your posts so wonderful and edifying. You are such a blessing.

    I want to re-ready these posts very carefully in case I missed anything, as the
    kingdom is one of my very favorite NT subjects, but I did want to ask you a
    question: In what sense do you see Jesus reigning over the hearts and lives of
    believers today? Is it appropriate to call this reign the kingdom in any
    meaningful sense (e.g., a couple of the verses you culled from Matthew always
    seemed more personal/spiritual to me, even though like you I am committed to a
    very real future aspect of the kingdom, and thus a future application of those
    verses). From what I read it sounds like you understand Scripture to make the
    kingdom almost entirely future. I’ll have to look at those verses again and
    maybe write another comment, as it is almost 12:30 AM here in Connecticut!

    I enjoyed your Canadian embassy analogy. Tony Evans has used a similar illustration more than once, with great profit in my thinking.

    Finally, were you aware of the pair of sermons John MacArthur preached on Luke 17:20-21? It sounds like he might take a different tack than you would, though I could be wrong (again, it’s late).

    Saw your post on MK on your health improvements. Just in time for Thanksgiving! 🙂

    • Lyndon Unger

      Hey David. Thanks for the kind and encouraging words. It’s always encouraging to know that some of my offerings make some sort of positive contribution.

      In reading through and studying the kingdom, I’ve come to understand the kingdom to be a FAR more future reality than I’ve previously been led to believe (and part of the confusion might be remedied if you read this post as a little reminder: In fact, I would say that I’d describe the kingdom as an almost entirely future reality.

      Still, I’d refer you to my extended comments in the previous article on Matt. 5:3 & 10, 13:52, 16:28; Luke 10:9-10, 17:21; John 18:36. Also, I’d refer you to my comments in this post on Col 1:13-14. All of those have something to do with the current manifestation of the kingdom.

      When Christ was on earth, he was a fleshly manifestation of the kingdom in the sense that he was its monarch, exercising his power in the midst of Rome and Judea with nobody able to stop him from forgiving sins, healing disease, and even granting life to the dead.

      Right now, Jesus’ kingdom has not been established in the way that it WILL be, but the citizens of the kingdom are already citizens and the kingdom exists, as an entity of sorts, in the intermediate Heaven. Also, the citizens of the kingdom act as people of a foreign nation: different customs, different language, different worldview, different sovereign, etc.

      As for the current “reign” in the hearts of believers, I wouldn’t really call that a “reign” or some sort of “spiritual kingdom” because the Bible never uses that terminology.

      As for Luke 17:20-21, I actually was at GCC for those sermons and remember where I was sitting (strangely). I respect John MacArthur immensely, but I definitely disagree with him on his understanding of those two verses. I give my reasons in the previous post. Remember that Jesus said “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” to the Pharisees, but Luke 17:22 Jesus switched to talking to his disciples.

      I don’t think a lot of people catch that significant detail and I doubt that he was suggesting the kingdom of God was in the hearts of the Pharisees.

      • David Alves

        Hi Lyndon. Thanks for your wonderful reply. I did read your comments on those verses (especially Colossians 1), but I appreciate your willingness to point them out more specifically. As I said, it was late when I read these, so my willingness to meticulously chew over your wonderfully lengthy posts wasn’t as present! 🙂

        I think John made similar comments in his Study Bible on that passage, that it obviously was not referring to the “unbelieving” Pharisees. I agree. It’s cool you remember where you were sitting! (I wonder if MacArthur’s views on the kingdom are a more Reformed one, or where the “leaky” in “leaky dispensationalist” comes in?)

        I liked your point about Jesus being the physical, fleshly manifestation of the kingdom. That makes sense, seeing as He was/is its king and was Messiah offering the kingdom to His Jewish people. I don’t at all recall reading the post on eternal life you linked to, so I look forward to that. I always enjoy studying and learning about these issues with good brothers who sharpen iron.

        I do hope you and I could fellowship in person someday! You are such an encouragement to me. Blessed Thanksgiving (even though I know Canadians celebrate it at the wrong time :).

        • David Alves

          Oh, and Lyndon, just so you know when I went to read your eternal life post it didn’t work. I assume this is the same one:

          Also, is there any way to listen to the sermon you mentioned in that post?

          Happy (American) Thanksgiving, again!

        • Lyndon Unger

          Thanks for the kind words David.

          It’s interesting that you mentioned the MacArthur Study Bible. The note on Luke 17:21 says:

          “In your midst. I.e., within people’s hearts. The pronoun could hardly refer to the Pharisees in general.”

          Funny thing is that 17:20 says that he was explicitly talking to the Pharisees, and 17:22 explicitly states that Jesus changed his audience to the disciplines. The “you” in 17:21 may be referring to the same “you” as 17:23, but it’s really difficult for me to see how that could be.

          I’ll stick to my guns on this one, mostly because the text seems to fence me in here. It’s not a big point, but it’s one of the only “go to” texts for people to suggest that the Kingdom is “in your hearts”.

          Remove Luke 17:20-21 and John 18:36, and there’s next to nothing left to suggest that the “kingdom is in your heart”.

          The question then becomes “why does everyone think that?”

          I’d suggest that the idea of the kingdom “in your heart” is up there with the idea that Jeremiah 29:11 is written to 21st century North American Christians, the idea that the “red letters” of the New Testament are the most important, and the idea that Jesus “shows up” when 2 people gather together and pray.

          The idea comes from confused tradition established by a misunderstanding of the Bible, not from the Bible itself.

          Maybe one day we’ll meet up at a Shepherd’s Conference or something. That will be a true time of thanksgiving.

          Finally, you’re right on the source of this post. Most of my stuff here is remastered from my personal blog…but it’s often a lot better here since I have time to edit, clarify, and add pictures. The sermon from Titus that is referenced in my Mennoknight blog post is no longer online, though I have a copy somewhere on a backup drive. I doubt my mediocre sermons from back then will ever see the light of day again!

  • c

    Lyndon, what did your research reveal on the kingdom reference in 1 Cor. 6:9-11:

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”


    • Lyndon Unger

      Well, 1 Cor. 6:9-11 seems to be a passing reference to the kingdom, and the inheritance language appears to point to something that is future. I would suggest that the idea “inheriting the kingdom” involves becoming a realized citizen of the kingdom when the kingdom is manifest.

      Another way of saying that would be that believers inherit the kingdom at the resurrection.

      Those who will be resurrected will be resurrected on the basis of Christ’s promise, but the proof that they’re partakers in that promise is found in the possession of a changed heart (a sole work of the Spirit) that is marked by love for God (as manifest by obedience to his commands) and love for fellow believers (as marked by caring for them in tangible ways and not just positive feelings of affection).

      People who live in sin aren’t actually regenerate, and unregenerate folks will not inherit the kingdom of God (they’ll be resurrected unto judgment, not the kingdom).

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  • Christina Moret

    This is a subject that I have never totally understood (and never knew where to go for a better understanding), so thank you! Chris from NC
    PS I also ordered the Alva McClain book

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