At the beginning and end of the book of Acts, it is stated first that Jesus spoke with His disciples “concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), and then that Paul, in Roman imprisonment, preached the kingdom of God to all who came into his quarters (Acts 28:31). Paul had told the Ephesian elders that he had gone among them “preaching the kingdom” (Acts 20:25).
What did Paul and the other apostles preach about the kingdom? Did they preach that while it was “yet at hand” it was still future? Or did they indicate that the promise of Daniel (2:44), John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2), and Jesus (Mk. 1:15) had been fulfilled — that the kingdom had in fact become a reality?
Keep in mind that Jesus preached about the kingdom in two senses: in the first sense it was “at hand,” and in the second sense it was far in the future at the end of the world. At the conclusion of His Olivet discourse where He had prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem and then of the end of the world (Matt. 24:3). He dealt first with the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:4-34), and then of the world’s end (Matt. 24:35-51). In connection with the latter, Jesus spoke of the final judgment in which eternal life will be given to the righteous and eternal punishment to the wicked (Matt. 25:31-46). At this judgment Jesus will say to the righteous, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). It is also of this time Jesus spoke when He said, “And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness …” (Matt. 8:11-12). Still, while Jesus did look to the world’s end and speak of a kingdom then, He promised that the time was fulfilled for the kingdom, that it was at hand and that some then were living to be part of it (Mk. 1:15; 9:1).
In the same way both Paul and Peter looked to the world’s end and the kingdom (heaven) awaiting. Paul had great confidence God would save him unto his heavenly kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18). Peter spoke of those who by doing “these things” would be richly supplied entrance into God’s eternal kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11). However, unlike Jesus and the apostles before the Lord’s ascension who had preached that the kingdom was “at hand,” such was not the apostles’ message after Pentecost. Both Paul and Peter preached after Jesus’ ascension to heaven about the kingdom. What did they preach?
Peter began from Pentecost onward preaching that the kingdom is here. On Pentecost he assured his listeners that Jesus had received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33), and that He was at the right hand of God, clearly a reference to the promise the Father had given as recorded by David 1,000 years earlier: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand till I make all thy enemies the footstool of thy feet” (Psa. 110:1). Peter declared Jesus had received that promise, that He was, at that moment, reigning at the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33). He assured all that there was salvation in none other than Jesus (Acts 4:12). He closed his Pentecost sermon with these words: “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom he crucified” (Acts 2:36). He was both Lord and Christ for He had received the authority which made Him such.
Let us now turn to see what Paul said about the kingdom. He told the Colossians that they had been translated (past tense, an accomplished fact) into God’s kingdom (Col. 1:13). He reminded the Thessalonians they should walk worthily of God who calleth them into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12). He assured Timothy that Jesus is the blessed and only Potentate (1 Tim. 6:15). He referred to Jesus as the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). He assured the Philippians that because of what Christ had freely and willingly suffered for sinners, that God had “highly exalted him and given unto him the name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in heaven, things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). Today, the only thing not subjected to the authority of Christ is the eternal Father (1 Cor. 15:27). What more power could Jesus exercise than this? Are we to suppose that someday even the Father will be subject to the authority of His Son?
To the Ephesians among whom Paul had gone preaching the kingdom, Paul wrote that whereas earlier they had been strangers and sojourners, they were now (at that very moment) fellow-citizens with the saints (Eph. 2:19). A sheep is part of a flock, a hand is part of a body, and a citizen is part of a government or a kingdom. These Ephesians (like those of Colossae and Thessalonica) were in the kingdom. At Thessalonica (where some had been called into the kingdom), enemies of Paul said he said there is another king, Jesus (Acts 17:7). Yes, I know this was his enemies’ accusation, but where did he ever deny he did say Jesus was king? The Jews twisted Jesus’ words “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19) to mean He would rebuild the physical temple in three days rather than that He was predicting His own resurrection. But He did say, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews at Thessalonica charged Paul with saying there was another king, Jesus, implying Jesus was a threat to Caesar. Jesus was no threat to the rule of Caesar, but He did claim to be king, and Paul affirmed that He was.
When Paul went about preaching the kingdom of God he preached that it presently existed. It began when God gave Jesus all authority in heaven and earth, and He sat down at the Father’s right hand. Peter concurred. He called that day “the beginning.”
Six hundred years before Jesus began His reign at Pentecost, a prophet named Daniel had foreseen the majesty of Jesus’ ascension to His Father and had written, “I beheld in the night visions and behold there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days and they brought him near before him. And there was given unto his dominion and glory and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). The kingdom Jesus taught His disciples to pray to come, has come.