The kingdom was a major part of Jesus’s communications with His apostles during the 40 days after His resurrection, prior to His ascension to heaven. He spoke with them of “the things concerning the kingdom” (Acts 1:3). Philip preached to the Samaritans things concerning the kingdom (Acts 8:12). Barnabas and Paul warned disciples that through much tribulation “we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul went about preaching the kingdom when he was in Ephesus (Acts 20:25). To Jews who lived in Rome during his first interment, Paul preached the kingdom (Acts 28:23). Luke the historian summed up Paul’s two years in prison in Rome as he taught things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and preached the kingdom with “all boldness, none forbidding him” (Acts 28:31). The writers of the New Testament after Pentecost wrote of the kingdom in both present and future tenses. Jesus spoke of the kingdom in the near future. His teaching also reveals that He not only spoke of the kingdom as near, yet future (“at hand,” “not far from the kingdom”), but He spoke of the kingdom in the distant future (Matt. 25:31-34).
There is no doubt that the New Testament teaches that the kingdom existed in the first century. One of the questions the apostles asked Jesus was, “Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom of God to Israel?” (Acts 1:3). It was only natural they should ask that question. Had He not just spent 40 days with them talking about it? Jesus had earlier promised that some of them would not die until they had seen the kingdom come with power (Mk. 9:1), making it an absolute necessity the kingdom was very near (“at hand”) and for Jesus to be a true teacher these words had to come to pass during the apostles’ lifetime.
Something began on Pentecost. When Peter defended his entering into the house of the Gentile Cornelius and eating with them (Acts 11:2-18), he rehearsed a vision he had seen on a housetop in Joppa (Acts 10). He told them the Spirit commanded him to go with messengers Cornelius had sent to fetch him (Acts 10:5, 20), and then that during his preaching to Cornelius and his house the Holy Spirit fell on them “just as it did on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Peter identified the apostles being filled with the Holy Spirit as “the beginning.” All students of the scriptures know when that occurred: it happened on Pentecost and is recorded in Acts 2:1-4. That was the “beginning.” It was the beginning of the kingdom Jesus had preached as “at hand” and had “come nigh to you.” On Pentecost Peter preached that God had made Jesus Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), and on that day was fulfilled David’s words: “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on my right hand till I make all thy enemies the footstool of thy feet” (Acts 2:34; cp. Psa. 110:1). Furthermore, the Hebrew writer spoke of Christ as higher than angels because that “of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; and the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom …” (Heb. 1:8; Psa. 45:6-7). At the time the Hebrew writer wrote, Jesus had a scepter. He was a king. He had a kingdom. Daniel 7:13-14 pictures the heavenly scene and final destination that Jesus began from earth (Acts 1:9), but which ended in heaven and what happened when He arrived there. Daniel wrote, “I saw in the night visions and behold there came with the clouds of glory one like unto a son of man and he came unto the ancient of days and they brought him near before him. And there was given unto him, dominion and glory and a kingdom.” Daniel spoke of Jesus’ ascension back to the Father where there was given unto Him a kingdom. Truly, Jesus is now King of kings and Lord of Lords. Both the kingdom and the church began on Pentecost. Three thousand people were added to it (Acts 2:41, 47), thus showing the kingdom and the church to be the same.
Paul wrote the Colossian church, commenting that they had been translated (past tense, past action) into the kingdom, an impossibility had the kingdom not existed (Col. 1:13). He wrote the Thessalonians that God had called them (again, notice past tense action) into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:13). Hebrew Christians came to the church but received a kingdom (Heb. 12:22, 28), and John comforted suffering Christians in the seven churches that while he and they were partakers in tribulation, they also shared in the kingdom and patience (Rev. 1:7). Jesus told Nicodemus that to be in the kingdom he must be born again (John 3:3, 5), and Peter wrote to those who had been born anew (1 Pet. 1:23). They were in the kingdom, but those who were born again and thus were in the kingdom were also in the church, the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1-3). The kingdom existed in the first century. It exists today.
The apostles also wrote of the kingdom in a future tense. Paul looked with confidence to God that He would save him unto His heavenly kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18). Peter gave the seven “Christian graces” which, if one has added them, will provide an abundant entrance for him into God’s eternal kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11). Other passages tell us that unrighteous ones shall not inherit the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:19). Those who practice the works of the flesh “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). Jesus told the disciples that His kingdom was future, yet near (Mk. 1:14). He also pointed to the distant future for the kingdom. At the final judgment when all nations will be judged and receive their final rewards, the king will say to those on His right hand, “Come, ye blessed on my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world” (Mt. 25:34). Whenever scriptures were written in the days of the church’s existence that referred to the kingdom as yet future, the reference was to heaven.
The word “kingdom” as it relates to God, one time included the world (Mt. 13:34-39), sometimes included God’s rule, and sometimes was used of both His church or heaven. Howbeit, the kingdom promised in Daniel 2:44-45 and described as “near” by John and Jesus is a reference to His church.