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What Is Meant by “Kingdom”?

Our last post concluded with these words: “’Kingdom’ sometimes refers to Christ’s rule over all creation. But the use of ‘kingdom‘ in this sense is not the only way it is used in the New Testament.” Nothing demonstrates that clearer that while the word “kingdom” is used to speak of God’s rule, the message that the “kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1:15) showed more than this. It showed that while the kingdom did not presently exist, it was near or at hand. God’s rule or kingdom is past, present, and future. As long as there has been a world, God has ruled. But there is a use of the word “kingdom” that tells us there was a time when that kingdom did not exist. Daniel spoke of a kingdom God would establish in the days of the Roman Empire (2:44). It was a kingdom that did not exist in the day of Nebuchadnezzar. Did God rule the world then? Certainly He did. His rule or kingdom existed when Daniel spoke of God’s kingdom to come. Nebuchadnezzar said, “It hath seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the most high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! And how mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and his dominion is from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:21). Nebuchadnezzar said God’s kingdom “is an everlasting kingdom” — it existed right then. But Daniel spoke of a future kingdom God would set up which would not exist for another 600 years. The word “kingdom” does not refer to the same thing in Daniel 2:44 and 4:21. Jesus taught His disciples to pray “Thy kingdom come” (Mt. 6:10), which was a senseless petition if the kingdom of Daniel 2:44 already existed. When Jesus told His disciples that some of them would not die until they saw the kingdom of God come with power (Mk. 9:1), it was clear His kingdom had not yet come when He told them that.

To illustrate that truth consider the following. The word “faith” sometimes refers to doctrine or system. Sometimes the same word describes the conviction resulting from the preaching of that system (faith). Paul spoke of the gospel being proclaimed which revealed God’s righteousness from “faith unto faith.” We understand Paul to be saying that God’s righteousness is made known from the preaching of that doctrine to the conviction that preaching produces in the heart, which is otherwise known as faith. In the following passages “faith” refers to the system or doctrine revealed by Christ (Gal. 1:23; Eph. 4:5; Jude 3). On the other hand, notice that these passages describe “faith” as the conviction which that doctrine produced (Rom. 5:1; 10:17; Eph. 2:10; Heb. 11:6). In the same way, while admittedly “kingdom” may refer to rule, the word “kingdom” may describe those who are the ruled. First Kings 4:21 tells that Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and they (those kingdoms) brought tributes and served Solomon. In the same way, the promised kingdom of Daniel 2:44 was not just the rule of God; it was those who are ruled by God. The kingdom of Daniel 2:44 is the church.

When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus pronounced a blessing on him and promised to build His church upon that rock, the bedrock of truth which Peter confessed (Mt. 16:15-19). In His next breath, Jesus promised to give Peter the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16:19). Did Jesus change His subject? Did He speak of one thing when He promised to build His church and then another thing when He promised to give Peter the keys of the kingdom? Was He not speaking of the same thing even though He used two different words to identify that of which He spoke? It is not uncommon to see two different descriptions of the church in the same passage. Paul told the Ephesian elders to take heed to the flock then commanded them to feed the church of God (Acts 20:28). Did Paul mean one thing when he said “flock” and something entirely different when he said “church”? Of course not. The church is God’s flock. In the same way, the church is Christ’s kingdom. Paul wrote both to the church of the Colossians and the church of the Thessalonians (Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1), yet both those in the churches at Colossae and Thessalonica were in the kingdom (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12). The church is the kingdom. The kingdom is the church. Hebrew Christians came to the church of the firstborn but they received an unshakeable kingdom (Heb. 12:22, 28). John wrote for the Lord to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:4), but these churches, along with John, were in the kingdom (v. 9).

One should be careful if he explains that the church is “part” of the kingdom, or that the kingdom is larger than the church. That is true only if one uses “kingdom” exclusively to mean the rule of God. Who does not know that God rules over all things including the church? But when one looks at the church as that which God had in mind in Daniel 2:44; that which both John and Jesus preached “was at hand;” that which the apostles and evangelists preached in the first century and that through which the blessing of the seed of Abraham is imparted to the world; then the church is not part of the kingdom — it is the kingdom.

There is one final sense in which the word “kingdom” is used in the New Testament. We will study that in our next post.

Jim McDonald

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