We have all heard of "the kingdom of God". The phrase is not new to us. Matthew refers to it as "the kingdom of heaven", but it's the same thing. It is almost exclusively a New Testament concept, an idea that had its launch, so to speak, in Jesus's first teachings: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). We've all heard of this kingdom. But ... what is it?
In Jesus's time the kingdom of God was "at hand" and "near", but apparently not actually present. He said, "I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:18). Thus, whatever this "kingdom of God" was, it had not yet come. But it wasn't distant, either. It was "near". Nor was it a simple, earthly kingdom concept. Jesus told Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3) followed by "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Thus, seeing this kingdom requires rebirth and entering it requires "born of water and the Spirit".
There are those today who are quite sure that "God is looking for people who will usher in the kingdom of God." Some are quite confident that "Each of us can help build the kingdom of God on earth." If "the kingdom of God" is a better world, then these folk are quite sure that we can and must help God achieve this by our efforts. We build the kingdom by living righteously. We build the kingdom by working toward social reform, helping the poor, meeting the needs of the needy, that sort of thing. This is "kingdom building". All this begs the question: What is the kingdom of God?
Interestingly, there are a lot of things the Bible tells us about the kingdom, but not one of them involves us "building" or "ushering in" God's kingdom. We can see it (John 3:3), receive it (Luke 18:17), even seek it (Matthew 6:33). We can get into it (Matthew 21:31) or have it taken away (Matthew 21:43). We can proclaim it (Luke 8:1). After Paul finally arrived in Rome, the last verses of the book of Acts tell us, "He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (Acts 28:30-31). We can be unfit for it (Luke 9:62). We can inherit (or fail to inherit) it (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). But not one single thing about building or ushering in the kingdom.
Jesus indicated it was "at hand" and "near", but not yet arrived (at least as of the Last Supper). But He also told the Pharisees that they didn't understand what it was.
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20-21).
Apparently, then, the kingdom is a spiritual thing if it "is in the midst of you" but cannot be seen unless you are born again. Apparently, then, it is present and future. A clue to this is given by Jesus when He said, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power" (Mark 9:1). Ah, see? The kingdom could have already come, but had yet to come with power.
The kingdom of God is part of the Gospel. The central message Jesus preached was exactly that: "The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe" (Mark 1:15). Thus, the Gospel is "repent and believe" because the kingdom is good news and the only way to enter it is to do that. So what is the kingdom of God? It cannot be built -- that's God's job -- but it can be entered. What is it? The kingdom of God is simply this: The authority of God. "It has come with power" when Jesus declared "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matthew 28:18). It currently extends to all of God's people. It will eventually cover everything, when the only people that remain are all God's people. It is and it will be. We are in it now and it will culminate in the end with God's kingdom extending over everything. Currently there are two kingdoms -- God's kingdom over His people and the kingdom God allows Satan over the world (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4). That one will end.
This is the kingdom we preach. This is the kingdom we inherit. This is the kingdom we enter by faith in Christ. This is the good news.
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