The King, The Kingdom, And the Church
By Eddie Cloer

"From that time Jesus began to preach and say, 
'Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"' 
(Matthew 4:17).

What comes to your mind when you try to visualize what heaven is going to be like? Do you envision walking down streets of gold in continual fellowship with all the redeemed? Do you think of worshiping in front of the throne of God in a vast, innumerable to God and doing His bidding throng, giving praise forever?

We can safely make two affirmations about our human view of heaven: First, heaven will be different from our expectations. God has used symbols and figures in the Bible to convey to us what heaven will be like, describing heaven in accommodative terms of what we can understand, not in terms of what heaven actually is. The reality of heaven will be similar to, though different from, the symbols used to describe it.

If you were trying to describe an airplane to someone who had never seen one or heard about one, what would you say? Most likely you would say, "It is like a bird, but it carries people inside it." Your description would be accurate, although a plane is much different from the figure you used. When the person actually saw a plane and rode in one, he would say, "A plane is different from the way you described it!" Surely this is true of our picture of heaven. Even though our picture is based upon the figurative representation given in the Scriptures, we will find that heaven will be different from what we have envisioned. 

Second, heaven will be greater than our expectations. The reality is not only different from but also greater than the symbols used to picture it. Heaven will not have literal streets of gold; it will be even more beautiful than gold and other precious metals. Heaven's beauty will transcend the most beautiful things we see and know in this life. 

When we experience the reality of heaven, we will say, "Heaven is different from what I expected. It is far greater than any anticipation I had concerning it even though I had inspired figures and symbols in the Scriptures to assist me in picturing it." 

This truth regarding heaven illustrates the development of another subject which appears often in the Scriptures. The kingdom of God is both foretold and revealed, anticipated and realized, within the two testaments of the Bible. It was prophesied in the Old Testament and in the early part of the New Testament, and it is presented as a reality on earth in Acts 2 and throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Therefore, we are able to see how it was pictured in prophecy and how it looked when it actually came. Since the kingdom was sometimes portrayed in figures and symbols in prophecy, the reality of it is greater and more glorious than the picture of it given by the prophets. The prophetic picture was accurate, but it was veiled in mystery because of the figurative language which was used. 

The word "kingdom" is a significant word in the New Testament as well as in the Old, but we are especially interested in its use in the New Testament because in its New Testament use we see the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. One is at a loss to understand the church of the New Testament without a thorough grasp of the use of this word in the Bible. 

Let us examine this word from three angles, each of which relates to its use in conjunction with the church which Christ established.

ITS POLITICAL USE 

The word "kingdom" is first used in the Bible in a political sense, in reference to one who is the supreme head, the sovereign, the potentate of a realm. 

A king is a ruler, and a kingdom is the domain over which the ruler reigns. The first reference to a "kingdom" in the Bible is in connection with Nimrod, and it serves to illustrate what a king and kingdom are. Genesis relates:

Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord." And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar (Genesis 10:8 10).

Nimrod established a domain over which he ruled as king. 

The extent of the dominion of some kings in Bible times was limited. Some were even limited to a city. Adonibezek, who was captured by Judah and Simeon, claimed that seventy former kings had eaten scraps under his table (Judges 1:4 7). Other kings became absolute monarchs over vast domains and exercised their power with almost unlimited control over the subjects of their empires. Ahasuerus, the king of the Persian world empire, could authorize the writing of a law that would command the massacre of the Jews living within his empire (Esther 3:10 15). He was the sovereign of Persia, with absolute power.

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More than one third of Jesus' 
parables unfold truths 
about the kingdom.

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The political use of the word ""kingdom" is also illustrated by Jehovah's relationship with the nation of Israel. At first in Israel's history, God is their king. He is the Sovereign Head of their government as well as the Head of their religion. Israel's government at this time was a theocracy, a nation ruled by God. Moses and the sons of Israel, when they saw that God had destroyed the Egyptians in the Red Sea, sang, "The Lord shall reign forever and ever" (Exodus 15:18). As Israel encamped in front of Mount Sinai, the nation was told by the Lord, "Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5, 6). Jehovah gave Israel the laws by which they were to live, and all justice and religious activities were administered in His name. He led Israel in her battles and received credit for her victories (Numbers 21:34). He was the King of Israel, and Israel, as a nation under His rule, was His domain. 

During the days of Samuel, Israel, motivated by the desire to be like the nations around her, asked that God give her an earthly king. God granted the people's request and gave them Saul as their first king. The king of Israel was not to be a monarch in the strictest use of the term. He was responsible to Jehovah as a vice regent and servant. His authority was to be limited by the law of Moses. He was to be the servant of Jehovah and was to serve as His earthly representative. He was to defend Israel against enemies, lead Israel in righteousness, and bind the nation together in unity. 

A kingdom in the political sense, then, involved a king who was sovereign, a domain of some kind, subjects over which to rule, and laws emanating from the king with which his rule was carried out. Kingdoms could be large or small; they could involve a domain of physical land or a nomadic nation. The dominant idea in the word "kingdom" is the rule of a king and the submission of a citizenry to that king.

ITS PROPHETIC USE 

The word "kingdom" also has a prophetic use in the Scriptures. This political term was used by the Holy Spirit to foretell the work which God purposed to do in the world in the last age of the world, the Christian Age. 

A major Old Testament "kingdom" prophecy is found in Daniel 2. Daniel was guided by the Holy Spirit to write, "And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44). Daniel's revelation reveals significant truths regarding the kingdom being prophesied. First, it would be a special kingdom, or a kingly rule, set up by the God of heaven. Second, it would be a kingdom which would be eternal or unending. Third, it would transcend all the other kingdoms of the world in power and endurance. 

Moreover, prophecy concerning the coming of this kingdom of God had a place of central importance in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1, 2) and in the preaching and teaching of Jesus (Matthew 4:17). The gospel was spoken of by Christ as the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 9:35). The twelve and the seventy were sent out by Jesus to announce that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 10:7; Luke 10:9). More than one third of Jesus' parables unfold truths about the kingdom. Jesus taught His disciples to pray for the kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10)

From this emphasis given to the subject of the kingdom in the ministry of John and Christ, several conclusions can be drawn: First, the coming of the kingdom was of great significance in God's plan. Second, the coming of the kingdom was near, "breaking in," or "at hand." Third, the kingdom which was coming was manifestly the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy. Fourth, the arrival of the kingdom was God's work, not man's. Fifth, when it arrived, the kingdom could only be entered by man when God's conditions of entrance were met (John 3:5).

As one moves through the New Testament, he notices a decreasing use of the word "kingdom," whether it is "the kingdom of heaven," "the kingdom of God," or another phrase referring to the kingdom. References to the kingdom occur forty nine times in Matthew, fifteen times in Mark, thirty nine times in Luke five times in John, eight times in Acts, fourteen times in Paul's Epistles, two times in the General Epistles, two times in Hebrews, and three times in Revelation. Hence, the word "kingdom" has a continued but decreasing use in the New Testament.

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The dominant idea in the word 
"kingdom" is the rule of a king 
and the submission of a 
citizenry to that king.

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Matthew is the only New Testament writer who uses "kingdom of heaven." Mark, Luke, and John only use "kingdom of God." While the use of the word "kingdom" decreases when one gets to Acts, the use of the term "church" increases. It is as if the term "kingdom" is replaced by the Holy Spirit with the word id church." 

From Acts 2 forward, the kingdom is always spoken of as a reality, as being present. Jesus had said to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). But of Philip's preaching Christ in Samaria, Luke writes, "But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike" (Acts 8:12). Philip could not have preached this message had the kingdom not been present. 

The prophetic use of the word "kingdom," then, refers to the spiritual reign of God over those who have submitted to His will for the world. It refers to a reign and a realm the reign being the spiritual reign of God over a life, and the realm being the spiritual sphere where that reign of God is evident. This kingly rule of Christ is included in the word "church": As one submits to the will of Christ by receiving the gospel, he is brought into the body of Christ, the church; and as he lives in submission to the head of the church, Christ Jesus, he lives in and as God's earthly kingdom. The kingly rule of Christ over people's hearts creates the church. Thus, "the kingdom of God" and "the church of Christ" are expressions which can be interchanged, as Jesus reveals in Matthew 16:18, 19.

ITS PRESENT DAY USE 

The political background, the prophetic use, and the New Testament reality of the word "kingdom" require a present day, practical use of the word. 

First, it should be used in the sense of prophetic fulfillment. The kingdom of which Daniel spoke has come. God's special work in the world in a form of kingly rule, a reign which involves a spiritual realm, is now present. Those who have bowed to the will of God have come under that kingly rule. The prophetic utterances concerning God's coming kingdom have been fulfilled. 

Second, we should use the word "kingdom" in the sense of a present day reality. The kingdom of God is no longer something which is to come. Christ reigns now over those who have come into His church through obedient faith. In a sense, our prayer should no longer be, "Your kingdom come," but, "May I fully submit to Your will that You may reign over my life and that I might live in Your kingdom." 

Third, we should use this word in reference to an earthly expression of God's heavenly rule. God's specially chosen people, the church, are the earthly expression of His kingdom. Jesus and the New Testament writers have indicated that the church is the realization of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Christ. Submission to a king creates a citizenship, a kingdom. Jesus called this community of submissive believers His church (Matthew 16:18,19)

Fourth, we should see this word in the context of a spiritual rule. Faithful Christians are under the spiritual rule of Christ today and anticipate entrance into a fuller and more intimate relationship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in eternity to come. We are the kingdom now, but we anticipate the eternal kingdom which is to come. The word "kingdom" has a future dimension to it. Christ said,

Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matthew 7:21 23).

Paul wrote, "The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 4:18). Paul was in the kingdom of God, but he anticipated entrance into the heavenly kingdom. He saw the kingdom as a fulfillment of Old and New Testament prophecy, both as a present day reality expressed in the church which Christ built and an anticipation for eternity.

CONCLUSION

Surely this cursory study of the word "kingdom" teaches us that the challenge of God is to enter His kingdom and live under His divine rule. 

As one studies the prophecy of Daniel and the prophecies of John and Christ, he wonders what the kingdom which they were predicting was going to be like. Some of the people of Christ's day had a difficult time eliminating from their thinking a physical kingdom concept. They looked for a king who would lead them out from under their oppressors. They saw the kingdom in terms of power, might, deliverance, and peace. 

When the kingdom came, what God meant by His prophecies becomes clear. Those first people who entered the kingdom probably did not see the kingdom as being exactly like what they were expecting, but what they found as they entered the kingdom was a reign of God expressed in the church in a far greater and more beautiful way than they had anticipated. 

The kingdom of God is God's work in the world. Through the long years of the Patriarchal and the Mosaical Ages, He planned and prepared for its coming. He has fulfilled all that He inspired His prophets to foretell, and His kingdom is now here. 

The crucial question for us is this: Have we become God's kingdom?

QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
AND DISCUSSION

1. Discuss the differences between a symbol or figurative expression and the
    reality. Are they the same, or is the reality greater than the symbol?
2. Should we expect the fulfillment of a prophecy which contains symbols and
    figures to be greater than the symbols and figures of the prophecy?
3. Give a basic definition of a political kingdom.
4. Describe the first kingdom mentioned in the Bible.
5. Describe the differences between the kingdoms of Adonibezek and Ahasuerus.
6. Discuss God's relationship to Israel in terms of a king and kingdom.
7. What responsibilities did Saul, the first king of Israel, have as the king over
    God's kingdom, Israel?
8. What implications can be
drawn from Daniel's prophecy concerning the
    coming kingdom?
(See Daniel 2:44.)
9. What implications can be drawn from John the Baptist's and Jesus' prophecies
    concerning the kingdom?
10. Notice the decreasing use of the word ... kingdom. in the New Testament.
     What implication does this fact suggest?
11. How is one brought into the kingdom of God today, according to the New
      Testament?
12. Discuss the present day use of the word "kingdom" which is demanded by
      the political and prophetic backgrounds to the word.
13. Explain how one can be in the kingdom of God today and yet anticipate the
      eternal kingdom. (See
2 Timothy 4:18.)