Kingdom of God
By Eddie Cloer
"For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13).
Someone has said, "The ocean is deep enough for an elephant to swim in but shallow enough for a child to wade on its shores." Indeed, the ocean does have many different characteristics. It has shoreline and shallow waters, yet it has mammoth depths and a sprawling, incredible width.
Likewise, the church of the New Testament has numerous features. When we contemplate its unity of function and our union with Christ, we see the church as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5). When we think of the warmth, support, and companionship which we receive as His church, we view it as the family of God (Ephesians 2:19). When we think of it from the viewpoint of the rule and reign of God, we recognize it as the kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 16:16-18).
These different descriptions do not conflict with each other, but rather blend together to illustrate the composite nature of the divine organism which we call (by translation) the church. The glory of the New Testament church is that inherent within it are a multitude of holy traits which Christ provided through the cross.
Unquestionably, the Holy Spirit wants us to view the church as a kingdom. Paul spoke of conversion to Christ as a translation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ: "For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). Since conversion is described elsewhere in the New Testament as entrance into the body of Christ (e.g., Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27) and since the body of Christ is spoken of as the church (Ephesians 1:21-23), it follows that the Holy Spirit intends for us to see the church, the body of Christ, and the kingdom of Christ (or the kingdom of God) as the same spiritual organism.
The word "kingdom" is used in at least six contexts in the Bible. (1) It is used in reference to an earthly, secular, governmental rule (Matthew 4:8). (2) It is used to convey the concept of "the reign of God" in the Old and New Testaments. When God formally made Israel into His chosen nation, He identified it as His kingdom (Exodus 19:5, 6). (3) It is used regarding the rule or power of God (Matthew 12:28). Wherever the will of God is obeyed, the reign of God or the kingdom of God exists. (4) It is used of God's reign in heaven. As Peter urged us to grow in the Christian virtues, he referred to heaven as the eternal kingdom of our Lord: "For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you" (2 Peter 1:11). (5) It is applied to the church. The church is God's earthly manifestation of His heavenly kingdom. Therefore, it is referred to as the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:18,19), the kingdom of God (John 3:5), (and the kingdom of His beloved Son Colossians 1: 13). (6) The word is used in reference to the dominion of Satan. His power is conveyed by the phrase "Satan's kingdom" (Matthew 12:26).'
It is both encouraging and intriguing to reflect upon the church as the kingdom of God. In particular, let us focus on the characteristics of the Lord's earthly kingdom, the church.
'Appendix 2 in the book What Is "the Church"? includes all the references in the New Testament to the words "kingdom" and "kingdoms." These references should be helpful in understanding how the New Testament uses these words. The word "kingdom" is used 152 times in the New Testament, and the word "kingdoms" is used 3 times. See Eddie Cloer, What Is "the Church"? (Searcy, Ark.: Resource Publications, 1993), 187-213.
A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM
In its basic nature, the church is a spiritual kingdom, not a physical or material one. When Pilate asked Jesus, "Are You the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33), Jesus responded by saying, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36).
This spiritual nature of the kingdom introduces vital truths regarding the church. First, the headquarters of the church are in heaven, not on earth. Christ, our sovereign King, sits at God's right hand in heaven (Acts 2:33). He will reign as King of God's earthly kingdom, the church, until the end of time, when He will deliver the kingdom up to God, the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). Thus, Christians are people who have entered the rule of God by submitting to the Lordship of Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11).
Second, Christians' lives, work, and worship center on the spiritual, not the physical. We wage a spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12), offer up spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Peter 2:5), live on spiritual food (Hebrews 5:12-14), and live in this world as pilgrims whose citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:1 1).
We are true citizens
Third, as members of this spiritual kingdom, our relationships with the material realities of this world are governed by our spiritual citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. We see the worthlessness of the tinsel of this life when we view it through the lens of eternity.
Someone has proposed an imaginary conversation between a Christian and the devil. The devil says, "I'll give you everything, Mr. Christian. I'll give you houses, lands, and money." Mr. Christian responds by saying, "I have everything. My Father owns the world and all that's in it. You can't give me anything, because I have everything." The devil tries again: "I'll take everything away from you. I'll take your house, your pleasures, and your money." Mr. Christian responds, "You can't take anything away from me. I don't have anything. All I have has been given to God. I belong to His spiritual kingdom, so my true values are spiritual in nature." The devil tries still another time: "I'll kill you. I'll take away your life." Mr. Christian says, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." The devil makes one final try: "I'll make you live in misery. You will look at all the pleasurable things which sinners are doing, and you will be unable to do them. You will live in discontent." Mr. Christian declares, "My highest joy is doing the will of Jesus." Being a member of God's spiritual kingdom puts this world and its temptations in a different light. It helps us to say with John, "And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17).
Citizens of the kingdom of heaven do not view this world as do the people of the world. Those who belong only to this world must worry about their possessions, their present and future, and world affairs. Christians are in the world, but we do not belong to it. We belong to a spiritual kingdom, not this physical one. Our devotion is spiritual, not secular. While we minister to the sick, feed the hungry, and work to make the world a better place to live, our hearts' real concerns are eternal. We pursue above all other interests the spiritual salvation of each person we meet. We live for spiritual goals, not worldly ones. Men of this world sell new suits; Christians seek new souls.
A KINGDOM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Second, the church is a kingdom of righteousness. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven do not live as they lived formerly, before entering this kingdom. Paul said that the children of the kingdom are the children of light: "For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8-10). He further said, "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).
The New Testament speaks of two kinds of righteousness. One is an extended righteousness, which is often spoken of by the inspired writers. When we become Christians, this righteousness is bestowed upon us and we are justified before God. In conversion to Christ, we are "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).
The New Testament also refers to an exhibited righteousness. Christians are to walk in, or habitually manifest, righteousness. John wrote, It is so unthinkable for Christians to "live in" or "walk in ". . . the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous" (1 John 3:7)." sin that John said, "The one who practices sin is of the devil; ... No one who is born of God practices sin,. . . " (1 John 3:8, 9). The kingdom of God, therefore, is a kingdom of righteousness; righteousness is extended to those who enter it, and righteousness is exhibited by those who live as true citizens of it.
The rule and reign of God in the heart manifests itself in righteousness in the life. The story is told of a man who lived during the Great Depression of the 1930s in the USA. He was a member of the church who was not affected to any degree by the depression. While others suffered in poverty, he lived in comfort and wealth. On Sunday mornings, however, when the collection plate passed him, he put in a dime. In that day, the church was in desperate need of his financial assistance to do the work of Christ in the world, but he consistently gave only a dime. Apparently, he was in the kingdom but the kingdom was not in him.
We are true citizens of the kingdom of God when God rules and reigns over our hearts. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of righteousness. Citizenship in this kingdom means a recognition of the sovereignty of God and a submission to His will in our daily lives.
AN ETERNAL KINGDOM
Third, the church is God's eternal kingdom on earth. It is not fleeting or temporary; it is stable, unshakable, and everlasting.
Daniel prophesied that the God of heaven would set up a kingdom which would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). When Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would be the earthly mother of the Messiah, he mentioned the eternal quality of the kingdom over which the Messiah would reign: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:32, 33). When Jesus announced His intention to establish His church, He promised that the gates of Hades would not overpower it (Matthew 16:18). The kingdom of God is described in Hebrews 12:28 as a kingdom which cannot be shaken.
As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, Christians possess eternal life. This life is both an experience now and an expectation for the future. All who possess Jesus have eternal life now, for He is the very embodiment of eternal life (1 John 1:2). Consequently, John wrote, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15; emphasis mine). The eternal nature of the kingdom of God expresses itself in the quality of life which we experience now as Christians and in the eternal life which we expect to receive in eternity.
Our entrance into eternal life has been likened to a baby's entrance into the world from his mother's womb. The baby experiences life in the environment of the womb. His experience of life, however, is limited, even though it is a life of comfort, provision, and protection. When birth occurs, the baby continues to experience life, but it is life in a different and fuller form-with almost endless possibilities of fellowship, growth, and activity. As Jesus lives in our hearts now, He provides a new and wonderful quality of life-eternal life; but when we pass over to life's other side, this eternal life will express itself in a different and fuller form-with heavenly fellowship, inexpressible joy, and eternal service.
Christians are part of an eternal kingdom which is not affected by time or physical dimensions. As long as we stay in the sphere of God's protection by faithfulness to His Word, we are part of a kingdom which cannot be destroyed and will never end.
Using the rule and reign of God in the heart of the Christian as our frame of reference, the church of the New Testament is the kingdom of God, possessing the traits of spirituality, righteousness, and eternality. its citizens live in this world, but their hearts and citizenship belong to another world, the eternal kingdom of God (Colossians 3:1, 2; Philippians 3:20).
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, sought Jesus one night to learn more about the kingdom of God. Jesus told him that the kingdom of God can only be entered by a change so radical and transforming that it is best described as a birth. He said, "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). As the kingdom of God was entered on the day of its official earthly beginning, Peter exhorted the multitude, in light of their faith in Jesus, to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38-41). The new birth which Jesus described to Nicodemus in John 3 was administered by Peter in Acts 2. Entrance or birth into the kingdom of God or the church involves belief in Jesus (John 3:16), repentance or a turning from sin to God (Acts 17:30), acknowledgment of Jesus as God's Son (Romans 10:9, 10), and baptism into Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
Citizenship in the kingdom of God brings a spiritual center to life, a reign of God, which radiates to every prong and dimension of life, providing stability, guidance, understanding, and wholeness. This holy citizenship also brings righteousness, goodness, and peace into our lives. In this world of the temporary, the kingdom of God infuses eternal life into our lives for today and for all of our tomorrows.
Are you a citizen of God's eternal kingdom, "the church"?
1. List several different traits which the church possesses. Give a brief description of each trait. 2. What verses of Scripture indicate that the church should be viewed as a kingdom? 3. List the different contexts in which the word "kingdom" is used in the New Testament. 4. What conclusions concerning the church does the spiritual nature of the kingdom demand? List the conclusions and describe them. 5. If we are part of a spiritual kingdom, a new value system is imparted to us. Discuss this value system. 6. What two types of righteousness are mentioned in the New Testament? Describe each type. 7. Does Daniel 2:44 express the eternal nature of the kingdom that God would establish? 8. Discuss how the kingdom of God is an experience now and an expectation for the future. 9. Discuss how eternal life is expressed here and how it will be expressed in eternity. 10. What implications does our citizenship in heaven have on our lives today? 11. How is the kingdom of God entered? 12. Compare John 3:3, 5 with Acts 2:38.
For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern; deductive; topical. Subject: The church. Theme: The church, the kingdom of God. Title: The Kingdom of God. Preaching or Teaching Portion: None. Proposition: (Declarative/didactic) The church is the kingdom of God on earth. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: What? Key Word: Characteristics. Major Points: I. A Spiritual Kingdom; II. A Kingdom of Righteousness; III. An Eternal Kingdom. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: To persuade people to live as citizens of the kingdom of God.