The Gospel of the Kingdom:
The Church Is Not the Kingdom
by Gerald R. Thompson*
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The key to understanding the gospel of the kingdom is to realize that the kingdom of God and the Church are not the same. We have just seen that the Church is not the same as the kingdom of heaven. It obviously is not the same as ancient Israel either, because one is based on faith, the other on biology. Nor is the Church the same as the kingdom of Christ, because that kingdom hasn’t arrived yet (we’ll talk more about this shortly), and it will be physical, whereas the Church is only spiritual.
There are additional arguments to the same effect. First, the kingdom of God and the Church never quite line up together in time. Second, there are key attributes of the kingdom of God that the Church simply does not have, namely, a king and a government. Third, the Church exists right now, in physical form, on earth – but the kingdom of God does not. Fourth, there is a difference between entering the kingdom of God, and inheriting the kingdom.
What this means, in the end, is that the gospel of the Church (i.e., the gospel of Christ, by which people believe and become members of the Church) cannot be the same as the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel of the kingdom is fundamentally not a message about the forgiveness of sins, but a message about the coming kingdom of Christ. Much more on this later. What we’re doing right now is laying the foundation for why these two gospels cannot be the same.
A Question of Timing
We have already seen that the kingdom of God, in its largest sense, is without beginning or end. It being eternal in the heavenly realm, the kingdom of God obviously existed before the Church. No matter your view of how long the Church will last in the future, it had a fixed beginning point back in 30 A.D. The Church is not from everlasting. Therefore, the kingdom of God and the Church cannot be the same, because they did not start at the same time.
The same is true for the kingdom of heaven. And no, you can’t grab O.T. believers long after the fact, and make them a part of the Church. Nor were they in fact looking forward to something they never even had a clue was coming. Plus, logically, if all O.T. believers have been made a part of the Church, then it destroys the whole premise of the olive tree of God and the root and graft. The root and graft argument assumes there are believers who are not part of the Church.
I suggest the kingdom of Christ should be viewed similarly. Consider this quintessential statement about the kingdom of Christ:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isa. 9:6-7).
Yet, when the time came that the son was given, i.e., when Christ was born, He came only as priest, and not as a king. The government was not “upon his shoulder” during His first advent, and it isn’t on his shoulder now either. Just because the son was born, does not mean the kingdom had arrived. The kingdom of Christ will not arrive until Jesus returns to rule over it during the Millennium. And ironically, at that time, the Church as we know it today will more or less disappear.
In other words, the kingdom of Christ and the present-day Church will never exist at the same time, so they cannot possibly be the same. More on this later.
The Church Has No King or Government
We have already seen that the kingdom of God is like any other kingdom, in that it has a king, a throne, a dominion, citizens and subjects, and government ministers. We may also say that the kingdom of God, like any other kingdom, also has a government and laws. Isn’t that exactly what Isa. 9:6-7 said?
The Church, however, has no king, no throne, no dominion, no citizens or subjects, and no special agents of God on earth. The Church also has no government, and no laws. Let’s walk it through, point by point.
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:22-23). And he is the head of the body, the church. (Col. 1:18a). See also, Eph. 5:23; Col. 2:19.
The Church, and here I’m referring only to the universal or heavenly Church that God has instituted, has no king or throne. It has only a head and a body. Scripture never refers to Jesus as the king of the Church. Jesus is a king – but what is He king of? The Jews. And the Jews (i.e., the nation of Israel) and the Church are, again, not the same thing. We covered this already.
So the Church does not and cannot import any of the kingdom qualities of Israel into its own form of existence. But, did God give the Church any kingdom qualities of its own (not derived from Israel)? No.
The Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) authorizes the Church to baptize and to teach, and believers are elsewhere commended to preach the gospel. Yet, nowhere does scripture even hint that the Church is to rule over anyone or anything. The universal Church has no dominion, and no citizens, in addition to not having either a king or a throne. It has no power to force or compel.
Far from it. Rather than regarded as citizens or subjects, believers are regarded as fellow heirs with Christ. (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 3:6). There is a sense in which the head of the Church and the members of His body are regarded as co-equal. Which is hardly a king-subject relationship. But aren’t we (believers) citizens of heaven? Yes – we are members of the body of Christ, and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. But we’ve already established these are two different things, which just happen to overlap. Don’t get sloppy, equating citizenship in heaven with being a member of the Church.
And so far is the Church removed from the concept of dominion, that even when believers are said to rule and reign with Christ in the Millennium, they will serve in the government of the kingdom of Christ which will be headquartered in Jerusalem. When this time comes, the Church will have neither a homeland nor a dominion. Much less does the Church have a physical territory now.
But surely the Church has ministers to carry out the business of the kingdom of God? Not really, no. Nowhere in scripture does God put anyone in charge of the Church on earth. None of the spiritual offices (apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor-teacher) are put in charge of the others, nor is there any hierarchy among them. God never even says what the authority of each office is. Neither are any of the spiritual gifts placed in a hierarchy, or given any authority to rule.
But elders (a.k.a. bishops or overseers) – what about them? Never at any time did God appoint anyone as an elder of a church. Elders are appointed by people. (1 Tim. 3:1). That’s why scripture lists qualifications for office – as a standard to guide people’s decisions. God doesn’t need standards – the offices and gifts He appoints have no standards. All church organizations, on the other hand, were founded and organized by people. God never yet set His hand to signing the articles of incorporation for any visible church organization.
But clergy – surely God appointed the clergy? Remember – we are talking about the universal Church – the one which exists only in a spiritual or heavenly sense. The universal Church which God instituted, and the visible churches which people establish, are not the same. Clergy, elders, deacons, anyone who is ordained, anyone who is appointed or elected, are all offices and positions chosen by people, not God. Just because someone holds a church office on earth, does not in any way correspond to an office in the heavenly Church.
The Church which God has instituted, has a government which consists – in its entirety – of a head (Jesus) and a body (everyone else). There is no leadership, hierarchy, or government between Christ and His body. The governments which exist in all visible churches are all man-made. So they don’t count either as agents of the universal Church or of the kingdom of heaven.
But surely the universal Church has laws? Baptism and Communion, at least? Aren’t these ordinances (or laws) of the Church?” In the Old Testament, when God made the observation of a religious ritual a law, He made it mandatory, He prescribed the date, time and manner of observation, and sometimes attached a penalty to its violation. Usually, He would also say something like, “and this shall be a statute for you throughout all your generations.” Now that, folks, is a law.
No similar statements anywhere in the N.T. attach to the so-called sacraments of baptism, communion, or any other religious ritual. Sure, Jesus authorized both these ritual observances, but nowhere required either of them of all believers. (When was the last time you baptized someone? Ah-ah, watch it! The command is to baptize others, not to be baptized.) Nor is the time, place or manner of the observation of these rituals anywhere specified. Nor are any penalties attached to the failure to observe them.
None of Jesus’ disciples, including the N.T. writers, had any legislative or lawmaking authority granted to them by God. Paul “was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11), but nowhere appointed a legislator or rule-maker. No, if you are looking for an applicable rule in the N.T., look no further than this: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” (Col. 2:16).
So again, the Church is not the same as the kingdom of God, because the Church has no king, no government, no laws, or any other attributes of a kingdom. But that’s OK, the Church has a different role – to be the body of fellowship of the citizens of heaven while they are on earth. During which time the Church should be preparing its members for their tasks in the coming kingdom of Christ.
The Kingdom of God Isn’t Here Yet
Another key difference between the Church and the kingdom of God is the extent to which they are presently manifest on earth.
The Church, for its part, is partially manifested now. Yes, the head of the Church (Jesus) is currently not present on earth. Believers of the past who have died are no longer present on earth, but are still part of the Church. And even believers alive today cannot all be accurately counted or recognized by man. You can’t see someone else’s spiritual status – only God can see that. So for all these reasons we know the Church is not fully manifested now.
Nevertheless, to the extent members of the Church are currently alive, their presence is a partial manifestation of the Church. True, the heavenly Church and the visible churches on earth today are not the same. However, I am not arguing that visible church organizations are a manifestation of the universal Church. I am saying that individual believers alive today, regardless of their connection to, or participation in, any visible church, are the manifestation of the body of Christ.
The heavenly Church is not manifest on an institutional level, but on an individual level. It appears in people, not organizations. Which makes it easy to understand why the spiritual Church has no physical dominion, and never will. It has no territory, no physical headquarters, and no earthly leader (in spite of claims to the contrary by popes, etc.).
Let’s face it – God never designed the universal Church to be visible as an entity. The Church is like the wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn. 3:8).
The Physical Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God, of course, is entirely invisible at present. It was here on earth, in ancient Israel. But, the presence of the kingdom of God has been withdrawn from the earth and will not return until Christ brings it with Him after Armageddon. In fact, Jesus repeatedly denied that He was bringing the physical kingdom of God to earth during the present age.
As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. (Lk. 19:11).
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world …” (Jn. 18:36-37).
The parable of the talents quite forcefully illustrates that the physical kingdom of God is not here yet in the Church age. (Lk. 19:12-27; Mat. 25:14-30). The account in Luke is most directly on point, because it concerns a nobleman who “went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” The nobleman entrusted His servants to conduct business on his behalf during his absence, and then returned after having received the kingdom.
The point is that the nobleman is a reference to Jesus, who was predicting His own absence and eventual return with the kingdom. During His absence, the kingdom will never arrive. In fact it cannot be here when the king is absent. It is the presence of the king, in his capacity as king, which makes the kingdom present on earth.
The Kingdom of God Is At Hand
Whenever Jesus said the kingdom was at hand, He meant the spiritual phase of the kingdom of God was about to be inaugurated upon the completion of His earthly ministry. In other words, the grafting process referred to in Rom. 11, by which believing Gentiles would be grafted into the olive tree of God (i.e., the kingdom of heaven), was about to begin. In fact, that process would begin when the Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost, but Jesus was simply saying it was not far off.
In this light, we can understand what Jesus meant in Lk. 17:20-21:
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.”
This phrase, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you again refers to the grafting process by which believers would become a part of the kingdom of heaven. The grafting process, and individual conversion or saving faith, are not things which are visible. The mistake people often make in interpreting Lk. 17 is failing to distinguish between the Church and the kingdom of heaven, which we have seen are separate.
Jesus could not in any event have been referring to the physical kingdom of God. When the disciples asked Jesus at His ascension, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Ac. 1:6), Jesus did not say, “But the kingdom is already in your midst.” Rather, He said, “It is not for you to know when.” And two things we can say with absolute certainty are: 1) the kingdom had not already come when the disciples asked this question; and 2) Jesus has not yet received His kingdom and returned to earth with it.
This Generation Shall Not Pass Away
But what about the several scriptures suggesting that the Second Coming and the kingdom of Christ would be made manifest within just a few years?
“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Mt. 16:28). “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things [i.e., the Tribulation, the Second Coming, and the translation of the saints] take place.” (Mt. 24:34, Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32).
Let us freely admit that the Second Coming has not yet taken place, and also that all of the people who were present when Jesus spoke those words are now physically dead. How then are we to understand these statements? Mt. 16:28 is probably best understood as a reference to the complete inauguration of the spiritual kingdom of heaven at Pentecost, where most of the disciples were present.
The other scriptures, though, clearly refer to events connected with the end times. The Tribulation and Second Coming are events which will take place in the physical world, so the context does not support the idea that Jesus was talking about a spiritual kingdom.
I believe the key is the interpretation – or should I say translation – of the word, generation. I am no Greek expert. But Strong’s Concordance indicates the meanings of the Greek word translated generations as including: period, age, generation (period of time). In which case, the verses in question become, “this period or age will not pass away until all these things take place.” And if the kingdom of God isn’t here yet, then the Church and the kingdom can’t be the same, can they?
Thy Kingdom Come
In the so-called Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9-13), Jesus said, in part, “Our Father in heaven … your kingdom come.” Now as this was a model prayer for his followers to pray long after He would depart earth, the language suggests that the kingdom of God – in whatever sense Jesus meant here – had not arrived yet. And people today who pray this prayer do so with the understanding that the kingdom has not yet come – for if it had already, why would anyone still pray for its arrival?
I also suggest that the phrase, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” supports this argument. The idea being that Jesus’ disciples are looking forward to a time when the kingdom of God in heaven is reflected on earth “as it is in heaven.” In other words, looking forward to when the kingdom of God is not merely spiritual, but is manifest physically on earth, and the things on earth conform to the heavenly will.
The book of Revelation corroborates this analysis by giving us a glimpse of a future time when the kingdom of Christ is said to have arrived.
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15). See also, Rev. 12:10.
The arrival of the kingdom of Christ is set to occur when the Church becomes the Bride of Christ and all believers are translated from mortal bodies to immortal ones. That is, immediately following the resurrection of the saints. Metaphorically, this event is pictured in scripture as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, which I will discuss in detail below. That is when “thy kingdom come.”
Entering v. Inheriting the Kingdom
During His earthly ministry, Jesus used two distinct phrases to refer to people becoming part of the kingdom of God. Sometimes He said, enter the kingdom, and other times He said, inherit the kingdom. I suggest that entering the kingdom is a specific reference to spiritual rebirth, when a person becomes a believer and is made a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
On the other hand, inheriting the kingdom is a specific reference to participation in the Millennial kingdom of Christ on earth. This inheritance can only be obtained after a believer has gone through a physical resurrection and received an immortal body. “
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:50).
Obviously, flesh and blood people can become believers, a member of the invisible Church, and a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. So the inheritance Paul is talking about here in 1 Cor. 15 cannot refer to becoming a believer. Inheriting the kingdom cannot refer to a salvation experience. Inheriting the kingdom requires receiving an immortal body first, but becoming a believer does not.
I look at becoming a believer as a ticket to receiving an immortal body, and having an immortal body is the price of admission for inheriting the kingdom of Christ.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14).
So the Holy Spirit seals and guarantees, but possession of the inheritance only comes after the resurrection of the saints. Again,
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Php. 3:20-21).
Notice here that the purpose of having citizenship in heaven is to await the transformation of our bodies into an immortal form, at the coming of Christ (“we await a Savior”), as he is about to establish his earthly kingdom (“to subject all things to himself”).
I know this all looks, to the untrained eye, like the Church and the kingdom of heaven are the same thing. And I wouldn’t keep pounding away at the distinction unless the scripture supported the idea repeatedly.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph. 2:19-21).
Notice first that believers are not said to be citizens of the Church, but rather the household of God. And this household of God was founded on both the apostles and prophets, meaning both O.T. and N.T. believers. Which makes the household of God rather more like the olive tree of God in Rom. 11, than the Church. And the language being joined together sounds a lot like grafting, doesn’t it? Where O.T. and N.T. saints are joined together?
The best sense I can make of it is when a person becomes a believer in Christ, they really “join” two entities. One is the body of Christ, the Church, consisting of all N.T. believers. The other is the kingdom of heaven, or the household of God (also the olive tree of God), consisting of both O.T. and N.T. believers. For Christians, both lead to the same result – physical resurrection and inheritance of the kingdom. Yet this distinction, coming as it does from God, is important to recognize.
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM?
Now, with the differences between the kingdom of God and the Church firmly established, it is time to go to the next logical step. We know that Jesus was sent into the world as a king, to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. (Lk. 4:43; Jn. 18:37). Surely, Jesus would not have been proclaiming his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection to the crowds while He was still alive.
For when He predicted these things to his disciples, they did not grasp what was said. (Lk. 18:31-34). So why would He preach that message to people who were not disciples, and had even less chance of understanding Him? Consequently, when Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom, he must not have been preaching a message consisting of what many people consider to be the only true gospel today, namely, Christ crucified. (See, 1 Cor. 1:22-23; 15:1-4.)
So, what kind of message was He likely preaching? But even more importantly, since Jesus said the gospel of the kingdom is what will be preached during the Tribulation (Mt. 24:34), what message is that going to be? And as we continually draw closer to the onset of the Tribulation, should the Church perhaps be preaching that message today?
The Good News of the Kingdom
I have previously established that the kingdom of God has, up to this point, only been manifest on earth during the time of ancient Israel. By the time of Jesus’ first advent, the luster of the kingdom during the reigns of David and Solomon were long past. The kingdom had been divided, its people scattered, its throne cut off, and the nation subjugated by a hostile foreign power.
Understandably, the Jews were looking and waiting for the Messiah, anticipating the restoration of Israel’s glory among the nations, when the Roman oppression would be completely thrown off. They were anticipating the coming Golden Age of Israel, or the Messianic Era – what Christians call the Millennium. In other words, the Jews were looking for a Deliverer, not a Savior.
This is the cultural context within which Jesus was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. The Jews were not expecting someone who would forgive sins. They were expecting a military leader who would reestablish the physical kingdom. Thus, when Jesus fed the 5,000, the people wanted to make him king, not a redeemer. (Jn. 6:15). When He entered Jerusalem before the Passover, the people hailed Him as King of the Jews, not as a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
For this reason both the Jewish leaders and the Romans perceived Jesus as a threat. Not because He preached love, faith and forgiveness of sins, but because of the political implications of his message. Thus, when the Jews accused Him, it was on the basis that he claimed to be a king. (Lk. 23:2). And when Pilate wrote out the indictment against Jesus and posted it on the cross above Him, it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” – not, “Savior of the World.” (Jn. 19:19).
It is not likely people would have thought this about Jesus simply because of the miracles he performed. He had to have said something to give them this idea. Jesus, knowing his audience, probably said something like the following when he proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom:
The king of Israel will come, bringing a reign of peace, prosperity and the restoration of all things. He will establish law, justice, and righteousness over the land, and his kingdom will last forever. When He comes, He will vanquish all the enemies of Israel. And I (Jesus) am He.
How wonderful it would be, if the kingdom of God on earth would cover the entire earth and all peoples instead of the Jews alone, and it was ruled by the holy and incorruptible God in the flesh Himself! Why, that would be good news! Good news about the kingdom of God.
And if I may guess what people during the Tribulation will perceive as good news, it would be something very similar. Many people living on the earth during the Tribulation will be persecuted for their faiths. Plus, all of them will suffer through a variety of wars, and most will undoubtedly see firsthand the consequences of pestilence, plagues and natural disasters. Death will literally be everywhere.
In that time of unparalleled distress, what will people most want to hear? And no, I’m not being flippant or disrespectful when I say, “Jesus can save you from your sins” is probably not what they will most want to hear. They will want to hear, “Jesus will destroy your wicked oppressors and throw off the evil tyranny that tortures you.” Which just so happens to be the essence of the gospel of the kingdom, as I see it:
The king of the world will come back, bringing a worldwide reign of peace, prosperity and the restoration of all things. He will establish law, justice, and righteousness over the whole earth, ruling over every tribe, nation and language of people, and his kingdom will last forever. When He comes, He will bring His holy ones along with Him to help govern the world, and He will destroy all the enemies of God. The time of His appearing is not far off, and His name is Jesus.
In essence, the gospel of the kingdom is a look forward to when the kingdom of God will be made manifest on earth, not a look backward to the cross. A time when these scriptures will be fulfilled literally in time and space and not merely spiritually.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jer. 23:5).
Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Eph. 1:21).
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Rev. 22:16).
The Progression of the Kingdom of God
We’ve looked at how the kingdom of God will have three principal physical manifestations. Now its time to examine how these form a progression of the kingdom of God.
In the beginning, people started out in innocence, without sin in their lives. No government was necessary, as there was no evil to keep in check by any external restraint. God ruled mankind directly from heaven, without any intermediate governors.
When sin entered by the Fall, not much changed governmentally. Yes, sin and lawlessness were rampant, but God provided no mechanism for restraining evil until after the flood, by instituting capital punishment. But even that provided no mechanism for civil government, which would not come along until the Tower of Babel, when God created the nations. So from Adam until Babel, the whole earth (governmentally) was in the condition described in Judges 21:25: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
As I look at that time, God gave people an opportunity to exercise the power of self-government for their own good. But, people merely found out how much their innate tendencies were always to do evil. Then came the nations, which allowed people the opportunity through the use of external restraints (i.e., civil government) to do better. However, that only proved marginally more successful at the local level (i.e., local crime), and led to infinite wars at the national level.
God then established Israel, among other reasons, as an example to the other nations of the world, to model a form of godly government. God Himself was king over the Jews, and He had a throne among them (the Mercy Seat), although he appointed judges and kings to rule over them more directly. He gave them a specific territory, as first promised to Abraham. All male descendants of Israel carried the mark of circumcision to designate them as citizens of the kingdom. And the Levitical priests and local judges were the agents of the national government to carry out its tasks.
Of course, the people were sinful and 100% of their leaders were, too. This eventually led the nation to be severely judged – their cities and temple destroyed (twice), and the people scattered (twice).
When Jesus came the first time, He changed none of this. He was thought to be a king and was killed for being one. But He established no throne or seat of government at that time. He marked no territory, and employed no government agents, for He instituted no earthly government. He did recruit citizens of a heavenly kingdom not of this earth, but made no provision for its government except by His direct rule.
In contrast, when Jesus returns He will set up a new kingdom improving on the example of ancient Israel in every way. Instead of remaining invisible during His reign and ruling from an invisible throne, He will visibly dwell in Jerusalem and rule from a rebuilt physical temple. The land of Israel will be fully restored and expanded from its original boundaries, as described in Eze. 47. He will employ at least two sets of government agents. First, the Jews will not only govern their own territory, but also govern all aspects of worldwide religious worship from the temple in Jerusalem.
Second, He will employ the resurrected saints to govern the Gentile nations as part of His one world government. The subjects of this government will include all the people of the world, without exception. Many of the people of the world will be nonbelievers, for even at this time, faith in Christ will not be coerced. But all of the people will be mortal and fallen, which will require a civil government to continue to restrain evil. However, the Jews will all be saved and perfectly know the laws of God (Heb. 8:10-11), and the resurrected saints will all have immortal bodies. Meaning, for all practical purposes, the entire world government will be sinless and incorruptible.
That’s quite an improvement over the kingdom of ancient Israel, and real progress. This progress will continue when the kingdom of Christ on earth is transitioned to the new earth. At that time, we will see God directly in the New Jerusalem. The territory of the kingdom will undoubtedly be greatly expanded with the new earth. All of the people in the kingdom will also be citizens, and sinless as well. There will not be any evil to restrain, as even sin, death and the curse will all be banished. And this kingdom will last forever, not merely for a thousand years.
All of this is ours to look forward to. And this, too, is the good news of the kingdom of God.
The City of God
This gospel of the kingdom is closely aligned with the concept of the city of God, since God’s ultimate desire for humanity is to dwell among His people. This was first expressed in connection with ancient Israel, and was later promised to the Church by Jesus.
“I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exo. 29:45-46).
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (Jn 14:2-3).
Thus, it is said of Abraham that he “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:10). Ultimately, of course, the city of God will find its final manifestation in the New Jerusalem, the third physical manifestation of the kingdom of God.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Rev. 21:2-3).
So we see that the city of God, or the idea of God dwelling among His people, forms a progression in the scriptures mirroring the progression of the kingdom of God.
Mankind started out in perfect fellowship with God, so that God Himself walked in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and talked with them directly. After the Fall, fellowship was broken, the close communication stopped, and mankind was kicked out of Eden. The saints of God were few and far between, and this remained the pattern until the time of Abraham.
In Abraham, God initiated a covenant relationship intended to secure a people for God’s own possession, to mark them as His own, and to give them their own land as an eternal heritage. The ultimate beneficiaries of this arrangement were the Jews. This is where God first established a holy kingdom among men, manifesting His presence in two ways. First, at the Mercy Seat (which only the high priest had access to). Second, in the Shekinah Glory, which all the people could see (though it was temporary).
Although, even in ancient Israel, God was physically separated from His people (He was there, but they could not approach Him), and He did not personally indwell them.
With the birth of Jesus, as the incarnate God in human form, He was physically with the people of Israel, but effectively only for the last three years of life in which He revealed Himself to them. He was approachable physically only during His ministry, though He remains approachable spiritually even today. And with the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, God indwelt His people on a permanent basis. Fellowship for believers is now possible, but not unbroken due to continued sin.
In the Millennium, however, Jesus will physically return and take up residence with the Jews in Jerusalem. Yet He will be approachable by Gentile people who come to the Jerusalem temple. And presumably, the ministry of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers will continue during that time. Yet, even though the government of the kingdom will at that point be essentially perfect, the people will still be mortal, sin will still abound, and the curse of the ground will remain in effect.
Meaning that many people will still not be in fellowship with God, even though they reside in the kingdom and can see Jesus in person. These are the people who will take part in the final rebellion at the end of the thousand years. Fellowship between God and mankind on a global scale will be far from perfect even during the Golden Age.
All these problems will only be solved in the eternal kingdom of God, when God the Father and Son will both be visible, present and accessible in the New Jerusalem on the new earth. God will then dwell with all people in the kingdom forever, with completely unbroken fellowship. All believers will be returned to state of innocence, as sin, death and the curse will all have been banished.
Again, all of this is ours to look forward to. And it’s part and parcel of the kingdom of God.
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