The Kingdom and Civil Government of God
Understanding our Place in the Kingdom of Heaven, in God’s Civil Government during the History of the World, and in the Age to Come
by Kerry Lee Morgan
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Why did Jesus come to earth over 2000 years ago? What was his message? Love one another? Offer salvation for our souls? Preach repentance of sins? Uncover religious hypocrisy? Heal the sick? Teach the people? Build a following? Call disciples? Establish his church? Fulfill Jewish prophecy? Rebuke the devil? Well he certainly did all of these things and more, but what was his main message? What was the central theme of his ministry or work on the earth?
When he was about 30 years old, he began what is called his “ministry.” As you may recall he first went to see his cousin John and John baptized him with water. At that time the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus in visible form. His purpose thereafter was established and his authority confirmed. What is the first thing Jesus did after that? Did he set up a church with pastors and elders? Did he exhort the people to believe he was the savior of the world? Did he establish a non-profit organization to evangelize the world? He did nothing of the sort.
The devil understood what was going on. Are we as perceptive? Let us eavesdrop on their conversation. After two failed appeals to get Jesus to doubt and to tempt God, the devil “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8-9. What is this all about? What does the devil have up his sleeve? Perhaps he was trying to impress Jesus by showing him the kingdoms of the world and their glory as if to say: “Let me show you what I’ve been doing and who is in charge down here.”
Why was the devil focused on the kingdoms of the world? More importantly, why was he so desirous of Jesus reigning over all of them, under the Devil’s control? The question then is this: What is so important about the reign of Jesus over the kingdoms of the earth? Why is this so important and what did this have to do with Jesus and his earthly ministry? Jesus taught his follower to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” But is Jesus even interested in politics, government or reigning as a King? The devil believed so or else his proposal to Jesus would be no temptation at all.
It must have truly been a great sight to see all the kingdoms of the earth at a glance. It would be like you or I looking down at a great map in three dimensions, or looking down on the earth from the space shuttle or even from the moon. Jesus not only saw all the kingdoms of the earth including their great cities, land and geographical boundaries, but he also saw their glory. What is the glory of nations? When we think of the glory of nations and their governments we often think about their military strength or their commercial and industrial ventures. We also think about great buildings and skyscrapers, superhighways and beautiful parks. Whatever glories the earthly kingdoms in former days possessed were seen by Jesus on that day. He saw the nations associated with each kingdom, their boundaries, and their glory.
While gazing at this spectacle and considering the devil’s proposal, perhaps Jesus thought back to earlier times when he and his Father went down to the plain of Shinar. Recall they went down to earth to see the construction of a great city and its high tower with its top reaching toward the heavens. This was the first kingdom of mankind ever described in the Bible. It was the first Kingdom of men and a man named Nimrod was its master builder. Nimrod was the first man on earth to be described as “a mighty man” and a great hunter. Whatever he was or was doing, it was interesting enough for God and Jesus to visit and inspect.
Perhaps when the devil was talking with Jesus, he recalled the fate of that kingdom of the earth. You remember what happened. God said there is no stopping them from congregating in one place on the earth. God previously told Adam and then Noah to go out into the earth, but instead the people remained all together in one place Nimrod’s city. So as an inducement to obey Him, God confused the language of all the people. It was all babel. They could not understand each other. As a result, the construction of the tower and city ceased. The great unified city of mankind was abandoned. The Kingdom of Nimrod was no more. Genesis 11.
Or perhaps Jesus was thinking about the greatness of the kingdom of Israel. He knew, as the son of God and a student of the writings of the prophets, that God and the ancient Hebrews agreed together that God would be the King of Israel, their exclusive lawgiver, and their supreme judge. He also knew that God had promised the people specific parcels of land upon which to live and that God had promised to dwell among them through his Spirit in various forms. Jesus may have also recalled that the people of Israel rejected God as their King, preferring to be ruled by a man like the other nations.
Jesus knew that God had promised King David, and then King Solomon, that a descendent of theirs would sit on the throne of David one day and govern Israel as their King. Exodus 18-20; Isaiah 33:22; I Samuel 8; 1 Kings 8:25, 9:5; and Jeremiah 33:17. Jesus also understood very well that he himself was that King and would sit on the throne of David and rule Israel as prophesied. He knew this because his Father had promised it to him and that for this reason he was born. Jesus had read the prophet Isaiah. He publicly read it in the local synagogue. Luke 4:18-19. He read Isaiah Chapter 61 which spoke about the return of greatness to Israel among all the nations of the earth. He spoke of freeing their captives and of reinstituting liberty among the people. He knew all this when the devil was talking to him. Most importantly he understood the prophecy about him and the government God said He would establish in the future and that He would appoint Jesus to sit on David’s throne in that new future government. Isaiah 9:6-7 declares,
- 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.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
So Jesus knew that he was born to one day sit on the throne of David and govern the kingdom of Israel by right as a gift from his Father who has authority over all kingdoms of the earth to make and do with them as He pleases according to His law.
Think about that. What would you do if your father gave you his family estate, its great house, and extensive lands and holdings? You would probably be pretty excited about that and look forward to the day it all took place. While you are thinking about that, one day another person comes along who has a reputation for lying and deceiving and says to you: “I’ll give you all of those things your father promised, provided you first give me what I want.” What would you think? You’d think: “Who is this guy? I have already been promised these things by my father. They aren’t yours to give and I don’t believe you anyway.” You’d kick that charlatan out of your house and have nothing to do with him. That’s what you do.
On the other hand, if the charlatan says: “Sure, that’s all true but why wait for what has already been promised? If you will only do one thing for me right now, you won’t have to wait. I can help you fulfill your future right now.” That would be pretty tempting. You know the gift is yours but why should you wait? What’s wrong with getting it now and here’s just the guy that knows how to make it happen. You just have to do one little thing. Life is full of shortcuts.
Jesus, however, had the common sense and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to avoid the shortcuts. He also had the knowledge of the Scriptures. He knew his place in the kingdom. He understood the authority to reign as King came from God his Father, not a con artist like the devil, and certainly not the Roman government. John 18.
So it isn’t surprising that Jesus was unimpressed with the devil’s proposal to give him the kingdoms of the world. Jesus knew he already had a legal right to rule Israel as the son of David and sit on David’s throne as a gift from his Father. He knew his Father, already possessed all the nations of the earth. He knew the devil is a liar and a cheat and a con man. He also knew the devil had no authority to offer Jesus all the earths kingdoms because the devil had no legal right, title or interest in them. The nations of the earth were his fathers to give, not the devils to give.
Thus, by the time the devil got to the punch line: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me,” Jesus knew the game afoot. Jesus was pretty insightful himself. He knew that the kingdoms of the earth were not the Devil’s property or possessions to give away. Jesus was familiar with the writings of the prophets. As we have noted, they recognized the obvious: that God ruled over all the kingdoms of the nations and that God alone is the God of all the kingdoms of the earth. 2 Chronicles 20:6; Isaiah 37:16. He also knew that God will give the kingdoms of the earth to whomsoever He will for any purpose He desires.
Moreover, Jesus being a student of the scripture also knew of others to whom God had given the kingdoms of the earth. Interestingly enough, God gave the kingdoms of the earth at one point to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 2:37-38. Later on He gave the kingdoms of the earth to Cyrus. Ezra 1:2; 2 Chronicles 36:23. Now that is very surprising to learn. Isn’t it interesting that God would give the kingdoms of all the earth at specific points in history to gentiles and military dictators? Neither Nebuchadnezzar nor Cyrus were Jews. Cyrus was King of Babylon and Persia. Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon before Cyrus. They were not sons of Israel. Yet, God gave them the kingdoms of the earth for certain times during their lives. God never gave King David all the kingdoms of the earth and God never gave Solomon all the kingdoms of the earth.
But does the Bible say that God gave the devil the kingdoms of the earth? No. We find instead that the devil is the “deceiver of the whole world,” but not the King of the world. Revelation 12:9. The devil certainly tries to influence and blind men and twist the truth in this world. We could speculate that by adding “deceiver of the whole world” to his resume, that such qualifications may land him a job as a political advisor to powerful governments. It may also catch the eye of those in human resources looking to fill management positions in the international banking community, or other positions working for governments or their bureaucracies like federal departments and agencies where deceit is a job qualification.
But such a qualification doesn’t mean that God would appoint the devil to govern the world, or gave him the kingdoms or nations of the world. 2 Corinthians 4:4. We don’t find that idea presented in the Bible. What we find instead is that the devil merely claims that he has authority over the kingdoms of the earth. Of course that’s a lie, but this is the claim he is making to Jesus. He’s saying: “I’ll make a deal with you, I have the kingdoms and I’ll give them to you if you fall down and worship me.” Even Luke 4:5-6, where the Devil claims the worlds Kingdoms were delivered to him is just another lie the devil tells.
So Jesus, knowing his Father has authority over all the nations of the earth, and that He has given them to whomsoever He pleases, and that He has not given them to the devil, and that He has already promised Jesus that he will be King of Israel, and one day King of all the kingdoms of the earth during the future millennial period, it makes perfect sense for Jesus to turn down the devil’s offer. Rather than arguing, Jesus simply responds to the devil’s proposal that it was written: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” This was the end of their conversation. For what can the devil say against the word of God? Even the devil had the brains to figure out he couldn’t oppose the word of God. It makes you wonder what motivates mere human beings to deny or disparage the word of God. Perhaps the better question is to wonder who motivates human beings to deny the word of God.
We are examining the devil’s temptation of Jesus to illustrate a point which bears on the central message and purpose of Jesus’ ministry on the earth. Recall the question: Why did Jesus come? So far the discussion has been about kings and kingdoms, not evangelism and salvation. Why is this? It is because the central message of Jesus’ ministry on earth is about the kingdom or more specifically, about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The devil’s effort to claim that the kingdoms of the earth were his is a brazen act of usurpation of God’s authority to give the kingdoms of men to whomsoever he will.
Jesus knew that his Father had already promised him the kingdom of Israel as the genealogical heir of David. He knew his Father had also promised him authority to rule all the other kingdoms of the earth some future point in time after his death and resurrection. He also knew that God never gave any of this to the devil and frankly never will. The challenge Jesus faced is that he had to wait for God’s timing to fulfill all these promises. He had to resist the devil’s proposal to shortcut those promises, get his kingdom now (at least in Israel) and throw out the Roman government. But Jesus kept the faith and held onto the promises of God, making it easy for Jesus to refute the devil because of these promises. What promises are we talking about again?
In Psalm 2, God’s son declares that God said to him: “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.'” God even warns the future Kings of the earth to serve the Lord with fear and trembling, and show respect and submission to Jesus. If the Kings of the earth refuse to do so, God’s wrath will be quickly kindled and they will perish for their disrespect or disobedience. Jesus knew this promise and threat when he rebuffed the devil.
Jesus also was familiar with the book of Daniel which said that “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” Daniel 7:27. Isn’t it interesting that Daniel spoke of the greatness of the kingdoms of man. The devil likewise spoke of the greatness of these kingdoms, so Jesus was familiar with what was being discussed. It was not a new idea.
It is also noteworthy to observe that all of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall not only be given to Jesus but shall also be given to the “people of the saints of the most high.” Who is he talking about? Who are the saints of the most high? The saints of the most high are those who are believers in Jesus Christ. They are those who God has declared as righteous and includes non-Christians such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob among others. Matthew 8:11. Daniel says they shall be given the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms of the earth subject to the King of Kings. The rule of Jesus as King of Kings is also presupposed when Paul refers to the fact that Jesus will one day deliver his “kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” 1 Corinthians 15:24-25.
The key point here is that the Kingdom of Heaven is central to Jesus’ thinking. Is it crucial to yours, or is this the first time you have heard of it? He was familiar with the kingdoms of mankind. Jesus was fully aware that his presence and mission on earth was intended to spread the knowledge of his coming kingdom. His coming kingdom would rule the kingdoms of the earth. It was old and familiar ground to Jesus. He understood it. The devil understood it. God understood it. Do we understand it or are we late to the party?
After the devil left Jesus, the very next thing Jesus did was to go to the city of Capernaum by the sea. You are probably thinking this is where he talks about salvation and encourages evangelism. Well no, that is not the case. At the sea he preached the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” Luke 4:43. That is the first thing he did. He declared that this was his purpose. He declared this even before he asked others to follow him or called those who eventually became his disciples. This was his purpose because he said it was his purpose. It was not his purpose in Capernaum alone. He said “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” Luke 4:43
From that time on, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17. What else did he preached about the Kingdom of Heaven? He said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” He said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” In Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. In Matthew 5:19 he warned that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments [of God] and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
He also discussed those persons who were not likely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That must certainly be of some interest. He declared that “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:20. Indeed, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21. Are you interested in knowing if you are in the Kingdom? Jesus said that he tax collectors and the prostitutes will go into the kingdom of God before the religious leaders of his day. Matthew 21:31. That should make us want to look at what he is talking about very carefully.
Jesus also gave the disciples the “secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 13:11. Finally, Jesus said “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11.
In referring to the Kingdom of Heaven and all of these details, cautions and warnings, one thing is brutally clear; Jesus was not talking about the gospel of salvation. He was not referring to the message of salvation at this point. He was not engaging in evangelism at this point either. He certainly was not claiming or asserting that the church he founded was the same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was preaching something other than these matters. He was preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Sitting there reading this toady, stop and ask yourself: “Do I really know what he is talking about?” Can you say off the top of your head?
What is clear is that Jesus was constantly talking about the “Kingdom of Heaven” more so than salvation. In fact, most of his parables were kingdom parables, not salvation parables. Jesus told his disciples that he would speak to the people in parables because they had not been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven like the disciples. Matthew 13:11. Jesus spoke to the people in parables because “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Matthew 13:13.
What did he say about the Kingdom of Heaven in parables? You and I are not counted among the original disciples. True, we have the Holy Spirit to help us understand. So what do these parables of the kingdom mean? In Matthew 13:24, he said, “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.” In Matthew 13:31 he said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.” In Matthew 13:33, He told another parable: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” In Matthew 13:44 he observed that “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
In Matthew 13:45 Jesus reiterates: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.” In Matthew 13:47, he says “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. In Matthew 13:52, he noted that “every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” Matthew 18:4. The disciples were instructed by Jesus to proclaim that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Matthew 10:7.
Thus, we see that the Kingdom of Heaven was the central teaching of Jesus. It was not his only teaching, but it was his central message. He had the forthcoming kingdom in mind which his Father previously promised him, when he refuted the devil. He had the kingdom in mind thereafter in Capernaum and in the cities he visited. He had the kingdom in mind when he talked to the people in parables. He had the kingdom in mind when he said it was like this and that and compared to this and that. He had the kingdom in mind when he talked to his disciples and admonished them to teach the kingdom to others. Why go through all these comparisons and take up so much time talking about the Kingdom, unless he meant it to be very important?
Is proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven optional? Can we say: “Well this kingdom discussion is all very interesting and seemed important to Jesus, but its just not my thing?” Just reading that sentence should cause you to laugh out loud. Don’t you consider yourself a saint? Remember what Daniel wrote when he said that the kingdom heaven “shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High”? Daniel 7:27. Are you really going to take the position that your promised part in the Kingdom of Heaven by God Almighty is “not your thing?” Perhaps God will say to you then: “Ok, then, well if that’s not your thing, how about you go to the other place?” You know, the other place. It’s not heaven. It’s not earth. It’s the other place.
At that point you would take a great interest in the Kingdom of Heaven and fall down on your wobbly knees and say to God: “Well I’m here, tell me what I should do.” There’s nothing like a little heat to effect an attitude adjustment. Jesus might also ask you a few questions: “Didn’t God give you gifts on earth which you were supposed to develop to maturity? How do you plan to use them in the kingdom?” What will you say? Will you say: “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” That response will not impress Jesus. Well you have at least identified your spiritual gifts, haven’t you? You at least lived your life on earth using them, didn’t you? Boy, you didn’t screw this up too, did you?
Is proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven more important than tithing, or fellowship dinners, session meetings, or church attendance? Perhaps it is more important than evangelism and personal piety? Or perhaps it is at least as important as these things? Can we acknowledge that? We are not diminishing the gospel of salvation. Paul referred to it as a matter of first importance. 1 Corinthians 15:3. But this emphasis cannot diminish or devalue the declarations of Jesus himself regarding the importance of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Perhaps you are still stuck on ranking Jesus teaching. You have a list in your mind “these things are crucial, these other things are less important.” The importance of the Kingdom of Heaven is way down on the list of what it means to be a Christian. Evangelism, personal piety, and salvation are way up at the top. They are the top three. Tithing is up there too, even though the Levitical priests of ancient Israel no longer perform their priestly functions and certainly not at your church. You have in your mind that there has to be a pecking order. You have in your mind that there has to be a ranking of living the Christian life in which you do this first, then that, and then these other things if you have time. My friend, that is no way to approach the Christian life. Yes, there are things that are more important than others. But we must make time for all of the things that are important to God.
Don’t think that: “Well if I have time after devoting my energy to those three, perhaps I will add the Kingdom of Heaven to number four on the list.” Is that how Jesus approached his message about the kingdom? Did he say: “Well salvation is number one on everybody’s list and if I have time after that then you and I can talk about the Kingdom of Heaven”? Or did he say: “Hey friend, if you can spare the time, you should focus on developing your gifts I gave you so that one day you can use them in the kingdom?” 1 Corinthians 12. Romans 12:6-8. Everyone can rationalize how they go about life. All we are doing here is presenting the Kingdom of Heaven as central to Jesus own teaching and reason for coming.
Even so, since Jesus had this approach and teaching, would it be too difficult if we also adopted this approach and teaching, at least a little bit? Would it be too difficult if we spread the gospel of the kingdom in the same way in which Jesus did? Would it be too difficult to have a sermon or two about this in our churches? Does every sermon have to be about salvation or personal piety or evangelism or love? Jesus certainly taught on these things. But Jesus did not dwell exclusively on any of these to the detriment of discussing the Kingdom of Heaven.
Perhaps you don’t believe that this focus on the kingdom can possibly be true. You’re confident that Jesus came to save us and that’s really what the Scripture is all about. But that’s not what the Scripture says as the numerous references stated above attest. Perhaps you can’t comprehend the relevance or importance of the kingdom because your minister never ever preached a sermon on this subject. You never heard of a physical kingdom to come in which the righteous and believers would rule the nations in their new immortal bodies. You never heard from your church leaders that Jesus Christ would reign as King over the world’s kingdoms as a gift from his Father.
Think about this. Your church leaders and minister are not Jesus Christ. They are not apostles or disciples. Your minister may very well not know what he or she is talking about. They may be trained in a seminary or have a PhD, but does he or she know what Jesus is talking about when he talks about the Kingdom of Heaven? The guy or gal you listen to on the radio may not have a clue about any of this. You are an adult. Read the Scripture for yourself and figure it out. That is your birthright as a Christian. Don’t sell it for a bowl of church traditions with its go along and get along COVID-19 inspired deference to the opinions of others.
Alright then, in what way did Jesus actually spread the gospel of the kingdom? If you and I are going to spread the gospel of the kingdom we might want to know how he did it. That makes sense. Jesus talked about the kingdom being at hand. Have you ever told anybody that the kingdom of God is at hand? Don’t you think if Jesus found time to preach this truth, you could spare a few minutes in your week to mention it once? Jesus talked about the poor in spirit and those were persecuted for righteousness entering the kingdom. Have you ever talked to anyone about how to enter the kingdom of God? It might be important if you are thinking of entering it yourself.
Jesus talked about who was in the kingdom and who was not. Have you ever thought about how to get into the kingdom? You certainly have thought about how to get into heaven. But do you know how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven? When you evangelize others do you talk about getting into the Kingdom of Heaven? Or do you fall into circular reasoning that the purpose of evangelism is to save others, and their purpose in turn is to save others, whose purpose in turn is to save others? Or perhaps church growth is the ultimate goal, or even worldwide salvation? Whatever diversion you may embrace, don’t ignore the Kingdom of Heaven.
Perhaps it would be important to think why salvation or eternal life is important. It is important not as an end in itself. It is important because it is the way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We’re not just talking about heaven or entering heaven. We’re not talking about eternal life for its own sake. We are talking about these matters for some greater purpose. We are talking about the Kingdom of Heaven and that salvation is the means by which all may enter therein.
Jesus talked about how difficult it was to get into the kingdom. He talked about who is great in the kingdom and who is not. His disciples even argued about who was the greatest in the kingdom and where they might sit relative to Jesus’s throne. Jesus reminded them that humility was a prerequisite to entering the kingdom. Matthew 18:1-3.
It might be a positive first step today for us to at least start where the disciples started and argue about whom is the greatest in the kingdom, as opposed to never discussing the subject at all. At least the disciples who were told the secrets of the kingdom, acted foolishly enough to argue about who was the greatest. But which condition is actually worse from God’s point of view; arguing about whom is the greatest in the kingdom, or never talking about the kingdom at all? Would it be too difficult to talk about these things?
Emphasis on the Kingdom of Heaven was not just a passing phase or idea during the lifetime of Jesus. It was still preached even after the death of Jesus. An examination of the book of Acts easily demonstrates that even after the death and resurrection of Christ, the disciples were still preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Thus, Acts 8:12 reminds us that Philip “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.” And in Acts 28:31, even Paul was said to be “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.” Perhaps you are greater than Phillip. Perhaps your pastor is greater than Paul. Phillip and Paul talked about these things. But perhaps your pastor is greater than these two men and need not follow their example?
You may be trying to rationalize all this talk of the kingdom by thinking that the gospel of the Kingdom is just another way of referring to the gospel of Christ. Perhaps you think: “They are just all the same thing. They all refer to the gospel of Christ and evangelism and the four spiritual laws, right?” Well no, that is not right. Why even conclude such a thing? Did you know that a review of the phrase “Gospel of Christ” reveals that it was used 8 times, but never once used by Jesus himself? John the Baptist referenced it. Mark 1:1. Paul referred to it numerous times. Romans15:19; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:2. Paul even called it “my gospel” on three occasions. Romans 2:16; 16:25 and 2 Timothy 2:8. But Jesus never used the phrase, the “Gospel of Christ.” The “Gospel of God” is referred to seven times in the New Testament by Jesus, Peter and Paul.
On the other hand, Jesus refers to the “gospel of the Kingdom” three times in Matthew. The “Kingdom of Heaven” is referred to 31 times, all in the book of Matthew. The “Kingdom of God” is referred to 53 times in the first four books of the New Testament by Jesus. His followers refer to the kingdom of God 14 times beginning in the book of Acts. Paul referenced the Kingdom of God and Christ. Ephesians 5:5. Given these numerous references to the kingdom, twisting the kingdom message into a merely spiritual or existential experience is to be avoided. Don’t be satisfied to simply declare that the kingdom is “in your heart” and that is it. Yes, the kingdom is “in the midst of you” but this does not mean it’s the only place it is present or will be present. Luke 17:21.
Upon learning this for the first time, a normal person would begin to wonder what it all means. How is all this to be understood? Perhaps in trying to piece it all together, you may be tempted to think that the gospel changed after Jesus died and the earlier gospel of the kingdom was no longer relevant. You might reason, that: “Well, the book of Acts was a book of transition, and we don’t hear about the gospel of the kingdom after that.” So the Kingdom is expired or no longer relevant? Yet, in Matthew 24:13-14, when Jesus is speaking of the end times (specifically, the Tribulation period), he says, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
If you believe the Tribulation hasn’t happened yet, and is still in the future, then the gospel of the Kingdom is something that must still be proclaimed after the death of Christ. Moreover, Matthew 24 seems to clearly indicate when the Great Commission (Mat. 28:18-20) is ultimately fulfilled, i.e., the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, it will be the gospel of the kingdom, not merely the gospel of Christ which is proclaimed. This is bad news for most major ministries who believe the great commission mandates the spreading of the gospel of salvation as an end in and of itself, rather than as a means to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thus, far we have discussed the coming Kingdom of Heaven as a central theme of Jesus ministry. We’ve also seen efforts to undermine or this Kingdom gospel. The devil tried to shortcut the coming of the Kingdom. We have made an extensive examination of the Scripture to show that references to the Kingdom of Heaven are broad and repeated. We have also endeavored to show that the gospel of salvation through evangelism and the great commission itself are actually the means by which one may enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, rather than an end to in and of themselves.
Of course, all along the way we have taken time to critique the lack of any meaningful teaching about the Kingdom by the church and clergy. We have tried to admonish the reader to think through the matter for him or herself or for their own benefit as to how their place in the Kingdom of Heaven is to be secured. This raw appeal to self-interest hopefully will prompt each of us to give just a little thought to what each of us might be doing in the kingdom with our new incorruptible and not overweight body.
When the Kingdom arrives, it is not likely we will be spending our days sitting around drinking Starbucks and talking about theology. There will be much work to be done in assisting Jesus in the administration of his worldwide government of all the nations of the earth. These include among others the worldwide cleanup of dead bodies after the devastating war, the complete rebuilding of the earth’s infrastructure after its destruction, and the massive environmental cleanup operation which will take place. Empowering families to direct the education and upbringing of their children, engaging in occupations and agricultural pursuits throughout the earth as from the beginning will also be time consuming. Of course, the adoption and application of the law of God worldwide, and the administration of Jesus’ government and his courts of justice will be the top priority.
If you’re not preparing yourself today for at least one of these or other relevant functions, and you can stand the embarrassment of not having developed your gifts in this world when asked to account for it in the next, perhaps you may take some consolation in the fact that Jesus might give you 1,000 years to catch up so that you might be useful to the King in the service of his coming Kingdom of Heaven.