The Kingdom of God—Part 1

The Kingdom of God

MORE than nineteen centuries ago, Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, set forth a revolutionary doctrine that has since created much interest in the world. Here was a religious teacher who did not emphasize any prescribed ritual or develop any new system of philosophical logic. His teaching stressed something which enjoyed no previous popular exposition, though interwoven in the obscure prophecies of the Old Testament—the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven.

The subject of the kingdom was the all-absorbing theme of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At least thirty parables were devoted to it. God’s purpose of establishing it upon the earth was set forth as the greatest hope of mankind. It was given the most prominent place in the Lord’s model prayer, following the acknowledgment of the greatness of God: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) For centuries now, earnest Christians have been repeating these words and praying for God’s kingdom to come.

An earthly kingdom under heavenly control! Divine intervention in the affairs of men! What a strange and unfamiliar ring these words have. It is a doctrine that is scarcely heard or taught in any of the churches of today. Concerning this point, the noted historian, H.G. Wells, commented:

“Remarkable is the enormous prominence given by Jesus to the teaching of what he called the kingdom of heaven and its comparative insignificance in the procedure and teaching of most of the Christian churches.”

Here is an enigma that raises many questions in the mind of the inquirer for truth. If Jesus, the founder of Christianity, “went about all the cities and villages” devoting himself to “preaching the Gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 9:35), why does this theme not continue to be the keynote of the churches today? Was Jesus mistaken in his expectations that God would establish his kingdom upon the earth? Is this view corroborated or contradicted by the remainder of the Bible?

These are thought-provoking questions, which deserve reasonable answers. This presentation will suggest solutions which are based upon church history, the sacred writings of Scripture, and current world affairs. It will begin with a review of the evolution of thought within the Christian churches regarding the doctrine of the kingdom.

Early Church Views of the Kingdom

It is a matter of historical fact that the Christians of the first two centuries believed in the future establishment of God’s kingdom upon earth as a vital part of their faith. This is well authenticated by church historians and is summed up in the following excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Faith in the nearness of Christ’s second advent and the establishing of his reign of glory on the earth was undoubtedly a strong point in the primitive Christian church. … These enthusiastic expectations were inseparably bound up with the Christian faith down to the middle of the second century.”

It was not until the rise to power of the papal church that the truth regarding the earthly kingdom began to be lost sight of and finally was repudiated altogether, as shown in the same encyclopedic reference:

“After the middle of the second century … the spirit of philosophical and theological speculation and of ethical reflection, which began to spread through the churches, did not know what to make of the old hopes of the future. To a new generation they seemed paltry … fantastic … but more than this, these wild dreams about the glorious kingdom of Christ began to disturb the organization which the churches had seen fit to introduce. … Augustine was the first who ventured to teach that the Catholic Church … was the kingdom of Christ, that the millennial kingdom had commenced with the appearing of Christ, and was therefore an accomplished fact. By this doctrine of Augustine’s, the old millennarianism … was … banished from the official theology.”

During the Reformation, many Bible truths which were lost sight of during the Dark Ages were recovered. Once again the Bible was upheld as the only standard for Christian doctrine. Yet, perhaps because true Bible study had been restricted for so many hundreds of years, misconceptions of the kingdom continued to dominate in most Protestant circles:

“The German and Swiss reformers … threw millennarianism overboard. … They took up the same ground in this respect which the Roman Catholic Church had occupied since the time of Augustine.”—Encyclopedia Britannica

Even after church-state systems were abolished, the term ‘Christendom’ (Christ’s kingdom) persisted. In a vague sense God’s earthly kingdom was regarded as being represented in the modern Christian nations.

Prevailing Protestant Views

Today the Protestant world is found divided into two major camps. On one extreme are found the Fundamentalists, who value the inspiration of the Bible but demand a literal interpretation for most of it. This has led to difficulty in harmonizing certain teachings bearing on the kingdom and the future of the earth. Some of these Christians believe that the earth is doomed to a fiery destruction in the final days of God’s vengeance upon man. In an excerpt from Halley’s Pocket Bible Handbook we read:

“The earth was destroyed by water. Next time it will be by fire. … When God’s plans are ready, it may, by explosion from within, or by collision with some other heavenly body, again flare into a seething mass of flame.”

This view, as explained by William Hordern in A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology, pictures only the saints of God as saved and the remainder of humanity without any hope after this final catastrophe has taken place. Some Fundamentalists believe the earth will be renewed and that Christ will reign for a thousand years, but only the resurrected saints in their glorified spiritual bodies will benefit. According to this view, at the end of the millennial reign, after the wicked dead are judged, the saints are transferred to heaven. The reformed earth will then stand empty and unpopulated, its role in human destiny having been fulfilled. With the planet Earth thought to be of only temporary importance and with only the saints benefiting from the millennium, the concept of an earthly kingdom as the great hope of the masses of mankind is completely lost.

In this day of enlightenment, it has become possible to apply sound methods of Bible study to harmonize apparently conflicting teachings. After examining the range of texts that bear on this subject, students of the Bible are convinced that God designed his planet Earth as a permanent abode for his human creation. Isaiah 45:18 reads: “For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited.” And Psalm 37:11,29 states, “The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. … The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein forever.”

Those texts which are thought to teach that the earth will be destroyed may quite readily be shown to be either poor translations or symbolic in meaning. “What shall be the sign of … the end of the world?” Matthew 24:3 refers, rather, to the end of the age or dispensation just preceding the establishment of the kingdom. The Greek word aion, which is translated ‘world’ in this text, is defined in Young’s Analytical Concordance as ‘age, indefinite time, or dispensation,’ and is so rendered in the newer versions.

Another verse, found in II Peter 3:6, provides further corroboration of this. Speaking of the social order or arrangement that existed before the Flood, Peter writes: “The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” Here the Greek word kosmos, is used and is defined by Dr. Young as ‘arrangement’ or ‘beauty’ as well as ‘world.’ It is quite obvious that the planet Earth was not destroyed at the Flood but merely the people who made up the evil social order or arrangement of that period.

Finally, a third text shows that the fire which will consume the earth is symbolic and represents the great time of distress and trouble among the nations, which God will use to prepare the hearts of the people for his kingdom. It is found in Zephaniah 3:8,9, and reads: “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord to serve him with one consent.”

Notice that after the earth is symbolically devoured by the fire of God’s jealousy, some of the inhabitants of the earth still remain. These are not the saints, for they already know the pure language. It is then that God turns to the people, intervenes in their earthly affairs, establishes his kingdom of righteousness, and offers them the pure language of truth.

Thus is shown a picture of a very loving God offering everlasting human life to all who will be willing to respond to the pure language and serve him with one consent—a very far cry, indeed, from the narrow view of an angry, vindictive, wrathful God, eager to annihilate his wayward creation.

On the other extreme of Protestantism, the Modernists have so distorted the original hope of the kingdom that it has lost all its true meaning. Briefly, they believe that if peace and goodwill are ever to be established upon the earth, it is man himself who must do it. All faith in the promises of God respecting his kingdom has been completely lost. Their view, though bereft of any scriptural support, has gained in acceptance and now dominates all Christian thinking on the subject. The following excerpt from the pen of a contemporary Modernist, Richard Gregory, in Gods and Men, serves to sum up this view:

“What has been achieved in the six thousand years of civilized life may represent only the incipient stages of growth of moral or ethical consciousness towards a condition so sublime that it approaches what is conceived to be divine. Belief in the possibility of continuing this upward trend by service to high ideals is the basis of a religion which will make the world happier and better whatever sacerdotal forms may be used to express it. It is by such exalted endeavors that the kingdom of man will prove worthy to be called the kingdom of God.”

Within recent years, the inconsistency and unreasonableness of the Modernist view has become more and more apparent. Examples on every hand are showing that the moral structure of the people living in so-called Christian countries is not evolving upward but is steady degenerating, as predicted in the Bible. Crime, juvenile delinquency, graft, corruption, immorality, excesses of liquor and tobacco, and the use of narcotics are all steadily on the increase. All of this was to be expected, however, as shown in the Bible’s vivid preview of the present evil time of the end:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” (II Tim. 3:1-5, RSV) Thank God that when the kingdom is established and Christ is ruler of all the earth, “the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”—Isa. 26:9

Bible Predictions of the Kingdom

Now that a perspective of the views of Christians throughout the history of the church has been gained, the way has been cleared for a fresh examination of what the Bible teaches on the subject of the kingdom. Is the kingdom to be a literal government upon the earth? Is the ruler to be divinely appointed or chosen by ballot? What will be the extent of its control over the nations of earth? These are some of the questions answered by the prophecies of the Bible.

We believe that the future establishment of a divine government upon the earth is the clear and harmonious teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. The Prophet Daniel, in two separate pictures, previews the rise and fall of the four universal empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, which were to rule the earth from his day onward until they would be supplanted by the kingdom of God. These accounts are found in the second and seventh chapters of Daniel, where the empires are pictured as four parts of a great image of a man, and again as four terrible beasts. In both of these pictures, the setting up of God’s earthly kingdom is shown to follow the downfall of the last of these empires.

According to these prophecies, God would not grant universal dominion to any other earthly power after the final decay of the Roman Empire. The barbaric tribes which conquered Rome later developed into such modern European nations as Germany (Alemanni), France (Franks), Great Britain (Anglo-Saxons), and Italy (Lombards). It is of these vestiges of the Roman Empire that the prophecies in Daniel speak:

“In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: … it shall break in pieces and consume all these [former] kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” (Dan. 2:44) “Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”—Dan. 7:13,14

The establishment of God’s earthly kingdom is shown to be vested in the hands of Christ. Though absent from the earth between his first and second advents, Christ promised to return to establish God’s kingdom, as shown in the parable of the nobleman: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.” (Luke 19:11-15) The Revelator shows that the glorified church shares in the honor of reigning with Christ for a thousand years, thus giving rise to the expression “the millennial reign of Christ.”—Rev. 20:4,6

To clear up any doubts that might exist, Revelation 5:10 points out specifically that this reign is to take place upon the earth. As the representatives of God, who have proven their worthiness for this position, Christ and his church are divinely appointed to this office, not elected by the ballot of the people. Of this fact the Prophet Isaiah writes: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called … the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. … The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”—Isa. 9:6,7

According to Daniel’s prophecy, when God’s kingdom is finally established, it will be the fifth empire to exercise control over all the nations of the earth. Speaking of the extent of the influence of this divine rulership, the psalmist writes: “He [Christ] shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. … Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” (Ps. 72:8,11) “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.”—Ps. 22:27,28

In highly pictorial language, the Prophet Micah also describes the kingdom, calling it the mountain of the house of the Lord: “In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. … And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off.”—Mic. 4:1-3

From the foregoing description, it may be seen that the overall testimony of the Scriptures depicts the kingdom of God as a ruling government, controlling the affairs of the nations and enforcing divine standards of justice. Some Christians, however, have raised objections to this concept of the kingdom on the basis of several texts, which should be considered here.

The first is found in John 18:36, where Jesus is quoted as saying: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Here the word rendered ‘world’ is translated from the Greek kosmos, meaning ‘arrangement,’ ‘beauty,’ or ‘world,’ as previously mentioned. Hence Jesus was simply stating that his kingdom would not be established during the social order or arrangement that existed in his day.

Another text, Luke 17:20,21, as it is translated in the Authorized Version, gives the impression that God’s kingdom is only in the hearts of men: “And when he [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation [margin, with outward show]: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, to there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” On this basis some Christians believe that the primary significance of the term ‘kingdom’ is the transforming influence that it creates in the hearts of believers. Again Halley states:

“What was the kingdom that Jesus came to found? Not a political kingdom, but to reign in the hearts of men, and through their hearts control and transform their lives. The human heart is the realm in which Jesus came to reign. … The basic idea of the word [kingdom] implies Jesus’ dominion in the hearts of his people through all dispensations, onward into eternity.”

We believe that a thorough analysis of the passage in Luke 17:20,21 will show that Jesus’ words mean much more than just a heart influence in men. Since Jesus was addressing the Pharisees, whom he elsewhere called hypocrites and a generation of vipers, it is evident that he could not have meant that his kingdom was embodied within the hearts of these listeners.

The Diaglott clarifies the meaning of this text by translating it, “God’s Royal Majesty is among you,” showing that Jesus, the Royal Majesty and Ambassador of heaven, was present among the Pharisees.

Jesus’ statement that the kingdom could not be discerned by outward observation should be understood to apply to the heavenly, or spiritual, phase of the kingdom arrangement, which will be invisible to the eyes of humans. Thus the words of Jesus may be seen to be harmonious with the overall testimony of the Scriptures depicting the kingdom as a powerful government, and they do not preclude its future establishment as such upon the earth.

Though the term kingdom, as used in the Bible, primarily has a future application, there is a limited secondary sense in which it is also applied to depict the work of grace that is presently transpiring in the hearts of believers. This usage is illustrated in Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And again in Colossians 1:13, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”

Here the influence and effect of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of consecrated believers in this life is described loosely as the kingdom of God. This work of grace is now in its incipient stages and will reach full fruition later when the heirs of the kingdom actually become associated with their Head, Jesus, and together administer the spiritual affairs of the kingdom. “He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.”—Rev. 2:26

Preparation for the Kingdom

Thus far the philosophy of church groups regarding the kingdom has been considered and compared with God’s purpose to establish it upon the earth, as revealed in the Bible. It is intended now to present a brief outline of some of the preparations which have been made for the kingdom from the very dawn of man’s creation to the present time.

The first three chapters of the Bible reveal that originally man was created perfect, in the moral likeness of God, and placed in an environment ideally suited to sustain his existence. Through a lack of experience with the results of evil, the first man Adam fell from his state of perfection and faced the consequences of sickness, suffering, and death. This heavy penalty was imposed upon Adam, not because of the magnitude of his sin, but because the principle of obedience to the Creator had been broken.

God’s wisdom permitted the whole race of mankind to be plunged into this state of imperfection so that man could profit from a direct experience with evil, to show the awful results of disobedience to divine law. The history of man has demonstrated the heavy price which has already been paid to gain this experience. The entire world has been groaning and travailing together in pain under the burden of the reign of sin and death, and longing for deliverance. (Rom. 8:22) Unknown to mankind as a whole, the plan of God for man’s recovery has been progressing steadily ever since his fall.

The kingdom of God, restoring the perfection that was lost in the Edenic paradise, could not come unless a means were provided to atone for the disobedience of Adam and his posterity. God, though greatly grieved by the disobedience of his earthly creatures, had nevertheless foreseen such an eventuality and had made provision for it. His great love prompted him to send his closest associate in the heavenly realm, his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to become a ransom sacrifice for sinful Adam. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”—I John 4:10

The Bible also declares that Jesus Christ “gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (I Tim. 2:6) “Therefore as by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:18,19) Here, then, was clear-cut, tangible evidence that God was still interested in his wayward creation and was actively working out the preliminaries which would make his future kingdom possible.

A very logical objection presented itself at this point. If it were truly God’s intention to establish a kingdom and if his Son completed his atoning sacrifice at the close of his earthly ministry, why should there be a delay of almost two thousand years in setting up the kingdom? Some Christians offer the explanation that it is God’s will to have them first convert the entire world to Christianity by their own efforts. When they have succeeded in accomplishing this feat, the hearts of men will be prepared for the establishment of God’s kingdom:

“In the model prayer, we are taught to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth,’ which seems to mean that the kingdom of God makes progress on earth, in proportion as the will of God is done by men. … The kingdom is a present reality, and that kingdom is destined to grow from small beginnings to vast issues. … The rule of God is meant to be exercised more and more fully, in all spheres of human activity, in world politics, in trade, in commerce, in literature, in family life, everywhere.” We read this in G.T. Manley’s, The New Bible Handbook.

In the past this view gave an appearance of reasonableness since each century after the establishment of the church witnessed more and more conversions, until more than one-third of the world had been added to the ranks of Christendom. Today, however, statistics covering world religions reveal the fact that the Christian population has reached its peak and is now steadily losing ground to heathen religions.—The World Almanac and Book of Facts

It should be realized that while the actual number of Christians is still increasing, in terms of relative percentage growth they are decreasing. The conclusion to be drawn, then, is that if it were left to man’s devices to convert the world to Christianity before the kingdom could be established, the outlook for the future would be gloomy indeed.

Fortunately, however, by reexamining their Bibles, thoughtful Christians have discovered a plausible reason for the failure of Christianity to convert the world. They have come to realize that it is not God’s will for the world to be converted in this age by man’s own efforts. Jesus’ instruction to be his witnesses “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8) included no assurance that the testimony would be received and acted upon.

Rather, now it is understood that it is God’s will in this age to select out of the world only a small company of believers, the true church class, to become associated with his Son, Jesus. “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) Not until the church class is complete and glorified with its head, Christ, will it be the due time for the conversion of the world, the residue of humanity. “After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down … that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles.”—Acts 15:16,17

This understanding, that it simply is not God’s intention to have the world converted at this time, sheds new light on long-standing Bible enigmas relating to the kingdom. Many have wondered why it was not Jesus’ aim to convert the multitudes during his earthly ministry and why he defined the terms of discipleship so strictly that only a few responded. Recall his words to his own disciples when he explained that “unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”—Mark 4:11,12

Now it becomes clear that Jesus understood his Father’s purposes and limited his call to the relatively few of acceptable heart condition who would qualify as his footstep followers. This harmonizes fully with other Bible texts, such as Matthew 7:14, which states, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

What, then, is the true reason for the delay in setting up the kingdom? Several suggestions may be given. First, it was God’s intention to have the earth fully populated with Adam’s descendants and to provide all of them with a lifelong experience with evil and its awful consequences. In addition, a world where sin and sinful tendencies have predominated has provided a suitable testing ground for the faithfulness of the true church class. As potential heirs to a divine legacy of rulership, the consecrated followers of Jesus must be thoroughly tested and proven worthy in the face of the unfavorable conditions of this age—indifference, ridicule, and opposition.

After the number that compose the church class is fully called out of the world and glorified with Jesus, it will be God’s due time to establish the kingdom in power and great glory and to direct his favor toward the residue of mankind. During the Millennial Age, when the kingdom will become operative, those Bible texts describing the world’s conversion will finally be fulfilled.

Then it shall be true that “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.”—Jer. 31:34

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