“The Kingdom”Categories: Bible, Church, Doctrine, God, Teaching
Disciples of Jesus often struggle to understand their Master’s teaching. The same was even true of Christ’s original 12 disciples. One of the things Jesus’ original audience struggled with was the nature of the kingdom He came to establish. Yet, Jesus the master Teacher, ever patient, taught them in love (cf. Mt. 20:20-28; Acts 1:6-8).
Sadly, much of the same confusion remains today (see premillennialism, Mormonism, etc.) despite the fact that the apostles and their contemporaries, being filled with the Spirit of truth who guided them into “all truth” (Jn. 16:13), set the record straight about the kingdom in their epistles.
But why didn’t the average Jew in the days Jesus walked the earth understand what the kingdom of God was all about? The Old Testament Scriptures were rich with kingdom prophecies but the Jews only looked at them physically and nationally. They look for a restoration of Israel’s golden days under David. The Christ would liberate them from Roman oppression and sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem. These misconceptions colored their interpretation of the of the prophets and even led them to crucify the Christ.
During the dark days of Judah God did not utterly destroy Israel but preserved a remnant (Isa. 1:9). But in her destruction, Israel lost her civil sovereignty; that is, she ceased to be a nation. But God promised to put another King on David’s throne (Isa. 9:6-7) making them a nation once again. Though broken Israel would be scattered abroad, God promised they would return to Him (Isa. 10:20-23). This would happen in the days when God would send forth a King (Isa. 11:1-16). But this same Lord would be a light to the Gentiles (lit. “the nations” or non-Jews) (Isa. 49:5ff), a fact lost on some first century Jewish Christians.
As stated before, we don’t have the same excuse as the first century Jews for misunderstanding kingdom prophecy. Paul, on his first missionary journey, while in Pisidian Antioch, reviewed Jewish history (Acts 13:16-41) highlighting that Jesus Christ fulfilled the kingdom promise (Acts 13:23) and was resurrected to be the “sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:32-34). He clearly stated at the conclusion of his sermon that the deliverance provided by this Davidic King was not national or militaristic but was a deliverance from “sin” and its consequences (Acts 13:38).
Similar statements can be found in Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost after the resurrection. He concluded that after being raised from the dead Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33), a place of rule (cf. Psa. 110).
Paul taught that first century Christians were presently in “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13-14). Therefore, we can confidently conclude that Jesus is faithful: He was successful in establishing His kingdom and is reigned even now as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).
The Jewish understanding of the “kingdom” prophecies was literal and physical but the apostles, guided by the Spirit of truth, interpreted those prophecies correctly for us, attesting to the spiritual nature of the kingdom Christ established (cf. Lk. 17:20-21). Like most things in the Old Testament, the literal and physical kingdom of Israel was a type or shadow of the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Is the kingdom the same thing as the church? “Kingdom” is just one way of describing God’s relationship to His people through Christ. We are children in His family, laborers in His vineyard, sheep in His flock, members of His body, etc. Each one of these phrases describes a unique attribute of that multifaceted relationship. The “kingdom” figure is unique in that it emphasizes the “rule” of Christ and our submission, loyalty, and service to Him as our King.
The word “church” (Grk. ‘Ekklesia’) is a combination of two words. The prefix “Ek” means “out of” and “klesia” means “a calling.” The word church amounts to “a calling out of.” This originally referred to a special group of people like a civic assembly. But the ‘Ekklesia’ that Jesus promised to build (Mt. 16:18) was a special assembly of people that belonged to Him.
So when the word “church” is used we should generally think “people.” But when the word “kingdom” is used we should think more of “rule,” for that is what the word means. “Kingdom” (Grk. ‘Basileia’) is an abstract noun denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion, etc. It comes to be defined by metonymy (or as a figure of speech) as the people over whom the king rules.
Are you part of Christ’s kingdom? That depends. Is Jesus your King? You might ask, “How do I know if Jesus is my King?” The answer to that question entirely rests upon your response to the teachings of Jesus. If you willingly submit to His rule and commandments then you have proven He is sitting on the throne of your heart. Please read Matthew 7:21-23 and then verses 24-27 while meditating on the kingdom and your place in it.