Jesus often spoke in parables about a Kingdom. Was He referring to a real Kingdom, or were these merely stories to keep His audience amused? If He was talking about a real Kingdom – then where is it? Did it exist in His time? Does it exist today…or is it future?
Some of the Old Testament prophets foretold that God would establish a Kingdom and the Israelites looked forward to a time when this would occur. When Daniel for instance, interpreted King Nebuchadnezzer’s dream he spoke of a prophetic Kingdom whose ruler would be given dominion over all nations and peoples. Daniel said that an everlasting Kingdom would be set up by the God of Heaven, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” (Daniel 2:44, see also Daniel 7:13-14).
Isaiah spoke of the Prince of Peace who would rule forever, “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 Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there would be no end,” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
He was speaking of Jesus Christ who has been anointed by the Father to rule the Kingdom, “…unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” (Hebrews 1:8-12).
It is the Kingdom of God ruled by Christ under the authority of the Father, “…the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:5). It is an everlasting Kingdom, “… the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:11). And they plan to include mankind in their Kingdom, “Giving thanks unto the Father… …Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:” (Colossians 1:12-13).
From the beginning of his earthly ministry Christ preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom,” (Matthew 4:23). The word gospel means ‘good news’. He came from God the Father with good news about the Kingdom that Isaiah and Daniel had spoken about.
He travelled around the nation of Judah preaching the good news to all who would listen and He sent his followers out to preach the same message, “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:7 also Luke 4:43, 8:1, 9:1-2, 11, 60). Men like Phillip and Paul constantly risked their lives to spread the good news about God’s Kingdom to both Jews and Gentiles, “…Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ,” (Acts 8:12) And, “…he (Paul) went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8 and 20:25, 28:23 & 31).
So where is this Kingdom that the prophets, Christ and His followers preached about? Is it just a figment of the imagination in the minds of these enthusiastic believers? Is it in Heaven, here on earth, or is it some ethereal Kingdom in the hearts of men? Has it been and gone, or is it yet to come? When will the Kingdom of God they spoke of be established?
Not From Hence
At first many of Christ’s followers expected the Kingdom to be established while He was still with them. They knew He was the prophesied Messiah destined to rule in God’s Kingdom, but they did not realise that the Kingdom was for a time in the future.
Christ’s disciples once asked Him about the future and He gave them a brief synopsis of events that would take place toward the end of this age and immediately prior to His return (Matthew 24:1-31, Mark 13:1-37, Luke 25:5-36). He told them that He would return with power and great glory to introduce a world government to bring peace, prosperity and great happiness, such as we have never seen before. A small glimpse of what is in store can be gleaned from Chapters 21 and 22 of the Book of Revelation. This is the event that Isaiah and Daniel had spoken about.
Just before His death Jesus again confirmed that the kingdom was for a later time. He told Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world – my Kingdom is not from hence.” (John18:36) Even after His resurrection, when He appeared to His followers, Christ still spoke about, “things pertaining to the Kingdom of God:” (Acts 1:3). Clearly it was still a Kingdom of the future at that time.
At one time the Pharisees asked Christ when the Kingdom would appear and He said, “the Kingdom of God does not come with observation: nor will they say ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!” For indeed the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21). Unfortunately, many have mistakenly interpreted this single statement to mean that the Kingdom is ‘within’ the hearts or minds of human beings but this is not the case. According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary the Greek word ‘entos’ translated as ‘within’ means ‘in the midst of’. And the margin note in the King James Bible quotes ‘among you’ as an alternative translation. What Christ meant when He said, “the Kingdom of God is within you” was that He the future ruler of the Kingdom was standing there among them at that time.
It is inconceivable that Christ was telling the very people who were trying to kill Him that the Kingdom of God was ‘within’ them. Far from it! He had to rebuke them because they, “shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13). The religious leaders of the day were a stumbling block to those who were being given the opportunity to learn about God’s Kingdom.
When explaining the Kingdom to Nicodemus, who was obviously not of the same mind as the other Pharisees, Jesus said, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God… …Except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God… …That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:3-6). The Greek word ‘anothen’ translated as ‘again’ in this passage means ‘from above’. To be born ‘from above’ implies God’s direct involvement in the process which is revealed when we examine what it means to be ‘born of water and of spirit’.
Born of Water
Entering the Kingdom of God must be preceded by a process of conversion that begins when God calls a person to repentance. Basically repentance means to turn to God acknowledging our sins by rejecting our old way of life and committing to live according to God’s way.
Our repentance is then followed by baptism which involves a ceremonial immersion in water to symbolise the burying of the ‘old man’ and casting off the old ways from which we have repented, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:3-6).
Our re-emergence from the water symbolises the birth of the ‘new man’ to begin a new life that is acceptable to God, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Spirit).” (Acts 2:38).
That is what Christ meant when He told Nicodemus that a man must be born of water. It is a symbolic ceremony representing the death of the ‘old man’ and the birth of a ‘new man’ to formalise our commitment to live God’s way.
Born of Spirit
To be born of the spirit has similarities to the natural birth process. It involves an initial begetting followed by a gestation period and then the actual birth.
When we emerge from the waters of our baptism we are spiritually begotten by God when He gives us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a third person of the trinity as many teach, it the very essence, mind and nature of God. It can be likened to a spiritual DNA that imparts the same spiritual characteristics of the Father in us. When we receive the Holy Spirit we are begotten as children of God, “…and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (II Corinthians 6:17-18).
As God’s children we are to inherit eternal life in His Kingdom, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17). That is what God has planned from the beginning, “Then shall the King (Christ) say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” (Matthew 24:34).
However, we cannot enter the Kingdom in our current form, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;” (I Corinthians 15:50). The Spirit that begets us is only a down payment, or promise of what is to come, “…ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Like the natural birth process there needs to be a gestation period as the begotten child develops in the womb. During our period of ‘spiritual gestation’ the characteristics of the mind and nature of our Father that have been imparted to us by the Holy Spirit come to fruition. Those characteristics are described as ‘fruit of the spirit’. The nature of God is established in goodness, righteousness and truth, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;” (Ephesians 5:9). And the fruit it bears are Godley characteristics, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The same characteristics and nature that are in both the Father and His son Jesus Christ are now being formed in us, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20). We are to develop the same mind, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:5).
It is during this critical time of learning and development that we establish a close relationship with our Father, learning to live His way of life and relying on Him for our every need. Having His Spirit is essential because it opens our minds to the things of God, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (I Corinthians 2:11-12).
It gives us to access spiritual knowledge, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:” (Colossians 3:9-10). And when we apply this knowledge our minds are spiritually renewed after the likeness of our Father, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). And in the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ as we are perfected, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:13).
After this ‘gestation’ period we are ready to be born of spirit. This occurs through resurrection, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” (I Corinthians 15:42-44). And when we are raised from the dead as spirit beings we will receive our inheritance.
For us that resurrection will take place when Christ returns, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
For the Rest of Mankind
While the Bible lists many types of sinners who will not be in the Kingdom, it does not mean to say that anyone who has sinned is excluded (Revelation 21:8, 27 and 22:15). We have all sinned, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23). Fortunately it is through the process of conversion that even the worst sinner can change and become acceptable in God’s eyes. Some are called to repentance and conversion at this time, others will be called later on. Eventually all who have ever lived on this earth will have been given the opportunity to enter into the process of conversion.
Those who have not been called by God to repentance and baptism have not received God’s Spirit and are not lost as some churches teach. It would be grossly unfair if the many millions who lived before Christ was born, or who never heard of Christ, were condemned to eternal death. God has a plan that provides a way for all who have ever lived to repent and go through the process of conversion so they too have the opportunity to enter into His Kingdom (see the our article entitled “The Plan”).
It is the Kingdom that prophets like Isaiah and Daniel anticipated. Christ brought us the gospel or good news from the Father about the Kingdom. His disciples preached the same message. It is a message about a very real Kingdom that Jesus instructed us to pray for, “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). Those who are called and respond in this life have a commission to continue preaching about the Kingdom to those who will listen.
The truth about the Kingdom of God is being presented to you right now! Are you prepared to listen – and respond – when God calls you?