Chapter 23 - The Kingdom of God

The subject of the kingdom of God has been strongly emphasized by many people. Visionists have dreamed of a coming age of blessedness and earthly glory, while writers and orators have described it in loftiest phrase and by highly colored word pictures, the creations of their own fancy. My purpose, however, is not to set forth a mere theory, no matter how desirable or captivating it may appear, but to show what the Bible clearly teaches concerning the subject, when all forced and fanciful interpretations are omitted.

The Kingdom in Prophecy

During the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that directly concerns the subject of the divine kingdom. “Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and break them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:31-35).
Having made known the dream itself, Daniel proceeded to show its meaning: “This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold” (vss. 36-38).
The head of gold represented the Babylonian Empire. Though Daniel addressed the king as this head, yet it is evident that the real signification is the empire itself; for, as we shall see, each of the remaining divisions of this image is treated, not as an individual king, but as a universal empire. At this time the Babylonian kingdom was in the height of its power and glory under Nebuchadnezzar.
“And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee” (vs. 39). This signifies the Medo-Persian which conquered Babylon about 538 B.C. and became the second universal empire. “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom” (5:30-31).
“And another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth” (2:39). This signifies the Grecian Empire which, under Alexander the Great, conquered the Persian Empire and became the ruling empire.
“And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay” (2:40-43). This signifies the Roman Empire, which conquered the Greeks and established itself as the ruling power of the world. This description of Rome includes both her strong and her divided condition, but it is all summed up under the one head—“fourth kingdom.”
“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 forever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure” (vss. 44-45).
According to this prophecy, the stone which was “cut out without hands” represents the kingdom of God as the fifth universal kingdom; and since it smote the fourth division of the image, we must therefore look to the time of the reign of the Roman Empire for the establishment of the kingdom of God.
The same four kingdoms are represented in Daniel 7 by four consecutive beasts. “These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (vss. 17-18). Here again the kingdom of God is represented as number five, in contrast with the four.

Established by Christ

The prophet Isaiah also clearly predicts the establishment of this kingdom of God, and he also informs us by whom it is to be established, and when. “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, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever” (Isa. 9:6-7).
Now, when this “child is born,” when this “son is given,” the one who is The mighty God, The Prince of Peace, he will establish “his kingdom” “with judgment and with justice,” and “of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” Every Bible student knows that this refers to Christ. However, let us seal it with the Word. The angel Gabriel said to Mary, a virgin of Nazareth: “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
Some people are looking for the kingdom of God to come in some future age, but these Scripture passages clearly locate its initial manifestation at the first advent of Christ. It was when he was born into the world as a “son” that he became a king and established his kingdom. He himself taught this during his ministry. When on trial before Pilate; he acknowledged that he had a kingdom, but said, “My kingdom not of this world.… Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world” (John 18:36-37). We must therefore look to his first coming as the time for the establishment of the kingdom. “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
This is in exact accordance with the prophecy of Daniel already given. The “stone” smote the fourth, or Roman, division of the image. So also it was in the day of the Roman Empire that the Christ child appeared. When this humble babe was born in the city of Bethlehem, Rome was in the height of her glory, ruled by her proud monarch, Augustus Caesar. But the kingdom Christ was to establish was destined to overthrow all the kingdoms of pagan darkness and to stand forever.
This kingdom of God on earth was represented concretely by the church of God, and it soon came into conflict with all the vile powers of heathenism enthroned in the Roman Empire. This we have seen and described in chapter 16. That the application is correct is shown by Revelation 12, where the woman, representing the early church, is opposed by the “great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns” (vs. 3). This great dragon, which is easily identified by its heads and horns, symbolizes the Roman Empire under its pagan form. Then appears the warfare of Christ and his angels against this dragon (vs. 7), by which is shown the early conflict of Christianity with paganism, “and the great dragon was cast out” (vs. 9). Christianity triumphed over heathenism. Listen! “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down.… And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (vss. 10-11). How clearly this fulfills the prediction of Daniel 2 concerning the stone that smote the image!
The message of the kingdom of God was introduced by John. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1-2). Jesus bore witness to this work of John by saying, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is reached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16). The same message was taken up by Christ, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
Many teachers who have accepted the theory of a coming earthly kingdom find it difficult indeed to evade the force of all these Scripture passages that so clearly point to the first advent of Christ as the time of the establishment of his kingdom. In order to save their theory, some of them try to make a distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, saying that one was given when Christ appeared the first time, but that the other is reserved for his second coming. Now, the object of this book is not to combat every theory of men, but to show what the Bible teaches. This I shall do in this case by showing that the New Testament makes no distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, but applies both expressions to the same thing.
John preached, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached” (Luke 16:16).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
Jesus said concerning John: “He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11); “He that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).
“It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11). “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11).
“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed” (Matt. 13:31). “Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? … It is like a grain of mustard seed” (Mark 4:30-31).
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal” (Matt. 13:33). “Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal” (Luke 13:20-21).
“Jesus said unto his disciples.… A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:23-24).
The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are the same thing.

The Nature of Christ’s Kingdom

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Earthly kingdoms are of one nature; the kingdom of God is of another. We can determine the nature of God’s kingdom on earth by what the Scriptures have to say about it.
1. It is a doctrine. “Go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). “The kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (16:16). The entire message of the gospel is “preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). In some manner the kingdom of God is so contained in, and expressed by, the gospel that the preaching of that gospel is called the preaching of the kingdom of God.
2. It is an experience. This is indicated by the fact that we are commanded to seek for it. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). “The kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16). This shows that it is an experience to be obtained by effort. It is spiritual in its nature (17:20-21). What a clear contrast between the nature of Christ’s kingdom and that of earthly kingdoms! Earthly kingdoms are introduced with great external pomp and display; but Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It is not “here” or “there,” for it is not subject to any particular geographical definition or limitation, but is spiritual in its nature and “within you,” that is, if you have earnestly sought it according to Christ’s command and “pressed into it.”
3. It is the present inheritance of the saints. In the very first century of Christian grace John testified that he was “in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9). Paul instructs the Colossians to give “thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:12-13). “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).
4. It is a visible working force. “I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27). (See also Mark 9:1.) It is evident that another phase of the kingdom is here set forth; for as a doctrine it had already been preached; as an experience, some had already sought it and pressed into it. But here is a distinct, visible phase that was to be manifested during the lifetime of some who were then present and heard the words of Christ. This phase of the kingdom is identical with the church of God as a visible, working force in the world, and on the Day of Pentecost, when the church was set in order and dedicated by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus saw the kingdom of God come with power (Luke 24:49.)

A Reign on the Earth*

In this organic form the kingdom of God shone forth gloriously in the morning of this dispensation. In the visions of the Apocalypse, John saw this blessed triumphal reign of the saints on earth; for at the very opening of the plan of salvation by Christ, the redeemed took up the new song of redemption (Rev. 5:9-10). This does not refer to some future earth reign; it describes the reign of righteousness enjoyed by the people of God on earth at the very beginning of the gospel dispensation. They were already kings and priests unto God (I Pet. 2:9). Paul declares that “they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). This “reign on the earth” was a real, public one, coexistent and coextensive with the triumph of the apostolic church itself. It was when the church conquered paganism that the cry went up, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ” (Rev. 12:10).

Reign with Christ

But this phase of the kingdom, which is identical with the visible church in its organic form, was not to continue thus. In order to understand the teaching of the Scriptures concerning the kingdom subsequent to its establishment, we must understand the teaching concerning the church subsequent to its establishment. In chapter 16 we showed from Revelation 12 that the church is set forth under a double symbol—a woman and her son—in order to show two phases of her existence during the Apostasy. The phase represented by the man-child, who was “caught up unto God, and to his throne,” is that phase of the church which was cut off from the earth through martyrdom and persecution; the phase represented by the woman who “fled into the wilderness” is that phase of the church which continued on earth, but was hidden in the great apostasy. With these thoughts in mind we shall approach the twentieth chapter of Revelation.
Here nothing is said about the woman in the wilderness, but the narrative takes up the other phase (the man-child), which was caught up to God and there lived and reigned. “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (vs. 4). Notice carefully the facts:
1. It was the “souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus” that “reigned with Christ.”
2. Not one word is said about people being literally resurrected and reigning. This reign was before the resurrection of the literal dead, for the resurrection of these did not take place until after the thousand years, at the end of this series of prophecy, and it includes both classes, good and bad; for some are found written in the book of life, while some are not (vss. 11-15).
3. There is no reign on the earth mentioned here at all; the reign was “with Christ.” How well this agrees with Paul’s statement, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23-24).

The First Resurrection

“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:5-6).
Here we have a resurrection to life that is called the “first resurrection,” but notice (vs. 5) that this first resurrection is represented as taking place after the one thousand years: “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” It is both before and after the thousand years, and still is all before the literal resurrection at Christ’s second coming, when “the dead, small and great, stand before God” (vs. 12). In the following chapter I shall show by many texts that are not involved in prophetic interpretations that there is but one literal resurrection of the dead and that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised at the same time. What, then, is the “first resurrection”?
The first resurrection makes men “blessed and holy.” According to the Scriptures, men must receive a spiritual resurrection, or quickening, before they can be made holy; for they are represented as “dead in trespasses and in sins” (Eph. 2:1). “And you, being dead in your sins … hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13). That the act of salvation, which makes us alive in Christ, is scripturally “the first resurrection” is proved most positively by the words of Christ himself: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25). “We know that we have passed from death unto life” (I John 3:14).
In Revelation 20 the people of God who have had “part in the first resurrection” are brought to view as two great companies: those before the period of the thousand years, and the remainder—symbolized by “the rest of the dead” (vs. 5)—after the close of that period. Such have been the facts. A great host of people were saved before the great apostasy, and since then another mighty host is being quickened into spiritual life, but it is all “the first resurrection,” as verses 5 and 6 show.

Another “Reign on the Earth”

In Revelation 20:8-9 the subject is not the reign of the martyrs in paradise, but once more we have in prominence “the camp of the saints” “on the breadth of the earth.” Here we have the mighty host who have had “part in the first resurrection” after the close of the thousand-year period, reigning in triumph and victory while the powers of evil are gathered together for the final conflict. The scene is brought to a close by the second coming of Christ, the literal resurrection of the dead, and the general judgment (vss. 10-15).
That the reign of God’s people on earth is divided into two distinct periods is shown also by other prophecies. Daniel 7 records a vision of four great beasts, symbolizing the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires. Verse 18, in connection with Daniel 2:31-44 (already discussed in this chapter), shows that the saints were to possess the kingdom of God before the overthrow of these four kingdoms. These prophecies were fulfilled by the establishment of Christianity by Christ during the reign of the Roman Empire. Then, under the symbol of a “little horn” out of the fourth beast, follows a description of the Papacy, which was to “wear out the saints of the most High” for a period of 1,260 years (7:19-25).
Beginning with the Sixteenth Century Reformation, and continuing during the Protestant Era, spiritual reformations from time to time have brought judgment against that beast power which had for ages worn out the “saints of the most High.” In these spiritual reformations many people were resurrected to spiritual life in Christ. But a little later, under the fourth ecclesiastical epoch, that of the pure church restored, the real spiritual reign of the saints is restored also in the pure gospel light of the evening time; and now the remainder of Daniel’s prophecy is fulfilled, which says, “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (7:27).
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The little stone of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision will yet “become a great mountain” and fill the “whole earth.”

The Universal Kingdom

Thus far we have considered the subject of the kingdom of God chiefly from the standpoint of Christ’s spiritual work on the earth, either in the hearts of his people, as a spiritual experience, or in his visible church. But there is another distinct phase that we must understand in order to harmonize all the facts. This is the universal phase. Christ is now universal King, Lord of heaven and earth. Before his ascension he claimed this dominion, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). This universal dominion is expressed by Paul thus: “Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things” (Eph. 1:20-22).
Peter describes Christ’s universal reign thus: “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (I Pet. 3:22). Christ is now “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Viewed from this standpoint, the earth as a whole “is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). The whole earth and universe are his kingdom; therefore all sinners and evil men are in his (universal) kingdom, but they exist as rebels against his throne, dominion, and authority. But this will not always continue. Christ cannot long endure in his universal kingdom those who rebel against his law; therefore at his second coming “the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:41-43).
This is the end of earthly things, when Christ will be revealed from heaven at the last day, when the wicked will be banished forever from the universe of God’s dwelling, and our Lord will be “glorified in his saints,” who will be received into heaven itself. (See II Thess. 1:7-10.) Then the present spiritual phase of the earthly kingdom will be swallowed up in the great universal kingdom, and thus there will be ministered to us an abundant entrance “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 1:11).
Now notice carefully the facts as brought forth heretofore and as clearly stated in I Corinthians 15:22-28:
1. Christ is now universal King.
2. “He must reign”—continue to reign—”till he hath put all his enemies under his feet.”
3. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Now, this destruction will be accomplished by the resurrection, but the entire reign of Christ is to take place before this resurrection; for death is “the last enemy” that he will conquer. Then “he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.”
What, then, takes place at the time of the resurrection and the destruction of the “last enemy”? “Then the end.” (The word “cometh” is not in the original.) “Then … the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father” (vs. 24). The time when millennialists expect Christ to come, set up a kingdom, and begin to reign is the very time Paul points out as the end of Christ’s personal redemptive reign, when he “shall have delivered up the kingdom to God.”
Our Lord is now the reigning King of earth and heaven. At the cross he conquered sin; through his church he conquered paganism in the Roman Empire; through the Reformation he broke the power of the Papacy; through his pure church and restored kingdom he is now conquering the spiritual powers of darkness; and those who do not yield to the persuasive influences of his Spirit when manifested lovingly through a moral system, he will subdue by force and judgment at his coming, at which time “the last enemy”—death—shall be destroyed.
“And when all these things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (vs. 28). *
*This subject merits, and in fact really demands, a much more thorough treatment than is possible within the limits of this work. For a detailed study of the prophetic aspects of this theme, see The Revelation Explained, and Prophetic Lectures on Daniel and the Revelation. (Out of print.)
*This bare outline may be supplemented by reference to the full discussion in The Revelation Explained.

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