by Keith Sharp
No Bible subject is more important than the kingdom of God. The word “kingdom” is found 236 times in the Bible. The substance of the preaching of both John the Baptist and Jesus was “the kingdom of God” (Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17). Righteous Israelites in the days of John and Jesus were looking for the kingdom (Mark 15:43). But, because they misunderstood its nature, the Jewish leaders were shut out of the kingdom of God (Matthew 23:13). What is the kingdom of God?
Eternal, Universal Rule of God
The word “kingdom” primarily denotes rule (cf. Daniel 2:39), and the kingdom of God is the rule of God (Psalm 45:6). God rules over everything (Psalm 103:19), including the nations of men, giving them “to whomever He will” (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32). His dominion is everlasting (Daniel 4:2-3).
Old Testament Israel
Old Testament Israel became His special kingdom at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:5-6). God was King over Israel (Psalm 149:2; cf. 1 Samuel 8:1-7), and the throne of Israel was the throne of God (1 Kings 2:12; 1 Chronicles 29:23). When national Israel killed the Son of God, the Lord God rejected them as His kingdom (Matthew 21:33-46).
Church of Christ
God now rules through His Son, Christ Jesus. When the prophet Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image, He concluded by prophesying that during the days of the fourth kingdom (Rome) “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:44). Earlier Isaiah had prophesied a Child to be born to sit “upon the throne of David and over His kingdom … even forever” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Jesus the Son of Mary is that Child (Luke 1:30-33). He lived under Roman rule (Luke 2:1-7). When He was raised from the dead He sat upon the throne of David (Acts 2:29-31). He is now “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:13-16). When God raised Christ from the dead, He “seated Him at His 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 age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:15-23). Thus, in this epoch, the New Testament age, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ are one and the same (Ephesians 5:5). This kingdom is also known as the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 13:10-11; Luke 8:9-10).
The kingdom in this sense is the church of Christ. When Christ promised to build His church, He promised to give the apostle Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). He didn’t build one spiritual building and give Peter the keys to another. The church is the kingdom. In coming to the “general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:22-23), we “are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
When people believe and obey the gospel, the Lord adds them to His church (Acts 2:36-41, 47). The kingdom of God is within them (Luke 17:20-21), i.e., God through Christ rules in their hearts, and they are in His kingdom (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9).
But there is a fourth sense in which the phrase “the kingdom of God” is used. The saved will inherit the kingdom, eternal life in heaven (Matthew 25:34, 46; 1 Peter 1:3-5). Thus, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22; cf. 2 Peter 1:10-11). Then, “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
Thus, there are four senses in which Scripture uses the phrase “kingdom of God”: the eternal, universal rule of God, Old Testament, national Israel, the church of Christ, and the heavenly home. If we are to inherit the heavenly kingdom, we must submit to the rule of Christ by faith and obedience. We must be born again by being baptized into Christ (John 3:3,5), become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-11), and endure many tribulations (Acts 14:22). Are you an heir of the kingdom?