The Kingdom of God is a common theme throughout the Bible’s prophetic literature. We know the kingdom is headed by its King, Jesus Christ, who will rule until he has placed all enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:24 – 28). Its origin is “from another place” (Jn. 18:36). As we read of “the kingdom of heaven”, mentioned repeatedly in the gospel accounts, it conveys the obvious sentiment that it comes from heaven. That “eternal domain” was established long ago in realms above and it endures from generation to generation (cf. Psa. 93:2; 103:19; 145:13; Dan. 4:34). So, it is very appropriate that we read of it in both testaments. Daniel the prophet’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream speaks of this kingdom coming to earth.
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” – Daniel 2:44
During his personal ministry on earth, Jesus heralded the anticipated kingdom from above. He taught his disciples to pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10). He promised that he would come “in his kingdom”, which is sure to be a majestic, unprecedented occasion in world history (Matt. 16:28; comp. 2 Tim. 4:1). What could be compared to the triumphal arrival of the King of kings, to reign over all the earth in power and great glory? It is strange, then, that so many Christians have concluded this prophesied event has already been fulfilled in the first century, on the Day of Pentecost. They affirm that Jesus did not, and will not, personally come in his kingdom, but he established it spiritually, through the outpouring of his Holy Spirit upon believers in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, circa 33 A.D. Their claim stands at conflict with Jesus’ declaration that he would come “in” his kingdom. Nevertheless, the argument is made by connecting Mark 1:15, Mark 9:1, and Acts 1:8 together. John preached, “The kingdom of God is near”. Jesus assured his disciples that some of them would not die without first seeing the kingdom come with “power”. Before his ascension, Jesus promised his disciples that they would receive “power”, and the fulfillment, they argue, is seen in Acts Chapter 2. All believers have entered the kingdom in the same way since Pentecost.
The unlearned Christian may find this argument very convincing but, upon further investigation, the conclusion may easily be proven false. All of the very precise, detailed prophecies of a coming kingdom have been forced to mean the establishment of the church on Pentecost. Although most mainstream denominations have come to believe the church is the promised kingdom, and there will be no literal kingdom on earth, they have no way of proving these assertions. The doctrine of a purely spiritual kingdom was first taught by Origen, Dionysus and Clement at the school of Alexandria, Egypt, in the late third century. By the fourth century, Saint Augustine embraced the conclusion of his forerunners, and published his theological findings in his distinguished work, City of God. It has been the predominant view in Christendom ever since.
A glaring problem for this widespread belief, is the frequent references to a coming kingdom in later New Testament documents. 2 Peter 1:11 was written after Pentecost, but it promises future “entrance into the eternal kingdom” for believers in Christ. Paul stated with confidence that the Lord will bring him safely into his heavenly kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18). If the kingdom arrived on Pentecost, and we all presently reside in that spiritual kingdom by faith in Jesus, what are these inspired writers talking about? They cannot be referring to heaven because the kingdom of heaven has already arrived on the earth, according to the Augustinian theory concerning the events of Pentecost. Thus, we determine the inaugurated kingdom theory is full of holes.
Let us first understand what Jesus was referring to in the passages which prophesy his coming kingdom (Matt. 16:28; Mk. 9:1; Lk. 9:27). Thankfully, we have the benefit of context to assist us in determining exactly what Jesus had promised some of his disciples would see before tasting death. Immediately after Jesus uttered these words, every gospel account relates Christ’s transfiguration on the holy mountain (cf. Matt 17:1 – 13; Mk. 9:2 – 13; Lk. 9:28 – 36). Even though a time gap of six days transpires after Jesus made his statement about coming in his kingdom, the New Testament writers waste no time supplying an immediate explanation in context. We read that three disciples ascended the sacred hill with the Lord, viewing his powerful coming as a preview of his final return.
Peter speaks of this event in 2 Peter 1:16 – 18, referring to it as a type of his “coming” and “majesty”. He instructs us that this powerful event already took place in the past, but he does not identify it as Pentecost, nor does he identify the church’s establishment as the arrival of the kingdom. This is an assumption made by fallible men who seek to deny any future application of millennial kingdom prophecies (e.g. Isaiah 2:1 – 4, Mic. 4:1 – 4, Zech. 14:8 – 21, et al).
The founding of the church was, indeed, an important event in world history. Jesus promised it would happen (Matt. 16:18). Paul clarifies this plan was never before revealed by God (Rom. 16:25, 26; Eph. 3:8 – 10). The church is a new institution set up by Jesus Christ himself, not a restored kingdom foretold by the Hebrew prophets of old. Even before Pentecost, believers were “pressing” into the kingdom (Lk. 16:16). The church had nothing to do with this. Now, members of the church are in the process of “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28). We have not yet personally entered the kingdom, but our citizenship is there (Phil. 3:20). This is the case as we are enrolled in the heavenly realms where the kingdom transcends this earth (Heb. 12:23). Christians have already been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”, though none of us have personally visited (Eph. 1:3). Our glorification is so certain that Scripture speaks of it as having occurred in the past (Rom. 8:30). Our inheritance is not yet received but it is sure and irrevocable (Rom. 4:13 – 16; 8:17). We have it, in the sense that it is being kept and guarded by God in realms above (1 Pet. 1:4, 5). Already, it is as good as ours. In this sense alone, we have been “brought into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). We are obviously not yet within that kingdom, but we are experiencing the shadow (“mystery”) of the kingdom that will arrive when the Lord comes from heaven and establishes his dominion over all the earth (Matt. 13:11). This is our great anticipation and hope (Rom. 8:18ff).
In this age, we are the new creation living amidst the old. We are in the world, but not of the world, practicing the things of the kingdom right now, living out its divine principles and sharing its holy virtues with our neighbors and friends. Contrast this Biblical portrayal of the church with the clear prophecies concerning the glorious kingdom age to come. Daniel teaches us the kingdom age will not allow the existence of evil human governments. They will be obliterated when the heavenly kingdom is set up on the earth (Dan. 2:34, 35, 45). In the angel’s interpretation of Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:27). Notice the plural word, kingdoms, indicating all the nations of this world will have surrendered their political power to the Lord and his chosen people in that day. They will no longer continue to exert power in any manner. Their place lies in the ash heap of history. Such is not the case during the Christian Age! The devil still pulls the strings and directs every wicked nation to act in his service. He does so through deception (Rev. 12:9). Christians do not reign in this world of sin. We do not “judge the nations” or “exercise authority” through the preaching of the gospel, as many have asserted. Some may think they are reigning, but they have no legitimate right to reign until the King comes again (cf. Zech. 14:9; 1 Cor. 4:8). Jesus will bring his kingdom with him when he comes in glory, and he will not begin his earthly reign a second earlier than his stated return at the “renewal of all things” (cf. Matt. 19:28; Lk. 19:12, 15, 27; Acts 3:21). To claim otherwise does not make it so, and it violates plain statements of Scripture. – MAH