Do you know that the first and last things that Jesus apparently preached about concerned the gospel of the kingdom of God? Do you recall that the end cannot come until the kingdom of God is preached to the world as a witness? Do you know that the kingdom of God was the emphasis of the apostles and those that followed them?
The actual kingdom of God does not get emphasized by many who profess Christ these days, but there is a group that makes it its top priority.
Is the kingdom of God the person of Jesus? Is the kingdom of God Jesus living His life in us now? Is the kingdom of God some type of future actual kingdom?
What is a kingdom? Just what is the kingdom of God? What does the Bible teach? What did the early Christian church teach?
This article will attempt to answer these questions.
Before getting into the specific scriptures and historical comments, it is important to understand that a kingdom requires a king, territory, subjects, and laws. Those are the components of a kingdom and also components of the kingdom of God.
(Those who would like to can also watch the YouTube sermon, which is at the ContinuingCOG channel, titled: The Gospel of the Kingdom.)
The prophet Daniel was told to record this about the kingdom of God:
37 You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; 38 and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all — you are this head of gold. 39 But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. 41 Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. 43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever (Daniel 2:37-44, NKJV throughout unless noted).
18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.' (Daniel 7:18).
From Daniel, we learn that the kingdom of God will destroy human kingdoms and last forever. And that the saints will have their part in receiving it.
And this is for our time. Notice some passages from the New Testament:
12 "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." (Revelation 17:12-14)
So we see in both the Old and New Testaments the concept that there will be an end time earthly kingdom with ten parts and that God will destroy it and establish His kingdom.
God inspired Isaiah to write about the first part of the kingdom this way:
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist. "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;And a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together;And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. "And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious" (Isaiah 11:1-10).
The reason I referred to this as the first phase of the kingdom, is that this is a time where where it will be physical (prior to the time when the holy city, New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, Revelation 21). Isaiah confirmed the physical aspect of this phase when he continued with:
It shall come to pass in that day That the LORD shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, And will assemble the outcasts of Israel, And gather together the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, And the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, And Judah shall not harass Ephraim. But they shall fly down upon the shoulder of the Philistines toward the west; Together they shall plunder the people of the East; They shall lay their hand on Edom and Moab;And the people of Ammon shall obey them. The LORD will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; With His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, And strike it in the seven streams,And make men cross over dry-shod. There will be a highway for the remnant of His people Who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt (Isaiah 11:11-16).
Thus it will be a time of peace on earth. But ultimately, this will be forever, with Jesus ruling.
Isaiah also was inspired to write the following:
6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Notice that Isaiah said that Jesus would come and establish a kingdom with a government. While many who profess Christ quote this passage, especially in December each year, they tend to overlook that it is prophesying more than the fact that Jesus would be born. The Bible is clear that the kingdom of God has a government, with laws, over subjects, and Jesus will be over it. Isaiah, Daniel, and others prophesied it.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that preaching the gospel of the kingdom was important (even though they interpret it differently than the Bible):
In the New Testament the speedy advent of this kingdom is the one theme: "Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand", said the Baptist, and Christ's opening words to the people do but repeat that message. At every stage in His teaching the advent of this kingdom, its various aspects, its precise meaning, the way in which it is to be attained, form the staple of His discourses, so much so that His discourse is called "the gospel of the kingdom"...they began to speak of the Church as "the kingdom of God"; cf. Col., I, 13; I Thess., ii, 12; Apoc., I, 6, 9; v, 10, etc. ...it means the Church as that Divine institution whereby we may make sure of attaining the spirit of Christ and so win that ultimate kingdom of God Where He reigns without end in "the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:2) (Pope H. Transcribed by Chris Boore. Kingdom of God. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
The reader is advised by The Catholic Encyclopedia that they can look up "Col., I, 13; I Thess., ii, 12; Apoc., I, 6, 9; v, 10", so I did. But none of those verses say anything about the Church being the kingdom of God. They only teach that believers will be part of the kingdom of God or that it is Jesus' kingdom.
Futhermore, even Pope Benedict XVI seems to have real problems understanding the real message. Notice the following:
In his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI sets out to distill the understanding he has come to after a lifelong theological study of Christianity’s central figure. Stressing that he writes in his own name as Joseph Ratzinger, he leaves the door open for the Roman curia to distance itself from any alternative views he may advance. He writes, “This book is . . . my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’”
What, then, does the pope see as Jesus’ primary purpose in speaking about the kingdom of God, which was so central to His message? He writes that Jesus “is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is telling us: ‘God exists’ and ‘God really is God,’ which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world.”
It is a strange definition of the gospel message, which Jesus said pertained to God’s kingdom coming to the earth. Yet Ratzinger insists, “What is meant is not an imminent or yet to be established ‘kingdom,’ but God’s actual sovereignty over the world, which is becoming an event in history in a new way.” Such language takes us away from any anticipation of God’s rule over fractious humanity and away from the consistent message of the Bible.
When asked by Peter what reward the 12 disciples might expect for their loyalty, Jesus pointed to the time of future messianic renewal. He said, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28, English Standard Version). The term “new world” is translated from the Greek palingenesia, which literally means “rebirth,” “renewal” or “regeneration.” This future aspect of the kingdom, mentioned by Jesus and recognized by leading language scholars, is the major dimension that the pope misses (Hulme D. Thy Kingdom Come... Vision magazine. Fall 2007).
Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas taught:
...the Catholic Church...is the kingdom of Christ on earth. (Cited in Kramer P. The Devil's Final Battle. Good Counsel Publications, 2002, p. 73).
But that is not consistent with the teaching of the Bible. Instead, the Church of Rome now seems to teach so strongly against the millennial kingdom that it is about the only "doctrine of Antichrist" they list in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church:
676 The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 194).
Thus, those associated with the Church of Rome will have major problems with the proclaiming of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in the end. And the end-time version of it will take terrible steps against it.
In the New Testament, the English word "kingdom" for this particular kingdom is mentioned approximately 149 times in the NKJV and 151 in the Douay Rheims Bible.
When Jesus began His public ministry, He began by preaching about the gospel of the kingdom of God. Here is what Mark reported:
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15, NKJV throughout unless otherwise indicated).
Here is the first public teaching that Matthew records,
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23).
Matthew also records:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 9:35).
Luke, like Isaiah, shows that Jesus will reign over the kingdom forever:
And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:33).
Luke records that the purpose that Jesus was sent was to preach the kingdom of God. Notice what Jesus taught:
He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent" (Luke 4:43).
Have you ever heard that preached? Did you ever realize that Jesus' purpose for being sent was to preach the kingdom of God?
Luke also records that Jesus did go and preach the kingdom of God:
And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God (Luke 9:10-11).
The kingdom of God was not only the emphasis of Jesus' ministry, He wanted it to be the top priority for those who would follow Him as He taught:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:31-32).
Notice that the kingdom will be given to a little flock. Hence the kingdom cannot be a massive church that now exists.
Jesus taught that His followers would pray for the kingdom to come, hence they do not already possess it:
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done (Matthew 6:9-10).
During His ministry, He sent the disciples out to preach the kingdom of God:
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2).
Jesus taught that His presence alone was not the kingdom, because it was not there yet:
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28).
The kingdom is in the future, it is not here now as these verses from Mark show:
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast (Mark 9:47).
Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:23-25).
Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25).
Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage (Mark 15:43).
Jesus taught that the kingdom is not now part of this present world:
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36).
Jesus taught that the kingdom will come after He comes again and that He will be its King:
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:31-34).
Jesus provided some explanations of what the kingdom of God is like:
And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29).
Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened" (Luke 13:18-21).
These parables suggests that, at first, the kingdom of God is quite small, but will become large.
Luke also recorded:
They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29).
Thus, the kingdom is something that one can sit down in. And that is true of all kingdoms. They have a king, they cover a geographic area, they have rules, and they have subjects.
Also, people will actually eat in the kingdom:
"Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" (Luke 14:15).
Since people will (in the future) eat in the kingdom, it is not just something set aside in their hearts now (in spite of mistranslations of Luke 17:21 which suggest otherwise).
The disciples knew that the kingdom was not within them, and that it had to appear as the following shows:
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately (Luke 19:11).
Jesus confirmed this, as Luke records:
Then He spoke to them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near (Luke 21:29-31).
Jesus clearly showed that the kingdom of God was something that would happen in the future when He taught:
"With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:15-18).
The kingdom did not come as soon as Jesus was crucified either as both Mark and Luke show us:
Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage (Mark 15:43).
He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:51).
After the resurrection, one will be born again in the kingdom of God as John records:
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5).
(More information on this subject can be found in the article Born Again: A Question of Semantics?)
After Jesus was resurrected, He again taught about the kingdom of God:
He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Thus, apparently the first and and several of the last sermons that Jesus gave were about the kingdom of God.
Jesus also had the Apostle John write about the millennial kingdom that would be on the earth. Notice what He had John write:
I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).
Why, if the kingdom of God is so important, haven't most of you heard much about it? Because Jesus did not intend that most people would understand it in this age. He called it a mystery:
And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables (Mark 4:11).
Notice that Jesus said that the end will come (soon) AFTER the gospel of the kingdom is preached to all the world as a WITNESS:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
Thus, the true Christian church should be proclaiming that gospel now. This should be its top priority for the Church (a related article of interest may be Should the Church Still Try to Place its Top Priority on Proclaiming the Gospel or Did Herbert Armstrong Change that Priority for the Work?). And this is what the Continuing Church of God strives to do.
It may be of interest to note that although most professing Christians seem oblivious to the notion that Christ's emphasis was on preaching "the gospel of the kingdom of God," secular theologians and historians have often understood that this is what the Bible actually teaches. A while back, I was listening to a CD lecture given by Professor Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina (a person that seems to be a non-believer as far as those in the Church of God or mainstream Christianity would define it) where he repeatedly stressed that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God. And although his overall understanding of Christianity differs greatly from mine, we would agree that the gospel of the kingdom is what Jesus Himself proclaimed.
Now this is not to overlook the fact that the gospel does include salvation through Christ as the Bible clearly shows:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Romans 1:16).
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them...But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized...So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans. Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip...Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:4,5,12,24,25,40).
...he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18).
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him (Acts 28:30-31).
However, now that the preaching included Jesus AND the kingdom. Thus a proper understanding of the kingdom portion tends to be missing from Protestant and Catholic teachings.
The Apostle Paul taught about the kingdom of God and Jesus:
And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8).
And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25).
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening (Acts 28:23).
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him (Acts 28:30-31).
Notice that the kingdom of God is not just about Jesus (though He is a part of it), as Paul also taught about Jesus separately from what he taught about the kingdom of God.
Paul also called it the gospel of God, but that was still the gospel of the kingdom:
...we preached to you the gospel of God...that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:9,12).
Paul also called it the gospel of Christ, but it was not simply a gospel about the person of Jesus Christ (though He is certainly a major part of it), it included obeying Christ and His return and God's judgment:
God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Paul taught that it is something that we shall receive, not now possess:
we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28).
Paul specifically confirmed that one does not enter the kingdom of God as a mortal human, but not until after the resurrection:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:50-52).
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom (2 Timothy 4:1).
He not only taught that, but that Jesus would deliver the kingdom to God:
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:20-25).
All enemies are not yet under His feet. The kingdom of God is not here yet.
He also taught that unrighteous (commandment breakers) will not inherit the kingdom of God:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5).
An article of related interest might be What Did Paul Actually Teach About the Ten Commandments?
Perhaps it should be noted that Paul was not the only one disciple who preached the kingdom of God:
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them...they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God... (Acts 8:5,12).
But Jesus, Paul, and the disciples taught that it is not easy to enter the kingdom of God.
"How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?" But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:24-27).
"We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (2 Thessalonians 1:3-7).
Peter taught that the kingdom was everlasting, and that the gospel of God must be obeyed or there would be judgment:
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:10-11).
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).
The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, also discusses the kingdom of God.
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15).
Jesus will reign in the kingdom! And the Bible reveals two of His titles:
And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16).
But is Jesus the only one who will reign? Notice this passage from Revelation:
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years...Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years (Revelation 20:4,6).
Thus, true Christians will be resurrected to reign with Christ for a thousand years! Because the kingdom will last forever (Revelation 11:15), but that reign mentioned was only one thousand years, this is why I referred to this earlier as the first phase of the kingdom--the physical, the millennial, phase.
A couple of events are listed in the Book of Revelation as occurring between these phases:
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea...Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-8, 11-15).
The Book of Revelation shows that there will be a later phase, after the thousand year reign and after the second death:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:1-4).
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).
Notice that this reign, which is after the thousand years, includes the servants of God and lasts forever. This is the beginning of the final phase of the kingdom of God.
The reason I refer to it as the beginning, is because Isaiah was inspired to write:
Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end (Isaiah 9:7).
This suggests, to me at least, that there will growth and other events that will continue to happen after the final phase of the kingdom of God has begun.
The kingdom of God was mentioned in the oldest preserved non-New Testament writing and the oldest preserved sermon after the New Testament.
The oldest preserved apparently Christian writing (late first century) is the Letter to the Corinthians which states:
The Apostles for our sakes...went forth...preaching the gospel that the Kingdom of God was about to come (xlii).
Hence the early Christians understood that the apostles went forth to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God was also a significant part of what is believed to be "the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived" (Holmes M.W. Ancient Christian Sermon. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004). This Ancient Christian Sermon contains these statements about it (verse below from Holmes):
5:5 Moreover you know, brothers, that our stay in the world of the flesh is insignificant and transitory, but the promise of Christ is great and marvelous: rest in the coming kingdom and life eternal.
The above statement shows that the kingdom is not now, but will come and be eternal. Furthermore, this ancient sermon states:
6:9 Now if even such righteous men as these are not able, by means of their own righteous deeds, to save their children, what assurance do we have of entering the kingdom of God if we fail to keep our baptism pure and undefiled? Or who will be our advocate, if we have not been found to have holy and righteous works?
9:6 Therefore let us love one another, that we all may enter into the kingdom of God.
11:7 Therefore, if we no what is right in God's sight, we will enter his kingdom and receive the promises which "ear has not heard nor eye seen nor eye seen nor the heart of man imagined."
12:1 Let us wait, therefore hour by hour for the kingdom of God in love and righteousness, since we know not the day of God's appearing.
The above statements show that we still have not entered the kingdom of God, and that it occurs after the day of God's appearing--that is after Jesus' returns again. This ancient sermon also states.
12:6 he says, the kingdom of my Father shall come.
The above statement shows that it is the Father's kingdom and it still has to come. The kingdom is not just Jesus.
It is interesting, to me at least, that the oldest apparently Christian sermon (it is possible that it could be COG, but my limited knowledge of Greek limits my ability to make a firmer declaration) that God has aloud to survive teaches the same kingdom of God that the New Testament taught and the genuine Church of God now teaches.
An anonymous document sometimes called I Clement states:
The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. (42:1-3).
Polycarp of Smyrna was an early Christian leader, who was a disciple of John, the last of the original apostles to die. Around the time of the above Ancient Sermon, Polycarp, around 120-135 A.D. taught:
"Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God" (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter II. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
Knowing, then, that "God is not mocked," we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory ...For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since "every lust warreth against the spirit; " and "neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God," nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter V. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord (ibid, Chapter VI).
Thus like Paul and others in the New Testament, Polycarp taught that the righteous, not the commandment breakers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Melito of Sardis, who was a successor of Polycarp, around 170 A.D., taught:
For indeed the law issued in the gospel–the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a man, and the man in God...
But the gospel became the explanation of the law and its fulfillment, while the church became the storehouse of truth...
This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom (Melito. Homily On the Passover. Verses 7,40,68. Translation from Kerux: The Journal of Online Theology (http://www.kerux.com/documents/KeruxV4N1A1.asp 09/14/05).
Thus the kingdom of God is something eternal, and not simply the current Christian or Catholic church and includes God's law.
Another mid-late second century writing exhorts people to look to the kingdom:
Wherefore, let no one of you longer dissemble nor look backwards, but willingly approach to the Gospel of the kingdom of God (Roman Clement. Recognitions, Book X, Chapter XLV. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Furthermore, while it was probably not written by one in the true church, the mid-second century writing titled The Shepherd of Hermas in the translation by Roberts & Donaldson uses the expression "kingdom of God" fourteen times.
True, and even many only professing, Christians knew about the kingdom of God in the second century.
Even the heretic Irenaeus understood that after the resurrection, Christians would enter the kingdom of God. Notice what he wrote, c. 180:
For such is the state of those who have believed, since in them continually abides the Holy Spirit, who was given by Him in baptism, and is retained by the receiver, if he walks in truth and holiness and righteousness and patient endurance. For this soul has a resurrection in them that believe, the body receiving the soul again, and along with it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being raised up and entering into the kingdom of God (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Chapter 42. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920).
In the second century, an anti-law leader named Marcion rose up who taught against the law, the Sabbath, and the literal kingdom of God. Although he was denounced by Polycarp and others, he had contact with the Church of Rome for quite some time and seemed to have influence there (for more details see Marcion: The First Protestant? and What is the Gospel?).
In the second and third centuries, allegorists were becoming established in Alexandria (Egypt). And they opposed the doctrine of the coming kingdom. Notice the report about Dionysius and the Allegorists:
Dionysius was born of a noble and wealthy pagan family in Alexandria, and was educated in their philosophy. He left the pagan schools to become a pupil of Origen, whom he succeeded in the charge of the catechetical school of Alexandria…
Clement, Origen, and the Gnostic school were corrupting the doctrines of the holy oracles by their fanciful and allegorical interpretations…they obtained for themselves the name of “Allegorists.” Nepos publicly combated the Allegorists, and maintained that there will be a reign of Christ on the earth…
Dionysius disputed with the followers of Nepos, and by his account…“such a state of things as now exists in the kingdom of God.” This is the first mention of the kingdom of God existing in the present state of the churches…
Nepos rebuked their error, showing that the kingdom of heaven is not allegorical, but is the literal coming kingdom of our Lord in the resurrection unto eternal life...
So the idea of the kingdom come in the present state of things was conceived and brought forth in the Gnostic school of Allegorists in Egypt, A.D. 200 to 250, a full century before the bishops of the empire came to be regarded as occupants of the throne…
Clement conceived the idea of the kingdom of God as a state of true mental knowledge of God. Origen set it forth as a spiritual meaning hid in the plain letter of Scriptures (Ward, Henry Dana. The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Kingdom Not of this World; Not in this World; But to Come in the Heavenly Country, of the Resurrection from the Dead and of the Restitution of All Things. Published by Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1870. Original from the New York Public Library, Digitized Jul 18, 2006, pp. 124-125)
Thus, while Nepos taught the gospel of the kingdom of God (see also Did The Early Church Teach Millenarianism?), the allegorists tried to come up with a false, less literal, understanding of it. Apollinaris of Hierapolis tried to fight the errors of the allegorists about the same time.
In his book titled The Mystery of the Ages, the late Herbert W. Armstrong wrote:
Jesus went everywhere preaching the GOOD NEWS of the KINGDOM OF GOD. He taught in parables about the KINGDOM OF GOD. He sent out seventy men preaching, and commanded them to preach THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Luke 10:9). He sent the apostles, on whom the Church of God was founded, to preach only THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Luke 9:1-2). After the resurrection, before ascending to heaven, Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Isn't it amazing that the world has LOST the knowledge of what it is?
The apostle Paul preached THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31)...
Because they rejected Christ's gospel 1,900 years ago, the world had to supplant something else in its place. They had to invent a counterfeit! So we have heard the kingdom of God spoken of as merely a pretty platitude--a nice sentiment in human hearts--reducing it to an ethereal, unreal NOTHING! Others have misrepresented that the "CHURCH" is the kingdom. Others confuse it with the millennium. Still others have, earlier in our century, claimed the British Empire is the kingdom of God. But no one makes that claim any longer. HOW DECEIVED CAN THIS WORLD GET? The prophet Daniel, who lived 600 years before Christ, knew that the kingdom of God was a real kingdom--a government ruling over literal PEOPLE on the earth...
Here, in PLAIN LANGUAGE, is God's explanation of what the KINGDOM OF GOD IS: "And in the days of these kings..."--it is here speaking of the ten toes, part of iron and part of brittle clay. This, by connecting the prophecy with Daniel 7, and Revelation 13 and 17, is referring to the new UNITED STATES OF EUROPE that is now forming, out of the European Common Market, before your very eyes! Revelation 17:12 makes plain the detail that it shall be a union of TEN KINGS OR KINGDOMS that (Rev. 17:8) shall resurrect the old ROMAN EMPIRE. So, mark carefully the time element! "In the days of these kings"--in the days of these then nations or groups of nations that shall, IN OUR TIME, resurrect briefly the Roman Empire--notice what shall happen: "...shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed...but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever"!
Yes, in OUR TIME!...
When Christ comes, he is coming as KING of kings, ruling the whole earth (Rev. 19:11-16); and HIS KINGDOM--the KINGDOM OF GOD--said Daniel, is to CONSUME all these worldly kingdoms. Revelation 11:15 states it in these words: "The kingdoms of this world are become THE KINGDOMS OF OUR LORD, AND OF HIS CHRIST: and he shall reign for ever and ever"! This is THE KINGDOM OF GOD. It is the END of present governments--yes, and even the United States and the British nations. They then shall become the kingdoms--the GOVERNMENTS--of the Lord JESUS CHRIST, then KING of kings over the entire earth. This makes completely PLAIN the fact that the KINGDOM OF GOD is a literal GOVERNMENT. Even as the Chaldean Empire was a KINGDOM--even as the Roman Empire was a KINGDOM--so the KINGDOM OF GOD is a government. It is to take over the GOVERNMENT of the NATIONS of the world. Jesus Christ was BORN to be a KING--a RULER!...
The same Jesus Christ who walked over the hills and valleys of the Holy Land and the streets of Jerusalem more than 1,900 years ago is coming again. He said he would come again. After he was crucified, God raised him from the dead after three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40; Acts 2:32; I Cor. 15:3-4). He ascended to the Throne of God. Headquarters of the Government of the Universe (Acts 1:9-11; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; Rev. 3:21).
He is the "nobleman" of the parable, who went to the Throne of God--the "far country"--to be coronated as King of kings over all nations, and then to return to earth (Luke 19:12-27).
Again, he is in heaven until the "times of restitution of all things" (Acts 3:19-21). Restitution means restoring to a former state or condition. In this case, the restoring of God's government on earth, and thus, the restoring of world peace, and utopian conditions.
Present world turmoil, escalating wars and contentions will climax in world trouble so great that, unless God intervenes, no human flesh would be saved alive (Matt. 24:22). At its very climax when delay would result in blasting all life from off this planet, Jesus Christ will return. This time he is coming as divine God. He is coming in all the power and glory of the universe-ruling Creator. (Matt. 24:30; 25:31.) He is coming as "King of kings, and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16), to establish world super-government and rule all nations "with a rod of iron" (Rev. 19:15; 12:5)...
Christ is coming...
But will humanity shout with joy, and welcome him in frenzied ecstasy and enthusiasm? Will even the churches of traditional Christianity?
They will not! They will believe, because the false ministers of Satan (II Cor. 11:13-15) have deceived them, that he is the Antichrist. The churches and the nations will be angry at his coming (Rev. 11:15 with 11:18), and the military forces will actually attempt to fight him to destroy him (Rev. 17:14)!
The nations will be engaged in the climactic battle of the coming World War III, with the battlefront at Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1-2) and then Christ will return. In supernatural power he will "fight against those nations" that fight against him (verse 3). He will totally defeat them (Rev. 17:14)! "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives," a very short distance to the east of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4).
So, Jesus will return and He will win, even though many will claim (based upon improper understanding of Bible prophecy, but partially because of false prophets and mystics, see Do Certain Catholic Prophecies About Antichrist Warn Against Jesus?) that Jesus is the final Antichrist.
The following is also from Herbert Armstrong's book The Mystery of the Ages:
True religion--God's truth empowered with the love of God imparted by the Holy Spirit...JOY UNSPEAKABLE of knowing God and Jesus Christ--of knowing TRUTH--and the warmth of God's divine LOVE!...
The teachings of God's true Church are simply those of "living by every word" of the Holy Bible...
Men shall turn from the way of "get" to the way of "give"--God's way of love.
A NEW CIVILIZATION shall now grip the earth!
The NEW CIVILIZATION is the Kingdom of God. Proclaiming that new civilization is to come and be based upon love is a major part of what the true gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and His followers taught is all about. And that is something that we in the Continuing Church of God preach as well.
Now some who have read this far probably wonder about Jesus' death and role in salvation. Yes, that is part of the gospel that the New Testament and Herbert W. Armstrong both wrote about (for more information, please see What is the Gospel?). Actually, to help us become part of that kingdom, God loved humans so much that He sent Jesus to die for us (John 3:16-17).
The kingdom of God is a literal kingdom that will be established on the earth. It includes those truly in the Church of God, but no scripture states that the kingdom of God is actually the Church (Catholic or otherwise). And the Church of Rome has opposed it, and its modified version will more powerfully oppose it as we get closer to the end.
In its initial phase, the saints will reign with Christ for a thousand years over the nations. In its final phase, it will include the "New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" and of its increase there will be no end. There will be no more unrighteousness, no more sorrow, and no more death.
Preaching and understanding the gospel of the kingdom of God is an important theme of the Bible. Old Testament writers taught about it. Jesus, Paul, and John taught about it. The oldest Christian sermon to survive outside the New Testament taught about it. Early second century Christian leaders, like Polycarp and Melito, taught about it. We in the Continuing Church of God teach it (see also the YouTube sermon The Gospel of the Kingdom).
Recall that the kingdom of God is the first subject that the Bible shows Jesus preached about. It was also what He preached about after the resurrection. The gospel is not just about the life and death of Jesus (though as scripture and early writings show, He is a major part of it), the emphasis of the gospel that Jesus and His followers taught was the coming kingdom of God. The gospel of the kingdom includes salvation through Christ, but it also does include the teaching of the end of human governments.
Furthermore, Jesus taught that the end would not come until after the gospel of the kingdom was preached to the world as a witness to all the nations (Matthew 24:14). Proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God is an important subject. This is something that we in the Continuing Church of God are serious about.
Those who would like to can watch the YouTube sermon, which is at the ContinuingCOG channel, titled: The Gospel of the Kingdom.
Another article of possible interest might be Did The Early Church Millenarianism? This article explains some of what the kingdom of God will be like.
B. Thiel, Ph.D. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God was the Emphasis of Jesus and the Early Church. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2008/2010/2011/2012/2013 0420
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