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       What is the Kingdom of God?  Crown.wmf (16476 bytes)

by David A. DePra

"For behold, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)

     The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ came proclaiming "the
gospel of the kingdom." Indeed, most of Jesus' teaching
centers around the kingdom of God. Over and over He speaks
about entering the kingdom. He opens many of His parables
by saying, "The kingdom of God can be likened to...". Or He'll
talk about how we might possess the kingdom. But what IS the
kingdom of God? Do we really understand what Jesus is talking
     As background, it's important to grasp what the Jewish idea
of the kingdom was in the time of Jesus. If we understand what
was in the mind of the listener in that day when they heard the
term, "kingdom of God," then we can better see the Truth Jesus
was revealing when He spoke to them.
     Two thousand years ago the Jewish concept of the kingdom
was primarily a national one. They believed the kingdom to be
the restoration, by the Messiah, of their national glory. The Messiah
would come and set Israel free from all occupying nations, exalt
them as a people, and commence to reign and rule from the
temple in Jerusalem.
     Israel's expectation of the Messiah corresponded to their
expectation of the kingdom. The Messiah, to them, was "Israel
personified." He would be an extension of Israel; the embodiment
of all that Israel was. The Jews of that day had no concept of
a Messiah, or of a kingdom, which made room for anything
or anyone other than Israel.
     The Jews, as taught by the Pharisees, believed that a person
could "work" their way into the kingdom of God. They held that
through the study of the law and the performance of good works
that one could qualify to enter the kingdom. They held no
concrete view of the sin nature, although they did acknowledge
"acts of sin." Consequently, they had little point of reference
for a Redeemer who would deliver them from sin, or one who
needed to die for the sins of the world.
     When Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God it did not
agree with their expectations, indeed, with their demands about
the kingdom. Instead of a Messiah who preached deliverance
from Rome, Jesus came preaching deliverance from sin. Instead
of One who personified Israel, Jesus came saying "I am the Truth."
Jesus came preaching about a kingdom which was drastically
contrary to the concept of the kingdom of God in the mind of the
Jew of His day. They rejected Him, and wound up killing Him
for it.
     Does our concept of the kingdom of God agree with what
Jesus taught? Ask yourself, "What is my definition of the
kingdom of God?"
     For some Christians, the kingdom of God is heaven. For others,
the kingdom is the church. Still others claim the kingdom is
the millenium. Yet none of these is correct, although to a degree
they can be included in the kingdom of God. So what exactly
IS the kingdom of God? And where is that kingdom?
     The kingdom of God is not a PLACE. You cannot find any
place and call it the "kingdom of God." Neither is the kingdom
of God a group of places, or a group of people. Rather than a
place where God reigns, the kingdom of God is God's reign
itself -- over any place!
     That's important to grasp. The kingdom of God is God's
reign. The people and places over which God reigns then
become part of that kingdom in that they are under the power
of His Lordship and realm.
     Now we can see why Jesus was able to say, "The kingdom of
God does not come with signs to be observed...Behold, the
kingdom of God is within you." Jesus was talking about the
reign or realm of God. You can't "see" a king's reign. You can
only see the things and people over which that reign is
     The Truth is, if we want to enter the kingdom of God, we must
come under the reign of God. We must allow the kingdom to
possess us if we are to possess the kingdom. The
gospel of the kingdom is a proclamation of Jesus Christ as
Lord, reigning and ruling over all which He won through His
death and resurrection. When we embrace Him as Lord,
and come under His regin, we are living in His kingdom.
     The Jews of Jesus' time never did grasp this. Even the
disciples of Jesus did not understand this Truth until after His
death and resurrection. Until then, every time Jesus spoke of
the "kingdom of God," they interpreted Him according to the
Jewish traditional idea.
     Nowhere is this misunderstanding more accutely illustrated
than in Matthew 24. Indeed, many Christians today continue
to misinterpret Jesus' words in that passage and others like it,
simply due to a misunderstanding of what Jesus means by
the term "kingdom of God."
     Get the setting leading into this chapter. Jesus had just
finished publically upbraiding the Scribes and Pharisees for
their unbelief and hypocrisy. He warned them of impending
destruction which would "come upon this generation." (23:36)
Then, as He was walking out of the temple, He lamented over
Jerusalem. His rejection at the hands of the Jewish leaders was
complete. Their house was indeed left desolate. (23:38)
      Jesus completed His lamentation by saying, in the hearing of
His disciples, "You shall not see Me henceforth, till you shall say,
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." (23:39)
     As Jesus and His disciples exited the temple, those final words
must have exicted the disciples greatly. Jesus had just
quoted an Old Testament scripture which they knew
announced the arrival of the Messiah. For three years the
disciples had been waiting for Jesus to announce Himself
Messiah, and to begin His reign. He had already entered
Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds a few days before. Now,
they surely reasoned, He was announcing that He was about
to make all their expectations come true. The Messiah
had come. And He was about to begin His reign and rule from
the temple in Jerusalem.
     This hope is seen in Matthew 24:1. After Jesus departed the
temple, the disciples came "to show Him the buildings of the
temple." The parallel in Mark 13:1 has them saying, "Master,
see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!"
In other words, they were saying, "Look at the wonderful temple
you will have as your throne! Look at this marvelous complex
of buildings from which you will reign!" They clearly interpreted
the words of Jesus as meaning that He intended to take His
place on the throne. They had forgotten that He had already told
them He had come to Jerusalem to die.
     The reply of Jesus to the disciples must have been so
contrary to their thinking that they were unable to understand
Him. Instead of verifying that He was about to reign and rule,
and instead of agreeing with their admiration of the temple
and it's buildings, Jesus said, "See you not all these things?
Verily, I say to you, there shall not be left here one stone upon
another that shall not be thrown down." (Matthew 24:2)
     Do you see what Jesus is saying? He is telling his
disciples, and us, something we must understand if we are
grasp the nature of the kingdom of God, and if we are to
gain a proper understanding of Matthew 24. He is saying,
"My friends, I have been telling you all along that your
idea of the kingdom of God is wrong. I have not come to
reign and rule in a physical kingdom. The physical kingdom
that you think will reside within all of these buildings
is not going to happen. In fact, everything you see before you
is going to be torn down and destroyed."
     Jesus was dashing to pieces all of their hopes and
dreams about a kingdom. But if we read on in Matthew 24,
we will find that He is also showing them what is coming
to replace it: The real kingdom of God: The reign of God
over the hearts and lives of men through Jesus Christ.
     Matthew 24 has most often been interpreted as a
narrative describing the end time, namely, our time. We have
assumed that Jesus is there talking about the end of the
world as we know it, and the establishment of His kingdom
in the millenium. But He is not. He is talking about the
end of the old order of things, as personified in the temple and
the nation of Israel, and the establishment of the new order
of things, i.e., His spiritual kingdom as found through the
New Covenant.
     I realize this sounds almost absurd. But that's because
Christians have become so trained to read chapters like
Matthew 24 a certain way, with a certain interpretation, that
to suggest otherwise seems almost heretical. Yet if we
remain consistant to Jesus' continual definition of "the kingdom
of God," and read what He says in this chapter without
preconceived ideas, there is no question about it. Jesus is
not saying what many of us interpret Him to be saying in this
chapter. He is talking about the end of the Old Covenant,
and the destruction of Jerusalem, and then the ushering in of
the New Covenant through the spiritual kingdom of God.
     Let's go on to see this. The disciples, upon hearing these
shocking words from Jesus, reply, "What? When whall
these things be? And what shall be the sign of Your coming?
And of the end of this world?"
     Note their reply. They are flabbergasted. No temple? All
these building destroyed? How can He reign and rule without
a temple? Thus, they plead for an assurance from Jesus.
They want to know the "sign of His coming." And they want
to know when will come the "end of the world."
     Incidentally, the word for "world," here, really means "age."
It means "a period of time marked by moral and spiritual
characteristics." Therefore, when the disciples asked Jesus
what the sign would be of the end of the age, they were not
asking Him the question many Christians think they were
asking Him, namely, when the end of this world would be,
and when the millenium would begin. They were simply
replying to His shocking claim that everything they hoped
for would be dismantled and thrown down. They sought
a sign from Him; an assurance that He would still begin a new age
by reigning and ruling from Jerusalem as they had hoped.
     Now we see why it is vital to grasp the disciple's
concept of the kingdom of God. It was that concept which was
in their mind, and it was that concept which they were referring
to when they asked the question, "What will be the sign of Your
Coming, and the end of the age?"
     But that is not all. Not only does understanding the disciple's
concept of the kingdom interpret to us their question to Jesus, it
likewise helps us to interpret His answer to them. The disciples
were asking their questions to gain an assurance that, yes,
all that they hoped for would indeed come to pass. There would
be a national kingdom for Israel, with Jesus as the Messiah. Yes,
they would reign and rule with Him in this kingdom. But Jesus'
answer was that there would be NO national kingdom as they
had hoped, but a spiritual one. The national kingdom, with
it's temple and rituals would not be the kingdom of God. The
kingdom of God which Jesus was bringing would be a spiritual one.
     Matthew 24 and 25 are Jesus' answer to the disciples. In these
chapters He is describing the destruction and passing away of the
old age and old kingdom, and the ushering in of the spiritual
kingdom of God. He is talking about a kingdom in which the
Son of Man is ever present within the hearts and lives of men.
     The word "parousia" pictures this. Everywhere in the Bible
where we read of Jesus' Coming -- that is, His return to earth as
it's ruling King -- the word "coming" is translated "parousia." But
the word means more than just "coming," in the sense of travelling
from one location to another. It literally means "active presence."
Therefore, when we read of Jesus "coming," we are reading
not only about His arrival among us, but about His active presence,
that is, His reigning and ruling once He arrives. That is, afterall,
what the kingdom of God is. It IS Jesus' coming -- His active
presence in the hearts and lives of all of us.
     After Jesus spends most of Matthew 24 describing the end of
that present order of things, He begins to describe to the disciples,
sometimes in very symbolic language, the nature of the spiritual
kingdom of God. He says, "THEN shall the kingdom of heaven be
likened unto ten virgins....." Again, Jesus is trying to tell them, and
us, that our ideas of His kingdom are lacking. He is trying to reveal
to us that His kingdom is a spiritual one, and that all of the
scriptures which we interpret naturally are to be taken spritually.
     Jesus Christ IS coming again. Literally. But what kind of
a literal kingdom will that be if His spiritual kingdom is not first
established in the hearts and minds of humanity? What good
will it do to have Jesus reigning and ruling "out there" if He is
not first reigning and ruling "in us," where Jesus said the
essence of the kingdom of God was? "For behold," He said, "The
kingdom of God is within YOU."
      The kingdom of God is not a place God reigns. It IS God's
reign -- over any place. It is the reign of God, through Jesus
Christ, over the hearts and lives of people. For that, we do not
have to wait for the millenium. We have the millenium right now,
inside of us, as manifested through our reign and rule with Christ
on His throne to God's glory.

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