Copyright 1996, John H. Stoll
As one looks at an overview of the Bible, the significant thread that weaves itself throughout is the kingdom concept. It is the tie that binds every aspect of the Bible together. It is the underlying theme of the Bible, and just like the bones in one's body give structure to the frame, so does the kingdom concept give structure to scripture. The Bible speaks of two kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of heaven. It is imperative that we understand the meaning of each, how they interweave themselves, and how each applies to both Israel and the Church, past, present, and future.
By definition the Kingdom of God is His universal kingdom in which He has always ruled in the universe, is ruling, and will always rule. It is His overall rule from eternity past to eternity future. There never has been a time that God has not ruled. The Kingdom of Heaven is the rule of God in a mediatorial way, i.e. He has and is ruling in the kingdom of mankind through second causes. In other words He mediates His rule over mankind through individuals whom He allows to exercise rulership, and He controls them for His ultimate purposes. The Kingdom of Heaven is subsumed within the overall Kingdom of God. This concept is adequately seen throughout the history of the Bible, as well as in its underlying concepts.
To understand the essence of these two kingdoms, and how they operate in the history of the world, is to be able to understand how the Bible fits together. To not comprehend this concept, is prohibitive of truly being able to understand God's dealings with mankind. The reason for this is that the kingdom concept is ingrained within each one of us, so that whether in the family, in business, in politics, or in any organization, we do not operate in a vacuum, or anarchy, but with some semblance of order and structure. That is part of the fabric of human nature. And, so it is with God, who ordained all of this.
To begin our understanding of these kingdoms, let us first and foremost consider the Kingdom of God. We will call this the Universal Kingdom, since it is all encompassing, universally, as well as from eternity to eternity. The Bible conveys three aspects of this universal kingdom: 1) Psalm 10:16 - The Kingdom of God has always existed in the sense that, "The Lord is King for ever and ever". There has never been a time when God has not ruled in the universe. 2) Psalm 103:19 - states that, "The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all". There is nothing that exists beyond His control, so that it is a universal kingdom. 3) Isa. 10:5-18 - God's universal rule is extended to earth, where He rules through second causes, i.e. rulers whom He has set up, and nature which is under His control. Verse five notes, "Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath". God allowed Assyria to punish Israel for their wickedness, but it was still God who was in control, exercising rulership. These concepts constitute God's universal rule, which permeates all of scripture. As one tries to comprehend an understanding of the Bible, this basic element must constantly be kept in mind.
A larger more complete understanding of the kingdom concept is seen in the Kingdom of Heaven, which occupies more of the text of the Bible, since it relates more directly to mankind, especially the nation of Israel, as well as the church. Therefore, the rest of this chapter will deal with this kingdom, though at the conclusion we shall see how the two kingdoms relate to each other.
The Kingdom of Heaven, by definition, is the rule of God, through a divinely chosen representative who speaks and acts for God, a rule with special reference to the human race, especially seen in Israel, but eventually embraces the whole universe. We shall note the development of this through the Bible under six headings: 1) In Old Testament History, 2) In Old Testament Prophecy, 3) In the teachings of Christ, 4) In the period of the Acts, 5) During the present Christian (Church) era, and 6) During the Coming Age.
In order to understand the relationship between the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven, it is seen in the Bible that the Kingdom of God is His overall rule from eternity to eternity, whereas the Kingdom of Heaven is not a geographical location, namely "up in the heavens", but rather heavenly rule here on earth among peoples. The preferred rule of Christ to the Jewish nation, which they rejected, was to have been Christ's rule over the Jewish nation, which would have been the heavenly kingdom of Christ, with Him ruling over Israel.
Someday, in eternity, when everything is under the authority of Jesus Christ, then the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God will be one and the same, since the concept of heaven will be everywhere, including this earth. When we look at the kingdom concept in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, we see that the concept in God's mind was to be His rule over Israel as operative through "second causes", namely the priests and kings. Historically, this was the heavenly kingdom operating on earth. Though this was the way God ordained for Israel, the whole concept failed, because Israel refused to follow God. They broke the covenant that they had accepted at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19-31).
When Christ came as it says in John 1:11, "He came unto His own (i.e. Israel), but His own received Him not". When Christ began His public ministry He said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). When you put the two concepts together, what Christ was saying was not that He did not come to bring in the kingdom which the prophets had prophesied, but that He did not come to restore the historical kingdom to Israel. Had He done that, the second administration of the first kingdom would fail for the same reason the first kingdom failed, i.e. the sins of the people of Israel. What Christ preached was repentance from sin, and that He had to go to the cross to care for the sins of the people. Once the sin issue was cared for, then He would bring in the kingdom, and the second time around it would not fail, for Christ would be on the throne of His father, David, and all would be righteous. That did not materialize because Israel rejected what He offered. That is why Christ turned to the Gentiles, and began the "Church".
1. The Kingdom of Heaven in Old Testament History: It started with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. God told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go into a land God had prepared for him, i.e. Palestine. He told Abraham that He would make of him a great nation, that he would have seed as the seashore, that the land would be his forever, and that kings would reign forever over the people. These were unconditional promises God made.
Later on the development of the kingdom came through Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and under Joshua into the "Promised Land". During this time God mediated Himself to Israel through the priestly system. When Samuel became the priest of God to Israel, the people demanded of him a king, and this bothered Samuel (I Sam. 8:1-6). God told Samuel to listen to the people, for He said, "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (I Sam. 8:7). Now we perceive that Israel turned from being a Theocracy (i.e. the rule of God) to a Monarchy (i.e. the rule of man).
However, God still blessed Israel, as long as the kings followed God, and the nation reached its zenith in the rule of David and Solomon. After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took the throne and because of his youthful brashness caused the kingdom to be divided. The northern part with ten tribes became known as the kingdom of Israel, and the southern part with two tribes became known as the kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom had a series of wicked kings, and in 721 b.c. went into captivity. The southern kingdom had a number of good and wicked kings interspersed, so it lasted longer, but finally in 586 b.c it too went into captivity to Babylonia.
The close of the kingdoms was symbolized by God's removing of His "Shekinah" glory (i.e. His dwelling glory in Israel). The glory of God had rested upon Israel, but now God removed it, signifying God's blessing and protection of Israel was finished. The nation was susceptible to invasion and captivity (Ezek. 9-11). The kingdom failed for two reasons: 1) A lack of spiritual preparation as seen in the "Golden calf" experience at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 32:1-6), where Israel deviated from Jehovah, even while God was giving Moses the law, which set the pattern of sin in Israel, that bore the fruit of captivity 700 years later, and 2) Imperfection of God's human leaders (e.g. the wicked kings both of Israel and Judah).
As Israel came closer to captivity through continuing sin, the prophets whom God had raised up to speak in His behalf to Israel, and who were ignored or persecuted, spoke of a future coming day when there would be a perfect king over Israel (Ezek. 11:20; Heb. 8:6-11), and subjects who would follow Him (Ezek. 11:19). The close of the historical kingdom was marked by the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. by Nebucadnezzar of Babylon.
2. The Kingdom of Heaven in Old Testament Prophecy: Arises out of a prophetical/historical setting. The prophet's predictions had a "double reference", meaning that what they said was both historical for that day, as well as futuristic. The prophets spoke of impending judgment if Israel did not repent, as well as a future day when Israel would follow a righteous king. Early prophets spoke mainly to Israel of their day, but as Israel became more wicked, the message of the prophets spoke to a greater degree in the future.
The futuristic aspect began with an obscure reference in Gen. 3:15, where God promised that the "seed of the woman" would crush the serpent's head. This reference was to the ultimate coming of Jesus (the seed of the woman - Gal. 4:4), who in His death/resurrection would crush the power of Satan. The prophetical message became a single gleam in II Sam. 7:16, where the prophet promised to David, "Thy throne shall be established forever". This ultimately would be fulfilled in Jesus, the greater son of David, of whom the angel said at His birth, "He shall reign over the house of Jacob (i.e. Israel) forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end." The future aspect of the kingdom grew as the historical aspect declined.
3. The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Christ: In Matt. 3:1,2 the Gospels open with the announcement of a kingdom. This kingdom and that prophetical kingdom of the prophets is the same. In Daniel 7:13,14 the future kingdom message is tied in with the "Son of man", which was Jesus' favorite title that He applied to Himself. Further, in Christ's teachings may be found every aspect of the prophetic kingdom. The reason that no formal announcement of Christ's kingdom was made when He began His public ministry, was that the prophets had taught of His coming. Over 330 prophecies in the Old Testament gave evidence to His coming, and all were fulfilled during His lifetime here on earth.
Christ taught that the kingdom was at hand, because the king was present, i.e. Himself. It was announced to Israel alone, when He sent His disciples out to proclaim, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, - - but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10:5-7). The establishment of the kingdom He came to bring, depended upon Israel's acceptance of His message of repentance (Matt. 11:13-15).
He was not caught by surprise at Israel's rejection. He sent His disciples out to take their "Gallup Poll", asking the Jews who they thought was this "Son of man"? When they returned Jesus asked them, and they gave various answers, after which He asked them who they thought He was. Peter replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". To which Christ answered, "Peter, you have well said" (Matt. 16:13-21). At this point Christ introduced two new concepts to His disciples, when it was established that Israel had rejected Jesus as their king: 1) He spoke for the first of the "Church" (i.e. a called out people for His name), and told the disciples that they would be the spreaders of this gospel. 2) He instructed them concerning His death/burial/resurrection. There had been a veiled reference to this by the prophets, but only now was His impending death understood by the disciples. The aspect of the church was unforeseen by the prophets, since their prophecies spoke to Israel accepting the future king (Eph. 3:3-6; Col. 1:24-29; Matt. 13:11).
The Kingdom was not abandoned by Christ, only postponed. The reason being that God had made unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc. concerning a king and kingdom forever, but He also had chosen Israel to be His channel through whom the revelation of God would go out to all the world. Instead of Israel disseminating God's revelation to them, they cloistered it to themselves, and became proud of their heritage and "in" with God, and called the other nations, "Heathen". So, when Christ came they were so self righteous that their sin kept them from acknowledging Jesus as their Messiah. If God's revelation to all mankind was to be disseminated, He had to obtain a new conduit or channel. This was the reason for the church and the commission it has had for the past two thousand years as seen in Matt. 28:19,20. Christ Himself said of the church, that His message this time around, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it"(i.e. the church's message). Satan had worked in the national life of Israel to stifle God's revelation through them by their sin of pride, etc. The church would prevail through the indwelling Holy Spirit (I John 4:4).
During Christ's trial before the high priest of Israel, He reaffirmed His kingship (Matt. 26:63-65). He was rejected because Israel would not accept what He had brought, i.e. first a spiritual kingdom "within you", then would have followed the restoration of the historical kingdom, promised in the Old Testament. Israel wanted the political restoration without the repentance of their sins and accepting the spiritual kingdom Christ came to bring in His death/resurrection. Their own sins caused their rejection of Him.
4. The Kingdom of Heaven in the Period of the Acts: The Disciples failed to harmonize Christ's death with their hopes of the restoration of the kingdom (Luke 24:21). The kingdom was not abandoned, only postponed, so that through the church, God's revelation would go out to the world (Acts 1:6-11). After His resurrection the disciples wondered if now He would restore the kingdom, since His mission to bring reconciliation to mankind was accomplished. Christ told them it was not up to them to "know the times or the seasons", but that they were to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel.
As the book of Acts records the spreading of the Gospel through the Apostles (i.e. "sent ones"), the "signs" that God gave them to affirm their message failed to convince the Jews, for the problem was not intellectual, but spiritual (II Cor. 3:13-15). The veil of sin was upon their heart.
The final rejection of Christ, both as Messiah and king is witnessed in Acts 28:17-31, where the Apostle Paul, himself a believing Jew, under house arrest in Rome, called the Jewish authorities to him, "to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God - - and some believed, and some believed not".
After they had departed, Paul said, "Be it known therefore unto you, that salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles (i.e. nations), and they will hear it". The account tells us that Paul proclaimed the Gospel to any and all who would hear it. He recognized that His own Jewish people had spiritual blindness to the Messiahship and kingship of Jesus Christ. The mantle of revelation had passed to the church, and it was their responsibility to disseminate God's revelation to the world.
5. The Kingdom of Heaven During the Present Christian Era: The kingdom exists today, in the sense that Christ is preparing the people who will spiritually inherit the kingdom that will come. In Col. 1:13 and Gal. 3:26-29 we see that regeneration of heart in the life of the believer translates one into the kingdom of His dear Son. Today, that kingdom exists spiritually in the life of the Christian. Someday, the reality will appear, when Christ returns to set up the kingdom.
Christ set forth the aspects of the kingdom in parables, or analogies, which refer to the "Mysteries" of the Kingdom. In Col. 1:24-28 and Eph. 3:1-7, it is seen that the mysteries were not something mysterious, as we may think, but mean that these elements were divinely hidden from past ages and peoples, but now are revealed to the Christian, through the discernment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The parables/analogies are to help the Christian, who lives in the time/space world, understand the "other worldliness" of what heaven will be like. An analogy makes a parallel of a "known" with the "unknown", so that the meaning of the unknown can be grasped.
Today, there is seen a parallel growth of righteousness and evil in the world. And though it may seem that "righteousness is on the scaffold, and wrong is on the throne", that is not the way it will always be. God is sovereign, and His program is on track, for He is Sovereign, "His kingdom rules over all (Ps. 103:19). Someday the separation will come (Matt. 25:31-46). The righteous will prevail, and the unrighteous judged, when Christ returns.
6. The Kingdom of Heaven During the Coming Age: The age to come will be ushered in by the authority and power of Christ. God's silence will be broken by the "Trump of God", the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the personal presence of the King, Jesus Christ (Rev. 11:15-17; Rev. 19:25,28).
The kingdom to the Jews will be ushered in. This will be God's fulfillment of His unconditional promises to Abraham, and reiterated to David, Solomon, etc. The Old Testament Prophets spoke extensively of it. (Rev. 20:1-6). After the thousand years and the judgment of Satan, the Kingdom of Heaven will merge with the Kingdom of God, and God will be all in all. Heaven is not a geographical location, but an existence with God, regardless of location. So, heaven will be "up there", earth will be heaven, the universe will be heaven.
In I Cor. 15:24-28 we see that Christ will deliver up the Kingdom of Heaven, over which He rules, to God the Father, that "God may be all in all". Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be subsumed within the Kingdom of God, who has ruled from all eternity past, to all eternity future. What God envisioned for mankind when He created him and placed him in the garden of Eden, will become a reality forever. God and mankind will have eternal fellowship, and mankind will be the threefold fulfillment God intended him to have; 1) Fellowship with God eternally, 2) A perfect reflection of God's moral attributes, and 3) King over God's creation (Ps. 8:4-6).
Revelation 22:3-5 gives us a beautiful picture of eternity that we shall enjoy with Christ. There will be no more curse, and there will no night there, "And they need no candle, neither light of the SUN, for the SON giveth them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever". The eternal Son of God will be our light, and we shall reign with Him eternally.
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