The Eternal Kingdom.
We could trace the idea of kingdom all the way back to the beginning, because God himself has always been king (Psalm 47). During the Old Testament, for a while, he also exerted his reign through the kings of Israel (Psalm 2). But it seems to me that the kingdom proper unfolds in five phases:
- The kingdom promised. God promised he would establish a kingdom that would last forever (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 9:6-7). Kingdom is one of the ways he described his intention to intervene on earth and bring about better days (see previous post).
- The kingdom was at hand. This is what Jesus proclaimed about the kingdom at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:17, 23; Mark 1:14-15; see previous post).
- The kingdom has come. Later on in his ministry, after casting out demons and demonstrating his power and kingship in other ways, he said the kingdom had in fact come upon us (Matthew 12:28; see previous post).
- The kingdom has come with power. Though there was clearly remarkable power present in Jesus’ miracles, still he pointed to a time when the people of his generation would see the kingdom after it had come with power (Mark 9:1). He was referring to the coming of the Spirit in power on the day of Pentecost (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:4-5, 8). This is one of the characteristics of the kingdom that God had promised (Ezekiel 36:24-27; Joel 2:28-32), and it is the phase of the kingdom we are living in currently. It is important to recognize that, even though Jesus clearly demonstrated the superiority of the kingdom of God, it is not yet God’s will to completely destroy Satan’s kingdom (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). We will suffer some ill effects of Satan’s kingdom until the end of the age.
- The eternal kingdom. One day, Jesus will return in his royal glory to raise the dead, judge the world, and destroy Satan and his kingdom. (Matthew 16:27; 24:30; 25:31ff.; Luke 21:27). Some will enter the eternal kingdom. Others will not. After that, God’s kingdom will be unrivaled. Only God knows the day of Jesus’ glorious return (Matthew 24:36)
Paul provides more detail about the last two phases in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24, although the passage is not entirely in chronological order. He says Jesus’ resurrection was the firstfruits, which indicates there are more resurrections to come—ours! (v. 20-23). Jesus is now reigning as king (v. 25, #4 above) and will do so until all his enemies are subdued (vv. 25, 27, 28). The last enemy to be destroyed is death (v. 26), which will be destroyed by resurrection when Jesus comes again (23). After this, Jesus will deliver the kingdom to God (v. 24) and subject himself to God (v. 28). Then God will be all in all. This consummated, unrivaled, eternal kingdom.
Revelation 20:4-5 speaks about faithful Christian martyrs reigning with Christ for 1000 years. People have very different understandings of this unique passage. To simplify, Premillennialists (millennium means 1000) believe Christ will come back before (pre) a literal 1000 year reign on earth. Postmillennialists believe the spread of Christianity will lead to 1000 years of peace and prosperity that will be a reign of God’s people on earth, and afterward (post) Christ will return. Amillennialists believe the language of Revelation 20 is figurative and sometimes also say the 1000 year reign is occurring now (point #4 above). Panmillennialists believe everything will pan out in the end! (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
People have found passages to support each of these views. I lean pretty strongly amillennial. I won’t go into detail, but the primary reasons are that the only specific reference to a millennial reign occurs in a highly symbolic book, and Jesus steers people away from the notion of an earthly kingdom (John 18:36). Regardless, I also believe this is one of those controversial matters that we should not emphasize nor allow to divide us (Romans 14:1-15:13; 1 Timothy 6:3-5). A millennial reign is not the emphasis of Scripture’s teaching about the kingdom. In spite of different views of a millennial reign, we can all come together on the aspects of the kingdom emphasized in previous posts and also on our belief that Christ is indeed coming back and that ultimately God will reign over his kingdom forever.
When Christ came to earth the first time, he came as a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). He was incognito, if you will. He revealed his glory indirectly through the miracles, to those who had eyes to see (John 2:11). He revealed it directly only occasionally, to a few (Luke 9:32). But when he comes the second time, he will come in glory to judge the world and bring the kingdom to its consummation (verses on #5 above).
Today we live in the fourth phase of the kingdom and we eagerly await the fifth (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). While we await the glorious return of Christ, we are to live lives worthy of the kingdom by the power of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; Galatians 5:19-26). A previous post noted in that truth but also that we cannot earn salvation. Salvation is based on God’s mercy, and yet still, we must obey God to enter his kingdom. Generally, that means submitting to his lordship, and many specific aspects of this are mentioned throughout the New Testament. Though the consummation of the kingdom still lies in the future, trusting our King and submitting increasingly to his kingship will enable us to experience more fully the better days of the kingdom God promised even now.
Christ taught us to be alert for his coming (Mark 13:32-33). He also made clear that we do so, not in idleness but by working (Mark 13:34). We are servants of the King, and there is work for us to do (Matthew 25:14-30).
One of our special responsibilities is to tell the good news of the kingdom of God, just like Jesus did. Acts records the early Christians as telling the good news that God attested to Jesus as Someone Special by the miracles he did, but the Jews in Jerusalem did not recognize him and so turned him over to death. That was according to God’s plan written in the Scriptures, however, and on the third day, God raised him from the dead showing him to be Lord and Christ—the king (see previous post). They called people to repent, trust in Christ, and be baptized in his name (see post) and promised they would receive blessings such as forgiveness, salvation, and the Holy Spirit (see post). These blessings correspond to the better days of the kingdom God promised (see post). Though we don’t see the word kingdom in the actual recorded messages in Acts, we do see the language of royalty—Christ (anointed one), Prince, Lord, exalted, glory, and right hand. And several passages show that kingdom is an apt way of summarizing their message (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). (See the Training page for how Empowering Subjects helps equip people to tell this good news.)
So let us enjoy the better days of God’s kingdom. But while we watch and wait for his return, let us also choose to submit more fully to his kingship by the power of the Spirit he has given us. Let us work steadfastly as servants at our various tasks. And let us learn to tell the good news of God’s kingdom to those who are not a part of it.