The Kingdom Of God (Part 3)

We will now examine those passages in the NT that seem to imply that the kingdom of God is an already present reality in some sense or is a spiritual or internal reality. But before we do that I want to clear up one thing that causes confusion for some.

“Kingdom Of Heaven” vs “Kingdom Of God”

There are some Bible teachers who are promoting the idea that the kingdom of heaven is something different from the kingdom of God. Some understand the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to be a kingdom in heaven i.e. heaven itself, and the ‘kingdom of God’ to be a kingdom on the earth. I want to say most emphatically that this is false, and that it’s falsity can be easily demonstrated. First, we should take note of the fact that only Matthew’s gospel uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (31 X); it does not occur in any other place in the NT. Second, we should note that when parallel passages between the synoptic gospels are compared, the two phrases are seen to be synonymous. For example, did Jesus preach two different messages about two different kingdoms {Matt 4:17; Mk. 1:15}? Did he tell two distinct parables of the mustard seed, one regarding the kingdom of heaven and one regarding the kingdom of God {Matt. 13:31-32; Mk. 4:30-32}? There are a number of parallel parables and sayings of Jesus between the synoptic gospels which show that the two phrases are used interchangeably {Matt. 8:11/Lk. 13:28-29; Matt. 10:5-7/ Lk. 9:1-2, 10:8-9; Matt. 11:11/ Lk. 7:28; Matt. 13:11/ Mk. 4:11; Matt. 13:33/Lk. 13:20-21; Matt. 19:13-15/ Mk. 10:13-16; Matt. 19:23-24/Mk. 10:24-25}. Matthew himself clearly uses the two phrases interchangeably in 19:23-24.

Some have suggested that Matthew’s use of ‘heaven‘ instead of ‘God‘ reflects the Jewish reluctance to say or write the word ‘God’ out of reverence for the divine name. But this seems unlikely due to the fact that the word for ‘God’ appears many times in Matthew’s gospel (as it does in the rest of the NT, all of which was written by Jews) and even the phrase “kingdom of God” appears four times {12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43}. The simplest explanation as to why Matthew alone uses the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven‘ is that heaven is being used as a favored metonymy for God.

Based on this data we can conclude that there is no difference between the ‘kingdom of heaven‘ and the ‘kingdom of God‘; the two phrases refer to the same thing. We must understand that Jesus’ teaching as recorded in the gospels is not word for word according to what he actually said. This is evident because Jesus most likely spoke to his Jewish followers and the crowds of Jews in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, yet the gospels are written in Greek. So what we have in the Greek manuscripts are approximate translations of what Jesus said and not his actual words. This is why there can be differences in the wording of Jesus’ sayings between the gospels; they were putting Jesus’ Hebrew or Aramaic words into Greek and there may be more than one way to translate those words. Now it is possible that Jesus used both phrases, interchangeably, and that Matthew favored ‘kingdom of heaven’ knowing that his Jewish readers would understand the metonymy, while the other authors used ‘kingdom of God’ because their intended audience was predominately Gentile and might not understand the metonymy. In other words, if Jesus had actually said ‘kingdom of heaven’ at times, it is perfectly acceptable for Mark and Luke to translate that as ‘kingdom of God’ for that is what it means.

The Kingdom Is At Hand

There are a few passages in which it was proclaimed, first by John , then by Jesus, and then by the disciples of Jesus, that “the kingdom of God is at hand” {Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9-11}. Those who hold the position that the kingdom is a present reality take these passages to mean that the kingdom of God was established within the period of Jesus’ ministry in the 1st century. This view is apparently bolstered by Mark 1:15:

… Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, “The time has been fulfilled,” he said, “the kingdom of God has drawn near.”

But do these passages necessitate the understanding that the kingdom was established at that time? Not if we understand that the kingdom was presented to that generation of Israel as near fulfillment but was then withdrawn because of unbelief and a failure of the Jewish leadership to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. This is what I referred to in Part 1 as the postponement of the kingdom. Ever since God first established human kingship over Israel it was incumbent upon the leadership of Israel to recognize and acknowledge God’s choice of king. We read in 1 Samuel 10 that when God chose Saul as the first king, the prophet Samuel presented him to all the people saying, “Do you see the man Yahweh has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” The people then responded, “Long live the king!” {v. 24} But some rejected Saul as the right choice {v. 27}. In chapter 11 we read that the people wanted to put to death the ones who rejected Saul as king {v. 12} and that “all the people went to Gilgal and there they made Saul king before Yahweh…Although Saul had earlier been anointed by Samuel {10:1} and was publicly presented as God’s choice {10:24} it was necessary for Saul to be acknowledged by the people, especially the leaders among them, and for the allegiance of the people to be with Saul.

Later we see a similar thing with David. He was first anointed in private by Samuel {1 Sam. 16:11-13} while Saul was still alive. Later he was anointed as king by the men of Judah over the house of Judah {2 Sam. 2:4}. Then later we are told that

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron … When all the elders of Israel had come to the king at Hebron, king David made a covenant with them before Yahweh and they anointed David king over Israel.”      2 Sam. 5:1-3

Again we see the necessity of the people, particularly the leaders, recognizing and swearing allegiance to the king of God’s choice.

When David was near death, knowing that God had chosen his son Solomon to succeed him as king, he gathered together all of the leaders of Israel to Jerusalem and recounted to them how God had chosen him to be king and informed them of God’s choice of Solomon to succeed him {1 Chron. 28:1-7}. Although Solomon had earlier been anointed to succeed David {1 Kings 1:28-40} it was now necessary for all the leaders of Israel to recognize Solomon as God’s choice and to pledge their allegiance to him. And so we read:

They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of Yahweh that day. Then they made Solomon son of David king a second time, anointing him as ruler … So Solomon sat on the throne of Yahweh as king in place of his father David. He prospered and all Israel obeyed him. All the leaders and the mighty men, as well as all of king David’s sons, pledged their strength in subjection to king Solomon.             1 Chron. 29:22-24

Thus a pattern had been set for the installment as king of the one whom God had chosen. Saul, David and Solomon were the only kings to rule over all of Israel, God’s kingdom. After Solomon’s death, because of his idolatry, God took away the kingdom from the house of David leaving only Judah under his rule {1 Kings 11:31-39}. Later, the prophets foretold  the restoration of the kingdom of Israel under the rule of a final king from the house of David, as we saw in Part 1 of this study. This is the kingdom that was proclaimed by John and Jesus as having drawn near to Israel. Yet the establishment of that kingdom was contingent upon the reception and acknowledgement of, and the pledging of allegiance to, the chosen and anointed one from the line of David, Jesus of Nazareth, by the leadership in Jerusalem. The gospels record the virulent opposition and ultimate rejection of Jesus as God’s choice for king by the High Priest, chief priests, the elders and teachers of the Law, and ultimately the people. They accused him of being in league with Satan and of blasphemy; they plotted together to kill him; they turned him over to the Roman procurator and proclaimed him worthy of death; and when Pilate was inclined to free him they aroused the crowd to clamor for his death. The attitude of the Jerusalem leadership is dramatically represented in one of Jesus’ parables by a group of disloyal subjects of a king who declared, “We are determined that this man not reign as king over us” {see Lk. 19:11-14}. In another parable these leaders are depicted as wicked tenants who, upon seeing the landowners son, said, “This is the heir. Come let’s kill him and take his inheritance” {Matt. 21:38-39}.

When I speak of the postponement of the kingdom I do not intend to imply that God was caught off guard or that he does not have a specific plan that is being carried out in his own timing. But God, foreknowing the rejection of Messiah by the leadership of that generation, wrote into the plan, as it were, the postponement of the kingdom. The rejection of Yahweh’s anointed one was foretold in the prophetic word {Is. 53:2-3; Ps. 22:6-8}, but this did not preclude the presentation of the kingdom to that generation. The proclamation of the kingdom as near, Messiah’s rejection and death, and the postponement of the kingdom, all had to play out in real time. Jesus himself told his disciples what was going to happen before he would establish the kingdom:

The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the son of man, but you will not see it … the son of man in his day will be like the lightning which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.  Lk. 17:22-25 {See also Mk. 8:31; 9:12; Lk. 20:17}

Hence, there is no conflict between the fact that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom as having drawn near (perfect indicative active of eggizo = to come near, to approach) and the fact that the kingdom was not then established. Neither does Jesus’ proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom necessitate the kingdom’s establishment in that generation.

Entering The Kingdom

There are a number of passages which speak of people entering or not entering the kingdom of God which give the impression that entering the kingdom is something that one does now in this present age, thus implying that the kingdom is a present reality that can be experienced now. The phrase ‘enter the kingdom‘ appears 16 times in the NT in these verses: Matt. 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23-24; 23:13; Mark 9:47; 10:15; 10:23-25; Lk. 18:17, 24-25; Jn. 3:5; Acts 14:22. So how are we to understand these statements given the evidence we have already seen that the kingdom is a literal, physical reality to be experienced only in the future after the return of Messiah and the resurrection of the dead (see the list of twenty passages in Part 2)? Either Jesus and the apostles were presenting two distinct kingdoms, one which is present now in an invisible way and one which shall come in the future in a visible way, or this language of entering the kingdom must be taken in a figurative rather than a literal sense. I believe the second option is preferable. So when these verses speak of someone entering the kingdom it is speaking proleptically of that which will be actually experienced only in the age to come.

Whether or not one will have a share in the coming kingdom of God is something that must be settled in this present age before the kingdom actually manifests. To speak of one as entering the kingdom, i.e. in this present age, is to say that they have secured for themselves a place in the future kingdom. It is tantamount to being saved, i.e. coming to know the one true God and his chosen one, Jesus the Messiah {Jn. 17:3}. When one turns to God in repentance and pledges loyalty to Jesus as Lord {Acts 20:21; Rom. 10:9-10} then he is said to be saved. But again, this is proleptic speech, for no one  actually experiences salvation until the return of Jesus {Rom. 2:5-10; 5:10; 8:22-25; 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:8-9; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:5,9; Jude 1:21}. What actually happens to one when he ‘gets saved‘ is that his sins are forgiven and he is reconciled to God (this may also be express as being justified) and receives the holy spirit as a down payment on the salvation which is to come. At that instant he receives the hope of salvation or everlasting life and is in a state of waiting, having been rendered fit or qualified to participate in the future inheritance of the holy ones {Col 1:12-13}. Such a one can be said, proleptically, to have entered the kingdom.

Another sense in which it could be said that one enters the kingdom now, even though he does not literally or concretely experience the kingdom now, is to view it as a transfer of ones citizenship, and thus ones loyalty, from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God and his Messiah. Though he remains physically in this world he no longer belongs to it and his loyalties are no longer toward it. He begins to live according to his new loyalties even while still existing in enemy territory. He enters the kingdom in his heart long before he ever literally and physically enters it.

Is The Kingdom Of God Within Us?

The idea that the kingdom of God is a present reality, only internal and invisible rather than a visible, external reality, is derived from only one verse of Scripture:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”         Luke 17:20-21  NIV

Based on this verse alone, it is easy to see why someone might be inclined to understand the kingdom as a present internal reality. What is not as easy to see is why someone would believe this, in light of the abundance of Scriptures which present the kingdom of God as a literal, visible, concrete reality, in which we will physically participate. So does this passage contradict the other passages?

The first thing we need to look at is what Jesus means by “the kingdom does not come with careful observation.” This verse is translated in various ways by the different versions, usually in a way that makes Jesus contradict himself:

  • “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed.”   ESV
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable.”       CSB
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with a visible display.”                   ISV
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.”           NAS  NET

The problem with all of these translations is that they contradict what Jesus says elsewhere in the same gospel of Luke. In chapter 21 Jesus tells his disciples of the signs which will occur just prior to the establishment of the kingdom {vv.25-28} and encourages them with these words:

“When these things begin to take place, look up and lift up your heads, because your (i.e. Israel’s) redemption is drawing near… Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”    vv. 28 &31

Other versions attempt to avoid the apparent contradiction, such as the NIV quoted above. Jesus may be referring to some among the Pharisees who were wont to speculate on the times and seasons regarding the coming of the kingdom rather than that there would be no visible or observable manifestation of the kingdom. This is more in keeping with the fact that Jesus is answering a question regarding the timing of the kingdom’s arrival. Perhaps these Pharisees asked him this to see if he agreed with their speculations. Jesus’ answer points out the fact that the kingdom’s arrival cannot be mapped out based on a scrupulous observation of the times and seasons in relation to the prophetic utterances.

Jesus then goes on to make the enigmatic statement “the kingdom of God is within you.” Most recent versions and many recent commentators, seeking to escape another difficulty, prefer to translate the phrase as “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” The commentators tell us that the kingdom was in their midst or among them in that the king was in their midst, and where the king is, the kingdom is. But this is silly. The presence of the king does not necessitate the presence of the kingdom. The reason they prefer this translation is not because they do not believe that the kingdom was an already present reality at that time or that it is a spiritual, invisible kingdom, but because they see a difficulty with the fact that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, who are infamous in the gospels for their vehement opposition to Jesus. They do not see how Jesus could say to the Pharisees in particular “the kingdom is within you.” In other words, they don’t have a problem with the kingdom being an internal reality in believers, just not in the Pharisees, who are deemed for the most part to be unbelievers. While “in your midst” is an acceptable translation of the Greek adverb entos, the reasoning behind it’s use is still faulty.

One of the principal errors made in the interpretation of Jesus’ teachings is to see Jesus as the founder of the Christian religion and his teachings as his instruction to Christians. Perhaps it has never dawned on you before, but when Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee and Judea proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom and calling men to repentance, the Christian religion did not yet exist and there were no Christians for Jesus to teach. To read the gospels in this way is anachronism at it’s worst; it is to ignore the historical and cultural context in which the gospel narratives are set. First of all, Jesus had come only to the Jewish people {Matt. 15:24; 10:5-6; Acts 3:24-26} and never preached or taught the word of God to Gentiles. He was regarded as a Jewish rabbi and his teaching methods resembled that of other rabbis of the day. All of his disciples, as well as his larger audience, were all Jews. All of his teaching was grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures. So if we are to ever correctly understand Jesus’ words we must understand them within the historical and cultural context in which they were given. We must seek to understand them the way his first hearers would have understood them.

With this in mind, what might be a better way to take Jesus’ words “the kingdom of God is within you.” First, we can reject the idea that he meant that the kingdom is an invisible, internal, and spiritual concept, for no 1st century Jew would have understood him that way. But someone will say, “Well perhaps Jesus was correcting their wrong view of the kingdom.” The problem with that is that we can find plenty of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God that fits perfectly with the view of the kingdom which is derived from the prophetic writings, that of the literal, physical, restored kingdom of Israel (i.e the Hebraic view). Now I agree with the translators who translate the word as “in your midst,” that if Jesus were speaking to the Pharisees as individuals that he would certainly not be telling them that the kingdom was inside of each of them individually. And if he were speaking this about believers then why didn’t he say, “The kingdom of God is inside those who believe?” It is, therefore, more likely that the “you” in the phrase “the kingdom of God is within you” is referring to the nation or people of Israel rather than to either the Pharisees to whom he was speaking or to believers in general. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees but not as Pharisees, but as embodying the nation. The kingdom would not come from the outside, so that any Jew would have to tell another Jew, “Here it is” or “There it is.” The kingdom would arise from within the nation and people, and being contingent, would arise only upon their repentance and acceptance of Jesus as the Messianic king. When Jesus spoke these words the establishment of the kingdom was still a possibility for that generation, at least theoretically. It was within them to bring it about by meeting the conditions of repentance and faith.

Kingdom Of God = Heaven

There are passages which lead some people to think that ‘the kingdom of God‘ is synonymous with ‘heaven.’

1 Cor. 15:50 –  I declare to you brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does that which decays inherit that which will never decay. 

Some imagine that Paul is saying that we cannot go to heaven with these flesh and blood bodies, which must be replaced with spiritual bodies {v. 44}. But as we have seen in Part 1, the kingdom is a literal, physical kingdom on this earth and is never equated with heaven. Now because this kingdom is described in the prophetic word as an everlasting kingdom {1 Chron. 17:13-14; Is. 9:7; Dan. 7:18, 27; Micah 4:6-8; Lk. 1:32-33} it is necessary that those who shall be co-rulers in this kingdom with Messiah also be immortal beings.

Now I do believe that there will be mortal people who inhabit the earth during the kingdom age, but this does not necessarily contradict what Paul says here. There are two senses in which one can inherit the kingdom: as a ruler or as a subject. This only makes sense, for if believers are to rule with Messiah who will they be ruling over? It is only necessary for the rulers of the kingdom to be immortal and not the subjects. Paul’s statement has only the rulers in mind, obviously.

John 18:36 –  “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

Does Jesus mean that his kingdom is spiritual, or perhaps in heaven? We have seen that the kingdom of God = the kingdom of Messiah = the kingdom of Israel and that Jesus will sit on the throne of David {Lk. 1:32-33}. So how could he be saying that his kingdom is in heaven or is some kind of spiritual reality? The problem here stems from a misunderstanding of what the phrase “of this world” means. This has been wrongly interpreted to mean ‘my kingdom is not in this world.’ But this is clearly not what Jesus means. First of all, to be not of this world cannot mean to ‘not be a part of the created order‘ for then the apostles would not be a part of the created order {see Jn. 17:14-16}.

The Greek word kosmos (world) has a wide range of meaning, even quite contrary meanings. This is best illustrated by these two passages from John:

“For in this way God loved the world, that he gave his only son …”   John 3:16

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”   1 John 2:15

We can see from these two verses that kosmos cannot mean the same thing in both. Among the Greeks the word had the following meanings: Orderly arrangement, an ordered system, government, ornamentation, the whole created order (universe), and the earth. In the NT the word seems to have evolved to include in it’s range of meaning: humanity in general, humanity in opposition to God. John seems to me to have one meaning of the word which is peculiar to his gospel – the Jewish nation, people, and religious system, the then current Jewish polity. This meaning can be seen in the following passages: 1:10; 3:17,19; 7:4,7; 8:12; 8:26; 9:5; 9:39; 10:36; 12:19, 31, 46-47; 14:22, 27, 30-31; 15:19; 16:8, 11, 20; 17:6, 9, 14-23, 25; 18:20, 36-37. While for some of these verses this meaning may be disputed, most are rather evident.

So what I think Jesus was saying was, “Hey Pilate, don’t worry, my kingdom is not coming forth from this current Jewish state. If it were, my officers would have fought to prevent me from being delivered to the Jews. But at this time my kingdom is not from hence.” Understood in this way, this verse supports the concept of the postponement of the literal Davidic kingdom.

2 Tim. 4:18 –  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom …    NIV

Is Paul saying that the Lord will bring him safely into heaven upon his death? That is highly unlikely given Paul’s emphasis on the hope of the appearing of Messiah and the resurrection {Rom. 8:17-25; 1 Cor. 15:12-28, 46-55; 2 Cor. 5:1-5; Phil. 3:10-11, 20-21; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 4:13-17; 2 Thess. 1;10; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1; Titus 2:13}. There is no reason to doubt that Paul had retained in his thinking the Hebraic view of the kingdom rather than having replaced it with the Platonic view of a spiritual kingdom located in the heavens.

The slant of the translators can have an impact on how a verse is read. The phrase “will bring me safely” is represented by a single word in the Greek, sosei, the future indicative active form of the word sozo which means to save, to deliver, to preserve, to heal. Though the NIV’s translation is acceptable, it reflects the theological bias of the translators and/or editors. The commentary note on this verse in the 1985 NIV Study Bible says this: “heavenly kingdom. Heaven itself.” Since they believed Paul was speaking of going to heaven upon his death they translated the verse accordingly. But other versions offer alternative translations:

  • KJV, Douay Rheims  –  “will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom.
  • Jubilee Bible 2000, ISR –  “will save me for his heavenly kingdom.”
  • ASV, ERS –  “will save me unto his heavenly kingdom.”
  • Darby’s Translation, WEB –  “will preserve me for his heavenly kingdom.”
  • Webster’s Translation –  “will preserve me to his heavenly kingdom.”

These versions better convey the theology of Paul. Paul clearly expects to die soon {4:6-8} and is affirming his confidence that the Lord will strengthen him at his upcoming trial, as he did at his first defense, so that he will maintain his faith in and witness for Messiah and not fall to the temptation to deny the Lord to save his own life. That he and his converts would remain faithful to the end was Paul’s constant goal {1 Cor. 1:8; 9:24-27; Phil. 3:7-14; Col. 1:22-23; 1Thess. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:11-12}. This is also taught throughout the NT {Matt. 10:21-22, 32-33, 39; 24:12-13; Heb. 3:6, 12-14; 6:11-12; 10:35-39; James 1:12; 2 Pet. 1:10-11; 1 John 2:24-25; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 25-28; 3:5, 11-12, 21; 12:11}. Paul’s expectation was that, after his death, his next conscious experience would be at the resurrection where he would be given entrance into the kingdom. That he calls it “his heavenly kingdom” should not be construed to be a reference to heaven itself; the adjective does not necessitate that what is being spoken of is or ever has been actually in heaven, but denotes rather that God is the source and authority behind it {see Matt. 21:23-26; 1 Cor. 15:48; Heb. 3:1; 6:4; 11:13-16}.

Passages Which Seem To Imply The Kingdom Had Begun With Jesus’ Ministry

Matt. 12:28/Lk. 11:20“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God (Lk. – finger of God), then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

At first glance this seems to imply that the kingdom had already begun. But can something be said to have come upon someone without it actually or literally having taken place yet? Yes, I believe so. The above underlined phrase does mean, in it’s literal sense, that the thing in question has arrived or come. But there is also a figurative use of the phrase which uses it proleptically. In the LXX of the book of Daniel we find the same Greek phrase phthano epi at 4:24:

“… this is the interpretation of it, O king, and it is a decree of the Most high, which has come upon my lord the king.”

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him greatly. Daniel was called upon to interpret the dream which turned out to be a prophecy of judgment upon the king. In the above verse Daniel speaks of the content of the dream as having already come upon the king, yet we are told in vv. 28-29 that it did not literally take place until twelve months later.

Another example is found in 1 Thess. 2:16, which speaks of the Jerusalem leadership’s opposition to the gospel message which Paul proclaimed to the Gentiles. Paul says:

… they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them unto the end.

While it may be possible that some form of temporal wrath had come upon these men it is more likely that Paul is referring to the final wrath which is now stored up against them {see Rom. 2:5-9}. Yet Paul speaks of this wrath as having already come upon them, perhaps to express it’s certainty.

Jesus’ statement could be taken literally to say that the kingdom had already come but in light of the many passages which militate against that notion {e.g. Matt. 6: 10; 8:11-12; 13:34; 19:16-30; 25:34; Lk. 13:22-30; Acts 1:6-7} it is best to understand it figuratively, to be saying that “the kingdom is right at the door if you would but acknowledge me as the king.”

Matt. 5:3 & 10 –  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … 
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matt. 19:14 –  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

These passages do not require that the kingdom was a present reality when Jesus spoke these words or that it is even now a present reality. These passages are simply describing the kind of persons who will inherit the kingdom in the age to come. Those with the manifest characteristics set forth by Jesus in the beatitudes are the kind of people to whom the kingdom belongs and who will therefore participate in it when it arrives. Also, each beatitude describes a characteristic of persons in this present age followed by a promise of what they will receive in the kingdom, which is theirs in the age to come. Now note the third beatitude – the meek shall inherit the earth/land. This fits well with the literal, physical, Hebraic view of the kingdom but not with other views, such as that the kingdom is spiritual or internal or is heaven itself.

Matt. 11:12 –  “From the days of John the baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”   NIV

This verse is fraught with difficulties, but these difficulties are aided by a wrong view of the kingdom. One problem is that the Greek word biazetai can be taken as either a passive or middle voice. The middle voice would mean that the kingdom is forcefully advancing as the NIV indicates. The passive would mean that the kingdom is being subjected to violence or seized by violence. Some of the old expositors, who did not grasp the Hebraic view and the postponement of the kingdom, see it as the middle voice, and hence that the kingdom was forcefully progressing forward, i.e. growing and expanding. Others of the older expositors take it as passive in the positive sense that the kingdom was being taken by violence i.e. the people (the violent ones) were ardently and eagerly forcing their way into it. But they take this view because they believe that the kingdom was established at that time. In other words, one’s view of the kingdom is going to determine how one reads this verse.

Another way to understand the passive voice is that the kingdom is being subjected to violence, i.e. that the establishment of the kingdom is being met with violent opposition. This is reflected in the translation “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence” found in KJV, ESV, NASV, HCSB, NET, ERV, and ASV. Thayer, in his lexicon, states that this “agrees neither with the time when Christ spoke the words, nor with the context.” But that is a rather inane conclusion, for if one understands the Hebraic view of the kingdom and it’s postponement, due to the failure of the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the appointed king, then “the kingdom is being subjected to violence” does indeed agree with the timing and the context of Jesus’ words. What Jesus would then be saying is this: “Since the days of John the establishment of the kingdom of heaven has met with violent opposition (the Jerusalem leadership had not responded positively to John’s message and at the time of Jesus’ words John was in prison, having been arrested by Herod) and the violent ones (the Jerusalem leadership) are snatching it away (i.e. are the cause of it’s ultimate non establishment).” The context that follows bears out this interpretation. In vv. 16-19 Jesus speaks of how both John and himself have met with opposition from the leadership. This view is also confirmed by Jesus’ parable in Matt. 21 where the Jewish leaders are depicted as wicked tenants who conspire to kill the son (the chosen son of David) of the landowner that they may take his inheritance (the kingdom).

It is also possible to maintain the Hebraic view of the kingdom even if the verb is translated as a middle voice and would read, “the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing.” In this case Jesus would be saying that since the days of John the kingdom was forcefully moving toward being established because many ‘sinners’ were indeed repenting {see Matt. 21:31-32}, but violent ones (the Jewish leadership) were snatching it away from the people (by opposing the appointed heir to the throne).

Matt. 16:19 –  “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on the earth will be what has been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on the earth will be what has been loosed in heaven.”

The medieval portrayal of Peter standing at the gate of heaven with the keys, allowing or disallowing entrance to individuals, is, of course, ludicrous. It is important to note that the phrase is not “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” but “of the kingdom of heaven.” The keys are not for locking and unlocking the entrance to heaven or even to the kingdom in the age to come. The keys, rather, are the authority to enact and enforce the decisions of heaven in the earth (or possibly ‘the land‘ i.e. of Israel) in the kingdom age. Peter, along with the other eleven apostles, will be given such authority in the kingdom {Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30}. The error of church fathers of the past and of those today who follow their lead, is to think that the kingdom was established in the first century and hence the keys were given at that time. This eventually led to the establishment of the papacy of Rome with all of it’s inherent evils.

Lk. 9:27/Mk. 9:1 –  “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God [come with power].”   {see also Matt.16:28}

Presumably Jesus was speaking to his twelve apostles when he said this. That would mean that at least two, but less than twelve, of them would “see the kingdom of God” before they died. But does this require that the kingdom was actually established in their lifetime? First off, the words, taken literally would mean that the kingdom was not established during the ministry of Jesus, since all of the apostles, except Judas, lived on even after Jesus’ ascension. If some would not taste death before seeing  the kingdom of God then this means that some would taste death before seeing the kingdom come. This eliminates the possibility that the kingdom could have already come during Jesus’ ministry. But, if the words are taken literally, this would also mean that the kingdom had to have come at some point before all twelve apostles died. So it would have had to come sometime between 30 AD, when Jesus ascended to heaven, and when at least ten of the twelve disciples had died. You can see the problem if we take Jesus’ words literally.

The solution is simply to understand these words as referring to the transfiguration. We can understand Jesus to have meant, “Some are standing here who will not taste death before they get a glimpse of the kingdom of God coming with power.” All three synoptic gospels record the transfiguration immediately after these words of Jesus are recorded. Jesus took three of the twelve with him up on the mountain where, in a vision, they caught a glimpse of the majesty that shall be his when the kingdom comes with power. That this was the significance of the transfiguration vision is confirmed by Peter himself, one of the three who witnessed it:

We did not imitate cleverly invented stories when we declared to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Messiah, but we were spectators of his (future) majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the majestic glory, saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.       2 Peter 1:16-18

Romans 14:17 –  For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

This seems to imply that the kingdom is already a reality and that it is spiritual in nature rather than a literal, physical and material kingdom. I do not think that Paul meant that there is no eating and drinking associated with the kingdom as if there is no physical or material quality to the kingdom, especially in light of Matthew 8:11 and Luke 22:15-18. This should be understood in the same way as Jesus’ statement in John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures unto life everlasting.” Now no one would imagine that this statement should be taken at face value, for that would mean that we should not work for the material food we eat, a thought that is foreign to the rest of Scripture, but that we should work for spiritual food. Obviously, what Jesus means is that we should not make the pursuit of material food the main object of life; there is something of much greater importance we must be concerned with. This is a Semitic idiom in which one aspect of a thing is negated to lay stress on another aspect which is of greater importance. So while there will be eating and drinking in the kingdom of God, this is not the main thing of importance about the kingdom. Rather righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit will be the hallmarks of the kingdom. Therefore, in this age, as we are preparing for the kingdom age to come, it behooves us to emphasize and be about the more important ethical elements of the kingdom and not major on the minors.

Col. 1:12-13 –  … giving thanks to the Father, the one qualifying you for participation in the inheritance belonging to the holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us to the kingdom of the son of his love.

This passage makes it appear that we are already in the kingdom, and so some make the kingdom in this passage equivalent to the church. But if anything in this passage is to be equated with the church it is the word hagios which means ‘holy ones.‘ The inheritance spoken of in v. 12 is the kingdom in which we will physically participate in the age to come. That we have already been transferred to this kingdom is, once again, Paul’s use of proleptic language, wherein that which is ideally in the mind of God is spoken of as already a fact. There is certainly the sense in which our allegiance and loyalties have now been transferred from the former dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the son, for which we wait. Even now, in this present age, we should seek to manifest in our lives those ethical and spiritual principles which shall be the hallmark of the coming kingdom.

1 Thess. 2:12 –  … live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 

The kingdom into which God calls us is just as future to us as is the glory to which he calls us. The glory to which we are called is only our hope in this present age {Rom. 5:2; 8:18-25; Col. 1:27}, not a present reality. Likewise, the kingdom is our future hope for which we eagerly wait. Once again, the fact that we shall inherit the kingdom should affect the way we live now.

Hebrews 12:28 –  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…

The present participle should not be read to imply that the kingdom is being received by believers now. We often use present participles to speak of actions which are yet future. I might say to my wife who questions me as to why I am taking the luggage out of the closet,  “Since we are going on vacation I am checking to make sure the luggage is in working order.” This would not mean that we were at the time I said it, actually on our way to our vacation destination; in fact our vacation could still be two weeks out. Likewise, the meaning of the present participle in our passage should be understood like this: “Therefore, since we stand to receive a kingdom …”

Final Note

If there are any other passages that I did not address in this post, that you would like me to comment on, please let me know in either the comment section or by email. Thankyou!


Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

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