IF ONE WERE TO SUMMARIZE THE MINISTRY OF OUR SAVIOR ON EARTH, it would be difficult to dismiss the strong and repeated emphasis on the Kingdom of God. In fact, it was in the early part of His ministry that we are informed He began to proclaim but one central message: Matt. 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND.”
How ironic and sad it is, that most Christians seem neither to proclaim, nor understand what Christ meant by the synonymous terms, “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” Although seldom understood by the layman, there are three major contrasting views on the Divine Kingdom held within Christendom today:
Amillennialism: A Spiritualized Kingdom, which has already been realized in the Church.
Postmillennialism: The Church will become the Kingdom as it witnesses and converts the world.
Premillennialism: The Kingdom is delayed until a future age after the conversion of the Jews.
Amillennialism teaches that the Kingdom spoken of is only a Spiritual reign of Christ in the present Christian Church; thus, the Kingdom is only in existence now in this age, not in any future age. Premillennialism, in contrast, teaches nearly the exact opposite: Neither the present Christian Church, nor the present age, constitutes the Kingdom of God; the Divine Kingdom awaits a coming age, which will see Christ’s physical return to rule on earth in person with His saints. It is obvious that both views cannot be entirely true, because of their contradictions. The question remains: Is the Kingdom of God a present reality, or a future hope?
Interestingly enough, one Bible professor, Stanley J. Grenz, in his book, “The Millennial Maze,” has insightfully commented, “It is most probably not the case that one view is solely correct and biblical, whereas the others are totally false.” (pg. 24) He advises that we see the strengths and weaknesses of each system, and “move the entire question to a deeper level.” Grenz has a good point, for there are things we can agree with in each system.
A DEEPER LEVEL OF UNDERSTANDING
With Amillennialism, we agree that the Kingdom of God is not entirely absent from the earth during this present age of the church. The kingdom exists where Divinity dwells:
Matt. 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Other Scripture passages also assure us of the present reality of the Divine Kingdom: Matthew 16:28; Luke 17:21; Col. 1:13; Revelation 1:6. In addition, the Christian Church is already enjoying some of the Old Testament blessings predicted of the Kingdom of God: regeneration (Ezek. 36:24-38), forgiveness of sins (Isa. 55:4-7), justification by faith alone (Jer. 23:6), and the Holy Spirit coming upon men (Joel 2:27-28). In fact, some of these “Kingdom blessings” have been available at least since the time of Abel in the Garden of Eden (Heb. 11:4). Not only Christ before His Ascension, but Paul also was engaged in “preaching the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 28:30-31) If the Kingdom was postponed to a future age, neither Christ nor Paul would have been able to preach it as a present reality. Indeed, we must agree that the Kingdom of God is not entirely absent and future!
With Postmillennialism, we agree that the Kingdom of God is growing in size in the earth, over a period of time, and from an almost imperceptible beginning.
Matt. 13:31-32, “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”
In the next verse we are told that the Kingdom is like leaven. This is also particularly symbolic of growth, as leaven works particle by particle until it pervades the whole. Other Scripture passages also describe the sure and continuous growth of the Kingdom, until it fills the whole earth. (Matt. 25:6, 19; 28:19-20; Mark 4:31-32; Luke 13:29; 17:20; 21:24; Rom. 11:25-26)
With Premillennialism, we agree that the Kingdom has a future literal, earthly phase, in which our Savior will be physically present:
Mat 26:29, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
The obvious inference here is that this stage of the Kingdom was not a present reality, but awaited a future day when Christ would be physically present with them again. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:50 places this event after the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” When the disciples “supposed that the Kingdom of God was immediately to appear” (Luke 19:11), Christ presented the parable of a nobleman who journeyed to “a far country” to receive a Kingdom, a time-consuming event. Similarly, in the parable of the ten virgins, the bridegroom came after a long delay (Matt. 25:6), and in the parable of the talents it was “after a long time” that the Lord of these servants returned. Other passages also clearly indicate that there is a literal, future aspect to Christ’s Kingdom: Matt. 13: 41-43, 49; Rom. 14:17; II Tim. 4:1; I Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:21; Jas. 2:5
ETERNAL NATURE OF THE KINGDOM
Therefore, all three of the competing interpretations of the kingdom of God have significant truth to them, and significant Scriptural support; yet all fall short of recognizing the truth in the others’ systems. Each of them limits the Kingdom of God to a short time-frame, either to this present church age, or bound entirely to a 1,000 year age to come. Instead, the Bible speaks of the Kingdom of God as eternal: unbound, unlimited, and everlasting!
Dan 4:3, 34-35, “How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation….and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”
There is no hint here of God’s Kingdom being limited to either a short Church age now or to a thousand years later. When we limit God’s Dominion to only one age, we weaken His authority and deny His timeless sovereignty. Notice above that the words “dominion” and “kingdom” are used interchangeably. In the passage above, the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, recognized that God had the dominion even at that time in history. No other ruler, no matter his apparent power, has any real “dominion,” for Yahweh has dominion at all times over all nations. Because our God is sovereign, earthly kings rule at His Will. That may not always seem apparent, but it is true. It is a mustard seed nation, which at first is almost unnoticeable to humans, yet grows to become the greatest of kingdoms, until it rules the whole earth.
THE REVEALING OF THE KINGDOM
Daniel was given a tremendous prophecy, which put the final earthly, perfected phase of God’s kingdom into an historical time-frame. In chapter two, four kingdoms are prophesied using the symbols of gold, silver, brass, and iron. (verses 32 and 33) Bible scholars agree that these symbolize the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. But following these earthly human kingdoms would be an earthly Divine Kingdom:
Dan 2:44, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
The Kingdom of God remains a great secret to many; especially those who cannot fathom the Sovereignty of God and His Eternal Dominion. But that Dominion, on earth since Eden, will continue growing in visible might and power, until it cannot be ignored. Then will begin the visible, physical phase of Christ’s Kingdom.
The same four human kingdoms of Daniel chapter two, appear again in chapter seven, this time symbolized as beasts. Here, we read:
Dan 7:27, “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”
The fact that all nations will serve and obey Christ indicates that the Kingdom has not finished growing in visible power and might yet! Therefore, the present Christian Church may be considered the Spiritual phase of the Kingdom, but cannot by itself be all there is to that Kingdom. There is more to come!
THE PHASES OF THE KINGDOM
Few stop to consider that the Kingdom of God is to be found throughout the pages of Scripture. The Garden of Eden was God’s perfect domain, where he dwelled among our first ancestors. That Garden was not only a foretaste of the Kingdom spoken of in the Book of Revelation, it was actually an early phase of the Divine Kingdom itself, or God’s reign among mankind.
Later, God dwelled among men in the Tabernacle in the wilderness. We are told that the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle was God’s specific dwelling place at that time. Following that period, God dwelled in the Temple at Jerusalem. Exodus 19:6 tells us that God designated Israel as the Kingdom People, “a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” It was a Theocracy, or rule by God. This might be referred to as, THE PRIESTLY OR PASSOVER PHASE of the Kingdom of God. After the fall of Jerusalem, the royal line of Judah probably did not see its end, as the prophet Jeremiah took the daughters of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, along with the Ark of the Covenant, and fled according to tradition to another part of the earth where their descendants dwell and reign to this day.
In 2 B.C. came the birth of the promised Messiah. But being crowned King of an earthly Kingdom was not yet His Purpose at that time in history. As His Crucifixion drew near, He declared:
John 14:16-18, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, has a Spiritual reign in the lives of God’s people during this church age. Again, where God dwells is His Kingdom and Dominion. Some may deny the work of the Holy Spirit among us, but God did not leave us “comfortless,” even for an instant. This present reign of the Holy Spirit may be called the SPIRITUAL PHASE of the Kingdom, and began with signs on the day of Pentecost.
The Amillennialist tells us that the Kingdom ends as this age comes to a close and is succeeded by “the eternal state.” Yet Scripture indicates that there are actually not one, but two or more ages (plural) yet to come before any “eternal state.” (Ages ‘to come’ are not yet here.)
Eph 2:7, “That in the AGES TO COME he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
Mention of these ages appears in Revelation chapter 20 (the “thousand years” or Millennium) and chapter 21 (the “New Heavens And Earth.”) But it is not correct (as the Amillennialists teach) that the Book of Revelation contains the only Scriptural references to future Kingdom ages. Luke also says,
Luke 1:31, “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.”
Luke 1:32, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:”
Luke 1:33, “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Notice that it is a literal earthly throne from which Christ will reign; David was a literal person who reigned on literal earth, not in heaven. This fact is often dismissed as “British-Israelism.” That may be so, but it is also Scripture! Second, Christ’s Kingdom is again said to last “forever…of His Kingdom there shall be no end.” Where then do some get the idea that the Kingdom comes to an end with the Church age? The symbolism in the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles pointed to this time period, so these future ages of the Kingdom may be termed the Tabernacles phase.
Thus we see the truth that at every time in history, the Kingdom of God was in existence in some form, at some place on the earth. Otherwise, the Old and New Testament writers could not have called it an Everlasting Kingdom!
ISRAEL: A SOURCE OF CONFUSION
What is the reason for the immense confusion over the nature and timing of the Kingdom of God? The answer can be summed up in one word: ISRAEL. Whoever you conceive Israel to represent (whether spiritual or literal), will affect your view of the Kingdom, because the nucleus of the Kingdom is Bible Israel. In other words, your concept of the identity of the Kingdom People will reveal your view of the nature of the Kingdom itself. For example, many say that the modern Jewish people constitute God’s Israel. But since they have rejected the Savior, Jesus Christ, it would be a logical conclusion that God must not be working with them until some later time, evidently a later age, and therefore the Kingdom is postponed until that time. This is the view of Premillennialism.
If instead you believe in a Spiritual-Israel found in the modern-day Christian Church, then logically you would be likely to embrace Amillennialism or Postmillennialism, which teach that the Kingdom is to be found in the Church. These views state that God divorced racial Israel for their unbelief, and has permanently replaced them with “Spiritual-Israel,” the Christian Church.
Finally, if you believe that the Caucasian people of Christendom constitute the literal descendants of the lost ten tribes of the House of Israel, and are therefore the nucleus of both physical and “Spiritual Israel,” then you would logically accept an Eternal Kingdom not limited to one age. For if Israel did accept Christ as their Savior, then God is continuing to work through them, both now and in future ages, without any interruption in the Divine Kingdom or Plan. We believe that this, in fact, is the teaching of the Scriptures. This interpretation we call the Kingdom-Covenant view.
All other Millennial interpretations teach that the ancient Israel Kingdom theocracy (rule by God) ended by the close of the Old Testament, either temporarily (Premillennialism) or permanently (Amillennialism and Postmillennialism), to be substituted by the Church. In contrast, the Bible identifies the Church with Israel, for the Old Testament Kingdom is called, “the church in the wilderness.” (Acts 7:38) Dr. Charles Hodge remarked, “There is no authorized definition of the Church which does not include the people of God under the Mosaic Law.” National Israel is closely identified with the Church; for Israelites, God’s sheep, were the nucleus of the Church.
AN EVERLASTING KINGDOM THROUGHOUT HISTORY
The late pastor, Claud Coffin, in his booklet, “God’s Emerging Kingdom” pointed out, “The Christian age began with the statement of John the Baptist, and that of our Lord Himself, that “the Kingdom of God is at hand”; that is, already present. (Mark 1:14-15). Our Lord’s whole teaching ministry was concerned with varying phases, or stages, of its development.” God’s Kingdom is everlasting, but it is manifest in a series of stages throughout history. The Old Testament Passover Phase found Israel a Kingdom of Priests. With the advent of the Holy Spirit came the Spiritual Phase. This will be followed by the Tabernacles Phase, with Christ tabernacling on earth with His Redeemed. These three phases of the Kingdom are also typified in the three ancient feasts of Israel: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The question before us may therefore be reduced to its simplest form: Do we proclaim that the Kingdom of God is everlasting -yesterday, today, and tomorrow? Or do we deceive ourselves into limiting that everlasting Kingdom to a Church age now or a so-called Jewish age later?