What do we really know about the Kingdom of God?
Although Jesus spent most of his earthly ministry teaching about the kingdom of God, it’s rare today to hear sermons on it or find books dedicated to it. But since the kingdom of God is one of the main themes of the Bible, it’s important to understand what it is and its significance. As Christians, we are citizens of God’s kingdom even now, and much of what Jesus taught about the kingdom relates to how we should live our lives as servants of the King. Below, we’ll look at how the kingdom began, what kingdom life should look like now, and how the kingdom will unfold in the future.
The Origin of the Kingdom
The story of humanity begins in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. There, we read how God created the heavens and earth, and a multitude of creatures to inhabit the earth, including the first man and woman. These chapters reveal that God is the ultimate authority in the universe—its King. By his own free choice, he decides what kind of beings to create, and when it comes to Adam and Eve, he tells them what they should and shouldn’t do (e.g., Genesis 1:28; 2:15-17). God is the king and Adam and Eve—and their future descendants—are his servants. We should also note that God gave them the important and high-ranking job of taking care of and developing his creation.
For a time, Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony with God and each other in the garden. Despite having just one rule to obey—not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempted them, and they chose to rebel against God’s command (Genesis 3:6-7). By committing this act, Adam and Eve also created a rival kingdom, a kingdom in which human beings would make themselves the highest authority and live in darkness rather than light. The apostle Paul describes this devolution in the book of Romans:
For although they [humanity] knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. . . . They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21, 25).
Yet God, in his mercy, launched a rescue plan to remove the barrier of sin that divided us from him, and to eventually restore his original plan for creation—a perfect environment in which humans would love and serve God and each other. A return to one King and one kingdom.
In a somewhat mysterious prophecy that wouldn’t be fully understood until much later, God promised that a son of Eve would one day destroy Satan’s work and, by implication, restore what had been lost (Genesis 3:15). It wasn’t until God came to earth as a human being, as Jesus of Nazareth, that it was revealed that Jesus was this descendant of Eve who would save humanity and defeat Satan once and for all (1 John 3:8). With the arrival of Jesus, the plan to restore God’s kingdom entered a new phase.
The Kingdom Now
When Jesus was born, the nation of Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire, and most Israelites longed to be free of their influence. Many were looking for the Messiah who had been promised in the Old Testament—a king who was a descendant of David who would restore the kingdom that David once ruled (e.g., 2 Samuel 7:8-17; Isaiah 11).
However, God had a different plan. The restored kingdom described in the Old Testament would eventually come, but first God would create a new community of born-again believers, the church, who would take the message of God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Because of this, biblical scholars sometimes refer to the timing of God’s kingdom as “already/not yet.” That is, the kingdom has already begun, in a sense, with the arrival of Jesus, but will not reach its completion until Jesus returns and reigns on earth (“not yet”).
In Jesus’ life and ministry, we see a sneak preview of what the future kingdom will be like. Jesus healed the sick, defeated Satan by casting out demons, and overcame death through his resurrection. We’ll say more about the future kingdom below, but in all of these ways Jesus foreshadowed the glorious nature of God’s coming reign in which sickness, death, and Satan will be no more.
But Jesus also wanted to equip his followers to live as citizens of the kingdom in the here and now, and much of this teaching is captured in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Whole books have been written on this message, and there’s a great deal that could be said, but here we’ll note just a handful of characteristics of what kingdom life should look like today.
For one, Jesus explains the kind of people who are blessed in this “already” phase of the kingdom. Among others, he mentions the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, as well as those who are persecuted for following him.
Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Our lives shine in the darkness of the world, and we keep it from descending into further corruption, just as salt was used to preserve food.
Jesus also emphasized that the state of our hearts and minds are as important as our external actions. Not only should we not murder, we should also not be angry with someone apart from a righteous reason. We should do all that we can to live in peace with those around us.
We should show love to those who oppose us, not make a show of our righteous acts, and store up treasure in heaven rather than on earth.
All of this runs contrary to the ways of the world, and to the sinful nature that still exercises influence within us, but these are the ways of the King that we should emulate and implement by the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 22-26).
The Future Kingdom
When Jesus returns, he will complete the work that he began during his earthly ministry. Though he came the first time to save humanity from our sins and to defeat Satan through the cross, when he returns, he will come as a conqueror (Revelation 19:11-16). All of God’s enemies will be defeated, including Satan, and even death (Revelation 20:10, 14). As Paul writes,
[T]he end will come . . . when he [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)
With his enemies defeated, God will create a new heavens and a new earth, unaffected by sin. The paradise lost by Adam and Eve will be restored. All of the evils that resulted from the rebellion of the first couple will be no more—sickness, sadness, suffering, and death. God’s people will enjoy perfect harmony with their King and each other. As God declares to the apostle John at the end of the book of Revelation,
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).
At long last, there will once again be one King and one kingdom, one that will last forever.