You’ve undoubtedly heard sermons and sung songs about the kingdom of God. In fact, every time you recite the Lord’s Prayer you’re asking that His kingdom come. But what did Jesus mean? Since today we speak of nations and countries, the concept of a kingdom may seem foreign to us, yet it’s spoken of throughout Scripture.
For instance, both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; Matt. 4:17). Yet when the Pharisees questioned Christ regarding when the kingdom of God would come, He said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed . . . For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21). However, a few chapters later Jesus described certain signs, saying, “When you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31).
It’s no wonder there is so much confusion about this subject. Therefore, to gain an accurate understanding, we must answer four basic questions. First, what is the kingdom of God? The word kingdom refers to both the territory and the ruling authority of God. Although He is the sovereign Ruler over everything in heaven and on earth, there is a specific realm in which He reigns over His subjects, those who are a part of His kingdom (Ps. 46:2-6).
When Jesus said the kingdom of God was at hand and that it was in their midst, He was announcing that He, the King, was now on earth. Although He was rejected by the Jews and crucified by the Romans, His kingdom hadn’t failed but was set up in the hearts of those who believed in Him.
At present, there are two spiritual kingdoms in operation in this world—the dominion of darkness and the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). Those in the realm of darkness are in bondage to sin and live under Satan’s authority. This is the domain in which every human is born because we are all sinful. But God put a plan in place through His Son to rescue those in darkness and transfer them to His kingdom.
This leads to the second question: How does one enter God’s kingdom? Jesus Christ came to bear the sins of mankind on the cross and suffer their punishment so that those who trust in His death as payment for their sins may be forgiven. At that moment, they are snatched out of the realm of darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom.
Jesus explained it this way: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He was talking about regeneration by the Holy Spirit, which accompanies salvation. In our sinful condition we are not fit for God’s kingdom; therefore, we must be made into new creations with new hearts and spirits. As these new creations, along with believers from all over the world and throughout time, we become the people of this kingdom of light and make up what we call “the whole church.”
The third question is: Once we become citizens, how are we to be involved in this kingdom? Though we live on earth, our citizenship is in heaven. This world is not our home so we shouldn’t adopt the values and practices of the domain of darkness. Our King is Christ, and He has told us, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). We do this by submitting to His authority, living according to biblical principles, and seeking to grow in our love and knowledge of Him. As God’s people, our hope is not in this life but in an imperishable inheritance reserved in heaven for us (1 Pet. 1:3-4).
The fourth question is: What is our responsibility to those outside the kingdom? Jesus hasn’t left us here simply to pass the time until we can enter heaven. Our King entrusted us with a message to proclaim (Matt. 28:19-20). As we take the gospel of salvation to the world, one by one God adds those who are being saved to His kingdom. Our job is to point the way by telling them what Jesus has done to bridge the gap of sin between man and God.
Disciples making disciples is part of God’s plan for populating His kingdom, but ultimately it’s His work. We have no power to save anyone, but we do have the truth, which God uses to open minds and hearts to believe in Christ. Our responsibility is to be faithful and use every opportunity God provides to demonstrate His love by telling others how to become citizens of this glorious kingdom.
Right now we are living in the age of grace in which God is calling more and more people into His kingdom. Although at present this is a spiritual realm, one day it will become physical when Jesus returns to set up His glorious kingdom on earth. This is what we are asking God to do each time we pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). There will come a day when the kingdom of this world will become “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever” (Rev. 11:15). Until then, let’s be faithful.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I am so grateful for partners like you, and my hope is that you have been blessed by In Touch Ministries and the teaching of God’s Word. Together we are all a part of God’s glorious kingdom, and that’s a great comfort. Even though life may be difficult right now, our future kingdom is coming, and all will be made right.