There is no doubt that the Kingdom of God was the theme of the preaching of Jesus when he was on earth nearly two thousand years ago. This book is an attempt to re-state the original meaning of his teaching on the subject, so that it can be put back into its rightful place at the centre of a Christian's life.
I am writing primarily for those who believe there is a God but cannot make sense of what is happening in the world, and are unsure if or how they have a part in what He is doing.
But I dare to hope that if unbelievers were to read these pages they would find in them evidence for the existence of a supremely wise and powerful God who has a plan for the earth and man that is now nearing completion, and so be led to think again about the Christian message.
What did Jesus say about the Kingdom of God?
On one occasion Christ's disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, and in response Jesus gave them the now familiar Lord's Prayer. In those few lines he made two references to the Kingdom of God. It was the very first thing he told them to ask for: "Thy kingdom come"; and it was also the concluding thought: "Thine is the kingdom .... for ever and ever" (Matthew 6:9-13).
This emphasis by Jesus on the Kingdom of God is confirmed by even a casual reading of the gospel records, where the
phrase repeatedly occurs. Indeed we find that the very purpose of Christ's preaching was to give information about this Kingdom. On one occasion some of his listeners asked him not to leave them, but he refused with the comment:
"I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent" (Luke 4:43).
On closer inspection we find that there are over one hundred references to the Kingdom of God in the gospel records alone, with more than another thirty in the rest of the New Testament.
Before commencing the detailed study that is the purpose of this book I would like to list a few of the things that the Bible associates with the Kingdom of God. They will give some clues to what is meant by the term.
1. The Kingdom of God was good news-for that is what the word gospel means:
"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23).
2. In Christ's day the kingdom was still in the future:
"He .... spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear" (Luke 19:11).
3. Just before the Kingdom comes there will be signs to indicate that it is near:
"So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (Luke 21:31).
4. When it arrives, certain people will enter into it and others will be excluded:
"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" (Matthew 26:29).
"We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
"There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:28-29).
"The works of the flesh are manifest .... they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).
5. Those who do enter the Kingdom will have to be changed in some way:
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 15:50).
"Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
6. The Kingdom was something Jesus advised his followers to seek as a matter of priority:
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33).
With references like this continually recurring throughout the New Testament, as well as a liberal sprinkling of them in Christ's Bible, the Old Testament, it could be expected that the Kingdom of God would be among the main planks of Church teaching today, that all members of its congregations would be aware of the importance of the subject, and have at least some idea of what the Kingdom of God is all about. Yet it is a sad fact that the vast majority of those claiming to be Christian would find it difficult to show what the Kingdom of God is, or what meaning it had for them personally-even though they daily pray: "Thy kingdom come".
A few would probably say that the Kingdom of God is a reign of grace in the heart of an individual believer, quoting the words of Jesus "The kingdom of God is within you". Some others might claim that the Church is God's Kingdom on earth, and that when the whole world has been converted to Christianity the Kingdom of God will finally have come. Yet a few more might say that the Kingdom of God is heaven, where He dwells and from whence He reigns, and to which the faithful go at death. But do these suggestions square with Christ's teaching?
A simple test is to substitute the proposed description in the Bible statements about the Kingdom of God. For example, you could re-read items 1-6 but every time 'kingdom of God' is mentioned you might replace it with 'a reign of grace in the heart'. Do the passages still make sense? Try it and see what you think. Try again using 'the Church' or 'heaven'. Do any of these fit all the references? If not, the ideas are suspect.
What this exercise tells us is that as the phrase 'the kingdom of God' is so common in the Bible we must look for an equally overall meaning for it. We must not look for its significance in some unusual, obscure, or remote sense, but so as to satisfy all the Bible references. There is a view that combines all the Scriptural allusions and makes the Kingdom of God the central theme of Christianity. Indeed, these pages will demonstrate that 'the kingdom of God' is used to describe the whole of God's plan for the earth and mankind.
Map of Babylonian Empire
In these days it is easy to forget what a kingdom was like in old times. Those to whom the Bible was originally given could readily define a kingdom from everyday experience. It was composed of four things: a territory, a ruler, people who were ruled, and laws to govern them.
In the Old Testament the kingdom of Israel, ruled by such kings as David and Solomon, was a kingdom in this sense, and it is very revealing that after the resurrection of Jesus the disciples showed that they regarded the Kingdom of God in a similar way. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we learn that in the brief interval between his resurrection and his ascension to heaven Jesus spoke to his disciples of "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Notice in passing the importance of this topic. Jesus spent his last few days on earth talking about it. The reaction of the disciples was to expect a literal Kingdom, such as the nation of Israel had been previously. "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?", they asked (Acts 1:6).
Is this an isolated example, or does the rest of the Bible support this view of the Kingdom of God?
Ever since the dawn of history men have organised themselves into groups and put other men in authority over them. Thus man rules man. This is as true of the ancient tribal chieftain as of the elected President of a modern super-power. Such a system of government, where man appears to control his own organisation and destiny is called in the Bible 'the Kingdom of Men'. Today this 'kingdom' is represented by all the various nations of the world of whatever political viewpoint. Human ideas are practised and human will enforced.
But very few people realise that the Kingdom of Men is under the hidden control of God. "The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:32). And the purpose of this behind-the-scenes control is to bring about a state of affairs in which God openly rules the world. In other words the Kingdom of Men will give place to the Kingdom of God.
Have you ever heard of Nebuchadnezzar? If there was a man and a regime that epitomised the Kingdom of Men it was this king who ruled over the New Babylonian Empire in about 600 B.C. Under his military and administrative genius a great empire was formed, such as the world had never seen before. Centred on the capital city of Babylon on the river Euphrates the empire extended in a huge arc round the northern perimeter of the Arabian desert, including in its territory countries known today as Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and parts of Egypt and Iran (see map on page 5). Over this area Nebuchadnezzar ruled as a despot, enforcing his will or whim by an efficient civil and military organisation. He completely rebuilt Babylon: its temples, palaces and private dwellings were enclosed by thick city walls of great height and strength. The Bible depicts him as saying "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). He exemplified the Kingdom of Men in his day!
But what has this to do with the Kingdom of God?
Just this! Nebuchadnezzar went to bed on one occasion wondering what would happen to his kingdom after he had died. That very night God answered his thoughts by giving him a synopsis of world events that covered the next 2500 years. This information was conveyed to the king in a dream, and you will find the event described in the book of Daniel chapter 2.
In the dream Nebuchadnezzar was caused to see a great metallic statue that towered into the sky in dazzling magnificence. An unusual feature of this statue was that each section of it was made of a different kind of metal. The illustration gives an artist's impression of the statue.
This was the sequence of metals:
Breast and arms Silver
Belly and thighs Brass
Feet A mixture of iron and clay
Puzzled about the meaning of this strange sight, Nebuchadnezzar asked Daniel, a Jewish prophet who was in exile in Babylon, to explain its meaning.
By God's guidance Daniel said that the statue represented different phases that the Kingdom of Men would go through. The golden head stood for Nebuchadnezzar himself and the Babylonian Empire over which he ruled:
"Thou art this head of gold" (Daniel 2:38).
After the Babylonian empire there would arise three more empires in the Kingdom of Men, represented by the sequence of the three other metals:
"And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron" (Daniel 2:39-40).
History has shown that this prediction was completely accurate. The Babylonian empire gave way to the Persian empire in about 540 B.C. This corresponds to the breast and arms of silver. After 210 years the Greeks defeated the Persians and took control of the Kingdom of Men. This Greek empire was the largest, stretching from the Aegean Sea to the borders of India. As Daniel said, it would "bear rule over all the earth"-not the entire globe as we know it, but certainly over most of the then-known civilised world. The choice of metal was appropriate. Brass, or bronze, was the distinguishing feature of the Grecian armies. The 'brazen-coated Greeks' are legendary.
Next on the world scene came the Romans, who took over from the Greeks to become the representatives of the Kingdom of Men. Again the choice of metal was a good one. 'Strong as iron' is the saying, and certainly the Roman empire was the strongest, most efficient and ruthless that the world had ever seen.
The significance of the main components of the statue can be summarised as follows:
|Head of Gold||Babylonian Empire||BC 610-540*|
|Breast and arms of silver||Persian Empire||BC 540-330|
|Belly and thighs of brass||Greek Empire||BC 330-190|
|Legs of iron||Roman Empire||BC190- AD 475|
*all dates approximate
The Roman empire continued until the 5th century AD., but unlike the previous ones it was not replaced by another major empire. Instead it gradually disintegrated in the face of attacks by northern tribes such as the Goths and the Huns. The absence of a fifth empire had already been predicted by Daniel 1000 years before. The iron legs of the statue gave way to feet that were a mixture of strong and weak material, iron and clay. Let Daniel himself explain what this foretold:
"The kingdom (i.e. the Roman empire) shall be divided .... And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly brittle" (Daniel 2:41-42, margin).
This has proved completely true. Ever since the end of the Roman empire there has never been a power in the Kingdom of Men that has wielded complete authority over the major part of the world. Many have tried to do so and failed. Instead there has always been an unstable mixture of weak and strong nations, and this still applies today. Incidentally, this means that any hope of world domination by one of today's super-powers is merely a pipe dream.
It is clear that this God-given dream of Nebuchadnezzar was an important revelation to mankind. Its object was not to satisfy the king's curiosity, but to inform all future generations that God is in control of world events. Whilst superficially it appears that man is supreme in the Kingdom of Men, he can only operate within the limits set by the King of Heaven.
Could this detailed prediction of 2500 years of world history have been written by a mere man? Is guesswork or a hunch a satisfying explanation of its uncanny accuracy? If not, is it unreasonable to take the record at its face value and admit that, as Daniel said on this occasion:
"There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets" (Daniel 2:28).
You might say, "Yes indeed this is an astounding prophecy, but what has it to do with the Kingdom of God?"
God's revelation to Nebuchadnezzar did not stop at showing him this extraordinary metallic statue. As the dream continued he saw another amazing thing. From a nearby mountain a piece of stone was being chiselled out. Gradually this stone became separated from the mother rock until at last it was free. What impressed the king was that this was done without the hand of man being involved in the quarrying.
Then came the dramatic finale to the dream.
This newly cut stone suddenly hurtled through the air towards the statue and struck it with resounding force on its feet. The great mass of metal shuddered and shook, and then the whole statue collapsed to the ground in a heap. So devastating was the crash, and so pulverised were the fragments of broken metal that when a strong wind arose all the remains of the statue were blown away, and the only thing left was the small stone that had caused all the damage.
As Nebuchadnezzar watched he saw the stone change shape. It was growing! It increased to the size of a boulder, grew bigger to become a huge rock, then bigger still until it was like a hill. Even then it did not stop growing, becoming at last a mountain filling the whole earth.
You have probably realised the implications of the second part of this dream. The destruction of the statue means that human rulership over the earth is to be suddenly taken away! If you are inclined to dismiss this as impossible, remember the accurate fulfilment of the first part of the prophecy: the correct sequence of four world empires, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, and the absence of a fifth empire but instead a world mixture of strong and weak nations. Reason demands that we accept the whole of the prophecy, not only the first part. The fact that the first part came to pass is a guarantee that the rest will follow.
And this immediate impression that the destruction of the statue represents the removal of the Kingdom of Men is correct. Let Daniel himself tell us:
"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" (Daniel 2:44).
This is one of the most revealing verses in the whole of the Bible, packed with information about the Kingdom of God. We will look in a little more detail at what it is saying.
"In the days of these kings"
Which kings? The stone hit the statue on the feet composed of iron and clay, representing the fragmented state of the world after the decline of the Roman empire. This has been the condition of the world for the last 1500 years or so, including the present day. So we live in the epoch when the stone will strike and the statue fall.
"The God of heaven set up a kingdom"
The kingdoms that fell and were removed were on earth. Similarly the Kingdom of God will be on earth. There is nothing to suggest that this divine Kingdom will be any less literal than the Kingdom of men it will replace. The stone-the Kingdom of God-grew until it filled the earth, not heaven.
"It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms"
Human government of the earth, represented by the four empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, and the divided state of the world since, will be removed completely. There is no suggestion in the prophecy of a gradual transition from the Kingdom of Men to the Kingdom of God. The changeover will be sudden, violent, and complete. The shattered remains of human rule will be blown away so that "no place was found for them".
"It shall not be left to other people"
The splendour of Babylon passed on to Persia its conqueror. Persia in turn yielded its rule and territory to Greece, and Greece to Rome. The Kingdom of God will be different. Once established it will be permanent, never ceding its authority or domain to a successor. Other phrases in the verse confirm this: "It shall never be destroyed", and "it shall stand for ever".
The agency of destruction of the Kingdom of Men in the prophecy was a stone hewn out without human hands. By comparison with other parts of Scripture this can be seen as a clear reference to Jesus Christ. On one occasion Jesus, no doubt with this dream of Nebuchadnezzar in mind, likened himself to a stone provided by God that would one day crush and grind to powder all opposition:
"Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? .... And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matthew 21:42,44).
Jesus, although hewn from the rock of common humanity in the sense that he was born of a human mother, was not produced by the normal process of conception but by the direct action of God's power upon Mary. In this way it could truly be said that he was cut out by no human hand.
Thus the work of the stone in removing the statue is a representation of the mission of Jesus to set up the world wide Kingdom of God. It therefore follows that the Kingdom he preached at his first coming is identical with the Kingdom of God foretold by Daniel.
In this chapter we have looked at fundamental points about the Kingdom of God found in the Bible. They are of course only the main outlines on a large canvas, and we have a lot of detail to fill in from other Bible passages before we get the whole picture in its amazing beauty. However, the general design is clear:
- Jesus' mission was to preach the Kingdom of God.
- Many New Testament references indicate that this will be a literal Kingdom on earth, and that Christ's true followers will be invited to have some part in it.
- God's Kingdom will replace all existing governments, grow to become world wide, but never come to an end.
- God has provided Jesus as the one who will set up this Kingdom.
For more information please contact: The Christadelphians