Is the Kingdom of God real? Where is it going to be established? When will it come? How can we prepare for it?
What is the Kingdom of God? It is the central theme of Jesus’ teaching and the foundational message of the Church founded by Him through His disciples. As Mark explains in his Gospel account, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”
The gospel of the Kingdom of God
Matthew and Luke likewise record that Jesus’ message was the “gospel” or “glad tidings” of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:23; Luke 8:1). Even though Matthew referred to it as “the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 5:3, 10, 19-20) and Paul once called it “the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5), the predominant name in Scripture is “the kingdom of God.”
Jesus consistently taught this same message of hope—“gospel” means good news—of the Kingdom throughout His ministry. His parables—stories with spiritual lessons—often dealt with this Kingdom, which God the Father and His Son had prepared prior to the existence of man at “the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34). In the Kingdom parables, Jesus explained what we must do to enter the Kingdom and what conditions will be like in it. Many of the Old Testament prophets had written of this Kingdom while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
After training His 12 disciples, Jesus sent them out “to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). After His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared before His disciples and continued “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Later, Paul likewise described his ministry as preaching “the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:24) and referred to his fellow ministers as “workers for the kingdom of God” (Colossians 4:11).
A literal or a figurative kingdom?
What is the Kingdom of God—a literal or a figurative kingdom? While it is generally understood that the message Jesus preached was that of the Kingdom of God, the question as to whether this Kingdom is literal or figurative is more complicated. Since Jesus came preaching that the Kingdom was “at hand” (Mark 1:15), some think it is literally here on earth via the Church or figuratively in our hearts. Others, recognizing that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50), say it is not yet here.
Acknowledging the difficulty in understanding this part of His message, Jesus termed it a “mystery.” Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them’” (Mark 4:11-12).
So what did the disciples understand? What did Jesus and the prophets foretell? A careful study of the Scriptures provides clarity.
- The Kingdom of God is a literal kingdom. God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream of an image of a man with a head of gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. God revealed the meaning of the dream through Daniel, showing that there would be four world-ruling empires (Daniel 2:31-43). History has shown these to be the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greco-Macedonian and Roman empires.
Concluding this explanation, Daniel wrote: “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (verse 44). The Kingdom of God will thus replace the governments of this earth.
- The Kingdom of God will be established on earth when Jesus returns. The time that the Kingdom is established will be after Christ’s return to earth. Revelation 11:15 states: “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’” Jesus told His disciples that when the Kingdom was established, they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28, also compare Luke 22:30).
- We prepare for the Kingdom by living according to the rules of the Kingdom now. Explaining how one might enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be “born again” (John 3:1-8). This process begins with baptism, which signifies the death of the former sinful man and the beginning of a new life dedicated to Christ (Romans 6:1-5). It culminates in a change from mortal flesh and blood to immortal spirit at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15:50-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Once we embark on this process, we are symbolically “conveyed” into the Kingdom (Colossians 1:13) and our “citizenship” is now described as being in heaven (Philippians 3:20). At the completion of the process of being born again, we will be changed into immortal beings and become kings and priests serving in God’s Kingdom on earth (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10). For a more in-depth explanation, see our article “What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?”
Now that you know what the Kingdom of God is, you need to understand how to follow Jesus’ command to seek this Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Your task is to learn what God’s laws are and then to begin living in accordance with the rules of that Kingdom.
Be sure to read “‘The Kingdom of God Is Within You’—What Did Christ Mean?” and “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.”