The Kingdom of God

R.R. Byrum

The expression “kingdom of Christ” is identical in meaning with “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven.” As it is used in the New Testament it means the spiritual kingdom of God, as distinguished from God’s rule over the universe or the kingdom of literal Israel. The kingdom of God, as to its subjects, is identical with the church. It is the rule of God in the hearts of His people.

The question of the kingdom of Christ, especially the nature and time of the establishment of the kingdom, is determinative of the scripturalness of premillenarianism. That theory rests on the assumption that the kingdom is an earthly, material kingdom, and that its establishment is yet future and to take place at the second advent. If it can be shown that the kingdom of God is a spiritual, not a literal kingdom, and that it is already in existence, having been established at the first coming of Christ, then the theory of premillenarianism is disproved, not only in these two particulars, but also in all its other aspects, which have these for their basis.

Nature of Christ’s Kingdom

Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” John 18:36. This is a clear statement as to what the kingdom of Christ is not. It is not a political and materialistic kingdom with certain geographical territory and which needs to be upheld by the power of human arms and war. Jesus acknowledges by using the present tense “is” that He has a kingdom, but it is a heavenly, spiritual kingdom.

The Jews expected the Messiah to set up a material, earthly kingdom. It was with that in mind that the Pharisees came to inquire of Jesus. “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20, 21. Jesus here clearly teaches that His kingdom is not of such a nature that it may be seen outwardly, but is spiritual in its nature.

It already existed, as is evident from His use of the present tense, but it is within men’s hearts and does not consist in material things. Here Jesus specifically sought to correct the misconception of these inquirers that the Messianic kingdom was a literal one. How strange that men today contradict His plain statement by affirming that His kingdom is materialistic in its nature! Paul also taught likewise against the idea of a material kingdom. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Rom. 14:17.

The kingdom which Christ preached was of such a nature that it, instead of material benefits, might be sought in the age when He lived (Matt. 6:33). Its nature was such that men might voluntarily enter it at that time. “. . . Every man presseth into it.” Luke 16:16. Admission to it was by means of the new birth. “. . . Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3:5. Evidently a spiritual birth cannot induct one into a literal kingdom. During Jesus’ day men did enter the kingdom. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” Matt. 23:13. These words would be meaningless if applied to a future earthly kingdom. The teachings of the parables of Jesus to which the kingdom of heaven is likened are incongruous with the idea of an earthly kingdom.

Predictions of the Time

Of Its Establishment

The time of establishment of the kingdom is clearly predicted in the second chapter of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in which he saw a great image with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron, and feet part of iron and part of clay. A stone “cut out of the mountains without hands” struck the image on the feet and broke, not only them, but the entire image to pieces. In interpreting the dream, Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, “. . . Thou art this head of gold” (Dan. 2:38). But the context shows clearly that not merely Nebuchadnezzar himself was the head of gold, but rather the Chaldean Empire, of which he was the first ruler. “And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth” (v. 39). The two world empires immediately following the Chaldean, were the Medo-Persian, and the Grecian. “And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron” (v. 40). The fourth universal empire counting from the Chaldean was the Roman, which is well described as being strong as iron.

Daniel explained the breaking of the image by the stone to signify that, “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 forever” (v. 44). But four kingdoms are mentioned in this chapter, the last of which was the Roman. Not later than the time of the Roman Empire was the kingdom of God to be set up. But the Roman Empire has long since passed away. Therefore, the kingdom of God has evidently already been established. But those who expect the establishment of the divine kingdom in the future, especially premillenarians, assume that “these kings” (v. 44) are the ten minor kingdoms which grew out of the Roman Empire, that these are still in existence, and that therefore the divine kingdom has not yet been established. They suppose the toes of the image represent these minor kingdoms as do the ten horns of the fourth beast described in Daniel 7. But this is not so stated. Moreover, the claim that these toes were intended to represent ten kingdoms is wholly gratuitous. In the expression “these kings” (v. 44) “these” must have for its antecedent the kings already mentioned. No ten minor kingdoms are mentioned; therefore it must refer to those which are mentioned. As already shown, it clearly predicts the setting up of the kingdom of God in the days of the Roman Empire.

Also it was not only the feet that were broken to pieces by the little stone, but “then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors” (Dan. 2:35). But how could those former kingdoms be destroyed by the kingdom of God in the days of the feet of the latter part of the Roman Empire? Certainly, as political powers they had long since ceased to be. Also the destruction of civil governments is not the divine purpose, for God has ordained them. But false religion is a proper subject of scripture prophecy, and the kingdom of God in its very nature is designed to destroy them.

Those ancient world empires were more than political powers. They were upholders of heathen religions. While the political power of those empires preceding the Roman had vanished, the false religion they supported was all included in the Roman Empire. Therefore when the little stone destroyed the paganism of Rome the same false religion of the preceding governments was overthrown.

In Isa. 9:6 and 7 is a prediction of the coming of Christ. A child was to be born. This is clearly a prediction of the first coming of Christ. He was to be the “Prince of peace” and to rule on the “throne of David.” As David ruled over Israel, God’s people anciently, so does Christ rule over Christians, who are God’s people now. There is no hint in this prediction that the rule of Christ is to take place at any other time than at the first advent when the child was born. It is a prediction concerning the first advent. Luke 1:32 and 33 concerning Christ sitting on David’s throne is to be similarly understood.

Christ’s Kingdom Established

At His First Advent

In the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus they proclaimed “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:14, 15). It had been promised from the time of Isaiah seven hundred years before. When Jesus came it ceased to be in the future and had arrived–it was “at hand.” If after only seven hundred years of waiting it could be said to be at hand, that proclamation could not possibly mean it would not be established for yet nineteen hundred years or more. If the words “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” do not mean it was established at the first advent of Christ, then the words are misleading.

Jesus often spoke of the kingdom as then existing. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matt. 11:12.

“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” Luke 16:16.

Both of these verses clearly imply the existence of the kingdom. That men were in the kingdom implies its existence. The foregoing and other texts state some were in it. “Who . . . hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Col. 1:13. “I John, who also am your brother . . . in the kingdom . . . of Jesus Christ.” Rev. 1:9. The implication is clear in these verses that the time of the setting up of the kingdom is not in the future.

The kingdom of God came in the days of the apostles. When speaking to them Jesus said, “There be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Mark 9:1.

The declaration is clear that the kingdom of God was to be manifested during the first century, while the apostles yet lived.

Jesus affirmed before Pilate that He was then a king and then had a kingdom, but it was not an earthly one.

All of these texts agree exactly with the prophecies discussed which teach the divine kingdom was set up at the first advent and during the time of the Roman Empire. Because it is already set up and is a spiritual kingdom, the theory that it is an earthly, material kingdom to be established in the future is necessarily false and unscriptural.


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