The Eternal Kingdom of God
(Reading Time: 14 minutes) It’s essential we understand why the conflicts we experience on earth ultimately are the results of warfare between two spiritual kingdoms, one being the kingdom of God. Otherwise, we’ll focus on our earthly existence and not realize we’re involved in a much larger conflict than we can see. Unless we understand the spiritual aspect, we’ll view people as the cause of the problems and blame their ideologies, races, politics, or even their religions.
In this article, we’ll discover there originally was only one spiritual kingdom – God’s. We’ll see what triggered the spiritual conflict and how it affected creation, especially humanity. This background material will help us see the big picture so we clearly understand who we are and what our role is. This is an in-depth Bible study and we’ll examine meanings of key words in the texts to gain insight to God’s eternal kingdom.
God’s Eternal Kingdom
God exists in timelessness and isn’t limited by time. Not only so, he had no beginning and will have no end; that is, he is eternal, according to both the Old and New Testaments (Gen. 21:33; Deut. 33:27; Rom. 16:26; 1 Tim. 1:17). The Old Testament also uses the phrase “from everlasting to everlasting,” which means “from unending time in the past to unending time in the future” (1 Chron. 16:36; Neh. 9:5). Technically, God is the only eternal being. He created all other beings, so they are everlasting, not eternal because they didn’t exist before he created them.
The Bible often describes God as a king sitting on his throne in heaven, surrounded by angelic beings who serve him (1 Kings 22:19; Ps. 103:19-20). Most of what we know of God’s kingdom comes from Jesus’ teaching, because preaching the good news of the kingdom was a primary reason he came to earth and it was a frequent topic of his teaching (Luke 4:43). A kingdom clearly refers to a king’s sovereignty and royal authority to exercise dominion over a specific realm. God’s kingly authority extends over everyone and everything he created. Because God is eternal by nature, so is his kingdom (Dan. 4:3; 2 Pet. 1:11).
Creation Belongs to God
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” which includes everything that exists in the spiritual and physical realms (Gen. 1:1, NIV; John 1:3; Col. 1:16). Because he created them, everything that exists in those realms belongs to him and he can give them to whomever he chooses (Deut. 10:14; 1 Cor. 10:26; Jer. 27:5). Yet he remains the Lord of heaven and earth (Matt. 11:25; Rev. 11:4), which means everyone and everything that exists is under his dominion, and ultimately is accountable to him.
God Created All Beings
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” (Col. 1:16). This clearly includes a range of sentient beings who have responsibility and authority, either spiritual or physical, either in heaven or on earth. While God is the Almighty – the only being have unlimited controlling authority – he delegated levels of responsibility and authority to all other beings he created, including humans.
The first mention of humanity in the Bible occurs in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” The Hebrew word translated “image” refers to a visual appearance or resemblance. The word translated “likeness” includes one’s character or nature. These words tell us God’s intent was for us to look and be like him; by extension, to think and act like him. This includes ruling over the domain he gave us, so we’re to have his nature and similar responsibilities (Gen. 1:28; Eph. 4:24; James 3:9).
Because God brought humanity into existence, he uses human family terms to describe our relationship with him: Father, son, daughter and child. For the same reason, the Old Testament refers to spiritual beings as “sons of God” (Gen. 6:2, 4), sometimes using “angels” when the original text literally reads “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).
The New Testament, with only one exception (Luke 3:38), reserves such family terms for Jesus, the Son of God, and those of us who accepted him as Savior. We are the sons, daughters or children of God, and the Greek word used most frequently addresses not just the fact that he created us, but also our position, title and responsibility in his kingdom. We are the children of God, with all the rights, privileges, authority and responsibilities we receive in his kingdom.
God gave all the sentient beings he created free will, the ability to make their own decisions and act on them. This means, for example, such beings can sense their environment or situation, decide how they should respond and do what they decided, regardless of morality or legality.
This includes all spiritual beings, including angels. For example, the seraphim around God’s throne call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty,” because they choose to do so, not because God requires it (Isa. 6:1-3; Rev. 4:8).
God’s kingdom is just and includes such principles as accountability and consequences for our choices, so we can do what we choose, but we’ll experience the results. The most infamous example of an angelic being choosing to reject God’s dominion is Satan. We’ll examine his decision and its results in a moment. Other angels made similar decisions, such as those who didn’t “keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling” (Jude 6). Some of them were so depraved in their behavior, God confined them so they couldn’t continue their destruction (2 Pet. 2:4). They exercised their free will and experienced God’s judgment.
As sentient beings, humans also received free will and are subject to the principles of God’s kingdom. God told the first human, Adam, he was free to eat from any tree in the garden, but said he must not eat from a specific tree because that would cause him to die (Gen. 2:16-17). However, we see that Adam and Eve both exercised their free will and ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6). As a result, God banished them from the garden and his presence – the definition of spiritual death – and they eventually died physically (Gen 3:23; 5:5).
Free will and consequences; still applicable today with either positive or negative results. For example, if people choose to believe in the Lord Jesus, they will be saved (Acts 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:2). If they put the misdeeds of their bodies to death, they’ll live (Rom. 8:13). We’re reconciled to God if we remain established and firm in our faith (Col. 1:22-23).
There are negative results for other choices. For example, if we disown Jesus, he’ll disown us (2 Tim. 2:12). Those who refuse to provide for people’s basic needs will be judged (Matt. 25:41-45). Those who live to satisfy their basic appetites will experience destruction (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:7-8). We have the ability to choose and God responds to our choices.
The Human Domain
As we saw earlier, all of creation belongs to God because he created it, and he can give it to whomever he chooses. Scripture clearly states God gave the earth to humanity, telling us to populate and subdue the earth, and rule over every living creature in the air, on the ground and in the water (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:6-8; 115:16). That is, we’re to subdue planet Earth as our domain, which means to overcome it, bring it under control and make it useful. Similarly, we’re to rule, govern or exercise authority over the living creatures. In keeping with godly nature – and Adam and Eve’s pre-sin nature – ruling includes serving with love, not demanding (which would have been inconceivable and unnecessary before sin).
God created humanity in his image and likeness, and the Bible doesn’t say he did that for any other beings. God is sovereign over everything that exists in the spiritual and physical realms. He made humanity sovereign over planet Earth and everything on it, and the Bible doesn’t say he did that for any other beings. This caused God and humanity to have a unique relationship because we have so much in common. And that undoubtedly was a factor in the spiritual revolt that occurred and warfare that followed.
How the Warfare Began
Isaiah 14 begins by addressing the king of Babylon, then transitions to a being that fell from heaven, described as “morning star, son of the dawn” (Isa. 14:12). This seems to acknowledge that spiritual beings influence people, especially leaders, so the focus shifts from the human king of Babylon to the spiritual being influencing him. The Bible refers to angels as “morning stars” using two Hebrew words (Job 38:7). But the one who fell from heaven in Isaiah is “morning star,” using a single, different Hebrew word which literally means “shining one” or “light-bearing one,” origin of the name Lucifer. Various translations say he was cut down to the ground or thrown down to the earth. The language parallels that of Luke 10:18, which quotes Jesus as saying he saw Satan “fall like lightning from heaven.”
Why was Satan expelled from heaven? Isaiah quotes several statements that reveal his thinking and motivation. First he said, “I will ascend to the heavens” (Isa. 14:13). In reality, he could go into the heavens any time he wanted. Getting there was not what he had on his mind; he very likely planned to ascend in power or authority, as revealed by what he said next.
“I will raise my throne above the stars of God” (Isa. 14:13). The stars of God are his angels (Job 38:7; Rev. 1:20; 9:1). Satan already had a throne of authority, but wanted more than all other angels, maybe to gain authority over them.
“I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon” (Isa. 14:13). This refers to the mountain north of Israel where the mythological “gods” allegedly met to direct world events. The Old Testament provides similar insight to the true God meeting with his council, developing a plan for enticing Ahab, the king of Israel, to engage in a battle resulting in his death (1 Kings 22:19-22). Not that God couldn’t think of a good plan by himself. Rather, it’s his nature as the Divine Executive to honor his angelic and human followers by involving them in his work. The description of God’s council meeting reveals him sitting on his throne with the “multitudes of heaven standing around him” (1 Kings 22:19). It’s significant that Satan intended to “sit on the mount of assembly” rather than stand; that is, he wanted to take God’s place.
Satan then boasts, “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds” (Isa. 14:14). The Bible often associates God’s glory with clouds (Exod. 16:10; Num. 16:42) and God often revealed himself in a cloud (Exod. 24:16; 34:5). It seems Satan wanted everyone to see his glory as the “shining one,” the “morning star.”
Then Satan clearly revealed his goal: “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14). “Most High” is a title attributed only to God, and it means the supreme or highest one. By definition, there can only be one “Most High,” so Satan was planning to remove God from his throne and take his place. He would have the ultimate authority and be accountable to no one. Rebellion and rejection of accountability are characteristic of Satan and his followers.
In response to Satan’s attempted coup, God cast him down to the earth and down to the realm of the dead (Isa. 14:12, 15).
Similar to Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 begins by addressing a human king, then shifts to a spiritual being; specifically, a cherub and clearly not a human (Ezek. 28:14). Some commentaries suggest these passages describe what happened to the human kings, rather than a spiritual being. Others suggest Ezekiel 28 refers to Adam’s fall into sin and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Based on the descriptions of heavenly events in both chapters, however, it seems more likely these passages describe Satan’s sin and expulsion.
Assuming Ezekiel and Isaiah describe the same spiritual being, Satan was “in Eden, the garden of God,” on “the holy mount of God” and “the mount of God” (Ezek. 28:13, 14, 16). God charged him with violence and sin (Ezek. 28:16); “violence” is from a Hebrew word for lawless, fierce actions intended to destroy or kill. As a result, God drove him in disgrace from the mount of God and threw him to the earth (Ezek. 28:17). Just as God expelled Adam and Eve from his presence in the garden when they sinned, he also expelled Satan from his presence when he sinned. Again, separation from God is synonymous with spiritual death.
Satan couldn’t overthrow God or even attack him directly, but in retaliation he went after the beings created in his image – Adam and Eve. They ruled over all the creatures on earth; in the air, on the ground and in the waters (Gen. 1:26, 28). Genesis 3 introduces a serpent more crafty than any other animal God made, who enticed Eve to disobey what God told them (Gen. 3:1, 5).
Notice that Eve apparently wasn’t disturbed about talking with a serpent. It’s possible Adam and Eve initially were able to converse with all earthly creatures as part of “ruling” over them, although Scripture doesn’t say that. Later, after the flood, the animals in the air, on the ground and in the water became fearful of humans, indicating a major change in their relationship (Gen. 9:2). The “serpent,” however, may have been a spiritual being, even Satan himself, taking the physical form of a creature as part of a plan to usurp humanity, since he couldn’t usurp God.
As we noted, the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals God created. The serpent knew God had directed Adam and Eve to rule over all the creatures on earth, so he – the serpent – was under their authority. He also knew that, if he could persuade the humans to willfully defy God’s instructions, they would abdicate their authority and become enslaved to him, because it’s a principle of God’s kingdom that one becomes a slave to the one they obey (Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:19). That’s exactly what happened. They no longer ruled creation and Satan became the “prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Because the earth and all its creatures had been under Adam and Eve’s authority, their sin produced devastating, universal results.
God told Adam not to eat the fruit of a specific tree in the Garden of Eden, because eating it would cause him to die (Gen. 2:17). Eve also was aware of that (Gen. 3:3). When they disobeyed him and ate the fruit, God banished them from the garden and thus from his presence (Gen. 3:23). Separation from the God who is the source of life (Rom. 4:17; 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:13) is the essence of spiritual death (Eph. 4:18), so they immediately died spiritually and eventually died physically. Sin gives birth to or produces death (James 1:15).
All of creation, not just the earth, became cursed due to their sin, subjected to frustration and in bondage to decay (Rom. 8:20-21). Decay (entropy) was a vital part of original creation. For example, the sun shines because its materials decay and give off light, which travels from brighter to darker areas (entropy), and heat from the sun flows to cooler areas (entropy) and warms the earth. Before Adam and Eve sinned, their glory and authority offset the negative effects of entropy and the world operated in perfect balance. When they lost their authority, entropy became dominant and deterioration became universal.
Under Satan’s dominion, all of humanity became citizens of his kingdom, whom the Bible calls “sinners” because they’re enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6, 16). Just as creation now is in bondage to decay as a result of sin, every human now is born in bondage as a sinner, a slave to sin. And just as sin’s decay has detrimental effects on creation, it ruins every aspect of human nature.
As citizens of Satan’s kingdom and enslaved to sin, people are not just alienated from God, they’re his enemies (Col. 1:21; James 4:4). Because they’re separated from him, the source of eternal spiritual life, they’re spiritually dead – unresponsive and indifferent to him – and have no hope or expectation of good (1 Thess. 4:13). That is, sinners are spiritually dead and have no hope because they cannot save themselves from the effects of their sin and its eternal penalty.
Redemption and Restoration
Before God created the world, he knew exactly what would happen to humanity and chose to send his Son to save people from their sin and its penalty (1 Cor. 2:7; 1 Pet. 1:19-20). Again, God honors the free will he gave humanity by making it possible for people to choose salvation through Jesus, and then allowing them to decide whether to accept his offer (Titus 2:11). Whoever believes in Jesus as their Savior is not condemned for their sin, but whoever doesn’t believe remains condemned as a sinner (John 3:18). Sinners are enslaved to sin, members of Satan’s kingdom, and will receive the same penalty for sin as Satan and his angels: eternal torment in the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41; Jude 7; Rev. 14:11).
Unlike sinners who have no hope, those of us who accept Jesus as Savior have both faith and hope (1 Pet. 1:21). Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by dying spiritually and physically on the cross, and through his death we’re spiritually “born again” (John 3:7; Rom. 4:25; 1 Pet. 1:3; Rev. 1:5). We were redeemed, released from our obligation to sin, and ransomed by Jesus’ blood (Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:15). As a result, God reconciled us to himself (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18; Col. 1:22), keeps no record of our sin (Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 13:5), changed us from sinners to his holy people (Eph. 1:1; Col. 3:12), made us his children instead of his enemies (Rom. 8:14; 1 John 3:2), made us his heirs (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:7), and will have us reign with Jesus for a thousand years on the current earth (Rev. 20:4), then forever with him on the new earth (Rev. 22:5).
There’s more. Another unimaginable benefit of accepting Jesus as our Savior and Lord is having God’s image in us restored. In the beginning, God created humanity in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27), which made us unique among all created beings. Sin obviously marred that image in us, because God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus, who was the image of God (Col. 1:15). God’s original image in us was spoiled, but he would restore it. Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being and the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Heb. 1:3; Rom. 8:29). The word translated “firstborn” is similar to our English word, “prototype,” and means basically the same thing. Jesus is the eldest sibling, the first in a series with all the intended traits and features. God the Father’s intent is for us to become like Jesus and have a family resemblance – the image and likeness of God – as he originally designed humanity.
This is part of our redemption, which occurs over time at three levels. In the initial stage, we were transformed spiritually when we accepted Jesus as Savior and were “born again” (1 Pet. 1:23). Clearly, God did the actual work of transforming us from spiritual death to spiritual life. The second stage addresses our psyches or souls: we’re transformed as we renew our minds (Rom. 12:2). This largely is our responsibility, though God responds to our changes by reversing the effects of sin and transforming us to his image “with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). The final and most visible stage of our redemption will occur when Jesus returns and transforms us physically to be like his glorious body so we’re like him (Phil. 3:21).
God’s Kingdom in Our Midst
The moment we were born again, God transferred us from one kingdom to another. He “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13). This was a spiritual transaction, so neither the kingdoms nor our transfer could be observed, though God’s kingdom is “in [our] midst” (Luke 17:20-21). This means God’s kingdom is among or within us, similar to God being with or among those gathered in his name (Matt. 18:20).
As God’s children, we’re already in and part of his kingdom, though it’s not physically visible on earth. That’s because it’s not currently “of this world” (John 18:36). It exists among Christians and works within us, but it’s not yet an earthly kingdom and doesn’t govern worldly matters.
Until the “kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Rev. 11:15), there will be two spiritual kingdoms influencing people. One is the kingdom of God within and among his children, and the other is Satan’s kingdom governing everyone else on earth. Two opposing spiritual kingdoms, engaged in continuing warfare resulting from Satan’s continuing attempt to overthrow God and destroy everyone associated with him. And because he knows his time is short, we can expect him to escalate his attacks (Rev. 12:12).
That spiritual warfare is evident in conflicts between members of the kingdoms. The human conflicts we experience may center on life’s issues, but those issues only result in conflicts due to spiritual kingdom warfare. As Satan becomes more aggressive and we see biblical end-times prophecies being fulfilled, we must prepare for increasingly severe conflicts between members of the kingdoms – followers of Jesus and followers of Satan.
As the only eternal being and creator of all that exists, God has an eternal kingdom that originally included every spiritual and physical creature. Satan wasn’t satisfied with his status and intended to overthrow God, and in response God expelled him from his presence. In retaliation, Satan subverted Adam and Eve, the only beings God created in his own image and likeness, and became the ruler of their domain. Now, every person on earth is engaged in a war between two spiritual kingdoms.