[Reading time: 7 minutes] One of the most important topics in the Bible is God’s kingdom. There are only a few references to it in the Old Testament, but the New Testament is clear that God has a kingdom. In the New Testament, the Greek noun translated “kingdom” (basileia) refers to a traditional kingdom, sovereignty or royal authority to exercise dominion over a region.
There’s only one kingdom of God, though the NIV New Testament refers to it several ways: kingdom of God (66 times), kingdom of heaven (32 times), kingdom of Christ and of God (3 times) and a few other terms. Notice the phrase, “of Christ and of God,” in which “Christ” refers to Jesus the Son and “God” refers to the Father. It’s Father’s kingdom. Yes, it’s also Jesus’ kingdom because he’s the Son, and Romans 8:17 states we’re “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” The term “co-heirs” is from a Greek adjective that specifically describes a fellow heir. Jesus is an heir of Father’s kingdom and so are we. The kingdom is about the Father; our Father.
God the Father’s kingdom is his domain and the context for everything he does. It’s an expression of his nature and he does whatever pleases him (Ps. 115:3). The Bible describes him as a king sitting on his throne in heaven, surrounded by angelic beings who serve him (1 Kings 22:19; Ps. 103:19). Jesus taught us to pray for Father’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9-10). Jesus came to earth to give himself for our sins, “according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4).
God either causes or allows everything that happens, according to his will. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He called us to himself, according to his purpose; his plan and intended outcome. He called us because doing so honors our free will and produces the outcome he intends, which is our voluntary allegiance to him and his kingdom. Therefore, he causes the combination of all our life experiences to produce what’s good for us; whether he caused the experience or allowed it. Either way, he makes it conform to his will and produce the results he chooses. Provided, of course, we allow him to do the work he intends in us.
His will prevails and Jesus stated he only did what he saw Father doing and spoke Father’s words, not his own (John 5:19; 7:16; 14:24). That is, Jesus only did the Father’s will. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is God the Father’s and everything will submit to him. Even after Jesus has reigned on earth for a thousand years and subdues all other dominion, authority and power, he’ll hand his earthly kingdom over to the Father, who will then reign over the earth forevermore (1 Cor. 15:24).
Jesus’ followers immediately enter the kingdom through covenant (the subject of other articles in this series). That means the kingdom already exists on earth within or among individual believers, but its fullest expression will exist when Jesus returns to earth during the Day of the Lord. It now expresses itself in individual believers as godly character. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). In the future, it will exist as a kingdom on earth that rules the world. “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever’” (Rev. 11:15). “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city and his servants will serve him” (Rev. 22:3); referring to the Holy City, Jerusalem (context: Rev. 21:10), which will be the headquarters of God’s kingdom on the new earth.
God is eternal: he has always existed and always will (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 93:2; Rom. 16:26). Time is a property of the physical realm and universe he created, but doesn’t exist in the spiritual realm. As its Creator, he’s greater than time and isn’t affected or limited by it. In reality, God is the only eternal being. He created all the others, both spiritual and physical, so they are everlasting, not eternal because they didn’t exist before he created them. Because God is eternal, so is his kingdom (Dan. 4:3, 34; Luke 1:33; 2 Pet. 1:11).
God’s Universal Sovereignty
The Book of Acts describes an incident in which Peter and John were arrested for healing a lame man and preaching about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. When the religious leaders released them from jail, the believers who had been praying for them immediately worshiped God and called him “Sovereign Lord” (Acts 4:24). That phrase is from a Greek noun (despotes), which describes a master-owner; a person who has general authority over others, including absolute ownership and unrestrained power, regardless of how they use their power. That Greek word is equivalent to the English word, “despot,” which refers to a ruler with absolute power.
We have an extremely negative perspective of the English word, “despot,” because sin causes human despots to behave as tyrants. But the Sovereign Lord we serve exercises absolute power over the creation he loves and cares for. That’s a radical difference. The only power or authority any other beings have is what he gave them or allowed them to receive from those who had it. Satan’s authority over creation is an example, which he received from Adam and Eve when they submitted to his delusion. Our main point is that God is the only ultimate Sovereign Lord and is accountable to no one.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” which includes everything in physical creation (Gen. 1:1; Acts 14:15; Rev. 10:6). Because he created them, everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to him (Deut. 10:14; Ps. 89:11; 1 Cor. 10:26), which also means he’s King over it all (Ps. 47:2, 7).
He gave the earth and possibly all of physical creation to humanity to rule as our own domain. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Gen. 1:28; also, Ps. 8:6-8). The Hebrew word translated “earth” (eres) refers to the whole earth. Typically it refers to land and soil, but in this context it includes the sea and sky because Adam and Eve were to rule over the fish and birds. They were to “subdue” the earth, to make it subordinate or subservient. They were to “rule” over the wildlife, to exercise authority over or govern the creatures. In keeping with their pre-sin nature, Adam and Eve would have ruled by serving with love, not by demanding, which would have been inconceivable and unnecessary before sin. They ruled the earth and everything in it. God told them to subdue the earth, which literally meant they were to walk throughout the earth and use it as they saw fit.
In heaven, all activity surrounds God’s throne because he is the ruler. On earth, however, Adam and Eve were the rulers, so they had a unique relationship with God because they had so much in common.
“The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind” (Ps. 115:16). God gave physical creation to humanity as our domain. Does that mean he relinquished control of it or doesn’t care about what happens to it? No, Revelation 11:18 describes the twenty-four elders in heaven declaring to the Lord, “The time has come … for destroying those who destroy the earth.” The words, “destroying” and “destroy,” are translations of the same Greek word, which means to destroy completely or damage irreparably; in the extreme, it means to do away with something. God will destroy those who destroyed or irreparably damaged the earth. The context doesn’t provide details, so we don’t know specifically how God will do that, but it will be a devastating experience for them. He gave the earth to humanity to populate and subdue, yet he has the ultimate claim on it. As he said, “The whole earth is mine” (Exod. 19:5).
God’s kingdom is universal and he rules over all (Ps. 103:19); every object, force, creature, kingdom and nation (1 Chron. 29:12; 2 Chron. 20:6; Ps. 22:28; 47:2). Everyone and everything that exists is under his dominion and accountable to him. Individuals may choose whether to submit to him, but in the end they’ll experience the results of their choice. This also applies to spiritual beings, some of whom chose to reject God and continue persuading humans to do the same. Currently there is widespread rebellion in the spiritual and physical realms against him, but he will assert his authority when he chooses. After Jesus returns, he’ll eliminate all opposition to Father’s kingdom, restore universal expression of God’s will, and require everyone to give an account of themselves (Rom. 14:10-12).
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). The Greek word translated “glory” (doxa) describes a state of high honor and abundance, as well as splendor and brightness. It also alludes to heaviness or weight, and his glory often causes people and other beings to fall in his presence, unable to stand. Not because he uses oppressive force against them, but because his nature and glory are extremely powerful and can be overwhelming. Everything he does brings glory to him because it’s over-the-top, infinitely beyond what anyone else can do. One expression of our allegiance to him and his kingdom is to give him appropriate glory in whatever we do (Ps. 29:2; 1 Cor. 10:31).
The Kingdom Handbook
The Bible shows us how the kingdom operates and how we’re to function within it. We were born in sin and grew up learning the world’s sinful attitudes and behavior. However, someone told us those who lived like that ultimately would be punished for it eternally, but Jesus died for our sins, so we chose to accept him as our Savior. After that, we realized or heard it’s important to learn new attitudes and behaviors that pleased God; we needed to repent.
The English word “repent” essentially means to feel regret or remorse for what we’ve done or failed to do, then to change our mind about what we did because of that regret. Jesus encouraged people to repent because the kingdom of heaven had come near (Matt. 3:2); the key Greek word (metanoeo) meaning to have a change of heart and mind that abandons the unacceptable. Some people describe repenting as “turning around and going the opposite direction,” but that’s actually the result of repentance, not repentance itself. Biblical repentance literally requires us to conform our thinking to the Bible, God’s kingdom handbook; a manual or reference book that provides information and instructions about God’s kingdom.
To function effectively in that kingdom, we must have a steady diet of Bible-intake, preferably by reading it ourselves. An annual reading schedule is invaluable. We learn more each time we read through it because the Holy Spirit gives us insight. As he does, we begin to understand important points that previously were confusing, or we gain even greater insight. Our perspective of our relationship with God and our role in his kingdom gradually improves.
The Bible is an objective standard for all our decisions and actions. It’s primarily spiritual in nature, not simply intellectual, and its contents develop, mature and strengthen our human spirits. The apostle Paul wrote, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:13-14).
Paul referred to “words taught by the Spirit,” meaning the Holy Spirit teaches us (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:13). Specifically, he explains “spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” Realities of the spiritual realm aren’t obvious to those who rely on human understanding. The phrase, “person without the Spirit” (Greek, psychikos de anthropos), refers to a psyche-oriented, natural or un-spiritual person; someone whose understanding is based solely on their life experiences and what others have told them. This primarily refers to someone who isn’t a child of God and therefore their human spirit doesn’t receive insight from the Holy Spirit. It might also include Christians who refuse to accept scriptural principles or the reality of the spiritual realm, so they continue thinking like the world. Because the Bible is spiritual in nature and pertains to God’s spiritual kingdom, psyche-oriented people are incapable of correctly understanding it. They can only have a superficial understanding of the Bible, and much of it frankly will seem foolish to them.
As God’s children and members of his kingdom, we have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth who guides us into all the truth (John 14:17; 16:13). He teaches us and helps us understand the Bible (John 14:26), so we’ll know how it applies to us and our activity in the kingdom. We’re accountable for the insight and understanding we receive through the Bible, and failure to act on what we learn can even lead to problems. As Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). The Bible is readily available to us, so we’re responsible for reading it and gaining the insight it offers. Failure to do so limits and interferes with our spiritual growth and relationship with God. The more insight and understanding we have about God’s kingdom, the more effective we are and the more he expects of us. That’s why, for example, teachers of God’s Word “will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
The Bible isn’t a textbook which enables anyone who “follows the rules” to produce the desired results, regardless of their spiritual condition. Rather, it’s a handbook for God’s children and the Holy Spirit shows us how to interpret it and apply what it says.
We believe the Bible is the only inspired, infallible and authoritative written Word of God. It’s our handbook for life in the kingdom. It contains the absolute standards to which all other standards must conform. It’s even the standard for judging what we believe God says to us, since he never contradicts his Word. Because his thoughts and ways are totally different from ours, the Bible – not our thoughts or conscience – must be our authoritative guide for every aspect of life. If we live according to God’s Word, we will experience blessing because we’ll align ourselves with his kingdom, characterized by righteousness, peace and joy (Rom. 14:17). If instead we reject God’s authority over our lives, we align ourselves with Satan’s kingdom. We then will experience loss, death and destruction, which are characteristic of Satan’s kingdom (John 10:10), not punishment from God for rejecting him. We experience the results of our choices.
The Bible describes God’s kingdom as his domain and the expression of his will over everything in the physical and spiritual realms. It’s the kingdom handbook that reveals how the kingdom works and we become effective in it. While the New Testament is the part most relevant to our relationship with God, the Old Testament provides important background and biblical perspective, and helps us understand the importance of what the New Testament says. We benefit from reading both, so stay in the Book!
God the Father’s kingdom is his domain and the context for everything he does. He rules sovereignly over everything and every being in both the spiritual and physical realms. The Bible is the kingdom handbook that shows his children, members of his kingdom, how the kingdom works and how to become effective in it.