The “kingdom of God” is an important topic in the New Testament. In fact, this specific phrase appears at least 69 times in the New Testament. Despite the prevalence of this phrase in Scripture, many people are still uncertain as to what it is referring. Therefore, this article will seek to clarify what the kingdom is by highlighting four big takeaways from Scripture on the subject.
First, the Bible indicates that the “kingdom of God” is a reference to His eternal and authoritative reign over mankind.
When the Bible uses the word “kingdom,” it is primarily referring to one’s right to rule rather than a physical territory. According to one lexicon, the Greek word translated kingdom means “royal power, kingship, dominion, [or] rule” and notes that it is “not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom.”
Such an understanding of this term can be seen in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. On one occasion, King Nebuchadnezzar arrogantly took credit for God’s blessings. Consequently, God announced to him in Daniel 4:32 that “The kingdom has departed from you.” In the aftermath of this announcement, Nebuchadnezzar experienced a temporary insanity that interfered with his ability to reign. It was not until he acknowledged God’s sovereignty that he was restored to his position as king. In this context, Nebuchadnezzar lost the “right to rule” rather than the borders of his territory, thus, serving as an example of how “kingdom” is a reference to one’s authoritative reign in Scripture rather than one’s physical territory.
So, when David declared in Psalm 145:13 that God’s “kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations,” he was saying that God’s authority over mankind is eternal.
Second, the Bible indicates that the “kingdom of God” was inaugurated at the Incarnation.
Consider for a moment the primary message of Jesus’ preaching. He frequently proclaimed that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; cf. Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; 9:1-2). In other words, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven had arrived during His ministry, and He gave substantial evidence for it via His miraculous ministry. On one occasion, Jesus healed a man who was blind and mute as a result of being possessed by a demon. In an attempt to discredit Jesus, His opponents claimed that He was able to cast out the demon because He was empowered by Satan. Jesus responded in Matthew 12:25-28 by exposing the illogical nature of their accusation then indicating that “if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” In saying this, Jesus indicated that His ability to cast out demons was evidence that the kingdom of God was presently available.
Why did the kingdom of God need to be inaugurated if it is eternal? Scripture refers to the current period in history as “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and identifies Satan as the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Such statements indicate that the rebellion of Satan and the fall of man lead to Satan’s limited and temporary “reign” over the world. Therefore, the inauguration of the kingdom through the Incarnation should be viewed as God’s initial step toward reclaiming that which has always been rightfully His.
So, the Bible indicates that the kingdom was inaugurated at the Incarnation, but many passages in Scripture seem to indicate that the kingdom is something we will experience in the future. How are we to understand the relationship between the past tense references to the kingdom and the future tense references to the kingdom?
The Bible indicates that the “kingdom of God” will be consummated at the Second Coming.
Such is evident in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, which depicts the Day of Judgment as a day when people are separated into two groups—one that will be rewarded and one that will be punished. The group that will be rewarded hears the King say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). This parable depicts the kingdom as something that will be received by the righteous, in the future, on the Day of Judgment. Paul corroborated this depiction of the kingdom when he wrote 1 Corinthians 15:50, which says “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Paul indicates that the kingdom is something that we will inherit in the future after we receive our new, incorruptible bodies, and that will not happen until Jesus returns. Based on passages such as these, we discover that although the Bible depicts the kingdom as something we can enter right now, it also depicts the kingdom as something to be inherited later.
How are we to understand the “already but not yet” nature of the kingdom? Maybe the answer can be found in in Hebrews 6:5 where the author of Hebrews says that we “have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” In other words, we are experiencing just a small fraction of the kingdom, and will not experience it in its fullness until our bodies are “changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
So, the Bible indicates that the kingdom was inaugurated at the Incarnation and will be consummated at the Second Coming. Those two events serve as significant markers for understanding the kingdom in the past and future, but what about the present?
The Bible indicates that the present manifestation of the “kingdom of God” is the church.
After inquiring as to who the public said He was, Jesus asked His disciples “who do you say that I am?” to which Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). In response to Peter’s confession, Jesus said, “you are Peter, and on this rock [i.e. a reference to Peter’s confession] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19, emphasis added). In His response to Peter’s confession, Jesus referred to the “church” and the “kingdom” interchangeably, thus indicating that the two are one in the same. Based on Jesus’ response to Peter, the kingdom is currently manifested through Christ’s church.
Therefore, we are not waiting for the kingdom to come; it is already here. What we are waiting for is the last day when Jesus will deliver the kingdom back to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). When that day comes, the opportunity to enter the kingdom will have expired. That means that right now is the only guaranteed time in which God’s kingdom is available for entrance, and the only way to enter the kingdom is through the waters of baptism (John 3:5; Acts 8:12).
 Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for Basileia”. ““. . 1999. Accessed http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/basileia.html on May 20, 2017.