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What Is the Kingdom of God?

I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bahá’í).

Religious artwork: Scenes of the Kingdom?

Religious artwork: Scenes of the Kingdom?

The Concept of the Kingdom of God

The concept of the Kingdom of God should be of singular importance to Christendom, given that it was a central theme in many of the discourses of Jesus. He alluded to it in diverse settings. Indeed, it seemed to be at the very heart of his mission—to preach it, disseminate it far and wide, and prepare the entire world for whatever it embodied.

The Kingdom in the Four Gospels

In contrast to the exclusive use of the term “kingdom of God” by the Gospels of Mark and of Luke, the Gospel of Matthew prefers the term “kingdom of heaven,” although it does not shy away entirely from employing the other term. John refers to this Kingdom rather sparingly, twice only in that entire Gospel.

Now, what is the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven? Is it a future state of existence in the heavenly realm, as some Christians would want us to believe, or it is something to do with the here and now?

New Testament of the Holy Bible

New Testament of the Holy Bible

The Kingdom at the Second Coming

For most believers of the Gospel message, the concept of the Kingdom of God is best appreciated within the context of the Second Advent, the occasion for the messianic appearance of the last day. So, let’s start from there and see what can be learned from the Gospel verses themselves.

In Matthew 25:31-40—and all biblical citations in this article are from the King James Bible—we learn that when the promised Christ comes, the nations of the world will be gathered before him. He will then divide the populations of these diverse nations into just two distinct groups, labelled as “sheep” and “goats.” To the sheep on his right hand, an invitation is extended:

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world….”

So the phrase, “the kingdom prepared… from the foundation of the world,” will seem to suggest that the establishment of this Kingdom is not a new enterprise but one that has been ongoing from the beginning of creation. There is also a hint that the Kingdom is right here on earth.

The reference to the “the King” makes it easy to deduce that this Kingdom will be under the rulership of the Christ (or be ordered according to his precepts and commandments).

A flock of sheep. The "sheep" of the Gospel will inherit the Kingdom.

A flock of sheep. The "sheep" of the Gospel will inherit the Kingdom.

The Kingdom on Earth

This process of getting the sheep, the righteous ones, to inherit the Kingdom is captured in some way in Matthew 13:41-43. In this case, it is not the Christ himself, but his “angels,” who proceed to “gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity….” After getting rid of these offensive things and of the doers of evil, the narrative goes on to affirm that:

“Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

So, in essence, the Kingdom is this material world. All vestiges of unrighteousness will be eliminated at the appearance of the Christ, with evildoers unable to find a haven in which to hide and continue with their aberrant lifestyles. And what then remains are the righteous, the true inheritors of the earth, whose lives will “shine forth as the sun,” radiating the light of purity and holiness.

Another perspective on this separation of the good from the bad, in the divine Kingdom, is portrayed slightly differently in one of the parables of Jesus. It says:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.” (Matthew 13:47-48)

In this case, we can understand that whatever good things there are in the world will be retained in the Kingdom. However, the bad things—whether of behaviours, or lifestyles, or habits, cultures, traditions, forms of worship, laws, politics, or systems of governance—will be done away with.

As the sun shines brightly in the sky, so will the saints shine spiritually in the Kingdom.

As the sun shines brightly in the sky, so will the saints shine spiritually in the Kingdom.

The Process of Building the Kingdom

The idea that the building of the Kingdom is a long, drawn-out process rather than an instantaneous event is portrayed in the Parable of Seed Growing Quietly thus:

“So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” (Mark 4:26-27)

In this case, the Kingdom takes shape quietly, slowly, and virtually unnoticed.

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, though, the emphasis is on the size of the Kingdom, that it starts small and grows over time to become huge:

"The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree….” (Matthew 13:31-32)

However, with the Parable of the Leaven, we get another dimension of the evolution of the Kingdom, in that it does start small as before but expands to embrace the entire planet eventually:

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33)

The Kingdom as a Righteous Community

But why does the Kingdom start small when the earth has not shrunk but has practically been the same size from the beginning? The answer is because it is not the physical earth itself that is under consideration but a community of righteous worshippers on earth. Thus, we find in the Lord’s Prayer, the supplication:

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

The prayer anticipates (and forecasts) a day when man's lifestyle will find full alignment with the precepts and teachings of God.

The Kingdom comprises a righteous community of believers.

The Kingdom comprises a righteous community of believers.

The Kingdom as the Word of God

In many of the Gospel verses, the Kingdom is associated with the Gospel itself or with religious teachings in general, so that reinforces the idea of spirituality and righteousness. For example, in Luke 9:2, Jesus sends out his disciples to “preach the kingdom of God….” In this case, the Kingdom of God and the Gospel are one and the same thing.

There are many instances of this. In fact, Jesus does at times refer to his message simply as the “gospel of the kingdom” (as in Matthew 24:14).

Thus is the Word of God identified as the source, origin, and foundation of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom as an Inner Reality

Yet, in telling the Pharisees that:

“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 sought to illustrate that the Kingdom is not physical in essence but an intangible reality. It transcended the scriptures and the teachings of God to include faith and belief in them.

In other words, the Kingdom is also a state of being. One can be in the Kingdom of God wherever one resides—even in an unrighteous society—by the force of one’s faith, belief, and life of godliness.

One could be a resident in God's Kingdom while sojourning in any city on earth.

One could be a resident in God's Kingdom while sojourning in any city on earth.

The Kingdom in Heaven

But one question remains: Does it mean then that the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with heaven and the next life?

No, it does not mean the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with the next life. To expound on this, let’s first bear in mind that religion, which is the origin and foundation of the Kingdom of God, brings about two major outcomes:

1. Societal Transformation

One outcome is societal transformation, the pre-requisite for the appearance of a divine civilisation on earth. Remember the Lord’s Prayer:

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

This prayer anticipates the appearance of a divine earthly civilisation, whereby societies on earth will give forth the fragrance of holiness and virtue.

Every religion brings into being, at some point in its existence, an evolved civilisation characterised by righteousness, love, and goodness.

2. Individual Transformation

Societal transformation itself is underpinned by the transformation of masses of individual worshippers, and this becomes the second outcome. The transformation of individuals makes it possible for them to inherit the heavenly realms upon transitioning from the earth plane after their physical death. And these heavenly realms should also be seen as part of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s turn to the Gospel verses again for confirmation:

“Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:25)

This is Jesus just before his crucifixion. So, here the Kingdom of God is clearly the heavenly realm.

Earlier, he tells the Jews:

“There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:28)

This also clearly shows that the Kingdom of God encompasses the afterlife realm.

Hence, we can conclude that the Kingdom includes both earth and heaven—the physical and spiritual worlds of God.

The Kingdom of Heaven and Earth

This should not be a surprise since God is King over both these realms of existence—the physical and the spiritual. Indeed, although earth and heaven might appear to man as two separate and distinct worlds, one could imagine that in God’s eyes, they are just one vast interconnected dominion, a dominion inhabited by His creatures, albeit in different states of existence.

Therefore, it is not at all wrong to see the Kingdom of God as also encompassing the heavenly realm in the hereafter, except that it is reached only by men and women of virtue after transitioning from the earthly part of the Kingdom upon their physical death.

The Completion of the Kingdom

Now, when the Kingdom is associated in the Gospel with the Second Coming, it obviously should evoke in our minds the concluding stage in its development, when the world of humanity will finally attain a state of absolute virtue and perfection. In the Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul describes what it means:

"Then cometh the end, when he [the Christ] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.” (I Corinthians 15:24)

At that stage, the Kingdom emerges in all its purest and most sanctified glory, and this is when, according to the Book of Revelation, there shall be:

“…a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…. and God himself shall be with them [men], and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away….” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Of course, the promise above should not be understood in a literal sense but at a deeper level.

There shall be a new heaven and a new earth...

There shall be a new heaven and a new earth...

The Evolution of the Kingdom

So, to conclude, the Kingdom of God has existed since the beginning of creation; it has been evolving with the appearances of the diverse religions on earth; it is with us here today, and it is destined to reach its fullest glory in the coming new messianic dispensation.

The task of bringing the Kingdom to this exalted stage is the mission of the Christ of the latter days, whose appearance is still urgently awaited by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. However, a number of religious groups have claimed that he has already been made manifest (a subject dealt with in another article of mine). Among them are the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; the Bahá’í Faith; the Church of Almighty God; and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (otherwise known as the Unification Church).

Establishment of God's Kingdom on Earth

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn