The Kingdom of God is the primary theme of Scripture—the center of gravity around which all other themes providentially orbit in bringing glory to the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). This is what makes it so important and exciting! There are essentially three aspects to the Kingdom of God: a Universal Kingdom, a Mediatorial Kingdom, and a Spiritual Kingdom. A general understanding of God’s kingdom program will help explain much of the moral free fall in America and the mounting hostility toward all who oppose it. But more importantly, it will animate the hearts of the redeemed with a renewed passion to see our Savior and King face-to-face.
1. The Universal Kingdom of God
First, God’s Universal Kingdom can be defined as God’s eternal sovereign rule over all that exists. In David’s great song of majesty and love he said, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Ps. 145:13). It is universal in scope where God rules in absolute sovereignty over all His creation. “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19; cf. 10:16; 22:28; 59:13). Such transcendence renders earthly governments and arrogant rulers puny by comparison. In his magnificent prayer of praise, David acknowledged God’s universal reign saying,
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. (1 Chron. 29:11–12)
Knowing that God is ultimately reigning over all that exists brings great comfort to Christians who have placed their faith in the One who will ultimately triumph over all that is wrong in the world and gather His redeemed to Himself in the indescribable splendor of heaven. We see this expressed in David’s doxology recorded in 1 Chronicles 29: 10–13:
So David blessed the LORD in the sight of all the assembly; and David said, “Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.”
I trust these truths will also cause you to bless the LORD. Can there be any greater joy than knowing that our Redeemer lives and reigns and is coming again?
2. The Mediatorial Kingdom of God
Second, Scripture also affirms another aspect of God’s universal kingdom, a Mediatorial Kingdom that can be defined as God’s sovereign rule over the earth through divinely chosen human representatives who speak on His behalf and who represent the people before Him [Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, (Winona Lake, Indiana; BMH, 1959), 41]. Here God exercises absolute authority in His invisible, spiritual kingdom on earth through the agency of divinely chosen men. He gave them special revelation that they recorded in Scripture to explain His kingdom purposes and how sinners can enter it.
By continuing the narrative of the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament helps us understand that the final Mediatorial Kingdom will include a literal, thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth (Rev. 20: 4–6) where He will rule as the Last Adam. This final reign of Christ upon the earth—often called the Millennial Reign of Christ or the Messianic Kingdom—will finally transform everything on this planet into conformity with the perfect will of God and His Universal Kingdom and therefore be the consummating bridge between human history and the eternal kingdom described in Revelation 21:1– 22:5.
Anticipating the ultimate rule of the One who is so routinely mocked and ignored is a profound encouragement to every Christian who loves Christ and longs for His return. In the words of the prophet Habakkuk, we eagerly await the day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
3. The Spiritual Kingdom of God
In addition to the universal and mediatorial aspects of God’s kingdom program, Scripture also reveals a spiritual kingdom that can be defined as an invisible kingdom that exists only in the hearts of those who have trusted in Jesus Christ, the King. However, this aspect of the kingdom came after Israel rejected their Messiah. Furthermore, while the kingdom of God can have spiritual requirements and characteristics (see Rom. 14:17), this does not rule out the land and physical prosperity promises that are also included in the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New covenants (Jer. 31–33; Ezek. 36–37; cf. Deut. 30:1–10). Some historical background will be helpful in understanding these astounding promises.
At the beginning of the New Testament era, the Jewish people were like Simeon who was “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). The angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to a Son who would be great and sit on the throne of his father David and rule over Israel forever (Luke 1:32– 33). Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist (the forerunner to the Messiah who prepared the way for his coming [Luke 1:16–17]), prophesied that with his coming, God was fulfilling “His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 1:72–73) which would include the deliverance of Israel from her enemies (v.74). So Messianic kingdom expectations dominated the thinking of first-century Israel. Naturally, they longed for their King to free them from the bondage of Rome and establish His glorious kingdom on earth. But they didn’t understand that repentance was required for them to gain entrance into His kingdom (Matt. 5–7). Furthermore, they could not fathom that their Messiah must first be a sin-bearing servant before He could be “exalted and extolled and be very high” (Isa. 52:13) and rule over His kingdom (see Isa. 52:13–15; 53:1–12).
At first, both King Jesus and His herald, John the Baptist, preached the same kingdom message of the Old Testament prophets saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Jesus even performed miraculous signs and wonders to authenticate His regal credentials. But they rejected both their King and His message (Matt. 11: 20–24) resulting in catastrophic judgment at the hands of the Romans in AD 70 (Matt. 23:37–39; Luke 19:41–44). After Israel’s rejection, the promised earthly kingdom was postponed, and Jesus began to reveal new truths about the spiritual aspect of His kingdom program. He began speaking in parables (Matt. 13) and spoke of the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11), and of a future kingdom that would be established upon His return (Luke 19:11–27) after a period of great tribulation on earth (Luke 21:31).
The Pharisees were looking for visible signs to validate Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah (Luke 17). But Jesus wanted them to understand that the spiritual kingdom is internal and not marked by observable signs (vv. 20b–21) like those that will be seen when He establishes His reign on earth. For this reason Jesus told Nicodemus, the leading teacher of Israel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3; cf. Matt. 13: 11–16). This was primarily a reference to the prophesied messianic kingdom at the end of the age that the Pharisees and the Jewish people eagerly awaited (Isa. 11:1–6; Dan. 12:2), also described as the “regeneration” of the world (Matt. 19:28).
But what the Jews failed to understand is that apart from spiritual regeneration, no one can enter the messianic kingdom at Christ’s second coming— that time when His glory and that of the redeemed (Rom. 8:19–21; 1 John 3:2) will be made visible to all (Rev. 1:7; cf. 19:11–21). In His first coming, Jesus came as the Suffering Servant, and His death on the cross established the basis for the regeneration of sinners and His rule within their hearts. But the regeneration of all things will not occur until His second coming when He will be revealed in all his glory— not as a Suffering Servant, but as the Sovereign King.
During the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, He “[spoke] of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), a reference to His spiritual kingdom—the sphere of salvation where God reigns in the hearts of believers who experience the new covenant spiritual blessings of a new heart and of the indwelling Spirit who “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). The New Testament epistles reveal how entrance into the spiritual kingdom comes through the message of the gospel and is granted to all believers in this church age. This was and is the great evangelistic message of the church that America rejects.
For example, Philip came “preaching the good news about the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). Paul also “entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8; cf. 28:23). He also warned the Corinthians that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9; cf. Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). Indeed, true kingdom citizens will be marked by “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17)— a stark contrast to those who dwell in the Kingdom of Satan.
Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Why America Hates Biblical Christianityby David A. Harrell.