The Kingdom of God

 The following excerpt is the first paragraph in the preface of a book of lessons entitled, “The Kingdom of God,” my wife, Hilda, and I published in 1987.  The book is posted in English and Telugu on our website.

This book on the Kingdom of God is the result of a class I had the privilege of guiding for several years at the Kilburn Avenue church of Christ in Rockford, Illinois.  We were a handful of teachers who met diligently each week to write lessons for the classes we taught in the church’s Bible school.

The students for whom we were developing lessons included our own children and our beloved brothers and sisters who formed this body of believers and their children.  We, as the teachers, feeling the awesome responsibility for teaching God’s word, decided to do what we had always been taught:  “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.”  Our method was to choose the lesson, or series of lessons, we desired to include in the Bible school curriculum for the church.  Our next methodical decision was the key for developing the lessons published in “The Kingdom of God” book. This book was published after more than a decade of studying, writing and correcting our preconceptions by our dedication to “open-minded” Bible study.

The key was our decision to free ourselves, as much as possible, from the religious “box of life,” or presuppositions, in which we were bound by our previous learning experiences.   Our next challenge was to study the scriptures related to the topic of each lesson in the context the scriptures were originally presented.  Our aim was to have our individual decisions about what the scriptures mean controlled by what they meant in their original setting – their context.  This method of study gave us a view of the spiritual kingdom of God.  A door was opened that gave us a view of God’s spiritual kingdom by our faith in what we learned and believed.

So, why was it so very important to lay aside our presuppositions about a study of the kingdom of God?  We had been taught the kingdom and the church was one and the same.  We had not understood why the Apostle Paul preached the kingdom of God in order to cooperate with Jesus Christ to build the church for God in Ephesus (Acts 19:8).  We had not known why Jesus Christ taught the kingdom of God, if indeed, He was to have a kingdom of His own (Luke 4:43).   In other words, why did the Holy Spirit give the apostles power to understand and preach the kingdom of God after Jesus had been given “all authority in heaven and on earth?”  Matt. 28:18.  We read about the kingdom of God coming with power after Jesus Christ was crowned king over His kingdom, but why?  See Luke 22:29, 30; John 18:36; Acts 1:4-8; 2:36; 5:31: II Pet. 1:11.  Why did Philip and Paul continue to preach the kingdom of God after Peter, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declared God had made Jesus of Nazareth “both Lord and Christ?”  Acts 2:34; 8:12; 20:25.

Then Paul spoke of a Christian’s inheritance “in the kingdom of Christ and of God” in Eph. 5:5.  Did he mean there are two kingdoms?  If not, what does he mean?    Our presupposition about the kingdom of Christ being the same as the “churches of Christ” had to be set aside, in order “to speak where the Bible speaks.”   It is evident to a casual reader of the Bible; the kingdom of God and Christ are not silent topics.  We knew the church was not preached to establish the kingdom of Christ or the kingdom of God.   The puzzle:  How is it a fact?  The apostles preached the kingdom of God, and somehow, we have the kingdom of Christ and the church of God in Christ.

This series of lessons will be published to help maturing Christians free themselves from the sickness of the “dependency on others” for their understanding of the meaning of God’s word.  Mature Christians must learn to read the Bible for the benefit of their own faith in order to live in the spiritual realm of the kingdom of Christ as a member of the body of Christ, the church.  The lessons are designed to free those who have let their presuppositions control their Bible study.  Christians need to practice bracketing; that is, temporarily setting aside what we know, to let God tell us about His kingdom.

The remainder of this preface is a summary of what I and the group of teachers learned about the foregoing questions.  The following is what we did not understand in a “teachable manner” about the kingdom of God.  We disciplined ourselves to think “outside the box” that had been formed by our presuppositions of what the scriptures mean.

Please read all the scriptures listed.  They  should be considered in the context of God’s story about His kingdom and mankind.  A story includes the desires of one party, their goal, and the activities of the opposing forces.  The reader of a story must understand the plot and how it is brought to a conclusion.  God’s story is about why and how He created mankind.   God has allowed Satan to oppose His goal.  The plot is about each of us.  The question we need to ask ourselves: “In which of the two kingdoms do we claim citizenship – God’s or Satan’s?”  We find these two opposing forces in the commission Jesus gave Paul:  “I will rescue you from your own people and the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so they may receive the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”  Acts 26:18

Moses, who had “one on one” conversations with God for forty years, spoke about the eternalness of God (Deut. 33:27).  David, “who enjoyed God’s favor,” wrote, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.”  Psalm 145:13.  We cannot speak about God and His will for mankind apart from His kingdom.  There is one God; therefore, one eternal kingdom (I Tim. 6:13-16).  Eternal means His kingdom existed in heaven with God before time.

There was a dimension of God’s kingdom functioning in the nation of Israel (I Chron. 28:5).  Jesus was sent to preach the kingdom of God to Israel (Luke 4:43).  He also trained the apostles to teach the kingdom of God to both Jews and Gentiles by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-8).   Shortly before Jesus was crucified, because of the insistence of the Israelite leadership, He said, “I tell you the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”  Matthew 21:43.  As members of the Lord’s church, and teachers of God’s word, our interest in those teacher sessions forty years ago focused our attention on two questions; “Who were the people who received the kingdom of God and what was the fruit God wanted for His kingdom?”

John, the Baptist, made the subject of fruit and children for Abraham the focus of his preaching to the Jews;  “Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Luke 3:8, 9.  Jesus Christ, while preaching the kingdom of God, often focused His lessons on these two topics (Matt. 8:10-12; 12:33-37; 13:18-23).  Individual lessons in this book will be dedicated to a study of the children of Abraham and how they relate to the fruit Jesus will bring to God for His kingdom from His creation of mankind.  God’s reason for creating mankind is the fruit He desires.  God, the Father, and this fruit, His children, cannot be separated from His and His Son’s kingdom story in the Bible (Eph. 5:5; Phil. 2:14-16; Col. 1:10-14).  How we worship on the first day of the week and the processes of the new birth are important doctrines; however, God’s purpose for creating mankind to be the fruit of creation is of first importance in relation to Bible study (Rom. 8:18-24).  In fact, “getting fruit for God” is the only plot:

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the One who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  He says, ‘I will declare your names to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing praises.’  And again, ‘I will put my trust in Him.’  And again He says, Here am I, and the children God has given Me.’   Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants.”  Heb. 2:10-16

This is not a complicated story; however, people in the “religious business” throughout the ages have confused the plot.  The story started with God declaring His goal for mankind before His creation of the world (I Cor. 2:6-10; Rom. 8:28-30).  He has only one goal for each living being.  God’s grace for Christians’ present battle in this grand plot was also in the mind of God before creation (Eph. 1:3-14; Tit. 1:1-3; I Pet. 1:18-21).  The resolution is the hope in Christian’s faith; our inheritance of the kingdom of God:  “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”  Rev. 21:7.  The plot has been summed up for us by the Apostle Paul with various quotes that may include Isaiah 43:5-7.

Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.  Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters, say the Lord Almighty.   II Cor. 6:17, 18

The kingdom is now functioning and it will always exist after the world passes away (I Cor. 15:24-28).  God’s eternal kingdom is where His will is being done in heaven and on earth (Matt. 6:10).  God had the power to rule the nation of Israel He developed; however, His will was never revealed in their behavior.  Their behavior was not in harmony with what was in God’s mind.  For what He had in mind for Abraham’s offspring through Jacob, please see Gen. 12:1-3; Ex. 19:5; Rom. 9:3-5.  His will was not revealed in the Jew’s life style.  See Rom. 2:17-24.  Because God created all living beings to be children, not slaves or robots, we understand why God did not, and does not, force His will on mankind.

The kingdom of God was always with God.  Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:10 was for the very life, the culture of His kingdom, to come into the “individual self” of those who learn to love God.   God’s kingdom on earth is where His will is being done at this hour in the lives of His people.  Christ came to earth from heaven to do God’s will (John 4:34; 5:19, 30; 6:38; Phil. 2:5-11).  Therefore, Jesus preached God’s kingdom was near: Christians accept God’s will by obedience to our faith about what we understand about the kingdom and our role as children of God (Matt. 4:17; Rom. 1:5).  In this context, we can also understand Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees after they asked Him to show them the kingdom; His answer, no doubt, was startling, even to His disciples.

Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.’ Luke 17:20, 21

Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews.  But now My kingdom is from another place.”  John 18:36.  The kingdom Jesus preached was God’s eternal kingdom in heaven.  The citizens of Jesus’ kingdom are the people who have been called out of Satan’s kingdom in the world realm.  The called out group, the church, are the people saved from our own sin and death (I Cor. 1:30; 6:11).  This happened in our new birth; therefore, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”  Eph. 2:6.  See John 3:3; 5:24; Rom. 6:2-4.

Jesus Christ has been given all authority to rule in the lives of mature people who have accepted God’s purpose for our being created (I Cor. 2:7; II Tim. 1:8-10; Rev. 1:4-7).  He also has the power to rule over all the forces that could prevent Him from achieving His goal to satisfy His Father’s goal to have us as children in His eternal kingdom (Eph 1:18-23; 3:10, 11; 6:10-18).  This is how we understand Jesus’ kingdom.  The authority He has been given by His Father functions to satisfy God’s will to bring sons to glory.  Jesus’ kingdom functions within God’s kingdom for this specific purpose.  “Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under Him, it is clear this does not include God, Himself.”  I Cor. 15:27.  God is performing a great role for Christians who have accepted Jesus as our king and high priest (II Cor. 1:3, 4; Jas. 1:16-18).  He is Christians’ “hands on” loving Father (II Cor. 1:3, 4; Gal. 4:6, 7).  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Jas. 1:17.

Faithful Christians have been born again and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  Col. 3:3.  We reside in God “in Christ.”  We must not separate this language from the kingdom of Christ and God.  The culture of God’s eternal kingdom is permeating our hearts and minds as we understand, believe and place our faith in Jesus’ teachings in a continuum growth process (John 1:3, 4; Matt. 13:31, 32).  Becoming socialized into the culture of God’s kingdom is the same program as Christians’ sanctification (II Thess. 2:13, 14).  The laws of the new covenant God desires to write on Christians’ hearts and minds is how the culture of the kingdom of God is “pressed” on each Christian’s “self.”  Heb. 10:16, 17.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  II Cor. 5:17.  Christians continually re-create our “selves” by adapting our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit’s sanctification program (Eph. 4:22-24).

Our king, Jesus Christ, taught and demonstrated for the world the description of life in God’s kingdom.  He illustrated aspects of kingdom life in the parables.  Several parables reveal the dynamics of the culture in understandable “nature language.”  He told His disciples, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”  Matt. 13:11.  Christians cannot think of the kingdom properly unless we have been transferred into the kingdom.  We have not yet inherited it, but “He who overcomes will inherit all of this, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”  Rev. 21:7.

The culture of the kingdom is permeating our “selves.”  We are overcoming the culture of Satan’s kingdom in the world (Eph. 2:1-3; I John 2:15-17).  We were created to be children in the kingdom of God; therefore, faithful children can expect an inheritance.  Faithful Christians are in the kingdom, and it in us.  Jesus will turn the kingdom back to God with us in it; “so that God may be all in all.”  I Cor. 15:24, 28.  Jesus’ kingdom functions within God’s kingdom to achieve the Father’s purpose in creation.  This concept can be understood because Jesus always does God’s will.

Jesus’ preaching revealed God’s will about the culture, the organization, the territory and the future of God’s people who will inherit His kingdom.  It is in this context we can understand “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” by a study of the parables.  This is being worked out in the people who have accepted God’s call to the people in the kingdom of Satan by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These people are the “called out” – the church.  To understand the word “church,” as it has been used in the New Testament, we must possess a concept of the two kingdoms identified in the Apostle Paul’ commission.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.  ‘Now get up and stand on your feet.  I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of Me and what I will show you.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’  Acts 26:15-18

The word “church” refers to the believers who accepted the preaching of the kingdom of God by Philip, Paul and other inspired individuals.  See Acts 2:41, 47; 4:32; 5:11; 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:31.  Preparation for Jesus to reign over God’s program to develop children for His eternal kingdom was not completed until Jesus was glorified on the cross (John 7:37-39; Luke 22:14-22).  The new realm, identified as “in Christ,” did not become a reality until Jesus shed His blood in preparation for God to offer the new covenant (Heb. 8:10-12).  The Holy Spirit’s service was needed for the sanctification of sons of God to be fully implemented; however, God’s Holy Spirit would not fellowship people with guilt on their consciences (Heb. 9:6-14; II Cor. 13:14).  After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension He was given the kingship and priesthood (Acts 2:33-36; 5:31, 32; Heb. 4:14-16).  Note, Jesus told Paul; those who are sanctified have a place by their faith “in Me.”

Paul used the term “in Christ” several times in his letter to the church in Ephesus.  He preached the kingdom of God to people living in darkness in Ephesus (Acts 19:8).  His message about God’s kingdom was the same as “the Way” and “the truth.”  Acts 19:9, 10.  Those who accepted the call of the gospel of the kingdom, the Way and truth became the “called out” – the saints in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1; I Tim. 1:3; Rev. 2:1, 5).  This is how Paul cooperated with Jesus Christ to build a church for God in Asia Minor and Europe (Matt. 16:17, 19; Acts 20:25; Eph. 2:19-22).

The new covenant has been offered by God to develop children for Himself (Heb. 8:10-12).  Jesus is king over those who have accepted God’s covenant and, also have accepted Jesus as our high priest (Acts 2:36; Heb. 4:14).  While considering how Jesus’ kingdom functions in relation to God’s eternal kingdom, it may help us to keep in our minds the same view the Apostle Paul presented to the Corinthian church.

Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.    I Cor. 8:6

The key for attaining a clear understanding of the relationship between God’s and Jesus Christ’s kingdom must be understood in the use of the words, from and through.  This will also help us understand why Paul identified God’s people in Corinth as the “churches of Christ” in his letter to the saints in Rome and God’s people as the “church of God” several times in his letters to the Corinthians (Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:16; 15:9; II Cor. 1:1).  Paul also identified God’s people as the “church of God” in Gal. 1:13; I Tim. 3:5.  Jesus Christ did not come to earth to do anything for Himself, personally.  He gave Himself as a sacrifice on the cross because it was God’s will (Luke 22:42).  He is now ruling  and serving as king and high priest to fulfill God’s purpose for creating mankind.  When He said I will build my church, He built it for God.  He came to serve, not be served (Matt. 20:24-28).  Jesus Christ was resurrected to His Father’s right hand by God to continue to do His Father’s will.  See John 14:13, 24, 28, 31; 15:1; 16:23; Acts 7:56.

Because everything Jesus does is to serve His Father’s will, Christians understand Jesus’ kingship and priesthood serve God as the Father of God’s people.  God’s will and Jesus’ will became one and the same; therefore, Jesus will bring God, His Father, the children He wants (I Cor. 15:22-28).  God’s will is inclusive of both His purpose in creation and the grace He offered after Adam and Eve broke His covenant (II Tim. 1:9).  If God had had no purpose in creation there would have been no need for grace.  Grace is vital for God’s purpose because it frees “people of faith” from guilt; thereby, the grace of justification by faith gives Christians a peaceful relationship with God and His Holy Spirit after being born again (Rom. 4:25-5:1).  The reality of the kingdom of God and Christ will become very clear for true disciples of Christ as we continue to widen our “door of faith” by our study of God’s word (Acts 14:27; II Cor. 3:18).  It is happening with us as John said, “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”  I John 4:13.

God’s people, the church, who live on earth at this time, are the family of God “in Christ” in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Paul asked the Corinthians:  “Don’t you know you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”  I Cor. 3:16.  “In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”  Eph. 2:21, 22.

After the judgment of the church, Christians, who have inherited eternal life in the kingdom, will be gathered with all of God’s people from all times (Jas. 1:12; 2:5; Heb. 11:39, 40).  God’s “children of promise,” also identified as “sons of the living God,” will be turned back to God in the kingdom of God (Rom. 9:8, 26; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21).  God will be all in all.  There will be no concept of the church or the kingdom of Christ in heaven.  What will be is the kingdom of God with some new children.

Christ Jesus preached the kingdom of God for more than three years to the Jews as God’s last prophet to physical Israel.  His aim was to prepare them for “the faith” the apostles proclaimed to Israel in its fullness for the first time in Acts 2:1 – 11:18.  What the Jews were offered for the first time was a new realm identified as “in Christ.”  “The faith” includes “all spiritual blessings in Christ.”  See Eph. 1:3-14.  The term “in Christ,” not only offers Christians a new realm free from Satan’s rule in the world realm, it gave us a unique king to function as our head; therefore, we have a new mind (I Cor. 2:16).   The church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:17, 18; Eph 4:14-16).  The Priesthood of Jesus Christ and fellowship with the Holy Spirit are new blessings God provided for Christians so we can produce the fruit He desires in and of us (Acts 2:38; Rom. 8:5-25; Heb. 4:14-16).  In these last days of time God has taken the kingdom of God away from physical Israel.   He gave it to spiritual Israel; the “Israel of God;” the “church of God.” Gal. 1:13; 6:16.  Because we are also “children of promise,” Gentiles are included in spiritual Israel – children of Abraham with “full rights of sons.”  See Rom. 9:8, 24-26; Gal. 3:26 – 4:7; Eph. 3:6.

Christians identify with the “churches of Christ” who saluted the saints in Rome (Rom. 16:16).  We also identify as members of the “church of God” Jesus is building for His Father (Matt. 16:18; I Cor. 1:2). We have received the kingdom of God; therefore, the kingdom must be in each Christian in order to produce the fruit about which John, the Baptist, warned the Jews.  “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Luke 3:9.  Christians are these trees.  There is a kingdom of God and there is a kingdom of Satan.  We cannot preach one without acknowledging the other; therefore, if we talk about “going to heaven” we must acknowledge the possibility of “going to hell.”  Mark 9:45-48.  Christians have been saved by grace from the world realm.  We have salvation, but we must “grow up into our salvation.”  I Pet. 2:2, 3.  Judgment Day will be about how well God and Christ know we have done (John 5:28-30; II Cor. 5:10).

Why have all of these doctrines, or teachings, been included in the Preface of this book entitled, “Door of Faith?”  The Introduction, entitled, “Born in a Box,” will help Christians understand the need to preface our Bible study with an understanding of our role in the kingdom of God.  The aim of this book is to encourage Christians, who understand the doctrines presented in this Preface, to accept our God-given responsibility for reading, understanding and placing our faith in what we read in the Bible (Heb. 5:11-14).  If you are a Christian who does not understand the kingdom of God and Christ and why you were created, this book should be of value in your study of God’s story about why He created mankind.  Please consider the scriptures in Lesson One before moving on to the topic in Lesson Two and so on throughout the book.  The scriptures are not difficult because God’s story is not difficult; however, if we do not understand, believe and have faith in the kingdom of God, we will find Bible study difficult, to say the least, and perhaps impossible. 

Jesus Christ came to earth, not only to become a sacrifice for faithful repentant sinners, but to preach the kingdom of God.   See Luke 4:43; John 12:27, 28.  We ought to accept the preaching of Jesus Christ over the wisdom of men about His teachings (John 8:14-18).  


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