I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: The Kingdom and Paul's Theology
I love the illustration that I read recently about Peter McKenzie, the famous Methodist preacher, who was being shown over Madame Tussaud's Waxworks in London. Coming to one object, his guide said: 'This is the chair in which Voltaire sat and wrote his atheistic blasphemies.'
`Is that the chair?' asked Peter; and then, without seeking permission, he stepped over the cord, sat down on the chair, and sang as only a real believer could:
Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Doth His successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
The question is, which would you rather have—McKenzie's faith or Voltaire's atheism? I choose faith in the King of the universe, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The term "kingdom of the LORD" appears twice in the Old Testament Hebrew Bible, in 1 Chronicles 28:5 and 2 Chronicles 13:8. In addition, "his kingdom" and "your kingdom" are sometimes used when referring to God such as in Psalm 103:19 which states:
"The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His Kingdom rules over all."
The Old Testament refers to "God the Judge of all" and the notion that all humans will eventually "be judged" is an essential element both in Jewish and Christian teachings. And the prophetic coming of the kingdom of God involved God finally taking back the reins of history, which he had allowed to slacken as pagan Empires had ruled the nations.
Kingdom (in Greek: βασιλεία basileíā) appears 162 times in the New Testament and most of these uses relate to either the Kingdom of God or to the. Kingdom of Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke.
It can be argued that this term, Kingdom of God or Kingdom or Heaven is the major theme of Jesus' earthly teaching and that of the 12 later. But what of the Apostle Paul? Did he teach anything about the Kingdom of God?
I strongly believe that Paul was given a distinctive message regarding the Body of Christ, the Church, which he said was a mystery hidden in God since the foundation of the world (Colossians 1:26). In Ephesians 3:3 he calls it the mystery that was made known to him by revelation. And Paul also calls it 'my gospel' 3 times in his epistles (Romans 2:16; Romans 16:25 and II Timothy 2:8).
And I believe Scripture teaches that there are distinctions between God's people Israel and the Church that we are a part of today.
However, does that mean that the kingdom of God was a foreign term to Paul's theology? I would argue no. He used the phrase 14 times in his epistles. And a total of 5 more times he either used it or it was used of his ministry in the book of Acts. So it isn't a theme that we can ignore and still say that we understand Pauline theology. I would argue that the Kingdom of God was a major part of his understanding regarding the destinies of both Israel and the Church.
To have a Pauline understanding of God's kingdom is to believe that God is in complete control of history and that there is a purpose in the events of this life which will culminate in the rule of Jesus Christ and God the Father over the entire universe when one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10,11).
Let us examine this beautiful concept and see what we can learn regarding what Paul has to say to us about the kingdom of God.
I. The Book of Acts and Paul's Teaching on the Kingdom of God
In order to see that Paul actually taught the Kingdom of God in his preaching we can begin by looking at the book of Acts. For example, in 14:8-22 we have Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. Paul preaches to the crowds and heals a lame man. At first the crowds honored Paul and Barnabas as gods until the Jews came and turned them against the duo. Then Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city,. He was thought to be dead. But he got up and later went to Derbe and preached there. Then Paul and Barnabas went back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. In verse 22 it tells us that Paul was:
"Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying: 'through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God."
In Acts 19 Paul is in Ephesus. In verse 8, while he was there, it tells us:
"And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the Kingdom of God."
By Acts 20 Paul is leaving Ephesus and was saying farewell to the Ephesian elders. He told them:
"Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom of God will ever see me again." (20:25).
Finally, in the last chapter of Acts, (28), we have Paul under house arrest in Rome, in his own rented home awaiting to be judged by Caesar. While there he got together the leading men of the Jews in order to defend himself and let them know what he was teaching that got him locked up. In verse 20 he said he was chained for the hope of Israel. And in 28:23 it says:
"When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening,"
Further, in the very last verses in Acts, (28:30,31), the writer Luke tells us concerning the Apostle Paul:
"And he stayed in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."
So, we see from this that both Paul, and Luke, the writer of Acts, thought that what Paul was preaching and teaching was, in some way, advancing the kingdom of the one true God that they were serving.
II. What the Kingdom of God Isn't
So just what is the Kingdom of God that Paul refers to in his writings? It would help us first to say what it is not. When Paul talks about God's Kingdom, he is not referring to the Church as somehow replacing Israel in history and that God's promises are going to the Body of Christ as some sort of "spiritual Israel."
God made many promises to Abraham that he would have both a land and a posterity, in the book of Genesis, which the Lord called an everlasting promise. He would make him into a great nation and all the nations of the world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12, 17, 21). It was an unconditional covenant, so it was not based upon what Abraham's descendants did or didn't do.
And, of course, in the Davidic Covenant in II Samuel 7, we see God making another promise to King David that he would have one of his descendants sitting on the throne of Israel forever (7:16).
Paul sees in Romans 9-11, that though Israel has been temporarily set aside because of unbelief, that the Lord isn't finished with them. He tells the Romans that when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in all Israel will be saved (11:25-27). And the God who never fails in His promises, will bring about all of them to pass that He has made to national Israel. They will have a land, a seed, a messiah and will be a nation through which all other nations will be blessed.
Until then, we are living in a mystery period, that is unprophesied in previous times, in which God is not dealing with a nation but with all nations and is placing them into the Church, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-6). They are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Whatever Paul is talking about when discussing the kingdom of God, it includes both Israel and the Church without erasing the distinctions between them or the physical earthy promises made to Israel. Israel and the Church are separate but under the same umbrella of God's eternal kingdom.
It may be an oversimplification but a definition of Paul's use of the Kingdom of God might be to say that it is the universal rule of a sovereign God over all of the universe in and through Jesus Christ His Son.
In a broad sense it is the rule of God over all that there is. However, presently, not all of creation acknowledges that rule. So in a much more narrow sense today it is the spiritual rule of the Lord over the hearts and lives of those who submit to Him and acknowledge Jesus Christ by faith. Those who don't submit are not in that eternal kingdom that will never end and they never will be apart from turning to Christ. They will be judged and subject to God's wrath and judgment (Romans 1:18ff).
With all this in mind lets look at some specific characteristics of the Kingdom of God in Pauline theology.
III. The Kingdom of God is for Those Cleansed from Sin
One of the major characteristics of the the kingdom, according to Paul, is that it cannot be entered into by those who are in a sinful state apart from receiving Christ's righteousness. Paul tells the Corinthians that flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom. And neither can corruption inherit incorruption (I Corinthians 15:50).
In Galatians 5:20,21 the apostle talks about the acts of the flesh and names all sorts of things that people do that are sinful and says that those who live like that will not inherit the kingdom of God. I Corinthians 6:9,10 says some similar things to this and repeats twice that those who are sinful will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Also, Paul says this to the Ephesians:
"For this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such person is an idolater- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Ephesians 5:5).
We can thank the Lord Jesus that He died for us, took our sins and gave us His righteousness. For, to understand the Pauline theology of the kingdom completely, we must realize that none of us is without sin and guilt. None of us can make it if left to our own works.
IV. The Kingdom of God is Spiritual
The next thing that we can fathom from Paul's epistles is a definite sense in which the Kingdom of God is spiritual. It is a decision to obey the Lord in all things. Paul touches on this when he talks about not doing things that will cause a weaker brother to stumble in Romans 14, including the things that we eat. He tells the Romans:
"Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (14:16-17).
It's not about ceremonialism and what you eat and don't eat. These are non-essentials. Rather it is about having a heart for holy, obedient living and the peace or loving tranquility produced by the Spirit of God.
Paul talks further of the spiritual aspect of the kingdom in I Corinthians 4. Some of the Corinthians were arrogant and prideful in themselves. They thought Paul would never come and they could keep doing what they wanted and sinning unchecked. Paul says, that won't happen. He is planning on coming and then he will see how tough they really are. They talked a big talk, but they knew they were wrong and guilty and they would not be able to stand up to Paul in person and defend themselves. He says about these arrogant men:
"For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power."
In other words, spiritual character is not measured by impressive words, but in the power of ones life and how it is lived.
V. The Kingdom of God Has a Sense of Present Reality
Also, the kingdom of God is not only a future to look forward to but a present reality demonstrated by those who follow Christ. And it is not a reality that we place ourselves into. We could never get into it on our own. Paul says:
"For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves." (Colossians 1:13)
Further, this present reality includes the fellow believers that we are privileged to be sharing our life and ministry with today. In Colossians 4 Paul talks about several co-workers who send their greetings. He concludes in Colossians 4:11 by saying:
"Jesus who is called Justus also sends greetings. These are the only co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me."
Finally, this reality that we are living in includes those who help us and lead us by their ministry in this life on Christ's behalf. In I Thessalonians 2:12 the Apostle tells the Thessalonians:
"For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory."
Paul loved those in the kingdom of God whom the Lord gave him to care for just as a father loves his children and he wanted them to serve the God whom he loved as well.
VI. The Kingdom of God is Only Fully Realized in the Future
The next thing we have to realize in Paul's understanding of the Kingdom is that although it is, in a sense a present reality, the only time that this kingdom will be fully realized is in the future when Christ returns and places everything under His feet. There are several Scriptures in which Paul talks about this.
He told the Thessalonians, when admiring their perseverance in the midst of persecutions and afflictions, that this was evidence that God's judgment is right and as a result they will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which they were suffering. (II Thessalonians 1:5).
The Apostle also charges his young spiritual son Timothy that:
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge" (II Timothy 4:1).
And at the end of his life, Paul tells Timothy in his final epistle before he was martyred that:
"The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom, To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen! (II Timothy 4:18).
When all is said and done, all who want to have a future that is worth looking forward to have to place themselves in the hands of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who made it possible for us to enter His wonderful and glorious Kingdom.
History, as we know it is coming to an end. All the enemies of God will be overcome and driven from this universe and placed into the Lake of Fire. Paul tells us that:
"Then comes the end, when He, (Christ), hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.
When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all (I Corinthians 15:24-28).
History has a goal which Paul calls the dispensation of the fullness of times (Ephesians 1:10). Then all things will be summed up in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.
The question is: "Will you be in that Kingdom?" If you have accepted the salvation that Christ has brought about by His death, burial and resurrection then, praise God, you are now and will be forever in that wonderful and glorious kingdom. You need to give thanks to Him every day for that fact.
If you haven't accepted Christ then bow down at His feet today and ask Him to forgive you your sins and save your soul! And He will do it.
I have read the whole Bible and at the end, God wins! That means that all who follow Him, no matter what is going on in your life today, will ultimately win too. Let us all praise God that we have the unsurpassed opportunity to be in the greatest kingdom of all time and eternity. The incomparable and unending Kingdom of our God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
© 2021 Jeff Shirley