How does the NT use the word kingdom? What does it mean to enter the kingdom, seek the kingdom, or even proclaim God's kingdom (Acts 28:31)?
1. The word kingdom appears 157 times in 148 verses in the NT, but it does not have a single consistent meaning or definition from Matthew 3:2 to Revelation 16:10. What we find is that context matters.
2. Most often, kingdom means the 'reign of God' as it does in Matthew 6:33, 'seek first the kingdom of God.' First, above everything else, seek that God reigns in your life. Is He your Lord? When we pray 'your kingdom come,' we are praying for two things simultaneously. We are praying that the reign of God will grow, and we are praying for the return of Christ to establish his reign.
3. There is no difference between the 'kingdom of God' and the 'kingdom of heaven.' Matthew alone uses the term ‘kingdom of heaven’. Both refer to the absolute rule and reign of God in heaven and in individual lives as they submit to his R-E-I-G-N. Read Luke 17:20-21. Christ said, 'my kingdom is not of this world.' And the thief on the cross said, 'remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Revelation 11:15 promises that 'the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ.' And that ‘he shall reign forever.' In one verse, we see an example of the already and not yet aspect of God's kingdom.
4. Sometimes kingdom refers to the R-E-A-L-M where God is, and where the believer goes when he or she dies (Acts 14:22). Jesus said, 'unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God' (John 3:3,5). This kingdom is eternal (2 Peter 1:11) and heavenly (2 Tim 4:18).
5. Occasionally kingdom refers to earthly kingdoms or the realm over which Satan is ruling as in Matthew 12:16 and Revelation 16.10.
6. One can quickly get confused concerning the kingdom. Paul said the kingdom is not what we eat or drink (Rom 14:17), but Jesus said, 'the kingdom is not coming in ways that can be observed' and 'we will eat bread in the kingdom of God' (Lk 17:20 & 14:15). This shows me the strikingly different ways the NT uses the word. Paul is speaking of something present in a spiritual sense, while Jesus describes it both ways.
7. Finally, what is the gospel of the kingdom of God? Jesus said, 'And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come' (Mt 24:14; Acts 8:12). The gospel of the kingdom is the good news that the king died for your sins so that you don't have to die in your sins (Jn 8:24). The good news of the kingdom is the king who died for your sins is not dead—He rose from the grave, ascended to his throne in heaven, and is returning to establish an eternal kingdom on this 'new' earth and you by faith in him can be part of this eternal kingdom. The question is: ‘Will you be?’
In the middle of Hebrews 13 is a simple yet profound verse that impacts our understanding of what the future holds.
For here, we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come (v. 14)
The writer of Hebrews tells the Jews that they do not have a lasting or enduring city on this earth. The Jews were in love with Jerusalem; it was the capital and, more importantly, the temple's location. But for the follower of Christ, that temple is meaningless. When Christ gave up his last breath on the cross, the curtain of that temple was torn in two. And then, about two decades later, the Romans destroyed the temple in 70AD. Simply put, the NT is done with that temple. We, the believers, are the new temple. Physical sacrifices have been replaced by spiritual sacrifices. The sons of Abraham are now all who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we are the people who are now seeking the city which is to come.
Hebrews 13:14 is the third reference to this city in this book. Previously the writer has told us about a better country, the city of the living God, and the heavenly Jerusalem.
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (11:16)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (12:22)
Where else is this heavenly Jerusalem mentioned and described? Revelation 21 is the chapter that contains John's vision of this city coming down to the earth. Read the text with me:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
Now, if one subscribes to the assumption that Revelation 4-22 is a chronological presentation of the events to come in the future—that is to say the writer never circles back and describes events again from a different perspective (recursive parallelism) then we are left to conclude that there are 1000 years of time on this earth where Christ is here, but we are still looking for the heavenly city. The language of the text is 'we are seeking the city to come.'
It is difficult to imagine how Christ would be ruling on the earth, yet the city of God is yet to come. But this is precisely what one must conclude if there is a future 1000-year kingdom separating the return of Christ from the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem. Look at the language in the text: 'as a bride adorned for her husband.' Is Christ ruling on this earth for 1000 years without his bride? Or will Christ be on this earth ruling separate from God the Father in heaven for 1000 years? Pause and think about what I am saying. Paul says in Titus 2:13 that we are "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." Are we waiting for Christ, and then once Christ returns, we turn to waiting for the city to come? Will we be with the Son but not the Father? Is the heavenly city empty for 1000 years?
However, if we dispense with the idea that Revelation 20:6 is a future kingdom on this earth, then our problems are eliminated. And our eschatology becomes so much simpler. We live in this age and long for the age to come (Mk 10:30). For in the age to come:
· Christ has returned with all his Saints
· Believers are given new bodies
· Satan, the Beast, and his followers have been defeated
· The dead are resurrected for judgment
· The sheep have been separated from the goats
· A new heaven and new earth have been created
· The enemies of God are consigned to the lake of fire
· The heavenly Jerusalem has descended to the new earth
· Death is defeated
· All tears are wiped away
· The dwelling place of God is with man
· The eternal kingdom is inaugurated
The greatest obstacle to this understanding of the future is the issue of the binding of Satan. As described in Revelation 20:2-3
And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Yet Peter says Satan "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). So, which is it? Is Satan bound, or is Satan loose seeking someone to devour? Jesus provides us much help in reconciling the issue as to whether Satan is bound or loose presently? Jesus said, "no one can enter a strong man's house [this world] and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man [the Satan]. Then indeed he may plunder his house" (Mk 3:27). If we assume that the binding of Satan has yet to occur, then the instruction Jesus provides concerning binding the strong man is meaningless. Jesus says one must bind the strong man but then does not bind him. There is no reason for Christ to wait until after the Great Commission has been fulfilled to bind Satan. The church needs Satan's ability to deceive the nations bound now since it has been charged with making disciples of all the nations now—not in the future (Matt 28:19). And Mark 13:10, "the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations." Clearly, there must be a connection between 'the nations' in Revelation 20 and Matthew 28 and Mark 13. It seems best to conclude that Satan's power to deceive the nations has been bound until just before the end of this age when he will be permitted to deceive the nations one final time before the final battle of this age (Revelation 19-20). But this binding does not eliminate the degree to which Satan remains the enemy of God and the people of God. The parameters of the binding are limited to what Revelation 20:3 says, 'so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.'
For many years, I believed what others taught concerning a post-return of Christ 1000-year kingdom on this earth. In fact, I believed it so much that I taught it as well, but I also struggled with it. I struggled with why neither Jesus nor Paul ever mentioned it. I struggled with why is a temple being rebuilt? And why are we going back to animal sacrifices? I struggled with where do the souls go of those who die during the 1000-year kingdom. And why is there another battle at the end, just like the battle at the end of this age? Or why doesn’t Paul say anything about it in 1 Corinthians 15?
And then, quite accidentally, a fantastic journey began in June of 2018 when I embarked on a study of the last book of the New Testament. Up to this point, I had avoided Revelation like I avoid snakes and dark alleys in big cities. Initially, I committed to only preaching through chapter 3. I will just cover the letters written to the seven churches in Asia Minor, is what I said. Surely, I can do that! And then, on one fateful Sunday morning, I committed to the assembled church that I would preach through the whole book. Wow. Did I just say that? Now what? I knew what was in the book. I had walked down that alley in the daytime. A year later, I finished that journey, and it was incredible. Each week I would share where I had been and what I was learning with the church. Like a tour guide, for 51 weeks, I led the church through my tour of the book. I had slides and pictures. I wanted everyone to see what I saw.
In the end, after ten months of continuous study, I concluded that the correct interpretation of Revelation 20 was not a literal 1000-year kingdom on this earth that ends with the battle of Gog and Magog. Since that conclusion, some have been quite bothered with me. "You're taking away our 1000-year kingdom on this earth." And I want it back is what is implied. But I am not taking it away.
I want you to imagine that your family took a two-week vacation to Myrtle Beach for all your childhood and into your adult years. I mean a great getaway. Terrific memories. Lots of fun in the sun. But each year, your time at this incredible beach house came to an end. It wasn't an eternal vacation. It had a beginning and an end. Each year you looked forward to it with great anticipation, and each year it came to an end.
And then one day, your dad came home and announced with all the authority a dad can muster: "Family, we are no longer going to Myrtle Beach for vacation." Your heart sinks. “But why not?” You want to know. You have been looking forward to this vacation with Dad all year. He travels a lot. He is often gone for days, sometimes weeks. But at the beach, you will see him face to face every day. You can't imagine why you are not going on vacation this year. Why is Dad taking away our annual beach trip?
Then after a very long pregnant pause, Dad announces that he bought your favorite vacation home, and even as he speaks, crews are working on rebuilding the entire house from the ground up. Dad begins describing how everything is going to be made new. The game room, the kitchen, the AC units, the swimming pool - all made new. Wow! You can’t wait to see this new beach home.
And then dad says we are moving to that family beach house. No longer will our vacations come to an end. Dad says we will live there for all eternity. Suddenly your heart changes. Dad isn't taking away anything. Living at that beach house forever is far better than any two-week vacation. And while the house was great, it was getting old and had its issues. You can't wait to see what it is going to look like new.
You see, those who don't believe in a separate and distinct 1000-year kingdom on this earth aren't taking anything away. Instead, we believe the next stop on this epic journey after the return of Christ is a new heaven and a new earth, as described in Revelation 21. And by the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:11-13. Peter writes,
"Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."
Notice Peter says nothing about another kingdom on this earth that will precede the eternal kingdom and follow this current age. Instead, Peter says, "we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth." And whenever Jesus talks about the future, he talks about this age and the age to come (Mark 12:32).
I don't understand why anyone would get upset about skipping this year's vacation at the beach (which comes to an end) and moving to the beach for all eternity. Peter says it like this, “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1.11).
Furthermore, and finally, at the end of the 1000 year kingdom (if that is correct) is another brutal global battle in which millions, perhaps billions, are deceived. The number is as the sand of the sea. They surround the camp of the saints, and fire comes down from heaven and consumes them all. Read Revelation 20:7-9. After much analysis, I concluded that Armageddon and the battle of Gog and Magog are the same battles. See the chart below. This age ends with an epic battle, and that is the final battle before eternal peace. In Ezekiel God promises he “will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezekiel 37:26–28). Compare that to Revelation 21:2-4 and you realize God fulfills the covenant he made to Israel in the eternal kingdom. Come, Lord Jesus. Come establish your eternal kingdom on this earth for we long to be with you for all eternity.