Theology 101

The Kingdom of God is Not Just the Church

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Jesus came to earth to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, but few Christians recognize that he also came to establish the Kingdom of God. Understanding our place in God’s kingdom is critical to understanding our vocational calling. In his book Doing God’s Business, Paul Stevens comments, “The New Testament treats work in the context of a larger framework: the call of God to live totally for him and his kingdom.”

God’s Kingdom in the Bible

The word “kingdom” occurs 162 times in the New Testament. Clearly, the Kingdom of God is central to the story of the gospels. We could make a strong argument that the Kingdom of God is central to the message of all the Scriptures.

The idea of the kingdom is woven into the fabric of both the Old and New Testaments, and it consistently points to our sovereign king, Jesus Christ. As Graeme Goldsworthy writes, “All the Biblical promises find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Every element of the Old Testament’s unfolding revelation of the kingdom leads to the person of Jesus Christ come in the flesh.”

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee by proclaiming the good news and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15, NASB). In this opening statement of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we find four of the most important words in the New Testament: kingdom, gospel, repent, and believe. Although these are familiar terms, most Christians today would struggle to explain how gospel, repent, and believe relate to the Kingdom of God.

7 Differences Between the Kingdom and the Church

Joseph Mattera, in a recent article, relates seven helpful ideas which assist us to see the contrasts between the kingdom and the institutional church:

  1. The kingdom encompasses all of life. Most contemporary churches depend upon a “church” building as their sacred space.
  2. The kingdom releases all saints as ministers. Most contemporary church systems separate clergy and laity. A royal priesthood and a kingdom of priests (1 Pet. 2:8-9, Rev. 1:6); hence, all Christians are priests called to be set apart for God’s purposes as ministers. 
  3. The kingdom releases people to serve in the marketplace. Most contemporary churches only release and equip people to serve in the church space.
  4. The kingdom applies scripture to all of life. Many contemporary churches apply scripture merely to the individual soul.
  5. In the kingdom, all believers participate in Jesus’ ministry DNA. In contemporary churches, only a few are encouraged to participate in His ministry DNA (Eph. 4:7). 
  6. In the kingdom, the church shepherds the community. The typical contemporary church shepherds only the flock.
  7. In the kingdom, we understand creation grace (also called common grace). In the contemporary church, we only understand saving grace

The Coming of the Kingdom 

The coming of the Kingdom is the central event of redemptive history, which explains its prominent place in the teaching of Christ. To quote Kevin DeYoung, “The Kingdom of God is the age to come breaking into the present age.”

The coming of the Kingdom of God involves two great moments. The first is a fulfillment within history of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection; the second is the consummation of the kingdom at the end of history with the second coming of Christ. George Ladd writes in his book The Presence of The Future that God’s plan:

…was not to bring the evil Age to its end and inaugurate the Age to Come. It was rather to bring the powers of the future Age to men in the midst of the present evil Age.

Many passages in the New Testament lead us to believe that the kingdom is here already. A large part of Christ’s ministry was the announcement of the coming of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17, Matt. 4:23; Matt. 10:7; Matt. 24:14; Lk. 4:43). 

At the same time, other New Testament references lead us to believe that the kingdom is not yet. The apostle John, in his vision, heard of a time when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15) and when the hosts of darkness face crushing defeat (Rev. 19:11-21). Paul announced a time when every knee will bow to Jesus, and every tongue will confess Him as Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). 

We can reconcile the apparent contradiction by acknowledging that Christians today live in the tension of the already, not yet. The Kingdom of God has already been established here on earth through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it has not yet been consummated. 

The consummation will happen at the end of this present age when Jesus Christ physically returns to bring peace and judgment and ushers in the New Heaven and New Earth.

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