Is it true that Jesus will establish the kingdom of God on the earth when He returns? Did Jesus somehow fail to bring about the kingdom of God during his first earthly ministry? Did fallen humanity confound His first attempt? Is Jesus just waiting around in heaven for His big chance to try it again?
TAKE-AWAYS FROM THIS LESSON
- What does it mean to “sit at the right hand of God”?
- Is Jesus reigning currently?
- Is Jesus’ kingdom an earthly kingdom? What do we know about the kingdom of God?
- Did Jesus fail to inaugurate the kingdom of God during His first earthly ministry?
There is a notion in Christendom that says the inauguration and advancement of the kingdom of God (also known as the kingdom of heaven by Matthew) was put on hold due to the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah in the early AD 30’s. “Mitchell C” wrote in the following:
The gospel is the gospel of the kingdom! Jesus is going to return and set up the kingdom of God ON THE EARTH! God’s government ON THE EARTH! Believers will rule the nations with Jesus! The Messiah died for his people! God resurrected the Messiah! The Messiah will resurrect his people at his coming! They will rule the nations! The destiny of the Messiah and his people is to be ON THE EARTH! The renewed restored earth! God also dwelling with them! Rev 21
Theologically, I agree with almost 100% of what Mitchell wrote. I can agree the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed the gospel of the kingdom of God. I can agree God’s government for humanity occurs on the earth. I too believe we rule the nations with Jesus. I agree the Messiah died for His people, that He was resurrected, and I would actually argue that all will be resurrected at His return (John 5:28-29), some to eternal life and some to condemnation. And yes, I believe we will rule the restored Earth and God will dwell among us.
But the notion that Jesus will return and only then set up the kingdom of God on the earth?
I believe this is a mistake.
This idea of a delayed kingdom insinuates Jesus somehow failed to bring the kingdom of God to the earth the first time; that broken humanity and the demonic realm confounded His first attempt. It conveys He’s just waiting around in heaven for His big chance to try it all again.
So, while I largely agree with Mitchell theologically, I strongly disagree with him eschatologically.
I think there are some important questions we need to get clear on.
- What does it even mean to be “sitting at the right hand of God”?
- Is Jesus reigning on His throne right now?
- What is the nature of the kingdom of God? How will we recognize it?
- Did Jesus fail to usher in the kingdom of God during His first earthly ministry?
When I asked Mitchell if Jesus was reigning on His throne right now, Mitchell responded, “Jesus is at the right hand of God waiting for his enemies to be put under his feet. Nations are not submitted to him now. [They] will be when he comes back.”
What does it mean to be seated at the right hand of God?
A couple things regarding Mitchell’s response about a delayed kingdom. First, it appears we as a Church don’t know what it means to be “seated at the right hand of God.” There are several places in Scripture where we’re assured Jesus is at God’s right hand. Here are two examples from Hebrews:
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: (Hebrews 1:3)
Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such a high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; (Hebrews 8:1)
So, we can be sure Jesus is seated with the Father. This was a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophetic dream in Daniel 7:13-14:
“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
“And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
We have even further confirmation of this in that the Holy Spirit has been poured out into the world:
“Being, therefore, exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:33)
But what does “being seated at the right hand of God” mean? It means all creation is under Jesus, as He is seated at the same level as the Father. If all creation—even the angelic hosts—are under the Father (and they are, of course)—and if Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father—that means all creation has been subjected to Jesus.
This means He reigns over all.
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (1 Peter 3:22)
Was the gospel proclaimed to all nations?
Another thing we need to get clear on is the idea of “nations”. These days, we look at maps riddled with lines and we call those segmented swaths of land “nations”. In Jesus’ time, nations had a broader meaning. Nations [εθνεσιν, ethnesin, Strong’s Greek 1484: Probably from etho; a race, i.e. a tribe; especially, a foreign one] meant people groups, tribes and kingdoms; not just countries. Matthew 24:14 declares, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world [οικουμενη, oikoumenē, land] for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew isn’t talking about all nations listed on maps 2,000+ years later. He’s talking about the known lands, which were largely under the domain of the Roman Empire.
Was the gospel proclaimed to all nations? Yes, according to Paul:
For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which has come to you, as it is in all the world; and brings forth fruit, as it does also in you, since the day you heard of it and knew the grace of God in truth: (Colossians 1:5-6)
If you continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I, Paul, am made a minister; (Colossians 1:23)
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias said, Lord, who has believed our report? So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (Romans 10:16-18)
Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: (Romans 16:25-26)
So, if 1) Jesus is currently reigning with God the Father and 2) the gospel of the kingdom has been shared with all nations (“all the earth”), we still have to consider the idea that all current-day, lines-on-the-map nations are not under His rule, don’t we?
Again, it’s not about the lines on the map. This is about the tribes, nations and tongues we see represented in Revelation 7:9:
“After this I beheld a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;”
In no way do I believe this vision indicates an earthly kingdom, though many of its current inhabitants do walk the earth. This prophetic vision is heavenly; ethereal. It speaks to the creation of a unified spiritual kingdom, made up of souls from many earthly nations, tribes and languages. Like faithful Israel in its days under Assyrian, Babylonian or Roman rule, the wheat grows up among the tares. This sanctified kingdom of God grows up—generation after generation—among the fallen, pagan empires of this world, with each generation of believers being added to the previous.
What does the Bible tell us about the kingdom of God?
The Bible has several explanations regarding the kingdom of God and you’ll notice none of them include brick-and-mortar estates or land promises. Through Daniel, we know when the kingdom was to be established.
When will the kingdom of God be established?
Daniel foretold the coming of a kingdom that would begin during the days of the Roman Empire:
And in the days of these kings [the Roman Empire] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Daniel 2:44)
“…His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:3)
Indeed, Christianity—though persecuted—grew and spread all across the Mediterranean, the near East and western Europe until it “consumed all these kingdoms.” Christianity was legalized by Constantine in 313 AD and, within the decade following, had become the official religion of the “Holy Roman Empire”.
Another time marker indicating the kingdom of God has been established is in Revelation 12:10, following the Messiah being “snapped up to God and to His throne”:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.”
How will we recognize the kingdom of God?
Jesus teaches us about the spiritual nature of the kingdom:
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
“Marvel not that I said to you, you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear the sound, but cannot tell from where it comes and where it goes. So is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God comes not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20–21)
Finally, Paul speaks of the kingdom of God being in terms of the regenerative heart in a Christian:
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17)
How long will Jesus’ reign last?
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-26. Also Psalm 8:6, Psalm 110:1.)
Was the kingdom of God inaugurated when Jesus walked the earth?
My next questions to Mitchell were, “So do you believe the kingdom of God was inaugurated when Jesus walked the earth? What do you believe about the kingdom of God?” I wanted to zero in on what he believed about the kingdom of God because the very nature of his position has to deny Jesus’ success at His first incarnation and looks forward to a carnal, earthly kingdom. This tells us we don’t understand the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God; we still insist on a physical, earthly kingdom before the renewed heavens and earth of Revelation 21-22. This comes out of misunderstanding Revelation 20 (but that’s a different talk.)
In response, Mitchell writes: “No. That was a taste of it. And there is a taste of it now with believers. It will be inaugurated when he comes back. See Luke 19 parable of the nobleman. He goes away to receive a kingdom. Then comes back to rule. We are waiting for him to get back.”
Is the Parable of the Ten Minas (the Parable of the Nobleman) about the end times?
Luke 19:11-27 is the Parable of the Ten Minas—sometimes called the Parable of the Nobleman. In this parable, a nobleman goes to a distant country to be appointed king and then returns to mete out reward (or punishment) to their fruitful (or unfruitful) servants. Notice a couple things about this story:
- The nobleman who goes to a distant country to be made king and then returns is obviously Jesus Himself. (Most Bible scholars agree on this point.)
- The servants are Israel. The subjects who hate Him represent the Jewish religious order. Some faithful servants do bear fruit, while some do nothing with the revelation they have received.
- The punishment for their rejection is death. Notice when the chief priests renounced Jesus at Pilate’s trial, they declared, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) This parable prophesies their end:
26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
In the very next verses (v28-44), we see Jesus entering Jerusalem as king, riding a colt to the song of Psalm 118 as a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 (Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.) As Jesus approaches, he weeps over the city and says:
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)
This was obviously a prediction of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Jesus Himself decrees the judgment here, and again when He later gives the Olivet Discourse.
There is no future fulfillment awaiting the Parable of the Nobleman in Luke 19; its predictive warning was fulfilled, just as Jesus’ prophecy during the Triumphal Entry was fulfilled.
The kingdom of God is spiritual and it is now
The kingdom of God is a present spiritual reality:
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
“But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” (Matthew 12:28)
“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15)
So, what do we say to these scriptures that seem to indicate Jesus successfully inaugurated His kingdom?
Remember His words to Pilate; it is a kingdom not of this earth. (John 18:36: Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from here.)
I believe the kingdom of God—as prophesied in Daniel—arrived as predicted, heralded by John the Baptist and inaugurated during the ministry of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father and is reigning as King currently; He is not waiting for some future date. When He returns, He will judge the living and the dead.
“And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed unto me; That you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:29-30)
If the resurrection of the Son of God wasn’t enough to inaugurate the kingdom, what would be?