A Spiritual Kingdom
The essence of the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus was that the kingdom of heaven was near during the time they lived:
- John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2)
- Jesus: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' ... Now Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom. ...” (Matt. 4:17, 23)
Jesus taught about the character of those who would be in His kingdom (Matt. 5:3-10). He taught parables that described various features of the kingdom (Matthew 13). He reiterated its nearness when He said, “There are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” (Mark 9:1)
In the moments before His death, Jesus told the disciples, “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me.” (Luke 22:29) Finally, before Pontius Pilate, Jesus affirmed: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here. ... You rightly say that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:36-37)
Jesus came to establish a kingdom, to be anointed and enthroned as King, to gather all authority unto Himself in the heavens and on earth, and that is exactly what He did. (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 1:16-18) Confusion comes from those who do not understand the nature of this kingdom, and it leads them to deny that any kingdom was established.
Pilate and the Jewish leaders were confused by their own presuppositions and expectations. Jesus did not come to raise a literal army, drive the Romans out of Palestine, establish Himself in a fortified palace and secure a few decades of reign. His kingdom is far more powerful, glorious and enduring than some earthly kingdom.
When sinners respond to God in faith and obedience, they become part of a special group belonging unto God. The New Testament calls the saved members of the body (1 Cor. 12:27), living stones in the temple (1 Pet. 2:4-5), saints in the church (1 Cor. 1:2) and citizens in the kingdom (Eph. 2:19; Col. 1:13; Philip. 3:20). These terms are synonymous -- body, temple, church, kingdom. They are collective nouns describing those who belong to God, who have been redeemed from their sins and now live in fellowship with Him.
The time will come when we will leave this physical world behind and enjoy the fullness of the heavenly kingdom, but for now we are living on earth as foreigners or sojourners. Christ is our King; we are His citizens; He rules the universe on behalf of His kingdom.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28-29)