Definition of *Kingdom*
Source: Elwell's Theological Dictionary
(quoted for Peter S. 7/17/04)


The kingdom of God is also the kingdom of Christ. Jesus speaks of the kingdom of the Son of man (Matt. 13:41; 16:28), "my kingdom" (Luke 22:30; John 18:36). See "His kingdom" (Luke 1:33; II Tim. 4:1); "thy kingdom" (Matt. 20:31; Luke 23:42; Heb. 1:8); "the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col. 1:13); "His heavenly kingdom" (II Tim. 4:18); "the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 1:11).

The Father has given the kingdom to Christ (Luke 22:29), and when the Son has accomplished His rule, He will restore the kingdom to the Father (I Cor. 15:24). Therefore it is "the kingdom of the world is to become "the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. 11:15). There is no tension between "the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ" (Rev. 12:10).

The Secular Use.
Basileia is first the authority to rule as a king and secondly the realm over which the reign is exercised.

The Abstract Meaning. In Luke 19:12, 15 a nobleman went into a far country to receive a "kingdom," i.e., authority to rule. Rev. 17:12 speaks of ten kings who have not yet received a "kingdom"; they are to "receive authority as kings" for one hour. These kings give over their "kingdom," their authority, to the Beast (Rev. 17:17). The harlot is the great city which has "kingdom," dominion over the kings of the earth (Rev. 17:18).

The Concrete Meaning. The kingdom is also a realm over which a reign is exercised. The idea of a realm is found in Matt. 4:8=Luke 4:5; Matt. 24:7; Mark 6:23; Rev. 16:10.

The Kingdom Is God's Reign. The "kingdom of God" means primarily the rule of God, the divine kingly authority.

OT Usage. The Hebrew word
malekut, like basileia, carries primarily the abstract rather than the concrete meaning. A king's reign is frequently dated by the phrase "in the...year of this malekut," i.e., of His reign (I Chr. 26:31; Dan. 1:1). The establishment of Solomon's malekut (I Kings 2:12) meant the securing of His reign. The reception of Saul's malekut by David (I Chr. 12:23) is the authority to reign as king. The abstract idea is evident when the word is placed in parallelism with such abstract concepts as power, might, glory, dominion (Dan. 2:37; 4:34; 7:14).

When malekut is used of God, it almost always refers to His authority or His rule as the heavenly King. See Pss. 22:28; 103:19; 145:11, 13; Obad. 21; Dan. 6:26.


In the NT. The kingdom of God is the divine authority and rule given by the Father to the Son (Luke 22:29). Christ will exercise this rule until He has subdued all that is hostile to God. When He has put all enemies under His feet, He will return the kingdom, His messianic authority, to the Father (I Cor. 15:24-28).

The kingdom (not kingdoms) now exercised by men in opposition to God is to become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15) and "He shall reign for ever and ever." In Rev. 12:10 the kingdom of God is parallel to the salvation and power of God and the authority of His Christ.

This abstract meaning is apparent in the Gospels. In Luke 1:33 the everlasting kingdom of Christ is synonymous with His rule. When Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), He did not refer to His realm; He meant that His rule was not derived from earthly authority but from God and that His kingship would not manifest itself like a human kingdom but in accordance with the divine purpose. The kingdom which men must receive with childlike simplicity (Mark 10:15; Matt. 19:14; Luke 18:17), which men must seek (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31), which Christ will give to the disciples (Luke 22:29), is the divine rule.

The Kingdom Is Soteriological. The object of the divine rule is the redemption of men and their deliverance from the powers of evil. I Cor. 15:23-28 is definitive. Christ's reign means the destruction of all hostile powers, the last of which is death. The kingdom of God is the reign of God in Christ destroying all that is hostile to the divine rule.

The NT sees a hostile kingdom standing over against God's kingdom. The "kingdom of the world" is opposed to God's kingdom (Rev. 11:15) and must be conquered. The kingdoms of the world are under satanic control (Matt. 4:8; Luke 4:5). Matt. 12:26 and Luke 11:18 speak of the kingdom of Satan, whose power over men is shown in demon possession. This world or age opposes the working of God's kingdom; the cares of the age will choke the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:22).

This opposition between the two kingdoms, of God and of Satan, is summarized in II Cor. 4:4. Satan is called the god of this age and is seen to exercise His rule by holding men in darkness. This statement must be understood in light of the fact that God remains the King of the ages (I Tim. 1:17; Rev. 15:3).

The kingdom of God is the redemptive rule of God in Christ defeating Satan and the powers of evil and delivering men from the sway of evil. It brings to men "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). Entrance into the kingdom of Christ means deliverance from the power of darkness (Col. 1:13) and is accomplished by the new birth (John 3:3, 5).

The Kingdom Is Dynamic. The kingdom is not an abstract principle; the kingdom comes. It is God's rule actively invading the kingdom of Satan. The coming of the kingdom, as John the Baptist preached it, would mean a mighty divine act: a baptism of judgment and fire (Matt. 3:11-12). God was about to manifest His sovereign rule in the Coming One in salvation and judgment.

The Kingdom Comes at the End of the Age. John looked for a single, though complex, event of salvation-judgment. Jesus separated the present and the future visitations of the kingdom. There is a future eschatological coming of the kingdom at the end of the age. Jesus taught the prayer, "Thy kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10). When the Son of man comes in His glory, He will sit on the throne of judgment. The wicked will suffer the condemnation of fire; the righteous will "inherit the kingdom" (Matt. 25:31-46). The same separation at the end of the age is pictured in Matt. 13:36-43. This eschatological coming of the kingdom will mean the
palingenesia (Matt. 19:28), the rebirth of transformation of the material order.

The Kingdom Has Come into History. Jesus taught that the kingdom, which will come in glory at the end of the age, has come into history in His own person and mission. The redemptive rule of God has now invaded the realm of Satan to deliver men from the power of evil. In the exorcism of demons Jesus asserted the presence and power of the kingdom (Matt. 12:28). While the destruction of Satan awaits the coming of the Son of man in glory (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10), Jesus has already defeated Satan. The strong man (Satan) is bound by the stronger man (Christ) and men may now experience a new release from evil (Matt. 12:29). The mission of the disciples in the name and power of Christ casting out demons meant the overthrow of Satan's power (Luke 10:18). Thus Jesus could say that the kingdom of God was present in the midst of men (Luke 17:21). In the messianic works of Christ fulfilling Isa. 35:5-6, the kingdom manifested its power (Matt. 11:12. Biazetai is best interpreted as a middle form).

The Kingdom Is Supernatural. As the dynamic activity of God's rule the kingdom is supernatural. It is God's deed. Only the supernatural act of God can destroy Satan, defeat death (I Cor. 15:26), raise the dead in incorruptible bodies to inherit the blessings of the kingdom (I Cor. 15:50ff.), and transform the world order (Matt. 19:28). The same supernatural rule of God has invaded the kingdom of Satan to deliver men from bondage to satanic darkness.
(Editor's Note: Elwell's meaning here is that God has delivered men OUT OF *bondage to satanic darkness* UNTO *liberty in the light of Jesus.*)

The parable of the seed growing by itself sets forth this truth (Mark 4:26-29). The ground brings forth fruit of itself. Men may sow the seed by preaching the kingdom (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9; Acts 8:12; 28:23, 31); they can persuade men concerning the kingdom (Acts 19:8), but they cannot build it. It is God's deed. Men can receive the kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), but they are never said to establish it. Men can reject the kingdom and refuse to receive it or enter it (Matt. 23:13), but they cannot destroy it. They can look for it (Luke 23:51), pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10), and seek it (Matt. 6:33), but they cannot bring it.

The kingdom is altogether God's deed although it works in and through men. Men may do things for the sake of the kingdom (Matt. 19:12; Luke 18:29), work for it (Col. 4:11), suffer for it (II Thess. 1:5), but they are not said to act upon the kingdom itself. They can inherit it (Matt. 25:34; I Cor. 6:9-10, 15:50), but they cannot bestow it upon others.

The Mystery of the Kingdom. The presence of the kingdom in history is a mystery (Mark 4:11). A mystery is a divine purpose hidden for long ages but finally revealed (Rom. 16:25-26). The OT revelation looks forward to a single manifestation of God's kingdom when the glory of God would fill the earth. Dan. 2 sees four human kingdoms, then the kingdom of God.

The mystery of the kingdom is this: Before this eschatological consummation, before the destruction of Satan, before the age to come, the kingdom of God has entered this age and invaded the kingdom of Satan in spiritual power to bring to men in advance the blessings of forgiveness (Mark 2:5), life (John 3:3), and righteousness (Matt. 5:20; Rom. 14:16) which belong to the age to come. The righteousness of the kingdom is an inner, absolute righteousness (Matt. 5:22, 48) which can be realized only as God gives it to men.

The parables of Matt. 13 embody this new revelation. A parable is a story drawn from daily experience illustrating a single, fundamental truth; the details are not to be pressed as in allegory. The kingdom has come among men but not with power which compels every knee to bow before its glory; it is rather like seed cast on the ground which may be fruitful or unfruitful depending on its reception (Matt. 13:3-8).

The kingdom has come, but the present order is not disrupted; the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one grow together in the world until the harvest (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). The kingdom of God has indeed come to men, not as a new glorious order, but like the proverbial mustard seed. However, its insignificance must not be despised. This same kingdom will one day be a great tree (Matt. 13:31-32).

Instead of a world-transforming power, the kingdom is present in an almost imperceptible form like a bit of leaven hidden in a bowl of dough. However, this same kingdom will yet fill the earth as the leavened dough fills the bowl (Matt. 13:33). In neither of these two parables is the idea of slow growth or gradual permeation important, for our Lord nowhere else used either idea. In Scripture natural growth can illustrate the supernatural (I Cor. 15:36-37).

The coming of the kingdom of God in humility instead of glory was an utterly new and amazing revelation. Yet, said Jesus, men should not be deceived. Although the present manifestation of the kingdom is in humility, indeed, its Bearer was put to death as a condemned criminal, it is nevertheless the kingdom of God, and, like buried treasure or a priceless pearl, its acquisition merits any cost or sacrifice (Matt. 13:44-46). The fact that the present activity of the kingdom in the world will initiate a movement that will include evil men as well as good should not lead to misunderstanding of its true nature. It is the kingdom of God; it will one day divide the good from the evil in eschatological salvation and judgment (Matt. 13:47-50).

The Kingdom as the Realms of Redemptive Blessing. A reign must have a realm in which its authority is exercised. Thus the redemptive rule of God creates realms in which the blessings of the divine reign are enjoyed. There is both a future and a present realm of the kingdom.

The Future Realm. God calls men to enter His own kingdom and glory (I Thess. 2:12). In this age the sons of the kingdom will experience suffering (II Thess. 1:5) and tribulations (Acts 14:22), but God will rescue them from every evil and save them for His heavenly kingdom (II Tim. 4:18). Men should be careful to assure entrance into the kingdom of Jesus Christ (II Pet. 1:11). The Epistles frequently speak of the kingdom as a future inheritance (I Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5).

In the Gospels the eschatological salvation is described as entrance into the kingdom of God (Mark 9:47; 10:24), into the age to come (Mark 10:30), and into eternal life (Mark 9:45; 10:17, 30; Matt. 25:46). These three idioms are interchangeable. The consummation of the kingdom requires the coming of the Son of man in glory. Satan will be destroyed (Matt 25:41), the dead in Christ raised in incorruptible bodies (I Cor 15: 42-50) which are no longer capable of death (Luke 20:35-36) to inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor 15:50; Matt. 25:34). Before His death Jesus promised His disciples renewed fellowship in the new order (Matt. 26:29) when they would share both His fellowship and His authority to rule (Luke 22:29-30).

The stages of this consummation is a debated question. The Gospels picture only a single redemptive event at the return of Christ with resurrection (Luke 20:34-36) and judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). Revelation pictures a more detailed consummation. At the return of Christ (Rev. 19), Satan is bound and shut up in a bottomless pit, the first resurrection occurs, and the resurrected saints share Christ's rule for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-5). In this millennial reign of Christ and His saints is found the fulfillment of such sayings as Rev. 5:10; I Cor. 6:2; Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30. Only at the end of the millennium is Satan cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10) and death finally destroyed (Rev. 20:14).

One interpretation understands this language realistically and looks for two future stages in the accomplishment of God's purpose, one at the beginning and one at the end of the millennium. This view is called premillennialism because it expects a millennial reign of Christ after His second coming. It explains the Gospel expectation in terms of progressive revelation. Dan. 2 does not foresee the church age; the Gospels do not foresee the millennial age; only Revelation gives the full outline of the consummation.

Others insist that there is only one stage of consummation and that the coming of Christ will inaugurate the age to come. The binding of Satan is the same as that in Matt. 12:29; the "first resurrection is not bodily but spiritual (John 5:25; Rom. 6:5); and the reign of Christ and His saints is a present spiritual reality (Rev. 3:21; Heb. 1:3; Eph. 2:5-6). This interpretation is called amillennial because it does not expect a millennial reign after Christ's return. The thousand years is a symbolic number for the entire period of Christ's present reign through the church.

It is often overlooked that in both of these interpretations the final goal is the same, the consummation of God's kingdom in the age to come. The debate is about the steps by which God will accomplish His redemptive purpose and not about the character of God's redemptive purpose.

A Present Realm. Because the dynamic power of God's reign has invaded this evil age it has created a present spiritual realm in which the blessings of God's reign are experienced. The redeemed have already been delivered from the power of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). Jesus said that since the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of God has been preached and men enter it with violent determination (Luke 16:16). The one who is least in the new order of the kingdom is called greater than the greatest of the preceding order (Matt. 11:11) because He enjoys kingdom blessings which John never knew. Other sayings about entering a present realm of blessing are found in Matt. 21:31; 23:13.

The present and future aspects of the kingdom are inseparably tied together in Mark 10:15. The kingdom has come among men and its blessings have been extended in the person of Jesus. Those who now receive this offer of the kingdom with complete childlike trust will enter into the future eschatological kingdom of life.

The kingdom is NOT the church. The apostles went about preaching the kingdom of God (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 28:23); it is impossible to substitute "church" for "kingdom" in such passages. However, there is an inseparable relationship. The church is the fellowship of men who have accepted His offer of the kingdom, submitted to its rule, and entered into its blessings. The kingdom was offered to Israel (Matt. 10:5-6), who because of their previous convenantal relationship to God were "sons of the kingdom" (Matt. 8:12), its natural heirs. However, the offer of the kingdom in Christ was made on an individual basis in terms of personal acceptance (Mark 3:31-35; Matt. 10:35-35) rather than in terms of the family or nation. Because Israel rejected the kingdom, it was taken away and given to a different people (Matt. 21:43), the church.

Thus we may say that the kingdom of God creates the church. The redemptive rule of God brings into being a new people who receive the blessings of the divine reign. Furthermore it was the activity of the divine rule which brought judgment upon Israel. Individually the kingdom means either salvation or judgment (Matt. 3:11); historically the activity of the kingdom of God effected the creation of the church and the destruction of Israel (Matt. 23:37-38). This is probably the meaning of Mark 9:1. Within the lifetime of the disciples the kingdom of God would be seen manifesting its power in bringing a historical judgment upon Jerusalem and in creating the new people, the church. Paul announced the rejection of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles (I Thess. 2:16; Acts 28:26-28). However, the rejection of Israel is not permanent. After God has visited the Gentiles, He will regraft Israel into the people of God, and "so all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:24-26), receive the kingdom of God, and enter into its blessings (see Matt. 23:39; Acts 3:19-20).

The kingdom also works through the church. The disciples preached the kingdom of God and performed signs of the kingdom (Matt. 10:7-8; Luke 10:9, 17). The powers of the kingdom were operative in and through them. Jesus said that He would give to the church the keys of the kingdom of heaven with power to bind and loose (Matt. 16:18-19). The meaning of the keys is illustrated in Luke 11:52. The scribes had taken away the key of knowledge, i.e., the correct interpretation of the OT. The key of understanding the divine purpose had been entrusted to Israel; but the scribes had so misinterpreted the oracles of God delivered to them (Rom. 3:2) that when Messiah came with a new revelation of God's kingdom, they neither entered themselves nor allowed others to enter. These keys, along with the kingdom blessings, are to be given to the new people who, as they preach the good news of the kingdom, will be the means of binding or loosing men from their sins. In fact, the disciples had already used these keys and exercised this authority, bringing men the gift of peace or pronouncing the divine judgment (Matt. 10:13-15).

The kingdom is God's deed. It has come into the world in Christ; it works in the world through the church. When the church has proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom in all the world as witness to all nations, Christ will return (Matt. 24:14) and bring the kingdom in glory.


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