INTRODUCTION – 3 weeks ago – we decided to suspend our sermon series through the book of Acts for this primary reason – – as I began to prepare to dive into ch. 14 – – I realized that the kingdom of God was central to everything that the early church was about. It was the primary thing Jesus tried to ground His core disciples in in those 40 days He spent with them before He ascended according to ch. 1 vs. 3. It was the primary message of the apostles and disciples. It was the primary thing the apostle Paul was speaking to folks about and teaching about in his last days in prison according to the last verse in the book of Acts. So for us to get to the end of the book of Acts, and not see and understand, and be excited about the kingdom of God would be a tragedy.
So for however many weeks it takes – we are going to “seek first the kingdom of God” (together) as Jesus commanded us to do in Matt. 6:33.
Three weeks ago we talked about how central the message of the kingdom of God is in the New Testament. Last week we focused our meditations on the King of this wonderful kingdom – Jesus Christ. Today I want to try to define the kingdom and make it more tangible and understandable. Though in saying that – – I can appreciate what Charles Simpson – one of the great apostolic leaders of the church today – said once about defining the kingdom. He said, “We can only describe the kingdom of God but never define it. The Kingdom, like all of the mysteries of God, is not completely comprehensible to our natural minds. But God did promise to reveal it as we hear Him and obey.”
So why don’t we look to Him now for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to obey – shall we? (pray)
How many of you have taken the Perspectives on the World Christian movement course? Well here is how their primary textbook defines it: “The kingdom of God is the exercise of God’s kingship, His authority, His right to rule based on His might, power and glory.” P. 20 in Perspectives Study Guide
Tony Evans – one of my favorite African American preachers – and one of my professors at Dallas Seminary – and perhaps the first Dallas Seminary professor that I am aware of – who published a book on the kingdom of God as being in the now and not just in the future – wrote in his book entitled, “What a Way to Live – Running all of Life by the Kingdom Agenda” said, “Throughout the Bible the kingdom of God is His rule, His plan, His program. God’s kingdom is all embracing. It covers everything in the universe. In fact, we can define God’s kingdom as His comprehensive rule over all creation.”
The word “kingdom” in our English New Testaments is translated from the greek word, “basilea”, which in its simplest form – means a rule or authority.
Nowhere in the New Testament is the kingdom of God clearly defined. But it is spoken of often – especially in the gospel of Matthew. Various expressions are found therein such as “kingdom of God’ (4x’s), “kingdom of heaven” (32x’s), “gospel of the kingdom” (3x’s), “My Father’s kingdom” (1x) etc. The word kingdom appears 55 x’s in all, but not all references are to the kingdom of God.
The gospel of Luke would be next in line with 45 occurrences of the word “kingdom” – most again dealing with the kingdom of God, but not all. From Acts on through the book of Revelation we find scattered references to the kingdom of God. But since establishing and expanding the kingdom of God is the primary thing God is about, really all of scripture is helpful in understanding and seeking first the kingdom of God.
Some more attempts at definition: Graeme Goldsworthy has summarized the kingdom of God as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”
So that place could be in a family, a business, a school, a civic club, a sports team, or a local congregation. Whenever two or more of God’s people are where He has placed them – seeking to submit to His rule – there we find the kingdom of God. Where I would differentiate a bit with this is – the kingdom of God can manifest or be where only one person is. Let me try to explain this. Let’s say Solomon goes off to Pottstown, PA this fall and joins the basketball team at the Hill prep school. After a while he realizes he is the only disciple of Jesus Christ on that team. All the rest of the players – unbeknownst to them – but eventually obvious to Solomon – – are still in darkness, and thus are slaves in the kingdom of darkness – ruled by Satan. Now the kingdom of darkness – – or the rule and reign of satan is characterized by disorder, strife, rebellion, deception, jealousy, anger, impurity, etc. The kingdom of God as we are learning is characterized by righteousness, peace, joy, unity, harmony, order, power, respect, etc. So let’s say, practices begin in the early fall. The coach is driving them hard. They go home bone tired every night. They have their first few games and they lose them all. The players get discouraged. So they decide to take things into their own hands. They huddle over lunch one day and decide to sign a petition to have their coach fired. Now mind you – the coach has done nothing immoral or unrighteous; he has not blamed the boys for the losses; he is working as hard as ever; but he is demanding their best effort day after day, and so far they are not seeing any fruit from it. All this time Solomon is sensing something welling up inside him. He knows King Jesus wants to break into this situation. So Solomon speaks up in this lunch meeting and says, “I don’t think we should do this. I believe our season is going to turn around. Coach is working hard. We are working hard. We just need to persevere.” The boys listen and ponder. Then another one of them agrees with Solomon and reminds the boys that most of them have never played together until the last two months. And at the end of the lunch hour, everyone decides to throw away the petition and give it some more time. In that moment the kingdom of God came to that lunch discussion and basketball team.
You see one of the guiding principles of the kingdom of God as opposed or contrasted to the kingdom of darkness or kingdom of satan is the blessing of the kingdom comes through honoring authority, not to mention exercising faith and learning to endure hardships. As these boys chose to do that, God’s kingdom was able to take root and grow. Now it doesn’t mean every member of the team was born again and knew Jesus Christ personally as their Savior and bowed their knees to Him as Lord and Master. But it did mean Solomon was able to be light and salt and have a good leavening influence among his teammates, and they were able to experience the blessing that comes when we handle difficulties God’s way.
Solomon’s teammates had not yet submitted intentionally to the rule of the King in their personal lives. But they did submit to the way of the King and His kingdom with their team. Ideally as they start winning some games and the fruit of their efforts begins to pay off, Solomon will have more opportunities to speak of the glorious King and His kingdom to his teammates.
Another example: Let’s say that Squire works at Sylvester’s Hamburger joint and he is the only Christian that works there. One day things are slow and he and one of the other workers are talking and that co-worker of Squire’s confides that he has a terrible headache. Squire senses King Jesus wants to break in to the situation and so he offers to pray for his fellow employee. He prays. They both go back to work. And Five minutes later this employee walks over to Squire and whispers, “Thanks, my headache is gone!” The kingdom of God has just come to Sylvesters.
Now it hasn’t come in all its fullness. We should never be satisfied with these kingdom break ins so to speak. The kingdom hasn’t fully come until every one of Solomon’s teammates and Squire’s fellow employees at Sylvesters all come to know Jesus and bow their knees to the king of Kings and Lord of lords.
Back to definitions: Anthony Hoekema has described God’s kingdom as “the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of His people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.” This gives both the now and the future aspects of the kingdom of God as well as mentioning the rival kingdom. George Eldon Ladd notes that, “The primary meaning of both the Hebrew word malkuth in the Old Testament and of the Greek word basileia in the New Testament is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king. A basileia may indeed be a realm over which a sovereign exercises his authority; and it may be the people who belong to that realm and over whom authority is exercised; but these are secondary and derived meanings. First of all, a kingdom is the authority to rule, the sovereignty of the king.”
So what’s the difference between the kingdom of God and the church of God? Well in a nutshell – – the kingdom of God is the rule and reign and program of God; the church of God is His people. The church in scripture typically refers to a group of people with spiritual leadership in place, who worship and seek God and His kingdom together; the kingdom of God on the other hand – can show up as we tried to illustrate with Solomon and his basketball team – where there is only one disciple of Jesus submitting to and obeying the king in the environment God has placed him in.
The book of Acts is an interesting example of the difference between the kingdom and the church. In the book of Acts – the word “church” occurs 17 times. The word “kingdom” occurs 8 times. Every time the word “church” appears it is referring to the people of God. Let me show you a couple of examples = Acts 5:11 “And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” 8:1 “…on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem…”;
Almost every time the word “kingdom” appears in the book of Acts it is referring to the message being preached or taught. 1:3 “…appearing to them over a period of 40 days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” 8:12 “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” 19:8 “And he (Paul) entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.”
So what are you hearing so far? If you had to define or summarize the kingdom of God in one word, what would it be? (Rule or reign)
Let’s listen to another writer who obviously has intensely wrestled with this concept. This is from J.D. King – “Throughout the scriptures “kingdom” almost always refers to the reign, rule, or sovereignty of a ruler. Its meaning does not come from the “realm” or even the people the king is ruling. It is not even primarily about the exercise of kingly power. The kingdom is foundationally “the right to rule”. In contrast to other popular views, it seems that “positional authority is the primary biblical use of the word “kingdom”. In other words, the kingdom fundamentally is about who has the right to rule. Because of God’s unique position in the universe as creator, He has absolute right to rule over the entire cosmos. Yahweh is King because He is the “Most High!” The following scriptures affirm this truth magnificently. “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1 “Yours oh Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” I Chron. 29:11 “The Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth.” Psalm 47:2
This is why – when people merely talk about Jesus as a great moral teacher or religious guru…everyone can kind of go with the flow. No one is offended. No one really needs to pay much attention to Him. They are free to take Him or leave him. You might even call Jesus and Ghandi and Khalil Gibran the three amigos. They all had some wonderful things to say. As long as I can live my own life and do my own thing – – heck I may even paint a jesus tattoo on my forearm. I may even wear a necklace with a cross.I’m as spiritual as the next guy, but no one is going to tell me how to live my life.
I’ll never forget one of the first times I encountered that attitude and thought pattern from some one else. In my senior year in high school I finally began to take a stand for my faith. I had a sociology teacher that wasn’t a Christian, but he saw the moral bankruptcy that was so prevalent among we students, so he allowed me to give a little talk – as part of an assignment one day on the Bible’s view of love, sex and marriage. I of course had hardly scratched the surface of this subject, and even the little I knew was not exactly in line with my practice, but compared to my fellow students I was an expert, and the long process of getting cleaned up from the world’s way had begun in my heart and mind. Well one of my classmates who was deeply embedded in the hippy drug culture of that day – stood up at the end of my lecture and said, “No one is going to tell me who I can have sex with or when or how….”
Well I wish I knew then what I know now, though I’m not sure that particular individual would have listened. But no one on planet earth can really intelligently say, “No one is going to tell me how to live my life.” Because everyone is being told how to live their life. You see there are two overarching kingdoms in the universe, and every individual born into life on planet earth is born into one of those kingdoms that the Bible calls in Col. 1:13 – “the domain of darkness.” Satan himself has ruled this kingdom ever since the first humans walked in the garden of Eden. And because we are born in sin – we are actually slaves in that kingdom. That’s why the apostle Paul said to the believers in Ephesus in ch. 2 vs. 1, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” Who is this prince of the power of the air? Satan himself. Who are the sons of disobedience? Every man, woman, young person and child who has not yet bowed the knee to King Jesus and asked Him to deliver them from this horrible kingdom.
One of my favorite kingdom verses – the longer I go in this journey in the kingdom of God is Colossians 1:13 where the apostle Paul wrote, “For He (God the Father) rescued us (those who have realized we are hopelessly lost in our sins) from the domain of darkness (the domain or kingdom that satan rules wherein there is nothing but spiritual death and pride and arrogance and self righteousness and deceit and strife, etc.,), and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
So you may think you are a rugged individualist, and that you are the captain of your own destiny, but the truth is you are either a slave of Satan or a son and daughter of King Jesus. There is no middle ground or neutral zone – regardless of what John Wayne or Bruce Willis or Miley Cyrus or Richard Dawkins or Oprah or anyone else says.
Every one of us is born into and helplessly stuck in this kingdom of darkness that satan rules along with his demented demons, and regardless of how educated or spiritual or good we may think we are – – we are so stuck and blinded by our sin – – that we wouldn’t know God from adam, and we are absolutely oblivious to the reality of the kingdom of God when it is right at our doorstep. That’s why Jesus told the Jews He was speaking with one day that they were slaves of sin and sons and daughters of Satan – hopelessly trapped in his kingdom – – and the proof of it was – – their desire and intention to murder him – – desires and intentions that only come from one source and I quote from that passage in John 8 – “He who was a murderer from the beginning.” Satan. Elsewhere in scripture he is called the destroyer. Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak of Satan’s kingdom folks when discussing His own. Remember the time when He was accused of casting a demon out of a mute man by the power of satan? Jesus didn’t deny that Satan had a kingdom. But He tried to reason with these hard hearted Jews and I quote from Luke 11:18, “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? …”
This John 8 passage by the way has huge relevance for this discussion in popular culture that muslims and christians all worship the same god. If a muslim man or woman – lives to murder jews or christians – – regardless of whether they are innocent civilians or not – – I can promise you – – no matter how many times they pray a day – – they belong to satan’s kingdom, not God’s. Satan – Jesus says – has been a murderer from the beginning; and anyone who has the desire and intention to murder is a slave in his kingdom.
So one last attempt at defining the kingdom of God and summarizing what I have tried to say today: The kingdom of God is the present day rule and reign of Christ over the whole universe. It is largely unseen by the natural eye, and it is in constant conflict with the kingdom of darkness that Satan rules. The intent of King Jesus is to rescue and deliver men, women, young people and children from every tribe and nation from this awful kingdom of darkness and death and introduce them to His wonderful kingdom of light and life. And then to use them to introduce it to others both by words and by demonstration of His superior power, wisdom and grace.