The Kingdom “on the ground”
With the Apostles the Kingdom of God becomes something more than merely a vision; it is a lived reality which they sought and for the expansion of which they labored through all their days. It is an eternal, heavenly realm that is very much “on the ground” and on the move by the Spirit and Word of God working in and through His redeemed people.
As we might suppose, the Apostles sustained a clear vision of the Kingdom, one that brought forward all the previous teaching of Scripture into the framework of the Gospel and the Person and work of Jesus Christ. For the Apostles the Kingdom of God was intimately bound up with Jesus and the work He presently is doing, both at the Father’s right hand and by His Spirit in and through the Church. And it is a realm of righteousness, peace, and joy, embodied in the Church, the Body of Christ, which advances toward the day of Christ’s imminent return in glory.
Jesus Himself instilled this vision into His Apostles, as we see in Acts 1.3. Having spent over three years teaching, proclaiming, and embodying the coming reality of the Kingdom, and promising His disciples they would see it and rule in it during their lifetimes, He now added a graduate seminar in Kingdom review and enlargement, lest they should lose sight of what He had taught them concerning what must be their highest priority in life (Matt. 6.33).
The reality of the Kingdom broke into history, and into the lives and ministries of the Apostles, on the first Pentecost. With the coming of the Spirit, the reality of Jesus’ ascension and rule, and the certainty of everything He had taught and promised, became the new framework for human experience. Everything the Apostles taught and did from that moment forward was with a view to seeking and realizing the rule of Jesus Christ increasingly on earth, as it is in heaven, and in preparing for the full and final attaining of His Kingdom upon His return.
The Apostles’ vision of the Kingdom of God revolved around three foci: above, beyond, and within. Let’s look briefly at each of these.
The Kingdom above
In the first sermon of the Christian era Peter declared the rule of Jesus as King and Lord to be the orienting fact of the new epoch:
“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. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord says to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2.33-36
A new order had been established, a new power was unleashed among men and nations, a new agenda was beginning to unfold, a new King was on the throne, and God was now calling all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel.
Paul also understood the central significance of the Kingdom above, where Christ rules at the right hand of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15.25-27). Only in the light of that reality, and against the backdrop of where that reality is leading, can we do works which will last, ministries that will not be in vain, but will have power to actualize in human history the unseen reality of the rule of King Jesus (1 Cor. 15.58).
In the book of Revelation the Apostle John was shown a series of overlapping, integrated visions of the powerful effects of the Kingdom above on all the affairs of men and history. Whatever transpires on earth is the result of things ordained in heaven and carried out by God’s faithful angelic and human servants. The Apostles understood that the rule of Jesus Christ is the determinative fact of human history. We cannot understand our lives, our faith, or our reason for being apart from a proper orientation “under the heavens” to the throne of Jesus Christ and the eternal covenantal and Kingdom purposes of God.
We have been seated there with Christ, Paul insists, so that we might live from this vantage point and fulfill our callings as ambassadors of Jesus Christ to a world in which the darkness is receding and the new light of the Kingdom of God is advancing day by day (Eph. 2.6, 7; 1 Jn. 2.8).
The Kingdom beyond
The “beyondness” of the Kingdom of God consists of two aspects, according to the Apostles.
First is the fact that the Kingdom is unfolding from within a spiritual realm which lies beyond the reach of our physical senses. If we would understand the protocols and promise of the Kingdom and draw on its resources and power for daily living, we must learn to “see” the rule of King Jesus with the eyes of the heart, by faith, and not by sight (Eph. 1.15-23).
Thus we search the Scriptures in order to gather and assemble the many images and teachings about the unseen realm and how we must “view” it. We seek the Kingdom of God as we set our minds on these things and prosecute all our daily affairs and activities with a view to serving as ambassadors of the risen Christ (Col. 3.1-3; 2 Cor. 5.17-21). We do not see Jesus now, at least, not with the eyes of the flesh; nevertheless, we love and adore Him because we “see” Him by faith, as He reveals Himself to us in His Word, and we conduct our affairs from within the framework of what we thus see and know to be true (1 Pet. 1.8, 9). We know that we are surrounded by a cloud of faithful witnesses, whose lives we emulate and hope we share, and thus we desire to be like them faithful servants in the Kingdom which they anticipated, and which we now have entered as sons and daughters and heirs (Heb. 12.1, 2; Lk. 12.41-48).
Second, the Kingdom is “beyond” us because it is still to come in its perfection and full glory when Jesus returns to consummate His work of redemption (Rev. 19-22). We understand that this world is not our permanent place of abode and that we are on a journey culminating in a new heavens and new earth (2 Pet. 3.8-14). This being so, we live toward the coming of the unseen Kingdom, daily striving, through God’s Word and Spirit, to become transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, Whom, we believe, we shall one day see face to face (2 Cor. 3.12-18; 1 Jn. 3.1-3).
The Kingdom of God exists beyond us – ontologically and temporally – and it is our calling to seek that Kingdom, both as it presently exists in the unseen realm and as it shall one day come to be upon the Lord’s return in glory. The “beyondness” of the Kingdom makes of our lives a perpetual seeking to realize the Kingdom in greater fullness.
The Kingdom within
Thus the Apostles understood, as Jesus declared, that the Kingdom of God is within us, and we exist within it. It is a realm of true and transforming spiritual power (1 Cor. 4.20) where Jesus Christ is making new all those who come to Him in faith and follow in His holy and righteous and good way, according to the Law of God (Matt. 5.17-19).
The Kingdom is within us, and, by the Spirit of God, the Kingdom strives to bring forth the fruit of righteousness, peace, and joy, which honors God and brings abundant benefit to men (Rom. 4.17-19). We expect to see more evidence of the Kingdom in us – the fruit of the Spirit, the tokens of love, the virtues of holiness – and to demonstrate more of the Kingdom’s power by our witness to Christ in the world (Acts 1.8).
Thus the Apostles repeatedly urge and remind us, acknowledging that such a way of living is a struggle against spiritual forces determined to destroy us (2 Pet. 3.1-7; Eph. 6.10-20) and wicked men who seek only their own interests rather the glory of God (Rom. 1.18-32; 1 Pet. 4.1-19; 2 Tim. 3.1-13).
Living within the Kingdom, we are called to grow as disciples, becoming equipped for the work of ministry so that we might help to grow our churches in unity and maturity unto the Lord (Eph. 4.11-16). The Church, which the Apostles labored to found and build, is the outpost and agent of the Kingdom of God, and it is important that she strive always to heed the Word of her King and to be faithful in all her Kingdom duties until He returns (Rev. 2, 3).
The Apostles do not speak as frequently about the Kingdom as Jesus did, or even as much of the Old Testament does. This is because they assumed all that prior teaching and vision and were experiencing the reality of it through their lives and ministries. What patriarchs and prophets only foresaw, and what Jesus anticipated and proclaimed, the Apostles – and we as their spiritual offspring – now realize day by day as we meditate on, seek, and live in the power of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is coming on earth as it is in heaven.
- What do we mean by the idea that the Kingdom exists “above” us at present? What evidence would you cite to support this claim?
- How are you presently seeking to realize the “beyondness” of the Kingdom of God? How effective are your efforts at present in helping you to realize the presence, power, and promise of the Kingdom?
- How would you explain to a new Christian what it means to say that he or she is not a citizen in the Kingdom of God?