According to the New Testament, Jesus has already been enthroned on David’s throne (Acts 2:29-36), and the community of believers, not physical Jerusalem, fulfills the prophecies about Jerusalem (Gal. 4:24-30; Heb. 12:22-24). Jesus became the ruler of the kingdom of God at his exaltation (Dan. 7:13-14; Matt. 26:64; Heb. 1:3; 2:9), but the kingdom only came with full force in AD 70, when the old covenant passed away (Matt. 24:30; 25:34; Heb. 12:26-28). As I have argued, this view is clearly taught in the New Testament. Nonetheless, there are some passages that are thought to be difficult for this interpretation, which we will discuss here.
The first difficult passage is Ezekiel 40-48, which describes in great detail the Mountain of God (Ezek. 40:1-4), the Temple of God (40:5-42:20), the glory and worship of God, including ceremonial laws and sacrifices (43:1-46:24), the River of God (47:1-12), the Land of God (47:13-48:29), and the City of God (48:30-35). Since these are all described as physical things, and yet none of these things have existed yet, many believe that this prophecy has to be fulfilled in the future. This would require the existence of a future physical kingdom centered in the land of Israel, unlike the New Testament teaching of a present spiritual kingdom in the community of believers.
However, this interpretation of Ezek. 40-48 completely ignores the New Testament, and especially the epistle to the Hebrews. According to the Hebraist, the old covenant and all of its physical sacrifices are no longer useful except as a type of Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 10:1-4). There is no need anymore for physical sacrifices or a physical temple, because Jesus has offered his sacrifice once for all in the heavenly temple (Heb. 7:27; 9:1-14, 23-26). In fact, physical sacrifices are worse than useless, because “in them there is a reminder of sin from year to year” (Heb. 10:3). Rather than offering physical sacrifices, we are being built up into a spiritual Temple to offer spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Pet. 2:4-5; cf. Eph. 2:19-22).
When interpreted literally, the prophecy in Ezekiel says that physical sacrifices will again be offered in the physical temple, which completely goes against this! Some premillennialists claim that these future sacrifices will be a ‘memorial’ of Christ’s sacrifice, not meant to provide atonement. However, according to Isa. 66:3, useless sacrifices are as evil to God as idolatry (cf. Isa. 1:11-15; Amos 5:21-24). Moreover, this explanation explicitly contradicts Ezekiel, who says that these sacrifices are for atonement (45:13-17). Thus, to avoid contradicting the New Testament, Ezekiel 40-48 cannot be interpreted to refer to a future kingdom centered in Israel.
How, then, should this prophecy be interpreted? There are three possible interpretations. First, it may be seen as a hyperbolic description of the physical Second Temple after it was rebuilt under Ezra (cf. Hag. 2:1-9). This is supported by the fact that the invasion of Gog described in Ezek. 38-39 appears to have been fulfilled when “Haman the Agagite” (Esth. 8:3; cf. Ezek. 39:15) led armies from all across the Persian Empire (Esth. 1:1; cf. Ezek. 38:3-6; 39:6, 21) to attack the people of Israel living in unwalled villages (Neh. 1:3; Esth. 3:12-15; cf. Ezek. 38:7-13), but was defeated by the Jews and by his own people (Esth. 8:11-13; 9:3; cf. Ezek. 38:17-22; 39:3-6, 17-20), and the Gentiles converted when they saw this (Esth. 8:17; cf. Ezek. 38:23; 39:7, 21-27).  If Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies the attack described in the book of Esther, then Ezek. 40-48 may prophesy the rebuilding of the Temple under Ezra.
Another possibility is that the physical blessings in Ezek. 40-48 were only meant to come true if the Jews responded favorably, and they did not. This is supported by Ezek. 43:7-12, which states that the people of Israel would only know these things if they “put away their idolatry and sacrifices to kings,” which never happened. If this is correct, then there is no need to look for a future fulfillment, because this prophecy will not be fulfilled.
Finally, the interpretation that I favor is that this prophecy symbolically describes the community of believers. We are ourselves “a city set on a hill” (Matt. 5:14; cf. Ezek. 40:1-4; Phil. 2:15). We are being built up into a spiritual Temple, complete with a holy place and an altar to offer spiritual sacrifices (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-5; cf. Ezek. 40:5-42:20; 43:13-46:24). We are ourselves filled with God’s spirit, which is the water of life (John 7:38-39; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; cf. Ezek. 43:1-12; 47:1-12). We are citizens of heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22-24; cf. Ezek. 48:30-35). The Gentiles have been grafted into this community of believers, and there is no distinction (Rom. 11:11-24; Gal. 3:28; cf. Ezek. 47:21-23). The only difficulty with this view is the amount of detail in Ezekiel’s prophecy; however, there is no reason why allegory cannot contain detail.
In summary, the prophecy in Ezek. 40-48 is interpreted by many to describe physical blessings in the future kingdom centered in Israel. However, this interpretation contradicts the New Testament teaching that physical sacrifices and the physical temple are now useless (in fact, worse than useless). Therefore, this prophecy cannot be interpreted to refer to a future physical reality. Instead, it may be interpreted to hyperbolically describe the physical blessings under Ezra and Nehemiah, or to allegorically describe the spiritual blessings that presently belong to believers.
Another difficult passage is Matt. 19:28-29, in which Jesus states,
Truly, truly I say to you, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has followed me who has left houses, or brother, or sister, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit age-during life.
This passage seems to describe physical blessings for those who follow Jesus, including the ability for the twelve disciples to judge Israel, which apparently never took place. Hence, premillennialists argue that this must be fulfilled at a future time, after the Second Coming of Jesus.
However, this interpretation suffers from a few issues. First, the authors of the New Testament are unanimous in saying that the Son of Man already “is seated on the throne of his glory,” and that this took place at his exaltation (Matt. 26:64 [cf. Dan. 7:13-14]; Acts 2:29-36; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 2:9; 8:1; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 3:21). Furthermore, “age-during life” is something which believers already possess in the present tense (John 5:24; 6:47; 10:28; 1 John 5:11, 13). Therefore, the promises in Matt. 19:28 must be a present reality, not yet to be fulfilled.
How, then, can it be said that the twelve disciples “judge the twelve tribes of Israel”? First, it’s important to note that the Jews who did not believe in Jesus were “utterly cut off from the people” (Acts 3:22-23), that is, they were no longer a part of the true people of Israel (Rom. 9:6; 11:1-5). The twelve apostles were indeed appointed to lead the Israel of God, that is, the remnant of Jewish believers (Matt. 16:18-19; Eph. 2:20; Gal. 2:7-9). Therefore, they were judging true Israel after Jesus sat on his throne at his exaltation. Another possibility is that this refers to the fact that the apostles, especially Peter, were allowed to judge and condemn unbelieving Israel for the murder of Jesus (Acts 2:22-23; 3:13-15; 4:9-11; 5:30).
As for the statement that believers will “receive a hundredfold” of what they lost, this need not refer to physical blessings, but spiritual blessings. It’s nonsensical to interpret this strictly literally, as that would mean that everyone who lost a sibling or a child will receive a hundred siblings and children! Instead, this likely refers to the fact that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Furthermore, the Markan and Lukan accounts state that the hundredfold blessings would be received “in this age” (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30), which means the disciples already received those blessings, and they cannot be physical blessings in a future kingdom.
But what about the fact that Jesus says this will occur “in the regeneration”? Some interpreters equate this with “the restoration of all things” mentioned in Acts 3:21, at which time Jesus is said to return from heaven, in which case this cannot refer to the present time. However, “regeneration” (Gk: palingenesia) is a different word than “restoration” (Gk: apokatastasis), and there is no need to equate the two. In fact, the word palingenesia is used only twice in the New Testament, and in the other instance (Tit. 3:5), it refers to our present renewal that comes from the Holy Spirit.
The next difficult passage for the view that the kingdom of God is a present reality is Luke 13. In this passage, someone asks Jesus whether there will be many people who are saved, and he responds that only a few will enter the kingdom of God, and:
“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and take their places at the banquet in the kingdom of God.”
This is difficult for those who believe that the kingdom of God exists now, because Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets died long before Jesus spoke. It’s especially difficult for those who recognize that the Bible teaches that the dead have no conscious experience (see especially Ecc. 9:5-10), which means that the patriarchs and prophets will be unable to experience anything until their bodily resurrection. How can this be reconciled with the New Testament teaching that the kingdom of God is a present reality for believers?
The patriarchs and prophets did not receive the promises that they looked forward to by faith, although they will receive the promised salvation from sin and “be made perfect” with us at the resurrection (Heb. 11:13-16, 39-40). According to the Hebraist, believers already receive these promises now as citizens of “Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” who “are receiving an unshakeable kingdom” (Heb. 12:22, 28). Because true Israel now receives the promises which were originally made to the patriarchs, it may be figuratively said that they are “reclining at the table” with them (Matt. 8:11), even though the patriarchs don’t exist currently.
Furthermore, Jesus’ main point in this passage is not about the actual existence of the patriarchs in the kingdom of God. Instead, he is pointing out that his hearers, despite their Jewish ancestry, will not receive the promises made to their ancestors, whereas many who “come from east and west and north and south” will receive the promises (Matt. 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29). Jesus only mentions the patriarchs and prophets to further illustrate the fact that they will not receive the promises of their ancestors. Since the main point of this passage is not about the actual existence of the patriarchs in the kingdom of God, it would be unwise to read too much into this statement, and this difficult passage should be interpreted in light of the many clearer passages which state that the kingdom is a present reality.
A fourth difficult passage for our interpretation of the kingdom of God is Acts 1:6-8. In this passage, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will you restore the kingdom to Israel at this time?” Jesus responds, “It is not yours to know times or seasons which the Father set by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Premillennialists argue that the disciples’ question implies they believed that the kingdom of God would be a physical polity in Israel.
Some interpreters claim that the disciples were merely mistaken, as the Bible is clear that Jesus received the kingdom at his exaltation (Dan. 7:13-14 [cf. Matt. 26:64]; Luke 19:12). However, this is quite unlikely, because Jesus had just finished speaking to them about the kingdom of God for forty days (Acts 1:3), and he did not correct their ‘misunderstanding.’ Moreover, they went on to “proclaim the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12) without any indication that they had been or needed to be corrected. How then should we understand their question?
Again, it’s important to recognize the fact that “not all who are of Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Those who do not believe in Christ are “utterly cut off from the people” (Acts 3:22-23), which is to say that they are no longer a part of the people of Israel. The true Israel is the remnant of Jewish believers in Christ (Rom. 11:1-5). It is this people, which Jesus called “my church,” that would receive the kingdom of God, rather than the physical polity of Israel, which was rejected (Matt. 16:18-19; 21:43). Consequently, there is no need to see a physical kingdom in the disciples’ question about the kingdom coming to Israel.
This can also be seen in Jesus’ answer to the disciples. He says that they cannot know the time that the kingdom will come — “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). The implication is that the coming of the Holy Spirit, which took place only ten days later (Acts 2:1-4), is when the kingdom would be “restored to Israel”. Thus, Acts 1:6-8 provides no difficulty for the view that the kingdom of God is a present reality; in fact, careful exegesis of this passage supports that view.
1 Corinthians 15:50
The final difficult passage that we will discuss here is 1 Cor. 15:50, in which Paul states that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” According to some interpreters, this means that no mortal can live in the kingdom of God, which means that it is either a future polity that will exist after the resurrection, or it now exists somewhere that no mortal human can inhabit (such as heaven). Either way, this would be fatal to the view that the kingdom of God is a present reality for believers. But is this what Paul was actually saying?
First of all, it’s important to note that Paul elsewhere describes the kingdom of God as something present. Namely, he states that “the kingdom of God... is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). He also says that God “has brought us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Even in this very verse, “able to inherit” (Gk: klēronomēsai... dunatai) is in the present tense. Unless we wish to attribute contradiction and confusion to Paul, we cannot interpret 1 Cor. 15:50 as saying that no mortal human can inhabit the kingdom of God. Moreover, according to Isaiah 65:20, mortal humans actually do exist in the kingdom of God.
Rather than interpreting 1 Cor. 15:50 as saying that no mortal human can exist in the kingdom of God, in the larger context of Paul’s writings, it should be interpreted to mean that no unsaved human can exist in the kingdom of God. Throughout his epistles, Paul describes those who are unsaved as fleshly, and those who are saved as spiritual (Rom. 8:1-9, 12-13; 2 Cor. 5:16; 10:2; Gal. 3:3; 5:24; Eph. 2:3; Phil. 3:3, 4; Col. 2:11-13). Moreover, he states, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest... those doing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). It appears that the same idea is being expressed when Paul says that “flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). Therefore, this passage is compatible with the view that the kingdom of God is a reality for believers in Christ.
The nature and timing of the kingdom of God is a very disputed topic among Christians. Nonetheless, the testimony of the New Testament is clear that Christ already sat down upon his throne when he was exalted to God’s right hand, and that believers are citizens of spiritual Jerusalem, which fulfills the promises of the Old Testament. The kingdom of God is already a spiritual reality for believers, as it refers to Christ’s rule over the church and the spiritual blessings that we receive from that (see esp. Rom. 14:17). Therefore, there is no need to look for a future physical kingdom.
The nature and timing of the kingdom of God is disputed among Christians. Historically, most have interpreted the kingdom as the present rule of Christ over the universe, and specifically believers in him. However, another view is that the kingdom is a future physical polity that will be established at the Second Coming and centered in Israel. Here, we will consider the testimony of both the Old and New Testaments to see what they have to say about the kingdom of God, both what it is and when it will be established.
The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament
The meaning of “kingdom of God” in the Old Testament was twofold. Some passages identify God’s kingdom as the entire universe, because He created the heavens and the earth, and He is sovereign over them (Psa. 103:19; 145:11-13; Dan. 4:3, 34). Other passages identify Israel, and specifically the Davidic kingdom over Israel, as God’s kingdom in a more limited sense. This goes back to Exodus 19:5, in which God promised to the people of Israel, “All the earth is Mine, but you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The Psalmist says that at the Exodus, “Judah became His sanctuary, and Israel His kingdom” (Psa. 114:2).
The next time that the kingdom of God is mentioned is in 2 Sam. 7:16 and 1 Chron. 17:14, in which God refers to David’s own dynasty and kingdom as “My house” and “My kingdom.” From this time forward, the kingdom of God is synonymous with the kingdom of David and his descendants, which was a literal, physical polity in the land of Israel. This is made especially clear in the following passages:
“Of all my sons, for Yahweh has given me many, He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Yahweh over Israel.” (1 Chron. 28:5)
“Then Solomon sat on the throne of Yahweh as king in place of his father David, and he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him.” (1 Chron. 29:23; cf. 1 Kgs. 2:12; 8:20)
Then Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, and said, “Listen to me, Jeroboam and all Israel! Do you not know that Yahweh God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel to David and his sons perpetually by a covenant of salt?... And now you think that you can withstand the kingdom of Yahweh in the hand of the sons of David” (2 Chron. 13:4-5, 8)
However, because the descendants of David and the people of Israel did not follow God’s law, they were struck with the covenantal curses described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, which included exile from the Land (cf. 1 Kgs. 9:6-7). At this time, the kingdom of God was taken away from them, and for hundreds of years, Israel was not ruled by a descendant of David. However, God promised that even though the descendants of David forsook His law, the kingdom would not be taken from them forever. God would send a descendant of David — the Messiah — and place him back upon the throne of David (Psa. 89:30-37).
The hope of the promise that God would again place a descendant of David on his ancestor’s throne can be found all throughout the Old Testament. Even though the earliest prophets did not have a well-developed Messianism, they looked forward to a time when Jerusalem would one day be the foremost city in the world, to which the Gentiles would come to learn God’s law (Isa. 2:2-4; 62:1-7; 65:18-25; 66:10-23; Jer. 3:14-18; Joel 3:16-21; Mic. 4:1-4; Hab. 2:14; Zeph. 3:12-20). During the Exile and afterward, the prophets looked forward to both the exaltation of Jerusalem and the restoration of the Davidic throne (Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-16; Ezek. 17:22-24; 21:25-27; 34:20-31; 37:24-28; Dan. 2:44-45; 7:13-14; Amos 9:11-15; Zech. 8:11-23; 14:8-21).
In summary, the Old Testament conception of the kingdom of God is the kingdom of Israel under the rule of a descendant of David (2 Chron. 13:4-8). Because of this, the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to the restoration of Davidic rule, when a descendant of David would sit upon his throne and Jerusalem would be the foremost city in the world, to which Gentiles would come to learn God’s law.
The Enthronement of the Messiah
Although the Old Testament prophets may have believed that the kingdom of God would be a physical polity, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is correct. In the New Testament, multiple prophecies are given a sensus plenior which would not have been understood by the original prophet (e.g., Matt. 1:23; 2:15; Rom. 9:24-26; 1 Cor. 6:16-18). Therefore, it’s important to let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament, and not the other way around. The prophecies of the kingdom of God may be fulfilled in a different way than one would expect if they had only read the Hebrew Bible. So what did the New Testament authors say about the kingdom of God?
In the Old Testament, one of the key features of the kingdom of God is its rule by a descendant of David (1 Chron. 17:14; 2 Chron. 13:4-8). It was believed that when a descendant of David would again sit upon David’s throne, the kingdom would return (Jer. 23:5-6; Ezek. 34:23-31; 37:24-28; Dan. 7:13-14; Amos 9:11-15). Thus, one key to understanding when the kingdom of God is inaugurated is to know when Jesus sat upon David’s throne.
According to the New Testament, the time that Jesus sat upon David’s throne and received royal power was at his exaltation in AD 30, and not at his future Second Coming. This was also prophesied in the Old Testament:
“I saw in the night vision, and behold, one like a son of man was coming on the clouds. He came to the Ancient of Days, and was brought near to Him. And to him was given dominion, and honor, and a kingdom, that all nations, tribes, and languages shall serve him; his dominion is a perpetual one, which will not pass away, and his kingdom shall not be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:13-14)
In this prophecy, the Messiah comes to God in heaven (NB: not back to earth) and is given a kingdom. Jesus connected his enthronement to his sitting at God’s right hand (Matt. 26:64), which undoubtedly took place at his resurrection and exaltation (Acts 7:55-56; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 10:12). The same thing is shown by the parable in Luke 19:12, in which Jesus describes himself symbolically: “A nobleman went away to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom, and then return.” Here, the return of Jesus is clearly placed after his reception of the kingdom of God. Thus, Jesus received the kingdom of God in the past, not in the future.
Furthermore, according to Peter, it was at the time of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation that he sat upon the throne of David, thus inaugurating the kingdom of God:
“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (Acts 2:29-32)
Here, the sitting of Jesus on David’s throne is explicitly equated with his resurrection (cf. Heb. 8:1; Rev. 3:21). This agrees with Acts 13:33, which says that Psalm 2:7 was fulfilled by Jesus’ resurrection: the previous verse states, “I have installed My king on My holy mountain Zion” (Psa. 2:6). It also agrees with the book of Revelation, which claims that Jesus was already given authority over the nations and now sits upon Yahweh's throne (Rev. 2:26-28; 3:21). According to Acts 17:7, the earliest believers were already proclaiming Jesus as king.
Finally, one of the Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom of God is explicitly said to be fulfilled in the New Testament:
“Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the house of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord — even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.’” (Acts 15:14-18)
This passage quotes Amos 9:11-15, which talks about the restoration of the house of David (v. 11) and the restoration of Israel (v. 14). But rather than applying it to the future, it is said to be fulfilled in the time of the apostles, when Jesus sat on the throne of David (Acts 2:29-32) and the Gentiles began to seek out salvation from Israel (e.g., Acts 10:22). Therefore, the inauguration of the kingdom of God has already taken place at the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, according to the New Testament.
The Reign from Zion
But if the kingdom of God is already inaugurated, how are we to understand the numerous prophecies in the Old Testament that look forward to a time when Jerusalem will be the foremost city on Earth, and the Gentiles will come to it to learn God’s law? For example, see Isa. 2:2-4; 62:1-7; 65:18-25; 66:10-23; Jer. 3:14-18; Mic. 4:1-4; Zeph. 3:12-20. The New Testament is quite clear that the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated, and yet Jerusalem is not the foremost city on Earth; in fact, it was ravaged and destroyed in AD 70, not long after Jesus’ exaltation.
Nonetheless, according to the New Testament, the promises that God made are no longer associated with the physical city of Jerusalem. This is explicitly stated by Paul:
Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs, for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married.”
Now you, my brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the enslaved woman and her child, for the child of the enslaved woman will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” (Gal. 4:24-30)
According to Paul, far from the physical Jerusalem being the object of God’s promises, it was an object of God’s curse in the first century, because the unbelieving Jews who lived there were persecuting Christians. This is in fact why it was destroyed in AD 70 (cf. Matt. 22:1-7). However, there is a spiritual Jerusalem, of which believers in Christ are already citizens (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:18-24).
All of God’s promises in the Old Testament pertain to this Jerusalem. Followers of Christ are described as “the light of the world, a city set on a hill” (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15; cf. Isa. 2:2; 62:1-2; Mic. 4:1-2). The Gentiles already began coming to it in the time of the apostles, to learn instruction (e.g., Acts 7:17; 10:22; cf. Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4:2), until it was eventually filled with “all nations” (Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:47; Rom. 10:18; Rev. 7:9; cf. Isa. 66:18-20, 23; Jer. 3:17; Zeph. 3:19-20). In Christ, there is no more enmity, only peace (Matt. 5:43-48; Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 1:20; 3:15; cf. Isa. 2:4; 11:6-9; 65:25; Jer. 3:18; Mic. 1:3-4). We are ourselves being built up into a spiritual Temple of priests (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-5, 9; cf. Isa. 66:20-21; Ezek. 40-48; Jer. 33:18; Zech. 14:21). All these truths are spoken by both Paul and the other apostles, indicating that they are trans-administrational.
The Kingdom of God in the New Testament
So far, we have covered the fact that Jesus has already been placed on David’s throne, and that the community of believers fulfills the prophecies about Jerusalem’s prominence. However, none of the New Testament passages that we have discussed specifically speak about “the kingdom of God.” So what does the New Testament explicitly say about this kingdom?
In the gospel accounts, Jesus repeatedly proclaims that “the kingdom of God has drawn near” (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11; cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7). Although this may not necessarily mean that the kingdom was temporally near at that time, it’s worth noting that the verb engizō is never used in the gospel accounts to describe a far-off event (cf. Matt. 21:34; 26:45; Luke 21:20, 28; 22:1). Jesus also says that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27; cf. Mark 9:1). Paul talks about “the kingdom of God” as a present reality (Rom. 14:17-18), and says that God “has brought us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). The Hebraist says, “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28). John writes that God “has made us kings and priests” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10).
All of these references could theoretically be understood to be proleptic, that is, referring to future events in the past and present tense. However, this is quite unlikely in view of the number of times that the kingdom of God is said to be a present reality, and the relative paucity of references to the kingdom of God as a future reality. In fact, there are only four verses where the kingdom of God is said to come at a future time (Acts 14:22; 2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 11:15; 12:10). During New Testament times, the old covenant was still present, though passing away, so the new covenant was not yet fully present (Heb. 8:13). When the old covenant was destroyed with the physical Temple in AD 70, the kingdom of God came with full force (Heb. 9:8; 12:26-28). Because of this, the New Testament states that Daniel 7:13-14 (the enthronement of Jesus) was fulfilled at two separate times: Jesus’ exaltation (Matt. 26:64; Heb. 1:3; 2:9) and again at the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:30).
Thus, the New Testament seems clear that the kingdom of God began in the first century, but what does it say that the kingdom of God actually is? Clearly, in the Old Testament, it refers to the rule of the descendants of David (2 Chron. 13:4-8), which in Jesus extends to all heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). However, it also seems to have a more spiritual meaning in the New Testament. Paul states that “the kingdom of God... is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God state that it begins small, almost insignificant, but grows to become massive (Matt. 13:31-33; cf. Dan. 2:35). This suggests that the kingdom is the community of believers, which is growing into a massive dwelling-place for God (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-5). In agreement with this, “the kingdom of heaven” is apparently equated by parallelism with “my church” in Matt. 16:18-19.
In summary, the kingdom of God in the Old Testament was the physical polity of Israel, ruled over by the descendants of David. After this kingdom was taken away during the Babylonian exile, the prophets looked forward to a future time, when another descendant of David would be placed on David’s throne, and Jerusalem would become the foremost city on Earth. According to the New Testament, Jesus was placed on David’s throne at his exaltation, and the community of believers is itself the spiritual Jerusalem which fulfills God’s promises. Therefore, the kingdom of God refers to the present age, in which Christ rules all things from heaven. In the next post, we will consider several passages that are thought to be difficult for this interpretation.
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