The Apostles’ Perspective of the Kingdom of God

(Article 1 of 3 in the Kingdom of God series)

We as human beings all have ideas and concepts about the Kingdom of God or the afterlife and what it will be like.  Of course, each of us knows our concepts are the right ones because we believe they have been proven from scripture and they have been often repeated by those preaching from the pulpit.  That can be said whether you are a Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, part of an evangelical Christian fellowship or have been a member of the old Worldwide Church of God.

We already know that repetition of a concept regarding the afterlife can be nothing more than the validation of what we already want to believe is true.  That’s been the case throughout human history in all religions.  It’s part of the carrot or reward.  What people want most in this life is extrapolated into the next.  The Vikings wanted their Valhalla so for eternity they could go out to do battle, get drunk on mead that night and then repeat it all over again the next day.  The native American Indian wanted his happy hunting ground.  A Muslim man wanted his 70 virgins.  In Christianity, for a man living during the Renaissance period in poverty and toil, the idea of streets of gold and floating around on clouds doing absolutely nothing was most appealing.  The paintings of that time reflected this.  Today many people like to think of the afterlife as “walking into the light” and there on the other side is Grandma and Grandpa waiting for you with open arms.

It’s so easy to simply project our wants and desires of this life into the next.   For those like myself, coming out of a Worldwide Church of God background, each individual could easily project their own desires into what we called “the Wonderful World Tomorrow.”  For some who may have been overlooked for a promotion in this life they could look forward to ruling over 5, no make that 10 cities in the wonderful world tomorrow.  Or how about being in the church administration department right under Elijah the prophet.  When I was a younger man all caught up with the busyness of life with pressures on the job, fighting traffic every day, trying to pay bills and “watching world events”, sometimes I just yearned for the simple life—living under the vine and the fig tree… going to the Feast of Tabernacles down a little country lane and the birds are singing.  If I was honest with myself back then, I was describing my own retirement wishes.  The point is we can each in our own way extrapolate our own wishes in this life into the next and if we aren’t careful we can treat our own speculations as though they are scriptural promises.

So how can we really know if our concepts of the Kingdom of God are the correct ones?  No matter what church background you have or even if you aren’t part of one, you and I need to acknowledge the possibility that to a greater or lesser extent concerning the Kingdom of God we all have been in-doctrine-ated.

When we read the New Testament we should ask ourselves, “did Jesus and His Apostles talk about the same concepts we do or are we caught in a paradigm of our own making concerning the Kingdom of God?”  Can we be inadvertently ignoring scriptures to validate for ourselves a false narrative concerning the Kingdom of God?  It’s sometimes easy to see this in others (various church groups), but how about in ourselves and our church group?  It is time to take an honest look at this important subject, focusing only on the Apostles’ perspective of the Kingdom of God as they were led by the Holy Spirit to write in the New Testament.

When I was a member of the Worldwide Church of God I would have said that we as a group never ignore scriptures, but we read all of them.  Yet, I attended the Radio/Worldwide Church of God for years during the 1960’s & 70’s and never heard the first 2 chapters of Luke read from the pulpit about the birth of Jesus because somehow that seemed to be orthodox Christianity’s Christmas story.  Likewise, we didn’t read in chapter one the angel giving a “hail” to Mary telling her how “the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28) or Elizabeth’s proclamation in v-42 how “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”  Luke 1 (including Mary’s beautiful response in v-46-55) was not read because the Catholic Church’s paradigm venerates the “blessed virgin.”

The same could be true for many passages concerning Heaven.  Have many of us inadvertently ignored scriptures about Heaven because of orthodox Christianity’s false paradigm concerning Heaven being the reward of the saved or immortal souls looking down at us from Heaven?  Since all churches have their paradigms (belief system of what seems real to you), it is easy to focus only on things we want to believe are true.  John wrote that those with the anointing from God (have the indwelling Holy Spirit) are taught the truth by Him and don’t need men to teach them what they call the truth (I John 2:27).  Being led by the Holy Spirit allows us to see the truth as given by the Apostles as the word of God working in us (II Thes. 2:13).  The truth concerning the Kingdom of God is not dependent on what someone named “Pastor Bob” repeats from the pulpit or what is written in a doctrinal position paper from a church organization or what you want to believe is true.

As a boy growing up in the Lutheran church, I heard the minister preach about “when we get to Heaven” and how my little deceased 4 year old cousin was looking down at us from Heaven.  Later, when I read the epistles, I could see that the Apostles never talked that way.  Paul didn’t say “when we go to Heaven” or talk about who would be at “the pearly gates when we die” or anyone after dying being able to “look down at us from Heaven.”

As a young teenager in 1962, along with my father I started attending the Radio Church of God which back then included messages about the existing Kingdom of God.  It’s the everlasting Kingdom where our Father sits on His throne with Jesus Christ at His right hand.  During the 1960’s, however, that message about the existing Kingdom of God slowly began to change to where they eventually always spoke about a coming peaceful Wonderful World Tomorrow and made the gospel all about the millennium here on this earth.  It was all very clinical and logical.  The Gospel was about a coming Kingdom and “a kingdom requires a king, laws, territory and subjects”.  Yet years later when I read again the epistles (without the voice of any man’s interpretations in my head) I could see clearly how after the Apostles received the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost they never again spoke about Christ restoring the kingdom to Israel.  Instead, they focused on the true eternal spiritual Kingdom of God in Heaven and looked forward to the spiritual salvation of mankind based on better promises than what was given to Israel.

Had the true gospel been nothing more than an announcement of the Christ (Messiah) coming to the earth to bring world peace with God’s government and laws going forth out of Zion, then many of the same ones who yelled “crucify him, crucify him” would have agreed wholeheartedly as would most all the Jews of their day.  This was their hope of the messianic prophecies which they looked forward to.

Brethren, whenever we only make the Kingdom of God, as many today do, synonymous with the coming messianic kingdom (the Millennium), we tend to focus all our attention on the physical future kingdom and ignore the reality of God’s eternal kingdom that exists today and always has existed.  I observed changes in messages being given during the Feast of Tabernacles in the old Worldwide Church of God to where by the late 1960’s during the Feast, rather than concentrating on the fact that we are sojourning in temporary earthly tabernacles like Peter and Paul taught (II Pet. 1:13-14 & II Cor. 4:16-18, 5:1-4), the messages evolved to make the Kingdom of God all about the coming millennial kingdom.  Even today for brethren keeping the Feast we too often spend our time at the Feast of Tabernacles going out to restaurants, eating fine meals and drinking fine wine because somehow, for many of our brethren, “this all pictures the Kingdom of God on earth” (the Millennium).  Those words are taught from many pulpits and are read in church booklets, yet we all deep down know that, the Kingdom of God is not about meat and drink!  It’s not about staying at a luxury resort with access to a hot tub, eating good steaks, drinking nice glasses of wine and “tomorrow we’re going to Legoland.”  Nor was that even the main message given during the 1950’s when most of the brethren who kept the Feast of Tabernacles in the old Radio Church of God were camping in tents, residing in small booths or staying in cabins during the Feast.

Let’s face it, it would have been a hard sell back then to tell a family living 8 days in a tent, cooking breakfast on a Coleman stove and getting their children all dressed up in that tent for church services to say that somehow “this all pictures the kingdom of God.”  For many of us keeping the Feast, the meaning of the Feast slowly started to change during the 1960’s into something very different than it’s biblical meaning.  I’m not saying that we need to go back to living in tents, cabins or small motel rooms during the Feast, but we internally should never lose sight of the true meaning and spiritual intent of the Feast, including our rejoicing in Christ Jesus for our hope of eternal life through Him.  I want to encourage the ministry in all the churches of God to get back to giving more messages during the Feast like they were once given during the Feasts in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  The Feast is about how (like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the people of God throughout history confessed) we are strangers and sojourners living in this world that is not our home.   We are in the world, but not of the world.  Our citizenship and hearts are elsewhere.  Also, like those leafy branches of a sukkah (tabernacle) made by an Israelite in Joshua’s day, which by the end of the Feast was sagging and falling apart, we realize the temporariness of life– that all flesh is like grass and we aren’t taking anything in this life with us into the next.  It’s why the Jews even today, probably in a tradition going back to the time of Ezra, read the book of Ecclesiastes during the Feast showing how all in this life is vanity or temporary.  Our hope is in Christ and the resurrection of the dead.  This includes the resurrection of the coming great harvest of those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  We likewise all year long need to get back to giving more messages about the existing Kingdom of God and not just the coming millennial kingdom.

When you think about it, why didn’t Paul and the other Apostles talk about the lion lying down with the lamb or swords being beaten into plowshares or every man lying under his vine & fig tree?  They didn’t talk about Corinthians preparing to rule in a wonderful world tomorrow or the law going forth out of Zion.  They knew they were living in the last days and fully understood all of those messianic prophecies, but after receiving the Holy Spirit the Apostles no longer concerned themselves with the restoration of the kingdom of Israel on this earth.  Instead they clearly focused on the better promises of eternal life, looking to the eternal spiritual Kingdom of God and it’s ultimate revelation in what we now know to be the post-millennial time.  Even in the book of Hebrews, being written to a Jewish audience, the hope of all of the men and women of faith mentioned in Heb. 11 was about the coming (post millennial) heavenly New Jerusalem, the city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10, 16).

In what is called “the resurrection chapter” (I Cor. 15) Paul talks about our mortal bodies putting on immortality (v-51-54) when we are changed and our bearing the image of the heavenly.  In v-23-28 he talks about Christ putting an end to all enemies, “Then comes the end when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power, For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.  Now when all things are made subject to Him, the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.”  What kingdom is this that after death is destroyed Christ delivers to God the Father and is subject to the Father?  It’s the messianic kingdom!  This takes place in what we would consider a post-millennial time after death is destroyed.  All of those prophecies about the desert blossoming like a rose and coming world peace will take place, but Paul and the other Apostles (who were fully aware of those messianic prophecies) didn’t point the brethren in that direction.  Why not?

In II Pet. 3:10-13 Peter wrote about this physical earth being burned up and the heaven (atmosphere) being dissolved.  We are to “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  Like all the prophets who came before them, the Apostles no longer sought a city made with human hands over some Jebusite or Roman rubble.  They (like even those human beings living in the millennium will do) confessed that while in this human flesh they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth seeking a city coming down from Heaven whose builder and maker was God (Heb. 11:13-16).  It’s where Christ is building many abodes in His Father’s House.

When Paul endured all that he did in preaching the gospel he wrote, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (II Tim. 2:10).  The gospel was about obtaining eternal glory.  Paul looked forward to the “heavenly kingdom” (II Tim. 4:18) which is that kingdom that has always existed (see also II Pet. 3:10-13).  In the spiritual intent of Jesus’ parables, Paul and the other Apostles knew Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He was that pearl of great price and that treasure hidden in a field.  He was that mustard seed that was planted in the earth.  When Paul preached the gospel, he preached Christ crucified.  It was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, but it was the power and wisdom of God (read I Cor. 1:17-24).  Paul called this good news the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20;24).  It was about our Lord Jesus Christ, “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal. 1:4) and he warned the Galatians about the preaching of any other gospel than this gospel of grace (v-6-9).  This gospel of the grace of God through Christ crucified fit’s in better with Jesus’ speaking of a spiritual realm saying “the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto” parables in Matt. 13 than saying “the millennium is like unto….”

It was after re-reading all of those New Testament writings of James, Peter, John and Paul that I came to realize that the false paradigm of Heaven in my Protestant upbringing had been followed by another misguided paradigm that evolved over time in the Radio/Worldwide Church of God during the 1960’s concerning the Kingdom of God.  In both cases I was ignoring the words of the Apostles and accepting the words of teachers or church leaders who selectively read into scripture something that the Apostles didn’t say, and thus twisting what the Apostles really said.  I had been ignoring all those passages in the Old Testament about God’s existing Kingdom, the everlasting Kingdom where the angels praise Him.  God our Father reigns right now in the everlasting Kingdom of God with Jesus Christ sitting at His right hand.  Each day we come before our Father’s throne– not His chair.  As Jesus showed us how to pray, He quoted from I Chron. 29:11 saying that “thine (our Father which art in heaven’s) is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.”  Who’s is (not will one day be) the Kingdom?  Our Father who art in Heaven.  His is the Kingdom.  It existed then, exists now and always has existed.  Whatever Christ’s disciples bound on earth Jesus said was bound in the Kingdom of heaven– not bound in the millennium, but bound in the existing Kingdom of God.  As a Christian I knew all of this intellectually, but the messages in many sermons and in the church of God booklets about the Kingdom of God usually totally ignored the existing Kingdom of God or only referred to it as the family of God or the government of God, but not as the everlasting Kingdom of God that has always existed and always will exist.

Knowing this, we can all still look forward to that wonderful millennial kingdom when there will be world peace and true righteousness covering the earth with Christ ruling from Jerusalem.  Reigning with Christ as kings and priests in what for us will be our first day of eternity will be wonderful.  All suffering and pain will end as the earth enters it’s Sabbath rest.  The capstone and promise of the book of Revelation (and the entire Bible), however, is about the eternal reign of God our Father with the Lamb coming to the earth in the New Jerusalem.  Those who overcame through Christ, whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, will dwell with Him and our Father forever in that Kingdom of eternal love.  Today, right now as Paul wrote in Heb. 12:22-24 “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.”  Our inheriting that eternal Kingdom of God by bearing the image of the heavenly and putting on immortality is to be every true Christian’s focus.  While liberating the world from Satan’s control and bringing peace on earth for a thousand years with a restored Israel is wonderful good news, it’s the eternal salvation of those in Christ Jesus that was the good news and focus of all the Apostles in their writings (including the book of Revelation).  This was not the salvation of what those Jews who were laying down the palm branches when Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey were looking for.  They wanted the Messiah to throw off the Roman shackles and restore the kingdom to Israel.  The salvation the Apostles revealed to mankind was not about having world peace, rain in due season, each man living under a vine & fig tree, old men dreaming dreams and little children playing with lions and lambs.  The salvation offered by Christ crucified was about eternal life– mortal putting on immortality.  It was about entering that spiritual realm in the Kingdom of God that flesh and blood cannot inherit.  As Christians we look forward to that day when Christ returns and establishes what Paul calls, “the kingdom of the Son of His Love” (Col. 1:13) on the earth.  We are to make our “calling and election sure” to be in the kingdom of our Lord (II Pet. 1:10-11).   We look forward to spending eternity with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the hope for all Christians at all times of trials whether you are a Christian living at the end of the first century facing persecution under the Roman emperor or living during the period of the Catholic Inquisition or today undergoing a painful chemotherapy.  As fleshly tabernacles, we are all living in our own “last days”.  It is our hope that most of mankind will be a part of that great harvest pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles when men will put off their earthly tabernacles (II Pet. 1:13-14) and enter that spiritual realm.

For us, Paul said it best in II Cor. 5:1-4 when he wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven…. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”  People living during the millennium (while Christ is reigning in Jerusalem) will still be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, confessing that while in this flesh, they are just strangers and sojourners as they seek that city coming down from Heaven who’s builder and maker is God.  Just like us, they will groan that mortality might be swallowed up of life.  That’s the meaning of tabernacles as expressed by the Apostles.  That is good news for mankind.  Calling it the good news of the Kingdom of God or as Paul did, the good news of the grace of God or the gospel of your salvation aren’t two different gospels.  Its 2 sides of the same coin.  Through God’s grace we have salvation and will inherit the Kingdom of God.

In the next article “The Kingdom of Heaven Is the Kingdom of God” we will see why Matthew, in writing to Jewish Christians, usually called it the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  He did it for a reason and hopefully we can clearly see how it also applies particularly to those of us coming from a Worldwide Church of God background and to those in various messianic churches.

The Kingdom of Heaven is the Kingdom of God and it exists right now today with Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of God the Father on His throne.  In Psa. 103:19-21 David wrote, “The Lord (Yehovah) has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.  Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word.  Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, You servants of His, who do His pleasure.”  In Psa. 145:10-13 David also wrote, “All your works shall praise You, O Lord, And your saints shall bless You, They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, And talk of Your power, To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.  Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.”  At God’s throne, the seraphim and cherubim are described in Isa. 6 and also in chapters 1, 10 & 41 of Ezekiel.  Each day we come before our Father’s throne.  His eternal Kingdom in heaven is the Kingdom we are to seek first.  It has a king, territory (everywhere), law and subjects.  Matthew fully understood this and purposely described it as the Kingdom of heaven to his Jewish audience.  Again, many of us already know of God’s existing Kingdom.  Our Father (the Ancient of Days) is giving His Son a Kingdom to rule on this earth.  That is the messianic Kingdom during the millennium.  Until then, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Til I make Your enemies Your footstool'” (Psa. 110:1 and cited 3 times in the NT).  When we make the Kingdom of God only all about the coming millennium without any reference to the existing Kingdom of God, we are diminishing our understanding of what the gospel is all about.  The good news for mankind is that through Christ crucified, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, we in human form now can have access to that spiritual throne in Heaven and at Christ’s coming we will be changed to spirit beings, bear the image of the heavenly, inherit and enter the realm of that Kingdom of God that always has existed and always will exist.  That is the Apostles’ perspective of the Kingdom of God.

Written by Lee Lisman

(Please click below to continue with the second article titled “The Kingdom of Heaven Is the Kingdom of God” in this 3-article series on the Kingdom of God)

The Kingdom of Heaven Is the Kingdom of God part 2 of 3