The Bible’s View
What Is “the Kingdom of God?”
THE kingdom of God was the principal theme of Jesus’ preaching. “I must declare the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this I was sent forth,” he said. (Luke 4:43) For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have expressed the sentiments of the second petition of Jesus’ model prayer: “Let your kingdom come.” (Matt. 6:10) What is the “kingdom” that Jesus proclaimed and for which he taught his disciples to pray?
In the Bible “kingdom” sometimes denotes sovereignty, royal power, dominion, the state of being a king, that is to say, kingship. (Ps. 145:11-13; Dan. 1:1; 2:1; 8:1) The Word of God makes it plain that the Creator has always held kingship in this sense. “Jehovah is King to time indefinite, even forever,” declared the psalmist. (Ps. 10:16; compare Daniel 4:3, 34, 35; 1 Timothy 1:17.) The Bible uses the term “kingdom” also for the means used to express a king’s sovereignty. Consider how the Scriptures develop this matter.
God’s faithful servant Daniel received a vision foretelling the rise and the fall of a series of world kingdoms down to the end of the present system of things. (Dan. 2:31-33, 36-43) Those kingdoms would be succeeded by something unusual. “In the days of those kings,” we read, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom [of his Son, the Messiah] that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”—Dan. 2:44.
The crushing out of existence of all human rulerships could not be accomplished by any other means. The kingdom that does this is the power and authority of the king that he uses for expressing or enforcing the sovereignty of God. Another prophetic vision provides additional details about the kingdom. Daniel writes: “With the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days [Jehovah God] he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.” (Dan. 7:13, 14) That “son of man” is the glorified Jesus Christ.—Matt. 26:64; Rev. 1:7.
However, the “son of man” in this kingdom will have a body of associate rulers, concerning whom Daniel 7:18, 22, 27 says: “But the holy ones of the Supreme One will receive the kingdom, and they will take possession of the kingdom . . . The definite time arrived that the holy ones took possession of the kingdom itself. And the kingdom and the rulership and the grandeur of the kingdoms under all the heavens were given to the people who are the holy ones of the Supreme One. Their kingdom is an indefinitely lasting kingdom, and all the rulerships will serve and obey even them.”
Thus, in the kingdom wielded by the “son of man” he associates with himself a group of corulers. But who are they?
The ancient Jews understood the “son of man” to be the promised Messiah. Since the Scriptures occasionally refer to the Israelites as God’s “holy ones,” it was expected that one day the Messiah with fellow Israelites would become world rulers. (Ps. 34:9; 89:5, 7) Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament explains: “The Jews were expecting a kingdom of the greatest felicity, which God through the Messiah would set up, raising the dead to life again and renovating earth and heaven; and that in this kingdom they [the Jews] would bear sway for ever over all the nations of the world. This kingdom was called the kingdom of God or the kingdom of the Messiah.”
However, there were factors about the kingdom of God that the Jews did not understand. When Jesus came to earth, he spoke to his disciples about “the sacred secret of the kingdom of God.” (Mark 4:11) In the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures three features of that “sacred secret” stand out prominently:
(1) The foretold “Son of man” is the heavenly, only-begotten son of God who came to earth as Jesus Christ, died sacrificially as a ransom for sinful mankind and returned to heaven.—John 1:14; 3:13; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; 3:16.
Will all “Christians” enter heaven to serve in that kingdom? No, for we have already learned that it will have earthly subjects. (Dan. 7:14, 27) Only a limited number are taken to heaven to rule with the Son of man. In this regard the apostle John provides important details in the book of Revelation:
“And I saw, and, look! the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing upon the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads. . . . the hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been bought from the earth. . . . These were bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”—Rev. 14:1-4; compare Revelation 5:9, 10; 7:4.
It is clear, then, that those who stand (or rule) in heaven with the Lamb, Jesus Christ, are not all who become Christians and gain eternal salvation. Only a “firstfruits” participate in that heavenly rulership. All other faithful servants of God will enjoy everlasting life in perfection here on earth.—Rev. 21:3, 4.
In view of this Scriptural information, what is the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed? It is the heavenly government consisting of Jesus Christ and a “hundred and forty-four thousand” corulers, or “joint heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:17) The kingdom of the Messiah will “come” by taking action to remove the present system of human rulership on earth. (Ps. 2:7-9) After that there will be a global extension of rule by God. (Dan. 2:34, 44) What a delightful prospect!