Is the Kingdom of God Spiritual & Present or Literal & Future?


In Daniel 2:1-45, God revealed to Daniel the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The dream included this fact: that the kingdom of God (v. 44) would be established in the days of the 4th kingdom (the first being Babylon, the second the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, the third being the kingdom of Alexander the Great; and the fourth being the Roman Empire).

Jesus came in the days of the Roman Empire, and this forerunner, John the Baptist, announced the coming of Christ and His Kingdom (Matt. 3:2). Jesus Himself announced the coming of the Kingdom (Matt. 4:17), and also announced that Peter would open the doors of the church (i.e., kingdom, Matt. 16:13-19).

Revelation is not a book of far distant future events, but the events described would take place soon. The key to the book of Revelation is found in Rev. 1:1 and 22:6, “…things that must shortly (i.e., quickly, or swiftly) take place.” Why? Because Revelation was written to Christians who were suffering severe persecution for their faith, and they needed encouragement to realize that their deliverance would come soon, i.e., within a few years. The language was figurative (symbolic) in terms that they would understand, but which would be meaningless to their enemies. This was to protect them from even worse persecution.

The kingdom of God is not a physical kingdom (Rom. 14:17) but a spiritual kingdom. See also 1 Cor. 15:50. Only in the kingdom of God can we receive forgiveness of sins, Col. 1:13-14. Paul in this Scripture said that this had already occurred, therefore the kingdom was already in existence when Colossians was written. Christ is now reigning over His kingdom from heaven at the right hand of God: Acts 2:29-33, 1 Cor. 15:20-28, Eph. 1:15-23, 1 Tim. 6:13-16.


Let us address each point.

Jesus did come in the days of the Roman Empire, but Nebuchadnezzar’s vision extended beyond the legs of iron. There were also “feet and toes… partly of iron, and partly of clay” (Dan. 2:42), indicating, by Daniel’s God-given interpretation, that “the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken;” a description that does not fit the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day. It is these feet of mixed iron and clay that the “stone” which was “cut out…without hands” (the Kingdom of God that will not arise from the kingdoms of men) strikes and breaks into pieces (v.34).

And as of today, we have yet to see this occur When it is time, this dramatic strike will mark the end of all human governments (or misgovernments). At this point the “iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold” (the kingdoms of the earth) will all be “broken to pieces” and become “like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no trace of them was found: and the stone that struck the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35). The kingdom of God will grow until it fills the whole earth, and “it shall stand for ever” (v. 44).

How then, do we understand Jesus’ announcing the Kingdom in Matthew 4:17, or the words of John the Baptist, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2)?

It is important to note that with the first advent of Jesus and His forerunner, John the Baptist, the first “component” of the kingdom finally became visible after four thousand years of prophecy. The confusion over Christ’s first coming and the setting up of His Kingdom is understandable as many of these prophecies telescope the time between His first and second advents. But, in the grand scheme of the Almighty, “at hand” can easily encompass a few thousand years and the Gospels teach “a long time” until the full and final fulfillment would come (see Luke 19:11-27; Matt. 25:14; Acts 1:611).

Moving on: the text in Romans 14:17 reads, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” To say Paul means the Kingdom of God is a spiritual one, is to contradict many other instances where Christ is pictured as returning, setting up His Kingdom and triumphing over His enemies. Paul was, instead, setting forth a standard of conduct for believers. He was stating that, due to high loyalties and accountability to God, Christians should do everything as to the Lord. Romans 14:18 reads “For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

What did Paul mean, then, when he said that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God?” In His letter to the Philippians we read, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). Or as written in 1 Corinthians 15, “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Once this change is accomplished, we will still be physical beings, composed of physical substance, (1 Cor. 13:12); but we will have bodies like the angels [not of flesh and blood] (Luke 20:35-36).

We know of no passage of Scripture which says that “only in the kingdom of God can we receive forgiveness of sins.” Jesus, having power to read men’s minds and hearts, had the power to forgive sins and used it (see Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24; Mark 4:12) but long before this, the Divine arrangement for forgiveness had been clearly spelled out: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28:13); and, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). In the Psalms, David expresses gratitude for forgiveness received from God.This condition was outlined long before the establishment of the New Testament Church on the Day of Pentecost.

To continue; a careful reading of Colossians 1:13-14 does not suggest the “kingdom of his dear Son” was then in existence. The King James Version reads, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” However, the preposition “into” is translated from the Greek “eis” which can also mean “in order to, for, with a view to, for the use or service of and with reference to” (Thayer’s Greek English lexicon to the New Testament) For example, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott reads, “… and changed us for the kingdom of the Son of his love.” Paul is speaking of deliverance from an evil world and the acceptance of a new life in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom. Paul often emphasized the conduct required of the heirs of salvation, phrasing it as a condition yet to be and not one already there. He said the same of himself (Phil. 3:13-14).

As to the book of Revelation; it was written to describe future events which must “shortly come to pass,” and “shortly” can be defined as “quickly, or swiftly,” but the Greek word used here, “tachu,” references speed or suddenness rather than immediacy. Over nineteen hundred years have passed since Revelation was given to John on Patmos, and is it possible the prophecies of Revelation have been fulfilled during the centuries immediately following Christ’s deliver of this message?

A brief sketch of events outlined in Revelation:

~The opening of the seven seals (Rev. 5, 6)
~The standing of “the Lamb on Mt. Sion, and with him 144,000” (Rev. 14:1-3)
~The preaching of “the everlasting gospel to all… on the earth” (Rev. 14:6)
~The harvesting of the fruits of the earth (Rev. 14:15, 17)
~The fall of Babylon and all that pertains to her (Rev. 17, 18)
~The marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19)
~The great battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21)
~The binding of the devil, Satan, i.e., all evil (Rev. 20:1-3)
~The judgment of all who live (Rev. 20:10-15)
~The descent of the new Jerusalem out of heaven (Rev. 21)

Who can say that any of these have already taken place?

The early Christians who read this book during the early centuries were no doubt encouraged to stand firm in their faith, knowing that they would be abundantly rewarded in the Kingdom which was to come with the Second Advent of Christ. But there is nothing indicating that anything predicted in Revelation was to take place in their day. Furthermore, if we understand your position correctly, you believe that the Kingdom began on the day of Pentecost. If that were true, the Kingdom would have already been established prior to the time Christ sent His angel with this message, the book of Revelation, to His servant John.

No, Revelation is a revealing of yet future events, far too magnificent and vast to describe any history that has yet taken place. The events will be cataclysmic in their effects, and worldwide. The result will be a change of living conditions for all people everywhere, everyone being compelled to bow before the new and Divine authority.

Let us look at the passages concerning Christ reigning at the right hand of the Father, individually.

Acts 2:29-33 speaks of those who were baptized and received the Holy Spirit power as part of the special dispensing begun at Pentecost. Accordingly they became part of the true Church. Beyond this, everything was theirs only by promise; the Kingdom was not a present reality: “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

The passage in 1 Cor. 15:20-28 is part of Paul’s discourse on the resurrection. In this part, he is discussing the role of Christ the coming King, but there is no indication that the Kingdom was already at that time a fully functioning entity. On the contrary, the evidence he presents shows it was not existing then, for when it exists, “all things” will be “put under him,” and “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” As of then—or now—neither of these points has been realized; “all things” were not then and are not now under the domain and governance of Christ, nor has “death” been destroyed. The book of Hebrews makes a similar statement about the subduing of all things under Christ, concluding with: “But now we do not yet see all things put under him” (Heb. 2:8).

In 1 Cor. 15:20-28, Paul is looking forward to the glorious day when the Kingdom will be established, when all opposing “rule and all authority and power” shall have been put down. The passage does not speak of a then-present reality but of a promise to be fulfilled “at his coming” (v. 23).

The passage in Eph. 1:15-23 speaks first of Christ’s present place in heaven at the Father’s right hand, then of the worldwide authority which Christ will have in the future, and lastly of His present place of authority over His people, the Church. But nothing is said about the Church being the Kingdom. Christ, says Paul, has now been exalted at the Father’s right hand, “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in the world to come” (v. 21 KJV). [The NKJV renders “world” in this passage as “age”] Then he says further: “And He put all things under his feet,” but then goes on to immediately define His present position of authority as being in relation to His church: “and He put all things under his feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all” (vs. 22-23)—He is “over all things to the church”—not to the whole world, not the Kingdom.

In 1 Tim. 6:13-16, Paul is again speaking of Christ in His exalted position at the right hand of God. First he speaks of Him as earth’s coming King, admonishing Timothy to “keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (vs. 14-15). This clearly describes Christ’s future role, which He will fill at the time of His “appearing.”

At the present time Christ is the only one of our race to have received immortality. Christ is the “firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor. 15: 23).

Then Paul goes on to describe Christ’s present environment, with His Father in heaven: “dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power”(1 Tim. 6:16). Nothing is said about His reigning over His Kingdom from heaven.

We look forward to that day when the Kingdom shall come, and pray earnestly that we may be ready to have a part in all the great events that will accompany it. With all our heart we look forward to the day when “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Dan. 7:27).

It is coming!