This article from Si is part of the Somali Bible Society Journal: Volume II, Issue 1
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” [Matthew 6:9-10]
This first part of the Lord’s prayer represents the heartbeat of heaven and the hope of Christianity. It is prayed daily by many Christians around the world and three times a day by those who take the advice given in the Didache. That God would be glorified through His creation as His people, made in His image, represent and rule over the whole earth [Genesis 1:28, Habakkuk 2:14, Revelation 5:10 & 21:3-5].
Schreiner says, “The bible is most fundamentally a narrative, and the Kingdom of God is the thematic framework for the narrative.”[i] Now whilst it may be argued that there are other concepts more fitting to see as the metanarrative of scripture (the glory of God, the temple, the holiness and love of God, etc.), certainly the Kingdom of God is a contender among them. In fact, when you drill down into any of the major themes presented throughout scripture it invariably contains elements of the other key subjects anyway, there is always some overlap.
So, what exactly is Christ telling Christians to pray for when they seek God for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done, on earth as in heaven? How are Christians supposed to play their part in establishing God’s kingdom here on earth? Maybe the best place to start answering these questions is defining what the Kingdom of God is, how the concept of it has developed in the Old Testament up to Jesus’ time, before moving on to look at some of the problems that occurred through trying to enforce God’s rule on people. Finally, we will look at the gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus and as taught in the New Testament, before concluding with when God’s kingdom has come in its fullness and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. At appropriate points throughout I will compare and contrast this with the beginning of the Caliphate in Islam and the reality of Muslim Background Believers experiences today.
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom is mentioned 157 times in the New Testament, 124 of them in the 4 Gospels.[ii] Matthew’s gospel, written primarily for a Jewish audience, uses the expression Kingdom of Heaven but in the gospel of Luke’s parallel accounts the term Kingdom of God is used, showing that the terms are to be taken synonymously.[iii] George Ladd notes about the word Kingdom, “The primary meaning of both the Hebrew word ‘malkuth’ in the Old Testament and of the Greek word ‘basileia’ in the New Testament is, the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king.[iv] The kingdom of God is His kingship, His rule, His authority.”[v] Lloyd-Jones would agree as he says, “The kingdom of God really means the reign of God; it means the law and the rule of God.”[vi] John Stott sums it up with, “The kingdom of God is his royal rule.”[vii]
God is the eternal king [1 Timothy 1:17], he universally reigns supreme over everything [Psalm 135:5-6], unequalled in glory and majesty, with none to compare to Him as Isaiah 40 beautifully describes. This is always true about God; however, since the fall of mankind described in Genesis 3, God in His grace did not bring the swift end humanity deserved. Instead, He kicked into motion His eternal plan of salvation [Genesis 3:15, 1 Peter 1:19-21].
God in His sovereignty has allowed humanity to have the freedom to choose to submit to Him or rebel. This is illustrated straight away in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel, with the key verses being the warning from God [Genesis 4: 6-7] which Cain chooses to ignore. The subsequent chapters then describe mankind’s totally depraved and rebellious condition before God, summed up in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Humanity as a whole chose to reject God’s rule, reign and authority over them.
God in His grace has always enabled some people to call on Him in faith as they try to live to please him. Noah being one of the most famous pre-flood characters; through him mankind was saved from complete destruction [Genesis 6-9]. Then later through Abraham the Father of faith [Romans 11:9-17] God planned through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob that the people of Israel would be called to live under God’s rule in the promised land. It was through Israel, “according to the flesh,” that Christ came [Romans 9:5] to redeem people from every tribe, tongue and nation to God [Revelations 5:9]. God in His providence according to 2 Peter 3:9, is allowing time before He returns to wrap up history and fully establish His Kingdom reign, for more people all over the world to repent and turn to Jesus; surrendering their life under His rule now.
Therefore, in the sovereign purposes of God, He has allowed a season where people can rebel against His rule and reign, whilst others by grace through faith place themselves under his authority [Ephesians 2:1-10]. In addition, “God allows Satan a limited, but powerful, rule over his universal kingdom to display God’s own spiritual glory through his chosen people [Exodus 6:4].”[viii]. In the light of this reality, Roberts helpfully sums up the Kingdom of God as, “God’s people, in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.”[ix] Similarly, Schreiner writes “The kingdom is the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place.”[x] Power, People, Place is an easy way to conceptualise and remember the different aspects of what it means by the Kingdom of God.
Below are two helpful tables that sum up Roberts and Schreiners understanding of how the Kingdom of God theme is developed throughout Scripture.[xi] Roberts following key events in biblical history and Schreiner following the Hebrew Bible for the Old Testament.
The pattern of the KingdomThe garden of Eden Genesis 1-2
Establishing the KingdomBooks of the Law – Creation account
The perished KingdomThe Fall through to Abraham
Corrupting the KingdomBooks of the Law – The fall
The promised KingdomShown through Abraham and his descendants
Reviving hope in the KingdomThe rest of the books of the Law
The partial KingdomGod’s law’s given at Sinai, land conquered under Joshua, kingdom established under David and Solomon
Foreshadowing the KingdomThe books of the prophets
The prophesied KingdomThe prophets from Solomon onwards begin to speak of a glorious kingdom to come
The life of the KingdomThe books of the writings
The present KingdomInaugurated by Christ
The embodiment of the KingdomThe Gospels
The proclaimed KingdomChurch’s role to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the whole earth
Kingdom CommunityActs and epistles
The perfected KingdomAt the return of Christ
Achieving the Kingdom goalRevelations
The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament
Beasley-Murray highlights the expression the kingdom of God does not occur in the Old Testament. Revealed with its writings however, is that “the ultimate purpose of the future coming of the Lord and the Day of the Lord is the establishment of the Kingdom of God.”[xii] Where God’s rule, righteousness and peace are displayed through His people.[xiii]
In the garden of Eden, God’s rule, righteousness and peace were present realities that Adam and Eve enjoyed (remember – Power People, Place). Through the fall, sin and death entered the world [Romans 5:12], plunging the world into the darkness of being under Satan’s control with all the evil and chaos that goes on with that [Luke 4:6, 1 John 5:19].
However, God kept people for Himself throughout pre-flood times [Genesis 5]. After Noah comes out of the Ark and offers God a sacrifice of thanks, God makes a covenant with him, and through him all mankind, never to flood the whole world again and that God would keep the normal seasons of the world going too – The Noahic Covenant.
It would appear God still ordained some others to call on him afterwards to, as the mysterious King Melchizedek in Genesis 14 demonstrates. However, the purposes of God as recorded in scripture focus in on the calling of Abram [Genesis 12], who God renames Abraham [Genesis 17]. God promises Abraham not only the land of Canaan, but also that he will become a great nation, that God will protect him and that through him all the families on the earth will be blessed – The Abrahamic Covenant[Genesis 12:1-3, 13:14-17, 17:1-8]. This promise in the purposes of God’s election, Romans 9:6-12 makes clear, passes through his son Issac (not Ishmael) to his grandson Jacob (not Esau), then through Jacob 12 sons the people of Israel. Each of these to varying degrees make God their God (most it would appear mainly to a lesser degree – but God is faithful!).
With the coming of Moses, God brought about the deliverance of Israel out of slavery in Egypt after they had moved down there due to famine roughly 400 years earlier [Genesis 41-50]. They as God’s people meet with Him at Sinai [Exodus 19, 24, Deuteronomy 5:22-27], received His rules (recorded in Exodus – Deuteronomy), for them to live by in the place He was giving them – the promised land. This is know as the Mosaic Covenant (or Sinaitic Covenant).
After 40 years in the wilderness due to Israel’s sin and unbelief, Joshua led the people of God into the promised land and they conquered part of it. God was giving the land to them gradually as they grew and continued in obedience to Him [Exodus 23:29-32]. The book of Judges honestly and somewhat disturbingly records the reality of Israel’s obedience or, more often than not, lack of it. This lead to cycles of apostacy where Israel went after other god’s, were conquered by other nations, cry out to God for help, then God raises up a judge to deliver them. There is peace for a season which leads to complacency, sin, and rebellion and then the cycle starts again. What is apparent is the Judges themselves is that they are flawed human beings and often cause Israel to follow in their sin [e.g. Judges 8:27].
Samuel the prophet is the greatest of the judges, and it is at the end of his time that Israel demand a king like the nations. “And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” [1 Samuel 8:7]. King Saul is chosen and starts well, but he fears man more than God and wants to please man more than God, so is rejected [1 Samuel 13 & 15].
God uses Samuel to anoint a second king David when he is just a boy [1 Samuel 16]. David proved to be a man of faith, love and trust in God. God uses David to firmly establish Israel in the promised land under God’s rule as prescribed in the Mosaic Covenant. David loved God, listened to God’s laws and prophets and wanted to establish the worship of God at the centre of his kingdom [2 Sam 6&7]. King David seeks to build God a beautiful house (temple) to be worshiped in, and yet God said it is not for him to do this. “When you days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” [2 Samuel 8:12-13]. The Davidic Covenant. King David although seen as the greatest king of Israel with all future Kings of Judah being compared to him, committed some major sins that the bible does not hide. For all his failures though David handed a prosperous, peaceful, God centred kingdom onto his son Solomon.
King Solomon, who from birth is loved by God [2 Samuel 12:24-25], is gifted with wisdom from above to rule God’s people [1 Kings 3]. Solomon builds a glorious temple for the Lord, which God fills visibly with the cloud of His presence [1 Kings 8:10-11]. Yet even wise and much-loved Solomon is distracted by the pleasures of life, and his heart loved foreign women; who as Moses warned would lead people astray to serve foreign god’s, as Solomon did [1 King 11:1-8].
After Solomon’s reign the kingdom is divided into Israel and Judah and whilst Judah has some better kings who try to bring about God’s rule and reign on the land, this is never done fully. The people still choose to disobey and often the kings led them into this [2 Chronicles 36:15-16]. The people of God, despite being given the land to live in by God continue to rebel against the rule of God and eventually are taken into captivity. Israel are taken captive by Assyria in 722 BC and Judah later by Babylon between 597-586 BC.
The growing expectation of the Kingdom of God
Israel’s unfaithfulness and sin did not spell the end of heavens plans for God’s Kingdom on earth, for God is faithful [1 Corinthians 1:9]. “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” [Exodus 34:6-7].
The Old Testament clearly shows God is true to these declarations, for despite man’s wickedness and Israel’s failure to submit to the power of God’s rule revealed in the Mosaic Covenant; God stirred the prophets to speak of a New Covenant that would come [Jeremiah 31:31-34]. Where God would put His law in their hearts, thus they would willingly obey Him. The human sin hardened heart would be replaced through the power of the Spirit with a heart of flesh responsive to God [Ezekiel 36:26-27]. God would pour out His Spirit on all His people and they will prophesy and dream dreams and see visions [Joel 2:28-29]. This would come about with the arrival of the anointed one of God from David’s line, but He would be greater than David [Is 11:1-3, Ezekiel 34:23-24, Hosea 3:5]. In fact, this anointed king, this Messiah who would rule, was somehow mysterious linked to God himself [Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2, Psalm 110:1, Daniel 7:13]. His rule would be across the whole earth and have no end [Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 7:14, Micah 5:4-6].
The Messiah’s reign would take place at a future point, known as the day of the Lord. Beasley-Murray writes, “It is commonly acknowledged that the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament is not a date but an event . . . It forms the boundary between history and the kingdom of God.”[xiv]. It is worth noting that after the return from Babylon during the turbulent times before the coming of Christ, many of the Jewish writers, “Contrary to the prophets, despaired of history, feeling it was completely dominated by evil.”[xv] The only hope was when God would visit his people, then the Jewish people would subdue the world and bring ‘Pax Jerusalem’ instead of ‘Pax Romana.’
In the Gospels and Acts this expectation of the Jewish People for the coming Messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule is clear. “During the New Testament period, the sight of Roman standards in Jerusalem was a vivid reminder to every devout Jew that while the Kingdom of God might exist in heaven, the kingdom of Rome ruled on earth.”[xvi] All this would change though once the Christ was revealed, the hope of Israel. Clearly even John the Baptist (the greatest born of a women), whilst he was languishing in prison began to doubt his earlier proclamation about Jesus, since Christ did not do what was expected of him [Matthew 11:1-15]. So ingrained was this expectation that even after 3 years of Jesus’s teaching, and His death and resurrection, the disciples still expect some physical establishing of the Kingdom of God as they ask, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” [Acts 1:6].
In the wisdom of God, His Kingdom came and is coming in unexpected way. The coming of the Caliphate under Islam was actually more consistent with how the Jewish people expected the Kingdom of God to come. Historian Tom Holland writes, “The story of Islam had been one of storming military success. . . .The men who had presided over this glorious victory charge, a sequence of leaders known as, ‘Caliphs,’ or ‘Successors’ of the prophet.”[xvii] “By the turn of the (7th) century, within 80 years of Mohammad’s original vision, Islam began to sweep through the middle east. It saw success in North Africa, often through sheer brutality.”[xviii]
The Qur’an labels many Old Testament characters as prophets, it even refers to Adam and David as Caliphs.[xix] The linking with key Old Testament characters in Islam, along with the Jewish hatred of the Byzantians (know as Rûm) proved appealing to them. Many Jews in their expectation of the Kingdom helped fight alongside the Muslims under Umar to clear the Rûm from the Promised Land. When Umar cleared the temple mount he was called, “a lover of Israel.”[xx] Kennedy tells how some Jews were actually calling Umar the Redeemer.[xxi] Holland notes that amongst the Jews in 634 AD, “People were saying that the prophet had appeared coming with the Saracens. They say he is proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who is to come.”[xxii] “Only rebuild the temple, they knew, and much else as well would be fulfilled. . . the coming of the Messiah.”[xxiii]
So, the theocratic expansion of Caliphate was much more in line with how the Jewish people expected the coming of the Kingdom of God under the Messiah in terms of military success and control over the nations. (Obviously, there are some major theological differences between Judaism and Islam which meant they did not continue to see it as the coming of the Kingdom of God.)
The problems enforcing the kingdom of God due to sin.
Thankfully, the way of the Caliphate is not the way that the Almighty decided to establish and extend the Kingdom of God. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:9-9].The Apostle Paul writes, “For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” [1 Corinthians 1:21-25].
The bible does not hide the mistakes made by God’s people or His leaders. The bad leaders that arose under the Mosaic Covenant led the people into sinful practices [1 Kings 14:16]. Even under the good leaders and kings, the hearts of the people were only restrained not changed. Now according to Adur-Rahman, this may not appear a significant issue to a Muslim as the focus of Islam is on religious practice to fall on the mercy of Allah – orthopraxy.[xxiv] Yet in the Old Testament and the New, God is concerned with the heart [Deuteronomy 6:5, Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:18-20, Luke 10:27].
Those who try to please God by their own works and force others to do likewise, only exchange the sin of rebellion before God for the sin of pride. Charles Hodge writes, “The pagan, the Jew, the Muslim, the nominal Christian have all been exact in the performance of religious services and zealous in the assertion and defence of what they regard as religious truth, even while unrestrained in the indulgence of every evil passion. This arises from looking upon religion as an outward service and God as a being to be feared and propitiated, but not loved and obeyed. According to the Gospel, all moral duties are religious services; and piety is the conformity of the soul to the image and will of God.”[xxv]
The Apostle Paul speaking on orthopraxy of religion without inner transformation writes, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” [Colossians 2:23].
The truth of Colossians 2:23 is something that Islamic history shows again and again. Even under the Orthodox Caliphate (the first 4 Caliphs of Islam), who are most widely accepted as valid by the majority of Muslims; there is fighting over whether Ali (the Son in law to the prophet) was robbed of the Caliphate by Abu Bakr. Umar the second Caliph, who is seen as the Father of the Caliphate and arguably the most respected Caliph (apart from by Shite Muslims), clearly was not protected by God for his slave killed him for personal reasons![xxvi] This is one of the many differences between the Bible and the Qur’an of what is right and wrong. The Apostle Paul list enslavers as wrong in [1 Timothy 1:10]. Slavery whilst still around was strongly taught against by Christians but flourished and was promoted under Islam.[xxvii] Maybe if Umar had listened to Paul on this he would not have been killed!
Uthman the third Caliph has a varied reputation among Muslim historians and commentators,[xxviii] with revolt and inner fighting that led to him being killed even whilst he was reading the Qur’an with his blood spilt on it![xxix] Finally, the authority of the Caliph passed to Ali the one who some thought it always should have been. Ali led the Caliphate for only 5 years before he was assassinated and much Muslim blood spilled by other Muslims in the name of Allah. Showing as Jesus made clear, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52]. For brevities sake I have focused on the Caliph’s as the representatives; much more atrocities where committed to the ordinary Muslims by other Muslims during this time in the name of Islam.
“There have always been followers within Islam who have taken the words of the Qur’an as their motivation for violent jihad. And while there have always been some social, political and economic explanations for the violence, we cannot ignore the theological motivation that has been expressed by generation after generation of Muslims: the desire to follow the original teaching and ethics of the Qur’an and Muhammed.”[xxx] Right through the centuries there has been fighting within the house of Islam itself, excluding its jihad with those it considers infidels! Showing how right Paul was to write, “These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.” [Colossian 2:23 NLT]. The evil within!
One need look no further than modern Somalia which sees Islam as the glue that holds society together to see the truth of the inability of man to enforce God’s rule on a place by his own efforts due to the depravity that is within.[xxxi]
The Gospel of the Kingdom and the present age
The Lord Jesus Christ came 600 years before Islam but as stated above into a Jewish environment expectant for the Kingdom of God to appear in power. He was proceeded by a powerful prophet John the Baptist, who had the people asking is this the Messiah, or the Prophet or Elijah to come at the end of history and the beginning of the Kingdom of God [John 1:19-21]. The response of this mighty prophetic voice was most provocative, he was nobody compared to the one he was sent to reveal [John 1:22-27], the Christ! The one whom this mighty prophet testifies is Jesus of Nazareth, with a visible and audible confirmation from God at Christ’s baptism [Mark 1:9-11].
After being led by the Spirit for 40 days in the wilderness Jesus came back in the power of the Spirit and began to preach [Luke 4:1]. What was his message, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” [Mark 1:14-15]. It’s at hand, one could grab it, it is ‘near,’ other translations write. The first recorded sermon of Jesus is in Luke 4, Jesus speaks from Isaiah 61 which was widely regarded as applying to the Messiah, Jesus says is fulfilled in him.[xxxii]
The Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is mentioned 124 times in the gospels alone. It is clearly the key message of Jesus ministry. Lloyd-Jones from his studies helpfully shows that, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is the same as the gospel of the kingdom of God. It is in the coming of this person that the kingdom of God has come. . . He is the one who is King, the kingdom comes with the King.”[xxxiii] Roberts’ says, “All the promises of the kingdom of God are fulfilled in Christ; he is God’s people, God’s place and God’s rule.”[xxxiv]
Now and not yet
What becomes clear as one looks at the teaching of Jesus is the Kingdom is coming in an unexpected way. The Apostle Paul explains that in God’s wisdom, His redemption plan was deliberately a mystery hidden for ages in God, until it was revealed in Jesus and now through His gospel [Ephesians 1:9-10, 3:1-13]. Whilst all the promises of the Kingdom are fulfilled in Christ, or to use the Apostle Paul’s words, “For all the promises of God find their yes in Christ,” [2 Corinthians 1:20]; the Kingdom is not yet here in its fullness. The kingdom of God broke into history through Christ and continues to do so through His Church but is not fully established over the earth yet! Grudem writes, “The kingdom manifests itself through the church and thereby the future reign of God breaks into the present (it is already here and not yet fully).”[xxxv]
The following are some of the sayings and parables of Jesus and other New Testament passages that show the kingdom of God is here now with salvation, signs, wonders and power over the demonic: Matthew 11:11-12, 12:28, Mark 1:15, 4:11-12 Luke 4:16-21, 7:28-30, 11:14-23, 16:16, 17:20-21 Acts 28:23, Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 4:19-21, Colossians 1:13, 4:11, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, Hebrews 12:28-29.
The following are some of the sayings and parables of Jesus and other New Testament passages about the kingdom of God being not fully here yet: Matthew 5:3-12, 6:9-13, 8:5-13, Mark 9:43-48, 10:23-25, Luke 6:20-23, 12:32-33, 13:22-30, 11:2-4, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 15:24+50-51, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:5, 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Timothy 4:1+18, James 2:5, 2 Peter 1:11
I have used many scriptures to emphasise this point that the Kingdom of God is now on earth thanks to Christ and yet is not fully here as this is key to our understanding the present time. Christians need to remember, “While the kingship of Christ has been inaugurated, it has not been consummated yet.”[xxxvi] The Kingdom is here in that the power of God is breaking out amongst people, setting them free from sin’s power [Romans 8:2], causing people to be healed [James 5:14-15], set free from demons [Mark 6:7-13, 16:17, Luke 9:49] and have the sure and certain hope of eternal life [John 11:25-26]. Yet people still sin, get sick, die and people are still oppressed by demons.
Mark’s summary of the beginning of Jesus ministry lays a key to understanding why the Kingdom has come in this way. The response to the Kingdom being here now and yet not yet fully here, is to repent and believe the gospel.
Spiritual reality breaking into the physical
The problem of sin is so pervasive all of the human race has gone astray [Isaiah 53:6], no one is or ever can be righteous enough for God [Romans 3:10-11]. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight.” [Roman 3:20]. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” [Romans 8:8]. Thus all of mankind deserves to be outside the kingdom of God and naturally comes under God’s wrath whether they be Jewish, religious or anything else [Romans 1-3, Ephesians 2:1-3]. The Lord Jesus Christ was the only one to live a perfect life [1 Peter 2:2] , fully pleasing God [Matthew 3:17, 17:5] and then willingly choose to die on the cross on behalf of the world, so that all who repent and believe in Him can be forgiven [2 Corinthians 5:21], and pass from death to life [John 5:24, 1 John 3:14], from darkness to light [Ephesians 5:8], and from under Satan into the Kingdom of God [Colossians 1:13-14]. Ladd notes “The kingdom of God has come among men; and those who receive it will be prepared to enter into the Kingdom of Glory when Christ comes to finish the good work he has already begun. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom.”[xxxvii]
Once someone puts their trust in Jesus as their Lord (King) and Saviour, Christ sends His Holy Spirit to live inside of them [Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:9]. The Holy Spirit changes them from the inside out causing them to want to please God and He helps us live for God [Galatians 5:16-25, Philippian 1:6, 2:13]. As Jeremiah prophesied, God puts a new heart in the believer [Jeremiah 31:33], their heart transformed by the Spirit of God [Ezekiel 36:26]. It is not an external earning of God’s favour through works [Romans 3:20, Ephesians 2:9], but an internal receiving of the righteousness of Christ in one’s heart through faith; that works its way out into one’s actions, not the other way round [Romans 1:16-17, Philippians 3:9-11, Romans 8:10-11]. Thus, the Kingdom of God whilst breaking out into the physical world around, is primarily a spiritual reality giving men and women the ability to receive it through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ [Romans 10:5-13]. The Spirit then makes them ready to be part of the Kingdom of God when it fully comes at Christ’s return [2 Corinthians 5:1-5]. That is how the Kingdom of God can be referred to as hidden in leaven [Matthew 11:33] or hidden in a field [Matthew 13:44]. In this season of the gospel of the Kingdom being proclaimed, Christ is wanting people to respond so that they can be made ready for when the Kingdom fully comes [2 Peter 3:9-10]. Ladd writes, “In order to enter the future realm of the Kingdom, one must submit himself in perfect trust to God’s rule here and now.”[xxxviii]
Proclaimed by the church not enforced by law
The Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality received voluntarily by faith, never by force, indeed as it is a work of the Holy Spirit it cannot be enforced by men, as that only leads to conformity not faith [John 1:11-12, 3:1-8]. This is different to Islam which is shown by Ibn Hisham a 9th century Islamic writer and compiler of Islamic materials who wrote, “We are God’s helpers and the assistants of his prophet, and will fight men until they believe in God; and he who believes in God and his prophet has protected his life and property from us; and he who disbelieves we will fight in God unceasingly, and killing him will be a small matter to us”.[xxxix]
The Kingdom of God is preached by the Church and the response is left between the Holy Spirit and the individuals as to whether they receive the message or not [Mark 6:7-13, Luke 10:1-12, Acts 17:22-31]. “The crusading past of the Christian church is one of the greatest tragedies of church history . . . it has rightly been condemned as an aberration of the Christian gospel.”[xl] True Christian voices like Francis of Assisi spoke out about this at the time and went to the front lines and preached the gospel to both the so called Christian armies and Muslim armies.[xli]
The Kingdom of God is not to be enforced on people by the State. Jesus himself said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” [John 18:36]. Christ gave the responsibility to proclaim the kingdom of God to the Church [Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 3:10]. People’s response to the gospel is between them and God, the message is for some “a fragrance of death to death, to other a fragrance of life to life.” [2 Corinthians 2:15-17].
The Church and individual Christians are ambassadors for Christ imploring (asking, begging, urging but not forcing) people to be reconciled to God [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]. Jesus himself in Matthew 13:1-23 gives a clear picture of the job of the church to share the gospel in the parable of the sower; one sows God’s seed but the response to it depends on the soil of one’s heart.
People’s response to the gospel is what determines their eternal future [John 3:16-18], those who ignore it will be judged and sent out of God’s presence to Hell, and those who receive the gospel and live for Jesus have the certain hope of eternal life [Mark 16:16, John 3:36, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10].
The Church is not the State or looking for the State to impose through law or force an obedience that God himself seeks voluntarily. Schaeffer in his book a Christian Manifesto writes, “There is no New Testament basis for a linking of church and state until Christ, the King returns. . . We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country. To say it another way, we should not wrap Christianity in our national flag.”[xlii] This is “in stark contrast to most Islamic thought, the de-politicisation or secularisation of religion has become so ingrained in Western thought that it is often assumed that religion and politics are necessarily a potent mix. Many Muslim nations, by contrast, take for granted that Islam cannot exist apolitically.”[xliii] ”Actually some Muslim Background Believers claim that Islam without the beheading of apostates would not actually continue to exist”.[xliv] Whereas the famous Bible translator John Wycliffe, aptly taught at a time when a politicised Christianity was wanting strong military responses to Islam, that counterfeit Christianity (which by that he meant politicised and militarised Christianity) was more a threat to the true church than Islam. In his opinion both were contrary to true Christianity and the teachings of the bible.[xlv] These are wise words from John Wycliffe and something the Church of Jesus Christ today would do well to remember. The bible is clear that God’s ways are not to be enforced on people through law or by force, unlike the Caliphate these actions do not have the backing of their founder or holy writings. Sadly, this has not stopped some “Christians” from the time of Constantine to the present day trying to use the State to enforce on others the obedience God desires; but as shown this is actually detrimental to the expansion of the Kingdom of God. The growth of Kingdom is through the power of the Holy Spirit not the fanatic actions of man [Acts 1:8].
Ever increasing yet persecuted
Christianity from the beginning had not been about forcing but preaching and persuading. Secularist historian Holland notes, “never before had there been preached a message of personal responsibility quite so radical, so democratic, or so potentially wide-reaching in its appeal”.[xlvi] Since Christians are called to preach the gospel to the whole world before the end can come [Matthew 24:14], they now need to recognise that this world is no longer their home [John 15:19], the age to come is their homeland [Hebrew 12:13-16, Philippians 3:20], so any country can now be their temporary residence as they try to fulfil Christ’s commission [Matthew 28:18-20]. Throughout history “Christians, positively gloried in the fact: ‘Any country can be their homeland – and yet their homeland, wheresoever it may be, is to them a foreign place.’”[xlvii]
From the beginning the book of Acts shows Christians have gone out to surrounding areas extending the Kingdom of God by preaching the gospel of Jesus to all [Mark 16:15-16]. When people respond they planted churches to form discipleship centres and bases from where mission could go out to further. The prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7, Daniel 7:14, Micah 5:4-6 and Jesus parable of the Mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-32 show that God’s Kingdom is an ever increasing Kingdom that will expand across the whole world. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 16:18 that not even the gates of hell can prevail against His Church and the mission He has given to it. Praise God.
However, Jesus is clear along with this ever-expanding Kingdom that the Church preaches, in this age, it comes with suffering and persecution. Far from adversity being a sign that the Kingdom is struggling or the Church doing something wrong, it is an indication of blessing and that the Church is doing what it should be. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” [Matthew 5:11-12]. “Behold I am sending you as sheep amongst wolves…Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you. . and you will be dragged before governors and kings for mysake” [Matthew 10:16-23].
Just as Jesus went to the cross to save His people, in the purposes of God His followers are called to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom [1 Peter 2:20-21, 2 Timothy 3:12]. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” [Mark 8:34-35]. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” [Mark 10:29-30].
Sheep amongst wolves, beaten, dragged before the courts, losing family all for the sake of Christ is the story of many Muslim Background Believers today; it certainly is the reality of most of the Somali’s who have chosen to follow Christ that I know. Whilst they can give testimony to the validity of Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29; they have received a new family, yet it is with the constant threat of and occasional reality of persecution from the Islamic community, sadly very often members of their own family.
Emboldened with the words and example of Jesus, and the Apostles the early church embraced suffering alongside the proclamation of the gospel. “Over succeeding generations, many Christians prosecuted by the imperial authorities for insulting the gods who had supposedly made Rome great, had opted to pay the ultimate price – and joyously so. After all by doing so they could share in the suffering of their Saviour.”[xlviii] Despite the onslaught from Satan and the world to extinguish the light of the gospel of the Kingdom, they could not overcome Jesus [John 1:5]. What was seemingly the greatest victory for the forces of darkness, the death of Christ on the cross, was in fact the defining moment of their defeat and the enabling once for all act that secured God’s plan of salvation for all mankind for all time [Hebrews 9:26-28].
Schreiner says, “The cross is not contrary to this King and Kingdom, but the centre of it. This King has power, but it is paradoxical power, one of suffering and weakness.”[xlix] Through the seeming weakness and folly of the cross, God’s salvation plan was achieved by Christ, and through the seeming weakness and folly of people God uses to proclaim the gospel, the Kingdom of God continues to expand [1 Corinthians 1:18-31]. History bears witness to this as, “Traditionally the spread of the Christian faith beyond the (Roman) empire had been the achievement of the weak and humble; prisoners of war and women abducted into the beds of barbarians chieftains.”[l] Christian preaching of the gospel proving more effective than the sword of Islam. For during the rise of the Caliphate and the warmongering of the first 4 Caliphs; “Christians, far from being diminished by the Arab conquest of Iraq, rapidly became the majority. . . Outpacing even the advance of the Arab armies, Christian missionaries had begun to fan out from Iraq, treading the roads that spread eastwards to the fabulous kingdoms of India and China.”[li] The Kingdom of God was growing faster than the Caliphate, within it as well as beyond its borders!
“For no wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD” [Proverbs 21:30]. God said through Isaiah [46:11], “For I have spoken, and Iwill bring it to pass; Ihave purposed, and I will do it.”
Fullness of the kingdom and conclusion
When the gospel of the Kingdom has been preached to every tribe, tongue, and nation then end will come and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead [Matthew 24:14-31]. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [Philippians 2:10-11] whether Christian or not.
There will be no fighting on earth to establish the Kingdom of God. Heavens armies will come, the angels will gather all people to face the judgement of God. Those who accepted the gospel of the kingdom and surrendered to King Jesus, being welcomed into the Kingdom of God; and those who did not accept Jesus being cast out into the place the bible calls hell [Matthew 25:31-46, Revelations 20:11-15].
Then the Kingdom of God will come in all its fullness. God will reward those who have faithfully served him [1 Corinthians 3:12-15]. There will be people from every tribe, tongue and nation in the Kingdom [Revelation 7:9-12]. The citizens of the Kingdom of God will spend eternity receiving “the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:7].” There will be no more sin, sickness, suffering or death [Revelations 21:4]; but most wonderfully, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” [Revelations 21:3].
Hallelujah, this is the Kingdom of God as revealed in Scripture. It is worth living for, giving your all for, suffering for and even dying for, as it’s King, Jesus, gave His life for you and He has keys to death and hell. Jesus will raise all who surrender to Him in this life up again to be with Him in His Kingdom for all eternity.
Use of the Bible
Unless otherwise stated all quotes from the bible are from the ESV. The bible is viewed as the authoritative word of God, its veracity untarnished and teachings relevant to all.
[i] Schreiner P. The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, Crossway, 2018, 14.
[ii] Morgan C. & Peterson R. The Kingdom of God, Crossway, 2012, 99.
[iii] Erickson M. Christian Theology, Baker Book House, 1993, 1226.
[iv] Ladd G. The Gospel of the Kingdom, Martino Publishing, 2011, 19.