Interpreting Prophecy Today—Part 4:The Kingdom of God in the New Testament (continued)

[John F. Walvoord, President and Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary]

The Kingdom in the Gospel of Mark

The doctrine of the kingdom in the Gospel of Mark is similar to that presented in Matthew except that uniformly the expression “kingdom of God” is used instead of “kingdom of heaven.”1 Some passages in Mark refer to earthly kingdoms (3:24 ; 6:23 ; 13:8 ). Other references are to the kingdom of God in general, that is, any rule of God over the earth. This seems to be its meaning in such passages as Mark 9:47; 10:14-15, 23-25 . It may also be the meaning in Mark 12:34 where Christ declared that the inquiring scribe was not far from the kingdom.

Other references in Mark to the kingdom may refer to the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament and which premillenarians believe will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom. In Mark 1:14-15 Christ stated, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” Here Christ is alluding to the kingdom predicted in the Old Testament. It was then “at hand” in the sense that the King had come, although the kingdom itself had not been inaugurated. In Mark 4:11, 26, 30 Mark used parallel references to the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven expounded in Matthew 13. This refers to the spiritual form of the kingdom which exists in the present age. The details of the kingdom are referred to as “mysteries” because this form of the kingdom was not predicted in the Old Testament. Mark 4 accordingly is a parallel to Matthew 13. of the kingdom as a spiritual rule. In Luke 9:11, 60, 62; 10:9, 11 ; and 12:31-32 the present form of the kingdom is probably in view.

Although the future kingdom will also be a spiritual rule, Christ’s message concerning the kingdom is referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Luke 16:16). In Christ’s answer to the Pharisees concerning when the kingdom of God would be coming, He declared, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (17:21 ). While the Pharisees may have had in mind the future earthly reign of Christ, Christ pointed out that the kingdom of God was already in their midst in the form of the King Himself. Children are said to be a part of the kingdom (18:16-17 ). Entering the kingdom is declared to be difficult for the wealthy (18:24-25 ). It should be observed in all these references that the fact that there is a present form of the kingdom does not carry with it the conclusion that this is the only form of the kingdom.

Some references in Luke, as in Matthew and Mark, seem to refer specifically to the kingdom on earth which, according to the Old Testament, can be fulfilled only when the throne of David is reestablished. This is made clear early in Luke when Mary was told she would give birth to the Messiah. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

Amillenarians tend to ignore the obvious interpretation which Mary put on the announcement of the angel that Christ would reign over Jacob on the throne of David. They simply equate Israel with the church, which Mary certainly would have not done. They ignore the fact that the church is never called “the house of Jacob.” Berkhof, a typical amillenarian, states, “Peter…thus virtually said of the Church that it was now in reality what Israel was once called to be. And the angel which announced to Mary the birth of Jesus used this language.”3

It should be quite clear from the angel’s words to Mary that the Jews anticipated a literal, earthly, political kingdom even though it would have spiritual characteristics and could be entered only by new birth. Many would certainly have understood it in this way. If only a present form of a spiritual kingdom was intended, Mary would have been deceived by the message of the angel. the Lord Himself said, ‘ye who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matt 19:28).”5

The Kingdom in the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John has relatively few references to the kingdom of God. This is because John’s Gospel is concerned primarily with the deity of Christ and salvation through Him. The book’s prophetic sections deal with the present inter-Advent age.

In John 3:3-5 Christ’s words about entering “the kingdom of God” had in mind both the present spiritual form of the kingdom and His future earthly reign. In both cases it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God without the new birth. Of importance is the fact that Christ rebuked Nicodemus for not knowing this concept, for the Old Testament clearly stated that unless a person had new life he could not enter the kingdom. As brought out in Ezekiel 36:25-31, salvation in the Old Testament clearly involved a new birth, receiving a new heart, and being delivered from the power of sin. Other references to this in the Old Testament include Isaiah 44:2-4; 60:21 ; and Jeremiah 24:7.

The only other reference to the kingdom in the Gospel of John is found in 18:36 where Christ indicated that His kingdom did not receive its power from the world which relies on physical force for its endurance. Whether referring to the present spiritual form of the kingdom or the future millennial kingdom, Christ’s statement would be true in either case.

While Christ clearly offered a present form of the kingdom which believers can enter now by new birth, He also reaffirmed the hope of the Jews that there would be a future kingdom in which the Son of David will reign over the house of Israel.

The Kingdom in the Acts of the Apostles

Only seven references to the kingdom are found in Acts. In the first chapter the disciples obviously were troubled about the fact that Christ was leaving them and the predicted earthly kingdom had not been introduced. Christ gave them some teaching on the subject, but He did not answer the question whether He would restore the kingdom of David immediately (1:6 ). From this it is clear that up to this time Christ had not contradicted in any way the universal hope of Israel for an earthly restoration of the kingdom of David. If this were a false expectation, it certainly would have been necessary for Christ to correct them. However, in His reply He merely told them that He could not tell them when this kingdom would come (1:7 ). Meanwhile, however, they would have the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain them in their present ministry during the absence of Christ (1:8 ).

Sauer points out the significance of Christ’s words.

And when, after His resurrection, the disciples asked, “Lord, dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Gr. basileia, kingly rule), He did not rebuke them for “fleshly conceptions,” or give them a general denial of such a visible kingdom of God as they had in mind, but said only, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has reserved in His authority” (Acts 1:6-7). But precisely this prophetic expression “times or seasons” proves that the kingdom of God will be duly and actually set up.6

In Acts 8:12 reference is made to Philip’s “preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.” His message probably included both the present spiritual form of the kingdom and the future reign of Christ. However, the reference to the kingdom in Acts 14:22 seems to imply a future reign not yet realized by the present form of the kingdom. This could be a reference to the millennial kingdom. Paul’s preaching in the synagogue concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8) probably also included both elements as this would be the natural concern of the Jews. Paul preached “the kingdom” (20:25 ) and “the kingdom of God” (28:23, 31 ).

In these references to the kingdom of God in Acts the message of the apostles was clearly a dual message. It included (a) the invitation to enter the kingdom now by new birth and (b) the announcement that Christ would return and reign on earth in the future. To eliminate the future aspect would be to leave the obvious question of many Jews unanswered.

The Kingdom in the Epistles

Only scattered references to the kingdom are found in the New Testament Epistles. In Romans 14:17 Paul said that the present form of the kingdom embodies “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In a similar way 1 Corinthians 4:20 speaks of the present “power” of the kingdom of God.

Three other references in 1 Corinthians, however (6:9 ; 15:24, 50 ), seem to refer to a future kingdom which is not fulfilled in the present age. Qualifications for entering the kingdom are discussed and the final deliverance of the kingdom to God the Father by Christ is mentioned in 15:24. In the new heavens and the new earth all forms of the kingdom will merge in the universal rule of the Father.

Entrance into a future kingdom is also mentioned in Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:13; 4:11 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; and 2 Thessalonians 1:5. The heavenly kingdom mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:18 refers to the ultimate rule of God in the new heavens and the new earth. The universal throne of Christ is mentioned in Hebrews 1:8. Hebrews 11:33 refers to earthly kingdoms, and Hebrews 12:28 seems to be a general reference to the divine kingdom regardless of its time and form. Heirs of the future kingdom are mentioned in James 2:5 and include “the poor of this world” who are “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.” The eternal form of the kingdom is mentioned in 2 Peter 1:11.

In all these references it is obvious that the term “kingdom of God” is used in various senses, sometimes referring to the present form of the kingdom, sometimes to its future earthly situation in the millennium, and other times to the kingdom in its eternal form in the new heavens and the new earth. In each case the context helps determine the interpretation.

The Kingdom in the Book of Revelation

Only six verses in the Book of Revelation refer directly to the kingdom. In Revelation 1:9 John declared himself to be in the kingdom. The angel’s pronouncement, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15), refers to the coming of Christ in His millennial kingdom which, however, will continue after the millennium. In this sense His reign will be forever. A similar prediction of the coming millennial kingdom is found in Revelation 10:1-2. In 16:10 the kingdom of the world government headed by the beast is mentioned, and Revelation 17:12, 17 refers to the earthly power of the kings on earth during the great tribulation.

Although the word “kingdom” does not occur in Revelation 19-22 , the kingdom idea is clearly embodied in the reference to Christ in Revelation 19:16 where He is described as “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” His rule on earth is said to be “with a rod of iron” (19:15 ). The saints reigning with Christ for a thousand years are mentioned in Revelation 20:6.

Sauer provides another answer to the objections raised against the concept of the kingdom in the Book of Revelation when he points out the general expectation of the Jews for a coming kingdom of one thousand years.

…the doctrine of an intermediate Messianic kingdom was announced in contemporary Judaism and…its duration was to be exactly one thousand years. The Jewish synagogue as early as the first century distinguished between the days of Messiah and the final perfecting in ‘Olam ha-ba, that is, in the world to come. The former were regarded as being limited in duration, the latter as being eternal…. Therefore, it cannot be justly asserted, as it often has been, that the doctrine of a millennial kingdom is nowhere found apart from the celebrated passage in Revelation 20.7

The future eternal reign of Christ is introduced with the concept of “a great white throne and Him who sat upon it” (Rev 20:11). Revelation 21:3 refers to the heavenly throne which will be in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, and Revelation 21:5 speaks of Christ sitting on the throne. The idea of a kingdom is obvious in all these references even though the word “kingdom” itself is not used. The continued reign of the saints with Christ is mentioned also in Revelation 22:5.

When all the New Testament references to the kingdom are examined as a whole it is seen that they fall into various categories. Some references are to earthly kingdoms, some to the concept of the general rule of God, some to a present spiritual rule of God, some to the future millennial rule of a kingdom on earth, and still others to an eternal kingdom. Confusion is introduced when one ignores the context in which the word “kingdom” is used. The fulfillment of all these anticipations of a rule of God on earth are necessary to support fully the concept of the kingdom of God in the New Testament.

Ladd refers to a “bewildering diversity of statements about the kingdom of God.” He continues, “If you will take a concordance of the Bible, look up every reference in the New Testament alone where the word ‘kingdom’ occurs, write down a brief summary of each verse on a piece of paper, you will probably find yourself at a loss to know what to do with the complexity of teaching.”8 Actually, it is possible to distinguish various aspects of the kingdom, as this discussion has sought to demonstrate. The doctrine of the millennium is the only cogent explanation of some references to the future kingdom.

Ladd correctly summarizes the concept of the millennium in these words.

In the Apocalypse of the things which must shortly come to pass, Jesus revealed to John on the island of Patmos that after his glorious return, there would ensue a millennial kingdom on earth (Rev 20:1-6). After his Parousia, Christ is to reign in person over human society as it is now constituted. The earth and human history will then become the realm within which God’s reign will be realized to a degree beyond anything experienced before. The powers of Satan will be curtailed with special reference to the deception of the nations (Rev 20:3). Israel as a nation is to be saved (Rom 11) and is to become an instrument in the hands of God for the fulfillment of the divine purposes. The prophecies of God to Israel in the Old Testament which have never been fulfilled will then come to realization.9


This series of four articles began by noting that frequently amillenarians state that the Bible nowhere speaks of a millennial kingdom following the second coming of Christ. The point of these articles has been to demonstrate that such an affirmation does not correspond to statements in the Old and New Testaments on the kingdom.

Of course, the Bible does refer to a form of the kingdom in the present age. The Bible also refers to political kingdoms that have existed on earth. Also there are references to the new heavens and the new earth in the eternal state as a form of God’s continued rule. None of these concepts, however, is adequate to explain the many references in the Old and New Testaments that clearly delineate a kingdom which is subsequent to the second coming of Christ—a kingdom on earth involving a temporal rule of Christ and fulfilling the anticipations of the prophecy of a thousand-year kingdom.

Amillenarians themselves have many differing explanations on how to understand these passages that seem to refer to a future kingdom on earth. This is itself a confession that they do not have an adequate explanation. Amillenarians sometimes explain away the passages as being conditional and therefore never ones that will be fulfilled. Other times they say the supposed future millennial kingdom refers to the intermediate state or to heaven. Recently some amillenarians have revived the concept that the millennial kingdom will be fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth.

All of these explanations are in themselves inherently contradictory and require a disregard of the normal rules of exegesis of the passages which deal with a future kingdom on earth. While the differences of opinion will continue, it should be clear that the amillennial concept explains away many significant Scriptures. This is hardly a cogent exegesis, in keeping with the revelatory character of the entire Bible.

This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.

1 For a cogent explanation of the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, see Earl Miller, The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven (Kansas City: Walterick Publishers, 1950).

3 Louis Berkhof, The Second Coming of Christ (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953), p. 62.

5 Eric Sauer, From Eternity to Eternity (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 147.

6 Ibid., pp. 147-48.

7 Ibid., p. 148.

8 George E. Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952), p. 16.

9 Ibid., pp. 94-95.