“Who … hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son”
The kingdom of God is spiritual. It is spiritual rule, or government. It affords spiritual benefits. It creates and occupies a spiritual territory. It reflects a spiritual glory. It creates a spiritual citizenry.
It is not fantastic, imaginary, and ghostly, like C. S. Lewis’ Narnia, or J. R. R. Tolkien’s middle earth, or J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is a real kingdom. It is present in the world, exercising its tremendous power, creating and empowering its citizens, advancing and enlarging with invincible force, destroying the weapons and defenses of its enemies. So real is the kingdom of God to us who have been translated into it by being begotten from above, so that we now have the spiritual sight of faith to see it, that the kingdom of God is the solid, substantial reality, whereas all earthly kingdoms are frail, fleeting shadows.
Oh yes, the kingdom of God is reality, but it is spiritual reality. Spiritual does not mean unreal. Spiritual means unreal only to the unspiritual—the materialist, the natural man (I Cor. 2:9-16). Spiritual describes the kind of reality. There is a physical reality, for example, the United States of America. There is a spiritual reality, namely, the kingdom of God.
We do not doubt spiritual reality, do we? We do not esteem spiritual reality less than the physical and earthly, do we? We have not become crass Darwinian materialists, have we? Why, as Christians, our ultimate hope is a spiritual body in a perfectly, exclusively spiritual world, according to I Corinthians 15:44-49:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
The Spirituality of the Kingdom
As spiritual, the kingdom of God is the creation of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Nebuchadnezzar created Babylon; Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and others created the United States; Hitler created Nazi Germany. The Spirit of Christ created the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is spiritual, in the second place, in that its life and power are the life and power of the risen, exalted Jesus Christ. In His resurrection, Jesus has passed into a new life and has received hitherto unknown power, the highest life and greatest power that man can possess and wield: immortal, eternal life! life-giving, death-overcoming, irresistible power!
This is the teaching of the apostle in I Corinthians 15:42ff. There is a spiritual body: the body of the risen Jesus Christ. The last Adam—Jesus Christ—was made a “quickening spirit.” Jesus Christ and everything about Him is spiritual. Now the kingdom of God in the world is simply the life and power of the risen Jesus Christ in history. Since Jesus is spiritual, so is, and must be (and cannot but be), His kingdom. In the language of I Corinthians 15, the kingdom is not “natural,” is not “earthy.”
So much is it true that the kingdom of God is not earthy, that the Bible describes it as heavenly. This is its nature, its quality. This is the kind of kingdom it is. The kingdom of God is the heavenly life and power of Jesus Christ breaking into our world. There is first a beachhead in Palestine. Then, over the years the kingdom expands throughout the whole world, until finally in the Day of Christ, by the wonder of the second coming, the life and power of Christ renew the entire creation as the kingdom of God.
There is something mysterious about the kingdom of God, therefore. Of course, there is. We are familiar with earthly kingdoms: the will to earthly, political power; the lust for earthly glory; earthly force terrifying or enthralling the citizens; the enjoyment of earthly peace and prosperity. But this spiritual kingdom is new and different.
Nevertheless, Scripture reveals something of the spiritual kingdom, and we who have been translated into it experience the beginnings of its life and power. The kingdom is characterized by truth, and the truth is the Word of God—the gospel of inspired Scripture, including the law. The kingdom is characterized by righteousness, and righteousness is the justification of the sinner by faith alone, followed by a life of obedience to the law of God. The kingdom is characterized by peace, and peace is a tranquil, harmonious relation with God by the pardon of sins and in the way of walking with Him in holiness. The kingdom is characterized by service, and the service is confessing the Lordship of Jesus Christ and doing His will. The kingdom is characterized by prosperity, and the prosperity is the riches of salvation.
Scripture on the Spirituality of the Kingdom
Scripture teaches that the kingdom is spiritual. Writing to the saints at Colosse in the middle of the first century A.D., when there certainly was no earthly, visible, political Christian kingdom, the apostle declared that every one who is born again and believes the gospel has thereby been transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, that is, into the Messianic kingdom of God (Col. 1:13). On the one hand, this demolishes the notion that the kingdom of Christ is a future, millennial, Jewish state and world-power. On the other hand, it likewise demolishes all earthly conceptions of the kingdom. If we who believe the gospel are now in the kingdom (and Colossians 1:13assures us that we are), the kingdom is present and spiritual. If Paul and the Colossian Christians were already in the kingdom of Christ (and Colossians 1:13 says that they were), the kingdom of Christ broke into the world on the day of Pentecost as a spiritual kingdom.
Then, there is Jesus’ word to Pilate in John 18:36, a word that is absolutely crucial to the right understanding of the kingdom: “My kingdom is not of this world.” To be sure, Jesus described the origin of His kingdom. He is king. Make no mistake about it. He has a kingdom: “My kingdom.” This kingdom, however, does not originate in this world. It originates from heaven. But the origin determines its nature. It is not this-worldly, but other-worldly. It is heavenly.
The proof is plain and abundant. First, it stands in the nature of the case. That which comes fromheaven, specifically, from God through the crucified and risen Christ in the Spirit of Christ, must be as heavenly as its source.
Second, the heavenly nature of the kingdom is indicated by the implication that Jesus drew from the heavenly origin of His kingdom: His servants do not fight. The servants do not fight to defend their king from death. They do not fight to promote the kingdom. They do not use physical force, or the threat of it, to extend or maintain the kingdom. Jesus referred to the prohibition against physical force that He had given to Peter in the garden: “Put up thy sword into the sheath” (John 18:10, 11). This is a law concerning the defense and promotion of the kingdom until the end of this age. Unmistakably, it describes the kingdom as spiritual. Being spiritual, the kingdom of God can only be promoted and defended by spiritual means. This spiritual means is the Word of God (II Cor. 10:3-5).
Third, that Jesus’ description of the origin of His kingdom was also the description of its heavenly nature is proved from Jesus’ statement in John 18:37 that He establishes and promotes His kingdom by bearing witness to the truth. The kingdom of God is the oddest kingdom that ever there was. Winston Churchill once remarked about all earthly kingdoms in wartime that “the first casualty of war is truth.” Although the kingdom of God is always at war in history, it employs only the truth for its defense and advancement. This is clear testimony by Christ that His kingdom is heavenly.
Fourth, there is proof of the heavenly nature of the kingdom of God in the conclusion that Pilate came to on the basis of Jesus’ word in verse 36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate concluded that the kingdom of Jesus was no threat to Rome as the Jewish leaders had made it out to be—a threat by plots of sedition, by physical force, by revolution. “I find in him no fault” was the verdict of the representative of Rome, who had an eagle-eye for rival kings and kingdoms (John 18:38).
The heavenly origin of the kingdom of God, taught by Jesus in John 18:33-40, determines its heavenly nature. This was the understanding of the Scottish Presbyterian, James Bannerman.
Christ seeks to disabuse the mind of Pilate, in regard to the nature of His Church, of the idea that it might be like any of the powers of this world, established or upheld by force; He tells him that it is spiritual in its nature and authority, and therefore not liable to become an object of jealousy to the state, as trenching upon its authority or jurisdiction (The Church of Christ, Edinburgh, 1974, vol. 2, p. 163).
The virtual definition of the kingdom of God in Romans 14:17proves the kingdom to be spiritual, not physical: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” These spiritual realities are what the kingdom essentially is. The kingdom of God is not anything earthly whatever.
The spirituality of the kingdom of God is offensive to multitudes today. That many stumble over the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God grieves us. But it does not surprise us. Exactly this was the offense of the kingship and kingdom of the Messiah to the Jews of Jesus’ own day.
… to be continued.