When did the kingdom of God begin? In the overall view, there never has been a time when the kingdom of God did not exist. When we speak of the kingdom of God we simply refer to the reign of God over and above all things. The Psalmist declares, “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. Your throne was established long ago you are from eternity” (Ps 93:1-2).
Even though we can say the reign of God has always existed, Christ was sent to establish His Day of the kingdom. The church or body of Christ in the earth has become the instrument of that kingdom under the new covenant. In the Old Testament the kingdom of God on the earth was seen in natural Israel under the throne of David and his descendants. Once again, as a shadow it pointed to what was to come. The Davidic kingdom was a preview of what Christ was to inaugurate as the fruit of David’s loins.
Peter, as a New Testament apostle, gives us the understanding that David saw ahead to Christ’s day and spoke of the resurrection and ascension as being the day that Christ was placed as King of Kings. Peter makes the connection for us in his message on the Day of Pentecost. He wanted all to hear that Jesus was placed upon the throne of David in the resurrection and the ascension.
“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:29-33).
Peter was boldly declaring that the inauguration of the Kingdom of Christ had come. The Day of Pentecost was proof to the Jew and the world that Christ was seated on the throne of David.
Up to this day, Jesus and John the Baptist had declared the kingdom of God was at hand. However, after the resurrection Jesus no longer declared the kingdom of God was at hand; rather, He taught them concerning the kingdom. Why, because it was here and present. The Day of Pentecost was the evidence that Christ sat on his throne as was promised to David. That is why after the resurrection and before the Day of Pentecost Jesus spent time teaching them about the kingdom:
“Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he, through the Holy Ghost, had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:23).
The apostles did the same, declaring that Christ was the promised Messiah to sit upon His throne according to the prophets.
“And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:32-33).
Paul’s message was the gospel of the kingdom. Luke writes of Paul, “Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:31).
Dispensationalists teach that the kingdom is still in the future. They insist that the throne of David has been vacated for the past 2,500 years. Authors Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn, quote Lewis Sperry Chafer in their book Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow, saying, “the throne of David is precisely what David believed it to be, an earthly institution which has never been, nor will it ever be, in heaven.”1
They have relegated this to a future time that Christ will sit upon David’s throne here on the earth in the city of Jerusalem. However, the apostles tell us that Jesus was made both Lord and Christ, meaning he has been crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords and seated on the throne of David.
“For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:34-36).
With Christ sitting on the throne now, there cannot be a future time when Christ will have more power or authority than He was given at the resurrection. Paul describes His authority as above every name.
“… when He raised him from the dead, and set him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church . . .” (Eph. 1:20-22).
When Jesus said, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth . . . (Matt 28:18), He was proclaiming His Kingship not only in heaven but on the earth. There is no indication from Jesus that His rule over the nations of the earth was being postponed to a future time. On the contrary, His proclamation was the basis for commanding His followers to make disciples of all the nations.
Right before his ascension into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples the command to receive the promise of the Father, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Knowing there was a connection with what the prophets had prophesied, they knew the kingdom of the Messiah was related to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They asked Him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6). It might seem to the casual observer that He was changing the subject or ignoring their request when He answered, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7), but He did in fact answer the question directly by continuing with a response that told them “how” the kingdom would come rather than “when” it would come. He said, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). He was pointing out the fact that the kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, extended through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, beginning in Jerusalem and spreading to the ends of the earth.
His disciples were still looking for a national, political, earthly kingdom. They had apparently interpreted the Old Testament prophets the way some do today, coming to the conclusion that the Messiah’s kingdom is to be a kingdom seen by natural observations. Jesus had addressed this in Luke 17:20-21, speaking to the Pharisees before His disciples.
“Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Paul, the apostle, tells us this is a spiritual kingdom when he writes, “the kingdom of God is… righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Paul states that “Christ has delivered, us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col 1:13).
In his writings to the Church in Corinth, Paul explains the connection with the resurrection of Christ and His present reign declaring “He must reign” until His all enemies are placed under His feet. The Church is His body and we are His feet. This reign continues from the time of His resurrection until the last day resurrection of us all. We know this continues until then because the last enemy to be defeated is death. That defeat will finally take place in the literal resurrection when the work Christ did in His death, burial, and resurrection becomes a reality for our bodies. Until then it is called the Messiah’s Day or the kingdom of Christ. When this is comes to an end He turns it over to the Father.
“But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:23-28).
The Gathering of Israel into His Kingdom
This kingdom is not only a spiritual kingdom, but we find out it is the fulfillment of the scriptures concerning the gathering of Israel. The apostles of the first generation Christians saw their purpose connected to the time of Christ’s first advent. They knew the prophet Isaiah had declared that when the root of Jesse, came then He would bring in the day when the remnant would be gathered.
“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him… ‘And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.’ It will come to pass in that day that the LORD will set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left . . . He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa 11:1, 10-12).
If we believe the Bible does not contain wasted or empty words, then we must consider statements like James makes when he writes,”To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greeting” (James 1:1). James apparently saw himself writing to the believing remnant as a fulfillment of prophecy. Notice, he does not mention anything about the “so called” ten lost tribes of Israel, but rather sees the believing Jews as the twelve tribes. As we read further, we find Peter speaking almost the same words in addressing the church.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied” (1 Pet 1:12).
By the time Jesus had come on the scene at His first advent, the apostasy of the Jews had grown to such a degree that few even believed. This was the remnant the prophet Isaiah spoke of, He saw them as scattered abroad without a shepherd.
“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt 9:36).
The Jews of Jesus’ day had gone so far away from the truth of the law they had turned their faith into traditions that set aside the commandments of God. In their apostasy, they had added to the law of God through the Talmud and made the commandments of God void by their own traditions.
“And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ‘For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. And He said to them, All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:7-9).
Those living in the time of John the Baptist were living in the dark days prophesied by Isaiah. They were waiting in darkness for the Light to come. For over 400 years no prophetic word had come from the Lord. It was the darkest time in history. A world without Christ and without a fresh revelation from God. The prophet Isaiah declared:
“Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa 60:13).
John knew he was not the light, but that he had come to bear witness to the light, even as the prophet had declared. John writes:
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John1:49).
Those who believed were baptized by John unto repentance in preparation for the way of the Lord, who was bringing in the kingdom of the Messiah. Not all of Israel were cut off as Paul the apostle said that he himself was an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1). The first ten years of the gospel all those who belonged to the believing remnant were all natural decedents of the house of Israel until Acts 10. The Church began as Jewish believers in Christ. There the door of the kingdom was then opened to the Gentiles beginning at Cornelius’ house.
Now that they had received the Holy Spirit and understood they could rejoice in what Jesus said when he told them that some of the natural Jews were blinded, but others were given the blessing to see and hear.
“…It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt 13:11, 6-17).
In preaching the gospel to the Jews, the early church apostles knew they were bringing an opportunity for the elect of God to be brought into His fold. That is why Peter and John and the other apostles declared to the men of Israel, the miracles done by the power of the Holy Spirit were a testimony of the risen Lord.
“…Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:1216).
The gathering of Israel began with the preaching of the gospel to the Jews of the first century. It soon included Gentiles from the time of Acts 10. If the promise was for Abraham’s seed to be innumerable, then it would require Jesus opening the door to all the nations of the world. This would be in keeping with the promise made to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.
Jesus, talking about the growth of the Kingdom of God, said it this way, It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened (Luke 13:21). In other words, it filled the whole lump. Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed the Kingdom of God would be like a: “stone cut without hands . . . and the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:34-35).
When you consider the number who have believed in Christ over the centuries and now add to that number those who are coming into the Kingdom today, you have a mass of people “as the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven.”
What started as a few hundred believers in Christ’s day has become billions of followers. The U.S. Center for World Mission estimated in 1997 that Christianity’s total number of adherents is growing at about 2.3% annually. This is approximately equal to the growth rate of the world’s population. A few years ago, I heard Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission, give some interesting information about the growth of Christianity over the centuries. He was quoting Barnett Institute when he said, “In Paul’s day during the first century, there was only one believer for every 360 people. After 1,000 years of preaching the gospel, there was still only one believer for every 270 people. In 1900, there was one for every fiftyone people; in 1950, one in twentyseven; in 1980, one in eleven; and in 1990, one believer for every seven people. Today, there is nearly one in four. What growth! It’s amazing to see scripture fulfilled.
1. Curtis I. Crenshaw and Grover E. Gunn, III, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publishing, 1985) 342.
About the Author:
Glenn Shaffer is the author of Apostolic Government in the 21st Century, Christianity 101 and Discipleship 201. He has a Masters of Ministry degree in leadership studies from Southwestern Christian University and is working toward a Doctorate in Ministry at ORU in Tulsa.
Glenn and his wife, Ami have been married for 40 years with two sons, Matt and Daniel. Together, they co-see the elder pastoral care of Destiny Life Church, one church in two locations (Owasso and Claremore, Oklahoma) where they have been serving for almost 4 decades. It is a non-denominational church, based on a New Testament Apostolic form of church government. Together, they also serve as the directors of ATI- Apostolic Teams International, an emerging network of churches and ministers.