This question challenges the traditional teaching on the kingdom of God. It does this by suggesting there are three distinct kingdoms. In this discussion let’s briefly take a look at what the New Testament says about the kingdom of God. What we’ll find is that although the question is incomplete, essentially it is correct. Later we’ll follow up with more detailed discussions on each of the three kingdoms.
Christ’s Revelation to Paul about the Kingdoms
Let’s begin with 1 Corinthians 15. In this part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he is discussing how essential the resurrection from the dead is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As you can see later, if you read the entire chapter, resurrection from the dead to eternal life is a key promise included as part of a mystery for those who will inherit the kingdom of God (vs 50).
The mystery Paul is referring to is called the Mystery of God. Discover more.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Pick it up in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 (ESV)
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
These seven verses are fundamental to Paul’s viewpoint of the gospel and the work that God the Father and Christ his Son are engaged in. We won’t have time now to even scratch the surface on all of this. For now we have to focus on what is said regarding the kingdoms.
- Christ is going to deliver a kingdom to the Father
- Notice that occurs at the end (of the age)
- But only after doing some things first:
- Christ will reign in heaven and on earth
- Destroying every rule, authority, and power that opposes God
- Until he has put all God’s enemies under his feet
- The last enemy he will destroy is death
The Kingdom of the Son
Let’s begin with Christ’s reign. Notice that Paul outlines the order of the resurrections to occur (vs 23) – Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. First he must establish his leadership for the kingdom, his co-rulers, the firstfruits of salvation.
The role of those who belong to Christ is described for us in Revelation 20, along with a description of Christ’s reign.
Revelation 20:4-6 (ESV)
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
- These overcome the world and the deceiver of the world by their continued faith in Christ
- They came to life, were resurrected to glory – the second death has no power over them
- They reign with Christ in his kingdom on earth for a 1000 years
- They are priests of God and of Christ
- Again they will reign with him for 1000 years
Christ Subdues all Rule, Authority, and Power
Let’s continue with his efforts to subdue all rule, authority and power on earth and in heaven. We know that Christ has been given authority over and above all – being seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20-21; Philippians 2:9-10)
But when will he exercise dominion over the world? Is it not at his return? For the nations of the world, the arrival of the King of Kings to the earth brings to a climax the wrath of Almighty God against all those who oppose him (Revelation 15:1). The nations of the world have been deceived by the Beast power, the False Prophet, and the Dragon. It is their spirit which directs the nations to gather around Jerusalem for war, to a place called Har-Magedon (Revelation 16:12-16). Again mankind will be the willing pawn in a war between the gods. Though the fate of the battle against the Lord of Lords is certain to bring an end to the reign of the would-be gods on earth, the fate of deceived mankind is less so.
For over three years this unholy trinity has concentrated their effort to deceive and destroy those whom God seeks to redeem (Revelation 12). Yet the will of God is not undone by the deceit of devils. The Light of the World has returned to the place from which he ascended millennia before (Acts 1:11). It is the purpose of this light to lead the world into obedience and into his Father’s kingdom in the age to come. To do that he must first complete the correction brought upon the world through the wrath of God. To rule the nations he must first strike them down with the sword of his truth (Revelation 19:15); to repay each one according to his deeds (Revelation 22:12). The arrival of this battle and the Light of the World signals the climax of that work (Revelation 14:1, 6-11; 16:16-18).
Revelation 19:11-21 (ESV)
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
Putting All God’s Enemies Under His Feet
The enemies of God will persist even through the kingdom of the Son. Satan will again be allowed to deceive the nations, but now the stakes are higher for those who do not repent or surrender to the righteous rule of Christ our Lord. (Matthew 13:36-43; Revelation 20:7-10, 11-13; Luke 19:11-27)
The Last Enemy
Paul tells us the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). This is confirmed in Revelation 20 as well.
14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This completes the kingdom of the Son, now ready to be handed over to the father. Here’s an outline of it.
The Kingdom of the Father
Does it end there? Not according to my bible. Notice Revelation 21.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
At this point, there is a new heavens and a new earth – and the kingdom of God comes down out of heaven. This is the kingdom Christ spoke of when he said to Pilate – My kingdom is not of this world. This is the kingdom Paul spoke of when he said – flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
As we did before, let’s outline the kingdom of God.
The First Kingdom – The Kingdom of Priests
We can’t overlook that Christ, during his first appearance on earth, claimed the kingdom of God was among us (Luke 17:20-21). We’ve seen so far that the Kingdom of the Son and the Kingdom of the Father are both future kingdoms. Yet did not Christ teach his disciples that the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven are given to believers to know (Matthew 13:10-17). It is called a mystery (part of the Mystery of God), shared with those who have ears to hear and eyes to see (Mark 4:10-12).
As the parable of the minas shows, this knowledge, and I would suggest even foreknowledge, of the kingdom is essential to those who are to inherit it (Luke 19:11-27). Realize that an inheritor is much greater than one who dwells in or occupies the kingdom. An inheritor receives ownership of the object being inherited. Let’s return to 1 Corinthians 15:50 and view some of the surrounding scriptures which explains why it is that flesh and blood do not inherit the kingdom.
1 Corinthians 15:49-53
- Those faithful in Christ who’ve borne the image of the man of dust will, in the future, also bear the image of the man of heaven; the image of Christ
- Though some sleep and are dead they will be raised imperishable with a glorious body
- Those remaining alive at Christ’s return will be changed – this mortal body will take on immortality
- In both cases, these have met the imperishable requirement for inheriting the kingdom of the Son
The preparation of that inheritance has been the focus of God’s work since before Adam. It was not an afterthought.
- In Christ we are blessed in every way
- In Christ our way was chosen before the foundations of the world were laid
- According to God’s will and purpose our adoption as Gentiles into the household of God was predestined (Ephesians 2:18-20; Romans 8:15, 23)
- It was his plan to unite all things in Christ
- In Christ we’ve obtained the inheritance; obtained – current tense
- The Holy Spirit, whom we received as God’s gift, is the guarantor of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it
The assurance we have is that we’ve obtained possession of that future kingdom even now. This is necessary if the High Priest (Hebrews 2-9) is to first prepare his leadership team, this kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9-10; Colossians 1:9-14; Revelation 5:9-10).
The first kingdom, the Kingdom of Priests is preparatory in nature. In it Christ is building his called, chosen, and faithful body of believers into a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:18-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 3:12). They are the firstfruits of the Spirit of God and the salvation for which the Spirit is the guarantor (Romans 8:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). They are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:16-20), a temple for our God.
It is this temple, which Christ will glorify at his return, to which the nations of the world will look during his 1000-year reign on earth. Together with his priests he will rule in righteousness and they will lead the nations into obedience to God.
There’s more to learn about Christ’s called, chosen, and faithful. Discover more.
The completion of the earthly Kingdom of the Son is the fulfillment of the new covenant for all those willing to surrender to Christ. It is at that time when all who’ve been redeemed will witness the new heavens and new earth as the throne of God descends to earth. The son has completed his work and hands the kingdom over to the Father – having destroyed all enemies and making the world his footstool.
Our goal in this brief article was to show the relationship between, what only appears to be, three distinct kingdoms. Clearly they are one kingdom, the Kingdom of God, distinguished only by how they are manifest to the world. First the preparatory stage of the new creation – building a body of faithful believers into a kingdom of Christ-centered leaders. Once fully redeemed they will rule with him in his earthly kingdom for 1000 years. This too is a preparatory stage for the Kingdom of God – leading the world, once deceived to the point of death, into the truth and life that is in Christ Jesus. At the dawning of a new age with a new heavens and new earth, the glorified earth becomes the centerpiece of God’s realm, the place from which he will rule all things seen and unseen.
There is much more to learn about each of these topics and links have been provided to related articles. Those tagged with Read more lead you to related channel questions and their basic answers. Those tagged Discover more are part of a more in-depth study program. Any tagged with Learn more address methods, processes, and resources which can aid your approach to learning. All are free resources to assist you in gaining a more unfiltered view of God’s word.
At the close of each article we’ll cite the relevant presuppositions that support it. This enables the reader to gain a clearer and deeper understanding of the context. To learn more about presuppositions, see the About page.
- God is proactive and purposeful in all that he does
(Matthew 13:34-35; Ephesians 1:3-14; Hebrews 1; 1 Peter 1:18-21)
- God is faithful and will fulfill in those called and chosen what he has already completed in Christ (Fourth Gospel 1:9-13)
- The grace of God is greater-than the sin of humanity (Romans 5)
- God and his Christ are involved in a redemptive work for humanity.
- A key method in God’s redemptive work involves the offering of reconciliation, redemption, and salvation to eternal life – all through belief in Yeshua as the Son of God.
- Entering into belief in the Son of God we leave behind the state of being under God’s wrath.
- God’s redemptive work on humanity’s behalf is to save them from the second death, not the first death
(Genesis 2:16-17; Fourth Gospel 3:16-21; 5:24; 6:40; 17:1-3; Romans 5; 6; 1 Corinthians 15:19; Hebrews 9:25-28; Revelation 20:6)