Problem of the Kingdom of God

A Systems Analysis Solution

Harold R. Booher, Ph.D.

Copyright 2013 - Harold R. Booher

Chapter 2:  Determining  Major Views of The Kingdom


Sample Kingdom Verses 

Yours, O Lord is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. (I Chron 29:11) NIV

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. (Psalm 45:6) NIV 

In those days came John the Baptist … saying "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:12) KJV

From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matt 4:17) NIV
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:10) KJV.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Lk 17:20-21)NIV

When you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. (Lk 21:31)NIV

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36) NIV

When John and Jesus first proclaimed the kingdom of God being "at hand," no explanation was offered about what the kingdom was, since "the kingdom of God lay within the vocabulary of every Jew. It was something they knew and longed for desperately."1 The kingdom expected by the Jews and proclaimed by John and Jesus at the beginning of his ministry was a national kingdom on earth that would fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and covenants. To many of his followers, Jesus was the messiah king of God's kingdom on earth. The kingdom could be understood as beginning with Jesus' birth and present in his own words and deeds. Yet, later in his ministry, Jesus also taught the kingdom as being "not of this world" and as something to be realized yet in the future.

Maze of Kingdom Interpretations

As concluded in Chapter 1, scholars agree that the Kingdom of God is the integrating theme of the Bible yet cannot agree on any of the central parameters that would give us a clear understanding of the kingdom. What are its distinguishing characteristics; when will it come; has it come already; who will be in it; where will it be - on earth; within us; and so forth? At the beginning his book Thy Kingdom Come, J. Dwight Pentecost summarizes just a few of the different interpretations offered by theologians “concerning the nature or purpose of the kingdom of God.”

Some understand the kingdom of god to be synonymous with the eternal state, or heaven, where the saints of God go following physical death. Those who hold this view of the kingdom say it has no relationship whatsoever to the earth.
Others understand the kingdom as nonmaterial or “spiritual” kingdom in which God rules over the hearts of men, so that while God’s kingdom is related to the present, it is unrelated to the earth. It is entirely spiritual, not material.
Still others view the kingdom as purely earthly, without any spiritual realities attached to it. It is a future political and social structure achieved by the efforts of humanity, a goal reached through social and economic evolution. Some with this same general concept believe the kingdom of God will be a nationalistic movement on the part of Israel that will reconstitute that nation as an independent political state.
Another more common interpretation sees the kingdom as synonymous with the visible organized church. In other words, the church becomes the kingdom of God, a dominion which is both spiritual and political.
And finally, there are those who view the kingdom as an earthly manifestation of the universal sovereignty of God. The kingdom is a realm in which God rules in the affairs of men, so that the kingdom is conceived as being both spiritual and material.5 

Because such a summary presents a complete maze of interpretations, he saw little chance of discovering any truth about the kingdom of God coming from the theories and speculations of people. Were it not for the Bible itself providing its own clarity on the subject searching for some reliable interpretation that people today might agree upon would seem hopeless.  While we do not agree with many of the ultimate conclusions of Pentecost, we are in total agreement with his method of study; which is applying basic historical-grammatical hermeneutics principles.

Systems Analysis Steps 2-4

The Introduction to this study mentioned that the systems analysis approach would be used to solve the problem of defining the kingdom of God as it is presented in the Bible. Ten steps were outlined. Step 1 was completed in Chapter 1. The theme of the Bible is the kingdom of God.  The next three steps are described and applied in this chapter.

Step 2. Use a method of Bible study which allows for a systematically analysis of data which divides the Word into different administrations of God that are clearly identified in the bible. This method is identified as dispensationalism.

Step 3. From the literature specify a wide variety of views that represent the majority of views held about what, where, and when is the kingdom of god.
Step 4. Reduce the total number of kingdom views into a relatively few that can be classified as representing all the major views.

Dispensationalism as a Scientific Method

Dispensationalism is not (like Intelligent Design) a method that might be considered appropriate to apply to understanding natural science, such as questions of origins.  It is not experimental, for example.  It is rather a biblical system that "competes with science in its rationality and approach to history."2  When a field of study (like dispensationalism) applies certain rational features common to science in studying history, such as systematic analysis of data, then to that degree it is "scientific." Dispensationalism (as developed in this book) can raise one's confidence that the message being read is closer to the one God intended for us, than say one which is not reconcilable with scripture of the full canon.  Dispensationalism cannot however prove with a high level of scientific confidence a hypothesis about interpretation of a biblical passage.

Without a dispensationalist interpretation, scholars of the past have tended to denationalize the expectations of the Jews who heard Jesus' teachings, resulting in even greater confusion over what Jesus may have meant by the kingdom of God. This is reflected in the critical statement by George Wesley Buchanan: "Scholars have internalized, de-temporalized, de-historicized, cosmologized, spiritualized, allegorized, mysticized, psychologized, philosophized, and sociologized the concept of the kingdom of God. This has all been done for the purpose of denationalizing it."3 John Bright in his book The Kingdom of God concludes: "… the concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense, the total message of the Bible.  Not only does it loom large in the teachings of Jesus: it is to be found, in one form or another, through the length and breadth of the Bible."4

Yet neither liberal nor conservative scholars can provide any consensus on what the kingdom of God means to this generation. Although the kingdom of God is prayed for by every Christian who says the Lord’s Prayer, I doubt there are many Christians who have any clue what this meant to Jesus, let alone to us in the 21st Century.  Finding the kingdom of God through using the dispensational approach along with a systems analysis is the fundamental objective of this effort.   The answer to the what, where, and when is the kingdom of God will be one which reconciles the many and varied perceptions of the kingdom painted by Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles.

References Analyzed for Description of Kingdom Views.

Appendix A describes twenty different references with the kingdom of God in their title.
The views represent a wide variety of ideas about what, when, and where is the kingdom of God. As examples some of the titles include Albert Schweitzer’s The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, Shri Adi Shakti’s The Kingdom of God, Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ The Kingdom of God, W.A.Young Jr’s What on Earth is the Kingdom of God?, Dwight Pentecost’s Thy Kingdom Come, JohnBright’s The Kingdom of God; and George Elton Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom.  The 20 references cover both dispensational and non-dispensational views. One contributor is a Catholic priest; one represents a non-Christian eastern view and two, Schweitzer and Tolstoy, are well known for contributions outside theology. Several authors see the non-violent social, economic, and political aspects of the kingdom in the here and now, seeing God working through the Church toward a better world.

To the 20 views described in the open literature, we must add one more. That is the concept of Otis Q. Sellers, who in his Seed and Bread series understands the kingdom to be an earthly government under the administration of God, which takes place immediately following the current dispensation of Grace and goes until just before the millennium. This is titled a future pre- millennium view. The 20 views of the literature do not consider the Sellers view, so by adding it to the others, we have 21 views to consider.

Classifying Kingdom Views into Major Categories

Our approach starts by narrowing the twenty-one interpretations presented in the literature into a smaller number of categories that will fit all kingdom views. That is, many of the views are extremely similar and can fit a unique class. From a review of the twenty books on the kingdom of God and personal knowledge of other sources on ideas about the kingdom, we found that seven categories can represent all the major views of the kingdom.

1. Eternal state; i.e. heaven or some immortal state of being.  In general the Christian heavenly view of the kingdom has nothing to do with the earthly existence. It is the eternal state where the saved go upon physical death. Of the 20 books, Albert Schweitzer’s The Mystery of the Kingdom of God is the best representative of the heavenly state for the kingdom, although his is entirely future at the end of history.  One of the reviewers of this book comments “[There] are those who, like Albert Schweitzer, define Jesus’ message of the kingdom as an apocalyptic realm to be inaugurated by a supernatural act of God when history will be broken off and a new heavenly order or existence begun. The kingdom of God in no sense of the word is a present or spiritual reality, it is altogether future and supernatural”6

The heavenly or immortal state of being for some of the Eastern religions have a similar futuristic view as Schweitzer. Shakti in his The Kingdom of God states that “It is an eschatological message of divine intervention, renewed faith, boundless hope, great joy, and a long-awaited fulfillment by God Almighty as pledged over millennia to all humankind.”  Shakti takes an evolutionary position making mankind “evolve from the temporary physical body to the eternal spiritual self and everlasting life.”

2. Christ, the person  From our 20 books on the kingdom, both Lloyd-Jones (The Kingdom of God) and Young Jr. (What on Earth is the Kingdom of God?) argue that Christ, himself is the kingdom.  Young Jr. states “The Kingdom is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the Kingdom.  In Jesus Christ we have both seen and heard the Kingdom of God!”  Young Jr. holds that the church today is the fulfillment of Israel of the Old Testament, so there is no need for kingdom on earth for Israel in the future.  Lloyd-Jones agrees with Young Jr., stating, “It is in the coming of this Person (Christ) that the kingdom of God has come.”  Their position is essentially there would be no kingdom without Christ. It is through him that people experience God’s favor, in the past, now, and in the future when Jesus returns. 

3. Organized Christian ChurchFuellenbach (The Kingdom of God), Vos (The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church) and Young, Jr. (What on Earth is the Kingdom of God?) each support the organized Christian church as the primary concept of anything on earth representing God’s kingdom on earth today.  Each tend to think the need for fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies has been preempted by the Church which has replaced Israel. Fullenbach, who is a Catholic priest, does not see the Kingdom and the Church as identical, but rather views the kingdom as integrally connected to the Church. “The Kingdom can …never be separated from the Church, which, after all is God’s chosen instrument for his Kingdom here on earth.”  Pentecost (Thy Kingdom Come) does not adhere to this view but describes it as a dominion which is both spiritual and political.

4. Spiritual “within you.” The statement of Jesus in Luke about the kingdom being “within” or “amidst” you is used to base the greatest variety of ideas about the kingdom in the here and now.  As Pentecost comments, some view the kingdom as nonmaterial or spiritual in which God rules over the hearts of men in the present, but it is unrelated to the earth.  Others view the kingdom as purely earthly, without any spiritual realities. It is a future goal to be reached by the efforts of humanity through social and economic evolution.  This latter type can include those who expect a nationalistic movement on the part of Israel to bring in the kingdom.  Regardless of the future however, each of these ideas on the kingdom involve the here and now and what Christians can do to participate in being part of the spiritual kingdom now or driven by God within us to bring it to political and economic fruition through our own efforts.  Each of them in one way or another relies on scripture supporting the kingdom as being spiritually within us or within our power.  Although nine of the twenty books supports the “within you” view for the here and now, the meaning for each is extremely diverse. Fuellenbach ties the “within you” view specifically to the organized church while Tolstoy (The Kingdom of God is Within you) uses “within you” to support pacifism and can be credited for his intellectual influence on Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King regarding the concept of non-violent resistance. Similarly Graham (Totalitarian Kingdom of God) supports non-violent resistance in examining the political philosophy of Methodist missionary Stanley Jones who influenced Gandhi and King by showing that the New Testament Gospels offer not only the believer personal salvation but economic and political salvation in the present. Ladd (The Gospel of the Kingdom) and Young Jr. use “within you” to support the idea of “already but not yet” the kingdom is moving slowly, spiritually now to full manifestation with the second coming of Christ.  Keating (The Kingdom is Like…) emphasizes the Kingdom as active in the ordinary aspects of our lives. “The kingdom is manifested in ordinary daily life and how we live it.”  This action of the kingdom in everyday affairs replaces the old grandiose and inclusive ideas of Israel about the kingdom.  Stewart (The Lost Kingdom of God) thinks the within you view of Jesus shows the kingdom is a symbol for the lost knowledge or lost way to find the highest spiritual state attainable in this life.  Horsley (Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder) thinks Jesus by proclaiming the kingdom of God should be seen as a prophet who was working toward political and societal change. Kainz (Democracy and the Kingdom of God) speculates that the kingdom of God is a Judaic symbol for democracy.  It is clear that the verse from Luke on “within you” seems to justify just about any idea a person can think up by labeling it as the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
5. Future Millennium The most popular view of the kingdom for biblical literalists including dispensationalists of the Left Behind series, Jehovah’s Witnesses, many evangelicals and fundamentalists is that the next great act of God will be to bring in the kingdom with the second coming of Christ. To them the kingdom is the millennium.  The current day is man’s day and will end with the start of the kingdom when God rules. The kingdom will fulfill the Old and New Testament prophecies not fulfilled in the last days of tribulation just before Christ arrives.  There are many things mentioned by Christ and in Revelation of course that need to occur before Jesus comes back-- Scary things like the mark of the beast, the anti-Christ and Armageddon   Most of these things are known as the great tribulation and must be squeezed into the current era somehow. Not all who believe in the millennium see this as the last days with Christ about to appear, but they do believe the millennium will be the manifest kingdom on earth when God ends the current age.

6. Future, Pre- Millennium This view of the kingdom is a pre-advent view, but the next stage is not the coming of Christ, nor is the present the last days before the millennium. There is one kingdom, but it progresses in stages as outlined in Mark’s parable 4:26-29.  The next stage is a pre-millennium period involving all the nations on earth. It started during Jesus’ ministry on earth, grew during the Acts but stopped at the end of Acts. It restarts at the end of the current dispensation and ends its first phase with the second coming of Christ.  The only source for this view that I have located is the teachings of Otis Q.  Sellers.  During the kingdom people would be educated rather than destroyed. Nature would be changed to be non-hostile to people. It is a time when wars stop and peace is world-wide. There is no need for weapons of any kind. It is a time when God’s justice prevails over evil. It is a period that ends the current dispensation, but does not start the final days of Christ on earth.

7. Dual Kingdoms.   The Dual Kingdom view is the most popular view of biblical literalists and even some who would take a more liberal view of scripture. Holders of this view believe there are two forms of the kingdom, that within us in the current era and the future kingdom on earth involving the nation Israel that occurs during the millennium. This view is held by Bright (The Kingdom of God), Glasser et al (Announcing the Kingdom), Harkness (Understanding the Kingdom of God), Ladd (The Gospel of the Kingdom), Pentecost (Thy Kingdom Come), Vasholz (Pillars of the Kingdom), Vos (The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church), and Young Jr. (What on Earth is the Kingdom of God?).  Bright and Pentecost are dispensationalists so see distinct periods separating the first form of the kingdom from the second. Pentecost recognizes that not all prophecies will fit into the current period and the millennium, so allows for a short pre-millennium period at the end of this era. Bright treats the current kingdom as the visible church, a martyr church better labeled the kingdom of Christ as opposed to the future kingdom of God.  “The Kingdom of God in the New Testament … has come and even now is in the world; it is also yet to come.”  To dispensationalists like Pentecost the kingdom promises in the Old Testament are not dependant on the rejection of the leaders of Israel during Christ’s first visit to earth. The kingdom is based on an “unconditional covenant” so has only been postponed to some indeterminate future time.  Ladd who is not a dispensationalist holds a view both similar and different from Bright and Pentecost.  He tends to see a continuous but changing kingdom throughout history.  His major contribution is in projecting backwards from the future kingdom on earth into the present church on earth. The kingdom has started with some effects now but which will eventually blossom into the full kingdom in the future.  With varying concepts the others also see a role for the church today in some kind of “within you” kingdom and a more visible manifest kingdom on earth in the future.  Some like Harkness emphasize the social aspects of the kingdom now but see a vague kingdom for the future that we can work for as we wait for it.

With these seven very different views of the kingdom, we can feel assured of having captured a sufficiently wide variety of kingdom concepts.  The next several chapters will continue to use a systems analysis approach to examine which of the kingdom views, if any, hold up best from the information provided in the Bible. 




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