Problem of the Kingdom of God

A Systems Analysis Solution

Harold R. Booher, Ph.D.

Copyright 2013 - Harold R. Booher

Chapter 4.   New Testament Statements on Kingdom

This chapter presents the results of my study of all the New Testament verses (135) that mention the kingdom of God (or in the case of Matthew, “kingdom of heaven”). They are listed in Appendix B.  As illustrated in Table 4.1 comments are provided for each verse (statement), which includes the person who made the statement or person having informed opinion reflected in the statement. Other comments include something to identify the verse, such as “beatitudes” or “prophecy.”  Each statement is then examined for what type of kingdom (earthly or spiritual), when the kingdom is to appear, and something about the characteristics of the subjects of the kingdom (who) or characteristics of the kingdom itself (how)

Table 4.1 New Testament Statements on the Kingdom of God

Classified as What (Earthly or Spiritual Kingdom)
 When (Near, Now, Future) and Who/How (Characteristics)






1. Mat.3:2. for the king-dom of heaven is at hand.

John the Baptist



Israelites taught

*91. Lu. 17:21. The kingdom of God is within you.

Jesus; when it comes, it will be within you


Near,Now & Future

How it comes


Systems Analysis – Step 7.

Step 7 of the analysis evaluates all the New Testament verses (135) that mention the kingdom of God. This step records specific information that applies to certain features of the kingdom, such as type of kingdom (spiritual or earthly) and when kingdom is to appear.

Evaluation Criteria & Examples

What. The primary issue being examined is whether the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus and the apostles means a period of time in history when God governs the earth, a spiritual condition within the Christian; or some combination of the two.  The term “spiritual kingdom” does not occur in the Bible, but kingdom verses that seem to imply some mental or spiritual condition within people are classified as spiritual, whereas those that fit with the traditional concept of God’s manifest rule on earth are classified as earthly. Verses not readily classified as one or the other are labeled as “earthly/spiritual.“

When. If the kingdom started with the first advent of Christ, it did not reach the full manifestation of a worldly kingdom.  Those who believe the church in some way fulfills the manifest kingdom prophecies need to show support in the New Testament scriptures for the idea of a spiritual kingdom “now”. Verses are classified as Near (1st Century CE); Now (2nd Century CE to Present) and Future.   

1. Near is a statement that appears to say the kingdom will appear soon and did in fact come true (at least in part) during the Gospels and Acts periods.  There are instances where the verse must be evaluated historically in addition to what the verse seems to convey. For example Luke 21:32 “This generation shall not pass away, til all be fulfilled.” This verse comes just after a long listing of events that most would see as predictions for the end of the world and then in the preceding verse 31, Jesus says “when you see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom God is nigh at hand.” The verse clearly seems to be saying Near, yet historically these things did not happen. Such verses are rare, but we classify such a verse as Future, rather than Near.  Such a verse is also a “hard saying” and needs to be explained. (See Summary and Conclusions – Who/How)

2. Now is a statement that is evaluated totally historically. Since none of the kingdom expectations of either the Israelites or the early Christian church is occurring now there should be very few (if any) verses that unquestionably apply only to the current era. Several verses are interpreted to reflect qualities people need to possess now in order to inherit or “enter into” the kingdom when it comes. Such statements usually apply to Near and Future as well. For example see Mat. 18:3 where Jesus says one must become as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. This could apply to all people for all times. Our belief and behavior in this life may qualify (or disqualify) us for inheriting a portion of the kingdom when it comes.

3. Future is a statement that sounds like it should apply to the future manifest kingdom, but it too must be evaluated historically. It may apply to the period of Jesus’ ministry and the Acts period, and therefore be Near rather than Future.  Future is also any statement that could apply to the future, even though it may also apply to Near or Now. 

Who/How. The grouping describes the characteristics of people who will be subjects in (or possibly excluded from) the realm of the kingdom. For example Matthew 5:3; those who are poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven.  In some instances the verse applies to who is taught about the kingdom (see e.g., Matthew 4:17 where Israelites are being taught). In these instances those who accept the teaching will be subjects in the kingdom. Where people characteristics are not applicable to the verse, but some characteristic of the kingdom itself is applicable, how it is relevant is described.  In Matthew 13:31 the parable of the mustard seed describes how the kingdom will grow.

Summary and Conclusions - What

The vast majority of statements about the kingdom of God are quotes from Jesus himself (99). Paul is second with 18.  However, 13 other individuals or groups are mentioned as making informed statements or having informed opinions concerning the kingdom.  These include the disciples (3); Joseph of Aramethaea (2); John in Revelation (2); the writer of Hebrews (2); John the Baptist (1); James (1); Peter (1); Philip (1); Barnabas-with Paul (1); the mother of James and John (1); the crowd –on entry to Jerusalem (1); the angel Gabriel (1); and the malefactor on the cross (1).

One hundred nineteen (88 percent) of the verses clearly pertain to an earthly kingdom when God was, is, or will take control of the earth and make his will known on its inhabitants. The only spiritual kingdom verses are from Jesus and Paul.  No one else understood it to be anything other than an earthly kingdom.  A total of sixteen verses could support the idea of a spiritual kingdom, something mysterious that happens within people when they believe in Christ.  These are divided into two sets. The first set comprises “moderate” spiritual kingdom verses because a plain reading could suggest either earthly or spiritual views depending on interpreter bias. The second set comprises “strong” spiritual kingdom verses because a plain reading does fit with a spiritual kingdom view.

The moderate spiritual kingdom verses are:

1. Mat. 12:28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
2  Mat.13:11.”Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”
3. Mat. 23:13.”But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
4. Mar.4:11. “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.”
5. Mar. 10:15. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
6. Lu.18:17 “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
7. Rom. 14:17. “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
8. II Tim. 4:18.And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.”

The strong spiritual kingdom” verses are:

1. Mat. 6:33. “But seek first the kingdom of God … and all these things shall be added unto you.”
2. Mar.12:34. “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
3. Lu. 17:20. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation.”
4. Lu. 17:21. “For indeed the kingdom of God is within you.”
5. Joh. 3:3. “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
6. Joh. 3:5. “unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
7. Joh. 18:36. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, … but now my kingdom is not from here.”
8. I Cor. 15:50. “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”

However, all of the verses that appear to support a spiritual kingdom from a cursory look can upon closer examination be interpreted as consistent with the earthly view. The first set of verses is mostly a matter of bias tending to be seen as spiritual or earthly depending on the perspective favored by the interpreter.  The second set is much stronger in support of the spiritual view and comprises its foundational verses. From the beginning they seem to be saying something other than an earthly kingdom. The arguments for this set reflecting an earthly view, rather than a spiritual view, are more difficult and are best made once the weaker set is eliminated. 

Each of the eight “moderate” spiritual kingdom verses can be readily interpreted with the earthly kingdom view. For example, Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:17 were listed as possibly spiritual because of the statement does not receive.  To receive the kingdom could sound like a personal spiritual experience. However, these two verses are not really different from the ones that mention inheriting the kingdom. In either case, receiving or inheriting; they likely mean to enjoy a portion and to be entitled to the benefits of the kingdom.  Those who enter the kingdom on earth shall indeed receive the kingdom’s benefits, like peace on earth and good health.  Similarly, each of the other verses also can have earthly interpretations. In II Timothy 4:18; “heavenly kingdom” could mean the kingdom on earth is ruled from heaven (See Isaiah 66:1 “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.” Also see Sellers, Otis; Seed and Bread, “Kingdom Blunders,” No. 32). In Romans 14:17; the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; could mean the kingdom is like any government, it is not what we consume in it that is important, it is an administration, an environment, a process of how people are governed. It does not mean we do not eat in the kingdom.

The verses on the mysteries of the kingdom (Matt 13:11; Mark 4:11) are not something mysteriously spiritual, but rather secrets that Jesus reveals to the disciples to clarify the earthly kingdom. Matt 12:28 was classified as possibly spiritual because the Spirit of God and kingdom of heaven are mentioned in the same verse.  However it is obvious from the full context of the verse that Jesus is speaking of an action on earth (casting out devils) with the power of the Spirit of God, and when he does so he is displaying the kingdom of God at the time, on earth. 

Finally, Matt 23:13 was listed as supporting a spiritual kingdom, because the scribes and Pharisees seem to have the power to block entry to the kingdom. The Jewish leaders using religious or economic persuasion to block a spiritual experience would make some sense of this verse. How could they stop the flow of God’s government in any real sense on earth?  But again, when we comprehend the nature of God’s government on earth, starting with Jesus; one’s mental attitude toward acceptance of God’s rule was fundamental.  Free will to accept or reject Christ (even with his miraculous signs and healings) has always been possible.  The leaders in that day, as in our day, had the power of the purse and could discourage others from following their consciences.

Although not as obvious, and keeping in mind that the primary view of an earthly kingdom is an established scriptural truth, the second set also can be explained with the earthly view.  As examples, an analysis of two of the most important passages (Luke 17:20-21; John 18:36) that appear to support the spiritual kingdom idea is done in the text of Chapter 5.  These show that even the foundational verses for the spiritual view can be reconciled with the earthly view.  Additionally, it needs to be pointed out that the first set, the “strong” spiritual kingdom verses, even if correct, do not replace the earthly kingdom. At best they would support a dual kingdom (spiritual now; earthly future) concept.  The problem with the dual kingdom approach, though, is that no verse applies only to now.  If the spiritual verse is something unique for the church, it should be something that applies specifically to now to distinguish it from the manifest kingdom. Yet any such verse also applies to near and future.  For example, if the verse discusses a characteristic that someone needs to enter the kingdom in the future; it applies universally to everyone past, present, and future. (see discussion on when below). This is hardly a strong scriptural basis for a special spiritual kingdom for the church.

Summary and Conclusions - When

Table 4.2 New Testament Verses that apply to Near, Now, and Future Events


1. Most of the verses (90%) of the New Testament on the kingdom of God can be interpreted as applying to Future, even though many of these future verses may also apply to Near and Now.  Nearly half (47%) of the future verses apply only to the Future; 21% to Near/Future; and 32% to Near/Now/Future.  Examples of Future only are the Lord’s Prayer; parables of the kingdom; and prophecies that include the nation, Israel. The expectations of the kingdom conveyed in these verses did not happen at the time and are not happening now. An example of the Near/Future is Luke 9:2 where Jesus sends out the disciples to preach the kingdom of God. The kingdom had begun then as shown with the disciples healings and casting out devils, but they were also preaching the full manifest kingdom of God, which is still future. An example of Near/Now/Future is Mark 12:34 where Jesus says to a scribe (who understood Jesus regarding the most important commandment) “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”  Jesus is here saying to the scribe that he had the right understanding of what was important to God then and has the right attitude to enter the kingdom when it comes.  Such an understanding can also apply now to anyone with a similar attitude as the scribe.

2. No verses appear to apply to Now alone; Near/Now; or Now/Future.
3. Ten percent (13) of the verses apply most clearly to Near only. A verse such as Mark 9:1 is of this type. “That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”

4. With only a few exceptions the verses applying to Now (always in combination with Near and Future) deal with characteristics of people who will be in the realm of the kingdom of God.  Those admitted to the kingdom must be as children; riches will provide no advantage; evildoers will have no portion, etc. An example of a Near/Now/Future verse that calls out something specifically about the kingdom that is not a general characteristic expected of its people is Mat. 16:19 where the Lord says to Peter “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” This statement appears after the Lord has said “upon this rock I will build my church.”  This is, of course, the basis for the Petrine doctrine claimed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Summary and Conclusions – Who/How

A number of difficult verses dealing with issues other than “What” and “When” were identified as bearing on the kingdom of God.

1. Luke 21:31-32. “So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly I say to you, this generation shall by no means pass away till all (these) things take place.”  Problem: The predicted things of the kingdom did not happen in the disciples’ life times.
2. Mat. 8:12. ”But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Problem: Why would God’s sons be cast out?
3. Mat. 16:19. “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Problem: This power given to Peter for the church does not seem to apply to the church today.
4. Mat. 16:28. “Assuredly, I say to you there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Problem: Second coming has not happened and all those standing there have died.
5. Mat. 21:43. Ending the parable of the tenants Jesus says: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” Problem: If this means the kingdom taken from Israel, who is the nation who receives it, and when in the kingdom process does this take place?
6. Mat. 22:2. “The kingdom of God is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son.” Those invited did not attend, so others (good and bad) were brought in. This parable ends with one of the new guests not having a proper wedding garment, so he was cast out “into outer darkness.” Problem: Same problem as parable of tenants regarding who has rejected the invitation and who is the new beneficiary. But an additional problem appears with why the new guest is cast out for not having proper attire.
7. Mar. 4:26.”The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground…” and then the seed grows in stages (the blade, the head, the full grain in the head) and then the harvest.  Problem: This parable appears only in Mark and appears to be outlining a process of growth. What does it mean more specifically?
8. Mar. 9:1. “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Problem: Same as Mat. 16:28 - Disciples have all died, and the second advent has not occurred.

It is beyond the scope of this exercise to deal comprehensively with this list of difficult verses.  They are difficult because they appear to have a number of inconsistencies for any standard kingdom theme. The problems they present for the kingdom are for the most part outside the spiritual/earthly kingdom issue.  Yet it is perhaps these inconsistencies that can bring more light to the kingdom characteristics.  Mark 4:26 is discussed at length in Chapter 7. Matthew 8:12 is covered in Chapter 6 along with the parable of the weeds and the wheat.  The problems with Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:28 go away if we credit the power of the period immediately after Jesus’ resurrection as fulfilling this prediction rather than the second advent.  Most of the others are covered elsewhere in the text of this book, as they cover specific issues related to the chapter where they are discussed.

However one verse which has consistently stumped scholars and is of special interest to me is Luke 21:32: where Jesus says “This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled.” The problem is none of the predictions made in earlier verses (Luke 21: 8-28) occurred during the period of the apostles and are still unfulfilled.  Yet Jesus says this generation shall not pass, which most interpreters credit to meaning the people living at that time (that generation) would not die before the predictions were fulfilled.  With this interpretation, either Jesus was wrong, or translators made a giant mistake, or Jesus had in mind something totally different from what appears patently clear. To my knowledge no one has solved this hard saying in a way that holds together as well as Otis Sellers. He solves the problem simply by looking carefully at the word “generation” and the context of verses 32-33.  A generation need not be biological.  A generation can be anything that is generated.  The first dictionary meaning is “an act or process of generating; a production.”  As examples, electricity is a “generation” of an electric power plant, or a document is a generation of the author.  In the Luke verses, generation means Jesus’ words – those words documented in the preceding verses 8-28.  Jesus even emphasizes this to be the intended meaning by adding in the following verse, “heaven and earth may pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”  Many things will happen in the world and then disappear, but Jesus words will live forever.  The specific events conveyed in Jesus’ words in this lesson about the kingdom will take place in the manifest kingdom of God, but Jesus’ words will still be alive even then. With this interpretation, Jesus is providing valuable information about his word and does not err on prophecy regarding the kingdom.

With the matrix analysis of major kingdom facts with kingdom views of chapter 3 and the study reported in this chapter on the New Testament kingdom verses, we now have a complete data base that allows us to fully examine two of the most popular views held by most of the Christian community today- the kingdom within us in the here and now; and the kingdom to come in the millennium.




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