The Kingdom of God on Earth
Some people are very disciplined when they read books. They start at page one of a story and work their way steadily through, firmly resisting any temptation to take a peep at the end to see how it works out. Others, the majority of us I suspect, have not the same self control! Does the hero survive the potentially lethal plot? Does he inherit the disputed property, or win the fair lady? We quickly glance at the last few pages and almost invariably see that he does, and thus fortified we return with less trepidation to the perils of the moment, knowing that all is going to work out right in the end.
This chapter is placed here for the benefit of this latter class of readers. It should really come much later, for it is the end of the 'plot'-a description of the completed purpose of God when His Kingdom is set up on earth. But I have placed it here because I believe that many of us prefer to have some assurance that everything is going to turn out right for the world in the end, and that when you see the wonderful future that God has in store it will whet your appetite to learn how it will be achieved. So in this chapter we will explore the Bible to find out what the Kingdom of God will be like.
If on the other hand you are one of those people who can work steadily through a book, remembering the details on the way so as to be able to bring them all to bear on the final outcome, then you may like to skip this chapter and read it instead after chapter 12.
A BEAUTIFUL YET AFFLICTED EARTH
We live in a world that is full of natural beauty and wonder. Hill, mountain, forest, plain, river and ocean all combine to provide an environment suited to the needs of the myriad forms of life that fill our planet. Presiding over all is man, the earth's highest form of life, with intelligence to achieve his goals, with emotions to enjoy his wondrous surroundings, and with a heart made for friendship and love.
And yet it is a world that is crying out for change.
Slinking under the blue waters of the oceans are submarines loaded with deadly nuclear missiles that can be directed to obliterate any of the earth's major cities. Within those towns crime and violence flourish in unsafe streets and the innocent and the weak are oppressed. In the open country the guerrilla sets his lethal trap and the sniper sits patiently waiting for his victim. In other parts of the world are millions of lonely and pathetic figures, their gaunt frames and bones that almost protrude from the skin bearing horrible witness to the effect of famine. Even in less devastated areas one third of the earth's population go to bed hungry each night. World wide, people languish on beds of suffering and pain. There are long queues for the hospital operating theatres in an attempt to alleviate the complaints that afflict our defective bodies. The so-called developed world is reaping a sad harvest of increased mental illness due to the pressures of a sophisticated life style.
We can truly understand the sentiments of Reginald Heber when he said:
prospect pleases, and only man is vile.
DREAMING ABOUT THE FUTURE
Have you ever day-dreamed and wished you could wave some magic wand and instantly cure the world's ills? A time of peace, plenty and happiness flashes before your mind, but then the vision is shattered by the reality and you have to acknowledge that the problems of the earth are insoluble.
But in fact you may dream away! Your wildest dreams of human happiness will one day be surpassed by the actual event. This will not come to pass, of course, by any magical process but because it is the avowed intention of God Himself. If only people would open and read their Bibles they would find wonderful and satisfying descriptions of life on earth when the Kingdom of God is established, and learn that all the present ills of this globe will be cured, and all its problems solved.
We will now consider these Bible references describing
the Kingdom of God, and as you read them I ask you to
take them at their face value. I know that sometimes
it is thought that the Bible's word-pictures of the
future are symbolic or an allegory to which we must
give a mystical meaning. This is usually not the case.
On the occasions where it is permissible to make such
an interpretation it must be in addition to, rather
than instead of, the literal meaning. For example:
eyes of the blind shall be openedrefers to the
healing of both physical and spiritual blindness.
I would like to give a solemn assurance that every one of the following Bible passages can be demonstrated to be correctly applied to the Kingdom of God.
INDIVIDUAL LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The majority of people in a kingdom are those that make up its subjects; so I will start our survey by showing what the Bible says about the position of ordinary men or women living in the future Kingdom of God.
A PEACEFUL SOCIETY
One of the greatest present longings is for peace and security, with freedom from the threat of any sort of danger. The Kingdom of God will be an entirely peaceful society. Wars or even war preparations will be unknown. Violence between individuals or between nations will be a thing of the past. This serenity will extend to the animals, for even the aggressive natures of the beasts will be tamed. Ponder some of God's statements about His Kingdom that tell us this:
shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their
spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up
sword against nation, neither shall they learn war
any more(Isaiah 2:4).
(God) maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth;
he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder;
he burneth the chariot in the fire(Psalm 46:9).
meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves
in the abundance of peace(Psalm 37:11).
shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain
(Isaiah 11:9). (In the previous chapter we considered
a mountain that grew from the little stone. Here is
the same figure used again of the Kingdom of God).
wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion
shall eat straw like the bullock(Isaiah 65:25).
his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance
of peace so long as the moon endureth(Psalm
FERTILITY AND FOOD
Another present world problem is the scourge of famine. Rainfall seems to be declining in some areas, and deserts are inexorably encroaching on fertile land. Every year hundreds of thousands of people starve to death, and millions more suffer the long term effects of malnutrition. In the Kingdom of God the arid deserts of the earth will be transformed into fertile lands with copious supplies of sparkling water.
in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams
in the desert. And the parched ground shall become
a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water
desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose
But there will be an additional reason for a change in agricultural output. Pests and disease now spoil much of the farmer's crops and the full potential of the harvest is rarely realised. In the Kingdom of God crop yields will increase dramatically, even the high hilltops producing grain (Psalm 72:16). The agricultural cycle will continue without seasonal intermission (Amos 9:13), and this enlarged harvest from tree and field will ensure that famine will be unknown in the Kingdom of God (Ezekiel 36:30).
One of the tragedies of the Kingdom of Men is that the poor and the weak are often denied justice. They have not the means or the ability to defend themselves and are frequently exploited. In the great cities of the world organised crime is endemic, and the racketeer, the extortioner and the drug pusher flourish, tyrannising those caught in their clutches. When the Kingdom of God is established care for the underprivileged will be one of the chief concerns of the divine administration:
shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save
the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces
the oppressor(Psalm 72:4).
There will be no miscarriage of justice in those days because the divine judge will not rely only on what he sees or hears, but will be able to see right into the minds of men and women to establish the truth of any matter:
shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither
reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness
shall he judge the poor, and argue with equity for
the meek of the earth(Isaiah 11:3-4, margin).
There are few greater inequalities in the world today than the type of houses people live in. Housing has always been high on the agenda of most governments, yet still the problem remains. The shanty towns of Africa, Asia and South America consist mainly of hovels made of old packing cases, sheets of corrugated iron and any other usable material that can be picked up. Millions and millions live in appalling conditions where essential services are poor and unreliable, and sewage disposal extremely primitive or non-existent.
Even in the western world slum dwellings still disfigure the cities, and rapacious landlords turn a blind eye to the plight of their hapless tenants.
The Bible picture of the future is of a serene and contented people living in houses they can permanently call their own, surrounded by their personal plot of land:
shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall
plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall
not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant
and another eat .... they shall sit every man under
his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make
them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts hath
spoken it(Isaiah 65:21-22; Micah 4:4)
HEALTH AND LONGEVITY
But such an idyllic picture would be ruined unless the inhabitants of the Kingdom of God were given good health to enjoy the blessings. Sound and robust bodies will therefore be a feature of the future age:
the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears
of the deaf shall be unstopped; then shall the lame
man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing
And those happy and healthy lives will be long ones. A person dying a hundred years old will be considered but a child:
more shall there be in it an infant that lives but
a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his
days, for the child shall die a hundred years old
.... for like the days of a tree shall the days of
my people be(Isaiah 65:20,22 RSV).
AN INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE
It is undoubtedly true that one of the obstacles to international harmony is the enormous variety of languages that exist in the world. When God's Kingdom is set up on earth this cause of division will be removed, and one universal language will apply throughout the globe:
that time will I change the speech of the peoples
to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the
name of the Lord and serve him with one accord
(Zephaniah 3:9 RSV).
WHY THE DRAMATIC CHANGE?
These passages combine to build up the Biblical picture of life in the Kingdom of God. Peace, happiness, and security will characterise the lives of all its subject people. The evils and injustices that cause so much anxiety and anguish today will be removed, and everybody will be given food, health and very long life to enable them to enjoy these blessings to the full.
You would be excused for thinking that the picture just presented from the Bible is of a completely materialistic society, living for its own gratification and satisfaction. This will certainly not be the case. Rather these great and far-reaching blessings will come because of a change in people's attitudes. These God-given benefits are not an end in themselves but the result of men and women turning to Him in sincerity.
Today most people remember the often repeated words of the angelic choir at the birth of Jesus:
to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill
toward men(Luke 2:14).
This represents cause and effect. When first there is glory to God, then will follow peace on earth. The Bible clearly states that men and women throughout the world will turn to acknowledge God before receiving the blessings of the Kingdom:
the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto
the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall
worship before thee(Psalm 22:27).
A consideration of the vast range of beliefs in the world today gives some idea of the magnitude of this future change. The list of different religions is endless. Some of them are completely incompatible with the others, some are even atheistic. Yet in the Kingdom of God their adherents will recognise that they have been mistaken in their cherished beliefs. The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to this time:
Lord .... the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the
ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers
have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there
is no profit(Jeremiah 16:19).
This new-found recognition of the true God will be the basis of a universal system of acceptable worship, and a willingness on the part of the worshippers to live as He desires:
it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain
of the Lord's house shall be established .... and
all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall
go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain
of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and
he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in
his paths(Isaiah 2:2-3).
saith the Lord of Hosts, It shall yet come to pass,
that there shall come people, and the inhabitants
of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall
go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray
before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts; I
will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations
shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem,
and to pray before the Lord(Zechariah 8:20-22).
This willingness on the part of the whole world to accept God is the only basis on which He will bless them. The Bible clearly teaches that God's favours follow true worship of Him-the sequence cannot be reversed.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
A small digression for a moment to prevent a possible confusion. Readers of Matthew's gospel record will find that he uses 'kingdom of heaven' instead of the more usual 'kingdom of God'. There is no difference in meaning between the two phrases, and they are used interchangeably in Scripture. A comparison in the gospel records of parallel accounts of the same incidents confirms this (e.g. Matthew 3:2 & Mark 1:15; Matthew 5:3 & Luke 6:20 etc.). The New Bible Dictionary has this comment:
Matthew, who addresses himself to the Jews, speaks
for the most part of the 'kingdom of heaven', Mark
and Luke speak of the 'kingdom of God', which has
the same meaning as the 'kingdom of heaven'....
In any case no distinction in sense is to
be assumed between the two expressions(Art.
'Kingdom of God'. Italics mine).
Note also that Matthew's phrase is 'kingdom of heaven',
not 'kingdom in heaven'. As we have seen in this
chapter, during the reign of Christ the state of things
on earth will approach to those now existing in heaven,
making Matthew's words most appropriate. The Lord's
Prayer confirms this:
Thy kingdom come. Thy will
be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
HOW THIS REFORMATION WILL COME ABOUT
The last few thousand years of human history with its international belligerence and its religious diversity and animosity makes one fact outstandingly clear. This change from a largely selfish, atheistic or pagan society will not come about by a process of gradual development. In the previous chapter we have already had an indication of this in the sudden and irrevocable removal of the metallic statue that represented the Kingdom of Men. I would now like to draw your attention to explicit passages that tell us how this change of heart will be achieved. It will be by God revealing Himself as the judge and punisher of all wicked people, thus giving evidence of His existence and power.
In the section headed 'A Peaceful Society' (p.20) we noted
that Isaiah spoke of nations
not lifting up sword
against nation. Under the heading 'True Worship'
(p.25) we read more of the same reference where he depicts
them as saying
let us go up to the mountain of
the Lord. But in the complete passage these two
statements are connected by these words:
he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke
many people(Isaiah 2:4).
This tells us that peace on earth will be by divine edict and enforcement.
Still speaking of the events surrounding the setting up of the Kingdom of God, Isaiah reinforces the message that God will use His great power to compel submission:
it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall
punish the host of the high ones that are on high,
and the kings of the earth upon the earth .... For,
behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish
the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity ....
For when thy judgments are in the earth,
then the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness
(Isaiah 24:21; 26:21; 26:9).
Ezekiel records the result of this divine intervention:
will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I
will be known in the eyes of many nations; and they
shall know that I am the Lord(Ezekiel
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS
The process of bringing the world to recognise God will be the work of His representative, who will be the King over the Kingdom of God. This King will be none other than the Lord Jesus Christ who, like the little stone in the dream, will come to earth with the mission to replace the Kingdom of Men with the Kingdom of God.
In a psalm which the New Testament specifically applies to Christ we have a description of the situation at his return. Because of his invincible power the nations are instructed to submit to the world's new ruler:
have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will
declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou
art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of
me and I shall give thee the heathen (i.e nations)
for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of
the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them
with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces
like a potter's vessel.
wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye
judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and
rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry,
and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled
but a little(Psalm 2:6-12).
This divine authority invested in Christ will result in the submission of all human rule to him. In the last book of the Bible, in words that clearly echo the pronouncement on the fate of Nebuchadnezzar's statue, we read of the outcome of the purpose of God as revealed in Scripture:
kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of
our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for
ever and ever(Revelation 11:15).
A KING SHALL REIGN IN RIGHTEOUSNESS
thou a king then?said Pilate to his noble prisoner.
Jesus answered in the polite form of words that in those
days indicated complete agreement:
that I am a king(John 18:37).
This man arraigned before his accusers on a trumped-up charge was the only morally perfect man who has ever lived. He devoted his life to doing right. He had a horror of sham and hypocrisy, leading him occasionally to be severe and forthright; yet he also demonstrated love and kindness and a perfect sense of justice and fairness. His compassion knew no bounds: he cured the sick, he stemmed the flow of the widowed mother's tears by bringing her son back to life. He taught God's way with patience and at last, in indescribable agony, laid down his life for his friends.
And it is the same noble man who is God's future ruler of
the world. Jesus is
the same yesterday, and today,
and for ever(Hebrews 13:8), and when he returns
he will display unchanged
those characteristics so graphically presented in the gospels. Evil and hypocritical people will be dealt with as were the money changers in the Temple, but to the rest he will be a wise, just and beloved ruler. How blessed indeed will be the earth when the Son of God is its king! Through his perfect rule the earth will become an idyllic place in which to live.
Contemplate these entrancing word-pictures of the benefits of Christ's reign over the Kingdom of God:
a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall
rule in judgment .... and the work of righteousness
shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness
and assurance for ever(Isaiah 32:1,17).
shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy
poor with judgment .... He shall save the children
of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance
of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have
dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river
unto the ends of the earth .... Yea, all kings shall
fall down before him: all nations shall serve him
.... and men shall be blessed in him: all nations
shall call him blessed(Psalm 72:2,4,7-8,11,17).
These glowing terms describe the sovereign under whose strong but benign rule all the people of the world will find a life of joy and satisfaction.
CITY OF THE GREAT KING
The centre of this perfect future government will be the ancient Jewish capital Jerusalem. It will be rebuilt and contain a glorious temple that will become the focal point of a world wide worship. From the city wise and good laws will issue, and the whole world will look to Zion and its king with respectful allegiance, journeying there to learn God's ways. This is the united voice of Scripture. In his sermon on the mount Jesus said:
not .... by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the
great King(Matthew 5:34-35).
And speaking of the future kingly work of Jesus, God says:
have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion
The prophets similarly spoke of Jerusalem in a way that has never yet come to pass, but will be fulfilled when Jesus returns to be its righteous ruler:
that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of
the Lord: and all the nations shall be gathered unto
it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither
shall they walk any more after the imagination of
their evil heart(Jeremiah 3:17).
the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the
Lord from Jerusalem .... The kingdom shall come to
the daughter of Jerusalem(Micah 4:2,8).
Lord of Hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem,
and before his ancients gloriously(Isaiah 24:23).
A REIGN OF 1000 YEARS
The king of the future age will not reign alone but will be assisted by princes. I will leave the identity of these assistants for consideration in a later chapter, but I mention them now because when they are referred to in the book of Revelation, the length of Christ's rule is stated:
shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign
with him a thousand years(Revelation 20:6).
During this thousand years, often referred to as
Millennium, the inborn tendency of man to do wrong
will be restrained, with the result that the earth will
gradually be purified from every evil. After a final
rebellious fling human nature itself will be eradicated,
and death completely banished from the earth. We will
consider this in more detail in Chapter 13.
AFTER THE MILLENNIUM
At the end of the thousand years the Kingdom of God will enter its final and permanent stage. The reign of Christ will have prepared the earth as a fit place for God to inhabit in perfect communion with His creation. So we are told that at the end of the Millennium Christ will abdicate his sovereignty over the Kingdom of God in favour of God Himself (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). The closing picture of the Bible is of this time of absolute perfection:
the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell
with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself
shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall
wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall
be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither
shall there be any more pain: for the former things
are passed away(Revelation 21:3- 4).
In this chapter the Bible has described to you in its own words the future that God has determined for the earth; when the Kingdom of Men is replaced by His Kingdom, ruled by His King, and governed by His laws. We have seen that it will satisfy every desire and longing of all mankind, and be experienced by all who are prepared to acknowledge His supremacy.
But this glorious objective will not be achieved without detailed planning or without effort and sacrifice. So in Chapter 5 we will retrace our steps to see the stages by which this most satisfying culmination will be brought about. But meanwhile, before we return from our rather extended peep at the outcome of the 'plot' back to the exciting story of how the drama unfolds, we must spend time thinking about God Himself, and the means by which He has communicated His plan to mankind.