The Feast of Tabernacles has traditionally, for most of us, represented a future time of peace and prosperity on the earth. The Feast has meant a time when we look forward to the Millennium, the Wonderful World Tomorrow, when our Messiah, Jesus the Christ, will rule here on earth for 1,000 years, and Satan will be chained, unable to influence humans to sin and rebel against the Government of God. The Millennium has always been the focal point of the Feast for us.
Many of us have been re-evaluating our past understanding, and what the various Feast days might represent. But for today, I’m going to speak from our traditional standpoint, that we are here to celebrate, and picture, Christ’s return to earth and establishing His throne on the earth. The Feast has also represented for us a time when we can come out of our daily lives in the world today, and come refresh ourselves by the sparkling clean waters of the Bible.
We’ve always looked forward to coming to the Feast, so we can be with like-minded church people, so we can share our lives, our triumphs and tragedies, our Bible study findings, and just be together in a set-apart, beautiful place, together before God. Brethren, even though we’ve been re-evaluating many of the things we took for granted in the past, this is one aspect of my life in the ekklesia that hasn’t changed! I still look forward to the Feast each year, to being with all of you, to celebrate our life together in Christ, and to look forward eagerly to the Millennium.
But while we’re waiting for the World Tomorrow, we still have to live in the world today. We live in a society that isn’t very social, in a civilization that isn’t very civil, amidst humans who aren’t always very humane. Look around you at the mess this world is in. When I listen to the news on radio or television, I almost feel as if I need to strap on some armor! There’s a good deal that’s wrong in today’s world. That’s why we’ve been looking to the Kingdom of God and the Wonderful World Tomorrow!
Many of us, if not most of us, have problems in our daily lives. Problems at home, problems at school, problems at work, problems in our own selves. Every time I turn around, there’s another problem waiting for me. I got to the point that I didn’t want to turn around! I was afraid to look!
We’re in a state of eager anticipation for the Kingdom of God, looking forward to the time when we can shed these mortal bodies, full of illness and pain, deterioration and death, and rise in our spiritual bodies into the everlasting Kingdom and Family of God! We can hardly wait!
Most of us are well aware of what God has promised us. We want it! We want what this Feast foreshadows. We earnestly desire to be in the Kingdom of God!
Are We In The Kingdom?
But let me ask you a question at this point. I just want to take a quick survey. By a show of hands, how many of us here today think that the Kingdom of God is here already? How many of us think that the Kingdom of God is not here already? I know the question may be ambiguous. You might be tempted to ask, “Well, what do you mean by ‘Kingdom of God’?” I’ll explain what I mean in a minute.
Different people understand “the Kingdom of God” differently. Today I’m going to give you a working definition that may help you to see the Kingdom in a different light. In fact, my title today is, “What You May Not Have Known About the Kingdom of God.”
What is the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven? Ask a hundred people out there, and you might get almost a hundred answers! Yet, the concept of the Kingdom of God is central in most Christian religions. To some people, it means going to heaven when you die. To others, it means having the Kingdom in your heart. To many people, the Kingdom of God represents being resurrected into the Kingdom at the Second Coming of Christ, or just being “the best you you can be,” or whatever else people perceive the Kingdom to be.
Is the Kingdom of God within you? A lot of people think it is. Perhaps a more important question for us today would be: “Are you within the Kingdom of God?” You see, the Kingdom is such a monumental thing, we shouldn’t ask how it relates to us, but rather how we little bitty humans fit into God’s great plan and purpose. God’s entire vision for the future of mankind revolves around His Kingdom, and where we will be for eternity! You might say, “Ask not what your Kingdom can do for you, ask what you can do for your Kingdom.” It’s a matter of perspective.
Is the Kingdom of God in the future? Is it now? Could it possibly be now? How can we see the world around us, and the sorry state it’s in, and think that the Kingdom could possibly be now?
Today we’re going to explore what Jesus and the apostles really meant when they talked about the Kingdom, and God’s plan to set up a Kingdom. It’s not as cut-and-dry as we had once thought!
Is The Kingdom Within You?
Turn to Luke 17. There is a well-known “difficult scripture” many of us have studied over the years. Let’s examine this passage, in Luke 17:20-21 (KJV): “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Many Protestant and Catholic Bible students have been presented with this passage, with the explanation that Jesus was there to set up the Kingdom in men’s hearts. On the other hand, Church of God Bible students have been taught that this could not be the case, since Jesus was speaking in this passage to a group of evil, mean-spirited Pharisees, who would have enjoyed nothing better than to see Jesus hauled away to a Roman dungeon, or to have some other terrible thing happen to Him. Therefore, Jesus wasn’t referring to those Pharisees when He said the Kingdom of God is within them, or in their hearts!
The explanation is found in the word translated “within” in the KJV. Note how verse 21 reads in the NRSV: “nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” The New American Standard Version renders it: “nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Indeed, the word was not translated the best way in the KJV. The Greek word translated “within” is entos (Strong’s #1787), which is translated in the KJV as “within,” although it can mean either “within” or “in the midst.” Mainstream Catholic/Protestant theology would favor “within” as the true meaning, while our understanding points to “in the midst” as being the intended meaning.
Entos is derived from the word en (#1722), which can mean “inside,” but can also mean “among.” The word en is used countless times in the Scriptures to indicate what we mean in English by “within.”
If Jesus -- or if Luke as the author of the book of Luke -- had meant that the kingdom of God was resident within people, the word of choice would have been en rather than entos. So, since the word entos was used, it would be more accurate to say that the Kingdom was among, or in the midst of, the group standing there.
Four Aspects Of A Kingdom
Many of us learned that a kingdom has four components which make it a kingdom: (1) a territory, (2) inhabitants of the territory, (3) a king (hence the word “kingdom”), and (4) laws by which the king governs his people. In the case of the Kingdom of God, Christ will be the ruling King during the Millennium, the land of Israel will be the territory, the people of physical and spiritual Israel will be the inhabitants, and of course the Bible will be the book of the law. So obviously, the Kingdom could not be something Christ “set up in the hearts of men.”
Is there anything actually wrong with that explanation? Perhaps. We were taught the four aspects of a kingdom over and over, until every time we saw the word “kingdom” in the Bible, we gave it that meaning. It had to have the four aspects of a kingdom! It was simple stimulus-response: See the word, think of the four aspects.
But there are some problems with that. For one thing, such a kingdom would be readily visible to people. If the Kingdom comes with Christ, it would be plainly visible when it comes. However, Christ said that “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’”
Another problem is that the word “kingdom,” as we read in the English language Bibles, does not carry the same meaning as the Greek word from which it was translated! In other words, the Greek texts and the English translations don’t agree. We’ll get into that in a minute.
The Passage In Context
As it is with many “difficult scriptures,” greater understanding can be gained by simply reading the entire context of the passage. Let’s look at the surrounding scriptures to get a better idea:
Luke 17:20-24 (NRSV): “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’ Then he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They [whoever that may be] will say to you, “Look there!” or “Look here!” Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.”
We can see that, over the course of this passage, Jesus went from His discussion with the Pharisees about the Kingdom to a lesson for the disciples about end-time events -- along the lines of a “mini Olivet prophecy.” This would suggest that the Kingdom, like Christ’s coming, is an end-time phenomenon.
But let’s notice that Jesus is talking about more than one thing, and more than one time setting, in this prophecy. Many biblical prophecies are given in multiple steps, with multiple stages of fulfillment. This is one of those instances.
Notice that Jesus first spoke about the Kingdom, then from that point on He switched to talking about His own, very visible, coming.
Two things are noteworthy about what Jesus said in this passage: (1) The Kingdom does not come “with observation” (KJV), or as translated here, “with things that can be observed.” The Kingdom is not something people can point to and say, “There it is.” (2) Messiah is coming in an intensely visible way, “as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other”! Just based on this comparison, we can begin to see that Christ’s coming is not the same thing as “the Kingdom.”
We should be careful not to confuse “the Kingdom of God” with “the Millennium” -- those are two different concepts. That is, the Millennium is the thousand-year period of time during which the Kingdom of God will rule the nations, with Christ as King.
After the Millennium, after it’s all said and done, Christ will return all authority to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28), and the Kingdom will continue beyond the Millennium, on into eternity! Thus will be fulfilled the modern prophecy, “To infinity and beyond!”
So we see that the two concepts, Christ’s coming and “the Kingdom of God,” are not one and the same, although we have understood that the Kingdom -- Christ ruling the nations -- will be “set up” at that time.
Here’s the sad part: Because we were confident that we had the answer to this “difficult scripture” -- that the Kingdom of God was not being set up then and there in the hearts of the Pharisees, or in anyone else’s heart -- most of us simply stopped our study of this passage at that level of understanding.
What a pity. If we had studied more deeply into the meaning of what Christ was teaching, we would have had a grander concept, a bigger picture, of what the Kingdom of God really is!
Understanding The Kingdom
Part of the problem is that, in years past, our understanding of scripture in many cases began and ended with the King James Bible. Because the KJV used the English word “kingdom,” our mistake was to then go to English language dictionaries and encyclopedias to define the English word “kingdom,” and then base our theology on the English definitions! It was the gospel according to Webster!
Instead of doing that, we should have been going back to the original Greek and finding out what the Greek word meant! Once we had the picture of a kingdom, with its four aspects, firmly in our minds, we would always refer to that picture whenever we read or heard anything about “the Kingdom,” and we tried to fit the scriptures around that mental image.
Usually we were successful. But if we came across a scripture that didn’t fit into that picture, all too often we would simply disregard the scripture, since it didn’t fit our model.
That, by the way, is what takes place in the so-called scientific community all the time, when they do their scientific, medical and pharmacological research. So, if we had this particular bias in our studies, we were not alone! The great scientific minds have often fallen into the same trap.
The Real Difficulty With The Difficult Scripture
The real difficulty of this so-called “difficult scripture” in Luke 17 is not in the word “within.” The real difficulties are rather in the word “kingdom,” and in the word “is.” Whatever the Kingdom is, Jesus was talking about it in the present tense, not the future tense: “The Kingdom of God is among you!”
I think you’ll find that Messiah never referred to a “future Kingdom of God,” or a “soon-coming Kingdom of God,” or even a “Wonderful World Tomorrow”! References in the scriptures to the “latter days” or “end times” do not show the beginning of the Kingdom of God, but rather the end of man’s rule, and Satan’s sway!
We’ve been taught that the Kingdom begins at the time Satan’s rule ends, and he is taken away. But notice, when you read the Bible, that the Kingdom is usually not referred to as being in the far-flung future.
For example, let’s turn to Luke chapter 10. In the previous chapter, chapter nine, Jesus has sent out the twelve on a mission. He “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1-2).
Now in Luke 10:1-12 (NRSV):
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
[So these could be looked on as being the “advance teams to get people ready for Jesus’ public appearances.”]
2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’
6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.
8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;
9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,
11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.”
Plainly, the Kingdom was not being taught or spoken of as a far-off future event. Jesus wasn’t saying, “On that day the Kingdom of God begins.” He said, “the Kingdom of God has come near,” and “on that day [the day of judgment, in the future] it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.”
What, Then, Is The Kingdom?
Remember how, right in the beginning of Mark’s gospel, in Mark 1:14, Christ came, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.’” “At hand” in the KJV, or “near” in other versions, is translated from the Greek word eggizo (Strong’s #1448), which means “to bring near, to join one thing to another, to draw or come near, to approach.” It is also translated in other places in the KJV as “draw nigh,” “be at hand,” “come nigh,” “come near,” and “draw near.”
The concept that the Kingdom of God was quite close, both in time and space, fits in rather well with the idea that the Kingdom of God was among, or in the midst of, the Pharisees (Luke 17:21). I can even see the logic in the Catholic doctrine that the Kingdom is the same thing as the Church. These thoughts fit together rather comfortably.
However, the concept that the Kingdom is “at hand” does not fit well with the idea many of us have had, that the Kingdom was not to begin for another 2,000 years or so, when its participants would be raised as immortal spirit beings at Christ’s return! Jesus simply did not speak of the Kingdom as being something that was to begin in the far-flung future! Rather, it was a “here and now” kind of thing.
What did He mean? If Jesus was not there to set up the Kingdom in men’s hearts, how could He refer to the Kingdom in the present tense, as being “at hand,” and something that the violent can take by force (Matthew 11:12)? How can we square this with the notion that the Kingdom begins when Christ returns?
Actually, the ancient Greek-speaking “prospective member” in Judea would have understood these words differently than we do today. The Greek word translated “kingdom” in Luke 17:20-21, Mark 1:14-15, and over a hundred other places, is basileia (bas-il-I-ah) (Strong’s #932), which at that time did not mean, as we often think it means, a territory with a king and subjects. Basileia means “royalty,” and derives from basileus (bas-il-YOOCE), which means “a sovereign.”
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says, “Basileia is primarily an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion....” Over time, the word finally became associated with the more familiar “concrete noun, denoting the territory or people over whom a king rules.”
Abstract nouns describe abstractions -- non-tangible concepts, such as truth, honesty, justice -- or sovereignty. Concrete nouns define physical, existing objects, such as persons, places, and things -- and kingdoms.
Our concept of “the Kingdom” was very concrete. We thought that, like any nation today, “the Kingdom” was going to be a literal nation, something that someone could point to. But that’s not what Jesus said! He said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’” One would not be able to point to a place on the earth and say, “There is the Kingdom of God.” To add to the confusion, Jesus concluded with, “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’”
Basileia is defined in Thayer’s Lexicon as: “royal power, kingship, dominion, rule; not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom. Used of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah; used of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom.” Then the definition offers, “a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king.” Finally, “used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah.”
So the Greek word basileia does not truly convey the concrete concept our English word “kingdom” has portrayed for us in the past.
But now, that presents a dillema: If “the Kingdom of God” is not a concrete noun, then could the Kingdom be an abstraction, a non-physical concept? Might the Kingdom of God be something which has existed all along, and is not merely a literal nation on earth during the Millennium?
We need to find the answers to these questions. For all the years we’ve been in the ekklesia, we have pressed on toward the mark of our high calling, to be in the Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:14)! We have looked forward with eager anticipation to Messiah’s return and the establishment of the Kingdom on earth!
Even Romans chapter 8 points out that the physical universe, shackled as it is to physical decay, seems to stand on tip-toe waiting for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-23)!
How can we now say that what we have longed for, with such intense longing, is not the correct understanding of what God has in store for us?
Yes, We Look For Christ’s Coming
Please understand, I’m not suggesting that our faith has been in vain, or that we have been fooled into accepting a false concept, or that we have swallowed a lie regarding what the Bible teaches. Messiah is still returning; the resurrection is still our hope; we will still be sons of God, ruling the nations during the Millennium. I don’t mean to suggest that these beliefs are wrong. And I’m especially not saying that our traditional understanding of “the Kingdom of God” has been wrong.
What we are examining here is a misunderstanding of the Greek word basileia, and the English word “kingdom,” and that basileia does not mean “kingdom” in the sense that we have understood it.
Actually, once you understand the principle of what basileia really means, you will find your Bible reading so much more meaningful!
The Reign Of God
Basileia means reign, or rulership, or kingly power, or dominion, or rule.
Understanding the true meaning of the word does not in any way contradict our explanation of the “difficult scripture.” Jesus was telling His listeners, “The Rule of God is at hand. The Sovereignty of God is in your midst.” Even the Moffatt translation of Mark 1:14 reads that Christ came preaching, “The reign of God is at hand”! That’s really what the word means!
But there is still more meaning to these verses which we have missed in the past.
There’s a new South African Bible translation, called simply The Scriptures, published by the Institute for Scripture Research. They render Luke 17:20-21 this way: “And having been asked by the Pharisees when the reign of Elohim would come, He answered them and said, ‘The reign of Elohim does not come with intent watching, nor shall they say “Look here!” or “Look there!” For look, the reign of Elohim is in your midst!’” In a footnote, it is explained that Yahweh “is the embodiment of the Reign of Elohim, for He is the Sovereign of this Reign.”
The Pharisees, the great law-keepers, were looking for God’s Kingdom, while God’s rulership and sovereignty were already at hand, right in their midst -- and they didn’t even know it!
Set Up A Kingdom When?
If the King of the kingdom was there, had He come to set up the kingdom then? We had thought not. After all, Daniel 2:44 says, “And in the days of those kings [the political leaders described in Daniel’s prophecy] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed....”
One man who spoke at the Tahoe Feast site last year proclaimed that the kings in question, in this prophecy of Daniel’s, were all of the world rulers described by the statue, from the head of gold right down to the ten toes. That would shed an entirely different light on the phrase, “in the days of those kings,” because the setting up of the Kingdom would have stretched back all the way to the days of Nebuchadnezzar! That would expand our thinking about when the Kingdom was to begin!
But our traditional understanding is that the prophecy refers to the kings who were represented by the ten toes, during the last days. If so, then it says the Kingdom will be set up at Messiah’s return! Doesn’t it? Sure it does! But let’s take a closer look.
In Daniel 2:44, the word “kingdom” is translated from the Aramaic word malkuw (“mal-KOO,” Strong’s #4437), which, like its Greek equivalent, basileia, also means royalty, reign, or realm, and this word was also translated most often in the KJV as “kingdom.”
The Hebrew/Chaldean word translated “set up,” quwm, (“koom,” Strong’s #6965 & 6966) can mean to establish or begin something, but it can also mean to strengthen, rise, intensify, or rouse up.
Now: We have two choices, both of which can be supported by these scriptures:
(1) If the Kingdom is yet future, and will not exist until Christ’s return, it would be established, or set up, at the time of Christ’s return. This is the way we have understood it.
(2) If, however, the Kingdom is already in existence in some form now, then at Christ’s return it will be lifted up, and intensified to the point that it becomes concrete, and develops into something that people
would be able to point to!
The scriptures in both Testaments allow for this to be the case.
Rulership Over Whom?
If the reign of God was at hand in the days Jesus walked the earth, who did God begin to reign over? His ekklesia! His brand new New Testament assembly He was just beginning to put together, with the Messiah as its ruling Head! That’s why the rulership of God was at hand, and in their midst.
What did Christ do? He taught and trained His disciples, and sent them to go and teach, and make disciples from out of all nations, and He would be with them to the end of the age -- which is when the God of heaven will raise up the Kingdom of God (or elevate the rulership of God) to be a visible structure (Matthew 28:19-20).
When Christ returns, Satan will be chained (Revelation 20:1-3), the Kingdom of God will rule the earth (verses 4-6), and the Gentile nations will be invited to walk in God’s Way of life with the Family of God and with Israel on a large scale, and to submit to the rulership of God, just as individuals are being called now (Galatians 3 and Ephesians 2).
A Former And Latter Kingdom
The Kingdom of God is not just something that’s in the future, during the Millennium, when Christ and the saints rule the world. The Kingdom of God is the Family of God, made up of the Father, His firstborn Son, and those other children of God He has called to be in His Family -- not yet born into the Family because we haven’t gotten to the resurrection yet. Ultimately this is to include the entire human race.
Today, only the Father and Christ are eternal members of that Family. After the first resurrection, the first fruits will join the first-born Son of God as full-fledged members of God’s Family. Following the Millennium is the general resurrection, when all who have ever lived will either be changed to eternal spirit or they will perish in the Lake of Fire. We commemorate the general resurrection during the Last Great Day.
But during this age of man, those of us who have placed ourselves under the reign of God, those of us who have totally yielded themselves over to following God and His Way, are “in” (or under) the reign (the rulership) of God.
We call the Messiah our Lord and Master. He is the King of kings, and we are God’s kings and priests (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). So He is our King.
No matter how our views may differ among the various groups represented here, I think we are all in agreement that we look to Christ as our King, and that we are under the authority of God. Using that definition, I’m not afraid to boldly proclaim that we are now, today, in the Reign of God!
We have been described as “the Kingdom of God in embryo.” Isn’t an embryo the child of its father, as yet unborn? As much as an unborn child is still the child of its parents, so we, unborn children of God, are, today, the Family of God.
What About Being Born Again?
Well, if the word “kingdom” has multiple meanings, what about the phrase “born again”? We used to tie those two concepts together very closely. The Protestants teach that they are born again now. We taught that we’re not born again until the Kingdom. Now what do we do?
If there’s one thing we should have learned from years of Bible study, it’s that we still have a great deal to learn! The simple answer is this: The phrase “born again” can refer to our conversion now, and also to our resurrection later.
Remember how Nicodemus came to Jesus by night in John 3. John 3:3 (NIV): “In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’” Verse 7: “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”
The NRSV translates verse 3: “Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’” And verse 7: “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’”
These are the two most frequent variations we hear: “born again” and “born from above.”
“Born” is from the Greek word gennao (Strong’s #1080). Gennao is translated in KJV as “begat,” “be born,” “bear,” “gender,” “bring forth,” and “be delivered.” Gennao is defined as: “(1) of men who fathered children, to be born, to be begotten, of women giving birth to children; (2) metaphorically, to engender, cause to arise, excite; in a Jewish sense, of one who brings others over to his way of life, to convert someone; of God making Christ his son; of God making men his sons through faith in Christ’s work.”
In the phrase “born again,” the word “again” is from the Greek word anothen (Strong’s #509), which is one letter removed from our English word “another.” Anothen is translated in KJV, not only as “again,” but also as “from above,” “top,” “from the first,” and “from the beginning.” These are KJV translations, as found in other verses. Anothen is defined as: “(1) from above, from a higher place; of things which come from heaven or God; (2) from the first, from the beginning, from the very first; (3) anew, over again.”
As you can see, these two words, gennao and anothen, have multiple meanings, which is why “born again” has been translated a number of ways, including “begotten again,” “born from above,” and others. We might not be able to fit the phrase into a little box any more.
Being “born again” can refer to two different things: (1) our present life, when we come into the ekklesia, and (2) to the resurrection at Christ’s coming, when we are fully born as children of God.
Interestingly, the same is true for the Greek word basileia, translated “kingdom” in most English Bibles. We come under the rulership or reign of God now, when we come into the ekklesia, but all of our Christian lives are to prepare us for the resurrection, when we will become the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, actually ruling the nations with Christ (Revelation 12:5; 19:15; 2:26-27; Daniel 7:18, 27). We’ve heard that conversion is a process. Now we see that being born again, and being in the Kingdom of God, are also processes!
Scriptures For The Future And Now
(Scriptures listed in Appendix 2, below)
But what about salvation? Does that also have two meanings? I’m sorry, but it does. Salvation, too, is for both the here and now and for when Christ returns. If you look up all the scriptures that refer to the Kingdom, you’ll find that some of them talk about the Kingdom as being in the future, while others refer to the Kingdom in the present tense.
Some verses can be understood to talk about the Kingdom as being either/or -- in reference to now and the future. I won’t reference them now, for lack of time.
Do the scriptures contradict? Not at all! The obvious answer, based on what we have seen, is that all of these words -- Kingdom, born again, salvation -- relate to both our Christian life now and our hope of eternal glory as resurrected children of God forever!
Unfortunately, there have been major divisions between people who wish to follow God, because one group would have one understanding only, while another group would have the other understanding only. The inevitable result of such division is hostility, bitterness, resentment, name-calling, enraged human nature, and a complete suppressing of the Spirit of God.
If only those who have tried to follow God through the ages would have been able to see that, by going back to the original languages, we can all have a deepened understanding on so many subjects that the old understandings look pitiful and one-dimensional by comparison!
There are some rather well-known scriptures which talk about the Kingdom and seem to place it in the future. We have, in fact, relied on certain of these scriptures, while neglecting others, to show that the Kingdom is in the future.
My point is that the Kingdom is indeed in the future, but it’s not limited to the future only!
We need to examine some of these verses, to see if we have shut out certain shades of meaning, to see if we have forced someone else’s explanation onto these verses.
Thy Kingdom Come!
One of the most compelling arguments in favor of the kingdom not being established until Christ’s return (which means that the Kingdom could not be in operation today) is Matthew 6:10, where Jesus is teaching His followers how to pray.
Matthew 6:10 (KJV): “Thy kingdom come. [Period.] Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If we’re waiting, longing for the Kingdom to come, isn’t it in the future? Yet, “kingdom” in this verse is translated from the same word, basileia!
Virtually every modern Bible translation punctuates this verse so as to include both “Thy Kingdom come” and “Thy will be done” in the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is correct. Nothing in that violates the Greek.
As an example, here’s how The Scriptures translates it: “let Your reign come, [comma,] let Your desire be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Modern translations (NIV, NRSV) have Jesus saying, “Let your reign come on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Is it possible that this meaning has been obscured because of the way KJV translates it?
Are You Going To Restore The Kingdom To Israel?
Acts 1:6: “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
A careless reading of this verse might give the impression that they thought He was going to rule in His Kingdom from that moment. That’s not what they asked. They weren’t asking about the Kingdom of God. They were asking Christ if He was going to restore something to Israel. KJV says, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Israel never had “the Kingdom of God,” as we understand it, so Christ would not have been able to restore “the Kingdom of God” to Israel.
By now, knowing what we know, we should be able to look at this verse and realize that what they meant was: “Will you at this time restore sovereignty to Israel?” They still held out hope that the Messiah was going to free Judah of Roman occupation. They still didn’t quite get the picture.
It would be a few more days before the Spirit filled them, on the day of Pentecost, and they would be so filled with knowledge about God’s plan that they poured out into the streets and began preaching and proclaiming. Then they would understand what it had all been about! But here, just a few days earlier, they still wondered if Christ would restore Israel as a sovereign nation.
Flesh And Blood Cannot Inherit The Kingdom
Another passage which is used to show that the Kingdom can only come at the time of the resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15, the “Resurrection Chapter.” 1 Corinthians 15 is not speaking specifically of the Kingdom, but rather of the resurrection. As we have already discussed, the two are not exactly the same thing.
Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 15:35, “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” Paul goes on to explain the difference between our corruptible dead body, which is planted in the ground, and the glorified spirit body with which we will come up. In only one verse does he tie in the discussion with the Kingdom:
Verse 50: “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Verse 53: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” Indeed, we have always understood that to achieve full status within the Kingdom of God, a resurrection from the dead to immortality is required.
And yet, there’s that nagging realization that, in this passage, too, “kingdom” is translated from basileia. It won’t go away. There is additional meaning here, too.
To Inherit The Kingdom
The basileia of God is near us, yet mortal flesh and blood can’t inherit the basileia. What does this mean?
We need to examine the word translated “inherit” in 1 Corinthians 15:50. It is kleronomeo (Strong’s #2816), which is translated as “inherit,” “be heir,” and “obtain by inheritance.” Kleronomeo is defined as: “to receive a lot, receive by lot, esp. to receive a part of an inheritance, receive as an inheritance, obtain by right of inheritance; to be an heir, to inherit; to receive the portion assigned to one, receive an allotted portion, receive as one’s own or as a possession; to become partaker of, to obtain.”
Did you catch how kleronomeo can refer to either the heir or the inheritor?
You may recall that the ancient Israelites, upon entering the land of promise under Joshua, were assigned their portion of the land -- their inheritance -- by lot. (See throughout the book of Joshua.)
Apparently, there is the concept of the lot inherent in the Greek word kleronomeo, but this has been lost to us because we have used the English word “inheritance,” which does not paint the same mental picture for us.
If something is apportioned by lot, does that require a death, a reading of a will, and an executor to disburse the estate? Of course not.
Therefore, we may not be picturing the right thing when we say we “inherit the kingdom,” when the Greek would imply rather that we “receive as an inheritance the rulership of God.”
And what we have always taught is true: We must indeed die in order to receive this inheritance.
We die daily in the flesh now, because we have received a down payment of the Spirit. We will die physically in the future, so we may receive the full inheritance in our immortal, glorified spirit body.
When Do We Receive The Kingdom?
Flesh and blood cannot receive the reign of God as an inheritance. When do we receive God’s rulership in our lives? Only at the resurrection? Certainly not! We must receive God’s rulership of our lives at the time we accept the Messiah’s sacrifice on our behalf, at repentance and baptism!
When we acknowledge the uselessness of our own ways, when we accept the Messiah, the Son of God, as our Lord and Master, when we set our faces to walk in His Way forever after, a change of ownership takes place.
Romans chapter 6 tells the story. Romans 6:1-18 (NIV):
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin --
7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey -- whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.
18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Paul also reminds us that we “were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Also, “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
But What About Flesh And Blood?
But how does this square with Paul’s statement that flesh and blood cannot receive the rulership as an inheritance? We have taken that phrase, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom,” as literal. Literal inheritance, literal flesh and blood, literal kingdom on earth. I prefer to look at it more as a figure of speech -- and as a flawed translation.
We understand that we experience a figurative resurrection when we come up out of the waters of baptism. This will be followed by our real resurrection later, at Christ's return. Likewise, we can see that, in our lives today, we are no longer “in the flesh,” but rather “in the spirit.”
Notice Romans 8:8-14 (NKJV):
8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors -- not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
And that is about as good an explanation as you can find to show how it is that we, in this life, can, in effect, obtain the reign of God as our inheritance as children of God!
Be Like The Wind?
When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, as described in John chapter 3, Jesus explained some of the features of being “born again.” He said it is necessary to be born again to see the Kingdom (or Reign) of God (John 3:3). He then defined the term by saying that one must be born of water and the Spirit to enter the Kingdom (or Reign) of God (verse 5).
We can see from other scriptures, such as Romans chapter 6, that being born of water would refer to our baptism, when we arise out of the water in the picture of Christ’s resurrection -- and our own! Likewise, being born of the Spirit strongly implies the resurrection, when we will put on an immortal spirit body. However, it can also refer to our walking according to the Spirit in this life!
Jesus then continued to mystify Nicodemus (and many others through the ages) by saying that whoever is born of the flesh is flesh, while “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6, NKJV), and also that anyone who is born of the Spirit is like the wind (verse 8)!
If it is required to be born as a spirit being to enter the Kingdom, how can we talk of the Kingdom (or Reign) as being in the present rather than only in the future? How could we say that we are “in the Kingdom” at the present time? It’s becoming clearer that God, and the Bible writers, are using the same words to describe two separate things.
This isn’t a new concept for us. Many times we read something in the Bible that has two meanings -- if not more! We understand physical/spiritual, type/antetype, earthly/heavenly. It’s how God inspired the Bible to be written. But we may never have allowed ourselves to see these principles in that light before.
I think we can begin to see now that we, today, are living our renewed lives under the reign of God, but when we are resurrected we will truly see the full power of the reign of God. Indeed, we continue to see through a glass, darkly. But the closer we get to the time, the clearer the picture becomes!
What do we do with this information? Is there some life application we can look for? Probably not. This is just pure knowledge, for the sake of knowledge. After all, we are to grow, not only in grace, but also in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). But since we are looking for a Kingdom, it helps to refine our knowledge of what it is we are seeking.
We’ve heard it said that the grass is always greener in somebody else’s pasture. The prodigal son would have understood that saying. He found, though, that the grass was dead where he went, and it was good to go home again.
We look forward to the Kingdom of God as our home. We have seen ourselves on a journey toward the Kingdom, with various adventures along the way. We tend to live our own Illiads and Odysseys as we travel through life in pursuit of our goal.
The purpose of this message was to let you know that we are not just striving to achieve the resurrection of the saints in order to enter the Kingdom, but that we are already, in one sense, in the Kingdom today, to the extent that we place ourselves under the reign and rulership of Almighty God and our Messiah.
The battle isn’t over. We still have the rest of our lives to live. We still look forward to the real resurrection, to real life. But we aren’t just trudging down the road toward home, all alone and dressed in rags. Our Father has already seen us from afar off, and has come running, to embrace us, and to welcome us into His home -- our home.
He’s killed the fatted calf for us, and put on us a fine robe and a gold ring. And He says, “These, my beloved children, were dead, and now they’re alive.”
And even though we have walked through the valley of the shadow of all sorts of terrible things, what is it that comforts us? Our Father's rod and His staff -- His scepter of rulership, and his shepherd’s staff.
If you have taken the biggest step of your life, and have placed yourself under the authority of Almighty God for the rest of your life and on into eternity, you’re in the Reign of God.
If this is a new revelation to you, and you hadn’t considered these things before, all I can say is: Welcome home!
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A Marriage Relationship!
When the sons of God will be revealed, at the resurrection at Christ’s return, Christ will, in effect, marry the resurrected church. There are numerous scriptures about the church being the "bride of Chist." As such, we have a foretaste of eternity, a “foot in the door” of the resurrection, right now! How do we know? How can we tell we already have eternity in our grasp? First of all, we have received the Holy Spirit as an earnest, a down payment.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.”
2 Corinthians 5:5: “Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee [the margin says: down payment, earnest].”
That’s one way we know we have a foretaste of the future.
Secondly, using that Holy Spirit from God, we can see from the Scriptures that we are destined to have, not only immortality, but eternal life! Many scriptures tell us we are to obtain eternal life. In fact, God looks on it so much as an accomplished fact, that in many places the Scriptures say that we already have eternal life!
John 6:54: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.”
1 John 5:11, 13: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. ... I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Thirdly, we have been bought with a price. You may have heard that scripture already, but I don’t know if you’re aware that we were bought as a bride is purchased!
1 Corinthians 6:15-17: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘The two,’ He says, ‘shall become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
This has a direct bearing on our being in the Reign of God, now, and in the resurrection later.
This passage also applies to us today because we already have a marriage relationship with Christ -- we’re betrothed to Him already! And it shows that we will be the spiritual equivalent of “one flesh” with Christ in the resurrection.
Continuing in verses 19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [which] is in you, [which] you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Isn’t that amazing? God owns us! We’re already betrothed to Christ, as much as Joseph and Mary were betrothed before they came together. As members of God’s ekklesia, we are already, in one sense, married to Christ!
A fourth way we know we already have eternity in our grasp is that we’re being prepared throughout our life and experiences to be the Bride of Christ -- and we are to make ourselves ready! Have you noticed how church organizations have largely failed to make the bride ready, so she has taken it upon herself to make herself ready? That’s an exciting part of our life in God’s ekklesia today!
There are several instances in the epistles where family relations are taught, especially the relationship between husband and wife, because in doing so, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:32, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” The reason Paul wrote about the husband/wife relationship was to prepare the ekklesia to be the Bride of Christ! And Paul took his responsibility very seriously. He wrote, in 2 Corinthians 11:2: “For I am jealous of you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one Husband, that I may present you a chaste virgin to Christ.”
When does this marriage take place? At the resurrection, at Christ’s return. Revelation 19:7: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Our marriage to the Lamb takes place at the resurrection. The Millennium begins at the same time, at Christ’s return. So we have also assumed that the Kingdom of God begins at that time, and coincides with the Millennium. That’s why many people have thought that the Millennium and the Kingdom were the same thing. Not only are they not the same thing, but they don’t coincide in time, either.
Scriptures For The Future And Now
There are many scriptures that indicate we have salvation now: Acts 4:12; Romans 1:16; 11:11; 2 Corinthians 6:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 2:11.
And there are scriptures that indicate that our salvation is also a future event (Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 1:5; Revelation 12:10), and that we will be saved in the future (Matthew 10:22; 24:13).
But we also read that we are saved now: Acts 2:47; 4:12; Romans 8:24; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 15:2; Ephesians 2:5,8; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21.
Here are some verses, just from the book of Matthew, that refer to the Kingdom as being in the future: Matthew 5:19, 20; 6:10; 8:11; 13:43; 16:19; 24:14; 25:34; 26:29
But these verses refer to the Kingdom in the present tense: Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10; 6:13; 10:7; 11:12; 12:28; 19:12; 23:13
These verses can apply to either a present or a future Kingdom -- or both: Matthew 6:33; 7:21; 9:35; 11:11; 13:11; 18:1-4; 19:14, 23-24; 21:31, 43
This list of scriptures does not include the parables, which begin, “The Kingdom of God [or heaven] is like....” Although the parable is established in the present tense, the story is an allegory using a present-time setting, even though the story itself may refer to a future action or a future situation.