The Lord reigns as King over all things. Yet, there is another sense in which the kingdom of God has not yet fully come. Today, Barry Cooper considers the meaning behind the metaphors pertaining to God’s kingdom.
What is the kingdom of God?
According to the New Testament, the kingdom of God is something that you should “seek” before all other things; it’s something you can “enter” or “go into”; and, unnervingly, it’s something that can be “taken away.”
The kingdom of God is something that Jesus says is “at hand” or has “come near”; He also describes it as a “secret” that must be given to us by God.
It’s something that can “belong” to you or be “received”; it is “within you,” and yet it is also a kingdom in which Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all the prophets, and countless people from all over the world will live; it is something that can only be entered “through many tribulations”; it is something that the unrighteous will not inherit; it is “good news” that must be “proclaimed”; it is something that no one can see unless they are “born again.”
So what is the kingdom of God, exactly? David says in 1 Chronicles chapter 29:
“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.”
So, the kingdom of God, in one sense, is the reality that God is King of all things. In this sense, all of us, whether we like it or not, live in the kingdom of God. To paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which God, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”
But there is another sense in which the kingdom of God has not yet fully come. That’s why Jesus teaches His disciples to pray to God, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God is truly the King of all creation, but clearly, not everyone or everything has yet submitted to His kingly rule. People choose to ignore His Word, and sin and death still ravage our lives.
This is why Jesus calls people to “seek” and “enter” the kingdom of God. “Entering” the kingdom of God in this sense means to willingly submit to His reign, to gladly receive Him as Savior, and to commit to following Him as Lord.
To help us better understand the kingdom of God, Jesus tells a parable.
“What is the kingdom of God like? [He says] And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God is something that grows. It starts with something tiny, innocuous, and almost invisible (like a mustard seed) and will one day grow into something enormous—and very visible.
What is the tiny thing from which the kingdom of God grows? Tellingly, Jesus also refers to “faith” as being like a mustard seed. The point is this: faith in Christ alone is the means by which we enter the kingdom of God. And so, it is the means by which the kingdom of God “grows,” person by person.
When a person puts their faith in Christ, though it may not seem like a big deal at first, certainly from the outside, that person has already begun to be transformed and renewed inwardly. That’s why Jesus says that the kingdom is “within you.” That person’s submission to Christ’s kingly reign has begun and will continue to grow like a mustard seed within him or her until that person becomes perfectly like Christ.
And this is true on a broader scale too. Though God’s people may seem to us like a relatively small presence in the world—like a mustard seed, we might say—that presence is growing and growing, until one day, as it says in Habakkuk, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
How will this happen? Jesus gives his answer in Acts chapter 1. In fact, it was the last thing He said to his disciples before returning to His Father:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So, as we speak to others of Christ, as the gospel is preached, the kingdom of God spreads like a tree. As people respond to the gospel in faith, they are, one by one, acknowledging and submitting to the kingly rule of God. And so, person by person, the kingdom of God is growing and spreading across the face of the earth until one day—at the return of Christ—the whole earth will be living under His loving kingship.
His kingdom will have come. It will be the same on earth as it is now in heaven.