In Luke 17:20-21 Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst.” Jesus said this because He was on the earth and people could see Him, hear Him, and touch Him. He had the kingdom with Him. To be near Jesus was to be near the kingdom.
Table of contents
- The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven Are the Same
- Jesus’s Purpose During His Earthly Ministry
- The Changing Message of the Unchanging Gospel
- Jesus Spiritually Established the Kingdom of God at His First Coming
- Why Look and Pray for the Kingdom of God When It Already Came?
- Jesus Will Physically Establish the Kingdom of God at His Second Coming
- Nobody Is Born into the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is one of the most important topics in Scripture. This is the Kingdom Jesus rules over. Every Kingdom has a king, and this is the Kingdom where Jesus is King:
2 Peter 1:11 There will be richly provided for you an entrance into THE ETERNAL KINGDOM OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
Jesus brought His Kingdom Him in His first coming when He came from heaven to earth. Every believer is part of this Kingdom, because it’s the Kingdom for people who have Jesus as their King.
Matthew 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
John the Baptist paved the way for the Messiah. He said the kingdom of God is “at hand” because He knew Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God with Him.
The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven Are the Same
Kingdom of Heaven is the same as the Kingdom of God. The title Kingdom of Heaven only occurs in Matthew’s Gospel because it’s the Jewish Gospel and the Jews were sensitive to the word “God” being used. To avoid offending his Jewish readers, Matthew says Kingdom of Heaven.1
John told people what to do to prepare for the kingdom: repent. We enter the Kingdom by repentance and faith in King Jesus. That was and still is how to enter the kingdom.
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The ESV and NKJV read “at hand,” but they have footnotes that they could also read “has come near,” which is how it reads in the NIV. “Has come near” is preferrable for two reasons:
- It is past tense: the kingdom HAS COME, which it had, because Jesus brought it with Him.
- The Kingdom was NEAR is also fitting because Jesus was on the earth and people could see Him, hear Him, and even touch Him. He had the kingdom with Him. To be near Jesus was to be near the kingdom.
Jesus’s Purpose During His Earthly Ministry
The phrase Kingdom of God occurs 54 times in the gospels, and 32 of those times are in Luke. Luke is THEE Gospel that gives the most attention to the Kingdom of God. Luke 4:43 is the first time the phrase Kingdom of God occurs, and it’s very fitting:
Luke 4:42 the people sought [Jesus] and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
People were trying to keep Jesus from leaving, but He told them he had to go so he could preach the kingdom. He went so far as to say this was his purpose. We see Him fulfill this purpose throughout His earthly ministry. A few examples:
Luke 8:1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and BRINGING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. And the twelve were with him,
Jesus goes through the cities and villages preaching the kingdom of God, and then He commissions the twelve to do the same:
Luke 9:1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he SENT THEM OUT TO PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD and to heal.
The word proclaim contains kingdom imagery, because it describes a herald coming and making an announcement for the King. The Twelve Apostles would:
- announce that the King – or Messiah – had arrived
- tell people about the acts – the miracles and teachings – of the King
- escribe the King’s Kingdom
- tell people what the kingdom was like
- tell people how to enter the Kingdom
Jesus, the King, attracted huge crowds, and He preached the kingdom to them:
Luke 9:11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.
Jesus sent out the seventy and told them:
Luke 10:9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’
Jesus told the seventy if people rejected the Kingdom, they should move on but first let them know, “The kingdom of God was brought to you, but you blew it.”
There are many other verses, but you get the idea that the Kingdom of God was being preached during Jesus’s earthly ministry.
The Changing Message of the Unchanging Gospel
For now, compare Luke 9:2 and 6:
- Luke 9:2 and he SENT THEM OUT TO PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD and to heal.
- Luke 9:6 And they departed and went through the villages, PREACHING THE GOSPEL and healing everywhere.
Luke 9:2 says they proclaimed the kingdom of God and Luke 9:6 says they preached the gospel because these are the same.
They Preached the Kingdom of God in the Gospels
We say Jesus died for our sins when preaching the gospel. If we heard a gospel presentation that didn’t mention Jesus’s death, we would probably say it’s not a gospel presentation. The nagging question is, “How did they preach the gospel before Jesus died?” This can even lead to terrible conclusions like, “Maybe there was no gospel before Jesus died.” But Luke 9:6 says they preached the gospel even though Jesus hadn’t died yet.
The solution is that the revelation people had throughout history has been different at different times; therefore, the presentation – or preaching – of the Gospel has been different at different times. BUT the Gospel itself – or the way man is saved – has always been the same: by grace through faith.
In Luke 9:6 it might look odd to say they preached the gospel because there is no mention of Jesus’ death, burial, or resurrection, but it hadn’t happened yet so thy couldn’t preach it. Instead, they preached what they could at the time, which was: God become a Man in the Person of Jesus Christ, came from heaven to earth, and brought His kingdom with Him. This was the primary message in the Gospels.
Jesus began much of his teaching with, “The kingdom of God is like…” We might think it would make more sense if He said, “Salvation is like…” or “The gospel is like…” but becoming part of the Kingdom of God was being saved or believing the gospel.
They Preached the Coming Messiah in the Old Testament
Now I know the next question you’re asking…
“Okay, then what did they preach in the Old Testament before the Messiah came with the kingdom of God?”
They preached that the Messiah would come. And this brings us to the next part of lesson one…
In the Old Testament people were saved by believing God would send a Messiah, like we are saved by believing God did send the Messiah. People looked forward in faith to the Messiah coming, like we look backward in faith believing the Messiah has come.
Let me give you two verses that support this…
Galatians 3:8 God…PREACHED THE GOSPEL…to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
This shows the gospel preached in the Old Testament. We are told it was preached to Abraham. This is the prophecy that the Messiah would be one of Abraham’s descendants. That’s how “all the nations [would] be blessed in, or through, Abraham. Abraham believed this prophecy that the Messiah would come, and was saved:
Genesis 15:6 [Abraham] believed the Lord, and [the Lord] counted it to [Abraham] as righteousness.
This is justification: Abraham believed and was justified, or declared righteous, by his faith.
(NKJV) Hebrews 4:2 The gospel was preached to us as well as to [the Israelites in the wilderness].
The gospel was preached to the Israelites in the wilderness just like it was preached to us, church age believers. We aren’t told what exactly this Gospel presentation looked like, but there was some way for the Israelites to look forward in faith to Jesus so they could be saved. I think they saw Christ – or looked forward to Him in faith – through the amazing types and shadows of Christ they were exposed to in the wilderness:
- They saw Christ through the Bronze Serpent: John 3:14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
- They saw Christ through the manna: John 6:32-33 “Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, My Father gives you the true bread from heaven (referring to Himself). For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:4 says Jesus was the rock in the wilderness that provided Israel with water, so they definitely saw Christ through the Rock.
When Israel saw these types and shadows, they were seeing Christ, albeit in a veiled – or shadowy – way.
They Preached Christ Crucified in the Church
This is why there is such a dramatic change between the preaching in the Gospels and Acts. Preaching the Kingdom of God is the theme of the Gospels, so when the Book of Acts begins, we would expect to continue reading about the Kingdom of God being preached. But instead, there is an incredibly abrupt change. On this side of the cross, we preach Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection:
- 1 Corinthians 1:23 we preach Christ crucified.
- 1 Corinthians 2:2 I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
When we share the Gospel with others, we say, “Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, three days later God the Father raised Him from the dead.”
When Peter preached to Cornelius and those with him, he preached Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection:
Acts 10:39b-40 They put [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear.
When Paul preached at Antioch:
Acts 13:29-30 When they had carried out all that was written of [Jesus], they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead.
In the epistles:
- 1 Corinthians 15:3b Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4…he was buried [and] raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
- Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
On this side of the cross we preach Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus Spiritually Established the Kingdom of God at His First Coming
Jesus preached the parable of the sower. Some people don’t understand it, so the disciples asked Jesus why He speaks in parables versus speaking more plainly. He answered:
Matthew 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
He means they see physically, but not spiritually, and hear physically, but not spiritually. They see Jesus teach and they hear the words, but they don’t understand the truth.
Matthew 13:16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Old Testament saints would have loved to see and hear what people in Jesus’s day were able to see and hear. It’s interesting that Jesus mentions prophets because they are the people who spiritually see; that’s why they are also called seers. But even they couldn’t see the things the people in Jesus’s day got to see.
It’s only partially true that this refers to seeing the Messiah, because everyone could see Jesus in the flesh. That doesn’t explain why Jesus said some could see and others couldn’t. The Kingdom of God is what people could and couldn’t see:
Matthew 13:11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
Some people could see the Kingdom of God, but others couldn’t, because the Kingdom was spiritual versus physical:
Romans 14:17 The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (not physical) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (spiritual).
Spiritually blind people can’t see a spiritual Kingdom. The spiritually blindest people in Jesus’s day were the religious leaders:
Luke 17:20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, 20 he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
As we have seen, John the Baptist, Jesus, the twelve, the seventy, and probably plenty of others had been preaching the kingdom of God had come. So, how could the religious leaders ask this? It is not a sincere question. They are mocking. They do not think the Kingdom had come, because the Kingdom was established spiritually but they were spiritually blind so they couldn’t see it.2
Jesus said the Kingdom of God did not come in ways that could be observed physically. People couldn’t say, “Look here is the kingdom,” or “Look there is the kingdom!” because it was a spiritual kingdom that couldn’t be seen. But Jesus could say, “The kingdom of God is in your midst” for the same reason John earlier said the kingdom of God was at hand and Jesus said the kingdom of God was near: having Jesus in their midst meant having the kingdom in their midst.
Why Look and Pray for the Kingdom of God When It Already Came?
Right before the Second Coming is the tribulation, which Jesus describes in Luke 21:25-28. Then He teaches the parable of the fig tree to know when His coming is close:
Luke 21:29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NEAR.
How could Jesus say the kingdom of God is near at His Second Coming when we know the kingdom had been near since His first coming? Think about us praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Why would we pray for Jesus’s kingdom to come when He already brought it?
The answer brings us to lesson three…
Jesus Will Physically Establish the Kingdom of God at His Second Coming
The kingdom was never physically established on the earth at Jesus’s first coming because the King of the Kingdom was rejected and crucified. Jesus will return at His Second Coming, destroy His enemies, and physically establish His Kingdom physically on the earth.
Ephesians 1:10 [God’s] plan for the fullness of time, [is] to unite all things in [Jesus], THINGS IN HEAVEN AND THINGS ON EARTH.
God wants Jesus to unite all thing in heaven and earth, and He does that by having Jesus bring the kingdom of God from heaven and physically establish it on the earth.
Philippians 3:20 Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have spiritual citizenship while we wait for our King to return and physically establish His kingdom on the earth. When He does our spiritual citizenship will become a physical citizenship.
Nobody Is Born into the Kingdom of God
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh (physical birth), and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (spiritual birth).
Jesus’s response to Nicodemus doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what Nicodemus said. There are times it looks like Jesus either wasn’t listening or He didn’t understand what people were saying, and this is one of those instances. But it is actually the opposite. Jesus could see people’s hearts. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He could look past what they were saying to address the greatest need in their lives. In Nicodemus’s case he hadn’t been born again.
Without being born again, Jesus said people “cannot see” or “enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5). We must be born again, because the Kingdom is spiritual. We can’t enter it physically. We can only enter spiritually, which requires spiritual birth. This is why Jesus twice said to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-6). This is regeneration or being brought to life spiritually. This spiritual birth happens through repentance and faith in Christ when He becomes our King. Then we are born again into the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus used the terms Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven interchangeably:
Matthew 19:23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the KINGDOM OF GOD.”
In parallel accounts Matthew uses kingdom of heaven while the other gospels say kingdom of God. Compare Matthew 11:11-12 with Luke 7:28; Matthew 13:11with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10; Matthew 13:24 with Mark 4:26; Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30 and Luke 13:18; Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20; Matthew 18:3 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16; and Matthew 22:2 with Luke 13:29.
- In Jesus’s First Coming He was the Suffering Servant who fulfilled Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. But they were expecting the glorious Messiah who would be like Moses, David, and Solomon, all rolled into one. They expected the Messiah to deliver them from the Romans the way Moses delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptians, or David delivered the Israelites from the Philistines. They expected the Messiah to restore Israel to the golden years they knew under Solomon. All of this will occur at Christ’s Second Coming.