Because of the use of the word “kingdom,” many view God’s Kingdom as a government similar to the types of governments we are familiar with on earth. But Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is unlike any kingdom we have ever known:
“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
– John 18:36
If the Kingdom Jesus taught about was like earthly kingdoms, his heavenly attendants would have fought to the death to prevent the capture and death of their king. That did not occur. Jesus was quite willing to subject himself to the hands of his enemies and would not allow even his earthly followers to interfere with that.
“With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
– Matthew 26:51-53
This tells us that the Kingdom of God does not subdue its enemies by carnal warfare, nor can it be defeated by carnal warfare. It is “not from this source,” meaning it does not originate or operate like earthly kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is a new idea, an ennobling concept, an elevated view of dominion that affects the heart of man, the mind of man, the spirit of man, not just his body.
The Kingdom of God revealed by Jesus is the realization and acknowledgment of God's rule within the hearts of men. It is a spiritual brotherhood whose power exists not in the strength of armies or the might of riches, but in the glory of the divine spirit that rules in the hearts of its reborn citizens.
“Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed.”
– Luke 17:20
Other translations express it this way:
“[T]he kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
– Revised Standard Version
“God's kingdom is already among you."
– Common English Bible
But if Jesus was saying that the Kingdom is within us, why would he say that to the Pharisees? Had he not denounced them as hypocrites? Yes he had, but there are a few things we must remember about Jesus’ ministry.
First, not all the Pharisees were against Jesus; many became believers and later were prominent members of the Jerusalem Christian congregation. (Acts 15:5) In fact, many were secret believers in him as was Nicodemus.
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
– John 3:1-2
So we cannot say that Jesus could not have been telling certain Pharisees that the Kingdom was within them.
And we know that at least one of the scribes was a believer:
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
– Mark 12:28-34
Further, the idea that the Kingdom would exercise its authority in the hearts of men is indicated in one of Jeremiah’s prophesies:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
– Jeremiah 31:33
While it seems appropriate to call it a Kingdom or a divine government, it is truly more of a brotherhood – a family or a fraternity – where God is our Father, and we are all brothers. It is the experience of the spiritual relationship between God and man, and man with each other. We might liken entrance into the Kingdom of the Heavens to acceptance into a professional association, like an attorney who passes the State Bar or a doctor who acquires his medical license. From that point on, they are a part of their unique communities and are subject to higher standards of behavior, though they live and interact in the same world as everyone else.
Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom has a double nature. He taught that the Kingdom of God on earth would be accomplished by the doing of the will of God on earth; whereas the Kingdom of God in heaven is the ever-present reality that believers can share in the future where the will of God is done more divinely.
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
– Matthew 6:9-10
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
– John 14:1-3
Unfortunately, by describing the Kingdom of God as a government, the early Christians found themselves in direct conflict with the Roman government. Much of the persecution of early Christians originated from this misconception more than from their faith in Christ Jesus. And this misnomer continues to cause problems for Christians today.
By referring to the Kingdom of God as a coming government that will engage in carnal warfare with worldly governments, the Christian message appears to be a threat to national sovereignty. We create our own persecution when we advance theories such as these.
The truth is that the Kingdom of God will enhance the citizenry of any and every nation and government which will naturally create better living conditions for all who hear and exercise faith in the message, and enter into the spiritual brotherhood. In this way, the enemies of Christ are subdued, ‘not by a military force, nor by power, but by my spirit.’ (Zechariah 4:6)