THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD
There has been confusion over the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God. Some teach they are the same but in truth they are not. We need to recognize the main differences between the Church and the Kingdom of God.
1. Nature of the Church The English word “Church” is derived from the Greek word “Kuriakos” that means, “belonging to the Lord”. In the New Testament the Church is translated from the Greek word “Ekklesia” that has the meaning of “a called-out assembly.” The Church refers to the people of God
Nature of the Kingdom of God The Kingdom of God refers to the realm, domain or sphere in which God’s reign is experienced. The abstract meaning of God’s Kingdom can be shown that only those who “receive the Kingdom of God” meaning those who accept God’s rule here and now, enter the realm of its blessings. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mk. 10:15)
It is possible that a person can be in the Church but not in the Kingdom of God. A person who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and is baptized has already joined the Body of Christ that is the Church, but if he does not submit himself to God’s rule over his life then he is not in the Kingdom of God. A notable example is Simon of Samaria (Acts 8:9-25).
There are only three places in the whole of the New Testament where it is recorded that our Lord Jesus Christ talked about the Church. The first one can be found in Matthew 16:18. Here He described the Universal Church that began on the Day of Pentecost. The next two are found in the same verse in Matthew 18:17. This refers to the local church that is limited by time and space. All the other three gospels Mark, Luke and John do not have the word “church” in them.
It was recorded in the four gospels that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke about the Kingdom of God about 120 times. The Kingdom of God is important to His ministry. It is central to the Gospel of our Lord. When He began His ministry He preached the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mk. 1:14-15). That means the Kingdom of God would exist very soon from the time of its announcement. According to Daniel’s prophecy the Kingdom of God would be established during the time of the Roman Empire. The Kingdom of God was established after the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven. The Kingdom Time Line is shown on this web site. Click Here
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had preached "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness." (Mt. 6:33). Jesus indicated the Kingdom of God would be established during the disciples lifetime. If it were not so then how could His disciples find the Kingdom of God? Jesus preached that in order to enter the Kingdom of God one needs to be “born of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-5). He later explained “born of water and the Spirit” refers to baptism of water and baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5; ref. 2:38-39). One does not have to wait until after the Lord’s Second Coming before entering the Kingdom of God. All one needs to do is to be baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. After His death, burial and resurrection Jesus spoke "of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The reason for teaching that is because He was preparing His disciples for the Kingdom of God that would come in all its power and glory when they received the Holy Spirit just ten days after the Lord’s ascension to Heaven. During His earthly ministry Jesus taught His disciples to preach the Kingdom of God (Lk. 9:2) The early Apostolic Church preached the Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:30-31). Throughout the New Testament one will see the importance of the Kingdom of God. There are many other distinctions between the Church and the Kingdom of God.
2. Weakness of the Church The Church is built by our Lord Jesus Christ who promised “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18). The Church began on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the disciples. It began gloriously at its highest level of spirituality, but as time advanced the condition of the Church began to decline and deteriorate. The apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:28-30) By A.D. 95 that is about 50 years after Paul had given that warning the Church had actually declined badly. This is called the apostasy or falling away of the Church (2 Thes. 2:3; 1 Jn. 2:18-19). The apostle John was given visions of the fallen condition of the Church.
· The church of Ephesus had left their first love (Rev. 2:4).
· The church in Smyrna had members “who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Rev. 2:9).
· The church in Pergamos “dwells where Satan’s throne is”. They eat things sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. They also hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans – the clergy that controlled the laity or congregation. (Rev. 2:13-15).
· The church in Thyatira “allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and beguile My servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Rev. 2:20).
· The church in Sardis had a name that they are alive, but they are dead. Their works are not perfect before God (Rev. 3:1-2)
· The church in Philadelphia did not have serious faults but had “little strength” (Rev. 3:8)
· The church of the Laodiceans was lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, so God would spew them out of His mouth. They have become wealthy and have need of nothing but God said that they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev. 3:15-17).
The seven churches in the book of Revelation represent all the visible and organized churches in the world because the number seven is a symbolic number of completeness. The apostle John had also received the revelation that God would protect and preserve the hidden or Remnant Church from the “Gates of hell”. (Rev. 12:13-17) True to His promise our Lord Jesus Christ would not allow Satan to destroy the Remnant Church that exists in every age.
Strength of the Kingdom of God The Kingdom of God is not an earthly organization like the visible and organized churches where the devil can infiltrate, attack and subdue. “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a Kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His Kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:14) Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “My Kingdom is not of this world . . . but now My Kingdom is not from here.” (Jn. 18:36) Jesus had prayed to the Father, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, just as I am not of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (Jn. 17:14-16) “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (I Jn. 5:18-19) So it is very clear that the saints of God who belong to the Kingdom of God are not of this world and they are not subject to demonic influence and domination. They conquer over wickedness and the demons. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” (Rev. 12:11)
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the “King of kings and LORD of lords”, and He rules the Kingdom of God from Heaven “with a rod of iron.” (Rev. 19:11-16) “And they sang a new song, saying: You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10; ref. 1:5-6)) God has delivered the saints “from the power of the darkness and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13-14) “To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:5-6)
The saints who are in the Kingdom of God are kings and priests to their God, therefore they triumph over the devil. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Mt. 12:28) “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’ And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Lk. 10:17-20) “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mk. 16:17-18) “For the Kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” (1 Cor. 4:20) “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Here you see the big difference between the visible and organized church on earth and the Kingdom of God. The visible and organized Church would be under the control of the demons whereas the Kingdom of God keeps the demons under their control.
What are the causes of the weakness of the Church and the strength of the Kingdom of God? The Church that is a visible organization often has administration that operates and resembles a secular corporation or government. Human governments are susceptible to errors. It usually gets deeply involved in politics and high finances. When churches tend towards dependency on their human strength and intelligence, the Holy Spirit would back off and not get involved in them. On the other hand the Kingdom of God has the power of the Holy Spirit as its strength. It is an ethereal and invisible state of relationship between the believer and the Lord Jesus Christ who said, "My Kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn.18:36). In the Kingdom of God our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of Lords and He rules His Kingdom in peace, judgment, justice and righteousness (Isa. 9:6-7). He does not make mistakes, not even a single one. We must understand the Kingdom of God dynamics and become a part of it.
A subscriber in the ARK Forum wrote that she does not like to travel more than 50 miles for one and half hours to attend a church service. I replied that she does not have to travel anywhere and spend any time going into the Kingdom of God. It is within her heart and within her reach at all times. Our Lord Jesus Christ said that one is able to worship the heavenly Father in any place and at any time (Jn. 4:21-24; Mt. 18:19-20). When you honor the Lord Jesus Christ as your King, obey Him implicitly and do His will you are in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of God is in you (Lk. 17:20-21; Mt. 6:33). This is taught by Jesus in the Lord's prayer. He prayed, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." (Mt. 6:9-13). You can experience what heaven is like when you communicate with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Spirit. The Kingdom of God becomes a reality when you pray in the Spirit (Jude 20-21). "The Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 14:17)
3. Discipline in the Church and the Kingdom of God Sometimes you see bad things happening in the church and nobody seems to do anything about it (1 Cor. 5:1-2) The church council or congregation will have to conduct a meeting to discipline the sinful and unrepentant person. (Mt. 17:18; 1 Cor. 5:9-13) On the other hand the person that sins intentionally and is unrepentant will be automatically excluded in the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31).
4. Church Administrative Systems There are church boards or councils, pastors, elders or ministers that have tight control of all matters over the congregation. That is the Nicholaitan or hierarchy system where the churches have various tiers or levels of authoritative control. God hates the “doctrine of the Nicholaitans” (Rev. 2:15). Some churches have the reverse or democratic system where the congregation controls the ministers. Both church administrative systems are not pleasing to God.
Humility and Service in the Kingdom of God The Kingdom of God is not about control but about humility and service. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught the principle of humility and childlikeness in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt.18:1-5). In the Kingdom of God there is no hierarchic system in which one person or group controls or rules over others (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35) Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh, yet “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant . . . He humbled Himself” (Phil. 2.5-8). He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (Jn. 13:14-15)
5. Schism and Divisions in the Church When the Early Apostolic Church was first established on the Day of Pentecost all the believers were in one accord. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:44) “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32) Here you see “agape love” in action. Later there were divisions within the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Today we see the one Body of Christ, the Church, splintered into hundreds of denominations. Denominationalism is carnal and not spiritual (1 Cor. 3:1-4). “There should be no schism in the Body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:25). The concept and teaching of each denomination claiming to be the only true one while denouncing all others as false ones add further horrendous confusion to the Church system. Our Lord Jesus Christ prophesied that in the End Time “then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt. 24:10-12)
Unity, harmony and love in the Kingdom of God Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed to the heavenly Father, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (Jn. 17:17-21) Our Lord was not praying for a superficial kind of unity where Christians just come together for fellowship, but one that has unity of the Spirit, truth and the common faith that affects salvation. (Jude 3) “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:3-6) In the Kingdom of God all true Christians form the “whole family in heaven and earth.” (Eph. 3:15)
The list of different church names goes on and on. Some Christians did a research in the New Testament and discovered more than fifty different names and designations for the Church. Although all these churches and congregations are called by different names, yet in the Kingdom of God they are in the one and only Body of Christ. The important thing about all these New Testament churches is that they had all believed in the same Lord Jesus Christ, had the same faith, the same water baptism and the same Holy Spirit, therefore they were all accepted by the One True God (Eph. 4:3-6). This same principle can also be applied in our time that also has the same situation. Any Christian group or congregation that has the same faith, same water baptism and same Holy Spirit is in the one and only Body of Christ - the Church. A believer in the Kingdom of God must recognize and accept the work of other Christians that do not belong to his group (Mk. 9:38-41)
Our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13:34-35) The distinguishing mark of a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is the Christian love that he has for one another. Our Lord also said that loving only the brethren in one’s own group is not true Christian love (Mt. 5:43-48). In His parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus indicated that showing kindness and love towards a person from another religious group is the love that He expects us to have (Lk. 10:29-37). In the Kingdom of God our Christian love must extend beyond our brethren in our own church denomination and group.
6. Judgment and Cleansing of the Church in the End Time In the End Time God will revive and restore the Church to the same condition as in the time of the Apostles to prepare her as the Bride ready to meet her Bridegroom who is the Lord Jesus Christ. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27) Due to the persecution by the false brethren and the devil the revived and restored church will still be the remnant or hidden church that is protected and preserved by God in the End Time.
During the process of church revival and restoration many assemblies, congregations, groups and individual believers will undergo serious attitude changes, re-evaluation and examination of themselves (1 Cor.11:31-32). “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the House of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the Gospel of God? Now if the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” (1Pet. 4:17-19)
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God will be preached throughout the world As the Church undergoes severe cleansing God opens the way for the Gospel of the Kingdom to be preached all over the world. “Then I saw an angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people – saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made Heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (Rev. 14:6-7) Our Lord Jesus Christ prophesied, "And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." (Mt. 24:14) Does anybody realize why our Lord Jesus Christ did not prophecy the gospel of the church will be preached in all the world? The answer is really simple. It is because there is no such thing as the gospel of the church. Those that preach the church are not following the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ. Saints of God will preach the Gospel of the Kingdom everywhere; on the church pulpits, on the streets, on radio, on television, and on the Internet until the Lord Jesus Christ returns. Visit the Web Site of the Kingdom of God. Please Click here.
May God bless you.
Updated on 01/13/04
Paul Wong is a Christian minister and the President of ARK International.
His ministry also serves as an architectural service company in Houston.
The ARK Forum on the Internet is international and non-denominational.