We know what a kingdom is. In Britain we have been ruled by kings and queens for centuries. We are a kingdom in these Isles – the United Kingdom. In recent times the powers of the monarch have been strictly limited but in earlier periods of our history kings or queens had considerable authority and power.
The second petition of the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2) expresses a desire concerning God’s righteous kingdom: ‘Your kingdom come’. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that this is the key to the history of the world.
Kingdoms, empires, republics, or whatever form of human civil government there may be at any time, rise and fall. For a while, a few powerful men (or women) feel very important. But their government always ends.
God’s government, by contrast, cannot fail, because the King who reigns is sovereign and absolute in his power. A vital perspective is given on this in Psalm 2. The nations rage. The kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord. The peoples of the earth rebel against their maker. They assert independence from God and his anointed.
In response, ‘He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision’ (Psalm 2:1-4). The Lord says through Isaiah that ‘the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance’ in comparison to the power of the Lord God (Isaiah 40:15).
What is God’s kingdom?
A kingdom is the sphere of sovereignty of a monarch, the realm in which he reigns over his subjects. We can understand that from our national life. The kingdom of God is the sphere of God’s sovereign reign.
There is a sense in which he reigns over all things. Finally, all will be brought under the explicit sovereign sway of heaven’s king. That does not mean that everyone will be saved. Those condemned to spend eternity in hell will know kingly judgement for their sins and final impenitence.
But the kingdom of God has to do with the gathering in of saved souls and the reign of the king over his subjects. This applies on earth and also in heaven and throughout eternity. This kingdom is not limited geographically, nor to any particular period of human history.
Whatever kingdoms people may belong to in this world, here is by far the most important kingdom, and one of which men and women must be citizens if they are not to be lost for ever.
Jesus urges his hearers to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33). The New Testament speaks pervasively of ‘the kingdom of God’. When Jesus began his teaching ministry, he came ‘preaching the gospel of the kingdom’ (Matthew 4:23). His message to sinners concerned the rule of God over their lives and their participation in his kingdom.
Who is its king?
The rule of the nation is inextricable linked to the person of the monarch. It is the same in God’s righteous kingdom.
‘Who is this king of glory?’ asks the psalmist (24:8). ‘The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle’, comes the answer. The Lord Jesus Christ, Immanuel, the incarnate deity is the ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Revelation 17:14; 19:16).
Christ claimed to be king when he stood before Pilate (Matthew 27:11). ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world’ (John 18:37).
He had already said to Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36). Christ is a king, but not of an exclusively earthly or worldly empire. The kingdom of God is where Christ reigns over his people, whether they are in heaven or upon the earth.
What does its coming involve?
What are God’s children asking for when they pray: ‘Your kingdom come’. Essentially, it is the progress or advance of Christ’s rule, in two most prominent ways.
Firstly, the child of God is praying for the extension of God’s righteous kingdom – Christ’s rule in the hearts of men and women. A desire is expressed that God should add to the number of his saved people throughout the earth.
There is, furthermore, a desire for the spread of the gospel, and for an increasing influence of the Word and Spirit of God in the hearts and lives of people. It is not just a case of getting people into the church, good as that is where a faithful gospel is preached. But the church is not the same as the kingdom.
Certainly we can speak of the ‘true’ Church as comprising only believers. And we can talk about the church ‘militant here below’ and the ‘church triumphant’ in heaven. In that sense the kingdom and the church correspond.
However, the church on earth is a mixture of wheat and tares, or true and false converts. It can become mixed with error, something very evident in our own day. However nearly the church may sometimes correspond to the kingdom of God, the latter comprises only those who have genuinely become a part of it.
A person may be in the church outwardly, and yet not be in the kingdom. This petition involves a desire to see the preaching of the gospel prosper as the God-ordained means of gathering souls into the kingdom.
Secondly, the child of God is praying also for the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus returns the kingdom of glory will have arrived. This is clear from the many parables of the kingdom which Jesus taught, for example, concerning the wheat and the tares, the wise and foolish virgins, the talents, and so on.
These speak of the completion of the kingdom when the King returns a second time for judgement. There will be a separation between saved and lost. The saved will hear the welcome sound from their King: ‘Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Matthew 25:34).
The kingdom will then comprise all the elect of God, united together in glorious everlasting bliss in the new heavens and new earth where only righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
As Paul puts it: ‘Then comes the end when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when he puts an end to all rule and authority and power. For he must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet’ (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).
The kingdom, therefore, has reference both to the present rule of God (the kingdom of grace) and to the final rule of God (the kingdom of glory) over his people. Believing souls will embrace both concerns when they pray: ‘Your kingdom come!’
How do people enter the kingdom?
People come in to the kingdom, firstly, through the new birth. In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus teaches that ‘unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God … unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3,5). The spiritually renewing work of the Holy Spirit is the great necessity: ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:7).
There is, secondly, the necessity of repentance on the part of those coming in to the kingdom. When John the Baptist began his ministry, he preached the need to repent because ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2). The kingdom was ‘at hand’, of course, because the King had come.
Jesus preached in exactly the same terms (Matthew 4:17). There will always be repentance in the experience of every converted man and woman. ‘Conversion’, by its very nature, implies real repentance – a turning from sin.
Faith and work
Another essential factor that accompanies entrance to the kingdom is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is submission to Christ as King.
Jesus often referred to the need for childlike trust. On one occasion he took a little child and said: ‘whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it’ (Mark 10:15). That is a strong statement.
A childlike faith in Christ is expected of people who would be part of his righteous kingdom. This challenges the people of God about their own lives and to what extent they are advancing the kingdom. A royal ruler is entitled to the love and loyalty of his people. How much more does this apply to the King of kings!
A prayer for the coming of the kingdom implies a desire and willingness to work for that kingdom through the means appointed for its advance. The children of God will desire to see the advance of his righteous kingdom upon the earth, and to be used as instruments to that end.
They will also seek, by grace, to be examples of those who submit to the rule of Jesus Christ their King in every aspect of their lives.