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Kingdom, where will it be?

QUESTION: "You talk about a Kingdom on earth. I believe in the Kingdom of heaven. Does the actual location of the Kingdom really matter, as long as we end up being with the Lord?"

ANSWER: Taking the surface meaning of the question, the simple answer must be: 'No, it doesn't matter. If a believer is rewarded by being given eternal life in the Kingdom of God, its location becomes incidental.' But the question's wording hides the real issue. The implication is: 'Why argue about a subject that is relatively unimportant?' And the answer to this implication is: 'We should determine what the Bible teaches on the subject, and then respond accordingly.'

The Bible clearly teaches that the Kingdom of God is to be established on earth by Jesus Christ at his Second Coming, in fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham, David, and the apostles. This teaching is plainly laid out in both Old and New Testament, and is one of the key elements of the Gospel. Given this amount of information on the subject, it seems reasonable to conclude that God has placed importance on the location and nature of His Kingdom. Given its importance, location of the Kingdom is an issue and needs to be rightly understood, lest the misunderstanding affect the belief and walk of the believer.

Start with the evidence in the Gospel of Matthew. What did John preach? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat 3:2). Jesus preached exactly the same thing (Mat 4:17), and his ministry in Galilee was described as "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease..." (v 23). The Sermon on the Mount explicitly mentions "the kingdom of heaven" seven times (Mat 5:3,10,19,20; 6:10,33; 7:21), as Jesus seems to be teaching the way of life required of his disciples in order to gain entrance to the kingdom.

Significantly, in Mat 6:9,10, Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the kingdom to come (from God in heaven), not that they might go (to God in heaven). The words "kingdom of heaven" are not equivalent to "kingdom in heaven" -- a phrase which is never found in Scripture. The first phrase, however, is found many times in Scripture, and indicates a "heavenly kingdom", ie, a divine kingdom originating with God, who dwells in heaven.

This point is borne out in Mat 19:23,24, where the phrase "the kingdom of heaven" is restated as "the kingdom of God". In other words, "of heaven" should not be construed as being indicative of location but of character. "Of God" is synonymous with "of heaven". So when Matthew writes: "many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven... " (Mat 8:11),
his phraseology is comparable to Luke's version: "When you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God... And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God" (Luk 13:28,29).

Here location is implied, for the directions of east, west, etc. refer to earthbound men, not people existing in heaven. And the wording comes from Zec 8:7,22, where the text speaks of Gentile nations coming to Jerusalem to be with the LORD.

The Matthew/Luke reference to Abraham and his sons is not by accident. God's promise to Abraham that he would inherit the land of Canaan "as an everlasting possession" (Gen 13:14,15; 17:8) is explicitly given to Isaac (Gen 26:3,4) and Jacob (Gen 28:13). That land -- occupied by modern Israel today -- is the promised land (Exo 3:15-17; 13:5,11), the land of everlasting inheritance to be received (still in the future) by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the faithful who have lived throughout the ages (Heb 11:8-16,39,40; Rom 4:13-16).

The logic in Gal 3 powerfully reinforces the idea of all believers inheriting the promised land of Israel along with Abraham:

"It is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham... those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham... in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith... and if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal 3:7,9,26,29).

So clearly the location of the Christian reward is earth, not heaven.
The connection between the promised land and the Kingdom of God is just as plain. Consider the angel's words to Mary concerning her son Jesus:

"...The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32,33).
The passage connects "throne", "David", "Jacob" and "kingdom", and certainly refers back to God's promises to David, which foretold a descendant who would rule over the people of Israel for ever (2Sa 7:12-16; 1Ch 17:11-14). See how plain God's words to David are: "I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son... I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom for ever and his throne shall be established for ever."

David reigned over the people of Israel from Jerusalem for 33 years (1Ki 2:11). Thus Jerusalem was the throne city of the kingdom of Israel, a kingdom very much on earth, not in heaven. That past reality is the basis for the future kingdom of God on earth; this kingdom is the subject of Isaiah's straightforward prophecies (Isa 9:6,7; 2:2-4; 11:3-10), and it is certain to be restored by Jesus upon his Return:

"Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mat 19:28).
"When the Son of man comes in his glory... then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations... Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you... ' " (Mat 25:31-34).
This glorious message of a divine kingdom on earth was the thrust of the apostles' early preaching before they had any understanding of the sacrifice of Christ (Luke 9:2,6,44,45). After 40 days of instruction by the risen Christ, the apostles still were keen to ask: "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). They did not ask about going to heaven. They asked about the time of the kingdom being established again on earth. The matter was one of great importance to them, and thus should be of great importance to disciples today.

Being told that the time was not yet, the apostles were commissioned to preach the gospel "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8) and assured that Jesus would return (v 11). So the apostles went out and preached the gospel, pointing out the connection of Jesus with the Davidic (Acts 2:29-32; 13:32-39) and Abrahamic promises (Acts 3:20-25; 7:5; 26:6,7). Their preaching definitely kept the "kingdom of God" as a preeminent part of the gospel (Acts 8:12; 28:23,31).

Since the plain Bible teaching is that God has promised the earth as a reward for the faithful, the issue goes far beyond location. The real question is whether a reader of the verses cited can in good conscience continue to believe that heaven is the place of reward.
If God has provided so much information about the kingdom on earth in fulfillment of His promises, then surely He intended us to know where the kingdom would be. Location on earth is something we humans can comprehend, and thus we can meaningfully pray for the kingdom to come here. God's Kingdom on earth should be the accepted truth of the matter. That was the belief into which New Testament men and women were baptized (Acts 2:38,41; 8:12). Today's disciples must believe and do the same.


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