As Jesus Christ came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God, He said that this Kingdom is “at hand” (Mark 1:15). What did He mean by this?
In our article “The Time Is Fulfilled: Four Proofs Jesus Was Messiah,” we saw how Daniel 9:25 indicated that Jesus would begin His ministry in A.D. 27. Just as God through His prophet Daniel had predicted, Jesus arrived at this time to begin preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. As Jesus noted, the time of waiting for Him to preach the gospel was over. This important step in God’s plan had been fulfilled, and now the Kingdom of God was at hand.
What did Jesus mean when He said, “The kingdom of God is at hand”?
Understanding this question has been confusing for many. Some have assumed that the Kingdom is simply in one’s heart. Others have suggested that it is the Church. Others say that this Kingdom is in heaven. Few have been able to accurately harmonize the teaching on this subject in the Old Testament with what is revealed in the New.
Before we focus on what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God being “at hand,” we need to carefully consider what the Scriptures reveal about the Kingdom of God before Jesus’ preaching. Then we will have a basis for understanding Christ’s statement.
The Kingdom of God is mentioned in the Old Testament
In the second year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the monarch had a dream predicting three major gentile empires that would follow his Babylonian Empire (Daniel 2:1-43). Historically, these successive empires turned out to be the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires. God, through Daniel, gave the interpretation of the king’s dream (verse 19).
The last part of the dream and its explanation was: “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (verse 44). From this passage we can see that the Kingdom of God will rule over all people and nations.
God reiterated this point through the prophet Zechariah, who in describing the second coming of Christ to earth said, “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9). This point is restated in several New Testament passages (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 11:15; 17:14; 19:16).
What and where does Christ say the Kingdom will be?
When Christ appeared on earth as a human, it was clear that this Kingdom did not yet rule over the earth, and the early Christians eagerly awaited its arrival. Unfortunately, this teaching regarding the Kingdom of God being a kingdom that would come to earth and replace all civil governments disappeared from mainstream Christianity over the centuries following Christ’s death.
As previously noted in this series, historian Edward Gibbon documented how this teaching of the Kingdom of God being a literal kingdom gradually disappeared from mainstream Christianity. Most churches today consider this teaching archaic and outdated. See “The Four Elements of a Kingdom” below for further explanation of how the Kingdom of God will indeed be a literal kingdom here on earth.
As for the “what” and “where” of the Kingdom, the Old Testament revealed that it would be a future kingdom to be established on earth, first ruling over humans for a thousand years and then continuing for eternity.
Jesus’ teaching that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15) began adding to the understanding of the Kingdom of God. In His statement that the Kingdom of God was at hand or “near,” as the Bible in Basic English and Good News Translation have it, Jesus was saying that He, as the representative of the coming Kingdom of God, was available to teach people about this future Kingdom.
Who will be in the Kingdom of God?
In the time of Daniel, God had revealed through the prophet that “the saints [those studying, learning and living in accordance with God’s law] of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (Daniel 7:18).
This prophecy indicated that the saints and this kingdom would be eternal, but there were few details about how people could enter this Kingdom.
People who faithfully respond to Jesus’ gospel are destined to rule with Him as kings and priests over the physical nations and peoples who will exist when He returns (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). But an important concept to note is that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50).In order to become a member of this Kingdom, one’s human body must be changed to a “spiritual body” (verse 44). As Paul put it, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (verse 53). The Kingdom of God will include faithful followers of Christ who have been changed into spirit.
These spirit beings who were previously mortal will assist Christ in ruling over the mortal humans who remain alive on earth after all the devastation that will occur prior to His return. Thus, an eternal kingdom composed of and administered by spirit beings will rule over mortal humans during the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth.
Of course, since this is an eternal kingdom, it will continue forever even after the millennial reign of Christ comes to an end.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
Even though God’s Kingdom will not be established on earth until Jesus returns, He expects His followers to be seeking His Kingdom now. As Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, King James Version).
Seeking God’s Kingdom “first” means giving it the highest priority in our lives. Illustrating this point, Jesus likened this Kingdom to a “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46).
What else can we do to seek this Kingdom? We can regularly pray for it to come. We learn this from Jesus’ instruction on how to pray.
“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come,” He said (Matthew 6:9-10).
We also seek God’s Kingdom when we seek God’s righteousness, in the sense that we’re preparing to be rulers with Christ in it. Jesus will rule in righteousness, and His Kingdom will bring justice and equity to all. When we live now by God’s laws, we internalize God’s values and prepare for our future roles assisting Jesus in His role as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).
For additional study on this responsibility, see the article “Seek First the Kingdom of God.”
The Church and the Kingdom of God
Because Christians are expected to seek God’s Kingdom now, some have assumed that the Church is God’s Kingdom on earth. While God does want Christians to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), the Church is not the Kingdom.
A good way to describe the relationship between the Church of God and the Kingdom of God is found in the words of the late Herbert W. Armstrong. This religious educator said that the Church is the Kingdom of God in embryo.
Similar to the way an unborn human embryo grows in his or her mother’s womb, Christians in this life are growing in understanding of God and His righteous character. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins and, upon our repentance and baptism, encourages us and empowers us to live God’s way of life. But our spiritual birth and entrance into God’s Kingdom will come when Jesus returns and our bodies are changed into spirit.
As Paul noted: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53.
Now that we have the basics regarding what the Kingdom of God is and what God expects of us in preparing for it, let’s consider a few passages that are often misunderstood.
Is the Kingdom of God within you?
One day when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, He answered: “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21, emphasis added). From this passage some have mistakenly concluded that the Kingdom of God only exists in people’s hearts or minds.
While the Kingdom of God currently exists in heaven, it is destined to also encompass all peoples and nations here on earth.The Greek word entos, which is translated “within” in this passage, can also be translated “in the midst of” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “Within”).
Several Bible translations (including the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the Modern King James Version and Green’s Literal Translation) use this “in the midst of” translation.
What Christ was saying was that He, a representative and the future King of this coming Kingdom, was standing in their midst. Without doubt, this is the better translation since the Kingdom of God was not in the hearts of the skeptical religious leaders Jesus was answering.
While God’s Kingdom is to be in our hearts and minds, the Kingdom of God is far more than a philosophic mind-set. For further study of Luke 17:20-21, see the Life, Hope & Truth article “The Kingdom of God Is Within You.”
Citizenship in heaven
In Philippians 3:20, Paul said that “our citizenship is in heaven.” Based on this passage, some have mistakenly assumed that this means Christians will go to heaven in order to become part of God’s Kingdom. As we have already seen, Jesus Christ will return to earth and establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.
While the Kingdom of God currently exists in heaven, it is destined to also encompass all peoples and nations here on earth.
As John saw in vision: “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’” (Revelation 11:15). Christ will bring the “times of restoration of all things” to the earth (Acts 3:21).
Learn more about the good news of the Kingdom of God Jesus preached (Mark 1:15) in our related articles:
- “Messiah’s Message: Gospel of the Kingdom.”
- “The Time Is Fulfilled: 4 Proofs Jesus Was Messiah.”
- “Messiah’s Message: Repent.”
- “Messiah’s Message: Believe in the Gospel.”
The Four Elements of a Kingdom
Four key concepts are involved for a human government to exist. These are:
- Territory. A civil authority must have land over which it exercises its authority. Borders separate nations for the purpose of determining jurisdiction.
- Subjects. Every government must have subjects over which it rules.
- Laws. All nations have laws that their citizens are expected to obey. Furthermore, compliance with these laws is enforced through courts of law set up by the government. If laws have been broken, punishments are determined and enforced upon the offenders.
- Ruler. Every government must have a ruler. No matter the form of government, someone must lead the subjects and oversee the government.
The Kingdom of God that will be established on the earth when Jesus Christ returns will have all four elements:
- The territory that the Kingdom of God will rule over includes the entire earth.
- Its subjects will include all humans who are alive.
- The laws of the Kingdom will be those of God found within the Bible.
- And the ruler will be Jesus Christ.
About the Author
David Treybig is a husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife, Teddi, have two grown children and seven grandchildren. He currently pastors the Austin, Texas, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He has served in the pastoral ministry for over 40 years, pastoring congregations across six states.