A Brief Study of the Word “Kingdom”
The word “kingdom” is a prominent feature of the New Testament. The Greek term is basileia, found 162 times in the New Testament. As with most words, “kingdom” can be used in a variety of senses, depending upon the context.
Let me provide a common example. If someone says: “I am proud of my bridge,” is he speaking of the passageway over the small stream that runs in front of his house, or is he referring to a helpful addition to his teeth? Only the larger context will tell.
Let us study some uses of “kingdom” in New Testament.
Occasionally, “kingdom” was used of a region that embraced a political territory. After her licentious dance, Herod Antipas promised the daughter of Herodius “half of his kingdom” (Mark 6:23). As a tetrarch under the authority of Rome, Herod had no kingdom of his own. His offer was an inflated exaggeration that was an index to his inflamed passion!
The Mosaic Regime
When the Lord Jesus concluded his parable of the “Wicked Husbandmen” (Matthew 21:33ff), which detailed the Jews’ persistent rejection of the prophets, and finally that of the Son of God himself, he announced: “Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (v. 43).
Here the expression “kingdom” refers to the authoritative reign of God that had prevailed for the past fifteen centuries — the Mosaic regime.
That special relationship between Jehovah and the Hebrew people would be terminated as a consequence of their murder of Christ (v. 39), and such would be transferred to a new, “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), the church (Matthew 16:18-19), called the spiritual “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). See our article elsewhere, God and the Nation of Israel.
This was the fulfillment of the angel’s declaration regarding Jesus: “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:33).
It should be noted that the Jews are no longer “God’s chosen people,” though many denominationalists so claim, and some of the political policies regarding modern “Israel” are shaped around this misconception.
Furthermore, the “kingdom” mentioned in Luke 1:33 is not a “millennial” kingdom (purported to last 1,000 years), for the Savior’s kingdom was to endure “for ever” and be “without end.”
The term “kingdom” is employed predominately in the New Testament as a synonym for the church that Jesus established. Christ uses the terms interchangeably. “I will build my church….I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:18-19).
Peter used those “keys” (a figure of speech for “authority to open”) on Pentecost, and also at the house of Cornelius (see Acts, chapters 2 and 10), by the preaching of the gospel, to admit baptized believers into the church (cf. John 3:3-5).
Christ’s “kingdom” parables, recorded in Matthew 13, anticipated the establishment of the church.
The Lord promised that his disciples would “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:30), which is shown to have been fulfilled in the church’s observance of the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 10:16, 21).
When the apostle John addressed the seven congregations of Asia (Revelation 1:4), he informed them that he was a partaker with them in Christ’s “kingdom” (vv. 6, 9).
The Heavenly Realm
Finally, the expression “kingdom” refers also to the ultimate abode of the faithful, i.e., heaven.
Paul cautioned Christians that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
The great apostle, in his final written words, confidently said: “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18).
Similarly, Peter wrote that the faithful will be supplied an “entrance into the eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11).
With so many false ideas about the term “kingdom,” the careful Bible student should study this matter with the greatest of diligence. If one discovers that he is not within the present kingdom, he should consider earnestly what it takes to enter that realm (John 3:3-5). See our article elsewhere on this site, The New Birth.
For those of this era of history, i.e., the Christian dispensation, the present kingdom is the only path for the sinner into the eternal kingdom.
Scripture references: Mark 6:23; Matthew 21:33; 1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 16:18-19; Galatians 6:16; Luke 1:33; John 3:3-5; Matthew 13; Luke 22:30; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 21; Revelation 1:4; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 1:11