Kingdom of God Definitions

Shelterglen University
School of Theology

Kingdom Reality 


               The Kingdom of God can be a very mysterious thing and yet a very tangible thing at times. Sometimes in our journey of faith in Christ we can see the Kingdom of God effecting and changing things in and around us. Other times the Kingdom of God gives us the feeling that it is just “out there” somewhere.

                In Luke 17:21 Jesus said “The kingdom of God is in your midst." (NAS) Here Jesus was implying that the Kingdom of God is all around you. He was saying that it is “everywhere”, including within us as believers in Him. Laying aside the spiritual complexity of this statement, this was a very dangerous public and political statement for Jesus to indulge himself in. In the first century Roman Empire, there was only “one” Kingdom and generally the word “kingdom” was only used in public conversation as referring to the Roman Empire. Any other “kingdom” was contrary or in opposition to the Roman rule and authority it exercised over the then known world. Too much talk about any other kingdom than Rome would be like burning an American flag as an act of public rebellion in today’s North American society. It might not get you thrown in jail, but it would keep you in a spotlight of strong suspicion.   

                Making a positive identification and/or definition of the kingdom of God is sometimes very difficult for those who have never experienced it or lived under its rule. Some might say that the kingdom of God is “the church”. But then you would be confronted with the puzzling dilemma of knowing which church was indeed the true image of the Kingdom of God. Would any church qualify? Would it be the Protestant Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church or some other smaller sect of Christianity.

               Neither can the Kingdom of God be the Old Testament nation of Israel, or even the current political entity of the State of Israel in the middle-east. In the Christian faith, many eschatological teachers promote such shadowy images when they  continually  choose   to   interpret  what   they   perceive  as futuristic prophetic scriptures by the methods and the influence of fleshly oriented tangible filters.              

                 We must always acknowledge the reality of the fact that the Kingdom of God is the actual rule and authority of God here on earth, and in all of His creation. God is the ultimate sovereign power. He is in charge. The “buck stops” with Him. God is “the King”. Because Jesus Christ is God incarnate (in an earthly form), Jesus Christ is King of this earth, even though He is obviously not recognized as such by the vast majority of mankind and its political establishments.

                  Many in His day (the first century AD) thought He would be a political redeemer and a literal king. They were attracted to His ministry because of the common desire amongst the Jews for freedom to once again become their own political state. Jesus was somewhat different than many of the messianic figures that walked the Israeli streets and Galilean roadways of the early first century. This was because He not only invoked many miraculous works into the weave of His earthly ministry, but He also spoke of a radically new way of looking at one’s daily circumstances and personally ability to maintain a relationship with God. He presented a set of doctrines and spiritual tools that could assist the individual to build a relationship with God that could be experienced for the benefit of that individual, and not just for the political state of Israel.

               The captive state of Israel was indeed a very apocalyptic environment. Many were looking for political change. Few were looking for spiritual change, even though the vast majority of the population saw the Jerusalem Temple priesthood of their day as being exceptionally corrupt. But most saw that the solution to this spiritual problem would ultimately come through an apocalyptic experience. If only God was Caesar instead of current ruling Roman Emperor - then it would all change for the better.

               Their concept of “the end of the age” was not the end of the world, like we  often  express  it  today.  Their  concept  of “apocalypse” was not that the world would come to a screeching halt and be blown to bits and pieces. We often think that this is the only way that a paradise of peace and tranquility can be finally established. 

               Their concept was that God Himself or His exclusively appointed messiah(s) would appear on the scene and take control of this world’s political and religious systems. This is why many of that day felt there would actually be two messianic figures. They would conquer that which was to be conquered and establish God’s rule and authority (His Kingdom) using the people of Israel (the Jews) as the primary ruling constituents of that Kingdom. Jerusalem would not only be re-established, but also rebuilt to become the very epicenter of world trade and social affairs. It was a very physical / flesh oriented concept of God’s Kingdom being established here on earth. Anything that was spiritually associated with such a transaction was obviously secondary in importance.

               That is why when Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry He did not attract the multitudes on a regular basis. The New Testament only speaks of a couple of occasions where the multitudes gathered to listen to Jesus teach. In each situation, there were always miraculous works that had preceded such events. These people were gathering in expectation of their physical needs being met. The teaching was secondary and probably in most cases was considered to be a necessary process to receive the benefit of the miracles they hoped He would perform on their behalf.

                As we will find out further in this book, Jesus did not come to be a literal earthly “King”, but to initiate and establish the Kingdom of God in its rightful context and perspective. That did not have anything to do with conquering Rome or destroying the infidels of any other intruding pagan influence. It was all planned around a victory over sin that would take place on a hill outside of Jerusalem called Mount Calvary. Then it would be followed up by  the  hope  fulfilling  elimination  of the power of death some three days later at the door of an empty tomb. The very resurrection of Jesus Christ from the mortal dead would be the event by which all who place their trust in this redeeming “Kingdom” event could find an eternal residency in that  Kingdom of God, living with His only beloved Son Jesus Christ. So in a sense, the resurrection of Jesus is a metaphoric “coronation”, because of the new life in Christ it represents to those of us who place our trust in Him

                 It is a Kingdom that shall know no end. It is a Kingdom that cannot die, even though there have been many obituaries written for it. It is a Kingdom that no army of earth can conquer and no force from hell can extinguish. While it is eternal in the heavens, it is enacted within us here on earth.     


 Eating and Drinking


                 Paul writes a very key descriptive passage regarding the Kingdom of God to the church at Rome. He writes in chapter 14, verse 17 “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (NAS). This is a summary description that is packed full of truth, and yet, it is seldom closely examined. It is looked at as poetry or an over simplified explanation for the Kingdom of God. When in fact it is a very articulate description that we must unpack to receive some portion of its depth and detail. 

                Before Paul can tell you what the “kingdom” is, he must tell you what it is not. He says it is not “eating and drinking”. This does not mean that those who reside in God’s kingdom cannot or should not eat food or drink liquids to sustain their mortal existence. This simply means that it is not directly related to things of the flesh like the metaphoric example he presents in the phrase “eating and drinking”. It is not about having a great big “Christian” party. Fellowship in the church is a vital element of interaction that helps us connect and support one another in our faith. But in this passage Paul is declaring that it is not what the Kingdom of God is made up of.   

                The Kingdom of God is not about indulging the flesh. We tend to want to continually keep ourselves busy doing this and doing that. We stay busy thinking that the more we do the better we will be. Or we may think that the more works we accomplish, the better off His kingdom will be. When in fact, sometimes what we are doing is not very “kingdom” oriented activities at all.

                We can actually get caught up in the process of building our own kingdoms of materialism, prestige and physical abilities. This distracts us and sometimes it is even able to deceive us into thinking that what we are doing (in the literal physical sense) is beneficial to the Kingdom of God.

                 There is a test by which we can determine if what we are “doing” is what we need to or are being called by God to be and do in and for  His  Kingdom. The  test is “Are you willing to give up anything and everything at any moment?” Because if what you are going to do, or participating in through the flesh oriented activities is for your benefit or your personal kingdom, than you probably won’t be willing to give it up at any moment. Whereas, if God calls you away from whatever you are literally and physically involved in, to go and do something else in His kingdom, and it is not for your benefit or your own kingdom, you (if you are properly related to God through Jesus Christ) will probably be very willing to obey His requests. Why – you might ask? Very simply, because it is not for your benefit or kingdom, but rather, it is for His Kingdom. If it is for His Kingdom instead of yours, you have nothing to loose by giving up whatever it is you are involved in and acting in obedience to His commands.         

              Paul writes to Timothy saying “For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”. 1 Timothy 4:8 (NAS) In other words dealing with the things that are flesh-related outside of how the Kingdom of God impacts the flesh, is fairly useless. Things that are of and pertain to the flesh are temporal and destined for destruction. This does not mean that things that are literal or of the flesh are wicked or sinful. But it is obvious that the world is constantly deteriorating because of the influence and presence of sin all around us. And so nothing that is literal or physical is permanent. If it is not permanent, it is naturally not good wisdom to spend a lot of time on it, especially when it is not something that is relevant to our basic needs.

             This does not imply that we should not work or hold an occupation whereby we satisfy the basic human requirements for survival, such as food clothing or shelter. But it does speak volumes about our priorities when it comes to how we spend time living in and for our own kingdom as opposed to living in and for His Kingdom. When Paul uses the phrase “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking”, the implication can also be easily made that it is not about building a literal or physical organization we can call the “Kingdom of God”. So many times down through history we “the church” (or a fraction thereof) think that we are called to build this ultimate organization which functions wholly and in some pseudo form of perfection so as to represent a literal representation of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

             Various Christian denominations try to breed ministers or plant churches in this horribly vain mentality. They write and rewrite their constitutions and statements of faith to try and reflect this. They dream up new programs that will grow them to look like this massive image of the over whelming God they barely have much more than a saving knowledge of. After a period of time, it ultimately evolves into an image of what they think the Kingdom of God is or should be. Because it is made up of “eating and drinking” or flesh related activities, it generally bares absolutely no resemblance to God’s genuine rule and authority here on earth.

             Para church ministries and other ministry organizations do exactly the same thing. They seem to be excellent at cloning each other to become “Jim and Tammy Faye” / “Paul and Jan” look-a-likes. This happens so much that the ministerial genetic inbreeding causes not only the world to become ill, but it also causes most of the North American cultural Christian community to become nauseous also.

            It has become utterly ridiculous. We have para-church ministries for this and para-church ministries for that. We have para-church ministries that actually compete against each other for ministry opportunities. Unfortunately, it is because the genuine church of Jesus Christ is not involved enough in necessary ministries. These para-church ministries dominate the airwaves, begging you for your “donatable dollars”. When it is all boiled down to percentages, it almost always ends up to be a double digit collection budget and a single digit ministry affect budget. Eventually, it usually  all becomes “eating and dinking”. It is all primarily works of the flesh and very little, if any at all, productivity and usefulness in God’s Kingdom.

                It doesn’t resemble the Kingdom of God because it is not based in the Spirit of God’s activities here on earth. It is usually based on a leader’s desires that come out of a fantasized kingdom that has serious religious connotations or similarities. Most of these religious organizations claiming to do God’s will or claiming to represent the activity of His kingdom have absolutely no Biblical example for operation in principal or theory. They just woke up one morning after a wild-eyed night of “eating and drinking” (dealing in the flesh) and said “Here’s another idea how we can make some money in ministry.”

               Jesus himself pronounced the sentence on such activities. In Matthew 6:24 He says "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (NAS) Jesus is literally saying that we cannot have it both ways. It will eventually come down to a choice of participating in and serving in God’s Kingdom or developing and serving in your own kingdom. The word “mammon” that is used in this text literally translates to the word “wealth” or personal gain. That is exactly what we are looking for when we are trying to advance or build our own kingdom. Our kingdom is all about personal and tangible wealth (real or imagined). Our kingdom is “eating and drinking”. Jesus describes the polarity between our kingdom and God’s Kingdom so strongly that He says we will end up hating the one and loving the other.

                  It is very important to know whose kingdom you love and are serving in. Is it the organizations of man’s perceptions of God’s Kingdom, or the indulgencies of the flesh that are extremely temporal? Is it God’s Kingdom and His ultimate will and plan for your usefulness and productivity in His Kingdom that matters the most? Which one do we truly love and which one do we hate?             


Three Basic Words 


                After Paul states what the kingdom of God is not in Romans 14:17, he then proceeds to describe God’s Kingdom in three basic words. They are righteousness, peace and joy. These are three basic words that have a somewhat strong spiritual implication to most people who have had any measurable exposure to the Christian faith. However, to the person that has had no religious experience, these words might not seem like they go together.

                Paul lists these three words in this text in a very intentional order. Many people who read this text have a tendency to read this description of the Kingdom of God quickly, and mentally lump the three together into one unified description. While that perception is not wrong, it does not allow the reader to receive the full exposure of what the apostle Paul is really saying.

               Without reading more into Paul’s text than what we should, let us look deeply at those three words in their definitive theological terms. They will yield a very encouraging and motivating spiritual impulse into our understanding of the Kingdom of God and how we are called to be productive and functionally active in it as believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

           The word “righteousness” can be a very religious word. We often say things like “We serve a righteous God” or ‘We must live righteous lives”. But what does this word righteousness really mean when Paul uses it in this application. Paul theologically combines the meanings of holiness, justice and innocence into this descriptive application by using the word righteousness.

                 Righteousness in the Kingdom of God displays the holiness of God. God is pure. I John 1:5 describes God this way. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (NAS) The lack of any and all spiritual “darkness” in His (God’s) constitutional makeup, makes God completely perfect. Jesus is the earthly  reflection  of the  righteousness of God. When God’s righteousness is projected through His Kingdom, we not only experience that holiness, but it affects who we are and how and why we do and say what we do. His righteousness is ultimately integral to the very existence of His kingdom.

                 Peace is something that everyone desires to experience. Only those who are spiritually infected with unrepentant sin and full of evil self-preservation refuse to have any format of peace in their lives. They are always aggressive to anyone who is not like them or positioned in their favor for them.

                Peace can be defined as quiet and prosperity. Outside of God’s Kingdom, there is no peace. The world is in constant turmoil because of the affect of sin. The opposite of peace is turmoil and trouble. Unless you are a part of God’s Kingdom, you have no chance of obtaining real and genuine peace in your life. You may be able to experience a synthetic temporary version of peace. But the “real thing” never shows up outside of your inhabitation of the Kingdom of God. Only under the rule and authority of God’s Kingdom, which is resided over by His only Son Jesus Christ in your life, will you ever be able to experience a genuine lasting peace, despite your circumstances and situations. 

                The Old Testament passage in Isaiah says “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (NAS) Jesus Christ, the only Son of God that was given to us is indeed the Prince of Peace. It is only through His atoning act at Calvary that we can find the peace that we have when we live in and under the authority of His Kingdom.

                  Paul says in Colossians 3: 15 “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (NAS) It is very interesting to note the use of the word “rule” in this verse. It is a verb. By this we know that the peace that is produced by God’s Kingdom actually does something. It is active. It rules with authority by its very display. That rule over us provides direction and boundaries that can keep us in the realm of experiencing that genuine Kingdom peace.

                 The peace that we experience in God’s Kingdom also protects us. Notice how Paul writes to the church at Philippi in Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NAS) He says that the peace of God literally guards, or protects our hearts and our minds. Then we must ask “What does it protect us from?” It protects us from the constant turmoil and problems the world puts before us and subjects us to every day. It does not always functionally eliminate the turmoil and the problems, but instead it gives us the rational ability to exist in God’s Kingdom despite them.  

           Joy is the emotion that has virtually unlimited boundaries of expression. It can be used to express elation, hope and confidence. It can even be somewhat confusing when we see others express their joy through tears. This is because we often associate tears with sadness or pain.

           Joy is literally defined as a happiness and cheerfulness that is the result of contentedness. This is why Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. (NAS) Paul’s state of contentedness allowed him to be joyful, regardless of the conditions and terms of his mortal life.

             If peace is the foundation of contentedness, it stands to reason that joy in our lives is only a natural result of living and dwelling under the rule and authority of God in His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is a place of great joy because there is Godly righteousness and Godly peace there also.

             These three basic words are in a very specific order. It is indeed a very unique and defining order. It was not an accidental order that Paul penned them in. Paul had no knowledge that we would be reading this letter some 2000 years later. In fact Paul probably wondered how many people in Rome would actually hear the words he was addressing them with. It was very possible that if certain contingents of the Roman guards took possession of the letter prior to its arrival in Rome, it could very easily be censored or even destroyed. So Paul was addressing them in a letter and making every effort for every word to count in its meaning. 

               These three basic words make a “spiritual sandwich” that Paul describes in this passage. The meat of the sandwich is peace. But it cannot be a complete sandwich without the top and bottom of righteousness and joy. Between righteousness and joy is the word peace. It is because you cannot have righteousness as a lifestyle of Godliness unless God’s peace rules within you. Neither can you experience the joy of God’s Kingdom unless you have the peace of God actively functioning and guarding your heart and mind.    

             Ultimately, when we are properly related to and functioning in the Kingdom of God we can be sure of three things. 1).  We are righteous in God’s sight. God sees us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ as redeemed. 2).  We have peace in our hearts and minds. This is only the peace that trusting Jesus Christ in every situation and circumstance brings 3). We will display the joy of the Lord and His Kingdom in our actions and expressions. Living in God’s Kingdom is a joyful experience no matter what is taking place in the earthly tangible realm.


That Magnificent Wall


                 Paul closes this description of the Kingdom of God being righteousness peace and joy, by encasing it in the phrase “in the Holy Spirit”. This phrase qualifies the very nature of these three basic words – righteousness, peace and joy. Because of how this description is worded, we must acknowledge that these qualities of the Kingdom of God are not effective without the Holy Spirit’s interactive care and custody.

                 What Paul is saying to us is that without the righteousness that the Holy Spirit produces through us as we allow him to, there is absolutely no righteousness that we can truly experience. We cannot produce righteousness within ourselves by our own capability. This is because by our very human nature, as descendants of Adam we are all sinful creatures. Because God has created us in His image as a free moral agent (among many other aspects), we can only make choices to allow the righteousness of God to be made manifest in our lives through His Holy Spirit.

               Paul says in Romans 3:22 “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe;”(NAS) This simply means that the righteousness of God can only come through our faith being placed in Jesus Christ by believing in what He accomplished for us through His death, burial and resurrection. Then in the next verse (Romans 3:23) Paul goes on to explain that none of us are righteous in our ability, for we have all sinned. Because we are all sinners, this kind of faith is motivated by the presence of His Holy Spirit interacting with us and convicting us of our sinful state.

               Real peace can only be experienced through the Holy Spirit’s ability to produce peace within us as we yield our lives to His empowerment and his control. If the Holy Spirit is empowering us and the Holy Spirit is controlling us, then we can have genuine peace because He (the Holy Spirit) is ultimately responsible for what is happening in the literal tangible lives we experience every mortal day we exist. If we are willing to consult  and  completely  trust  the  direction  the  Holy  Spirit  is taking us in our daily decisions, then His peace will be able to be the stabilizer that yields eternal values in our productivity in His Kingdom.

                It is that same “peace of God” In Philippians 4:7 that Paul described that is truly beyond our understanding and comprehension. It is far better than any pharmaceutical prescription or sedative on the market. It’s qualities tower far above any temporal use of illegal drugs. There is no environment or experience that can bring the same quality of peace that we know when we live in the Kingdom of God.

               The peace of God that comes to us through His Holy Spirit, is the ultimate experience of peace, because it comes from the very Creator of our being. Because God created us, He knows precisely the degree for our need for peace as we live our mortal lives for the glory of His Kingdom. Because He is our creator He has the ability to supply His kingdom’s peace to us through the presence of His Holy Spirit’s interaction in our lives.     

              When our kingdom joy is manifest by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, there is a unified experience that cannot be matched by any other entity. In Philippians 2:1-2 Paul proclaims “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”(NAS)

               Picture a small European Renaissance kingdom. The classic picture is that of an elaborate stone fortress completely surrounding the king’s castle. Between the fortress walls with their integrally placed watchtowers and the king’s castle, are the many facets and activities of the kingdom. In one area there are the stables and carriages. In another area the various craftsmen perform their trades. In yet another area there are storage facilities for food and the staples of life.

                All of these various aspects and functions of the kingdom are placed strategically around the focal point of the kingdom that is the residence of the king. His castle was always in the center of the complex, which is the most protected location in the arena. The king’s castle was not only his residence but also served to house his various governmental officers and advisors as well as the actual throne room, where all of the important meetings took place and where his court was held. 

                 Allow yourself to take the liberty of spiritualizing all of those aspects of the kingdom we have just discussed and then look at that magnificent wall around the entire kingdom with its strategically and regularly placed watchtowers. The wall around this entire kingdom is a picture of the Holy Spirit and His function and activity in the Kingdom of God. This is why Paul says that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness, peace and joy “in the Holy Spirit”.

                 These three qualities to the Kingdom of God must be surrounded, protected and watched over by the very person of the Holy Spirit for them to be effective as empowering and controlling agents in the lives of those living in that glorious Kingdom of God. They are the very core elements of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit not only protects these qualities of God’s Kingdom, but also gives the Kingdom its developmental structure and boundaries. Though they may not be necessarily seen through the physical eye, they can always be sensed and experienced through the spirit of mankind.      

                  Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit comprise the rule and authority of God in our lives as individuals and in our corporate existence as the body of Christ here in Earth. To know this and to abide and function in God’s Kingdom is to know and experience the righteousness, peace and joy of Jesus Christ Himself dwelling within you.     





The Kingdom of God is God’s rule and authority on earth. God rules this earth by exercising His mighty power in and through us as followers and believers in Jesus Christ. He exercises His uncompromising authority over us by the vast display of His omniscience and omnipotence in and through our lives not only individually, but corporately as the body of Jesus Christ worships Him in unity. Where might the Kingdom of God be found? Rarely do the Gnostic writings bare a fraction of negotiable truth. The one exception may be the third saying from the pseudonymous Gospel of Thomas which reads in part, “the kingdom of God is within you and all around you.” Ultimately, the Kingdom of God is found in the presence of Jesus Christ living within you by the presence of His Holy Spirit as well as those of the Christian faith that you experience in the fellowship of the saints.       


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