There are two positions regarding the Kingdom of Christ. One that is based on a Jewish, Old Testament understanding, and the other that is based on a Christian, New Testament understanding. The first view interprets Israel and the Kingdom of the Christ from an OT perspective, which is then used to interpret the NT teaching on this subject. The second view interprets Israel and the Kingdom of Christ from a NT perspective, which is then used to interpret the OT on this subject. As you can see, the approach, the beginning point of each position, is the exact opposite of the other.
When interpreting God’s Word, our starting point is all-important. In order to have a correct understanding of Israel and Christ’s kingdom, where do we start? For the following reasons, we must start with the New Testament:
The NT fulfills the OT.
We only fully understand Christ of the OT via the NT.
Except for Luke, all of the authors of the NT were Jewish believers. In regard to Luke – who wrote the books of Luke and Acts – though a Gentile, he traveled with Paul as a co-worker in the gospel.
The OT was written specifically for Jews, the people of Israel.
The NT was written specifically for Christians — both believing Jews and believing Gentiles.
Most of the doctrines of the Christian faith were given to us by the Apostle Paul — who was formerly a pharisee and a son of a pharisee, who was educated by the highly respected teacher of the Law, Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3; 23:6).
Without a proper hermeneutical approach to Scripture, we’re sunk even before we begin. Therefore, in gaining a correct understanding of the Kingdom of Christ, the above facts can’t be ignored or considered insignificant. On the contrary, those facts are the very lens through which we must view this kingdom. They must serve as our guide, or we will be mis-guided in our understanding.
No one disagrees that the OT has Christ in view. Not only does it speak of Christ, but we see Him in types and shadows. However, without the revelation of Christ via the NT, our understanding of Him is very limited. No one disagrees with that either — including dispensationalists. However, those same dispensationalists insist that in order to properly understand the Kingdom of Christ, we must do so via an OT understanding. That’s their starting point, instead of starting with an NT understanding. That’s an obvious inconsistency. On the one hand they agree that most of our understanding regarding Christ is via the NT revelation, and they use that understanding to interpret the OT about Him. But on the other hand, they insist that our primary understanding of Christ’s kingdom must be through the lens of OT revelation. They take the same approach regarding the nature of Israel under the New Covenant. But that’s a subject for another time. It’s this inconsistency that leads them to a false understanding of Christ’s kingdom. They get it right when they understand Christ via the lens of NT revelation, but fail when they abandon that approach in understanding His kingdom via the lens of OT revelation.
If anyone understood the Kingdom of Christ, it was the Apostles, who were not only Jews, but they were also taught by Christ Himself. Even the Apostle Paul received a direct revelation from Christ about Himself and about the doctrines of the Christian faith (Acts 22:6-10; 26:12-18; Eph 3:3-5). Furthermore, if anyone had a thorough knowledge of the OT, it was Paul. As stated above, he was taught by Gamaliel, a highly respected teacher of the Law. With that background, Paul would obviously have a correct understanding of the nature of Christ’s kingdom. When one reads his epistles, nowhere do we get the idea that he still had an OT view of His kingdom. On the contrary, Paul speaks of the Kingdom of Christ as a spiritual kingdom, where He reigns over those who are in Christ — not as a physical, earthly kingdom where Christ sits upon His throne and rules over ethnic, national Israel. Nowhere does Paul indicate that he still held to an OT understanding of Christ’s kingdom.
If there’s a single verse in the New Testament that clearly reveals the nature and time period of the Kingdom of Christ (Messiah), it’s Colossians 1:13:
ESV – He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
“kingdom of his beloved Son”
This is obviously the same thing the “Kingdom of Christ.” That’s important to keep in mind.
This is a statement made by the Apostle Paul. Prior to meeting Christ, he obviously would have had a Jewish, OT understanding of the Messiah’s kingdom, which is an earthly kingdom, where Christ rules over His people Israel. However, here he doesn’t give us that idea at all. Instead, he reveals the Kingdom of Christ to be a spiritual kingdom, and a kingdom where He is ruling now over His people — those who are in Christ via faith in Him, both Jews and Gentiles. On that point, he also indirectly reveals the identity and nature of Israel — which is the Church in Christ (Col 1:18). But again, that’s a subject for another time — though they are obviously directly connected.
In this same book of Colossians, Paul refers to the throne of Christ in Colossians 3:1:
ESV – If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Here Paul reveals that Christ is already sitting upon His throne of authority, ruling over His kingdom — this same spiritual kingdom that he mentioned in Colossians 1:13. He also mentions this in Ephesians 1:20; 2:6 and Romans 8:3. This is confirmed by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:29-36 and in 1 Peter 3:22. Also in Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2. In all of these places we see Christ already sitting upon the throne of His kingdom, both as King and as Priest.
Over and over and over in the NT, we see mention of Christ already upon His throne of authority. But nowhere in these places do we get the idea that Christ’s kingdom is anything but a spiritual kingdom — which of course, has it’s final fulfillment in the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 and 22. But in this current Church age, Christ rules over His people, in His kingdom. We are in the “millennial” kingdom now. The Church is that kingdom.
We must keep in mind that Paul was a Jewish believer, and so was Peter, and so was the writer of Hebrews (whom many believe was Paul). It’s reasonable that if Christ’s kingdom was what they all previously believed it to be – an earthly kingdom – they would have given some sort of indication of that. But every indication they gave, as believers and servants of Christ, they understood Christ’s kingdom to be a spiritual kingdom, where He now reigns over a spiritual Israel — which is the Church.
If Paul and Peter still understood the Kingdom of the Messiah to be an earthly kingdom still to come, then why would they not give some hint of that in their writings? The absence of such teaching indicates that their previous OT understanding was wrong — that they now understood the OT references to Christ’s kingdom were merely types and shadows of a spiritual kingdom. That they indicated Christ’s kingdom as being spiritual and being now, reveals that they had a new understanding of it. If they still believed that Christ would one day set up His kingdom on earth, where ethnic, national Israel is once again the focus in the plan of God (where Jesus rules over both saved and unsaved), why would they not give some indication of that? Wouldn’t this cause a lot of confusion among God’s people? Especially the believing Jews of Paul’s day? Why would they teach in a way that gave the idea that the Kingdom of Christ was actually a spiritual kingdom, if it was anything more than that? Why would they teach in a manner that would give Christians a false or incomplete understanding of Christ’s kingdom? There’s no sense to the dispensational viewpoint.
Paul also reveals Christ to be ruling now over his kingdom in 1 Corinthians 15:21-28. Since it’s a rather lengthy discussion, I will give you link to a study that deals with that passage:
Finally, Jesus Himself indicated that His kingdom was a spiritual kingdom:
ESV – 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Jesus plainly states that His kingdom is not of this world. In other words, it’s not an earthly kingdom, such as the Jews understood it and was anticipating. If Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, then it must be a heavenly kingdom, where He sits upon His throne, ruling His people — whom we are as the body of Christ, the Church. This is in harmony with the passages given by Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews. Jesus is surely now reigning in His kingdom, over His people, but He’s not here physically reigning in this world. Thus, it’s clear that His kingdom is spiritual.
When Jesus stated that His kingdom was not of this world, that means it’s not of this world in the present or in the future — as dispensationalists insist. If it’s not of this world, then it’s not of this world. Time periods don’t change the nature of His kingdom. One has nothing to do with the other. With one statement, Jesus reveals the nature of His kingdom to be both heavenly and spiritual.