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Many Christians believe the kingdom can only be identified within the confines of the church, and kingdom activity cannot manifest itself outside the church. In their view the kingdom is the church and nothing but the church. Since the church is “sacred” and the world “profane,” as they see it, the church should not consider the world as an arena for kingdom activity. The world is the domain of the existing kingdoms that will only be judged when God’s kingdom is inaugurated sometime in the future. Does this mean to hold a job “in the world” is to walk outside the kingdom?
Perhaps the most common example of this restriction in Protestantism is found in pietism. Pietists restrict the kingdom of God to the sphere of personal piety, the inner life of the soul. . . . Other traditions curtail the scope of Christ’s kingship by identifying the kingdom with the institutional church. . . . This view holds that only clergymen and missionaries engage in “full-time kingdom work” and that the laity are involved in kingdom activity only to the degree that they are engaged in church work. This restriction has given rise to the misleading phrase “church and world,” which suggests that all of human affairs are in fact divided into two spheres.
While the church has a particular function and jurisdiction in the kingdom, the kingdom encompasses more than the church. “The institutional church is not to be equated with the kingdom of God. It is an agency of the kingdom, but it is not identical to the kingdom. The kingdom of God is as broad as the world.” When Jesus tells us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), He reminds us that every earthly endeavor should be considered kingdom-activity, whether family, church, business, or politics. We are God’s ambassadors, representing our King in His kingdom (2 Cor. 5:20).
Many Christians conclude that because the Bible describes a future kingdom that this is its sole emphasis. The kingdom cannot be presently with us if the kingdom is seen as yet to come. Actually, the kingdom is more than just a future reality. First, it is definitively established in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Second, it increases and advances progressively from that time to the end of the world. Third, it is established fully at Christ’s second coming.
Let’s first examine the definitive aspect of the kingdom. Even a superficial reading of the gospels shows that the kingdom of God is the major theme of the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus. In fact, this is what the gospels are all about: The King is coming to establish His kingdom. John the Baptist exhorted the people of Judea to repent because “the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2). From His very first sermon, Jesus preached a similar message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). When Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples, he told them to preach that “The kingdom of God is near” (Luke 10:9). The “synoptic” gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—declare that the content of Jesus’ entire teaching ministry can be summed up as the “good news of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:14–15; Luke 4:16–30; 4:43; 8:1). These passages, along with many others, prove that the establishment of the kingdom was imminent. It was “near” already in the time of Jesus.
There was, however, a very significant difference between the preaching of John the Baptist and the preaching of Jesus. They often used the same words. But we find in Mark 1:15 that Jesus not only proclaims that the kingdom is near, but announces that “the time is fulfilled.” Thus, while John prophesied that it was almost the time for the Lord to visit His people, Jesus “asserted that this visitation was in actual progress, that God was already visiting his people.” Moreover, in Luke 17:21, Jesus tells the Pharisees that the “Kingdom of God is within you.” The Greek word for “within” can also mean “in your midst.” Since the Pharisees were not believers, the better translation seems to be “in your midst.” Whatever it means, one thing is clear: Jesus was announcing that God’s kingdom was present, not exclusively future.