Q and A: Why is the Kingdom of God Not Just the Church?

One of the questions I received Sunday was in response to my assertion that the kingdom of God was not just the church, nor was it just national Israel. More specifically, they were curious if I would “expand on that idea” and show “why it is more than both.”

I’m glad to!

Essentially, it is because it spans both in time and scope. The kingdom of God is pre-church, yet it is also post-Israel. While it encapsulates both, it is not limited to just one of them.

However, allow me to utilize Wayne Grudem, with the help of George Ladd, to provide more depth to this answer. Here’s his insight from his book Systematic Theology.

What is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God? The differences have been summarized well by George Ladd:

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men. (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, p. 111).

Ladd goes on to summarize five specific aspects of the relationship between the kingdom and the church: 1) The church is not the kingdom (for Jesus and the early Christians preached that the kingdom of God was near, not that the church was near, and preached the good news of the kingdom, not the good news of the church: Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). 2) The kingdom creates the church (for as people enter into God’s kingdom they become joined to the human fellowship of the church). 3) The church witnesses to the kingdom (for Jesus said, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world,” Matt. 24:14). 4) The church is the instrument of the kingdom (for the Holy Spirit, manifesting the power of the kingdom, works through the disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons, as he did in the ministry of Jesus: Matt. 10:8; Luke 10:17). 5) The church is the custodian of the kingdom (for the church has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven: Matt. 16:19). These five points are summarized from Ladd, Theology, pp. 111-119.

Therefore we should not identify the kingdom of God and the church (as in Roman Catholic theology), nor should we see the kingdom of God as entirely future, something distinct from the church age (as in older dispensational theology). Rather we should recognize that there is a close connection between the kingdom of God and the church. As the church proclaims the good news of the kingdom, people will come into the church and begin to experience the blessings of God’s rule in their lives. The kingdom manifests itself through the church, and thereby the future reign of God breaks into the present (it is “already” here: Matt. 12:28; Rom. 14:17; and “not yet” here fully: Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Therefore those who believe in Christ will begin to experience something of what God’s final kingdom reign will be like: they will know some measure of victory over sin (Rom. 6:14; 14:17), over demonic opposition (Luke 10:17), and over disease (Luke 10:9). They will live in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Rom. 8:4; 14:17), who is the dynamic power of the coming kingdom. Eventually, Jesus will return and his kingdom reign will extend over all creation (1 Cor. 15:24-28).

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