What is Christ's Kingdom?

The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of Christ all refer to one kingdom. Its source is God in heaven - it is not "from the world" (John 18:36). Christ is the king of this kingdom in his capacity as mediator. Since He is God, Jesus has always had universal dominion. But as Matthew 28:18 says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given" to Jesus as our redeemer on the basis of His death and resurrection for the purpose of putting this sinful world into subjection to God. He does this by subduing some by grace, making them willing citizens of the kingdom, and by subduing others by judgment. Psalms 2 and 110, as well as Revelation 5, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and Colossians 1:15-20, explain this glorious truth. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it: "Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies."

In a special manner, the church is the institutional expression of the kingdom of Christ. The "keys of the kingdom" were given to the church (Matt. 16:16-19) and only by being born again by water and the Spirit can one enter the kingdom (John 3:5). Christians are the citizens of the kingdom. The kingdom can also be thought of more broadly as the reign of Christ. As the Spirit brings people to believe and obey Jesus, these are manifestations of the kingdom. As Paul says, the kingdom is a matter of "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). This Spirit works primarily by the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). Thus we advance Christ's kingdom primarily by proclaiming God's Word, as well as the right use of the sacraments, prayer, etc., relying on the Spirit to apply Christ's redemption and manifesting the fruits of the Spirit in everything we do. Furthermore, the claims of Christ's kingdom are universal, extending to all authorities on heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), even civil leaders (Ps. 2). As Louis Berkhof says,
"The visible Church may certainly be said to belong to the Kingdom, to be a part of the Kingdom, and even to be the most important visible embodiment of the forces of the Kingdom…In so far as the visible Church is instrumental in the establishment and extension of the Kingdom, it is, of course, subordinate to this as a means to an end. The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less than the complete control of all the manifestations of life. It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor." (Systematic Theology, p. 570)
As for its extent and growth, look at the dream and interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:31-45, especially with regard to the rock. The rock is the kingdom that God will set up in the days of the kings of the iron and clay (i.e. the emperors of Rome). It will shatter all opposition and will fill the earth. It will never be destroyed. The New Testament parables also tell of this irresistible growth and eventual universal impact (i.e. Matt. 13:31-33). And in the parables of the wheat and weeds (i.e. wheat and tares) in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, the field is the world at the beginning (vs. 38) and the wheat that is sown is the sons of the kingdom (vs. 38). The weeds will mix with the kingdom until the final judgement when the kingdom will be completely refined (13:41-43). But by the end, the field (that the wheat and weeds are taken from) is already the kingdom (13:41).

And so we pray, as Christ taught us, "Thy kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven." The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes what this prayer means in the context of the whole Bible by saying:

"In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends." (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 191)

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John Calvin on Christ's Kingdom

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book 2, Chapter 16, Section 16) John Calvin lays out the nature of Christ's kingdom in his discussion of Christ's ascension into Heaven and sitting at the right hand of God the Father. Not only does he explain it, but he does because "from this doctrine faith derives manifold advantages." The three aspects he teaches that faith perceives in Christ's kingship are the following.

"First, it perceives that the Lord, by his ascension to heaven, has opened up the access to the heavenly kingdom, which Adam had shut. For having entered it in our flesh, as it were in our name, it follows, as the Apostle says, that we are in a manner now seated in heavenly places, not entertaining a mere hope of heaven, but possessing it in our head." His exaltation and glorification shows the accomplishment of redemption, and because of our covenantal connection to Jesus, our salvation is already accomplished. We possess the kingdom of heaven now.

Secondly, faith perceives that his present reign is with great advantage to us in our relationship with God. He "constantly appears as our advocate and intercessor in the presence of the Father; directs attention to his own righteousness, so as to turn it away from our sins; so reconciles him to us, as by his intercession to pave for us a way of access to his throne." This seems to me more like His priestly role, but it is good to note that His work as king is to redeem His kingdom and reconcile it to God. In His current reign at the right hand of the Father He not only is king, but prophet and priest as well, and these offices coordinate with one another.

Thirdly, faith discerns Christ's present power, "on which depend our strength, might, resources, and triumph over hell, 'When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive,' (Eph. 4:8)." There are two parts to this aspect of Christ's reign. First is His reign in believers by His Spirit, "Spoiling his foes, he gave gifts to his people, and daily loads them with spiritual riches. He thus occupies his exalted seat, that thence transferring his virtue unto us, he may quicken us to spiritual life, sanctify us by his Spirit, and adorn his Church with various graces" It is this aspect that Romans 14:17 speaks of when it says that the kingdom of God is a matter of "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Whenever this new life in the Spirit is present, Christ's kingdom is manifest. This includes not only the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26), but also gifts of the Spirit such as church leadership (Eph. 4:11). Second is His reign over all for the sake of His church, where he does "by his protection preserve it [the Church] safe from all harm, and by the strength of his hand curb the enemies raging against his cross and our salvation." All things are under Christ's feet, He has all authority in heaven and earth, and He guides the course of history in chastening and defending His people and judging His and our enemies (Eph. 1:22; Matt. 28:18-20; Psalm 2, 110; 1 Cor. 15:24-28).

Thus Calvin says, "Such is the true nature of the kingdom, such the power which the Father has conferred upon him, until he arrive to complete the last act by judging the quick and the dead." Praise God! 

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The Kingship of Christ

Jesus Christ has been viewed in many ways over the centuries. His redemptive work has been known among men since man’s fall into sin, and since the days of Calvin it has been customary to speak of the offices of Christ as mediator as prophet, priest, and king. Different men and theological traditions have often emphasized different offices, and modern evangelicalism often emphasizes the priestly role of Christ. While each has great importance, and while they all do work together, the kingship of Christ is often only given lip-service or wrongly conceived. Jesus Christ is king, and His kingship, when rightly conceived, is a great encouragement and motivation for believers.

When we speak of Christ’s kingship we do not mean His dominion from all eternity that He has as God, but we mean His kingship that He has as mediator. From eternity God has covenantally planned salvation for His people, each member of the Trinity working in a different way. Part of this eternal plan of salvation is that Jesus is promised a kingdom by the Father for the salvation of His people. This kingdom of Christ has been prepared for us from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34) and has been assigned to Christ by the Father so that Christ might assign it to us (Luke 22:29). While His kingship was typified and prophesied in the Old Testament, it is specifically granted to Him by the Father as part of His exaltation after His accomplishment of redemption for us on earth (Phil. 2:8-11, Matt. 28:18, Rev. 5). Because this kingdom is founded in God’s promise to His Son (Ps. 2) it is not an earthly kingdom. This kingdom does not originate with earthly rulers or the like; it is “not of this world” (John 18:36). Instead it is the kingdom belonging to Heaven, to God, to Christ.

Christ has been given this kingdom for His people’s sake. Christ’s priestly work is closely related to His kingly work. As priest He accomplishes redemption by atoning for our sins and fulfilling the requirements of the law for us. As king He is reconciling all things to Himself by subjecting everything under Him, by judging the wicked and applying salvation in its fullness to His people (Ps. 110, Col. 1:20, 1 Cor. 15:20-28). Atonement for sin is not an end in itself, but because of Man’s sin it is necessary for man’s restoration in Christ to His creational role under God. Thus His atonement is done with the purpose of creating us anew in Christ Jesus for the purpose of “good works” (Eph. 2:10). In Daniel 7 an awesome picture is given where the Ancient of Days is in judgement over the kingdoms of men and the Son of Man comes and receives from Him a kingdom which the saints possess, and in which they are justified. This kingdom is given to the Son so that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Dan. 7:14, emphasis added). In other words, "The goal of atonement, of redemption, is the rule of God over a kingdom wholly subject to the law of the covenant, and joyfully so....Without the dimension of law, life is denied the meaning and purpose of re-birth." (Rushdoony, 73)

The way Jesus Christ administers His kingdom is powerful and effective. He starts on the inside by subduing our hearts by the Holy Spirit. In this manner we are born again and lovingly submit our whole persons to the will of God. This happens definitively and progressively in life as the Spirit regenerates us and sanctifies us by His sword, the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). Those who have not been born of the Spirit cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). By this authority He bestows saving grace upon His people (Acts 5:31). In response to the salvation that the Spirit applies to us, and by His power, we love God and manifest our new nature. Thus the kingdom is said to be what the Spirit manifests in us, i.e. “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Christ also governs His kingdom by exercising His universal authority by chastening and defending His people and judging His and our enemies. All people must side with or against Christ’s kingdom and there are awesome consequences enforced by Christ attending this alinement, both in history and in the final, eternal judgement. Those who remain in rebellion against Christ will be broken with a rod of iron, but those who serve the LORD with fear and take refuge in Christ will be blessed (Ps. 2).

Christ’s kingly rule is rooted in the hearts of believers, but it is by no means limited to it. The visible church is very important to the kingdom. The leaders of the church have been given the “keys of the kingdom” to rule the visible church, and by them Christ visibly rules His people (Matt. 16:19, see also Matt. 18:15-20). The church is the visible organization of His kingdom as it is His people gathered, renewed, and unified in the Spirit, and as the Spirit builds it up in giving it various gifts for the mutual upbuilding of the whole (1 Cor. 12), including church government (Eph. 4:1-16). The kingdom also extends beyond the church and is the “new condition of things which results from the application of the principles of the kingdom of God” (Manual, 207). In 1 Corinthians 15 it is said that all things will be subjected to Christ the King. This includes nations, cultures, kings, economics, etc. In short, all of life will be subjected to Christ and His law (Matt. 28:18-20). “The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less than the complete control of all the manifestations of life. It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor" (Systematic Theology, 570). To live otherwise, in any endeavor, is to live that much in rebellion to Christ.

This doctrine of Christ’s kingship has great import concerning the nature of the gospel. When we believe in Christ and His redemptive work for us, we then believe in Him as Lord and King. “Unconditional surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ is of the essence of saving faith” (Morecraft, 164-165). It is when we believe in the “Lord Jesus” and that “Jesus is Lord” that we “shall be saved” (Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9). To have faith in Jesus but not to submit to Him in good works is to have a dead faith (James 2:17). “The Biblical concept of saving faith has the basic ingredient of a disposition to obey Jesus” (Morecraft, 166). Thus our lives are lived by this faith in King Jesus in loving submission to His law. This gives meaning to everything we do and creates a constant dependance upon Christ’s redemptive power for our lives. This means that the gospel will exercise great effect upon societies as the kingdom grows like leaven in the lump (Matt. 13:33). Our great commission given to us by Christ, based on Christ’s kingly authority over all, is that we might disciple all nations, teaching them to submit to His commands (Matt. 28:18-20). We are called to manifest Christ’s reign in our civilizations and cultures as we bring all things in submission to the Lord. If our kings, nations, and cultures submit to Christ they will be blessed, otherwise they will be obliterated.

This brings us to the consideration of the kingdom’s growth on earth. Since this kingdom is Christ’s and since He governs all things, blessing His kingdom and judging His enemies, this kingdom “is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). Like the rock in Daniel 2, the kingdom will shatter the kingdoms of man and will fill the earth. Like the field in Matthew 13 the world will become the kingdom (Matt. 13:38, 41). This gives us great hope amid the wickedness of our day. Although we know that we are engaged in a conflict and that we will always have “weeds” who will rebel against the Lord’s Anointed, we can work in the confidence that Christ is on our side and will give us the victory. His enemies will be defeated in history and eternity and we who serve the Lord in faith will be blessed now and forever. This ought to give us great boldness. Christ has all that we need and will never abandon us. We ought to go forth and preach His Word, knowing that this is what His subjects are called to do and that the success of our labors is in Christ’s hand.

To ignore or minimize Christ’s kingship is to minimize the gospel. This is not a dry doctrine but is one from which “faith derives manifold advantages” (Calvin, 336). It gives us confidence in a secure eternal salvation. By it faith discerns Christ’s power, “on which depend our strength, might, resources, and triumph over hell” (Calvin, 336). Seeing that we have so great a king and protector we can fear none but Him and follow Him against the very gates of Hell. No earthly power can overcome our king. Because of our union with our king, we reign with Him (Rev 5:10). Whether our enemies be our sinful flesh, the world, or Satan, they are being defeated by our king and by us (Gal. 5:24, 1 John 5:4, Rom. 16:20). We may thus continue to pray that God’s kingdom would continue to come to earth in its fullness and that His glory would shine throughout the earth in the work of His saints. We may continue to look forward to the great consummation of the kingdom at the end of time when the kingdom will be purified and God will be all in all.

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Berkhof, Louis Manual of Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1933.
Berkhof, Louis Systematic Theology. Edinburgh, UK, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1958.
Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008.
Morecraft, Dr. Joseph C. Authentic Christianity. Powder Springs, GA: Minkoff Family; American Vision, 2009.
Rushdoony, Rousas John The Institutes of Biblical Law. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1973.
The Holy Bible (ESV). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003.