Is the kingdom of God a present reality or a future promise? One of the biggest mistakes one can make when it comes to the question of whether the kingdom already exists or whether it’s still yet to fully begin on earth is to assume the answer is anything other than: Yes.
Recently, due to discussions I’ve been having with an Amillennialist, I’ve been looking closer at the reasons they don’t believe that the kingdom of God will be a physical kingdom here on earth (specifically in Israel) as Scripture seems to clearly say it will be when read without making any assumptions about the text ahead of time. In my studies, I’ve found that a better label for them might be Anti-Millennialists, because rather than being based on a straightforward reading of what Scripture seems to say about the kingdom, their arguments instead seem to be almost entirely based upon disagreement with, and misunderstandings of, certain parts of the Premillennialist position.
One thing that’s good to know is that Premillennialism was the eschatological position which was held to by pretty much by every Christian for the first few centuries of Christendom, at least until Augustine went and changed that fact (aside from a few people like Origen, but he seemed to even deny a future physical resurrection, so I doubt most Amillennialists would want to claim him and his doctrines as their own); and while those of us in the body of Christ today don’t necessarily base our theology on what Christians have historically considered to fall under the purview of “orthodoxy” or “orthopraxy,” this is still a fact that those who are considering the topic should be aware of.
Now the reason they’re called Amillennialists is because they don’t believe in a literal Millennium, instead claiming that the 1,000 period of time we generally refer to as the Millennium is actually a figurative period of time we’re currently living in right now (they also believe that the Judgement Seat of Christ is just another name for the Great White Throne Judgement, because they believe there’s only one future judgement to come, occurring right after Jesus returns). They also insist that the body of Christ is actually the Israel of God, often referring to this church as “spiritual Israel,” and that the kingdom of heaven is actually a spiritual reality taking place in the hearts of believers at this very time rather than being a literal reference to a future time of regeneration in Israel. This, of course, is particularly ridiculous if they happen to also be Infernalists or Annihilationists (meaning they believe in never-ending punishment for non-believers), because any Amillennialist who wants us to interpret the period of time referred to as “for ever and ever” in a literal manner meaning “a period of time without end” because they believe in never-ending punishment would have no good basis for also insisting that the period of time referred to as “the 1,000 years” is meant to be interpreted any less literally (they’d also have to explain why they seem to arbitrarily switch back and forth between literal and figurative meanings for other numbers throughout the book of Revelation as well).
But to get down to what Scripture says about all this, it seems to go without saying that the kingdom was already present, at least in some manner of speaking, during the time Jesus walked the earth, because He told the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was already in their midst, meaning it was already present among them in the Person of its Messiah and future King. (No, I don’t believe He meant the kingdom of God was literally inside them; remember, He was speaking to the Pharisees there, and if the kingdom of God was literally within them, of all people, it must be within everyone, which I doubt any Christian believes to be the case, so this verse has to be interpreted very figuratively, with the phrase “within you” simply being figurative for ”within the midst of the group of you,” or ”within Israel,” with ”you” perhaps referring to the people of Israel.) This is why the Good News which He and His disciples preached when He walked the earth was that “the Kingdom of God is near,” and why it was called the Gospel of the kingdom.
However, we also know that the kingdom hadn’t fully come to earth yet, even after Jesus’ resurrection, since Acts 1:3-8 explains that He taught His disciples about the things of the kingdom during the 40-day period between His resurrection and His ascension, and yet, just before He ascended into heaven, when His disciples asked Him if He’d be bringing the kingdom to Israel at that time (after spending all that time learning about the things of the kingdom from Him), Jesus didn’t correct them on their apparently confused question by asking them, “Did I not just spend 40 days explaining that the kingdom began when I was raised from the dead, and that you’re already living in it, or, rather, that it already exists inside your hearts?” Instead, He just said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” So not only did He not tell them that the kingdom was already present, He also didn’t correct their understanding that the kingdom was going to be located specifically in Israel (which are things they should have really already understood if He’d actually just spent all that time explaining what the kingdom was really about). And so, when He left the earth physically, the part of the kingdom that was “within them” (meaning ”within Israel”) left the earth too, which ended any part of the physical kingdom on the earth at that point, at least for the time being.
Still, that the kingdom does currently exist now in some form is also obviously the case, since Christ is currently reigning in the heavens, at least partially (I say “partially” because the whole of the heavens haven’t been fully brought under His control yet, since the devil and his angels haven’t been cast out of the heavens yet, for one thing, and many spiritual beings there still haven’t been reconciled to God yet either (and you can’t be reconciled without first being alienated, by the way — and I should also add that “reconciled” means the parties on both sides of an estrangement or disagreement are at peace with one another), and won’t until around the end of the fifth and final age, long after the body of Christ has joined Him up there to help Him do so, but that’s a discussion for another time). However, we also know that, at least for those of us in the body of Christ, the kingdom of God is a place that can’t be inhabited by mortal “flesh and blood” (at least not without being inside an aircraft or spacecraft or something similar; and the fact that “flesh and blood” will live in the part of the kingdom of God that will be on the earth in the future is just one more proof that there’s more than one Gospel, as well as more than one form of salvation, recorded as being taught in the Bible), so we ourselves aren’t actually living in the kingdom yet. This, of course, is simply because we’d suffocate from lack of oxygen, or freeze to death, or die from radiation poisoning out there in the heavens without an immortal body, which means that, while it perhaps might be able to be said that the body of Christ is a “part” of the kingdom, at least from a certain perspective (based on verses such as Colossians 1:13 — presuming that Paul wasn’t simply speaking proleptically there, which very well might actually have been the case), we ourselves won’t be “geographically” located in the kingdom, so to speak, until we’ve been quickened (made immortal) and are then brought out there to enjoy the realm in which our citizenship is said to be located.
It’s not just the body of Christ that isn’t geographically located within the kingdom yet, though. The Israel of God (which is an entirely different entity from the church known as the body of Christ, as is made evident by comparing the differences between the two of them as I did here) isn’t in the kingdom yet either. Now, Amillennialists like to claim that Jesus is already sitting on David’s throne, as it’s prophesied that He’ll eventually do (although the physical throne of David didn’t get snatched up into outer space, so even if this passage were saying what they think it does, it would obviously have to be a figurative expression, looking forward to the time He’ll also rule over Israel in person), but if you read the passage very carefully you can see that Peter never actually said that He’s sitting on David’s throne right now. The point of Peter’s sermon there was that David’s prophecy about Christ’s future reign is still able to be fulfilled in the future despite His death, because his other prophecy, about Jesus’ resurrection, also came true. Yes, Jesus sits at God’s right hand in the heavens, but this is on God’s throne, not David’s, and Peter was instead telling his Jewish audience why He’s worthy to also sit on David’s throne on earth in the future. (And yes, there are references to “the throne of the LORD” in the “Old Testament,” but unless one believes that God’s throne in heaven moved down to the earth for a while back then — and then back up to heaven later for Jesus to sit on — and that God temporarily vacated His own seat on said throne so that human kings could sit on it, it should be pretty obvious that these are actually references to two different thrones: a heavenly throne, and an earthly throne from where a representative of the one sitting on the heavenly throne can rule in Israel.) The fact of the matter is, while Jesus indeed sits on a throne in an actual part of the kingdom of God right now, Matthew tells us that He’s also going to sit on another throne (“the throne of His glory”) when He returns to the earth, right before He judges the nations.
All that aside, though, the many prophecies related to Israel make it very clear that their fulfillments will take place on earth, among those of the kingdom of Israel and those of the kingdom of Judah, and are not just “spiritual” code related to the body of Christ. (And, just as a quick aside, if “Israel” is actually spiritual code for the body of Christ, I have to ask, what is “Judah” — which is referred to in these prophecies as a whole different group of people from those in the kingdom of Israel — code for?) It isn’t “in our hearts” that the Israel of God was promised to reign, it’s on the earth. Because, if “Israel” is spiritual code for the body of Christ, and “the earth” is spiritual code for “our hearts,” that would mean the body of Christ is going to reign in their own hearts. Similarly, if the earth is spiritual code for our hearts, does that mean that it’s human hearts that are going to be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” rather than the earth? And, if so, whose hearts? And if Israel is said to to be a light to the Gentiles so they can be God’s salvation unto the end of the earth when the kingdom begins, is that code for the body of Christ being a light to the Gentiles (one also has to ask who the Gentiles receiving the light are in this spiritual code, because it can’t be the body of Christ, since they’re apparently Israel) so they can be God’s salvation unto the end of their hearts (presuming I’m correct in assuming that “the earth” is spiritual code for “human hearts”; but even if it isn’t, replace “the earth” with whatever it is code for to see if it ends up being any less ridiculous an interpretation)? And if all those words are spiritual code, then where do we stop? What is “light” code for, and what is “God’s salvation” code for? “Spiritualizing” these prophecies just leads to all sorts of interpretational absurdities if it’s done consistently (although, if there’s one thing few Christians ever do, it’s interpret Scripture consistently).
Of course, those of us who aren’t trying to ignore the clear meaning of the passages know exactly where the kingdom will actually be when it fully begins on the earth: it will be in the land that God gave to Israel’s fathers, as Ezekiel prophesied. And that land will have clear geographical boundaries, from the Mediterranean Sea on the west to the Jordan on the east, with the northern boundary at Hamath, and the southern boundary at Kadesh. Unless the locations making up the borders are all “spiritual” code for something (and I’d certainly be curious to know what it is Amillennialists think all these geographical locations are spiritual code for), it seems pretty obvious that these verses are simply saying that the kingdom will indeed be located within these borders in the future.
In addition, Ezekiel went on to describe some pretty specific dimensions of a future temple within these borders, and if we’re to believe that the land is our heart, then what is the future temple code for? And not just the temple as a whole, but all the specific measurements of the temple as well? I can tell you what those of us known as Premillennialists believe every verse within that passage means: we believe they mean there will be a literal temple with very specific dimensions in Israel in the future. So if someone is going to claim that all this is spiritual code, they’re going to have to be able to give us a convincing interpretation of pretty much all of the specific numbers there as well, before any of us are going to even begin to consider the possibility that they might be on to something.
It’s not just the references to Israel in the “Old Testament” books, though. If references to Israel in the “New Testament” books are actually about the body of Christ, does that mean the body of Christ has not obtained what it is looking for, as Paul wrote in Romans 11:7-12? If so, then who are the Gentiles who are being blessed by their fall? Now I am, of course, speaking facetiously there, since I’m sure no Amillennialist actually interprets the reference to “Israel” in that passage as referring to the body of Christ (or at least I’d be shocked if they did), but to remain consistent with their theology they have no excuse for doing otherwise. They like to pick and choose between which references to Israel in Scripture are referring to the body of Christ and which actually mean Israel, but this just goes to show the flaws in their eschatological position (especially when we consider the fact that this passage tells us they’ll eventually be restored, which brings up the question of who is being restored, since we know the Amillennialist position on Israel is wrong to begin with if it’s actually a reference to Israel and not the body of Christ, but there’s no basis for suddenly making that a reference to the body of Christ after talking about actual Israel).
I could go on and on, discussing things such as how the “world kingdoms” in the dream Daniel explained were actual kingdoms on earth that ruled over the whole “known world” at the time, which means that the kingdom which is going to succeed them has to be an actual kingdom on earth as well, in order to remain consistent (since otherwise we’d have to reinterpret the first four “world kingdoms” spiritually as well), or that the fact that there will still be death on the New Earth (at least until the final age concludes) means getting to live on the New Earth is not a reference to being saved (as Amillennialists appear to believe), or the hundreds of other prophecies in the various prophetic books that would just be absurd to interpret spiritually (which is why Amillennialists only interpret parts of them spiritually, cherry-picking which parts are “spiritual truths” while applying the rest of them to the time the New Earth comes to be, which is when they believe Jesus actually returns to the planet), and perhaps I will in the future (perhaps I’ll even update this very post in the future and add them here), but for now I think I’ve said enough to point out why we believe that the Premillennialist perspective makes far more sense.