Are the Church and the Kingdom the Same?
From time to time old truths are challenged and we must give a defense for what we believe and teach. May we ever be “set for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:17).
Over the last year, I have twice encountered a teaching that would have us to believe the kingdom on earth and the church are not one and the same.
The answer is simple enough if we turn to the Scriptures. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:22-23, 28).
According to the writer of Hebrews the church and the kingdom are one and the same.
A series of questions will also help one to see that these two terms refer to the same institution. Observe:
- How does one come into the kingdom (John 3:3-5)? How does one come into the church (Acts 2:38)?
- Who is in the kingdom on earth that is not in the church?
- When did the kingdom begin (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:8; Acts 2:1-4)? When did the church begin (Acts 2:38-47)?
- Is any saved person outside of the kingdom (Colossians 1:13)? Is any saved person outside of the church (Acts 2:47)?
- Who is head over the church (body) (Ephesians 1:22-23)? Who is king over the kingdom (Hebrews 1:8)?
- What law governs the church (1 Corinthians 9:21)? What law governs the kingdom (Hebrews 12:22-24)?
Such questions teach us that one enters the kingdom the same way he enters the church. The same people who are in the kingdom are in the church. The kingdom began on the same day the church began. All saved people are in the kingdom. All saved people are in the church. Jesus is Head over the church and King over the kingdom. The same law governs both the kingdom and the church. Moreover, the kingdom and the church will be raised at the last day (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
From such questions we can see that the Bible is not speaking of two separate groups of people, but one and the same. Things equal to the same thing are the same thing.
“Church” and “Kingdom” Are Not Synonyms
It has also been advanced by some that because the words “kingdom” and “church” are not synonymous that they cannot refer to the same thing.
Let me give an example of how words with different meanings can apply to the same thing. I am a husband, a father, a brother, a brother-in-law, a nephew, a grandson, a son, a son-in-law, a preacher, and an editor. Each of these words has a very different meaning and yet they each refer to the same person.
Let’s do the same with Jesus. He is King, Son, Savior, Head, Brother, Word, God, Mediator, Prophet, Physician, Priest, Author, Corner Stone, Star, Bridegroom, etc. Each one of these words has a very different meaning, but they each refer to the same Person.
Now let us look at the church. It is called kingdom, body, family, house, household, nation, priesthood, temple, people, assembly, etc. Each of these words has a very different meaning, but every one of them refers to the same group of people. Words do not have to be synonyms to refer to the same thing.
When Did the Kingdom Begin?
Jesus said to the twelve, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present (come, KJV) with power” (Mark 9:1).
Concerning this power, Jesus told His apostles, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
When the apostles received the Holy Spirit, the kingdom came with this power. Observe: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they (the apostles, AE) were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
On that day, Peter stood with a message to proclaim that Jesus had ascended to His throne after His resurrection and is now “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:30-36). Thus, the kingdom came with the power of the Holy Spirit, in the city of Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, in the days foretold by Daniel the prophet (Daniel 2:44).
From that time on, the apostles preached the kingdom and souls who were converted from the kingdom of darkness were added to the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13). Upon His return, Jesus will resurrect the dead and deliver the kingdom to His Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
“Kingdom” in the Gospels
I have debate books in which the infamous Missionary Baptist debater Ben M. Bogard argued against N.B. Hardeman, E.M. Borden, and W. Curtis Porter that the kingdom/church began during the days of John the Baptist. Indeed there are a number of passages which seem to indicate that the kingdom was then present. However, if this is in fact the case, and the kingdom began with John, why was John not in the kingdom (see Matthew 11:11)?
If the kingdom was established during the days of John the Baptist, the apostles did not know it. They asked Jesus before His ascension “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) If the kingdom already existed, they were clueless.
Moreover, if it already existed, Jesus would have told them so. I imagine He would have answered something like, “Beloved, don’t you remember how the kingdom was already established back in the days of John.” Such was never said.
If the kingdom began during the days of John, Jesus did not know it. He refused to partake of the supper with the twelve “until the kingdom of God shall come” (Luke 22:18).
Furthermore, John the Baptist had already been killed when Jesus said “upon this rock I will build My church” and that Peter would receive the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19).
The passage states: “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.”
This was a favorite passage for Bogard, as it is now for a few brethren. But, what says too much says too little. Jesus did not say, “Since that time the kingdom of God has existed.” He said it has been preached. How so? Both John and Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They did not say it was “already.” That clarion voice crying in the wilderness said it was “at hand.” Jesus even said it was “nigh at hand” (Luke 21:31).
“Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.’”
How was the kingdom within the apostles if it had not yet been established? The kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. It would not come with observation, but the reign would be inward and spiritual in the people of God.
Why did the Lord speak in the present tense? God has always been able to call that which is not as though it already existed (Romans 4:17). Christ could certainly look down the corridor of time and speak of some future event as though it had already happened. He did so on numerous occasions. He spoke of the blood of the new testament which “is shed for you” before His crucifixion (Luke 22:20). He spoke of His ascension into heaven when He said “I am no longer in the world” (John 17:9), when obviously He was. And so Jesus’ statement in Luke 17:21 is not something to be considered unusual; it could simply be a mark of His Deity.
In years gone by, when brethren dealt with the use of the term “kingdom” as it appears in the present tense in the gospels, they were quick to point out how the kingdom was being preached, planned, and disciples were being prepared for it to come. Brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr. used to speak of the Sermon on the Mount as a sermon full of “Pentecost Pointers.” We agree with his assessment.
Preaching the Kingdom
Not only did John and Jesus preach about the kingdom of heaven, but such preaching has always been a significant aspect of gospel preaching since the beginning of the church (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23; 28:31).
Seeing that this tremendous responsibility is now given to us, let us be faithful and continue to preach the truth about God’s kingdom – the church of Christ.