In explaining the meaning of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares to His disciples, Jesus said He would send his angels to “gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will case them into the furnace of fire…” (Matt. 13:41-42). Jesus made a similar statement in the Parable of the Dragnet. (Matt. 13:47-50). If the kingdom of God is the same as heaven, Jesus’ statements make no sense because non-Christians will not enter heaven.
Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven only makes sense if the kingdom of heaven is an administration with an earthly presence such that non-Christians can be “in” it on the earth but denied entrance into heaven and eternal life.
When the Bible employs the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” it is referring to the origin of the kingdom, not its location. This is like referring to the Apostle Paul as “Paul of Tarsus.” Jesus told Pontius Pilate that He indeed was a king, but that His kingdom was not of this world or realm. (John 18:36). Its origin was from another realm, namely the spiritual realm.
The kingdom of God is not the same thing as the Church or heaven. It includes both, but its earthly boundaries extend beyond the boundaries of both.
A common misconception about the kindgom of God is that it is the same thing as the Church. Thus, this miconception holds, if you are in the kingdom of God, you are in the Church. Here’s the problem with that.
When Jesus explained the Parable of the Wheat and Tares to His disciples he said, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire…” (Matt. 13:41-42). Non-Christians are obviously not in the Church, meaning they are not part of the universal body of believers. Yet, Jesus says that in the end they will be taken out of the kingdom.
This must mean it is possible for non-Christians to be part of the kingdom of God on earth without being part of the Church. Another way to look at it is that the kingdom of God includes the Church, but the kingdom’s borders lie outside the borders of the Church. If you are a Christian you are in the kingdom of God, but you can be in the kingdom of God and not be a Christian. We reject this logically inescaple conclusion from Jesus’ explanation of the parable because it doesn’t fit our presupposition, instead of asking how it can be true.
More in a later post on how one can be in the kingdom of God on the earth and not be a Christian. GS
Charlemagne is one of my heroes. I’ve read several biographies of his life and even own a Montblanc special edition fountain pen created in his honor.
Charlemagne was born in 742 A.D. and became King of the Franks in 768 A.D. To that title he added Emperor of the Romans, which he held until his death in 814 A.D. Charlemagne loved the Lord and wanted to see the kingdom of God established to the farthest reaches on the European continent. In each place he conquered he insisted that pagan temples and practices be eliminated and the gospel propogated.
His Christian rule ushered in the Carolignian Renaissance, which included a blossoming of the arts, literature, the development of the Carolignian miniscule script, the establishment of a common Latin language, the codification of a common set of laws and the establishment of churches throughout what is now Europe.
It is easy to criticize Charlemagne as having spread Christianity through the use of military force rather than through voluntary conversion, but to do so is to misunderstand the times in which Charlemagne lived. At that time in what is now Europe, war was more-or-less a constant. Charlemagne offered peace to those who would abandon their pagan practices and submit to his rule. In other words, Charlemagne offered pagans the opportunity to avoid the common fate of man in exchange for embracing Truth. I suspect for the eighth century Frank the offer seemed a reasonble and humane one.
The best biography on Charlemagne is the one written contemporaneous with his life by his close friend and advisor, Einhard. I recommend purchasing the Penguin Classics version, Two Lives of Charlemagne, which includes another biography by Notker the Stammerer, written fifty years after Charlemagne’s death. While many modern secular historians dimiss Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne as purely panegyric, it is the best I’ve read for one interested in Charlemagne the Christian and kingdom-builder. I give it more credence than others I’ve read for the simple fact that Einhard is the only biographer who actually knew Charlemagne. GS
I hesitated to write this post because I’m concerned you’ll think my point is so obvious it’s not worth stating, but I sometimes get at things sort of backwards. Rather than jump right in and address how the kingdom of God progresses on the earth, it seemed more fundamental to start by stating one way in which it does not grow, and that is by means of military force, or in metaphoric terms, by means of the sword. I suspect this is obvious to most modern Christians, but it has not been obvious to Christians throughout history. It’s an important point.
I think there are a number of ways to demonstrate this point from Bible. Here are two.
First, on the night Jesus was betrayed, He told His disciples to grab two swords (Luke 22:35-38). Then when Peter attempted to use one of the swords offensively Jesus rebuked him (John 18:10-11). But hadn’t Jesus just told them to grab two swords? Yes, but the sword was to be used defensively, not offensively. The sword was for their protection, not their promotion.
Second, when Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He knew the Jews were expecting Him to be a military leader who would overthrow Roman rule. Jesus’ response was to weep over Jerusalem, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus was indeed interested in seeing the kingdom of God prevail over the Roman Empire, but not in the way the Jews expected. Jesus knew that in a little under three hundred years, the kingdom of God would prevail over the Romans, but that it would do so peacefully, without a sword being drawn by Christians against their oppressors.
It is no different today. The growth of the kingdom occurs peacefully, through the transformation of men’s hearts, not militarily through threats aginst their bodies. Unlike other religions, Christian conversion is not to occur at the point of a sword. The kingdom is no country for armed men. GS
Jesus taught more about the kingdom of God than any other subject. Jesus spoke to His disciples, the general public, religious leaders and even Pontius Pilate about the kingdom of God. He preached the kingdom at the beginning of His ministry, throughout His ministry and even after His resurrection. In the gospels alone, the word “kingdom” appears 125 times—more than the word “love” (58 times), the word “faith” (29 times) and more than the word, “salvation” (8 times). Preaching about the kingdom of God was more than an important issue to Jesus; it was at the core of His purpose. (Luke 4:43).
Given the ubiquity of the kingdom in Jesus’ teaching one would expect most Christians to have a clear understanding of the kingdom and how it works. Nothing could be further from the truth. Misconceptions abound. Some think the kingdom of God is coterminous with the Church, while others think the kingdom is heaven. Jesus made it clear it was neither. This website will attempt to bring some clarity to the concept of the kingdom, operating on the assumption that if Jesus spent so much time teaching the kingdom of God to ordinary people that it is possible for ordinary people to understand it. GS