We have heard a lot about the kingdom and the church over the years. The thoughts and teaching have ranged from “the church is a substitute for the kingdom” to “the kingdom is more comprehensive than the church” These have all been espoused in one form or another by many “learned men.” Yet, we need to look at God’s word to find the answer to the questions surrounding the church and the kingdom.
The Essential Elements of a Kingdom
Every entity has certain elements that are essential to the entity. If you remove any of these elements, the entity ceases to exist. But on the other side those same elements that make up the entity can exist separate from each other. For instance, let’s take water (good old H2O). These elements have nothing in common with each other, except when they unite to form water. Either of these chemical elements may exist separate from the other but water cannot exist without both. Each has its peculiar qualities but when united in water these qualities are lost in the liquid formed. Hydrogen alone cannot slake thirst but as an essential element of water it makes physical life possible.
Likewise, a kingdom cannot exist without a king, subjects, laws, and territory. Remove or destroy any one of these essential elements and the nature of the institution itself is changed. It takes all of these — king, citizens, statutes, and territory — to constitute a kingdom in the complete sense of the word, and this is as true of the kingdom “not of this world” as it is of “the powers that be of the world.” It is also possible to use metonymy and speak of a part and mean the whole or speak of the whole and mean a part or parts. Jesus and the apostles frequently used metonymy in the Bible. Sometimes it was used in reference to the kingdom. But in no instance is the kingdom of Christ on earth contemplated as existing with all its essential elements prior to Pentecost and nowhere is this same kingdom contemplated with its same essential elements following the second coming of Christ and the judgment of the world.
In any kingdom authority must reside somewhere and in an absolute monarchy it is vested always in the king. The king is the source of all authority or power. It is his prerogative to will and decree. Laws or statutes are how he declares his will. Subjects are the recipients of his will through the laws he makes known in words. Territory is properly the area which the king rules.
When the kingdom of Christ is analyzed in view of the foregoing considerations it is found to coincide in every detail. Jesus Christ Himself is the king claiming and possessing all authority (Matthew 28:18). He has made know His will through words supplied directly by the Holy Spirit; hence, His law. Those who willingly yield their hearts and lives to the Spirit’s law (Romans 8:2) are His subjects. This earth is the territory of the kingdom or, to be more explicit, wherever a willing subject of the king is found on earth there the scepter of the kings holds sway.
The Kingdom and the Church
Just because the word “church” and the word “kingdom” defined the same does not necessarily indicate they are not the same thing. Words may signify different meanings yet refer to the same institution. The words “church” and “body” have different meanings, yet the church is called “the body” of Christ (Ephesians 1:22). The church is also called the “house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), a “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17), “building” (Ephesians 2:21), and “household” (Ephesians 2:19). These various terms emphasize different features of the church — its family, worship, fellowship features, etc. Likewise, when the church is called a kingdom, its governmental feature is brought into prominence.
When the church and kingdom are studied, they are found to agree in the following particulars: 1) The source of authority or the Head; 2) the laws; 3) the subjects; 4) the territory. As observed above each of these is an essential element to the kingdom’s existence. It can also be seen that the church has these same essential points.
When the above passages are studied in context, we see the church and the kingdom are identical in the chief executive, His laws, His subjects, and His territory or realm of influence. Thus, it is impossible for one to be in the kingdom and not be in the church and equally impossible for one to be in the church and out of the kingdom. Members of the church are citizens of the kingdom and vice versa. Christ does not have one institution on earth called the “kingdom” and another called the “church.” The law of admission into both are the same and the laws governing conduct of subjects are identical. Both are confined to earth while their chief executive is in heaven and the heart of the subject is the realm of influence in this world.
Further identity of the church and kingdom as one and the same is revealed in Matthew 16:18,19 where the Lord declares, “I will build My church” and said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom….” In one breath He calls it “My church” and in the next “the kingdom of heaven.”
Confine the reign of Christ to the abode of men and it is impossible to distinguish between the kingdom of Christ and the church of Christ except as to the feature emphasized in each term. To further emphasize this point the duration of both may be considered. I know of no one who argues the church will continue beyond the second coming of Christ and judgment. At that time, men will cease to be “called out” of the world “by the gospel” with that event (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10), but at that point shall also come Christ’s delivering up of the kingdom to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-26); thus the church ceases on this earth at the same time the kingdom comes to an end on this earth.
It is argued that Peter speaks of “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). While this is true, that is not the “kingdom” under consideration here for the context shows that kingdom is one that shall be entered as a result of adding the so-called “Christian graces” (2 Peter 1:3-10). That kingdom will not have the same laws nor the same territory nor men in the flesh as subjects, nor will Christ reign in that kingdom in the same relationship to the Father as He reigns now (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).
Originally by James R. Cope
Adapted by Jack Critchfield