In my previous message, I had started to set forth various passages that seem to contradict the truth that the kingdom of God is actually God’s government on earth. I called these “kingdom problem passages,” though I do not believe that these are really problems when we really examine them and consider what they mean. In that message, we examined Matthew 12:28, as well as the rather strange reference in Matthew 11:12.

Now in my message on “The Theme of the Bible,” I brought up two other Bible passages that seem to contradict my statement that the Kingdom of God is the Government of God. The first was Luke 17:20-21, which reads, “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.’” Many use this verse to suggest that the Kingdom of God is something that takes place in the hearts of men, and is not a physical kingdom or government at all.

The second passage I mentioned that is often used to contradict those who teach as I do regarding the Kingdom is Romans 14:16-17, which reads, “Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Those who would argue against the idea of a future government of God upon the earth would suggest that this is a definition of what the kingdom is, and since today we have “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” through faith in Christ, that we are living in the Kingdom right now.

Now I briefly argued against the interpretations given to these passages in my previous message, but I never fully set them forth or analyzed what the Lord was teaching through them. That will be the purpose of the second part of this message. I will look at each of these passages in turn, and examine what I believe the Lord meant by them, and how they fit into the overall truth of the Scriptures regarding God’s government on earth.

First of all, let us examine Luke 17:20-21 and see what we can learn from what the Scriptures’ record of Christ’s words here.

20. 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;

Now the Pharisees ask the Lord Jesus a specific question. This has to do with when the government of God would come. This question was probably made in a demanding way, for we know that the Pharisees were generally not believing followers of Christ. Most likely, they asked it demanding when this government of which the Lord spoke would come to pass.

Notice that Christ does not answer the Pharisees’ question, at least not directly. Instead, He uses their question as a springboard for teaching about the Kingdom. First of all, He teaches that the kingdom does not come by observation. In other words, it does not come just because men are looking for it. The United States government, for example, would never have come if men had not looked for it. Instead, this nation would have remained a colony of Britain. Yet the kingdom of God is not this way. It does not come because men look for it. Its coming, or not coming, has nothing to do with whether or not men are seeking it or waiting for it to arrive.

21. “Nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

This is the verse that some seek to use to settle the question “What is the Kingdom?” They would claim that this means that the kingdom of God is not a “physical” kingdom, but a “spiritual” kingdom in your heart. One problem with this view is that the word “spiritual” is never defined. It is just assumed to be the opposite of physical, although what that is is never clearly defined. But the opposite of physical and material is not spiritual. The opposite of physical is imaginary. And that is pretty much what those who teach this turn the kingdom of God into…just an imaginary kingdom, that doesn’t really affect much at all in the real world.

Our English word “spiritual” is in common use, and yet when it comes right down to it, this word has very little meaning. Words, as representatives of thoughts and ideas, are supposed to convey some meaning to the mind when they are used. Yet no real meaning comes to mind when we hear the word “spiritual.” For example, if someone says of a man, “He is a very spiritual person,” what exactly is meant by this phrase? What exactly is it about the man that has just been said? The same is true of those who say that the kingdom is a “spiritual” kingdom. What exactly is a “spiritual” kingdom? Most of those who use this phrase cannot really answer this question, except with vague generalities that do not really deal with the issue.

The fact is that the word “spiritual” is what Otis Q. Sellers has called a “Mother Hubbard word.” The “Mother Hubbard” was a dress worn by women in olden days that was famous for hiding everything and revealing nothing. In the same way, the word “spiritual,” when we use it, hides completely what our meaning actually is, and reveals no facts to us when used. At best, it gives us some kind of vaguely good feeling, like when we call someone “spiritual.”

The word “spiritual” does not mean the opposite of physical or earthly, it does not mean invisible, and it does not mean immaterial. Certainly not when dealing with Scripture, at any rate. That this is true can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by considering I Corinthians 10:1-4, which states, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2. all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3. all ate the same spiritual food, 4. and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” It is evident that the “spiritual food” the Israelites ate in the wilderness, the “manna,” was neither invisible, nor was it immaterial. It was not the opposite of “physical food,” as some like to make heaven a “spiritual place, which is the opposite of a physical place.” It was in every way physical food, and yet it also was spiritual food. The same was true of the water they drank out of the rock that was “anointed.” (Not “Christ,” for the word “Christ” means “anointed,” and should be translated as such in this case.) That water was physical water, able to quench thirst in every way as physical water does, and yet it is here called “spiritual.” Thus, it is clear that, in the Bible, “spiritual” is not the opposite of “physical.”

Now, what does “spiritual” mean? How was the manna in the wilderness, and how was the water from the rock, “spiritual”? I believe that, in Scripture, the adjective “spiritual” is used of things that come directly from God, and not by the usual, natural processes by which such things are normally made. For example, most bread is made from ingredients such as flour and yeast, and is made only by a long process of making dough, allowing it to rise, baking it, and so forth. Yet the manna the children of Israel ate was not made in this way. There never was any flour, nor dough. No baking was ever done. Rather, this bread came directly from God, totally apart from the normal processes used to bake bread. Thus, this bread was “spiritual.” In the same way, the water from the rock did not come from the usual processes of condensation. It was not a product of the natural water cycle that keeps recycling water from the oceans back into rain back into the rivers and lakes and finally running back to the ocean again. Rather, this water, like the manna, was produced directly by God. Therefore, it was spiritual water, though its substance was just as physical as any other water there has ever been.

So the Kingdom of God is very much a physical kingdom: it is God’s government on earth. We could define it as a spiritual government, but that would just mean that it is one that is brought about by the power of God, not by the normal processes of a government arising.

So, one might ask, what did Christ mean when He said that the Kingdom is within you? It is impossible for me to believe that He meant that the kingdom was just the kind of work that God does in the hearts of believers today. For consider whom exactly He was talking to! We see that back in verse 20…He was addressing the Pharisees, His longtime enemies and those who generally rejected His message! How could Christ have meant that the Kingdom of God was what goes on in our hearts today, if He told the rebellious and unbelieving Pharisees that it was something within THEM? This makes no sense whatsoever.

So what did Christ mean? I believe He was referring to the truth that the Kingdom of God is really not made up of things like palaces or ornamental chairs called thrones or other, material things that make up some governments. There is no place in the Kingdom of God that one could point to like Washington, D.C. and say, “Look, this is the Kingdom.” It is not that the Kingdom cannot have these things. Jerusalem will certainly be a center, if not THE center, in God’s government. There will be rulers that He sets up, and places they meet, and so forth. But this is not really what the Kingdom is all about. Instead, the Kingdom of God is everywhere present and all-pervasive. It reaches from the most elegant city to the crudest jungle village, from the highest official to the lowest citizen. Everywhere upon the earth the Kingdom will be actively present and alive in the hearts of its citizens. There is not a dark corner or a hidden recess anywhere in the world where one can sin without the knowledge of the Kingdom of God, and no place to hide from its inevitable and total rule. For its punishments are not ones that take place outside the body, like prisons or fines, but rather sickness within the body itself. Likewise its directives are not those written on paper and stored in a library somewhere, but rather the voice of God Himself speaking to every citizen of the Kingdom directly through His Spirit.

Did this answer the Pharisees’ question? No, but it did teach something very important about the Kingdom that it benefited the Pharisees to know. When the Kingdom will come, however, was not knowledge that was meant for them at that time. In fact, we still don’t know for certain when it will come today!

Now let us examine Romans 14:16-17. To start off with, let us examine the entire passage that these verses are connected to, so that we can see the context in which these verses are given.

14. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

The Holy Spirit through Paul is setting forth truth regarding clean and unclean laws. The Lord Jesus has convinced Paul that there is nothing that is inherently unclean. The things that were clean and unclean according to the law were ceremonially unclean, not for any internal reason, but because God Himself had declared them to be so. Yet Paul also reveals that to the one who considers anything to be unclean, that thing is unclean to him. In other words, he is not able to eat it with a clear conscience. So, for him to eat this, then, is for him to do something he considers rebellious against God. Whether or not eating that thing is actually a problem, then, for him to eat this is a problem, since to him this is an act of sin and rebellion, and so he sins against God in his heart by eating it.

15. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

For one who realized that unclean laws did not apply to him, it might be fine to eat. Yet he might be surrounded by those who do not have this same understanding. For him to eat, then, would cause them to be tempted to breach their consciences before God. This is not what a believer should do. Superior knowledge that he might have does not help his brother, who does not have this knowledge.

16. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;

To eat rightfully would be good, but if that good is spoken of as evil among those who do not understand this, then one is better off restraining himself from eating, not because he has to, but rather to benefit those who otherwise would be offended.

17. for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Now we come to the verse that is in question. Many would like to have us believe that this is a definition of the Kingdom of God. Yet notice that the topic of this passage is not the kingdom of God. Paul is not setting forth his doctrine concerning the kingdom, or seeking to define what the kingdom is. His topic is foods, clean and unclean, and when it is appropriate to eat them.

It would seem that many would like to divorce this verse from this context. It is almost as if they would have us to believe that people were taking their lunch, pointing to the bread and meat, and saying, “See this? This is the kingdom of God!” Then they might point to their bottle of water or of wine, and say, “See this? This is the kingdom of God too!” And Paul is saying, “No, no, people. Your lunch is not the kingdom of God! Actually, the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit!” Of course, this is ridiculous. No one was actually saying that their food was the kingdom of God, anymore than Paul is saying that the kingdom of God is nothing more than righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

The people who were arguing about foods and making a big issue out of them were causing this issue to become extremely important, far more important than it actually was. It was as if they were making what can be eaten and drunk in the kingdom into the most important aspect of the kingdom. But Paul is reminding them that, in the grand scheme of the kingdom, these things are not so important. Things like righteousness, things like peace, and things like joy are much more crucial, in God’s eyes, to the kingdom He was planning to build than eating and drinking.

It would be as if I were talking with someone from another country about parking tickets, how they are given, and how they work. This person might be quite intrigued by the idea, and act most impressed with the way our government gives out these tickets. Well, I might laugh, and say, “The U.S. government isn’t about parking tickets. It’s about freedom and equality and justice.” Now, in saying this, I have not defined the U.S. government. But I have explained what I believe to be of crucial importance to the government of this country, of far more importance, at least, than parking tickets. In the same way, Paul in Romans 14:17 reminds his readers of what is far more important about the kingdom of God than eating and drinking. He is not defining the kingdom of God. He is, however, setting forth principles which are much more crucial to the government of God that mere laws about food. This is what God is telling us here. This verse has nothing to do with defining the kingdom.

Let us complete the context of Romans 14, to see that the topic continues to be laws regarding the eating of foods, and not anything to do with defining God’s kingdom.

18. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 
19. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

So again, there is nothing in this context to indicate that Paul is here setting forth exactly what the kingdom of God is. To make this a definition of the kingdom of God is foreign to the passage, and it is foreign to the truth.

In conclusion, let me say that I believe that to try to define the kingdom of God at all by passages in the New Testament is to miss much of the picture. The kingdom of God is introduced by the New Testament to the people of Israel with the assumption that the audience will already know exactly what this is. No introduction to the idea of the kingdom is made. No long explanation of what it is and what this means is given. Ultimately, the Bible seems to assume that the reader of the New Testament will already know what the Kingdom is before It begins talking about it. I believe that this was completely true of the hearers of these things in the first century, for they did know all about the government of God, for they had learned it from the Old Testament, most prominently from the Psalms and the prophets. That was fine, for these were beloved books, and much studied by the Israelites of that day. Isaiah, in fact, was their most popular and widely-read book. In a time when those who could afford to buy a book could probably only afford to buy one scroll of the Scriptures, the one that most people had was Isaiah. In fact, in some of the poorer synagogues, even the entire synagogue might only have a copy of Isaiah and none of the other books! So the people knew the prophets. Having a large background of knowledge on these things, they did not need to start off learning them as if they were beginners. Thus, the New Testament just starts talking about the kingdom without introduction or explanation.

Now the opposite of this situation is generally true today. If there is a part of Scripture that is unknown and not studied by most believers today, it is the prophets. Christianity as a whole has very little knowledge of these books, and many probably cannot even name all the minor prophets, and some might not even be able to name all the major ones! So it is no wonder that, when we come upon the idea of the kingdom of God in the New Testament, we have no idea what the Bible is talking about. But this being the case, what we should properly do is go back to the Old Testament to find out what this means. Instead, many turn to orthodox theology, or to passages in the New Testament like the ones I discussed above. This is not the way it should be. We should learn from the Scriptures what Its teachings are, and the teachings upon the Kingdom are most plain.

In my next message, I will start to get into these teachings, and what exactly the Bible has to say about that government to come.