In my previous message entitled “The Theme of the Bible,” I expressed my basic conclusion, which is that the Kingdom of God is nothing more nor less than God’s government upon earth. The Greek word basilea, usually translated “Kingdom,” means “Government,” and that is exactly what it means in the phrase, “The Kingdom of God.” This Kingdom is not God’s general sovereignty over all space and time, as some have suggested, but specifically His government of the earth, which in the future will take over the world and replace all the current governments upon this earth with that Government which is created, maintained, and controlled only by Him. Not that He will reign alone, for many of His people will be promoted to places of honor and glory in that government. Yet His will be the ultimate rule and authority, and it will never be corrupted, as it was in His past government over Israel through the rebellion of those whom He ruled.

Yet there are some passages that would seem to contradict this conclusion. We might describe these as “kingdom problem passages.” Not that I ultimately think that they are a problem, but that many would use these passages to argue that the kingdom is in fact something that is on the earth now, and was brought about by Christ’s first coming, which I do not believe. We will examine these passages and see if they do indeed teach this, and if we can see anything in them that would really oppose the truth that the kingdom is God’s government upon the earth.

The first passage I wish to examine is Matthew 12:28. Let us get the context by beginning from the twenty-second verse. This passage reads,

22. Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

So the occasion of this statement was brought about by the Lord casting a demon out of a man who was blind and mute as a cause of being afflicted by it.

24. Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

The Pharisees are jealous of the Lord’s power, and so accuse Him of casting out demons by Satan, rather than by the power of God!

25. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

The Lord makes this excellent argument to show how bankrupt their reasoning was.

27. “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.

The Pharisees had their own representatives who cast out demons. If the Lord could only cast out demons by Satan, then what did that say about their own sons who did this? Thus, the Lord points out their hypocrisy.

28. “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

This is the verse that many use to attempt to show that the kingdom had already come upon these Pharisees, and the way it is translated, it appears to be that way. This could be true, if we take it as meaning that the King of that kingdom, the Governor of that Government, was already there with them. But ultimately, I believe we can get a bit deeper by looking at the Greek words used here.

The Greek word for “come” here is an unusual one, and is only used seven times in the New Testament, obviously far less than the number of times the word “come” occurs. This word is the Greek word phthano, and according to Strong’s Concordance means, “to come before, precede, anticipate.” A very interesting example of the use of this word is in I Thessalonians 4:15, which reads, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.” Here, the word “precede” is the word phthano, the same word that is translated “come” in Matthew 12:28. The question being dealt with by Paul and the Holy Spirit here is who will go first to meet the Lord Jesus when He comes in His parousia (“coming” in the above verse,) those who are alive, or those who are dead. Paul explains that those who are alive and remain when His parousia occurs will by no means go out to meet Him before those who are asleep, that is, those who have died. Instead, he reveals that those who are dead shall rise to meet Him first, and then those who are alive will be caught up with them and follow.

So we get the picture. The living will not go up to meet Christ, and then be waiting there for the dead to come to them. Rather, the dead will go first, and will be waiting there when the living arrive. Thus, the living do not precede, do not phthano, those who are dead in Christ.

This meaning and idea is very interesting when we read it into Matthew 12:28. To translate it consistently with I Thessalonians 4:15, we would make it that “the kingdom of God has preceded upon you.” This is a bit hard to get our heads wrapped around. But we must remember that elsewhere the Lord makes it clear that the Kingdom was still a future event. Even in Acts 1:6-8, He does not tell the disciples that the Kingdom is already present with them and that they should stop looking for it in the future. So what He said in Matthew cannot mean that the kingdom had already come earlier, and that they hadn’t figured it out yet.

If we consider the example of I Thessalonians 4, we will get the idea that this word would meant that the kingdom had gone out before them, and that it would meet them (or they would meet it) later. The second part of this is plain, for we still wait for the time when we will find ourselves meeting that kingdom as it comes. Yet how had the kingdom gone out before them? How had it “preceded upon them”?

I believe that there is only one explanation that will fit. The kingdom had, in fact, been previewed before them. They had seen it in prelude, like a performer might come out on stage and introduce himself before the show begins and he actually starts his performance. In this way, the kingdom had actually passed before them in review, before taking its proper, future place, where they would later meet it in its proper time. Otis Sellers suggests that this means that the kingdom of God had taken a “step in advance” towards them, which is pretty much the same idea.

So what did Christ mean by suggesting that they had had a preview of the kingdom of God? He had just cast out demons. In the kingdom of God, the power of Satan will be crushed, and his forces will be cast out of the many places in the world into which they have maneuvered themselves. Thus, by seeing Him do this, they had seen a preview of the coming kingdom, and had received knowledge of what it would be like. Now, these Pharisees had a chance to respond to the Kingdom of God at that very moment even before it actually took control of the world. They had this opportunity, but they rejected what they saw, and lost the chance to learn from this preview of the kingdom what they were supposed to learn. That, I believe, is the meaning of Matthew 12:28. It does not teach that the Kingdom of God had already come to the men who saw Him work this miracle. Instead, this verse teaches that these men had had a preview of the Kingdom, and now had a chance to respond to it.

The next passage we will consider is Matthew 11:11-15. Here, we read in the words of Jesus Christ:

11. “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Now, we should not get confused here. In Matthew, the “kingdom of heaven” is the same thing as the “kingdom of God” elsewhere. Those who try to suggest that these are two different things need to explain why only Matthew spoke of the kingdom of heaven, and none of the other New Testament authors did? The truth is that Matthew was written mainly to Jews to prove to them that Christ was their king. Now the Jews, in attempting to keep the command not to take the name of the Lord their God in vain, often refused to even say the name of God. They figured that if they didn’t say it, they couldn’t take it in vain! So they would substitute other things for the name of God, and one of them was “heaven,” as the place where God lived, or else just meaning “the Exalted One,” since “heaven” means “lifted up” or “exalted.” So in Matthew, the figure of speech is used to save the sensibilities of the Jewish readership.

This verse gives us an amazing truth about John the Baptist, and about the kingdom of heaven. First of all, that none greater than John had been born of women. But secondly, that the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. How great a blessing it will be to be included in that number who are allowed a place in God’s government!

But the real issue is not in this verse, but in verse 12.

12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.

This is a very strange statement, and it is difficult to say what exactly Christ meant by this. The translation may be part of the problem. But an examination of the Greek yields little help. The idea of suffering violence seems to be just that, with the idea of being taken by storm or by force implied. The Greek word for violence is biazo, and the word for violent is biastes, which is related, just as it is in English. The violent sieze upon it eagerly. The versions I examined mostly remained non-committal as to whether or not this is a good thing. A few translated it negatively with the idea that they try to force themselves into it. Others suggested that they eagerly seized upon it as upon a prize, which would seem to be a good thing.

Luke 16:16 might shed a little light on the difficulty. That verse reads,

16. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

“Is pressing” here is the same Greek word as “suffers violence” in Matthew 11:12. We might try to argue that the ideas of the two passages are the same, as they do appear to be similar. Thus, the violence that the kingdom of God was facing was that of men who were pressing themselves into it. But again, whether they were presumptuously doing this without God’s approval, or whether this is something God wished of them at this time, it is difficult to say from the passage.

Many in Israel were coming upon this truth of the kingdom of God, and learning the teachings of John the Baptist or the Lord Jesus and His disciples regarding it. We might even say that it was forced upon their attention through the miracles and signs that the Lord and His disciples worked. Yet though the kingdom was forced on their attention, they had to make a determined and forceful move of their own in order to gain access to it. In the future when the kingdom comes to earth in its full manifestation, men will not have to do anything to be brought under it. It will take control of the world, and all men will fall under it whether they seek to or not. Yet it was not that way in Christ’s day. Men had to make their own, determined decision in order to become a part of that government. This could well be what the Lord is discussing in this passage.

At any rate, this passage, though strange, provides no real obstacle to the contention that the kingdom of God is the government of God upon earth. In fact, this passage is difficult, and its meaning obscure. No one, myself included, can rightfully use this passage as THE passage to explain what the kingdom of God is. There are many passages about the kingdom that are plain and easy to understand. Thus, there is no reason for anyone to hang his hat upon a passage that is difficult and obscure. Ultimately, I cannot think that this passage supports anyone else’s viewpoint regarding what the kingdom is more than it does mine. It is just unclear as to what the Lord meant here. We cannot use this passage to define the kingdom and say just what it is.

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.