In my message on “The Theme of the Bible,” I declared my belief that the kingdom of God is, in fact, the theme of the Bible. If this be so, then it is clear that discovering what this term “kingdom of God” means is crucial, and worthy of the most diligent study. Most people, when they seek to discover what the kingdom of God is, start off by going about this in several wrong ways, and this inevitably leads them to a wrong conclusion. In this study, I will attempt to set forth what I believe is the right way to interpret this phrase, and how we can know what it actually means, and what God was referring to when He used these words.
Now when most start off to discover what the kingdom of God is, they enter the study with many preconceived ideas about a kingdom. The word “kingdom” is a word in English that has many, traditional ideas attached to it. We automatically think of a man wearing long robes, sitting on an ornate chair, and wearing an expensive hat. I do not believe that these ideas are by any means accurate. Just the fact that many tribal chieftains in Africa are called “kings,” yet they do not sit on ornate chairs called thrones or wear fancy hats called crowns should be enough to make us think about whether or not we are thinking correctly when we apply these ideas to the kingdom of God.
Ultimately, it is not what the English word “kingdom” means that is most important regarding this study, but rather what the Greek and Hebrew words for “kingdom” that the Bible uses meant. These are the words that the Holy Spirit spoke when He wrote these books of the Bible, not our traditional English words. There is nothing sacred about our word “kingdom,” or about our ideas of what a kingdom is. We must discover what the Hebrew idea of a kingdom was if we truly wish to come to an understanding of God’s truth.
Now the Greek word for “kingdom” is basileia. The accent is on the “ei,” basilEIa. (An accent on the first “i” would produce the word for queen, “baSILeia.”) This word occurs 162 times in the New Testament Scriptures. In the King James Version, it is translated “kingdom” 161 times. In the remaining occurrence, it is translated “reign.”
This Greek word is, beyond all controversy, related to the Greek word basileus, which is the Greek word for “king.” This word is used 118 times in the Greek Bible, and is always translated as “king” in the King James Version.
These are the Greek words that we need to consider and study, then, but ultimately this will only give us part of the story, since only the New Testament was written in Greek. In order to study this topic out fully, we must also consider what was written in the Hebrew portion of the Bible regarding these things, and so we must also study the Hebrew words that relate to basileia and basileus.
The Hebrew word for “kingdom” is the word malkuwth. This words occurs 91 times in the Old Testament Scriptures, and is translated “kingdom” 51 times, “reign” 21 times, “royal” 13 times, “realm” 4 times, “empire” 1 time, and “estate” 1 time in the King James Version. A related Hebrew word is mamlakah, which occurs 117 times, and is translated “kingdom” 110 times, “royal” 4 times, “reign” 2 times, and “king’s” once in the KJV. There appears to me to be little difference between these two words. Perhaps there is only a shade of meaning different which is hard to pick up on. Another related word is maluwkah, which seems to relate more directly to the king or the ruler of the kingdom than do the other words for “kingdom.” This word occurs only 24 times, and is translated “kingdom” 18 times, “royal” 4 times, and “king’s” 2 times in the King James Version.
Now of the words I have listed above, which Hebrew word corresponds directly to the Greek word basileia? The answer can be found, I believe, by applying the law of Divine interchange. This law was so named by Otis Q. Sellers, and states that, when a quotation of the Old Testament appear in the New Testament and a certain Greek word is used to translate a certain Hebrew word, those two words thus become synonymous. That is to say, that the Holy Spirit is using those two words interchangeably. When He does this, the Greek word can be considered to be equal to the Hebrew word in all respects, and it would be right to consider them together in the same study. In fact, a study of that Greek word or Hebrew word alone would be incomplete without also studying the occurrences of the word that is its equal according to the law of Divine interchange.
Now if we apply this law to the word basileia and the three words for “kingdom” in the Old Testament, we will find by comparing Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6, that the Hebrew word that corresponds to the Greek word basileia is the Hebrew word malkuwth. In Psalm 45:6, the Hebrew word for kingdom is malkuwth.
6. Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
And, in Hebrews 1:8, that same word is basileia.
8. But to the Son He says:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.”
So the word malkuwth is the one we must most closely consider as relating to the Greek word we are studying, basileia.
Finally, we must consider the Hebrew word for king, which is melek. This word occurs 2,523 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and is translated “king” 2,518 times, “royal” 2 times, “Hammelech” 1 time, “Malcham” 1 time, and “Moloch” 1 time in the King James Version. Those last three are clearly the King James’ translators’ attempt at transliterating this word into a proper name. This word basically means “king.”
Now, to learn what a “kingdom” is, first we need to establish in our minds what a “king” is. And examination of the usage of this Hebrew word will reveal a wide variation in its application. Sometimes it refers to rulers over cities, ones who were little more than tribal chiefs. Other times, it refers to rulers over great empires, such as the kings of Persia and Babylon. The question to ask ourselves, then, is what qualifies one as a “king” in the Biblical sense of the word, and how does it apply to all these various rulers?
I believe that a study of the word melek will lead to the conclusion that this word is applied to anyone who has absolute authority over men, with no peer or equal. Thus, one who is called a “king” could rule over 100 men, or a vast empire. The meaning of this word is, therefore, not at all connected with the things we think of as the “trappings” of a king, such as the crown or the throne.
Thus, melek is similar to what our English word “monarchy” used to mean, if we examine its etymology. “Mon” is from “mono,” which is in common use, and means “alone.” “Archy” means a rule or reign. So a “monarch” is one who rules alone. In recent times, this word has been watered down in its meaning. The idea of a “constitutional monarchy,” or of a “limited monarchy,” has come into being and been applied to the governments of different countries. In our day, we have countries that are really republics that maintain a symbolic figurehead as a “king” or “queen.” We still call these “monarchies,” but this is really contrary to the original meaning of the word, for these people are barely rulers, and definitely do not rule alone.
Now this word for “king” is generally not applied to Moses, Joshua, or any of the judges. This might seem strange at first, since it seems that these men ruled alone over Israel. We can come to an understanding of this if we examine the point where Israel rejected their judges, and demanded that a king be set over them. The story is in I Samuel 8. There, starting in verse 4, we read:
4. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5. and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
Here, we see that Samuel, the last judge, had grown old, and attempted to set his sons as judges over Israel in his place. This was a bad idea, however, since his sons were not like him, but were wicked. Needless to say, Israel was not pleased by this situation. Their response here, however, is not what we might like. They take this as a good opportunity to demand something that will make them more like the other nations around them. They want to have a king to judge them.
6. But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD.
Samuel was displeased by this request of the people. Yet in his displeasure he did exactly what he should have done. He did not try to chasten the people himself. He did not try to decide what to do to fix things himself. He did not try to take matters into his own hands. Instead, he turned to the LORD, and asked Him for guidance regarding what to do next.
7. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
The LORD revealed His perspective about what was truly going on in the hearts of the people here. They were not just rejecting Samuel as their judge. Nor were they merely rejecting Samuel’s sons as their judges. No the Israelites were in fact rejecting the Lord as king over them. He was their true Ruler, and He was the One Who, up until this point, had ruled alone over Israel. He had been the monarch, and He had ruled alone. Now, however, they had rejected His kingship. They wanted a human king, a king who was a man they could manipulate. God’s rules are absolute, but a man’s can change. A man could be affected by bribes. A man could do people favors in return for favors done to him. A man could be influenced to change a law if it was unpopular with the people. With God, however, none of these things could be done. So the people of Israel wanted a man as king, and in so doing they rejected the LORD, the One Who had been their king.
So that is why none of the rulers up until this point are called “kings.” They might have been the top ruler as far as men were concerned, but ultimately they answered to a ruler above them, which was God Himself. That is why, up until Samuel’s sons, we do not see any “bad” or wicked judges, as we see bad and wicked kings. Since they reported directly to Him, God would have dealt with any one of them that did not live up to his office. If the people had waited, no doubt Samuel’s sons would have been taken care of. They came up with their own solution, however, and demanded a king.
Now what is true of the Hebrew word melek is equally true of the Greek word basileus. This word always meant an absolute ruler. Some might argue against this, using the example of king Herod as one who ruled under Rome. Yet Herod was an absolute ruler over his own subjects. Only a Roman citizen could appeal to Rome or to Caesar, as Paul did. But over his own subjects, Herod had absolute rule, and there was no one to whom they could appeal. Thus, Herod truly was a king.
So we have examined the idea contained in the Hebrew and Greek words for “king.” Now, let us move on to examine the word “kingdom.” The English “kingdom” comes from what in Middle Ages was called the “king’s doom.” The word “doom” in this case meant a “law” or “judgment.” When the king passed a new law, made a new rule, or issued a new proclamation, that was called the “king’s doom.” So the “king’s doom” was the kingdom’s law or judgment. Now that law would then go out and be proclaimed in all the territory where the king’s rule held sway. So it is easy to see how, because of this, the meaning of the word was transferred to the territory over which the king reigned. The place where the king’s doom would be in effect became called the “kingdom.” Yet this was not its original meaning. It originally meant the laws or rule of the king, and only later came to take on this meaning of the king’s territory.
So the question is, when we come to the word “kingdom” in the Bible, does It refer to our more modern meaning of “territory,” or does it refer to the older meaning of the word, the rule of the king? There can be no doubt about this, I believe, if the word is honestly examined. The word “kingdom” in the Bible does not refer to territory. Rather, it refers to the rule or reign itself, even as it is often translated in the King James Version. Thus, my conclusion to the question, “What does the word ‘kingdom’ mean?” would be that kingdom means government. Or, as E.W. Bullinger wrote, the kingdom of God means the “sovereignty or rule of God.”
Now, can this definition be demonstrated from passages in the Scriptures? I believe it can. First, let us look at Luke 19:11-27. We will not examine the entire portion here, but let us look first of all at verse 12.
12. Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.”
This nobleman is going off to receive a kingdom for himself in a far country. We read of him giving money to certain of his servants, and then in verse 15, we read:
15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.”
So the man did, indeed, receive the kingdom in a far country. How could this refer to the territory ruled over by a king? How could you possibly receive a territory by going to a far country? From this passage, we can see that a “kingdom” cannot be a territory ruled over by a “king.” It cannot even refer to the people, for you would not receive them in a far country either. What the nobleman received was authority. Before, he had no authority over the people. In the far country, he received this authority. Then, when he returned, he had authority over the people. Now, he could reign. That meant he had a kingdom.
Now I have suggested that the word “government” is the best word to use as a representation of the idea behind the Biblical word “kingdom.” Govern originally meant to steer or to manipulate a machine, as a pilot might steer a boat. From this, it came to be applied to steering men in a government. Thus, the one who reigns like a king does, both governs and rules the people. This government, this rule, is the kingdom, not the territory ruled over. Let us demonstrate this with some verses. First, let us examine Psalm 103:19.
19. The LORD has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
Now we must ask ourselves: is it the territory that rules over all? Of course not! It is the government of God, His righteous reign, that rules over all. Thus, the kingdom, the Hebrew word “malkuwth,” is not the realm ruled, but that which rules. It is God’s righteous government that rules over all. When this takes place, then what is declared in Revelation 11:16-17 will be true.
16. And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17. saying:
“We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.”
The Lord God Almighty has all the great power He needs to take the reigns of human government under His control and to rule the earth. We know that, as of this moment, He has not yet done so. Yet in the time when the statement of Revelation 11:17 will be true, this will not be the case, for the Lord will have taken to Himself this power. When the Lord exercises His authority over the earth, that is when the government of God will be a reality. When this takes place, the Lord Jesus will be a king. Yet we must be careful here. If He is King, does that mean He will wear a fancy hat called a crown and sit in an ornate chair called a throne? Let us look at Revelation 19:12, speaking of Christ, with this in mind.
12. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.
This verse makes it plain that a crown is not just a fancy hat. Think how ridiculous Christ would look with many hats on his head! Would they be piled on top of each other, or would they be sticking out at odd angles? We should not think of the Lord’s crowns like this. A crown is not just a fancy hat, but is symbolic for an authority. Someone else could take the king’s hat and put it on, but he could not by doing so actually wear the crown. Wearing the crown has to do with having authority, and not just with having a hat. In the same way, the throne is the seat of government, not just a fancy chair. I live in the United States of America, and here we have no king. Yet, symbolically, one could say that Washington, D.C. is the throne of the United States. In other words, it is the seat of government for our country. There may be no fancy chair there where anyone sits, but still this is a throne. So, we must be careful that we do not mix our ideas of the trappings of kings into our view of the Lord Jesus Christ as King. He will certainly sit as king over the earth, but it seems unlikely to me that He will ever wear a fancy hat, or sit upon an ornate chair. Our Lord needs no such items to decorate Him, or to exalt His reign.
Now I teach that the kingdom of God is the time when God will take control of the governments of this world. Yet some will insist, and it is indeed true in a way, that many things could be called God’s “government.” For example, let us examine Genesis 1:16-18.
16. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18. and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
Here, we see that God created the sun, moon, and stars to rule. So even these heavenly bodies could be termed as a government of God that rules over the day and the night. It would be proper to call these a government of God. And it is also true that God rules over everything in the universe. He is the Supreme Being, and He has ultimate control. This control, His universal sovereignty, could rightfully be called His kingdom or government. We cannot deny this. And yet this universal control is not what Christ meant when He spoke of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament! Such an idea simply does not fit into any of the occurrences of the phrase. No, the kingdom that John the Baptist said was at hand, and that Christ also preached to Israel, was not God’s universal sovereignty. What they preached was not something that was then present, but rather was a future reality. I Corinthians 2:9 speaks of this reality when it says,
9. But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
The context of this passage makes it clear that it is God acting upon earth that brings this blessed state of things to pass. And it was the hope of the Israelites throughout their history that God would bring about His reign on earth that would lead to these blessed conditions. An example of this can be seen in Luke 23:50-51.
50. Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. 51. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God.
Here we read of this good and just man, and learn that he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Why would he be waiting for it, if the kingdom were nothing more than God’s universal sovereignty? Surely this reveals clearly that God’s kingdom is something that is yet future, that is yet to come upon the earth.
Some would suggest that Ephesians 1:11 reveals the truth that God controls all things. They claim that this verse demonstrates that God has universal control over all that occurs, and His will concerns all that transpires. This verse reads,
11. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
Yet I do not believe that this is universal control. The words “all things” here have a context. This does not mean all things in the universe. This can be clearly demonstrated in Colossians 3:8, where the same Greek phrase is used.
8. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.
The words “all these” are the same words in Greek as “all things” in Ephesians 1:11. Yet here this phrase can clearly not mean all things in the universe, for that was not what Paul was urging the Colossians to put off. “All things” has a context in Ephesians 1:11. It does not mean all things in the universe.
But, some might ask, does God not have control over all things? Is it not true that God determines all that happens, because He has ultimate power over everything? I do not deny that God is all-powerful, but I think we need to realize that there is a difference between having power and exercising it. For example, our President in the United States doesn’t always use every power He has. Many of these powers, for example, he delegates to members of his cabinet. Yet the cabinet is not in the Constitution of the United States. Of itself, this group of people has no power. The power they have comes from the President, and he could rightfully take back that power at any time. Yet he chooses to delegate it. Other powers, like emergency powers, the President may only rarely use, and some Presidents may never use them at all. This is just a fact regarding those in authority: they do not have to use every power they have. So the question is not, “Does God have all power,” but, “Does God use His power always in every situation?” I believe Acts 14:15-16 will help us answer this question. Here, we read of Barnabas and Paul, upset by the attempt of the people of Lystra to worship them, running among the people, saying these words.
15. and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16. who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.
So Barnabas and Paul testify to the fact that God has allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. If God does this, then He is not exercising the sovereignty that He has. He is not utilizing His power to control everything. Instead, He is allowing all nations to walk in their own ways. He is giving them the free choice to rebel against Him, and they are doing it. So we can say without a doubt that God did not utilize His sovereignty here. Yet, we know that someday He will exercise His sovereignty, as Revelation 11:17 most clearly reveals.
17. saying: “ We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.”
So someday, God will utilize the power He has, and He will rule and reign over all men on earth. How will God exercise this authority? I believe that the Bible gives the clear answer: it will be through Jesus Christ! In Matthew 28:18, the Lord Jesus testifies to this fact.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
So Christ testifies that He was given all authority. He was given the right to rule by God. Yet it is clear that He has not yet taken up that power. He has not yet begun to rule. If He has, then we would have to admit, looking at the condition of things today, that His rule is disappointing, and His power is less than we could have hoped. Yet I do not believe that Christ has yet taken up His power to rule. He has all authority, but He is not exercising it. When in the future, however, God does utilize His authority, we could call this, in a term some rabbis use, the “manifest Kingdom of God.” That is when God will rule over the earth. That is when His government will be a reality in the world.
To close out this study, let us consider Psalm 93, a most glorious Psalm regarding the kingdom of God that is yet to come. In this Psalm, we read,
1. The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;
The LORD is clothed,
He has girded Himself with strength.
Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved.
This speaks of a future reality, not a present one, for we all know that the LORD does not currently reign. When He does, He will be clothed with majesty and strength, and the world will be established, so that it cannot be moved. The world is the system or order of men upon the earth. The world at present is in a constant state of flux and turmoil. Governments are overturned. New governments are established. Rebellions occur. Unrest is common. There is very little solidity, very little that is firmly established, regarding the world today. Yet someday, the world will be firmly established. That day will be when God reigns over it.
2. Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.
The word translated “of old” here is the Hebrew word az, and does not mean “old,” but “then.” In other words, God’s throne is established from the time that the world was established. Indeed, it makes sense that this world could only be established when God takes control of it and establishes His government over it. Then it declares that the LORD is “from everlasting.” This is the Hebrew olam, and means the same thing as the Greek word aion. The LORD is from the flow. I believe this means that all that occurs during that kingdom, all that makes up His government, flows directly from the LORD. He is the source of all the great blessings that will be upon the world at that time.
3. The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their waves.
This probably speaks of the many floods of people that cover the earth. Whereas before they were in turmoil, now they lift up their voices to the LORD Who has established His rule over them.
4. The LORD on high is mightier
Than the noise of many waters,
Than the mighty waves of the sea.
The LORD is mightier than all the inhabitants of the world. None of even the most powerful of leaders can stand up before Him. All the powers of this world are now subservient to the One Who made them in the beginning.
5. Your testimonies are very sure;
Holiness adorns Your house,
O LORD, forever.
The LORD’s testimonies are very sure. Even as He has promised, His government will come someday, and rule over the earth. Of that we can be certain. May God speed the day!