It is my conviction that we are currently living in the dispensation of the grace of God. In this dispensation, God works with all mankind on earth under the principles of grace, of faith, and of secrecy. If God cannot act in grace, then He does not act at all. If men will not believe by faith in God’s Word, then God will not give them anything else to believe in. And God hides all His works in secret, so that the skeptical man can deny that He is working at all.
This is what God is doing today, but it is not what He will be doing forever. God has a plan to carry out, and someday when this dispensation has run its course, He will begin a new work on earth. When that work begins, next on God’s agenda is a dispensation of God’s government upon earth. God’s government will take control of all nations on earth, and God Himself will govern them. God is not governing in this world now. Instead, He is allowing all men to walk in their own ways. Yet in spite of our advances in science and technology, this world needs God to govern it now more than ever.
This glorious time in the future of God’s government is what is meant in the Bible when It talks about the “kingdom of God.” Every statement in the Bible about the kingdom of God is speaking of God’s government. Every statement about the kingdom of heaven is speaking about this same government. This is the meaning of these terms. (See my article on “The Kingdom of God Part 4: The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God” and “The Kingdom of God Part 5: What Is a Kingdom?”) We must be careful to use these terms according to the “pattern of sound words” (II Timothy 1:13) laid down for us by Scripture. Let us not use these terms to mean whatever fantasy our imaginations might conjure up, as so many do today.
Many important New Testament passages have to do with the kingdom of God. First, consider the Lord’s declaration in Mark 1:14-15.
14. Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15. and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
In this passage, the Lord Jesus Himself said the kingdom of God was “at hand.” This phrase means it had approached or drawn near. Moreover the Lord made it plain that it would not be long until it arrived, as we read in Mark 9:1.
1. And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”
In this verse the Lord boldly declared that some of the disciples standing there with Him would not experience death until they saw the kingdom of God present with power. Yet He also made it clear that the kingdom of God would not come or arrive all at once, as He taught in His parable in Mark 4:26-29.
26. And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27. and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
In this parable, the Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that the kingdom of God would come in stages comparable to the stages of growing grain. First would come the blade stage, then the head stage, then the full grain in the head stage, then the ripened grain stage, and then the harvest stage.
If we take the three passages we have just considered together, we can draw three conclusions from comparing them:
1. The kingdom of God was not present when John and our Lord began their ministries. It was not present either when He spoke to His disciples before the transfiguration.
2. The kingdom of God began and was present before some of the disciples died.
3. When the kingdom first came, it came like the blade stage of growing grain, and will develop progressively from there like growing grain.
While these last two statements might be hard for some to accept, I believe that they are true. The history of the book of Acts chronicles the beginning stages of the kingdom of God. That is what began at Pentecost; that is the work the disciples were doing; that is the powerful goal towards which God was moving; and that is what every action and activity of the Acts period was centered around. That kingdom is not present now, however. The kingdom has now been suspended while God does a new work, the work we mentioned above: the dispensation of the grace of God. The kingdom of God will take up from where it left off at the end of the book of Acts sometime in the future.
Though “the kingdom of God” might be the most familiar name we could use for that great, future time of God’s government on earth, that kingdom actually has many other, Biblical titles that describe it. We will consider a few of those Biblical titles as we find them in Scripture.
1. The regeneration. Matthew 19:28. So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
The word “regeneration” is palingenesis, meaning to generate or begin again. The kingdom of God will again be a regeneration or new beginning, for Israel, for mankind, and for the world.
2. The times of refreshing. Acts 3:19. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,
This earth has suffered under the terrible power of sin and death for many long ages. The world needs a refreshing, and someday it will get one. When the kingdom of God comes, this world will be refreshed, and this refreshing will come straight from the presence of the Lord. Only He can give this world the refreshing that it needs.
3. The times of restoration. Acts 3:21. whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
Many, many things that once existed, that once were good and right, have now been destroyed or corrupted. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, this world has not been the way God made it, or the way He intended it to be. Moreover there are many good things God made in Israel that have long since been destroyed or ceased to be. All such good things will one day be restored. All God’s holy prophets since the He began to flow out with truth have spoken of these coming times of restoration.
4. The day of Christ. Philippians 1:6. Having come to this settled and firm persuasion concerning this very thing, namely that the One having begun a good work in you will be suspending it until the day of Christ Jesus. The Resultant Version
This verse speaks of the good work that was begun among the Philippians during the Acts period. This work was the work of the kingdom of God, yet that work was not going to continue now that God had brought in the dispensation of the grace of God. But God would not suspend that work only briefly while they were alive and then perhaps decide to start up the work again once they were dead and could no longer benefit from it. No, He was going to be suspending it until the day of Christ Jesus. In that day, when it comes, the work will begin again. In that day, when it comes, the full kingdom will come in at last. The day of Christ Jesus is the day of the kingdom of God. Messiah Jesus will be reigning from heaven, and His rule will extend over the entire earth. Thus, Christ Jesus will have His day.
5. The last days. Acts 2:17-21. ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18. And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
19. I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
20. The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
21. And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Shall be saved.’
This passage speaks of some of the many wonders of the kingdom of God to come: the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh, Israel’s sons and daughter will prophesy, even their young shall see visions, even their old shall dream dreams, even their male and female servants shall have the Spirit poured out on them, wonders and signs will appear in the heaven above and on earth beneath, and whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. The title this passage gives this glorious time is “the last days.” The word “last” here is the Greek word eschatos, and refers not to the last days there will ever be, but to the “resultant days,” the days that result from all God’s long work to bring about the kingdom. God’s work will result in all these glorious things coming to pass. This will take place in “the last days.”
When does this kingdom come? Many believe that it begins with the second coming of Christ, but as I have expressed in my series on “Bins for Bible Prophecies,” I believe that the Bible is clear that the kingdom of God comes before the second coming of Christ. It is not the same thing as the millennium, the thousand years of Christ’s personal presence on earth. The kingdom of God is a long period of time, however, covering centuries. It is hard to say exactly how long it will be, but we do believe that it will end with the five hundred years of Daniel’s prophecy of seventy “weeks” of years. During this great kingdom, God will control everything in the government. God makes the laws, creates order, gives light, and enforces righteousness. There will be sin during the kingdom of God, but it will be the exception, not the rule, and when anyone sins he will receive from God’s government the just punishment for that sin that he deserves.
Yet how will that great, future time of God’s government end? How will the transition from this time to the thousand year reign of Christ take place? I believe that the Biblical answer to these questions is that the kingdom of God will end with a great test of all its subjects. One outcome of this test is that some who fail the test will turn away from God, will reject His control, and will revolt against the kingdom.
This concept of a revolt against the kingdom is a difficult concept for some. Many who will readily accept that God would step in and take control of earth’s governments have difficulty imagining that there could ever be a revolt against that government. Yet the Bible teaches this, and so we must accept it.
Perhaps our difficulty in accepting this reality is that we have several misconceptions about what a revolt against God’s government would mean. First of all, just because there is a revolt against the kingdom of God does not mean that it is successful or the kingdom is overthrown by it. Secondly, just because there is a revolt does not mean that all men, or even the majority of men, actually participate in the revolt. One of the principles that God’s people will be expected to follow in the kingdom will be what the Lord said to Peter, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52. Therefore if some men rise up in armed revolt against the kingdom of God, those who stay loyal to the kingdom will not be able to arm themselves in support of the kingdom. Therefore part of the success of this revolt is because those who remain obedient to the kingdom laws are forbidden from taking up arms against it. This is part of the test that comes upon the entire world at that time. This is as we read in Revelation 3:10.
10. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
Therefore this kingdom revolt is a trial which comes upon the world to test those who dwell on the earth. There would be little point to God testing men on earth today. Over and over again since the fall mankind has demonstrated its inability to live according to God’s righteous standards and laws. Yet after hundreds of years of God’s glorious government on earth, many men will have learned better, and will know how they ought to act before God. Thus the revolt is a legitimate test to determine whether or not those who dwell on the earth have learned to have faith in God and to obey His commands no matter the cost. Many will pass this test and prove their faithfulness, joining the company of the overcomers who will reign with Christ during the thousand years of Christ’s parousia. Yet some will fail the kingdom test, and these will join the revolt against the kingdom.
The Testing of Adam
We might compare this kingdom testing of those who dwell on the earth with the testing of Adam in the book of Genesis. God created Adam very good, and created him in a perfect environment to meet all his needs. Yet though he started out in a perfect situation, in order to develop in his relationship with God, Adam needed to be given a choice. God is love, and so He created us to love and to be loved, and an important aspect of love is that it must be by choice. Thus Adam must be allowed to choose to love God or to not love God. To this end, God set up a test for Adam to show whether or not he would continue to voluntarily love God. He set up the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and prohibited Adam from partaking of it.
Now when God set up this test, it involved risk. If Adam passed the test, it would greatly benefit him to have done so, and it would have greatly benefitted his relationship with God. Yet it was a real test, and so Adam could fail and fall into sin and evil. If Adam did this, God would not immediately take from him all the many blessings He had poured out on him. Adam was given charge over God’s new creation of the earth, and if Adam fell into sin, he would pull the rest of God’s creation into the consequences of that sin along with him. Yet God set up the test anyway. He is equal to every situation, and even when this occurred and Adam did sin, He was ready for it and knew what to do.
Many ask why God would have set up a test like this for Adam when the consequences of failure would be so severe. Yet surely this was God’s choice to make. Some insist that Adam had no real choice and that his fall was inevitable, yet this certainly is not true. Adam was in a perfect environment, and had every opportunity to stay there. His was the choice to freely make, and he made it freely. If God had removed the tree and any possibility for failure, it is true that Adam would have never been disobedient. But he never would have been obedient either. Adam never could have truly been a free agent and lived up to the potential of what God created him to be if he never had a choice but to do what he was meant to do. God knew the price of Adam’s failure would be severe, but He knew Himself as well, and knew that He was more than capable of handling the situation if Adam did fall. He knew the loss to Adam and his race might be great, but He must have believed that the benefits the test offered if passed were worth it. We must trust Him to have judged this accurately.
The kingdom test is similar to the test God gave Adam. The kingdom of God will be a perfect environment, the kind of environment God meant the earth to be in the first place. All nations will enjoy dwelling under the glorious conditions of the kingdom, but they will not be given a choice about following God as long as His kingdom is in control. God will have hedged them around with His judgment, His order, His justice, and His protection. That judgment will keep them from harm, yet it will also not allow them the choice to serve God freely, as He wants men to do. Thus it will be necessary to bring about a break in kingdom conditions in order to test the men who dwell upon the earth to see whether or not their service to God is by choice or only out of compulsion.
What exactly causes the test to begin we do not know. Perhaps Satan will accuse men before God as he did Job, claiming that they only serve Him because He requires them to, and not because of any love and loyalty on their part. We know that he is the accuser of the brethren at that time, for Revelation 12:10 tells us so.
10. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.
Thus we know that Satan is the accuser of the brothers, and it could well be that his accusation begins the events that take place, and God responds by testing men upon earth. But whatever it is that causes Him to begin the test, it starts by God removing the kingdom controls that have kept men in line for so long, and letting them instead walk in their own ways again for a short time. Notice that, though the controls are removed, the commands and decrees are not. If they are faithful, men should still live according to the kingdom laws and principles. Yet because the controls are no longer in place, they are no longer forced to, and if they refuse to live this way there will be no immediate punishment. This will result in a situation where many remain faithful to God’s laws no matter the cost, while others revolt and go their own way.
This period of time will be a most strange one on earth, yet it is a very critical one in God’s plans. It is set forth in many passages of Scripture. All the truth regarding Daniel’s seventieth week is related to this period. The entirety of the first nineteen chapters of Revelation is related to this time as well. Yet there are also many other passages that deal with this critical time of testing in the kingdom. Let us examine some of these passages and learn what we can about the revolt against the kingdom.