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*Frequently asked questions*
The Bible, the written word of God, is our sole authority in answering all questions pertaining to our spiritual life. However, in reading the Bible, we must keep in mind that the Bible is not written like a book of science where each statement is exact and complete in itself, nor like a book of law where the goal is to elaborate matters in sections and sub-sections so as to avoid loopholes. The Bible is written for the heart, and can be understood in its proper sense only by those who are spiritually minded (1Co.2:14), and who desire to do the will of God once it is revealed (Jn.7:17). Those who want to argue against the word of God can always find arguments, and those who do not want to obey what God says can appear to find words of God themselves to support their stand.
One reason for misunderstanding the Bible is that people sometimes just take the words of the Bible literally without considering the context or the spirit behind those words, or understanding the figure of speech used in the language. Desiring to be faithful to the inspired word, they miss the intention of God. Another common error is to treat different statements in the Bible as if they hold complete, standalone truths in themselves. It is not right to hold any one truth and neglect other truths. We need to recognise that spiritual truths are usually many sided, and that even truths that appear to be in opposition to each other have to held together in order to get a balanced view of the truth. We shall go into examining our subject here along with an awareness of such dangers and ask the Holy Spirit who inspired the words in the first place to illuminate the truths to our minds and hearts.
The kingdom of God
1. What is the kingdom of God?
It is obvious that this phrase refers to a domain where God is King. What kind of a kingdom is this? We are familiar with earthly kings ruling over physical territories. Is the kingdom of God one like them? Let us apply a principle of interpreting the Bible that helps us where there are several verses referring to a subject that seem to say different things. What we need to do then is to start from verses that are clear and without ambiguity, hold them as anchors based on which we can interpret other verses that are not so clear. A very clear verse is what Jesus said about His kingdom. "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (Jn.18:36). He acknowledges He is a King, but He clarifies that His kingdom is not of this world or this realm. If He was thinking of a kingdom on this earth or a type of kingdom this world thinks about, He would not and could not have said this.
Then what kind of kingdom did Jesus have in mind? Jesus said that there was a mystery about the kingdom of God (Mk.4:11) which was revealed only to His disciples. The Jews in the days of Jesus were looking for the Messiah to come and retake their land from the Romans. So it was natural that they expected their kingdom to be re-established over their land. But the kingdom that Jesus came with was not that kind of a kingdom. The apostle Matthew, in his gospel, refers synonymously to the kingdom of God as the kingdom of heaven. Some people interpret the use of 'heaven' as a euphemism for God since Matthew, being a Jew, was writing to the Jews who feared God so much that they would not say the word 'God'. That interpretation cannot be true, because Matthew uses the phrase 'kingdom of God' 4 times in his book, and the word 'God' 46 times, and yet he refers most often to the kingdom of heaven! I think he was trying to emphasise the heavenly aspect of the kingdom by referring to it more often instead of saying 'kingdom of God'.
The Bible says that 'flesh and blood' cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor.15:50). In other words, the natural human bodies will not be a part of that kingdom. The Bible also says that the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom.14:17). This again goes to show that this kingdom is unlike any other kingdom of this earth. It is not a natural kingdom on the earth where eating and drinking would be major concerns. But in the kingdom of God, it is the matters of the spirit that are of concern and value.
So we can say that the kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom but a 'spiritual' realm where God reigns (or rules) as King. In other words, His domain is the spirits (hearts) of people who have accepted Him as their King and who subject themselves to His authority.
2. When would the kingdom of God start?
Jesus started His preaching by saying the kingdom of God was near, asking the people to repent from their sins and to believe in the gospel (Mk.1:15). In other words, He was saying they had the opportunity to be in that kingdom, and in order to be in that kingdom they should repent from their sins and believe in the gospel (good news).
Let's unpack this a little more. What is the gospel, and why is that good news to us?
We go back to the creation of man. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden they were innocent (having done nothing wrong), and they also had unlimited and free access to God. They could talk with Him, spend time with Him, discuss anything with Him, etc. But one day all this got terminated. They disobeyed God by doing what He had forbidden them. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from 'the tree of knowledge of good and evil', they 'died' spiritually. They began to experience the consequences of being away from God--fear, shame and guilt immediately and a warped up mind and a degenerating body subsequently. Now, all of us who are born from this family suffer from this disconnect with God. In addition, we have all lived basically independent of God, doing 'our thing' and seeking to find pleasure. In this process we have also broken many of God's boundaries for us. This is the problem of sin. What God has done now is to provide us with a way back to Him and the restoration of relationship with Him. He sent Jesus to die on the cross as the punishment for the sins of the whole world (1Jn.2:2), so that we don't have to be punished. Instead, we can receive this salvation freely from God as a gift of undeserved favour from God--if we repent (admit our sins, and determine to turn away from them) and put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour and our Lord (King). This is the experience of being 'born again' (Jn.3:3,5) or being 'born of God' (1Jn.3:9). This is indeed good news for all who are aware of their sins and who want to be right with God.
When we turn to God in this way, He washes away our sins with the blood of Jesus, regenerates our spirit which was dead (disconnected from God) and makes us citizens of His kingdom and children in His family.
This became possible when Jesus actually died on the cross. When He was living on earth, the kingdom of God was 'near', almost there, but when He died it opened up for those who repented and believed in Him to get into the kingdom of God. God showed this fact by tearing the curtain in the Jewish temple which had till then kept out man's access to the Most Holy Place where God dwelt symbolically. At this point, even the old testament saints like Abraham who had put their trust in God received true forgiveness for their sins which had till then been only kept 'covered' by sacrifices for sin (Ps.32:1). Jesus mentioned specifically that people like Abraham would be in the kingdom of God (Lk.13:28).
Jesus also said that some people who were with Him at that time would be alive when the kingdom of God came or 'came with power' (Lk.9:27;Mk.9:1). We are not sure whether this was referring to the time of His death, or the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with great power. But what we see is that there was a beginning to this kingdom.
3. Some people say that the kingdom of God will start only when Jesus comes back to earth.
For those who believe that the kingdom of God is a physical kingdom with Him as king, it is natural to look for the time when that would happen. It is true that Jesus will come back again to the earth at some time and He will reign from Jerusalem over the whole earth as King for a period of 1000 years (Rev.20:1-3)(Rev.20:4-6). Just before this, He will come in the sky, and all who are 'dead in Christ' and who are 'alive in Christ' (the disciples of Jesus who were dead by then and who are alive at that time) will be raised into the sky to meet Him there (1Thess.4:16,17). These people will reign with Jesus during the 1000 years. After this there will the judgment of God on all wicked people who would not turn to God, and they will be thrown into the lake of fire along with Satan and all his demons (Rev.20:10,15;21:8). The heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire (2Pet.3:10-13). God will create a new heaven and a new earth (Isa.65:17;2Pet.3:13;Rev.21:1). This new earth will be very different from the one we are on now. There will be no sun or moon there to give light because God Himself will be the light (Rev.22:5). There will not be any sea (Rev.21:1). We will have have 'glorified' spiritual bodies (1Cor.15:42-44), probably similar to the body which Jesus had after His resurrection (could appear and disappear, go through walls, with no pain, sickness or death). So we can see that this is not the same as this earth, but a completely different type of 'earth'.
Coming back to the question, the kingdom of God cannot be beginning when Jesus comes again because Jesus said that some people who were with Him on earth would not die until they saw the start of the kingdom (Matt.16:28). The 1000 year reign on the old earth is just a short period of time before reigning with Jesus forever and ever is going to happen (Rev.22:5). If the start of the 1000 year period was the start of the kingdom that would last forever, then it would not have been written that Jesus would reign for a period of 1000 years. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom which began after Jesus died and people began to accept Him as King in their lives.
4. On what basis do some people teach that it is on this same earth that Jesus would set up His kingdom which would then last forever?
Certain wrong teachings have come up of late (towards the end of the 20th century and later) which are really interrelated. It is not that those who believe some of these teachings will necessarily accept all the other teachings too. But if we look at them collectively from the outside we can see how they are connected.
One of them is commonly referred to as the 'dominion theology'. This is taken from what God told Adam and Eve after their creation that they should have superiority and authority over the rest of creation (Gen.1:28). Some people refer to this also as the 'Genesis mandate' as applicable for all human beings. Gen.9:1,2 states what God said to Noah and his family after they were brought out from the flood, which was something similar. People go on to teach from this that the dominion over creation that man lost when he sinned against God was restored when Jesus paid the price for sin on the cross. Then it follows that man can and should exercise that dominion now, and that it would become perfect when Jesus sets up His kingdom on this earth.
But the fact is that though Jesus has paid the price for the restoration of man with His death, the process of restoration is not complete but still going on. Born again Christians are far from perfect. Even though they have been justified before God because of their repentance and faith in Jesus, they are still going through a process of 'sanctification' that sets them increasingly free from sin. This process will be complete only when Jesus comes again and they are transformed into His likeness in the process of 'glorification' which takes place instantaneously in the 'twinkling of an eye' (1Cor.15:52,53). Till then, man will continue to experience imperfection in body, soul and spirit. He is unable to exercise total dominion over anything till then.
Some people teach the 'health and prosperity gospel' referring to the restoration of health and wealth which man lost when he sinned and which now Jesus has paid to get back. As a result some people are claiming perfect health and prosperity here on earth for every child of God. This is also false, and basically unrealistic. (See FAQ on healing and FAQ on prosperity.)
Some others who follow a 'reconstruction theology' emphasise the restoration of the earth and its environment to the original condition before sin came. The Bible says that the creation was made subject to futility (Ro.8:20-22). This happened when God cursed the earth (Ge.3:17-19). But it should be clear from this passage that the purpose of this curse was to make things difficult for man on earth. Now he would have to struggle for his survival with hard work. But it would be false and unrealistic to assume that when Jesus died for our sins, the curse on creation was totally taken away immediately. What we observe is an earth which is degenerating more and more, and not, as these people teach, getting better and better in order to be ready for the return of Christ. We must not forget that Satan is currently the prince of this world and he may be seen as corrupting practically every aspect of life here against God and His people. People teach that it is the duty of man to restore the creation to its original condition in all its dimensions before Jesus can return to start His reign as king on the earth. But it is not difficult to see that this would be expecting too much from man. In fact, God has not asked man to do that. The fact is that just as man could not be restored to God except by being born again (the death of the old man and the coming to life of the new man), creation is going to be made ready for the new man and God's kingdom by being destroyed and a new earth getting created.
Some of those who teach this restoration theology misinterpret some of the scriptures to prove their point. As has been understood all through the centuries of Christian church, the present earth and the heavens will be destroyed by fire and a new earth and new heavens will be created. There will be a period of 1000 years when Jesus will reign as King on the present earth before it is destroyed. But those teach otherwise teach that the present earth will not be destroyed but only purified or purged through 'fire' where 'fire' is used figuratively. They say Jesus would reign on this earth which has been made new, forever.
2Pet.3:10-13 says in the NASB, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." Note that there is 'intense heat', 'burned up', 'destroyed', and 'burning'. A simple reading makes things very clear that this earth is going to be burned up, destroyed and it is going to pass away.
To understand what these teachers say, we need to refer to some Greek words, and we need to understand some background about how the Bible has been translated into the English language from the original Greek text. When the King James version was translated in AD 1611, the Greek text that was available is now called 'Textus Receptus (TR)'. Later on, more ancient texts (nearer to the time when the original books of the New Testament were written), became available, and it was noticed that there were some errors in the 'Textus Receptus', possibly due to errors in copying through the centuries. An older and thus more accurate Greek text was put together, which is now called the Wescott and Hort (WH) text. When the New American Standard Bible says "the earth and its works will be burned up," the Greek word used for 'burned up' is katakaio, which is what is available in TR. The NASB which is generally based on the WH text made an exception and used the same word katakaio here and translated it as 'burned up' even though, as the new teachers point out, the WH text uses another word heurisko instead, which means 'find' or 'discover'. These teachers also point out that when it says 'the heavens will be destroyed' the word translated here as 'destroyed' is luo which should have been translated as 'loosed' which is another possible translation of the word.
Now, why would NASB make this translation if even though the more ancient WH text is expected to be more reliable? To understand this, just see how the text would look if the the suggestions regarding a different translation of luo as 'loose' and the use of heurisko meaning 'find/discover' instead of katakaio meaning 'burned up' were followed. The passage would read, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will 'pass away with a roar and the elements will be loosed with intense heat (?), and the earth and its works will be found (?). Since all these things are to be loosed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be loosed and the elements will melt with intense heat (?)! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." There is something artificial about this passage now, and we will have to twist words to mean what these teachers are saying, that this earth is going to be purified and not destroyed.
Is.65:17 talks about 'creating' a new earth and new heavens, and Re.21:1 talks about the old earth and heaven passing away and new heaven and the new heaven coming. We see the 'New Jerusalem' 'coming down from heaven' (Re.21:10) and not as a purified part of the old earth, where only all those who have their names in the Book of Life will stay because the others will be in the lake of fire (Re.20:15).
The description of the new earth brings out the fact that it is very different from the present earth in its essential character, pointing to the idea that it is really a new earth and not a refurbished version of the old. The present earth is very much dependent on the sun for its light and warmth, and for the seasons. The sea, the rivers, the clouds, the mountains all of them contribute to the water cycle. The plants and trees work because of the light of the sun, producing oxygen from carbon dioxide. The combination of all such factors is what sustains life on this earth. The new earth and heavens will not have a sun or moon (Rev.21:23), and there will be no sea on the earth (Rev.21:1). There will be only daytime and no night (Rev.21:25). We can also understand that there will be no seasons because the earth is no more going around the sun. The way the new earth will function must be very different from the way the present earth does!
The new 'body' that we will have in the resurrection is essentially a 'spiritual' body (1Cor.15:44), and Jesus said in the resurrection we will be like the angels (Matt.22:30) who are spirit beings. From what we see of the body Jesus had after the resurrection, it can appear in a visible form or be invisible as the normal state. Even though the angels who took bodily form and Jesus after the resurrection could eat, we know at least in the case of the angels that since they don't have physical bodies, they don't need to eat physical food. With our new spiritual bodies, the kind of 'earth' we need to live on is not the current one.
I believe the overall weight of the matter is to take it that this earth and the heavens will be burned up and God will create a new earth and new heavens which will operate with entirely new features -- people with spiritual bodies, no sea, no sun or moon, no night, God Himself as the light, no death, no pain, no sickness, etc. Peter takes this fact as an exhortation not to place their heart on the things of this earth but to prepare themselves for a heavenly life (2Pe.3:13,14).
We need to also know that there is a political angle to this discussion. Those who want to get people to support the care and reconstruction of the environment would like to motivate them by saying we need to take care of this earth where we are going to be for eternity. They fear that if this earth is going to be burned up, the motivation for this care will disappear!
5. Doesn't the Bible say this earth will last forever?
Ps.104:5 and Ecc.1:4 seem to say that this earth is going to remain forever. But let us put these along with all that we have seen so far. Let us also look at what Jesus said about His words not passing away even though heaven and earth will pass away (Matt.24:35). Therefore we have to recognise that the above places where it says the earth will abide forever must be saying it in a poetic sense and which is not to be taken literally.
6. What about the kingdom of God on earth during the millennium?
The Bible describes the events of the end times using many figures of speech, and they are referred to in bits and pieces distributed in many places. When we know that it was God who inspired the human authors to write down everything, we come to realise that God did not want everything about the future to be to be described with clarity. His main aim seems to be to encourage us to look for the future with hope and to motivate us to go towards the future in a meaningful way. Keeping in mind that there is a level of ambiguity involved here, let us look at what seems to be the best guess based on what God has revealed.
We have already seen that the present world is going to be destroyed by fire and God is going to create new heavens an a new earth. The city of New Jerusalem will come down from heaven to the new earth. There will be no night, no sickness, no pain, no sorrow, no death, and God will be with His people and they will be with Him forever. Satan, his demons and all whose names are not in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev.20:10,15).
However, both in the description of the New Jerusalem in Isa.65 and in Rev.21, we see a different scenario. The 'nations' will be there, and even though there will be peace when 'the wolf and the lamb will graze together', people will be giving birth to children and they will be living (only) up to 100 years. But in the life after the resurrection in heaven, there will not be any marriage (Matt.22:30), giving birth to children and they will be living forever and ever without death. So apparently, this description is not about the everlasting life in heaven (or on the new earth).
I don't see any way to clear this ambiguity when we put all the points together. My guess is that this description is about the 1000 year reign, before the judgment on the earth when there will be nations around Jerusalem.
7. Why did Jesus teach His disciples to pray, "Let Your kingdom come"?
In what is commonly referred to as the Lord's prayer, we have these lines, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt.6:10). In the kingdom of God are people who do His will (actually, those who desire to do His will) because He is the King. They want to do His will just as it is being done in heaven, all of it, all the time. That is why they pray that it would become like that on earth too. When they pray for God's kingdom to come, what they mean is that His rule will prevail--in more and more people's lives and for all time. That is not happening now, and so Jesus teaches us to pray for this.
Some people interpret this verse as if if refers to God establishing a physical kingdom on this earth. It could mean that, taken by itself, but since we have already seen that Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, it means just as we have said above.
8. How can anyone enter the kingdom of God?
Jesus has given the answer. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Jn.3:5). Jesus emphasised the fact that unless a man was born again he could not even have a clue about the kingdom (v.3). I think 'water' refers to hearing the word of God and getting cleansed by it and not water baptism. See FAQ on water baptism) (Eph.5:26). Being 'born of the Spirit' refers to the supernatural regeneration of the human spirit by the work of the Holy Spirit. This re-birth into the kingdom of God happens, as mentioned earlier, when a man repents from his sins and believes and accepts the gospel (Mk.1:15). There is no other way to enter the kingdom of God. No one can qualify for it by living a good life, being in a 'Christian' family or a member of a church, etc. We are all born in sin (Ps.51:5), and we all need a Saviour, Jesus.
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