The Kingdom of God
"The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but
righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit."
"Don't be afraid, my little flock, because your Father is very pleased to give you the kingdom."
"The Law and the prophets were until John; since then, the kingdom of God is preached " (Lk. 16:16). In saying this, Jesus was including John with the Law and the prophets rather than with those in the kingdom of God. We know this, for Jesus said in another place that even though John was as great a man as had ever been born, "he who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Mt. 11:11).
No, John was not in the kingdom of God, for "the kingdom of God is . . . righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit", and the holy Spirit was not given to men until Jesus offered himself to the Father for our sins. As John the apostle explained, "the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified" (Jn. 7:39).
John the Baptist desired to be in the kingdom of God. When Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized, John at first refused; instead, he pleaded with Jesus to baptize him! "I need to be baptized by you," he said, "and you come to me?" (Mt. 3:14). John the Baptist didn't understand that Jesus had to suffer, die, and then return to his Father in heaven in order for the baptism of the Spirit to be given.
The Kingdom Is At Hand!"
In being ignorant of the kind of kingdom Jesus would bring, John was like the other Old Testament prophets. All of them spoke of the coming kingdom, but none of them understood their own prophecies, "for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the holy Spirit" (2Pet. 1:21). What was different about John's message was that he prophesied that the long-awaited kingdom was very near. He cried, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Jesus, too, preached this message. He "went into Galilee," we are told, "preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, and saying 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel!'" (Mk. 1:14-15). Jesus emphasized the nearness of the kingdom when he said, "Truly, I say tell you, there are some standing here who will by no means taste of death until they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mk. 9:1).
Jesus encouraged his disciples to desire above all things to enter the kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33). He also warned them that there were conditions which would have to be met before they would be accounted worthy to enter the kingdom; at the same time, though, he assured them that it was the Father's "good pleasure" for them to enter in (Lk. 12:32).
In The Spirit
No one on earth but Jesus was in the kingdom of God while he lived among us because the way into God's kingdom is to receive God's Spirit, and Jesus had to pay the awful price for the Spirit to come to us. When Jesus told his disciples that they should pray for God's kingdom to come, he was telling them, in effect, to ask God to send His Spirit, though they could not have understood this. Jesus was already in God's kingdom, so that prayer for the Spirit is not "the Lord's prayer", as it is often called; rather, it is the disciples' prayer a prayer for the Spirit to come, and Jesus taught them how to pray it (Mt. 6:9-13):
Pray like this: "Our Father who is in heaven, let your name be revered. May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our failures as we also forgive those who fail us. Don't lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. The kingdom, and the power, and the glory belong to you forever. Amen."
A New and Living Way
God's kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms. When Jesus told Pontius Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world" (Jn. 18:36), he did not simply mean that his kingdom was somewhere else; he also meant that it was a different kind of kingdom. Most people in Israel were taught to expect God's kingdom to come (Mk. 15:43); but Jesus alone understood that God's kingdom would be spiritual in nature. The people expected the Messiah to set up an earthly kingdom and to deliver them from their Roman rulers, but Jesus explained that the kingdom of God would be invisible when it came (Lk. 17:20-21). Not yet having received the Spirit, however, none of his followers could have understood his words.
The prophecies concerning the kingdom of God will have their ultimate fulfillment when Christ establishes his eternal kingdom on the New Earth, when all wickedness will have been forever swept away. When that kingdom comes, "affliction shall not rise up the second time" (Nah. 1:9). This eternal peace will be given to all who humbly submit to the present rule of God and are "translated into the kingdom of His dear Son" by the power of the holy Spirit.
The kingdom of God on earth is called "the body of Christ", and there is but one way for anyone to become a member: baptism of the Spirit (1Cor. 12:13). The body of Christ is not a club; it cannot be joined. It is a family into which we are born in Spirit.
If you have not yet received this "promise of the Father", let me encourage you to trust in the one God sent to save you, Jesus. God gives His Spirit to everyone who obeys Him (Acts 5:32). And remember, Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened" (Mt. 7:7-8).