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The Church: Jesus' Kingdom or  Unplanned Substitute?

Is Jesus' church the same as His Kingdom? Or is the church a  substitute for the kingdom, not planned or predicted in the Old Testament, as taught by premillennialism?

What does premillennialism teach about the kingdom of Jesus Christ? Did Jesus came to earth to establish His kingdom but could not because the Jews rejected Him? 

Did Jesus establish the church instead as a sort of unplanned, last-minute substitute for the kingdom? Or was the church predicted and planned in Old Testament prophecy? Is the kingdom actually the same relationship as the church? Does premillennial doctrine agree with Scripture?

This is part of a series of articles about premillennial teaching. To see a list of all the articles, please click here

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Many advocates of premillennialism believe that, when Jesus came to earth, both He and His Father expected and planned that He would establish a physical, earthly kingdom. However, the Jews unexpectedly rejected Jesus, so God changed His plans and set up the church instead. The church will last till Jesus returns, when He will set up the earthly kingdom that He expected to set up the first time He came.

Consider these quotes:

"Because the nation has rejected Him, the Lord ... (withdraws) the offer of the kingdom ..., and announces the inception of an entirely new, unheralded, and unexpected program -- the church" - Things to Come, Pentecost, p. 463f (via Miller, p. 43f).

"...the present age is a parenthesis or a time period not predicted by the Old Testament and therefore not fulfilling or advancing the program of events revealed in the Old Testament foreview ... If the church does not fulfill these predictions and in fact is the fulfillment of a purpose of God not revealed until the New Testament, then the premillenarians are right" - The Millennial Kingdom, Walvoord, p. 231 (via Miller, p. 46, and via McGuiggan & Jordan, slide #161).

Boll says that Jesus first taught "the Old Testament hope of the Messianic kingdom." But Israel began to oppose Jesus, so He "began to announce an entirely new and different aspect which his kingdom was to assume" which he calls "the present, spiritual, veiled, suffering form of the kingdom of heaven..." - Kingdom of God, Boll, p. 46 (via Wallace, p. 163).

It follows that the church is not the kingdom of the Old Testament, and was neither planned nor predicted in the Old Testament. It is an unplanned, last-minute substitute inserted as a stop-gap because the kingdom had to be postponed.

Consequences of this view include that the kingdom predicted in the Old Testament does not exist and therefore Jesus is not a king as predicted in the Old Testament (see other lessons on these topics). Further, this means that men, by rejecting God's plan, were able to defeat God's intentions. This is the opposite of what is taught in John 8:20; Psalm 110:1,2; etc.

Consider some evidence specifically regarding Old Testament prophecy and the nature of the church.

Note: This study is part of a series of studies relating to the premillennial view of the kingdom. Frequently this study will refer to other of the studies in the series. To understand the whole picture, and especially to see the other articles that we refer to from time to time, please see the links at the end of this study.

I. The Church Was Planned and Predicted Before Jesus' First Coming.

A. Old Testament Prophecies

Consider these prophecies that are fulfilled by the church:

Isaiah 2:2,3 [Micah 4:1,2]

Note the following elements of this prophecy, then notice how all these elements were fulfilled in the New Testament church as it was established at Pentecost in Acts 2:

"The Lord's House" would be established (v2). But the house of God is the church (1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5).

"In the latter days" (v2; "last days" - KJV) is when this would occur.

Acts 2:16,17 - The church began on Pentecost (cf. v47), and Peter said the events on that day fulfilled the predictions regarding the "last days."

Hebrews 1:1,2 - God spoke in various ways in time past, but has "in these last days" spoken to us by Jesus.

Premillennialists insist the "last days" refer to the period shortly before Jesus returns. But the Bible shows that the "last days" included events in the first century, as far back as Pentecost, and the whole period in which Jesus speaks to us (in contrast to the Old Testament).

"All nations will flow into" God's house (v2), "many people" will come to be taught God's ways (v3).

Acts 2:5 - When the church began at Pentecost, Jews were present from "every nation under heaven." They were taught God's word (vv 14-40), and all who received the teaching were added to the church (vv 41,47) - they flowed into God's house.

Ephesians 2:11-19 - In the gospel the barrier between Jew and Gentile has been removed. Both Jews and Gentiles (all nations) are reconciled in the body, the church (v16; cf. 1:22,23), thereby becoming members of God's household (v19).

Hence, beginning at Pentecost, all nations did flow into the church, the house of God. [Acts 11:18; Galatians 3:27,28]

"Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (v3).

Luke 24:44-49 - Jesus said the 11 should wait in Jerusalem because the gospel (Mark 16:15) would be preached to all nations beginning at Jerusalem, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Acts 1:4,5,8 - The 11 should wait in Jerusalem till they received power when Holy Spirit baptism came. They would then be witnesses throughout the world beginning at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:4,5,14 - The Holy Spirit came on the apostles at Jerusalem on Pentecost. They preached the word of the Lord to men of all nations (vv 14-40). From there the message went throughout the world (Colossians 1:5,6,23).

Here is an Old Testament prophecy concerning God's house which was expressly fulfilled in the church.

[Notes: "House" - cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-14. "The mountain" refers to authority or government in the house - see Hebrews 12:22,23; Daniel 2:35,44; Psalm 2:6 (cf. v1-9). The "plowshares and pruninghooks" refer to spiritual peace. The spiritual law caused people to enter a spiritual house, resulting in spiritual peace.]

Zechariah 6:12,13

The "Branch" (Messiah) would build the "temple of the Lord," where He would rule on His throne as priest. In our study of Jesus as King, we learn that this is fulfilled in Jesus who is now a priest ruling on His throne. But this would happen in God's temple, which He would build.

1 Corinthians 3:16 - Speaking to the church (1:2) Paul said, "You are the temple of God." Hence, the temple has been built and is the church. [cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22]

Contrary to premillennialism, which claims that the church was not planned or prophesied in the Old Testament, here are two Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the church.

B. New Testament Statements Regarding God's Purpose in the Church

Not only can we find examples of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the church, we also have New Testament statements that the church was planned by God from eternity and did fulfill Old Testament prophecy.

God's eternal purpose - Ephesians 3:10,11

The church makes known God's wisdom according to His eternal purpose. The church was not an unplanned substitute, but part of God's eternal purpose.

Further, if the church was the result of a failure on Christ's part, it would not reveal God's wisdom but His weakness. But instead it reveals His wisdom as planned by God eternally.

[Ephesians 3:21; 1:22,23]

God's glory in the church - Ephesians 3:20,21

God is glorified in the church throughout all ages. But this leaves no room for the church to be replaced by a later kingdom age. Therefore, the church must have always been part of God's plan; it is not a substitute for something better than will come later.

The purchase price of the church - Acts 20:28

The price one pays for something indicates the value of it. The church is so important Jesus died to purchase it. But if the church was never part of God's plan before Jesus came, then Jesus' death must not have been part of God's plan.

In fact, many premillennialists accept that conclusion. They believe Jesus did not come to die, but only died and established the church because He failed to do what He originally came to do. If so, then the very means by which God provided our salvation was never predicted by God, but was an unexpected change in His plans! [Ephesians 5:23,25; 2:16]

Many passages show that Jesus' death was planned and prophesied (but see Isaiah 53; Luke 24:46 and other lessons). Since that death was the means of our salvation and also purchased the church, it follows that the church is extremely important and is also part of God's eternal plan for our salvation.

To belittle the church is to belittle the blood of Jesus which was shed to purchase the church. To deny that the church had a place in God's eternal plan is to deny that Jesus' death had a place in God's eternal plan.

[Cf. Eph. 3:3-6 to 1 Cor. 2:6,7]

II. The Church and the Kingdom Refer to the Same Relationship.

In other studies we show that the kingdom does exist. We will show here that the church and the kingdom refer to the same people in the same relationship. The church is the people over whom Christ reigns. In that sense, the church and kingdom are the same.

If so, then premillennialists are wrong when they say the kingdom does not exist, wrong when they say the church was substituted for the kingdom, and wrong when they say the church was not planned and prophesied in the Old Testament (since everyone agrees the kingdom was prophesied).

Consider the evidence:

A. Interchangeable Terms

The church is referred to by various terms, including the body (Ephesians 1:22,23), the family or house (1 Timothy 3:15), the temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), etc. Likewise, "kingdom" also refers to the church.

Matthew 16:18,19 - Jesus promised to build His "church" and give Peter the keys of the "kingdom." This makes sense only if both terms refer to the same thing. Why speak of building an institution in one breath, then in the next speak of entering a totally different one?

Illustration: It would make no sense to say, "I will build a house and give you the keys to my car." But it would make sense to say, "I will buy a car and give you the keys to the automobile," because both terms are used for the same thing.

Hebrews 12:23,28 - Notice the parallel statements. In vv 18-24, we are not come to the old law but unto the church (vv 22,23). In vv 25-29, since the old law was removed, we are receiving a kingdom in which we should serve faithfully (v28).

"Coming unto the church" = "receiving the kingdom." Both the church and kingdom existed, and to receive one is to receive the other.

B. Origin

As shown in another study on the kingdom (Psalms 110), people first entered the kingdom on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Before Acts 2, the kingdom was coming in the future, but after Acts 2 it was in existence and people were in it.

Likewise, people first entered the church on Pentecost. Before Pentecost, it was spoken of in the future (Matthew 16:18). After Pentecost, it was in existence and people were in it (Acts 2:47; 5:11; 8:1,3).

People began to enter the kingdom and the church at the same time, place, and occasion. The only reasonable explanation is that these are different terms for the same relationship, not two different relationships.

C. Government

As also studied in another study, Christ is King of His kingdom. He is the head, the highest authority, the chief executive.

Colossians 1:18 - Christ is head of the church (note the reference to the kingdom in v13).

Ephesians 1:22,23 - Christ is head of the church, sitting at God's right hand (vv 19-21). Remember this is where He reigns as king, as studied earlier.

Hence Jesus is Head of the church and Head of the kingdom, both points being discussed in the same contexts. The only reasonable explanation is that these are terms for the same relationship.

D. Purpose and Constituents

Who makes up the church, the kingdom? Why should anyone be a member?

The church is the body of saved people.

Ephesians 2:11-19 - Jews and Gentiles are both reconciled to God in the body (church).

Ephesians 5:23,25 - Christ is Savior of the body and gave Himself for the church (Acts 20:28; 2:47).

The church is the group of people who are saved from sin and are in a right relationship with God.

The kingdom is also the group of saved people.

Zechariah 6:12,13 - The Messiah is a priest on His throne - i.e., He is both king in the kingdom (on His throne) and priest in the temple (church). A priest serves to reconcile people so they can have a right relationship to God.

Colossians 1:13-23 - We are translated out of darkness (sin) into Jesus' kingdom. In Jesus we have redemption, forgiveness (vv 13,14). And He is head of the body, the church, His enemies being reconciled to Him (vv 18-24).

Those who have been saved and reconciled to God are in the kingdom and in the church. The church and kingdom serve the same purpose and consist of the same people. Did God ordain two different relationships consisting of the same people to serve the same purpose? Surely these are just different terms for the same relationship.

E. The Lord's Table

Luke 22:18,29,30 - Jesus said His disciples would eat and drink at His table in His kingdom.

1 Corinthians 10:16,17(21) - The Lord's table is the bread and cup. Those who partake are those in the body (church).

We partake of the table in the kingdom, therefore the kingdom exists. But we partake of the table if we are in the church, so the church and the kingdom are the same relationship.

F. Conditions for Entrance

Conditions to enter the kingdom

Mark 1:14,15 - People heard the gospel of the kingdom and were told to believe and repent. [Luke 4:43; Matthew 3:2]

Acts 8:12 - Philip preached concerning the kingdom, so people believed and were baptized.

John 3:3,5 - To enter the kingdom, one must be born again of water and the Spirit. The only gospel condition or command that requires the use of water is baptism.

Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27 - One comes into Christ and has newness of life as a child of God (and therefore enters the kingdom) when he is baptized into Christ.

Hence, to enter the kingdom one must hear, believe, repent, and confessing Christ (Romans 10:9,10), be baptized. These are also the steps one must take to be cleansed of sin, and those who are forgiven of sins are in the kingdom (Colossians 1:13,14; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:28; 22:16).

Conditions to enter the church

The church is the body of people who have been saved from their sins by Jesus' blood (Acts 2:47; 20:28; Ephesians 5:23,25). It follows that the steps one must take to be saved will also put him into the church. But these are the same steps one must take to enter the kingdom.

In particular, at the point of baptism, one enters the body of Christ, which is the church (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is the same as for the kingdom.

When one meets the conditions for being forgiven, he enters the church and he enters the kingdom. Again it follows that all people who are in the church are also in the kingdom.


In every area we have studied, whatever is true of the kingdom is also true of the church:

* The terms for them are used interchangeably.
* They began at the same time, place, and occasion.
* They have the same Head.
* They accomplish the same purpose.
* People in them partake of the Lord's table.
* They are entered at the same time by the same steps.
* They consist of the same people.

Clearly these are just different terms for the same relationship.

Premillennialism is mistaken when it teaches that the kingdom and the church are different relationships and that the church was unplanned and unprophesied.

Religious people today, including premillennialists, often belittle the importance of the church. They say, "You don't need to be a member of the church to be saved." "We need to preach Christ, not the church." "It doesn't matter what church you join as long as you are sincere." Such statements might make sense, if in fact the church was just a temporary, last-minute change in God's plans.

But do Premillennialists belittle the kingdom in these ways? Do they say, "Preach Christ, but not the kingdom"? Or "It doesn't matter what kingdom you enter as long as you are sincere"? No, they continually preach about the kingdom! They absolutely do not want to miss it!

If they realized that the kingdom exists and that it is the same relationship as the church, then they would appreciate the importance of the church and they would see the need to preach both Christ and the church! Premillennialism leads people to unknowingly belittle the wisdom and power of God and the death of Jesus.

This is part of a series of articles about premillennial teaching. To see a list of all the articles, please click here

(C) Copyright 12/78, 9/95, 4/04 David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

Premillennialism & Jesus' Kingdom
Does Jesus Reign as King & Priest?
Does Jesus' Kingdom Now Exist?
Is Jesus' Church the Same as His Kingdom?
Is Jesus' Kingdom Earthly or Spiritual?
What Is God's Plan for the Future of Israel?
The Second Coming of Jesus
Millennium, Rapture, Matt. 24, Rev. 20 & Jesus' Return
Predictions of the Gospel & Jesus' Death

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