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Jesus' Kingdom: Spiritual or Political, Civil, and Material?

Jesus' Kingdom: Political & Material or Spiritual in Nature?What does premillennialism teach about Jesus' kingdom? Will it be an earthly, material kingdom like that of David in the Old Testament? Will Jesus reign for a literal thousand years from a physical throne in Jerusalem over a civil, political government? 

Is it true that Jesus' kingdom does not yet exist, but Jesus will establish it at His second coming? Or does the kingdom already exist as a spiritual kingdom, the church, that emphasizes salvation from sin and eternal life? Does premillennial doctrine harmonize 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 people deny the spiritual nature of Jesus' kingdom. This is especially true of those who hold the premillennial view:

"The allegation that Christ is seated on the Father's throne reigning over a spiritual kingdom, the church, simply does not fulfill the promises of the covenant ... A literal, earthly kingdom must be constituted..." - Pentecost (quoted by Miller, p. 98).

Hence, some believe that Jesus' kingdom does not now exist, but will be established when He returns. That kingdom will be a material, earthly, physical, civil kingdom like David ruled over in the Old Testament.

Other people may grant that the kingdom now exists, perhaps even that it is the church, but they fail to recognize the spiritual significance of it. As a result, they involve it in many material "Social Gospel" pursuits.

Consider the characteristics of the kingdom according to the New Testament that show it is essentially spiritual in nature.

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. Descriptive Terms

In earlier studies we learned that the kingdom is another term for the same relationship as the church (Matthew 16:18,19; Hebrews 12:23,28; etc.). See the links at the end of this study for our article about the kingdom and the church.

But the church is surely a spiritual body. It exists to help men be saved, worship God, have a right relationship with God, and receive eternal life. It is not an earthly, political government.

This shows the kingdom is spiritual in nature. Other points we study will also emphasize the spiritual nature of the church, at the same time further supporting our conclusion that the church and kingdom are the same relationship.

II. Origin

We earlier showed that the kingdom began in Jerusalem on Pentecost in Acts 2. But the nature of this event was spiritual. See the links at the end of this study for our article about the origin of the kingdom.

The predictions

Mark 9:1; Acts 1:4-8 - Jesus promised His kingdom would come with power in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came. But the purpose of the Holy Spirit was to empower them to bear witness of Jesus.

Luke 24:45-49 - When the Spirit empowered the apostles, they would preach repentance and remission of sins. Hence, the kingdom began when the apostles received power to teach people how to be saved from sin. [Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16]

The fulfillment in Acts 2

The promise of the Spirit was fulfilled as He brought the apostles power to preach (v4). Their message was that people should know Jesus was the Christ (v36), ruling on David's throne at God's right hand (v30-35).

V38 - Men were taught to repent and be baptized for remission of sins, and thereby save themselves from that wicked generation (v40). The converts continued in worship (v42), and from then on all saved people were added to the group that began then (v47).

Hence, the origin of the kingdom focused on man's need to be saved from sin. This is nothing like one would expect the beginning of a political, earthly kingdom. There was no visible king on a grand throne, no coronation ceremony, no military parade, no bands playing, etc.

Luke 17:20,21

The Pharisees asked Jesus about the origin of the kingdom. When would it come?

Jesus said it would not come with "observation." They could not see it as they expected, saying "It's here" or "It's over there." It would be within them.

This does not harmonize with an earthly kingdom. You can say where an earthly kingdom is, where its boundaries are, its capital, its king, etc.

Jesus' kingdom would have no physical boundaries, no observable king being crowned nor ruling on a throne. The King is in heaven ruling in the hearts of men by the laws of God.

Note: When men asked when the kingdom would begin, Jesus responded by describing the nature of the kingdom. Why? The reason the Jews did not understand when the kingdom would begin is that they were not looking for the right kind of kingdom. [Cf. Thayer's definition of the kingdom]

Jesus' answer showed that, when people understand the spiritual nature of the kingdom, then they can understand when it would begin. Premillennialists and others misunderstand when the kingdom began because they still do not understand its spiritual nature.

III. Government

Christ is King of His kingdom. But is His reign concerned with political and earthly matters or with spiritual matters?

Jesus rules at God's right hand - Psalm 110:1-4

What does He do at God's right hand?

Acts 5:31 - God exalted Jesus to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins. [Romans 8:34]

As King, Jesus reveals His laws in His word.

With what matters are His laws concerned?

Matthew 28:18-20 - Jesus possesses all authority, so the apostles should teach men to be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:15,16).

Romans 1:16 - The gospel, which Jesus sent these men to preach by His authority, is God's power to save all men. [1 Corinthians 14:37]

Christ's kingdom is "not of this world" - John 18:36

Asked if He were King, Jesus affirmed that His kingdom is "not of this world." 

If He were an earthly king (like David), He would fight to avoid capture (like David did). Why did He not fight? Because His kingdom is "not from here." 

Premillennialists say that to establish His kingdom Jesus, like David, will subdue His enemies by physical force (at Armageddon, etc.). They say He did not fight at His first coming because He lacked support among the people. But Jesus clearly stated the reason He servants did not fight: because His kingdom is not that kind of kingdom!

Jesus is King, but His authority is not political. He laws pertain, not to politics, but to man's spiritual relationship to God and eternal salvation.

[Cf. v37; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Matthew 22:17-21; 26:53; John 6:15; 18:1-11; 10:18; Ephesians 6:10-18]

IV. Purpose

The kingdom must accomplish purposes that harmonize with its nature. To understand its purposes is to understand its nature. Is it designed to serve physical and political purposes or spiritual purposes?

Jesus' life demonstrates the spiritual purpose of the King:

Even premillennialists agree that Jesus came to earth to become King of His kingdom. But what was the focus and purpose of His life? Did He labor toward political goals, forming armies to fight His enemies, striving for popularity among the Jews?

Promises to Mary and Joseph

Luke 1:32,33 - The angel promised Mary that her son would be King.

Matthew 1:21 - The angel promised Joseph that Jesus would save His people from their sins.

Statements of Jesus

Luke 5:32 - Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance. [Luke 19:10]

Matthew 20:28 - He came to give His life a ransom for many (a sacrifice for sin).

So Jesus came to be king, but He came to save men from sin. He spent His life teaching people how to serve God and please Him. Premillennialists say He came to be an earthly king, not to die. But He said He came to give His life as a ransom. When did He ever try to form armies, or gather political power? His kingdom is spiritual, not physical.

Jesus' priesthood demonstrates the spiritual purpose of His kingdom.

Psalm 110:1-4; Zech. 6:12f - Jesus was prophesied to be King and Priest at the same time (as earlier discussed). But the work of a priest is spiritual.

Hebrews 8:1,3 - Jesus is High Priest at God's right hand. But every high priest is appointed for the purpose of offering gifts and sacrifices. Likewise, it was necessary for Jesus to have something to offer.

Hebrews 10:10-12 - What He offered was His body as a sacrifice to take away sins. [9:11,12,26-28]

So Jesus came to earth to be Priest while He was King. Yet this meant He had to offer a sacrifice and the sacrifice He offered was His life. So He came to die, and His reign as King is spiritual in nature.

The epistles demonstrate the spiritual purpose of the kingdom.

Colossians 1:13,14 - We are translated out of darkness into Jesus' kingdom. Through Him we have redemption, even forgiveness of sins. The kingdom is concerned with man's spiritual salvation. [cf. v18-23].

Romans 14:17 - The kingdom is not physical things (eating and drinking), but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit - spiritual things. This is why we should not allow physical things to cause one in the kingdom to be spiritually lost.

The purpose of the kingdom must conform to the nature of the kingdom. No passage shows the kingdom accomplishing political purposes, waging war, etc. The primary purpose of the kingdom is to help men meet spiritual needs. Therefore, the kingdom must be primarily spiritual in nature.

V. Worship

Acts 2:42 - When people were first added to the kingdom on Pentecost, those disciples continued steadfastly in prayer, the Lord's supper, and other worship activities.

Luke 22:29,30 - Disciples were to eat and drink at Jesus' table in the kingdom remembering His death for our sins.

Worship is accomplished in the kingdom. Surely worship is spiritual. This demonstrates the spiritual nature of the kingdom. [Hebrews 12:28; 13:15]

VI. Entrance

As studied in earlier lessons, one enters the kingdom by hearing the gospel, believing, repenting, and being baptized (Mark 1:14,15; John 3:3,5; Acts 8:12; etc.). See the links at the end of this study for our article about the kingdom and the church for a discussion of how to enter the kingdom.

But these are the conditions for receiving forgiveness and salvation from sin (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 1:22,23; 3:21; Romans 1:16; etc.).

John 3:3-7 - To enter the kingdom, one must be born of water and the Spirit. Note v6: What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Jesus is discussing a spiritual birth, not physical. A spiritual birth puts a person in a spiritual family.

One enters the kingdom by a spiritual birth, by obeying the conditions to receive forgiveness of SINS. Clearly this is spiritual activity and puts a person in a spiritual family, not a physical or political one. That spiritual family is Jesus' kingdom.

VII. Contrast Between the Covenants

When premillennialists teach that Jesus' kingdom is physical, earthly, and political, they fail to recognize the distinction between the nature of the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the political government was joined with the religious leadership with little distinction. In the New Testament, Jesus' kingdom (the church) is not political or physical in emphasis.

A. A Contrast Between the Covenants

Old Testament:
Physical Shadows

Scripture References

New Testament:
Spiritual Realities

Fleshly circumcision

Colossians 2:11; Romans 2:28,29; Galatians 6:15

Circumcision of the heart

Animal sacrifices

Hebrews 8:4-6; 10:1-10

Death of Jesus

Physical birth

John 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:22,23; Galatians 3:24-27

Spiritual new birth

Physical temple & Holy Place

Hebrews 8:2; 9:24; Ephesians 2:21,22; 1 Peter 2:5

Spiritual temple and Holy Place

Physical warfare; physical enemies

Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:4,5; Romans 1:16

Spiritual warfare; spiritual enemies

Earthly High Priest

Hebrews 8:1-5

Heavenly High Priest

Fleshly Jews or Israelites

Romans 2:28,29; Philippians 3:3; Galatians 6:16

Spiritual Jews or Israelites

Earthly priesthood

1 Peter 2:5,9; Hebrews 13:15; Romans 12:1

Spiritual priests and sacrifices

Earthly nation

1 Peter 2:9,10

Spiritual nation

Earthly kingdom

John 18:36; Hebrews 12:28

Spiritual kingdom

B. Specific Passages

The concept of a spiritual kingdom harmonizes with the spiritual emphasis of the gospel as taught in various passages. The physical emphasis of premillennialism contradicts these passages and maintains the physical emphasis of the Old Testament. Note some specific passages:

Hebrews 8:4-6

Old Testament priests and laws were a copy and shadow of heavenly (spiritual) things. They were carnal (physical) ordinances imposed till a time of reformation (9:10). They have now been replaced by heavenly or spiritual things.

This New Testament, with its spiritual emphasis, is the more excellent ministry, a better covenant built on better promises. Note that the spiritual is superior and the physical is inferior.

Yet premillennialism takes us back to the Old Testament emphasis on physical things - back to that which is inferior and which Jesus died to remove. [10:1; 9:23,6-10]

Matthew 6:19-21,33

We should not accumulate treasure on earth but in heaven. We should pursue spiritual goals and righteousness above material, earthly interests. The kingdom is part of this spiritual emphasis.

Premillennialism emphasizes physical, material interests. People seek physical peace and prosperity, beauty and health, political power, etc. on earth in the millennium. This encourages people to emphasize physical matters as more important than spiritual matters. This perverts the spiritual nature of the New Testament kingdom.

John 6:15,27,63

Jews wanted to make Jesus a king by force, but He withdrew (v15). Premillennialism says Jesus wanted to become an earthly king by force but could not because the people rejected Him. The Bible says people DID want to make Him a king, but He refused!

He taught that the people were too concerned about physical things and should instead emphasize spiritual things (v27). He said fleshly things do not profit, but the spirit gives life (v63). Then the people rejected Him because He refused to be an earthly king and instead emphasized spiritual matters (v66).

Premillennial folks want us to go back to the same physical emphasis that characterized the Old Testament Jews who rejected Jesus!

Romans 8:4-9

To please God, we must be spiritually minded, not carnally minded. Our concerns must focus on God and our relationship to Him, not on material things. Premillennialism contradicts the verse directly, by appealing to the carnal appetites and material desires of people.

To be carnally minded is to strive against God (v7) and leads to death (v6). True life and peace comes only when we are spiritually minded. Premillennialism not only neglects the spiritual emphasis of Jesus' kingdom, but it deliberately promotes the very kind of thinking Jesus came to eliminate!

Colossians 2:11-3:2

Today we have spiritual circumcision, not physical (v11). We are buried with Him in baptism, then raised (v12). Jesus removed the Old Testament because it was contrary to us and was just a shadow of things to come (v14-17).

Having been raised with Him (in baptism - 2:12), we should set our minds on things above, where Jesus is on God's right hand (reigning as King), not on things on the earth (3:1-3).

Premillennialism leads men to do the opposite of what Jesus intends. It encourages people to seek material things on the earth, with Jesus reigning on earth in a future earthly kingdom.

This is why it is important to understand the nature of the kingdom. When people realize that Jesus being at God's right hand means He is now king (1:13), they will set their minds on heavenly, spiritual goals. The reason people set their minds on earthly goals is that they expect an earthly kingdom.

[Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:44,46; Philippians 3:2-9; Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Matthew 16:21-28; 1 Timothy 4:8; Luke 10:38-42]


Failure to recognize the spiritual nature of Jesus' kingdom is a fundamental error the first-century Jews made, and modern premillennialists make the same exact error. Not realizing that God intended all along for the kingdom to be spiritual, they reject it and look for a future kingdom just like the Jews did in Jesus' day. The result is a complete perversion of God's plan.

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, 4/05 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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