One of the most pervasive doctrinal errors in the church today pertains to the Kingdom of God.  This error is so systemic within the church that it is almost universally accepted.  In this article, I want to point out the error, highlight the damage of the error, and correct the error.

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, NASB95).  What is His Kingdom and how do we seek it?

What They Say

Allow me to use the proverbial “they” for a moment, to lump together common teaching about the Kingdom.   The “they” ranges from protestants to Catholics, conservatives to liberals, Pastors to parishioners, Professors to primary students.  For many years, I was part of “they.”  I taught what they taught me, I preached what they printed in their commentaries.  One of the reasons I know that this error is so prevalent is that not once did anyone ever say to me, “Do you know there is a different opinion on this?”  I was never questioned, never nudged to consider another thought.

In short, the common understanding of the Kingdom is that it is an inward spiritual reality resulting in the righteousness of those who allow Christ to reign as King.  Wherever Christ rules and reigns, they say, is the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom has no physical borders, no capital city, no palace, no throne, no court.  It is altogether a spiritual, invisible Kingdom.  To seek this Kingdom is to put spiritual matters as priority over physical matters, trusting God to provide.

If you will pull a commentary off the shelf, or look up a sermon from Matthew 6:33 on the internet, I am assured that most always you will find this “invisible Kingdom” being taught and its rule being sought.   Here are a few representatives of the standard fare of Kingdom comments you can so easily find:

The Holman New Testament Commentary:

God’s kingdom means his sovereign rule in heaven and on earth, most particularly in and through the life of the individual believer. To seek his kingdom is to seek to ensure that his righteousness is done in heaven, on earth, and, most particularly, in and through our lives.

[1]

Charles Finney:

The simple idea of this kingdom is that Christ himself reigns in the hearts of his people, securing the perfect submission of the will, and the consecration of every power to himself. Thus his kingdom is within; it is invisible. It puts on no outward glare. In the hearts of men he writes his laws by his Spirit, and thus rules over them to deliver them from Satan and sin, and translate them into his own kingdom of peace and love…The subjects of this Kingdom are shut up to no particular location. Each in the sphere where providence has called him to reside and to his master’s will, may there be truly a member of this invisible kingdom. [2]

Joel Osteen:

Notice the key in this verse: seek first the Kingdom. In other words, don’t seek the blessing, seek the One who blesses. Don’t be consumed by things. Don’t chase after money, fame, fortune or a bigger “this or that.“ Instead, chase after God! If you will seek Him first, then all of His blessings will be added unto you. Not a few things. Not a half a dozen things. God is a God of abundance, and He says “ALL things.” In other words, when you keep Him first place, you won’t be able to contain all the good things that He will bring across your path! He’ll fill you to overflowing. He’ll give you things that money can’t buy…Seek first the Kingdom, and God will reward you![3]

James M. Boice:

Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). In other words, make it your business to seek God’s interests and follow his way and see if all of your physical needs do not come to you effortlessly and without any necessity on your part of being anxious about them.[4]

These comments, from old to modern, including Baptist, Presbyterian, and non-denominational, from Calvinist to Arminian, all have the same idea of the Kingdom.   What “they” say is that the Kingdom is invisible, inward, and spiritual.

What That Causes

Ideas have consequences, as we have long been taught.  I am more convinced than ever that the “spiritual Kingdom” idea has far reaching consequences that have been harmful to the church.  Let me discuss six of these consequences.

A Prosperity Gospel:  Be spiritual, get stuff!

The Prosperity Gospel is the teaching that spiritual obedience brings physical blessing.  Where did the Prosperity Gospel come from?   I believe it can be traced to the idea of a spiritual Kingdom of God mindset.  If “seek first theKingdomofGod” means “get your spiritual priorities in order” then “all these things will be added unto you” comes as a result of spiritual obedience.    It is no coincidence that those who hold a Biblical view of the Kingdom (I’ll show what that is soon!) also reject the Prosperity Gospel.

A Power Gospel:  Kingdom Power now!

Years ago, John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard movement) popularized an evangelistic method he called “Power Evangelism.”  Using signs and miracles, Power Evangelism impresses the lost person with the power of the Kingdom in order to persuade conversions.   Wimber spoke of several “signs of the Kingdom” such as exorcism, healing, and nature miracles.  To our point, Wimber said that “Evangelism involves the proclamation and demonstration of God’s reign, the Kingdom of God on the earth.”  Further, he states:

Evangelism is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God in the fulness of its blessings and promise, which has also been called ‘salvation’.

Jesus did more than preach the Kingdom. He demonstrated its reality with ‘signs of the Kingdom’, public evidence that the Kingdom he was talking about had come. We believe that signs should validate our evangelism, too.[5]

Note especially how the present reality of the Kingdom of God is the foundational element to Power Evangelism.  Wimber gained his understanding of this present reality of the Kingdom from George Eldon Ladd, the biggest proponent of an “already/not yet” Kingdom.  (Any Google search of Wimber George Eldon Ladd will bring pages of verification that Wimber’s teaching was based on Ladd’s.  I think that Ladd has done more harm to Kingdom theology than any other modern theologian.)

An Ill-defined Gospel

If the Kingdom of God is simply wherever God rules and reigns, then what is God’s sovereignty?  Hasn’t God been ruling and reigning for all of eternity?  Is there any place God doesn’t have ultimate sovereignty?  If the Kingdom is wherever God is willingly allowed to rule and reign, what is abiding in Christ?  Is God’s Kingdom so weak that it cannot establish itself without invitation or surrender?  Is there any difference between Lordship and Kingdom?

Any kind of Kingdom Now theology so blurs the definitions of sovereignty, abiding, Lordship, and Kingdom that the Word of God itself becomes ill-defined.

An Unsure Gospel

Ephesians 2:20 says that our doctrine is built on the “foundation of the prophets and apostles.”  The Apostles clearly had a future and physical understanding of the Kingdom, not an inner and spiritual understanding.  This doesn’t seem to be a problem for many.  In fact, I am astonished how quickly preachers and theologians are willing to say that the Apostles were simply wrong.  The arrogance of believing you have better information than the Apostles leaves me aghast.   Consider this comment from Theologian Donald Guthrie, which is representative of the views of those who hold to a Kingdom now theology:

It is understandable that the disciples had not as yet grasped the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God.  Their minds were conditioned to thinking in material terms.  They all came from a Jewish background, which means that they expected that when the Messiah came he would establish the kingdom of Israel…the minds of the disciples were moving on a wrong plane.  [6]

All my life and everywhere I go, it seems, I have been taught that the Apostles were wrong about the Kingdom, expecting a physical Kingdom and not understanding its spiritual nature.  If the Apostles were wrong on this foundational and basic issue, then we have a very unsure Gospel!  I hope you will line up with the Apostles on their understanding of the Kingdom—that is, it is future and physical.

An Anti-semitic Gospel

A final outcome of a Kingdom now theology is anti-semitism.  While not everyone who holds to a spiritual Kingdom is anti-semitic, everyone who is anti-Semitic denies the physical nature of the coming Kingdom.  The spiritualization of the Kingdom of God is fundamental to anti-Semitism and replacement theology.  If the Kingdom can be made spiritual, then there is no further need for modern Israel.  The misguided anti-Jew, anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian believer has a spiritualized Kingdom theology.  I would put money on it!

What is the Kingdom?

If the Kingdom is not God’s invisible rule and reign, then what is it?  The Kingdom of God is the future, earthly Kingdom in which Christ is the sovereign King who rules the nations from the throne of David.  It is a physical Kingdom, based in Israel, with the Messiah as the sole Monarch.  It is the coming Theocracy.  It has Israel at its core, the Messiah on its throne, and the nations of the earth as its sphere.  This is the kind of Kingdom that is so clearly taught by the Prophets and understood by the Apostles.  In fact, no sane interpretation of the Prophets could conclude anything other than a future physical Kingdom for Israel and established by God with the Messiah as monarch.  To conclude any less would be to grossly abuse every principle of Biblical interpretation.

To “seek first the Kingdom of God” does not mean to get your spiritual priorities in order.  In fact, such an interpretation would make the remainder of Matthew 6:33 contradict many other Scriptures, even in the Sermon on the Mount.  Because the Kingdom is future and physical, to seek His Kingdom is to live for the coming age, not the current age.  It is to understand that this age is filled with poverty and persecution, but the coming age is when all these things will be added unto you.  To seek His Kingdom is to long for His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8), and to pray come quickly, Lord Jesus!

 

 

 

 


[1] Weber, S. K. (2000). Vol. 1: Matthew. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (88).Nashville,TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Charles Finney.  http://www.gospeltruth.net/1845OE/450827_seeking_first.htm

[3] Joel Osteen  http://www.joelosteen.com/HopeForToday/ThoughtsOn/God/SingItOut/Pages/SingItOut.aspx

[4] Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount : An expositional commentary (222).Grand Rapids,Mich.: Baker Books.

[5] http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal10/b-wimber.html

[6] Donald Guthrie, The Apostles.  Pg. 18.

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