The kingdom of God can be defined in multiple ways yet not limited to a redemptive nature meaning it isn’t limited to the church. The way that Jesus appears to use the phrasing “kingdom of God/heaven” is not to speak of merely an escape from status as a sinner, and that assurance of a disembodied afterlife is possible. Jesus is speaking of becoming the new Caesar of the world. This implies that Jesus’ inherited authority warrants all nations’ allegiance (“every knee shall bow…”).
This is not to say that unbelievers have been able to sneak into the salvation of the Lord in his kingdom. This is nonsense. Of course, obedience and faith are necessary to do God’s will. However, to make the church the only facet of God’s kingdom (God’s authority, His divine right to rule) is to begin speaking confusion surrounding the past several generations. This is eisegetical, inserting more of our preconceived notions into the New Testament, and definitely not exegetical, seeking to hear the text in its original context. This is dangerous. All of us are sometimes so intent on proving to others what we believe that we end up blinding ourselves to the obvious. No wonder Jesus is removed from so much of the churches of Christ’s preaching and teaching content in the past generations, let alone the culture. We’ve been busy drawing lines of demarcation, seeking proof-texts from the word, and not studying the word. Regardless of what anyone reputable might promote (Scot McKnight?).
Matthew 28:18 says that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. That means that heaven and earth are under his authority (sovereignty, kingship, kingdom) whether individuals or nations choose to align with his authority or not align. Does the kingdom of God still exist over China even though many are not believers? Of course. What about Russia’s Kremlin? Is Jesus reigning over them? Is Jesus’ kingdom “over” them? Obviously, yes.
This sovereignty of God (Basilea, the authority to rule nations and the world) was given to Jesus prior to the cross. Jesus, the Son of Man (from Daniel 7:13) was also given authority (a sovereignty, kingdom) to forgive sins (Mark 2 and other places, obviously), cancel debt, heal and cure people, to act as a heavenly King would act if He was on the earth in the midst of His creation (cf. John 1:14ff).
John the Baptist was even preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand and issuing forgiveness of sins, meaning that God’s promised sovereign rule was beginning to sprout up in Israel, as promised (cf. Luke 17:21 “the kingdom is in the midst of you”). John’s baptism and kingdom of heaven vernacular were for Israel, and they understood them. Matthew 12:28 has Jesus saying that if he’s casting out demons by God’s Spirit, then the kingdom of God has come upon them, Israel (past tense, present continuing). Was Jesus saying that the church had come upon the Jews? Do these verses appear to be speaking of the church or the fact that Israel’s Messiah is present and active, creating the right for Israelites (and eventually the world) to become true children of God with a fresh outlook on heaven’s original vocation for humanity?
Read John 18 again. Verse 36 and following depict Jesus’ kingdom authority (submissive and redemptive in nature, heavenly, not out [ek] of this evil world) compared to Roman kingdom authority (wicked and gaining human authority by brutal force and intimidation, earthly, beastly). Jesus is defining the nature of God’s sovereign administration being played out in history through himself. He’s going to the cross willingly. Is it correct to substitute church into that conversation?
Read Luke 24. The Messiah (Anointed One; King) had to suffer death according to the Tanak (OT – Law of Moses, Prophets, and the Psalms) in order to redeem Israel from its punitive state. Israel had the right to rule the world (Deut 28:1) but was forced into exile by God (Deut 28-30). God’s kingdom (sovereignty) was taken from an Israelite administration and given over to imperial administrations headed by Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Cyrus, Alexander, the Ptolemaic kings, and the Roman emperors. God promised to take back that sovereignty for Israel and vindicate the faithful remnant in Israel (Daniel 2). A political victory was expected and that’s what Jesus gave them, but in a very unexpected way. Note: David was called…Son of God (Psalm 2). David was a representative king for God on earth. David was ruling the kingdom of God in his era, just like Solomon.
Psalm 29:10 – Who sat enthroned at the flood? The Lord. He sits enthroned as king forever. God must have had a kingdom (sovereignty) if was the King of His creation. The bigger question should be “What is God’s rulership like vs the rulership of earthly nations?” Jesus has been given that ruling authority (Mt 28:18). Jesus had it prior to his death yet through his acting out of Israel’s story (esp. Isaiah 40-55) the kingdom of God was to be established in a new way in order to begin the process of new creation (via the resurrection, physically, but transformed physicality – soma pneumatikon 1 Cor 15:44). That new physicality is promised to all who believe. Believers will get a physical body that operates on endless life rather than operating with weakness and decay. Otherwise, why would Paul see baptism the way he did (cf. Romans 6:1ff)? Forgiveness of sins is also a broad definition of the way Jesus is ruling. Yes, the church is to embody the kingdom and be the body (animated human life the way it was intended and seen in Jesus), but the church is not the head. Jesus is the head, not the Catholic faith, not Protestantism, or even Church of Christ hermeneutics.
How do the poor in spirit possess the kingdom if the kingdom is the church? Is enduring persecution a requirement to possess the kingdom, or as some would say to be the church?
Are we to seek first the church and his righteousness or the kingdom of God and His righteousness?
How are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the church if the kingdom is the church?
Why would the sons of the kingdom be thrown into outer darkness if Jesus was speaking of the church?
How has the church suffered violence from the days of John the Baptist until Jesus’ statement?
How is the church compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, or how is the church compared to a mustard seed, or a woman hiding three measures of flour?
Are the parables about the church or the kingdom?
Have you sifted through all 53 uses of the word kingdom in Matthew?
What about in Mark or the other Gospels?
Is the church the church of our ancestor David? Mark 11:10
Why did Jesus say the church could not be observed if he was speaking of the kingdom? Luke 17:20
Luke 19:11 – How is it that the crowds (who didn’t really know who Jesus was or what he was preparing to do) expect the church to appear immediately if they had no idea what the church was?