I had the recent opportunity with a Jehovah’s Witness to discuss the return of Christ and the kingdom of God. I mentioned the series I am writing, and she asked how we, the Church of Christ, could teach that the kingdom and the church were the same thing? Many individuals within the world of Christianity believe the kingdom and the church are not the same thing. However, the Lord God identifies the church by many names in the scriptures: “the body” (Eph. 1:22-23), “the saints” (2 Cor. 1:1), “the sanctified” (1 Cor. 1:2), “brethren” (1 Thess. 1:4), so why couldn’t God call the saved in Christ His kingdom? Could it not be just another synonym?
The mindset of the Jehovah’s Witness who asked the question involving the kingdom and the church functions like most Premillennialists. A Premillennialist believes that Jesus came to establish His kingdom, but He failed because the Jews rejected Him, so Christ built the church as a Plan B to be a temporary placement for His followers until He returns. When Christ returns to earth, He will establish a literal, earthly kingdom and reign for a thousand years, before moving all His followers to heaven. There are several sub-groups and divisions of Premillennialism, which all slightly differ in interpretations, but the majority of all the renditions have the aforementioned elements. This doctrine derives from man’s false interpretations of the symbolism in Revelation. However, such interpretations cannot be possible from what the inspired preachers and writers recorded in other books of the Bible.
One of the strongest arguments against Premillennialism is to prove, biblically, that the kingdom already existed in the form of the church in the first century. Start with Mark 9:1: “And he [Christ] said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Christ promises that there would be people that hear Him speak in that time who would see the kingdom of God! As far as what is known, there exist no two-thousand-year-old people walking around, which means that the kingdom of God must already be here. Also, Paul writes that the saints at Colossi had already been translated into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). One cannot be translated into a kingdom that does not exist! Likewise, John believes himself to be “in the kingdom” of God when he writes about it in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:9).
How do Christians know the kingdom exists at the present time in the form of the church? Christ uses the terms “church” and “kingdom” interchangeably in Matthew 16:18-19. Christ establishes the church in the same way that the kingdom was prophesied to have been established (Is. 2:2-3; Acts 2). They have the same owner/founder, Jesus Christ (John 18:36, Matthew 16:18), the same head/ruler, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), the same beginning place, Jerusalem (Is. 2:2-3; Acts 2:1-5), the same time of establishment, “in the last days” (Is. 2:2-3; Heb. 1:2; 1 John 2:18), the same terms of entrance, one must be saved (John 3:5; Acts 2:38), and the scriptures describe both the kingdom and the church as not earthly, they are spiritual, not of this world (John 18:36, Roman 14:17). A better question for the woman who initially asked the question would be, how can you justify the kingdom and the church being different? The parallels in the New Testament writings exist so strongly, how could they not be the same institution?
The description of the kingdom more closely matches the description of the church rather than an earthly, physical kingdom that Christ will establish sometime in the future. Christ will not establish a kingdom when He returns because the prophet Daniel wrote that Christ would receive a kingdom when He ascended to the Father (Dan. 7:13-14). Christ already ascended to the Father, and Christ is in heaven and reigns in His kingdom, why would He need another one (1 Tim. 6:15)?
In a last-ditch effort to cling to their doctrine, a few advocates will say that the Bible speaks of two different kingdoms, an earthly kingdom and a spiritual kingdom. They will agree that the spiritual kingdom may be equaled to the church and believers may be added to the kingdom in their hearts, but the earthly kingdom has yet to be established. Mostly such advocates would use Revelation chapter 20 for such justification. However, chapter 20 contains several metaphors and symbolic teachings, so to pick randomly one aspect out of a whole chapter of metaphoric illustrations and claim that it must be literal has no credibility to someone well versed in hermeneutics (the art of biblical interpretation).
Furthermore, the New Testament reveals that when “they that are Christ’s at his coming [Second Coming], then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God” (1 Cor. 15:23-24). The earth will be burned up at the Second Coming (2 Peter 3:10). There won’t be an earth in which to place an earthly kingdom when Christ returns. The earthly kingdom argument quickly fades the more Bible verses one considers on the Second Coming of Christ. Christ returns to deliver the kingdom (the one already on earth in the form of the church) to God and destroy the world in fire.
The church and the kingdom exist in the same institution. Why should it matter if Christ establishes an earthly kingdom and why do people need so badly to believe it? What is the point of believing in two different kingdoms? If God adds the saved to the church and the spiritual kingdom, why should one need to be in an earthly kingdom? What is the point?! If I am saved and added to the spiritual kingdom in my heart, and Christ returns, I will want to go with Him to heaven! I don’t want to stay on earth for another thousand years, why not just take the saved to God where they will eventually go anyway? They have already had their tests and trails on earth and their reward is in heaven, what is the point of this earthly kingdom? Even on a practical level, the earthly kingdom scenario has no logical foundation!