Some overachievers actually manage to get one, temporarily. We who are less ambitious carve out a tiny niche of our world to reign over, even if it’s just the arrangement of the medicine chest’s contents.
If I were to tell you that the kingdom theme is the basis of a great many storylines, you’d be justified in saying Duh. Fact is, it’s hard to think of a title in any medium (literary, film, video game) that doesn’t involve, at its essence, the striving of one kingdom for supremacy over another (or others).
One might even say this theme is genetically hardwired into the human psyche.
I’m hardly the first to point this out. Nor is it novel to suggest the reason for the constancy of this theme is our innate knowledge that this world is a battlefield with a throne as the prize.
Illustrations abound, both fanciful and serious, of this kingdom and the battle to possess it. But what, exactly, are the spiritual forces vying for? What does this kingdom look like? I suspect it’s so essential and obvious we can’t see it, like air. But in the Bible, God gives us the general idea.
One thing we should grasp is that His kingdom is—as are his human creations—both spiritual and physical. Take a look at the story the Bible tells. It begins in Genesis 1:1 with the creation of heaven (spiritual) and earth (physical), the dominion of which the serpent tries to usurp. It ends with a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1), with God forever seated on the throne. What unfolds in between is an outline of the events that bring this everlasting kingdom into existence.
In relation to this, we find two phrases in the gospel accounts: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. Most commentators say these are one and the same, just two ways of conveying one thought. But a careful reading of the passages in which these phrases appear reveals a clear difference between them. The kingdom of God refers to the spiritual dimension of the kingdom, which Jesus ushered in at the time of his first appearance. The kingdom of heaven speaks of the physical aspect, for which creation still waits (Romans 8:19-25). (Easy way to remember which is which: God is spirit/the kingdom of God is spiritual; heaven is a literal place/the kingdom of heaven is a literal, physical kingdom.)
The Bible explains this in rather plain language. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, He tells His hearers that it cannot be seen (Luke 17:20-21) and that it’s entered spiritually (John 3:3-5). Romans 14:17 tells us it’s intangible, not a physical thing. 1 Corinthians 15:50 declares flesh and blood cannot inherit it. If you do a search for kingdom of God throughout the Bible, you’ll find no contradiction to this understanding.
The kingdom of heaven is found in the gospel of Matthew and nowhere else in all the Bible.
As you probably know, Matthew’s target audience was the Jews of his day, and he wrote to demonstrate to his brethren that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. Their scriptures promised that, when He came, He would usher in the kingdom. They understood this kingdom to be of the physical sort. God’s promises to Israel throughout the Old Testament involved actual real estate, military victory, bodily health, financial prosperity—all physical things. So when Matthew wrote of the kingdom of heaven, it was the flesh-and-blood dominion that he spoke of. And this perspective is why, in Luke 1:68-75, it was a purely physical kingdom that Zacharias believed his son John would be the herald of, according to prophecy.
Matthew shows Jesus declaring that this kingdom was “at hand” (Matt. 4:17 and Matt. 10:7). Indeed, in Acts 7:56 He did stand poised to return and establish His earthly kingdom immediately after His resurrection. But when His people rejected Him one last time, He sat down to wait (Colossians 3:1).
The days of the wicked one’s reign are numbered, of course. At just the right time (which day and hour no man can know), his dominion will be taken from him (Revelation 20:1-3), and the physical and the spiritual aspects of the kingdom will be united under Christ’s headship. But that’s still in the future. At present, it’s only the spiritual kingdom that’s established on this earth. We who follow Christ are citizens of it (2 Corinthians 5:17) with Christ as our Lord, though we remain physically in the devil’s realm.
All this is not merely academic; it matters in a vital, practical way. Failing to embrace these realities can lead to our trying to take from the devil something that, for now, is rightfully his. (Rightfully because God has ordained it, not because the devil is righteous!) Notice our Lord’s response in Matthew 4:8-10, when Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world. Though Jesus turned down the offer, He never contradicted that the kingdoms were, in fact, Satan’s to parcel out as he chose.
What God has given, only God can take away. Trying to wrest the physical world from the devil does Satan a favor, as the effort misdirects our attention and resources from what Christ has commissioned us to do. That is, bringing lost souls into the spiritual kingdom He’s already established for us.
It’s not rare for fiction to deal with the spiritual realm, but it’s usually sensationalized in Peretti-esque horror scenarios. Few stories reflect the scriptural distinction between the spiritual and physical aspects of Christ’s kingdom, and we don’t often see realistic portrayals of the sort of spiritual warfare believers actually face in this world.
Some years ago, I expressed reservations to a writer friend about the subject matter of her story, which involved demonic powers. Her reply: “Spiritual warfare is a very real thing, and people need to know that.”
True. But as mortal beings, our comprehension of the spirit world has severe limitations. Moreover, the Bible gives strong cautions against believers venturing into these areas. Satan’s power is such that no one but Jesus Himself is able to face him; not even Michael the archangel dares to go toe-to-toe with him (Jude 9). It’s foolish and presumptuous to think we can jab at the Leviathan (Job 41:1-8).
As eternal citizens of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, we’re to be aware of the enemy’s wily devices (2 Corinthians 2:11)—but not run forward to meet him. Rather, we arm ourselves with the protection God has provided and stand—merely stand—in Christ (Ephesians 6:10-17). The battle is His, not ours.
It might sound contradictory to say Christian speculative fiction should be realistic. But in view of the kingdom truths as revealed in the Scriptures, the literary world might do with less pulse-pounding entertainment and more solid spiritual realism.