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Kingdom Come

Humans desire an ideal kingdom, a longing that Scripture promises to fulfill both spiritually and physically.
| Oct 2, 2013 | No comments |

file0001006582285Everybody wants an empire.

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 earthtries 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.)

file000824249444The 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).

We tend to forget that, for now, God has given the devil control over the physical kingdoms of this world (2 Corinthiansfile8611287524854 4:3-4).

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.”

SONY DSCTrue. 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.

Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world. Her first novel, The Story in the Stars, debuted in June 2011 and is an ACFW Carol Award finalist in the Speculative Fiction category. Her second, Words in the Wind, released August 1, 2012. Two additional titles will complete this Gateway to Gannah series. She is contest administrator for Novel Rocket's Launch Pad Contest for unpublished novelists. You may follow her wise words on the blog YsWords, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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Kessie Carroll

>>>t 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.<<<

Lots of genres do. The Mitford books are a lovely, quiet, spiritual walk through one man's life and how it affects everyone in the town. But Mitford is contemporary, not speculative.

Speculative is the playground of the imagination. I've experienced spiritual warfare, and it's horrifyingly real. But there's no demons lurking in the dark corners of the room, sulfur boiling out from between clenched fangs. It's a battle of thoughts, moods, that one email that shows up at just the wrong time.

It's a relief to pick up a book and read a story of a man grappling with demons he can see, of visible evil and visible good. Real life is so very gray that a book that draws the battle lines is refreshing. If the baddies are orcs or aliens or fallen angels or witches or trolls or vampires or werewolves, so much the better!

It's a monster to represent the monster in my mind. In a book I can get outside my own problem, walk around it, and see how to defeat it.

Austin Gunderson

In what sense do you mean that the physical world belongs to Satan? Yes, Jesus calls him “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), but what, effectively, does this mean? Does the phrase “this world” refer in this instance to the entire physical universe? I think not. In fact, I think we can stray into deceptive territory here if we’re not careful to interpret Scripture in light of its totality.

When Satan wished to obliterate Job’s family and then physically afflict Job himself, whose permission did he have to receive? (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7) When Paul wrote that “for those who love God all things work together for good,” did he refer only to the workings of spiritual things? (Rom. 8:28) When he wrote that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” did he speak only of spiritual temptations? (1 Cor. 10:13) I think not. It’s clear from the totality of Scripture that God always has been and always will be the ultimate Lord of heaven and earth. (Isa. 37:16; Matt. 11:25) Satan can do nothing without first receiving God’s authorization. To claim that Satan controls the physical universe is to give him immeasurably more credit than he’s due.

Michelle R. Wood

Satan can do nothing without first receiving God’s authorization. To claim that Satan controls the physical universe is to give him immeasurably more credit than he’s due.

Thanks Austin: you said exactly what my first heated reaction wanted to be, but would not have articulated half as well.

This false belief is my main problem with demonic/spiritual warfare stories: often they give way too much credit to the devil/demons/dark forces and way too little credit to the real source of Power in the Universe. It’s similar to my distaste for Paradise Lost, where the angels feel like Keystone Kops and God appears to not know what’s going on in His own creation, all the while Satan gets the upperhand on everyone. I also feel that putting too much emphasis on Satan (who actually gets very little “screen time” in Scripture) is a way of absolving of ourselves of culpability. The wages of sin is death due to our own sin, not someone else’s.

Plain and simple: hell is hell not because of physical torture, brimstone, or even psychological terror (though, possibly, all our part of it, we simply don’t know exactly). Instead hell is hell because it is the only place where a created being might experience complete and total separation from God (which is NOT true on Earth, even for someone who does not believe). Conversely, heaven is heaven not for what we get out of it, our potential mansions or crowns or bodies or whatever may be, but because a created being will finally experience complete and total immersion in God (which is also NOT true on Earth, even for believers).

To borrow from The Princess Bride, “Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”


That’s an intriguing distinction I hadn’t considered before…kingdom of heaven as subtly different than kingdom of God…but it does make sense