Below is a short excerpt concerning how the church relates to the kingdom of God from my book, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God. Published by Lampion Press (LampionPress.com). This comes from a chapter called “How the Kingdom Relates to the Bible’s Main Characters,” pages 540-42.
The church is an important stage in the kingdom program. The kingdom itself is a broader category than the church and relates to God’s plan to exercise His sovereignty over every aspect of creation—material and immaterial; humans and angels; animals, trees, inanimate objects, etc. The kingdom encompasses other major themes of Scripture including covenants, law, salvation, people of God, etc. The church is a category within the people of God concept. The church is the New Covenant community of believing Jews and Gentiles as it exists in this age between the two comings of Jesus. The church has a worldwide mandate to spread the message of King Jesus in this age while Israel is experiencing a partial and temporary hardening because of unbelief.
The church is not the kingdom, but it relates to the kingdom program in several important ways. First, the church consists of those who have consciously trusted in Jesus the Messiah. The church experiences messianic salvation since its members are joined to the Messiah. By means of the Holy Spirit Jesus baptizes believers into His body, the church. Christ’s church, therefore, comes under the authority of Jesus.
Second, believers in Jesus are “sons of the kingdom” (Matt 13:38). This means the kingdom belongs to them and they are members of the kingdom even though the kingdom’s actual establishment awaits Jesus’ return. Christians are transferred from the domain of Satan to the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13).
Third, members of the church are to exhibit righteousness consistent with the kingdom of God. As the King gives His law (Matt 5–7), Jesus calls His followers to exhibit righteousness without which no one can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). This includes loving other Christians and practicing “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
Fourth, the church proclaims the message of the kingdom that qualifies people to enter the kingdom of God. Thus, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus involves proclaiming the kingdom of God. An intersection occurs between salvation and the kingdom in that salvation qualifies one to enter God’s kingdom. Unless one is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God (see John 3:3). Because the church functions within this “present evil age” the church’s mission of gospel/kingdom proclamation is often accompanied by persecution from Satan and the world.
Fifth, the church is offered future rewards in the kingdom for faithful service now. This includes vindication and the right to accompany Jesus in His rule over the world. Paul said, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12). This includes the right to rule the nations (Rev 2:26–27) and sit with Jesus on His throne (Rev 3:21). It also includes a reign upon the earth (Rev 5:10). Members of the church can endure suffering and persecution now because reward and vindication in the kingdom are coming.
The church’s primary responsibility in this age is gospel proclamation and making disciples. Members of the church are destined to reign over a restored earth when Jesus returns. But in this age before Jesus comes again, the church’s mission is not cultural or societal transformation. This does not mean the church has no concern for or relationship to cultural or societal matters. When Jesus returns, members of the church will assist Jesus in His rule over the nations (Rev 2:26–27; 3:21), which includes cultural and societal matters. God created man to rule holistically over all aspects of God’s creation. And a restored mankind will rule over a restored planet. Although such matters are not the church’s emphasis in this age, Christians are called to apply their Christian worldview to every aspect of the environment. Thus, Christians can be involved in all aspects of culture including music, the arts, architecture, agriculture, politics, education, sports, etc. for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Christians certainly should vote and promote values that most accord with God’s righteous standards. Yet there should be the understanding that true cultural and societal transformation will not occur in this evil age. These await the kingdom of Jesus at His return.
The NT also teaches that Christians must be concerned with meeting the physical needs of fellow believers. As those who live between the two comings of Jesus the Messiah, the church should avoid two extremes concerning culture and society. The first is acting as if the church has no relationship to these areas. The second is to see the church’s mission as transforming the world before the return and kingdom of Jesus.
Note: For more on He Will Reign Forever, including 38 sample pages of the book, see Lampion Press.
Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D. (Twitter: @mikevlach) is Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary where he has been teaching full time since 2006. Michael specializes in the areas of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Apologetics, and World Religions. Dr. Vlach was awarded the “Franz-Delitzsch Prize 2008” for his dissertation, “The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism.” He blogs here.