In his Doctor of Ministry class for pastors Dallas Willard teaches that “The Gospel is a spiritual reality about a spiritual reality… the availability of life under the rule of the heavens.”
Over 100 times in the Gospels Jesus preaches that he is making the Kingdom of the Heavens available. In his master key parable the secret of life in the Kingdom of God is “the word” (message or seed) that the farmer sows into the soil and which in good soil produces a hundred fold crop (Mark 4:3, 8, 11). The sower is amazed to discover that the reality of God’s Kingdom that is around and within him grows even while he sleeps (Mark 4:26-29). (Indeed sleep, and resting in God more generally, prove to be essential for the spiritual life.)
You and I can be that farmer! Even in our life on earth we can see a hundred fold return on the seeds of God’s Kingdom that we sow!
What is the Kingdom of God?
What is this “word” of the Kingdom of God that the sower sows? Dallas explains, “It is God reigning. Its present wherever what God wants done is done. It is the range of God’s effective will. The news that makes lovely feet is: ‘Your God reigns.’ (Isaiah 52:7).”
In the Lord’s Prayer we’re asking God to rule over us, to govern our lives now and forever, when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, KJV).
When and Where is the Kingdom of God?
Many of us have largely reduced the Gospel to receiving forgiveness for our sins so we can get into heaven when we die. Of course, this is essential, but is this an adequate summary of Jesus’ gospel? Dallas says, God is concerned about getting heaven into us today — then heaven for eternity will take care of itself.
The Kingdom of God is spatial and timeless — it is a wonderful place to be and to live and it is eternal. Tragically, we may diminish it by thinking of it only as being far away and later in heaven, but it is also close and for now.
Dallas teaches, “The kingdom of God is all around you. That is the meaning of the phrase, ‘The kingdom of the heavens.” In the Hebrew mindset there are three basic heavens, three levels, and the lowest is the heaven of the clouds and birds that stretches down to the earth that is God’s footstool. The Kingdom of God is present and active in the air that we’re breathing!
Clearly, the dwelling place of God — the kingdom where our Lord reigns — is in heaven and it rests on earth too (2 Chronicles 6:21 and 41). So in the Bible we see the hand of God act directly upon and with people, like Moses and Ezra. And when Paul explained the Gospel to the Greek intellectuals in Athens he quoted one of their own poets and said, “[God] is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:27-28)
I think my favorite description of the Kingdom of God is the one Paul gives in what may be the longest sentence in the Bible when he writes about the “heavenly realms” that are filled with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). We are in Christ! What does this mean? To be in Christ is to be in the Kingdom of the Heavens — redeemed from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of the Son of God, governed by the Lord of love and not by sin (Colossians 1:13-14).
To be with Christ in the invisible heavenly realms even while living on the physical earth in decaying bodies is a change of identity, location, and source of life — God’s life, resurrection life, abundant and eternal living.
Along these lines, Dallas Willard likes to invite his students to say out loud with him, “I am a never ceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” We are spiritual in substance (our physical nature is secondary). We are never-ceasing in duration. We are reigning for a creative governance with God in our destiny.
The Great Inversion of the Kingdom of God
In the Kingdom of God — under the eternal rule of Christ that covers the earth today — we are surprised to discover that many who are last or least in the visible and temporary world are in fact first and greatest in the invisible and eternal city of God. This is the Good News that Jesus proclaims in his beatitudes for those who are poor, grieving, shy, and mistreated (Matthew 5:1-12, Luke 4:18; 6:20-26).
Jesus’ Gospel of Inversion is an old, seemingly “upside down” reality that is actually the “right side up” view which is proclaimed throughout the Bible. He’s elaborating on the message that was passed on to him from the Song of Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15:1-19), to Hannah’s great prayer of celebration (1 Samuel 2:1-11), to the Psalms (34, 37, 107:31-43, 113), to the Prophets (Ezekiel 17:22-24), to Mary mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55), and to the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:68-79). Jesus and his Apostles take it from there.
Under God’s mighty hand of grace the humble are exalted and cared for, while the proud are opposed (1 Peter 5:5-7).
Did Paul Preach on the Kingdom of God?
Some theologians of the Bible say that Jesus’ Gospel was rejected and so the Kingdom he brought will come later when he returns again. They say that Paul preached a different Gospel, focused on forgiveness of sins and redemption.
Careful study shows that Paul’s Gospel was the same as Jesus’. Fourteen times Paul uses the phrase (or it’s equivalent), “Kingdom of God.” And when he speaks of redemption he’s referring to being redeemed from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1:13-14). For Paul, and the New Testament as a whole, the Christ who died on the cross for our sins is the King of kings who rose from the dead, conquering, sin, hell, and death. Through Christ, the Person, we can be reconciled to God, which is to come under his rule or to live in the realm of his kingdom — now and in increasing ways for eternity.
Key Bible Passages on the Kingdom of God
“We live at the mercy of our ideas,” Dallas says. The theology we bring to the Bible can limit us. Many earnest, intelligent Bible students do not understand the Gospel of the Kingdom. It’s been hidden from us by misinformed theology. Our knowledge of reality is completely dependent upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing and the reading of the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
May God help us to submit ourselves completely to him as we study the Bible. May we not be like the Bible scholars of Jesus’ day who missed what the Bible is all about: a growing, intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Lord and King (John 5:39). According to Jesus, knowing God and his Son, is the definition of eternal life (John 17:3).
Most of the following key Bible passages on the Kingdom of God come from a list that Dallas Willard provided in his notebook for his “Spirituality and Ministry” class. I wrote the one line thematic introductions. (All verses are from the NIV84 unless indicated otherwise.)
God’s Purpose for Human Beings is to Reign with Him
“Then God said, “Let us make [human beings] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)
Moses Proclaims the Lord as King Forever and he Acts with the Lord’s Glorious Arm
“The LORD will reign for ever and ever” (Exodus 15:18). “He was king over Jeshurun [Israel and all upright ones].” (Deuteronomy 33:5). “[The Lord] caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses.” (Isaiah 63:12, ESV. See also Numbers 11:23.)
The Psalmist Commonly Refers to God’s Kingdom as a Refuge and Fortress
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way… The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.” (Psalm 46:1, 7)
The Psalmist: Be Glad! The Lord Reigns Over All!
“The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.” (Psalms 97:1. See also Psalms 45:6, 93:1, 95:3, 96:10, 97:1, 99:1, 103:19, 145:11-13.)
The Psalmist: the Kingdom of God is his Rule — a Realm that’s Eternal, Glorious, and Loving
“They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” (Psalm 145:11-13)
Isaiah Announces the Good News of Peace and Salvation: The LORD Reigns!
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” (Isaiah 52:7) Isaiah also prophesied of the Messiah: “See, a king will reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1).
Daniel says the Kingdom of God is like an Eternal Rock Cut Without Human Hands
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands.” (Daniel 2:44-45)
King Nebuchadnezzar Learns that Our Sanity Depends on Us Submitting to God’s Rule
“All this [that Daniel prophesied in his dream interpretation] happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?
“The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.
“Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:28-34)
Daniel Sees the Messiah as the King with God’s Glory, Authority, and Power
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
Daniel: We are to Reign with Jesus in the Kingdom of God Forever!
“But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever–yes, for ever and ever… Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” (Daniel 7:18, 27)
Ezra: Even in Exile From Jerusalem the Gracious Hand of God is Upon People
“The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him…” (Ezra 8:22; see also Ezra 8:18; Nehemiah 2:8, 18)
Jesus’ Gospel: Re-think your Life — You Can Live in the Kingdom of God Now!
“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” (Matthew 4:17, ESV; see also Mark 1:14-15)
Jesus Teaches that to Enter the Kingdom of God your Heart must be Right (Right Behavior Follows Inward Transformation)
Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
Jesus Says that if in All Things We Seek to be Ruled by God and Made Righteous by Him We Will be Blessed!
Jesus said, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
Jesus Sent the Twelve and the 72 to Proclaim and Manifest his Gospel that the Kingdom of God is Available
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions… As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:5-8; Luke 10:3-11 records Jesus sending out the 72).
Jesus: the King is Seeking You — Seek Him and You’ll be Born from Above!
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful [people] lay hold of it.” (Matthew 11:11-12; see also Luke 16:16)
Trust God and Submit to Him as a Child and you Become Great in the Kingdom of God
“And [Jesus] said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matthew 18:3-4)
Kingdom Citizens are Like Good Trees that Produce Good Fruit — Naturally
Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21:43; see also Matthew 7:17-18; 12:33)
Jesus Asks us to Preach his Gospel that God’s Kingdom is Available
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
Jesus Wants Us All to Know the Good News that God’s Kingdom is Open to Us
“But [Jesus] said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.'” (Luke 4:43; see also Luke 8:1)
Crowds seek Jesus — He Speaks of the Kingdom of God and Manifests it with Healing
“When the apostles returned [from their mission trip], they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” (Luke 9:10-11)
Jesus Acts with God’s Finger to Drive out Demons and Manifest God’s Kingdom
Jesus said, “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20)
Jesus Says it’s Surprising who is Feasting in the Kingdom of God and who is Left Out
Jesus said, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” (Luke 13:28-30)
Jesus: the Kingdom of God is in our Midst Right Now! (It’s Not Only or Mainly “Within” People)
Jesus said, “Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21, ESV)
Jesus Says We have to Receive and Rely on God’s Life to Understand and Participate in the Kingdom of God in Action
“In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.'” (John 3:3)
Jesus Says the Choice is Ours: You can Live by Our Flesh (Natural Human Abilities) or the Spirit, in the World or God’s Kingdom
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:5-8)
The Kingdom of Christ is Not of this Visible World — It’s of the Heavens (It’s a Spiritual Reality Which is Why People Don’t Understand It)
“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.'” (John 18:36)
The Risen Christ Spoke to his Disciples in Flesh and Spirit about God’s Kingdom
“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1-3)
Philip Preached Jesus’ Gospel that the Kingdom of God was Available
“When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)
Barnabas and Paul: “It’s Worth Going thru Hardships to Enter God’s Kingdom”
From city to city Barnabas and Paul were “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.” (Acts 14:22)
The Apostles Proclaimed that Jesus was King over Caesar
The Jewish religious leaders were jealous of the apostles. They tried to get them arrested by the Roman government, saying, “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:7)
Paul’s Gospel was Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom
“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8)
Paul’s Gospel of Grace was God’s Kingdom is Available (He had One Gospel)
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” (Acts 20:24-25)
Paul Kept Speaking of Jesus and his Kingdom from the Law and the Prophets
“From morning till evening [Paul] explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” (Acts 28:23, NIV84)
Paul Preached on the Kingdom of God, Including for Two Whole Years at the End of his Life
“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:30-31)
Paul: the Kingdom of God is About How we Live in the Holy Spirit, Not Externals
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Paul: the Kingdom of God is Not a Concept — It’s a Life of Power
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20)
Paul Teaches that a New and Greater Age is Coming — But Don’t Neglect to Join the Rule of Jesus in God’s Kingdom Now
“Then the end will come, when [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Corinthians 15:24)
Paul Explains that the Kingdom of God is an Imperishable Spiritual Reality
“I declare to you, [friends], that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:50)
Paul Clarifies his Gospel: to be Saved is to be Brought into Christ’s Kingdom of Light, which Includes Forgiveness of Sins
“The Father… has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14)
Paul Illustrates that We’re to Work Together with Christ for God’s Kingdom
“These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.” (Colossians 4:11)
The Writer to Hebrews: Give Thanks! We Are Receiving God’s Unshakeable Kingdom
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28)
James Says that Even the Poor Can be Rich in Faith and Enjoy God’s Kingdom!
“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5)
Peter: Intimacy with Jesus Teaches Us How to Live in God’s Kingdom Forever
“Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust…
“So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-4, 10-11, MSG)
John Unveils a Glorious Vision of Life in God’s Kingdom: Forever we Will Shine and Reign with Jesus!
“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5; see also Revelation 11:15)
* For twenty-six years Dallas Willard has taught a course in Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry class called “Spirituality and Ministry.” I completed this class in 2012. Much of this material comes from the course notebook, pages 16-18.