God’s messianic kingdom will be ruled by God’s appointed Messiah, who will be not just the Redeemer of His people, but their King. So when John speaks of the radical nearness of this breakthrough, the intrusion of the kingdom of God, he’s speaking of this kingdom of the Messiah.
Suppose someone asked you that question: What is the kingdom of God? How would you respond? The easy answer would be to note that a kingdom is that territory over which a king reigns. Since we understand that God is the Creator of all things, the extent of His realm must be the whole world. Manifestly, then, the kingdom of God is wherever God reigns, and since He reigns everywhere, the kingdom of God is everywhere.
But I think my pastor was getting at something else. Certainly the New Testament gets at something else. We see this when John the Baptist comes out of the wilderness with his urgent announcement, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” We see it again when Jesus appears on the scene with the same pronouncement. If the kingdom of God consists of all of the universe over which God reigns, why would anyone announce that the kingdom of God was near or about to come to pass. Obviously, John the Baptist and Jesus meant something more about this concept of the kingdom of God.
At the heart of this theme is the idea of God’s messianic kingdom. It is a kingdom that will be ruled by God’s appointed Messiah, who will be not just the Redeemer of His people, but their King. So when John speaks of the radical nearness of this breakthrough, the intrusion of the kingdom of God, he’s speaking of this kingdom of the Messiah.
At the end of Jesus’ life, just as He was about to depart from this earth, His disciples had the opportunity to ask Him one last question. They asked, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b). I can easily imagine that Jesus might have been somewhat frustrated by this question. I would have expected Him to say, “How many times do I have to tell you, I’m not going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” But that’s not what He said; He gave a patient and gentle answer. He said: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority… . But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7–8). What did He mean? What was He getting at?
When Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” was He indicating that His kingdom was something spiritual that takes place in our hearts or was He speaking of something else? The whole Old Testament called attention not to a kingdom that would simply appear in people’s hearts, but to a kingdom that would break through into this world, a kingdom that would be ruled by God’s anointed Messiah. For this reason, during His earthly ministry, Jesus made comments such as, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Similarly, when Jesus sent out seventy disciples on a preaching mission, He instructed them to tell impenitent cities that “The kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:11b). How could the kingdom be upon the people or near them? The kingdom of God was near to them because the King of the kingdom was there. When He came, Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom. He didn’t consummate it, but He started it. And when He ascended into heaven, He went there for His coronation, for His investiture as the King of kings and Lord of lords.