By Bob Thiel
We all should know that Jesus taught the gospel of the kingdom (Mark 1:14-15), sent the apostles to do it (Luke 9:1-2), and they did (2 Peter 1:10-11; Acts 19:8).
But are there indications that later professors of Christ did or understood that?
The oldest preserved apparently Christian writing (late first century) is the Letter to the Corinthians which states:
The Apostles for our sakes…went forth…preaching the gospel that the Kingdom of God was about to come (xlii).
Hence the early Christians understood that the apostles went forth to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God was also a significant part of what is believed to be “the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived” (Holmes M.W. Ancient Christian Sermon. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004). This sermon contains these statements about it:
5:5 Moreover you know, brothers, that our stay in the world of the flesh is insignificant and transitory, but the promise of Christ is great and marvelous: rest in the coming kingdom and life eternal.
The above statement teaches that the kingdom is not now, but will come and be eternal. Furthermore, this ancient sermon states:
6:9 Now if even such righteous men as these are not able, by means of their own righteous deeds, to save their children, what assurance do we have of entering the kingdom of God if we fail to keep our baptism pure and undefiled? Or who will be our advocate, if we have not been found to have holy and righteous works?
9:6 Therefore let us love one another, that we all may enter into the kingdom of God.
11:7 Therefore, if we no what is right in God’s sight, we will enter his kingdom and receive the promises which “ear has not heard nor eye seen nor eye seen nor the heart of man imagined.”
12:1 Let us wait, therefore hour by hour for the kingdom of God in love and righteousness, since we know not the day of God’s appearing.
The above statements show that we still have not entered the kingdom of God, and that it occurs after the day of God’s appearing–that is after Jesus’ returns again. This ancient sermon also states.
12:6 he says, the kingdom of my Father shall come.
The above statement teaches that it is the Father’s kingdom and it still has to come. The kingdom is not just Jesus.
It is interesting, to me at least, that the oldest apparently Christian sermon (it is possible that it could be Church of God, but my limited knowledge of Greek limits my ability to make a firmer declaration) that God has aloud to survive teaches the same kingdom of God that the New Testament taught and the Continuing Church of God now teaches.
Second Century Church Leaders and the Gospel of the Kingdom
It should be noted that Papias, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp (and is considered to be a saint by Roman Catholics), in the early second century taught the kingdom. Eusebius recorded that Papias (an early 2nd century leader) taught:
…there will be a period of a thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth…(Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book III, Chapter XXIX, Verse 12, p. 69)
Papias taught that it would be a time of great abundance:
In like manner, [He said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man.” [Testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him…] (Fragments of Papias, IV).
Polycarp of Smyrna was an early Christian leader, who was a disciple of John, the last of the original apostles to die. Around 120-135 A.D. Polycarp taught:
“Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter II. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
Knowing, then, that “God is not mocked,” we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory …For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since “every lust warreth against the spirit; ” and “neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,” nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter V. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
Thus like Paul and others in the New Testament, Polycarp taught that the righteous, not the commandment breakers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Melito of Sardis, who was a successor of Polycarp, around 170 A.D., taught:
For indeed the law issued in the gospel–the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a man, and the man in God…
But the gospel became the explanation of the law and its fulfillment, while the church became the storehouse of truth…
This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom (Melito. Homily On the Passover. Verses 7,40,68. Translation from Kerux: The Journal of Online Theology (http://www.kerux.com/documents/KeruxV4N1A1.asp 09/14/05).
Thus the kingdom of God is something eternal, and not simply the current Christian or Catholic church and includes God’s law.
Another mid-late second century writing exhorts people to look to the kingdom:
Wherefore, let no one of you longer dissemble nor look backwards, but willingly approach to the Gospel of the kingdom of God (Roman Clement. Recognitions, Book X, Chapter XLV. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Furthermore, while it was probably not written by one in the true church, the mid-second century writing titled The Shepherd of Hermas in the translation by Roberts & Donaldson uses the expression “kingdom of God” fourteen times.
True, and even many only professing, Christians knew about the kingdom of God in the second century.
Even the heretic Irenaeus understood that after the resurrection, Christians would enter the kingdom of God. Notice what he wrote, c. 180:
For such is the state of those who have believed, since in them continually abides the Holy Spirit, who was given by Him in baptism, and is retained by the receiver, if he walks in truth and holiness and righteousness and patient endurance. For this soul has a resurrection in them that believe, the body receiving the soul again, and along with it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being raised up and entering into the kingdom of God (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Chapter 42. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920).
Problems in the Second and Third Centuries
In the second century, an anti-law leader named Marcion rose up who taught against the law, the Sabbath, and the literal kingdom of God. Although he was denounced by Polycarp and others, he had contact with the Church of Rome for quite some time and seemed to have influence there.
In the second and third centuries, allegorists were becoming established in Alexandria (Egypt). And they opposed the doctrine of the coming kingdom. Notice the report about Dionysius and the Allegorists:
Dionysius was born of a noble and wealthy pagan family in Alexandria, and was educated in their philosophy. He left the pagan schools to become a pupil of Origen, whom he succeeded in the charge of the catechetical school of Alexandria…
Clement, Origen, and the Gnostic school were corrupting the doctrines of the holy oracles by their fanciful and allegorical interpretations…they obtained for themselves the name of “Allegorists.” Nepos publicly combated the Allegorists, and maintained that there will be a reign of Christ on the earth…
Dionysius disputed with the followers of Nepos, and by his account…“such a state of things as now exists in the kingdom of God.” This is the first mention of the kingdom of God existing in the present state of the churches…
Nepos rebuked their error, showing that the kingdom of heaven is not allegorical, but is the literal coming kingdom of our Lord in the resurrection unto eternal life…
So the idea of the kingdom come in the present state of things was conceived and brought forth in the Gnostic school of Allegorists in Egypt, A.D. 200 to 250, a full century before the bishops of the empire came to be regarded as occupants of the throne…
Clement conceived the idea of the kingdom of God as a state of true mental knowledge of God. Origen set it forth as a spiritual meaning hid in the plain letter of Scriptures (Ward, Henry Dana. The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Kingdom Not of this World; Not in this World; But to Come in the Heavenly Country, of the Resurrection from the Dead and of the Restitution of All Things. Published by Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1870. Original from the New York Public Library, Digitized Jul 18, 2006, pp. 124-125)
Thus, while Nepos taught the gospel of the kingdom of God, the allegorists tried to come up with a false, less literal, understanding of it. Apollinaris of Hierapolis tried to fight the errors of the allegorists about the same time.
Herbert W. Armstrong Taught the Gospel of the Kingdom
In the 20th century, in his book titled The Mystery of the Ages, the late Herbert W. Armstrong wrote:
Jesus went everywhere preaching the GOOD NEWS of the KINGDOM OF GOD. He taught in parables about the KINGDOM OF GOD. He sent out seventy men preaching, and commanded them to preach THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Luke 10:9). He sent the apostles, on whom the Church of God was founded, to preach only THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Luke 9:1-2). After the resurrection, before ascending to heaven, Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Isn’t it amazing that the world has LOST the knowledge of what it is?
The apostle Paul preached THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31)…
Because they rejected Christ’s gospel 1,900 years ago, the world had to supplant something else in its place. They had to invent a counterfeit! So we have heard the kingdom of God spoken of as merely a pretty platitude–a nice sentiment in human hearts–reducing it to an ethereal, unreal NOTHING! Others have misrepresented that the “CHURCH” is the kingdom. Others confuse it with the millennium. Still others have, earlier in our century, claimed the British Empire is the kingdom of God. But no one makes that claim any longer. HOW DECEIVED CAN THIS WORLD GET? The prophet Daniel, who lived 600 years before Christ, knew that the kingdom of God was a real kingdom–a government ruling over literal PEOPLE on the earth…
Here, in PLAIN LANGUAGE, is God’s explanation of what the KINGDOM OF GOD IS: “And in the days of these kings…”–it is here speaking of the ten toes, part of iron and part of brittle clay. This, by connecting the prophecy with Daniel 7, and Revelation 13 and 17, is referring to the new UNITED STATES OF EUROPE that is now forming, out of the European Common Market, before your very eyes! Revelation 17:12 makes plain the detail that it shall be a union of TEN KINGS OR KINGDOMS that (Rev. 17:8) shall resurrect the old ROMAN EMPIRE. So, mark carefully the time element! “In the days of these kings”–in the days of these then nations or groups of nations that shall, IN OUR TIME, resurrect briefly the Roman Empire–notice what shall happen: “…shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed…but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever”!
…When Christ comes, he is coming as KING of kings, ruling the whole earth (Rev. 19:11-16); and HIS KINGDOM–the KINGDOM OF GOD–said Daniel, is to CONSUME all these worldly kingdoms. Revelation 11:15 states it in these words: “The kingdoms of this world are become THE KINGDOMS OF OUR LORD, AND OF HIS CHRIST: and he shall reign for ever and ever”! This is THE KINGDOM OF GOD. It is the END of present governments–yes, and even the United States and the British nations. They then shall become the kingdoms–the GOVERNMENTS–of the Lord JESUS CHRIST, then KING of kings over the entire earth. This makes completely PLAIN the fact that the KINGDOM OF GOD is a literal GOVERNMENT. Even as the Chaldean Empire was a KINGDOM–even as the Roman Empire was a KINGDOM–so the KINGDOM OF GOD is a government. It is to take over the GOVERNMENT of the NATIONS of the world. Jesus Christ was BORN to be a KING–a RULER!…
The same Jesus Christ who walked over the hills and valleys of the Holy Land and the streets of Jerusalem more than 1,900 years ago is coming again. He said he would come again. After he was crucified, God raised him from the dead after three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40; Acts 2:32; I Cor. 15:3-4). He ascended to the Throne of God. Headquarters of the Government of the Universe (Acts 1:9-11; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; Rev. 3:21)… he is in heaven until the “times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:19-21). Restitution means restoring to a former state or condition. In this case, the restoring of God’s government on earth, and thus, the restoring of world peace, and utopian conditions.
Present world turmoil, escalating wars and contentions will climax in world trouble so great that, unless God intervenes, no human flesh would be saved alive (Matt. 24:22). At its very climax when delay would result in blasting all life from off this planet, Jesus Christ will return. This time he is coming as divine God. He is coming in all the power and glory of the universe-ruling Creator. (Matt. 24:30; 25:31.) He is coming as “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16), to establish world super-government and rule all nations “with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15; 12:5)…
Christ is coming…
But will humanity shout with joy, and welcome him in frenzied ecstasy and enthusiasm? Will even the churches of traditional Christianity?
They will not! They will believe, because the false ministers of Satan (II Cor. 11:13-15) have deceived them, that he is the Antichrist. The churches and the nations will be angry at his coming (Rev. 11:15 with 11:18), and the military forces will actually attempt to fight him to destroy him (Rev. 17:14)!
The nations will be engaged in the climactic battle of the coming World War III, with the battlefront at Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1-2) and then Christ will return. In supernatural power he will “fight against those nations” that fight against him (verse 3). He will totally defeat them (Rev. 17:14)! “His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives,” a very short distance to the east of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4).
So, Jesus will return and He will win, even though many will claim (based upon improper understanding of Bible prophecy, but partially because of false prophets and mystics) that Jesus is the final Antichrist.
The Bible teaches that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16) and Jesus is God (John 1:1,14)–the kingdom of God will have a King who is love and whose laws support love.
The following is also from Herbert Armstrong’s book The Mystery of the Ages:
True religion–God’s truth empowered with the love of God imparted by the Holy Spirit…JOY UNSPEAKABLE of knowing God and Jesus Christ–of knowing TRUTH–and the warmth of God’s divine LOVE!…
The teachings of God’s true Church are simply those of “living by every word” of the Holy Bible…
Men shall turn from the way of “get” to the way of “give”–God’s way of love.
A NEW CIVILIZATION shall now grip the earth!
The NEW CIVILIZATION is the Kingdom of God. Proclaiming that new civilization is to come and be based upon love is a major part of what the true gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and His followers taught is all about. And that is something that we in the Continuing Church of God preach as well.
Herbert Armstrong realized that Jesus was teaching that human society, even when it thinks it wants to obey, has rejected the give way of life, the way of love. Almost no one seems to properly grasp the significance of what Jesus was teaching.
To help us become part of that kingdom, God loved humans so much that He sent Jesus to die for us (John 3:16-17).
The Gospel of the Kingdom is Something the World Needs, But…
Although humankind needs the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom, many in the world will not pay attention to this message in the 21st century. But the world will receive a witness.
Recall that Jesus taught:
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
 这 天 国 的 福 音 要 传 遍 天 下 ， 对 万 民 作 见 证 ， 然 後 末 期 才 来 到 。（馬 太 福 音 24:14）
Notice that the gospel of the kingdom will reach the world as a witness, then the end will come.
There are several reasons for this.
One is that God wants the world to hear the true gospel before the start of the Great Tribulation (which is shown to start in Matthew 24:21). Hence the gospel message is both a witness and a warning (cf. Ezekiel 3; Amos 3:7).
Another is that the gist of the message will be contrary to the views of the rising Beast, King of the North power, along with the False Prophet, the final Antichrist. They will basically promise peace through human effort, but it will lead to destruction (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:3).
Because of signs and lying wonders associated with them (2 Thessalonians 2:9), the world will chose to believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12) instead of the gospel message.
The faithful Philadelphians (Revelation 3:7-13) will be telling the world what these worldly leaders will be up to. They will support telling the world the message that the Beast, King of the North power, along with the False Prophet, the final Antichrist, will ultimately destroy (along with some of their allies) the USA and the Anglo-nations of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (Daniel 11:39). That they will shortly thereafter destroy an Arabic/Islamic confederation (Daniel 11:40-43), function as instruments of the demons (Revelation 16:13-14), and will fight Jesus Christ upon His return (Revelation 16:14;19:19-20). The faithful Philadelphians (Revelation 3:7-13) will be announcing that the millennial kingdom will be coming soon.
And these leaders (likely some ‘new’ type of top leader of Europe along with some type of pontiff) will not like that–they will not want the world to learn what they will really do (and may not even believe it themselves at first, cf. Isaiah 10:5-7). They and/or their supporters will also likely falsely teach that the faithful Philadelphians will be espousing a doctrine (millenarianism) of a coming antichrist.
Whatever condemnations that they and/or their followers make towards the Philadelphian faithful and the Continuing Church of God will trigger persecution (Daniel 11:29-35, Revelation 12:13-15. This will also lead to the end–the start of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21; Daniel 11:39; cf. Matthew 24:15; Daniel 11:31) as well as a time of protection for the faithful Philadelphia Christians (Revelation 3:10;12:14-16.
The Beast and False Prophet will try force, economic blackmail, signs, lying wonders, murder, and other pressures (Revelation 13:10-17,16:14; Daniel 7:25; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10) to have control.
Yet, Jesus will return and the millennial kingdom of God will be established on the earth. God and the faithful Christians will win.
The kingdom of God is a literal kingdom that will be established on the earth. It will be based on the loving laws of God and a loving God as leader. This kingdom will include those truly in the Church of God, but no scripture states that the kingdom of God is actually the Church (Catholic or otherwise).
In its initial phase, the saints will reign with Christ for a thousand years over the nations. In its final phase, it will include the “New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and of its increase there will be no end. There will be no more unrighteousness, no more sorrow, and no more death.
Preaching and understanding the gospel of the kingdom of God is an important theme of the Bible. Old Testament writers taught about it. Jesus, Paul, and John taught about it. The oldest possibly Christian sermon to survive outside the New Testament taught about it. Early second century Christian leaders, like Polycarp and Melito, taught about it. We in the Continuing Church of God teach it (see also the YouTube sermon The Gospel of the Kingdom).
Recall that the kingdom of God is the first subject that the Bible shows Jesus preached about. It was also what He preached about after the resurrection. The gospel is not just about the life and death of Jesus (though as scripture and early writings show, He is a major part of it), the emphasis of the gospel that Jesus and His followers taught was the coming kingdom of God. The gospel of the kingdom includes salvation through Christ, but it also does include the teaching of the end of human governments.
Furthermore, Jesus taught that the end would not come until after the gospel of the kingdom was preached to the world as a witness to all the nations (Matthew 24:14); and various ones will not want to hear or believe it. Yet, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God is an important subject. This is something that we in the Continuing Church of God are serious about.