Both the church and the kingdom are prominent themes in the Word of God. Each has a very important role in God's eternal purpose. However, they are not one and the same. The church is not the kingdom, and the kingdom is not the church. In this short article, our purpose is to detail some of the differences between the church and the kingdom.
The Church Defined
To perceive the differences between the church and the kingdom, it will be helpful to define them both. First, what is the church? The English word church is derived from the middle English churche or cherche that in turn came from the Greek kuriakon which means “belonging to the Lord” (Liddel & Scott). However, the Greek word from which the word church is translated in the New Testament is ekklesia. To determine the definition of the word church, we must seek the meaning of ekklesia.
Ekklesia appears 115 times in the Greek New Testament. In the Authorized Version [hereafter, A.V], it is translated church 112 times and assembly 3 times. Ekklesia is composed of two words in the Greek: the prefixed preposition ek, meaning out, and kaleo which means to call. Thus, ekklesia means those called out or an assembly. Perhaps the fullest and most exact definition is a called out assembly. When ekklesia is not referring to a New Testament church, it is translated assembly in the AV. In Acts 19:32, 39, 41, ekklesia refers to “an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned” (Liddel & Scott).
In its application ekklesia refers either to a particular church—e.g. “the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thess. 1:1), “the church of Ephesus” (Rev. 2:1)--or to the church as an institution ( Eph. 1:22; 3:21; Col. 1:18), or the nation of Israel which was a called-out assembly or congregation in the wilderness (Acts 7:38). The concept of a universal, invisible church is not found in the word ekklesia or the teachings of the New Testament.
THE KINGDOM DEFINED
Defining the kingdom is more difficult than defining the church because there seems to be several different aspects to the kingdom. Also, there are several Hebrew words translated kingdom in the Old Testament as well as the Greek word translated kingdom in the New Testament. By looking at each of these words, we will be able to get a better grasp on the meaning of the word kingdom which in English refers to the domain of the king.
The first of the five Hebrew words—one of these words is actually Chaldee which is very much like Hebrew—is melucah. This word is found 24 times (if I have counted correctly) and translated kingdom 18 times in the A.V.. It is translated royal four times and king's twice. In every instance where this word is found, reference seems to be restricted to the kingdom of Israel or Judah. This word is used in Psalm 22:28 which reads, “For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations. While the “kingdom” in this passage may refer to the entire world, it for sure speaks of Israel.
The second of these Hebrew words is malecuth which appears over 80 times in the O.T. It is translated kingdom (49), reign (19), royal (13), realm (2), and empire (1) in the A.V. This word is used of visible kingdoms such as that of Israel, of certain Persian kings, of Nebuchadnezzar, and of other kings. In Psalm 45:6, it refers to the kingdom of Christ, Cf. Heb. 1:8. This word is used in Psalm 103:19 which states: “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” This same word is also found in Psalm 145:11-13. In these passages it is evident that the kingdom is the entire domain over which Jehovah reigns.
Mamelacah is the third and most used of the Hebrew words for kingdom. Found some 109 times in the O.T., it is translated kingdom (103), royal (4), and reign (2) in the A.V.. Again, this word usually refers to visible kingdoms, either of Israel or of other nations. As used in Micah 4:8, it seems to refer to a future kingdom for Jerusalem.
The fourth Hebrew word is mamelacuth which is found 9 times in the O.T., and it is translated kingdom in the A.V. in every passage except one in which it is rendered reign. This word refers only to the particular earthly kingdoms which are named in these passages. See Joshua 13:12, 21, 27, 30, 31; I Samuel 15:28; 2 Samuel 16:3; Jeremiah 26:1; Hosea 1:4.
The fifth word is the Chaldee malecu which is found some 55 times in the books of Ezra and Daniel, both of which were written in the Chaldean language. This word is translated kingdom (47), reign (4), realm (3), and kingly (1). By means of this word, reference is made to the reign of Darius, the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom of Cyrus, and the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God seems to refer to both His present reign (Dan. 4:3, 17, 35) and to the millennial reign of Christ which is yet future (Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14, 18, 27). Thus, both a present invisible kingdom and a future visible kingdom are involved in the meaning of this word.
In the New Testament, the single Greek word translated kingdom is basileia. This word appears 162 times in the Greek New Testament. The phrase kingdom of God is found 71 times while the words kingdom of heaven occur 32 times. Basileia seems to denote a spiritual or invisible kingdom in such passages as Matthew 3:2; 4:17' 5:3; 7:21. In other passages, the kingdom is obviously a visible or organized kingdom (Matt. 8:11; Luke 4;5; Acts 1:6; Rev. 17:17. We must ever keep in mind that all words have an actual meaning known by all men. Figurative or spiritual meanings derived from actual meanings are often used in the sacred Scriptures. It is our task as students of the Word of God to discern which meaning is used in particular texts.
VARIOUS ASPECTS OF THE KINGDOM
The first and broadest aspect of the kingdom of God is His reign over all the earth. Of this aspect of the kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar spoke when he said, “How great are his [God's] signs! and how mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:3). Because He rules over all, God appoints the human rulers over the kingdom of men as He wills (Dan. 4:25, 32). Men do not acknowledge the fact of God's rule over all the kingdoms of men, but He reigns over them in every generation (Dan. 7:27).
The second and more narrow aspect of the kingdom of God is His reign over a specific people who acknowledge His rule. This aspect of the kingdom is in view in Psalm 145:10, 11 which states: “All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power. Since this Psalm was written by David, the reference is very obviously to Israel which was the visible kingdom of God in Old Testament times. Is there a spiritual kingdom which is without national boundaries, yet consists of people who acknowledge God's rule over their lives? The answer is yes. The kingdom of heaven proclaimed by both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Himself is a spiritual kingdom without national boundaries or organization (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). That His kingdom was a worldly kingdom like other national kingdoms was very clearly disavowed by our Lord to Pilate. In response to whether He was King of the Jews, “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).
Is there a third and yet future aspect of the kingdom of God in which our Lord will reign visibly over all the nations and peoples of the earth who will acknowledge Him as King? I believe there is. Many passages of Scripture seem to point to His being King over a universal kingdom. “And the LORD shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” (Zech. 14:9). Since the spiritual kingdom of God already existed when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, the kingdom which He bade us pray to come must be this future, visible aspect of the kingdom (Matt. 6:10). It was to this aspect of the kingdom of God the Apostles referred when they asked, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Surely they understood that Christ already had a spiritual kingdom at this time, but their question concerned a visible kingdom in which Israel was restored to its place as head of the nations (Deut. 15:6; 28:1). If they were incorrect in their expectation of a visible kingdom being restored to Israel in the future, would not this have been the right time for our Lord to set them straight? Instead of suggesting they were wrong in their general eschatology, He simply stated, “. . .It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7). That all the visible kingdoms of this world will one day become the visible kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is clear from the prophecy of Revelation 11:14 which declares, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Evidently, the future visible kingdom of God is that which those described as sheep at Christ's right hand are invited by Him to enter. “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM CONTRASTED
Now that both the church and the kingdom have been defined, we are now ready to note how they are contrasted in Scripture. From John 3:5 we learn that men enter the kingdom of God by means of being born again: “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The Apostle Paul wrote that the Father “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13). By way of contrast, one is not born into the church but received by the vote or consent of the church (Acts 2:41; 9:26-28).
As we have seen, the church is always local—except in the cases where its usage is generic, but even then the generic usage, while not pointing to a particular church, denotes any local church—but the kingdom is much more extensive. The spiritual kingdom of God consists of all those born of God (Matt. 7:21; Luke 18:16; 1 Cor. 6:9-11), but the church is composed only of baptized believers who have entered into covenant with one another in a particular locality, e.g. the churches of Galatia which were obviously composed of baptized believers (Gal. 1:2; 3:26, 27).
The kingdom of God is not confined to a particular church or group of churches, but each church is in the kingdom of God, since it is composed of those who have been born into the kingdom. In fact, all of the Lord's churches compose a visible kingdom over which the Lord Jesus Christ reigns. He is shown walking in the midst of the seven churches of Asia, denoting His reign among them (Rev. 2:1). It seems that it was to the visible kingdom of His churches that our Lord referred when He said to the chief priests and elders, “. . .The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:43). The Greek word for nation, ethnos, refers to the Gentiles, especially when used in the plural form. It was not to a particular Gentile nation our Lord referred, but to an institution, which has primarily been composed of Gentiles, called the churches of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 16:16). Granting this aspect of the kingdom, we would never teach or even imply that the church and the kingdom of God are one in the same in every aspect.
That the church and the kingdom of heaven or God are not the very same thing is evident from our Lord's words in Matthew 16:18, 19: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. . .” Note the differences here: the church is being built upon Christ the Rock, not Peter. Christ is the Rock (1 Cor. 10:4) and the only Foundation upon which anything lasting can be built (1 Cor. 3:11). But to Peter as the representative of the church the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given. Consequently, Peter, together with all the Apostles, used those keys on the day of Pentecost in preaching Christ to Jews from every nation, effectively opening the kingdom to all who believed in Him (Acts 2:14, 32-42). With brethren from the church in Joppa, Peter used the same keys in opening the kingdom to Gentile believers in Christ (Acts 10:34-48). In both cases, those who were received into the church had first entered the kingdom of God by means of the new birth.
These are but a few of the contrasts that can be drawn between the church and the kingdom of God. The church and the kingdom are really allies, not antagonists. If we rightly divide the word of truth, however, we cannot but denote the distinction between them.
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