Was Jesus' kingdom spiritual or physical? No.

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The debate running over here regarding spiritual and physical kingdoms seems to me to be getting confused. To my mind, a straightforward distinction needs to be made between the place where the king is and the place where his reign takes effect.

Jesus became Israel’s king by his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God, from where he would rule until all his enemies have been placed under his feet. It’s misleading to call this a “spiritual” rule—the New Testament doesn’t; “heavenly” would be a better term. It’s a rule enacted from heaven.

But this reign at the right hand of God has a real world impact; it is directed towards realities on earth. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” It cannot be separated, in my view, from such events as the destruction of Jerusalem, the defeat of classical paganism, and the deliverance of the churches from persecution, just as, for example, God’s heavenly rule in Isaiah 52 is apprehended in the historical event of the return from exile.

Certainly faith comes into play here, but not because this is an invisible, spiritual kingdom that only some people can see. Faith is necessary because the concrete historical demonstration of the fact that Christ has been given the authority to judge and rule is deferred. The early church believed that at some point in the foreseeable future things would happen on earth as a consequence of what God had done through Jesus. When Jesus is finally revealed as king, when he “comes” to vindicate his followers, those who did not believe the gospel about God’s Son being made Lord will be punished. But what this apocalyptic narrative referred to, I suggest, was every bit an earthly, historical state of affairs.

The point of the thief in the night simile is not that some people won’t notice that it has happened. It is that it will happen when people are least expecting it:

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thess. 5:3)

Paul is certainly not suggesting that some people won’t notice the “sudden destruction” from which “they will not escape”.

So I recommend ditching the spiritual/physical distinction. It misses the point. The kingdom of God in the New Testament is as worldly as it ever was in the Old Testament. The difference is that Jesus, a crucified messiah, has been given authority to exercise that rule from his exceptional position at the right hand of the Father.

Corcoran | Wed, 07/18/2012 - 15:15 | Permalink

And the disciples were going to serve as his lieutenants on earth.

You don’t think that they thought Jesus was going to be here with them as they administered on his behalf?


No, I don’t think they expected him to be with them. The basic idea was that Jesus would reign at the right hand of the Father, along with the martyrs, until the last enemy, death, is destroyed. But the Spirit was given as a substitute for his physical presence.

Daniel | Wed, 07/18/2012 - 22:36 | Permalink

The kingdom of God in the New Testament is as worldly as it ever was in the Old Testament. The difference is that Jesus, a crucified messiah, has been given authority to exercise that rule from his exceptional position at the right hand of the Father.

How exactly would you understand the relation between the coming of the kingdom in the NT and the kingdom in the OT? Obviously, in the OT already God is recognized as King, and the human, Davidic king is thought of as his representative (I Chron. 10:14; 29:23). So should we understand John and Jesus’ announcement to be largely about the restoration of this kingdom, by way of God’s intervention on behalf of his people, only now the kingdom is of a multi-national character and has Christ on the throne in heaven, rather than a lesser Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem? Or is there more to it than that?


Daniel, to my mind that sums it up pretty well. The kingdom is the rule of God over his people but with particular reference to decisive acts of judgment and restoration. Through his obedience unto death Jesus “qualified” as king of Israel, but God added to this an authority above all rulers and powers, including death. On the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus, or on the basis of the faithfulness of Jesus, Israel’s God asserted his claim to be God of the empire, in the first, and God of the whole earth. The multinational character of the churches was a sign of the coming rule of YHWH over the nations.

@Andrew Perriman:


So kingdom “at hand” means kingdom arrival imminent via judgement. So, what of Jesus’ statment, “kingdom within/among you ? ( In Luke, I think).


Andrew Perriman | Fri, 07/20/2012 - 22:56 | Permalink

In reply to by Yinka


I had a stab at answering this question here.


I’ve been thinking about the coming Kingdom as it parallels the Davidic kingdom, as well. David was the “real” King of Israel long before (1Sam16) he was the “reigning” King of Israel(2Sam2). I’ve been thinking about how typology in the Hebrew Bible is a sort of living symbolism for us in the eschatolgical now: How Jesus is the “real” King of the Nations even if he does not appear to be the “reigning” King. I don’t want to take it too far, but I also don’t want to get too far away from it either.

@Thomas Jones:

Thomas, it’s an interesting perspective. Does the New Testament itself make use of the typology?

The main point I would make, though, in response to your comment is that the Jewish-narrative-historical approach rather suggests to me that the fulfilment of New Testament expectation regarding the kingship of Jesus came when the pagan nations of the empire confessed Jesus as Lord. Jesus was appointed judge and ruler of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē at the resurrection, but this became a concrete political reality with the conversion of the empire. That, I stress, is a historical perspective—it falls short of our mostly idealized theological expectations. But I would argue that the historical perspective does better justice to the New Testament texts than the theological perspective.

@Andrew Perriman:

I’m not trying to disagree with you, I think that this narrative approach is correct. I also agree that the specific typology of King David/King Jesus is not expansively noted in the NT; although it is clear that typology is important. But if the NT community felt as if they were living the story or narrative of the Hebrew Bible, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that themes of previous stories (David’s ascension to the throne) would come to bare on the story that they were living through (the foolishness of preaching Jesus as Lord while Ceaser still reigned in Rome). I don’t consider this theology as much as continuity in an every expanding story of which we are all a part.

Endar Malkovich | Mon, 11/26/2018 - 04:05 | Permalink

I’m sorry, but one of the biggest problems in christendom is the total ignorance towards hebraic culture and language. 

Unbeknownst to nearly all of christiantity is that they follow Plato’s teaching of spirit vs flesh instead of Paul’s.

To believe in the two world reality which is Plato’s view of dualism is what leads people into all of this spiritual talk. To christiantiy, spirit and spiritual mean ethereal, non physical heavenly dimensions and ghostly realms. This is all from Plato.

To Paul and the hebrews, spirit meant godly righteousness, correct thinking and behavior, truth, and grace. Flesh did not mean the physical body like Plato taught. Flesh meant anti god, anti truth, anti love, anti correct thinking and behaving. Heaven to a hebrew was a euphemism for God, not an ethereal separate realm of existence that you go to when you die or some far off distant place where God lives because we’re too filthy for him to dwell with us. That’s once again Plato.

Until you understand this difference you won’t be able to understand the reason for jesus, why he died, or what the kingdom was and is and will be.

Endar Malkovich | Mon, 12/31/2018 - 08:47 | Permalink

Some people may not understand this or were ever taught this, but prophecy of Jesus’ return was conditional. When he said he’d return soon, the Greek word translated as soon, can also mean suddenly. Peter and Paul both explain in further letters that his return was dependent on certain behaviors and beliefs