There is a key distinction between covenant blessings for individuals and covenant blessings for the nation of Israel. In fact, this distinction is perhaps one of the most important for resolving many of the tensions between the realized, already not yet, and postponement perspectives of the kingdom. (1) Whether Jesus actually offered a kingdom, (2) whether that kingdom was eschatological and soteriological, and (3) whether that kingdom is here now, already not yet, or not here yet are three key questions clarified with the distinction between individual and national blessings and covenant promises.

Jesus’s Announcement (Kingdom at Hand) and Offer (Opportunity for Repentance)

Jesus announces the nearness of the kingdom with a call to repentance (change of mind) regarding how an individual could enter the kingdom.[1] To that point, the people had been inculcated with the Pharisaical doctrines that one must exhibit external righteousness through obedience to law in order to be acceptable to God, and in so doing would inherit the kingdom. However, Jesus makes it clear that this kind of righteousness was insufficient,[2] and was, in fact, no righteousness at all. Instead, He contrasts external false righteousness with internal true righteousness.[3] Obedience to law was insufficient for creating righteousness. On the other hand, internal righteousness was needed, and Jesus demonstrated by the contrast that the people did not have that by their efforts. They needed to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.[4] Jesus explained that those who heard and acted on His words will have built their house on the rock, and their house would withstand the storm[5], while those who didn’t act on His instructions built on sand. Their house would crumble when the storm came.[6] Throughout this context (of Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus addresses individuals regarding how they could enter the kingdom. The soteriological data prominent in Jesus’s teaching is directed at individuals (though often many at a time), so that they might be able to have salvation, and thus enter the kingdom. Jesus’s soteriological (and individual) emphasis is not to be equated with the kingdom and its eschatology – which were national. Of course, the national-kingdom eschatology had personal implications for every individual. If the kingdom came and they did not have the requisite righteousness to enter, then…they would not be able to enter. Hence, the individual urgency created by the national announcement of the coming kingdom.

In these contexts there is no discussion of the national aspect of when that kingdom would arrive. It would certainly arrive, nonetheless, as the kingdom of the heavens (as Matthew puts it) was God’s eternal and heavenly kingdom which would come to earth in physical form, just as promised.[7] God would dwell with humanity on earth, with the Messiah King ruling on the throne of David in (New) Jerusalem, and all the nations would be blessed by that kingdom.[8] God’s kingdom would change its address from heaven to earth. The kingdom of the heavens would come to earth. This is what Jesus announced in His gospel of the kingdom. That gospel included the message of repentance – the need for changed minds about how people could enter that kingdom.

Technically, Jesus did not offer the kingdom in some conditional way, rather He announced it was coming and that it was at hand or near. He made it clear that if they received Him (and His kingdom) rather than trying to take it by force (their own efforts), that John would have fulfilled the Malachi 4:5 prophecy of Elijah’s arrival before the great and terrible day of the Lord.[9] After His miracles were attributed by national leaders (Pharisees) to Satan, Jesus explained that the kingdom had actually come to them.[10] He then pronounced judgment on that generation.[11] He announced that the kingdom was coming to the nation. The national leaders (and many of the people) rejected Him and His prescription for entering that coming kingdom. After His death and resurrection, rather than installing His kingdom, He left. The disciples recognized that the kingdom had not been installed, and thus asked Him about the timing of the restoration of the kingdom.[12]

Kingdom Now, Already Not Yet, or Not Yet – Based on National/Individual Distinctions

Paul explains to the Colossians that those who have believed in Christ have already been transferred to the kingdom of Christ.[13] Absent any context, this might be received as a statement that the kingdom of Christ is an already present thing. However, Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians makes it clear that the kingdom was not on earth in any way. They were to set their minds on things above not on earth, because Christ was not on earth.[14] Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.[15] The disciples recognized that the coming kingdom would be a restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Nathaniel, for example, recognized even before Jesus had performed any signs that Jesus was the King of Israel,[16] yet he was among those recognized that the kingdom had not yet been restored to Israel. There was no spiritual version of that kingdom in the disciples’ eyes – it had not been restored to Israel yet. They looked for a literal, physical fulfillment, and ultimately understood that fulfillment would not take place until Jesus returned to earth as King.[17] After Jesus ascended, Peter recognized that Jesus was seated at the right hand of the Father, and yet had not inaugurated the kingdom (or brought it to earth as was promised). Peter recognizes that Psalm 110 evidenced that Jesus was Christ and Lord, but Peter never once called Him king.[18] Paul likewise recognizes that Jesus was the descendant of David and that He had been brought to Israel as a Savior.[19] He adds that there is a still-yet-future appearing of Jesus who is Christ and Lord,[20] and Who will be shown at the proper time to be the King of kings and Lord of lords.[21] The Scriptural fulfillment of that prophecy is found in Revelation 19:16, when Jesus is returning triumphantly to earth, and has the name “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” written on His robe and thigh. Jesus is never referred to as the king of the church, nor is His kingship described outside of its eschatological context.

The Kingdom: Soteriological or Eschatological?

The kingdom was eschatological and not soteriological. In order to enter the kingdom, one would have to be righteous. Righteousness (or justification) in God’s eyes had always been by faith in Him,[22] from the very first time we learn about how any individual became righteous in God’s sight.[23] There were those who would try to enter the kingdom by force, but they are called violent men, and were certainly not demonstrating the righteousness of God, nor entering by the prescribed way.[24] It is in that very context that the multitudes were intending to make Jesus the king by force,[25] rather than by seeking first His righteousness as He had instructed them earlier.[26] They sought to have kingdom results without first possessing kingdom righteousness. This particular episode illustrates that the kingdom was not soteriological. It was not a pathway to salvation – it was the destination only for those who had received His righteousness – who had already been delivered from the condemnation of sin.

Realized eschatology says the kingdom is here now with no future literal or physical fulfillment. This view is directly contradicted by the teaching of Jesus, Peter, and Paul. Already not yet eschatology says that the kingdom is here now in a spiritual sense, and there will also be a physical fulfillment. Both the realized eschatology view and the already not yet view depend on equating God’s kingdom program with God’s soteriological program in order to have a present kingdom referent. Jesus is the Savior brought to Israel, as Paul says.[27] If Jesus’s salvific role may be equated with His kingly role, then one might be able to equate soteriological ideas with socio-political and eschatological ones, bringing kingdom socio-political concepts into the present church age. Yet, there is no textual data supporting the fusing of these two ideas. Never is the church referred to as the kingdom in any present earthly sense. One connection between the church and the kingdom is that the individuals that comprise the church have been transferred to His kingdom (which Paul says implicitly is not here). Another is John’s statement that the church (identified as the redeemed from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation[28]) has been made a kingdom and priests and that they will (future tense) reign on earth.[29] John communicates the kingdom as a future earthly, tangible thing. John records further announcements of that coming shift (from heaven to earth),[30]  and records the arrival of that kingdom with the coming of Christ.[31] The kingdom of the heavens come to earth represents still-yet-future fulfillment of national promises made to individuals (Abraham, David, etc.). Individuals would participate in that kingdom, but it would constitute the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, through the line of David.


Certainly, His kingdom exists, as believers are presently transferred to it,[32] by that transfer we are receiving it,[33] and we partake in it.[34] But that is not to say it is here now in some spiritual or mystical form, nor that the kingdom promises are somehow being fulfilled already spiritually with a not yet physical fulfillment. Rather, God’s kingdom has always existed – as long as the heavens have existed, we might call it (like Matthew did) the kingdom of the heavens. However, the Biblical data shows that the kingdom of the heavens has not yet come to earth in any shape or form – because the King is not presently on earth. He came announcing that it was at hand, and if He and the prescription of how one enters the kingdom (by belief in Jesus) were received by the nation, then the kingdom perhaps would have come at that time.[35] (Though hypotheticals such as this are unprovable.) There were many individuals who did receive Him, and we discover that those were transferred to His kingdom,[36] and are to be focused on things above because He is in heaven not on earth.[37] The kingdom of Biblical promise, however, is at its core national, to be fulfilled in Israel, with far reaching impact among all the nations. That kingdom is not inaugurated until the King is identified as such and sits on His throne – the throne of David in (New) Jerusalem. It is at that time that all the individuals who are part of the kingdom (including, of course, the church, which is a kingdom and priests[38]), will play their roles in the kingdom.

[1] Matthew 4:17.

[2] Matthew 5:20.

[3] Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-42, 43-44.

[4] Matthew 6:33.

[5] Matthew 7:24-25.

[6] Matthew 7:26-27.

[7] Genesis 12:2a, 2 Samuel 7:16, Psalm 89:34-37, Isaiah 11:1-10, 43:15, 44:6, 49:7-9, 60:1-3, 19-22, Revelation 21:3-6, 22-23, 22:1-5.

[8] E.g., Genesis 12:3b, Revelation 22:2.

[9] Matthew 11:12-14.

[10] Matthew 12:28.

[11] Matthew 12:30-32, 39-45.

[12] Acts 1:6.

[13] Colossians 1:13.

[14] Colossians 3:1-2.

[15] Luke 22:69, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 8:1.

[16] John 1:49.

[17] Acts 1:6.

[18] Acts 2:34-36.

[19] Acts 13:22-23.

[20] 1 Timothy 6:14.

[21] 1 Timothy 6:15.

[22] Genesis 15:6, Habakkuk 2:4.

[23] While others prior to Abraham were righteous, we aren’t told how righteousness was accounted until Genesis 15:6.

[24] Matthew 11:12, Luke 16:16.

[25] John 6:15.

[26] Matthew 6:33.

[27] Acts 13:22-23.

[28] Revelation 5:9.

[29] Revelation 1:6, 5:9.

[30] Revelation 11:15, 12:10.

[31] Revelation 19:16.

[32] Colossians 1:13.

[33] Hebrews 12:28.

[34] Revelation 1:9.

[35] As per Malachi 4:5 and Matthew 11:14.

[36] Colossians 1:13.

[37] Colossians 3:1-4.

[38] Revelation 1:9).