“Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” – Acts 28:31
This verse is used as popular objection to mid-Acts right division, but it is not a very good one.
It fails to address the most important claim of mid-Acts doctrine: the mystery of Christ revealed first to the apostle Paul.
The objector hopes that Paul’s preaching the kingdom proves that nothing new or different ever started with him. A similar objection shows that Paul used prophecy hoping to prove that Paul did not first preach the mystery of Christ.
This is ludicrous!
If you get a new job, does that mean you have forgotten everything you learned at your old job?
In your new job, do you fail to read, write, and do math, because you learned those skills in primary school, and not at your new job?
If your new job is in the same company, and under the same supervision as your old job, does that mean your new job is not new at all?
A new dispensation was given to Paul, but it does not mean everything Paul spoke or taught was new.
He uses the word “kingdom” throughout his epistles both during Acts and in his post-Acts epistles (to the dismay of the Acts 28ers). He mentions the word “kingdom” in his epistles more often than Peter, James, and John do in their epistles combined (13 vs 11, excluding Acts).
So, what? Does this mean Paul taught the same message as Peter, James, and John? No, of course not.
Why did Paul talk about the kingdom? There are many reasons. Here are the most significant.
1. Everyone in the church, the body of Christ, is translated into the kingdom
No, this does not mean the church is spiritual Israel, nor does it mean the body of Christ will reign in Israel’s kingdom. It does mean that we in the church are under the authority of God.
Paul mentioned the kingdom of God, because he was a servant of God and under his authority.
“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” – Col 1:13
If you have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, and partake of the grace of God in this dispensation, you are no longer under the power of darkness, but have been moved into a position in heavenly places (Eph 2:6-7).
We are still present in this dark evil world, but our position is no longer here. We are under the headship of Christ in a heavenly dominion.
2. The kingdom of God includes both heaven and earth
The mystery of God’s will revealed to Paul how all things would be gathered together in one in Christ (Eph 1:10). This was a mystery before Paul, but describes how God will reign in the fullness of times. God had revealed his purpose for the earth, but had never spoken about the things or positions in heavenly places belonging to the church.
Part of the mystery of Christ is talking about the invisible dominion in heaven (Col 1:16).
3. The kingdom of God includes both Israel and the Church
No, I do not mean the kingdom of God on earth, which belongs to Israel and the earthly nations. I am talking about the kingdom of God universal. God’s dominion is not limited to the jurisdiction of the earth, but includes the rest of the universe, what the Bible calls the heaven.
The mystery of Christ introduces the creation of a new creature whose conversation is in heaven (Phil 3:20). This is a part of the kingdom of God that was not made known before Paul. Prophecy spoke of the kingdom of God as it will be on the earth Christ ruling through Israel; the revelation of the mystery speaks of the kingdom of God as it will be in heavenly places Christ ruling over the church.
4. The kingdom of God is not yet on the earth
When Paul mentions the kingdom, it is always in the future tense. This means the idea of a present kingdom of God come on earth is false. The kingdom of God is waiting for God to establish it in heaven and earth.
The gospel of the kingdom is the proclamation that the kingdom of God is at hand, or is here. Paul did not teach this gospel, knowing that the revelation of the mystery delays the coming of this kingdom to the future. He taught the reign of grace and the gospel of the grace of God. The gospel of the kingdom, and preaching the postponement of the kingdom is different.
Paul explained this delay causing interruption in the gospel of the kingdom. Peter acknowledges Paul’s explanation of the postponement of the kingdom, and that Christ is no longer sending the twelve to preach the gospel of the kingdom (2 Pet 3:15).
5. Righteousness will reign in the kingdom of God
Righteousness has not swallowed the earth, yet. However, the righteous behavior that characterizes that kingdom is already known, and has been known for a long time in scripture. Paul preaches the doctrine of righteous behavior under God’s dominion to the saints in the church.
Just because we are saved by grace does not mean we are free to sin in this dispensation of grace. We are servants of God, members of his body, and should serve him in righteousness, as we will for eternity in his kingdom.
Didn’t the Corinthians know that sinners do not inherit the kingdom? Since they are saints, shouldn’t they act like it? (1 Cor 6:9-10).
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” – Romans 14:17
5. The same King of the kingdom is the head of the Church
Jesus was sent to Israel preaching he was the promised Messiah and the coming kingdom. Paul was sent to preach Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery.
This means that he had to prove to unbelieving Jews that Jesus was the Christ and King of prophecy, and that this same Christ is now the head of a new creature called the body of Christ.
The king of the kingdom will be Christ. Prophecy proves this, and Christ’s resurrection is the sign of this. There is no understanding Christ as the head of the church over all, without identifying Christ as the promised Holy One, and king of Israel (Rom 1:2-4).
Paul mentions preaching the kingdom in some cases, because he is preaching the same Jesus Christ who will be the future king. One Lord over both heaven and earth.
6. The coming kingdom of God means coming judgment
When the kingdom of God comes, and God institutes his reign in heaven and earth, it will be preceded by a time of judgment, and concluded with a time of judgment.
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” – 2 Timothy 4:1
Many times when Paul preaches the kingdom it is to unbelievers warning them of the wrath to come with that kingdom (Acts 19:8; Acts 24:25; Acts 28:23).
7. The scriptures foretold a kingdom come
Paul says all scripture is profitable, and the scriptures foretold a time of God reigning over all. How could reign over an earth filled with sinners? The answer lies in the revelation of the mystery revealed first to Paul about salvation.
The scriptures spoke of the kingdom of God come to earth. They did not speak about the people of the earth going up to reign in a heavenly kingdom. Both heaven and earth are part of God’s future dominion.
None of these reasons negate the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to the apostle Paul a mystery concerning himself that was not known before.
Paul taught the kingdom of God, but he did not teach the kingdom now.
Paul taught the kingdom of God, but he did not teach that the church usurps Israel’s covenants and promises.
Paul taught the kingdom of God, but he did not preach the gospel of the kingdom. He preached the gospel of the grace of God. They are different.
Paul taught the kingdom of God, but he did not preach the same message as Peter and the twelve. The difference is not found in what is the same.
Paul taught the kingdom of God, but he did not offer David’s earthly kingdom to Israel, nor to Gentiles. The kingdom of God can refer to dominions in heavenly places (Col 1:16).
Paul taught the kingdom of God in the context of the revelation of the mystery of Jesus Christ (Rom 16:25).
We know this because Paul did not only write about the kingdom of God, but also about a mystery of Christ (Eph 3:2-6).