Diverse Opinions about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1)

A Special Study by Gareth L. Reese

Excerpted from Acts:  A Critical & Exegetical Commentary
(Moberly, MO: Scripture Exposition Books LLC, 2002)
Download a printable PDF of this Special Study



         In the exegetical notes at Acts 1:3 and 1:6, the following points have been made:

  1. The disciples embraced the same erroneous ideas that most of their Jewish contemporaries held, namely, that the kingdom was to be a temporal, political, and earthly thing, when Messiah finally ushered it in.
  2. The “church” and the “kingdom” are but different terms for the same thing.

        A dominant topic of discussion in the theological world is about the nature of the Kingdom of God.  And this subject is but one of the many places in the New Testament where one’s eschatology tends to influence, if not determines, his “exegetical” notes.

        A brief survey of some of the current eschatological schemes will show how a variety of interpretations is given to the question asked by the disciples (Acts 1:6), and each of the interpretations is more or less exclusive of all the others.

        Before we can study the diagrams of the various eschatological theories, we must read some key passages and note some terms. 

Key Passages

Key Terminology to be Noted

Matthew 25:31-46

-  Sheep and Goat Judgment

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

-  “Rapture of the Church

-  Resurrection of the righteous

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

-  Man of sin (Antichrist?)

1 John 2:18ff

-  Antichrist

Revelation 16:16

-  Battle of Armageddon

Revelation 20:1-10

-  Binding of Satan

-  Thousand years (Millennium)

-  Satan loosed

-  1,000-year reign of Christ

-  First resurrection

-  Gog and Magog

Revelation 20:11-15

-  Great White Throne Judgement

Revelation 7:14

-  Great Tribulation

(Matthew 24:14 is erroneously used to speak of the alleged “Great Tribulation” at the end of the world.  We believe that the verse in Matthew talks not of the end of the world, but of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.)


        Now that we’ve been reminded of some of the key passages and have learned some of the key terminology used, let’s examine some of the various eschatological schemes and their concepts of the “kingdom.”  Remember, we are not giving approval, at the present, to any of these theories.  Rather, we are merely presenting them, to learn how the “kingdom” is understood and presented by the different eschatologies.



            “Postmillennial means that the second coming of Christ is after (i.e., post) the millennium.  A chart depicting the postmillennial theory might look like this:

            An explanation of the chart’s chief ideas:  (1) The time covered by the diagram is from the death of Christ (i.e., i.e., the cross) till the second coming. (2) According to postmillennialists, the kingdom (labeled “Millennium” on the chart) gradually comes into being, to be ushered in as Man becomes better and better.  (3) Following the 1000 years of the golden age of the kingdom, Christ will return, and (4) eternity (in Heaven or Hell) will begin.

            The “kingdom” of Acts 1:6 and the “millennium” are the same thing, if you are postmillennial in your eschatology.



             "Historic” means that this system of eschatology is very ancient, being taught by some of the early church fathers.  For example, see the Epistle of Barnabas, and the writings of Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Victorinus.  Of course, not all of the early church fathers were premillennial in eschatology.  Gaius of Rome and Origen, just to name two, strongly opposed premillennial doctrines.

            “Premillennial” means the second coming of Christ is thought to be before (i.e., pre) the millennium.  A chart depicting the postmillennial theory might look like this:


            An explanation of the chart’s chief ideas:  (1) The kingdom, a thousand years of peace and prosperity, is to be ushered in at the second coming. (2) It is to be an earthly kingdom in which Christians are reigned over by Christ.

            The “kingdom” of Acts 1:6 and the “millennium” are the same thing, if you are historic-premillennial in your eschatology.



            According to this theory, a “dispensation” is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.  According to the most popular version of dispensationalism, there are seven such dispensations distinguished in Scripture (see note 5, page 5, of the Scofield Reference Bible).  A chart depicting the dispensational theory might look like this:


             An explanation of the chart’s chief ideas:  (1) According to dispensationalists, Christ really intended to set up an earthly, temporal kingdom, just as the Jews supposed Messiah would.  However, unforeseen by God, the Jews rejected Christ, and so the coming of the kingdom had to be postponed until the second coming (this idea is shown on the chart by the dotted semi-circular line). (2) As a stop-gap measure, the Church age (which was unforeseen by the Old Testament Prophets) was ushered in.  (3) The Jewish star at the left of the chart indicates that God has always intended for the Jewish people to be His special people.  When the kingdom comes, the Jewish people will again be His special people, and the millennium will be an earthly reign over the Jews by Christ.

            The “kingdom” of Acts 1:6 and the “millennium” are the same thing, if you are modern premillennial in your eschatology.



            “Amillennial” means “no literal 1,000-year period” as such – i.e., there is no literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth from a rebuilt city of Jerusalem.  (Note:  This commentator is amillennial in eschatology, and the interpretation given in the exegetical notes at Acts 1:6 is from an amillennial standpoint.[1])  A chart depicting the amillennial theory might look like this:


            An explanation of the chart’s chief ideas:  (1) The Scriptures appear to teach one second coming, one general resurrection, one general judgment.  (2) The millennium of Revelation 20 is understood to be figurative language, and represents the whole Church age.  (3) Satan being “bound” means that his powers are limited.  (See, for example, Jude 6).  (4) The reign of Christ is spiritual and is going on right now.  (5) When the second coming takes place, Christ will not set up an earthly kingdom, but will turn the kingdom which already exists over to God (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).



            What is the kingdom of God?  It is not easy to give a single, definite, brief answer which would be satisfactory to all students, or true to all Scripture uses of the phrase.  Its essential idea is the reign or government of God over the lives of men.  Sometimes it comprehends the characteristics and advantages of the complete submission of the individual life to the rule of God.  Sometimes it refers to the whole community of people (i.e., the church) who obey God on earth.  Sometimes it has reference to heaven itself as a place where God reigns in perfect peace, wisdom, and glory.

            One thing seems evident:  the kingdom that Jesus set up is not a worldly, materialistic, or military kingdom.  He said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  It also seems clear that the “kingdom” is not to be equated with the millennial ideas of a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth from a rebuilt city of Jerusalem, after Jesus has returned the second time.



    References for further study:


    Allis, O.T., Prophecy and the Church

    Boettner, Loraine, The Millennium

    Brown, David, Christ’s Second Coming

    Foster, R.C., The Final Week (Chapters 11 and 12)

    Hamilton, Floyd, The Basis of the Millennial Faith

    Hendriksen, William, More than Conquerors

    Hodges, Jesse W., Christ’s Kingdom and Coming

    Kik, J. Marcellus, Revelation Twenty

    Kromminga, D.H., The Millennium

    Ladd, George E., “Kingdom of God,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology Murray, George C., Millennial Studies

    Orr, James, The Christian View of God and the World (appendix)

    Ramm, Bernard, “Kingdom of God,” in A Handbook of Contemporary Theology


    Martin, Ralph P., “The Kingdom of God in Recent Writing,” Christianity Today, Jan. 17, 1964, p.347ff.  (This is a good survey of the scholars’ treatment of the “kingdom” in the last 50 years.)

    Wilson, Seth, “The Kingdom of God among Men,” Christian Standard, 1948, p. 159.



    [1] This commentator realizes that there are some passages that are difficult to fit into an amillennial system of eschatology.  But this fact is true of each of the four systems.  He finds fewer problem passages with the amillennial approach than he does with any of the other systems, and has therefore embraced the amillennial system as being the most probable system of eschatology.

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