The church is the body of Christ with Jesus as its Head; it does not operate as a kingdom in this present world. And it’s most certainly not the restored kingdom of Israel.
As redeemed saints, God has transferred us from Satan’s domain to His invisible kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14). This is true; we now belong to the kingdom of God. However, on earth, the church functions as a body of believers with Jesus as our Chief Shepherd.
The Lord never intended for His church to operate as a kingdom in this world with an aristocracy ruling over it.
All the abuses of the Catholic Church that led to the Reformation stemmed both directly and indirectly from the errant belief that the church was a kingdom, the heir of the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament. While Reformers still rejected the restoration of Israel, their views of Scripture later caused Bible students to return to a biblical view of Jesus’ future reign, one that includes the restoration of a kingdom to Israel.
Why do I bring this up now?
It’s because the portrayal of the church as the kingdom replacement for Israel has reemerged and gained immense popularity during the past two decades.
Kingdom Now Theology
It’s likely the fastest growing view of end-times prophecy in the church today. This movement, often referred to as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), teaches that the church will eventually gain control of the world and bring in a time of unprecedented peace, security, and prosperity during which time the church, not Jesus, will rule over the earth. As for the Lord, He will return after the reign of the church.
This group goes by other names such as Dominion Theology, Third Wave, Latter Rain, and Charismatic Renewal.
The NAR bases its teachings upon new revelation they claim has come through newly appointed apostles and prophets. These recent spokespersons of the church tell us that, as inheritors of the kingdom promises that the Lord made to Israel, the church will prevail against the evils of this current world. They believe the church will gain control of all the structures necessary to rule over the earth.
The teachings of this group not only question the sufficiency of God’s Word, but they also directly contradict what Scripture tells us about the church as well as the last days of human history. The Bible tells us that there will be a time of great tribulation on the earth before Jesus’ Second Coming and subsequent rule over the nations. It’s Jesus who defeats the kingdom of Satan and sets up His earthly rule on the throne of David. New Testament saints will reign with Jesus, not instead of Him.
Click here to see my previous article recounting the many dangers of NAR theology.
The Church is God’s Kingdom
Many pastors and teachers see the church as Israel’s replacement but do not go so far as to say that it will rule over the earth as do the NAR folks. This is the old amillennial view that denies a literal understanding of Revelation 20:1-10, which describes a thousand-year reign of Jesus in-between the Tribulation and eternal state. Most of those in this camp believe that we are now in the millennium while others identify the eternal state as the reign of Christ promised in the Old Testament.
Like the NAR proponents, they believe that the church has replaced Israel in God’s economy, albeit in a spiritual sense. This is replacement theology; it falsely claims that the church replaced the descendants of Jacob because they rejected their Messiah.
The song Amen (Simple Gospel) by Kari Jobe sums up the thinking of both groups that see the church as the kingdom of Israel. The following words appear later in the song:
The church will arise
With power and love
Our cities will know
The glory of God
The future is bright
There’s nothing to fear
Revival is now
The Kingdom is here
Even though these words proclaim NAR theology, one will find a similar sentiment in other churches that see themselves as the inheritors of the kingdom promises the Lord made to Israel. Churches of both types include Amen (Simple Gospel) in their worship services.
The Dangers of Regarding the Church as a Kingdom
I see three dangers with emphasizing that the church as a kingdom rather than the body of Christ.
- An Unawareness that We Live in the Last Days
Pastors that deny the prophetic significance of the miraculous reemergence of Israel typically reject all teaching that says we live in the last days of human history as we know it. They don’t see any implications in world events that point to the rapidly approaching seven-year tribulation and the fulfillment of events described in the book of Revelation.
Why is this so harmful to the body of Christ?
At a time when believers should increasingly let go of the things of this world in anticipation of Jesus’ imminent appearing, the message of many churches is that there’s no rush to prepare for meeting Jesus in the air. Some deny any belief in a Rapture.
There’s also an apparent unawareness of the perils that abound around us and no awareness of God’s impending judgment on this lawless world.
In Pete Garcia’s excellent blog post, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, he lists “nineteen existential threats to both our nation [America] and the world.” They are eye-opening to be sure.
Most churches, however, behave as though all is well with the world and these threats do not exist. Entering them is like leaving a burning building and walking into Disney World.
Why are pastors so quiet about the dangers of pending food shortages and the drumbeats of war that grow louder all the time? Do they somehow see the church as a bubble that’s immune to these things?
Jesus may come today, but it’s also possible that believers could face many and varied threats to their wellbeing and livelihood in the coming months or even in 2023.
My bottom line is this: such unawareness of the perilous times in which we live leaves believers unprepared to deal with the real world that becomes more lawless and threatening each day.
- The Leadership See Themselves as Authoritative Rulers Rather than Servants
The mentality of overseeing a kingdom is totally different than that of shepherding a group of believers in which all are equal members of the body of Christ.
In a kingdom, rulers reign with authoritarian power. However, Jesus made it clear that this was not to happen among His followers.
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant…” (Matthew 20:25-26).
A kingdom has rulers. The Lord intended for servant-leaders to shepherd His church “with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). I know that I struggled with pride years ago as a young pastor; I know the temptation.
Should the elders of a church view themselves as those “exercising authority” over a kingdom, the functioning of body life that Paul describes in Romans 12:3-8 would go out the window. That’s why the body imagery of the church is so vital to the health of a local body of believers; it lends importance to all the members of the body, not just to those with visible gifts that everyone recognizes.
Do I think that many pastors today “lord it over” those God has called them to serve? I really do not know, but this has been my experience during the past five years as I have interreacted with many of them and felt their disdain for me.
- It Takes the Focus Away from Jesus
Teachings that exalt the church often make it, rather than Jesus, our safe refuge for the perilous times in which we live. I cannot explain how this would work on a street level because I have never heard anyone explain how the church as an organization could rise up “with power” to protect its members.
Sometimes, chapter breaks occur at a most unfortunate time. Such is the case with Philippians 4 as the first verse of this chapter reveals the significance of the truths Paul wrote about in 3:20-21. It’s our hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing, aka the Rapture, that enables us to “stand firm” in the Lord and not surrender ground to those that oppose us and what we believe.
“3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 3:21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 3:20–4:1).
It’s Jesus and our hope in His imminent return that enables us to remain firm in our faith during the perilous times in which we live. The New Testament presents a clear connection between the Rapture and encouragement to remain faithful in our walk with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 John 3:1-3; Romans 8:23-25; and of course, Philippians 3:20-4:1).
This becomes all the more important as the shadows of the seven-year Tribulation grow increasingly foreboding by the day. Believers need to hear about their “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) rather than how they can have their best life now.
This is why I wrote The Triumph of the Redeemed. I feel a heavy burden for those who attend churches where our “blessed hope” in Jesus’ soon appearing is either ignored, misrepresented, ridiculed, or outright denied. My desire for writing this book was to explain the biblical basis for our joyous hope and direct the attention of the saints to the many glories ahead for us, beginning with Rapture and our receipt of immortal and imperishable bodies.
The preaching in churches that are watching and waiting for Jesus’ appearing stand worlds apart from pastors that see the church as the new Israel and somehow a safe haven for the saints. In the latter, there’s no recognition of the perilous times in which we live and rarely any mention of the issues that impact the people in the chairs or pews.
“Do they not see what we see?” I often ask myself.
Because of the passion that burns within me, I must continue to speak out against viewpoints that proclaim the church as the kingdom of Israel. I’m not sure I can endure another sermon that tells believers they will only realize their hope after they die.
The message that everyone in the congregation will eventually die is not what the New Testament teaches. In fact, the Bible directly contradicts it. (Yes, I have heard pastors in Bible-believing churches say all believers will die someday.)
The Bible directs our attention to Jesus and His appearing that can happen at any moment. Christ is the King that someday will sit on the throne of David. Amen!!!
Until then, we glorify our Savior as a body of believers that is watching and waiting for His glorious appearing.
My book, The Triumph of the Redeemed-An eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times, is available on Amazon. This book provides a great deal of biblical support regarding the restoration of a kingdom to Israel. It’s the basis of our hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing to take us to the place that He’s preparing for us.
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