The Kingdom of God and the New Jerusalem are semantically equivalent, meaning they have the same or similar meaning. Both describe the spiritual life. Both describe the obedient believer’s new relationship with the Trinity. Both are a place of fellowship and worship. The Kingdom of God is a parabolic image, and the New Jerusalem is an apocalyptic image. A parabolic image uses every day circumstances, events, and things to explain higher spiritual truths. An apocalyptic image uses other-worldly images to explain higher spiritual truths. Every First Century believer would have been familiar with Herod’s Kingdom or the Roman Empire. They knew what it meant to live under a king’s or emperor’s authority. On the other hand, the New Jerusalem was clearly an other-worldly city. Its size is not comparable to any Earthly city. It was 1500 miles by 1500 miles by 1500 miles. It was made of gold, pearls, and other jewels. The reader may wonder why the writers of Scripture would use two different biblical images to explain the New Covenant Spiritual Life. Each image helped highlight similar and different elements of the believer’s spiritual relationship with God. Both hint or speak of both a near and far fulfillment. Generally, the image of the Kingdom of God places a heavy emphasis on the authority of God. On the other hand, the image of the New Jerusalem places a heavy emphasis on the idea of community and the fellowship one experiences as a citizen of a particular “polis” or city. However, both images are packed with many other important ideas, as well.
The Kingdom of God is a place where God exercises continual authority over the hearts of men and angels. At this time, only a minority of people voluntarily accept this reality. Most Christians are double-minded and ambivalent about living in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a place of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17) right here, right now. It is a place of blessing and power (Mark 9:1; Luke 11:20; 1 Cor. 4:20). It should be generally understood that the Kingdom of God is not a physical (literal) place, although it will have some future material reality. It is God’s will that all humans live in the Kingdom of God now, in their present realities. To live in the Kingdom of God, we must relinquish our personal autonomy and accept God’s sovereign rule over our thoughts, words, and deeds. Humans resist God’s rule because they do not perceive and understand that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. The Kingdom of God has laws, but His laws are not burdensome. The primary law of the Kingdom of God is to love God and your neighbor (Matt. 12:30-34). The focus of Jesus’ ministry was speaking about the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:2,11).
Most importantly, the Kingdom of God is a new spiritual reality (Luke 17:20-21). Because of the Church Age’s enhanced ministry of the Holy Spirit, all Christians have the necessary capacity to live in present fellowship with the Trinity. However, the ultimate consummation of the Kingdom of God will happen at the return of Jesus Christ when the Kingdom of God will encompass all things. He will restore and renovate all things. The Kingdom of God is a present spiritual reality, but it will also be a future all-encompassing spiritual and material reality.
As described above, because men want to live independently of God’s authority, there are many reasons why a person may choose not to live in the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God because He is dependent on His wealth as opposed to God (Matt. 19:24). To seek God’s Kingdom is equivalent to seeking His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, tax collectors and prostitutes entered into the Kingdom of God before the religious authorities because self-righteousness blinds the eyes of the self-righteous religious types (Matt. 21:31). It is better to not have all of your desires fulfilled in this world and enter into the Kingdom of God by accepting God’s will for your life (Mark 9:47). Humility is a prerequisite for Kingdom living (Mark 10:14). In fact, the Christian must have child-like humility and trust to enter into Kingdom living (Luke 18:17). Kingdom living must have precedence over marriage, family, and children. In other words, we cannot allow the wonderful and challenging things of this life to distract us from accomplishing God’s will (Luke 18:29). God will more than compensate us for the losses of this life (Luke 18:29).
Living a spiritual life is the highest calling of every Christian. The spiritual life can be succinctly described as walking by the Spirit, wherein the Word is a light to our feet, trusting in Christ Jesus, while having no confidence in our fleshly capacity to live this supernatural way of living. A Christian is not fit for the Kingdom of God if he retreats from the spiritual life. The believer must maintain his focus and perseverance (Luke 9:62). However, a person cannot see or understand the Kingdom of God unless he is born from above (John 3:3). To be born from above means to live such a way that one’s actions are incited by God, the Holy Spirit, and thankfully, God gives us ears to hear the Spirit. Additionally, the believer must be warned that we will endure many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Living in the Kingdom of God requires obedience to God’s will and authority. If we persist in our disobedience, we will not inherit or take possession of the Kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21). To live in the Kingdom of God is equivalent to accepting God’s will for our lives. He is our rightful Sovereign.
On the other hand, the New Jerusalem emphasizes our communal experience with God and our worship of God. In the New Jerusalem, God lives among His people. The New Jerusalem also emphasizes the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. The sacrificial death of Christ is incomparably superior to the blood of bulls, sheep, and goats offered under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant Spiritual Life is vastly superior to the old shadows like circumcision, sabbath observance, feast days, and sacrifices. The comparisons between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant are stark. When comparing First Century Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple located there to the New Jerusalem described in Revelation, it is clear that the New Jerusalem and everything that it symbolizes is vastly superior.
There are a number of noted similarities between the Kingdom of God and the New Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit plays a prominent role in both analogies (Rev. 22:1-2; Rom.14:17). The production of spiritual fruit is emphasized in both (Rev. 22:2, Matt.21:43). Both analogies have a strong message of exclusivity. Most do not enter into Kingdom living or the New Jerusalem. The walls of the New Jerusalem are immense. “Nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). As discussed in my previous blog post, the Book of Life contains the names of the servants of God. The “144,000” of Revelation is not a literal number of people. It is a symbolic number of persons, which refers to God’s special servants who will administer the Kingdom of God. The actual number of God’s servant believers is innumerable by all except God. Many will be excluded from this Fraternity of Faithful Believers. As explained in the Book of Revelation, “[o]utside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev. 22:15).
As discussed above, there will be a future material reality of the Kingdom of God. It seems doubtful that a literal New Jerusalem city, the size of a small lunar body (1500 miles by 1500 miles by 1500 miles), will ever be seen off the earth’s horizon. However, it is possible that the New Jerusalem could have some type of future material reality, a place of special blessing, community, and fellowship with God, designed and designated for the faithful servants of God. But, most importantly, both the Kingdom of God and the New Jerusalem are new spiritual realities. The spiritual must take precedence over the material.