The New Creation, the Kingdom of God, and the Church

S. M. Baugh

It was my custom in my seminary class on the Gospels to ask the students at the opening of the kingdom of God section the simple question: “What is the kingdom of God?”  Their faces grew serious as they invariably discovered that they did not know the answer exactly or that their thinking was unsatisfyingly vague. Yet the definition of the kingdom of God is easy to give: it is the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, it is “the kingdom of glory” (Q/A 102). According to that catechism answer, we are asking our Father to hasten this new creation kingdom when we pray for his kingdom to come in the Lord’s Prayer.

I don’t think people expect the definition of the kingdom to be so simple, but it is, and the Scriptures are clear on this. The kingdom of God is an eternal inheritance for all those who have been redeemed by Christ (Westminster Confession of Faith 8.5). And a promised inheritance necessarily lies in the future. Jesus confirms this when he speaks of our coming into the inheritance of the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:23–24) at the “rebirth” of creation when “the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne” (v. 28). At that time, all believers “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43) and “inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).

This is why Paul, in a very important chapter in 1 Corinthians, insists that believers must be raised bodily and concludes, “I declare this, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the corruptible inherit incorruptibility” (1 Cor. 15:50).

Thus, to enter into eternal life is to enter into the kingdom of God in resurrection glory. This shows that the kingdom of God is the new creation, when this heaven and earth will be comprehensively shaken (Heb. 12:26; cf. Rev. 6:12–14) and destroyed by fire (2 Pet. 3:7–13; cf. 2 Thess. 1:7–8). Then God will make all things new (Rev. 21:5) to be an “eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” into which we who persevere in faith will enter by God’s rich provision (2 Pet. 1:11). “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).

Is That It?

Yet is that it? Is the kingdom of God solely a future, divine, cosmic renovation of this creation when the Lord Jesus returns? Strictly speaking, yes, it is. The kingdom of God is the new heavens and new earth by definition, strictly speaking. It is true that we can possess this kingdom now as a covenantally guaranteed inheritance (especially Matt. 5:3, 10; Luke 22:29; 1 Pet. 1:3–5), but it is a future inheritance for which this whole creation groans in anticipation (Rom. 8:19–22).

But what about the New Testament proclamation that the kingdom of God has decisively drawn near in Christ (e.g., Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 12:28)? Did he postpone the kingdom to some distant future when he ascended to heaven in resurrection glory as the old form of dispensationalism teaches? No! On this the New Testament is very clear: “the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5), marking the kingdom of God, have already arrived with the Son of God “in these last days” (Heb. 1:2; cf. 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26; 1 John 2:18). Yet this requires some careful distinctions to understand properly.

Inauguration and Consummation

Scholars and preachers speak of the kingdom being “already” and “not yet” to deal with the fact that the Lord Jesus has indeed established it at his first coming. The distinction itself has the particular advantage of being biblical. For example, in Revelation 12, John sees a vision of the birth and ascension of Christ immediately followed by a battle between the devil and his angels who are cast out of heaven. We are then told what this means:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.” (Rev. 12:10; emphasis added)

Thus, the kingdom of God is “already” when Christ Jesus “was caught up to God and to his throne” (Rev. 12:5) at his ascension.

In another vision in Revelation, though, John sees a portrayal of judgment day when the wrath of God comes, and he exerts his almighty power to take up his reign (Rev. 11:17). Then loud voices in heaven shout:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Rev. 11:15)

Obviously, what had transpired earlier in history at the ascent of Christ (Rev. 12:5 above) was a real inauguration of the kingdom of God but not its consummation; it was “not yet” in the final, consummate sense. But how do we sort out this “already/not yet” dynamic without merely stating an unhelpful enigma?

Five Vantage Points

To address this potential problem of “already/not yet” sounding like an obscure riddle, I find it helpful to discuss the kingdom of God from five vantage points: 1) the king; 2) his authority to rule (“dominion” or “kingship”); 3) his realm (“dominion”); 4) his subjects or citizens; and 5) the divine covenant, which in biblical kingdoms acts as charter and constitution. Let’s sketch out four of these very briefly.

We only need a few verses to establish that the incarnate Son at his resurrection and ascent to heaven has been given universal authority in heaven and on earth forever (e.g., Dan. 7:13–14; Matt. 28:18; John 17:2; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:21; Col. 2:10; Rev. 2:27; cf. Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 54). Hence, our first three vantage points—the king and his universal authority over the kingdom of God—have been introduced into history by the Lord Jesus Christ’s victory over death. We confess the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed with the church through the ages that the Lord Jesus ascended and sits on the “right hand” of the Father (from Ps. 110:1; Acts 2:33–34; 5:31; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; etc.). It is important to understand that the incarnate Son at the right hand of his Father is not idle, but he is seated on the Father’s throne ruling as king over all creation (cf. Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:21). Accordingly, Revelation can properly speak about the one throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1), and Paul can properly speak about the kingdom of God being “the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 1:13).

On the fifth distinction, we don’t always connect covenant with kingdom, but we should. Covenant is an administrative instrument which establishes kingship or dominion over a realm for a king, like David (e.g., Ps. 89).  And it is also a governing instrument with stipulations for the parties involved: the king and his subjects. This gets into a lot of issues when we consider the new covenant, but let’s simply say here that the new covenant, which was ratified by the blood of Christ (e.g., Matt. 26:26–29; Heb. 9:15), has established the eternal kingship of our Savior. When studied carefully, Luke 22:29 is an important passage for this as it teaches that God has covenantally conveyed the kingdom to Christ, who then conveys it to us as its beneficiaries (cf. WLC Q/A 31, 35).

What has just been discussed is why we have to make careful distinctions when saying that the kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet” in our age. The king and his kingship and its constitutional foundation in the new covenant is already. There is no “not yet” to them except in a few specifics. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 in particular shows that although our Lord as last Adam “must [now] rule as king” (v. 25) until his second coming (v. 23), this reigning as king is “in the midst of [his and our] enemies” (Ps. 110:2), with the ultimate enemy being death (1 Cor. 15:24–26). Christ rules absolutely now, but his realm is “mixed” with enemies both outside and within his people (e.g., Acts 20:29–30; WCF 25.4–5).

With the king’s “realm” (third distinction above), we have the main way in which the kingdom of God is “not yet.” Although Christ comprehensively rules this creation, it is still subjected to futility and has yet to be transformed into new creational glory, for which we patiently wait (Rom. 8:18–25). There is no “already” when we consider the physical realm of this creation; it must wait until God makes all things new. Then God will dwell visibly with his people, who will enjoy him forever (e.g., Matt. 5:8; Rev. 21:1–5, 22–23; 22:4).

Church and Kingdom

Jesus told a parable about wheat and weeds in a field to the crowds following him, and soon after he explained it to his disciples (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43). This is one of the more important passages to teach us about church life in this age and the relation of the visible church with the kingdom of God. Specifically, Jesus explained that “the field is the world,” “the good seed is the sons of the kingdom,” and the weeds are “the sons of the evil one” (v. 38). These two groups grow together until the Son of Man sends forth his angels at “the harvest . . . the end of the age” (v. 39) to gather his wheat into the barn but to bind up the weeds for burning when “they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (v. 41; emphasis added; cf. vv. 47–50). Note that both the wheat and the weeds are in the Son of Man’s kingdom before the harvest of the last day at his second coming.

Consequently, the Westminster Confession of Faith states: “The visible church . . . is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ” (WCF 25.2; cf. 30.1). While this might seem to contradict the kingdom being the new creation that we have already discussed, it does not when we remember the five distinctions we made above. Specifically, the kingdom of God can be viewed from the perspective of its subjects, or citizens. Christ through his shed blood has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Rev. 1:5–6; cf. Rev. 5:9–10), and so the visible church is now “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” as the new Israel of God in this age (1 Pet. 2:9; Gal. 6:16; cf. Exod. 19:6).

What the confession points out is that Christ’s kingdom in this age is focused upon its one, earthly institution: the visible church. As such, it is an embassy of heaven, “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), which has been entrusted with “the keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:19), consisting of “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (WCF 25.3; cf. 30.1–2). This means that the church’s members are ambassadors and sojourners, whose ultimate homeland is not of this world:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.” (Phil. 3:20–21)

This now leads to another biblical way of stating that the church is the kingdom of God, which is properly the new creation: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The working of God in his people in this old world through the Holy Spirit is thoroughly new creational (so John 3:3–8; Eph. 2:10), such that his people are “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). This is how the kingdom of God is “already” in the lives of his kingdom citizens who are destined for consummate, resurrection glory when the Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20, 23; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), returns for his people.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . . then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:50, 54–55)


Obviously, there is much more to say about the new creation, the kingdom of God, and the church, but the interrelation of these three realities is one of the more important things to realize for understanding the Bible. To say that the kingdom of God is the new creation, that Christ has ascended to reign as king over this kingdom, and that the visible church is the kingdom of Christ can appear to be fraught with problems, but the solution to this is similar to understanding the biblical doctrine of the Trinity: make good and necessary distinctions.

Finally, a robust, biblical understanding of the kingdom of God is deeply beneficial for our perseverance in faith and for our spiritual life. As a work of new creation, Christ is already transforming our inner person into his own image through the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16; Eph. 3:16; Col. 3:10). But this transformation now has a great and glorious goal at his arrival when our bodies will bear his image in heavenly, resurrection glory (1 Cor. 15:49; 1 John 3:2). This is the focus of Christ’s kingship over the kingdom of God, the new creation, of which we are now a part. Meanwhile, in this age our Shepherd-King graciously supports and defends us from his and our enemies and powerfully orders all things for his glory and for our good (WLC Q/A 45).  

The author is professor emeritus of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California and an OP minister. He quotes from the ESV and his own translation. New Horizons, April 2023.

New Horizons: April 2023

The New Creation, the Kingdom of God, and the Church

Also in this issue

What the Resurrection Demands

God’s Cancel Culture and Ours

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