We hear sermons during the Feast of Tabernacles about God’s kingdom. We preach to the world that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about the coming Kingdom of God. We pray daily, “Your kingdom come!” But do we understand what that kingdom is?
As the late Dr. Roderick C. Meredith explained in his booklet Do You Believe the True Gospel?, every kingdom has a ruler, territory, subjects, and laws (p. 13). We understand that the Ruler during the Millennium is Jesus Christ (Zechariah 14:9). The territory is this earth (Revelation 5:10), the subjects are flesh and blood human beings (Zechariah 14:16–19), and the laws are God’s laws (Isaiah 2:3; Ezekiel 36:26–27). It is perhaps because of this that some assume that the Millennium—with territory, Christ as king, human citizens, and laws regulating those subjects—and the Kingdom of God are synonymous. But the Millennium is not the Kingdom of God, and here is why.
A Secret Visitor
When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, he affirmed that he and the Pharisees recognized that Jesus was no ordinary man. “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Jesus immediately interjected with this famous declaration: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3).
Some promoting a born-again experience in the flesh claim Nicodemus knew what Jesus meant, but that he played ignorant to justify himself. This is not the man John describes elsewhere. When the chief priests and Pharisees condemned Jesus, Nicodemus came to His defense before that hostile body (John 7:50–51). Many know that Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus after He was crucified and buried Him, but often overlooked is Nicodemus, who helped Joseph. And in assisting in this task, he no doubt risked being ostracized by his peers (John 19:38–42; 9:22). John does not paint a picture of a man who would be playing word games with Christ.
Nicodemus was sincerely perplexed. He understood that Jesus was talking about a birth. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). And Jesus explained in verse 5 that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
We learn here that we can neither see nor enter the Kingdom of God without a rebirth of water and the Spirit. The professing Christian world totally misunderstands this, believing that we are born again in the flesh. Jesus put a nail in that coffin when He explained, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (vv. 6–8).
A Complete Transformation
For those who fail to grasp the profound significance of being born again, the Apostle Paul leaves us with no doubt. He explains that there is a physical man and a spiritual man—one composed of flesh and blood, the other of Spirit.
And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly (1 Corinthians 15:45–48).
A transformation of our very composition must take place—and that transformation cannot be spiritualized away! “And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (v. 49). And this is written in the very context of the Kingdom of God, as in the next verse Paul makes this unambiguous statement that ought to take away any doubt: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”
You and I are currently composed of flesh and blood. Human beings who live during the Millennium—the thousand years pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles—will be composed of flesh and blood. Therefore, they “cannot see” (John 3:3), they cannot enter (John 3:5), and they “cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). This is what Jesus meant when He said to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” A transformation must take place before we can enter the Kingdom of God. We must be changed from corruptible flesh to incorruptible spirit, something that we can only imagine. But when does this transformation from flesh to Spirit take place? Paul explains:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:51–54).
Our change comes at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the time of Christ’s return (Revelation 11:15). This is when we become immortal Spirit beings, no longer flesh and blood. This is when all pain and sorrow come to an end for us, but not so for the flesh-and-blood humans living during the Millennium. Even with Satan removed, they will still suffer the effects of their own sins.
What then did Jesus mean when He told Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”? The late John Ogwyn explained in the January–February 2003 issue of Tomorrow’s World magazine.
In the ceremony of baptism, Christians prefigure the resurrection itself (Romans 6:1–5). It is at the resurrection that we will finally put on immortality and actually inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50–53). We are symbolically buried in a watery grave, and then emerge out of the water to walk in newness of life. In John 3:5, Christ referred to the necessity of being born both of water and of the Spirit. In the Bible, water is often used as a type of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39). Emerging from the waters of baptism is a symbolic birth—a type of our actual rebirth at the resurrection (“What Do You Mean—“Born Again”?).
It is easy to confuse the Millennium with the Kingdom of God. The Millennium is a thousand-year period of time. The Kingdom of God is the Spirit-composed Family of God ruling during that period. Those of us born of the Spirit, as Christ is—born into the Kingdom of God—will rule under Christ over the kingdoms of men. As Dr. Meredith explained in his booklet Do You Believe the True Gospel?, “The Kingdom of God will rule the earth’s peoples. But these subject mortals will not be in the Kingdom—only ruled by it” (p. 26). We look forward to that birth into God’s actual Family, and to the Millennium, when His government will bring peace and blessings to all mankind.