Was the Kingdom of God, as presented by Jesus, physical or spiritual? If the Jews didn’t reject Jesus as their Messiah, what would the Kingdom of God have looked like? Was the Kingdom of God delayed, because the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah? These questions are important, and they determine the nature or the characteristics of the Kingdom that Jesus preached. For example, if the establishment of the Kingdom of God was delayed, due to the Jews rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, then the Kingdom Jesus offered must have been a physical Kingdom, with him physically reigning from physical Jerusalem. However, if the Kingdom wasn’t delayed, then it is here today, but it isn’t visible. One couldn’t find it on a world map. Jesus certainly isn’t physically present and reigning in physical Jerusalem. Is he? Therefore, if the Kingdom wasn’t delayed, then the Kingdom of God **must** be spiritual in nature. This seems logically true.
Nevertheless, many Christians look for Jesus to return to this earth in a physical (visible) body and reign on a physical throne in physical Jerusalem over a physical Kingdom of God. Yet, most, if not all, of these same Christians would claim that Jesus in some way set up a spiritual Kingdom on the Feast of Pentecost, immediately following his resurrection nearly 2000 years ago, and all Christians are a part of that spiritual Kingdom of God. This paradigm would mean that the physical Kingdom of Israel foreshadowed the spiritual Kingdom, which was set up by Jesus on Pentecost (nearly 2000 years ago). Moreover, this spiritual Kingdom, of which all Christians are a part, foreshadows the physical Kingdom Jesus intends to set up when he returns to earth at some point in the future. There isn’t a verse in all of scripture that would support such an eschatological point of view.
At this point in my study of the nature of the Kingdom of God, I would like to focus on Ezekiel 37. At the time of this prophecy both Judah and Israel were in captivity. In fact, the ten northern tribes of Israel were in captivity for about two centuries. The Kingdom of Assyria had taken Israel captive and Babylon had taken Judah captive, so for all intents and purposes they were dead as it pertained to the covenant they made with God. Nevertheless, because of the covenant God made with David, Judah would return to her land, but Daniel’s 70 Weeks Prophecy determined that her stay there would only be temporary before she, too, would lay in the grave without a covenant with God.
There is little doubt that Ezekiel has the Kingdom of God in mind when he speaks of one King over the united Kingdom of Israel (Ezekiel 37:24). The prophecy is also about resurrection. The dry bones lay in a valley, but suddenly they stood up, and the bones were given flesh and ligaments, and finally the Spirit was given them, and they were restored to life (Ezekiel 37:9-10). Then God told Ezekiel that this was the whole House of Israel (Ezekiel 37:11), but notice that this same verse tells us that the ‘bones’ say “our hope is lost; we are cut off by ourselves.” This couldn’t be about literal death, because the dead have the hope of resurrection. If the prophecy was about the literal dead, then they died as unbelievers. Rather, this is about the lost hope of Israel and Judah in their graves in Assyria and Babylon. They had broken their covenant with God, and they are “cut off by ourselves” (Ezekiel 37:11). It is to this hopelessness that God speaks in Ezekiel 37.
From the time of Ezra to the time of John the Baptist, the Jews had no prophets. This was over four centuries long. The “Spirit” had been taken from them, and they truly were “dry bones” as far as the covenant was concerned (Ezekiel 37:1-2). In fact, after Antiochus Epiphanies had defiled the Temple, the Jews took away the stones of the Temple that were defiled and laid them aside until a prophet would arise who could tell them what to do with them (1Maccabees 4:46). Later, there was great tribulation over the appointment of ungodly men in positions of authority, but no prophet arose to help them (1Maccabees 9:27). Finally, the Jews and the priests decided to appoint Simon to be their leader, until a “faithful prophet” would come, and he would become their leader (1Maccabees 14:41-42). Therefore, one can see that the Spirit mentioned in Ezekiel 37:9-10 is not the spirit of physical life, but the Spirit of spiritual life.
Joel prophesied: “…it shall be afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). Peter quoted Joel on the day of Pentecost saying what occurred to Jesus’ disciples on that day was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy:
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: “And it shall be in the last days, says God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:16-17 – emphasis mine).
Notice, Peter didn’t say this was a precursor of something to occur later. He said: “THIS is THAT!” One can’t get much clearer. The Holy Spirit falling upon Jesus disciples was THAT which Joel prophesied, and what Joel prophesied concerned the Spirit giving spiritual life to the dry bones of the whole House of Israel in Ezekiel 37:9-11. One simply cannot put this into the future without violating the text—“THIS is THAT!”