God’s Kingdom . . . and Ours
In Daniel 7:13-14 we’re given a prophetic revelation of four earthly kingdoms, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, that will one day be forever replaced by a fifth kingdom. As the four pagan kingdoms are on Earth, the contextual implication is that the fifth kingdom—God’s eternal Kingdom—will also be on Earth.
Daniel said of the four earthly kingdoms, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:2). These nations might appear to rise to power arbitrarily, but their emergence is orchestrated by Heaven, and their ruling authority is granted by God for they are “given authority to rule” (v. 6), and later “their dominion was taken away” (v. 12, ESV).
In contrast to the tenuous and temporary rule of the nations, we’re told that the Messiah’s dominion—in context, a kingdom on Earth—will be “everlasting” and “will not pass away” and “will never be destroyed” (v. 14).
Notice the continuity between the ultimate earthly kingdom of the Messiah and the previous earthly kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, from which eventually comes the kingdom of the Antichrist. The kingdom with the everlasting dominion is not a dominion over a different realm but over the same realm—Earth. In speaking of these kingdoms, God is not comparing apples (Earth) with oranges (a spirit realm), but apples with apples. Christ will not merely destroy the earth where fallen kings once ruled. Rather, He will rule over the same Earth, transformed and new.
At Daniel’s request, an angel provides an interpretation of his vision: “The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” (v. 17). Then the angel makes an extraordinary statement: “But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever” (v. 18). This statement makes clear both the kingdom’s location (Earth) and its duration (eternal).
Some theologians reduce Daniel 7 to a promise that God’s saints will reign with Christ during the Millennium. But the text couldn’t be clearer—it says “for ever and ever,” not a thousand years. Many other passages also affirm an earthly reign that will last forever (e.g., Joshua 14:9; 2 Samuel7:16; Isaiah 34:17; 60:21; Jeremiah17:25; Micah 4:7; Revelation 22:5). The angel Gabriel told Mary that Christ “will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke1:33). Regardless of whether one believes in a literal Millennium, passages such as the ones cited here shouldn’t be understood as millennial references. They refer instead to an everlasting Kingdom.
But where is that eternal Kingdom located? If the other four kingdoms, spanning centuries, rose “from the earth,” and if the Antichrist will rule on the earth, where will God’s Kingdom be in order to replace those kingdoms? On the earth.
Under God’s covenant with Israel, the people never looked for the Messiah to reign in Heaven. That would be nothing new, because God already reigns in Heaven. Establishing God’s Kingdom was never about an immaterial spirit realm. It always concerned the one place in the universe made for mankind, the one place where God’s reign has been disputed: Earth.
It’s a common but serious mistake to spiritualize the eternal Kingdom of God. Many people imagine that God will replace the earthly kings and their kingdoms with a transcendent sovereignty over the spiritual realm of Heaven. But that is very different than what Daniel is telling us.
God has never abandoned His original plan that righteous human beings will inhabit and rule the earth. That’s not merely an argument from silence. Daniel 7:18 explicitly reveals that “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever.” What is “the kingdom”? Earth.
Earth is unique. It’s the one planet—perhaps among billions—where God chose to act out the unfolding drama of redemption and reveal the wonders of His grace. It’s on the New Earth, the capital planet of the new universe, that He will establish an eternal Kingdom.
Daniel 7:21-22 says that an earthly ruler “was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom” (emphasis added).
The same earthly kingdoms ruled by ungodly human beings will ultimately be ruled by godly human beings. Christ’s promise wasn’t figurative—the meek really will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). And they will rule what they inherit.
The Kingdom Transfer
Daniel 7:25 tells us that the saints will be handed over to the earth’s kingdoms, which will persecute them for a season. But then a stunning reversal will occur. “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (v. 27).
What is the “greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven” that will be “handed over to the saints”? I believe it includes all that makes the nations great. That would include, among other things, their cultural, artistic, athletic, scientific, and intellectual achievements. All of these will not be lost or destroyed but “handed over to the saints” as they rule God’s eternal Kingdom on the New Earth. We will become the stewards, the managers of the world’s wealth and accomplishments.
Consider the marvels of this revelation. God’s children who suffered under ungodly earthly kings will forever take their place as earthly kings. The great cultural accomplishments of ungodly nations will be handed over to God’s people to manage and (I assume) develop and expand.
The very Earth to which Satan once laid claim will be stripped from his grasp and given over to those whom he hates and seeks to destroy—God’s saints. Notice it doesn’t say that the earth’s kingdoms will be destroyed, but that they will be “handed over” to the saints, placed under their just rule. All the wrongs done on Earth by tyrants will be a thing of the past. No more persecution and injustice. The Earth that was first put under mankind’s dominion and was twisted by the Fall will be redeemed, restored, and put under the righteous rule of a redeemed and restored mankind.
If the Bible made no other reference to believers ruling over an earthly kingdom, the emphatic message of Daniel 7 would suffice: The saints of God will rule the earth forever.
Many people believe that if God rules the universe, there’s no room for other rulers. But this can’t be true, because we’re told that “all rulers will worship and obey him” (v. 27). Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21:24 tell us there will still be nations on the New Earth, and they will still have rulers. But they will be righteous rulers, subordinate to Christ. People of every national and ethnic group (“tribe and language and people and nation”) will worship the Lamb (Revelation 5:9). Some will rule over cities; others will rule over nations. Christ will be King of all, but He will be “King of kings” (Revelation 19:16), meaning that His people will rule the new earth under Him.
Photo credit: Alexandre Perotto via Unsplash