The doctrine of the two kingdoms is the one major belief that sets the Anabaptists apart from the other Reformation churches and from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. In this article, I’ll explain the two-kingdom concept and how it relates to our Christianity. Another article offers a more in-depth defense of the Anabaptist view.
There are two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God and the kingdom (sometimes kingdoms) of this world. Though God has ordained human governments, and they are ultimately accountable to him,1Romans 13:1-7 God has brought salvation through establishing his own unique Kingdom. Those who worship him come out of all those nations to be part of his people.2Matt 28:19-20, Acts 10:35, 2 Cor 6:14-18, Rev 5:9
The Kingdom of Heaven
In the New Testament, God’s Kingdom is Jesus’ main message. Matthew calls it the “Kingdom of Heaven” and Luke calls it the “Kingdom of God,” but both of them were probably just translating the same Aramaic term that Jesus used when he spoke to his followers. Our Savior’s first proclamation was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”3Matt 4:17 ESV Jesus went everywhere to preach God’s Kingdom,4Matt 9:35, Luke 4:43 and he said that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”5Matt 24:14 It’s what he tells his disciples to proclaim when he sends them into Israel (Matt 10:6).
So, what is the Kingdom? Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, which is the title given to God’s chosen King, a ruler from the line of King David. That means that Jesus is the King of Israel. But he’s not just king of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Jesus transfers all those who are faithful, whether Jew or Gentile, into his kingdom (Col 1:13, Rom 11).
This has resulted in the church of God. The church is different from the physical Israel, since many of Abraham’s descendants haven’t accepted God’s chosen Messiah. But all those who are faithful to Jesus are God’s church, which is now the new Israel, the true Israel, the ones who “inherit the kingdom” (Matt 25:34). But what’s this new kingdom like?
Jesus told many parables that describe the Kingdom of Heaven. Just like a mustard seed or like yeast, the Kingdom would start small and grow until it could no longer be hidden. Like a dragnet, it would draw in many people, and God would judge between them at the final judgment. So God’s kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven, not because it is in heaven, nor because it’s reserved for the future, but because it is from heaven. But that doesn’t mean that the kingdom doesn’t exist yet on the earth. Jesus says that some of his disciples would see the kingdom before they die, so clearly it’s already here (Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27).
As Jesus’ parables show, his Kingdom is on earth now and will be active on the earth until the final judgment, when the King will return and establish the fullness of his Kingdom. As Christians, we long for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13).
A Kingdom with Heavenly Values
A kingdom that comes from heaven will have different values than a kingdom that comes from the earth. It will also have laws that bind us to doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Those rules are found in the New Testament, and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the clearest statement of them. There we read Jesus’ command to love our enemies rather than to do harm to them, to be honest rather than to swear oaths, and to speak well about other people rather than to speak evil.
The Kingdoms of This World
Now, even though there’s the Kingdom of God, there are also other nations that don’t serve Jesus. The devil offered these nations to Jesus (Matt 4:8,9), but Jesus refused this gift. Instead, he claimed for himself the people who chose to reject those nations and to change their allegiance to him. God “has delivered us,” those who are faithful, “from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). So even though we live within the physical boundaries of kingdoms of the world, and even though we obey their laws, we are the Kingdom of God, and our first loyalty and obedience is to him.
Before we were Christians, another prince, “the prince of the power of the air,” ruled over us (Eph 2:1–2). But now salvation has come through God’s Kingdom; God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). Though we are freed from all other powers, citizens of God’s Kingdom are bound to follow Christ and obey his commands.
The early Anabaptists realized that when Jesus is your King and he has taught you not to commit violence, there’s really no way that they could give their loyalty to a nation of this world or take part in its politics. No matter what nation they are a part of, God’s people need to put their allegiance in him. Anabaptists generally do not
- Serve in the military
- Sue people or take them to court
- Hold public office
- Vote for public officials
- Say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem
Although Jesus didn’t specifically teach against all of these things, they risk bringing our values in line with the kingdoms of this world rather than with the Kingdom of God.
They Have Become the Kingdoms of Our Lord
But does this mean that the other kingdoms can just disobey God and do what they want? No, because God has ordained those powers and allowed them to exercise power in the first place (Romans 13:1-7, John 19:11). Though they do not follow his will, he has always made his will done in spite of their rejection of him. And now Jesus has triumphed over these nations by rising from the dead and ransoming Christians from the “principalities and powers” (Col 2:11-15). And in the end, Jesus will return in triumph, and he will rule over the nations (Rev 11:15), and bless the whole world, as God had promised Abraham long ago (Gen 22:18).
But what happens until Jesus returns? While we wait for Jesus, God calls the Church come out from among the nations (2 Cor 6:17), just as he called Israel to do. The world’s kingdoms care about things that we don’t care about—power, money, security, and pleasure. They continually set up false gods to worship—”the American dream,” celebrity culture, capitalism.
We need to obey the laws of this nation as much as possible, but we must not conform to its ideals. Instead, we need to obey the laws of our King (John 14:15,21), and be “conformed to the image” of the Son of God (Rom 8:29). For us, the New Testament is our guide for obeying the Law of Christ, which is now in effect, and which transcends the Law of Moses and every other law.
In the Anabaptist two-kingdom view, the government is neither an enemy nor irrelevant. The government is intended, as the Mosaic Law was, to be a controlling power over evil, so that by using coercive measures, the amount of evil that occurs is greatly reduced. The government is therefore a valid authority over the kingdoms of this world, just as the principalities and powers were placed in rightful authority over the kingdoms. Of course, the governments disobey God, and Jesus triumphs over them, but Jude and Peter tell us to be careful not to blaspheme even the evil powers that can lie behind such government. Since we are in God’s kingdom and ruled directly by him and his Son, we aren’t subject to or interested in the government’s paradigm, since we have something better and more effective. However, we are subject to the government’s laws, since we respect every authority God has put in place, even those who have become corrupt and evil, and because we recognize the need for such laws over the evildoers.
So, while Jesus is waiting to return, his followers are preaching about this kingdom (Acts 18:12, 20:25) and building it with their fellow Christians, “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Col 4:11). The world’s kingdoms cannot separate us from Christ (Rom 8:35), and those who die before Jesus’ return can trust, like Paul, that Jesus “will bring [them] safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18).
Even so, Lord, come quickly.
For a more in-depth Scriptural defense for this view, see this article.
- 1Romans 13:1-7
- 2Matt 28:19-20, Acts 10:35, 2 Cor 6:14-18, Rev 5:9
- 3Matt 4:17 ESV
- 4Matt 9:35, Luke 4:43
- 5Matt 24:14