Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Kingdom of God - Since the Coming of the King

The last post left off at an apparent low point for the Kingdom of God, “God's kingdom has hit a brick wall, David's throne is has been vacant for centuries, and God's promises are frustrated by disobedience and captivity.” Things don’t appear to be going God’s way.

But then comes a voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight!”

The Message of Jesus

John the Baptist is the herald of the next move God is about to make in establishing his Kingdom forever, fulfilling his prophesies and His promises to David. John prepared the way for Jesus, he fertilized the fields, so to speak, and Jesus pickup exactly were John left off. The first words of Jesus as His ministry began are recorded in Mark 1:15,

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
This message is undisputedly Jesus’ primary and favorite topic, He repeats it constantly:

Luke 4:42-43
And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 6:20

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:23-27

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Did the Kingdom Come?

One statement that has been repeated over the years is that Jesus came to bring the Kingdom to the Jews but it was removed when they rejected Him and it will not come again until the time of the Christ’s return. A close inspection of the messages of Jesus and the Apostles after His ascension reveals this view to be mistaken.

Throughout his ministry Jesus speaks of the nearness of the Kingdom, and tells certain people that they are not far from finding it (Mark 12:28-34). Matthew, assistant to the Apostle Peter, editorializes on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, stating that,

Matthew 21:4-5
This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,

‘Behold, your king is coming to
Humble, and mounted on a
And on a colt, the foal of a
Beast of burden.’”
Even as the unjust trial of Jesus comes to a conclusion and the people of Israel have chosen a murderer over the Son of Man, Jesus bluntly states His Lordship over a Kingdom,

John 18:33-36
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.
It may seem that Jesus’ claim of Kingship, ruling not from a the throne of David as God promised but rather from Heaven, is somewhat diminished from the nearness of the Kingdom He spoke about previously. After all, if the Kingdom is not of this world, how close can it really be?

But this is precisely the kind of Kingdom about which Jesus was speaking throughout His ministry. A Kingdom not made of land and territory, but a spiritual Kingdom which individuals find their way into as they come to acknowledge the authority of God over them.

Matthew 7:21
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
It turns out that a Kingdom without borders or territory was always the plan from the beginning. In Luke Jesus describes the growth of the Kingdom, a description which mirrors a prophesy that was given nearly 600 years before to the prophet Daniel.

Luke 13:18-21
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45

As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth... And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”
Both Daniel and Jesus speak of a Kingdom which begins small, like a mustard seed, leaven in a lump of dough, or a stone, and then grows over time, eventually filling the whole earth. This is the kind of Kingdom which Jesus claimed kingship over when He was standing before Pilate. This Kingdom was not taken away from God’s people when Christ ascended into Heaven in the first chapter of Acts.

If it had been taken, then one would expect the apostles would stop talking about the Kingdom as they had when Jesus sent them out to witness in the cities and towns ahead of Him. However, the apostles continued to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus had before He left them.

Acts 8:12
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 19:8

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.

Romans 14:17

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 15:50

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

2 Thessalonians 1:5

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—
The message that the Kingdom is a present reality and is growing to fill the whole earth doesn’t seem to make sense in a world where sin is still rampant, people are more comfortable than ever publicly rejecting God, and injustice is commonplace. Don't such things oppose the view of a present and continually increasing Kingdom?

It’s true that in the Romans 14:17 passage, cited above, Paul tells us that the Kingdom is peace and joy, yet war and suffering have been the constant companions of humanity since before Jesus walked the earth. Paul is clear that the Kingdom is peace and joy, but not in the world. Paul says such peace and joy are found in the Holy Spirit. This dovetails with another statement Jesus made to His followers while He poured out His heart to them in the upper room just hours before his crucifixion.

John 16:33
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The peace that Jesus is talking about is not absence of conflict; to the contrary, Jesus says that His subjects will be persecuted. Even so, all the world belongs to Him and His people are safe in His hand. Paul paints a beautiful picture of this idea in his letter to the Colossians,

Colossians 1:13-14
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Are we still within this domain of darkness? We live within it, but it can’t touch us. At worst, it can only kill our bodies; but if that happens for Christ, then our status in the Kingdom is only enhanced. We are subjects of the King and no one can take us out of his hand.

The King has come and his kingdom has been established. He has all authority in earth and in Heaven gathered to Himself. For the present time, this Kingdom is not visible to the naked eye, but every time a person places himself under the authority of Christ and bows before Him the kingdoms of the earth grow a little weaker. Another citizen of the kingdoms of the earth slips away and seeks asylum with the King of kings.


Unknown said...

Really thoughtful and helpful! What do you think about what Jesus said about John the Baptist being least in the Kingdom and also the comment about men taking the Kingdom of God by violence?

emily said...

Really good!

Greg Alterton said...

The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, not one made or established or maintained by man, but is here and now, if I correctly understand. This is one area where the dominionists are wrong, I believe. The "kingdom of God" is often confused with heaven. There's that laundry list of sins -- (paraphrasing, "Let it be known that neither murderers, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor revilers, nor liars, nor gossips, etc. and so on, shall inherit the kingdom of God." Two questions: what is the kingdom of God, and what constitute inheritance of this kingdom? This verse is used to say that such sinners will not inherit heaven, which I think is an incorrect understanding. My understanding is that practicing murders, adulterers, homosexuals, revilers, liars, thieves, etc., will not benefit from participation in God's kingdom. Eph. 1 lists some of the things that we "inherit" by virtue of being "in Christ." If a believer is not living his life by the life of Christ within him, he will not come into possession, here and now, of those things which constitute our inheritance. So, while a person may be redeemed and headed for heaven, they may not have entered into their "inheritance" because they continue to live as they lived before, and are not full participants in the kingdom of God. That's my take.

Greg Alterton said...

I shouldn't have said, "...will not come into possession," for every believer has possession of the riches of Christ's inheritance outlined in Eph. 1, but I should have said that one who lives their life as they always have lived it, in their own power instead of by the power of Christ, will not come into the experience of that inheritance. Hope that clears it up.

Nice job, btw.

Nathan Alterton said...

"Eph. 1 lists some of the things that we "inherit" by virtue of being "in Christ." If a believer is not living his life by the life of Christ within him, he will not come into possession, here and now, of those things which constitute our inheritance."

I think this is exactly right, and it's one of the reasons that I wanted to work through the Kingdom enough to write a decent overview of it.

It seems to me like many Christians are very quick to take Old Testament promises for themselves, yet when it comes to New Testament promises, most of which have to do with the Kingdom of God, they put those off to some unknown future date.

Greg Alterton said...

Nathan, that's my understanding as well. Many Christians have it exactly backwards...claiming OT promises to Israel for themselves, and totally ignoring or not realizing the promises given the church in the NT.

Stone said...
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