WHAT DOES JESUS SAY ABOUT THE KINGDOM ?
The transfiguration of Christ is one of the most spectacular, beautiful and meaningful events in the New Testament. It teaches some very powerful lessons. For example, God the Father honors Jesus Christ by declaring: "This is my beloved Son; in whom I am well pleased." The great miracle shows conclusively that Jesus Christ - not Moses and the prophets - is God's spokesman for the Christian era. God himself said in very simple and plain words: "Hear him." The word "hear" is in the present tense. Charles Williams renders the expression: "Keep on listening to Him." The inspired author of Hebrews teaches the same truth. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto by the Fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1: 1-2).
Since Jesus is God's Son and his spokesman to end of the age, we must examine the New Testament to learn what he says. How absolutely foolish men are when they ignore or reject the only way to God - Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ told his disciples: "I am the way, the truth, the life; no man comes unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). The Apostle Peter said to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem: "This is the stone (meaning Jesus Christ) which was set at nought by you builders, which has become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:11-12). Should we not listen to the only One whom God himself has chosen be our Lord and Savior?
My question for you to consider today is very important: What Does Jesus Say about the Kingdom? I ask you to pay special attention to the present tense of the word "do." I am fully aware that Jesus spoke for God almost two thousand years ago. It would not be inappropriate to use the past tense – did - in reference to the message Christ delivered. But we must remember that what he said in the first century is just as applicable today as it was then. That is my reason for asking: "What Does Jesus Say about the Kingdom?"
Matthew records the beginning of Christ's personal ministry. "Now when Jesus heard that John (the Baptist) was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the seacoast, in the borders of Zebulon and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying the land of Zebulon and Naphtali by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them who sat in the region of the shadow of death light is sprung up." Matthew provides this background in order to introduce the beginning of our Lord's preaching. "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4: 12-17). Later in that same chapter, Matthew says concerning our Lord: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people" (Mt. 4:23). In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus prayed: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt. 6:10). Christ commanded the twelve to preach: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 10:7).
What did Jesus mean by the prepositional phrase, "at hand?" There are theologians and others who believe the kingdom has been postponed for two thousand years. According to dispensational premillennialists, God could not establish the kingdom because the Jews rejected their king. Was the Jews’ rejection of the king a surprise to God? Isaiah 53 makes it plain that the Jews would reject the king. "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isa. 53:3). The expression, "at hand," cannot be stretched two thousand years. The term means “near”.
That is not the way some theologians interpret the expression, "at hand." In his very disturbing book, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything (Nashville: W, 2006), Brian McLaren, the most influential leader in the Emerging Church movement, says the term "at hand' means "available to be grasped, knocking at the door - not just someday in the future, but here and now. Here and now" (p. 24). If that is what the expression means, why did Jesus tell his disciples that the kingdom would come during the lifetime of the people listening to him? If the kingdom of God was "available to be grasped," Joseph of Arimathea did now know it. Mark says he was waiting for or expecting the kingdom (Mk. 15:43). Jesus himself provides insight into the meaning of the term, "at hand." He said to his disciples: "Verily I say unto you, There are some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Mt. 16:28). Incidentally, these are the words of the Son of God - not some modern false prophet. If Christ were wrong about the time of the coming of his kingdom, he was a false prophet (Dt. 18:22). He should not be trusted on any other topic. In addition, if the kingdom has not come - as premillennialists preach - there are some really old people around. They would make Methuselah look like a boy.
The great Old Testament prophets predicted the coming of the kingdom. Daniel even told the time of its coming. God sent Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon's greatest king, an unusual dream. He saw a great image with a head of gold, breasts and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet part of iron and part of clay. By the inspiration of God almighty, Daniel interpreted the dream. The head of gold represented the Babylonian empire, the breasts and arms of silver represented the Medo-Persian empire, the belly and thighs of brass represented the Macedonian empire under Alexander the Great and the legs of iron and the feet part of Iron and part of clay represented the Roman empire (Dan. 2:31-43). Incidentally, this interpretation is almost universally accepted. The prophet Daniel adds: "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44).
What is the meaning of the term, "in the days of these kings?" In his excellent commentary on The Prophecy of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), Dr. Edward Young quotes Dr. Oswald T. Allis, a distinguished Old Testament scholar: "The words 'in the days of these kings' would refer most naturally to the four kingdoms or kings represented by the image. This interpretation is clearly involved in the symbolism of the image (v. 45) and is permissible because, while distinct, these four kingdoms were in a sense one. Medo-Persia conquered and incorporated Babylon. Greece did the same for Medo-Persia. And while Rome never conquered all of Alexander's empire, she did conquer much of it and the extent of the Roman Empire was far greater and more world-wide than any of the others. It was while this image was still standing that the blow was struck. So that we may say that it was in the period of those four empires as together representing Gentile world dominion but in the days of the last of the four that the kingdom of the Messiah was set up." Dr. Edward Young adds: "It was while the colossus is standing that God will set up his kingdom" (p. 78).
Our premillennial friends argue that the kingdom Daniel had in mind was postponed. There is a very serious problem with that interpretation. Time prophecies cannot be postponed. Daniel predicted that it would be "in the days of these kings" (Dan. 2:44). It is either happened then or Daniel was a false prophet (Dt. 18:22). And would our Lord have spoken favorably of Daniel if that Old Testament prophet were a false prophet (Mt. 24: 15)? Besides, as I have already shown, Jesus predicted that the kingdom would be established while some of his contemporaries were still living (Mt. 16:28).
The mistake premillennialists make is not realizing or acknowledging that the church was the kingdom the Old Testament prophets and the Son of God had in mind. A careful study of our Lord's meeting with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi should convince any honest person that the church is the kingdom. When Christ met with his disciples, he asked: "Who do men say that I the Son of man am?" They answered: "Some say thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." There is no doubt Jesus was interested in hearing from people in general. His main concern, however, was what his own disciples believed. He asked them: "But who do you say I am?" The Apostle Peter answered for all of the apostles. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord responded: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah: for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock (that is, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt. 16:13-19)
I have a question for you to consider. Did Jesus build one institution - the church - and then give the apostles the keys to another institution - the kingdom? You know that does not make sense. Do you remember what Paul told the Colossians about the kingdom? He was writing to the church at Colosse. He said the Colossians had been delivered or rescued "from the power of darkness, and had been translated (or transferred) into the kingdom of God's dear Son" (Col. 1:13). Does that not mean the kingdom had been established before the Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, sometime around 62 or 63 A.D? When the Apostle John recorded the Lord's words in Revelation, he affirmed that he was in "the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:9). Please remember that Jesus Christ gave the book of Revelation to John (Rev. 1:1). Besides, if the kingdom were not established during the days of the Roman Empire, Daniel was a false prophet and Jesus was wrong when he said the kingdom would come in the lifetime of some who were listening to him (Mk. 9:1).
Oddly enough, Brian McLaren thinks the kingdom of God is "the secret message of Jesus" (p. 82). He affirms: "Jesus' secret message in word and in deed makes clear that the kingdom of God will be radically, scandalously inclusive" (p. 94). Why does McLaren refer to our Lord's teaching about the kingdom as "being the secret message of Jesus? What is secret about it? I have been preaching the Bible's teaching about the kingdom all of my adult life and so have thousands of other gospel preachers. Did McLaren believe he had to use the word "secret" to sell his book? Besides, is it not arrogant for a man to say about his book: It will uncover "the truth that could change everything?" Incidentally, Steve Chalke & Alan Mann published a book with the title, The Lost Message of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). Who lost the message of Jesus? And do Chalke and Mann think they are the ones who found it?
Let us see how secret the message of the kingdom is. Matthew I3 - the great chapter on Christ's parables - strongly emphasizes the kingdom. Following are Christ's very words which every serious Bible student instantly recognizes "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest of herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.... The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole is leavened.... The kingdom of heaven in like unto treasure hidden in a field; the which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy goes and sells all that he has, and buys the field. Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he has found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. Again the kingdom of God us like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind" (Mt. 13:31-33,44-47).
Am I arguing that there are no preachers or theologians who ignore or pervert some of the teachings about the kingdom? The truth is: Brian McLaren is guilty of misusing the scriptures about the kingdom, as I have already shown. I have also shown that dispensational premillennialists and classical premillinnialists misconstrue the Bible's teaching about the kingdom. But McLaren is wrong when he refers to the Bible's teaching about the kingdom as being "secret." There is nothing secret about it. It is just as simple and plain as words can be used.
Let us turn for a moment to our Lord's conversation with Nicodemus. John alone records the meeting. "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." Jesus knew for certain what Nicodemus had on his mind. He said to the Jewish ruler: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again (or more correctly, from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus says unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" Please listen carefully to Christ's next statement. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:1-5).
Every reasonable person understands that our Lord was using highly figurative language. Not one of the preachers in Acts of the Apostles ever told anyone to be born again. Peter did not use that kind of language on the day of Pentecost or at the house of Cornelius. That is not the way Philip preached to the Samaritans or to the Ethiopian eunuch. Paul did not use figurative language when he preached to Lydia and her household, to the Philippian jailer and his household, to the Corinthians or to the Ephesians. Those early gospel preachers used very simple words their listeners would have had difficulty misunderstanding.
Since our Lord's church or kingdom began on the day of Pentecost, it should be enlightening to discover what happened on that day. We know that thousands of people from many different places were gathered in the city of Jerusalem for the celebration. The Lord performed spectacular miracles - "a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind," the appearance "of cloven tongues like fire" and their speaking in other tongues or languages "as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:2-4). Some of the Jews accused the apostles of being drunk. Peter responded to the ridiculous charge by quoting the words of Joel. He concluded the citation from Joel by saying: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:15-21).
The Apostle Peter appealed to the prophecies of David. He showed conclusively that the events on Pentecost were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. He convinced the Jews that they had crucified their own Messiah. At the end of his sermon, the Jews asked Peter and the other apostles: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" The Apostle Peter did not tell them: "Except you are born of the water and of the Spirit, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Instead by the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, he commanded the believing Jews: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." How did the Jews on Pentecost understand Peter's command? "Then they who gladly received his word were baptized; and there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:37-38, 41).
When the believing Jews repented and were baptized for the remission of their sins, were they born again or from above? If they were not born again, what else did they have to do? Were they in the kingdom or the church? "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12: 13).
If you have questions concerning the Lord's teaching on the kingdom, I shall be more than glad to hear from you.
The International Gospel Hour
P.O. Box 118
Fayetteville, TN 37334