God’s kingdom is ultimately spiritual in nature and only in that way can it be exercised upon earth.
The Christian And The Kingdom
John the Baptist explodes onto the stage of Scripture with this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2 NKJV). In it, he sums up all the aspirations of an entire people and brings before his nation its moment of destiny. The gospels clearly set forth the kingdom as central to the understanding of God’s purposes for man on earth and for the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption and regeneration. Let’s consider the place kingdom truth is to have in our Christian lives.
When the Jews heard John’s message that day what did they understand it to mean? They hoped for a literal, earthly kingdom. Even on the Ascension mount (Acts 1:6) the disciples asked about Israel receiving the (earthly) kingdom. To exist, a kingdom requires three things: a king, subjects, and a territory to rule. When God said to Moses, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6) He established the main features: God as king and the nation Israel as the subjects. But note, they are a kingdom of priests. From the earliest inception, God established that an essential feature of His kingdom is the spiritual exercise of authority over the individuals and their spiritual service to God.
In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, God further revealed that He eventually intended to establish a man as king over them. Though God established David as the earthly king over an earthly kingdom, the spiritual mind always saw that a greater than David was in view, David being a type of Christ. In Psalm 22:28, David wrote, “The kingdom is the Lord’s.” In Psalm 103:19 he wrote, “The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.” King David recognized that the Lord is king. Finally in Isaiah 9:6-7, the prophet reveals that “a son” shall exercise the rule upon the throne of David and over his kingdom. We know this “son” to be Jesus of Nazareth.
In this way John the Baptist held out to the nation that the time for the culmination of all God’s prophecies regarding the kingdom and the exercise of God’s authority had come. No wonder Luke writes that “the people were in expectation” (Lk. 3:15). Perhaps, finally, the great drought of Hosea 3:4 would be over and the promise of Hosea 3:5 would be fulfilled! But before that can happen, notice what Hosea 3:5 states: “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God … They shall fear the Lord.” Thus John’s great message, “Repent!” God’s kingdom is ultimately spiritual in nature and only in that way can it be exercised upon earth. In that one word “repent” lies the crux of the whole matter. How is God to bring to pass the exercise of His sovereignty in the lives of fallen mankind? The answer to this question is the essence of the kingdom message.
Once John firmly established in the minds of the people the essential spiritual nature of the kingdom, the Lord is presented as the one qualified to bring this about. In numerous passages, but primarily in Matthew 5-7, Jesus unfolded the spiritual principles of His kingdom. He began with the moral condition of one who would become a subject in the kingdom (Mt. 5:1-12). These all relate the condition of heart and response of soul to the truth of the gospel. Next, he related the moral responsibility of a subject in the kingdom (Mt. 5:13-20) – that of being salt (for God) and light (to the world). Then the Lord explained how the law will relate to life in the kingdom (Mt. 5:21-48).
In each case He contrasted the narrow understanding of the teachers with the full moral weight of the law. Jesus then proceeded to show the character of a subject of the kingdom (Mt. 6). The entire chapter screams out “reality!” God is looking for reality and congruence between the outer and the inner man – reality in giving (vv. 1-4), reality in praying (vv. 5-15), reality in fasting (vv. 16-18), reality in priorities (vv. 18-21), and reality in perspective (vv. 22-34). In chapter 7 the Lord assured access to the kingdom to all who sincerely seek entrance and warned those who would try to fake their way in. His closing image contrasts those who hear the word but don’t obey it with those who do.
Though our Lord preached the gospel of the kingdom – and confirmed its truth with signs, wonders and miracles – the heart of man was still closed to the truth. In unbelief the Lord’s deeds are ascribed to Beelzebub, prince of demons (Mt. 12:25), and the king and his kingdom are rejected. Speaking later to the Jews (Mt. 21:33-44), the Lord pronounced His judgment: “Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” We cannot have the kingdom without the king, and we cannot have the king if there is no moral change in our life. The Lord stated in John 3:3-5 that entrance into the kingdom is only possible if one is “born again” and “born of water and the Spirit.” The transformation in the life, that the Lord stated in Matthew 5-7 as a requirement for entrance into the kingdom, comes not as a result of law-keeping or personal self-reformation efforts, but solely as a result of being born from above. It is the work of God.
But what is the condition of the kingdom now? What happens to the kingdom as a result of the king being rejected, crucified, risen, and ascended? In testifying before Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36). In this He indicated that the origin of His kingdom and authority did not come from this world. This very important statement establishes that the kingdom does not rise up as a result of our human efforts or personal faithfulness and godliness. In fact, our Lord stated, “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and return” (Lk. 19:12). The Lord is that man who went to receive his kingdom and to return. This teaches us that the kingdom originates in heaven; hence its being called the kingdom of heaven. The title kingdom of God emphasizes God’s kingdom, authority, and sovereignty. In fact, the parable in Luke 19 was spoken to dispel the notion that the kingdom was about to be manifested. The kingdom always has in view its ultimate manifestation and the Lord’s personal exercise of authority over this world which rejected Him. But what is the character of the kingdom now?
In answering that question we must remember that kingdom truth comprises those instructions in Scripture which relate to the relationship of a redeemed person to the lost world around him. In John 17 the Lord states two truths regarding the believer: while “these are in the world … they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (vv. 11-14). Being “in” the world, yet not “of” the world is what kingdom truth addresses. In John 3:12 our Lord stated that being born again was what He called “earthly things” – relating to the character of our lives here on earth. This is in contrast to “heavenly things” which address our relationship with an ascended, glorified head who is over the whole body, the Church – those seated in the heavenlies with Him (Eph. 1:3, 2:6).
In the parables of Matthew 13 the Lord told what the character of the kingdom would be during the time of His rejection. He characterized this as the mystery of the kingdom of God and heaven. This means that He is bringing out truth never before revealed or even hinted at in the Old Testa-ment. In those seven parables He gives the broadest outline of the establishment and progress of the kingdom during the time of His absence. This is the period of time we are in now. All the principles of the kingdom set forth in His preceding sermons apply to us now in their moral import. What we must realize is that we cannot create “kingdom conditions” on earth by seeking to work through the political realm to establish God’s order here. Only the Lord Himself can do that and He will bring the kingdom with Him.
In Matthew 13, our Lord outlined the course of the kingdom in its “mystery” form – the character of the kingdom during the time of the king’s rejection. Firstly, He established in Matthew 13:3-8 that the progress of the kingdom is through the sowing of the seed, the Word of God (Lk. 8:11). As the Word is sown and souls are brought to faith, Satan opposes that work. Thus, in Matthew 13:24-30 the Lord described how Satan establishes in the world a counterfeit to what the Lord is doing. (Note that there is no mention of Christendom in any of this. Many read Christendom into the parables and completely confuse themselves.) The tares are sown in the field, the world. So we see that a work of Satan will go on during this age which will seek to dilute the work of Christ.
Next, in Matthew 13:31-32 the Lord describes the outward development of the kingdom. It will become great in the world. In fact, it already has. Biblical truth has had many positive effects upon the world and the kingdom has grown tremendously in size. However, in Matthew 13:33 our Lord also shows the moral corruption which will take place in the kingdom. Satan will work externally to oppose its progress (tares), as well as work within to corrupt the kingdom with false doctrine, (the leaven of Mt. 16:12).
Our Lord spoke these to the multitude, but three more parables were told only to the disciples. In that of the treasure (Mt. 13:44), the condition of Israel is described and how, though to be set aside, it shall be preserved and the world won by Christ for its benefit (Rom. 11). The parable of the pearl of great price (Mt. 13:45-46) shows the intrinsic value of the Church within the kingdom, and the extent to which Christ goes to obtain it. Finally, the parable of the dragnet (Mt. 13:47-50) describes how, when “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord” (Rev. 11:15), He shall prepare the world for its reception.
Recall that we are salt (savor for God) and light (testimony to the lost). The kingdom parables describe the progress that God’s truth makes in the world. But notice the means: it is by preaching the Word, spreading the gospel, and sowing the good seed in the world that we as subjects advance His kingdom. The exercise of political power, military might, intellectual energy, and philosophy accomplish nothing for God in this world. There might be some cosmetic change, but the objective is not to change the world. The purpose of the kingdom is for Christ to have a sphere where His authority, rights and sovereignty are recognized and exercised – that is, Christ reigning in your heart. The world has rejected Christ, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14). But Christ has established a sphere in which He is owned as Lord.
As we look back to John the Baptist two things stand out – repentance and baptism. We have seen how repentance is the avenue for receiving God’s truth (Acts 20:21). Throughout the Gospels, baptism is related to making disciples (Jn. 4:1). In Matthew 28:19 our Lord relates baptism to discipleship during the Church age as well. One great feature of kingdom truth is being a disciple, a follower, of the Lord. This discipleship involves surrender of life and will to Him, the result being seen in both the character and service of the disciple. Baptism is the sign that one has died to this world, accepted God’s judgment against him and his sins, and identified with the One who has gone through the judgment for him and raised him up to newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4). Thus, kingdom truth speaks about our relationship to this world: we are dead to it and we are followers of Christ.
In what way, then, is Christ going to establish His kingdom in this world? We know from various parables that a great transition takes place at “the end of the age” – called by the Lord “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:24) – the time of Gentile domination over Israel. In Matthew 13:39-40 and 25:31-46 our Lord said that a worldwide judgment shall take place as the earthly kingdom is being established. This judgment is designed to remove from the world all that is not fit for the kingdom. No wonder the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” states, “Thy kingdom come.” It comes in, rather than rises up from the midst. In the Olivet discourse (Mt. 24-25) the Lord speaks at length regarding the events which will usher in the earthly kingdom. In Romans 11:25, Paul states that the blindness of Israel will continue until those Gentiles who were to be brought into blessing in the Church have been so blessed. Once that time is completed, God will set in motion a series of events which will lead to faithful Israel’s national repentance and reception of the Messiah. Only then does Christ take the throne of David and exercise His kingship over the millennial earth.
What About Us Today?
What are we called to be and do today? Those who have been brought to saving faith in the Lord have been planted in this world as that good seed, as children of the kingdom. Though we are in this world we are not of it; our allegiance is to another king of another kingdom. We represent Christ in this world and live for Him as disciples following and serving Him. Our desire for each person is to receive the Word that is sown; our desire for this world is for Christ to come, to put all powers under His feet, and to reign in perfect righteousness. But until that day comes we are called to continue “in tribulation and the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gib Warrick is the Computer Coordinator of the Union County Public Schools in Monroe, North Carolina. He and his wife Carol and their children fellowship with Christians in Charlotte, North Carolina. Gib also preaches regularly at the local rescue mission.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.