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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 8

The Kingdom of God

That the Bible portrays a God who rules over all and whose kingdom will last forever is unquestioned. That His Son has been granted all authority in heaven and earth and been made Lord over this kingdom is likewise evident in the scriptures. It is also plain that the devil exercises a dominion over the kingdoms of this world at present that is destined to be finally overthrown, evil forever banished. The end of the story is that God’s people will enjoy an everlasting new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness.

The manner in which God’s kingdom relates to this present world is, however, a matter of considerable debate and disagreement. As this book began with a discussion of people’s differing expectations regarding the future, it seems most appropriate to look into the Word and to see what the Lord will give us concerning His kingdom that would shed light in this present darkness. It is after all, His kingdom. It does not belong to the theologians!

The Highest Authority

All authority, whether in heaven or on earth, ultimately flows from one source: God. This God has no equal, no rival. He answers to no one. He gives authority to others. No one had to give God His authority: it was His to begin with. He stands alone, above all others, a great invisible Spirit.

Greater than the universe He has created, He has knowledge and wisdom without limit, power that cannot be challenged and presence from which there is no escape. Simply put, His will and purpose will prevail. Consider just a few scriptures:

Psalm 103:19 “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.”

Psalm 145:13 “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.”

Psalm 22:28 “For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations.”

As “governor among the nations” God is no mere figurehead. He takes an active role in the affairs of men, working out the fulfillment of His own eternal purpose, conceived before the world began.

Nebuchadnezzar was a great king over the ancient empire known as Babylon, full of pride in his power and accomplishments. Most such men live and die with little or no knowledge of the one true God from whom their power comes. They blindly use that power to serve their own ends. However, God singled out Nebuchadnezzar that He might reveal
to him the truth of the matter.

Daniel 4 records for us a letter from Nebuchadnezzar to “all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth.” It is his testimony of how God humbled and taught him.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

He tells of a disturbing dream about a great tree that was to be cut down and about a man’s heart that was for a time to be changed to that of a beast. There were words in the dream declaring the purpose involved, “... that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.”

God enabled Daniel to interpret the dream as applying to the king. About a year later Nebuchadnezzar was walking in the palace, his heart lifted up with ignorant pride, and said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” Immediately a voice came from heaven saying, “The kingdom is departed from thee ....” It also said that he would live as a beast among the beasts for seven years.

Verses 34-35 record the return of his understanding and his realization of who God was: “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”

Verse 37 concludes the amazing testimony of this highly favored ancient king: “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”

It is very evident that Nebuchadnezzar came to an awareness of a kingdom that went far beyond anything of this earth. The dominion of this kingdom included not only the “inhabitants of the earth” but also “the army of heaven.” Did you know that God has an army in heaven? Though the greatness of God’s heavenly kingdom could not be seen by natural eyes nor was it understood by natural men, yet the visible kingdoms of this world were all under its absolute dominion. Psalm 66:7. Psalm 46:8-10. Psalm 33:10-16.

We get another glimpse into this truth in Isaiah’s prophecy in Chapter 45 concerning a then future king named Cyrus. Verse 5 says, “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.”

God had a purpose relating to the believing remnant of His people that involved raising up this heathen king named Cyrus. Jeremiah had prophesied that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jer. 29:10). II Chronicles 36:22-23 records the contribution of Cyrus to God’s will and purpose: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me: and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.”

God’s people today need to never forget that what was true of old is still true: God is in control. Regardless of how things may look to us, nothing happens that He does not in His infinite wisdom permit. Although iniquity abounds as Jesus said in Matt. 24 that it would, God’s promises to His own remain sure and steadfast. There is not a devil in hell able to prevent God from saving every one of His elect with a perfect and complete salvation. “... Lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” Luke 21:28.

Prophecies of a Messiah

The prophecies of the Old Testament are full of references to a future day (future to them, at least) in which God would bring salvation and deliverance to His people through a Messiah, a King. It is that day and what the Word says about it that we wish to consider.

Isaiah 9:6-7 says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

Jeremiah 23:5-6 says, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Isaiah 32:1-2 says, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”

These and many other prophecies resulted in a great body of traditional belief regarding the promised Messiah and his kingdom. Their messianic expectations were very much shaped as well by their spiritual condition and by their experiences as a nation.

Religious Factions Develop

As we have already indicated, except for the true remnant, the spiritual course of the Jews was downhill and away from God. Following the return from Babylonian captivity, though they never returned to the wicked idolatry that had brought the judgment of God upon them, they turned instead to various forms of dead orthodoxy. It was during the period between Malachi and Matthew, some 400 years, that the various religious factions developed.

The Pharisees, zealous for converts and for their conception of the law, went more by their traditions than they did by the scriptures themselves. The Sadducees were more worldly-minded, accepting as their moral guide only the five books of Moses — the Torah — and not even believing in life after death. The Essenes were more mystical and tended to live in religious communities outside of normal society, seeking spiritual purity through physical separation.

Nationally, the Jews spent most of their time under the thumb of one foreign power or another. Following the breakup of the Empire of Alexander the Great into four factions after his death, the Jews often found themselves caught in the middle of an ongoing conflict between the Seleucids to the north and Ptolemies of Egypt to the south.

One of the Seleucid rulers, Antiochus Epiphanes, tried to brutally stamp out the Jews’ religion and culture through murder, terror, and desecration of their temple. He went as far as slaughtering a hog on the altar of the temple and erecting heathen shrines in various places. This provoked a revolt led by the Maccabees, who, in the process of briefly freeing the Jews from foreign domination, also took over the priesthood and established a dynasty that became very corrupt.

When Rome came on the scene the Jews found themselves ruled by the whim of yet another brutal foreign power, paying taxes at the point of a sword. To make the situation even more galling, the Romans recruited Jews who became known as Publicans to carry out their tax collections for them. These Publicans abused their authority in order to enrich themselves and earned the understandable hatred of their fellow Jews. The Romans didn’t care as long as they got what they wanted.

Messianic Expectations in Christ’s Day

Just as there were various religious and political factions, so did the details vary as to what they expected in a Messiah. Some, like the Zealots, were political revolutionaries whose main concern was throwing off the Roman yoke. Others emphasized the spiritual side of the Messiah — a prophet and teacher of righteousness.

Although the beliefs varied in detail and emphasis, here are some of the elements of belief that would have been commonly present at the time of Jesus’ birth: — the Messiah was to be a physical descendent of David. — He would reestablish the Jewish Monarchy, freeing them from Rome. — He would regather the Jews who had been dispersed among the nations over the centuries. — Israel would be elevated to a place of prominence over the other nations of the earth. — Jerusalem would become not only the political but also the moral and spiritual center of the world. — God’s law would be established throughout the world, which would thus be turned to God and righteousness.

Belief in a Golden Age

There were many religious writings during the period between the Old and New Testaments. Many came from obscure writers who attached the names of famous people — Solomon, Enoch, Moses, Baruch, etc. — to give them credibility. Some of these writings reflect a messianic expectation that included a “golden age,” a “paradise on earth.” Some taught this would last a thousand years and others that the world would be gradually transformed and ultimately become a righteous, everlasting kingdom under God.

One oft-quoted passage is from 2 Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 29:4-6. “The earth will yield its fruit ten-thousand-fold, and on one vine will be a thousand branches, and one branch will produce a thousand clusters, and one cluster will produce a thousand grapes, and one grape will produce a cor of wine; and those that have hungered will rejoice.”

Here are just a few key phrases from a passage in a book known as the Psalms of Solomon (17:23-51): “Behold, O Lord, and raise up among them a king, the Son of David ... Gird him with strength to crush the unrighteous rulers. Purge Jerusalem of the heathen who oppress ... at his rebuke the nations shall flee from before his face...he will have the heathen to serve him beneath his yoke ... he will subdue the earth by his word for ever ... May God bring it to pass.”

There is among the Jews even in our day a strong messianic movement that vigorously promotes these same expectations. They are as firm in expecting a Messiah at any time as are those among Christians who look for the second coming of Christ and a millennium to follow.

There is one common thread in all these ideas — they center in the transformation of this present world through an earthly political kingdom. There is a “worldly-mindedness” involved. This is not surprising.

The Carnal Religious Mind

Romans 8:5-7 warns us about the “carnal mind” which is “enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” What many people fail to take into account is the “carnal religious mind.” This is man trying to understand the things of God through his own ability apart from revelation — an impossibility.

In I Corinthians 2:9-10, Paul wrote, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

Many people think Paul was talking about heaven in these verses, but consider this: whatever it was that the eye, ear and heart had failed to grasp God had revealed by His Spirit. Read the context! What Paul is talking about is the inability of the natural man to know the things of God, things that can only be known and understood as God reveals them.

This fact does not stop religious man from thinking and reasoning and believing, however, even though arriving at truth by such means is impossible! This is why the religious world is filled with such confusion and difference of opinion. The blind are attempting to lead the blind. A terrible ditch awaits.

The carnal mind, by its very nature is concerned with fleshly, earthly things — how man may please himself and satisfy his natural desires. Man would dearly love, through his own efforts, to find a way to enjoy earth’s pleasures while eliminating its sorrows. His dream is of a paradise on earth. This is because he is totally governed by the nature he inherited from Adam. He is not interested in the things of God or in pleasing God.

Paul spoke in Philippians 3:18-19 of those he described as “enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”

In I John 2:15-17 we read, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This love of the flesh and of the world is also characteristic of religious man. Though these loves may be artfully concealed by spiritual-sounding language, the true spirit involved is not the Spirit of God.

Genuine Brothers and Sisters

I must point out that I am fully aware of the fact I have genuine brothers and sisters in Christ who love the Lord and who, as a result of their religious exposure, hold to a belief in a visible earthly kingdom. If you occupy this place I receive you just as the Lord does. These remarks are not intended to set you at nought or to put you into the category of those who are religious but lost. My desire is to shine the light of the Word on the origins of many ideas that are widely taught in our day. I believe that the sheep will, as they seek God, find this edifying and liberating.

There is no question what Jesus thought of the religious system that prevailed among the Jews of his day. He counted the religious leaders as enemies of God and children of the devil even as he reached out to the remnant of sheep among them.

The messianic expectations we have indicated above were part of that apostate religious system — not much of a recommendation! Though they were expressed in spiritual-sounding phrases and embodied some elements of truth yet love of the flesh and of this world lay at the center. “The Messiah will exalt us and turn this world into Paradise.”

Motivated by his deep-down love of this present world, religious man focuses much of his attention on attempting to reshape the world according to his conception of God’s kingdom. When Jesus came on the scene he didn’t fit the messianic expectations of contemporary religion and so they blindly rejected the very One foretold by their own prophets — prophets they had likewise persecuted and rejected.

“Our Place”

Their motivation was revealed in incidents like the council they convened after Lazarus was raised from the dead (John 11:47-53). In spite of the miracles Jesus had performed they were filled with unbelief and more concerned with “our place and nation.” They feared that the influence of Jesus over the masses due to his miracles would eventually bring the wrath of Rome down upon the nation. Therefore they began to plot his death to prevent that from happening! It certainly was evident by then that Jesus showed no interest in raising an army and being the earthly king many were looking for.

Notice that their concern was for “OUR place.” One of the most basic of human instincts and drives is self-preservation, the desperate need to survive. This drive involves more than simply the drive to live when faced with death. It also may be seen when anything of “self” is threatened. Are you aware that these self-appointed guardians of righteousness even considered murdering Lazarus to silence his testimony?! John 12:10.

Religion apart from God is nothing more than a form of self-righteousness no matter how noble its tenets may sound. It is a powerful form of delusion built both on human need and on human pride. It builds a sense of self-esteem that is greatly strengthened by others who share in its beliefs and practices. Yet, in spite of the outward appearance of righteousness, see how readily the religious may be driven even to murder when they feel threatened!

The natural man is very impressed with the products of religion whether they be good works, fine buildings, impressive ceremony, talent, large numbers of adherents or whatever is valued by the particular religion. The Pharisees were as proud of their religious heritage and of their beautiful temple as are many religious people of our day proud of their heritage and the trappings of their religion.

Religion builds communities of men and women who share feelings of enlightenment, divine favor and spiritual self-confidence. Such communities, whether small and local or large and worldwide, constitute spiritual prisons from which escape is the miraculous exception. Although it is true that men may “change prisons,” the kind of escape I’m talking about involves deliverance FROM religion of whatever form to a true knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

The prison house of the Pharisees was the worst kind. God really had spoken to Abraham and Moses, men the Pharisees supposedly honored and followed. However, the devil had subtly taught them how to pervert the genuine faith of Abraham and Moses and to build a religion of pride and self-righteousness in its place. How many in our day have done the same thing with their heritage?

To make things worse, the Pharisees were not mere adherents of their religion; they were its leaders. They enjoyed positions of power and prestige before others. They did not feel any spiritual need. Their religion gave them an unshakable feeling of confidence in God’s favor toward them. However, Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32.

The Pharisees couldn’t conceive of a Messiah who would disapprove of them and their religion. They knew they were right! They knew they were serving God and standing up for His laws! Any religious teacher or would-be Messiah who disapproved of them and their ways and didn’t agree with their ideas and expectations could only earn their enmity.

Their religion, far from being something of God needing a little help and redirection, was in reality a stronghold of Satan. Jesus was well aware that he was not merely confronting men, but hordes of devils who would try with every fiber of their wicked beings to hold on to their victims. He came on a Divine rescue mission to save his sheep, to open for them a way of escape.

Had the Pharisees been godly men who were sincerely mistaken, there would have been in them the capacity to repent and to have their understanding enlightened with truth. This is, in fact, what happened with the remnant. When Jesus came on the scene, they shared many of the common ideas about the Messiah who was to come.

The Kingdom They Expected

The thinking of the Pharisees is further illustrated by two incidents recorded in the gospels. When Jesus came on the scene, his message was “the kingdom of God.” In Luke 17:20-21 we find the Pharisees demanding to know when this kingdom would come. Jesus, knowing their concept of the kingdom, said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Where they expected an outward kingdom that men could point to and say, “There in Jerusalem is the kingdom of God,” Jesus told them that it wasn’t like that. His kingdom was within — or “among” — them. Indeed, it takes a different kind of eyes to see the kingdom Jesus preached.

In John 3:3-5 he told Nicodemus that unless a man is born again he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God. Simply being born naturally into the world is not enough. Natural men are blind and ignorant concerning God’s eternal kingdom. It takes the new birth, being born of God’s Spirit to see and enter that. As Paul said in I Corinthians 15:50, “... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God ....”

The other incident is in John 18 where the Jews had delivered Jesus to Pilate accusing him of claiming to be the King of the Jews. They took advantage of their ideas about the Messiah being an earthly king to enlist the help of the civil authority against Jesus. Pilate had no interest in their theology, but recall how Herod had slaughtered all the children two years of age and under after the wise men inquired about the birth of the King of the Jews. Anyone making such a claim would have been regarded as a threat by someone with political power.

When Pilate questioned Jesus about being the King of the Jews, he answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Verse 36.

Pilate quickly realized that Jesus was no political threat, that he had no ambitions to establish a visible empire through the power of an earthly army. His conclusion is stated in verse 38: “I find in him no fault at all.” The crucifixion was then carried out based, not on the calm determination of guilt, but on the persistent shouts of a demon-inspired mob, determined to destroy him.

God Was Silent

For some 400 years from Malachi until John the Baptist, God sent no prophet to Israel. He was silent, allowing religious men to speculate as they would about the coming kingdom. The prophetic utterances upon which the kingdom was to be established and built were complete. A faithful remnant, preserved by God, continued to pray and wait for its arrival. The rest blindly practiced their religion, drifting farther and farther from God.

As the time approached for Jesus to be born God communicated with certain ones among the remnant about it. He sent Gabriel to Zacharias to tell him of the coming birth of a son named John who would carry out a ministry of preparation “in the spirit and power of Elias” — or Elijah. Luke 1:13-19.

Verse 16 is significant: “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.” The word “turn” tells us that the children of Israel as a whole had not, in spite of their religion, been serving God at all but needed to be “turned” to Him. The word “many” signifies that although some would be affected, many others were beyond the reach of even the mightily anointed ministry that God was granting them through John.

Then Gabriel was sent to Mary to tell her that, though she was a virgin, God would overshadow her and she would bear a child she was to call Jesus who would be the Son of God. Of him, Gabriel said, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Then there were the prophetic utterances of Elizabeth, the mother of John, and Mary in Luke 1:39-56. Mary, in particular, spoke of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and his seed. Remember our earlier discussions concerning Abraham’s seed.

Following the birth of John we have the prophecy of Zacharias which gained special attention throughout the hill country of Judaea as they were the first words he had been able to utter since the encounter with Gabriel! The prophecy included such phrases as, “... the Lord God of Israel ... hath visited and redeemed his people ... hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets ... that we should be saved from our enemies ... to perform the mercy promised to our fathers ... to give the knowledge of salvation unto his people ... to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:68-79.

When Jesus was born there was the message of the angels to the shepherds, “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus, still a baby, to Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord” they encountered a man named Simeon. Simeon was one of the faithful remnant and was described as, “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” What a contrast with the self-righteous Pharisees! Here was someone whose heart was toward God, with whom God could and did communicate.

He certainly possessed knowledge that the Pharisees did not. They may have been diligent students of the scriptures but Simeon knew the Author! Luke 2:26 says, “And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

The Lord enabled him by revelation to come to the temple at just the right time and to take Jesus in his arms and to say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

Verses 36-38 introduce us to another of the remnant, a very aged woman named Anna, described as a prophetess, who served God night and day in the temple with fastings and prayers. Following the words of Simeon she arrived on the scene and “spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”

How Much Did They Understand?

The question may certainly be raised at this point concerning the degree to which these privileged few understood what they heard. It is one thing for God to speak; it is another for those who hear to fully comprehend His meaning and purpose.

We are far too earthbound, far too conditioned by our religious exposure to instantly and fully understand when God speaks. It usually takes much time and patient repetition to overcome these conditions even where there is a capacity for them to be overcome.

Consider the prophets themselves, faithful men of God who, against deadly opposition, spoke His word. To what degree did they themselves understand what they were saying by God’s inspiration?

Remember the words of Peter in I Peter 1:10-12 concerning the salvation we have in Christ: “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.”

Peter says that the prophets “inquired and searched diligently.” That means that they wondered about the things they were inspired to prophesy. They had questions that they would have loved for the Lord to have answered. Remember the questions Daniel asked in Daniel 12. In the end the Lord told him, “Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” Daniel 12:9.

Their job was to faithfully speak the word God gave them. Fully comprehending the meaning of their words and the time for their fulfillment was not part of the deal. Even the angels have to walk by faith. God Himself alone has the whole plan; He sees from beginning to end. All others who serve Him walk by faith and understand what He in His eternal wisdom pleases to reveal. Deuteronomy 29:29.

Truth Concealed

The message of the prophets was couched in such language as to deliberately conceal the true meaning from man and to make man totally dependent upon the promised Messiah to reveal it. Matthew 11:25-27. This truth, not understood by religious man, has never stopped him from trying with his own resources to pry into God’s secrets. What utter folly! The nationalistic hopes and dreams of natural Jews, supposedly based on the prophets, were the results of their own presumptuous attempts to intrude into God’s mysteries and not the result of divine revelation.

When Peter wrote in I Peter 1:18 of believers having been redeemed from their vain manner of life received by tradition from their fathers, he meant the whole body of tradition, including what the Jews expected prophetically. Peter knew what he was talking about. He and the other disciples had walked with Jesus for over three years, heard his words, including much private instruction, yet were very slow to shed their traditional ideas.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The ministry of Jesus began after his baptism and anointing and the subsequent forty day wilderness temptation. Mark characterized his message as “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” Mark 1:14. Verse 15 quotes Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye and believe the gospel.”

The gospel Jesus preached was far more than just one of personal salvation, forgiveness of sins, and going to heaven; it was the good news about a kingdom, a kingdom God was establishing that would last forever. Personal salvation was only one of the benefits of citizenship in that kingdom! We need our vision and understanding enlarged that we might begin to grasp the big picture of God’s plan. The whole book of Ephesians deals with this, but particularly chapter three. Read it!

During their entire time with Jesus, his followers heard him teach many things concerning the kingdom, its characteristics, its citizens. Particularly in Matthew 13 we find Jesus referring to the “mysteries of the kingdom.” A mystery is divinely hidden truth that can only be known by revelation. The things Jesus taught in the hearing of the multitudes were in parable form while he explained them to the disciples privately.

They heard Jesus tell the Pharisees that the kingdom was not coming with observation, that is, outward show. There is nothing in the teaching of Jesus that should have given them any reason to expect an earthly political kingdom. In fact, he told them plainly on several occasions that he would be put to death and rise again. Did they understand? No! Luke 18:34 says, “And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”

A Parable of the Kingdom

As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem for the last time he knew that some of his followers thought that they were arriving to take over and to establish God’s kingdom (Luke 19:11). This was in spite of all his teaching! To counter their misunderstanding, he told a parable that painted a different picture.

The parable began, “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.” Verse 12. Who do you suppose the nobleman represented? Jesus, himself, of course!

His servants were told to “occupy till I come.” However, “his citizens” said, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” In verse 15 he returns “having received the kingdom” and we see the judgment, both of his servants and of those who had refused his rule. Those who had refused his rule were killed.

The nobleman received the kingdom when he went away. The servants were those left behind who acted as stewards of his property. They were expected to actively pursue his interests. “His citizens” who refused his reign indicates that the reign was taking place then but they would not submit to it. Thus the nobleman’s reign took place in his physical absence. All that was left when he returned was to judge how men had responded to it.

What about the cities the faithful servants were promised? Well, there weren’t any of the nobleman’s enemies in them! They were dead. The kingdom will one day be visible but not in this world as we know it. Citizenship in that kingdom is being determined now!

This broad pattern, although veiled in the form of a parable in this particular passage, is the one that emerges everywhere in the Word once you see it. Blindness occurs, as was the case with the disciples, when our minds are already programmed by the traditions of men to believe something else.

On the Road to Emmaus

A key passage illustrating this is in Luke 24:13-35. The scene is shortly after the resurrection as two of Jesus’ followers were returning from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles. The time was Sunday, about midday. They had heard the reports from the women who had gone early to Jesus’ tomb, but at this point no doubt didn’t know what to think. As they walked along they were discussing the shocking events of the previous few days and trying to make sense of them. Their sadness was evident.

The risen Christ drew near although “their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (verse 16). Jesus made inquiry as to what they were discussing and why they were sad. They began to tell about a mighty prophet named Jesus who had three days earlier been condemned and crucified and of the first reports that he might be alive.

One thing they said was very revealing: “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel ....” Verse 21. Do you see their problem? Their vision and thinking were hindered by the popular ideas about the Messiah. They couldn’t conceive of a Messiah who wouldn’t reestablish the Jewish monarchy and end the domination of Rome or of a kingdom that would be launched through suffering and death. And when they thought of Israel, they thought of the nation as a whole.

Jesus’ response to all this is recorded in verses 25-27 (at this point they still didn’t recognize him): “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Time For Revelation

Does it sound to you as though they had understood the prophets? Why not? In the absence of revelation, tradition had taken root. Only now was it time for the true message of the prophets to be unveiled. Remember the words of Paul, written later on of the Jews as a whole: “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.”

A vail upon the heart means they couldn’t see or understand. It means that their concepts were the result of human reasoning and imagination and could not be relied upon for a true knowledge of the things of God. I wonder how many concepts there are in our day of which the same could be said?

Notice the central truth that Jesus emphasized — the suffering of Christ and the entering into of his glory. These things are directly related. The one follows the other. There is no age-long delay between them. The fact that natural men are unaware of the glory into which Christ has entered does not mean it is not so.

I’ll guarantee you that devils know about it! In trying to destroy Christ they unwittingly cooperated in their own defeat! As Paul says in I Corinthians 2:8, “... had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” He was the Lord of glory then! Remember again the words of Peter, “... the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.” I Peter 1:11. The glory has followed!

Why Truth Was Hidden

I am persuaded that one reason for the Old Testament being so veiled up to this point was to conceal truth from the devil. Pride and self-delusion have been his downfall from the beginning. God let the devil and lost religious men think whatever they would and revealed to the remnant everything they needed to know for the time in which they lived.

That is an important principle we all need to understand. What is needed is not doctrinal systems that attempt to answer everything but real communication from the Head of the Church suited to the time and the need.

As Jesus talked with Cleopas and his companion he didn’t just refer to a handful of isolated scriptures: he began at Moses and went through all the prophets! In other words, he covered the Old Testament from one end to the other. Jesus was saying in effect, “Let me enlighten you and tell you what the Old Testament is really about, what the words of the prophets really foretold.”

Later on, after the eyes of the two were opened and they realized to whom they had been listening they said that “... he opened to us the scriptures.” Verse 32. What did they mean? Up to this point those scriptures had been closed to them, their meaning hidden. The book had been sealed by God as He had said — “... shut up the words and seal the book ...” — Daniel 12:4.

When they realized all that had happened they returned immediately to Jerusalem to see the disciples. As they were relating their experience, Jesus himself suddenly appeared in their midst. After calming their understandable fear he showed them his hands and feet, still bearing the wounds of crucifixion, and then ate a little broiled fish and some honey to show that he wasn’t a ghost but a truly resurrected man.

Luke 24:44-48 says, “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.”

Do you see the picture? Jesus perfectly fulfilled the words of the prophets yet even those closest to him did not grasp what was happening before their eyes.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that the disciples asked him in Acts 1:6, “... Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Even at this late date they still thought in terms of an earthly Jewish kingdom!

Let’s set the scene. It was now forty days since the resurrection. Jesus had appeared to them numerous times, including one occasion on which he had appeared to over 500 of his followers (I Corinthians 15:6). During this forty day period the main thing Jesus talked about was the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

The current occasion was the very last time on earth that Jesus gathered them together. The central thing he wanted to convey to them was to remain in Jerusalem until they had received power from the Holy Ghost to be his witnesses — to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Acts 1:6 makes it sound as though the disciples had been discussing these things among themselves, trying to reason and understand. Their thinking was still contaminated by popular ideas. The question asked was not merely an idle question asked in passing by one curious disciple. The Word says, “... they asked ....”

This was very much a side issue considering the reason Jesus had called them together. Nor was this the time for lengthy explanations. In fact, after making only two more statements in which he refocused their attention on the coming of the Holy Ghost, Jesus ascended up to heaven while they watched.

His answer at the time didn’t really answer them one way or the other but merely called to their attention the fact that “times” and “seasons” were God’s business.

God’s Plan for Revealing Truth

We need to back off a bit from this scene and consider the larger picture. God had a plan for leading the disciples into an accurate understanding of truth. At this point their grasp of truth was very limited at best.

Go back to John, chapters 14-16, which record a lengthy discourse of Jesus with his disciples shortly before the cross. John 14:26 says, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

John 16:12-14 says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”

Do you see where the disciples were at? Though Jesus had spoken so many things to them in three and a half years they understood — and even remembered — very little. It wasn’t time and they weren’t able (“ye cannot bear them now”).

The coming of the Holy Ghost was necessary not only to give them the power they needed but also to help them to remember and to guide them into all truth. That meant that they didn’t know the things they needed to know pertaining to the kingdom that was about to be launched. They lacked both power and knowledge.

Spirit and Truth

Jesus said in John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Truth and Spirit must always remain in balance. Had the disciples received only power they would have charged around making a mess, not knowing what they were doing. Power plus ignorance is a dangerous thing. On the other hand if they had received a knowledge of truth but no power what good would that have done? They would have been helpless to deliver souls held captive by sin and Satan’s kingdom, helpless to impart the very life of God that men might be born into His eternal kingdom. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” I Corinthians 15:50.

It is pretty evident that the understanding of the disciples concerning God’s kingdom was very limited prior to Pentecost. In view of God’s timetable and method for leading them into all truth, the question to ask is this: What was their teaching about the kingdom after Pentecost? Think about it!

What they learned after Pentecost was really a continuation of the teaching of Jesus — “... he shall take of mine and shall show it unto you.” John 16:15. After Pentecost the disciples were finally equipped to understand the Kingdom of God. No one, prior to this was so equipped!

Even Paul, who was not a believer until later on, was taught by Jesus. Galatians 1:11-12 says, “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

If we want an accurate picture of God’s kingdom we don’t need to try to unravel the Old Testament through study and reasoning: we need to prayerfully consider the teachings in the New Testament of those God ordained and equipped to convey His revealed truth about it. The Old Testament can only be understood in the higher and clearer light of the New Testament, and then only as God opens our understanding. What if our minds are closed, made captive by tradition?

You will search the writings of the New Testament apostles in vain for any expectation of an earthly Jewish kingdom. They preached a Christ who reigned then at the Father’s right hand above all other authority and who commanded men everywhere to repent and obey the gospel. They preached that he would one day return and bring about a fiery end to this present world, judge both righteous and wicked and bring forth new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Is this your hope? Ephesians 1:15-23, Acts 17:30-31, II Thessalonians 1:7-10, II Peter 3:10-14.

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