Light of the World



Booklet 11


The Kingdom of God

"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (Matthew 4:23).

During the early days of His public ministry in Judea, and later in Galilee, Jesus went everywhere, "preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness." He was a powerful "kingdom" preacher. Much of His time was spent explaining to the people the nature of the kingdom that He had come to establish. Early in His ministry He journeyed to Nazareth, the scene of His boyhood and youth, and there in the synagogue one Sabbath day He stood up and read to the people from the prophets. If you had been in the congregation that day, you would have heard His melodious voice repeating Isaiah's kingdom prophecy:

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1).

Then as Jesus finished reading this passage from the prophet, you would have heard Him say with deep feeling and with obvious reference to His own work, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21; see also verses 16-30). But the response from the worshippers was unfavorable. The people were maddened by Christ's application of this prophecy to Himself. They seized Him and would have taken His life by throwing Him over the brow of a nearby hill had not God miraculously intervened to save His Son. "No prophet is accepted in his hometown" (Luke 4:24).

But even outside Nazareth, Jesus found that His announcement of the kingdom stirred up controversy and opposition. Why? Because, like John, He called the people to repentance and a new life. "Repent and believe the good news!" He said (Mark 1:15). But they did not want to repent or change their ways.

As we turn to other incidents in Christ's life, we will see how, in one crisis after another, He stirred up the spiritual sensibilities of the people and tried to lead them away from their false ideas to accept the principles and teachings of His kingdom.

HOW DID JESUS ANNOUNCE HIS KINGDOM?
Everywhere Jesus went He announced, "The kingdom of God is near" (Mark 1:15)
.

"After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!' " (Mark 1:14, 15).

When Jesus said, "The time has come," He was referring to the prophecy of Daniel who predicted the exact time of the Messiah's anointing for leadership in the kingdom. This time prophecy (see Daniel 9:24-27) pointed to Jesus' baptism by John in A.D. 27, near the close of the seventy-weeks prophecy. Then He was anointed as the Messiah by the Holy Spirit (see Daniel 9:25; John 1:41; Matthew 3:16).

So we see that Christ's public work began on time. The "kingdom" message began to be preached by the Messiah exactly as the prophet Daniel had foretold. This is a striking confirmation of the mission of Jesus, who came to earth as God's anointed Son to establish His kingdom.

WHAT IS THE NATURE OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM?
Some time after Jesus first announced, "The kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17), a group of Pharisees came to Him, demanding when the kingdom of God should come. To them "the kingdom" implied an armed struggle for freedom from the Romans that would result in national independence.

"Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, 'The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, "Here it is," or "There it is," because the kingdom of God is within you' " (Luke 17:20, 21).

These religious leaders saw no outward signs that Christ was setting up a kingdom such as the one they expected. Therefore, they insinuated that both John and Jesus were impostors, but the Savior answered, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20, 21). In other words, "Don't look for earthly power and pomp to mark the coming of My kingdom, for the kingdom I have come to establish is not a temporal one. It is in the hearts and minds of men and women."

Jesus did not come with outward show or with sword and spear. The gospel of His grace and love was the only sword that He unsheathed for the deliverance of His people. The weapons of His warfare were not carnal, but spiritual. His kingdom message was the emancipation proclamation to all the spiritual slaves of sin, not to the political slaves of Rome. Paul said:

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Christ laid down the terms of citizenship in His spiritual kingdom in His Sermon on the Mount, but Israel refused to accept those terms.

Not many among His own countrymen accepted him (see John 1:11), but in the years that followed, those who His Spirit made humble, those who were meek and merciful and courageous, accepted His principles and became the subjects of His kingdom (see Matthew 5:3-12).

All Christ's teachings concerning the spiritual nature of His kingdom did not change the false conceptions held by the Jews. His parables illustrating the nature of the kingdom of heaven only antagonized the leaders of Israel who, with strong national pride, looked for the day when the favored people would be delivered from the Roman yoke. To them, this was more important
than deliverance from sin.

WHY DID ISRAEL NOT ENTER THE KINGDOM?
Christ reminded the Jews that they had misinterpreted the Scriptures. This, He implied, was one reason they lacked the power and blessing of God.

"Jesus replied, 'You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matthew 22:29; see also Mark 12:24).

These solemn words were spoken to correct a common error about marriage in the next life (see Mark 12:18-23), but they apply with equal force to the erroneous beliefs held by the Jews regarding Christ's kingdom. Israel had applied the Old Testament Scriptures that point to the second coming of Christ, when He will come in power and glory, to the work that they thought He should do at His first coming. This misapplication of Scripture led to Israel's rejection of the Savior. If they had rightly understood the Scriptures, they might have recognized Christ when He came, accepted Him as the Messiah, and entered into God's kingdom.

It is written that "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). It is true that some texts are hard to understand (see 2 Peter 3:15-17). But we need not be misled if we will seek for the true meaning of God's Word by comparing text with text (see 1 Corinthians 2:13). This promise of Jesus is sure:

"If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17.

CHRIST'S KINGDOM NOT OF THIS WORLD
At the time of His trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Jesus made it clear that His kingdom was not a worldly kingdom.

"My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36; see also 1 John 2:15-17).

The Roman government that administered Palestine in Christ's day was notoriously corrupt. Taxes were unreasonably high, and political offices were bought and sold. Jesus knew that the government was bad, but He did not attempt any civil reforms, nor did He attack the Roman rulers or their methods of administration. He had the wisdom to see that there was a better approach. If there was to be a change for the better in society, human hearts must be regenerated by having a new principle of life implanted within them.

The Jews wanted a kingdom like the nations around them, and if Jesus had been willing to set up a temporal dominion, and to enforce the laws of God the way the Jews interpreted them, and if they could have been the officers of that kingdom to execute the rules of their religion on all mankind, they would gladly have received him as the Messiah. But Christ disappointed them. He would not accept the earthly throne which might have been His. He wanted only to rule on the throne of the human heart with the full consent of all His subjects.

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God" (John 1:12, 13).

The change must begin in the individual. He must be born again, spiritually renewed by the Holy Spirit (see John 3:1-17). Those who receive Christ into their lives receive the "right to become children of God."

This spiritual rebirth is the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is the only power that will make men and women better. Legal enactments enforcing religious laws will never make sons of God out of the sons of men. Not force, but love, is the basis of Christ's kingdom, as we will see.

WHAT IS THE LAW OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM?
There are two great principles, Christ said, upon which the law of His kingdom is founded—love to God and love to men. The Great Teacher made this plain one day when a scribe questioned Him about the law (see Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:34-40).

The first four of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:3-11) are summed up in Jesus' first principle—" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart' " (Matthew 22:37). The last six commandments (see Exodus 20:12-17) are included in His second principle—" 'Love your neighbor as yourself' " (Matthew 22:39). These two love commandments sum up the great principles governing Christ's kingdom. These two principles cannot be separated. Christ taught that a person cannot love God and at the same time hate his neighbor. Neither can he love his neighbor while hating God. If we love God, we will love our neighbor. If we love our neighbor, we will love God. The law of love and the law of the Ten Commandments are one law (see Romans 13:8-10). And "God is love" (1 John 4:8). He and His law stand or fall together.

Christ came to restate the moral law of Ten Commandments, in terms of love, a principle that the people did not understand, although in the very heart of the Decalogue were the words, "I, the LORD your God . . . [show] love to . . . those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:5, 6). Jesus revealed that respect for the law is not acceptable to God without LOVE and FAITH. The form without the power is worthless (see 2 Timothy 3:5), but love and faith establish the law as the great rule of God's kingdom (see Romans 3:31).

By His grace Jesus saves us from breaking the law of His kingdom. This He does by writing the law of love in our hearts by His Holy Spirit, and this fulfils the promise of the new covenant (see Hebrews 8:10-13). To every believer Jesus offers spiritual freedom and grace. But without love, obedience to the law is a yoke of bondage (see Galatians 5:1), and there is no salvation in it.

CHRIST'S KINGDOM FIRST
Now, if love to God is the first commandment, then His kingdom must occupy first place in the lives of His followers. In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ said:

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33; see also verses 22-24, 30-33; Luke 9:57-62; 14-33).

The kingdom of heaven is for those who love God above all else. It is not for the half- hearted. The half-hearted Christian cannot be a member of Christ's kingdom. Dwight L. Moody used to tell a story about an apple tree which grew so near the fence that half of its branches hung over the roadside. Describing this tree, he said:

"There it stood, half in the orchard and the other half out. And when the fruit was ripe, every man and boy that went by threw a stick or a stone into that tree to bring an apple down. The other trees that stood fully in the orchard were not bothered that way. And the man who tries to live half in the world and half in the kingdom of Christ is going to have a tough time of it all the way around."

Many want the kingdom of God, but few want it first. Everyone wants to be saved, but how few there are who want to be saved in God's way.

FINAL TRIUMPH OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM
The transfiguration of Christ on the mountaintop served to represent to His followers the final triumph of His kingdom.

"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!' " (Matthew 17:1-5; (see also Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36).

If you had been there on the mountain of transfiguration, you would have beheld a beautiful representation of the future phase of Christ's kingdom—the kingdom of His glory. Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ in the midst of a blaze of heavenly light. In this never-to-be-forgotten scene, the three disciples who were present saw in miniature the second coming of the Lord Jesus when He will appear in the clouds of heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords (see Luke 21:27; Revelation 1:7; 19:11-16). Then the kingdom of God's glory will begin, and Christ will rule supreme. This, of course, is still in the future.

Moses had passed under the dominion of death, but he had been raised from the dead and taken to heaven (see Jude 9). Elijah had been taken to heaven without seeing death (see 2 Kings 2:11). These Old Testament characters, now glorified beings, appeared to their Lord on the mount. Suddenly He was transfigured with a glory exceeding theirs. When the three disciples saw this, they were filled with awe. But the scene they beheld, glorious as it was, was not to be mistaken for the event it represented. The transfiguration of Jesus was only a preview in miniature of His second coming to begin the kingdom of glory (see 2 Peter 1:16-18).

The presence of Moses represented those who will be raised from the dead at Christ's second coming. The presence of Elijah represented the translated ones who will be taken to heaven without seeing death when Jesus appears the second time.

There is a present and a future phase to the kingdom of God—first, the kingdom of grace, and second, the kingdom of glory. At His first coming, Christ established the first phase of the kingdom. At His second coming, he will establish the second. This life affords everyone an opportunity for the spiritual kingdom of grace to work a change in their life. Those who yield their hearts to become the subjects of God's grace will someday see the heavens opening to welcome them into the eternal kingdom of His glory. Then the righteous dead will be raised, and the righteous living will be "changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:52), and "caught up . . . to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17). "For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:53). What a day of glory that will be! Will you be there with those you love?

WHO ARE THE HEIRS OF THE KINGDOM?
The future kingdom of glory will be established on this earth. "The meek . . . will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5) is the promise Christ made to His followers.

The home of the saved will be a beautiful land, a country inhabited by the righteous. This world will be given to the heirs of God's kingdom as their eternal dwelling place (see 2 Peter 3:13). Two great prophecies will then be fulfilled:

"Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him" (Daniel 7:27).

"The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).

Note first, that the saints—God's people—receive the kingdom, and second, that Christ reigns as King (See 1 Corinthians 15:22-28). It is for the coming of this final kingdom of glory that Christ taught us to pray (see Matthew 6:10). When this dominion is restored, we will see fulfilled the promise that God made to Abraham: "The whole land of Canaan . . . [shall be] an everlasting possession" (Genesis 17:8). "Canaan" will be this entire world made new by the Creator (see Revelation 21 and 22), and it will be the possession of God's children forever.

Abraham is represented in the Bible as the father of the faithful of all ages (see Romans 4:16; Galatians 3:7). The children of Abraham are the children of faith. Those who have faith in Christ are heirs of the everlasting kingdom. "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29, see also Galatians 4:4-7).

You may decide the question of an inheritance in that eternal kingdom by saying, "I accept Jesus as my Savior by faith. I accept His spiritual reign in my heart. I am willing that His law of love should rule in my life. I want to become a citizen of His kingdom." All who enter into this experience by faith become heirs of God through Christ. They find righteousness, peace, and joy. The apostle Paul said:

"For the kingdom of God is . . . righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).

Finally, when Christ returns as "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:16), they become citizens of God's eternal kingdom of glory.

So, friend, have faith in Christ. He is your Savior. He will provide you with a passport and a title deed to dwell with Him forever in the earth made new.

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Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.
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Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.