What is the Kingdom of God? Part Eight

SERMON 03-18-23

       Today is sermon # 8 in my series on the Kingdom of God.  Last time we were together I finished discussing the 14 different parables Jesus gave regarding the Kingdom.  As noted throughout this series, teaching about the Kingdom of God was a focal point of Christ’s ministry as was true of the ministry of John the Baptist, Apostle Paul and other of the NT luminaires. 

      Both John the Baptist and Jesus said the Kingdom was near. I previously explained how the Greek word translated "near" means something close at hand, something about to occur. I discussed how when Jesus appeared before Pilate after His arrest and Pilate asked Him if He was king of the Jews, Jesus answered that His kingdom was not of this world because if it was His servants would fight on His behalf.

       The English word “world” is taken from the Greek kosmosKosmos has broad application in the Greek language with the common thread being that the word refers to the physical realm.  Jesus appears to be saying His Kingdom is not of this physical realm. 

       I previously discussed the Pharisees asking Jesus when the kingdom of God would come and how Jesus replied that “the kingdom of God does not come with careful observation, nor will people say, `Here it is,' or `There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you.”

       I explained how the Greek word translated “careful observation” appears only this once in the NT and Greek lexicons define it as something that can be watched or observed with the eyes in a visible manner.  Jesus appears to be saying the Kingdom is not something observed with the eyes in a visible manner.

       I previously discussed in some detail the Greek words translated “within you” and showed from the Scriptures and Greek Lexicons that this word does indeed mean within you and not among you as some translations render it.

       We discussed at some length Jesus telling the religious leaders that starting with the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing and forceful men were laying hold of it. We discussed Jesus’ observation that the teachers of the law and Pharisees were not entering the kingdom and were preventing others from entering the kingdom who are trying to enter it.

       I showed from the Scriptures how being in the Kingdom is associated with practicing righteous behavior.  We discussed how when one of the teachers of the Law stated that to love God with all your heart, understanding and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself are the two most important commandments, Jesus told him he was not far from the kingdom of God. Paul wrote that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We have discussed a number of Scriptures that speak of the kingdom having spiritual dynamics and to be in the kingdom is to practice and live by those spiritual dynamics. 

       Paul told the Colossians that God had rescued them from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of His Son.  This shows entering the kingdom was already occurring in the first century.  In Acts 20 we see Paul associating the kingdom with repentance and faith in Jesus.  In letters to the Corinthians and Galatians, Paul made it clear that entering the kingdom was dependent on avoiding unrighteous behavior.

       In additional to teaching the spiritual dynamics of righteous living, other scriptures teach the Kingdom has location and involves a different dimension of life after physical death. We previously discussed statements made by Jesus and the apostles that appear to indicate the Kingdom has location in the heavenly realm and is something that is inherited and such inheritance would be realized when Christ returned. There are other Scriptures that indicate the Kingdom will be an earthly Kingdom. This is what the Jews of Jesus day were expecting.

       As I previously discussed, first century Judaism was very familiar with the writings of Daniel and other of the prophets. They understood from the writings of the prophets that the time had arrived for the Kingdom of God to be established and they saw such Kingdom as a literal Kingdom ruled over by a Messiah sent by God to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression.

       We looked at a number of passages in the OT that speak of a Kingdom being established that will supersede all other kingdoms and will last forever. Isaiah writes of a child being born who will have the government upon his shoulders and who will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom forever. Daniel writes of a succession of earthly kingdoms which will be replaced by God setting up a Kingdom that will never be destroyed.   Daniel prophesied that the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms of this world will be handed over to the saints and that God’s Kingdom will be an everlasting Kingdom and all rulers will worship and obey Him. 

       We looked at both OT and NT passages that indicate the Kingdom is a ruling government where the Kingdom is seen as having location.  In reading Isaiah 9 and 11, Daniel 2 and other such passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Kingdom of God appears to be a Kingdom that would be established on planet earth and be of this physical realm. The language of these passages gives no hint of the Kingdom of God being located somewhere other than planet earth. 

       On the other hand, we see in Psalm 103:19 the statement that The LORD (YHWH) has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.  This indicates the seat of authority for the kingdom is in heaven from where God rules the universe. In Psalm 145, the Psalmist speaks of the splendor of God’s kingdom and how it is everlasting.  Matthew 5:34, Acts 7:49, Hebrews 8:1 and Revelation 4:2 all identify heaven as God’s throne.

      In the NT the Kingdom is seen as being inherited at the time of Christ coming in heavenly glory.  While the NT narrative says much about the kingdom being about righteous living, it also sees the kingdom being established at the return of Christ. In Luke’s account of the parable of the talents, we saw Jesus showing the kingdom being established after He receives the kingdom and returns, an event that closely parallels what is recorded in Daniel 7.

      In John 3 we see Jesus telling Nicodemus that one must be born again to enter the Kingdom. In 1st Corinthians 15, Paul clearly says flesh and blood can’t inherit the Kingdom.  He goes on to indicate that to inherit the Kingdom, those he was addressing must be changed from being perishable to being imperishable.  He emphasizes this further by saying mortality must be changed to immortality.  Paul says this will happen at the “last trump” and will result in “death being swallowed up in victory.”  The implication is that death will no longer have power over those experiencing this change.  Paul indicates that both dead and living will be changed.  The dead will be raised imperishable and the living will be changed to imperishable.  Paul says something similar in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. 

       The Scriptures speak of receiving an inheritance of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  Scripture shows that to inherit eternal life is to inherit the Kingdom.  Jesus spoke interchangeably about inheriting eternal life and inheriting the Kingdom (Matthew 19:29, 25:34).  In these chapters it is revealed that to be in the kingdom of God is to have eternal life and to have eternal life is to be in the kingdom of God. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as being a deposit of one’s inheritance of redemption.  To inherit redemption is to inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God.   

       We looked at a number of Scriptures that point to the location of the kingdom being in the heavens.  Peter wrote that through the resurrection of Jesus we have an inheritance kept in heaven.  Paul wrote to Timothy that that the Lord would rescue him from every evil attack and bring him safely to his heavenly kingdom. Paul told the Philippian Christians that he pressed on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called him heavenward.  He told the Philippians that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

       In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8: Paul, in speaking of bodily transformation. tells of having a building from God, an eternal house in heaven and of longing to be clothed with a heavenly dwelling. He speaks of being away from the body and at home with the Lord. The implication is that being at home with the Lord is being with the Lord in the heavenly realm.

       In Matthew 19:21-23, Jesus talks about accumulating treasure in heaven by doing good works in this physical life. He says this in the context of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. In Luke 12:33 Jesus speaks of giving to the poor as a means of laying up treasure in heaven where such treasure will be safe. In Matthew 6:19 Jesus is quoted as instructing his listeners to store up treasure in heaven.  Jesus speaks of having reward in heaven for enduring persecutions in this physical life (Matthew 5:12).  It is instructive that whenever Matthew speaks of the Kingdom, he refers to it as the Kingdom of Heaven.

       As can be seen, there are plenty of Scriptures that indicate the location of the kingdom is in the heavenly realm.  That is where its seat of authority is and that appears to be where we are headed upon biological death.  However, as already discussed, OT passages about the kingdom appear to see it as an earthly kingdom.  Some point to the NT passage in Revelation 5: 9-10 as teaching that the kingdom will be on planet earth. Here it is said that through the blood of Christ, persons from every tribe, language, people and nation have been purchased for God and have been made to be a kingdom and priests to serve God, and they will reign on the earth.”

       Revelation 5:9-10: And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

       However, this same group of individuals as seen from every tribe, language, people and nation. are seen as standing before the heavenly throne of God and the Lamb which may indicate they reside in heaven.

       Revelation 7:9-10: After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

       The Greek word rendered “on,” as in “on the earth” in Revelation 5:10, is ἐπὶ (epi). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon shows this word to mean “on,” “upon” and “over.”  It is used in all these ways in the NT narrative.  In Romans 9:5 and Ephesians 4:6 we read of God being over (ἐπὶ [epi]) all things. In Revelation 2:26, (ἐπὶ [epi])is rendered “over”the nations.

       Revelation 2:26: To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over (ἐπὶ [epi]) the nations—

       In view of Revelation 2:26 seeming speaking of the victorious being given authority over the nations and Revelation 7:9-10 showing the persons from every tribe, language, people and nation being in heaven, it may be that Revelation 5:10 is speaking of these folks reigning over the earth and not necessarily on the earth. The English translation of the Peshitta, which is the Biblical Scriptures in the Aramaic language, renders this passage as “over the nations” as does the Complete Jewish Bible, the Darby Translation and some other English translations of this passage.

       Just before Jesus was about to ascend to the Father after His resurrection from the dead, His disciples asked him if He was about to restore the Kingdom of Israel. While they had learned from Jesus about many of the behavioral dynamics of the Kingdom, they were still expecting to see the kingdom being restored as a visible ruling governmental authority reflective of the reigns of the kings of Israel. 

       Acts 1:6-8: Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

       It is instructive that Jesus didn’t dispute their expectation of the kingdom being restored in this manner.  He simply told them it was not for them to know the times or dates the Father had set for the establishment of such kingdom.  This establishment of the kingdom was seen as being future to them.  How future was it? 

       The NT Scriptures show that establishment of the kingdom as an authoritative ruling government is connected to the return of Christ. Several of the kingdom parables we discussed are about the kingdom coming when Christ the king comes.

       Much of the Christian world believes Christ Jesus is going to return at some point in our future to establish His Kingdom here on planet earth. Many evangelical Christians believe this Kingdom will have its seat of government in Jerusalem from where Christ will rule over the nations of the world. Some Christian groups believe the return of Christ is imminent and fully expect Jesus to return very soon. What is often overlooked is that Christians of every generation since the establishment of Christianity in the first century AD have looked for Christ to return in their lifetime. I’m sure you all remember this was a major point of emphasis during our tenure in the Worldwide Church of God. 

       However, as odd as it may sound, throughout Christian history, there have been those who have believed that the return of Christ and establishment of the Kingdom is not future to us but happened back in the first century in connection with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem by the Romans. Such early Christian luminaries such as Tertullian, Eusebius and Origen give hint of this in their writings Those who take this position believe the Kingdom is spiritual in nature with its governing location is in the heavens and not on planet earth. 

       There are a number of present-day theologians, Christian pastors and lay Christians who believe the events describes in the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation and elsewhere in the NT narrative were fulfilled in the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in the first century. Those who take this position are often referred to as preterists.  The term preterist simply means past fulfillment as opposed to future fulfillment of eschatological events.  Eschatology is the study of last things.

       I have promised several times during this series on the Kingdom to discuss the two primary approaches currently extant in the Christian community as to how and when the Kingdom is to be fully established.  Today I will discuss the past fulfillment perspective and next week the future fulfillment perspective. 

       The past or preterist fulfillment perspective is largely based on what are seen as time statements found through the NT narrative.  Time statements are statements that indicate the time when something is expected to occur. We have already covered how both John the Baptist and Jesus said the kingdom was near.  The English word near is translated from the Greek word engus which in its various tenses is seen throughout the NT to mean something about to happen.

       Preterists identify multiple dozens of statements in the NT narrative that indicate the second coming of Christ, establishment of the Kingdom, resurrection of the dead and judgement were fully expected to occur in that first century generation not long after such statements were made.  I will have time to discuss only a few of these statements.  The writer to the Hebrews said the following:

       Hebrews 10:36-37:  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay.

     Bullinger, in the Companion Bible, shows the Greek phrase rendered “in just a very little while” is a very emphatic statement. It means in a very, very little while. Preterists point out that this statement was made some 2000 years ago to Jewish Christians who are being told to persevere so they will receive what was promised at a near to them return of Christ.  The writer had already told these first century Christians not to abandon meeting together as they saw the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25)By context, "the day approaching" is seen as the return of Jesus.  It is pointed out that these Christians are being told that Christ was going to return during their lifetime and not thousands of years into the future and counting.         

       In 1st Corinthians 1, Philippians 3, Romans 8 and Hebrews 9, the Christians are seen as eagerly waiting for Jesus to return to bring about their transformation from being mortal to being immortal.  Here is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  

       1 Corinthians 1:7-8: Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

       The Greek Lexicons show the Greek words rendered “eagerly wait” means to be in great anticipation of something about to happen.  Preterists argue that you don’t eagerly wait for something that isn’t going to happen for thousands of years into the future after you have long been dead. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote the following:

       1 Thessalonians 1:8-10: They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

       1 Thessalonians 2:19-20:  For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

       1 Thessalonians 5:23:  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

       The context here is Paul addressing first century Christians about a coming wrath from which Jesus will come and rescue them.  Preterists see the coming wrath as God’s judgement against first century Israel for their rejection of Jesus and their persecution of the developing Christian community.  The wrath of God is seen as the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem by the Romans between AD 67 and AD 73.  Preterists fine support for this conclusion from Jesus Himself.

       Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

      History shows this prophecy was literally fulfilled when the Romans built a mote around Jerusalem which prevented the inhabitants from escaping and those who tried to escape were captured and crucified on top of this mote. Here is what James wrote:

       James 5:7-8: Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.

       James 5:9: Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. See, the judge stands before the gates! (NET)

          By context, it can be seen that when James says the Judge stands at the gates, he is referring to Jesus.  In a footnote to this passage, the translators of the NET Bible write the following: The term gates is used metaphorically here. The physical referent would be the entrances to the city, but the author uses the term to emphasize the imminence of the judge’s approach.

       James is saying the coming of Christ was imminent. To be imminent is to be about to occur.

       In Matthew 23 and at the beginning of Matthew 24, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple.  In 24:3 we fine His disciples asking Him when this is going to happen, when will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of His coming and of the end of the age?

       In what is known as the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) Jesus proceeds to answer their question by giving a lengthy list of events that would take place leading to His return. They are told to watch for these events in anticipation of His return. This list of events includes His return. He then tells them this:

       Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32: Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

       Preterists have done a great deal of study into the meaning of the Greek word rendered generation. They have studied how it is used throughout the NT, how it is used in Greek literature and how it is used in the Septuagint. In doing so, preterists have come to what they believe is conclusive evidence that when Jesus said, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened, He was saying that the generation He was addressing at the time would live to see the events He had just described which included His return.  

       Therefore, it is believed that Jesus’ return and all related events such as the establishment of the Kingdom had to occur at the time of that first century generation.  Anything less than this is seen as problematic to the integrity of the NT narrative. Now let’s turn to the book of Revelation which is book ended by time statements and is addressed to seven first century churches

       Revelation 1:1:  The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.

       Revelation 1:3:  Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

       Revelation 22:6: The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place."

       Revelation 22:7:  "Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book."

       Revelation 22:10: Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.

       Revelation 22:12:  "Behold,I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.

       Revelation 22:20: He who testifies to these says, "Yes, I am coming soon."

       Most readers of the Revelation ignore the force of the time statements and see the events written about as yet to be fulfilled.  The Revelation is simply seen as a description of events yet to occur.  Preterists look at the Revelation and see the time statements as identifying the Revelation as being fulfilled shortly after the Revelation was written. Preterists have provided impressive research that shows the Revelation was written prior to the war with Rome and not after the war as believed and taught by many current day scholars.

       Preterists find it untenable to ignore the time statements that virtually book end the Revelation.  They find it indefensible to elasticize the time frame for the prophecy’s fulfillment 2000 years into the future and counting.

       Preterists compare what is written in the Revelation with what is written in the Olivet Discourse, the Book of Daniel and the multiple statements in the NT that point to imminent fulfillment of eschatological events. They see these events being fulfilled during the time of that first century generation of Christians. In so doing, preterists conclude that the eschatological events described throughout the NT narrative have been fulfilled. They largely see this fulfillment connected to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in the AD 66 to AD 73 war with Rome. 

       I have provided a thumbnail sketch of the reasons preterists take the position they do.  It would take multiple sermons to provide a full accounting of why Preterists believe what they believe.  Next week we will look at the futurist position and with that I will bring my series on the kingdom to a close.