What is the Kingdom of God? Part Three

SERMON 12-10-22

       Today will be the third in a series of sermons dealing with the Kingdom of God. Teaching about the Kingdom of God was the focal point of the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus and apostle Paul. All three of these men taught that the Kingdom was near and that living righteously was a key to entering the kingdom.

       The Kingdom of heaven is seen as starting with the days of John the Baptist. It is clear from the teachings of Jesus and Apostle Paul that entering the kingdom is very much associated with living according to the two great commandments of love for God and love for your neighbor.Paul taught that the kingdom of God involved the spiritual dynamics of righteous behavior and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

       As covered last week, Jesus plainly said His kingdom was not of this world.  Yet it is apparent that 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.  Last week we discussed a number of passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures that indicate the Kingdom has location here on planet earth and that it arrives at a specific time in history.  Is there teaching in the Greek Scriptures that indicate the same thing? Having looked at a number of OT Scriptures that speak of the Kingdom, let us now turn to the NT narrative and discover what is said about the Kingdom.

      In the NT the Kingdom is seen as being inherited at the time of Christ coming in heavenly glory.

       Matthew 25:31, 34: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

        The entire chapter of Matthew 25 records Jesus using parables and figures of speech to describe the Kingdom.  In so doing, He identifies the Kingdom as something that arrives when the King arrives after a long absence.  The chapter begins with Jesus saying that "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.”  The phrase “at that time” is referring to a time when the King, after a long absence, comes to fetch those who have made themselves ready for the wedding banquet which represents the Kingdom.

        This is followed by a parable about the Kingdom being like a land owner giving property to his tenants and then returning to reward them for what they have accomplished in his absence (Matthew 25:14-30). This is often referred to as the parable of the talents. Still speaking within the context of the Kingdom, Jesus speaks of coming in His glory to reward those who lived righteously. In Matthew 25:36 we see that reward as the gift of eternal life. So here the kingdom is associated with the receiving of eternal life.  Is that eternal life to be spent here on planet earth or in the heavenly realm?

       In Luke’s account of the parable of the talents, Luke shows this parable was given because the people thought the Kingdom was going to arrive at once. 

        Luke 19:11-27: While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.   

        Jesus goes on to show by means of this parable that the Kingdom was not about to arrive at that time but would arrive after the owner of the land went to receive a kingdom and then return as King.  The parable of the talents appears to closely parallel the passage in Daniel 7:13-14.

      Daniel 7:13-14: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

       This brings us to examine what the followers of Jesus believed about the nature of the Kingdom.  The Scriptures show Jesus constantly taught His followers about the Kingdom during His three- and one-half-year ministry and He continued to teach about the Kingdom for 40 days after His resurrection.

       Acts 1:3: After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

        It would appear logical to conclude that after being with Jesus for three and one-half years of his ministry and now forty additional days with Him after His resurrection, that disciples would have had a pretty good understanding of what the Kingdom was all about. During His ministry, Jesus sent disciples throughout Israel to preach about the Kingdom (Luke 9:1-6, 10:1, 9-11).  Jesus would not have sent these disciples out to preach the Kingdom unless they were trained in the knowledge of the Kingdom and were able to intelligently and truthfully teach it. 

       With this in mind, it is instructive that shortly before His ascension to the Father, the close disciples of Jesus asked him if He was at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel. 

       Acts 1:6-8: So when they met together, they 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."

        After being taught about the Kingdom for over three years and being sent out to teach others about the Kingdom, the disciples ask Jesus if He is going to restore the Kingdom to Israel at this time.  This tells us the disciples understood the Kingdom to be more than spiritual dynamics.  By asking about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, it is evident the disciples were thinking in terms of the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom which during David’s time was a physical Kingdom with a King and subjects. 

        It is instructive that Jesus does not in any way indicate their understanding of the nature of the Kingdom is incorrect.  He only tells them it is not for them to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.  The implication is that the Father has set the date for the restoration of the Kingdom.  It is evident from the NT Scriptures that restoration of the Davidic Kingdom is what was anticipated by first century Israel, including the followers of Jesus.  When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the people associated His arrival with the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom.

        Mark 11:9-10: Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna!” "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!"

        As a side note here, some Biblical scholars believe this event of Jesus riding into Jerusalem never happened because if it did, the Romans would have immediately arrested Jesus and had Him killed.  History shows the Romans did not tolerate anyone claiming to be a king or being looked upon as a King as only the Roman Caesar had that title. Remember, last week I mentioned the first century historian Josephus writing that men claiming to be the promised Messiah were being killed almost daily by the Romans authority.

       However, it is also historically evident that the Romans were careful not to incite a riot.  Arresting Jesus at this point would have created quite a backlash.  So in all likelihood, this event happened as recorded.

        At this point it must be pointed out that one express reason given for the birth of Jesus is that He was to be given the throne of His father David and that He was to reign over the house of Jacob in a Kingdom that would never end.  Here is what the angel Gabriel told Mary and what Jesus Himself said.

        Luke 1:32-33: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."  

       John 18:37a:  "You are a king, then!" said Pilate.   Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world.”

        Here we find the Kingdom clearly associated with there being a throne of rulership and reign over a particular group of people.  Jesus clearly admits to having come into the world to be a King.  Being a king implies there being a kingdom.  The Kingdom appears to be a lot more than spiritual/behavioral dynamics as we have already discussed in the two previous sermons in this series.  The Kingdom is seen as having a throne and King Jesus reigning over the house of Jacob.  The Kingdom is seen as having location.  The question we must ask is where that location is.  Is it on planet earth, is it in the heavenly realm, is it in both places?

      Luke 22:15-18: And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."  After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

       Here the Kingdom is seen as yet to arrive. The Kingdom is seen as arriving when Christ comes in power and glory (Matthew 16:27-28, Mark 9:1). Jesus told Nicodemus one must be born again to enter the Kingdom (John 3). Paul and Peter indicate this rebirth involves being given a deposit of inheritance which guarantees entrance into the Kingdom (Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 Peter 1:3-4). 

       It appears that all NT statements that speak of participating in the Kingdom while still a physical Being pertain to living according to the moral and ethical requirements of the Kingdom.  This is seen as preparatory to being changed from mortal to immortal at the time of Christ's return which is when actual entrance into the Kingdom occurs. Here it appears that to be in the Kingdom is to be in a non-physical/non-material dimension of existence.  Where is that to be location wise? We will get back to that question as we proceed with this discussion.    

       Joseph of Arimathea is seen as waiting for the Kingdom to come. Joseph apparently was a disciple of Jesus and would have been familiar with His teaching as to the nature of the Kingdom.

       Mark 15:43: Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.

       We can't know for sure what is meant by"waiting for the kingdom of God."  Is Joseph waiting for a restoration of the Davidic Kingdom as was true of other of Jesus' followers or is he seeing its present manifestation in the ethical teachings of Jesus. Joseph apparently had much respect for the teachings of Jesus to having wanted to properly bury Him.  What exactly it was that Joseph understood about the kingdom is unknown.

       A passage in Luke gives evidence to the Kingdom of God having location. The patriarchs and prophets are at this location along with many others. The patriarchs and prophets were dead for many years and yet are pictured as being in a location called the Kingdom of God.  The language of this passage strongly suggests the Kingdom of God has specific location.     

        Luke 13:28-29: "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.  People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.

       Coming from the east and the west and north and south appears to be relate to earthly directions. Does this indicate the kingdom is located on planet earth or is this language simply figurative of people from all over the earth coming into the kingdom?

       In Matthew 19:28: Jesus is recorded as speaking of a time He calls "the renewal of all things" which other Scripture’s show is the time when He has been glorified and begun to rule with the glorified saints.  The language of this passage and several other passages indicates a literal place of rule.         

        Matthew 19:28: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.      

        Matthew 26:29: I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

       Luke 22:28-30: You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

      Luke 23: 42-43: Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

       Matthew 20:21: "What is it you want?" he asked.   She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."

           The language of these passages indicates the Kingdom is more than spiritual dynamics of behavior toward God and man. Here the Kingdom is seen as a governing authority involving rulership and judgement. 

       All these passages appear to indicate the Kingdom is something very tangible to be entered into and yet was still something that was future to those being addressed.  The Kingdom appears to be much more than the spiritual dynamics discussed in Part One of this series.  In Part One we saw from the Scriptures that one can enter the Kingdom as to its spiritual dynamics while still a mortal human being.  It appears, however, that the Kingdom is also a destination having location and to enter this location one must be changed from mortal to immortal.  To the Corinthians Paul wrote this:

        1 Corinthians 15:50-54: I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.   Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

        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 to the Thessalonians.

       1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

        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.    

        Ephesians 1:13-14: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.

        As already covered in Part One of this series, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and others clearly taught that the Kingdom of God was about to be established.  They also taught that inheriting the Kingdom was a process that began with repentance and a changed way of life.  These are the spiritual dynamics of the Kingdom we have discussed.  Paul teaches it is through the Holy Spirit one has a deposit of eternal life in the Kingdom and such inheritance is realized at the time of redemption.  Peter indicates the actual inheritance is kept in heaven

        1 Peter 1:3-4: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you. 

       We have seen from the Scriptures that the goal of the early church was to inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  Peter identifies this inheritance as kept in heaven. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, speaks of being safely brought to the heavenly Kingdom.  Is Paul identifying heaven as the location of the Kingdom?

       2 Timothy 4:18a: The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.

       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 life (Matthew 5:12).  It is instructive that whenever Matthew speaks of the Kingdom he refers to it as the Kingdom of Heaven. In Matthew 16, Jesus seems to identify the Kingdom as located in heaven.

       Matthew 16:19: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

        Jesus speaks of the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.  He states that whatever is bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. While the binding and loosening can be done on earth, the power and authority to do so is seen as derived from and taking place in a Kingdom located in heaven. 

       To the Corinthians, Paul speaks in terms of having a heavenly dwelling.  He says this in the context of the mortal becoming immortal.  He reiterates what he said to the Ephesians that it is through the Spirit we have a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  He shows what is to come is having a heavenly dwelling. 

       2 Corinthians 5:1-8: Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

        What Paul says here is in line with his teaching that we have a body that is perishable and must be changed to imperishable.  We are born with a natural body that must be changed to a spiritual body.  Paul makes a distinction between being an earthly man as opposed to being a heavenly man.  The implication is that the natural man is of the earthly realm and the spiritual man is of the heavenly realm.  Paul's statement about being at home in the body is to be away from the Lord further shows that being in the body is one realm of existence and being away from the body and at home with the Lord is to be in a different realm of existence. Paul speaks of this in his first letter to the Corinthians.

        1 Corinthians 15:42-49: So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.  The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.  As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

        Paul told the Philippian Christians that he pressed on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called him heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).  He goes on to tell 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)

        This appears to be the same transformation Paul speaks to the Corinthians about as already covered.  Paul sees the Christians he is addressing as already having their citizenship in heaven and they are now eagerly waiting for the return of Christ so their mortal bodies can be transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body.  This does not appear to just be some internal “spiritual” transformation but a real change of body composition. 

        Seeing themselves as having citizenship in heaven makes perfect sense in view of Paul’s teaching that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a deposit of eternal life in the heavenly Kingdom.  To the Colossian brethren, Paul speaks of their hope being stored up for them in heaven (Colossians 1:5).  Peter speaks of being welcomed into the eternal Kingdom of Christ as if this is something still future to the Christians Peter was addressing at the time.

       Colossians 1:5: because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints--the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel

        2 Peter 1:10-11: Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.     

       When I return to this series in a couple of weeks, we will further discuss the nature of the kingdom and the two major views as to when, where and how it is established.