WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN? PART EIGHT
WHEN IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD ESTABLISHED?
The Scriptures show the establishment of the Kingdom is to occur at the time of Christ’s return. As the evidence already presented shows, Christ’s return was to occur at the time the temple would be destroyed. Jesus clearly shows in the Olivet Discourse that His return would occur before the generation He was addressing would pass.
Luke 21:27-32: At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.’ Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
In Matthew 13, we see Christ giving a number of parables that speak of various aspects of the Kingdom. In explaining one of these parables to the disciples, He makes it evident that the establishment of the Kingdom is associated with the end of the age. As already seen, the age spoken of by Jesus is an age that was to end in the generation He was addressing during His ministry.
Matthew 13:36-43: Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
In 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul says to Timothy, “I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall (is about to) judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom” (KJV). The Greek word “mello,” which is translated “shall,” actually means, “is about to.” A full review of this Greek word is given below. The Kingdom appears at Christ’s appearing and at the time of the judgment. This coincides with Matthew 24:30, where Christ is seen as coming in power and glory in the generation being addressed in Matthew 24. We know from Matthew 16:24-28 that the coming of Christ would take place while some of the disciples were still alive. This places the establishment of the Kingdom in the first century. The Kingdom was to be established with the coming of Christ.
THE GREEK WORD MELLO:
In Vines Expository Dictionary of Greek Words, on page 1038, Vine shows mello’s primary meaning as, to be about (to be or do). It is used of purpose, certainty, compulsion or necessity. Vine shows Matthew 16:27, where the King James translation says, “For the Son of man shall (Greek: mello) come,” as “is about to come.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, on page 396, defines mello as, to be about to do anything” and “to be on the point of doing or suffering something. The Arndt, Gingrich, Bauer Greek-English Lexicon defines mello as, Be on the point of, be about to. This Lexicon defines mello (shall) in Romans 8:18 as, “be about to be revealed” in reference to the coming of Christ. The Companion Bible by Bullinger also supports this definition.
Since the primary meaning of mello has to do with something about to happen, the Scriptures involving this word and the coming of Christ would appear to imply imminency of his coming and therefore further substantiates a first century return. Here are some examples:
Matthew 16: 27-28: For the Son of man shall (Gr. mello and therefore could be translated “is about to) come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom (KJV).
The statement about some not tasting death until they see Christ come in His Kingdom makes perfect sense if we translate mello as indicated above. In Wuest’s Expanded Translation of the Greek New Testament, he translates Matthew 16:27 as, “For the Son of Man is about to be coming in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall recompense to each one according to his manner of acting.”
Luke 21:36: Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall (is about to) come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man (KJV).
The word “shall” in this passage is the Greek mello and could be translated “about to come to pass.” This “about to come to pass” would include all that is said prior to this statement and would therefore include the return of Christ. Wuest translates this passage as follows: “But be circumspect, attentive, ready in every season being in prayer, in order that you have sufficient strength to be escaping all these things which are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of man.” (NIV has “is about to happen”).
There are 110 places where mello is used in the Greek New Testament. In many places, by context, it can be seen to mean something about to take place. Here are a few examples.
Matthew 2:13: When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to (mello) search for the child to kill him.
John 4:47: When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to (mello) death.
John 6:15: Jesus, knowing that they intended (mello) to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
These Scriptures show how the New Testament writers understood and used the Greek mello in their dialog. All these passages show imminency about what was to happen. This word is used in many passages that relate to the coming of Christ, the judgment, the establishment of the Kingdom and the resurrection. The translation of mello as “about to take place” is certainly in keeping with the basic intent and usage of this Greek word by the writers of Scripture and as attested to in various lexicons and translations. This is another strong piece of evidence relative to a first-century return of Christ and all related events. Here are more examples of how this word supports a first-century fulfillment:
Matthew 12:32: Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to (mello) come. [This can read, “age about to come.”]
Romans 8:18: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be (mello) revealed in us. [This can read, “is about to be revealed in us.”]
Hebrews 1:14: Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will (mello) inherit salvation? [This can read, “who are about to inherit salvation.”]
Hebrews 13:12-14: And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is (mello) to come. [This can read, “city that is about to come.”]
Revelation 1:19: Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will (mello) take place later. [This can read, “what is about to take place later.” The “later” (hereafter in the KJV) is not a “later” to occur thousands of years in the future but a “later” that is about to happen. This shows that John was writing about soon to be accomplished events in the Revelation.]
We find in Acts 11:28 that the prophet Agabus signified that a great famine would (mello) come upon the Roman world. This Scripture shows that this famine happened during the reign of Claudius. Here we find the writer using mello in an obvious context of something that was about to take place and did take place as the Scriptures report and as secular history confirms. In Acts 20:3 it’s recorded that “Because the Jews made a plot against him (Paul) just as he was about to (mello) sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia." Again we see mello used by the writer to describe an about to occur event.
In Acts 27:10, Paul is quoted as saying, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going (mello) to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” Here again we see mello used in the context of something about to occur. We see mello used several dozen times in the book of Acts. A review of the context wherein this word is used will over and over again show an event that was about to take place and subsequently did take place. Yet when it comes to Paul’s use of this word in Acts 24:15, it is automatically assumed to relate to an event that has yet to take place, thousands of years from the time Paul spoke. Let’s look at this Scripture:
In Acts 24:15, we read the following: “and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be (mello) a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” Author Samuel Frost shows mello in this passage to be a “present infinitive with the copulative in the future,” (The Millennial Post, December 1, 2003). Mr. Frost points out that the Greek in this passage shows the same grammatical construction that is seen in Acts 11:28 and Acts 27:10, as cited above. Paul was saying that the resurrection was about to take place in the same sense as Agabus was saying a famine was about to take place. These were events that would take place soon after they were prophesied. There is absolutely no grammatical or contextual reason to believe that mello has suddenly changed its meaning in Acts 24:15. There is no legitimate way one can justify interpreting Paul’s statement about resurrection to relate to an event thousands of years into the future. Whatever Paul meant by “resurrection” in this passage, he was seeing it as something about to take place. We will deal extensively with the issue of resurrection later in this series.
IS THE KINGDOM A PRESENT REALITY?
The Scriptures we have reviewed all point to the Kingdom having arrived with the return of Christ in the events connected with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem during the Roman-Jewish War. This was a spiritual event insomuch that Christ didn’t visibly appear, but facilitated events that clearly reflected what He prophesied in the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation and numerous other sayings. The NT pictures the Kingdom as having spiritual dynamics presently available to those who are willing to accept them and live by them. The Kingdom is also seen as being the destination for life after physical death. For an elucidation of the Kingdom being the destination for life after death go to "What is the Kingdom of God: Part Two."
Some would challenge the position that the Kingdom is a spiritual reality in the life of a Christian. This challenge sees Christianity as being hopelessly divided and having been so for two-thousand years. Many who think of themselves as Christians live lives that belie that conclusion. The great majority of humans who have lived and died since Christ appeared have not been Christian but of some non-Christian religion or no religion at all. The history of the world has been one of violence, war, pain and suffering since the appearance of Christ. What kind of Kingdom is that? According to the Scriptures, the establishment of the Kingdom involves the putting down of Satan. It would appear that Satan is doing quite well in this world, and if there is anyone that could be identified as king of the earth, it would have to be Satan and not Christ.
Our challenger may state the following: If the tenets of the Kingdom are within the heart of the Christian, then the behavior of the Christian should reflect that. If we are to postulate that the Kingdom of God is here and now, and is made up of the community of believers in Christ, why is it that this community of believers is so divided as to their doctrinal belief systems and the manner in which they practice (and often fail to practice) Christianity? The Scripture itself states, “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” It is certainly apparent that the Christian community is very divided not only in its doctrinal and theological understanding but also in its moral and ethical behavior. Seeing this has been the case for the past two-thousand years and continues to be the case, how does this fact correlate with the position that the Kingdom of God is here now? While there is sound Scriptural evidence for understanding that the Kingdom is a present spiritual reality, there appears little correlation between that understanding and the actual state of affairs extant in the Christian community.
The challenger will go on to show that there are a variety of Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments that suggest that the Kingdom of God represents a time of peace, joy and tranquility. Even if one were to totally spiritualize these passages and apply them to Christians, a reality check would quickly dispel the idea that such peace, joy and tranquility exist in any significant way within the Christian community. Physical, emotional, social and spiritual problems are rampant in the Christian community. What kind of Kingdom is that?
On the surface, this appears as a valid challenge to the Kingdom in any form being a present reality. Apostle Paul said the Kingdom is "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17) Such Kingdom attributes seem to be sadly lacking in the lives of many who call themselves Christian. The problem with this challenge is that it is partly based on a wrong understanding of what the Kingdom is. The Kingdom has to do with being born of the spirit as Christ told Nicodemus. Being born of the spirit isn’t something you see physically. It can and should have outward manifestation in righteous living, but it is a spiritual phenomenon. Christians today, as did the Jews of the first century, expect a physical Kingdom. Christians often look to a future return of Christ to set up a world ruling government, headquartered in Jerusalem where a rebuilt temple will stand as Christ’s residence. The Scriptures, however, speak of a new order of things occurring near to the time the Revelation was given to John.
Revelation 21:1-8: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.’
Revelation 22:10-15: Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.’ ‘Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. ‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.’
John is told not to seal up the words of this prophecy because the time was near. John sees, prophetically, the passing of the old earth and heavens. He sees the new heavens and the new earth coming into view. The replacement of the old heavens and earth with a new heavens and earth relates to the passing of the Old Covenant of death and the establishment of the New Covenant of life represented by the tree of life. This will be explained in detail later on in this series. It is this change in covenants that is the focus of the end of the age events discussed in Scripture.
In Revelation 22, we again see the imminency of the events being discussed. The prophecy is not to be sealed, because the time was near. This passage also shows that the unrighteous will still exist but will be outside the city, which represents the Kingdom. The unrighteous continue to live in a state of spiritual death while those that have accepted Christ are invited to partake of the tree of life and enter the Kingdom.
It is interesting that the same Christians who believe that the Kingdom is future, will also believe that they are led by God’s Spirit in the here and now. If the Spirit of God is indeed present in the life of Christians, one would expect that “spiritual” living should be obvious. Yet the same reality check that some feel challenges the presence of the Kingdom, would also challenge the presence of the Spirit. The same spiritual, emotional, physical and social problems that are evident for those who believe in the presence of the Kingdom are also in evidence for those who believe they have God’s Spirit and yet believe the Kingdom to be future. Since Christians who claim to have God’s Spirit dwelling in them still have behavioral problems, are we to conclude that they don’t have God’s Spirit? I don’t believe that very many Christians would endorse that idea.
I submit that having God’s Spirit and being in the Kingdom are one and the same. We need to consider how the Kingdom of God applies to us. The coming of Christ has destroyed death. Not physical death but spiritual death. The acceptance of Christ facilitates the passing from death unto life and a glorious future that has already begun for the Christian. The fear of death should no longer be a factor for a Christian. Death has been swallowed up in victory through Christ. The righteousness of Christ applied to the Christian is what facilitates our passing from death unto life. Christ said we must be born again in order to enter the Kingdom. Being born again is passing from death unto life and is the spiritual process by which upon physical death we will enter into the heavenly realm where the seat of governing authority for the Kingdom is located.
God sees us as righteous and therefore as being in the Kingdom. Our challenge is to more fully recognize this and conduct ourselves accordingly. Such conduct, however, will never even be close to perfect. To think that it is our conduct that will qualify us for acceptance with God is to return to the Old Covenant system of attainment through works. It is this very system that Christ came to destroy through His death, resurrection and return.
The Old Covenant system of death has been destroyed. Christ did return as He said. His return has facilitated life through the termination of the old and the establishment of the new. Jesus said in Revelation 21, as quoted above, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Everything is made new in Christ. In Christ there is no more death, mourning, crying or pain. The Christian can be confident that spiritually he has passed from death unto life where there is peace and joy. Physically, there will continue to be troubles, pain, suffering and death. These physical realities of life are not the measurement of being in the Kingdom. Being in the Kingdom involves our spiritual relationship with God. That spiritual relationship is what will determine how we handle the troubles, pain, suffering and death of this physical life. Christ was the embodiment of the Kingdom. Yet Christ, while in the flesh, experienced trouble, pain, suffering and physical death. It was Christ’s spiritual relationship with God that enabled Him to deal with all of this and rise above the physical.
The Christians of the first century were in the process of entering the Kingdom. Paul told the Colossian Christians that they were being ushered into the Kingdom. Yet these Colossians continued to experience the persecutions and sufferings associated with this physical life. The Kingdom is of the spirit, not of the flesh. The Kingdom has to do with how we handle the difficulties of this physical life. It is not defined by the absence of such difficulties.
Christ plainly told Pilate that His Kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). The Greek word kosmos is used for world. This word pertains to the physical realm. Kosmos means the world as created, ordered and arranged (See appendix 129 of the Companion Bible). Christ plainly said His Kingdom was not of this physical realm, this world as created, ordered and arranged.
Christians want to define the Kingdom in a physical context. It can’t be defined that way. God is growing a spiritual Kingdom of individuals who are willing to submit to his will. This involves two things. First, repentance, which is a willingness to change and pursue righteous behavior. Second, there must be acceptance of and reliance on the sacrifice of Christ to atone for unrighteous behavior, which is sin. It is these two dynamics that constitute being born into the everlasting Kingdom.
Since the Kingdom is a present spiritual reality for the Christian, the Christian can have a very positive impact on the physical world we live in. By living in a manner reflective of the law of the Kingdom, Christians can make the world a better place to live out our physical lives. In this respect, it is not so much a matter of our being in the Kingdom as it is a matter of the Kingdom being in us. It should be the goal of Christians to be proactive in sharing the message of the Kingdom. In so doing, God’s Kingdom will continue to expand as increasing numbers of individuals are born into the Kingdom and pass from death unto life.
For an in-depth examination of what the Kingdom is and how one enters it, I refer you to my Five Part series entitled, What Is The Kingdom of God? To continue with this series on the return of Christ, go to part nine.