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Volume 15, Issue 2: Stauron

Thy Kingdom Came

Gary Hagen

When it comes to theology, many of us are satisfied with flying coach. After all, the plane still gets to the same airport. However, this is not the standard of excellence held up in Scripture. The Bereans were "more noble" because they searched the Scriptures to see if the things Paul and Silas taught were actually so (imagine the nerve). Also note that these Bereans were not a special ecclesiastic counsel or even a set of elders—just everyday folks (Acts 17:11).

Let's look at one example. When many evangelicals hear the phrase "the kingdom of God," they automatically (and usually exclusively) think of heaven, or the book of Revelation and some future earthly reign of Christ at the end of history. After all, don't we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come . . ."? And didn't Christ refuse the devil's offer of the earthly kingdoms during his temptations (Matt. 4:8_9) because He was a gentleman and a future king, and not a present king of this world (Jn. 18:36)? But is this really what Scripture teaches? Is this what Christ Himself, or the apostles taught? It is certainly what some modern preachers of the gospel teach today. But perhaps they just need a few more Bereans in their congregations.
A quick glance at a concordance shows how predominant the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) is in the gospel message. What do these passages say about the nature and the timing of this kingdom? In the very earliest chapters of Matthew's account we see John preaching that the kingdom of heaven is "at hand" (Matt. 3:2). In the next chapter, Jesus begins His preaching with the same message (Matt. 4:17). In fact, when Jesus first sent His disciples out to preach to the lost sheep of Israel, His charge was to preach, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10:7). Some would like to argue that "at hand" is a metaphorical phrase not to be taken too literally. After all, with the Lord, a thousand years is as a day. Hmmm. . . .
The preaching about the kingdom of heaven is treated in Scripture as virtually synonymous with the preaching of the gospel. Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom before His crucifixion (Matt. 4:23; 9:35), and for the forty days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3). The early church followed this example of Christ by proclaiming "the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12 cf. Acts 19:8; 20:25). Jesus made great use of parables in His teaching. The predominance of parables about "the kingdom of heaven" is hard to miss.1 If parables of the kingdom were so plentiful, it might behoove us to learn a bit more about what is meant by the kingdom, and when it will come.
Scriptures do not leave us to wonder about this question. The Old Testament gives early indications. Nebuchadnezzar's dream taught about the kingdom of heaven, "And in the days of these kings, shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed, . . . and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44). The days referred to were days of the three kingdoms that followed Nebuchadnezzar's. Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven as a present kingdom in His day "from the days of John the Baptist until now" (Matt. 11:12 cf. Lk. 16:16). But He did not leave just this single statement so we would continue to guess. In Luke 17:20, the Pharisees asked this exact question "when the kingdom of God should come." Christ's response was that it was already in their midst. The announcement of the "kingdom came" was also driven home to the Pharisees in the account of Matthew 12:28, "But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." Indeed, Christ warned that the kingdom would be removed from the Pharisees and given to another nation (Matt. 21:43).
While there are certainly some passages of Scripture that speak of certain aspects of the kingdom of God as a future inheritance (Matt. 25:34 cf. Lk. 13:28), Scripture mainly speaks of the kingdom as a present reality (Lk. 9:27; Matt. 16:19; Matt. 13:19; Matt. 13:38; Matt. 18:3_4; Col. 1:13). Like the parables of the wheat, the mustard seed, and the leaven—the kingdom is expanding. The final foe to be conquered in the full establishment of the kingdom is death. But Christ is a present king, not some future regent without rule today.
The reason Christ declined Satan's temptation was that such an offer was laughable. Satan did not own the kingdoms of men as a gift from God, but as a usurper obeyed by sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). If Christ had somehow needed the permission of Satan to rule, how then could He cast out demons—even before His crucifixion? Anselm wrote that neither devil nor man belong to any but God. The devil had simply seduced his fellow servants to desert their common Lord. (Cur Deus Homo, ch. vii). Even Nebuchadnezzar understood this truth in ancient times, that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men (Dan. 4:17, 25, 32). Yet because Christ died and was raised from the dead, Paul tells us that Christ was exalted far above all powers, above all heavens (Eph. 1:21; 4:10). After His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus' last words before His ascension were that all authority had been given to Him, both in heaven and on earth. And therefore, we are to go, baptize, and teach the nations. . . until the end of the world.

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