There are many Scriptures in the New Testament that refer to the ‘Kingdom of God’ and that lead us into an understanding of the subject. (The term ‘kingdom of God’, as such, does not occur in the Old Testament.) I have undertaken this study because in recent times books have been written that touch on the subject of the kingdom of God but with little, or even no real regard for what the Scriptures teach on this subject. What is being taught is at best nebulous and vague, but mostly it is unscriptural and in some cases leads to the creation of ‘another gospel’. The reason for this is that the interpretation of Scripture has become subject to an agenda – it is agenda driven!
The agenda today is social concern, social justice, community projects and campaigning for change, not only in a local context but even on a global scale. This teaching becomes wrong, or what we may call the ‘social gospel’, firstly, when the scale of the action far exceeds anything indicated or required by Scripture, secondly, and more importantly, when this scale action is made prescriptive for all Christians! In other words, those who do not follow this agenda are variously labelled as uncaring, unloving, ‘holier than thou’, inward-looking, having a fortress mentality or spiritually dead!
This is a serious twofold error. Firstly, lacking scriptural backing or justification for their prescriptive teaching, they simply misinterpret both well-known and less well-known verses from the Bible. We shall see examples of this later. But to make matters much worse, these misinterpretations of scripture are then used as justification for prescribing to believers a model or course of community and social action that they ought to be involved in – they create what they regard as a biblical mandate for social involvement.
Of course, we need to be clear that this is not a ‘one-hat-fits-all’ situation! People will have different views on social involvement and on the meaning of social justice. Some churches might only be marginally influenced by this teaching whereas others might be almost wholly swallowed up by them! Some may follow this teaching to one degree or another, others may loudly proclaim it, insisting that believers are obliged to follow what they regard as a biblical mandate.
None of what is written in this study is with the purpose of telling people what they must or must not do with regards to showing compassion or pursuing good works. Though elsewhere I do look at Scriptures that specifically mention one area of giving and support that believers should be involved in. Neither is anything written to dissuade anyone from being involved in any works of community care! What is written here is to make clear and oppose false interpretations of Scripture and particularly the use of such misinterpretations as a justification for imposing on other believers a model of social action. This is the point of the study.
I ask to bear in mind the points mentioned in the previous two paragraphs when reading this study!
That the saints are not only to be involved in, but zealous for good works is beyond question (Mtt.5:16; Titus 2:14; 3:8; Heb.10:24; 1 Peter 2:12). These good works should be the natural outcome of having the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts Holy Spirit. The Bible particularly highlights that these good works glorify God, but nowhere is the association made that such good works extend God’s kingdom on earth or that they need to be of the type and carried out to the extent that others today would prescribe for us! If one wants to consider the type of things that will affect or ‘impress’ the world, then we have two clear statements by the Lord Jesus,
“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” (John 13:35).
“That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21).
Generally, those who preach we must have an impact on the world through works and projects of social care or justice rarely if ever mention the two above verses!
In view here is their treatment on the subject of the kingdom of God. The basic idea, variously expressed, is something like this: our good works bring the love of God into the community in ways that can transform the community, and by so doing we are helping to extend or build the kingdom of God in some small measure or touch people’s lives with the kingdom of God. However, as we shall see there is no such association of thought in Scripture. This line of thinking is simply nebulous.
An extension to this teaching is the idea that our good works in the community and the consequent transformation that they bring represent the first (small) steps towards building the kingdom of God on earth which Christ shall fully and in a far more dramatic way establish and fulfil on his return. Hand-in-hand with this teaching, is the idea that unbelievers will not only appreciate but will also be impressed by this alternative culture of kingdom that we are creating among them through our good works of social care and social justice. This teaching also depends on the brazen denial of several very clear Scriptures, namely, that this world will be judged with fire and that they will be new heaven and a new earth. (Luke 21:23; 2 Peter 3:7, 10-13). To support their cause for a social gospel, these writers – who would claim to be evangelical – deny that this world will be destroyed or pass away and in essence align themselves with the teaching of the Jehovah witnesses, who teach that Jesus shall return only to remove wickedness and social injustice from the world, but that this world will otherwise continue. This teaching also represents the logical backbone for the excessive environmental zeal of some Christians today. These are the broad brush strokes of the social gospel but the details may vary somewhat from group to group. That this world will be judged with fire not only undermines but totally nullifies these kind of teachings concerning the kingdom of God.
As we shall see, the term kingdom of God can apply to two timeframes, the ‘here and now’ (the verses follow), and the ‘hereafter’ (Luke 13:28; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor.6:10; Luke 21:31). In this study, I shall be dealing with the here and now.
“The kingdom of God comes not with outward observation.” (KJ2000)
“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, How shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:31-33).
The Lord Jesus Christ tells us to take no thought about food, drink and clothes, but that we should instead seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then these other things would be added to us! Christ is here making a distinction between our basic material and physical needs on the one hand, and the kingdom of God and his righteousness on the other. In other words, the kingdom of God and his righteousness is something other than the provision of material needs. In fact, this verse indicates that seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness is a greater priority and of greater value than caring about once basic needs. The apostle Paul expresses the same truth in Romans 14:17, where he says, “the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” These verses refer to the spiritual and moral nature of the kingdom of God. They refer to something other than or beyond the physical realm, and the verse in Romans makes it clear that the kingdom of God refers to the inward spiritual condition of a person.
This truth is foundational and significant. We dare not play around with the meaning of ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ lest we undermine the very nature and power of the gospel! This study has been written because this is exactly what is happening today! From what is quoted above, we already begin to see the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God. As we look further into Scripture, this aspect becomes increasingly clear!
Paul tells us in one Corinthians 4:20 that the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. He is here underlining the truth that the kingdom of God is to do with divine empowering. The Pharisees, and even the apostles misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God that Jesus Christ was proclaiming and would bring in! When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God should come in Luke 17:20, 21, he told them plainly that the kingdom of God does not come with ‘outward observation’. In other words, it is not at kingdom that can be recognised as an outward physical kingdom! You don’t find it or see it by looking for it with your physical eyes – “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there!”
Jesus goes on to explain to them that the kingdom of God was ‘in their midst’ or, as the Authorised Version puts it, the kingdom of God was ‘within them’. The Greek allows for both interpretations or translations. In the first case, it would mean that the kingdom of God was in their midst because Christ himself was standing among them. His life and the power of it represented the kingdom of God among them. (“But if I with the finger of God cast out demons, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” Luke 11:20). This also points us to the truth that today the kingdom of God is to do with the presence of the life of Christ within a person. With regard to the second interpretation, Christ was underlining the truth that kingdom of God does not refer to an outward material, social or political structure, or even to an outward project of good works, but it is a spiritual dynamic or condition within a person, where God reigns through righteousness. Christ was underlining the truth about the nature of the kingdom of God rather than telling the Pharisees that kingdom of God was actually and already in them, for this was manifestly not the case!
What the Lord Jesus says here is entirely consistent with the truth expressed in the verses in Matthew 6 and Romans 14 that we read above. And unless we follow the truth of what these scriptures are saying, we too shall fail to understand what the kingdom of God is all about!
Even apostles were under the same misapprehension about the nature of the kingdom of God. In Acts chapter 1, Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem because they were to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Upon this, they asked him in verse 6 whether he was going to restore the ‘kingdom’ to Israel at that time. It is clear that they were thinking of the re-establishment of an outward kingdom where the Romans would be expelled from the land of Israel and Christ would reign supreme over them! In response, Jesus led them away from this consideration and told them that they would receive power after the Holy Spirit had come upon them and that they would thus be enabled to be witnesses unto him! Again here a sharp distinction is made between an outward reigning kingdom and a spiritual empowering in an individual’s life to be a witness to the life of Christ!
Of course there would be a time when there would be a new heaven and a new earth and God would reign over all, and no doubt the apostles’ question was based on prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures that speak of such an event. Though such a time would come, Jesus purposefully made it clear to those who heard him that such a kingdom was not imminent, but its fulfilment would be for a later date.
“And as they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.” (Luke 19:11).
In other words, many of the Jews were anticipating that Jesus Christ was entering Jerusalem in order to establish a kingdom that was visible and outward. The parable he tells following this verse was to alert them to the truth that such an event was for a later time. However, elsewhere the Lord Jesus makes a remarkable statement that would almost appear to contradict what he says in Luke. In Mark 9:1 he says,
“Verily I say unto you, that there be some of those that stand here who shall not taste of death till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”
In other words, some of those who heard Jesus say these words would be alive to see the kingdom of God come with power! Remember, he had already told us that the kingdom of God does not appear as some outward physical structure or entity. This is as significant as it is amazing! There is no contradiction between the statements above, as the kind of kingdom Jesus is speaking about in Mark 9 – which refers to the end time when Jesus returns – is different to the one mentioned in Luke 19 – which refers to a kingdom of power which would be experienced by some that were still alive at that time. So what period of time or day was Jesus referring to?
“At that day…”
We have already seen that Paul stated that that the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. In Acts chapter one, we are told that Jesus spent 40 days speaking to his disciples about things that relate to the kingdom of God. Immediately upon this, Jesus told them to wait for the promise of the father, which he identified with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He explained that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. At the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus uses similar language and tells them, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49). The disciples were to receive power from above, from heaven when the Holy Spirit came upon! He also tells them that this would happen not many days later.
Jesus is clearly referring to the day of Pentecost, when the sound of a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and the Holy Spirit filled all the disciples that were gathered together!
It is also significant to note that in the Gospels ‘the kingdom of God’ is referred to as being ‘at hand’, in other words, the time of its arrival was ‘near’: “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:7). Jesus uses the same expression (at hand) with regard to his imminent betrayal and death – Mtt.26:18,45. However, in the Acts of the Apostles the expression ‘at hand’ is never used in connection with the kingdom of God because Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, was seated at his father’s right hand and had poured out the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33)!
Moreover, this kingdom of God that was now being preached was totally new – being both unknown and unavailable to those who lived prior to Jesus death and resurrection. In Luke 16:16 we read, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it.”
Here Jesus is telling us clearly that the coming of the kingdom of God is subsequent to, or follows upon the law and the prophets
We have already noted that Jesus told his listeners that some of them would not physically die until they had seen God’s kingdom come with power, and that the kingdom of God that would come had nothing to do with visible, outward structures, but that it would be something that resides in men and women. From all the Scriptures we have looked at, everything points towards the truth that the kingdom of God came with power on the day of Pentecost.
The apostle John, in his Gospel, also speaks of that day, not in terms of identifying the day specifically, but in terms of what would take place on that day. In John chapter 16 Jesus tells his disciples that it was necessary for him to go away, otherwise the Comforter – who is the Holy Spirit -would not come (verse 7). This is a clear reference to the day of Pentecost, and he again confirms that the day was not far away when he says, “A little while, and you shall not see me: and again, a little while, and you shall see me, because I go to the Father,” (verse 16). Jesus makes it clear that the time of his absence would not be long! What is interesting here is that he talks to the disciples in terms of seeing him again! Even more significantly, in chapter 14, Jesus tells his disciples that he would go away and come again to receive them to himself (verses 2 and 3), and then later in verse 20 he tells them that ‘at that day’ they would know that he is in the father, and that they were in him, and that he was in them!
We know that he was not talking about a day when there would be a new heaven and a new earth because the fulfilment of these words happened within that generation, even as he had said that there would be some standing there who would not taste death till they saw the kingdom of God come with power! The New Testament abounds with the fundamental truth that as a result of God’s work of redemption and the giving of the Holy Spirit, Christ is in us and we are in him! (2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27; 3:3).
The day that Jesus was referring to in John chapter 14 is the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon men and women, bringing them with power into the kingdom of God! On that day they were filled with the Holy Spirit and became the habitation of God through the Spirit (John 14:23; Ephesians 2:22). What greater thing could there be than this! God dwelling in his people by his Spirit. Surely this heralds a new reign! As Wesley puts it in one of his hymns, “The reign of sin and death is over, and all may live from sin set free; Satan has lost his mortal power, ‘tis swallowed up in victory.” As we shall see, this quote is by no means out of place as we go on to consider the topic of the kingdom of God!
The Spiritual Nature of the Kingdom of God – “you must be born again.”
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world…” (John 18:36)
The spiritual nature of the kingdom of God is abundantly made clear as we consider the following verses.
Some of the most significant declarations Jesus Christ made concerning the kingdom of God are to be found in John chapter 3, verses three and five. Christ here declares that except a person is born again (or born ‘from above’), they cannot see the kingdom of God. In verse five he says that unless a person is born of water and of the Spirit, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God! These truths make it clear that this new birth is a spiritual birth and it is this spiritual rebirth which brings us into a spiritual kingdom of God’s power. We are born of God, of his will and of his power, into his kingdom! (John 1:12,13). So we find that Paul declares in Colossians 1:13 that we have been ‘delivered from the power of darkness and translated or transferred into the kingdom of God’s son.’ In other words, we have been delivered out of one kingdom (Luke 11:18; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Cor.4:4) – a kingdom of darkness and of Satan – and placed into another, that is, the kingdom of God!
In John chapter 8, Jesus had told the Jews that if they continued his word then they would know the truth, and the truth would make them free – from sin! However, when they opposed him and his teachings, Jesus said these remarkable words to them, “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do.” (John 8:44). In a dramatic and graphic way, how these words bring home to us the need for a person to be born again, to be born from above, to be born of God!
Men and women are brought into, or enter, the kingdom of God by being born again. There is no other way! Either you are in this kingdom, or you are outside of this kingdom – just as it is for any other type of kingdom! You don’t drift into it unknowingly, nor is it just some vague influence.
Ephesians 2:1-6 expands on, or gives greater insight into the same truth that we read in John chapter 3 by declaring to us exactly what God’s power does in our lives through the preaching of the gospel! The word of God declares that we were spiritually dead in our sins. Our conduct was driven and regulated by ‘the prince of the power of the air, which is the spirit that works in the children of disobedience’, causing us to ‘live in the lusts of the flesh and fulfilling the desires both of the flesh and of the mind’. Later in the chapter he tells us that in this condition we were far from God and his promises! But now, by the grace of God, we have been made alive, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been spiritually raised up together with him and made to sit together with him in the heavenlies!
These truths are not to be limited to being just statements of doctrine requiring mental assent, they are not just statements which are true in theory but with little effect beyond that – they are to represent a spiritual power and dynamic in our lives that changes the very way we live! How huge this is! What a transfer this is! This gospel is of power – a spiritual power that brings a person out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God! Jesus Christ had told Paul that he would send him to the nations ‘to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.’ (Acts 26:18).
We are born again into a spiritual kingdom of God’s power – by which we are empowered to live righteously and in holiness all the days of our lives! (Luke 1:70-75; Ephesians 2:19, 20; 3:19-21; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Peter 1:3,4; 1 John 3:5-9).
A Kingdom of Righteousness
“Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness…” (1 Peter 2:24).
Of course, a kingdom has a king, and this kingdom is no different! It says of Jesus in Hebrews 1:8, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of your kingdom.” So one great distinguishing feature of God’s kingdom is that it reigns through righteousness, as it is written, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgement.” (Isaiah 32:1).
Jeremiah prophesied concerning the coming Christ, “Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name by which he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6.)
The reason Jesus Christ died on the cross was to cleanse and deliver us from sin that we might receive his Spirit and be brought into his kingdom where righteousness reigns. As the apostle Peter says, it is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we are born again! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3).
This transfer from one kingdom, where the power of darkness reigns, into another kingdom where righteousness reigns is put in these terms by the apostle Paul,
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:2-4).
In Romans chapter 5 Paul tells us that from the time that Adam sinned, sin and death have reigned over all mankind (Romans 5:12). A bit later in the same chapter Paul explains in some detail how this situation has been changed!
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous… That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:19-21).
It is interesting to note that the word used in the Greek for ‘reign’ in the verse above is βασιλευω (basileuo), which is linked to the Greek word for King, which is ‘βασιλευς’ (basileus). This is exactly the reason the translators choose the word ‘reign’ – because of its direct association with the power of the monarch! Through the disobedience of Adam sin and death reigns over all mankind. But through the obedience of Jesus Christ – by dying for us on the cross – righteousness is to reign in those who are saved by his grace! As Paul says in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.” The word used for ‘not have dominion’ in the Greek (κυριευω – kurieuo) comes from the noun for ‘Lord’ (κυριος – kurios), so we could translate the verse as, “for sin shall not be Lord over you”, or, “for sin shall not Lord it over you.”
This transformation, or this transfer from one kingdom into another, delivers us from one master to serve another! So we read,
“But God be thanked, that you land the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18).
The purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection is again highlighted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he says, “For he has made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Christ didn’t die on the cross to expel the Romans from the land of Israel and set up some earthly kingdom! He died on the cross to forgive and cleanse us from our sins, to deliver us from the power of sin and of Satan, and to give us an entrance into the kingdom of God by a spiritual rebirth, where this kingdom would distinguish itself – among other things – in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!
Preaching The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
How is the kingdom of God to be ‘spread’, ‘extended’, ‘built’ or ‘introduced’ to men and women? Are we to bring the kingdom of God to unbelievers through the means of our charitable actions? Do we ‘somehow’ bring the presence of God and his love – bring his ‘kingdom’ – to the unsaved through acts of social care or justice? These notions are as vague as they are unbiblical – though they are promoted by quite a few writers and preachers today. Nowhere in the Bible are our good works among unbelievers associated with bringing them into the kingdom of God. It simply doesn’t work that way; it simply isn’t explained in that way in the Scriptures.
We have already noted one of the most important references to the kingdom of God in the Scriptures, namely, that a person must be born again of God’s Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. (It is a significant reflection on some contemporary books which claim to address truths concerning the kingdom of God on earth without ever mentioning the verses in John chapter 3! In other words, their concept of the kingdom of God is quite different from that which is taught in the New Testament. Their agenda so drives them that they are blinded to the most obvious and fundamental truths.)
The thing that brings a person into the kingdom of God – or the way to enter the kingdom – is a fundamental inward change taking place in that person. The Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that some people cannot enter into the kingdom of God because they have attitudes and a disposition that are contrary to it! So right at the outset of his preaching Jesus declares,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17).
There needs to be a fundamental change in the attitude and disposition of a person! Without repentance, without humbling oneself before God and his word, without the recognition that one is in dire need of His saving grace there is no way into the kingdom of God. When he was addressing the hardness of heart of the chief priests, he told them, “Verily I say unto you, that the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31). And concerning the rich, Jesus said, “For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25). To the scribe who answered Jesus’s questions wisely, Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34). Nor were the disciples of Jesus at that time excluded from the necessity of such a fundamental change in their own hearts, “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3).
(Concerning the expression ‘become as little children’, I here at a quote from Coke’s Commentary: “So far shall ye be from becoming the greatest in my kingdom, that ye shall not so much as enter into it, unless ye be like little children, free from pride, covetousness, and ambition, and resemble them in humility, sincerity, docility, and in disengagement of affection from the things of the present life, which fire the ambition of grown men.”)
The gospel of the kingdom of God challenges the very condition and disposition of men and women!
So, how do we, as it were, bring the kingdom of God to people, or better put, how do we create the opportunity for them to enter the kingdom of God? The Bible gives a clear answer:
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2).
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:14, 15).
“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12).
These verses clearly show that, beginning with John the Baptist right through to the end of the Acts the Apostles, the kingdom of God, or as other verses put it, the gospel of the kingdom (of God) is declared to people through preaching. As we have already noted, the truths of the kingdom of God challenge people’s moral and spiritual condition. It was a declaration about God’s kingdom, which they were not yet part of! The only way to enter or become part of this kingdom of God was to believe this preaching and to repent of one’s sins.
In this sense, ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ is virtually synonymous with ‘the gospel’. This is indicated by the following verse ,
“And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him.” (Luke 8:1).
‘The glad tidings of the kingdom of God’ must be a reference to the joy that ensues from repenting and believing the gospel of the forgiveness of sins and of free salvation. Men and women must hear the ‘glad tidings’ of the kingdom of God before they can enter into it! And it was through preaching that men and women heard and were given opportunity to respond! Thus, we read throughout the Gospels and the Acts the following verses,
“And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. (Luke 4:43). Here Jesus Christ is declaring that he was sent for this very purpose, namely, to preach the kingdom of God! He then commissioned his disciples to do the same,
“Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2). Christ extended this commission to any who would follow him,
“Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60).
Central to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the preaching of the kingdom of God, as we can also see from the following verses in Acts,
“And he went into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for the space of three months, arguing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God… And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more… And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. (Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23).
From this last verse in particular, we can see that the preaching of Christ is virtually one and the same as the preaching of the kingdom of God. For it is only what Christ accomplished on the cross, through his death and resurrection that made it possible for sinners to enter the kingdom of God! Perhaps it would be legitimate to say that the expression ‘the gospel (of Jesus Christ)’ focuses on the work that Jesus Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection, and that the expression ‘the gospel of the kingdom (of God)’ focuses on that spiritual kingdom which His work brings us into. The two are inevitably and inseparably joined into one!
Let us summarise the pertinent points from the study above. If we want to play a part in the fulfilment of the prayer, “your kingdom come”, then the Scriptures reveal to us that the main way this is done is through preaching – preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God! The purpose of this preaching is to affect a deep change in attitude in a person which involves or leads to repentance and a deep spiritual experience – a new birth! It is only by being born again, by having this new birth, that a person can enter the kingdom of God or truly know anything about it!
The Kingdom of God – ‘here and now!’
Through Christ’s death on Calvary sin’s power has been broken, Satan’s power has been broken (John 8:31-36; Romans 6:6; 8:2; Heb.2:14; John 3:8), and anyone that truly repents and believes has the Promise of being born again and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus Christ cried out ‘It is finished!’, the thing that is immediately reported next in the accounts of Matthew and Mark, is that the veil in the temple was torn in two! This event heralded the truth that the way into the very presence of God, where God resides, was now made open! The redemption that Christ has purchased for us with his own blood so deeply and thoroughly cleanses and delivers us from sin that we can now be born again of God’s own Spirit and enter where he is. (This truth has not been given the prominent position it deserves by many expositors of the Bible.) How truly great our salvation is! This is an astonishing miracle of grace! This is something totally unknown since that time that Adam sinned! Truly, the kingdom of God has come, here and now to such as believe this gospel, repent and receive the Holy Spirit. Christ is in them and they in Christ! We have become the habitation of God through the Spirit! What could be greater than this! Therefore the writer to the Hebrews is able to say, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19).
This is not just some truth to be relegated to becoming just a doctrinal ‘concept’ of what is ‘positionally’ true of us! It is to be a spiritual reality and dynamic in our lives that brings us into real fellowship with the Father and Son, where we are affected and transformed by the glory that is His presence! The apostle Paul puts it astonishingly clearly! He explains in two Corinthians chapter 3 – whether we will believe it or not – that the glory and the presence of God that the Christian experiences through the ministry of Christ is so much greater than the glory communicated through Moses when he was up the mountain, that it is not worthy to be compared with it! Thus Paul is able to write, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The writer to the Hebrews exults in this truth! He too makes this stark distinction between that which was outward and visible and that which is now heavenly and spiritual. He compares the experience of Jewish believers at Mount Sinai with the experience of believers in this New Covenant:
“For you are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,…But you are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant…” (Hebrews 12:18,22-24).
No wonder Paul says in Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven! Indeed, Jerusalem which is above is the mother of us all! (Gal.4:26). The source and empowering of a Christian’s life comes from his or her spiritual connection with Heaven! (Eph. 1:3; 2:5,6; 2:22; Col.3:1,3). The purpose of God is that Christ may dwell in our hearts and that we might be filled with all the fullness of God! (Eph.3:16-20; Col.1:27; 2:9,10). Who can doubt that we have been transferred into another Kingdom?
All this is for the ‘here and now’ for the believer in Christ.
Do temptations and difficulties meet us on the way? Are we to live by faith and to patiently endure and overcome? Absolutely – but this is not the subject under consideration here.
Through Christ’s redemption, a person is brought out of one domain or realm – the realm of sin and Satan’s power – into the kingdom of God, where we are delivered from the power of sin and of Satan, and empowered to live righteously and where our life is hid with Christ in God (1 Peter 2:24; Col.3:1-4).
The idea that our good works somehow act as a vehicle to bring God’s kingdom to people because they are being touched by God’s love through these works, or that these works themselves are in some measure a representation of God’s kingdom on earth is an association of thought nowhere taught in the Scriptures. However much people may be blessed by our good works, this is a vague, nebulous teaching that simply undermines the preaching and meaning of the gospel of the kingdom of God by either overemphasising social projects or substituting such preaching with acts of social concern.
….Shall not inherit…
In this study, we have not looked at the parables concerning the kingdom of God / Heaven. To a large extent, the parables look at the nature of the kingdom of God from a different perspective which doesn’t really relate to the focus of this study. However, there is nothing in the parables that would contradict the above, or support a contrary view of that suggested in this study.
Even though the reader might not agree with every detail of the study above, I trust that it can be seen that the study is not agenda driven. I have not resorted to cherry-picking a few verses to back up a particular outlook. Instead, we have looked at a wealth of verses (nearly all that refer to the Kingdom of God in the NT) and have let them lead us into an understanding of the kingdom of God.
Misquoting Scripture: Seek first…
As we have seen, the link between the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness is clearly established in the Scriptures. The two are inseparable, and many of the Scriptures quoted above underscore this truth. Righteousness is the feature of God’s kingdom. Christ died for us that grace may reign in us through righteousness and that we ourselves might be made righteousness God through Christ! Consider these words of Jesus,
“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20).
The connection between righteousness and the kingdom of God is again here clearly established. In this verse, the word of God is referring to the moral or spiritual state of a person when considering the possibility of them entering the kingdom of heaven (or, the kingdom of God – because fundamentally there is no distinction between these two expressions in the Gospels, as anyone can see by comparing parallel verses in the Gospels). Jesus is making it clear that even the strictest outward observance of religious rules that a person can undertake is nowhere near good enough for them to enter the kingdom of God! All human efforts to attain to God’s righteousness fall far short and fail. A person must be radically and deeply changed from the inside, and in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul refers to such an experience – to such a transformation – when he says,
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).
And a few verses later Paul states, “For he has made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
As God said through the prophets, “This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD.…and this is his name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our righteousness.” (Isaiah 54:17; Jer.23:6)
It is astonishing these days to see the lengths that people will go to validate, and impose on others, their agenda for social action and community projects! They have no fear or shame to change and corrupt the word of God. There are preachers and teachers who will quote from Matthew 6:33 using this form of words,
“seek first the kingdom of God, and his justice” or even, “seek first the kingdom of God, and his restorative justice.”
There are even translations that render this verse with these words! (The Voice translation, the Julia Smith translation, and the Catholic Public Domain Version.) The word translated as ‘righteousness’ in verse 33 is the Greek word δικαιοσυνην, which throughout the New Testament is translated as ‘righteousness’ – because that is its meaning! The only Greek word which can at times be translated as ‘justice’ (or more commonly ‘judgement’) is ‘κρισις’, but that is not used in this verse. There is no justification whatsoever in translating the above verse in this manner. Such corruptions in translation are the result of an interpretation of the text that is agenda-driven! Lacking clear texts on which to base their prescriptive agenda of social and political action, promoters of the so-called social gospel resort to changing the actual text of the Bible or quoting verses wholly out of context.
One writer exemplifies clearly what I am alluding to in the following quote,
“There’s a well-known statement of Jesus, ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.’
“Righteousness” is not a word we often hear or use outside of the context of the Bible and the church. And even when we hear it there, I’m not sure we really have a handle on what it means. We often think of righteousness merely as moral purity or personal holiness. As if Jesus was saying, ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his moral purity.’
I think we understand the word ‘righteousness’ so much better when we think of it as, ‘things being set right.’ I love the way that the Voice translation captures the force of this word when it translates Matthew 6:33, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His restorative justice….’” (The Kingdom Pursuit of Restorative Justice, Kim Smith Jones, May 24, 2017, http://www.sparrowconference.com/blog/the-kingdom-pursuit-of-restorative-justice)
The italics above are mine. The author attempts to persuade us that none of us really understand what ‘righteousness’ in the Scriptures mean, and then proceeds to try and re-educate us by interpreting it in such a way that destroys its actual meaning in an attempt to transform us into campaigners for social justice! This kind of thinking and misinterpretation of Scripture is the driving force behind any number of books written for Christians today!
This is why this study has been undertaken! We are not here dealing with slight variations emphasis or interpretations. What we are dealing with here is a wholesale restructuring of what the Gospel is!
In the quote above, the personal challenge to our hearts and lives of God’s own righteousness is at least side-stepped if not altogether eliminated by the author’s false interpretation and zeal to turn us all into campaigners for social justice. There is a move away from God and his righteousness and our relationship to him, to us and our ability and duty to be active against social injustice in the community or even in the world at large! Such writers and teachers give paramount importance to a supposedly scriptural obligation for undertaking such action! The power of the gospel and its challenge to our lives is thus neutered by such hijacking of the text, by such hijacking of the gospel!
It is no accident that other authors who write on Christian social action and social justice use the exact same phrase as the author above when he talks about ‘things being set right’. It is a common idea used by authors when trying to interpret the gospel and the message of the cross, namely, that Jesus came and died to ‘put things right’ or ‘to set things right’, by which they basically mean any and every kind of social injustice that exists in the world! Instead of transforming lives by the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom of God; instead of bringing people into the kingdom of God by preaching the power of the cross, those who promote the ‘social gospel’ are gradually but definitely transforming this generation into social and political campaigners rather than those who are witnesses to the life of Christ within them!
The Cross of Christ
As I have said, some writers today misinterpret Scripture in order to make a whole plethora of social action and projects prescriptive for Christians. They force an un-biblical obligation upon Christians for their agenda of social action. Not only is the truth of the gospel of the kingdom of God stretched beyond what Scripture teaches, but a meaning is forced upon the message of the cross that the Scriptures nowhere justify. Some writers claim that the preaching of the cross necessarily implicates all believers in the necessity of campaigning against social injustice of every type.
We have an example of this in John Stott’s book, ‘The Cross of Christ’, where he states,
“The cross calls us to social action too, because it summons us to the imitation of Christ:” (p.291, The Cross of Christ with Study Guide, John Stott, copyright John R. W. Stott 1986.)
This is of course as yet totally unwarranted claim as far as the New Testament is concerned. However, he proceeds to quote 1 John 3:16-18, “By this perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his heart of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
This is all well and good. However, in expounding these verses, without a word of explanation or justification, he extends the meaning of them beyond our brethren to everyone in the world.
“Yet, as we have repeatedly noted throughout this book, cross is the revelation of God’s justice as well as of his love. That is why the community of the cross should concern itself with social justice as well as with loving philanthropy. It is never enough to have pity on the victims of injustice, if we do nothing to change the unjust situation itself. Good Samaritans will always be needed to succour those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem – Jericho road of brigands. Just so Christian philanthropy in terms of relief and aid is necessary, but long-term development is better, and we cannot evade our political responsibility to share in changing the structures which inhibit development. Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices which spoil God’s world and demean his creatures. Injustice must bring pain to the God whose justice flared brightly at the cross; it should bring pain to God’s people to. Contemporary injustices take many forms. They are international (the invasion and annexation of foreign territory), political (the subjugation of minorities), legal (the punishment of untried and unsentenced citizens), racial (the humiliating discrimination against people on the ground of race or colour), economic (the tolerance of gross north-south inequality and of the traumas of poverty and unemployment), sexual (the oppression of women), educational (the denial of equal opportunity for all) or religious (the failure to take the gospel to the nations). Love and justice combine to oppose all these situations. If we love people we shall be concerned to secure their basic rights as human beings which is also this concern of justice. The community of the cross which has truly absorbed the message of the cross, will always be motivated to action by the demands of justice and love.” (p.292)
It is a wonder that the believer will have much time left for anything else if he comes under such an obligation! How does the writer justify his interpretation of the message of the cross? He states vaguely,
“The cross calls us to social action to, because it summons us to the imitation of Christ:”
TO BE CONTINUED!
Copyright Ⓒ D. Stamen 2021