Biblical Historical Reflection on the Kingdom of God By Larry Allen Inspired from The Kingdom of God, by John Bright
Table of Contents Part I: Old Testament Part II: New Testament
Part I: Old Testament
If you end up in prison for the last two years of your life, and all you have to do is to talk to people who come to visit you, what will you say to them? Do you remember reading in Acts what the Apostle Paul focused on when he was in that situation? Acts 28:30-31 says, And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. Why did he focus so intently on the Kingdom of God? What is the kingdom of God? How does it relate to Israel or how does Israel relate to it? Did Israel get it? How does God bring about the kingdom of God? Truly, God does bring it about, and then He sustains it eternally with His all-powerful energy! Ancient Israel knew that God controls the direction of history. The pagan nations did not. They believed in polytheism, and had dozens of gods. These pagan gods personified various forces of nature. They were in and of nature and without any virtuous moral character. They were weak idols which the heathen manipulated through rituals, hoping to gratify their lusts. The pagans saw no direction to history because no one god was in control. However, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is in control. He rules sun, moon, and stars; He uses the fire and the storm. He has no fixed place of abode, and yet comes to the aid of all His people. He is an active Being who controls nature and history. He reveals His righteous will and calls upon man to obey Him. He moves His kingdom onward to victory. It a royal rule and reign. God reigns victoriously in the midst of persecution and overcomes temptation, evil and death. He therefore expects mankind to walk in his wisdom. Generally, however, Israel did not seek to live in God's wisdom. Still, God patiently worked with rebellious Israel. His purpose for them began when God told Abraham that in him, "all the families of the earth would be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). Accordingly, God orchestrated history to fulfill that purpose through Israel. This wasn't an easy task because as time went on, Israel modeled itself after the pagan nations around it, and cried out for a king. The book of Samuel tells us: (A)ll the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel and said to him, "now make us a king to judge us like all the nations ..." And the Lord said unto Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you ... they have rejected Me from being king over them...." (I Samuel 8:4-5, 7) Notice that God warned the Israelites that it was wrong to establish a monarchy. He said the king, â€œwill take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants ... and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves ... nevertheless, the people refused to listen ... and they said, "No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations... (I Samuel 8:11-19)
God wanted Central Government without Centralized Authority However, the Israelites refused to heed God's warning. They modeled themselves after the pagan nations around them when God had wanted to teach them how to have central government without having centralized authority. So God, in 1050 B.C., chose Saul to be their king. From then on, Israel's history became a testimony of the suffering which comes from centralized state power. God still taught the same principles, but Israel was a negative example of it, instead of being a positive example of kingdom of God principles correctly applied. Israel fell to the pagan temptation of seeking absolute power. They were not qualified for it. Man is finite, depraved, and unqualified to handle absolute power. When civil governmentâ€™s authority centralizes in one group or individual, eventually all other people become owned by the state, and just as God warned, the king took Israel's sons and daughters to do things for his pleasure. The state so easily overlooks the equal value of every individual who is to be judged impartially by Godâ€™s law. In the pagan state a person becomes valued only so long as he gratifies what the state wants. Even King David was overtaken by this temptation when he had Uriah killed for the sake of his own pleasure when David lost sight of the kingdom of God. In a monarchy, the individual has rights only if they are permitted by the state, and any religion except the national is at most only tolerated. The state rules supreme over the individual, and the individual no longer has any way to hold the state under the law of God. God wanted guidance to come forth through the people of God. The purpose of the church (and religion) is to bring forth the kingdom of God. This does not match the pagan view that the purpose of religion is merely to be a tool of the state to be used to achieve its own ends. When God chose Saul, Saul was the very best man available for God to give them. Saul even prophesied with the prophets (I Samuel 10:10). However, as time went by he grew in pride, and he carried out the abuses made possible by centralized power. Finally God found it necessary to anoint David to replace King Saul. And when David was anointed to be the new king over Israel, King Saul used his unrestrained power to pursue after David to kill him. Nevertheless, when David became king, it seemed to many that Israel's destiny had been realized. The age of David became no less than a golden age. It intensified when Solomon built the temple on Mount Zion. However a subtle change came about during Solomon's reign. The Bible tells us: Now King Solomon loved many foreign women . . . from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, "You shall not associate with them, neither shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods" . . . For it came about when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (I Kings 11:1-4) After turning away from God, Solomon began bringing in the ways of the pagan religions. And while Solomon grew in the pride of his heart, Israel grew in its national pride. They came to consider their nation to be itself the kingdom of God. (But as we shall see, the kingdom of God is not external,
but internal, within the heart.) When the kingdom of God rules, it transforms a nation by bringing transformation from within the individual. Every nation is to be discipled by the kingdom of God; yet it will never be the kingdom of God. Now God uses nations. God wants them to be structured on God’s Word in their institutional forms and in their national purpose. But this reality did not sink into the heart and mind of the Israelites. Israel lost sight of the kingdom of God and was constantly turning away from God. Paganism increasingly spread. Though Solomon still had the temple he built, and he ruled over Israel, it was not the rule of the kingdom of God. Solomon had established the external structure, but the internal reality was slipping away. Even Solomon himself came to serve the pagan gods of his foreign wives. Israel's history demonstrates that a nation's external structures can't forever endure without building and maintaining the internal foundation. God grieved as Israel lost these internal foundations, and worked hard to deter Israel from complete destruction. Israel followed the pagans, and Saul became their first king in 1050 B.C. During the next 120 years, they had moved far from the kingdom of God. God found He must step in, and God brought judgment in 930 B.C. He divided Israel into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, ruled the southern kingdom (Judah); and God raised up an Israelite by the name of Jeroboam to be the first king of the northern kingdom (Israel). God, through this judgment, moved the people back in the direction of de-centralization. God works to build a people so that authority may flow from God to the individual’s heart then outward, applying Heb.13:17 when not violating the rule of conscience – “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Yet God holds people accountable to obey their conscience. When the leaders confronted Peter ("We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man's blood upon us), Peter answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). God strongly warned Jeroboam to obey Him, and if he would, God told him, "I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David . . ." (I Kings 11:38). Jeroboam, however, fretted because the men of Israel went yearly up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles. Jeroboam thought in his heart, "If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their Lord . . . and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah" (I Kings 12:27) Fearing the people, and not trusting God to be true to His Word to build him an enduring house, Jeroboam therefore, set out to form his own religion in the northern kingdom. His strategy was to cut out contact between Israel and Judah. So he made two golden calves and said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you from the land of Egypt" (I Kings 12:28). He set one in Bethel, and the other in Dan. Jeroboam built his religion on external rituals rather than on a right internal condition of heart and true understanding. He then imposed it upon the northern kingdom. Because he had centralized state power, he was able to redirect religion to promote his own selfish ends. Religion now existed to serve the state rather than to worship God. Paganism gained hold of the northern kingdom, and it never recovered. Yet God still pursued them. He sent a prophet to Bethel while King Jeroboam was there. He cried out against Jeroboam's
pagan altar: "O altar, altar, thus says the Lord, 'Behold a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.' â€œ (I Kings 13:2). This is not the kingdom of God. It is not true that the purpose of religion is merely a tool of the state to be used by the state to achieve its own ends. Jeroboam would not repent. After Jeroboam, the northern state's paganism grew ever worse. Materialism was the idol of its heart, and it sought to recapture a measure of the prosperity which had existed under Solomon. In pursuit of this goal, Ahab, who became king in 869 B.C. â€“ Ahab entered into an alliance with Phoenicia. He sealed it by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of Ittobaal, king of Tyre. Jezebel was born and raised a worshipper of Baal, and so Ahab allowed her to continue her pagan religion in Israel. There, she built a temple. Furthermore, Jezebel was a strong-minded woman who appears to have been no less than a missionary for her god. Elijah opposed her Baal worship. This infuriated her, and she turned all her repressive measures against these followers of God. Jezebel made the state supreme over the individual. She centralized authority in the state, and not in God. In a monarchy the people are only as free as the monarchy decides to allow. It depends upon the monarch whether there is bondage or toleration. Each monarch may change the whole nation's focus. There is never any guarantee of stability and protection against oppression. And so Jezebel carried out her atrocity. Jezebel demanded that the people worship Baal, not the Lord God. Clearly the question, 'God or Baal?' was not a trivial one. These were not just two rival religions; they were religions with nothing in common. It was a question of whether man belongs to God or to the state. Are all people equally valuable or is there a natural inequality of value? Is a person's value God-given or is it measured by his contribution to the state? Is there an absolute standard of law or is there only arbitrariness? Does the state exist to serve the individual in serving God or is the individual inferior to the state? What is the purpose for an individual? Is it to live in a love relationship with God and man, applying the principles of the kingdom of God in every sphere of human relationship and societal structure; or is it to promote the ends of the state, whatever those might be? Unlike the kingdom of God that values all people equally, Jezebel demonstrated clearly enough where she stood on these questions through what she did to Naboth (I Kings 21:1-15). Naboth had a wonderful vineyard, and King Ahab wanted it. So Jezebel told him, "Do you not govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let your heart be merry: I will give you the vineyard of Naboth ..." (I Kings 21:7). Then she wrote letters in Ahab's name, falsely accusing Naboth of committing blasphemy against God, and had him stoned to death. And of course, King Ahab was very happy to have Nabothâ€™s vineyard. Clearly God and Baal could have nothing to do with each other. Israel's very existence rested upon her confidence that God had called her, had entered into covenant with her, and demanded obedience to His righteous law. It was God who had given Israel its sense of destiny. Baal, however, assaulted the faith which built Israel. Baal was a religion which inspired men to live like the devil. It made no moral demands. Instead it provided a ritual which excused evil living that devastated true community. Baal cultivated the selfish desires of its worshippers. Paganism was, then, as now, no trivial thing. Men always take on the character of the gods they serve. Had Israel embraced Baal, it would have been the end of her; not one scrap of heritage would have survived.
Against Jezebel and this detestable Baal worship, God sent Elijah. In the name of the God of Israel, he declared holy war on Ahab and Jezebel, upon their pagan state, and upon Jezebelâ€™s pagan god. Neither Elijah, nor any of the prophets could rest while Jezebel sat on the throne. Elijah was not working for a mere political turnover. Israel had forsaken her destiny. Elijah was called to correct Israel and restore her to God's loving and reasonable commandments. He was calling her back to those essential requirements which man's created design and God-given purpose demand. On Mount Carmel, Elijah experienced a mighty victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel where he had assembled the four hundred prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah (I Kings 18:19-46). Then he called for two bulls to be prepared. He instructed the prophets of Baal call upon Baal to send fire from heaven to consume their sacrifice to him. But though they called, there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded. Then Elijah declared, "O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel, ... Answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O Lord, art God..." (1 Kings 18:36). Fire consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. Thus, God judged Baal worship in Israel. However, Israel's heart would not be reformed. During the next 50 years, she continued down her depraved spiritual spiral. Around 800 B.C. Amos speaks out against her. Amos sees the fragmentation of society on every side. There is wealth unheard of. Israel has every luxury that money can buy. Men of corrupted conscience place property and greedy gain above both God and man. Religion is defiled. The shrines are busy and thronged with worshipers, but their religion is nothing but a mechanical and sickening attempt to purchase material favors from God. It tolerates the grossest immorality without uttering any rebuke. It is totally controlled by the state, unwilling to speak out against it. To this corrupted prosperity and spiritual degeneracy, Amos proclaims with savage anger: These turn justice to poison, thrust righteousness down to the ground...They hate him who rebukes crookedness in the court, abhor him who speaks with integrity!... you trample on the weak and take from him "presents" of grain...Houses of stone, you have built, but you'll not get to live in them; Delightful vineyards you have planted, but you'll never drink their wine. For I know that many are your crimes and countless your sins, who harass honest men, take bribes, and push aside the needy in the court. (Amos 1-5) Amos could see the luxury-loving ease that placed comfort above value and virtue. The prophet bluntly addresses the haughty ladies of the kingdom, calling them fat "Bashan cows." He proclaims a strong warning to this pampered society which sought amusement, though on the threshold of judgment. The thrust of Amos' message to Israel is clear: A society that cares more for gain than for honor, for its living standard than for God, is sick unto death. Amos knew that no amount of religious activity and church loyalty can place a man's business and social activities above the realm of God's judgment. A correct creed will not substitute for plain obedience to God's Will in every aspect of life. From Amos comes clear warning that a person is under God's judgment if he refuses to live out the righteousness which his faith demands. That is because the kingdom of God hates sin, and upholds absolute moral standards.
Amos demanded that society remain loyal to its covenant with God. He addressed Israel as God's people, the subjects of His rule, and partners with Him. Israel knew she was chosen of God. She believed it with all her heart. However, she had reduced the idea of election to being only a mere mechanical thing; she thought she was the elect just because she descended from Abraham. She had entirely forgotten the eternal conditions of relationship. Amos reminded Israel that her whole national past had been a history of God's grace â€“ a grace repaid by the grossest ingratitude (Amos 2:9-12). He prophesied to them afresh that to be chosen is not to be pampered. Instead, it is to shoulder double responsibility. To sin against the light of grace is the greatest crime. All nations, Israel included, stand equally before the bar of God's justice (Amos 1-2). There are no pet nations, no elite races. God asked, "Are you not just like Ethiopia's sons to me, sons of Israel?...Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt -- and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?" (Amos 9:7) Election is for responsibility. Amos plainly and simply denounced all greed, immorality, and social iniquity as sin against the covenant God. He presented no way to re-unite and rebuild society without the restoration of the covenantal relationship from which God formed the Israelite society in the first place. Amos exhorted Israel: â€œSeek good and not evil, that you may live; And so Yahweh God of Hosts may be with you...â€? (Amos 5:14) His preaching establishes that the Israelite nation was not unconditionally the kingdom of God. Israel was to demonstrate to the world the nature of the Kingdom of God; and if it didn't, it would be rejected. Through their idolatry, gross immorality, and unbrotherly greed on a nationwide scale, they had broken their covenantal bond with God. A grieved God must say, "Call his name Lo-ammi, for you are not my people, and I will not be your God" (Hosea 1:9). Within twenty five years Israel (the northern state) was swept from the map. Hosea lived through the collapse of the northern kingdom, and his heart was torn apart by it. He pictures graphically the political vacuum, the mad plotting for power, the collapse of law and order, and the resulting civil anarchy in which no one could live in safety (Hosea 4:1-2; 7:1-7; 8:4; 10:3). There was complete moral decay. The priests merely served their time; they uttered no moral rebuke; they themselves corrupted religion (Hosea 4:8-9; 5:1; 6:9-10). There was no longer instruction in true righteousness. The Israelites were entrenched in paganism. Children were even more immoral than their parents (Hosea 4:6, 11-14). The corrupted northern state wouldn't return to God. Instead it tried to cure itself by political maneuvering (Hosea 5:13). They trimmed their foreign policy to every political wind that blew, but they were always wrong because they were morally wrong. Hosea described Israel as a half-baked cake (Hosea 7:8), a "silly dove without any sense" (Hosea 7:11) fluttering and cooing this way and that in a panic; like a frail, old man unwilling to admit his condition (Hosea 7:9). Israel faced a completely hopeless condition.
And so Assyria overran the northern kingdom and carried off 27,290 people as slaves to Upper Mesopotamia (II Kings 17:6). There they entirely lost their identity. Then the Assyrians brought in other peoples into the land from Babylon and elsewhere (II Kings 17:24). These intermarried with the Israelites who had survived. Their descendants became known as the Samaritans. Yet God keeps working in history. God directed his redemptive purposes to Judah. There were problems though. Her condition was not that spiritually healthy either. Though she had escaped Israel's calamity, Judah walked a depraved path. She also was contaminated with the moral rot which had destroyed Israel. Micah clearly understood this. No one knows who Micah was, except that he seemed to have been a villager from southwestern Judah (Micah 1:1). Micah lashed out at her social unrighteousness with the same fury that Amos had preached to Israel. He knew that the bow that had slain Israel must surely strike Judah down as well. How could it be different when the judges had made their courts the instruments of injustice (Micah 3:1-3)? The prophets and priests were fakes who counterfeited God's word. The message they prophesied depended upon how much they were paid (Micah 3:5, 11). Yet they sat in smug complacency and viewed themselves spiritually acceptable because they thought of themselves as God's people. After all, isn't God’s temple, God's habitation, right in the midst of them? Micah exposed their hypocrisy as he prophesied, "Therefore, on account of you, Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the temple will become the high places of a forest.” (Micah 3:12) Hezekiah became king in 715 B.C. Only fourteen years later, King Sennacherib came with his massive Assyrian army "up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them" (II Kings 17:13). All forty-six of these cities were leveled to the ground. The Egyptian army which had hastened to Judah's aid, were swept aside like straw. Hezekiah was now shut up in Jerusalem, having paid the heavy tax which Assyria demanded. Then King Sennacherib demanded unconditional surrender. Hezekiah, in total distress, cried out to God for help. King Hezekiah "tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and entered the house of the Lord" (II Kings 19:1). He further called upon Isaiah to "offer a prayer for the remnant that is left" (II Kings 19:4). Isaiah responded as a tower of courage to both king and people. Through him, God declared, "I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake" (Isaiah 37:35). That night "the angel of the Lord went out, and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when the men arose in the morning, behold all of these were dead” (Isaiah 37:36). King Sennacherib returned to Nineveh. King Hezekiah saw God bring victory. Judah had been saved by the providence of God. God actively works to bring forth the kingdom of God. He works in His providence, sometimes with provision, and at other times, in judgment upon individuals and nations. God providentially cared for Judah. She had escaped with her life – but that was all. She needed revival. Isaiah continued to prophesy against her sinful society and its deplorable insult to God's great love and care. Isaiah tells her:
“My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill, And He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it, And hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones.” Then God declared, "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah", "Judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?” (Isaiah 5:1-4) “. . . I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats . . . Bring your worthless offerings no longer . . ." (Isaiah 1:11, 13). Judah had perverted the law of God and made it into legalism. God pronounced His judgment upon them because of it: This people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote. (Isaiah 29:13) Judah was a nation upon which God had lavished the very best of care, but from which he received worthless grapes. Of a certainty, the kingdom of God is not a righteousness that is measured by external “law-keeping” (Philippians 3:4-6). Instead true righteousness is measured by the intention of heart behind the action (Isaiah 29:13) However, in spite of Judah’s great wickedness, God did not bring complete devastation. The line of David would continue, and a Prince would come who would establish the rule of that line forever (Isaiah 9:6-7). God is the Lord of history; He works events to bring forth His purpose. History moves toward God's victory. Though He had called Israel to be his people, and though they had miserably failed Him, still – their failure was not God's failure. In time, God had to bring judgment upon Judah. Nevertheless, God has a purpose in history. God will work his purpose in history, and He did so with stubborn Judah. Through His wise dealings, He redeemed a remnant for His purpose! The future is with God. Even if everything else should become uncertain, that much is unshakably certain! God was determined to produce a pure remnant cleansed in fiery trial – prepared for His purpose (Isaiah 10:20-22; 37:30-32). God was at work to bring forth the Messiah (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-5. Cf. Micah 5:2-4). For a child is born to us; A son is given to us. And the government is upon his shoulder . . . Yet it is plain that Isaiah is prophesying far beyond the presently existing nation of his day. It is the kingdom of God toward which all history moves. There justice shall reign (Isaiah 11:3-5); there peace
will be unbroken (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3). There Israel shall find at last her destiny to be a blessing to the entire world (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2. Cf. Genesis 12:3). God is the real ruler of that Kingdom. There is centralized authority only in the Lord Jesus. (The people must learn the difference between central government and centralized authority.) The Prince of David's line is imbued with God's Spirit, and by that Spirit he rules (Isaiah 11:2). Yet when we see baby Jesus come to earth, He stands before us as no fierce warrior, but as a little child (Isaiah 9:6) established in his rule by God's power (Isaiah 9:7). And when He establishes His reign, he rules through a people transformed in their hearts and in their minds, and Jesus works through their obedience to the Will of God. It is God's Kingdom and it will endure forever (Isaiah 9:7). These majestic concepts spawned unfading hope in Israel. The messianic hope of Israel was tied firmly to the line of David, to Jerusalem and the temple, and given a form which it would never lose. A mighty faith existed which nothing could shatter. Indeed, the darker the days, the brighter the faith. For Messiah does not come to a proud nation glorying in its strength, but to a beaten nation, a cut-down stump of a nation, a nation tried in the furnace of affliction. But Judah's hope was so established that no humiliation could be so terrible, nor any torment severe enough to keep faith from whispering, "Who knows but that this suffering is the purge that is even now producing the pure Remnant; who knows but that tomorrow the Messiah may come?"
The Broken Covenant and the New Covenant In 640 B.C. Josiah became king in Jerusalem. He worked zealously for reform. But a mere law book never made a reform, any more than the presence of a dust-covered Bible in the family parlor can of itself create character. So it was with Josiah. In spite of his godliness and his confrontation with the pagan externals of his society, he still saw no change of heart. Into this context steps Jeremiah. From 620 B.C. all the way up to the time when backslidden Judah went into Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C., Jeremiah faithfully ministered to them. Jeremiah saw that it would take more than Josiah's reform to make Judah the people of God. Josiah had worked hard. His activity was like that of today. We yearn for a Christian society but try to produce it by organizing meetings and financing programs. Similarly, Josiah yearned for covenant peace with God, and destroyed the pagan shrines and restored the glory of the temple. Such was necessary; reform measures are called for. But Jeremiah tells us that if we have no more than reform measures, we are lopping at the leaves and branches of mortal frailty, and never touching the trunk. We are not getting to the heart of the problem. True reform must grow out of a right heart and right understanding. Only an obedient people can remain His people; they must repent from the heart (Jeremiah 4:14). They must know Godâ€™s character and Godâ€™s ways. They must turn from selfishness to supreme love for God and to loving their neighbor as themselves. And they must be transformed by the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2). Wanting that to happen, God spoke to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem:
“Break up for yourselves fallow ground, and circumcise yourselves to Yahweh ... lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn so that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings” (Jeremiah 4:3-4. Cf. Deuteronomy 10:16) The people of God are a people of a circumcised heart. There would be a day when the Apostle Paul (Romans 2:25-29) would come forth declaring that it is precisely this spiritual circumcision that marks the member of the true Israel. Jeremiah is called "the weeping prophet" because he so identified with God's grief. God wept too: "For the mountains I will take up a weeping and wailing, And for the pastures of the wilderness a dirge, Because they are laid waste so that no one passes through, And the lowing of the cattle is not heard; Both the birds of the sky and the beasts have fled; they are gone.” Yet neither God nor Jeremiah ever gave up hope of a glorious future for the true people of God. He preached powerfully that God would bring forth a remnant. But as Jeremiah looked at the current scene he could not lay his hands on a single group and say, "Here is the clean remnant!" No group could escape judgment. He prophesied judgment. For the King and His kingdom call for hatred of sin and hungering after righteousness. It demands uncompromising obedience. It calls for total allegiance only to God, and conformity to the state only where it operates consistently with God’s principles. As a result, Jeremiah must declare that Jerusalem would be destroyed. Certainly Jeremiah sounded like a traitor (Jeremiah 2:8-10; 37:13-14; 38:2-4). The Israelites certainly thought he was. So did the Babylonians (Jeremiah 39:11-12). But Jeremiah was neither a coward, nor a pacifist, nor a Babylonian. He was a man who had confronted the awful realization that God and the cause of righteousness were no longer on the side of his country. He was, in this respect, somewhat in the position of an anti-Nazi German or an anti-Communist Russian, or a pro-life American, who, though he dearly loves his country, must declare supreme allegiance to God. The Kingdom of God demands supreme allegiance. Jeremiah and then Ezekiel totally rejected the Judah, but this helped men to see that God's purposes could go on without it. This was a powerful cushion against the shock of captivity. The voices of the state religion in that hour had been those of the professional prophet promising speedy deliverance, and of the priest proclaiming an enduring Zion. Such religion went down with the state in smoke and ashes in the calamity of 586 B.C. If Israel had nothing but the empty promises of the false prophets, the Babylonian Captivity may have ended Israel forever. But God was not going to end His fight against paganism. Jeremiah and Ezekiel announced the Babylonian captivity to be the judgment of God, and the instrument of His moral purpose. Their books assured the Israelites that God was at work to save a remnant. He would advance the Kingdom of God. It was God who struck the blow; God was, is, and always will be the One whom maintains control of the direction and purpose of history. Through the prophetic voice of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God redeemed a remnant. God keeps advancing the kingdom of God. God uses nations and
wants them to be structured on the principles and goals of the kingdom of God. These are to form the nations in their institutional forms and in their national purpose.
Entrance and Involvement in the Kingdom of God Jeremiah put special stress on the inward nature of repentance; there must be a change of heart. His preaching was not merely an attack on the state. He called people to decide in favor of the Kingdom of God and against Jehoiakim who followed Josiah as king. Jeremiah's own life was an illustration of the immense cost of that decision. Yet Jeremiah cleared the way for a faith that was divorced from the state and the state's religion. God was again getting people to realize that the kingdom flows from internal and external. It was a fresh declaration that the kingdom of God resides within the hearts of individual men. And out of the hearts of such individual men, God was to one day structure the state upon the principles of the Kingdom of God. Though Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity, God preserved a remnant for himself. However, the house of Judah fell, never to rise again. The Babylonian conquest of Judah destroyed the nation and dispersed population. But it did even more. It forced a spiritual crises. Religion could no longer continue as a sort of national church. Religion could not exist for the purpose of endorsing the whims of the state. God is at work to get both the state and religion exist together to extend the kingdom of God. The challenge posed by the Babylonian exile can hardly be exaggerated. Yet it is clear that Judah's faith did rise to meet it. The Exile was anything but her spiritual extinction. There was vitality; there was a remnant in her. The prophets, particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had prepared the Remnant! While others doubted if God were maintaining the control and direction of history, or blubbered that He was not fair, these prophets tirelessly asserted that he was both. They insisted that the judgment on Jerusalem came from God and totally just; it was his judgment on the sins of the nation. The present generation had participated fully in the sins, and the sooner they realized this, the better off they would be (Jeremiah 16:10-13; Ezekiel 14:12-23; 18). The author of second Kings carefully explained this judgment exactly the same way. This understanding buffered the blow. Here were men of undoubted integrity, whose words had been vindicated by events, who explained the tragedy precisely in terms of faith in God. When this tragedy was explains in terms of their faith, it could destroy that faith, but reinforced it. The prophets, too, had prepared for the day when faith could go on without the external forms of religion. To most of Jeremiah's contemporaries, it seemed unthinkable that God could be worshipped without sacrifice, without ritual, without temple. Yet the Kingdom of God is in the person's heart. It is internal; the external, visible events are but the expression of it. Thus it was, that the Babylonian Captivity, instead of being the graveyard of faith, to the contrary, it became a time of great spiritual vitality. And hope kept burning in their hearts that the eventual restoration of their nation would come.
Further, in due time, using Cyrus of Persia, God judged Babylonia because of her great wickedness. It was then that He brought deliverance for the Jews. The Medes were the most dangerous external menace to Babylon. In the previous century the Medes teamed up with the Babylonians to destroy the Assyrian Empire, and now they controlled a large territory stretching from central Asia Minor far into what is now Iran. Nabonidus, the last Babylonian ruler, greatly feared the Medes. Wanting to form a secure relationship with them, he formed a treaty with the Medes against Cyrus of Persia. Seldom has a head of state made a greater mistake. For Cyrus was not only victorious over the Medes but in a series of astounding campaigns he enlarged his empire to colossal dimensions. By his victory over the fabulous Croesus in 546 BC, he extended it all the way to the Aegean Sea. Then he turned on Babylon and defeated them without a fight. Babylon was finished; Cyrus, the Persian, ruled the world. In 538 B.C., Cyrus issued to the Jews a decree of restoration. The book of Ezra preserves it for us in two versions, one in Hebrew (Ezra 1:1-4) and one in Aramaic (Ezra 6:3-5). Cyrus was God's means of bringing about His purpose in history. The Kingdom of God moves on to its victory. Victory is certain, because God controls history's direction. What sort of victory will it bring? It is not as the world would understand such things. On the contrary, it is a destiny of humiliation and suffering, through which God brings victory. It is brought about by the strangest figure, a figure almost without ancestry in Israel, a figure so laden with offense that neither Israel, nor we know what to do with him: He is the Suffering Servant of God. The Suffering Servant is something totally unique. He brings forth a victorious kingdom through suffering and serving. In Isaiah 42:1-7 we see the Servant going about his world mission, bringing light and liberty to the Gentiles. He is endowed with God's own Spirit; it is certain that he will be successful. But his progress is not one of conquest and glory, but of quiet labor and infinite patience. In spite of all opposition, he will not give up till the victory is won. He will proclaim the good tidings of God's redemption (Isaiah 61:1-3), interceding meanwhile with God, day and night for the victory of his purpose (Isaiah 62:1, 6-7). But in Isaiah chapters 52 and 53, the very ultimate is said of the Servant. Here we read of the greatest of all suffering in bringing forth victory. The Servant is revealed as something unheard of, so much so that onlookers cry out: "Who could have believed what we have heard?" What an unlovely figure, scorned of men and seemingly cursed of God. It would seem incredible that in this unlikely quarter, in this "root out of dry ground," (Isaiah 53:2) there should be manifested the very essence of God (Isaiah 53:1). He endures brutal persecution (Isaiah 53:4-6), so brutal that later it dawns upon men that he could have committed no sin worthy of it. Here is one suffering vicariously for others; he is bearing their sins. Finally we see him led off like a lamb to the slaughter, making no complaint while being put maliciously to death (Isaiah 53:7-9). Clearly, he suffered innocently. He has become a sin offering for the misdeeds of others (Isaiah 53:10). Just when the Servant has laid himself down to death, in utter humiliation, God announces the victory. The Servant becomes highly exalted (Isaiah 53:12); his sacrifice has borne fruit (Isaiah 53:11); he will see his "offspring" (Isaiah 53:10). The victory of the Servant lies
beyond suffering. Indeed the discharge of His mission is in suffering. Truly, the kingdom of God expands through the sacrifice of self-denial and servant heartedness, not by coercion and physical force. Isaiah, by revelation from God, gazed into the very mystery of the Godhead. We learn through him that God's purpose is to rule a kingdom that men of all nations are invited to join. The victory of that Kingdom will not come by force or spectacular power but by the sacrificial labor of God's Servant. Isaiah lets us know that our calling is equally to servanthood. We are in a kingdom of servants who are to be totally obedient to THE SERVANT. The call goes out: "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of the SERVANT?" (Isaiah 50:10). Like the SERVANT-prophet, we are to proclaim the righteousness of God to the world. Like the SERVANT priest, we must take up our cross in a spirit of meekness. Having a will totally yielded to the will of God, we are to share in THE SERVANT'S redemptive mission. â€œSo then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partialityâ€? (II Chronicles 19:7). Through the prophet Isaiah, God called upon Israel to travel along the road of missionary suffering in the footsteps of THE SERVANT. This alone is the pathway of the kingdom. Yet even after Judah had returned from Babylonian exile, she still did not take on her missionary calling. The SERVANT had few followers. To be sure, the great missionary message of Isaiah was not lost. Jonah had gone to Nineveh. And Judaism did make some proselytes. Yet Judaism never properly fulfilled her missionary calling. To the contrary, she tended to draw ever more tightly into herself. For she was unwilling to believe that the MESSIAH would come as a suffering SERVANT. While there are a few hints of a lowly and suffering Messiah in later literature (Zechariah 9:9; 12:10), they are few. No, the Jews did not want a suffering Messiah. Yet, "in the fullness of time..." there would come One who would say, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing;" (Luke 4:21. Cf. Isaiah 61:1-2) Jesus, in his sacrificial labor, suffering, and death, literally "emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant...and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8). And when this same Jesus said to his disciples, "Go ye into all the world," he did no less than lay upon us the servant destiny. One certainly must wonder how seriously the present-day church takes her servant calling. It sometimes appears as though she does not understand it at all. We want the chief business of religion to be to keep suffering far away. We want a Christ who suffers so that we may not, and we want a Christ to lay himself down for us so that our comfort may be undisturbed. Not wanting to participate in a labor of suffering, we pursue a labor of glory and dollars. Can it be that we are seeking to build the kingdom of the Servant without following the Servant? Do we dare build a great church institution which has no relationship to the kingdom of God? We must constantly remember that the task of the church is not and cannot be anything other than the Servant task. The task is to pray "Thy kingdom come," and to respond to the call of THE SERVANT, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Holy Commonwealth and Apocalyptic Kingdom In 533 B.C. Cyrus issued a decree: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.' Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalemâ€? (Ezra 1:2-3). However, the response of the Jews in Babylon was anything but enthusiastic. Palestine was a far away; only the very oldest could remember it. The journey was long and dangerous. The Jews would have to cut off all their economic ties and go to an unknown future. And by this time, the Jews had sunk their roots in Babylon. So the summons to return home was an unwelcome invitation to hardship and danger. And the Jews responded slowly. It was more than twenty years before they completed rebuilding the temple. Though the foundation for it was laid when the first of them returned (Ezra 3:10), yet some eighteen years later, the book of Haggai informs us that little more had been done. It seemed that morale was dangerously low. This low morale indicated a more grave danger. For if something did not happen soon, the little community would fade out of existence. When Nehemiah heard the report, he was greatly stressed (Nehemiah 13:23-25). Children could in many cases not even speak Hebrew. In only a few more years Hebrew did die out entirely as a spoken tongue, being replaced by the Aramaic language of the Persian Empire. Was Israel to die out with its language? In the midst of the lack of hope and loss of morale, as well as the persistent threat to them from Sanballat and other surrounding enemies, the call to world missions for THE SERVANT was almost entirely forgotten. However, the voice of the prophets during the restoration would not let that happen. They proclaimed that God means to include foreigners also in his kingdom (Zechariah 2:11; 8:23; Malachi 1:11). The mission destiny had been emphasized clearly enough when Jonah had gone to Nineveh nearly three hundred years earlier. The book of Jonah so strongly stressed missions â€“ even to the terrible Assyrians. It gave a ringing challenge to Israel to take up her world mission. She must not run from her destiny; let her take up her task by proclaiming the true God to the nations. However, Jonah had not wanted Nineveh to be saved (Jonah 4:11). How tragic that a people with a God so universal â€“ that they would withdraw and isolate themselves from their destiny. God had a glorious destiny for them. Yet this contradiction lives on today. It is possible for a church to hold to the widest of theologies and yet sink back into a sickening sort of self-congratulation, being proud of being true and orthodox, and deciding that the end of its business is simply to guard itself from contamination. For the Jews, the isolation led to an increasing contempt for foreigners and to a heightening of national pride. These attitudes did not at all inspire zeal toward a world mission. The reader of the New Testament knows what a prejudice had developed, and what a challenge it was for infant Christianity to overcome that attitude in themselves. In such a climate, there could be no general acceptance of the Servant mission.
For the Jews then, the hope of the kingdom of God was redirected into other channels. They developed particularly great attention to keeping the law of Moses. They also had a heightened anticipation for the coming judgment of heathen nations. They therefore delighted in the apocalyptic writings like the book of Daniel. Apocalypse means revelation. They were thrilled to dwell on how God would intervene to wind up the affairs of this earth, to judge his foes, and to set up his kingdom. Through these writings, the historic faith intensified and reshaped around the triumph of God's rule. As already stated, the Jews never quite grasped the mission to extend the kingdom to include the Gentiles. Instead, they felt the restless longing for God to bring judgment upon his foes (in their view â€“ all the Gentile nations) and they felt an equally strong desire that God's kingdom would be established over his people (the Jews.) They somehow overlooked the prophet's message that God would honor only the pure remnant. It was the remnant who had been purified in fiery trial for whom God would establish his kingdom. The Jews, however, felt that certainly they must be that people. Here, in the little restoration community, they felt convinced that the conditions of the remnant had been met. They excitedly anticipated the kingdom of God being quickly established, and in their mind, Israel would be that kingdom. However, the external situation around them pointed only to despair. The power of evil was great and beyond human power to break it. But in the apocalyptic faith, the victory of God is nonetheless sure; for God holds the direction of history; He is a God whose kingdom comes. The apocalyptic writings also clearly reveal that the world struggle is neither primarily political nor economic, but that it is essentially spiritual and moral. Behind all earthly striving there is a continuing combat between good and evil, between light and darkness, between the Creator God and the fallen angels. It is a battle that demands that every person take sides. There can be no neutrality. Whoever decides for the kingdom of God, no matter how lowly he may be, has struck a blow for good in a combat of eternal significance. Daniel's ministry back in Babylon had strengthened thousands of little men to an obedience unto death. They became filled with confidence that their reward was with God (Daniel 12:1-4). Daniel and the other apocalyptic writers bring us a needed reminder that we need desperately to hear â€“ we cannot simply take the Kingdom by the arm of flesh and usher it in. God must do it. Prideful man will never produce a perfect world order through political maneuvering, social planning, and military strength; it requires dependency upon God and direction from Him. It is also a rebuke to the blasphemous pride of the church that thinks it will usher in the kingdom just by preaching, conferences, and well-administered programs without personal righteousness, faithfulness, and servanthood. For the kingdom of God comes only for those who will truly be his people and obey Him. Truly, "the gate is narrow" (Matthew 7:14).
The Holy Commonwealth
Ezra and Nehemiah and other very practical men taught that people must obey Godâ€™s law. This was consistent with the two primary obligations expressed by the Abrahamic covenant. The covenant taught the people to worship God and God alone, and to faithfully obey the law of God within the covenant community. And the prophets strongly warned the people of the consequences of their disobedience to God's law. Thus, men like Ezra set their heart to study the law of God, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10). There was stress on keeping the law in the Restoration community, side by side with that hunger and thirst for the catastrophic intervention of God which would establish his Kingdom. The apocalyptic and the holy commonwealth lines of development were in no essential way hostile to each other. They did not represent opposing camps or factions within Judaism. Indeed, it was possible for an individual to hold to both viewpoints. Both were expressions of the same hope. The true Apocalyptic longed to establish the strong realization that God would not bless nor set up his kingdom over a people which did not keep his law. We sense this feeling strongly in the post-exilic prophets. Both Haggai and Malachi were strongly concerned about the temple, the sacrificial system, and tithing. Haggai seems to make the rebuilding of the temple a condition for divine intervention (cf. Zechariah 8:9-11). They exhorted the people to be a holy commonwealth. Overshadowing all others in establishing and shaping a holy commonwealth was Ezra the scribe. (The word, "commonwealth" here signifies a form of government aimed at securing the good of God and the common good for mankind.) Nehemiah 8-10 tells the dramatic story of Ezra's reform. Daily Ezra read the book of the law to the people. Then the Levites explained it to the people so that they would understand. What was produced was a great public confession of sin and a solemn covenant to keep the law. There was great revival emotion; the people in one instance stood in the court in front of the temple in a downpour of rain to hear Ezra, until he took pity on them and sent them away. (May God have mercy on those who will only be at church on Sunday if the weather is fine). Ezra is a towering figure. He is a member of the true Israel who keeps the law. He genuinely kept it because he did it out of love for God and the people. This great prophet demanded that it be obeyed. However, others came later with different motives for keeping the law. They were concerned with how they were seen among men. What developed was once again a religious activity which was only concerned with the externals. The external keeping of the law apart from a right heart had constantly plagued Israel. God was so grieved that He spoke through the prophet Isaiah: "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer" (Isaiah 1:11). God declared that He will bring judgment because the "people draw near with their words, and honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote" (Isaiah 29:13). The Apostle Paul declared, "that the law is good if one uses it lawfully" (I Timothy 1:8). To use the law lawfully, the person must be following it to love God supremely and mankind as a person loves himself. However, when spirituality is measured by how one is seen among men, then law keeping becomes an end in itself. A person sees himself as righteous simply on the basis of the actions that he does. This perverted use demands that every iota be meticulously protected by endless rulings and clarifications. For the Israelites, the Rabbis supplied these additional laws. Over an extended process of
time, life became hedged in by literally hundreds of them. The spirit of the law tended to sink beneath the letter. The law became so massive that the ordinary man neither had the time nor skill to master it. Therefore, a class of lawyers developed. These, because they possessed a knowledge and a supposed rectitude above the common man, became overcome with pride. These, of course, were the Pharisees. They placed themselves as the authorities of holiness. It was subtle because they appealed to the law of Moses, but it was their interpretation of Moses (and not the law of Moses) that was their supreme authority. Their view allowed no room for Jesus to declare: "Moses saith in the law...but I say unto you..." Now through the law, God worked to establish a true people for Himself. The end of the law was never rule keeping for its own sake. Rather, the end was God, and God's commitment to protect and preserve that which is most valuable for all creation. It was to prevent the destruction of God's loving purposes and to prevent the destruction of His creation. Therefore, any violation of God's law is serious. It is an offense against God and against man too. It therefore, cannot tolerate all sorts of practices. The law lays a foundation for a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). The law community has a lesson to teach us. Repelled by all legalism, we in the church have come close to apologizing for any duty Christianity seems to demand. Can it be that in casting off all religious duty, we have ended up not recognizing any duty except to ourselves? It is time we heeded the lesson of the Holy Commonwealth: Christianity involves duty. And that duty is to obey God, not in general and only when it is convenient, but in every detail and without exceptions. While the Holy Commonwealth expressed that the kingdom of God was the rule of God over his people, the apocalyptic affirmed that the kingdom is beyond man's doing. Yet the law replies that it nevertheless demands everything of man. God will accept only obedient and righteous people. Yet these ideas became either twisted of lost during the 300 years of history following Ezra. At the time of Ezra, the Persian Empire was gigantic. It extended, at the height of its power, from the Aegean basin to the Indus valley, from Egypt far into the regions of what is now Russia. However, late in the fourth century B.C., Persia faced the rise of Alexander the Great from Macedonia. Within three years of beginning his conquest, Alexander stood on the banks of the Indus, facing India, weeping that there were no more worlds to conquer. Alexander was not merely a brilliant general and a very ambitious young man; he also was a propagator of Greek culture. Most significant of Alexander's accomplishments was making Greek the common language for the entire known world; here God prepared for His kingdom by establishing the language base for the New Testament. Yet Alexander's empire only endured for ten years. In 323 B.C. Alexander was dead, and his empire came to be divided among four of his generals. During the next 150 years following Alexander the Great, Palestine came under the control of Antioch. In 175 B.C., Antiochus IV (also known as Epiphanes) became king of Antioch. Like Alexander and others before him, he announced himself to be 'theos epiphanes', that is, the visible incarnation of Olympian Zeus. He therefore considered himself worthy of worship, and he demanded that everybody worship him. Nothing could have been more offensive to the monotheistic Jews. To bow down and worship Zeus was simply unthinkable. They refused. Antiochus was filled with rage, and so his policy toward the
Jews was severe. The climax came in 168 B.C. He marched his troops into Jerusalem and defiled the temple and the altar by sacrificing swine's flesh on the altar in the temple. He virtually put an end to Judaism (I Maccabees 1:41-43). He destroyed copies of the law, forbid the Jews from honoring the Sabbath, and put people to death if they had a copy of scripture in their possession. Then he set up an altar to Olympian Zeus right in the temple and commanded the people to worship before it. It was the scriptural writings that had come from Daniel which inspired the Jewish faith to endure the persecution. The book of Daniel is a mighty summons to courage and faith. "Hold fast", it says, "to the law, and to your God." Loyalty to the law breathes through the accounts in Daniel. We see it in the story of how the well-favored youths had the courage not to defile themselves with the king's dainties and of how God rewarded them. We see it in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who went into the fiery furnace rather than to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's idol. They stood in bold righteousness, refusing to worship the state by giving supreme allegiance to it. They knew they were created for the purpose of serving God out of their relationship with Him. A man must serve God, not the state; God created the state to aid the individual in serving God. Daniel presents forcefully the power of the kingdom of God over the puny kingdoms of men. It makes it clear that no earthly power is a match for God. It stresses how the kingdom of God is victorious through the vision of a stone coming down and crushing that bizarre image of Nebuchadnezzar's vision with its head of gold, breast of silver, belly of brass, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. This image typified the succession of powers that hold sway over the earth. The stone is one cut without human hands out of the mountainside. Daniel records that God's kingdom shall "break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever." Daniel records of how God with proud Nebuchadnezzar. God sent him out to eat grass like an ox until he learned who is really King over the affairs of men. Likewise, it tells of how Prince Belshazzar was confronted with the handwriting on the wall that announced his doom because he had refused to recognize the lordship of One greater than he. The message of Daniel to the people of God is: Courage! The kingdom of God is coming with power and glory to judge the kingdoms of men. Daniel pictured Medo-Persia as a ram with two horns being annihilated by Alexander who is the he-goat with one enormous horn. Then that one horn is broken and becomes the four successor states of Alexander's generals. And Daniel prophesied that out of them would come the little horn that made itself god. That little horn (Antiochus) overcome with pride, sprouted out of the ten horns which came from the four strange and terrible beasts that resulted from the breakup of Alexander's kingdom â€“ This Antiochus would be dealt with by God too. Antiochus made himself one of God's arch-enemies. He blasphemed the most high, persecuted the saints, defiled the temple and suspended the sacrifices. He attempted to abolish the law. This very little man stood in defiance against the Prince of Princes. God declared â€“ He will be broken. And cannot the eyes of faith see a greater throne than that of Antioch? It is the throne on which sits the Ancient of Days in His glorious majesty. The Ancient of Days will slay this Beast. There will come "with the clouds of heaven . . . one like a son of man" and the Ancient of Days will give him a Kingdom over all men that shall never be destroyed (Daniel 8:3-4, 20; 8:5-7, 21; 8:22; 8:9-12; 7:7-18). The Lord has established his throne in the heavens . . . And his kingdom rules over all (Psalms 103:19).
Part II: New Testament
We pass on from the Old Testament to the new and we come to the Kingdom of God at hand. We focus on a fundamental question: Who is Christ, and what did he come to do? How does the New Testament answer that question? The earliest Gospel, Mark, gives a conscious development of the theme that Jesus declared: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:1415). Here is the good news: the promised Messiah has come to set up the Kingdom of God among men. All people may be saved and enter into the kingdom of God. The hope of Israel is fulfilled. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4). Jesus made provision so that all people may enter the kingdom of God. The New Testament confirmed all that the Old Testament faith longed for. Jesus will bring it. He fulfilled all that the law community had tried to do, and all that the prophets had envisioned. The Old Testament faith had fathered a mighty expectation of incredible vitality. But its hope was still looking for its satisfaction. The Old Testament is truly a noble building, but it lacks a roof! The New Testament supplies that roof. That roof was in place when the angel told Joseph, “You will call his name Jesus for He will save His people from their sin” (Matthew 1:21) – not in their sin, but away from their sin. What a noble completion to the Old Testament! If the Old Testament is a building without a roof, the New Testament alone may be much like a roof without a building. It is impossible to see the beautiful revelation of the New Testament without regard to the faith of Israel. The New Testament is rooted in the Old. If I do not see that, I am likely to make serious error in how I serve God, and it is bound to lead to fundamental misunderstandings of Biblical truth. Christ came to make actual that for which the Old Testament had hoped. The writer of Hebrews declared that the Old Testament men of faith, “did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 11:39-12:2) The New Testament has Jesus. That sets it off from the Old so sharply that it might easily seem that the Old Testament is no longer needed. Besides, Christ seemed at odds with Judaism. At least the Pharisees and Sadducees thought so. From the followers of Jesus came a new church with Gentiles included. Paul said they were grafted in at the same time that many of the Jewish nation were cut off (Romans 11:22-24). Clearly there is a “new thing” in the New Testament. Is it in some new ethic? Is it some new theology or religion? This is what modern day “liberal” Christianity proposes. It views Scripture as a record of man's ethical and spiritual progress. To them, Jesus completed this evolutionary progress.
So then as the liberals see it, the distinctive message of the New Testament is a loftier system of ethics, and some higher idea of God. The liberals declared Jesus to be the great ethical teacher. For them, the Old Testament holds a certain historical interest and contained good moral values, but it is a lower step in man's painful climb toward spirituality. Is the “new” of the New Testament to be found by searching for it in the wrong place? Clearly Jesus Christ did not come to bring a new ethic. There has never been a higher ethic than His; yet it was essentially the ethic of Judaism. However, Jesus does demand exacting obedience. He brings back again clearly into focus the truth that God evaluates our obedience by the motive. Jesus summarized His emphasis on love by declaring, “You are to be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In this paragraph, Jesus taught on love. Love is the subject; we are to be constant, perfect in love, loving God supremely and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Kingdom of God shows love in every aspect of human relationships. It is an exacting obedience which was something that was forgotten by the religious teachers of Jesus’ day. Nevertheless, the ethical teachings of Jesus are the same as in Judaism. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31); so did Levitical law (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus commanded us to love our enemy (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27. Cf. Romans 12:20); so did ancient Jewish wisdom (Proverbs 25:21). Yet really the Sadducees and Pharisees were into legalism, not righteousness – because they tried to establish a self-righteousness through their deeds. Jesus condemned them for their external focus on righteousness and their resulting hypocrisy (e.g. Matthew 23). Jesus was calling people back to the message that Amos and Micah preached. Nor was Christ's mission to teach his people some new and loftier idea of God. Certainly, Christ revealed the character and purpose of God as never before, nor since. As Christians we know God because we have seen him in the face of Jesus. He exhibited the beautiful reality that the Old Testament had described. His kingdom is the manifestation of the unchanging nature and character of God, and as such, it too is unchanging in its nature and purpose. The Old and the New Testaments speak of the same thing. It is gross misrepresentation to say that the Old Testament reveals a wrathful God in contrast to the New Testament Jesus. Love is the commitment to pursue the highest good for all existence. God would not be loving if He did not uphold justice and become angry over the rebellion of men and how they maliciously hurt one another. Sin brings such hurt and devastation. Further, the New Testament tells us that Jesus demanded justice and got angry over sin. When the Pharisees opposed Jesus when He was about to heal a man with a withered hand, Jesus was very angry. “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored” (Mark 3:5). He did not just express tenderness, compassion, and mercy. Jesus is not a silly sentimentalist (Matthew 8:12; 13:36-43; 22:13; 24:51).
To be sure, the New Testament repeatedly contrasts the Old Covenant with the New (e.g. Galatians 3-4; Hebrews 7-9) and declares the New to be “better” (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6). But we cannot
dismiss the relationship of the Testaments by saying that Christ came to replace a covenant of works with one of grace. Just one reading of Deuteronomy is sufficient to show that the Old Covenant was itself a grateful response to the unmerited grace of God. And Jesus did not come to destroy Israel's faith and supersede it with another; instead, he came to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Remember, Jesus was a Jew and so were his early disciples. Clearly Jesus did not intend to found a new religion. His mission was precisely to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24). The old and new Testaments stand together like two acts of a single drama. Like Act I builds to Act II, the Old Testament builds to its conclusion in the New Testament. As Act I is understood in the light of Act II, so we see the Old Testament clearly through the truth that the New Testament brings. The Bible is one book. God has spoken into the world. The Bible is the absolute and brings the Words of the Eternal Creator, and Savior, Jesus Christ. It brings God’s Word that judges as an absolute, all people individually, and all nations. It brings the message of the kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God judges the kingdoms of men. If the Bible were given a title, it could with all justice be called: THE BOOK OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD. That is its theme. However, the New Testament has one difference from the Old: the Kingdom of God has become also the Kingdom of Christ, and that Kingdom is actually at hand. One day Jesus read one of the Servant passages from Isaiah in His hometown synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). He then proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” But the people in the synagogue that day rejected Him, And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way (Luke 4:2830).
We see the love of God so actively at work to bring forth the kingdom of God. In the Cross, Jesus established a new covenant. He revealed the character and nature of God. And He demonstrated genuine relationship with God through obeying, serving, and suffering for the cause of righteousness. This results in a kingdom that is manifested externally in Word in their family, church, and civil relationships. Jesus was not like what the Jews expected the Messiah to be. He was a suffering Messiah. Just this was enough to insure that His nation would reject Him. Truly the cross was “unto the Jews a stumbling block” (I Corinthians 1:23 KJV). To become a Christian is to become like Jesus (Christ-like.) Jesus suffered. Likewise, the Christian is willing to suffer for Him. This is not asceticism. No. It is just the supreme commitment to obey Jesus even if it results in suffering. Jesus said, "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Jesus with crisp clarity called men to the Kingdom of the Servant. It is a Kingdom of the meek and lowly, a kingdom where leaders are “last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35; John 13:14-17). Jesus was like this. Truly the kingdom of God operates from integrity and servanthood in relationships with
others. Jesus had no difficulty even in washing His disciple's feet. Only the humble are in His kingdom (Matthew 5:19; 5:3; 18:1, 4; 19:23-24; Luke 6:20; James 2:5). The kingdom functions not from arrogance but humility. Its motives are pure and transparent. Who did Jesus call upon to enter His Kingdom? Why, all who are weary and heavily laden, those willing to bear the gentle yoke of the Servant (Matthew 11:28-30). He welcomes all humble, kindly men who “hunger and thirst” after righteousness, those who are willing to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). Wealth will not get anyone into the kingdom of Jesus; indeed wealth has kept many men out (Mark 10:17-25). External rectitude is no ticket for admission; the scribes and Pharisees found that out. Jesus told them that the crooks and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom ahead of them (Matthew 21:31). The Kingdom belongs, in the final analysis, to those who have stripped themselves of all pride: whether of station in life, or of wisdom, or of that so-called rectitude which is done to be seen among men. When Paul said, “not many wise . . . not many mighty, not many noble” are called to that Kingdom (I Corinthians 1:26 KJV), he was right! Jesus said we must become as little children (Mark 10:14). They are delightfully eager to learn; they are honest, pure, and genuine because they are so sensitive to their conscience. God’s kingdom has entrance requirements; one of them is childlikeness. The call of that Kingdom is to victory, but not in the way the world understands it. Rather, it is a call to utter self-denial. Over and over again we hear of its tremendous cost. One leaves father and mother, home and family, at its summons (Mark 10:29; Matthew 19:29; Luke 18:29), and when one has done so, he will be, like his Lord, a wanderer without anywhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). One will be hated (Mark 13:13; Matthew 10:22), and persecuted (Luke 6:22; Matthew 5:10-11; Acts 14:22; Revelation 1:9). But still he must love his enemies and pray for those who despitefully use him (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28). No one is in the Kingdom of God who does not fulfill his destiny, and take up his cross and follow the Servant (Matthew 10:38; Luke 14:27; Mark 8:34). And no one can be in the kingdom without taking up the Servant mission. His servants must proclaim the gospel to all nations of the earth. Jesus had already declared that “many will come from east and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 8:11; Luke 13:29). He would send out servants to search the highways and hedges (i.e., the world) to find guests (Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:15-24) for his wedding feast. His servants are indeed like the Servant (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6); they are a light to the world (Matthew 5:14). The New Testament church remembered the last words of the King of kings as a command to preach the gospel in all the earth (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). She knew His intention perfectly, and she kept busy doing it.
Between Two Worlds: The Kingdom and the Church What is the Kingdom of God?
It lies at the very heart of the gospel message to affirm that the Kingdom of God has in a real sense become present fact; it is here and now. The Old Testament's, “behold, the days are coming,” has now become, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). His works may be seen by all (Matthew 11:2-6). This is the day that past men of faith longed to see. In the person and work of Jesus, the Kingdom of God has penetrated the world. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, he replied, that if that were true, Satan's house would be divided against itself. Then he told them, “If it is by the power of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20; Matthew 12:28). Through the mighty works of Jesus, the power of His Kingdom has pierced the world; Satan is no match for Him (Luke 10:18; Mark 3:27). The Kingdom of God, then, is a power already released in the world. True, its beginnings are tiny just like a lump of yeast is small, but it goes to work and leavens a huge quantity of dough (Matthew 13:33). A mustard seed is a very tiny seed indeed, but if you plant it, it will become a great tree with many branches (Matthew 13:31-32). And the Kingdom of God is just like that. It is small now, but in these small beginnings there lies in embryo form all that it will one day become. The Gospels over and over declare the radical urgency of this kingdom’s call. The kingdom of God is a pearl of great price; it is a treasure hidden in the field. From joy over it a many goes and sells all that he has to buy that field. It is supremely valuable (Matthew 13:44-46). You leave father and mother, wife and family, as if you hated them, in order to obey Him. You love God supremely (Luke 14:26; Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31). It goes beyond all earthly concerns. If it were a question of gouging out your eye and entering the kingdom blind or having two eyes and being barred from it, you would without question mutilate yourself in order to get in (Mark 9:47), (and yet no external change will qualify your admission. The reason is: no external change can solve an internal problem.) The kingdom’s call is not to be trifled with. The man who puts his hand to the plow and then turns back (Luke 9:62) is not worthy of it. Its call is not for a few New Year's resolutions to live a better life! The call is to total and radical obedience (Matthew 7:21; 13:43). Jesus spoke directly to the hearts of individual men. He deals with individual men and the internal condition of heart. For the kingdom of God is not the institution. In truth, the kingdom of God is internal within the heart. Therefore, Jesus said, “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders . . .” (Mark 7:21). Jesus taught that a person must get the internal condition straightened out first. The internal causes the external; we must change the internal in order to change the external. And there must be change. "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41-43). He who has ears, let him hear. God rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son. He did this so we would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into His own kingdom and glory (Matthew 13:41-42; Mark 9:47; Colossians 1:13; I Thessalonians 2:12).
Jesus knows why we do what we do, and He judges us on the basis of the motive we had for doing what we did. Was it for love, or was it to gratify our selfishness? Are we a good tree or a bad tree? He said, “Every good tree bears good fruit; and every bad tree brings forth bad fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit . . . Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt . . . A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things; and an evil man out of evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 7:17-18; 12:33, 35. There is no mixture of good and evil). A person truly does pursue after what he values supremely. Again Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Thus, when God saves us, He deals with the wrong of treasure of the heart – the wrong purpose of life that we have been living for. He knows what we valued supremely, and we must change and value God supremely because He is supremely valuable. For God to save us, we must be willing to live in the purpose, the goal, the objective of salvation. Jesus said, This is eternal life that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3). Notice: Jesus teaches that life is to know the only true God. This is an experiential knowledge (like knowing the taste of vanilla ice cream); this is relational knowledge. Yet it is impossible to have that knowledge if we are unwilling to live in the relationship, and it is impossible to live in the relationship, if we are not willing to conform to the conditions of relationship. This is the purpose of salvation – life. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life” (John 10:10). Just as it would be impossible to experience the life of a genuine marriage relationship except I am willing to live in the reality of what that is, just so, I cannot have relationship with God unless I am willing to live according to the necessary conditions of that relationship. It is impossible for God to give me salvation if I am unwilling to live in the purpose of salvation – life. Therefore by His grace, God must save us from a life of sin in order to restore us to the conditions that correspond to relationship with Him. (I cannot have a marriage relationship with a woman if I absolutely reject her. Nor will it be the reality of actual marriage relationship if I declare, “I receive you as my personal dish washer.” No. No relationship is real if it is not genuine. To have genuine relationship with God, I must repent, that is turn away from all my treasure that violates the necessary conditions that match genuine relationship with God. If I am unwilling to live in the purpose of salvation, I cannot be saved.
Two parallel themes run through the New Testament which might superficially seem to contradict each other. On the one hand we hear, particularly through Paul, that salvation is only through God's grace, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus . . . for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). The other theme declares that no one is in the Kingdom of God without works, for he that does not do the works of Christ is a sham Christian and no member of Christ's Church! This last, of course, receives its most striking expression in the Epistle of James: a man is justified precisely by his works (2:24); faith without works is dead (2:14-18); for works are the index of faith. Indeed, as we read
elsewhere (1 John 4:20), the man who mouths his devotion to God, without doing good works, is a liar and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4; 2:15-17; 2:29; 3:7-8). Paul is united with James and John on this point: Paul demanded good demeanor of the Christian too. Paul testified to King Agrippa that he “was not disobedient to the heavenly vision: but showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do WORKS appropriate for repentance” (Acts 26:19-20). There must be a heart change. Then the effects of the kingdom of God will work outward to transform every human relationship and the institutions these relationships establish. The kingdom reforms society through conversion. It changes what a person chooses to live for. He treasures the will of God above all else. Then he grows in his understanding of how to apply the principles of the kingdom of God so that righteousness may come forth in his life and society. The preaching of Christian ethics has through the years had an impact upon secular society, and in some cases, as a result, the world is a better place in which to live. Indeed, Jesus said, we are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16). How terrible this world would be without the practical effect of Christian morality. For the Christian to be the light of the world, we must live a righteous, disciplined life, applying truth daily. Nevertheless, a non-Christian world will not put the ethics of Christ into practice. Regardless of all our efforts, it can't be made to do so. Therefore, if we apply the Kingdom of God to a nation, it must have its controlling philosophy coming from the influence of those who have submitted their lives, hearts, and minds to the King of kings. Only this will protect against the destructiveness of man's depravity (and also from errors resulting from his finite abilities.) These righteous followers of Jesus put limits on government so that tyranny cannot easily occur. One way to do this is by separating governmental power into local, state, and national spheres. Each sphere then has responsibility and authority for the areas defined to it. Another way is to place limitations on those in positions of authority. They must meet a list of qualifications (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Then they have a term of office. They face rules about how they carry out their authority. They have a limit on what they can do and how they do it. They can only do what God authorizes them to do. In 1638, Thomas Hooker, a Connecticut minister preached from the words of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 1:13: “Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.” Reverend Hooker presented three key truths from this text: 1.
First, the choice of the leader belongs to the people by God's own allowance. The foundation of authority is laid in the consent of the people. They are more inclined to yield obedience to a leader when they have chosen him out of their own hearts. Election is a New Testament approach. The apostles elected a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:23-24) in dependency upon God's will. Later they instructed the Jerusalem believers to select their own deacons (Acts 6:3) on the basis of spiritual qualifications.
Second, the privilege of election belongs to the people, but they must not cater to their whims and lusts, but instead choose from an intelligent, Biblical understanding of the
blessed will and law of God. There is always responsibility. God holds people accountable to choose godly leaders. 3.
Third, since people have the power to appoint leaders, they also have the power to define what leaders are to do. Throughout this process, God is watching to see that His loving and reasonable purposes would be done. The people are to choose in God and for God. Then God may wisely grant liberty. Paul wrote, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15). The kingdom of God always seeks liberty to fulfil God’s purposes. The kingdom of God works to bring the love and intelligence of God into the human sphere. Only the framework that comes from God’s perfect love and infinite intelligence can build a unity and union that does not destroy creativity, individuality, and personal identity. This is true unity with diversity. Every corporate expression always operates in purity and voluntary union. If we reject the rule of God, then depravity becomes excessively severe, and God will find it necessary to bring judgment upon the nation.
The Christian is never to stop presenting the demands of the Kingdom. Men ought to submit to its rule. So we labor diligently to bring men into submission to Jesus. We have the responsibility to keep on working until we apply God's ways of dealing with men in every sphere of relationship. So the Christian is seeking to see the Kingdom of God applied into every sphere of life. We must not, as some have done, preach the ethics of Jesus and leave aside his person and work as if it were cumbersome and some king of needless theological baggage. We are to urge men to salvation through faith. But we can't pat ourselves on the back unless we confront the world with the demands of righteousness. Christianity is not to be reduced to only individual, private relationship with God, and only pursue evangelism to bring others to it, (and throw in some “hopefully” good family counseling.) There is more; Jesus goes further. He said, “Disciple the nations.” Tragically, at times Christians have not done this. Many Christians neglect every other sphere of relationship and human institution. This is not what God intends. Proverbs states: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Proverbs 29:32). It is imperative we present the call to obey the kingdom in all our dealings within the Church of Christ, and also beyond that Church, in all our dealings (social, governmental, and economic) with all men.
The New Testament Church
Jesus, in His three years of earthly ministry, founded no ecclesiastical organization, not even of the loosest sort. Instead, the Messiah came to call out the Remnant. Paul writes in Romans, “It is the Remnant that shall be saved” (Romans 9:27; 11:5). These are the ones who are obedient to the call of Jesus. They are His Church. (The Greek word for church is ekklesia. It means, “the ones called out.”)
We need not search for the origins of the Church as though it were founded on a given date, say with Peter's confession (Matthew 16:16-17) or at Pentecost (Acts 2. Cf. 1:8). The Church began on no specific date. It has no formal anniversary. It began in those few with Jesus who obeyed the call of the Kingdom. Actually, it lived within the hearts of the remnant within in the Old Covenant, in their longing for the true Israel of God's purpose. (These are the ‘called out ones’ It is the remnant that resides in the Kingdom of God, It is those that have surrendered their hearts to the King, and the King rules as king in their hearts.) They have a sense of God’s purpose. The New Testament triumphantly hails the Church as Israel according to the spirit, the true heir of Israel's hope. The Church is the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), “a remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). All who are Christ's are Abraham's seed and heirs of the promises (Galatians 3:29). The Apostle Paul declared, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel . . .” (Romans 9:6). And Jesus said, “I know them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan . . .Behold I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie. . .” (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). Peter declared to the new church: "It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, `And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Acts 3:25). You are the people of the covenant. Therefore, the church must model genuine relationship with God and consistently and accurately proclaim the truth. Now the Old Covenant was the charter of the people of Israel. But they did not keep it. The prophets insisted that Israel, by its unbrotherly and idolatrous behavior, broke the covenant over and over. Yet the prophets never believed that Israel's failure (no matter how terrible) could defeat God's purpose for His people and His Kingdom. They were firmly convinced that out of the broken pieces, God would bring forth a pure Israel, a Remnant. From these, God would make a New Covenant! Jeremiah confidently proclaimed: “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judea . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts, and I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) The New Testament brings us to a little upper room and lets us hear Jeremiah's words again. But the verbs have changed. Now it is present tense: “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20).
Jeremiah told of a New Covenant written on the hearts of men. Jesus brought forth that covenant. He said, “He that has My commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves Me . . . Whoever then shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven . . .” (And to the Pharisees) Jesus said, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, hypocrites, as it is written, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me . . . ' for laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things you do . . . Full well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your own tradition.” (John 14:21; Matthew 7:19; Mark 7:6-9) God is bringing people into a new covenant. People enter the new covenant if they have been crucified with Christ and Christ lives in them (Galatians 2:20). They have been baptized into his death and have risen again to newness of life (Romans 6:1-11). As in a flash, they become a new creation in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). As in a flash, they put off the old man with its evil practices, and instantly put on the new man that is continually being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of the One who created them (Colossians 3:9-10). They are born again (John 3:3). These ‘new covenant’ members are those who are “in Christ” (II Corinthians 5:17; Romans 16:3). They do not rely on external law but have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). These are the people of the New Covenant. God declared, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: after those days, says the Lord, ‘I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (Hebrews 8:10) They are people of the Kingdom of God, and heir to all the promises; victory is certain. The miracle of Pentecost proved that the end-time has begun, for the outpouring of the spirit spoken of by Joel has taken place (Acts 2:16. Cf. Joel 2:28-32; II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14). The Christian has been delivered out of the present evil age (Galatians 1:4), and has “tasted the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). He has his citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20). God delivered him out of the demonic power of evil and translated him into the Kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13). He was an enemy of God, but has been reconciled by the death of Jesus back to his heavenly Father and King (II Corinthians 5:19; Romans 5:10-11). God adopted him as a son into the family of God (Galatians 4:5-7; Romans 8:15). He now has peace with God, and the love of God is being shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5). God has worked. He cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against the one who previously was dead in his transgressions. God cancelled out that hostile debt; He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. And when God had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Jesus (Colossians 1:13-15). Indeed, as we meet Jesus face to face, like one beholding the glory of God in a mirror, we take on His image (II Corinthians 3:18). How glorious! Truly the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). This reality fills us with overflowing thankfulness, just as Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). This is what God has been working for throughout all history. The Old Testament tells of how God began with the whole race of mankind. Then He narrows down to the people, Israel, who were to
be the special servants of His purpose, and because of Israel's rebellion, He must narrow further to search for a pure Remnant within Israel who can be vessels of His Divine intention. Finally, at the center of all history, the focus zooms in upon one man: the Messiah, Christ Jesus our Lord. Now the focus is once again outward; first to the Church and then, through that Church, God longs to reach into the entire world. Jesus commanded the church to take up the destiny of the true Israel, the Servant destiny, and become the missionary people of the Kingdom of God. All Christians are called to serve. To be Christ-like means to be like the Suffering-Servant and fulfill our servant destiny. Then one day we will hear our Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). Thanks for doing a good job. The Kingdom of God keeps moving toward its triumph. God will see the unconditional surrender of Satan. Paul wrote, “Creation will be set free from its slavery to its corruption (and brought) into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now . . . (but) . . . (Paul boldly declares) in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:23-22, 34-35, 37) God is looking for righteous leaders to step forward, and He places the Holy Spirit’s anointing on righteous leaders. When Peter and John went up to the temple, and God healed the crippled man at the gate called Beautiful, and as the multitude of people stood gazing in amazement, Peter cried out: “Men of Israel . . . The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus. He is the one whom you delivered up . . . You disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you. You put to death the Prince of life . . . Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord . . . Moses said, 'The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet . . . and it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people . . . It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'” (Acts 3:12-15, 19, 22-23, 25-26) God is going to bring blessing to all the families of the earth. The task many times appears overwhelming, but we can truthfully declare what the Apostle Paul had proven to Him through his experience, so he declared: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus will bring forth His kingdom. “The end comes when He (Jesus) delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death” (I Corinthians 15:24-28; Philippians 2:10. Cf. Isaiah 45:23). The church is marching in the victorious army of that Kingdom. Jesus sent it out to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all (the commands of Jesus) (Matthew 28:19-20). As it carries out that mission, it too will face all manner of persecution, just like Jesus, the Suffering Servant. The church will suffer brutal
casualties. But there is no question of defeat; this is the Church, and the very gates of Hell do not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). For the church does not march alone. The Invisible Christ goes with them every step of the way: Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). To the call of that victorious faith, the Church could have but one answer, and that a triumphant one: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31. Cf. Isaiah 50:7-9). It moves in victory because as Paul wrote, “If you by the Spirit are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). What is produced? The result is a self-governed Christian life led by the Holy Spirit. It is sensitive to His leading and prompting (not stubbornness). It is the Spirit-filled life marked by the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:23). Its victory comes forth by living in dependency on God, not self-sufficiency. This is the King’s provision for victory over sin and over persecution. Apart from Jesus, the task would overwhelm them. The New Testament church had to live all its life in the grip of imperial Rome. Rome was not submissive to the Kingdom of God. It refused to be. It was a totalitarian state. And very quickly the Roman government became intolerant toward the Christians. Rome’s state religion demanded that all the subjects of Rome declare, “Caesar is Lord.” This demand placed the Christians into a life or death conflict. Of course the early church didn't want conflict. It was not contentious. The writer of Hebrews instructed the early Christians to “pursue peace with all men . . .” (Hebrews 12:14) and Paul told Timothy that “the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition . . .” (II Timothy 2:24-25). Peter said, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God on the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution . . .” (I Peter 2:12). Nevertheless, conflict came. The purity of the Christians' lives troubled the conscience of the pagan world around them. The pagans did not value the individual; in contrast the gospel and the kingdom of God upholds the equal value of every individual. In the pagan view of man, all men are not of equal value. (They thought they could decide who was valuable and who wasn’t. But a person’s value is not defined according to his contribution and external identification with the group.) In the pagan view, the slave was always at the disposal of his master and could even be slaughtered like a worthless animal. Weak or unwanted children could be left out in the woods to die. A new saved woman who gave birth to a baby girl, faced a horrible situation if her pagan husband ordered her to take the baby and “Throw her out!” shall she obey her conscience or shall she obey her husband? Conflict also flared up with the Roman government because the Roman emperors believed themselves to be gods. Bruce Shelly writes: The problem of the Roman Empire was the problem of unification . . . Here were all kinds of peoples, and languages, and faiths, and traditions. How could they be welded into a unity? There is no unifying force like the force of a common religion, and Caesar worship lay ready at hand . . . As a result, Caesar worship became the “keystone” of imperial policy . . .
Under Emperor Decius in 249 A.D. Caesar worship was made compulsory for every race and nation within the empire with the single exception of the Jews. On a certain day in the year every Roman citizen had to come to the Temple of Caesar and had to burn a pinch of incense there, and say: “Caesar is Lord.” When he had done that, he was given a certificate to guarantee that he had done so . . . Thus, we see that Caesar worship was primarily a test of political loyalty . . . Christian worship and Caesar worship met head-on . . . (Shelley, Bruce, Church History in Plain Language, Waco, TX., Word Books, 1982, pp. 58-60)
The kingdom of God demands supreme allegiance to Jesus. It truly has entrance requirements: childlikeness, repentance, and the commitment of faith to obey Jesus supremely. Therefore, a Christian could not declare, “Caesar is Lord,” because Jesus is Lord. Paul wrote, (I)f you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10) Jesus is Lord. If the state calls for action contrary to conscience, the Christian must obey conscience. Peter and John said to Annas the high priest and the council who ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus. Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19). Jesus is the supreme authority, and there is centralized authority only in Him. Paul instructed “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). This proclamation meant martyrdom for the Christians in the Roman coliseum. Clearly, they did not simply mumble a few words at the altar of a church building. Facing martyrdom, they proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord.” This commitment of these early Christians collapsed the whole pagan empire. For that, the early church suffered. But they suffered willingly with Jesus, the Suffering Servant. The only way is Christ's way: to drink of his cup (Mark 10:38-39), to take up his cross (Mark 8:34). Victory? On earth they would have no victory save the Servant's victory – the victory beyond the Cross. It is, therefore, most fitting that the New Testament canon should close with an Apocalypse – The Book of Revelation. It presents a vivid picture of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. On one side are arrayed that old dragon Satan (Revelation 20:2), his angels, and his Antichrist, and all the powers of evil, visible and invisible, on the earth and beyond it. The evil powers of earth seem to be personified in the figure of the unspeakable Nero, number 666 (Revelation 13:18), the Beast. Yet it is not merely Nero, nor Domitian, nor yet Hitler, nor Stalin that are the enemy. It is all earthly powers, whoever and however many they may be, that aid the will of the Adversary – that have made themselves anti-god and anti-christ. It is the sum total of evil, and it launches a last demonic assault upon the heavenly Kingdom: It vents its wrath also with fiendish fury upon the saints living on earth. The saints face a time of decision. One must stand for one side or the other.
It triggers a fearful struggle! There are portents in heaven, and torment and tribulation on earth, as evil hurls itself at the Kingdom of the saints. Yet the outcome is not in doubt. The proclamation of the book of Revelation is victory (Revelation 12:9-12). At that time, the power of Cosmic Evil will end. The Devil and his demons, the Beast and all that do his bidding, are consigned to the flames (Revelation 20:7-10), and the judgment books are opened. Then God brings forth a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-4. Cf. Isaiah 65:17-19). The new Jerusalem has come down from heaven to take its place among men. It is indescribably wonderful. All sorrow, all pain, all evil vanish. No gem or precious stone is bright enough to describe this joy. Stars become dim beside it. Joy builds into a mighty crescendo of worship until language can bear no more, and there arises a grand “Hallelujah Chorus” – “and we shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). The New Testament Church are people of the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is even yet “at hand,” intruding into the earthly order. We can enter that Kingdom. We can obey its bidding. We can witness to its power. We can pray for its victory, and by God's grace, we can suffer for it. What is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is the royal rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ in the heart of each man, woman, boy, and girl who seeks God with all his heart, asks Jesus for forgiveness, turns from all known sin, and submits himself to obey Jesus in all his growing understanding of the truth of the Bible (definition given by Harry Conn). It is a kingdom within the heart of the person who surrendered His will to the authority of Jesus. Then the King rules in the heart. It is an internal kingdom. The Kingdom of God goes (operates and transforms) from internal to external. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The kingdom of God exists wherever Jesus is king. Hence, the kingdom of God exists on earth as well as in heaven.
Where Do We Go from Here? The early church knew “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same [Lord] is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him (Romans 10:12). “Some of the branches were broken off” and “a wild olive, was grafted in among them and became partaker with the rich root of the olive tree” (Romans 11:17). The church are people of the New Covenant. The early church knew its mission. It proclaimed the kingdom and reached out to the world as the people of the Messiah living in the last days. We link up with the Holy Spirit Who Himself is making direct personal contact throughout the world. He goes forth, convicting “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8-10; Acts 1:6-10). The Church, then, is not at all an organization, nor yet the sum total of all organizations: it is an organism; it is the people of faith, the people of the Kingdom of God. We speak now not of the churches, but of the Church.
And the Church is greater than the churches. It has the true mission. It is not some passive thing, but a people fulfilling an eternally significant missionary calling. This goes back to the intention of Jesus himself. Note, the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40-66) had declared that it was the proper destiny of Israel to be God's servant and to proclaim the true faith to the Gentile world. The kingdom of God is devoted to evangelism. The Church is not to conduct missions as one of her many activities; she has in all her activities a mission; she is a missionary people; if she is not that, she is not the Church. The reality is – she has a genuine commitment to missions. Out of this flows sacrificial giving: generosity. We are forbidden by our very nature to live for self alone; everyone commits life to something and must put faith in something. To be the people of nothing, to submit self to nothing, is damnation. The missionary task of the Church is thus one of desperate importance. If the redemption of man awaits his faith in Christ, if the structures and institutions of a nation await the application of the Kingdom of God to them, then we must get busy. Biblical faith is the pivotal activity of history. All schemes to produce a righteous world order in terms of external programs alone will fail. The simple reason is that it is impossible to construct a changed world order on men who have not been changed. But, the Kingdom of God builds upon truly changed people. To be sure, the growth of that Kingdom cannot be measured in terms of the statistical progress of the visible churches because the visible churches are not THE Church. The very best of them still falls short; they are but the palest approximation of the body of Christ. God knows, and so do most of his children, that their voice is often irrelevant and plainly dull. However, the mission of the Church must be performed through the visible churches, and it will not do to write them off. But the true and faithful in Israel are to serve the purposes of God in the context of the nation where God places them. These Christians will bring individuals and nations into God's kingdom. So they must build churches that are structured on God’s truth. They will have to know God's purpose in history and how the principles of the kingdom of God are to be applied if they are to mold godly individual character and to transform every sphere of human relationship – family life, church structure, education, the philosophy and structure of civil government, the philosophy and structure of economics with its resulting business transactions, the arts, media, and entertainment. The families are structured on God’s truth with the goal of serving God. The propagation and application of the gospel of the kingdom remains the hope of history. And because the visible church is the only body which is trying to perform this task, we will make no apologies for her, but will stand with her and support her. But it must bring forth true conversion and true education. The kingdom of God educational system flows from a biblically based philosophy, purpose and educational method. That truth must be communicated through the arts as well. Thus, arts, media, and entertainment must communicate, illustrate and inspire purity and liberty. And the church – what is the Church? The New Testament understood her simply as God’s ambassadors. She is God's servant people, called to exhibit the righteousness of His Kingdom before the world, charged with proclaiming that Kingdom in the world and pleading with men to come into its covenant fellowship. To that body God has given all His promises. That is the Church which God destined us to be. The Christian has the yielded life of a servant (Their inner being cries out, “Use me for your
purposes, Lord.”) The Church not only proclaims the Gospel, but also disciples both individuals and nations in its determination to serve both God and mankind. “Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4). God commands us to labor. He will build no building in us and for us unless we do. This calls for programs. But the kingdom of God must shape our programs. Our most important program is to stand daily before the Bible and diligently seek correction from it. For truly the Bible in the hand and language of the individual is the seed of LIBERTY. We must study it, learn it, apply it. This will call for all the programs we can devise. But it will also rid us of those which don't accomplish God's purpose in God's way. Never forget that the Christian is a person over whom God rules, in order to apply the righteousness of His Kingdom in this world. The quality of the Christian’s relationship with God and all his subsequent activity must stand out in crisp contrast to the paganism around him. He has submitted himself to Christ, and so he “is purifying himself just as Jesus is pure” (1 John 3:3). Faith is proven in the way we live. This is the whole thrust of the New Testament exhortation to purity and good works. Therefore, James declared that faith without works is dead. Paul exhorted his new converts to turn away from paganism in Corinth. He told them to put aside their pagan lusting and brawling. They were to live, knowing that they belonged no longer to themselves, but to Christ. Likewise Peter begged Christians living in the shadow of persecution, to purge themselves from pagan vices so that their virtuous lives might confute the charges of their enemies. The New Testament demands the Church to exhibit its faith in distinctively Biblical conduct, or it will fail to be the Church. The true Church exhibits the righteousness of Christ. This is not merely private morality, but the application of Biblical principles in all matters of human relations. The church which “sticks to the gospel” and utters no word of judgment or of exhortation to society's sin, is no prophetic church and, what is worse, is preaching an incomplete gospel. May God help the Christian Organization that so blends into society that there is no longer any difference! Such a Church will produce no quality of behavior except what comes from pagan society in general. Such a ‘church’ will take on the prejudices of society, and even support those prejudices. It will make itself a tool of society. That is, it becomes a spiritually poverty-stricken Church which utters no word, states no demands, summons to no destiny, but only offers a host of activities you would enjoy doing. Such a Church is not the special people of God's Kingdom; it has failed to be His Church. The Church's calling is to missions. Jesus told the disciples, “You shall be my witnesses, BOTH in Jerusalem, AND in Judea . . . He did NOT say, “You shall be my witnesses, EITHER in Jerusalem, OR in Judea . . . He directed them to minister both locally and internationally. In order to fulfill this calling the church must deal with ideological struggles! Dynamic ideas battle for the minds of men. The Apostle Paul declared, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). We must take on our responsibility to see that the Biblical world-view permeates society. We must be able to demonstrate the fallacy of all other world views and bring about the conquest of people's minds for the Lordship of Jesus Christ – building a Christian worldview.
A person's world view determines: o o o o o o
the government that society creates, the nature of its laws, the social/economic organization, the culture, arts, and the entertainment, society's view of each individual's value, and society's quality of life.
It is our responsibility to see that the Biblical world view permeates society. It is a life and death battle for the minds of men. William Penn said, “If we are not governed by God, then we will be ruled by tyrants.” Therefore, we must bring forth a righteous civil government built on God’s truth. This will not happen unless churches are structured on God’s truth. From this can come a biblically structured economic system, and biblically structured business practices. We cannot keep out of that battle; missions demands engagement. We must go and proclaim the gospel. The gospel will redeem no one who has never heard its summons. And billions have not. Each of us must rise to our calling. We must be a missionary people. If the Church will not contend for the spirits of men, it is no true Servant; further, it will not even survive; nor would it deserve to. We think it noble that missionaries should give their lives to preach the gospel in far-away lands – but what about us? Do we shirk our responsibility and expect the declaration of the gospel to be carried on by someone else? The Church's victory is the victory of the Cross. Jesus knew his mission was that of the suffering servant of Yahweh. He was despised, spit upon, beaten, put to death like a common criminal. But clearly his victory came through the Cross. It was the victory of the Kingdom of God in Him and through Him. That became His victory. Out of His sacrifice, mankind may come into the Kingdom. We must work to bring forth the full application of the Kingdom of God that burned in the heart of Jesus. After He rose from the dead, during the last forty days before He ascended to heaven, Jesus presented Himself alive . . . by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God (emphasis mine). Thus, not only must the church proclaim the Gospel, she must also disciple both individuals and nations, serving God and mankind. Jesus came to earth, lived, taught, died on the cross, rose again, and ascended, for the full revelation of the rule of God. Truly Jesus has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all (Psalms 103:19). Intelligence demands that we live so that the Lamb that was slain may receive the due reward of His sufferings. And then one day loud voices in heaven will proclaim,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15