What is the Kingdom of God? Part Two

SERMON: 12-03-22

      On October 29th I began what will be a series of sermons on the Kingdom of God. Since it has been over a month since I gave that introductory sermon on the Kingdom of God, some review of what I covered is necessary before going on.

       As covered last time, I showed how the good news of the Kingdom of God was a focal point of Christ’s ministry when He walked on this earth some 2000 years ago.  Jesus gave more than a dozen parables explaining the nature of the Kingdom. Most of these parables picture the Kingdom as something one is to diligently seek after.  It is seen as something so valuable that it is to be sought after at all costs.  Teaching about the Kingdom was also a focal point of the ministry of John the Baptist, Apostle Paul and other of the NT writers. 

       I discussed how both John and Jesus said the Kingdom was near and explained how the Greek word translated "near" means something close at hand, something about to occur. I discussed how when Jesus appeared before Pilate after His arrest and Pilate asked Him if He was king of the Jews, Jesus answered that His kingdom was not of this world because if it was His servants would fight on His behalf.

       I discussed how at one point during His ministry, Jesus gave a very profound answer to a question presented to him by the Pharisees regarding the Kingdom. The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come and Jesus replied that the kingdom of God does not come with careful observation, nor will people say, `Here it is,' or `There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you.

       I explained how the Greek word translated “careful observation” appears only this once in the NT and Greek lexicons define it as something that can be watched or observed with the eyes in a visible manner.  Jesus appears to be saying the Kingdom is not something observed with the eyes in a visible manner.

       I discussed in some detail the Greek words translated “within you” and showed from the Scriptures and Greek Lexicons that this word does indeed mean within you and not among you as some translations render it.

       I showed how the expressions Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are referring to the same Kingdom. I went on to show from the Scriptures how being in the Kingdom is associated with practicing righteous behavior and being born again.  I concluded with some very interesting things Jesus said about the Kingdom.

      Matthew 11:11-15: I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears let him hear.

       The Kingdom of heaven is seen as advancing from the days of John the Baptist to the time Jesus was addressing an audience and teaching about the Kingdom. The Scriptures clearly show the Kingdom of God began to be established in the first century.  In Matthew 13:33, Christ likened the Kingdom to yeast that gradually works its way through dough until the entire dough is permeated. Jesus also had this to say about entering the Kingdom:

       Matthew 23:13: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut (present active imperative) the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying (present middle participle) to.

       The Greek grammar here shows how what was occurring was occurring at the time Jesus was speaking.  The religious leaders were preventing men from entering the Kingdom by their unwillingness to acknowledge who Jesus was and what Jesus was teaching as to the pathway for having a relationship with God. 

       I concluded the introductory sermon in this series by pointing out that it is clear from the teachings of Christ Jesus that entering the kingdom is very much associated with living according to the two great commandments of love for God and love for your neighbor.  This is made evident in an interaction between Jesus and a teacher of the law that took place at one point during the ministry of Jesus.

      Mark 12:28-34: One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one” answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God.

       Again we see the Kingdom of God associated with the way of righteousness as defined by the law of love. Jesus told the teacher he was close to the Kingdom when he expressed the understanding that to love God and man is what the Kingdom is all about.

       With this brief review of what was discussed in the first sermon in this series, Let’s now look at Apostle Paul’s teachings about the Kingdom. Like that of John the Baptist and Jesus, the ministry of Paul was focused on the Kingdom as well. When Paul was taken as a prisoner to Rome, he was allowed to live by himself with a soldier to guard him.  While in Rome he initially addressed the Jewish leadership.  What did he declare to them?

       Acts 28:23: They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

       From this Scripture it is apparent that in Paul teaching the Jews about the Kingdom of God, it included teaching them that the crucified and resurrected Christ was an instrumental part of the Kingdom.

       The Scriptures that follow this verse indicate that many of the Jews rejected Paul’s teaching about the Kingdom.  The Jews had a paradigm about the Kingdom that they just could not let go.  First century Judaism saw the promised Messiah as a conquering military leader who would restore the Davidic Kingdom to Israel and wipe out the Romans.  They viewed the Kingdom as replacing Roman rule with their rule.

       The Messiah that Paul was preaching was a crucified savior who taught a Kingdom that involved loving your enemies and doing good to them that hate you, a savior who would die for the sins of the world.A crucified Christ did not fit the paradigm of the Messiah the Jews were expecting.

       In Acts 19:8 we find Paul in Ephesus and while there he “entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.”  Again we find that teaching about the Kingdom of God was the focal point of Paul’s ministry.  What was the response?  Verse nine: “But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.  So Paul left them.  He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.”

       Here again we see a resistance to Paul’s preaching about the Kingdom of God.  Why this reaction to what Paul was preaching?  What was Paul teaching about the Kingdom of God that brought such a negative response?  Paul was proclaiming that the Kingdom of God involved salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Jews found the idea of a crucified Messiah preposterous. 

       Paul was also teaching that the pathway to the Kingdom was to follow the teaching of this crucified Messiah.  He was teaching the Kingdom as an ethical system, something that Scripture reveals was being referred to in the first century as “the Way.”  “The Way” involved repentance and forgiveness through the crucified and resurrected Christ and the pursuit of righteous living.

       The Jews expected the Messiah to be a conquering military leader that would oust the Romans and reestablish the glories of the Davidic Kingdom.  It is obvious from the reaction Paul received that he was not preaching this kind of Messiah or this kind of Kingdom.  This is why his message was largely rejected by the Jewish community of the first century.

       In Acts 20, we see Paul saying his goodbyes to the Ephesian Church elders.  In verse 21 he tells them: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus."  In verse 25 he says: "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.”  Here again we see a synergism between repentance and faith in Christ and the preaching of the Kingdom.

       Paul clearly shows that repentance and faith in Christ is what the Kingdom is all about.  Repentance is all about a changed way of behaving before God and man.  Faith in Christ is all about having our sins forgiven when we fall short of righteous behavior.  Paul made it very clear the Kingdom of God relates to our conduct.

        I Corinthians 6:9-11: Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

       Galatians 5:19-23: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

       Paul, in his letter to the Roman church wrote that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  Paul is saying the same thing to the Corinthian and Galatian Church.  The Kingdom of God involves living a Spirit filled way of life.  It involves righteous living.  It involves having been born of the Spirit and therefore having the power to live pleasingly before God.  It involves having our sins forgiven and being reconciled to God.

       This all being said, what about Scriptures that appear to indicate the Kingdom is more than spiritual dynamics involving salvation through Christ and the practice of righteous behavior?  There are a number of Scriptures that indicate the Kingdom has location in the heavenly realm and involves a different dimension of life after physical death. There are statements made by Christ and the apostles that appear to indicate the Kingdom is something that is inherited and such inheritance would be realized when Christ returned. There are other Scriptures that indicate the Kingdom will be an earthly Kingdom. This is what the Jews of Jesus day were expecting.

       As I discussed last time, first century Judaism was very familiar with the writings of Daniel and other of the prophets. They understood from the writings of the prophets that the time had arrived for the Kingdom of God to be established and they saw such Kingdom as a literal Kingdom ruled over by a Messiah sent by God to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression

       As noted in part one of this series, the Jews rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah because He did not fit their understanding of who the Messiah would be. The Jews believed the Messiah would be a conquering military leader who would restore the Davidic Kingdom to Israel by doing away with Roman rule.  The Jews believed this to be the case because of what they came to believe about what they saw written in the Hebrew Scriptures. 

Kingdom of God in the Old Testament:

       There are a number of passages in the OT that speak of a Kingdom being established that will supersede all other kingdoms and will last forever. Isaiah writes of a child being born who will have the government upon his shoulders and who will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).  Since David ruled over a physical kingdom involving government, subjects and land, it would appear Isaiah is talking about someone who will reign in like manner.

       In Daniel 2:31-45, Daniel writes of a succession of earthly kingdoms which will be replaced by God setting up a Kingdom that will never be destroyed.   Daniel prophesied that the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms of this world will be handed over to the saints and that God’s Kingdom will be an everlasting Kingdom and all rulers will worship and obey Him (Daniel 7:28).  Since the context is the replacement of earthly kingdoms with the Kingdom of God, it was concluded that the Kingdom of God will be a physical Kingdom with a governing authority located on planet earth.

       It is instructive that there is a succession of four earthly kingdoms enumerated in Daniel 2.  Daniel identifies the Babylonian Kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar as the first of these kingdoms and then speaks of three kingdoms to follow which history identifies as the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire and the Roman Empire. It is during the time of the fourth kingdom that Daniel sees the Kingdom of God appearing. The Roman Empire began around 44 B.C. and by the first century A.D. it was flourishing.  It was at this time that Christ Jesus appeared and began to preach that the Kingdom of God was about to appear.  

      Since Daniel dates the appearance of the Kingdom of God to the time of the fourth kingdom (Roman Empire), this virtually dates the appearing of the Kingdom of God to the first century A.D. 

        In Daniel 7:13-14, we see Daniel writing of one like a son of man appearing before the Ancient of Days who gives this son of man authority and sovereign power to rule all peoples and nations.  His dominion is said to be an everlasting dominion that will not pass away.  His Kingdom is one that is seen as never being destroyed.  The language of this passage appears to speak of a traditional type of kingdom involving a king exercising power and authority over nations and peoples.

       In Isaiah 11, the prophet speaks of a time when a descendant of Jesse (father of David) will appear and facilitate the restoration of Israel.  This prophecy speaks of a time when even animals that are generally antagonistic to one another will live together in peace. 

        In addition to these prophesies, the Jews of Jesus day were also familiar with the 70 weeks prophecy recorded in Daniel chapter nine.  They were able to calculate from this prophecy the approximate time when the promised Messiah was to appear.  Their calculations showed that the time of the Messiah’s appearing was at hand in the first century AD. Expectations were high that the promised Messiah was about to appear.  Taking advantage of this expectation, there were a number of “messiahs” that appeared on the scene in the first century promising to lead the people out from under Roman rule. 

        First century historian Josephus records that almost every day the Romans put one or more of them to death.  The appearance of multiple “messiahs” may have added to the Jews skepticism regarding Jesus’ claim that he was the promised Messiah.  The Gospel of John clearly shows Jesus believed Himself to be the promised Messiah.

        John 4:25-26: The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming'' (who is called Christ)."When He comes, He will tell us all things.''  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He'' (NKJV).

       While the first century Jews understood that the 70 weeks prophecy pointed to the Messiah appearing in their lifetime, what they apparently did not understand or simply overlooked was that the 70 weeks prophecy predicted the death of the Messiah who would come.  This prophecy also shows the sacrificial system would come to an end and the temple along with the city would be destroyed.

       Daniel 9:24-27: Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate (KJV).

        It should be noted that there is no discussion of the establishment of a kingdom in this passage.  The passage is only about the coming of Messiah, His being cut off, the subsequent destruction of the sanctuary along with the city, and the discontinuance of the sacrifices.  It is apparent the Jewish leadership of the first century either failed to understand this aspect of the 70 weeks prophecy or chose to ignore it and simply stick to their belief that the coming Messiah would restore a literal Davidic kingdom.  

        As covered in part one of this series, Jesus plainly said His kingdom was not of this world. The English word “world” is taken from the Greek kosmosKosmoshas broad application in the Greek language with the common thread being that the word refers to the physical realm.  Jesus appears to be saying His Kingdom is not of this physical realm. 

       Yet it is apparent that in reading Isaiah 9 and 11, Daniel 2 and other such passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Kingdom of God appears to be a Kingdom that would be established on planet earth and be of this physical realm. The language of these passages gives no hint of the Kingdom of God being located somewhere other than planet earth. 

       Therefore, it is understandable that the Jews of Jesus day were expecting the coming Messiah to establish a literal Kingdom which would be on this earth.  Since Jesus didn’t bring such a Kingdom but instead was crucified as a common criminal. He was looked upon as a pretender no different from the other would-be messiahs that were appearing on the scene in the first century.   

       So, what are we to conclude from all of this?  So far in this series we have looked at many passages of Scripture that indicate the Kingdom of God is of a spiritual nature in that it involves being born of the Spirit of God and practicing the way of righteousness in our behavior before God and man while residents of planet earth. 

       Yet we see OT passages that indicate the Kingdom is a ruling government. There are a number of passages in the NT that appear to identify the Kingdom of God as a ruling government as well. The Kingdom is seen as having location and a thing to be inherited. Is this location in the heavenly realm where God resides, on planet earth or both?  Next week we will take a look a number of NT Scriptures that deal with the Kingdom having location.