KINGDOM A REALITY
IN THE EPISTLES
by David Vaughn Elliott
The word "kingdom" is found 125 times in the four Gospels but only 33 times in the rest of the New Testament. The word "church," on the other hand, is found just 3 times in the four Gospels contrasted to 105 times in the rest of the New Testament.
This may seem like a drastic change in subject matter from the Gospels to the rest of the New Testament. But a careful study shows that the subject has not changed. Rather, there is a change in terminology. The church of Jesus is the kingdom of God. This is, indeed, a bold assertion; but there is considerable evidence of its truth in the epistles of the New Testament. (For evidence in other New Testament books, see former and future Insights on the Kingdom.)
THE GOSPEL AND THE CHURCH
One way to investigate the relationship between the kingdom and the church is to consider what the New Testament teaches about the "gospel."
What is the gospel? Good news. What good news? 1 Corinthians probably comes closer than any other text to giving a formal definition. "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you... which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again" (15:1-4). The historical basis of the gospel, upon which all else rests, is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
A few weeks after His resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:15,16). Their job was to preach the gospel to "every creature"--Jew and Gentile alike--in the process, baptizing those who believe the gospel. The importance of the book of Acts is that it records the history of the disciples obeying Jesus' command.
Paul speaks of "the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel" and also mentions, "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:24,28). Since Jesus' death is the basis for the gospel, and since Jesus' death purchased the church, the church is thus part of the gospel. That is why, as Paul traveled the Roman Empire preaching the gospel, he gathered baptized disciples into churches. To exclude or minimize the church in the preaching of the gospel is to preach a different gospel than Paul preached. The church is bound to the gospel.
"GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM"
During Jesus' earthly ministry, He went about "preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). Mark adds that Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (1:14,15). The coming of the kingdom was the time for people to believe in the gospel. In fact, the gospel is "the gospel of the kingdom." Kingdom and gospel are inseparable, just as church and gospel are inseparable.
"The gospel of the kingdom" was not just a message preached during Jesus' earthly ministry. Predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, which would take place 40 years later, in 70 A.D., Jesus said, "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end [of the temple in Jerusalem] will come" (Matthew 24:14). To put it another way, Jesus' command in Mark 16 ("preach the gospel to every creature") would be fulfilled before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. This makes clear that "the gospel" which Jesus commanded them to preach in all the world was "the gospel of the kingdom."
There is a gospel that is inseparably bound to the kingdom of God. There is a gospel that is inseparably bound to the church of the Lord Jesus. Could these be two different gospels? Hardly! There is only one gospel--one true one. All other "gospels" are perverted and condemned:
"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8). Christ has only one gospel. Therefore, the gospel connected to the kingdom and the gospel connected to the church is one and the same! The gospel that Jesus preached at the beginning of His ministry is the same gospel that He commanded to be preached after his ascension.
Any "kingdom gospel" today which is not the same gospel found in Acts and the epistles is declared by the Holy Spirit to be a "different gospel," a perversion of the gospel of Christ. Consider what Paul told the church at Rome: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16). There is one gospel for Jew and Gentile. Any "good news" for Jews that is different from "good news" for Gentiles is a different and perverted "good news." There is just one gospel for all nations.
To the brethren in Ephesus, Paul explained "that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs [with the Jews], of the same body [church], and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel" (3:6). Paul elsewhere clarified: "the church, which is His body" (1:22,23) and that there is "one body" (4:4). There is one church and one gospel. It is therefore correct to say that the gospel of the kingdom--the only gospel there is--places both Jews and Gentiles into the one and only church of our Lord.
GOSPEL POWER IN THE KINGDOM
In Mark 9:1, Jesus prophesied that the kingdom of God would come with power during the lifetime of His listeners. That power became a reality in several ways, as discussed in Insight #96, "Kingdom Arrives in Acts." Examining that power in the epistles, the mind is drawn again to Romans 1:16: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation." The gospel is the power of God. Not man's power. The power of God.
The apostles were told that the kingdom would come with power in their lifetime. It came with power! The power to save men from sin. The power to turn lives away from wickedness. It was not the power of a sword. It was not the power of a theocratic world government. It was/is the power of a message of love touching men's hearts and changing them from the inside out.
Since there is only one gospel, it is correct to restate Paul's words this way, "the gospel of the kingdom is the power of God to salvation." The kingdom is about salvation from sins. There is power in the kingdom today! This is not a dead message. Nor is this the power of Jesus to force people to obey Him. This is the power of Jesus to draw sinners to Himself--a power to saves souls eternally.
THE HOPE OF THE GOSPEL
Paul spoke to the Colossians of "the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" (1:5). The gospel of the kingdom tells about our hope in heaven. Repeat: "in heaven." In addition, Ephesians 4:4 clarifies that there is just "one hope." Thus, the one hope of the gospel of the kingdom (the only gospel there is) is that which is "laid up for you in heaven." Paul told Timothy that Christ "has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). The gospel of the kingdom has revealed immortality.
The Holy Spirit has said that there is "one hope." Not two hopes--"one hope." Paul spoke to Titus of the "hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began" (1:2). Our hope is not something to last for a century or a millennium. Our hope in Christ is for all eternity. That is the one hope of the Christian. The hope of the gospel of the kingdom is eternal life, nothing less.
PRESENT AND FUTURE
Some of the confusion on the question of the kingdom of God is that the kingdom has two phases. Texts just referred to speak of the future hope of the gospel. Other texts speak of the kingdom as being future. For example, Paul wrote, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 15:50). Obviously, this is speaking of the kingdom as something in the future, after the resurrection.
Paul also wrote (2 Timothy 4:18): "And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve [me] for His heavenly kingdom." Also, 2 Peter 1:11 says: "for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Such texts clearly speak of the kingdom as something future. Note, however, that the future kingdom referred to in each case is both heavenly and eternal (neither earthly nor millennial). These texts thus agree with the prophecy of Daniel, "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed... it shall stand forever" (2:44).
What then, are we to make of the texts quoted earlier, (and others to follow), which give us to understand that the kingdom is present here and now? If we take all that Scripture has to say on the subject, and not just select verses, we must conclude that the kingdom is here in one sense and future in another sense! It is somewhat like the nature of Jesus. On this earth He was both human and divine. Some would make Him only human and others would make him only divine, each using their proof-texts. These people miss the truth. Jesus was both.
And so it is with the kingdom. If we take just some texts, we can say the kingdom has not arrived yet, that it is in the future. If we select other texts, we can ignore or even deny that the kingdom of God is in the future. But, if we take all that Scripture has to say on the subject, we must conclude that the kingdom is here in one sense and future in another sense. It may be thought of as two phases of the same kingdom. Call it "two phases," or whatever you want to call it, neither truth can be denied.
WE ARE IN THE KINGDOM
One of the most direct statements of the present reality of the kingdom of God is Paul's declaration to the Colossians: "Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us [past tense] from the power of darkness and conveyed [us] [past tense] into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood" (Colossians 1:12-14). Conveyed us into the kingdom. Accomplished fact.
Notice that the kingdom has to do with the battle between darkness and light, the battle between Satan and Jesus. It has to do with redemption, blood, and forgiveness of sins. A totally spiritual message. All of this is related to the saints being in the kingdom now. Christ has already delivered us from Satan's kingdom of darkness into His kingdom of light. Praise His holy name!
NOT A MATERIALISTIC KINGDOM
Remember when Jesus fed the 5,000? The multitude wanted to make Him king. Jesus refused and rebuked them for their materialism: "you seek Me... because you ate of the loaves and were filled" (John 6:26). Paul addressed the same materialism in Rome because of the attitude of some in eating meat even if it caused their brother to stumble: "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (14:17). Thus, in correcting them, Paul explained the nature of the kingdom of God here and now--not filling the belly, but rather striving to live at peace with the brethren. God's kingdom is not a forced peace; it's a peace from the heart.
Remember what Jesus told Pilate? "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight" (John 18:36). Paul addressed the same issue when he explained: "We do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments... bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Jesus' kingdom has nothing to do with physical fighting. Jesus' kingdom does not make captives of men; it makes captives of thoughts!
The kingdoms of the world advance by force of arms. God's kingdom advances by force of arguments. Yes, read the text again: "casting down arguments." People say, "There are two things I don't argue about: politics and religion." Whatever the case may be with politics, Christian soldiers are in the business of combating false arguments, in the business of leading people to think as God thinks, in the business of challenging people to surrender their thought patterns to Christ.
"Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age... having girded your waist with truth... And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:11-17). "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war!" A war of words. Our only sword is "the word of God." It is a spiritual war for the advancement of a spiritual kingdom--a battle for the hearts and minds of men, women and youth.
JESUS SEATED AT GOD'S RIGHT HAND
Jesus' death is central to the gospel message. So is His resurrection. But it does not end there. Central to the gospel, also, is Jesus' ascension into heaven to sit on the right hand of the Father! Hebrews 8:4 states bluntly: "if He [Jesus] were on earth, He would not be a priest." If not a priest, not a savior (see 7:23-28). If not a savior, there is no salvation, no gospel, no good news.
Scripture frequently emphasizes Jesus' position in heaven following His ascension. Mark 16:19 records of Jesus: "He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God." Ten days later Peter proclaimed in Jerusalem: "This Jesus God has raised up... Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God" (Acts 2:32,33).
The epistles also emphasize the fact. Paul told the Ephesians (1:20): "which He [God] worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated [Him] at His right hand." He told the Colossians (3:1): "where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God." The Holy Spirit told the Hebrews (1:3): "when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." This great truth had been foretold one thousand years earlier:
"The LORD said to my Lord,
'Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.'
The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!" (Psalms 110:1,2).
During Jesus' earthly ministry, He quoted the first verse of this prophecy to show that the Messiah is not only David's son, but also David's Lord (Matthew 22:41-46). Peter quoted the same verse on the day of Pentecost, as he was reaching the great climax of his sermon: " 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." ' Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:34-36). Jesus sitting on the right hand of God is used as proof that He is now Lord.
JESUS IS LORD
"Lord" is "ruler." And that is what verse 2 of Psalm 110 says, "Rule in the midst of Your enemies!" Is Jesus ruling now? The inspired apostle says, "Yes." "Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him" (1 Peter 3:21,22). "Having been made." Past tense. Angels and authorities and powers are now subject to Him. Jesus said as much before His ascension: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18).
Paul enlarges on the implications of Jesus being seated on the right hand of God: "Which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated [Him] at His right hand in the heavenly [places], far above all principality and power and might and dominion" (Ephesians 1:20-21). The word "dominion" is a derivative of the word "Lord." It could be translated "lordship." Far above all lordship or lords. The book of Revelation is reserved for a future study, but it is irresistible at this point to quote 17:14: "the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings." Jesus is now seated at God's right hand, far above all lords.
Psalm 110:1,2 shows that Jesus has enemies that are not yet overcome. "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool... Rule in the midst of Your enemies!" "Till." Thus, while Jesus is seated at God's right hand, He still has unconquered enemies. Then, 1 Corinthians 15:25 says: "He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet." Both 1 Corinthians 15 and Psalms 110 speak of Jesus overcoming all His enemies. Until He completely overcomes them, the former text says He is seated at God's right hand and is ruling, the latter says he is reigning. Conclusion? Sitting on God's right hand is the equivalent of ruling and reigning. Jesus has been ruling and reigning since His ascension!
Psalms 110 used the word "rule." 1 Corinthians further narrowed "rule" by using the word "reign." A president does not reign. A prime minister does not reign. A king reigns. And a king does not reign unless he has a kingdom to reign over. In the Greek, the words "reign," "king" and "kingdom" all come from the same root: "basil... " So, since Jesus is reigning, by definition he has a kingdom--now!
GOD'S HOLY NATION NOW
Does God have a favorite nation today? Is it America? Is it Israel? Or, is no nation special to Him today? The Spirit has the answer for us.
Addressing Christians in what today is Turkey, Peter wrote: "You [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people" (1 Peter 2:9). Tremendous! Christians are special! All Christians are the people of God! Christians make up a holy nation! In verse 11, Peter calls them "sojourners and pilgrims." Why? Because Christians are not first of all Americans, or Cubans, or Germans, or Arabs. Christians are sojourners and pilgrims in these nations. Christians first of all belong to the holy nation of God.
What type of nation is the nation of God? Is it a democracy? Is it a commonwealth? Is it a republic? None of these. God's nation is a kingdom! The church of Christ is not a democracy, much less a club or association. The church is a kingdom--the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. We are now God's people, God's nation, God's kingdom. The kingdom of God is present here and now. If we are in Christ, we are in His kingdom.
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
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