Gird Your sword upon Your side, O mighty One. And in Your majesty,
ride forth victoriously, in the cause of truth , humility and righteousness.
Psalm 45:3-4

 

Note: In the days when I served as a pastor, I wrote this article for Christian young people, especially those attending public school.

 

As school days draw nigh, filling us all with thoughts of carpools, classes and careers, let’s pause–high schoolers and college students in particular–for a quick backward glance at one of the more troubling developments of the summer of ’94: the growing strength of the so-called Gay Rights Movement.

Recall, for example, the events surrounding Gay Pride Day in New York city. There were the Gay Games, with 20,000 lesbian and homosexual competitors. There was gay theatre, where angry, raucous, and sometimes weeping crowds cheered Tony Kushner’s play, Angels in America, billed as “a gay fantasia on national themes.” And there was the Gay Pride March, with over 100,000 participants trailing rainbow streamers, boldly declaring that the Queer Nation will have its place under the American sun.

Anyone willing to look beneath this veneer of bravado would certainly have found that most of the participants were deeply unhappy people, haunted by fear, guilt and shame. Yet columnist David Broder, speaking for a sympathetic liberal media, was rapturous: He counted himself lucky to witness history in the making, “. . . as another group of . . . brave, funny, addled, and angry . . . Americans were claiming their place in our culture and politics.”

All the World Loves a Cause

What are Bible-believing Christians to think of all this? Why are such movements so popular? How should we respond to them? And what can they teach us about our own place in the world?

These are complex questions. But perhaps we can begin to get a handle on them by recognizing first that all the world loves a cause. And perhaps by thinking for a moment about worldly causes, we can gain some fresh perspective on our own heavenly one.

A cause is a purpose or goal which animates a group of persons. They think it is right and important, that the rest of the world should recognize it, and that it is worthy of great dedication, toil and sacrifice.

A popular cause usually has a leader and a spokesman. Occasionally, as in the case of Dr. King, the leader will become a martyr.

A cause will have a philosophy and a set of values to undergird it. It will unite its adherents with a feeling of esprit de corps. It will usually face adversaries, and may therefore elicit unusual courage (or unusual fanaticism) from its defenders.

Some causes are worthy, others evil. Some are weighty, others trivial. But whatever their character, the world is never lacking for causes, and men are ever eager to take them up.

Made for a Cause

Yes, all the world loves a cause, and as Christians we can understand why. We know that God Himself has designed and made us for a cause. As the Scriptures reveal, He has created us all to glorify Him through good works which He lovingly prepared even before we were born.

What’s more, in our cause He gives us a leader: His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives us a true philosophy and godly values in His Word. He unites us with a supportive community, the spiritual family we call the Church. And He lays challenges before us, that we may grow in wisdom, courage, and perseverance.

In all this, we see why the world loves a cause: It’s just human nature. Yes, men can and do reject the cause their nature was created to serve. But no one can reject his nature itself. For this reason, everyone will serve a cause. The only questions is: Whose will it be?

Getting Ready to Ride

Christian youth returning to school must ask themselves just this question. The answer, I think, is found in Psalm 45.

There the writer is catching a glimpse of the Lord Jesus Christ, coming again in glory on the last day. And how is He seen? He is seen riding forth victoriously ” . . . in the cause of truth, humility, and righteousness.”

Here is the key. For if tomorrow Christ will return to vindicate all who welcomed the truth of the Gospel, then obviously we must commit ourselves to that truth today.

If tomorrow He will exalt all who served mankind in humility, then clearly we must resolve to become humble servants today.

If tomorrow He will reward all who loved righteousness, then certainly we must embrace, defend and promote righteousness today.

In sum, if Christ will ride out of heaven tomorrow to triumph in His cause, then nothing could be important than our riding through the earth to meet Him, this day and every day.

But if you are young, you must first spend some quality time getting ready to ride.

How can you do this?

Likely as not, you already know the answers. Take full advantage of your education. Acquire a biblical worldview. Understand the culture in which you are called to minister. Prayerfully begin to search out your gifts and callings. Strive to set worthy goals. Develop useful and profitable skills that will open wide doors of service. Maintain sexual purity. Establish godly friendships, disciplines, and convictions. And above all, prepare to give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that lies within you, with gentleness and respect.

Christian young person, understand that the world has always been filled with ungodly and unworthy causes. Tomorrow’s world will doubtless be filled with more. But your Leader tells you not to be distracted by them. Yes, he may ask you to do battle with worldy philosophies, values, and practices. But in the end, this is always with a view to rescuing those who hold them, to advancing the cause of Christ and the gospel. You are not to be of the world, but to ride through it, joyfully and singlemindedly fixing your eyes on Him.

If you do, be assured that a little flock of world-weary travelers will indeed take note. They will cry out to join you. They will beg you to lift them up.

That is a very great joy. Are you prepared for it? Are you dedicated to it?

As the school year begins again, are you getting ready to ride?

 

The anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, legalizing abortion on demand, has come and gone again. This year, however, there was little cause for hope in the pro-life camp. Even as pro-lifers rallied in Washington to stir the conscience of the nation, President Clinton swept aside regulations controlling fetal experimentation, abortions on military bases, and the use of tax-payer dollars for abortion and abortion “counseling” both here and abroad. A seemingly indifferent nation scarcely blinked an eye.

If it is true, as most polls suggest, that Americans are uncomfortable with abortion on demand, it is also an inescapable fact that they are not uncomfortable enough to do much about it. Whether from conviction, confusion, or consuming self-interest, Americans have in fact accepted Roe and the cultural mega-shift it represents.

If, then, abortion–and related practices such as fetal experimentation, infanticide and euthanasia–are to be woven into the very fabric of our national existence, let us at least be as clear as possible about what such a step really means, and where it will take us. Perhaps some careful thought along these lines will persuade us to think again.

In this article, I want to suggest that the abortion controversy is not only political in nature, as some would have it, but also spiritual. My thesis is that the ideology and practice of legalized abortion serves as a kind of window onto the American soul. Looking through the window, we see nothing less than an entire nation at a spiritual crossroads. We see America–indeed, all of Western Civilization–poised between two life-ways: Christianity or Paganism. And the choice we make is, appropriately enough, a matter of life and death.

By way of explanation, let us begin by viewing the life issues in historical perspective.

Though it is has sometimes been romanticized, serious students of history know that the pagan world was not a pretty place to live. Indeed, for women and children, it was often a deadly place. Whether in Persia, Greece, Egypt, Asia, India, Arabia or Rome, abortion and infanticide–especially of baby girls–were accepted practices. The abuse of the weak and innocent by the strong was acceptable routine.

In Rome, for example, a man might have one wife, but many concubines. If any concubine bore him a child, according to the tradition of paterfamilias he could kill it or save it alive, at his discretion. If the verdict was death, the child would be left on the city walls to die of exposure or be eaten by wild animals. Anyone who tried to save the child was liable to criminal charges.

Significantly, there was not a single pagan philosopher (unless we include Hippocrates in their number) who condemned such practices. Indeed, they recommended them, and callously described both methods and procedures.

Then, in the first century, a new philosophy began to spread throughout the Empire, a philosophy that would increasingly challenge the status quo. The followers of Jesus of Nazareth, guided by his teachings and those of the Hebrew Scriptures, began to proclaim that human life, being God’s highest and noblest creation, was sacred. Moreover, they solemnly warned and inveighed against its unlawful destruction by abortion and infanticide.

A crucial battle in this spiritual conflict occurred at the instigation of Basil of Cappadocia. In the course of his relief work among the poor of Caesarea, this pastor discovered a guild of abortionists called the sagae, who provided herbal potions, pessaries and surgical remedies for women who wanted to abort. The fetal remains were sold to cosmetologists in Egypt.

Appalled and outraged, he publicly condemned the sagae, and urged local officials to take action against them. He began to preach to his flock about the sanctity of life and exhorted them to open their homes to pregnant women and children. Finally, his tireless labors gained the attention of the emperor Valentinian, who later decreed that all parents must support the children they conceive, and that those who brutalize or abandon them should be subject to the full penalty of the law.

It was a pivotal moment in the history of the West, a triumph for the biblical vision of the sanctity of life. And from that time on, amidst all too many failures, countless earnest Christians–whether missionaries, pastors, doctors, feminists, lawyers, or just plain folk–have tried to show, by word and deed, the value placed on every human being by the Lord of life.

Their dedication–for which some paid the supreme price–has always been based on three simple biblical principles.

First, human life is both unique and sacred. This affirmation flows from the fact that God intended man alone to live in fellowship with Himself, and that He therefore created him, unlike the animals, in His own image and likeness, with special authority to rule over all other creatures (Genesis l:24-28, Psalm 8). We see the sanctity of human life even more vividly in the incarnation of God’s Son, who not only became a human being, but did so with a view to the salvation, not of animals, but of a new and eternal race of human beings (John 3:l6). In short, biblical teaching on the creation and redemption of man reveals both the uniqueness and infinite value of all people.

Secondly, the pre-born are fully human (though not fully mature) from the moment of conception. The Bible conveys this important truth in several ways. For example, it explicitly affirms that the soul–i.e., the seat of human personality–is the animating principle of the body (Gen. 2:7, James 2:26). Therefore, if a fetus is alive, it has a soul; and if it has a soul, it is indeed a little person. Not surprisingly, we therefore find the Psalmist speaking of the devloping fetus as a fully human being (Psalm l39). Along these lines, we also have the profoundly suggestive case of Elizabeth and Mary, whose pre-born children recognized one another while yet in the womb. Indeed, when little John (six months old) discerned little Jesus (one month old) in the room, he (John) not only recognized him, but leapt for joy (Luke l:39-44)!

Finally, God cares for all people at all stages of life, especially the innocent and the weak; moreover, He casts himself as their defender and avenger, ready to arise in judgment against all who would harm them (Exodus 22:22-24). In particular, He has laid it down as law that we must not kill the innocent (Gen. 9:6, Ex. 20:l3), but instead seek to protect them (Proverbs 24:ll-l2). The government–which is His appointed instrument of justice in the earth–bears a special responsibility in this regard (Romans l3:l-4).

In short, the distinctively Western conviction concerning the sanctity of every human life is rooted in a distinctively biblical world-view. This is expeically true of pro life people, whose ethical impulse usually arises out of a deep conviction that an infinite, personal, holy God stands as King and Judge over the creation He loves; and that we, having a small share in His dominion, must respect and defend all His creatures, most especially the sons and daughters of men.

The pagan world-view, on the other hand, is powerless to generate such concern. For the pagan, there is no living God from whom man ultimately derives his dignity, or to whom he is accountable. There is only matter in process, or perhaps an impersonal cosmic consciousness evolving towards some kind of mystical self-realization. In either case, it is man who is really in the driver’s seat. With no revelation of moral absolutes, pagan man is responsible to none but himself. He must create his own values, basing his choices on purely private determinations of what is desirable or useful or conducive to “personal fulfilment” and “quality of life.” Unfortunately, a Nero, a Hitler, a Pol Pot, or a Saddam Hussein may have one definition of “quality of life,” while their countrymen have quite another.

Here, then, is the deep, underlying significance of the abortion debate. More than a political crisis, the abortion controversy signals that we have now entered a profound cultural crisis, a crisis that forces us all to re-examine and redefine the very foundations of our corporate life, and then to choose the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children.

Though many will resist it, both the Bible and history assure us that in the end we really have only two choices. We can embrace the biblical world-view and the “sanctity of life” ethic that it generates, or we can embrace a pagan, humanistic world-view, and the “quality of life” ethic it generates. To put the matter more bluntly still, we can submit to the reign of the living God, or we can reign over ourselves. It is not a choice that we sinners have ever found easy to make.

Does the choice seem too narrow, and the options too few for our pluralistic, “live and let live” culture? Those who think so would do well to consider the following remarks of Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote about the brave new ideologies of his own era:

“There are those who believe that a new modernity demands a new morality. What they fail to consider is the harsh reality that there is no such thing as a new morality. There is only one morality. There is only true Christian ethics over against which stands the whole of paganism. . . All these blatant sham reformers, in the name of a new morality, preach the old, old vice of self-indulgence which rotted out first the moral fiber and then even the external greatness of Greece and Rome. If we are to fulfill our destiny as a people, then we must return to the old morality, the sole morality.”

Strong words, I admit, but amply vinidcated by the gulags, gas chambers, and killing fields that followed. And with 40 million innocent children now dead in Americas abortuaries, multitudes of our women scarred for life, and the last walls of legal protection crumbling all around us, perhaps we need some strong words.

Perhaps, before it is too late, we should reconsider our rich biblical heritage and the sanctity of life ethic that made Western Civilization and America great. Are we really prepared to discard them? What will happen to us and our children if we do? The warnings of Scripture, the dark course of modern history, and the un-pretty picture of ancient paganism supply a sobering answer.

Yes, America really is at a spiritual crossroads. And as for the nation, so for the individual: Each of us must choose. Therefore, since the hour is very late, let us hear afresh the word of God to every man, woman, boy and girl of every time and every place in the whole of this dark and tumultous world:

“Today I set before you life and death, blessing and curse.

So choose life, that you may live, you and your seed.”

(Deuteronomy 30:19)

 

And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision,
why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross is ceased.
Galatians 5:11

 

My year as a college student in France provided me with a lurid but instructive memory. Nice as it was on other counts, the youth hostel where I lived had a definite problem: cockroaches. During the midnight hours when I rose to use the restroom I would have to brace myself for a genuinely creepy rendezvous. One had only to turn on the light in the bathroom, not just to see the big black bugs, but to see them in great abundance, scurrying every which-way back into their holes. The unpleasant creatures did not like light. Indeed, light clearly caused them pain. It offended them, and sent them racing to home base: darkness.

Such, I am afraid, is the biblical testimony concerning man. No, God does not look upon us as cockroaches: If we are more valuable than many sheep, then surely we are more valuable than many insects (Matthew 12:12). Indeed, because we have been created in His image, He reckons us just a little lower than the angels; indeed, like God himself (Psalm 8).

Yet in one important respect we are very much like those creeping things: From birth we are creatures of darkness, both by nature and by choice (John 3:19, Acts 26:18). This is our sad inheritance from the first man Adam, who long ago chose lies over truth, covetousness over contentment, and rebellion over obedience (Genesis 3). And when he chose that darkness, he chose it not only for himself, but for his posterity as well (Romans 5:12f). Ever since Eden, darkness has been home base for the family of man.

This testimony is difficult to receive. As a rule we fancy ourselves creatures of kindness, goodness, and light, no matter what history or the daily news say to the contrary. But there is any easy way to get at the facts of the matter: We need only to stand before the cross of Christ and study carefully how we respond. Then and there the truth will be told.

The apostle Paul understood this. From painful personal experience, both as a persecutor of Christians and later as a messenger of Christ, he knew that the cross is an offense to fallen man. Unless and until God performs His miracle of regeneration in our hearts, we will flee it rather than embrace it; we will back away into darkness rather than bathe ourselves in its wondrous healing light.

Indeed, this is precisely what certain Jewish “Christians” were doing when they told the Galatian believers that they had to be circumcised. They were saying, in effect, that these new disciples had to obey the Law of Moses in order to be forgiven and accepted by God. Such “legalism” sounded spiritual, but in fact it betrayed a terrible misunderstanding, for no man can perfectly obey God’s Law, so that no man can be saved by it (Romans 3:20). More importantly, Jewish legalism actually revealed a hidden enmity towards the true, God-given instrument of salvation: the cross of Christ. Apart from the cross, says Paul, man is hopelessly trapped and lost in his sin. Yet at this–their only way of escape –these Jewish “Christians” had taken offense.

Why the Cross Offends

Why does the cross so offend fallen man? And how, precisely, does it offend him? What effects does it have upon the sinful human self when it is faithfully preached; when Christ Jesus is “clearly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1)?

Here are a few biblical answers to these important questions.

First, the cross offends our self-estimate. By nature, we think of ourselves as good people; not, perhaps, perfect, but with only enough naughtiness to make us interesting. The cross, however, renders a far more sobering diagnosis, declaring that in God’s sight we are evil people; not, perhaps, as evil as we could be, but fundamentally evil: fundamentally hostile to the true God, rebellious towards His revealed will, and indifferent to His glory (Mark 7:21f, Luke 11:13). At the cross, God certainly judged something. If it was not the evil of His people, graciously and mercifully laid upon His Son, what was it?

Secondly, the cross offends our self-importance. It belongs essentially to our fallen nature–to our mutant and inflated egos–that we compare ourselves with others, rank ourselves above others, and seek out the flaws in others whom we know to be better than ourselves (Luke 18:11). But before the cross, all such self-importance withers away. For the meaning of Jesus’ substitutionary death is quite clear: All have sinned, all are loved, all are judged in Christ, and all are forgiven–if and when they come to Him. The way is the same for rich and poor, smart and simple, beautiful and homely, famous and infamous. The cross is the great leveler of men. Where then is self-importance? Where is boasting? Paul tells us where: “God forbid that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

Thirdly, the cross offends our self-righteousness. Fallen man knows that he is sinful, that he has fallen short of the perfect righteousness that God requires (Romans 3:23). But instead of humbly seeking out the perfect righteousness that God has graciously supplied, he prefers to fashion a righteousness of his own, based on good deeds. To be sure, God knows our good deeds and approves them; yet He also knows that good deeds cannot cancel evil deeds; and also that good deeds, even their best, are always contaminated by evil motives. For in God’s sight a deed is good only when it is done out of pure love for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. I wonder if even one such deed has ever been done under heaven, save every deed performed by God’s one and only Son.

Knowing, then, the futility of self-righteousness, God wisely and mercifully ordained the cross as His appointed way of righteousness. There we behold the matchless gift: One whose people’s sins were credited to His account, so that His perfect righteousness might be credited to theirs. The saints, having been taught the depth of their sin, love and cherish this simple way of salvation. But the self-righteous–unwilling to acknowledge their sin and intent on earning their place in the household of God– are offended by it. Even at the peril of their eternal souls, they turn away from the cross (Matthew 22:1f).

Finally, the cross offends our self-rule. Independence, autonomy, self-rule–all belong to the very essence of sin. God’s original plan for man was to live in him, walk with him, and work through him. Life was to be a Father-Son business, with the Father leading and the sons following, prosperously. Jesus modeled this life for us, declaring that He always did only those things that He saw the Father doing (Luke 2:49, John 5:30). But Adam rejected this God-centered life in Eden, and his fallen offspring have spurned it ever since.

This is why we also spurn the cross. For there we see not only a condemnation of sin, but also a call to a new and better life– resurrection life, life beyond the grave of our own sinful self-rule; life like Christ’s life; life in God and with God, forever. One would think that people would find such a life attractive. But until God makes it attractive, we will flee it every time. The cross does indeed invite us to life, but always at the price of death: the death of our self-rule. And as much as he needs to, autonomous sinful man definitely does not want to die.

We see then that man, by his very nature, is offended by the cross. But if he is constitutionally hostile to the cross–if he has to commit a species of suicide in order to come to Christ–how can anyone be saved? Jesus himself gave us the answer: “With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). In other words, God Himself must give sinful man new eyes and a new heart, so that he can see the meaning of the cross, behold its beauty, and desire to come to the One who died upon it. As Jesus put it, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father draws him. You must be born again” (John 6:44, 3:7).

How the Cross Attracts

Happily, this too is a Father-Son business in which everyday Christians can play an important part. Knowing that our unbelieving friends and loved ones find the cross offensive, God invites us to co-labor with Him in making it attractive. And this is not so difficult, since, for many reasons, the cross is attractive. Here are a few of the best.

First, the cross is attractive because it exhibits the unconditional love of God for fallen man. Long before a single sinner ever came to the Savior, God planned to send His Son into the world to be the Teacher, Priest, Sacrifice, and King of His people. He was certainly not moved to do so because He foresaw their holiness. To the contrary, foreseeing them in their sin and lost estate, He was moved with compassion and unconditional love to give His one and only Son to save them (John 3:16). Here is a most attractive flower in the garden of biblical truth: We do not have to be lovable to be loved!

Secondly, the cross is attractive because it displays salvation as a gift to be received, rather than a work to be accomplished. This is why, as Jesus breathed his last upon the cross, he triumphantly cried, “It is finished!” All that was necessary for our salvation–a life perfectly lived and a death willingly endured–had now been accomplished. Henceforth, says the Bible, Christ has done all, and fallen man can contribute nothing whatsoever to his finished work. All we can do is receive it gladly and gratefully, as a gift (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Yes, there is work for the Christian to do. But it is not done in order to be accepted; rather, it is done out of joy for having been accepted. Because of the cross, guilty, anxious, and driven souls can rest at last. Jesus said so himself. With the cross in view, he told sinners in Israel, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:30). He says the same to us today.

Finally, the cross is attractive because it offers hope of a life beyond the grave. All who learn of Christ’s death, learn also of his resurrection. All who see the cross, see also what lay beyond it–resurrection, ascension, the throne of God, and life in Heaven with God forever. To receive Christ is to receive it all. What an attraction! The cross is not the last word. The Savior is not dead, but lives. And if He lives, He can come to us, live within us, teach us, change us, take us safely to Heaven when we die and, some glorious day, raise us from the dead for even fuller life in a glorious new world (John 11, 1 Corinthians 15)!

Yes, of all its attractions, this may be the greatest–and the reason why multitudes of poor sinners, struggling to emerge from their darkness, keep turning to the cross day after day, year after year, even to the end of time. For there, atop Mt. Golgotha, we behold the very portal of Heaven. There, amidst the most dreadful darkness, divine light pours through most purely, most powerfully. There we see everything: God, sin, wrath, justice, love, grace, mercy, death, and–most attractively–eternal resurrection life with Him who loved us all.

If, by God’s grace, we have seen this great sight, let us labor with God to help others see it too. Let us labor to portray, not only the offense, but also the attraction of the cross. And let us labor confidently, knowing that with God all things are possible; that because of our simple obedience, many who are today offended by the cross will tomorrow count it their greatest glory.

 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By it, the heroes of today are standing firm, and so, like those of yesterday, will receive a good testimony from the One whose witness counts!

By faith they are bringing down walls of confusion, worldly distraction, theological immaturity, spiritual indolence, and besetting personal sin . . . encircling them all for seven seasons with believing prayer and the promises of God till they finally come crashing to the ground.

By faith men are purposing to become strong and gentle servant-leaders in their home and community. They pray for their family, talk from the heart with their wives, and read the Scriptures to their kids and grand-kids. Teaming up with their mate, they seize interesting opportunities to learn about God’s world, and to serve people in it. They take time for the serious business of fun and wholesome recreation.

By faith some among them have even stopped the mouth of television, quenched the violence of R-rated videos, overcome information addiction, and–fearful of surrendering their offspring to pagan priests in the government schools–are educating their children at home, or working hard to send them to a local Christian school.

By faith they are becoming valiant against workaholicism, the love of money, and the idolatrous aspects of the American Dream.

By faith, some of them are growing mighty in the scriptures, hoping to serve as elders, scholars, or missionaries. Others run successful businesses, employ the needy, witness to their workers, and systematically support the work of the kingdom with their increase.

By faith wives are triumphing over false guilt and over-commitment, dedicating themselves in all simplicity to the help of their husbands, the nurture of their children, the adornment of their homes, and the edification of their sisters in the Lord.

By faith some volunteer at the local pregnancy counseling center, others work with Release Tme, and still others take their kids to visit the sick and elderly.

By faith young couples are adopting orphans, welcoming exchange students into their homes, and sheltering women and girls who face crisis pregnancies.

By faith, many are eschewing fear, sloth, and bad theology so as to get involved in cultural transformation and the political process. Imitating the way of Christ and his servants of earlier generations, they are becoming skilled, gracious, and fearless proponents of biblical justice, limited government, personal responsibility, private charity, sexual purity, traditional marriage, and the sanctity and protectability of human life from the moment of conception till the moment of natural death.

Still others are serving in their local church, supporting local and foreign missionaries, encouraging persecuted Christians at home and abroad, writing poems and books, making films, composing or playing God-honoring music, loving the brethren, respecting all men, and delighting themselves daily in the Lord . . . that the light of heaven may continue to shine in the darkness of an increasingly evil world.

Yes, all these and more–by looking up to Him who dwells above, and ahead to Him who soon will come–are diffusing the grace of Christ to all everywhere, and so are sure to attain this testimony from the One whose witness counts: their faith was real, and their lives were indeed well-pleasing to the Lord.

 

NOTE: The following essay is an excerpt from my book, The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate. It is the first of two central chapters devoted to exploring NT teaching about the Kingdom of God. Here my theme is the nature of the Kingdom; in the sequel, it is the coming of the Kingdom: how the Kingdom enters history, and the stages in which it so enters until the universe, life and man reach the Final State in the World to Come. I hope these essays will enrich your understanding of all that our High King has accomplished for us through his redemptive work, and all that awaits us at His glorious return!

 

The Good News of the Kingdom

In the gospel according to Mark, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). No doubt they fell sweetly upon the ears of all Israel. For centuries their prophets had promised a day when God would send his Messiah, through him launching a sequence of events that would culminate in the redemption and glorification of the whole world. For centuries, Israel had waited for it. And now, said Jesus to his astonished countrymen, the day is “at hand”—very near, and drawing nearer by the moment. The people were to prepare themselves spiritually. The hope of the ages was upon them.

At first, they were with him. Though his teachings—usually couched in parables—were enigmatic, his mighty miracles clearly identified him as a prophet (Luke 7:16). Moreover, he did little to discourage the Messianic speculation and fervor that the miracles aroused (Mt. 9:27, 12:23, John 4:29). And when, on Palm Sunday, he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he openly to declared to all—to the Jewish people, their leaders, and Rome itself—that he was exactly what his exultant disciples believed him to be: the eschatological Son of David, the blessed Messianic King who comes in the name of the LORD (Luke 19:37-40)!

In the end, however, the nation turned against him (John 1:11). Why? Because he was not the Son of David they expected or wanted. If he had been, he would not have fallen into Pilate’s hands. If he had been, he would have roused the people to war. If he had been, he would have invoked the power of God once again, this time to lead Israel to victory over Rome and to eventual supremacy among the nations. No, the Pharisees had gotten it right after all. Jesus of Nazareth was just another in a long line of false prophets and false Messiah’s. Therefore, as Moses commanded, he must die, and the people must resume their long wait for the true King and the true Kingdom of God.

 

Jesus’ View of the Kingdom

If only they had understood. Had not Jesus told Nicodemus that without a spiritual rebirth, no one could see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3)? Had he not told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God does not come with observation (Luke 17:20)? Had he not told Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36)? And when the multitudes had tried to make him a king by force, had he not withdrawn from them, and later reproved them for a selfish materialism that blinded them to the true nature of his Messianic mission (John 6)?

Yes, Jesus of Nazareth was the Messianic herald of the Kingdom of God. But as all four gospels make painfully clear, his understanding of the Kingdom was different from that of the people to whom he proclaimed it—profoundly different!

What then was his understanding? Having pondered this crucial question for many years, I would argue that in proclaiming, expounding, and manifesting the true character of the Kingdom of God, our Lord always had in mind five main ideas. In the pages ahead, I will briefly examine each one, and then offer a working definition of the Kingdom as I believe Jesus saw it. Later in our journey, we shall discuss many of these ideas in greater depth.

A Direct Reign of God the Father

Above all else, Christ understood the Kingdom to be the direct reign (or rule) of God the Father over his creation. We see this truth on display in the Lord’s Prayer, where he taught his disciples to say, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Here we have a virtual definition of the Kingdom: It is the sphere where God’s will is being done as it is in heaven. But to understand this saying, we must be clear on two points. First, what exactly does Jesus mean by the Father’s “will”? And secondly, what is the difference, at present, between the way this will is being done in heaven and on earth?

Concerning the first question, it is clear that here Jesus has in mind what theologians call God’s will of precept (or moral will, or will of command). Revealed in Eden, revealed in Christ, and revealed in his Scriptural promises and precepts, it may be defined as that which God expressly desires his creatures to do and to be, so that they, reflecting both the character of their Creator and his benevolent purpose for their lives, may naturally and joyfully bring glory to him.

Up in heaven, God’s will of precept is now being done perfectly. Why? Because up there God rules directly over the spirits of the saints and angels, with the result that their wills and his will are one. This is what makes heaven to be heaven. Since there God conforms all things to his will of precept, all things reflect his glory and partake of his joy. In heaven, the Kingdom of God has come.

However, it has not yet come to the earth; or rather, it has not yet fully come to the earth, as it has to heaven. Importantly, this does not mean that in our fallen world God’s “will” is not being done. For according to the Bible, everything that happens on earth happens according to his will of purpose, that is, according to his eternal decrees. Mysteriously enough, this even includes situations and events that are contrary to his will of precept. Thus, we find Jesus asking, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin, and not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Mt. 10:29, John 19:11, Eph. 1:11). No, it is not God’s positive desire—his will of precept—that sparrows should fall to the ground. But yes, for wise reasons it is indeed—for the moment—his will of purpose.

We find, then, that God’s absolute sovereignty over all events does not mean that his Kingdom has (fully) come to the earth. That’s because at present he is largely reigning indirectly. In other words, his sovereign rule over all things is mediated by, or passes through, a judicial curse that he himself has placed upon the creation—a curse that terribly distorts the ideal nature of all things (Gen. 3:15f). When, however, God’s will of purpose for all (redeemed) things has been fulfilled at last, his will of purpose and his will of precept will be one. In that day, his Kingdom will have come to earth, even as it has already to come to heaven.

Our Lord commands his saints to pray—and labor—for this very thing. They are to ask the Father to advance his redemptive purpose in the earth; to lift his hand of judgment and to remove all distortions; to cause his “will of precept” to be done here, even as it is being done among the saints and angels in heaven. In short, they are to pray for the Father to extend his direct reign over all his redeemed creatures. They are to pray for the (complete) coming of the Kingdom of God.

A Sphere of Wholeness and Blessing

Secondly, Christ understood the Kingdom to be a sphere of wholeness and blessing. This only stands to reason, since wherever God reigns directly over his creatures, those creatures must take on the likeness of their Creator. They must reflect, in their own nature, the integrity, beauty, and blessedness of the One who made them.

Over and again we see this important truth vividly reflected in the gospels. Consider, for example, this thought-provoking text from Matthew: “Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (Mt. 9:35; 10:7-8, 12:28). Here, the juxtaposition of Jesus’ saying and doing is profoundly revealing. On the one hand, he is proclaiming that the Kingdom is near; on the other, he is healing all manner of disease and sickness. Surely, then, both he and Matthew mean for us to understand that wherever the Kingdom is present, there God himself also is present to do two things: to rescue from the manifold effects of sin, and to restore to the kind of wholeness and blessedness that he had originally planned for his creatures in the beginning! In other words, wherever the Kingdom is present, God is present to redeem.

Unless we completely understand these three key words—redemption, rescue, and restoration—we cannot understand the Kingdom of God. That’s because the Kingdom, in Jesus’ eyes, was exactly what the prophets of old had promised: a sphere of wholeness and blessing that is the direct result of God’s redemptive activity. It is the direct result of God rescuing his people and his world from the manifold spiritual and physical enemies introduced by Adam at the Fall, and also of his restoring them to the manifold “friends” he originally planned for them at the creation. Again, unless we fully grasp these closely related ideas, we cannot understand the Kingdom. Through God’s redemptive action in history, his people and his world are rescued and restored; through his redemptive action, they are brought under the blessedness of his direct reign; through his redemptive action, the Kingdom of God comes.

It is well worthwhile to illustrate these great truths from our Lord’s earthly ministry, from the works of Christ during the days of his flesh.

As we just saw, through Christ God rescued the blind (Mt. 9:27f, John 9:1-7), the lame (John 5:1f), the leprous (Luke 17:11f), the paralyzed (Mt. 8:5-13), the sick (Mt. 8:14-15, 9:20-22), the mute (Mt. 9:32f), and the deformed (Mt. 12:1-13), and he restored them all—if only temporarily—to perfect health. Here, then, for all with eyes to see, was a sneak preview of the Kingdom of God, when it will come benevolently, redemptively, and definitively upon sinful and broken human flesh.

On more than one occasion, God also worked through Christ to rescue the dead from death itself, restoring them not only to life, but also to their loved ones, and to the pleasures of family and friends that were the traditional scriptural earmarks of the Kingdom (Jer. 33:10-11, Zech. 8:2-5; Mt. 8:11, 9:18-25, 22:1f, Luke 7:11-15, John 11:1-44; Zech. 8:2-5, Mt. 8:11, 22:1f).

Moreover, through Jesus, God seemed even to put his healing touch on inanimate nature itself, “rescuing” the raging waters of the Sea of Galilee from a deadly windstorm, thereby restoring them to peace (Mt. 8:23-27); or rescuing the multitude of his followers from a dangerous lack of food in the wilderness, and restoring them to abundant provision and the satisfaction of a full stomach (Mt. 14:15f, 15:32f).

Through Christ, God also rescued many poor souls tormented by evil spirits, restoring them to soundness of mind and body (Mt. 8:28f, 12:22, 15:21f, 17:14f, Mark 1:23f, Luke 13:11f). Very notably, when the Pharisees accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus vigorously contested their flawed reasoning. Then, in a direct challenge of his own, he concluded his argument by saying, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt. 12:28, Luke 11:20). This powerful text teaches us that it belongs to the very essence of the Kingdom that the Spirit of God should arrive upon the scene, rescue people from every power of evil, and restore them to the mental and physical wholeness that will always characterize life under his direct reign.

Finally, and most importantly, through Christ, God rescued sinners from their terrible burden of guilt and shame, forgiving those who turned to Jesus of their sins, thereby restoring them to the peace, love, joy, gratitude, and hope of eternal life that ever marks the community of the redeemed (Luke 7:36-50, 15:1f, 18:9-14, 19:1f).

We find, then, that Jesus’ miraculous ministry was designed to do something more than confirm his status as a prophet, or as the Messiah, or even as the Son of God. Beyond all these, it was designed to give Israel—and all mankind—a glimpse and foretaste of the Kingdom of God itself; of the redemptive rescue and restoration by which God enables every believer in Christ to experience the blessedness of life beneath his direct rule.

Mediated by the Son of God

This brings us to our third point, namely, that the direct reign of God the Father is always mediated by God the Son. Later we will explore in greater depth the divine rationale for this crucial characteristic of the Kingdom. Here, however, it suffices to say that this important characteristic is on display all throughout Christ’s earthly ministry. How were the people healed? How were they delivered? How were they supplied, or raised, or pardoned, or filled with renewed faith, hope, and love? The answer shines on every page of the gospels: All these things happened when Jesus reached out and touched them; or when they reached out and touched him; or when he taught, or prayed, or a mighty word of command. Yes, in the end it was God the Father who was doing the works. But in the end, it was always through Jesus that he did them!

This is a recurring theme in the most profoundly christological gospel, the Gospel of John. Over and again we hear Christ saying, “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing by himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19, 30, 6:38, 8:28, 12:49, 14:10). But the more we consider the work of God in the gospels, the more we see that the reverse is also true: The Father will do nothing by himself, unless it is something he is pleased to do through his Son! Why? Because he desires that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father (John 5:23). For this reason, it is the Father’s good pleasure to rescue and restore his people and their world through Christ; it is his good pleasure to bring in the Kingdom of God through his only-begotten Son.

Jesus himself affirmed this very thing as a matter of principle. Thus, in a midnight conversation with master Nicodemus, he declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Now Nicodemus had definitely seen Jesus’ miracles, and he had also seen that God was behind them (John 3:1). Nevertheless, because he was not yet born again, he could neither see—nor enter—the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). Why? Because he could not see the King, or the nature of the Kingdom over which God had placed him! Soon, however, he would be able to. For as Jesus himself intimated that very night, in time he (Christ) would die, rise, and ascend to heaven; and in time he would pour out the Holy Spirit on Nicodemus, renew him inwardly, and open his eyes. Then he would be able to see the King, high and lifted up: not only upon the Cross (John 3:14-16), but also at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). Then he would be able to see Christ’s deity, and the meaning of his redemptive work on earth. And then, coming to the one Mediator between God and man—the high Prophet, Priest, and King of Heaven—he would be able experience, at long last, the direct rule of God the Father over his whole being. In short, through Christ—and through a Spirit-wrought faith in him—Nicodemus would enter the Kingdom of God.

Later in our study we will explore these crucial themes more deeply. However, as we begin to grapple with the great question of the nature of the Kingdom, let us even now resolve always to remember this: Jesus explicitly taught that the direct reign of God the Father is always mediated by God the Son. Said he, “The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). And who are “these”? They are all who, like little children, simply come to him (Mt. 11:28f, 18:1-5, 19:14).

Effected by the Holy Spirit

The Lord Jesus consistently portrayed the coming of the Kingdom as a trinitarian event. For him, the direct reign of the Father comes through the Son, and is implemented or effected by the Holy Spirit. The OT prophets had predicted this very thing, closely associating the last days with the gift and outpouring of the Spirit upon all of God’s people (Isaiah 44:3, Ezek. 36:27, 37:14, 39:29, Joel 2:28). In his midnight discourse to Master Nicodemus, Jesus did the same, juxtaposing the coming of the Kingdom with the coming of the Spirit, and the coming of both with his own life, death, and resurrection (John 3:1-12f). Also, we have seen that the Lord explicitly declared that where the Spirit is at work to rescue and restore, there the Kingdom has come upon the creature(s) that the Father is pleased to redeem (Mt. 12:28, Luke 11:20). Moreover, throughout his entire Upper Room discourse, we find him preparing his disciples for the coming of the Spirit, through whom, in due season, they will be able to declare the coming of the Kingdom (John 13-16, Acts 1:4-8, 8:12, 19:8, 20:5, 28:31). So then, in Jesus’ eyes the coming of the Kingdom is a gracious gift and accomplishment of the Holy Trinity. It is the coming of the Father to reign directly through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, over all his redeemed creatures.

A Realm Beneath a Reign

Finally, Jesus not only viewed the Kingdom as a reign, but also as a realm; as the totality of redeemed persons, places, and things that blessedly dwell beneath the direct rule of God.

In the gospels, this idea appears prominently in his explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares. Speaking of the Judgment that will occur at his Parousia, he says:

The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumblingblocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. — Mt. 13:41-42

Here we catch a glimpse of the realm of the completed Kingdom. At the end of the age, Christ will come again. When he does, he himself will create a perfect world. But in order to do this, he must first remove all stumbling blocks, everything that “scandalizes” or offends against the holiness that will mark the new creation. Therefore, the devil must go, the devil’s followers (the tares) must go, and indeed every mark and vestige of the fallenness of the old order of nature must go. When this occurs, the perfect reign of God will have created a perfected realm of God. And that realm is properly called the Kingdom of God.

As we shall see later, even now, during the present Church era, this realm exists. Even now God is transferring a chosen people from the Domain of Darkness into the Kingdom of his beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Even now, these people are subjects of the High King of Heaven, citizens of the Jerusalem above (Phil. 3:20). Even now they are a Kingdom and priests to his God (Rev. 5:10). So then, the Church on earth is an invisible realm, and outpost of the Kingdom of heaven, dwelling and laboring amidst the kingdom(s) of this present evil world. And again, at his return Christ will perfect this realm—not only his people, but also the physical world that they will ever inhabit—and then deliver it up, as a supreme gift, to his Father (1 Cor. 15:20-28). In that Day, say the Scriptures, all the kingdoms of the earth will have become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; all things will dwell blessedly under his direct reign; all things will belong to his holy realm (Rev. 11:15).

The Essence of the Kingdom

Though much more remains to be said, we are now in a good position to give an extended definition of the nature, or essence, of the Kingdom of God as Jesus revealed it to us. I would frame it as follows:

In essence, the Kingdom of God is the direct reign of God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit, over his redeemed creatures; creatures who have been rescued from every spiritual and physical enemy, and restored to every spiritual and physical friend that God planned for them in the beginning. Also, the Kingdom is the blessed realm that this redemptive reign creates, and over which it forever rules.  

 

The Kingdom and the New Covenant

Did Jesus embrace what we earlier called the Representative OT Idea of the Kingdom? That is, did he join with his Jewish contemporaries in thinking of the Kingdom as an ideal Mosaic theocracy? From all we have learned so far, clearly not. Yes, during the days of his flesh the Law was in effect. And yes, for important reasons he obeyed it implicitly. Nevertheless, even a cursory reading of the gospels shows that during Jesus’ earthly ministry God the Father was not performing his redemptive work through any person or ordinance associated with the existing religious system, but simply through his incarnate Son. In other words, the Kingdom was not coming through the Law, but through the One who was in the process of fulfilling the Law: the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

We have already touched on this crucial theme several times. Here, however, in our discussion of the good news of the Kingdom, we must explore it more deeply. Three crucial points may be made.

First, in his teaching ministry, Jesus closely associated the Kingdom of God with a New Covenant. We remember that in OT times Jeremiah had promised one (Jer. 31:31). Throughout the NT we learn that Jesus himself brought it into the world, sealing it with his own blood (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, Heb. 8:8).

The story here begins with the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). Ascending as he did to a mountaintop, and there giving his disciples a new (evangelical) law, he is clearly emulating Moses; indeed, he is acting as “a greater than Moses,” as God’s eschatological Moses, as the mediator of a new and eternal covenant, of which the OT Law was a type or picture. Very importantly, in his articulation of this new evangelical Law, Christ repeatedly refers to the Kingdom of God (Mt. 5:3, 10, 19-20, 6:10, 13, 33, 7:21). The implication is clear: The Kingdom he is proclaiming and demonstrating in his earthly ministry will enter the world in conjunction with a new covenant, a covenant expounded (here and elsewhere in his teaching ministry) by the Messianic Prophet, and in the end to be ratified by the blood of the Messianic Priest and Sacrifice (Luke 22:20).

Secondly, Jesus explicitly taught that the Mosaic Law was about to pass away, permanently. Earlier, we discussed the reason why: The Old Covenant must pass away because the New and Eternal Covenant fulfills it (Mt. 5:17). The elements and institutions of the Old Covenant were in the nature of a promise: Mystically, they pointed ahead to the Redeemer, and to the elements and institutions of the New Covenant that he would bring. Now, however, the Redeemer has come. Therefore, the temporary and promissory institutions of the Old Covenant are obsolete. They must forever pass away, in order to make room for those that will remain forever.

Let us hear the Lord himself on this:

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. – Mt. 9:16-17

The message of these memorable tropes is quite simple: The Old Covenant and the New Covenant are incompatible. The disciples cannot live under both at the same time. Everyday objects and events make this truth clear. If people hope to enjoy the blessings of a new garment or a new wineskin, they must not try to combine the new with the old; that will only make a mess of both. Rather, they must discard the old and completely invest themselves in the new. Similarly, if the disciples hope to enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant, they cannot mingle them with the trappings of the Old. Because the Old is now obsolete, they must let it pass away completely, once and for all.

Jesus spoke of end of the Mosaic Law in other ways, as well. During the last week of his life, when he publicly offered himself to Israel as their Messiah, the spiritually hungry Christ came up to a fig tree, found no fruit on it, and cursed it, saying, “Let no one eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14). The tree represented national Israel, destitute of spiritual fruit (Luke 3:8, 13:6f). But more than this, it also represented the Law, which was largely incapable of producing such fruit (Jer. 31:31f). And once Christ fulfills the Law through his life, death, and resurrection, it will become utterly devoid of any vital connection with him, and so completely dead and fruitless. Consigned by God to obsolescence, it will fall like so much religious chaff into the “elementary principles of the (religious) world” (2 Kings 18:4, Gal. 4:3, 9).

Similarly, we remember that when Jesus exited Jerusalem on the afternoon before his crucifixion, the disciples asked him to comment on the grandeur of Herod’s temple. Solemnly, he replied, “Do you not see all these things? Truly, I say to you not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown down” (Mt. 24:2). This was a shocking word. The temple was the very heart of the nation, the hub of the Jewish ceremonial Law, the locus of all Israel’s sacrifices, and the destination of her pilgrims on all the high holy days. In effect, its destruction would be the destruction of Judaism, the end of the Mosaic Law. But this is precisely what Jesus declares. God, by his supernatural Power, is about to tear down the veil of the temple at the hand of his Holy Spirit (Mt. 27:51). And God, by his Providence, is about to tear down the temple itself at the hand of Rome. Like the Law itself, neither emblem of the Law will ever rise again.

We conclude, then, that Jesus could not possibly have thought of the Kingdom as an ideal Mosaic theocracy, since he clearly believed that in fulfilling the Mosaic Law he was making it forever obsolete.

Covenant, Kingdom, and Replacement

This brings us to a final and closely related point: Jesus taught that in fulfilling the several institutions of the Mosaic Law, he was replacing them with new ones, once and for all. The anti-type fulfills the type, and so replaces it. The greater fulfills the lesser, and so supplants it. The heavenly body, shaped in eternity past, fulfills the earthly shadow, and so floods the room with a light that expels all shadows (Col. 2:17). There is no going back.

In order to understand this idea of replacement better, let us consider a few examples, drawn more or less exclusively from the teaching of the High King himself.

We have just seen that Jesus presented himself as the supreme Mediator, a greater than Moses, bringing in a new and greater covenant. Christ and his covenant are therefore replacing Moses and his.

Jesus is also the supreme Prophet, a greater than Moses, Elijah, or John the Baptist, and so replaces all former prophets as the authoritative spokesman of God and teacher of his people (Mt. 17:1f, Mt. 23:10, Mark 8:28, John 9:17, Acts 3:22).

He is the supreme Priest, a greater than Levi, and so replaces Levi as the one who intercedes for God’s people (Luke 23:34, John 17), offers sacrifice for their sin (John 10:11, 17:19), and assures the penitent of God’s mercy and forgiveness (Mt. 9:2, Luke 7:48, 24:43, John 20:23).

He is the supreme Sacrifice, a greater than all the animal sacrifices offered under the Law, and so replaces them as the one Lamb of God who gives his life a ransom for many, thereby taking away the sin of the new world for which he died (Mk. 10:45, John 1:29).

He is the true Temple, a greater than Herod’s, and so replaces Herod’s with his own Body, which is the true and eternal Tabernacle of God (Mt. 12:6, John 2:19, John 10:38).

Moreover, because of this, his people no longer worship the Father on earthly Zion, but on the Zion above, in spirit and in truth, whenever they wish and wherever their physical bodies happen to be. In short, NT worship in spirit and truth replaces OT worship in Jerusalem (John 4:21f, 14:20, 17:23, Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22, Rev. 14:1f).

He is the true Sabbath, a greater than the Israelite Sabbath, and Lord over it, with authority from God to give his people true spiritual rest, as well as the Spirit-led worship and work that properly arise from it (Mt. 11:28, 12:48, John 6:29, 15:1f, 19:30).

He is the true Passover Lamb—and his death the true Passover sacrifice—so that henceforth the Passover Feast is replaced with the Lord’s Supper, wherein Christ’s people remember, celebrate, and re-appropriate their spiritual rescue from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and their spiritual restoration to God (Mt. 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23, John 5:24).

Very importantly, his is the true nation (Mt. 21:43), the true flock (John 10:16), the true household (Mark 13:34, Luke 14:23, John 8:35), and the true city (Mt. 5:14) of God, so that henceforth Christ’s Church of called out Jews and Gentiles replaces ethnic Israel (who are still beloved for the sake of the fathers, Romans 11:28) as the true people of God (Mt. 16:18).

And over this nation he rules as the supreme King, a greater than David (Mt. 22:41-46) and Solomon (Mt. 12:24), and so replaces Israel’s many earthly kings with a single heavenly king: the High King of Heaven and Earth, the divine Lord of the “Israel of God” (Mt. 28:18f, Luke 19:12, John 18:36, Gal. 6:16).

Much more could be said on this point, and in their letters to the early Christian churches the apostles say it. However, from what we have seen so far, it is quite clear that the Lord Jesus viewed the institutions of the Mosaic Law as temporary physical “types” pointing forward to the permanent spiritual realities of the New Covenant. Accordingly, his own teaching on these matters completely rules out the notion that the Kingdom of God, in any of its stages, can ever again take on the trappings of a Mosaic theocracy.

Conclusion

In the present chapter we have listened hard to the Herald of the Kingdom, endeavoring to discern from the words and works of Christ the true nature of the Kingdom of God. Thus far we have seen that he viewed it as a direct reign of God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit; a reign that falls upon redeemed creatures who have been rescued from every spiritual enemy, and restored to every spiritual friend; a reign that creates a realm, the Kingdom of God.

Now if we had learned nothing more than this, we would be strongly inclined to conclude that the Kingdom has little or nothing to do with a Mosaic theocracy. But we did learn more. We learned that Jesus viewed the events and institutions of OT times as temporary physical “types” of permanent spiritual realities that he himself was introducing under the New Covenant. We learned that he saw himself and the New Covenant as fulfilling OT institutions, replacing them, and rendering them forever obsolete.

Obviously, this has important implications for eschatology. In particular, it raises grave doubts about theocratic ideas of the Kingdom. In other words, it raises grave doubts about the various schools of premillennialism, all of which posit a future thousand year revival of OT institutions (e.g., a temple, priests, sacrifices, feasts, etc.) following the New Covenant era and the second coming of Christ.

Nevertheless, despite all we have learned so far, we cannot make a final decision about a future millennial stage of the Kingdom until we take the next logical step in our investigation; until we ascertain what Christ and his apostles taught, not only about the nature of the Kingdom, but also about the coming of the Kingdom.

To get to the bottom of this crucial subject, we must ask ourselves a number of important questions: Did Jesus think of the Kingdom as being present in his earthly ministry? Did he think of it at yet come, say on the Day of Pentecost? If so, did he think of it as coming all at once, or as coming in several stages? If in several stages, how many would there be? And if in several stages, what would the distinctive characteristics of each stage be? In short, we must try to determine Jesus’ exact view as to when and how the promised redemption of the universe, life, and man is to occur.

This is my theme in the second essay in this series, The Coming of the Kingdom (for which, click here). And as you plunge into it, I invite you to pay the closest possible attention. For unless I am very much mistaken, in exploring this subject you will discover once and for all the true winner in the Great End Time Debate!