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.
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!