The Mysteries of the Kingdom of God (2)
Jeremy Gibson, Derby, England
The interpretation of passages relating to prophecy is a topic liable to generate differences of opinion amongst believers. The views expressed in this article are not those commonly taught or necessarily held by all committee members but they are included here to encourage us all to search the scriptures to see whether these things be so. Editor
Christ’s transfiguration was a miniature preview of the coming Kingdom, Matt. 16. 28; Mark 9. 1; Luke 9. 27, a kingdom whose character is not of this world, John 18. 36, which is linked to power and glory, Matt. 6. 13, and which will see illness eradicated, Isa. 35. 1-6. The Kingdom of God was said to have come unto, Matt. 12. 28; Luke 11. 20, or been ‘in the midst of’ the Pharisees, 17. 21 JND, only in the sense that the King was among them, performing miracles that anticipated the coming Kingdom. Although specific signs will herald the coming of the Kingdom of God, 21. 31, its suddenness will take men by surprise, 17. 20. Answering the prayers of persecuted saints, Matt. 6. 10, the heavenly Bridegroom will come suddenly in His Kingdom and rule over the house of Jacob, Matt. 25. 1; Luke 1. 32, 33; 23. 42; then the will of God shall ‘be done in earth, as it is in heaven’, Matt. 6. 10; then again Christ will eat of the Passover and drink of the fruit of the vine, Matt. 26. 29; Mark 14. 25; Luke 22. 16, 18.
It will be a happy thing to sit down and eat bread in the Kingdom of God, 14. 15, so much so that participation in its future blessings is likened to attending a wedding feast, Matt. 22. 1-14, and the Lord Jesus Christ said even the least in the Kingdom of God would be greater than John the Baptist, 11. 11; Luke 7. 28. Entrance into this Kingdom is possible only through the new birth, John 3. 5, for those whose righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, Matt. 5. 20, who do the will of God the Father, Matt. 7. 21, and are humble, like little children, Matt. 18. 3; 19. 14; Mark 10. 14, 15; Luke 18. 16, 17. It is to be inherited by the poor in spirit, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, Matt. 5. 3, 10; Luke 6. 20. It is exceptionally difficult for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God, though not impossible, Matt. 19. 23, 24; Mark 10. 23-25; Luke 18. 24, 25. And, entering the Kingdom is of such importance that it should take priority over everything else in life, Matt. 6. 33; 19. 12; Luke 9. 62; 12. 31, no matter what the cost, Mark 9. 47. It is possible to be near the Kingdom in understanding and never enter, 12. 34. Gentiles, as well as Jews, Matt. 8. 11; Luke 13. 29, will populate the future Kingdom of God, even converted harlots will be there, Matt. 2. 31. But the Pharisees, who not only refused to go in but prevented others from doing so, and other unsaved Israelites – referred to here as the children of the Kingdom – will be cast out into outer darkness, 8. 12; 21. 31; 23. 13; Luke 13. 28. Because of Israel’s rejection of Messiah, the Kingdom of God will only fully be entered into after the judgement of the living nations at the end of the tribulation, Matt. 25. 34.
No matter what price people have to pay by way of personal sacrifice, there will be more than ample remuneration in the Kingdom of God, Matt. 19. 27- 20. 16; Luke 12. 32; 18. 29, faithfulness prior to its establishment being greatly rewarded, Matt. 18. 23; 25. 14. The Lord’s disciples will fill administrative roles, 16. 19; Luke 22. 29, 30, those who do and teach God’s commandments will be considered great, Matt. 5. 19, true greatness in the Kingdom of God being dependent on humility, 18. 4.
How do Christians fit into God’s Kingdom Programme?
The Kingdom of God – mediatorial, not universal aspect – is presently in abeyance. The Bible never states that the Kingdom of God is now established. Do not confuse the church, the body of Christ, or Christendom – an unbiblical expression – with that glorious future Kingdom which will be established under Messiah’s benevolent rule. Christ does rule in the church, but not as King. He is the head, the bridegroom, the chief corner stone, but not King of the church. How do the New Testament epistles – that portion of the Bible particularly relevant to the church – place Christian believers in relation to the Kingdom of God? Many of their references are quite clear. The Kingdom of God is going to be inherited in the future and does not apply to the present church age, 1 Cor. 6. 9, 10; 15. 50; Gal. 5. 21; Eph. 5. 5; Jas. 2. 5. The meaning of other references is less obvious, Rom. 14. 17; 1 Cor. 4. 20; Col. 4. 11; 1 Thess. 2. 12, at least one seeming to put Christians presently in that Kingdom, Col. 1. 13. One way of reconciling this verse with all others looked at so far is by regarding this ‘action . . . as de jure rather than de facto’.1 Christian believers, as far as God’s eternal counsel is concerned, are as good as in that future messianic Kingdom, just as our glorification is so certain that God views it as an already accomplished fact, Rom. 8. 30. During this era God is saving individuals and preparing the ekklesia, Christ’s bride, who will coreign with Christ in the future Kingdom. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Christian believers to live in the good of their glorious future.
Matthew Chapter 13
A standard approach to Matthew chapter 13 goes something like this. When Israel’s leaders accused the Lord Jesus of demon possession the inevitability of the nation’s rejection of their Messiah became apparent. Because of this the Lord Jesus began to teach a new form of the Kingdom of God: the Kingdom of God in mystery form – not a visible worldwide kingdom, but God’s rule in the hearts of believers in the present age, the church, extending into the tribulation prior to the setting up of the millennium kingdom – the technical term applied to this stretch of time being the interregnum. This view has commendable elements. It sees these parables in the context of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah; neither does it rule out a future for the nation of Israel.
However, significant problems arise with this interpretation of Matthew chapter 13. Its conclusion that the Kingdom of God must now have a completely different manifestation (mystery form) from its meaning everywhere else in scripture is alarming. After all, one of the most important principles of Bible interpretation is never to build doctrines which are at variance with the general tenor of scripture on the basis of isolated passages which are difficult to understand. Wherever possible, retain a consistent approach to Bible interpretation. But Matthew chapter 13 is teaching mysteries about the Kingdom of God although a Bible mystery is not actually something mysterious but rather truth ‘which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit’, Eph. 3. 5. And even the Old Testament predicted the giving of new revelation through parables, Matt.13. 35; Ps. 78. 2. That is to say, a Bible mystery is the provision of fresh revelation from God. These parables do not present a ‘mystery form’ of the Kingdom of God but simply throw further light on the Old Testament’s teaching on the Kingdom of God, particularly in view of its postponement due to Israel’s rejection of their Messiah. This approach to these parables seems to be confirmed by the Saviour’s closing words on the subject, ‘Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new [fresh revelation] and old [Old Testament teaching on the subject]’, Matt. 13. 52. For a complete picture of the Kingdom of God both Old and New Testament teaching is required; the Lord’s teaching here cannot be studied in isolation.
There are more difficulties with the traditional viewpoint. Nowhere else does scripture merge the church and tribulation periods, constantly keeping them distinct; neither does the Bible anywhere else refer to the church (ekklesia; the body of Christ) being the Kingdom (basileia). As we have already mentioned, the church is always considered something unique in the plan of God. Furthermore, if the Kingdom of God is now the sphere where God rules over people’s hearts, there is actually nothing new in this at all, for God has always ruled in the hearts of His people. Inevitably, we would have to regard Abraham as being in this Kingdom of God, Adam its first member and, taking this route, we suddenly find ourselves but a step away from a purely allegorical interpretation of scripture, the church replacing Israel. It may be said that the Kingdom of God in the parables represents God ruling in a sphere of profession, for example, present-day Christendom. But this idea of Christendom, though perhaps convenient for what we see today, is not a concept that is taught in the word of God at all. The Bible always maintains a clear distinction between believers and unbelievers, as different as light is to darkness. It is highly unlikely that this idea would be taught in total isolation in these parables.
Consider how these parables end: the Son of man coming to establish His Kingdom just after an irreversible removal of the wicked, the godly shining forth in the kingdom of their Father. For Christ to suddenly switch the meaning of the Kingdom of God which He had been preaching – a literal Kingdom for Israel – to an inward spiritual kingdom and then once again switch back to its original meaning at the end of these parables would be utterly confusing, even for the disciples to whom it was meant to teach truth. And what about the teaching in these parables that there can be no separation of the wicked from the righteous till the end. This is simply not true if applied to the church period because the rapture will divide the righteous from the wicked. And if the Kingdom of God, as predicted in these parables, has now been established in the church as a spiritual kingdom, why did the Lord Jesus teach near the end of His ministry that the kingdom would not immediately appear, Luke 19. 11?
1 McClain A. J. The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1974), p.435.