Challenge Group #4
God's Kingdom in the New Testament
The Jewish nation at the time of Christ was praying for the coming of the Messiah and expecting a literal fulfillment of the O. T. prophecies: the Kingdom and a King on David's throne, Jerusalem & the Jewish nation to assume world leadership. That's why John the Baptist & Jesus used the term Kingdom of God as though the people understood & were acquainted with the connotation.
In studying the gospels, we can see the unfolding of God's Kingdom plan, and the presentation of the Messiah/King and His final rejection.
I. Recognition that Jesus was the Messiah
To Mary: (Luke 1:31-33) "And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever & of His Kingdom there shall be no end". Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna all prophetically spoke of Jesus as the "consolation of Israel", "redemption in Jerusalem", "light to the Gentiles" etc.--all were Messianic titles and roles.
II. The Kingdom announced by His herald, John the Baptist
John was identified by Christ in Mt 11 with the prophetic program in the O. T. (Isa 40:3-5) Isaiah promised the coming of Messiah who would bring redemption from sin and deliverance from Gentile aggressors. And John came out of the desert in symbolic sackcloth (like Elijah), (mourning) with a message of judgment & the need for repentance. Baptism was a consecration to a new identity sort of a ritual cleansing and even an anointing for a King.
John's message was two-fold: 1. Repent--for the Messiah is coming to take away sins. 2. The Kingdom of God is near (Mt 3:2). "The whole Judean countryside & all the people of Jerusalem went out to Him" (Mk 1:3). John said he was not the one who would forgive sin, but he was introducing the One, and with a sense of urgency : to turn in faith to God so that they could enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom, i.e. "produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Mt 3:8) and "the people were waiting expectantly" (Lk 3:15).
III. The Messiah Authenticated by Baptism
When Jesus came to John for baptism, John the Baptist tried to deter Him, knowing He had no need for repentance or confession. (John was the cousin of Jesus & no doubt had known Him all His life). But Jesus said, "Let it be so, it is proper for us to do this and fulfill all +R" (Mt 3:15).
Why was Jesus baptized?
- "to fulfill all +R"---Jesus was being consecrated to God.
- To identify Jesus as the Messiah to John so he could make a public announcement (Jo 1:29, 33-34).
- To identify Himself with the believing remnant who were being baptized by John.
- To identify Himself with sinners that He might become their substitute on the cross.
- At His baptism, J. C. was anointed by the H. S. and confirmed by God the Father. "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the H. S. and power" (Acts 10:38).
IV. Kingdoms in Conflict
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan (Mt 4). This marked the beginning of the conflict between the prince of the kingdom of darkness and the One appointed as King in the Kingdom of the God of heaven here in earth. The entire life and ministry of Christ must be understood in the light of the conflict between the kingdom of Satan and God's Kingdom on earth. Satan carried out relentless warfare to prevent Christ from coming to His throne, and it is quite significant that many of Christ's miracles were performed in the demonic realm--proving His authority over Satan: It was necessary for Christ to demonstrate that His power as King exceeded that of Satan's whose rule over the earthly realm began at the fall.
V. Christ Announced the Kingdom
Jesus said: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is come" (Mt 4:17) Jesus was officially presenting Himself as the covenanted Davidic king of the Kingdom of God: this was a genuine offer of the kingdom to God's chosen people: Israel.
VI. Kingdom Message Confirmed by the Messiah/King
- by "preaching the good news of the Kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (Mt 4:23). Consequently great multitudes followed Him.
- In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used the law of Moses to reveal Himself as the One Who fulfilled it, and interpreted it as God does: that God is concerned with internal attitudes, not only external actions, as the Pharisees taught. Jesus claimed authority by reinterpreting the law: "You have heard"------"but I say unto you" and concluding with "unless your +R surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 5:20).
- He closed by offering Himself as the "narrow way" and the "solid foundation", exposing the externalism of the Pharisees as He was trying to convince the people of their need for repentance and inward change.
- The result was "the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mt 7:28-29).
- Jesus authenticated Himself as Messiah by His miracles and His message (Jo 8:28, Mt 11:2-6). Then He supplemented His ministry by commissioning and sending His 12 disciples to go to "the lost sheep of Israel" and to proclaim that "the Kingdom of Heaven is near"(Mt 10:5-23), giving them His power and authority by performing the same miracles He had been using to authenticate Himself. Later, Christ's ministry and message expanded through the seventy who proclaimed "The Kingdom of God is near you" (Lk 10:1-16).
NB It is highly unlikely that anyone in Israel did not hear the good news that the promised Messiah had come and the Kingdom was being offered to Israel as a nation.
VII. The Response of the Nation
From the initial rejection of Himself as the promised Messiah at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30) throughout His ministry Israel stubbornly refused to accept Jesus Christ in spite of all the evidence He presented (Mt 13:54-58, Jn 7:12). The decision of Israel's leaders came to a climax in Mt 12:22-30 when they accused Jesus of performing miracles (especially casting out demons) with Satan's power (Mt 12:24). This accusation revealed the leader's unrepentant hearts which ultimately sealed the fate of the entire nation, because the people followed the lies of the Jewish leaders.
The leaders accusation was so contradictory: how could He be demon-possessed when He drove out demons? 'But', He said, "if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God then the Kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12:28). Since Christ did cast out demons by God's power it is evident that He is stronger than Satan. Christ was showing the multitudes that the Pharisee's explanation of this miracle was false, if they accepted the Pharisee's lie and rejected Him as Messiah they were in danger of blaspheming the H. S. and incurring God's judgment (Mt 12:30-32).
This marked the great turning point in Christ's ministry and message. From this point on to the cross, the nation would be viewed as having rejected Christ as Messiah. The Pharisees, the priests and teachers of the Law knew full well that Jesus was claiming to be the heaven-sent Messiah, but their response was to "take counsel as to how they might destroy Him" (Mt 12:14). When they asked for a "sign", Christ explained the reason for their request: it did not arise from faith, but from unbelief.
They had refused to believe His words and His signs and were "a wicked and adulterous generation". The sign of Jonah pointed to Christ's resurrection which would be the climactic proof of His person and the validation of His offer of the Davidic kingdom.
NB The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth of God, they will find an excuse for not listening. Then they forfeit the right to be in His Kingdom and they fulfill Isaiah's prophecy which Christ quoted in Mt 13:14-15: "their heart becomes dull" i.e. don't comprehend spiritual truth.
In Mt 11:11-15 Jesus affirms John the Baptist's role as forerunner but points out that John is not Elijah for this very reason: the nation of Israel did not accept IT (the Kingdom) even though all the prophets and the Law prophesied about the Kingdom--it suffers violence. God, in His Omniscience knew the nation would reject His Christ as Messiah/King.
Since Israel has now rejected God's offered Kingdom, what will happen to God's Kingdom Program?
Remember, this Davidic Kingdom is the subject of an irrevocable covenant God made with both Abraham and David and He will establish this Kingdom over which He rules through Messiah/King. But from this point on, Christ no longer publicly announced that the Kingdom was at hand; instead, He indicated that the Kingdom had been postponed.
VIII. Christ Starts Teaching the "Secrets of the Kingdom of God"
This "mystery" form of God's Kingdom is presented as starting from the time Israel rejected Christ until the Jews welcome Him as their King when He returns to the earth in power and glory. This "mystery" kingdom is a previously unrevealed form and in which God's theocratic rule would be revealed, in a previously unrevealed age, made necessary by Israel's rejection of Christ.
This age includes within it the period from Pentecost to the Rapture called the age of grace, age of the H. S. or age of the church (Mt 23:37-39, 21:42-43, Lk 21:24).
As Jesus turns away from offering the Davidic Kingdom to the nation of Israel, He makes even greater claims for Himself. He claims to be:
- greater than the temple Mt 12:6
- greater than Solomon Mt 12:42
- greater than the prophets Mt 12:41
- right to judge cities who reject Him Mt 11:20-27
Christ withdrew from the nation and started teaching the 'secrets' of the Kingdom in parables. The parables of Mt 13 reveal the conditions and the sequence of this age of grace.
The first 4 describe the beginning and growth of the Kingdom, the last 3 the ending.
The purposes for parables are to:
- Substantiate Christ's claim as Messiah (Mt 13:34-35)
- A method of truth for believers (Mt 13:11)
- A method of hiding truth from unbelievers (Mt 13:13-15).
A parable has a central point to make using well known events or objects to illustrate that point.
Christ also made clear that the King would be absent 'because they thought that the Kingdom of God would immediately appear' (Lk 19:11-27). But He said the King 'goes into a far country'. The enemies are 'those who did not want Him to reign over them'. One third of what Jesus taught He taught through parables, so they are very important and His interpretation is the key to understanding them.
IX. The Character of the Kingdom in this Present Age
Now Jesus concentrated on training His disciples, as well compassion and healing for the multitudes. He said He came to save the lost and to serve (Mk 10:45, Jo 3:17) and to give hope to the Gentiles. From this time on, He stresses the SAVING and SERVING roles, not the RULING role. He repeatedly withdrew from the people when they wanted to make Him King, asking them NOT to make Him known.
The whole framework of this 'mystery' Kingdom is different than anything the Jewish people could imagine:
- grace instead of law
- serving instead of ruling
- losing life in order to gain life
- denying self and carrying your cross
- worshipping in spirit and truth, not in the temple (Jo 4)
- kingdom of God is within you, not an external earthly kingdom
- not only Israel, but including the Gentiles.
X. The Church Announced and Defined
Christ in His ministry built up to this point with His disciples (Mt 16:13-28):
- the point of decision about who He is
- showing who He is--transfiguration
- telling the disciples about His coming death and resurrection
- to be His disciple, they must count the cost, lose their life, deny themselves
After Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah, He announces the new Kingdom--the church and gives Peter the privilege of opening the door to people groups as they became a part of the church (Mt 16:18-19, Acts 2, 10, 19)
From this time on, Jesus concentrates on teaching and training His disciples to BE disciples, modeling the sacrificial servant/leader. He also polarized people over riches, the Sabbath, prayer, religious traditions, giving of tithes. He accuses the religious leaders of making His Father's House a den of thieves (cleansing the temple). He told His disciples He brought a sword, not peace, even in family units.
NB The more authority Christ claimed, and the more He validated His claims, the more virulent the hatred of the religious leaders became. They even united (though they hated each other) and planned to kill Jesus.
XI. The Final Rejection by the Jews and Postponement of the Kingdom
Christ's parable of the landowner who planted a vineyard (Mt 21:33-34) revealed that judgment would come on all that generation and their leaders who had rejected the exhortation of the prophets and were not only rejecting the exhortations of Christ, but were in the process of putting Him to death. "The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce it's fruit (Mt 21:43). Christ pictured Himself as the cornerstone that the builders rejected and then He announced that "he on whom it (the stone) falls will be crushed". He pictured Himself as the Judge who would mete out judgment to the guilty. Both the chief priests and the Pharisees realized that Christ was speaking of them and they wanted to arrest Him, but were afraid of the people who viewed Him as a prophet.
The parable of the Wedding Banquet indicates that the message will again be brought to the nation after the first invitation was refused. This would be after Christ's death and resurrection; at the time of the early church which was primarily Jewish for a decade (Acts 1:8)...Then the Gentiles were included (Acts 13:13-14) and Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles teaching that the wall of partition was broken down between Jew and Gentile.
Then Jesus pronounced the seven woes on the Scribes and Pharisees calling them hypocrites, blind guides, brood of vipers etc. ending with a heart breaking lament over Jerusalem (vs 37-39) prophesying the desolation of their land. In Luke 19:44 Jesus prophesied the complete destruction of the temple, not one stone left upon another because "you did not recognize the time of your visitation". Jesus was heart broken and wept over the nation's rejection.
This was the very day Christ formally presented Himself as King fulfilling Daniel's prophecy (Dan 9:24-27). We call it the Triumphal Entry. Christ planned for this to be His royal and Messianic presentation of Himself as Messiah/King, it occurred six days before His crucifixion.
Prophecy was fulfilled as He rode in humbly on a colt (Zech 9:9), being hailed as the "son of David" (Ps 118:26), a Messianic title from Ps 118.
Mt 23:37-39 and Luke 19:41-44 as Jesus wept it was because of the nation's rejection of love's appeal. He wept as the God who loved the ones He came to save (Zech 12:10-14, Hos 3:4) and reluctantly He took the Kingdom from them at this point.
It's amazing to see the patience of God all through the O. T. and now through Christ's life and ministry.
- God sent prophets. They stoned, killed and ignored them.
- Now He sent His own Son. They looked at Him, watched His miracles, listened to His teachings, refused His love and the offer of the Kingdom.
- The consequences of rejecting Christ--then and now--are terrible. It is a SIN against God. The open-eyed deliberate refusal of the appeal of God's love in Christ. The person, the nation which rejects God is doomed to disaster.
XII. The Kingdom and Israel's Future
Christ's announcement of coming judgment on the city and the nation left the disciples stunned and perplexed, they wanted an explanation so they called attention to the temple buildings--their grandeur, their size and apparent permanence.
"This is when they asked when will this happen and what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?" Mt 24:3
In His Olivet discourse Jesus was revealing the prophetic program for Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel. He dealt with the future tribulation and said "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Lk 29:24).
Following this discourse events moved rapidly towards Christ's trial and death, which He had been predicting ever since the leaders in the nation committed themselves to destroy Him (Mt 12).
XIII. King Messiah
It was as a king that Christ was on trial before Pilate (Mt 27:11, Mk 15:2, Lk 23:3, Jo 18:33). It was as king that Jesus was rejected by the Jews, "Here is your king" Pilate said to the Jews...But they shouted "Take Him away! Crucify Him". "Shall I crucify your King?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar" the chief priests answered (Jo 19:14-15).
And even though He was declared innocent six times by both Pilate and Herod, He was delivered over to death. Pilate had written "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" on the cross(v. 19-20)
The rejection of the King and His offered kingdom was finalized and that generation was delivered over to judgment, the kingdom postponed until the day when Israel weeps as they admit He is their Messiah and say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" Mt 23:39.
It would appear that Satan and his kingdom of darkness had triumphed over the true King appointed to rule over the Kingdom of the God of Heaven on planet earth.
The "backwards wisdom of God" however, defeated and disarmed Satan: Christ's death and resurrection made Him victorious over Satan, defeating death and establishing a new version of God's Kingdom--the Church...even making it possible for every believer to contain God's LIFE--the H. S. and have all of Christ's power and authority as they proclaim the Good News of Grace to the Whole World.
XIV. The Character of this Present Age
The Church Age
The Age of Grace
- The existence of this present Church Age interrupts God's established program with Israel (Mt 13:11)
- The church is made up of Jews and Gentiles Col 1:26-27, Eph 3:3-9, Rom 16:25
- This is the program of God resulting in salvation 1 Cor 2:7
- A unique relationship of Christ to us in redemption Col 2:2, 4:3
- Incarnation, not as to fact, but as to it's accomplishment 1 Tim 3:16
- Development of the great apostate religious system and the 'man of sin' 2 Thes 2:3-7, Rev 17:5, 7, 1 Tim 4:3
- The way God will receive believers into His presence apart from death 1 Cor 15:51, 1 Thes 4:17ff
How should we then live? To use Francis Schaeffer's phrase:
The Pharisees lived:
- external, religious deeds and ritual
- law plus tradition keepers
- vainglory--deeds to be seen by men
- apathy towards and separation from suffering mankind.
The attitudes of the Pharisees were the outward proof of their inward heart of pride and unbelief plus their false view of God. That's why they were so antagonistic toward Christ, carrying on a continuing controversy with Him, watching His every move in order to destroy Him. In contrast to Pharisees Christ's life displayed His inward attitude of living in the will of God--sacrificially, loving and serving mankind with complete dependence on the H. S..His life exposed the Pharisees' false, hypocritical self-life for all the people to see.
As Jesus lived:
- He brought glory to God
- He fulfilled the Law--by living perfectly, not by keeping the traditions of the elders.
- He was involved with people, mixed with sinners, touched the lepers, the blind, sick, and even raised the dead
- He served His disciples exemplifying humble servant/leadership
- His teachings and parables emphasized being faithful servants, single-mindedly following God, good stewardship of talents, not being anxious about temporal needs, having compassion, loving God and neighbor.
By way of application to our lives, I want to explore three areas of Christian living in the Kingdom of God during the Church Age.
- What does it mean to live to the glory of God as opposed to "vainglory"?
- What does it mean to be "peculiar" people of God--the church: the called out ones as opposed to "worldly" Christians or "separated aesthetic" Christians?
- What does it mean to live with Christ's power and teach with His authority as opposed to "lording over others as the Gentiles do"? (Mk 10:42)
I. To live to the glory of God is to do everything we do with Him, we are always in the presence of our Master, every activity will be God-honoring and God-centered, This is possible when we have built such an intimate love relationship with Him that we involve Him all day every day, as Jesus did with His Father. He always did the will of God and He could say "I brought glory to You God" (Jo 17:4)
Contrast that with the Pharisees' vainglory, "they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God" (Jo 12:43). Instead of being self-forgetful, they were self-+R, self-important, self-seeking, self-promoting in religious activities like fasting, prayer and alms-giving, "in order to be seen by men (Mt 6:5). Christ called them self-indulgent, lawless hypocrites. Christ is very critical of vainglory ministry!
II. To be called-out ones--the church-- is to be different than the world. We are called to be God's people who live lives of "holy-worldliness".
- "holy"--separated apart to God
- "worldly"--involved in the lives of those lost people in the world.
Our lives are to be a true separation to God which is lived out in the world, the same world Christ came into and loved the people as He lived a holy life; He commanded us to love exactly as He loved. "Feed my sheep" and reach the lost.
Our way to be "worldly" is too often loving and adopting the values of the world so much that our light for God's Kingdom is extinguished--the world sees nothing different or attractive in the church.
Or the other extreme of the fundis--separation--but that's not our problem!
III. We are to live being imitators of Christ and that involves no ostentation as we minister. And then as we "abide in Christ", the results will be the "fruit that remains" (Jo 15)--the fruit will be disciples who reproduce themselves and the kingdom will grow secretly. God, not men would be the Object and Subject of our life and ministry, we should seek to have our disciples honor God, not us or other members of the church. Jesus said when He was a man "I do not seek my own glory", and yet He truly deserved to be viewed and followed as a leader--a King--a ruler. Instead He modeled a servant who led by loving, teaching God's truth authoritatively, and using God's power to relieve the downtrodden suffering humanity.
Our corrupt, fallen nature creeps into everything we do, even what we do in ministry. When our supreme concern is the "favor of men" rather than the "glory of God" we can be sure our motives are at least mixed, if not completely evil. When we fear public opinion like the disciples, "what will the Sanhedren think?", then our vainglory is blinding us. Often we are ashamed of Christ like many of the "rulers in Israel who believed in Him but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him lest they should be put out of the synagogue for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God" (Jo 12:42-43).
The way to live and minister with Christ's authority and power is to live with singleness of heart, serving the Lord in reality every day. Not just doing the Christian thing for approval, for compliments. We thirst for praise and thrive on flattery, in fact the disapproval of fellow workers makes us feel like a failure.
We find it hard to look forward to God's "Well done good and faithful servant" and we are not content with living by His well laid-out clear principles. We feel we have to minister by the world's programs and plans, which are nearly always self-promoting.
Vainglory is a clear form of idolatry "you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God (Jo 5:44). We seek our identity from each other instead of taking our identity from Christ (eg teaching: asking if it was good or bad).
This is not to deny the importance and role of the BOC and caring for one another, building each other up etc, Eph 4:1-14. The emphasis will be on working together as fellow servants and building up the BOC which is Christ's temple in this church age--this "Mystery" Kingdom, "built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" Eph 2:21-22.
- It is evident that we need more than a theoretical knowledge of God, and we can know Him only as He reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures and are willing to be changed by the Word as the Holy Spirit applies it to our heart. But where do we begin? There is no better starting point than God's revelation of Himself to Moses at the burning bush. "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:13-14). It's more than His name, it's a description of all that God is in Himself.
- See if you can write out what God means by His definition of Himself. Do a study of the life of Moses from this point on in Ex., Num., & Deut. as he interacts with God. Does he understand more and relate more personally with God? What attributes of God does Moses discover? What is his deepest insight into God's character? Try to apply these insights to your own life as you study them in the life of Moses.
- Read the book of Matthew noting the prophecy he uses and the theme of the Kingdom.