Disciples of Jesus often struggle to understand their Master’s teaching. The same was even true of Christ’s original 12 disciples. One of the things Jesus’ original audience struggled with was the nature of the kingdom He came to establish. Yet, Jesus the master Teacher, ever patient, taught them in love (cf. Mt. 20:20-28; Acts 1:6-8).
Sadly, much of the same confusion remains today (see premillennialism, Mormonism, etc.) despite the fact that the apostles and their contemporaries, being filled with the Spirit of truth who guided them into “all truth” (Jn. 16:13), set the record straight about the kingdom in their epistles.
But why didn’t the average Jew in the days Jesus walked the earth understand what the kingdom of God was all about? The Old Testament Scriptures were rich with kingdom prophecies but the Jews only looked at them physically and nationally. They look for a restoration of Israel’s golden days under David. The Christ would liberate them from Roman oppression and sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem. These misconceptions colored their interpretation of the of the prophets and even led them to crucify the Christ.
During the dark days of Judah God did not utterly destroy Israel but preserved a remnant (Isa. 1:9). But in her destruction, Israel lost her civil sovereignty; that is, she ceased to be a nation. But God promised to put another King on David’s throne (Isa. 9:6-7) making them a nation once again. Though broken Israel would be scattered abroad, God promised they would return to Him (Isa. 10:20-23). This would happen in the days when God would send forth a King (Isa. 11:1-16). But this same Lord would be a light to the Gentiles (lit. “the nations” or non-Jews) (Isa. 49:5ff), a fact lost on some first century Jewish Christians.
As stated before, we don’t have the same excuse as the first century Jews for misunderstanding kingdom prophecy. Paul, on his first missionary journey, while in Pisidian Antioch, reviewed Jewish history (Acts 13:16-41) highlighting that Jesus Christ fulfilled the kingdom promise (Acts 13:23) and was resurrected to be the “sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:32-34). He clearly stated at the conclusion of his sermon that the deliverance provided by this Davidic King was not national or militaristic but was a deliverance from “sin” and its consequences (Acts 13:38).
Similar statements can be found in Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost after the resurrection. He concluded that after being raised from the dead Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33), a place of rule (cf. Psa. 110).
Paul taught that first century Christians were presently in “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13-14). Therefore, we can confidently conclude that Jesus is faithful: He was successful in establishing His kingdom and is reigned even now as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).
The Jewish understanding of the “kingdom” prophecies was literal and physical but the apostles, guided by the Spirit of truth, interpreted those prophecies correctly for us, attesting to the spiritual nature of the kingdom Christ established (cf. Lk. 17:20-21). Like most things in the Old Testament, the literal and physical kingdom of Israel was a type or shadow of the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Is the kingdom the same thing as the church? “Kingdom” is just one way of describing God’s relationship to His people through Christ. We are children in His family, laborers in His vineyard, sheep in His flock, members of His body, etc. Each one of these phrases describes a unique attribute of that multifaceted relationship. The “kingdom” figure is unique in that it emphasizes the “rule” of Christ and our submission, loyalty, and service to Him as our King.
The word “church” (Grk. ‘Ekklesia’) is a combination of two words. The prefix “Ek” means “out of” and “klesia” means “a calling.” The word church amounts to “a calling out of.” This originally referred to a special group of people like a civic assembly. But the ‘Ekklesia’ that Jesus promised to build (Mt. 16:18) was a special assembly of people that belonged to Him.
So when the word “church” is used we should generally think “people.” But when the word “kingdom” is used we should think more of “rule,” for that is what the word means. “Kingdom” (Grk. ‘Basileia’) is an abstract noun denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion, etc. It comes to be defined by metonymy (or as a figure of speech) as the people over whom the king rules.
Are you part of Christ’s kingdom? That depends. Is Jesus your King? You might ask, “How do I know if Jesus is my King?” The answer to that question entirely rests upon your response to the teachings of Jesus. If you willingly submit to His rule and commandments then you have proven He is sitting on the throne of your heart. Please read Matthew 7:21-23 and then verses 24-27 while meditating on the kingdom and your place in it.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise that calls attention to mankind’s privileged place in the created order. The earth was formed and filled for a purpose: to be the dwelling place of God’s crowning achievement in creation, mankind. While reading David’s psalm our minds are drawn back to the creative work God accomplished in Genesis 1-2. Continue reading Psalm 8 in verses 5-8 and you might notice it parallels Genesis 1:26 describing the dominion mankind was to exercise over all creation. The psalm ends as it began, praising the Lord’s majestic name.
It did not escape David’s attention 3,000 years ago that he lived on a planet that was uniquely positioned in the cosmos. Today, with all our powerfully precise instruments of observation, many intellectuals deny what David observed with the naked eye. Bill Nye “the Science Guy” whose popular, outspoken and often humorous views are espoused regularly in many major media outlets said, “The earth, in the grand scheme of things, is another speck [of sand]. And the sun, an unremarkable star, [there is] nothing special about the sun, the sun is another speck. And the galaxy is another speck. I’m a speck on a speck, orbiting a speck among still other specks in the middle of specklessness. I am nothing! I am insignificant!...”
The “Science Guy” is not taking on the same humility of David when, observing the heavenly bodies, said, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” No, Bill Nye, a noted atheist, doesn’t factor God into his humility. He is speaking to the air. Where Bill Nye sees the vastness of the universe and pontificates on his insignificance David sees the creative authority behind the vastness of the universe, the infinitely vast God Almighty, and is driven to praise His majestic name.
Bill Nye sees nothing special about the sun or planet earth but last week, on February 23, 2016, “Scientific American,” a popular scientific journal that jumps at any occasion to deliver low-blows to the Christian worldview while embracing naturalism, published an article entitled “Exoplanet Census Suggests Earth Is Special After All.”
A secular magazine, a staunch advocate of evolutionary principles, and enemy of the Christian worldview is actually pointing out that perhaps earth really is a privileged planet. Perhaps the naturalists have it all backwards.
Consider that the unique conditions necessary to support intelligent life on earth turn out to provide the best overall conditions for scientific discovery. The sun and moon are prime examples of this. Our atmosphere is oxygen rich for survival but also transparent for discovery. Notice that the moon is the perfect size and the perfect distance away from the earth to stabilize rotation and human habitability. Notice the relative sizes of the moon and the sun.
If you can sift through the scientific jargon of his article entitled, “The Moon and Me (and you!),” Dr. John Gribbon, an astrophysicist and no friend to Christianity, said, “The more we look, the more important the moon seems to be for our existence… Just now, the moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun, but the sun is about 400 times farther away than the moon, so that they look the same size in the sky. At the present moment of cosmic time, during an eclipse, the disc of the moon almost exactly covers the disc of the sun… It’s like a sign hanging in the sky, drawing attention to the moon and shouting, “Hey, look at me—without me you wouldn’t be here.” It worries me, but most people seem to accept it as just one of those things.”
Of course this is not “just one of those things.” To reduce the habitability and discoverability of earth and our exalted status in the universe to an accident of cosmic evolution is simply narrow-minded. As we make more discoveries about the earth’s place in the universe, let us come to the humble realization that we are accountable to God, the master Architect of all we observe.
“…Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…”
What is life all about? It is always interesting to hear the various answers people give. And to most people, a definitive answer to this age old question is elusive. Obviously, believers can answer this question on a number of levels from the Scriptures. But what about someone who isn’t interested in the things of God? In my experience, most unbelievers find meaning and purpose in their familial relationships.
Lee Iococca, the famous automobile executive, said in his book ‘Straight Talk’ while pondering this question, “As I start the twilight years of my life, I try to look back and figure out what it was all about. I’m still not sure what is meant by good fortune and success. I know fame and power are for the birds. But then life suddenly comes into focus. There stand my kids and I love them and they love me and that’s what life is all about.”
I think this is a fair estimation of how most people find purpose in their life. The point is underscored by the fact that Mr. Iococca had experienced earthly “fame and power” and “good fortune and success.” But when he boiled life down to its essence he found purpose in the requited love of familial relationships. And what father hasn’t experienced joy inexpressible that comes from holding their child? You don’t have to believe in God to get some feeling of fulfillment and joy in being part of a loving family.
My point is this: in one moment of holding a child we find more intimations on the meaning of life than all the books of philosophy combined. Life suddenly, as Iococca puts it, “comes into focus.” James Russel Lowell offered his commentary on children when he called them “God’s apostles, day by day sent forth to preach of love and hope and peace.” John Bowring said that family was “an earlier heaven.”
So far I am aware I haven’t given much Scripture to support my opinion so take it with a grain of salt. But could it be possible that our Creator has given us a clue to the meaning of life that can be partially deciphered in our earthly relationships? After all, does it not please our God that we be called His sons and daughters through faith and that we should call Him “Abba, Father!” (Jn. 1:12; Gal. 4:1-7)?
We notice from Romans 1:19-20 that God has given certain clues about His “eternal power and divine nature” in “the things that have been made.” Here we are, part of that creation, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by Him, knit together and formed in the womb of our earthly mothers by the loving hands of our divine Father. Indeed, our “soul” “knows” well the “wonderful” “works” of our Father (Psa. 139:13-16).
So our unbelieving neighbors might be onto something when they say that life is all about the love of familial relationships. Why not connect the dots for them in explaining the relationship to their “Father who art in heaven” that is possible by faith in Christ? The earthly relationship and love of family must be pointing to something much greater. Those of us in Christ know the true meaning of life: to know the love of our Father in heaven and to receive and reciprocate that love by “obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is [our] life.”
After the death of their father Jacob the brothers of Joseph were afraid their evil actions would come back to haunt them. They said to themselves, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” (Gen. 50:15) Unwilling to meet him face to face, their guilty consciences moved them to send a message to Joseph acknowledging their sin and their earnest plea for forgiveness. They then fell down before Joseph and said, “Behold, we are your servants,” (50:18) their words and humility fulfilling Joseph’s dream (37:5-10).
Through tears, (50:17) Joseph’s faithful and merciful response echoes what he already stated prior to his father’s death (45:5-9) but stressing this time the intentions of the parties involved in the awful circumstances he endured. ““Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (50:19-21)
Would that we would all exhibit Joseph’s unwavering trust in God in the midst of trial, grace in speech, compassion in tears and kindness in providing for those who previously endangered him. Would that more of us would exhibit the repentant attitude of Joseph’s brothers as well. Surely the Lord would treat us with the same grace and kindness Joseph treated them. But there is another important lesson here and it has to do with motive.
There were two parties involved in the terrible circumstances of Joseph’s captivity and imprisonment: his brothers and his God. Both were equally responsible for what happened.
Notice in verse 20 Joseph highlights the intent behind the actions of his brothers contrasting them with the intent of God. Joseph’s brothers made a choice to take his life and then, by the greed of Judah and the pity of Reuben (37:26-27, 29-30), amended their plan to sell him as a slave to passing Midianite traders (37:28). They made a deliberate, premeditated choice. The motive of that choice was evil. Their actions issued from the jealous and hate-filled well of their hearts. As a result Joseph’s life was forever changed.
But God allowed that evil to be done to Joseph. God allowed evil hearts to pour out their wickedness on a righteous man. God allowed Joseph to be thrown into a pit, dragged off to a foreign land away from his family and friends, sold as property, and wrongfully imprisoned. But Joseph knew that God’s intentions were “good.”
Joseph was wise enough and faithful enough to know that God is righteous. He could clearly see that although the action itself that God permitted was harmful to him, the intention of God was perfect in its purity, righteousness and holiness. God always does the right thing, even if it doesn’t look like it here on earth. God was able to work with the evil intentions of Joseph’s brothers to bring about a good result.
It could be that you, like Joseph, have endured great evil in your life. Perhaps you have the been the victim of the sinful choices of another. Have you ever stopped to ponder that it was a loving God who permitted you to endure that evil? This is where many people stumble and lose their faith.
During fiery trials the purity of faith is manifest. Are you wise enough to trust in God through that trial? Are you faithful enough to know that if you endure the fire you will come out on the other side stronger than before? (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; 4:1-2, 12-13) Will you, like Joseph, be able to trust God and see the bigger picture? (Rom. 8:28-29) Is your spiritual vision keen enough to notice that the trials and suffering you endure on earth have the ability to bring you closer to God? (2 Cor.12:7-10)
The testimony of Joseph is to see with eyes of faith through the gloom to watch God transform the evil of men into good according to “the kind intention of His will”. (Eph. 1:5) It was the evil of men that nailed Jesus of Nazareth to a cross but it was the kind intention of God’s will to allow it to happen. (Acts 3:17-18) Because, in permitting this great evil, God could bring about the healing of His creation. (Isa. 53:4-5, 10; 1 Pet. 2:24) Praise the Lord for the kind intention of His will!
In 1 Kings 18 and 19, the king of Judah, Hezekiah, received a disturbing message from Sennacherib the king of Assyria. After the shame of giving Sennacherib tribute in the form of all the silver from the temple (18:15) Assyria's king felt Hezekiah was holding out on him so he sent Rabshakeh of Lachish with an army to persuade him. Upon arrival, Rabshakeh was told to speak the message in Aramaic so that only the king's court would understand without all the inhabitants of Jerusalem hearing but Rabshakeh defied them and spoke Judean in the hearing of all the men who sit on the wall whom he said were "doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine" (1 Kgs. 18:27). Some of our southern friends might say, "Them's fightin' words!"
Despite the might of the Assyrian army, an army which conquered several kingdoms before its march on Judah, Hezekiah had told the Hebrews to trust in the Lord and they would surely be delivered. Rabshakeh called into question the wisdom of this kingly decree. After all, said he, "Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (1 Kgs. 18:33-35).
Indeed, Sennacherib's record was undefeated. From Hezekiah's point of view this must have been a frightful position to be in. Could you imagine sitting on the throne receiving report after report of Assyria's movements, one kingdom after another falling until finally the whole of Samaria fell (1 Kg 18:9-12)? After more "trash talk" from Rabshakeh, Hezekiah tore his robes and sent for Isaiah who returned with a message of hope from the Lord (1 Kgs 19:5-7).
Sennacherib then sent a blasphemous and arrogant letter that repeated the threats of his previous message which drove Hezekiah to his knees before his God. Mysteriously, the next morning, the Assyrian army woke to find 185,000 of their compatriots slain in their tents with no explanation. The God of Israel was busy. Sennacherib left the way he came with his tail tucked between his legs.
How did this fortunate turn of events come about? The sincere prayer of a righteous man. God said, "Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you." (1 Kgs. 19:20). When Hezekiah was frightened of what might come to pass he brought his troubles before the Lord, quite literally: "Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD" (1 Kgs. 19:14) and he prayed a fervent, God-exalting prayer for deliverance (19:14-19).
Brethren, how many Sennacheribs do you have looming at the gate with threatening language? How many problems in your life feel so much bigger than you? Do you feel as if the odds are stacked against you so that you can never overcome them on your own? Do you feel that you will surely fall beneath the crushing weight of adversity? For the child of God, this is the most advantageous position from which to fight. Draw back your bow and take aim in prayer to God. Take all your troubles and spread them out before the LORD like Hezekiah. When God's children are backed into a corner by Satan, God reacts to the prayers of His saints like a mother bear reacts to the helpless cries of her cubs--with fury (see Psa. 18).
Take your problems before the LORD. Even though your Father "knows what you need before you ask Him" (Mt. 6:8) He desires that you spread out the scroll of your anxieties at His feet. Leave no fear bottled up but "let your requests be known to God" (Phil. 4:6). "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:6, see also Mt. 7:7-11).