The Kingdom of God
(What it is and is not)
by James M. Renihan
My procedure will be as follows: after we read two passages of scripture, I want to try to survey some of the information in the word of God that pertains to the kingdom. There is just too much to cover in anything but survey fashion. Then, I want to speak at more length about an issue that may trouble us. The brochure for the conference says that our theme is "Hope for the future: A Biblical Perspective." I have taken that theme quite literally in highlighting one crucial aspect of the Bibles teaching on the Kingdom, believing that it is very much pertinent to our lives today.
Please turn to Habakkuk 3: 1-19 "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. 2 O LORD, I have heard your speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy. 3 God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. 4 And his brightness was like the light; he had rays flashing from his hand: and there his power was hidden. 5 Before him went pestilence, and fever followed at his feet. 6 He stood and measured the earth: he looked, and startled the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed: his ways are everlasting. 7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: the curtains of the land of Midian trembled. 8 O LORD, were you displeased with the rivers? was your anger against the rivers? was your wrath against the sea, that you rode on your horses, your chariots of salvation? 9 Your bow was made quite ready, oaths were sworn over your arrows. Selah. You divided the earth with rivers. 10 The mountains saw you and trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered its voice, and lifted its hands on high. 11 The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of your arrows they went, and at the shining of your glittering spear. 12 You marched through the land in indignation, you trampled the nations in anger. 13 You went forth for the salvation of your people, for salvation with your anointed; you struck the head from the house of the wicked, by laying bare from foundation to neck. Selah. 14 You thrust through with his own arrows the head of his villages: they came out like a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was like feasting on the poor in secret. 15 You walked through the sea with your horses, through the heap of great waters. 16 When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he comes up to the people, he will invade them with his troops. 17 Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields shall yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls: 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. 19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like deers feet, and he will make me to walk on my high hills. To the chief musician. With my stringed instruments."
And now please turn to: Hebrews 2:5-9 "For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. 6 But one testified in a certain place, saying, "What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that you take care of him? 7 You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. 8 You have put all things under his feet. For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone." Please keep a marker at both of these places in your Bibles.
1. A Survey of the Scriptures Teaching about the Kingdom of God
"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." With these words, John the Baptist preached to the nation of Israel in order to prepare the way for the Messiah. Matthew tells us, in the next chapter of his gospel, that Jesus went forth proclaiming the identical message: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (4:17). And in chapter 10(:7), when Jesus sends out the twelve, he tells them that the message they are to preach is the same: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." The synoptic gospels are permeated with teaching about the kingdom of God. It was a central theme in the earthly ministry of Jesus. But, not there alone. In the interval between His resurrection and ascension, Luke tells us that our Savior was with his disciples over a period of forty days "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3). The words at the beginning of the Great Commission, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth" point to this truth. Peters preaching on the day of Pentecost follows this same theme: Jesus, having been raised up, has been "exalted to the right hand of God." He said, "let all the house of Israel assuredly know that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (2:36) This is the language of the kingdom of God. When a persecution arose in Jerusalem, scattering the disciples, Luke tells us that Philip went down to Samaria and "preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ." As Paul returned to several newly planted churches to strengthen and encourage them, Luke gives us one sentence in summary of the Apostles message to those young assemblies: "we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." (14:22) When Paul came to Ephesus, we are told that "he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God," (19:8) and when he says his final farewell to the Ephesian elders, he reminds them that his preaching has been about "the kingdom of God." (20:25). At the conclusion of his history, Luke portrays Paul at Rome, expounding and testifying to Jews, and anyone else who would hear him, about the kingdom of God. (28:23, 31). Even John the apostle, on the isle of Patmos, could speak of the brotherhood of the kingdom of Christ that he shared with his readers. The idea of the Kingdom of God is deeply entwined with the gospel itself. It was the message proclaimed by John and Jesus and his disciples, and continued to be the theme of the apostles throughout the New Testament era.
We must assert that the kingdom of God is central to the message of the Scriptures. Its language is woven into the fabric of both the Old and New Testaments. Every time that we read of God as the Great King, of the Lordship of Christ, of divine sovereignty, authority and dominion, of command and obedience, of worship and honor, we are reading the language of the Kingdom. We cannot reduce the notion of Gods kingship simply to the occurrences of the Greek word basilea and its cognates or the Hebrew term malak and its derivatives. This topic is one of the pivotal themes of the whole Bible.
A. Defining the Kingdom of God: What the Kingdom of God is
What is the Kingdom of God? The idea is so pervasive in Scripture that it is very difficult to be comprehensive. There is much that can be said in trying to give a definition. It must be asserted that the kingdom of God is not a placethough we usually think of kingdoms in geographic terms. It is better understood in terms of the dynamic reign of God. Geerhardus Vos identified three strands which he called its essence: (1) the supremacy of God in the sphere of saving power; (2) the sphere of righteousness; and (3) the state of blessedness. Paul says, "The kingdom of God is . . . in power" (1 Cor. 4:20). The sermon on the mount is, in many ways, an explication of the nature of the righteousness of the kingdom, evident even in the blessedness promised in the beatitudes. The kingdom of God is the sphere in which he reignsthat isthe place where his sovereignty and dominion express themselves. When the Pharisees came to him and asked him when the kingdom was to come, Jesus could tell his hearers, that the Kingdom of God was in their midst. Imagine how confused they must have been when he said "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, See here! or See there! For indeed, the Kingdom of God is in your midst." It was present in the ministry of Jesushis teaching, his acts of compassion, his miracles. Isnt this what Jesus was intending when, after his temptations in the wilderness, he sat in the synagogue in Nazareth and read on the Sabbath Day from Isaiah the prophet: "18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4:18&19? These are the acts of the reign of Godproof that he had come on a divine missionthat he was the unique son, who fulfills the words of Scripture. The Pharisees were confused, because they did not expect this kind of kingdom.
We said that the message preached by John the Baptist and Jesus was the same. But we must assert an important difference in perspective between them. John preached as the forerunner, in a sense as the last sentinel of the night, proclaiming the dawn of a new day. Jesus was himself the light; he brought the day into existence. Was the kingdom present in Johns ministry? Certainly. But not in the same way that it was with Jesus. John was glad to point to the greater onegreat Davids greater sonwho was in himself the embodiment of the reign of God.
It is interesting to note that when the kingdom is preached, it is often associated with verbs of motion. Just in Matthews Gospel we read verbs such as enter, seek, cast out, suffers violence, come upon, gather out, and come (translating three different Greek verbs). The metaphoric language of a physical kingdom helps us to conceptualize the relationship humans have to Gods reign.
B. Defining the Kingdom of God: What it is not
B. Defining the Kingdom of God: What it is not
One of the most helpful ways of defining something is by negationdemonstrating what something is not. The word of God does this in several places: We are told that the kingdom of God is not of this world. (John 18:36) Jesus clearly teaches us that his reign does not have its origin or primary definition in terms of this world. His own teaching on the kingdom was terribly misunderstood by his religious opponents precisely because they interpreted his teaching in terrestrial terms. His reign is heavenly. It has a divine origin and existence.
The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power (1 Cor. 4:20). Paul did not merely have some fine sounding religious wordspuffs of air audible to those who listen. When he came to the Corinthians, he could demonstrate to them the true spiritual power of the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is not meat and drinkfood (Rom. 14:17)but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Paul wants this understoodthe passing things of this life, such as food (which by the way is to be consumed to the glory of God, 1 Cor. 10:31) do not make up the substance of the kingdom. When Christians divide over such matters, when they cause others to stumble, they have misunderstood the very nature of what the kingdom is all about. They must pursue righteousness: conformity to the covenant standard, the Law of God; peace, the wholeness and wellness attending the presence of God; and joy in the Holy Spirit, the only demeanor appropriate for those who have been cleansed and adopted into the family of God. These things belong together, and are of the very essence of the kingdom. Listen to Hebrews 1:8&9: "To the Son he says, Your throne, o God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdon. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions." The son of God sits on an eternal throne, with righteousness in his hand. Because he himself has loved righteousness, because he has made it the object of his affection, he knows joy beyond his companions. Truly, holiness is happiness.
Six times, the kingdom is spoken of as an inheritance, but interestingly, only one of those times is the inheritance couched in positive terms, in Matthew 25:34. In that place, Jesus describes the great day of judgment, and welcomes his people into their inheritance. But in the other 5 occurrences (1 Cor. 6:9&10, 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5), we are told that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom, and that those who commit a variety of sins will not inherit the kingdom. Similarly, we are told that there is another group who will not enter the kingdom: certain kinds of religious men. Listen to Jesus words, "Assuredly I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him . . . the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it . . . woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." (Matt. 21:31, 43, 13:13). These are part of an interesting cluster of verses in Matthews account of Holy Week, in which Jesus emphasizes the exclusion of religious formalists from the kingdom.
C. Defining the Kingdom of God: Its citizens
C. Defining the Kingdom of God: Its citizens
But if some are shut out or receive no inheritance, then who are the proper citizens and heirs? In reply to the disciples query about greatness in the kingdom, Jesus states that we must become like little children in order to enter. One of the key values of the kingdom is humility: "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The disciples missed it with their interest in greatness. In Matthew 19, Jesus rebukes his disciples for keeping the children away, and immediately uses an incident with a young man to teach his disciples that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom. The famous interview between Jesus and Nicodemus provides us with some insight: only those who have been born from above, or born again, may see and enter the kingdom. The sons of the kingdom are not naturally born, but supernaturally born. This is the great point of Pauls ministry as recorded in the book of Acts. When Luke highlights his preaching about the kingdom, it is most often to persuade Jews (and Gentiles) to believe its message. Acts 19:8 "And he went into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God." 28:23 "And when they [i.e. the Jews of Rome] had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets, from morning till evening." Again, Acts 28:30-31 "Paul . . . received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no one forbidding him." Believers enter the kingdom. As we noted before, at the day of judgment Jesus welcomes the sheep on his right hand, those who have done the will of the father, into his kingdom. James puts it like this: "Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5). That is the bottom line: the citizens of the kingdom are those who have been chosen by God, regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, those who are rich in faith and whose lives demonstrate that the work of God in them is real. Age, social status, race are irrelevant. Not everyone who says to Jesus "Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of his father in heaven." (Matt. 7:21). The difference between the tax collectors and harlots who entered the kingdom and the religious formalists who were shut out is very simple. The former believed, the latter did not.
D. Defining the Kingdom: Declaring a mystery
D. Defining the Kingdom: Declaring a mystery
It is important to note that although the message of the kingdom is to be preached, it is still a hidden message. Jesus himself frequently spoke of the kingdom in parablesexplicitly stating that he did so because the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" have been given to his disciples, but not to outsiders. It is in some sense a secret kingdom, not like Tolkiens hidden kingdom of Gondolin, rumored to exist but sealed to visitors, but rather present in a very real sense, though invisible to the eyes of those without knowledge. Many understand its truths, because their eyes have been opened to understand them. But many others will hear the same words and walk away shaking their heads, wondering why some seem so interested and willing to take these words seriously. At root, we are thrown back to the sovereignty of God in this. He has chosen to reveal the nature of his reign to some, and allow them to participate, while others are on the outside. The Lord Jesus himself could rejoice that his sovereign father, lord of heaven and earth, had hidden the truth from the wise and prudent while revealing it to babes. Tax collectors and sinners crowd in, while the self-righteous are left out.
The gospel of the kingdom is something that is to be preached throughout this age. When Jesus disciples were looking for information on the future, our savior included in his reply some teaching about the presentthe gospel of the kingdom must be preached throughout this agein all the world as a witness to all nationsbefore the end will come. Men and women live their lives as if there were no kingdom, as if in Peters words, nothing has changed "since the fathers fell asleep." They marry and are given in marriage, they work and play and eat and drink as if there were nothing beyond the tedium of their existence. But they must be called to see that they are fallen creatures in a fallen world, rebels against their rightful Lord, at every moment deepening their condemnation by failing to bow the knee before him. The nations rage, the people plot in vain. And all the while the King in heaven laughs, for his purposes can not be resisted, and his work shall conquer. This is what we must preach. God reigns. He is sovereign over all. His kingdom is an eternal kingdom. Unless men and women and boys and girls repent, they will perish. The kingdom of God exists. It is real. While it is not visible to the human eye, it may be discerned with the eye of faith. And that believing vision ought to captivate us for the service of God. We are his children, we are his representatives, we are his servants. All that we do, and all that we say, ought to be governed by this perspective. We must occupy until he comes. We must press on, confronting men with this message: God reigns. He is gracious, he is longsuffering, he is kind, and he commands you to leave your selfishness and become his servant. Are you weary and burdened? He will give you rest. This is true hope for the future.
2. The Kingdom of God is Always at Work, even when we do not perceive it to be so
Having said all these things, there is still one more fact that we must remember. It is found in the words of Hebrews 2 that we read earlier. While we know all of this truth about the kingdom of God, we do not yet see it in its final and consummate form. It is still, "the world to come." In fact, as we look around, we can hardly say that we see pervasive evidence of the presence and power of the kingdom of God in its glory. Neither did the writer of Hebrews. He said, "we do not yet see all things put under him." We live in a day of increasing wickedness, of the open toleration and even promotion of the most vile kinds of sin. Our society is saturated with addictions to pleasure, profit and power. The evening news and the daily newspaper recount over and over the terrible reality of sin in the world.
But it is not just out there. The professing church is departing, or in many cases, has departed, from any semblance of sober, Scripture-based religion. Post-modernism is invading even the evangelical church. Truth is not truth, sin is not sin, God is not God. Religion is based on emotion, truth is determined by opinion polls, sin is excused as a kind of psychological peccadillo, while God is becoming whatever He will be. We face everything from the blab and grab televangelists to Evangelicals and Catholics Together to the Jesus Seminar. When the news media reports on religion, it often does so in a mocking way. And, there is false religion, especially resurgent Islam. Someone has said that the greatest world-wide threat to the church is Islam. In a column published earlier this week, George Will stated that in any given week, there are more people in England who attend mosques than attend Church of England services. Here in America, there is a growing acceptance of Islam, and other non-western religions into the holy pantheon. Mormonism is also on the upsurge. The most recent fascicle of the Trinity Journal includes an important article on the lack of interaction between evangelicals and a growing number of well-trained and highly-equipped Mormon apologists. They are winning the battle. Dont these things trouble you? They are an utter contradiction of all that we have said. We seem to be regressing. Where is the kingdom of God? we ask.
This is not unusual. In every age, even since Jesus ascension to the right hand of God, the church has lived in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation on earth. To the eye of the casual observer, and perhaps even sometimes to the Christian believer, the reality of the kingdom of God may seem like a pipe dreama lot of nice religious slogans without any substance in the world of space and time. If we grapple with this, we should not be surprised. We are not alone, nor are we the first to wrestle with the contradictions present. Asaph struggled deeply with this in Psalm 73, as did the preacher in Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah in Lamentations, and the Psalmist who sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept in Psalm 137. Perhaps most instructive is the experience of Habakkuk.
A. Habakkuks trouble summarized: Where is the kingdom of God?
A. Habakkuks trouble summarized: Where is the kingdom of God?
His name means "embracer" or "wrestler" and that is what he did. He lived in a day of outward religion, but he knew that most of it was just a show and a sham. At the beginning of his book, he comes before God with a complaint full of strong emotion. He is perplexed, because he sees the holy city inhabited by idolaters, deceivers, adulterers, thieves, and murdererstreacherous, violent men. His perplexity might be reduced to this question: "Where is the kingdom of God?" And so he cries out to the LORD, asking him how long he will allow this to endure.
God responds, but not in the way that Habakkuk expected. The LORD tells him that he has plans to judge the wicked in the cityand he will do so by sending an invading army of Babylonians to sack it. The receipt of this information causes Habakkuk to be even more perplexed. Since God is a holy God, how could he possibly use such an unholy instrument to achieve his purposes? After asking his second question, he waits, knowing that the Lord will correct him.
The reply, recorded in chapter 2, has three threads: (1) God will judge Israel, and punish Babylon, while saving a remnant of his people ("the Just shall live by his faith," 2:4); (2) the kingdom of God will ultimately triumph"the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (2:14); and (3) most basically, the Lord is free to do whatever he pleases"the LORD is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him" (2:20).
Throughout these encounters, Habakkuk is wrestling with the nature of the Kingdom of God. He knows that it is one thing, but what he sees is something quite different, and he cannot put these things together. In chapter 3, we see how he puts his perplexity into perspective. Please turn there briefly.
B. Habakkuks Worship: The Kingdom of God is real
B. Habakkuks Worship: The Kingdom of God is real
The inscription to the chapter is of great importance. Notice that our English translations call this a prayer of Habakkuk. It is a special kind of prayer, a tephillah. This is a word describing a special kind of composition, in which the theme is proposed at the beginning, and then opened up in the following verses. Verse 2 provides the two-fold theme: revive your work in the midst of the years, in wrath remember mercy. Verses 3-15 expound the first of these ideas: Gods work in history; and verses 16-19 pick up the latter notion: mercy in the midst of wrath. Habakkuk humbly bows before the Lord, having heard His speech. Now he prays. His wrestling is over.
Notice how this works in the two parts of the prayer. In the first section, the prophet reviews the work of God in history, highlighting three great events: creation in verses 3b-6, the exodus in verses 7-9a, and the conquest in verses 9b-15. God rules over the earth as its creator, and he ruled over the exodus and the conquest in both judgment and redemption. Habakkuk is seeking to remind Gods people (this is a liturgical prayerapparently for public worship) that God has been active for Israeland this is what he asks him to "revive." To carry on this work whatever it may bewhether redemption or judgmentto show his holy power and his might.
In the second part of the prayer, the "wrestler" bows down before the Lord, accepting the reality of his wrath, knowing that it will be mixed with mercy. Notice how he expresses his fear in verse 16. He uses four expressions to describe the depth of his emotion: "my body trembled," "my lips quivered," rottenness entered my bones," and "I trembled in myself." We would say, "I was shaking from head to toe." Outside and inside, throughout all that he was, there was a tremendous fear. Why?
Notice the first words of 16a, "when I heard." Heard what? NOT the words of 3-15, but rather of 16bjudgmentthe terrible destruction of Jerusalem. He understood what was going to happen, and he was overwhelmed with emotion at the prospect. Can you blame him? How would you feel if you knew that a nuclear bomb would soon detonate near the home of your loved ones? Or if you looked up and saw a tornado on the horizon? Our author could envision the events of the future. Perhaps he imagined himself standing outside of the city, surveying its destruction. Plumes of smoke rising up to heaven; the walls breached and broken; the city gates smashed or hanging uselessly on their hinges. He sees dead bodies lying in the streets, hears the cry of the wounded and bereaved, and worst of all, contemplates pagans invading and desecrating the sanctuary of God. As he brings these things to his mind, his body is convulsed in reaction. What else but profound fear would be appropriate for a godly Jew?
The prophet does not stop with his fear. In verses 17-19 he says some amazing things about the work of God. Verse 17 is of great importance. We must not miss its significance. At first glance, it may only appear to be some words about agricultural failurebut it is really much morethese words have tremendous covenantal significance. Listen to Deuteronomy 8:7-10: "7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs that flow out of valleys and hills; 8 A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; 9 A land in which you shall eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which he has given you." Here, the same type of terminology is used to describe the good blessings that belong to the land of promise. God intended that his people enjoy all the benefits of the land when they entered in. When Habakkuk used these terms, every Jew would have understood immediately his meaning. He was contemplating the end of all the good blessings of the land of milk and honey. Notice the "though" at the beginning of verse 17, and the "yet" of verse 18. Habakkuk is brought to the place in which he has changedthough all the holy land becomes a desert, yet, he will rejoice in the LORD. Nothing else matters: God is always the same Godhe is always Habakkuks God. He has taken his eyes off of others, and off of the confusion of the events of this earth, and has placed them on God. He can rejoice in the LORD, because he is God. He will do as he pleaseshe will always be our Godeven when we dont understand his purposes.
Verse 19 returns again to covenantal language. (CF. 2 Sam. 22:1, 33&34). The high hills were the places of triumph in the land. This was a figure in the OT for victorious possession of the land. The high places were the last and most difficult to conquer. Those able to walk on the high hills like deer are those who have conquered and who rule the land in peace. The prophet knows what God will do.
But, doesnt this contradict verse 17? NO! Here Habakkuk is enabled to look beyond the judgment of Judah by the Chaldeanshe sees the ultimate triumph of God and his people over all oppression from the powers of this world. He comes to see that temporal judgments are only part of Gods planbut they point to and ensure his victory. Though everything else may seem to fall to pieces, the LORD God will be his strength, and will make him a victor. Habakkuk is no longer a wrestler, now he is a worshipper, and a convinced believer in the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God.
Habakkuk reminds us that the reign of God works in two ways. While we tend to think of it in terms of visible expressions of his glory, it is just as much evident in the judicial judgments he sends upon men. Whether he calls them out of their darkness or allows them to proceed deeper and deeper into their sin, he is acting as he pleases. And our response is to bow down before him and worship. We must not interpret the greatness of the kingdom of heaven simply in terms of our own perception of its triumph. It is much more than that. The eye of faith sees a picture much different from the eye of doubt.
This is essentially the same thing that the writer to the Hebrews tells us. Turn again to chapter 2 of that book. We do not now see what we would likeall things placed under Jesus feet. But, with the eye of faith we see Him, and that ought to be enough. And this author immediately sets the work of Christ in a similar context: the son of man humbled himself "for the suffering of death." He had to be made perfect through sufferings. Gods plan was far different from anything that we might concoct. His experience sets the pattern for our own. In theology, or more properly Christology, we speak about the two states of Christsuffering and glory. He learned obedience through suffering, and then rose from the dead in great glory. Our experience is the same. Now, we suffer. We endure the opposition of the world, the flesh and the devil. But all the while, we focus our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. He endured the cross that was set before him, despising its shame, and now sits at Gods right hand. As we focus our attention on himas we become more and more Christ-centered, we will lose the confusion to which we fall prey. Do we see everything now the way that we think it should be? No. But that does not mean that the kingdom of God is inactive or impotent. To the contrary, we know that He is doing as he pleases. The opposition of the men of the earth is nothing to him.
The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Christ. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. While we may not see all that is happening, we need not fear that he is asleep, or uninterested, or has been deposed. God is on the throne, and His plan is proceeding as he desires. We need not fear, but be comforted. Take your eyes off of the world, and place them on Jesus Christ. Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigns.
So let us take comfort in the fact that we serve a great king. We may not see all that he is doing. The writer to the Hebrews frankly admits "we do not yet see all things put under him." But we see Jesus, conquering his enemies, one day to be recognized and confessed by all. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Our task is to bring this message to the people of our generationthe secular academics, the religious formalists, the party-loving beach dudes, all of our neighbors and co-workers and schoolmatesas well as the lost in other places. To preach the Kingdom of Heaven is to preach the Lord Jesus. It is to turn men and women and boys and girls away from themselves and their self-centered lives. It is to call them to turn from their sinsto receive forgiveness in Christto bow down before His lordship. His kingdom is realit is activehis enemies are being conquered. This is true hope for the future. Let us go forth with this message to a lost and dying world: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Amen.
James M. Renihan
Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies at Westminster Seminary in California
Reformed Baptist Church of North San Diego County