Thoughts on the Kingdom of God: Kingdom and Church

After Jesus told his disciples of his return to earth in glory, he told them a parable concerning what would happen before his second coming. It had to do with the kingdom of God and goes thus “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31, NIV).

What is it in our lives that could look like the vigorous growth of fig leaves and the coming of summer? John in his greeting to the seven churches, Revelation 1:6 tells us Jesus Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (NIV). This is speaking of the then present situation of John and the Christians of his day. Later in Revelation, as the Lamb is about to begin opening the seals the elders and living creatures sing a hymn of praise that includes the words “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10, NIV). The opening of the scroll is an unfolding of history. It seems clear from Revelation that the kingdom of God is now always present on earth and that it is intended to be a powerful spiritual reality. You may think or have been led to believe, that your church is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth. However, this cannot be true for several reasons.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, NIV). Churches are assemblies of flesh and blood people and cannot be otherwise by their very nature. They are meant to be servants of the people of the kingdom of God and to have a very important role in enhancing spiritual growth but they are not the kingdom God.

Another reason churches cannot constitute the kingdom of God is that the kingdom of God is a unity of all who are in Christ. If you look at the yellow pages in the phone book you can see there is no ecclesiastical unity wherever it is that you live. Ecumenical unity has never been achieved on any significant scale since the conflict between the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch that is described in Acts 15:1-35.

Just as the kingdom of God does not find its fulfillment in the churches so it is not completed on earth. Its final place will be in heaven. As Paul told the Corinthians “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24, NIV). We find in Revelation 11:15 (NIV) that this kingdom that is handed over to God is that of the world. “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.’”

A little further on in Revelation we learn that there is joint rule in heaven by both the Father and the Son. “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down’” (Revelation 12:10, NIV). Hebrews 1:8 (NIV) makes it clear about Christ’s eternal authority. “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.’”

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What I Believe: The Work of Jesus Christ

Jesus had about thirty years to be prepared and prepare himself for the work he would do during his last three years on earth. In fact, it is not until the last week of his pre-crucifixion life on earth that he gets to the really heavy lifting. It is in that week he enters Jerusalem fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning the arrival of the Messiah, finalizes his conflict with all the different sects of Jewish religious and political leadership, teaches and heals amongst the crowds, institutes the Lord’s Supper and is betrayed, manages and endures his trial and crucifixion, and rises from the dead, and then on that Sunday he begins wrapping up with his followers the loose ends he had left hanging.

What is to be noted about his last week is that it was probably only slightly more busy and dramatic than the other weeks of his active ministry. We, of course, do not have his calendar for that time but John assures us that if all Jesus did were written down there would not be room on the whole earth to hold the books (John 21:25).

So far I have presented you with just the earthly works Jesus did. What is difficult for me is to know how to tell you of the spiritual work he did in his ministry. I know that he did what was necessary to remove from us, and all others who believe in him, the inherent and evident sin of our natures through his obedience to the Father even unto death. And it was not an easy death. But it is not possible for me to understand how the death of a single person was sufficient to do all that had to be done to satisfy our guilt before God. There must have been something agreed between the Father and the Son that allowed all to be accomplished by Christ’s death that was needed. I do know I do not have anything I can add to the transaction.

What I Believe: The Person of Jesus Christ

Angels came from heaven to sing of the glory of Jesus’s coming to earth. Shepherds came in from the fields to worship the new-born-child. Eight days later Jesus was taken to the Temple for the ritual required by the Law. Two or three years later the Wise Men showed up to provide the means for the Holy Family to live in exile until the danger from Herod and his sons had passed.

When Jesus was twelve years he went to Jerusalem with his family and then stayed to talk theology with the priests and rabbis. This was not normal but it was natural for someone coming into their identity as the Son of God.

About eighteen years later, Jesus knows who he is and what he has come to do. He is the second person of the Trinity, truly God and truly human. He has the same power as created the world and he knows he is to fulfill all the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. I believe Jesus is fully God—of one being with the Father and Holy Spirit as one person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus used providential opportunities given him to show his power to perform miracles and thus demonstrate both his nature as deity and God’s care for his creatures. I like the account of the raising from the dead of the son of a widow just outside the Town of Nain (Luke 7:11-15). Jesus is moved by the sorrow of the widow and so does what he can do in the situation. Can you imagine her son sitting up and yelling, “Get me out of this shroud”! Awe followed and the news spread but the event was not a publicity stunt. It was a showing of Jesus as who he is.

It took an intricate weaving of events to get the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled. I started with Jesus’ birth but the fulfillment began nine months before that and lasted until Jesus died on the cross, and then was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. In this time frame Jesus fully demonstrated he was the one described in Isaiah 9:6-7. Jesus was the child born who by the end of his life on earth could lay claim to being Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace whose power would have no end.

Jesus also used his time of earthly ministry to teach his disciples, and the crowds, about himself, about the Father and Holy Spirit, and about their human natures. In addition he spoke often of the kingdom of heaven (kingdom of God) that was soon to arrive. I think that soon was in human time and not “God time.” In other words, some of the people he was speaking to would experience its arrival. I believe the kingdom of heaven came to us at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit inaugurated a body of believers who would live, starting with their rebirth, forever. We start on earth and then continue our existence in heaven.

We need to remember that the human nature of Christ was fully present in him during his time on earth. When he obeyed the Father, as we must, in seeking baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon him and made his human spirit immortal. This is a picture of our redemption and was necessary so that Christ would be first among his brothers and sisters.

When Jesus was tempted in the desert, Satan’s offers of food, acclamation by the world, and earthly power were directed at his human nature. They were not an attack on his divine nature but directed at a person in a redeemed condition like ours. That is, he had trust in God and had faith in what was written in Scripture but nonetheless he was susceptible to the possibility of sin. It was a real test. Needless to say, but I will write it anyway, Jesus passed this test and overcame all the other temptations that came his way.

Jesus was one with us in his human nature and he is the One who is making us like him in that nature so I believe he should always be recognized as at the center of our Christianity.