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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Pure and Blameless

Our Sunday school class this week focused on the part of Paul’s prayer for the Philippians that is given to us in verses 9 to 11 of the first chapter of his letter to them. The following is the English Standard Version of this passage.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

What seemed to be to be of interest to me was the phrase “so that you may approve what is excellent.” What does “approve” mean here. When I came to write the post, I found that the phrase differed in the two other translations I looked at. The New International Version (1978) has “so that you may be able to discern what is best” and the Revised English Bible has “enabling you to learn by experience what things really matter” and replaces “pure” with “flawless.”

I think I want to go with the ESV translation. Here’s why. The NIV says that the Philippians are to discern what is best. How is that a help to me who cannot be sure of discerning which of three translations is best. The REB tells me I can learn what really matters and become flawless. Being both a slow learner in regard to spiritual things and having no hope of ever, in this life, being flawless, I don’t see anything for me in the REB translation.

Let me give you my thoughts on the ESV version. Recently I have read in two articles that Johann S. Bach was a great Christian composer. However, I do not have the ability to judge his composing or, to tell the truth, enjoy his music. I did though receive pleasure from knowing that he was such a great composer and had glorified God and continues to inspire people with his music. I think approving what is excellent is something I can do without it requiring that I have personal qualities that I don’t. In other words, being on the right side of evaluations is something that can help bring about in us the sanctification that is the gift of God to those who believe in his Son.