From very small beginnings, the church in Ephesus grew in such size and significance that within just three years its impact was felt not only in that city but across the entire region of Asia (modern-day Turkey)!… Fortunately, the New Testament provides us with more detail about this church than any other, so that we can learn from their success and take heed of the dangers they faced. The story of this church – told in a series of short dramatic episodes – is ‘a tale for our times’, and as we read it afresh, dig deeper and look behind the scenes we discover the heart of God for our churches, our cities and our regions…
The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
In previous articles we have discovered that the kingdom of God is different from every other ‘kingdom’. The two verses quoted above reveal another – major – aspect that makes the kingdom different: it is a spiritual kingdom – it’s “in the Holy Spirit.” The essential nature of the kingdom is spiritual, which means there is nothing natural or human about it. It’s vital we realise this: the kingdom of God must not be equated with any man-made systems or philosophies. No nation, government, political or social ideology represents the kingdom of God. Jesus made this abundantly clear when he told Pontius Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not of this world…my kingdom does not have its origin here’ (John 19:36). Since the kingdom is spiritual – and God is spirit (John 4:24) – it requires a spiritual experience to enter the kingdom and to live in it. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes into the equation; as the third Person in the Trinity He puts the kingdom of God into effect in us, and He empowers us to express it.
Jesus said that in order for us to enter the kingdom of God we must have two births: a natural birth and a spiritual birth. He called this spiritual birth being “born again”; it’s a term widely used by Christians to describe the means by which we become believers. We often stress that when we are born again our sins are forgiven and we begin a new life, and that we are guaranteed a place in heaven. That is all wonderfully true; however, Jesus mentioned the new birth only once and He placed it in the context of entering (or seeing) the kingdom of God:
I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he can’t see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
So, every Christian has been born twice! My natural birth was in October 1952; a new person who had never lived before came into the world. My spiritual birth was in April 1966; when I received Jesus as my Lord I was born again and a new person – a new me – came into being! That is what actually happened; in the moment I became a Christian the Holy Spirit came to live within me and made me what the New Testament calls a “new creation”:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
A new creation! Not the same sinful person patched up, constantly trying their utmost to attain to the required standard: but a brand new person. Somebody who has been born – again! This is marvellous: when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts He comes to live the kingdom of God in us. Now I must admit I had little or no idea that I’d entered the kingdom of God at that moment when I was born again. I became a Christian because I did not want to go to hell. But the fact is that much more happened to me than I realised: I became a citizen of God’s kingdom! And if you’re a Christian then you also are a citizen.
Why a New Birth?
It’s important to ask why God requires us to have a spiritual birth so we may enter the kingdom and live in it. The answer is found in Romans 14:17 – “the kingdom of God is righteousness…” God is righteous and holy, and therefore His kingdom is essentially a righteous, holy kingdom. Righteousness is the hallmark of God’s kingdom:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. (Psalm 89:14)
Your throne, O God is forever and ever, and righteousness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; that is why God, your God, has anointed you above your companions with the oil of joy. (Hebrews 1:8-9)
Therefore, only righteous people can live in God’s kingdom. And that is our immense problem: every human being is naturally born unrighteous, we are sinners by nature:
There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10)
Without God’s intervention we stand no chance at all; we cannot make ourselves right with God. It’s utterly impossible for us to change ourselves. But in order for us to be part of the kingdom we have to get rid of our sin and become righteous. We have to become new creations; we must be born again by the Holy Spirit. That’s the amazing miracle of the new birth that Jesus talked about! The Holy Spirit takes away our sinful nature and lives in us with the righteousness of Jesus. And so, we now qualify to live in the kingdom of God as fully righteous citizens:
God made the one who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Corinthians 5:21)
God’s purpose in saving us isn’t just to get us ready for heaven one day. His salvation plan flows from his kingdom plan; our new birth by the Holy Spirit launches us into God’s kingdom purpose – to fill the earth with a people just like Jesus!…
As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, Jesus is totally unchangeable – the same yesterday, today and forever – and has a Kingdom that, unlike every earthly kingdom, is totally unshakeable. Now we will see that He has empowered His Church to spread the Good News of His Kingdom everywhere. This is our mission, and nothing can stop it!…
Let’s start by briefly making 4 vital statements (expanded elsewhere) that will put things in context and explain why the mission is unstoppable:
- Our mission is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. The original commission to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and God’s desire to see his people fill the earth is seen repeatedly thereafter. Our great commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) is a re-statement of this great purpose.
- Our mission is continuing what Jesus started. The Gospels record “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) and Acts shows the early church continuing all He’d started, as they proclaimed and proved He is King and has defeated every enemy.
- Our mission is the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit. Acts 1:4-8 makes clear that the whole purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to empower His disciples to be His witnesses in spreading the gospel.
- Our mission is the key to Christ’s return. Jesus declared He will come again and “the end will come” only when the good news of Kingdom has been preached in every nation (Matthew 24:14).
Since the purpose of God will always prevail, and Jesus will finish what He started, and His return is never in doubt…we can be assured that our mission cannot be thwarted – it is unstoppable!
Now, if you’re anything like me, it will also help to know: What does this look like in practice? How will it happen? How do we move from theory to reality? And how can we play our part?…
The story of the healing at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-12) provides some answers to these important questions. This story is positioned: immediately after 3,000 people are initially added to the church (Acts 2:41) and then more are added “every day” (Acts 2:47); and immediately before a further 2,000 are added (Acts 4:4) – and in fact it’s this event that triggers the second wave of growth. And this story is here in the middle of these things by design, to tell us about “one day” that illustrates “every day”, about one man who was saved and added as an example of thousands of others, and to describe one supernatural act that was typical of the “many signs and wonders” prevalent in the church (Acts 2:43). And, as such, it contains keys that help us become part of unstoppable mission and growth in our communities and churches. Let’s look at 5 things we see here:
Firstly, the story shows that our mission is not our meetings! This miracle took place as Peter and John were on their way to pray (verse 1). God moved in power outside the meeting, because that’s where the need was! Our mission doesn’t depend on our buildings or our meetings; we can play our part at any time in any place! We are never ‘more spiritual’ or ‘more usable’ when we are worshipping, praying or fellowshipping with others; in fact, as far as mission goes, we’re probably much more useful when we’re not in a meeting! Meetings aren’t a substitute for mission; good doctrine isn’t an alternative to good deeds; and our great community must not distract us from our Great Commission! If we want to turn our world upside-down we must let Him turn our church inside-out!
Secondly, we must not miss the moments. Peter and John arrive at the Gate at just same time as the lame man (verse 2); God creates ‘a moment’ when they find themselves sharing the same small patch of planet earth! None has planned it, but Peter and John know how to make most of every opportunity; and are alert to this ‘moment’ and available for God to use them at any time in any place. Jesus had told them to “Go and make disciples….” And promised “You will receive power…. you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…” And now here they are: in Jerusalem and ready to be used! Participating in the mission means being ready for the many ‘moments’ God will bring our way.
Then, thirdly, we must look and listen. Peter and John listened to the man’s request and then “looked at him intently” (verse 4). If we’re going to recognise these God-given opportunities we must attune our senses to what’s happening around us: there’s always something to see and hear; every situation and conversation alerts us to a heart-cry if we look and listen carefully. Peter and John were ‘present in the moment’, and gave this man their time and attention. Playing our part means taking time to notice and care about the need that’s all around us.
Fourthly, we must be ready to give what we’ve got. In response to what they saw and heard, Peter simply gave the man what he had (verse 6). He gave him Jesus, and a miraculous healing in His Name. Simply sharing what we have, passing-on what we’ve discovered and allowing our lives to overflow is the very heart of our mission! And note that Peter and John gave away what they enjoyed “every day” (Acts 2:42-47) to a man who’d spent his life begging “every day” (Acts 3:2) – and from then on no day was ever the same again! It’s a great picture of a thriving church sharing the goodness of God with a barely-surviving world. When we keep it simple and give what we’ve got…the mission is unstoppable!
And then lastly, we must help people up and let them hold on. Peter reached out and helped the man up (verse 7) and let him hold on as they took him into the gathered church (verse 11). It takes great courage to lift up a lame man! But also to share your story, offer to help, sit and listen, ask if you can pray…. But note that it was as he lifted him up that healing exploded in the man’s body! God moves when we step-out. This man expected nothing more than a hand-out, but Peter offered an outstretched-hand. He was present in the moment. It’s a reminder that Jesus embraced people, sat with them, fed them, wept with them, calmed their storms, touched and healed them. And He’s just the same today!
Let’s be sure nothing stops us from opening-up our lives, reaching-out and helping others in… and so playing our part in this great co-mission! In this way we can outwork God’s purpose, continue what Jesus started, enjoy His empowering and hasten His return!
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
In the first part of this trilogy we saw that Jesus is the Unchangeable Person – the same yesterday, today and forever! We now explore another related truth: that this Unchangeable Person is ruling and reigning and forever extending His Unshakeable Kingdom…
The Gospels make clear that the Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus throughout His early ministry. In Matthew’s Gospel alone, for example, there are over 50 references to the “Kingdom”: John the Baptist prepared the way by calling people to “repent, for kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus began His ministry with exactly the same message (4:17), before travelling throughout the region “announcing the Good News about the Kingdom” (4:23, 9:35). His ‘Sermon on Mount’ was all about the Kingdom (Matthew 5-7); He taught to us pray that His Kingdom would come on earth as in heaven (6:10) and to seek the Kingdom above all else (6:33). Then He sent-out the Twelve to announce that the Kingdom was at hand (10:7), told parables describing its growth (Matthew 13, 20, 22, 25) and made clear that the good news of the Kingdom must be preached in the whole world before the end will come (24:14). And in His last forty days with His disciples, immediately prior to empowering them to be His witnesses everywhere, He spoke of nothing other than (you guessed it!) the Kingdom (Acts 1:3)!…
As we’ve posted elsewhere, God’s Kingdom comes when His will is done (Matthew 6:10) and so the ‘Kingdom of God’ is not a place but rather the sphere of His rule and reign through Jesus, who triumphed over every enemy and is now enthroned as King of kings and calls all people to come and live under His rule!… This revolutionary message, proclaimed by the first followers of Jesus “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) – but far too often the message of today’s Church is at best far less potent and at worst a different agenda altogether. It’s vital that we preach the Kingdom! So, let’s consider four characteristics that should be part of our message:
Firstly, the Kingdom is EVERLASTING. Indeed, the Kingdom (God’s will outworked) has always been God’s purpose. Adam and Eve were commissioned to establish His rule and stewardship over creation. And when God found in King David a man after His own heart, He promised: “Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). David understood the eternal dimensions of this and knew his earthly kingdom was a foretaste of something much bigger, and declared “your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13). As the prophet Isaiah foresaw, the child born to us would have the government of the world on His shoulders and would reign “from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Unlike every other dynasty, dominion or kingdom, the Kingdom of God will never end! We needn’t be fascinated or distracted by passing trends; or by movements, people or causes that come and go – let’s seek first and live for God’s Kingdom! And His Kingdom is not only ever-lasting it’s ever-growing. As most translations put it: “of the increase of His government and its peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7) – because the zeal of Almighty God is forever extending His Kingdom.
Secondly, Jesus repeatedly proclaimed and proved that His Kingdom is GOOD NEWS (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). In fact, this ever-lasting, ever-growing Kingdom is the greatest news! Why? Because Jesus has defeated every enemy (Satan, sin, sickness and death) and is crowned King of kings! And by His victory He’s restored mankind, healed creation and provided for every known need. And because, unlike every failed and failing kingdom, nobody is beyond the scope or reach of Christ’s Kingdom – it’s good news for everyone, everywhere. And the Kingdom is all the good news we need; as E. Stanley Jones put it, it is ‘God’s total answer to man’s total need’. Everything else is peripheral; every other good cause is smaller than His Kingdom. In fact, any other ‘gospel’ leaves us needing more, But the gospel of the Kingdom – that Jesus is Lord and offers new life – is all-sufficient. The really good news is the Kingdom, with nothing added or subtracted. If our goal is feeding the hungry, it’s not big enough; if our goal is strengthening marriages or empowering parents these aren’t big enough! If our goal is impacting politics, influencing our work-places or improving our neighbourhood, these are all good but they’re all too small! Jesus summarised His mission by saying: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom…because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). Our goal must be to see His kingdom established – and it will include all those things, but will eclipse them all as well!
Thirdly, the Kingdom is OUR NEW HOME, the proper place of belonging of all who follow Christ! Jesus said we “see” and “enter” the Kingdom when we’re “born again” (John 3:3,5); that’s when we begin to live in the dimension of His rule and reign over our lives: we start making decisions and choices that please Him; we begin honouring Him with our words and actions; and we begin to live for His cause… We start a new life in a new Kingdom. It’s re-birth, a reorientation, and a relocation! God has “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His Son” (Colossians 1:13). And we’re also “added to the church” (Acts 2:41), which is the community of the King; the people amongst whom His Kingdom is made visible to a watching world. If ‘Jesus is Lord’ we will obey His instructions, mend broken relationships, shun gossip, honour God with our finances, pray before making big decisions… And when our lives, families, homes, and careers come under the rule and reign of God, there is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17) – and health, order and blessing – and it will soon be obvious to others that we live under a different regime.
And all this brings us to declare that the Kingdom of God is UNSHAKEABLE! In Hebrews 12:27-28 we read that “all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain” and that “we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable…”. As we’ve said already, every alternative to God’s Kingdom has been, is being, or will be shaken. Only His Kingdom will stand firm! And in the midst of the many shakings of our day (in health, economics, politics and much else) we may not understand everything, but we can certainly ‘stand under’ the Throne of King Jesus. And, as citizens of His Kingdom, we can represent it in every way: we can be ever-growing, good news and unshakeable.
We’re at home in a Kingdom that’s everlasting and ever-growing and is good news for the whole world. Jesus is same yesterday, today and forever, and His Kingdom cannot be shaken – and it doesn’t get more secure than that!…
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2, 6)
The foundations upon which we build our lives and churches are more important than we could ever imagine. The strength and success of anything depends on what it stands upon; the health of the roots will always determine the quality of the fruit. Even our attitudes and reactions, and our perspectives on things will be profoundly affected by what we hold to be true. And in times of challenge or uncertainty we need to know what we can depend and rely upon – think how often King David’s psalms express his trust in God “the Rock”.
Solid foundations become the anchor-points and reference-points in our lives – the unshifting truths we embrace and to which we will return again and again, and on which we build so much more. This mini-series of three article focuses on three great truths that are fundamental to our lives and our churches.
In the first, we consider the fact that Jesus is UNCHANGEABLE. The Bible describes Him as “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and this of course has profound implications: all that He was in the past He is today, and will be forever; and all that He did before He can do again! We can rely on Him and build our lives on Him, which is exactly what He invites us to do (Matthew 7:24-27).
In the second, we see that Jesus has a Kingdom that is UNSHAKEABLE (Hebrews 12:28). The Kingdom of God is everlasting and ever-growing and is good news for everyone, everywhere (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). And, whilst so many other things are uncertain and unstable, God’s Kingdom remains utterly unshakeable – there’s no better place to be!
And then in the third article, we focus on the fact that Jesus has commissioned and empowered His Church to spread the good news of His Kingdom everywhere! This is our urgent task and mission, and it is UNSTOPPABLE until Jesus returns (Matthew 24:14). We conclude by looking at a true story (Acts 3:1-11) that helps us make this mission practical in our own cultures and contexts .
Jesus never changes, His Kingdom is never shaken, and His mission will never fail – and holding tightly onto these three great truths will keep us properly anchored and focussed. It’s my prayer that these three article and the accompanying video messages will be a great encouragement to you! Part one starts here…
Every kingdom has a monarch, the person who rules over that particular kingdom, and in this regard the kingdom of God is no exception. However, it is unique concerning who its king is: the kingdom of God is the rule of God the Father exercised through the king he has appointed to reign – Jesus Christ.
The title ‘Christ’ is important for understanding and appreciating Jesus as king of the kingdom. Note that: Christ is a title; his name is Jesus (which means ‘the Lord saves’). His title is literally ‘the Christ’ or ‘the Messiah’. They both mean the same thing (Messiah comes from the Hebrew and Christ is its Greek equivalent). They mean ‘the Anointed One’ – the title used in the Old Testament to describe the king, who was anointed with oil (which symbolised the Holy Spirit) to rule the kingdom on God’s behalf. Sadly, not every king acted in this way. David, however, was Israel’s greatest king; that is why Gabriel said to Mary about the son she would bear “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32). Jesus wouldn’t be the natural king of a geographic, earthly kingdom; he would be born, grow, live, die, rise again and ascend to heaven as the king of the kingdom of God!
The coming king
Several hundred years before Jesus was born, Daniel interpreted king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream regarding the giant statue that was felled by a small stone which eventually became a mountain and filled the whole earth (Daniel chapter 2). He prophesied about the kingdom God would establish through Jesus:
…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed…it will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)
This reminds us of the characteristics of the kingdom we saw in an earlier article. Let’s mention one more incident in Daniel: in chapter seven we see someone called the Son of Man – a human being – led into the presence of the Ancient of Days (God):
He was given authority to rule, and glory and a kingdom; so that people of every nation and language should worship him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14).
This is why Jesus described himself as the Son of Man throughout the Gospels; in doing so he was declaring himself to be this person mentioned in Daniel. He said he was the king of God’s kingdom, the Messiah/the Christ – the Anointed King.
Jesus described a king
The New Testament plainly shows that Jesus is a king:
- He was a king by natural descent – he came from a line of kings (Matthew 1:6);
- He was born a king (Matthew 2:2);
- He claimed to be the king of a kingdom (John 18:36-37);
- He died a king: (John 19:19);
- He rose and ascended to heaven a king: (Hebrews 1:3); and
- He is called the King of kings – the king over all other kings (Revelation 17:14; 19:16).
Jesus acted as a king
If we understand that the kingdom of God is God’s rule exercised through his king Jesus, then in the Gospels we will see how Jesus exercised his kingly rule. He demonstrated his kingship in his teaching and actions. He ruled over:
- Diseases (Matthew 4:23);
- Evil spirits (Mark 5:1-17);
- Creation (Mark 4:39);
- Satan (Luke 16:13);
- His enemies (John 7:30); and
- Death (John 11:43-44).
The present king
Of course, Jesus is the king of the kingdom now. When he ascended to heaven “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High” (Hebrews 1:3). The New Testament is full of references to the fact that Jesus rules and reigns now over all things and all people. One of the most remarkable is found in Ephesians, where Paul writes:
[God] demonstrated his power in the Messiah by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens – far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put everything under his feet… (Ephesians 1:20-22)
So right now Jesus is actively ruling over all things as the King of the kingdom. Through his sinless life, his death and resurrection, and his ascension, he has conquered all his enemies and now sits in triumph and victory on his heavenly throne. This wonderful reality is expressed in us his disciples by our faith in him and our declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’!
Having asked ‘What is the Kingdom of God?‘ let’s now explore four aspects of God’s kingdom that set it apart from all other ‘kingdoms’ – human institutions of all kinds.
1. The kingdom of God lasts forever
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your rule is for all generations. (Psalm 145:13)
This characteristic alone makes the kingdom of God unique – it lasts forever and therefore never comes to an end. Unlike every human kingdom the kingdom of God can never decline or pass away. This is vitally important and should affect our understanding of world history and the impermanent nature of human institutions. For example, the Roman Empire lasted several hundred years and ruled much of the known world. The Soviet Union dominated much of Eastern Europe. The British Empire stretched across vast areas of the earth. They lasted a long time; now they are gone. The Nazi Third Reich was meant to last a thousand years; it lasted twelve.
This also applies to financial organisations, kings, presidents and prime ministers; they rise and fall, they come and go. Why? Because they are human, and all have an inbuilt impermanence. The kingdom of God stands in stark contrast; it will outlast every human kingdom, because it’s the kingdom of God. God is everlasting and infinite (unlimited); therefore his kingdom is everlasting and infinite. God will last forever; so will his kingdom!
2. The kingdom of God increases forever
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:7)
The kingdom of God not only lasts forever; it also increases forever. The kingdom doesn’t outlast everything else by the skin of its teeth, like a boxer who’s fought twelve rounds and scrapes to victory on points while battered and bruised, out on his feet. Or like an army that secures victory but is severely depleted with the eventual outcome uncertain to the end. The kingdom is not the last man standing.
It lasts forever in increasing measures and dimensions because it’s the kingdom of the infinite, unlimited God. This also means that the kingdom will continue to increase even in the coming age. It’s not confined to this time before Jesus comes again; it will continue to exist and continue to increase even in the age to come. The coming of Jesus in glory as the King of the kingdom won’t mean the end of the kingdom; it will herald the beginning of a major increase of the kingdom. The very DNA of the kingdom is for it to grow and grow!…
3. The kingdom of God is unshakeable
Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. (Hebrews 12:28)
This aspect of the kingdom should fill us with immense confidence and give us a sense of complete security. The kingdom can’t be shaken: it doesn’t wobble or crumple under pressure or threat. It never worries about its future; its foundations never crack or fall apart. The kingdom of God has all the power and authority of God running through it. God is unshakeable, his throne is secure; he can never be deposed. He rules. Now it’s true that the kingdom can be threatened by its enemies; it can be attacked, it can be rebelled against and its authority refused. But it can’t be shaken. This is evident in a graphic way in Isaiah 14 where we see Lucifer’s attempt to overthrow God and his kingdom by stealing God’s throne for himself. There was no pitched battle or long struggle for power. There was no doubt about the outcome. God immediately cast Lucifer out and he became the devil. No matter what earthly kingdoms or powers do to try and extinguish or destroy God’s kingdom, they are doomed to failure.
4. We are always receiving the kingdom of God
Since we are receiving a kingdom… (Hebrews 12:28)
This same verse reveals something about the kingdom in how it works towards us and in us. It explains something of the ever-increasing nature of the kingdom. Admittedly, this aspect can lead to confusion if we don’t understand its nature and how it works. The Word of God talks about the kingdom now and the kingdom yet to come; it is ‘now’ and ‘not yet’.
When we’re born again we enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-5); it has come to us in all its fulness and is now actively at work in us through the Holy Spirit. (Always remember the kingdom of God is not a ‘thing’; it’s the rule – the life of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ – of God the Father). This is the ‘now’ element of the kingdom – we are in it now, it has really come to us. However, there is also the ‘not yet’ element of the kingdom – the future element in which the last enemy to be defeated is death and Jesus will hand the kingdom over to the Father (1Corinthians 15:20-28). The return of Jesus will herald in the age to come! In the meantime we also are receiving the kingdom: the word ‘receive’ used in Hebrews 12:28 means to take something to yourself by showing strong personal initiative, to take something aggressively to yourself. It describes how we practically apply the kingdom to ourselves; we continue to receive it actively – ‘aggressively’. We positively, continuously embrace the kingdom of God with all that we are. It’s a constant attitude; we receive the ever-increasing kingdom all the time. And as we receive it we grow, we mature, we grow up in our faith. We become the means by which God increases his kingdom (even though he’s not confined to us). Jesus put it like this:
From the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing and the forceful have been seizing it by force. (Matthew 11:12)
This doesn’t mean we grasp it for our own ends or become physically violent – not at all. It just means that our attitude is positive and we actively embrace the rule and power of God, and enjoy living it in increasing dimensions. This is how the kingdom comes…
As we explore the kingdom of God, it will help us if we have a simple definition in our minds. In a nutshell, therefore, the kingdom of God is the rule of God. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for kingdom (malkut) means sovereign power, dominion, reign. A king (melek) is one who rules and reigns. Similarly, in the New Testament, kingdom (basileia) means sovereignty, royal power. A king (basileus) means one who rules and reigns. Interestingly it also means a lawful king as opposed to a tyrannos – a usurper (‘tyrant’ derives from this word). A kingdom is the realm over which a king or queen rules and exercises his or her authority.
Therefore, the kingdom of God is God’s right to rule as God. It is God’s kingship, his authority, his reign. It’s the realm in and over which God exercises his rule and reign. It follows that the kingdom of God, therefore, is the will of God. (Remember how Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’). Bryn Jones put it like this: ‘The kingdom of God is the place where the will of God is done to the exclusion of every other will’. This explains why we often find verses like these in the Word of God:
Yahweh reigns! He is robed in majesty; Yahweh is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Your throne has been established from the beginning; you are from eternity. (Psalm 93:1-2)
Yahweh is king forever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. (Psalm 10:16)
Hundreds of passages assert directly or indirectly that God rules, he reigns, he is exalted, he sits on a throne, he is the mighty King. We have to ask, however: Who and what does God rule over? What is the extent of his rule? In the natural world there are limits to the rule of a monarch. In the United Kingdom our monarch has limited authority and rule; she is what we call a constitutional monarch. She is queen of the United Kingdom, but she is not the queen of the United States of America. Her rule and reign have limits, and this is the case for every earthly monarch. The king of Spain is not the king of Italy. However, God’s kingdom is different: he rules over everywhere, over everything, over everybody. God’s rule is not confined to certain places or people; he does not merely rule over Christians or the church. He rules over all things and all people! He rules the entire universe, all of creation:
Yahweh has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19)
The Most High is ruler over the kingdom of men. He gives it to anyone he wants and sets over it the lowliest of men. (Daniel 4:17)
God demonstrated his power in the Messiah by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens – far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21)
It’s true that people resist, deny or rebel against God’s rule; but that doesn’t change the reality that he rules! Practically, this is seen in the fact that Jesus is Lord of lords, he is King of kings ( Revelation 19:16), he is seated on his throne at the right hand of God the Father, ruling and reigning over all (‘right hand’ is a symbol of rule and authority). When I became a Christian I was born again into the kingdom of God. I didn’t ‘make’ Jesus the Lord of my life; I didn’t invite him to become my King. He was my Lord and King before I was born; and in my new birth I surrendered to him. I didn’t ‘give’ him my life; he owned it already! I didn’t grant him permission to enter my life. In a real sense he took ownership of what was already his as the King of the kingdom. This is the very essence of Christianity: living under the rule of God in his kingdom.
Next time we will discover several more important aspects of the kingdom of God.
It’s quite possible as Christians that when we read the Word of God we can sometimes overlook, misunderstand or even miss themes that in fact are vitally important. These themes play a major role in determining how we read and interpret the Word of God; they also help us to understand the reason why God has placed us on this planet. Most importantly they explain why God the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into this world. One of these vitally important themes is the ‘Kingdom of God’; that is what this series of articles is concentrating on…
The Word of God contains over 290 direct references to the kingdom of God; it also has hundreds more indirect references. For example, whenever you read of thrones, sceptres, governments, ruling and reigning, footstools, or of Jesus ‘sitting at the right hand of God’, these tell us something about the nature of the God’s kingdom. Once we start noticing it we discover that the kingdom of God features all the way through the Word of God. Here are some familiar verses; note how they all refer to the kingdom:
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; and your dominion endures through all generations. (Psalm 145:13)
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:7)
The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is here; repent and believe in the good news. (Mark 1:15)
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matthew 6:33)
Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
After [Jesus] had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
This is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, your name be honoured as holy. Your kingdom come, your will be done here on earth just as it is done in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)
These verses are only a small selection of the hundreds of references to the kingdom. You’ve probably often read them if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. I must admit that for many years I did, without noticing the emphasis on the kingdom that they contain. They all give the kingdom of God a prominent mention. Just note for now a few:
After his resurrection Jesus had only forty days left on earth before he would ascend to heaven. What did he talk to his disciples about? The kingdom of God. Of all the things he could have discussed with them, he chose the kingdom (Acts 1:3). We rightly emphasise the new birth – that we all need to be born again, to become new creations. But the only time Jesus spoke about it he put it in the context of our entering the kingdom of God (John 3:3); when we are born again, when we receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour, we enter his kingdom! In his earthly ministry the content of Jesus’ preaching and teaching was the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23). He seemed to speak about the kingdom all the time (he also ‘did’ the kingdom, as we shall see in future articles). He told us to make the kingdom of God our priority, to keep on seeking it (Matthew 6:33). And in one of the most famous references, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus taught us pray to our heavenly Father, he instructed us to pray about the kingdom of God before anything else (Matthew 6:9-10)…
I’m sure you will agree with me that these verses alone, among the hundreds more in the Word of God, demonstrate the central importance of the kingdom of God. Next time, therefore, we will ask a simple question: what is the kingdom of God?