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The Kingdom of Heaven

By admin | July 20, 2011


Jesus left Nazareth and went down to Capernaum, a small village on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee and began to preach “The kingdom is at hand”. Many followed and gathered around Him to hear His message. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, cast out demons, raised the dead, and forgave sins. Jesus spent more than a year selecting His twelve disciples — they were, “Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor” (Luke 6:14-16). Together, they presented the kingdom throughout the heavily populated regions around the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus knew that His own people, the Jews, would soon reject him, however, this did not stop him from offering the promised Messianic Kingdom to the nation of Israel. Many have speculated as to what God would have done if Israel had accepted Jesus as their King. But, with God’s infinite foreknowledge, He knew that the Jews were spiritually blind and that most of them would reject Jesus as their King. In the eyes of the Jewish leaders, Jesus did not conform to their preconceived idea of The Messiah. Therefore, because of their self-righteousness, they were unwilling to give up their prized Mosaic Law and stringent religious practices.

The first group who welcomed the promise of the New Kingdom was the Zealots. They were a strong group of Jewish nationalists who advocated concept of forcefully overthrowing the Roman domination. This group later, in 70 AD, openly rebelled against the Romans and brought about the destruction of Jerusalem. As we have seen above, at least one of the disciples was a former member of this group. Since Jesus did not use force to defeat the hated Romans, the Zealots soon lost interest in Him and His New Kingdom.

From the very beginning the Pharisees were hostile toward Jesus. They were a sect of self-righteous pious Jews who prided themselves in keeping every letter of the law – the law that they had modified through their own interpretation. They became the first group to reject Jesus because He did not keep the Sabbath, He dined with sinners and publicans (tax collectors), He failed to keep the prized traditions of the people, and He claimed to be the divine Son of God.

The Sadducees were a wealthy political and religious party who also held the highest offices in the Priesthood and the State. They compromised, for the sake of peace and prosperity, with the Roman occupation forces and frowned upon the passive resistance of the Pharisees and the aggressive nationalism of the Zealot freedom fighters. The Romans returned them political favors by allowing the Sadducees to retain power in the Temple and in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Council. Neediness to say, they guarded their positions zealously, for the affairs of the Temple had become a very profitable business. Their tremendous wealth came from profits, which resulted from the sale of animals used for sacrifices and from the exchange of money to be used in the Temple. Jesus soon became their hated enemy because He cleared the temple area of commercial activities and called that whole environment a den of thieves.

The fourth group to play a part in the rejection of Jesus was the Herodians. They were a political party so named because they supported the family of Herod the Great. They, like the Sadducees, did not want a New Kingdom that would bring a change in the administrations that was currently governing the land of Palestine.

Since the Jewish leaders feared that the masses of people would follow Jesus, they began making plans to kill Him. However, it was not long before the ordinary people also began to reject the New Kingdom because they would not accept conditions required for citizenship.

A little over a year after Jesus left Nazareth, He took His disciples about twelve miles north to the village of Caesarea Philippi. There, in the old pagan town of Panias, which had recently been renamed Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began to teach His disciples that soon He must go into Jerusalem and there He would “suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” These words, which were spoken for the first time, startled the disciples and left them confused.

The disciples, like the other Jews, thought that Jesus was going to set up a political kingdom on earth. The Gentile yoke would be removed and Jesus would rule from the throne of David. Things would be the same as they were during the golden years when David and Solomon reigned. It was only natural that since Jesus had chosen them as his assistants that they would hold key positions in the new Messianic Administration. Considering their mindset regarding their future, the words of Jesus about His pending death left them bewildered.

During the next twelve months, Jesus devoted most of His time to the training of the twelve disciples, as they were to become his apostles (a disciple is one who studies under someone: whereas, an apostle teaches others). We find some of Jesus’ most beautiful parables were given during these days of His ministry. But a careful search of scripture will show that the disciples did not comprehend or understand what Jesus was teaching. They simply could not accept the fact that Jesus was going to die.

As the feast of Passover approached, a little over two years after Jesus had left Nazareth, He went into Jerusalem riding upon a colt and formally presented Himself to the nation of Israel as their promised Messiah. The Jewish leaders officially rejected him and they began finalizing plans to kill Him. Jesus, heartbroken, began to prophesy regarding the suffering His people must endure because of their decision not to follow Him. He condemned the Jewish leaders and foretold of the pending doom.

Jesus then took the disciples upon the Mount of Olives and explained to them what must take place before the Messianic Kingdom could rule over the entire world. He prophesied as to what must take place before Satan was defeated and what the end times would be like when He returns to set up His kingdom on earth. But little did they realize that at least over nineteen hundred years would come and go before He would return. They also did not know that God had hidden a mystery – a mystery to which they would devote the remainder of their lives.

A New Kingdom

Let us now look at some of the details of the New Kingdom which both Jesus and John the Baptist promised. For approximately thirteen hundred years the children of Israel had lived under the Mosaic Covenant and the Mosaic Law. During this time they had struggled between a commitment to their God/Husband and the influence of Satan through the Gentile nations. They were required to keep the law under the control of the flesh and they had proven that to be impossible. God had completely exposed the depraved nature of mankind. Now the time has come for God to offer them a new relationship – a relationship not based upon the law as written on clay tablets but a law written within their hearts.

The New Kingdom was to be under a new covenant, a covenant promised by God and recorded by the prophet Jeremiah. Let us review the promise. “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:31-33).

We should recall that Jesus told the Samaritan woman (John 4), whom He met at Jacob’s well, that the time had come when the people would not have to go up to Jerusalem to worship God. For the true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and truth. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” A major change would take place in the way the people worshipped God in the New Kingdom. Fellowship with God would no longer be entirely on a group basis where the priest represented the people before God. In the kingdom, each individual could have a personal relationship with God. In fact, it was required: God was to reign over His kingdom through the hearts of men and women just as He had done in the beginning with Adam and Eve.

The prophet Joel gave us more details as to how this would be done. “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also, on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).

We will also recall that John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). Each and everyone who enters the Kingdom will be equipped for direct communication with God through the Holy Spirit. The people will no longer be requires to keep the law of God through the control of the flesh. The Holy Spirit will give personal instructions and power to overcome the weakness of the flesh. Minds will be changed so that thoughts will be in harmony with the will of God.

We should remember that Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He would give her living water and that she would not thirst again. Jesus was promising to give the woman the Holy Spirit so that she could have direct access to God. Later, He promised His people that “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37a-38).

Perhaps, in Jesus’ teaching known as the “The Sermon on the Mount” we find the best summary of the standards for living in the kingdom of heaven. After Jesus had selected all twelve disciples, He led them, along with others, upon a mountain and delivered a message which defined standards by which millions have tried to live but, sad to say, most of their efforts have been in vain. Many then and even today have failed to understand what He was really teaching.

A careful study of the Sermon will show that it was based upon the promised New Covenant and not upon the Mosaic Covenant. Yet, Jesus made it very clear that God was not doing away with His commandments. In fact, He added new dimensions that made the law impossible to keep by men and women with a depraved nature.

Let us review His words as recorded by Matthew. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17-20).

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. ‘But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” … You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28).

We do not have space to review all of these teachings but Jesus makes it clear that the Law covers our thoughts as well as our actions. The prophet, Isaiah, said that God knows our works as well as our thoughts (Isa. 66:18). The writer of Proverbs said our wicked thoughts are an abomination before the Lord (Prov. 15:26). We must always remember that sin is rebellion against the will of God. The thoughts of men and women who are under the control of the sin nature are not the thoughts of God. Now we can see why John the Baptist told the people that they must repent of their sins before they could enter into the kingdom of heaven. Their thoughts must be brought under the control of the will of God.

Up to this point, Jesus has been speaking in negative terms; now let us look at the positive side of His teaching on moral conduct. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:43-48).

Now let us look very carefully at the word, love. The Greek word for love, as used by Jesus, is agape. It does not mean brotherly love, as many believe, but to love as God loves in a divine sense. Agape love is unselfish love – the kind of love that can give us the desire and power to freely give of ourselves – even our own lives for a brother or a sister. It is never motivated by how others respond to our expression of friendship or affection. The Greeks used the word “Phileo” for what we call brotherly love. However, Jesus did not choose to use that word when He was talking about love. Also, notice that Jesus said that we must be perfect, just as the Father is perfect. Jesus did not mean that the people should do the best that they could. In fact, He is saying this was not enough; it falls short of God’s requirements.

Now we may be wondering how can we be perfect? How can anyone love in a divine sense? How can anyone enter into the Kingdom of Heaven? Later, the disciples asked Jesus basically the same question. They asked: “How can any man be saved?” Jesus responded by saying “With man it is impossible.” We will see how this is possible when we look at the requirements for the Kingdom of Heaven citizenship.

Perhaps we can get some insight as to how men and women can love his or her brother if we look at a statement Jesus made in response to a question. “‘Which is the greatest commandment of all?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'” (Matt. 22:37a-40). The key to keeping the second commandment is in keeping the first commandment. We cannot love our brother or sister, as God requires us to love, without first loving God.

Now we come to the second key emphasis of Kingdom living – righteousness. Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). To those observing the Pharisees, it seems impossible to exceed their righteousness. They devoted full time to ensuring that they kept every letter of the law. But in the sight of God, they fell far short in keeping the law. Because of their pride, they were in rebellion against God. It never has been God’s will that men and women try to meet God’s standards through the control of the flesh. God has planned another way. The prophet Habakkuk told the Israelites that the day would come when “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4b). In the New Kingdom of heaven, the just will live by faith.

Requirements for Citizenship

Now let us look at what Jesus taught about obtaining citizenship in the new spiritual kingdom. Jesus made it very clear that not everyone would enter the kingdom of heaven. Remember He said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Entrance is on an individual basis, as each person must qualify for citizenship. What are these requirements for citizenship?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33) The context in which this statement is given implies that Jesus would take care of all physical needs, and this is how many people interpret the statement. But let us note that men and women must seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Jesus is saying that the righteousness of His subjects must be replaced with the righteousness of God. If this is true, then God not only promised to care for our physical needs but to, also, satisfy the standards of His own law. The new subjects will be fully equipped to live in God’s kingdom and to satisfy all of its requirements.

How does mankind, with its sinful nature obtain the righteousness of God? Jesus expounds on this, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).

Prior to meeting the Samaritan woman, Jesus had been in Jerusalem attending the feast of Passover. Late one night, a Pharisee, named Nicodemus, came to Him seeking answers to questions. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit'”(John 3:3-6).

We will see that the new birth requires death to the old selfish sinful nature that was acquired in the physical birth of water. The Holy Spirit gives us a new nature at the time of the new spiritual birth. But the potential subjects of God’s kingdom must be willing for this change to take place. Listen to these words of Jesus, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matt. 16:25-26)?

A little later Jesus tells his disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3-4.) It is difficult for adults to give up their personal pride and submit to the control of another, but God requires it. Just like a small trusting child, the just shall live by faith.

When Jesus met a prideful rich young ruler, he inquired as to what good thing he might do to obtain eternal life. Let us look at Jesus’ response. “So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to Him, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack'” (Matt. 19:17-20).

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'” (Matt. 19:21-24).

Let us note that Jesus requested that the rich man give up His old way of life, including his great possessions, and he was unwilling to pay the price. God requires different things of different people and they must be willing to obey. Jesus was not condemning the man for being rich, but his possessions dominated his life and blocked his way of giving God complete control of his life. The money and the power that it represents stood between the man and the kingdom of heaven. God does not require man to give up his money to become a citizen of heaven as long as he is willing for God to control its use. Jesus was requesting the rich man to become as a little child and to do as he was told.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon…. Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 6:24, 7:13-14).

The disciples were apparently perplexed by Jesus’ response to the rich man. “When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” (Matt. 19:25-26). Let us not miss the importance of this statement. Jesus is saying that man cannot earn his salvation and man cannot save himself. Only by the grace of God can anyone be saved. Later Jesus would say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

To Nicodemus Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:14-18).

Perhaps we have taken these familiar words too lightly in the past. Jesus is not saying that we necessarily have eternal life if we believe in Jesus but commitment is also involved. We turn the control of our lives over to Him. Then we will become identified with him, with all His atonement for sin and with all His righteousness. Jesus is saying that whoever believes into Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. As Jesus was speaking to a group of people he made this point very clear. Because of the miracles He had performed, including the one where he fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, the people were ready to make him their king . He then began to specify the conditions for entering the kingdom.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:53a-56). “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it'” (John 6:60)? Jesus went on to say “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

Many of us have difficulty understanding Jesus’ statements regarding eating His body and drinking His blood. This is because we do not understand the concept of the Eastern Covenant. Jesus has just stated that each person must individually enter into a covenant relationship with Him. The people of that day understood what He was saying, and they did not want any part of it. We do not have space to develop the concept of the Eastern Covenant, but it was the most solemn and most binding agreement between any two people.

Perhaps we can best understand the covenant relationship by comparing it to the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. When these two individuals enter into a marriage relationship, they ultimately become as one person. Each party is dedicated to the support and welfare of the other. In the same way when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we enter into a covenant relationship where we become one – we in Christ and Christ in us. As a result, we are adopted as children of the Father and become the bride of Christ as part of the spiritual church. When we take communion, we reconfirm this covenant relationship.

The Holy Spirit is available to guide and direct all aspects of the individual’s life. Each subject of the kingdom, in turn, gives his or her life, as a servant to the King; thus carrying out, with love, his or her assigned mission.

The new covenant is a spiritual covenant between individuals and their God/Creator. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). This includes not only the Jews, but also the Samaritans and the Gentiles.

Privileges of Kingdom Living

Many have refused to become a part of Kingdom living because they felt the price was too high. It is very difficult for anyone with a depraved nature to give up his or her independence. Selfish minds also feel that the price to be paid for citizenship is far too great, as they would be placing themselves in bondage.

But Jesus promised just the opposite. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Words are inadequate to describe the enrichment of life that comes from living in God’s Spiritual Kingdom. Only by experience can we comprehend the love, joy, peace, and pleasures of life that Jesus promised. God also promises us new pleasures of the flesh and new refreshing thought processes which completely changes the way we think and react to situations.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:32, 36).

Jesus promises His people that they will be free from bondage – both internally and externally. Many people are in bondage to their thought processes – fear, anxiety, guilt, and hate are some examples of those controlling processes. Jesus promised to meet our needs, even those negative thoughts that so much want to control our thinking. How many people do you know who can truly say, “I am satisfied?” Those in bondage to sin can never honestly give an affirmative answer to that question. But, since all of God’s thoughts are positive, He, alone, can set our minds free from the bondage of negative thoughts.

If fact, Jesus said that even mankind’s conception of happiness would change. Those things that had been cherished the most under a sin nature would be cherished the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps the teaching of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount best illustrates this change in mind and heart. The Beatitudes; given in Matthew chapter five, list eight new qualities of character with each beginning with the word, Blessed. Many have re-translated the word, Blessed, to the word, Happy. But the ordinary use of happy is not strong enough, if we look closely at the meaning of the Greek word “makarios”, from which “blessed” is translated, we find that it literally means: “an inner joy that is untouchable by the world.” Perhaps we can substitute the word “happy”, with its deeper meaning, for the word “blessed” as we read the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount.

“Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you'” (Matt. 5:2-12).

With a permanent change of heart, God adds a new kind of unending peace and unending joy: a peace and joy that is beyond our understanding (Phil. 4:7). Jesus later told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace and joy of God are beyond the comprehension of a person who is controlled by a sinful nature.

After Jesus gave the beatitudes, He began to talk about works. Not works motivated by man’s ego but works motivated by the leading of the Holy Spirit. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14 – 5:16).

True joy comes from serving God and letting His light shine through us. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, man reflects the light of the Son of God. Only then is the Father glorified and only then is our joy magnified.

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-33). To those who seek His Kingdom and His Righteousness all these things shall be given to them (Matt. 6:33).

Only within God’s spiritual kingdom can mankind receive the power to love God and to live by the “Golden Rule” – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

A Spiritual Kingdom

We must realize that all of the teachings of Jesus are contrary to the Jewish mind-set which is that of a physical kingdom with a Messiah reigning over them. The establishment of a physical kingdom was taught by the prophets and in the literature written during the intertestamental period. This is especially true of the book of Enoch, which, was never canonized, which tells about the overthrow of evil by God. The entire book of Second Peter was strongly influenced by the contents of the Book of Enoch. The Book of Jude consists mostly of quotes from the Book of Enoch.

God’s chosen people never understood that they must first receive the spiritually kingdom, based upon the new covenant, before Jesus could set up the promised physical kingdom. They were and had been spiritual blind for many years.

The Jewish leaders were soon to reject Jesus because He did not conform to their preconceived ideas of their Messiah. Jesus, who claimed to be God, healed on the Sabbath, which, in their opinion, was a violation of their laws. They accused him, among other things, of performing miracles through the power of Satan. Soon after all these allegations, they went so far as to charge him with blasphemy and began to plot to kill Him.

From this time forward, Jesus began to change the emphasis of His teaching and His ministry. The nation, Israel, will be set aside temporarily and another group will become the channel through which God will continue to reveal Himself and His plan for the ages. This new group, which was formed from a nucleus of the chosen twelve, would include everyone who will receive Jesus as their savior; both Jew and Gentile. Shortly thereafter, Jesus and the twelve went north to a secluded place near Caesarea Philippi, a village at the foot of Mount Herman.

When He had gathered His disciples around Him, He began the conversation with a question? “‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, ‘some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets'” (Matt. 16:13-14). Let us remember that the term “Son of Man” is a messianic term which has reference to the Messiah. It is obvious that the people did not consider the Messiah to be God Himself.

Then Jesus personalizes His question. “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'” (Matt. 16:15-16). Simon Peter quickly moved to the head of the class and became a spokesman for the disciples. His answer is not only on target, but it is also from the heart. He is saying, “I know that you are the Messiah and I also know that you are the Son of God.”

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’…Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ” (Matt 16:17-18, 20).

For the first time, Jesus is revealing a major previously hidden program in God’s master plan. The Church, accordingly, to the Apostle Paul, was a mystery that God had kept hidden from Israel. Now that Israel had rejected their Messiah, Jesus announces the new program and began to call a new group who will be charged with the responsibility of carrying on God’s work. The Church would replace Israel as God’s chosen vessel, but The Church would not be an extension of Israel. It would be a different body, elevated to a higher plain than Israel – chosen to be the bride of Christ and joint heirs with Him. Jesus Himself, the Rock of Ages, would be the chief cornerstone.

The Church, which was still future at that time, was to be based upon the new covenant. But it was to be a limited spiritual kingdom of God located within the evil physical kingdom of Satan. Members were to have a personal relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit was to direct their thoughts and actions. However, they would struggle daily from the influence of sin both from within and without. Spiritual warfare between God and Satan was destined to continue for a while. The Church would also serve as a shadow of the greater sin-free spiritual kingdom that would be the constitution of Jesus’ future theocratic reign upon the throne of David. Perhaps, too, the Church would serve as a constant reminder to Israel of what they had given up. The apostle Paul made this statement later to the Church. “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness” (Rom. 11:11-12)!

Jesus’ reference to The Church probably went right over the heads of the disciples. They, like all Jews, were thinking of a physical kingdom. They expected Jesus to overthrow the Romans and set up a political kingdom as had been promised to David. For the next few months, Jesus tried to redirect their thinking, but He had little success. Notice how astounded Peter was as Jesus continues to teach.

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men'” (Matt.16:21-23).

Peter’s response is typical of anyone who thought they were destined to gain power as part of a political organization. Peter and the other disciples were members of Jesus’ inner circle and assumed that they would hold key positions in His new administration. This was the first time that Jesus’ primary mission was revealed to them, and they did not understand the agenda. All they could hear was defeat, defeat, defeat! Peter was saying “Lord it’s not over, we can do it. With your power, we can march into Jerusalem and conquer the Romans.” Since Peter’s will was contrary to the will of the Father, Jesus quickly admonished him. Without the death of Jesus, there could be no hope for the reign of God over the hearts and minds of mankind.

Jesus explained to them that they were not to be powerful men of authority but servants. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it'” (Matt 16:24-25).

Throughout the following six to nine months Jesus continued to prepare His disciples for His pending death and resurrection. Jesus often used parables to teach the meaning of God’s future spiritual kingdom. He took Peter, James and John up on a mountain to witness a meeting Jesus had with Moses and Elijah where final plans for Jesus’ death and resurrection were reviewed. Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes. His face shone with a light like the sun and His clothes were as brilliant as light. Here the disciples had a firsthand look at a portion of the glory of Jesus, but they understood very little about what they were seeing and experiencing. They were oblivious to the ultimate mission involving Jesus and themselves.

The mother of James and John came to Jesus and requested that her son’s be given a special seat in His Kingdom – one on His left side and the other on His right side. Perhaps James and John requested her to do this; we don’t know. But one thing we do know from the scripture is that the other disciple was jealous and displayed anger at James and John (Matt. 20:21-24). Even at this critical time, all of the disciples were jostling for key positions in Jesus’ physical kingdom. This definitely shows how immature and weak they were and how little they had learned regarding Jesus and their mission here on earth. If we stop and assess the situation, it appears that Jesus has made a bad choice in selecting the twelve disciples. They lack formal education, did not understand His teachings and were not adequately motivated for the job at hand. How could these men be given the responsibility of establishing the Church and spreading the good news of Jesus? What do they have to offer?

Jesus saw a positive side to eleven (one will betray Him) of the chosen twelve. Although at that time, they were oblivious to His teaching, they were deeply committed to Him. The day would soon come when He would take this only visible positive attribute and use it in a mighty and glorious way. Not only were these chosen men committed, but there were others, both Jew and Gentile, within His flock that were committed. Together, they would become the initial body of the Church.

It is all important that we understand the details of the doctrines of the spiritual kingdom as presented in the later teachings of the apostles Paul and John. Many theologians believe that their writings are in conflict with a social gospel taught by Jesus. However, a careful study of these scriptures show that they not only upheld but complimented the teachings of Jesus.

This might be a good time to stop and read or reread my article on this web site regarding (just click) “The Church”.

A Future Physical Kingdom

Many churches believe that God has rejected the Jews and therefore, He has voided all the promises of a physical kingdom to the Jews because of their rejection of Jesus. Also, many theologians accept a doctrine, known as Covenant Theology which teaches that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people (See my “Introduction to Prophecy” Article on this Web Site).

Jesus told Pontius Pilate during His trial that: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Unfortunately, many people believe that Jesus was saying that the prophets had been misunderstood and that there would never be an earthly kingdom.

This is definitely not what the Bible teaches. Let us examine some of the scriptures. The angel Gabriel said to Mary: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

Jesus warns the Jews that not everyone will enter the physical kingdom of heaven. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28-29).

Later, Jesus tells His disciples that they will reign with Him in the Kingdom. “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29-30). When Jesus offered the Lord’s Supper in the upper room, He also referred to drinking with the disciples in the kingdom. “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:19).

After Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles asked Him a question regarding the physical kingdom. “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority'” (Acts 1:6). Jesus did not reprimand them concerning their perception of the physical kingdom, but only stated the fact that the Father would determine the time.

It is obvious that the apostles believed that there would be a future physical kingdom. In the great Jerusalem Council, as recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, the apostles tried to understand the role of the church. They concluded that God was calling out a new group of people which was different from the Nation of Israel. He was calling out a people for His name – a group of both Jews and Gentiles. They, then, made this statement, “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things.’

Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:15-18).

The words from the prophet, included in the above text, are quoted from Amos 9:12-13 where God is promising Israel that they will be restored to the land with an everlasting salvation. “After this I will return”. After what? After God has called out a people for His name which will be known as the Church and will become the bride of Christ. The apostles are confirming that after the church age, God will restore the Nation, Israel.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul teaches about the end of the church age and the restoration of Israel. “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion; And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins’. Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:25-28).

We conclude with the vision that John witnessed from heaven as recorded in the book of Revelation. “Now when the thousand years [The Millennial Kingdon] have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev. 20:8-10).

See my article on “The Millennial Kingdom” under Revelation on this web site.

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