There are various aspects in which the Kingdom of God is brought before us in scripture, and it is of the utmost importance that we should have clearly and definitely in our minds and hearts the teaching of the Spirit of God concerning this interesting, instructive, and blessed subject. The great apostle of the Gentiles spoke of himself as having gone about preaching it, and whatever his converts suffered in the way of persecution, it was with a view to an inheritance in it. I think it important, therefore that we should contemplate it in all the different ways in which scripture presents it to us, and I see these ways to be seven in number;
1. Authority and might.
2. As come.
3. As yet to come.
4. As to territory.
5. As to subjects.
6. As to its normal moral features.
7. As to its present appearance as before men.
As to authority and might, this was vested in Christ, and exhibited in the signs and wonders wrought by Him here upon earth. In this way the kingdom existed in His person, and at the outset had neither subject nor territory. The idea of the kingdom is the putting forth of the authority and might of God for the subjugation of everything to Himself, but this on behalf of man for his salvation. God makes bare His arm, and His arm is Christ; He is the arm of the might of God. He made bare His arm in sending forth His Son into the world. He is the Man of His right hand, whom He has made strong for Himself. It is by Him that God asserts His authority in His rebellious creation, and it is by Him He subdues it to Himself.
This kingdom was in promise from the beginning. The seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent’s head. Enoch foretold of the intervention of God, and spoke of the way in which He would come and assert His authority over ungodly sinners. Abraham looked for a city, which would be the centre and seat of this authority and might of God, in contrast with Babel, which was in his day the stronghold of violent and rebellious man. This city he expected to find in the day of Christ, and the light of that day gladdened his heart. Balaam, in the vision of the Almighty, hears amid the army of Israel the shout of a king, and sees the earth taken possession of by God. In Psalm 2 God’s King is declared to be God’s Son, and is set upon Zion, the hill of His holiness. In Psalm 45, He is God, and His throne is for ever and ever. But I need not occupy the reader with quotations from scripture. The prophetic writings are brightly illuminated with the glories and blessings of the kingdom of God, for which every godly Israelite waited, and which he hoped to see established in the hand of the expected Messiah. And in the bringing of the Son of God into the world this kingdom was brought to pass. The promises that God had made to the fathers were fulfilled to their children by the presence of the Son of God in their midst. In His person the kingdom was brought near to man.
This is the second way in which I see it presented in scripture—as come. Authority and might were vested in Jesus. He says, “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matt. 12:28). It was there present; but, as I have already said, without subject or territory; neither could it be entered into unless by one born again (John 3:3). The authority and might of that kingdom were being put forth by Jesus, for the deliverance of man from the thraldom of Satan, and from the consequences of sin. God had intervened on man’s behalf for his salvation. In this way the kingdom was there in their midst. It was come.
But as he was here in humiliation, and presented to the responsibility of the nation of Israel, as God’s last test for man in the flesh, a demand was made for faith, if anyone was to come into the benefit of the kingdom that had come among them. The question was whether man would recognise in Him the Christ, for whom the Jew professed to be waiting, and see in His works the intervention of God on behalf of His people. He did not come in the way they had expected, nor in the way in which their proud hearts desired to have Him come. The worthlessness of the flesh and its enmity against God had to be brought to light; and when brought to light receive its judgment in His cross, that man might be delivered, not only from his sins and the bondage of Satan, but from the evil of his own nature, by the cross and in the power of the life of the long-looked-for Messiah. And the prophets had also foretold this, but the haughty hearts of the leaders of Israel were blind to this light in which the coming Christ had been presented; and not finding in Jesus a Christ according to their own liking, they condemned Him to be crucified. The few that believed in Him and confessed Him had no influence in the world. The leaders of the world rejected Him, and in rejecting Him rejected all the blessings of the kingdom along with Him. Hence the apparently conflicting statements as to the kingdom of God, that it had come (Matt. 12:28), and that it would not come until certain events took place upon earth (Luke 21:31, also 22:18). It was present in the person of Jesus, but His rejection put an end to it in the form in which it was seen in Him down here. All that was true of the kingdom, in this sense, He carried with Him through death and resurrection to the right hand of God; and from the moment He sat down there, until the day of His appearing in glory, the kingdom is in mystery, and has added to it the title of the kingdom of heaven. It could not be called the kingdom of heaven while the Lord was here upon earth, for the authority and might by which alone the kingdom can subsist, were not exercised from heaven, but from Christ upon earth. Hence, while Christ was down here, the kingdom of heaven was said to be “at hand,” never to be “come,” as is said of the kingdom of God. But Christ having been rejected the kingdom was rejected with Him; and hence, though it could be said to have come when He was here in the authority aid might of it, it was also said to be yet to come. It will come in power in the day of His appearing. In that day all things will be seen to be put under the feet of Christ. The kingdom will not only take in everything “under the whole heaven” (Dan. 7:27), but the heavenly sphere also, into which flesh and blood cannot enter. It will embrace “all things.” Its territory will be universal. But I may refer to this again before concluding.
Of this kingdom the heavenly Jerusalem is the metropolis. The might and authority, once it is established in the heavens in the person of Christ, is never removed from that sphere. Indeed it was indicated on the fourth day of creation that earth was to be ruled from heaven, and that the authorities were to have their place there: “And God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also, and God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:16-18).
Nebuchadnezzar also had to learn that “the heavens do rule” (Dan. 4:26). Therefore the heavenly city has its seat above. The throne of God and of the Lamb are in it. Light, refreshment, healing, power, and blessing are administered from this centre where resides the glory of God. Those who compose it are ever in the full and perfect light of God without a veil. THEY SEE HIS FACE. The nations walk in the light of IT. The inhabitants of the city dwell “where all His brightness God displays.” The world does not dwell there, but in the bright rays of living light, that come and go like the lightning’s flash and bring the fullness of the city everywhere amongst the dwellings of men. If a kingdom always takes character from its metropolis, what a blessed kingdom that will be which has such a centre as the heavenly Jerusalem!
But this city has no existence as yet, except in Christ in heaven. In Galatians it is said to be above, and our mother, and in Hebrews 13 we are said to be seeking it. It is in Christ now, and is being taken out of Him, as Eve was taken out of Adam; for the heavenly Jerusalem is the assembly of God glorified, and the bride of the Lamb. We are come to it, and to everything else that will be in display in the world to come (Heb. 12), because we have come to Christ, in whom every element of blessing that will ever reach man is now found. But this city has no present existence, except, as I have said, in Christ. Speaking of the saints as lights in the world, they may be compared to a city set on a hill; but as yet they are not the city, though they are being formed to take that place. The city is yet to come.
Before speaking of the “subjects,” I wish to say a little about the preaching. The gospel goes forth in connection with the kingdom as established in Christ risen. The Holy Spirit has come down with the report of the glory of Christ, and to testify that all things are put under Him; that He is Lord of all (Acts 10:36); that salvation is in Him (2 Tim. 2:10), and in no other (Acts 4:12); that every knee must bow to Him (Phil. 2:10); that He is Judge of living and dead (Acts 10:42); that whosoever shall call upon His name shall be saved (Rom. 10:13).
We are told that Paul preached the kingdom of God and taught those things that concern the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:31); but in the account given to us of his preachings we have no mention of the term. He referred the attention of all those who heard him to Christ the Son of God. In Acts 13 he speaks of the death of Christ, and how God had raised Him from the dead and lets them know that the “sure mercies of David” were given to them in Him risen; and, later on, that God had set Him to be a light of the Gentiles, that He should be for salvation to the ends of the earth. Then in his great gospel chapter (1 Cor. 15) it is clearly the kingdom of God that is before him; and we have the death of Christ for our sins, His burial and resurrection, and the consequences flowing from this victory of God; power established in Christ risen for the accomplishment of the will of God, and for the subjugation of all things to Himself, beginning with the quickening of the body to the destruction of the last enemy death. From verse 29 to the end he speaks more directly of the effect of this kingdom authority and might upon ourselves of this dispensation, and declares that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The way I understand this is that the kingdom being in view, all who are saved in this dispensation must have part in the heavenly sphere, and there flesh and blood has no place. I suppose there will be those in the kingdom on the earthly side, that which is “under the whole heaven” (Dan. 7:27), who will be in flesh and blood. Thus, in the day of Christ the territory of the kingdom will take in the whole creation.
The declaration of the grace of God in Christ, and the establishment of all authority and might in His hand for the accomplishing of the will of God, is the glad tidings to men. It is the word of the kingdom. Hence it is the preaching of Christ, and it is for the obedience of faith. Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ are enjoined. The gospel of the grace of God and the kingdom of God seem to be much the same thing (Acts 10:24-25). Where the word is truly received by faith souls are brought into subjection to God, and come under the teaching of His grace, which leads them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; and to look for the blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (Tit. 2:11-13). These are the “subjects” of the kingdom. They enter into it by repentance toward God, and faith toward our Saviour Jesus Christ. By the preaching of Christ they get their eyes opened to the grace of God, and they turn to Him. They receive the kingdom as little children, feeling how much they need the grace that is presented to them in the gospel, and altogether apart from the vain and sinful reasonings of unbelief. They are the fruit of the seed sown broadcast in the world.
This brings me to the sixth aspect in which I see the kingdom presented in scripture; that is, in its “moral features.” These came perfectly to light in Christ here upon earth. In the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5, 6, 7; Luke 6), especially in what is called the beatitudes, we have set forth the moral characteristics of those who have a title to the kingdom; and those beautiful moral lineaments are simply the graces that adorned His blessed person in His pathway through this proud, lawless, and rebellious world. His description of the heirs of the kingdom was but a description of His own spirit, walk, and ways in the midst of men and under the eye of God. Who could listen as those holy, heavenly features of the blessed are delineated without being touched by their divine and immaculate excellency? The sound of such words in this cruel, selfish world is like the sweet music of brooks of living water in a parched and barren wilderness. Surely as our ears drink in the sweet melody of those short sentences in which the subjects of the kingdom of God are described, we have photographed upon the tablet of our minds the nobles of heaven in the dress in which the One to whom the kingdom belongs loves to contemplate them.
As I have said, Jesus, when describing them was but describing Himself in His life divine below. “Never man spake like this man,” and a company with such moral features as are here portrayed was never the conception of the heart or mind of any child of Adam. And all this, while it is spoken of in the parable as the fruit resulting from the seed sown broadcast in the world, is not without the gift of the Spirit. When the gospel is believed, the soul is sealed with the Spirit of God, and it is in His power, and in His power alone, that fruit is brought forth. The Kingdom of God is said to be righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. These, as I have said, are the true moral features of the kingdom, as it will be seen when it is displayed, and as they are seen now in those who wait and suffer for it, and as they were first of all seen in Jesus Himself.
Let us now consider it as it appears upon earth before the eyes of men. This is the seventh and last aspect in which I propose to look at it. In the parable of the sower (Luke 8) we have the preaching of the word of the kingdom. Seed falls by the wayside, on the rock, among thorns, and into good ground. That which falls upon the wayside represents a class of people who hear the preaching and go away utterly unaffected by it. That on the rock and among thorns are those who make a profession of submission to Christ, but who are unreal and fruitless. The good ground hearers are those whose hearts have been prepared by a work of God to receive the word, and such bring forth fruit with patience. The seed is the same wherever sown, but the result depends upon the nature of the ground into which it falls. The word of the kingdom is declared to all the world. It is good news to the whole human race; and the result, as to some is, “fruit with patience,” but the general result is a scene of confusion. Were there nothing but wayside and good ground hearers, no confusion would result; but we have also the thorns and the rock; and this believing and enduring until persecution comes in, and then falling away, one can easily see must greatly obscure the true and proper character of the kingdom of God. And even this is not all, for in the parable of the mustard tree (chap. 13) it appears as a great worldly power upon earth; and in the three measures of leavened meal the corruption of the kingdom is set before us. And in these its ruin is depicted.
Now in the preaching of the kingdom we can understand that the attention of men must be directed, not to the mustard tree, nor to the leavened mass of meal, as that in which they are to find salvation, but to the kingdom in the first aspect in which I have spoken of it, that is, as established in Christ in heaven. But not only is man not directed to it in its ruin, but even were it altogether according to God, even were righteousness peace and joy flourishing in the power of the Holy Ghost it would not be the thing to present to men for faith. The righteousness that is preached in the gospel is the righteousness of God, which is Christ. It is not human righteousness, which is said to be an element of the kingdom as down here. The great point in connection with the kingdom as preached is righteousness—not man’s, but God’s. This covers the thought of peace, for the effect of righteousness is peace (Isa. 32:17). This is as far as Romans goes in chapter 3. There you have righteousness accomplished, and the throne sprinkled with blood, and by that peace has been made. When you come to chapter 8 you have righteousness (v. 4), peace (v. 6) and joy (vv. 15-16), but all this on our side; and you have not got these elements of the kingdom earlier in the epistle. We have justification in chapter 5, but not righteousness as fruit in us. As I have said, Paul preached the kingdom of God, but never as a power present upon earth. His subject was Christ, and Christ as the accomplisher of the will of God; as One who Himself was sent by God to be a light to the Gentiles that He might be for salvation to the ends of the earth.
Paul’s converts were set with the kingdom before them as a hope, and for it they suffered and endured that they might be counted worthy of it. They were the children of the kingdom, begotten by the gospel of the kingdom, and righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost were the fruits they brought forth. But this was just because the Christ, in whom everything was established, filled their faith’s vision.
We have had much grace shown to us in these last days. But the day in which our lot is cast is a great deal more evil than any of us imagine. But it is not hard to see that Christ is being abandoned on every hand. When the heart is away from God a ministry of Christ often becomes monotonous, and the mind runs greedily after novelties, and it is hard to convince anyone in this state of soul that it is not Christ but ashes upon which he is feeding. May God turn the hearts of His own afresh to the person of His beloved Son.