Sept. 1956 to Feb. 1957
The Kingdom of God is not only described by ten distinctive titles; it is presented in three distinctive aspects as we shall see, and all three run on together to-day. The first embraces only those who are born of water and of the Spirit as seen in John 3:3-6. The second embraces all who profess Christ as Lord as seen in Matthew 13:24-50, while the third embraces the whole universe, heaven and earth as seen in Daniel 2 and 4. Another place where these three circles are clearly seen is in Ephesians 4:5-6, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." Here we have the first circle in line with John 3. "One Lord, one faith, one baptism," Here we have the second circle in line with Matthew 13. "One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Here we have the third circle as seen in Daniel 2 and 3. It has often been pointed out that only believers are in all three circles; lifeless professors in circle two and three while the rest, outside of professed Christianity, come under the rule of God as the sovereign ruler of the universe. We have in view a short word on each of these and will take them in the inverse way to which they are stated above, taking the widest one first, Daniel 2 and 4.
In this image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, we have the whole course of Gentile dominion from the kingdom of Babylon till the revival of the Roman empire which will be the last kingdom in the times of the Gentiles. The stone cut out without hands which brings this image to an end is the introduction of the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He is the stone cut out without hands — meaning without human aid — Who, at His appearing and kingdom will bring to an end all these kingdoms and His kingdom will fill the whole earth, that is, where these other kingdoms have been seen.
The first thing to note in this image is the deterioration of the value of the metals used to describe the various kingdoms they represent and incidentally giving us the divine estimation of the decreasing glory in the kingdoms of men. First we have the gold as representing Babylon; the kingdom in its best estate as given to Nebuchadnezzar by God, v. 37. The silver represents the Media-Persian; the brass represents the Grecian; the iron represents Rome past, and the iron and clay of the toes Rome future. Moreover, looking further into this prophecy of Daniel we read in the subsequent visions given to him that one head controlled the Babylonian empire, Dan. 2:37. Two horns controlled the Media-Persian, Dan. 8:3. Four heads ultimately controlled the Grecian empire, Dan. 7:6. Seven heads controlled the Roman empire in its original form, Rev. 13, while ten horns or toes will control it in its future revival, Rev. 13:1, Dan. 2:42. Almost all known characters of government are seen here. First, absolute AUTOCRACY as seen in Nebuchadnezzar. Then MONARCHY in the Media-Persian but not now the absolute autocracy of Babylon. Then in the Grecian empire dividing into four heads we have OLIGARCHY. Then in Rome past we have IMPERIALISM while in the ten toes or horns in Rome future we have boasted DEMOCRACY. Adding to this the further details of these kingdoms as before noted we see how it decreases in power and a glory. First one, then two, then four, then seven, then ten. So God foretold of this degeneration by clearly stamping it on this image. Man may boast of progress in his character of rule but the Scriptures leave no doubt as to the divine estimation of the matter. The last phase of the image will be in the future when the ten kings receive power one hour with the beast. It will be in this state when Christ appears, and as the stone smote the image on the feet, so He will destroy this power and bring to an end for all time Gentile dominion. He will set up His kingdom which will stand for ever and use it to bring to an end the time ways of God, v. 44. Note in this passage how God is called "the God of heaven," v. 44. So He will abide in relation to the kingdoms of the Gentiles till the times of the Gentiles come to an end. Then He will once more assert His claim to the earth as seen in Rev. 11:4. He will not take possession of the earth through any Gentile power but will take it through Israel when they come into their rightful place in the kingdom of the Christ.
If in Daniel 2 we have an outline of the history of the times of the Gentiles, in Daniel 4 we have an outline of the moral state, described in God's dealings with Nebuchadnezzar. This king stands out as an apt picture of the pride of the heart of man who, instead of giving thanks to and glorifying God the source of all power, boasts of it as though it were his own doing, brought about by his own wisdom. Do we not still hear on every hand words pretty much like those coming from the lips of this king? "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" v. 30. "God is not in all his thoughts" Ps. 10:4. Instead of ascribing glory to God, he accredits it to himself. The very power put into his hands by God was used to persecute the saints on the one hand and put to death the Son of God on the other. This is pictured in the three in the furnace and Daniel in the den later. So it has ever been. Put power into the hands of any fallen son of Adam and he will use it to exalt himself and dare to use it against the saints of God and even God Himself. Hence this stroke of chastisement upon Nebuchadnezzar. It is a fitting picture of the turmoil amongst the nations today. What is God seeking to teach these men? "That the most high ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will." When will they learn this lesson? When, like this king, they lift up their eyes to heaven, v. 34. Their understanding will then return and instead of praising themselves they will bless, and praise, and honour the Most High. The very experience through which the king passed was to teach him that, "the heavens do rule" v. 26. This goes beyond earth for God is in sovereign control of the universe, both heaven and earth. "And He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest thou?" If then in v. 17 we read He "setteth up", we read also in v. 37, "He is able to abase". God sets up and God puts down — He is sovereign in the universe.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Since our last paper appeared, further enquiries have come to hand about the distinctions we pointed out. A few days ago we came across the following extract which may help to make the subject a little clearer.
"Matthew only uses the expression "kingdom of heaven!" It is often, in a general sense, capable of being interchanged with the "kingdom of God" as we see by comparing Luke. Notwithstanding, the two phrases cannot always replace each other, and Matthew uses the "kingdom of God" in a few passages where the "kingdom of heaven" could not be used. (Matt. 6:33; Matt. 12:38; Matt. 21:43). Thus the "kingdom of God" was there when Christ the King was there; the "kingdom of heaven" began with Christ going to heaven. By and by, when Satan ceases to rule, it will be the "kingdom of heaven" (and of God too, of course), not in mystery, but in manifestation. The "kingdom of God" has also a moral force which the "kingdom of heaven" has not; and in this way it is frequently used by Paul, and was peculiarly suitable to the Spirit's design in Luke." (JND)
Following the outline of the kingdom in its widest form, we come now to regard it in a more restricted way dispensationally as presented to us in the seven parables in Matthew 13. Here we have an outline of the whole Christian profession which began on the day of Pentecost and will continue till the end of this age. Beginning with only good seed, it has become a mixture of good and bad but the resolving of this will take place when the saints are taken to heaven and the rest left for judgment in this world. As this character only came into existence after Christ is in heaven, the kingdom is looked at as in mystery for we have a kingdom without a visible king. It is an aspect that only those who have eyes to see can understand, hence our Lord spoke to them of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," v. 11.
We must note that the first parable was not called a similitude of the kingdom, though there can be little doubt it prepared for it. The Sower rather covered the later part of the ministry of our Lord and only came in after His rejection by Israel. He accepts His rejection in Matt. 11 and formally rejects the nation in Matt. 12, then, He begins a new work as the Sower, not this time with Israel in view but with the Assembly in view for this is bound up with these parables. Moreover, we have no mention of a "field" in the parable which our Lord says in this chapter "is the world." Again the reason is, His work did not go beyond the confines of Palestine. The kingdom as outlined in the other six parables did not begin till Christ was in glory. This is clearly seen in the next parable where the field is in the hands of men. No doubt the sowing by our Lord produced the company who received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and it was to them the care of the field was committed and it has been in the care of men ever since. In support of this we note that "The field," v. 38, becomes "his field," v. 24, and "thy field," v. 27. When did the field become His field? When He sold all that He hath and bought it; a reference to the death of our Lord. So the second parable speaks of "his field" and clearly indicates that the kingdom as outlined in these other six parables had its beginning after the cross in the coming of the Holy Spirit into this world. The Lord as the Sower in the first parable prepared for this but only as the Sower in the second parable did He bring it into being in this world.
In the first similitude of the kingdom, beginning in v. 24, we see the introduction of the kingdom into this world by our Lord — the Sower — but through the apostolic company called men here. It was while they slept — not the Sower — that the enemy sowed tares among the wheat. Here is the secret of all the evil that is found in the bosom of Christendom to-day. Both wheat and tares growing together as far as the field is concerned and this state will abide till the end of the age. At the end of this age the angels will come forth and bind the tares together to burn them, and the Lord will gather His own to Himself. We believe the order is, first the tares bundled, then the wheat gathered into the barn, then lastly the tares burned after the wheat has been taken away. This is all in preparation for the righteous to shine forth, "as the sun" thus pointing to heaven as the place from which they will shine, v. 43.
"At the close, He will bind all the enemy's work in bundles; that is, He will prepare them in this world for judgment. He will then take away the church."
(J.N.D. Synopsis, vol. 3, page 93)
While speaking of the Assembly being bound up with these parables, we do not fail to distinguish between the kingdom and the Assembly. The fact is the kingdom had been introduced into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit with a view to securing the Assembly. There could be no thought of good and bad in the Assembly but this will come out more clearly as we follow our Lord's teaching in the other parables.
Next we have the parable of the mustard tree, v. 31. This shews to us the kingdom of heaven becoming a great world power though of quite small beginning. No doubt affiliation with the political powers has brought this about. So worldly has the professing Church become that the Devil and his angels are firmly established therein. The word of the Lord to Pergamos clearly states this, they were dwelling where Satan's throne is, Rev. 2:13. For the full result of this, we have to turn to Rev. 18:2, "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird." Such the sphere of the kingdom is rapidly becoming.
Then in the next parable of the woman hiding the leaven in the three measures of meal, we are given to see that along with external greatness there is internal corruption. No doubt the two go together. Comparing this with Zech. 5:5-11, where the "ephah" is the same measure as three measures — three seahs — idolatry is clearly intimated, and we believe will be seen in its full-blown character when apostate Christendom bows down to the image of the beast. The fact of the simile of the "woman" being used refers to the Babylonish character of things and, running these two similitudes together, it is the scarlet beast being ridden by the woman clothed in purple and scarlet. Such will be the end as the result of the tares being left after the wheat is safely in heaven. It is of interest to note that all these parables were given by our Lord publicly, outside of the house, and refer to the character of the kingdom as seen publicly in this world. He has much more of this instruction to pass on to them but the rest He speaks to them inside the house for, if all this serious corrupt condition needed to be pointed out, there is much of a very blessed character to pass on to them but this is now for those only who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Explanations are given inside the house and we may be deeply thankful that we are permitted to hear our Lord explaining what He had said to the multitude and adding for their ears alone. other three parables, where all that is vital and precious to His heart is opened out to them. In this connection it is well to remind ourselves that our Lord is not only the "field" owner; He is also "the householder," v. 27. It is not quite by surveying the "field" that we are taught about the mysteries of the kingdom, but rather by coming to the householder for an explanation. The result is that we ourselves will become householders, v. 52, and thus able to teach others also. But the rest we must leave for another time.
The first thing to note about the last three parables given in this chapter is, they were uttered in the house. We can expect something now that is not so manifest in the world and can be understood by those only who have eyes to see and hearts to understand, v. 51. The first three (already considered briefly), shew the pretentious character of the kingdom in this world as seen by all; these things being the direct outcome of the tares sown among the wheat. Now however, we are going to hear from the lips of our Lord that in spite of all this false manifestation, there is that in the kingdom which is valuable to Him, no doubt the outcome of the wheat. Some have thought that Israel, the church and the nations are prefigured here, but had they considered that it is the "mysteries" of the kingdom in "this age" (v. 49 N. Tr.), they would not have fallen into this mistake. Moreover, the treasure coming before the pearl would forbid this, for surely the "Assembly" will take precedence over Israel in the kingdom in the world to come. But it is not the kingdom in the world to come, but the kingdom of to-day which was set up when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven, in which neither Israel nor the nations as such have any part. This chapter teaches as clearly as words can teach that all that is spurious in this kingdom will be burned up, and all that is good will be in heaven (vv. 30, 43), a place where neither Israel nor the nations will be.
In this first parable of the treasure hid in the field, quite a few things need considering. First, it was hidden, then found, then hidden again; and only known to be there by the One Who bought the field. No stretch of imagination could make this Israel on the earth, known to all the nations as the people of God. Have we any light about this hidden treasure? We certainly have, not in Exodus 19:5 but in this very chapter, v. 35. It was the secret of the Godhead which Christ had come to effect; a secret which had not been made known in this world before. Our own judgment is, that this parable does go further than the Assembly and includes all the Old Testament saints who will compose the heavenly company of Hebrews 12:22; called four and twenty elders in Revelation 4:4. Every instructed believer knows that the saints who have died in a former dispensation will be raised when the Lord comes for His Own, and we have long considered that the treasure will include them as forming the whole family who take up priesthood in heaven. We believe they will all "shine forth as the sun," v. 43.
But the next parable so well known to us brings out the Assembly in her own distinctiveness as the "one pearl of great price," v. 46. Should doubt arise as to this, one passage in Rev. 21:21, where every gate is of "one pearl," shew her value and preciousness to the One who bought it. We have long understood that the twenty four elders are composed of all the heavenly company, and this we suggest is the answer to the treasure; but when we come to the "marriage of the Lamb" in Rev. 19:7, the Assembly is there seen in her own distinctiveness and the rest of the heavenly company called to have fellowship in the event. After this ceremony the twenty-four elders are never seen again. This, to our mind, is why we have these two parables; the treasure, all the heavenly company; the pearl, the Assembly which Christ loved and gave Himself for. It is worth considering that He found the treasure and bought the field to obtain it, He was "seeking" goodly pearls and bought it, not this time the field, nor was He seeking treasure, facts we judge which bear out what we have suggested as to their meaning.
Lastly we have the parable of the net, which clearly shews the means used to bring the kingdom into being. Again we are back to men, for it was through men the Lord sent out the gospel which has gathered the whole company called Christendom to-day, good and bad. We might notice that in the former parable of the tares and the wheat we have "men" brought in. So we have in the "net," but with the "treasure" and the "pearl" no men are mentioned as taking part in this matter, this was all of Himself, and we may thank God that all he does Himself is GOOD, and will abide for His eternal pleasure and our eternal blessing.
One other matter is worthy of note. It is the work of angels to deal with the bad and the work of men to deal with the good. Do not let us be found doing the work allotted to angels and waste our time trying to turn bad into good. Rather let us be active to secure and help that which is clearly good, and thus be found "fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God," Col. 4:11. If then we have learned rightly from our Lord the bearing of these parables — and it is only in the house we can learn rightly — we shall be householders capable of bringing out of our treasures, "things new and old." Not things new and future, but things new and old i.e. the things of the kingdom of heaven in its mystery form as we are in it to-day, yet securing all the saints who will yet be in heaven at the coming of our Lord. Need we add that His coming will bring this age to a close so far as we are concerned. All after that connected with this age will be burned in the fire, ere we shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of our Father, v. 43.
In bringing to a close these papers on the kingdom, we come now to the third and most restricted aspect of it. We have already considered it in its widest aspect as taught us in the prophecy of Daniel. Secondly, in its dispensational aspect as taught in the Gospel by Matthew. In this paper we have before us the vital and spiritual aspect of it as taught in the Gospel by John. In John 3, it is very clearly stated in our Lord's discourse to Nicodemus. We have noted in Daniel that, up to a point, men are allowed to act in wilfulness even if God is the ruler of the universe. Then, in Matt. 13 we have noted that tares are allowed to grow alongside of the wheat; children of the wicked are allowed to live within the bounds of the kingdom in testimony. In the kingdom as we now have it in John 3, only living, spiritual believers who are born of God can ever enter into it. In the other three Gospels the kingdom as a sphere of profession is presented and this may be true or false; but here in John 3 only those born of God ever enter it, and children of the wicked one can never find entrance into it.
It is composed only of those who are born of God and who believe in the Son, receiving as a result Salvation and Eternal Life, (v. 16).
Born of God has been mentioned in this Gospel before, in John 1:12-13. We read that two things marked those who received the Son, they "believed on His Name," (v. 12), and they were "Born … of God," (v. 13). The verb used here "were born" is in the past tense, teaching us that they believed on His Name because they "were born" of God. The same order is found in chapter 3, where we are told that anyone who enters the kingdom is first born again, (v. 3-5); then they believe on the Son, (v. 16). It is in this way living, spiritual believers are formed and brought into the kingdom.
There are four statements in this verse (John 1:13), one is positive and three are negative. The one positive statement is "Which were born … of God." The three negative are, "not of blood"; "nor of the will of the flesh"; "nor of the will of man." These three things are the component parts of our human birth into this world. "Blood" would refer to the nature of that birth; "flesh" to the agent, and "man" as the source. This is what our Lord refers to in chapter 3, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh." We learn that new birth is not the product of nature, nor brought about by the flesh, nor does it spring from man, but is altogether of God, "Which were born … of God." More details are given in John 3, as to the agents God does use to bring this about. In chapter 1, stress is laid upon what the new birth is not, while in chapter 3, stress is laid upon what it is and how it is brought about by God.
When Nicodemus came to our Lord seeking light, he was told at once that before anyone could see the kingdom of God he must be born again — anew, or from the outset. New birth was not needed to see a Man performing miracles; but to see the kingdom of God introduced in this spiritual way by Jesus, needed a completely new work in the soul. Moreover, when he sought further light as to how these things could be, he was assured that this work could only be brought about by the word of God and by the Spirit. These are the agents which God uses to do a work, which not only opens the eyes of men, but begets within them a new moral and spiritual nature which fits them for entrance into the kingdom. Other servants are used to substantiate these things, James tells us in his epistle "Of His Own will begat He us with the word of truth," (James 1:18). Peter also tells us, "Being born again … by the word of God," (1 Peter 1:23). James has mostly in mind the source; Peter rather emphasizes the agents; John adds a further point, what it is in its nature — spirit.
The result of this work is shewn in its completion in John 3:16. Those who are born anew by the word and the Spirit believe on the Son, and thus enter the kingdom where they obtain Salvation and Eternal Life through the Son. It may be v. 3 presents the beginning of this work and v. 5 its continuation, for we can hardly think that one who is born anew and sees the kingdom does not enter it. However, it is certain that only as one is born again by the word and the Spirit can one enter; no other person will find a place in this kingdom who is not thus wrought upon by God; John does not present the kingdom dispensationally as a sphere of profession, be it true or false. As we have said, this is the kingdom in its vital and spiritual form; and only those born of God and having believed the gospel are sealed by the Spirit and have part therein. It is not the sphere of the kingdom but the kingdom itself which is in view in this chapter.
This is the aspect of the kingdom referred to in Rom. 14:17. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." It is into this kingdom God has brought us by begetting us anew and giving us of His Spirit. If in the meanwhile we are linked outwardly with much that is spurious in the sphere of the kingdom of heaven, the fact remains that we are true children of the kingdom, living and moving in the power of the Spirit of God. It is our privilege to walk subject to His will, manifesting clearly that we are such, being marked by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.