BT vol. N2 p. 347 etc.
There is no phrase which it is more important to understand in connection with prophetic inquiries than "the kingdom of God." To ascertain the origin and force of this expression, in the scriptures of truth, is the object of my present communication.
It must be obvious at the outset that our inquiries must commence farther back than the actual use of the phrase in the New Testament. No one can observe the way in which it is used by John the Baptist, as well as by our Lord Himself and His disciples, without perceiving that it was an expression with which their hearers were conversant. It was no new expression, and the mere utterance of it communicated no new thought to the minds of men (that is, among the Jews, of course). It would be of little moment to enquire what their thoughts of this kingdom were. The only source from which they could receive right thoughts on the subject is as open to us as to them; and open to us, blessed be God, with this difference in our favour, that the Holy Spirit, by whom holy men were inspired to write the scriptures of the Old Testament, now dwells in the saints — dwells in us, for this purpose among many others, to open to us fully, as the friends of Christ and members of His body, what was hid from saints in former ages, yea, what was but very obscurely seen by the prophets themselves.
Even the prophets of old are represented as "searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow." Yes, it was not to themselves, but to us, that they ministered those divine communications of which they were made the vehicles; and we are thus in better circumstances for understanding those communications than even the holy men through whom they were made and recorded. And it is this, and this alone, the teaching of the indwelling Spirit, the Comforter, that can enable us to understand those varied testimonies to the grace and glory of Christ. It is not any natural clearness of judgment or any amount of humanly-acquired information, that will make us well instructed scribes in the kingdom of heaven. We are ignorant alike of the "old things" and the "new" which pertain to that kingdom, except as we sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him, Whose voice it is by the Spirit that we hear in the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as in the apostles and prophets of the New. May it be in the spirit of child-like submission to Him and dependence upon Him that we pursue our present inquiry; and may it be, through His grace, fruitful in instruction and blessing to our souls!
There is one point on which there can be no question. God is often spoken of as a King. "Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King and my God; for unto thee will I pray" (Ps. 5:2). "Jehovah is King for ever and ever" (Ps. 10:16). "Jehovah sitteth upon the flood; yea, Jehovah sitteth King for ever" (Ps. 29:10). "Thou art my King, O God" (Ps. 44:4). "For Jehovah Most High is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth" (Ps. 47:2). "Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises; for God is the King of all the earth" (Ps. 47:6-7). "They have seen thy goings, O God; even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary" (Ps. 68:24). "For God is my King of old" (Ps. 74:12). "For Jehovah is a great God, and a great King above all gods" (Ps. 95:3). "With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before Jehovah, the King" (Ps. 98:6).
All these citations are from one book of scripture, and many more might be quoted. See also the following, "Mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts" (Isa. 6:5). "For Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Lawgiver, Jehovah is our King" (Isa. 38:22). "I am Jehovah, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King" (Isa. 43:15). "Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?" (Jer. 10:7). "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts" (Zech. 14:16). We cannot suppose that God would have so largely spoken of Himself as King if it had not been important for us to know Him in this character; and it will be found on examination of some of the above passages, along with many others of like import, that we have very explicit and copious instructions in God's word on this subject. May it be ours to receive it in simplicity of heart and godly subjection to the authority of the written word!
The first point to which I would solicit attention is this, that while God, the everlasting King, unquestionably reigns uncontrolled over all the works of His hands, visible and invisible, overruling by His power even the rage and rebellion of His enemies, it has pleased Him, at various periods for the display of His glory as King, to delegate His authority over a certain sphere, putting those entrusted with it under responsibility to Himself to exercise their delegated power and rule according to His will. Adam, for instance, was made ruler over all the lower parts of creation, as we read (Gen. 1:26), "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." The fulfilment of this we see in verse 28. The whole passage is referred to in Ps. 8:4-8, which is again quoted by the apostle in Heb. 2:6-9 as a prediction of the future dominion of Christ, the Son of man, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven.
I dwell not on these passages except just to remark that Adam, failing to exercise his delegated power in obedience to Him Who had entrusted him therewith, God's purpose to put this earth under the dominion of man was not to be set aside. The full remedy for the failure of the first man being found in the obedience unto death of the Second man, the Lord from heaven, He becomes the inheritor of the dominion and glory forfeited by the first. And for Him it waits. We see not yet, as Paul says, all things put under Him; but we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour; also in due time we shall see His dominion established over the whole sphere of Adam's delegated rule, and then will be fulfilled the first verse and the last verse of the eighth Psalm, which treats of these things: "O Jehovah, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" But more of this anon.
Before this great and final result in the universal blessing of Christ's acknowledged dominion was to be accomplished, further trial was to be made of man in various ways. Not to dwell on intermediate events, we find one nation selected of God to enjoy the blessing of His kingly authority, and it is in connection with this nation that we first find God spoken of as King. But, before pursuing this, I would notice for a moment a remarkable passage, which shows alike the foreknowledge and providence of God, and the exceeding importance of the subject on which we are entering, viz., the connection of God, as King, with the nation of Israel. The passage alluded to is Deut. 32:8-9, "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For Jehovah's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance." Thus it appears that long before the children of Israel existed as a nation, long even before the call of Abraham, God had His eye upon that nation, and made it the centre of all His providential arrangements in dividing the earth amongst the progeny of Noah. The perfect divine wisdom of these arrangements will be manifest in that period of universal blessing of which the eighth Psalm treats, as has been noticed, when, according to another scripture, "they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem" (Jer. 3:17).
The first passage in which Jehovah's reign is definitely spoken of is in the song of triumph chanted by the victorious hosts of Israel, when they had passed safely through the Red sea, and left Pharaoh and his chariots and horsemen "sunk as lead in the mighty waters." They not only celebrate the triumph already accomplished for them by their mighty captain and deliverer, but they anticipate those further victories pledged to them in the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And then they add, "Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Jehovah, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Jehovah, which thy hands have established. Jehovah shall reign for ever and ever" (Ex. 15:17-18). Connect this with the passage already quoted from Deut. 32, and you can hardly fail to see how the reign or kingdom of God is connected with the place which He had made for Himself to dwell in, and the nation of which He says, "Jehovah's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance."
In Exodus 19 and the following chapters, we find God exercising His kingly government over this nation which He had separated to Himself. He gives them laws, and statutes, and judgments to be observed by them, with suited penalties for any breach of those enactments. We do not stop here to consider the character of that covenant of works under which they were thus, with their own full consent and choice, placed. Their immediate failure under that covenant, in Ex. 32, and the renewal of it, with certain modifications, through the intervention of Moses as mediator (typical, no doubt, of the mediation of Christ), are points of extreme importance to any who would understand God's recorded dealings with them.
But I cannot enter into them here further than to notice, that in Ex. 33 nothing less than Jehovah's actual presence with them can satisfy Moses, who pleads on their behalf; and this is pledged to him in verse 17. In consequence we find that when Balaam (inspired as a prophet, though a worthless and wicked man) pronounces a blessing upon Israel, he says, "God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent … He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel; Jehovah his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them" (Num. 23:19-21).
This then was what distinguished Israel from all the other nations of the earth. These were under the controlling power of God's invisible government in providence; but God was present in Israel as their King. The symbols of the divine presence, the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, went before them from the time when Pharaoh pursued them into the very bed of the Red sea, till they crossed the Jordan at the close of their forty years' wanderings in the desert. Their laws they received direct from His mouth; all their officers and judges were constituted such by His appointment; and in every time of difficulty and danger He was present to be consulted by them, nor did He ever fail, when they were obedient to His voice, to guide and preserve them.
And when they crossed the Jordan, He still accompanied or went before them. The cloud of the divine glory, which had journeyed with them in the wilderness, now rested between the cherubim which overshadowed the mercy-seat; and after their conquest of the land under Joshua, the tabernacle of the congregation, enclosing alike the ark of the covenant, the mercy-seat, and the shekinah and cherubim above, was set up at Shiloh, which from that time became the seat of government. It was there, "before Jehovah," that Joshua "divided the land among the tribes for an inheritance" (Joshua 18:1-10). The house of God was there during the period of the Judges,* and up to the time of Eli and Samuel. It was in the days of the latter that the people, wearied of being under the direct government of God Who from time to time appointed judges over them, and desiring to be like the nations which surrounded them, asked Samuel to make them a king over them. This displeased Samuel, and he prayed to Jehovah. What was the answer of Jehovah to him? "And Jehovah said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). This is very plain. Up to this time the government of Israel had been a pure theocracy. God was their King. He might act by Moses at one time, who is himself said in this sense to have been king in Jeshurun, (see Deut. 33:4), or by Joshua at another, or afterwards by the judges who were successively raised up. Still, God was their King.
*See Judges 18:31, and other passages.
It would obviously be beyond the limits of a paper like the present to notice all the passages in the prophetic scriptures, which speak of the reign or kingdom of David's Son and Lord. But there are two great divisions of the period during which the prophecies as to it were delivered; the one prior to the incarnation of Christ, the other subsequent to it. Then again, the former of these divisions is subdivided by an event of much greater importance than is generally attached to it; I mean the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the captivity of the Jewish nation. Until this event occurred, God had a nation or kingdom on the earth. In that kingdom the descendants of David's royal line wielded the sceptre and occupied the throne as the anointed ones of God. They held their dominion by virtue of God's gift of it to David and his seed, God Himself having still His dwelling at Jerusalem; and it was by His laws that the royal authority had to be exercised. It was God's kingdom. It is true that many of the kings rebelled against God and set at nought His laws.
And here it was that the ministry of the prophets came in. They testified against the sins of the nation and its kings, foretold the judgments by which those sins were to be punished, and called both kings and people to repentance. Further, for the comfort of any who, either then or afterwards, should hearken to their voice, they foretold the glories of the coming kingdom of the true Son of David, the heir of all the blessings promised to David and his seed. This prophetic ministry in its most definite form began with Isaiah (in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah), and includes his prophecies, with those of Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Micah.
After the overthrow of Jerusalem and captivity of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, things were entirely changed. It was not that there was any transfer of royal authority from the house of David to some other family in Israel, as there had been from Saul and his house to David and his seed. No; the covenant with David and his seed is not broken; so far from this, the captivity was a part of the chastening promised in the covenant if the children of David should fail to walk in his steps. But there was a transfer of power, a transfer of it from Israel altogether to the Gentiles. Yet this transfer of power to the Gentiles did not constitute them God's kingdom. Israel had ceased to be such.
The city which He had chosen for His habitation was entirely destroyed; His presence was no longer manifested in the magnifical temple which Solomon had built for his glory. Ezekiel had seen that glory remove first from the temple (see Ezek. 10:18-19), and then from the city altogether (Ezek. 11:23); and the temple where that glory had once dwelt was now burned with fire. Israel was given over into the hands of the Babylonish empire. To the king of Babylon it was said, "Thou, O king, art a king of kings; for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the heavens hath he given into thy hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all" (Dan. 2:37-38).
But, large as was this gift of power, it did not constitute Nebuchadnezzar God's anointed, nor did it make his empire the kingdom of God. All that had made Israel such was now removed from the guilty nation, but not bestowed on their Gentile oppressors. There was no shekinah at Babylon; no sacrifices there to the God of heaven; nor was there any divine code of laws to regulate the exercise of the imperial power with which the monarch was invested. One of the first acts of that power was to establish idolatry and punish with death all who refused to worship an idol. And all that is foretold of Gentile dominion is its being used in one act of rebellion against God after another, till it is destroyed at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But then, we are told, "the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:44). This is quoted from a prophecy delivered and recorded during the latter subdivision of the period preceding the birth of Jesus.
Again, Ezekiel in a manner belongs to both subdivisions. He was himself a captive in Chaldea, but his prophecy was in part addressed to those who still remained at Jerusalem. Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, belong to the period which succeeds the carrying away captive to Babylon. These last prophesied to a poor feeble remnant who had been permitted to return. Not that the dominion was restored to them, or the kingdom of God again set up. No; they were tributaries and subjects of. the king of Persia; and the chief end for which they seem to have been restored to their own land is, that among them Christ might be born, and that to them He might be presented as their long-expected king; the Seed of Abraham and the Lord of David, as well as the Seed of the woman and the Son of God.
But let us pause at this point, before considering this great crisis in the history of the world as well as of Israel, and let us glance at some of the principal points in the Old Testament prophecies touching Christ's kingdom. In doing this, I can only refer to the passages without quoting them; and let those who may be interested in the inquiry consult them, with their contexts, in God's holy word. There seem to me to be four great leading traits in the prophetic picture of the kingdom so often spoken of. There are, of course, innumerable details: I confine myself to the grand leading features.
He who is to reign as king is the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ps. 2:69; Ps. 24; Ps. 45; Ps. 72; Ps. 110; Ps. 118:22-26. Isa. 4:6-7; Isa. 11:1-5, and 10; Isa. 32:1-2. Jer. 23:5-6; Jer. 33:14-17. Ezek. 34:23-24; Ezek. 37:22-25. Dan. 7:13-14. Micah 5:2-4. Zech. 6:12-13; Zech. 9:9-10). All these passages, and many more, under various names and titles, set forth our Lord Jesus Christ as the One who is to reign in Israel and over all the earth.
Jerusalem or Zion is the place of the special display of the glory of Christ on earth in His kingdom. (Isa. 1:26-27; Isa. 2:3; Isa. 12:6; Isa. 24:23; Isa. 27:13; Isa. 38:20, 23; Isa. 60:14; Isa. 62:1-12; Isa. 66:10-29. Jer. 3:17; Jer. 33:10-11. Joel 3:16-17. Micah 4:7-8. Zeph. 3:14-17. Zech. 2:10-12; Zech. 8:2-8; Zech. 14:16-21). I say on earth; because the rejection of Christ by Israel and the putting off, as it were, of His reign, have made way for the unfolding of God's purpose, that His Son should have a heavenly Bride as well as an earthly kingdom; that He Himself should have a family in heaven, as well as a kingdom on the earth. But as to the kingdom of Christ on the earth, it is clear from all the passages cited as well as from others, that in it Jerusalem has the chief place; that it is, so to speak, the centre or the metropolis of Christ's kingdom on the earth — "the city of the great king.
In the kingdom of Christ, the Gentiles are to be subject to Israel; they are to hold a subordinate or inferior place. This is important; for under the present dispensation the great truth is, that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free." For proof that it will not be thus in the kingdom of Christ, as foretold in the Old Testament, see amongst others the following passages: Isa. 11:10; Isa. 14:1-2; Isa. 49:22-26; Isa. 60:3-16; Isa. 61:5-9; Isa. 66:12. Micah 5:7-8. Zech. 8:22-23.
The effects of this reign of Christ will be universal righteousness and peace. (See Ps. 72: Isa. 2:2-4; Isa. 11:6-9; Isa. 25:7; Isa. 59:19; Isa. 60:1-22. Micah 4:1-5. Zeph. 3:9-10. Zech. 14:9).
The light shed on this subject by the further revelation of the New Testament may be considered, if the Lord will, in another communication. Meanwhile the Lord grant us, in deep reverence of spirit, and yet in the joy which His own presence alone can inspire, to pursue these meditations on His word, and to be by them more and more separated from all else to Himself! W. T.
The Kingdom of God.
In resuming the consideration of this subject, especially now in the light shed upon it by the New Testament, there are several facts and principles of God's ways which need to be borne in mind by us. In the first place, it was in the counsels of God that Messiah should suffer ere He reigned. Nor was this a truth which had been hid in God, as one of the secret things which belong to Him alone. On the contrary, the sufferings of Messiah form the subject of many a distinct prediction, and the theme of many a holy strain of lamentation; besides being prefigured by a great part of the Mosaic sacrifices and ritual. Thus had the law, the psalms, and the prophets, borne witness to the sufferings of Messiah: so largely indeed, that for any who, like my readers, are accustomed to view them in this light, it is needless to bring forward particular passages in proof of it. But to Jewish minds, prior to the accomplishment of the event, this was the deepest difficulty. It was, besides, a subject most unwelcome to the pride of the natural heart in them, just as it is still in us. Sufferings, which the holiness of God makes requisite on account of our sin, cannot but prove an unwelcome subject to hearts that have not been humbled under the sense of sin. Thus it was with the Jews, yea, even the disciples of our Lord themselves. Notwithstanding the plainest declarations on His part that He must suffer and rise from the dead, they seem not to have entertained a thought of it, until the event came upon them, and found them, despite all previous warnings, unprepared.
Then, further, it was foreseen of God, that the human instruments in effecting Messiah's sufferings and death, would be His own people, the Jews. It was foreseen, yea, and foretold, that instead of receiving their Messiah with open arms, they would reject and crucify (Ps. 22:16, compared with Zech. 12:10) their long-promised and long-expected King. It was also foretold that on account of this, instead of the kingdom being immediately introduced, their heaviest sufferings and longest dispersion should ensue on the rejection of Messiah. (See Ps. 69:19-28. Isa. 5:5; Isa. 6:9-12; Isa. 8:14-17; Isa. 28:16-22). Other like passages there are, too numerous to be quoted.
Again, notwithstanding the rejection of Messiah by Israel, and the judgments which were to come on them in consequence, it was distinctly and largely foretold in the Old Testament, that eventually Israel shall repent (see Hosea 5:15; Hosea 6:1-2; Ps. 110:2-3; Ezek. 20:43-44; Joel 2:15, 18; Zech. 12:10-14, etc.); that, confessing and bewailing their sins, they shall anxiously look for Him Whom they once rejected, and that then He shall return, forgive their iniquity, deliver them from their Gentile oppressors, on whom judgments the most solemn and terrific shall be executed, and that then the long-foretold and long-expected kingdom of Christ shall be actually set up; His government openly and visibly extending over all the earth. These events form the great burden of prophetic testimony: as the apostle expresses it, summing up the whole in a few words, they "testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow."
Thus far all is plain and clear enough. But the question arises, How is the interval between the rejection of Israel's Messiah and His return in glory to be filled up? "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world." If Christ be rejected by the earth, a place had been prepared for Him in heaven. "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." The sovereignty which is hereafter to be openly and publicly exercised on earth, but which could not be thus exercised then, because of Israel's unbelief and sin, was to be exercised by Jesus risen, and ascended, and seated at God's right hand in heaven.* He had, while on earth, manifested the name of His Father to those who had been given Him, and after His ascension the Holy Ghost was to descend to enable them to bear witness to the name of their rejected Lord, and to preach repentance and remission of sins in His name among all nations.
*Hence, as it would appear, the expression "kingdom of heaven" is a phrase generally interchangeable with the other, "kingdom of God," but not always so. The former is used in Matthew only; but in Matthew 2:28, when the kingdom is spoken of as actually there, it is "the kingdom of God." The kingdom of God was there, for the King was there. It could hardly have been said that "the kingdom of heaven" was there; for Christ had not yet ascended to heaven, and was not exercising in and from heaven the power of His kingdom. So in Matthew 21:43 it could not have been well said, "the kingdom of heaven" is taken from you; for it was not what properly belonged to them. The kingdom of God was their proper and definite hope; and hence it is said "The kingdom of God is taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."
The effect of this word, which began to be spoken by Jehovah, and was afterwards confirmed by them that heard Him (God also bearing them witness with signs, and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost), was; that then, and ever since, there have been those on earth who own the name, and title, and authority of that Christ Who has been rejected by the earth, and is now actually at the right hand of God in heaven. As a matter of fact, historically, whole kingdoms have thus owned and do own, the name and sovereignty of Christ. It may be, and as to the mass undoubtedly is, true that it is only in word, in profession, that Christ is owned. Still the fact is there, that, as to the effect of Christ's first coming, whole masses of men profess to be Christians, i.e. to be subjects of Christ, recognising His authority and governed by His laws. It is also true that amidst the mass there are many who do really know Him by the Holy Ghost; and it is of the utmost importance to see, as to all such, that there was a far deeper purpose of God than any which has yet been noticed — a purpose which He purposed in Christ before the foundation of the world, even that those who do thus really know Him during the present interval* should be fellow-heirs and of the same body with Christ — His bride, His body — united to Him now by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and to be manifested with Him in glory when He returns. But this, important as it is, is not the subject of our present inquiry, though intimately connected with it. It is referred to thus explicitly here, lest any should suppose it was overlooked, or that, in distinguishing between it and the kingdom of God, its importance was in any way undervalued.
*By this is meant here the interval between the death of Christ and His return to take His saints to Himself, as in 1 Thess. 4. The interval as to the earth is of longer duration, and does not close till Christ returns with all His saints to execute judgment on His enemies, and set up His kingdom in power.
The fact is, that the kingdom of God, which will exist manifestly in the millennial reign of Christ (treated of in No. 1), exists now in mystery, and is found wherever there is the acknowledgement, real or in profession only, of the name and authority of Christ, while He Himself is hid in God on high. It is within this kingdom of course, that the church has its existence at present. Nay, more; it is at present the only thing in the kingdom which is really precious to Christ; and we shall have to look at passages which, on this account, speak of the church, or rather of those who compose the church, as the kingdom. Still, it is not as the church that these passages contemplate it, and the kingdom itself is a much wider thing.
For full instructions as to the special or distinct place and blessedness of "the church," we look in vain, except in the Ephesians and other Epistles of St. Paul. The kingdom of God, one would repeat, exists now in mystery, and comprises the whole sphere in which the name and authority of Christ are recognised, whether nominally or really, during the period of Christ's session at the right hand of God. There is, of course, a wide difference between a sovereignty exercised openly and visibly in the form and character of royalty on the earth (Jerusalem its centre and the whole earth its sphere), and a sovereignty exercised from heaven by invisible agency and moral means, such as Christianity is now. This latter is the kingdom of God in mystery; the former is the kingdom of God as the Jews were taught by ancient prophecy to expect it, and as it will yet surely exist in the millennial age. Modified, however, even then by the introduction and co-heirship with Christ of the heavenly saints, for which room was made by Israel's rejection of their Messiah on the earth. When He takes the kingdom, it will be as the glorified Son of man; and the heavenly body, the church, now forming by the Holy Ghost, will be united with its Head in the administration of that kingdom, so that even then it will have the character of the kingdom of heaven.
As the open establishment of the kingdom is inseparably connected with the repentance of Israel and their reception of the Messiah, it pleased God, by the proclamation that His kingdom was at hand, solemnly to put to the test whether Israel was in a condition, morally and spiritually, to receive it. Accordingly the preaching of John the Baptist, and the earlier preaching of our Lord Himself and His disciples, was simply this, the announcing that the kingdom was at hand, and calling upon Israel to repent and believe the glad tidings. God knew of course, that they would reject the kingdom thus preached to them; and He had arranged everything accordingly. The kingdom they hoped for was to be put off on account of their unbelief; and the kingdom which was actually at hand was the kingdom in mystery, as it has existed from that time until the present.
Though God knew well that they would reject the kingdom, both in the rejection of its royal Heir and in the rejection of His fore-runner — though God knew this, I say — the responsibility of Israel was not thereby diminished in the least. All was ready on God's part; "the Child was born to Israel, the Son given," Whose name was to be called Wonderful, on Whose shoulders the government was to be and Who was to sit on the throne of His father David, executing judgment and justice for ever: He gave full proof that to Him belonged these dignities and glories; and had they received Him, His reign would doubtless have commenced. But God knew that they would not receive Him. He knew they would crucify and slay Him, and He delivered Him into their hands to be thus crucified. But did that make them less guilty? Not in the least. The foreknowledge of God is one thing; man's responsibility is another.
God knew men would break the law; yet He gave it, that what was in man's heart might be manifest. God knew that Israel would, by their sins, forfeit the land of Canaan, and have to be scattered, as at present. He told them that He knew this before He brought them in. (See Deut. 31:16-21). Still, He brought them in. He knew that they would reject the prophets and messengers by whom He spake to them, and offered them forgiveness and mercy, if they would but repent. (See Ezek. 3:7-9). Nevertheless, He sent them, rising up betimes and sending. Was their responsibility diminished by God's foreknowledge of the manner in which they would treat the messengers of His mercy? Surely not. So when, last of all, He sent His Son, sent Him as the One born to be King of the Jews, He knew all that they would do unto Him. From the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, to the last taunt that was addressed to the holy Sufferer on the cross, God foreknew all.
Why should this hinder Him from presenting the kingdom to them, and offering them its felicities and its glories on condition of their repentance, any more than the foresight of their failure under any former test should have hindered Him from applying it? God would make manifest what man, what Israel, was, and so appealed to them in the most affecting way, through the medium of the hopes which, for so many generations, had been indulged by them as a nation — hopes based on the prophecies considered in our last. And they understood that Jesus claimed to be the One Whose coming was the object and centre of their natural hopes. The superscription in Latin, and Greek, and Hebrew, placed over the cross by Pilate, told plainly enough that it was as King of the Jews He was rejected by the nation. Thank God, He did foreknow what they in the hatred of their hearts would do. Their sin has thus been overruled to our salvation; their fall has become our riches. In due time, when the church has been formed and perfected, and caught up to meet its Head in the air, when all the "mysteries of the kingdom" have had their accomplishment, Israel, as we have seen, humbled and broken-hearted, shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah; and the kingdom shall be established manifestly and in power. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"
Let us look now at some of the passages in the New Testament which relate to this subject. We shall find them ranging themselves under one or other of these classes.
1. The passages which announce the kingdom in such a manner and in such connections as necessarily to awaken in the heart the thought of that kingdom of Christ, which we saw in No. 1 to be the great subject of Old Testament prophecy.
2. The passages which speak of the kingdom as it now exists in mystery, including all on earth that own, whether truly or in mere profession, the sovereignty of Jesus in heaven.
3. The passages in which the expression is limited to that which really and truly owns the name and authority of Jesus; the kernel, so to speak, which alone gives value to the shell. There may be a few others giving the general characteristics of the reign of God apart from circumstances altogether.
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make his paths straight" (Matt. 3:1-3). It is by no means certain that the phrase "kingdom of heaven" here would suggest to the mind of John the Baptist himself any other thought than that of Messiah's reign — the kingdom which the God of heaven was to set up. The passage quoted by the evangelist respecting him is one which clearly has not yet received its full accomplishment; nor will it, till "the times of restitution of all things." "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together" (Isa. 40:4-5). There can be no mistake as to what kingdom it is that is depicted here. It ensues on the accomplishment of the whole warfare, and travail, and chastisement of Jerusalem (verses 1, 2); and in it Zion and Jerusalem have the office of bringing good tidings, and crying to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God." (verse 9).
Without doubt the kingdom of heaven was really to exist in a very different form before the arrival of this blessed period; but it was Israel's sin which afforded the opportunity, so to speak, for its existence in its present manner; and before it actually took this form, it was to be seen whether there was in them the heart to respond to these joyful tidings; and hence this mission of the Baptist.
After recording the baptism of our blessed Lord, the evangelist tell us that Jesus, having, "heard that John was cast into prison, departed into Galilee, and leaving Nazareth, came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: — the people which sat in darkness saw great light: and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 4:12-17).
There is enough in the quotation here from Isaiah 9 to remind any one of the kingdom to which Christ was born the heir; the well-known passage, "unto us a child is born," etc., being closely connected with the verses here quoted. It was the announcement to Israel that with Him, Immanuel, they had now to do. Still, in the imprisonment of His forerunner there was a dark intimation of Israel's unpreparedness to receive Him; and accordingly He (not unwittingly, as it may be John had done, but in full intelligence of the meaning of the words) calls on them to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Not simply the kingdom of David's royal Son seated on David's throne, but the kingdom of the heavens: the sovereignty of that same blessed Person in the form it was to take, consequent on His rejection by Israel, and exercised first after its present mode, while He Himself, rejected by the earth, is exalted to the right hand of power in heaven, and then by-and-by exercised openly over all the earth, but even then with a heavenly character and heavenly associations not naturally belonging to the kingdom of the Son of David. It is a kingdom, too, which has to be preached; instead of being at once set up in power, it is proclaimed by preaching.
Still, the preaching of the kingdom was accompanied by every demonstration of power. "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people" (Matt. 4:23). The result was, that His fame went throughout all Syria, and there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee and Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan.
In the presence of the multitudes thus attracted to Him by His preaching and the fame of His miracles, He addresses to His disciples the sermon on the mount. "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"; and again, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," would apply equally to those who shall enter into and inherit the kingdom in manifestation (see Zeph. 3:12; Isaiah 66:2, also 5, with the rest of the chapter), and those who are true members of it now that it exists in mystery. "Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth," would only apply to the former class. Verses 19, 20 (Matt. 5:19-20) show what the righteousness is that entitles to either. They do not show us how the righteousness which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees is to be obtained, but they declare such a righteousness indispensable for those who would enter the kingdom. In Matt. 6:10 the disciples are instructed to pray for the coming of God's kingdom; and in verse 33, to seek it in preference to all else. Matthew 7:21 distinguishes between profession and reality, and declares that to say, Lord, Lord, is not enough.
The whole discourse is a most solemn exhibition of the righteousness requisite for any to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The law of Moses described the righteousness which entitled to the land of Canaan; the sermon on the mount bears the same relation to the kingdom of heaven. Of course, it is in Christ only that either righteousness has been accomplished; and the righteousness He has accomplished in Himself is the gift of grace to poor sinners; we have no righteousness whatever to plead. Such will the poor afflicted remnant of Israel acknowledge themselves to be by-and-by, and they will enter into the kingdom, as it shall exist, in open manifestation; the righteousness of Him who died for them, that the whole nation should not perish, being their title thus to enter. Meanwhile, individuals have been taught by grace to see in themselves the entire contrast to all that the sermon on the mount presents, and have found in Christ the righteousness without which none can enter, even while the kingdom is in mystery; that is to say, viewing the kingdom as it consists of those who really know and own the supremacy of Jesus, and call Him Lord by the Holy Ghost.
In Matthew 8:11 the faith of the centurion, commended by Jesus as greater than any He had found in Israel, draws from His lips the announcement "that many [such as he] shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." This must have been a solemn and startling announcement to Jewish ears. It distinctly foretells the admission of Gentiles to the privileges of the kingdom, while the natural heirs are excluded. And while this passage evidently refers to the yet future millennial kingdom (there being a place in it for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), we have to bear in mind that the kingdom has its heavenly as well as its earthly department. Of this we find scarcely anything in the Old Testament; and it was, in fact, the rejection of Christ by Israel that made way for the development of this purpose of God. It is now, while the kingdom of heaven exists in mystery, that these Gentile strangers are being brought from the east and from the west. But by-and-by, when the great purpose of God is accomplished, and all things both in heaven and earth are gathered together in one, even in Christ, these strangers will be seen sitting down with the patriarchs in the heavenly department of that glorious kingdom; while Israel, pardoned and restored, shall, with the spared nations, occupy the earth. The children of the kingdom who are cast out are, of course, those generations of Israel who have lived during the whole period of their rejection of Jesus.
In Matthew 9:35 we find Jesus still continuing His blessed labour of preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. In Matthew 10 He associates the twelve apostles with Himself in this work, charging them to go not into the way of the Gentiles, or any city of the Samaritans, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "And, as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (verse 7). But while this ministry of grace is thus continued, and even extended, the twelve are distinctly forewarned that they need not expect their testimony to be received. Fearful was to be the responsibility of the rejectors. It was to be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for them. Still, the apostles were to calculate on rejection. "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord" (verses 24, 25).
It was to be their comfort amid all this, that whosoever confessed Jesus before men should be confessed by Him before His Father in heaven. "He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. He that receiveth you receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me" (verses 39, 40). For none such were to lose their reward.
I could not doubt that this preaching of the kingdom of heaven by the twelve, interrupted by the definite and utter rejection of Christ on the part of Israel, will be resumed in days yet to come, and that it is to this resumed testimony that much of Matt. 10 has its most definite application. See particularly verses 18, 22, 23, compared with Matt. 24:6, which evidently speaks of the final sins and sorrows of the house of Jacob. The rejection of Christ by Israel has not only made way for the existence of the kingdom of heaven in mystery, but also for a far deeper mystery, viz. the church and its union with its Head in glory. When this is completed by the rapture of the saints, in order to the marriage of the Lamb in heaven; God will resume His dealings with His earthly people Israel, and with the Gentile as such. Witnesses will be raised up to proclaim this gospel of the kingdom to both Jews and Gentiles, and scarcely will they have finished. their testimony ere the Son of man shall come. (See Rev. 11; also Rev. 14:6-7.) Any who wish to pursue this subject, I would refer to the papers already published in "The Prospect," entitled "The Testimony of the End," and "On the Gospel by St. Matthew" (particularly the remarks at the close), which throw much light on this deeply interesting inquiry.
In Matthew 11:11 John the Baptist is declared by our Lord to be as great as any that had been born of women. The Saviour affirms, nevertheless, that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. John had but announced its approach. The least of those who actually enjoy the blessedness of that reign of heaven is in a position more blessed than John's. Our Lord then adds, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence; and the violent take it by force." Instead of its being an ordered and established system, into which men had been introduced at their birth, and in which all that was required of them was to walk obediently to the laws and ordinances then existing, it was a kingdom preached as at hand, and the question was of entering into it. Such too was the total failure of man under the old system, and the rancorous opposition of his heart to the new kingdom and its accompaniments, that it was only at the risk, or even cost, of every thing that any one could enter in. It was only by bursting asunder every tie, doing violence to all the dictates and interests of nature, that any one could enter in. It was grace undoubtedly, that supplied the energy and fortitude thus to hate father, mother, brother, sister, houses, lands, yea, and a man's own life, for Christ's sake; still, this was the way in which grace led a man to act. And those who did not thus value Christ and the kingdom He proclaimed above every thing besides, so as to abide the loss of all things for His sake, proved themselves unworthy of it, and failed to enter it.
Matt. 12:28 has been noticed already.
Matt. 13 having been the subject of distinct consideration in a paper proceeding from the pen of one so much better able to expound it (see "The Prospect," vol. i., page 121), it requires the less notice here. It is, however, as any one may see, a chapter of the deepest importance in connection with our present subject. Israel's rejection of Messiah being fully manifested in chapter 12, where we find that His brightest miracles were attributed by the Pharisees to Satanic power, our Lord pronounces on them the solemn sentence which closes His statements respecting the unclean spirit gone out of a man and walking in dry places, who in the end returns with seven others worse than himself, so that the last state of such a man is worse than the first. "Even so," says our Lord, "shall it be also unto this wicked generation." He further disowns all His natural links of relationship with the Jewish people, all the ties of kindred which, as the seed of David according to the flesh, united Him to them. "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" He inquires. "And he stretched forth his hands toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother, and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." It is immediately after this that He speaks the seven parables, which we find in Matthew 13; the whole affording to us full instruction in the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens.
The first parable is not a representation of the kingdom, but of the work by which the kingdom is formed. It is the basis on which all the other parables in the chapter are founded. "Behold, the sower went forth to sow." Israel had been the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant. (See Isa. 5.) But now that all His care in planting and cultivating it was repaid with nothing but wild grapes, He was about to execute the long threatened judgment, and give it up to the destroyer. Hence it is not now the care of a vineyard, but an entirely new beginning. "The sower went forth to sow." The details of the parable are well known. The seed falls on four descriptions of ground; in one only does it bring forth fruit. Striking picture of what the various results of the preaching of the word have been! How futile the hope, that because the gospel testimony was to be everywhere proclaimed, universal blessing would be the result! It is true that the Sower went forth to sow. This was not to be confined within the limits, nor to be occupied with the culture, of the Jewish vineyard. Gentiles as well as Jews were to hear the word of the kingdom. Yea, it was to be preached everywhere. But with what varying results! And how small, when compared with the aggregate, the result in blessing! May we hearken to the admonition: "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."
The disciples inquire of our Lord His reason for speaking to the multitudes in parables. His answer is most important. "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." He thus declares the period to have arrived which had been long foretold by the prophet Isaiah. "Sanctify Jehovah of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence, to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait upon Jehovah that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him" (Isa. 8:13-17).
Surely, Jehovah of hosts was now beginning, in the most definite sense, to hide His face from the house of Jacob, when to the disciples it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, which were hidden from the multitude. "Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples." Our Lord quotes another prophecy of Isaiah, which was now receiving its accomplishment. "And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive. For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." These words, quoted from Isa. 6:9-10, are connected there with what follows. The prophet says, "Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and Jehovah have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land." The Saviour's quotation from this passage is significant; it decides that this predicted period of Israel's desolation is the period during which the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have their existence and development.
To the disciples our blessed Lord explains the parable of the sower, and speaks another — that of the wheat and tares. This He gives as a representation of the kingdom of heaven. "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field." I need not quote the parable at length. The Saviour explains it also (after speaking two others in the presence of the people) to His disciples. The field, He says, is the world. He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man. The good seed are the children of the kingdom. The tares are the children of the wicked one. The enemy that sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age. The reapers are the angels.
Let us consider these things for a moment. We have seen in the first parable that though the sowing is universal, the fruit — the result in blessing — is partial and limited. Here, in this second parable, Satan himself turns sower. The field is indeed the world; but the scene of Satan's operations is not here so much the world at large where the seed has been sown, but part of it where the seed has got root and is growing up. It is the introduction, by Satan, of positive evil, where the Son of man had wrought blessing. The good seed here is not the word. It is explained to be "the children of the kingdom." The tares also are not false doctrines (though it may be by these that Satan works), but evil persons. "The tares are the children of the wicked one." In a word, what we have here is the corruption of Christianity. And we are assured most definitely that when this effect of Satan's enmity and man's supineness ("while men slept the enemy sowed tares") has once been accomplished, it will not be set aside till the harvest at the end of the age. Then the tares are to be gathered together first in bundles to be burnt, and the wheat gathered into the barn.
Then there is another point. When the Lord speaks of the tares and the wheat as thus growing together, as they are doing at present, we must view this as representing the condition of things, as a whole, between His first and last coming, without taking into account the fact that, during that time, generation after generation, both of the righteous and wicked, die off — that there is constant succession — incessant fluctuation, altogether different from that from whence the image is borrowed; seeing that, in the natural world, the very same seed that is sown in one month springs up and is reaped in another. But, on the other hand, when we actually come to the time of harvest, then we must lose sight of the past generations, rising and dying one after another, in constant succession, and look alone at the generation alive at that time.
And these only will be dealt with in that day of Christ's coming. These only, I say, seeing that the wicked of former generations will not then be raised from their graves, but will be reserved for judgment after the thousand years are expired (Rev. 20:7-15). The risen saints of God, on the other hand, will have been caught up to heaven before the week opens (1 Thess. 4:16-18). This then, I believe, quite determines who the wheat are at the time of the harvest, namely, the Jewish remnant — the righteous ones on the earth at that time.*
*The reasoning and the deduction in this particular do not appear to be sound. Ed. B. T.
In this parable, and the explanation of it, the term "kingdom of heaven" is evidently used in its widest sense, as including all who nominally own the supremacy of Christ during His absence from the earth, whether they be wheat or tares, false professors or true subjects of Christ. At the time of the end, when the kingdom passes from its present mysterious state to that of open manifestation, all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, shall be gathered out of it. After that, the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, the heavenly department of that glorious kingdom as it shall exist after the return of Jesus, when all things shall be gathered together in one (even in Him), both which are in heaven and which are on earth. Blessed prospect! May the brightness of it cast a cloud upon all earthly glory in our eyes, beloved; and may we look for and haste unto the coming of that day of God, in which this heavenly lustre shall crown all those who have been the companions and followers of Jesus in His tribulation.
The two parables of the mustard seed and leaven would seem to represent the kingdom of heaven in the same large and outward aspect as that in which it is viewed in the parable of the wheat and tares. There is no doubt that, to an intelligent or instructed Christian, it must appear evil that Christianity, which, in its earliest and purest days, was the object of universal obloquy and scorn, should come to bear a character and occupy a position in the world represented by the emblem of a great tree — the symbol in prophecy of worldly magnificence and power. (See Dan. 4; Ezek. 31 etc.)
Still, it does not seem as though it was the evil of this which the parable of the mustard seed sets forth, so much as the great external fact that what was at its beginning so small and so despised should eventually become great in the earth, and afford shelter to those who were originally its opposers. (Compare ver. 32 with ver. 4). The parable of the leaven appears to be our Lord's answer to the inquiry which may well arise in the mind: By what sudden convulsion, by what unlooked for event, is this change to be accomplished? The answer is, that it is not by any mighty convulsion or sudden change, but by a process thus represented: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened." This wondrous transformation of what was, at its outset, the weakest and most despised thing on earth, to the state in which Christianity now exists around us, associated with everything of earthly power and glory, was to be effected by a slow, gradual, imperceptible process like leaven working in meal.
These four parables, be it remembered, were spoken to the multitude. They all describe great facts which, as such, the natural mind can recognise. The preaching of the word, with its varied results — the corruption of Christianity and the continuance, to the end, of the evil when once introduced, as well as the judgment by which, at the end of the age, it will be purged out — the growth of Christianity from its once despised and feeble condition as respects the earth, to a state of earthly splendour, power, and glory — the silent, gentle, gradual character of the process by which this last result has been brought about — all these are historical facts which are not only capable of being recognised, but which, as far as they have gone, have been recognised by mere natural men. The explanation of the first similitude, and the last three parables themselves, were spoken to the disciples apart from the multitude; thus indicating, as another has taught, that there were secrets in them which it required a spiritual mind — the intelligence and affection of a disciple — to appreciate. How blessedly perfect is God's precious word!
The two unexplained parables — that of the treasure hid in the field, and that of the merchantman seeking goodly pearls — would seem to teach us, that within the external sphere to which the four parables already considered apply themselves, there was something hid which was at once so precious in Christ's estimation and so beautiful in His eyes, that for the joy of possessing Himself of this treasure, this pearl, He could gladly forego for the present all His Messianic rights and glories, and go down into the very dust of death, selling all that He had to buy it. Can we fail to be reminded by this of that wonderful word, "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it … that He might present it to Himself!" It is true that in the work by which He accomplished the purchase of this jewel of His heart, He also laid the foundation, and the only foundation, for the future glories of His kingdom, when He shall reign in peace over all the earth. He bought the field which contained the treasure; and thus the field is His for all the display of His glory and the accomplishment of all the purposes of God as to it. But His motive — that for the joy of which He, for the present, could forego the assertion of His titles and the revealing of His glory — was the possession of the hidden treasure, the goodly pearl! Oh, what intensity of love, what devotedness and unsparingness of service, become those who are taught of the Holy Ghost that Christ has thus loved and thus given Himself for them! May our hearts better know the overwhelming power of the grace of Christ thus displayed!
The parable of the net presents us with the discrimination, at the close, between all this which has really been the object of Christ's heart and of God's purposes throughout, and that which has been throughout this mysterious period outwardly associated with it. The thought of the beloved brother, whose paper on Matt. 13 has been more than once referred to already, commends itself greatly to my own soul, viz. that this discrimination is of two kinds: first, as on the part of the fishermen who gather the good into vessels and cast the bad away; secondly, as on the part of the angels who do not concern themselves about the good here at all, but sever the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. Might we not gather from this that, in the intention of God, there was to be a separation? first, morally by His Spirit, of those in and by whom He acts — and there the object is to gather the good into vessels (it is separation to God, and according to His mind and heart); then, finally, there is a process of judgment in which the angels are the executioners, and the wicked the objects, who are "cast into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
This closes the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. From the era of this judicial separation, whether viewed as in the parable of the wheat and tares, or as in this parable of the net, all is in open manifestation: the righteous shining forth as the sun in the heavenly kingdom of their Father; the Son of man openly exercising His royal power in His kingdom below, out of which all that offends and them which do iniquity have been gathered.
"Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." The Lord grant that, by the Spirit, these things may occupy our souls; and above all, that He, Himself, Whose grace and glory are so touchingly displayed in every aspect of them, may become more and more the one object of our hearts.
The next mention of the kingdom of heaven is in Matthew 16:19, where our Lord says to Peter "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
There are three remarks which may be made as to the connection in which "kingdom of heaven" here occurs. First, it was clearly what had not then commenced. The kingdom had been preached by all the apostles as at hand, as well as by our Lord and His forerunner. But Peter was to open the kingdom, as we know he did at Pentecost, to the Jews, and in the house of Cornelius to the Gentiles. Secondly, the kingdom, the administration of which was thus entrusted to Peter, is clearly not the millennial kingdom treated of in No. 1, and which is still future. Thirdly, it is distinguished from the church, by our Lord Himself, in the passage before us. He says: "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven," etc. Those who by faith entered in, when the kingdom was opened whether to Jews or Gentiles, became members of the church of God; but "the kingdom of heaven," as we have seen in Matthew 13, includes tares as well as wheat; and it is likened to the mustard tree, the leaven, and the net, as well as to the treasure and the pearl.
"Verily, I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom (ver. 28). This is plainly another thing. This is the kingdom in which the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father, with His angels, and reward every man according to his works. A specimen, a sample, a foreshadowing of the glory of this kingdom, Peter, James, and John were privileged to behold a few days after these words were spoken. A comparison of the passage with 2 Peter 1:16-18 will show that this was the sense in which they saw the Son of man coming in His kingdom. It was a type or pledge, a revelation even to their senses of what the glory of that kingdom will be; not the kingdom as it exists now in mystery, but as it will exist in open display by-and-by.
Instead of taking the kingdom thus and introducing it at once, we have in the close of Matthew 17 an affecting display of the depths of humiliation to which Jesus stooped. In Matthew 18, we find this to be the rule for disciples in the kingdom as it now exists in mystery. The disciples ask, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus answers by calling a little child and setting him in the midst of them, and saying, "Verily, I say to you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Wondrous, blessed lesson! That he who willingly becomes the least is really the greatest in the kingdom of heaven! None so great as the Holy One Whose words we are listening to! And who can stoop so low as He did? As for us, in taking the low place, we do but take our own. He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, and yet made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant. Oh! that the mind which was in Him might also be in us.
One lesson as to the spirit and conduct befitting this kingdom of heaven we have had already in Matthew 18. The close of it presents us with another. Humility at the beginning; grace and forgiveness of trespass at the end. For another view of the parable at the close of this chapter, see the paper before referred to, page 130, in vol. i. of "The Prospect."
Matt. 19:12 speaks of an extraordinary measure of separation to God, for the kingdom of heaven's sake, on the part of some. It is, I suppose, the carrying out, through grace, of the principle of Matt. 11:12 to the utmost possible limits, in certain special cases where there was not grace only, but special gift and power for this end. (See 1 Cor. 7:26; also verse 17 of the same chapter.)
Matt. 19:14 would connect itself with the passage already touched upon in Matthew 18:3. Verses 23 and 24 would show the need of that violence, through grace, which is the subject of Matthew 11:12. It was a question of forsaking all and following Christ — a Christ Who was not about at once to ascend the throne and wield the sceptre of His father David, but Who was first to be rejected and crucified. The riches and honours of this world were such a hindrance to any one who had them, in thus following a rejected Christ, that nothing could overcome it, or enable any one to overcome it, but the almighty power of God. "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
It is upon this that Peter asks a question, to which our Lord gives a twofold reply, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?" What Peter states is a fact. He and his fellow-apostles had really forsaken all to follow Christ; and this our Lord in His first answer owns. But evidently there was something of self-importance and self-gratulation at the bottom of Peter's question, "What shall we have therefore?" It was something of the same spirit as had suggested the inquiry in Matthew 18, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Peter's question would intimate that none could ever evince the self-devotion which they had evinced, or have the claim on Christ which they had. It is as though he would make Christ debtor to himself and his fellow-disciples. "What shall we have therefore?" This our Lord meets in the parable which follows. First, however, let us look at His promise to Peter and the rest. "And Jesus said unto them, Verily, I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Peter asks, What shall we have therefore? and our Lord replies, That is what you shall have. But is it not as though He added, Do not suppose that you are the only persons who have forsaken, or who will have forsaken, all for My name's sake, and who shall be rewarded in the kingdom? "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."
Peter was not to suppose that to sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, was the only reward that the glorified Son of man will distribute at His coming. The fact is, that Peter himself, and the other apostles, as members of Christ's body, of His flesh, and of His bones, co-heirs with Him and with all who are His members thus, will inherit a higher place of glory than the sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Peter would, as it were, have made our compact with our Lord; and had he been excluded from all that is not comprised in the promise here made to him, there are glories in which he would not have shared, which fall to the lot of us poor sinners of the Gentiles. Peter was to understand that there would be others to be rewarded besides the apostles; yea, and he was not to suppose that because the apostles were first in order of time, their reward would necessarily be greater than that of those who came after them. "But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first. For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder," etc. (Matt. 20:1-16). If we seek to make the Lord our debtor, we must not complain if we find that He gives us barely what we agree with Him for, and gives quite as much to others who enter the vineyard almost at the close of the day. The "kingdom of heaven" is clearly distinguished here from "the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory." It is in the kingdom of heaven that the service is rendered — the labour accomplished — which meets its reward in "the regeneration," when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory.
The request preferred by the mother of Zebedee's children, in verses 20, 21 of this chapter, is another expression of the same spirit which our Lord had been correcting in the parable of the labourers. The blessed Saviour assures them that they shall drink of His cup and be baptised with His baptism; but the place they shall fill in His kingdom He leaves to His Father's will. He takes occasion from the whole to put in contrast the ways of the Gentiles, of which these disciples so much savoured, and the ways of His kingdom in its present mysterious state. He, the King, came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many; and what but to tread in His steps can become those who are the subjects, during His rejection, of the kingdom of heaven.
The beginning of Matthew 21 presents us with a little pledge of that future kingdom which awaits our Lord, when the whole nation shall say, what the multitude of the disciples then said: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!" Full proof was given at once, however, that the nation was not ready for that kingdom then. The very cries of the children in the temple who said Hosanna awoke the indignation of the chief priests and scribes: "they were sore displeased." The kingdom could not therefore be then set up in power, and the glory of it be introduced. Nevertheless a kingdom had come nigh to them; and our Lord, by the parable of the two sons, to whom the Father said, "Go, work today in my vineyard," presses on His hearers the solemn truth that the publicans and harlots were more ready to go into the kingdom of God than the most religious people of that day.
In the next parable, verses 33-44, Jesus takes a review of all God's dealings with that nation. He had let out His vineyard to husbandmen, and sent, time after time, to receive the fruits; but of His servants they beat one, and kill another, and are now about to slay the Son and Heir whom the owner of the vineyard had last of all sent, saying, "They will reverence my Son." What can be done to these husbandmen by the Lord of the vineyard? Even they themselves answer: "He will miserably destroy these wicked men, and will let out His vineyard to other husbandmen, which shall render Him the fruits in their seasons." How solemn the reply of Jesus! "Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."
All hope of Israel's present reception of the kingdom, as promised to those of old time, being thus cut off, our Lord goes on in Matthew 22 to present another likeness, or comparison, of the "kingdom of heaven" which was to intervene between that crisis and the one yet future, when the Son of man shall be revealed, and sit upon the throne of His glory. A marriage feast made ready by the king in honour of His son, and His servants sent out to invite the guests, is a different thing from a vineyard let out to husbandmen, and the servants sent to require the fruit. But alas! the heart of man has no worthier answer to the grace and goodness of the one than to the just and righteous claims of the other. They make light of the invitation, and spitefully entreat and slay the servants who are the bearers of it. This fills up the measure of their iniquity, and the king sends forth His armies (the Romans) and destroys those murderers, and burns up their city. But is His grace to be disappointed, and His table unfurnished with guests? No: the servants are sent out into the highways to gather together all, as many as they find, good and bad, and in the end the wedding is furnished with guests. Precious testimony of the grace which now gathers us, irrespective of what we are, to share the feast and enjoy the blessedness which God, of His own grace, and for the honour of His Son, has prepared for us! One solemn word there is at the close of this parable (may our hearts deeply and fully learn it!), that, even as the freeness of the invitation is all the warrant we need to enter, so surely, if that has reached our hearts and wrought effectually there, the wedding garment will be worn by us as our only title to sit at the table. Christ will be all our confidence, all our hope. It is this that distinguishes between the real and the fictitious, the true and the false, in the kingdom of heaven.
In Matthew 23:13 the Lord denounces a fearful woe upon the scribes and Pharisees, because they will not enter this kingdom of heaven themselves, and because they do what they can to hinder others from entering in besides.
The remaining notices of the kingdom, and parables respecting it in Matthew 24, Matthew 25 and Matthew 26, have been already so fully discussed in the paper on the Gospel according to Matthew, page 121, vol. i. of "The Prospect," that I would simply refer the reader to its contents, and here, for the present, close my remarks. It may be that, if the Lord should tarry, opportunity may be afforded of going through the other Gospels also, noticing any points of difference in the light in which they present the kingdom, as compared with this Gospel of Matthew; and touching upon the passages in the Acts and Epistles too. But this is in our Father's hands. May He, of His grace, make all our inquiries into His precious word effectual to the sanctification of our souls, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.