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"Go and teach all nations to observe whatsoever things I have taught you..." Matthew 28:19-20
What is the Kingdom?
What is the kingdom of God? Good question. I would think the majority of people who believe that there is life after death have a misconception of countless spirits floating around in the heavenlies, sometimes playing harps, but doing nothing in particular other than experiencing peace and serenity. In actual fact these people couldn’t be more wrong.
Sermon on the Mount
It is not always understood that the Sermon on the Mount is 'the gospel of the kingdom of God' which Jesus came to proclaim. This sermon is a gospel – good news – because it begins by announcing a nine-fold blessing of wonderful promises. From beginning to end, the Sermon on the Mount is all about the kingdom: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven … Seek first the kingdom of God … Not everyone that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven' … (Matthew 5-7 – just a few examples.)
Jesus talked very little about eternal life, grace, or justification by faith in the Sermon on the Mount and this has caused problems for many Christians in the past, hence they believed that this sermon was only for the Jews, or only for the millennium. This is a very convenience belief because if it isn't for us now, then we don't have to obey its radical commands. The problem with this is that Jesus preached this sermon to his disciples, so it certainly is for Christians – now! It has nothing to do with eternal life, it concerns only the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, and eternal life, are entirely different things.
Ask 3 or 4 Christians “What is the kingdom of God?” and you are likely to get 3 or 4 different answers. For some the kingdom means a prosperous 'health and wealth' lifestyle, and so we get the 'Prosperity Gospel'. For others, it is all about taking our cities and nations for Christ, or about power, signs and wonders, and this comes under the heading of 'Kingdom Now' theology. It seems to be one of those vague, ill-defined terms that could mean pretty well anything. Christians down the ages have, without realising it, used their own definition of the kingdom of God as a justification to support their own particular doctrines and preferred lifestyles. But what does the Bible say?
It is of the paramount importance what we believe as it makes a massive difference to our lifestyle and the way we behave. There can only be one truth. If one person believes that the kingdom is all about prosperity in this life, and another person believes it to be all about poverty of spirit and persecution, then they cannot both be right. And whoever is wrong is badly wrong because both these beliefs are opposite.
The first kingdom
We need to establish what a kingdom is before we can have any clear understanding. A kingdom is always a geographical area with borders and laws. It's the same with the kingdom of God. The first mention of God's kingdom in the bible is where God said to Israel, “You shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). God was their king from the beginning, that's why, unlike the other nations round about who had kings, Israel had judges. When the people asked Samuel for a king God was grieved and told Samuel, “They have rejected me, that I should not be king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). By this definition Israel were the kingdom of God. Much later Jesus told the Jews, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation producing the fruits” (Matthew 21:43).
So we see that Israel were the kingdom of God, but not any more. Christians have now inherited the promises God gave to Israel when it was transferred to another nation. We are now the beneficiaries. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Temple of God now
This, however, is now a very different type of kingdom, for we are not talking in terms of an area of land. The only physical territory that God possesses now is our physical bodies. God has become our personal king so we have to subject ourselves, and come under God's rule. That's why Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). “What? Don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The temple is always the centre of God's kingdom, because it's where God resides. There is no such thing as 'God's own country' – not Israel, England, America, our own house, or church – he owns us. That's why we can't Christianise anything in this age. However well intentioned initially, it always ends up as Babylon.
Kingdom of God on earth
Numerous scriptures state categorically that God will possess land again as his kingdom. When Jesus comes again he will bring in God's kingdom and will rule the earth as God intended 'with a rod of iron', only this time it will be the whole earth, not just a small portion. “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
The mistake with many sincere Christians is that they have tried to bring it about before the time. They have made an error with the timing, that is why it has always ended in failure. The earth is our 'promised land' which we are waiting to inherit, but only Jesus, the Messiah, in his spiritual body with his spiritual bodied army can bring this about.
Fighting the giants
Until that time comes we are instructed about spiritual warfare in the New Testament: but the strongholds we fight against and pull down are our imaginations and thoughts ... “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). It's ourselves we are battling with. We are to conquer our ‘territory’ – ourselves – now, and wait with patience for Jesus to conquer the earth.
But there is much to do. A foundation has been laid in our lives by grace, and it is our job to build on it. If we build well, we will receive a reward in the millennial kingdom. The kingdom reign of Christ is the time for rewards, as the parable of the talents and many other parables of the kingdom testify. We do not take swords and destroy nations like Joshua. The only ‘warfare’ we are called to in the New Testament is a personal one against our own thoughts and pride.
The cost of the kingdom
The Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel of the Kingdom, promises great rewards and blessings in the kingdom when Jesus comes, but painful conditions in this age. Inheriting the kingdom in the future calls for poverty of spirit now; being comforted in the future necessitates mourning now; satisfaction in the future demands hunger and thirst for righteousness now; and a great reward in the kingdom is conditional on suffering persecution, slander, and false accusation now! We have not yet entered our ‘promised land’; we are still in the ‘wilderness’, living as pilgrims and sojourners, without a home, looking for the return of Jesus, our bridegroom, our ‘Joshua’ who will conquer the whole earth and bring in the final kingdom.
So, it seems that there is a cost involved if we want to take up an active role in the literal kingdom of God which Jesus Christ will set up, and if this is true, how do we start planning for the future? At the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3), “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (v.5), “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (v.8), “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (v.11), “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you ... For my sake ... For great is your reward in heaven” (v.12). It’s apparent from these statements that it’s all to do with attitude. Deny your legitimate rights down here on this earth, and you will be working towards laying up treasures in the Kingdom of Christ.
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