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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole


Lecture 4 of 23

The Kingdom of God

We shall begin by saying that parallel passages in the synoptics prove conclusively that there is no distinction between the “kingdom of God,” and the “kingdom of heaven” as some have sought to make. Matthew uses both terms: kingdom of God about four times and kingdom of heaven more than thirty times. The kingdom which was said to be at hand is called “kingdom of heaven.” “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matt. 4:17), and “kingdom of God.” “And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” (Mark 1:15). Christ Himself used the terms interchangeably. In the parable of the mustard seed He used “kingdom of heaven.” “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field,” (Matt. 13:31), and “kingdom of God” in Mark and Luke. Other parallel passages are to the same effect.

The idea of the kingdom has its roots in the Old Testament, going all the way back to creation. The Old Testament emphasizes the universal sovereignty of God. “For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth,” (Ps. 47:2); “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all,” (Ps. 103:19); “That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.... And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: 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?” (Dan. 4:25, 35). And in the beginning of creation man partook of the blessings of the kingdom. Man, made in the image of God, was not only a holy being; he was also a royal being with a universal kingdom, subject however to the will of God. Man lost the kingdom through the sin of the first Adam— the first race-head; it is to be recovered by the last Adam, the second race-head. The eighth Psalm predicts the universal sovereignty of man (enosh, frail and fallen man in “the world to come”. This Psalm speaks of a cosmic redemption when fallen but redeemed man is restored to sovereignty. “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” (Rom. 8:19­22). This redeemed man is the “one new man” made up of saved Jews and Gentiles of whom Christ is the head. “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace,” (Eph. 2:15). The eighth Psalm is quoted “Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man,” (Heb. 2:7­9), with the comment that we do not yet see the fulfillment of this prophecy, “But we see Jesus—crowned with glory and honor.” We see sovereignty in the hands of Jesus Christ as the beginning of the fulfillment of Psalm eight. And His sovereignty is the ground and guarantee of the glorification of the redeemed race.

Later on the nation of Israel possessed the kingdom of God. God sovereignly chose Abraham and his seed to be His peculiar people, and redeemed them from Egyptian bondage. On condition of obedience they would be His peculiar treasure and a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But national Israel lost the kingdom through disobedience which culminated through the rejection of their Messiah. “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” (Matt. 21:43). God’s covenant with Israel was a conditional covenant, carrying with it promise of material blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience. Deuteronomy 28 lists the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. In the light of the nation’s history it seems strange that anyone will contend that the land of Palestine still belongs by Divine right to the Jews. In his farewell address to the nation of Israel, Joshua said, “And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you,” (Josh. 23:14-15). Long ago God fulfilled all the good promised in the Abrahamic covenant concerning natural Israel. As that covenant concerned all nations, it is now in process of fulfillment in a spiritual Israel made up of redeemed Jews and Gentiles. “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (Gal. 3:7­9; 28­29).

In the Old Testament the kingdom of Christ is the subject of prophecy. In the gospels we have the setting up of the kingdom. In Acts and the Epistles we have the development and expansion of the kingdom. In Revelation we have the catastrophic consummation of the kingdom. We have in the New Testament two phases or stages of the kingdom: the present, gradual expansion, and the eschatological consummation.

I. THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST A PRESENT REALITY

Prophecy has become history. “But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart. Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. 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 heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven 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. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure,” (Dan. 2:28­45). We have five world empires. The first four are represented by a great human image composed of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay. The fifth is seen as a stone which smites the image and becomes a great mountain. This is the kingdom of Christ or Messiah. It had a small beginning (the size of a stone), but will ultimately fill the whole earth. And it is to have no successors, for it is an everlasting kingdom. As proof of its present existence in the world we shall notice,

1. John the Baptist and our Lord announced that it was at hand. “And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” (Mark 1:15); “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matt. 4:17). If it was at hand then, it must have arrived and is present now.

2. We are expressly told that the kingdom of God began with John. “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it,” (Luke 16:16); “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” (Matt. 11:13). “Through John the kingdom had passed out of the sphere of pure futurity belonging to it under the Old Testament and had become something actually engaging the thoughts and swaying the emotions of men,” (Vos). “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” (Matt. 11:11), and yet the above scripture indicates that John the Baptist was not a partaker of the full privileges of the kingdom, and was not in the full light of the kingdom possessed by the disciples of Jesus.

3. The kingdom is to be entered in the gospel age. Christ must have been speaking of a present kingdom when He said, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” (John 3:3). Christ charged the scribes and Pharisees with shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men; for they would neither go in themselves, nor suffer them that were entering to go in. We are told that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to Peter, and he must have used them while he lived; therefore, the kingdom was a reality in his day. Christ would build His church and give to Peter and others the keys to the kingdom. This shows the close relation between the kingdom and the church, and clearly indicates that the church is the agency for promoting the kingdom by preaching the gospel. Paul says “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” (Col. 1:13). This proves that the kingdom was a reality in Paul’s day.

II. THE NATURE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE KINGDOM

A kingdom implies a king, subjects, and territory; therefore, we must of necessity speak of it in political and earthly terms. Messiah’s kingdom is the kingdom of David, and His throne is the throne of David, but the nature of Christ’s kingdom is not political and earthly like that of David. Paul uses military terms when he says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds,” (2 Cor. 10:4).

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. It is not advanced by military might or by economic ideas. “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence,” (John 18:36). The adverb “now” gives the logical connection. Christ is saying that since His disciples had made no armed resistance or attempt to rescue Him, it is put beyond question that His kingdom is spiritual and not earthly. If Christ’s kingdom is like David’s in its nature it would have to be supported and advanced as his was by force of arms. This would put carnal weapons into the hands of every Christian.

The Pharisees had the political concept of Messiah’s kingdom and asked Jesus when it would appear. They thought it was something that could be seen with the natural eye. “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:20-21).

Because the kingdom is a spiritual kingdom it cannot be seen with the natural eye. There are those who insist that the kingdom of Christ is political and earthly like that of David. We are told that Christ offered Himself to Israel as an earthly king; that He was rejected, and the kingdom was postponed until His second coming when national and natural Israel of a future generation will receive Him. But the evidence is overwhelming that He did not offer Himself as a political Messiah. This is what the nation wanted Him to do. Following the miracle of feeding the five thousand. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone,” (John 6:15). Israel did not reject Him as a political king, but because He would not be this kind of a king. If He did not offer Himself as an earthly king, He was not rejected as such, and therefore such a kingdom could not have been postponed. If Jesus had presented Himself as a political king, and had taken up arms against the Romans, the Jews to a man would have followed Him to the death.

THE KINGDOM PARABLES

The parables of the kingdom throw light on the origin, development, the mixed character and consummation of the kingdom. They are short stories to illustrate the various features of the kingdom as a present reality. The parable of the sower is a prophecy of the gospel’s reception. Some will not even listen. Some will listen, but will soon lose interest and fall away. Some will hold on longer, but gradually lose interest. And some will persevere and bring forth fruit in varying degrees. The parables of the tares and the net are similar stories to show the mixed character of the kingdom. The parable of the tares gives us the territory of the kingdom and two kinds of subjects. The field (territory) is the world, the good seed are the children of the kingdom, and the tares are the children of the devil. The harvest is the end of the age when counterfeit subjects are gathered out of the kingdom and cast into their furnaces of fire. The parable of the net also shows that the territory of the kingdom has in it both good and bad which are to be separated in the end of the age. “He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me,” (Luke 19:12­27). The parable of the pounds is similar to that of the tares in Matthew. A nobleman goes into a far country to receive a kingdom and return. The servants are professed subjects, and the citizens are rebellious subjects who say, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” When the king returns he deals not only with the professed servants, but also with those enemies who openly and boldly rejected his authority. The parables of the hid treasure and goodly pearl are a double illustration of the same thing: the priceless value of Christ to the human soul. The parables of the mustard seed and leaven are similar stories which illustrate the small beginning of the kingdom, its gradual and imperceptible growth and ultimately reaching vast proportions.

III. THE SUBJECTS OF THE KINGDOM

The subjects of the kingdom are those born from above. Since the kingdom is spiritual the subjects must be spiritual. The beatitudes give us the characteristics of those who are partakers of the blessings of the kingdom. In the beatitudes we have what might be called spiritual photography—word pictures of a subject of the kingdom taken from different angles—snapshots of the Christian or pictures taken without posing. The saved person can find himself revealed in the beatitudes.

1. He is poor in spirit, the very opposite of a proud and boastful spirit. The Christian is not self righteous, but is conscious of his lack of personal worthiness—he feels unworthy of the least of God’s mercies— he realizes that he is poor and needy, and not sufficient of himself for any good thing.

2. He is a mourner, one who mourns over his sins. The poor in spirit goes a step further and grieves over his sins as he struggles for perfection. The Christian is sensitive to indwelling sin and longs to be perfectly whole.

3. He is a meek person. Meekness is a spirit that does not seek to avenge a wrong. Vengeance belongs alone to God. Moses showed his meekness by ignoring the criticism of Aaron and Miriam. He did not avenge their attack upon him, but God avenged him by striking Miriam with leprosy. Meekness must not be confounded with weakness. Christ was meek but not weak. The meek shall inherit the earth; they do not fight for it.

4. He is hungry and thirsty; hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Hunger and thirst are metaphors of soul desire, and when combined express very strong desire. The saved person longs for personal and practical righteousness. By faith he has the imputed righteousness of Christ, but he wants to be personally what he is representatively in Christ. As to his standing, the believer is absolutely perfect. He is justified from all things and no charge can be laid against him. “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:39); “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth,” (Rom. 8:33). But as to his state, the believer is only relatively perfect. He has not arrived, but is on his way to sinless perfection. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:12­14). If Paul, the greatest of all Christians, confessed he had not attained perfection, it ill becomes anyone else to claim it. However, the promise is that the hungering and thirsting soul shall be filled. He shall ultimately be as good as he wants to be and tries to be. With the Psalmist the believer can say, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness,” (Ps. 17:15). “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Phil. 1 :6). Salvation is of the Lord and there are no abandoned souls on the highway to glory.

5. He is merciful. Mercy is more than emotion; it is active good will towards the needy. The good Samaritan showed mercy to the wounded man on Jericho road by ministering to him and by providing for his needs. The story is told of Jacob Bright, father of John Bright, that one day on his way home he found his neighbor in great trouble on the road. His horse suffered an accident and had to be killed on the spot. As Jacob Bright arrived on the scene, the poor man was surrounded by other neighbors who were expressing their sorrow over his misfortune. To the man who kept on repeating how sorry he was, Jacob Bright said, “I am sorry five pounds. How much are you sorry?”

6. He is pure in heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God,” (Matt. 5:8). The pure in heart is the one who is poor in spirit and who grieves over sin; therefore purity in heart is not sinless perfection. A pure heart is one who is sincere in his confession of sin and desire to love and serve God.

7. He is a peacemaker. The Christian is not only concerned about peace in human relations; he is also interested in making peace between God and men. And in this sense he makes peace by preaching the peace God made for sinners by the blood of His cross. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross,” (Col. 1:20). As Christ’s witnesses we have the ministry of reconciliation: “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God,” (2 Cor. 5:19-20).

THE KINGDOM COMING WITH POWER

“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power,” (Mark 9:1); “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,” (Matt. 16:28); “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God,” (Luke 9:27); These three are parallel passages. From these passages we see that the kingdom in power was in some sense imminent. The question is, When was this prophecy fulfilled? This promised vision may have been fulfilled in the transfiguration which occurred six days later. In all three synoptics the prophecy is followed by an account of the transfiguration as a miniature second coming. Peter alludes to this when he says, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” (2 Pet. 1:16).

The view of Lenski is worth considering. He makes the prophecy refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and expulsion of the Jews from Palestine. That coming in power with judgment on the nation began in 66 A.D. and ended in the year 70 A.D. This judgment on national Israel marked a definite turning point in the gospel that transferred the kingdom from the obdurate nation to the receptive Gentiles. It marked the definite time when the kingdom was taken from earthly Israel and given to a spiritual Israel, according to Mr. Lenski. Either view looks forward to the final judgment when the kingdom will reach its consummation.


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