An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Kingdom of Christ
We hope that we made clear in the preceding articles the general idea contained in the citation from the O.T. which the apostle made in Hebrews 12:26, namely, that under the proclamation of the Gospel there would be a more radical and far-reaching effect produced, than was the case at the giving of the Law, thereby manifesting the superiority of the one over the other. The more specific meaning of Haggai’s prediction (Heb. 2:6) was that the Jewish church and state would be dissolved, for both the ecclesiastical and civil spheres of Judaism ("heaven and earth") were "shaken." Its wider significance comprehended the convulsions which would be produced in heathendom (the "sea" of Haggai 2:6, and cf. verses 21, 22). The great design of God in the Divine incarnation was the setting up of Christ’s kingdom, but before it could be properly established there had to be a mighty shaking in order that the shadows in Judaism might give place to the substance, and that sinners among the Gentiles be made spiritual.
The appearing of the Messiah introduced and necessitated a total dissolution of the entire Judaic economy: the Levitical institutions being fulfilled in Christ, they had now served their purpose. This was solemnly signified by the Divine rending of the temple veil, and forty years later by the total destruction of the temple itself. But in the meanwhile it was difficult to persuade the Hebrews that such was the case, and therefore did the apostle clinch the argument he had made in 12:18-24 and the exhortation he had given in verse 26 by quoting a proof-text from their own Scriptures. Haggai’s language that the Lord would "shake the heavens" referred, as we have seen, not to the starry heavens or celestial planets, but to the Judaical constitution under the ceremonial law—called the "heavens" because they typed out heavenly things! Ultimately God would "shake" and remove all dominions, thrones and powers which were opposed to the kingdom of Christ—as, for example, He later did the Roman empire.
"Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved" (verse 28). The design of the Holy Spirit in the whole of this passage (Heb. 12:18-29) was to enhance in the Hebrews’ estimation the supremacy and excellency of Christ’s kingdom, which His Gospel has "brought to light," and of which the believers have been given the right and assurance, for it was to make way for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom that those mighty "shakings" occurred. Paul insists that God’s "shakings" were in order to "remove" that which hindered the manifestation and development of Christ’s kingdom. Here, then, is further proof that, so far from Haggai’s prophecy looking forward to the universal convulsion of nature at the last day, it has already had its fulfillment: believers now actually obtain the fruit of that "shaking," for they "receive" the unshakable kingdom, namely the kingdom of Christ which cannot be moved. We trust this is now so plain to the reader that further effort on our part to establish the same is unnecessary.
But not only did the prophecy of Haggai announce the superiority of Christianity over Judaism and the necessary setting aside of the one for the other, but it also clearly intimated the finality of the Christian dispensation. This is plain from the words of Hebrews 12:27, "yet once more." According to modem dispensationalists Paul should have said, "yet twice more," for their view is, that just as the Mosaic dispensation was followed by the Christian, so the Christian will be succeeded by a revived and glorified Judaism in "the Millennium." But "once more" means once only, and then no more. Christianity is the final thing which God has for this earth. The last great dispensational change was made when the Gospel was given to all the world: hence Peter could say, "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet. 4:7), for God has now spoken His last word to mankind. Hence also John said, "It is the last hour" (1 John 2:18), which had not been true if another dispensation is to follow the one we are now in.
"And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain" (verse 27). Here the apostle explains Haggai’s "Yet once it is a little while (cf. the "now" of Hebrews 12:26) and I will shake the heavens" etc. When Paul refers to the things shaken and removed "as of things that are made," he was far from adding a superfluous clause: it emphasized again the contrast he was drawing. The phrase "as of things that are made" is elliptical, needing the added words "made" (by hands) to bring out its sense. Everything connected with Judaism was made by human hands: even the tables of stone on which were inscribed the ten commandments, God commanded Moses to "hew" (Ex. 34:1), while the tabernacle and all connected with it was to be "made" according to "the pattern" God showed him (Ex. 25:8, 9). In sharp and blessed contrast, the immaterial and spiritual things of Christianity are "not made with hands" (2 Cor. 5:1), but are "made without hands" (Col. 2:11).
"Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved let us have grace whereby we may serve God." The apostle here draws an inference from what had just been pointed out concerning the shaking and removing of Judaism and the establishing of Christianity. First, here is a great privilege into which Christians have entered, namely, a spiritual state under the rule of Jesus Christ—whom God hath anointed and set as king upon His holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6)—here called a "kingdom." Second, the essential character of this kingdom, in contrast from all others, namely its immoveability—its finality and permanency. Third, the way of the believer’s participation of it: we "receive" it. "This kingdom, then, is the rule of Christ in and over the Gospel-state of the church, which the apostle hath proved to be more excellent than that of the Law" (John Owen). This kingdom we must now consider.
At the beginning of human history God’s kingdom was realized on this earth, so that there was no need to pray, "Thy kingdom come." God’s kingship was established in Eden, and all the blessings that flow from subjection to His dominion were then enjoyed. The supremacy of God was gladly and spontaneously acknowledged by all His creatures. But sin entered, and a radical change ensued. Man repudiated the kingship of God, for by transgressing His commandments Adam rejected His sovereignty. By so doing, by heeding the suggestions of the Serpent, the "kingdom of Satan" (Matthew 12:26) was set up in this world. Shortly afterwards, God established His mediatorial kingdom, Abel being its first subject.
Since the Fall there have been two great empires at work on this earth: the "world" and "the kingdom of God." Those who belong to the former own not God; those who pertain to the latter, profess subjection to Him. In O.T. times the Israelitish theocracy was the particular sphere of God’s kingdom on earth, the domain where His authority was manifested in a special way (Judg. 8:23, 1 Samuel 12:12, Hosea 13:9, 10, etc.). But subjection to Him, even there, was, on the part of the Nation as a whole, but partial and brief. The time soon came when Jehovah had to say to His servant, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). Then it was that the Lord appointed human kings in Israel as His representatives, for while the Sinaitic convenant (Ex. 19:6) continued in force Jehovah remained their King—it was the "King which made a marriage feast for His Son" (Matthew 22:2)! Though Saul, David, and his successors, bore the regal character, and thus partly obscured the Divine government, yet it was not abolished (see 2 Chronicles 13:8). The throne on which Solomon sat was called "The throne of the kingdom of the Lord" (1 Chron. 28:5).
Through Israel’s prophets God announced that there should yet be a more glorious display of His government than had been witnessed by their fathers of old, and promised that His dominion would take a more spiritual form in the establishing of the Messianic kingdom. This became the great theme of the later predictions of the O.T., though the nature and character of what was to come was necessarily depicted under the figures and forms of those material things with which the people were familiar and by those objects of Judaism which were most venerated by them. The setting up of the spiritual and immoveable kingdom of Christ was the issue and goal of all the prophets declared: see Luke 1:69, 70 and cf. Daniel 2:44. "The Lord reigneth, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded Himself: the world (i.e. the "world to come" of Hebrews 2:5, the new "world" brought in by Christ) also is established, that it cannot be moved" (Ps. 93:1, which is parallel with "we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved" (Heb. 12:28).
But though it had been clearly revealed through the prophets that the Lord Messiah would be a King and have a universal empire, yet the bulk of Abraham’s natural descendants entertained a grossly mistaken conception of the true design of Christ’s appearing and the real nature of His kingdom, and this mistake produced a most pernicious influence upon their tempers and conduct when the gracious purpose of His advent was fulfilled. The sense which they affixed to the Messianic prophecies was one that flattered their pride and fostered their carnality. Being ignorant of their spiritual needs and puffed up with a false persuasion of their peculiar interests in Jehovah’s favor on the ground of their fleshly descent from Abraham (John 8:39, 41), the lowly life and holy teaching and claims of the Lord Jesus were bitterly opposed by them (John 8:48, 59; Luke 19:14).
Though God had made many announcements through Israel’s prophets that the Messiah would occupy the regal office, yet clear intimation was given that He would be very different from the monarchs of earth (Isa. 53:2). Though the Messiah’s dominion and reign had been described under material symbols, yet was it made plain that His kingdom would not be "of this world." Through Zechariah it was announced, "Behold, Thy King cometh unto thee: He is just and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Heb. 9:9). How different was that from the imposing splendor assumed by earth’s sovereigns! what a contrast was His ass from their magnificent chariots and state-coaches! How plainly did the poverty and meanness of Christ’s regal appearance intimate that His kingdom was not of a temporal kind! The Maker of heaven and earth, the Lord of angels, disdained such things as are highly esteemed among men.
The fatal mistake made by the Jews respecting the true nature of the kingdom of the Messiah lay at the foundation of all the opposition with which they treated Him, and of their own ultimate ruin. How it behooves us, then, to prayerfully seek right views of Christ’s kingdom, and to resist everything which tends to secularize His holy dominion, lest by corrupting the Evangelical Economy we dishonor the blessed Redeemer, and be finally punished as the enemies of His government. As the main cause of the Jews’ infidelity was their erroneous notion of a temporal kingdom of the Messiah, so the principal source of the corruption of Christianity has been the attempt made by Rome and her daughters to turn the spiritual kingdom of Christ into a temporal one, by uniting church and state and seeking to extend it by earthly means.
In John’s Gospel (which gives the spiritual side of things more than do the first three Gospels, being specially written to and for believers), there is a most significant word after the account of our Lord’s regal entry into Jerusalem on the back of an ass: "These things understood not His disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him" (John 12:16). So prejudiced were the apostles by the erroneous teaching of the Pharisees, that even they did not rightly apprehend the nature of Christ’s kingdom till after His ascension. They, too, were looking for a material kingdom, expecting it to appear in external pomp and glory; and hence they were at a complete loss to apprehend those scriptures which spoke of Christ’s kingdom as of a mean and lowly appearance. Well did Matthew Henry say, "The right understanding of the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom of its powers, glories, and victories, would prevent our misinterpreting and misapplying of the Scriptures that speak of it."
Alas, how blind men still are as to what constitutes the true glory of Christ’s kingdom, namely, that it is a spiritual one, advanced by spiritual means, for spiritual persons, and unto spiritual ends. "To subdue hearts, not to conquer kingdoms; to bestow the riches of His grace to poor and needy sinners, not, like Solomon, to heap up gold and silver and precious stones; to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him, not to spread ruin and desolation over countless provinces (as did Ceasar, Charlemagne, Napoleon—A.W.P.); to be surrounded with an army of martyrs, not an army of soldiers; to hold a court where paupers, not princes, are freely welcome" (J.C. Philpot). Only those favored with true spiritual discernment will be able to perceive what the real honors and glories of the Lamb consist of.
The Mediatorial King must of necessity have a kingdom: even at His birth He was proclaimed as "Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11), and the first inquiry made of Him was "where is He that is born King of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2). Christ’s Kingship and kingdom follow from a twofold cause. First, His sovereignty as God is essential to His Divine nature, being underived, absolute, eternal, and unchanging. Second, His sovereignty as Mediator is derived, being given to Him by the Father as the reward of His obedience and sufferings. It has two distinct aspects: first, in its wider and more general application it embraces all the universe; second, in its narrower and more specific administration it is restricted to the Church, the election of grace. In addition to these distinctions, it is important to note Christ never affirmed that the setting up of His kingdom on this earth was in any way dependent upon the attitude of the Jews toward Him: no, the eternal purpose of God was never left contingent upon the conduct of worms of the dust.
"When the Jews refused Jesus as the Messiah, He did not say that the founding of the kingdom would be postponed until His second coming, but He did say the kingdom should be taken from them and given to the Gentiles!" (W. Masselink, "Why the Thousand Years?"). "Jesus saith unto them, 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 marvelous 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" (Matthew 21:42, 43). Moreover, every passage in the epistles which speak of Christ’s kingdom as a present reality, refutes the theory that His kingdom has been postponed until His second advent: see Colossians 1:13, Revelation l:9—Christ’s kingdom existed in the days of John, and he was in it! Christ is now "the Prince of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5). He has already been "crowned with glory and honor" (Heb. 2:9).
In consequence of the entrance of sin, God has set up a kingdom in antagonism to the kingdom of Satan. It is essentially different from the kingdoms of the world, in its origin, nature, end, method of development and continuance. It is essentially a kingdom of righteousness, and its central principle is the loyalty of heart of its subjects to the King Himself. It is not a democracy, but an absolute monarchy. The special agency for the extension of it is the organized churches of Christ with their regular ministry. By His providential operations the Lord Jesus is working in every sphere and causing all the historic movements of peoples and nations, civilized and uncivilized, to further its interests and advance its growth; though at the time of such movements this is hidden from carnal sense. Its consummation shall be ushered in by the return of the King, when His servants shall be rewarded and His enemies slain.
"There is but one kingdom or spiritual realm in which Christ reigns forever, and which in the end shall be eternally glorious in the perfect glory of her King; yet in Scripture there are three distinct names used to set forth the excellencies and the blessedness of that realm in various aspects, namely, the Kingdom, the Church, and the City of God" (A. A. Hodge). Of the three terms the word "kingdom" is the most flexible and has the widest range in its N.T. usage. It designates, first, a sphere of rule, a realm over which the government of Christ extends. It signifies, second, a reign or the exercise of royal authority. It denotes, third, the benefits or blessings which result from the benevolent exercise of Christ’s regal authority. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink"—the reign of Christ does not express itself in that kind of activity; "but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17)—these are the characteristics of His realm.
That Christ’s kingdom is of an altogether different nature and character from the kingdoms of this world is clear from His own teaching: "But Jesus called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45). And again, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36): observe He did not say "My kingdom is not in this world," but "not of it." It is not a provincial thing, nor a political institution; it is not regulated by territorial or material considerations, nor is it governed by carnal policy; it is not made up of unregenerate subjects, nor is it seeking mundane aggrandizement. It is purely a spiritual regime, regulated by the Truth. This is seen from the means He used at its first establishment, and His appointments for its support and enlargement—not physical force, but gracious overtures.
Some men who are fond of drawing innumerable distinctions and contrasts under the guise of "rightly dividing the Word of Truth," draw a sharp line between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ. But this is clearly confuted by "hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph. 5:5), and again "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. 11:15 and cf. 12:10). Its spiritual nature is plainly seen from Jehovah’s statement, "they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Sam. 8:7): His throne and scepter was an invisible one. In like manner when the Jews said of Christ, "We will not have this Man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14), they intimated that they were unwilling to surrender their hearts to His moral sway. So too when Paul said, "But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power" (1 Cor. 4:19, 20) he obviously meant, "the spiritual power thereof felt in your hearts."
The reign of Christ has a twofold application. First, He sustains the relation of a gracious Sovereign to His redeemed people, ruling them in love, maintaining their interests, supplying their needs, restraining their foes; training them for His service now and for the glory awaiting them in Heaven. Second, He is the moral Governor over the world, for however unconscious they may be of His operations, all men are controlled by Him and their schemings and actions over-ruled for His own ends. Even earth’s potentates are obliged to obey His secret will: "by Me kings reign, and princes decree justice" (Prov. 8:15); "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prov. 21:1). His government over the world, yea, over the entire universe, is administered by a wisely adapted series of means, appointed and directed by Him.
It is important to recognize this twofold scope of Christ’s reign. To the Father He said, "As Thou has given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him" (John 17:2). The kingdom of Christ as it is spiritual and inward is peculiar to the elect, but His kingdom as it is judicial and outward is universal. The two things are distinguished again in Psalm 2: "Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion" (verse 6), and "Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (verse 8). Christ is not only "King of saints" (Rev. 15:3), but He is also "King of nations" (Jer. 10:7). He reigns over all mankind, and those who do not submit themselves to Him as Redeemer, shall yet stand before Him as Judge. "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel" (Ps. 2:9): this speaks of the judiciary acts of His power. Joseph in Egypt typed out the same: the power of all the land was made over to him (Gen. 41:43), but his brethren had a special claim upon his affections.
Now this kingdom of Christ, considered in its spiritual and inward aspect, believers are said to "receive," that is, they participate in its privileges and blessings. As Christ’s kingdom is "not of the world" but "heavenly" (2 Tim. 4:18), so its subjects are not of the world but heavenly. From the Divine side, they enter by means of the Spirit’s quickening, for "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). From the human side, they enter when they throw down the weapons of their rebellion and take Christ’s yoke upon them, for "except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). It was when we transferred our allegiance from Satan to Christ that it could be said, "The Father hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son" (Col. 1:13). They who have received the Gospel into an honest and good heart have been admitted into and made participants of the kingdom of Christ.
"Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved." In seeking to define more closely the "we receiving," let us remember the threefold meaning of the term "kingdom." First, it signifies that we are admitted into that realm or sphere where Christ is owned as Supreme. Second, it signifies that we have surrendered to the reign or scepter of Christ, for Him to rule over our hearts and lives. Third, it signifies that we now participate in the blessings of Christ’s government. This word "receiving" also denotes that we have this kingdom from Another: "walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2:12); "hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom?" (James 2:5); "Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34); all bring out this thought.
In affirming that this is a kingdom "which cannot be moved" the apostle emphasized once more the great superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and also showed wherein the kingdom of Christ differs from all the kingdoms of earth, which are subject to commotions and convulsions. This "kingdom which cannot be moved" is but another name for "those things which cannot be shaken" that "remain" of verse 27: it is the substance and reality of what was typed out under the Mosaic economy. "We have received a kingdom that shall never be moved, nor give way to any new dispensation. The canon of Scripture is now perfected, the Spirit of prophecy is ceased, the mystery of God is finished: He hath put His last hand to it. The Gospel-church may be made more large, more prosperous, more purified from contracted pollution, but it shall never be altered for another dispensation; they who perish under the Gospel, perish without remedy" (Matthew Henry).