THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND!
By John Telgren
The "Kingdom of God" has become a hot topic these days. Just turn on the Christian radio and television stations and you hear many people saying that these are the last days and the Kingdom of God is near. There are many, like myself, that believe the kingdom has already come, even though in one sense we still await the coming of a final kingdom.
The message of the kingdom of God is what began the ministry of Jesus in the first chapter of Mark. His first words were: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15)." Many people in Jesus’ day believed that the kingdom had already come, and others believed it was still to come. This is not a whole lot different than the discussions taking place today is it?
What is the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of Heaven? (Note: Kingdom of Heaven was the phrase many Jews used in order to avoid saying "God" out of reverence.) The phrase originated in Hebrew – "malkut shemayim." However, "Kingdom of Heaven" is not a precise translation. Malkut means something more like "reign", "rule", or "kingship." It does not mean "kingdom" in the sense of a political entity with marked off boundaries. It is much more inclusive than that. The Hebrew scriptures affirm this thought in passages such as Psalm 24: "The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it … who is this king of glory? Yahweh of armies, he is the king of glory." So Yahweh, our God, is king of all the earth. We echo the same sentiment in our favorite hymn, "This is my father’s world…." God’s rule is over everything, he is sovereign king.
If God is ruler over all the earth, why does Jesus say the kingdom is "at hand?" The beginning of Jesus ministry is marked by a show of power when the heavens were "ripped open". In the remainder of chapter 2 and 3, Jesus heals the sick and casts out demons. In Mark 3:27, Jesus explains that he has bound the strong man and set the captives free. Jesus had come with power!
It is interesting to note that the coming of the kingdom (or reign) of God was prophesied as coming with a show of power in Daniel 2.
"…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will shatter and put an end to all these kingdoms, but itself will endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it shattered the iron, the bronze, the clay the silver and the gold, the great God has made know to the king what will take place in the future…(Dan 2:44-45)"
Zechariah 14:9-11 and Micah 4:1-5 speak of the coming reign of God as a time of peace and prosperity. There will be no more war, so people will hammer the swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. There will be no cause for fear any longer. Now, according to Jesus, this is all about to happen.
Did it happen? Has the kingdom already come? Jesus told his disciples to pray "thy kingdom come" in Luke 11:2. Later in that same chapter, he says concerning his casting out of demons, "If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20)." So the kingdom of God has come with power. Woa! Wait a minute. First Jesus says to pray "thy kingdom come," then later says that "the kingdom of God has come upon you." Did Jesus establish his rule in the middle of Luke 11?
This passage should answer that question. "Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as the when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘look here it is!' or 'look, there it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in you (Lk 17:20-21)." So the kingdom is not a kingdom the way we think of a kingdom. This is why Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)."
So if the kingdom was at hand, how close was it? Jesus said "There are those of you standing here who will not taste of death until you see the kingdom of God after it has come with power (Mark 9:1)." The kingdom of God was to come with power! We see this display of power in Acts 2. The Spirit fell on the disciples, they spoke in languages they had not studied, and began to heal sickness and cast out demons. The kingdom of God had come with power! God’s "reign" had come in the hearts of those who had believed in Jesus, and had repented and were baptized when Peter preached the first sermon on Jesus. The kingdom of God is "in you."
How can you be in his kingdom? The Apostle Paul says this about the kingdom: "For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man who is an idolater has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:5)."
Peter says, "…in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self control, and in your self control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love … as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Pet 1:5-11)."
Wait a minute! We still have yet to inherit the kingdom? It will be abundantly supplied to us? Did the kingdom come when Peter preached the first sermon, or is it still to come? The answer is "Yes".
John describes the seventh and last trumpet in Revelation 11:15. At the sound of the last trumpet, a loud voice in heaven will say, "The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and he will reign for ever and ever." Paul describes it as "…the end, when he delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power (I Cor 15:24)." Could this be the final fulfillment of Daniel 2, when all rule and authority and power is "shattered", and God’s kingdom fills the cosmos?
Are you in the kingdom/reign of Christ? Jesus’ disciples wanted to participate in the reign of Christ by being on his right and left. Jesus response was, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink…(Mark 10:38)". We understand that the "cup" was referring to the suffering Christ was to partake of. But what did that have to do with his disciples’ request?
This passage will help to answer that question: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those who are in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11)."
According to this passage, Jesus was not exalted until he humbled himself. Being a part of the reign of Christ, or participating in his kingdom is not given out just by asking. It only comes through humility and sacrifice. This is why Jesus said, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven (Mt 5:3)." It is also why he said, "And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell (Mk 9:47)."
If you humble yourself, even to the point of death, you will participate in the reign of Christ. Participation in his rule means eternal life in Heaven. The final picture in Revelation is that those who remained faithful are forever before the throne of God and "they will reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:1-5)."
"The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel!" What does that mean for you? For Simon, Andrew, James and John, it meant dropping their jobs to follow a new calling (Mark 1:16-20). For others, it may mean casting off an eye that causes you to sin (Mk 9:47).
It may mean simply that you need to change your priorities: "And do not seek that you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek for his kingdom and these things shall be added to you. Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make for yourselves purses that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. (Lk 12:29-33)."
Two thousand years ago, the kingdom came with power! The final, heavenly kingdom is also coming with power: "Now I say this brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable and this mortal must put on immortality…death is swallowed up in victory (I Cor 15:50-54)."