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03/03/2009     Gospel of the Kingdom


Before reading this letter, I would encourage you to read my letter from the 18th of January this year entitled Gospel of Life.   http://wordfromtheophilus.page.tl/Previous-Letters/index.htm
The reason I encourage you to do this is because I want to preclude any objection that may be raised against todays letter saying that I am teaching works regeneration or something along those lines.  I firmly believe in grace, through faith in the blood of Christ Jesus as the sole means of recieving forgiveness of sins and thus justification before the Father in heaven.  That being said, I think that truth does not change the fact that there are other truths to be found in the scriptures, including the one discussed in this letter about the nature of the kingdom.  Once a person understands their hopelessness in pleasing God apart from Christ, I believe that they should be told about the necessity of pleasing God through their life with Christ.  This is a brief discussion of why that is necessary.

 

Reward According to Deeds:

The Gospel of the Kingdom

 
What does Jesus mean when he tells the crowds, “The kingdom of God has drawn near; repent and believe” (Mark 1:15)?  Is there any difference between this and when he and John the Baptist say in Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near”?  When Jesus and the apostle Paul use the expression “enter the kingdom” (Matthew 5:20, Galatians 5:21, etc.) do they mean, as most Christians probably assume, “going to heaven”?

Kingdom

When John the Baptist used the word “kingdom” he was referring to a rulership.  In the statement, “the kingdom of the heavens draws near,” the kingdom was referring to an entity that will be ruled by that which is in the heavens.  This statement was not a reference to eternity future, which in Revelation is called “The New Jerusalem.”  Rather, John the Baptist was referring to the coming of the Messiah, who Himself was the ladder connecting the heavens and the earth (Genesis 28:12, John1:21).  This Messiah would commence the restoration of rulership of the heavens over the earth.

There is great similarity between the phrase “kingdom of the heavens,” primarily used in the gospel of Matthew, and the phrase “kingdom of God” used in the other gospels and in the epistles.  God is in heaven, so heavenly rulership is specifically related to God’s rulership.  There are, I believe, subtle differences between these two phrases, “the kingdom of the heavens” and “the kingdom of God,” but for the most part they are the same.  Therefore, for our present purposes these terms will be used interchangeably.

In Mystery

Both Jesus and John the Baptist spoke of the arrival of the kingdom.  Most see this as referencing Jesus’ first coming.  This makes good sense considering what was established by his first coming.  The “kingdom” is the rulership of God.  Now, with the establishment of the Church, there is a people on the earth who, through the example of Jesus and the giving of His Spirit, are effectively submitting to God’s kingship.  God, through Jesus Christ, now reigns as King in the hearts of His believers and over His Church.  This is the Church life.  This aspect of the kingdom of the heavens (of God) shall be referred to here as “the kingdom in mystery.”   Mystery defines the New Testament Church.  This Church, this “kingdom in mystery,” was not revealed to the prophets of old (Ephesians 3:1-10, Colossians 1:24-27).

In Manifestation

If the Church, which began at the first coming of the Messiah, is what is most often meant by “the kingdom,” then what do Jesus and Paul mean when they refer to entrance into the kingdom as something yet to happen (Matthew 5:21, 1 Corinthians 6:9)?  This question can best be answered when one considers what the original audience would have understood this kingdom to be.

Throughout the Old Testament scriptures there is prophecy concerning the establishment of an earthly kingdom of Israel that would be ruled by Jehovah Himself and would conquer all of the other kingdoms of the earth (Daniel 2:31-45, Isaiah 4:2-6).  The Messiah was expected to conquer the Romans and reign as king over the whole earth, just as prophecy has predicted.  Unfortunately, the original hearers, and specifically those of the Jewish nation, had ignored other prophecy that predicted the Messiah’s first coming as a suffering servant, before He could come as a conquering king (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22:15-18).  It is understandable that these Jews did not foresee the period of the Church, the kingdom in mystery, because it was never made known to the prophets.  They could not fathom that God would allow uncircumcised Gentiles to be co-heirs with His chosen people of Israel in His kingdom (Ephesians 3:5,6).  Let us not, therefore, think that Israel was wrong to expect an earthly kingdom (the word “earth is mentioned over 90 times in both the book of Isaiah and the book of Psalms).  Even the disciples at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry at His first coming expected Him to set up the earthly kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6,7).  Jesus did not correct the disciples understanding of the nature of the kingdom as being earthly and nationally Jewish.  Rather He simply tells them that they will remain ignorant of when the Father plans on setting up this kingdom.

Jesus will return, and He will establish His kingdom on earth, His “kingdom in manifestation.”  This will certainly involve Israel (Romans 11:25-29) and will be on the earth (Isaiah 4:2-6, Revelation 20:1-6).  This is what Paul and Jesus refer to when they speak of the future kingdom, into which certain people will gain entrance and others will not.  This kingdom will be an age when the entire earth will be under the rulership of God through the conquering King, the Lord Jesus.

Entrance into the Kingdom

Since some will gain entrance into the kingdom and some will not, the question naturally arises, “what is the requirement for entrance?”  Is entrance gained in the same way forgiveness of sins is gained or eternal life received: by grace through faith?  Certainly belief (faith) is a foundational requirement for gaining entrance into the kingdom, since it was because of their belief that the tax collectors and prostitutes would gain entrance before the Pharisees (Matthew 21:31,32).  Also worthy of note is the fact that any works done outside of the life of Christ are like a “filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6).  This stands in opposition to the white garment that comes from a life of righteous obedience to Christ (Revelation 3:4,5).  But is belief the only criteria for entrance into the coming kingdom?

Though belief is certainly what brings a person into the Church, the kingdom in mystery, simple belief alone does not guarantee that a person remains in the fellowship that is this kingdom.  According to 1 Corinthians 5:13 the Church is to “remove the evil man" from among themselves.  Likewise in Matthew 18:17 Jesus tells His disciple to expel from fellowship one who refuses to repent after the rebuke of His brethren and the church.  Therefore it can be clearly maintained that righteous, obedient living is to be required to maintain existence in the kingdom as it exists today in mystery.  Why is this?

The reason the churches today are to expel the immoral brother is given immediately after the Lord Jesus’ command to expel in Matthew 18.  Verse 18 says, “whatever you bind on the earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on the earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”  The reason Christians expel from the kingdom is because Christ will expel from the kingdom!  Paul makes this same point when, after he says to “remove the evil man” in 1 Corinthians 5:13, he asks in 1 Corinthians 6:9, “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

Throughout the New Testament, this maintenance of righteous and obedient living is established as being the necessary criteria for entrance in to the kingdom.  See these examples:

-Matthew 5:20  “Unless your righteousness surpasses…you will not enter the kingdom"

-Matthew 7:21  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’…but he who does the will of My Father…will enter”

-Galatians 5:21  “those who practice such things (idolatry, strife, envying, carousing, etc.) will not inherit the kingdom”

-Ephesians 5:5  “no immoral or impure person…has an inheritance in the kingdom”

Reevaluate also the teachings of Jesus on the Mount of Olives when He is talking about how He will reward His servants (Matthew 25 and Luke 19).  Note that His discussion is about bondservants of His, not with those who never call Him “Lord.”

This truth regarding entrance into the kingdom should not be confused with that regarding forgiveness of sins or justification before the Father.  Man is justified before the Father entirely because of the work of another: Jesus shedding his blood on the cross.  Justification is only achieved by grace, through faith (Romans 3:28).  However, entrance into the Lord’s kingdom when it comes, just like existence in His kingdom in mystery today is not graciously given to all who believe and is not forever secured (Hebrews 4:11).  The reward of the Lord’s kingdom is based on works and can be lost.

-Theophilus


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