The Character of the Kingdom
Rev. Andy Heer
From a Sermon
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2011. Volume 29.
Posted Aug., 2011

Matthew 4:12-25 "Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, "THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES--"THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND TO THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED."

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him. And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. And the news about Him went out into all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan."

A lot of Christians want to avoid fighting over trivial issues of theology and instead focus on the important issues. When these kinds of sentiments are shared eschatology is most often included as one of the trivial points of theology. In a particular sense this is true. We should not spend a great deal of time fighting in a cantankerous manner when the millennial reign or the peace will come. But just because we should not break fellowship over fellow Christians over eschatological issue does not mean it is an unimportant or marginal issue.

I hope to show your understanding of eschatology is closely connected to your understanding of the Gospel. If you think of eschatology as an intramural disagreement between Christians on how you handle certain passages from the Book of Revelation then you are correct in believing it is not a primary issue. However, if we consider the more frequent Biblical phrase "Kingdom of God" rather than the term "millennium" you will find the debate essential rather than secondary. If one takes the time to examine teaching concerning the Kingdom of God you will find it most clearly eschatological. It concerns the last things, up to and including the end of the world. So the phrase "Kingdom of God" is clearly eschatological. And any serious examination will also conclude this term "Kingdom of God" is closely associated with the Gospel.

In verse 17 we see what Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Then in verse 23 we read these words, "And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom." What I want you to see is how the Gospel is intimately connected to this idea of the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 9:35 says, "And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness." What does Jesus preach? The Gospel of the Kingdom is what Jesus preaches. If Jesus is the perfect example of a preacher then what should we expect to hear preached from the pulpits in our churches? The Gospel of the Kingdom, right?

The Kingdom of God is an immense subject because the Kingdom of God is connected to the Gospel. The Gospel is connected to the Love of God. The Love of God is connected to the Cross. This theme of the Kingdom of God is not just found in the four Gospel accounts of the New Testament, we find this message of the Kingdom throughout all of Scripture. When you look at the Book of Acts we find the early disciples going out and preaching the Kingdom of God not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles as well.

How much preaching have you seen which can be characterized as preaching the Kingdom of God? How many modern evangelists do we find preaching the Kingdom of God, preaching the Kingdom of Heaven?

I want you to see some of the different categories of the Kingdom that we find in Scripture: Kingdom Gospel; Kingdom apologetics; Kingdom teaching; Kingdom repentance. These different categories are not all unrelated but I want to show the immense nature of this subject. Matthew 24:14 says, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come." I don't have time to develop this further but I have previously taught that this end is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. If we look at other New Testament passages we can see how the Gospel was preached throughout the Roman world, or the civilized world before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. My point is this: The Gospel will be preached. Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom and the disciples preached the Gospel of the kingdom and the early church preached the Gospel of the kingdom.

We have Kingdom Gospel and we find in Matthew 3 Kingdom Repentance. Matthew 3:1-2, "Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." What we do today is rarely preach repentance, but when we do preach repentance we preach repent because you are a sinner. Notice how alien this type of language would be in our mouths, "Repent because the Kingdom is Here!" John the Baptist came preaching repentance because he was preaching the Kingdom.

Look at the idea of Kingdom teaching in Acts 1:1-3, "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." If you had traveled with Jesus for 3 years, if you had walked with Him and seen Him raise the dead, walk on water, cast out demons. You had seen Him go to Jerusalem to be crucified, and three days later you had seen Him rise from the dead just as He predicted that He would. After His resurrection Jesus gathers His disciples together for a debriefing for 40 days, what would you talk about? It says here they were speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God. The number one topic of discussion after the resurrection was the Kingdom of God. This is Jesus' priority, the Kingdom of God. The disciples go out in the Book of Acts preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God.

Look at Acts 8:12, "But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike." What does Philip do? He preaches the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus.

Acts 20:25, we see Paul giving a summary of his ministry at Ephesus. Verse 25, "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more." What did Paul do in mostly Gentile Ephesus? He preached the Kingdom of God.

Look at Acts 28:30-31, "And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." Again what is the preaching and teaching of Paul? It is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This is not merely a matter of periphery, the subject of eschatology. I am not trying to preach a series of sermons on eschatology so we can argue against the dispensationalist. What I am trying to communicate in this series is this is a matter of the Gospel. I'm not so concerned you get your eschatology straight as much as I am concerned that you get the Gospel straight. And the Gospel is a Gospel of the Kingdom. We cannot detach the Kingdom teaching from the Gospel preaching. If you hold out your eschatology over here and place your soteriology over on this side of the room you have done something fundamentally radical and unbiblical. Soteriology and eschatology are connected doctrines; they cannot be separated.

Acts 19:8, we see Kingdom apologetics, "And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God." When the apostles were preaching and teaching they were preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God. When they were reasoning and persuading they were reasoning and persuading the Kingdom of God.

What is this Kingdom? The Kingdom of God is nothing less than the rule and realm of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is manifested in history here on this planet according to His will and good pleasure. Notice how Jesus taught us to pray? He taught us to pray that His Kingdom would be made visible here on earth as it is in heaven. He did not teach us to pray that the little invisible Kingdom we have going on here would be taken up to heaven. He does not teach us to pray, "Bring your Kingdom to heaven so it can be visible." No, He teaches us to pray, Bring your Kingdom from heaven to earth so it can be manifested here! We are to pray, "Your Kingdom Come!" Not, "Your citizens go!"

What does Jesus teach about His Kingdom? Jesus teaches us that His Kingdom will arrive like a mustard seed, like leaven put into the loaf. The Kingdom of heaven does not arrive like the 82nd airborne. The Kingdom of Heaven does not arrive all at once. The Bible teaches over and over that the Kingdom of heaven is planted small and grows immense. Turn to Matthew 13:31-32, "He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES."

What is the rule and realm of Jesus Christ like? What is the Kingdom of God like? It is like a mustard seed that starts out very small but grows big. How do you think the disciples took this message? Imagine Jesus standing with the disciples by the lake and Jesus tells them, "I want you to take this message and conquer the world." Can you see the disciples looking around and thinking all we have is a couple of boats and fishing nets? This seems like crazy talk but what is remarkable is to step back and consider how much progress has been made. When you see where they started it is remarkable. I know the Church is a mess today. It is full of blemishes, but Jesus said it would be this way.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death." When was Jesus seated at the right hand of God the Father? At the Ascension, 40 days after the resurrection Jesus took His place in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. Look with me at Psalm 110 for some insight to this passage. Psalm 110:1, "The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet." How long will Jesus remain seated at the right hand of God the Father? UNTIL---all His enemies are His footstool.

In the popular understanding of eschatology, in the popular understanding of the second coming of Jesus Christ, where this world belongs to the devil and everything is under his control until Jesus comes again. What will happen at the second coming? The dead will be raised…according to this doctrine the first enemy that will be destroyed will be death. However according to 1 Corinthians the last enemy that will be destroyed will be death.

According to Scripture, every enemy short of death will be subdued and conquered and placed under Jesus' feet by the preaching of the Gospel. Every principality, every king, every president, every power will be subdued and placed under the feet of Jesus. When Jesus comes again He will then subdue death and put it under His feet as well. But every enemy of Jesus will be subdued through the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom. It will not be subdued by preaching a watered-down, defeated version of the Gospel like so many are trying to preach today.

Someone raised a good objection to this teaching last week. When I talk about the Kingdom of God and its success, when I say things like I have recently that the world will be saved. When I say the vast overwhelming majority of people will be saved. Jesus did not come into this world to give it the old college try only to fail because of man and his free will. It was mentioned that there are some troubling verses to my preaching, like narrow is the way to salvation and broad is the way to destruction.

Let's turn to Matthew 8 and look at a couple of passages to put "narrow is the way" into context. Remember Jesus came with the Gospel first to Israel and Israel rejected. In Mathew 8 we have the story of the faith of the Gentile centurion. Matthew 8:10-12 "Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. "And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."" Who will sit with the patriarchs of Israel? The Gentile infusion from east and west are the ones who will recline at Abraham's table. Narrow is the way of salvation for the first century Israelites.

Let's look at a passage in Luke and remember the context. Ask yourself, 'Few of what? And Many of what', keep it all in context. Luke 13:22-30, And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem.

23 And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, 24 "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 "Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' 26 "Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; 27 and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.' 28 "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out. 29 "And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 "And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last."

Clearly in context Jesus is talking to Jews of the first century. In answer to the question "Are there just a few who will be saved? Jesus is teaching in the first century, in Israel there is only a small remnant that will be saved. Turn to Romans 9 for more confirmation. The ones who should have inherited the Kingdom, the Jews rejected Jesus and His Kingdom, but the Gentiles will come in and do so in great number. Matthew 21:43, "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it." The Jews through their unbelief have forfeited their place in the Kingdom. But God will see to it that the Kingdom will not fall short.

The response to this claim is typical of unbelief—we look around at the world instead of looking to the Word. We look around and see billions of unbelievers, and so we reinterpret what the Bible must have been trying to tell us. But what about all the unbelief we see in the world? The Bible does not say that with the death of Christ someone hits a celestial light switch and suddenly everyone is saved. The images of the coming of Christ and His conquering cross all teach us to expect exactly what we have seen happening throughout the history of the Church. The conquest of the world and the overthrow of the devil happened definitively at the cross, and this is progressively and increasingly manifested, as the greatness of the great commission is made apparent.

· The sun has risen, but is not yet at its zenith (Malachi 4:2).

· The mustard seed has been planted, but the tree is not yet full-grown (Matthew 13:31-32).

· The leaven of the kingdom is in the loaf, but the loaf is not yet fully risen (Matthew 13:33).

· The rock has struck the pagan statue on the feet, but the rock is not yet a mountain that fills the earth (Daniel 2:44).

· The trickle of living water has cleared the threshold of the temple, but has not yet become the river, which cannot be crossed (Ezekiel 47:1-5).

· The Lord is seated at the right hand of the Father, but His enemies are not yet His footstool (Psalm 110:1).

· The root of Jesse has been raised as an ensign for the people, but the stream of Gentiles coming to Him is so great that we can honestly say that after many millions of converts, it has barely started (Isaiah 11:10).

· The Child has been given to us, but the increase of His government will have no end (Isaiah 9:7). In short, the Scriptures teach that the taking of this dark world will be as slow and methodical as it is sure and glorious.

Christ is our prince. He reigns in both heaven and earth, and the processes He set in motion are inexorable. All authority in heaven and on earth is His, and on the basis of this authority He tells us to disciple the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). He has been raised from the dead, and therefore God has given Him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9-11). He has ascended on high, into the throne room of the Ancient of Days, and at His coronation He was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him (Daniel 7:13-14).

The vision is a glorious one, and crowded with biblical images and phrases. The earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. The families of the earth will all name Abraham their father, and by faith will receive the blessing of Abraham. The nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will revere His glory. The kings of the earth belong to God, and the nobility of all nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord. All the families of all the nations will bow down before Him. Dominion belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations of men. The nations are Christ's inheritance, and the ends of the earth are His possession. The kingdoms of men are shaken down so that what cannot be shaken may remain. And we are solemnly charged to take this gospel from the river to the ends of the earth.

Such triumphalism frightens us. The task frightens us, and so we feel the need to get away from what the Bible says. But unlike liberals, modern evangelicals do not feel the freedom to reject the words of the Bible…at least overtly. And so we push and squeeze, and lop off, and shape, and form, and publish journals, and tell one another what the Greek word for this is, and figure out what already/not yet is supposed to mean, and settle into our eschatologies.

Boiled down, our problem is that we are slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have clearly spoken.

What shall we do? Hebrews 12:25-29 "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN." And this expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire."

Our attitude in worship is central in receiving this Kingdom. As we prepare for the Lord Supper let's receive this Kingdom with gratitude.