The Kingdom of Heaven with an Earthly Mission
By Bro Jim Brasseal, Pastor Landmark MBC
Presented at the Rocky Mountain Missionary Baptist Association Meeting hosted by Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, Lakewood, CO on August 10, 2012.
“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).
In his prayer to the Father for his disciples, Jesus said, “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
The phrase “not of this world” means that His kingdom and the work of His disciples did not originate with this wicked world system. This wicked world system operates “according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). These verses show that you can be living and working in this world and, at the same time, not be a part of this wicked world system. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).
Jesus also said to the same little flock of disciples, which we can identify in Matthew 16:18 as his first New Testament church, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
In the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, Jesus referred to the kingdom in 5:3, 5:10, 5:19-20, 6:10, 6:33, and 7:21.
Please consider these three verses. “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
A.T. Robertson in Word Pictures in the New Testament defines “the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God” as the “reign of God” and “the reign of God in the heart and life” in his commentary on Matthew 3:2 and Matthew 5:3 (Vol. 1, page 24 and 40, respectively). Arthur W. Pink in An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount gives the same definition.
My pastor, C.A. Walker, gave me a selection of books in February of 1958 that were very helpful in my understanding of the kingdom question. The writers were J. R. Graves, T. T. Eaton, J. N. Hall, Ben Bogard, and J. B. Moody. I compiled a notebook with every scripture that spoke of the Lord’s kingdom and studied the books from Pastor Walker. I studied the reference to the kingdom in the old doctrinal statement of the American Baptist Association. “We also hold in common what real Baptists have ever held: That the great commission was given to the churches only. That in kingdom activities the church is the unit and the only unit; that the churches have, and should exercise equal authority and responsibility should be met by them according to their several abilities.”
The sense of this doctrinal statement (#10) is explained more completely by J. R. Graves on pages 262 and 263 of the 1883 edition of Seven Dispensations, reprinted by the Baptist Sunday School Committee in 1928.
“The Doctrine of the Kingdom” (Lesson # 29) in Dr. Ben Bogard’s study booklet, Fifty-two Doctrinal Lessons, was especially helpful.
The promise in our Church Covenant, “To be zealous to advance the kingdom of our Savior,” became clearer as I studied the material given to me by Pastor C. A. Walker.
My first Greek teacher at the Seminary in Little Rock was Dr. Fred G. Stevenson. We had good doctrinal lessons along with our Greek vocabulary. I can remember his words, “There is no new plan of salvation in the New Testament. God always has and still does save sinners by grace through faith. The new matter in the New Testament is a new covenant, a new order of Christian service in the membership of a true church. Too many Baptists are feeding at the trough of Protestantism to get their lessons on the kingdom and the Lord’s church.”
Dr. L. D. Foreman, president of the seminary, emphasized these points. “The first great theme of the entire Bible is that Jesus Christ died for all mankind and that eternal salvation is offered to ‘whosoever believeth in him’ (John 3:16). Another great theme of the New Testament is that our lives can give glory to God by faithful service in the Lord’s church (Ephesians 3:21).”
One of my brethren asked me this question: “Does John 3:3 teach that one enters the kingdom of God at the moment he is born again?” Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). I believe that the word “see” has the meaning “to understand.” It is absolutely necessary for one to be born again for him to have any understanding of God’s covenant work. The first step in being a part of the Lord’s work is to know Jesus Christ in salvation. In the Old Testament days of Israel, salvation was not a requirement to have a part in the nation. Many who served as king in Judah or Israel were wicked, unconverted men. A lost person may get into church membership, but that would be contrary to Bible teaching and example.
Understanding the four different stages of the kingdom of God was beneficial in harmonizing the different verses and parables about the kingdom.
This definition will fit in any of the four phases: the Kingdom of God is the realm of righteous faithful service to God in the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ as mediator.
Phase I, the Jewish Phase
The beginning of the kingdom of God was in the personal ministry of Jesus Christ with Jesus calling out Jewish disciples to establish his church body, which worked under his pastoral leadership. Remember the words of Jesus, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7).
Salvation has always been available to Jews and Gentiles. In his wisdom, God chose that, in the transition from the law covenant to the New Testament order of Christian service in his church, the work would begin with the nation of Israel.
The Lord gave a parable about the keepers of the vineyard who were unfaithful in doing the master’s work. The Lord explained that the vineyard would be let out to other husbandmen. Then, the Lord gave this conclusion to the parable: “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 21:43). Some in Israel did receive the message of Jesus, but most of the nation rejected his message. Paul describes most of Israel. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3).
Phase II, the Gentile Phase
The transition to the Gentile church age begins with the Apostle Peter’s ministry in the home of Cornelius, a Gentile soldier, in the city of Cesarea (Acts 10:1-48). This change fulfills the words of Jesus about the kingdom (Matthew 21:43). Any individual Israelite can be saved today if he will receive Jesus the Christ by faith. The important words “whosoever believeth” given in Acts 10:43 still apply to any Jew or Gentile.
Writing of Israel as a nation, Paul wrote, “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25). Paul also uses the illustration of olive branches being broken off and wild olive branches being grafted in to show how the Lord turned away from the nation of Israel and turned to Gentiles to carry out his world-wide commission (Romans 11:19-24).
In the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul gave a condensed history of Israel in the Old Testament. He then preached that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah, Jesus died on the cross as a spotless lamb, and Jesus arose from the grave after three days and three nights. He preached about God’s wonderful work in the early New Testament age. Many of the Jews were filled with envy and spoke against Paul’s message (Acts 13:14-52). Please notice the words of Acts 13:46, “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”
The Gentile kingdom age continues to this day and, in this meeting of our Rocky Mountain Association, we have messengers from Gentile New Testament churches. However, I do know of born again Jewish people who are members of true churches. Remember, the blindness that happened unto Israel is only “in part” (Romans 11:25).
Paul writes of his fellow-workers unto [for] the kingdom of God (Colossians 4:11). John writes of being a brother and companion in the kingdom (Revelation 1:9).
Many of the verses about the kingdom show that this stage of the kingdom is connected to faithful, scriptural service in the work of the Lord’s churches. Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). I believe that he was instructing the disciples who were already following him to give first place to that realm of righteous, Christian service, which operates under His authority.
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men” (Romans 14:17-18). Please notice how serving Christ is connected to the kingdom qualities of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
You can be a fellow worker and companion in this phase of the kingdom of God if you follow these steps.
- Become a child of God by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior (John 1:12-13). You cannot understand [see] nor have any part in the kingdom of God until you are saved (John 3:3).
- Follow Christ in scriptural baptism and become a member of a true New Testament church.
- Live a Christian life, take up your cross daily, let your light shine, and work to take the gospel message to the uttermost regions of this world.
Some of the questions about Ephesians 5:1-5 and Galatians 5:16-26 can be answered if we understand that kingdom service requires the new birth but also involves more than having everlasting life. Participation, faithful service, and an inheritance in the Lord’s work require a faithful decent moral lifestyle.
The main message of the book of Hebrews is that we have a better covenant and a better course of Christian service in this New Testament age than Israel had under the Law of Moses. There is a stern warning that a New Testament church can turn away from the truth of God’s Word. “But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6). “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers [fellow-helpers and partners in fellowship] of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence [faith and assurance] stedfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
The relationship between faithfully serving God and the kingdom work is highlighted in Hebrews 12:28. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
The individual child of God cannot lose his salvation. A New Testament church can lose its special place as the espoused bride of Christ and its authority to work as a commissioned agent, using the keys [authority] of the kingdom given by Jesus Christ. The removal of the candlestick is another warning that a church can lose its place of service (Revelation 2:5).
A saved person can have his unfaithful works (wood, hay, stubble) destroyed at God’s judgement of his life, yet still be saved (I Corinthians 3:12-15). If a saved person turns to a fleshly ungodly lifestyle (Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 5:3-6), that person can no longer have an inheritance or be a fellow-worker in the kingdom. This loss is effective in God’s sight even if the church of his membership fails to act in a scriptural way to exclude the offending member.
Phase III, the 1000 Year Reign of Christ on this Earth
This section brings us to end-time events, which are often hard to understand. I will accept help for my understanding from any of you.
Each passing day brings us closer to “the fulness of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:25). The present phase of the kingdom will end with the return of Jesus Christ. The transition to a new phase does not end the Lord’s kingdom. The same kingdom, which was proclaimed by John in Matthew 3:2 and Jesus in Matthew 4:17, enters into a more glorious stage.
The great image seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was interpreted by Daniel to reveal four great world kingdoms:
Daniel said, “And in the days of these kings [Roman] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom [the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus in Matthew 4:17], 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” (Daniel 2:44).
Daniel also saw in a vision “one like the Son of man” (Daniel 7:13). “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
There are many questions about how God will deal with Israel and other nations in the tribulation period. We do have definite promises that Christ will reign as king over this entire earth after the tribulation period. His glorious reign will be a time of peace and knowledge. “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:9-10).
Jeremiah speaks of how God did watch over Israel and Judah to “pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict” (Jeremiah 31:28). God promised through Jeremiah to “watch over them, to build, and to plant” (Jeremiah 31:28). In the rest of the chapter, God promises to make a glorious new covenant with wonderful blessings for the restored nation of Israel (Jeremiah 31:28-40). This promise is repeated in Hebrews 8:8-13.
One important statement made by James at the conference in Jerusalem needs to be considered in connection with the reign of Christ on this earth. At the beginning of the conference, Peter had spoken about how God would visit the Gentiles and take out of them a people for his name. This statement refers to the Gentile church age. In Acts 15:16, we read the words of James who used Amos 9. “After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up.” The message given by God’s angel to Mary also promised that Jesus would reign as king on the throne of David. “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:31-32).
This promise is given in the Old Testament. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:7).
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones and the vision of the two sticks joined as one are object lessons from the LORD to teach that Israel will be unified and established as a glorious nation with one Shepherd and one King, Jesus, sitting on the throne of David (Ezekiel 37 and 38).
Revelation 20:6 teaches that others will be on this earth to reign with Christ as he rules over the restored nation of Israel. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
The first resurrection is described in I Thessalonians 4:13-18. In that resurrection, the saved who are still living and the saved of all ages who have died will receive their new glorified bodies and “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:18). The resurrection for God’s people is described in I Corinthians 15 with this wonderful news given in verses 42-44: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”
I am not an expert in end time events, but I will give my understanding of the order of some of those events.
- The first resurrection
- The judgement seat of Christ for God’s people
- The marriage of Christ and His bride
- Satan is bound for 1000 years
- Christ begins His kingdom reign on this earth
- Satan is loosed, gathers an army to oppose Christ, and is defeated and cast into the lake of fire
- The end of the millennial kingdom age
- The resurrection of the lost and the great white throne judgement for all lost people
- The new heaven and new earth where God’s redeemed will enjoy being with the Lord and serving Him forever
The kingdom age here on this earth will be a time of learning as all of God’s people learn more about God’s grace. Isaiah provides a description of that golden age.
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
I believe that there will be a special reward and a special place of service for the bride of Christ (that is, those in New Testament churches who have walked in fellowship and obedience to Jesus Christ). The redeemed of the Old Testament will also be rewarded for faithful service. We do know that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets will be in the millennial kingdom (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:28). The parable in Luke 19:11-19, in which our Lord speaks of rewards for faithfulness, can be applied to the millennial kingdom. “And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). “If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon [on the foundation of Jesus Christ], he shall receive a reward” (I Corinthians 3:14).
Phase IV, the Final Stage
When the millennial kingdom age closes, the LORD God creates a new heaven and a new earth. The holy city, New Jerusalem, comes down from God out of heaven. Two verses describe a momentous event. “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (I Corinthians 15:24). “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28).
Our service to God will continue for all eternity. “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (Revelation 22:3).
What a blessed privilege! We can serve our Lord now and serve him in eternity!