JESUS’ KINGDOM AND THE PROMISES
Part of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciple was, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 7:21). Here is the key, “Anyone who breaks the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:19). The kingdom was not readily available. In addition to praying that God would send it, man had to search for it. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). Yet, to the disciples, it was handed to them as a gift. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).
What then was and is the kingdom? To begin with it is a mysterious union of heaven and earth. It is microscopic because it can exist in the human heart, mind and soul. It is ethereal or spiritual without borders or limits. It is not of this world; yet, it requires the human body to function on earth. The incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus are examples of that mysterious union. Also, on earth they marry and some more often than they should, but in heaven they are like angels (Mt. 22:30). It was ushered in by the One who represents both worlds, the human and the divine. The first recipients were Jesus’ disciples. They did not find the kingdom. Jesus found them and chose them to bear fruit (Jn. 15:16). While they were with Jesus, he treated them as being far from the kingdom. There was something wrong with their righteousness that kept them out (Mt. 5:20). Jesus telling his own students that they were not in the kingdom is disturbing to us who believe and repent as prerequisites for entering the kingdom. Whatever his righteousness is, it is what God wants and Christ did. It has to do with total separation from the world and behave completely different from the people in the world. Jesus gave this explanation, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62). Righteousness has to do with service, the kind the disciples were hesitant to wash the feet of their own kind, even their teacher (Jn. 13:1-17). The Sermon on the Mount was a mirror of what the disciples were not. It also has and is pointing a finger at us.
Most translators start with faith. Faith took the place of righteousness and their renditions read, “but the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4; Ro. 1:17). Many have been led to believe that all one has to do is believe. That is not what Paul meant. To be saved one had to believe, but once one was saved he had to show some evidence (Eph. 2:8-10). James held firmly to faith without works did not belong in the kingdom (Ja. 2:14-26). This is congruent with Jesus’ teaching, “ that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (Jn. 15:8). The idea that man was not capable of good deeds does not come from Jesus or the prophets. It is a Pauline concept and for good reasons. He was a persecutor before he became a follower of Christ. He belonged to those that were the lost sheep for perverting God’s laws. He too lived by the traditions of his fathers (I Cor. 15:9). There were God-fearing people during Israel’s sinful times. Psalm One reads, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stands in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” During the wicked Ahab and Jezebel, the Lord told Elijah, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (I Ki. 19:18).
Most of our “faith theology” is based on Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by faith.” The emphasis has been placed on faith while it should be on being just or doing what is right. Those that believe and fear God do what is right. Faith by itself can prove nothing. “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Ja. 2:14-26). Paul’s argument that Israel pursued a law of righteousness failed, because it was not based on faith has been misunderstood (Ro. 9:30-32). Paul’s view of God’s Law was, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Ro. 7:12). The commandments are necessary to stop man from sinning; but, once he does, they judge him rather than save him. The new Promise of redemption adds mercy (grace) and forgiveness. The Jews believed that religious rituals and the traditions of their fathers would gain them salvation. Paul rejected these traditions as the pursuit of man and not of a faith in God. Faith itself had been transferred from God’s Law to the traditions of the fathers. This is precisely what Jesus accused his contemporaries of. They too were following traditions and not the Law of God. (Mk. 7:3-13). In the final analysis, faith or the law without man’s response will take us nowhere. God is not the one that needs to repent or believe, man must. Paul also believed that a remnant was good enough to be saved, how then could all men be bad?
Life on earth for Jesus was intended to prepare and practice on earth what one shall do when one enters eternity. Creation will be renewed and those that have complied with what the Son of Man has taught will enjoy living in the kingdom of heaven. Eternal life and the kingdom are one and the same. The believer becomes a candidate on earth and not in heaven. Jesus the Immanuel has brought the kingdom of heaven down to earth and has given man a chance to do the will of God. And what precisely is the will of God? How can man comply? Where do we start? To our amazement, one must start with oneself. One must repent or become a new person (Lk. 13:5; Jn. 3:3). One becomes a disciple or a student and not a fully – fledged saint (Mt. 28:19-20). Not everyone will rush into the kingdom and bear fruit. Even those with good hearts do need time to grow before they can produce fruit in and for the kingdom. In The Parable of the Sower only the good soil yields a crop and even then some harvest 30%, some 60% and some 100% (Mt. 13:1-23). The good soil, like the good human heart, must guard against weeds that will invade and harm the seed and the harvest. Complacency does take spiritual growth for granted and opens the door to the enemy that sows weeds (Mt. 13:24-30).
Members of the kingdom are the light and salt in the world. When they become useless then they must hide their light and get trampled on (Mt. 5:13-16). Those that take their place in the kingdom for granted may find the following Parables not to their liking. The unmerciful servant lost his place when he did not release the debt of a subordinate (Mt. 18:21-35). The wedding banquet for the king’s son closed the door on all those that took their place in the kingdom for granted and opened it to those that had not received an invitation by the king; even the one that dared to pass himself off as one of those irregulars was evicted (Mt. 22:1-14). Left out were the five foolish virgins, the one talent person and the goats (Mt. 25). Those that think Jesus has freed them from the Law handed down by Moses are on slippery ground. Moses will prosecute those that have abandoned the Commandments of God (Jn. 5:45-46). The New Commandment Jesus mentioned was not new at all, but a reminder of what the Law required (I Jn. 2:7-8). “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn. 13:34). It does not differ from the two of the greatest Commandments of love for God and love for a neighbor (Mt. 22:37-40). People that believed in the Law were not far from the kingdom (Mk. 12:34), but those that did what the Law called for were in it. The Good Samaritan loved a stranger by caring for him (Lk. 10:25-37), the ones that did things without knowing who they were (Mt. 25:34-40) and the persistent widow that sought justice were candidates for the kingdom (Lk. 18:1-8). Those that come to their senses, like the returning prodigal son (Lk. 15:21-24(, the publican that saw himself not worthy enough to pray (Lk. 18:9-14) or the criminal on the cross that turned to Jesus (Lk. 23:40-43) and the mistreated Lazarus were all candidates of the kingdom (Lk. 16:19-31).
Every one of these parables stressed the individual’s role in qualifying for the kingdom here on earth and not in heaven. It must begin with the individual that is going about his daily bread, his relationship with others, his awareness of the traps of temptation, his avoiding evil and not shaming God who is Spirit, a sin that cannot be forgiven (Mt. 6:9-13; Jn. 4:24; Mt. 12:32). Every member in the kingdom is a witness or a key to some one’s salvation. It is not just Peter (Mt. 16:19), or the disciples (Mt. 28:18-20; Jn. 20:21-23), but also all those that were present on Pentecost (Ac. 2:1-12). New believers began to spread the Gospel more so and faster than the original disciples of Jesus. In fact, they had to be driven into the world by king Herod (Ac. 12). Here on earth, all the workers in the vineyard or in the kingdom are equal. The owner or the Lord treats everyone with the same generosity (Mt. 20:1-16). The request for favoring the Zebedees was denied (Mt. 20:20-28).
The time had come when God no longer would be tied to a Temple or a State that could be carried off into captivity and be defiled. Now, God could be worshiped anywhere where two or three could gather and honor the Lord. “God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”(Jn. 4:21-24). Christ promised to be with those who kept and obeyed His commands (Mt. 28:19-20). His Spirit is the link between the presence and eternity (Jn. 14:25-26). No longer will the kingdom be localized or nationalized, but it will be individualized and universalized and it will be both earthly and heavenly. All men and women will have access without intermediaries. The kingdom will not be a military but a spiritual or moral force. It will sprout like seed and spread like yeast (Mt. 13:31-33). It will be as precious as a treasure and as priceless as a pearl (Mt. 13:44-45). And it will be like a net full of all kinds of fish (Mt. 13:47). Men will be drawn unto it by the Father and not even the forces of hell will prevail against it (Jn. 12:32; Mt. 16:18). The kingdom will be timeless and forever.