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In Anticipation, Part 2

  

The seeming discrepancy between the announcement of the Kingdom and the fact that it did not appear is, as mentioned, one of the major reasons for the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Similarly, the long delay since the announcement of the Kingdom has caused some to question the validity of that announcement. But it is not necessary to redefine the Kingdom in order to solve these discrepancies. The new light he shed concerning the Mysteries of the Kingdom and the New Covenant provides the solution. The kingdom is “present” in a preliminary, preparatory phase for a time, prior to its establishment, and certain aspects are previewed. During that time, the King is identified, and the news of the New Covenant which he made available is proclaimed. Those individuals who are heirs of the inheritance experience a foretaste of Kingdom power as they grow and receive training and preparation for their roles in ruling with Jesus the Messiah. It is in that proleptic sense that any reference to a present kingdom must be understood.

A few verses speak of the kingdom as if it were present, but they are in this sense of the preparation process having begun. One such verse is Matthew 23:13, where Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men” and not going in themselves or letting “them that are entering to go in.” But we saw in another article how entering into the Kingdom was equivalent to entering into life in the age to come. The context speaks of the future results of the actions we take in this life. He that humbles himself shall be exalted, and vice-versa. Clearly “them that are entering” must refer to them who are in the process of preparing to enter the Kingdom.

Most of the verses where “entering the Kingdom” occurs are talking about what qualifies or doesn’t qualify a person to enter into the Kingdom. One of the qualifying factors is that flesh and blood cannot enter the Kingdom (I Corinthians 15:50). Paul goes on in that context to describe how we shall be changed and put on immortality, something that he says will happen in the future. So when the Bible occasionally speaks of entering into the Kingdom or being in it in the present, clearly it cannot be talking about entering it now except proleptically, that is, in anticipation.

We read in Colossians 1:13, that we have been “translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son.” However, the verse before that says that we are “meet to be partakers of the inheritance” and later the same epistle states that “of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance” (Colossians 3:24). We have become heirs, but the inheritance is still future. This is similar to the reference we saw in Ephesians 2:6 to being raised and seated in the heavenlies now, although we have not yet been literally resurrected. As we saw before, Hebrews 6:4-5 tells us that those who are enlightened “have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world [aion, age] to come.”

Some verses refer to the concept of the Kingdom of God, with no reference to time. These include things like seeking first the Kingdom of God, who is greatest in the Kingdom, being fit for the Kingdom, and phrases such as “of such is the Kingdom,” “the Kingdom is not meat and drink,” “the Kingdom is not in word but in power.” These verses tell us things about the Kingdom in general, but do not say anything about whether it is present or future.

We examined several parables in Matthew 13 that taught the nature of the interim period of preparation before the Kingdom was to be established. Two other parables in that chapter should be considered.

Matthew 13:
31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

The other parables spoke of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the children of the Kingdom, during the interim period. These two parables, when taken out of their context, could be seen as meaning that the Kingdom had come, but was not seen and yet would grow to eventually dominate the world. This cannot be the case, however, since we are told in many places in the Bible that the return of Christ to inaugurate the Kingdom will be a cataclysmic event that would usher in the new age. It will be sudden and take the unprepared by surprise, as in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-29). Thus it cannot be what the mustard seed and the leaven, with their gradual growth and influence, are referring to.

What aspect of the Kingdom of God is currently comparable to something presently small yet gradually gaining influence? Not the actual reign of Christ, but the Gospel message about that coming reign, the call to repentance in light of it, and the influence that Gospel has on our lives. The individual growth we experience in preparation for rulership in that coming reign is an ongoing process that begins in this life with the belief in the Gospel and acceptance of the New Covenant. It may appear small and insignificant, but we shall see how the Gospel message can have a life-changing effect when we look at The New Birth and The Holy Spirit. The next two parables in Matthew 13, the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price (verses 44-46), are similarly about the value of the coming Kingdom, but not speaking of its having come.

It would not be wise to allow a few verses that speak of the Kingdom as present in this sense to cloud the clear understanding of the Kingdom of God from the vast majority of Scriptures. This can be seen by comparing the Scriptures and considering the small handfull which speak of the Kingdom as present in some sense in light of the overall definition of the Kingdom of God. On the Gathering Data page, I have presented all the occurrences of Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven, and it can be seen that the vast majority of references are referring to the literal, future reign of Messiah on earth. By comparison, only a few verses speak of any kind of present reality, and it is in the sense of a period of preparation, anticipation, or a preview of what is to come, as illustrated by the parables.

The Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (Vol. I, pp. 530, 531) says the following about the eschatological (referring to the end times) sense of the Kingdom of God in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The same can be said for the whole New Testament.

There is nothing in the synoptics antagonistic to the eschatological view of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not present in any sense not reconcilable with the fact that it is also and mainly future…. Jesus did not dissociate Himself from the traditional view that the end would come in the form of a catastrophic transformation, culminating in the Advent of Messiah Himself, who would come from heaven. He seems everywhere to set His seal to this view…. He steadfastly contemplated a final wonder of destruction and reconstruction which would be the perfect establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Similarly, the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (p. 425) has this to say:

In this regard the concept of the kingdom of God is parallel with the Johannine concept of eternal life and the Pauline concept of salvation. Precisely as those who put their faith in the atoning work of Christ are said to possess eternal life, to be in Christ or to be saved, in spite of the fact that eternal life or salvation are essentially eschatological concepts, so also believers may be said to have entered into the kingdom of God despite the fact that the kingdom of God, like eternal life and salvation, can be properly experienced only at the end of time.

Certainly the best way to understand what Jesus and the New Testament writers meant by “Kingdom of God” is to understand the Old Testament Foundation on which they based their preaching and teaching. While the actual phrase “Kingdom of God” is not found in the Old Testament, there are numerous passages that speak of various aspects of it. John the Baptist and Jesus called it the Kingdom of God as a brief way of encapsulating all the prophesies of the Age to Come. And as has been pointed out, you can’t understand what they were talking about without understanding the vast amount of information given in the Old Testament. With that foundation, the New Testament becomes clearer, particularly in light of the New Covenant. As heirs of the coming Kingdom, individuals have a token or foretaste of the inheritance to come. The Kingdom of God is now anticipated and proclaimed, and will one day be a reality. It is no longer necessary to try to force a different definition onto the term that was the heart of Jesus’ preaching and teaching.

One Response to “In Anticipation, Part 2”

  1. on 26 Oct 2009 at 3:08 pmKen

    Mark C.
    Thanks for sharing this and for the careful study you have done before sharing. I realized that I had not really thought through the mustard seed and leaven parables in my previous studies.

  

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