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The Kingdom Redefined, Part 2


Since the Reformation, it has been taught more and more among Protestants that Jesus declared the Kingdom to have arrived, but that he taught his disciples the “true” understanding of the Kingdom, namely that of God’s reign in one’s heart.  In addition, another common misunderstanding that leads to the belief that the Kingdom must have been redefined is the question of when Jesus expected it to take place. If Jesus had indeed meant a political kingdom that would overthrow Israel’s oppressors, he would seem to have been wrong about it being “at hand.” Much is made of Jesus’ supposed belief that his return would be in the lifetime of his disciples, but he told them he did not know when he was going to return (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32).

Nevertheless, his statement, “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1) is thought to be indicating he expected to return in their lifetime. But when it is read in context, it can be seen to be a reference to the vision of the Transfiguration which occurs immediately after the statement in both gospel records in which it occurs. And his statement that, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32) is thought to refer to the literal generation alive at that time, but it can be seen to refer to this present evil generation, with regard to its moral character, especially in light of how the word “generation” is used elsewhere. (See This Generation for an in-depth examination of this subject.)

Because these verses are seen by some as indicating that the Kingdom either had come with Christ, or came soon afterward, within the lifetimes of the apostles, it is concluded that the Kingdom must have been redefined. The idea of a spiritual or figurative fulfillment of the prophecies about the Kingdom of God is quite common in Christianity today. Yet when Jesus fulfilled some of the promises as a sign that he was the Christ, and as a foreshadowing of the ultimate fulfillment, he fulfilled them literally. When John had his disciples inquire whether Jesus was the Messiah, the answer Jesus gave them was, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (Luke 7:22). These signs were the proof that he was the Messiah, and they quote from Old Testament prophecies which concern the coming Kingdom.

In the same prophecies that refer to healing the blind, deaf, lame, and lepers, and raising the dead (Isaiah 35), we also read of the desert blossoming and the scorched land becoming a pool, a highway in the former wilderness on which no unclean will travel, and how “the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” In the same prophecies that refer to preaching the gospel to the poor (Isaiah 61), we also read of the day of vengeance of our God, and of rebuilding the former desolation. God’s people will have riches in their own land, and will be acknowledged among all nations. “For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:11). If Jesus’ miraculous signs in fulfillment of some of God’s Kingdom promises are literal, why would we conclude that the other promises, or the Kingdom itself, is figurative?

In addition, since the Kingdom of God is so clearly described in prophecy as a literal future reality, any change in its definition would have to be clearly and specifically defined in the Bible. But there is no such redefining of the Kingdom of God anywhere in the New Testament. Jesus spoke of a sense in which the Kingdom was present in anticipation and preparation (see Kingdom Mysteries and In Anticipation). But this was understanding added to the end-time prophetic understanding, not replacing it. Also, Paul dealt at length with the changes from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant (see The New Covenant and Law or Grace?). This included the understanding of our offering spiritual sacrifices, and being the temple of God made without hands. But nowhere in any of those discourses did he ever say that the Kingdom of God was now to be understood as spiritual instead of the literal, future kingdom on earth that was prophesied.

The phrase “shadow of things to come” is used only three places in the New Testament, and they are referring not to all Old Testament prophecies, but specifically to the ordinances of the Old Covenant, i.e., the Mosaic Law. The Law had many aspects especially regarding sacrifices, which were foreshadows of the ultimate sacrifice that the Messiah would perform. This is discussed in Colossians and Hebrews especially.  But it could not be true that everything ever promised by God in the Old Testament was fulfilled “spiritually.”

God specifically promised land, descendants, and material abundance to Abraham. He specifically promised David that a descendant of his would sit on his throne for ever. He specifically promised through the Prophets the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, when a great ruler, the Messiah, would reign over the earth from Jerusalem. He foretold of the creation of new heavens and earth, once again restoring the perfect state of His creation. He also foretold specific events leading up to the Kingdom of God, including the world kingdoms that would precede it, and the cataclysmic events that would bring this present evil age to an end, and begin the new age of restoration. All of these promises are steadfast and sure, and Jesus himself described them as literal, albeit future, realities. Only when we are told that something from the Old Testament has been redefined can we adopt a new understanding. We dare not take it upon ourselves to redefine what is clearly presented throughout Scripture.

To Be Continued…


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