How Is the Kingdom Present?
Now he was casting out a demon that was dumb; when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons"; while others, to test him, sought from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.
Last week we saw that in an unprecedented way the kingdom of God arrived with the coming of Jesus. We saw also that the kingdom of God will only arrive in its fullness at the second coming of the Lord. The "mystery of the kingdom" is the surprising fact that the kingdom comes in two stages, not just one; and that the first stage is like a mustard seed and not a military coup (Matthew 13:31; Luke 17:20). The king comes first on a donkey with a branch of peace and amnesty. Later he will come on a great white horse with a sword of judgment. Many kingdom blessings have been fulfilled; but the consummation is still future.
Not Between the Times, but In Both Times
Or, as we saw last Wednesday evening, the New Testament pictures all of history in two ages: this age with its sin and misery and satanic power, and the age to come with its righteousness and wholeness and freedom and joy. The mystery of the kingdom is that these two ages have intersected with the coming of Jesus. They now overlap. The age to come has in a sense begun. But this fallen age endures for a time. We live, not between the times, but in both times. We have tasted the "powers of the age to come" (Hebrews 6:5).
We know that Christ already purchased our healing (1 Peter 2:24; Matthew 8:17), but we still groan with sickness (Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 4:16). We have already passed from death to life (1 John 3:14), but we still die (1 Corinthians 15:26). We already have the sanctifying Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), but the war between flesh and Spirit goes on every day (Galatians 5:16–18). We have already been acquitted of all sin in Christ (Romans 5:1), but must go on every day praying, "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" (Matthew 6:12). We already have our citizenship in the kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20), but for now must still submit in measure to the rulers of this world (Romans 13:1).
In a word, every blessing of the age to come is already ours in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), but God wills for us to come into our inheritance patiently. According to Acts 14:22 Paul taught all his new believers, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom" (Acts 14:22; Matthew 7:14; Mark 10:24). It is God's way to make us "fit for the kingdom" (2 Thessalonians 1:5).
How to Approach Our Question Today
Today's question is: How is the kingdom present? If the kingdom has come in Jesus, what is the power of the kingdom doing? But we must be careful even how we ask the question. It is one thing to ask: how was the kingdom present in the life and ministry of Jesus and another to ask how it is present with us today. Jesus was the embodiment of the kingdom. He was the King. His demonstration of the kingdom was unique. Believers may do the kind of works he did (John 14:12), but there will always remain a uniqueness about the way he did them. And we should not assume that our demonstration of the kingdom and Jesus' demonstration of the kingdom will be the same.
For example, when Jesus turned the water into wine, John says, "This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory" (John 2:11). And that glory John tells us is the glory as of the only Son of the Father (John 1:14). Therefore I think it is wrong to say that the signs and wonders wrought by Jesus are simply the work of a Spirit-filled man that we can copy in the same measure if we will only be Spirit-filled. John said that when Jesus demonstrated power, he did it in a way that manifested his glory. There was an inseparable connection between the signs of Jesus and the glorious Sonship of Jesus.
Another example comes from John 5:36. Jesus says, "The works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me." There was something about the works of Jesus or the way he did them that pointed not just to his being filled with the Spirit but his being the very Son of God sent from the Father.
Another example is the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus' explanation to Martha of what was about to happen was not, "I am full of the Spirit and can do the works of God that other Spirit-filled people can do." His explanation was, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Lazarus' resurrection was a sign not merely of a human in tune with the power of God. It was a sign that Jesus was the Son of God, the one with death-overcoming power. So just before Jesus calls Lazarus from the grave, Jesus prays out loud to his Father and says, "I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou dids't send me" (John 11:42). NOT: that they may believe that I am full of the Spirit, or that my words are true, or that the kingdom has come; BUT: that they may believe that I have been sent by the Father into the world.
So I say again, we should not assume that our demonstration of the kingdom today and Jesus' demonstration of the kingdom in his ministry will be the same. In fact I wonder if we should not at times glory in our inability to heal the way Jesus healed in order to exalt his absolute uniqueness as THE Son from the Father, while we admit our imperfection as adopted sons on the way to the Father.
Eight Powerful Effects of the Kingdom
With that introduction and caution let's ask, How is the kingdom present? Or: What blessings did the arrival of the kingdom bring? I am going to mention eight powerful effects of the kingdom. And I will say in advance that I believe all of these are still at work today through the disciples of Jesus. To what degree we will be studying more fully in the weeks to come.
1. In Relation to Physical Misery and Healing
The kingdom overcomes physical misery and brings healing.
In Luke 10:8–9 Jesus sends out the 70 disciples and tells them, "Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'" Note the connection between the coming of the kingdom and the healing of the sick. Heal and say the kingdom has come near.
This is a tremendously important part of Jesus' ministry: he preached the kingdom and healed the sick again and again and again. This was his basic style of ministry; it was his modus operandi. You see this especially in the summary verses like Matthew 4:23, "He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (cf. Matthew 9:35; 10:8; 11:2–6; Luke 4:16–20). Isn't that amazing! Every disease and every infirmity!
This was not a merely occasional thing. Healing the sick was the meat and potatoes of his ministry alongside preaching the gospel of the kingdom. He preached the kingdom and he healed. He preached the kingdom and he healed. It's clear that one effect of the arrival of the kingdom in Jesus' ministry is the overcoming of physical misery. We will take up in detail later in the series to what degree and how it should be a part of our ministry.
2. In Relation to Death and Resurrection
The kingdom overcomes death and brings resurrection.
When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, it says in Matthew 10:7–8 that he told them, "Preach as you go saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead . . . " They were to preach, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand!" And they were to perform certain signs including raising the dead. So one of the ways the kingdom comes is by overcoming death and bringing resurrection.
But notice something very important. To our knowledge Jesus raised only three people from the dead during his earthly ministry (Matthew 9:18–26; Luke 7:11–17; John 11:38–44). In the book of Acts the apostles raised two people from the dead (Acts 9:36–43; 20:9–10).
Contrast this with the countless people that Jesus healed. Why do you suppose Jesus healed people by the hundreds, or even thousands, but raised only three from the dead? Ultimately it comes down to this: in the overlap of this age and the age to come—in the "already" and the "not yet" of redemption, in the time of the mystery of the kingdom—God wills that some blessings of the age to come be experienced more fully than others. And he chooses as he wills which blessings we will have now and in what measure. I suspect that one reason Jesus raised so few people from the dead is that it is no great blessing to have to die twice.
We must always keep in mind that virtually all the people Jesus healed and raised got sick again and died. The blessings were temporary in this fallen age. They were signs—pointers, foretastes—of the great final resurrection and "the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23). Sickness and death were not abolished with the coming of Jesus. His healings and resurrections were signs that in the final kingdom they would be abolished.
3. In Relation to Demonic Oppression and Deliverance
The kingdom overcomes demonic oppression and brings deliverance.
In Luke 11:20 Jesus says, "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." So the arrival of the kingdom brings an unprecedented conflict with Satan and his demons. It is amazing to consider that in the whole Old Testament only about five of the 39 books even mention Satan. And nowhere does any prophet or priest or king or wise man cast out any demons. But as soon as Jesus is on the seen, he is in conflict with Satan in the wilderness and his ministry involved casting out "many demons" (Mark 1:34); and in Matthew 10:1 it says, "Jesus called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out . . . "
So it is clear that something unprecedented is in the offing here with the coming of the kingdom. The spiritual conflict hidden behind idolatry and national conflict in the Old Testament is brought out in the open and Jesus gives his people a new kind of authority and armor to make war with the evil one.
4. In Relation to Rebellion and Conversion
The kingdom overcomes rebellion and brings conversion.
Jesus made clear that no one enters the kingdom without being converted. In Matthew 18:3 he says, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn [be converted!] and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." What power brings about this conversion from rebellious, proud independence to submissive, humble, childlike dependence on God? The answer is the power of the kingdom itself.
This is implied in the parable of the net in Matthew 13:47–50: "The kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish." The kingdom is the power that gathers fish. Fish don't jump into the net. They try to get out of it. (Cf. Colossians 1:13.)
It is also implied in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24 and 38). "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field . . . He who sows the seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom." Where do sons of the kingdom come from in the world? They come from the Son of Man. They don't put themselves in the world. The Son of Man puts them there. (Cf. John 6:44, 65; 15:16; 17:16.)
When the rich young ruler turns away from Jesus and Jesus says, "It will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven," the disciples are amazed and say, "Who then can be saved?" To this Jesus responds, "With men this is impossible [to enter the kingdom and be saved], but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:23–26). In other words being converted and entering the kingdom is not merely the work of man. With men it is impossible to enter the kingdom and be saved. But not with God. God can convert people and bring them into the kingdom.
"It is the Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom of God" (Luke 12:32). "To you it has been given [by God] to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:11). "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven" (Matthew 16:17; cf. 11:25–27). Therefore the kingdom itself overcomes rebellion and brings conversion.
5. In Relation to Condemnation and Forgiveness
The kingdom overcomes condemnation and brings forgiveness.
The great obstacle to salvation is that we are guilty of sin and under the just condemnation of God. Why then is it that the tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and the elders (Matthews 21:31)? Why is it that the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who at the end of the day hires people for one hour's work and yet gives them pay for a full day (Matthew 20:1–16)? Why is it that the kingdom of heaven is like a king giving a marriage feast for his son and yet inviting whoever happens to be in the street, both good and bad (Matthew 22:1, 10)? And why does Jesus say, "Blessed are the poor in spirit [the ones who have nothing to commend themselves], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3)?
The answer is given in Matthew 18:23–35: the kingdom of heaven is like a king who called his debtors to account, and when one of them pleads for mercy concerning a million dollar debt, the king has pity and forgives him everything he owes. The kingdom overcomes condemnation and brings forgiveness. And we know from this side of the cross how the King did it!
6. In Relation to Wrongdoing and Righteousness
The kingdom overcomes wrongdoing and brings righteousness.
Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done" (Matthew 6:10). Where the kingdom of God comes, the will of God is done—justice and righteousness abound. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God," Jesus said, "and his righteousness . . . in the Holy Spirit." When the kingdom of God comes, it comes with righteousness. Paul said in Romans 14:17, "The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness . . . " So the kingdom of God overcomes wrongdoing. It changes the way people live. It brings justice and righteousness.
7. In Relation to Sadness and Joy
The kingdom overcomes sadness and brings joy.
It's obvious that if the kingdom brings life and healing and deliverance and conversion and forgiveness and righteousness, it would also bring great joy. But Paul makes the point explicit in Romans 14:17 when he says, "The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit." And Jesus made it just as plain when he said, "Blessed—happy—are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). The kingdom overcomes sadness and brings joy—even in the midst of suffering.
8. In Relation to Aimless Futility and Purposeful Ministry
The kingdom overcomes aimless futility and brings purposeful ministry.
I conclude with this because it launches us into our next segment of messages and our next five-week term in the BITC. I take the point from Revelation 1:6. John says, "[Jesus] has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." What the kingdom creates when it draws men and women into its power is a priesthood of believers. And priests are, above all, ministers. If you belong to the kingdom of God, you belong to a "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). You are a priest. Your calling is to draw near to God with the burdens of people, and to draw near to people with the blessings of God. That's what it means to be a priest.
The kingdom has come and it has overcome the aimlessness and futility of our lives and given us an awesome reason to live. We are a royal priesthood. You are a priest to God and to man. What we plan to look at in the coming weeks is the nature of that royal, priestly ministry. How should Christians demonstrate the power of the kingdom today in their ministry as priests? It is an exciting question. I look forward to pursuing it with you.