Today we are introducing a new series of podcasts on Livingtruth.com entitled “First the Kingdom.” We hope that you will find it both helpful and challenging and that the time spent here will be worthwhile. The topic of the Kingdom of God has long been important to me in many ways and for many reasons. I hope it will become more important to you than previously if I can convince you that it still is very important to our Lord Jesus Christ!
In some areas the Kingdom of God is a controversial subject, in others it is given almost no consideration. However, we cannot escape the fact that the message of Jesus was centered around the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven as it is also called.
Jesus began His public ministry with the Good News of the Kingdom of God:
And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Matthew, whose Gospel was directed more to Jews of his day, used the phrase they considered more respectful of the Name of God, the Kingdom of Heaven.
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ” Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Even before Jesus, John the Baptist came with the same announcement, generating quite a commotion. People from Jerusalem, Judea and all around the Jordan came to hear him as the Voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!” (Matthew 3:1-3)
What was it about John’s preaching that drew the great crowds? There is no record of him performing miracles and yet there seemed to be a passion within him that sparked something in the hearts of the people. We know from Luke’s Gospel that he was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. (Luke 1:15,41) He had a destiny to fulfill, and was sent by the God of the universe to fulfill it! (John 1:6)
The situation at the time was that the people of Israel were in the land promised to them by God, but they were not free. The government over them was set up by the Roman Emperors and was under occupation by Rome. As in many other times in history there were both resistance fighters and collaborators trying to make the best of the situation.
The coming of the Kingdom of God must have meant to many that Roman rule was coming to an end. The words of the ancient prophets kept alive for many years the hope of a golden age for Israel that was even greater than the time of King David. They were looking for the son of David to rise to the throne and reclaim the order that was set in place by God Himself. All nations would begin to desire the light of the God of Israel shining forth from this blessed nation! (Isaiah 2:1-4).
The humble of heart realized that the first step necessary for this new order was the call for personal and national repentance. Others rejected this and held fast to the confidence of their own righteousness based upon their version of adherence to the law of Moses. In fact they rejected John’s message and desired for the people to follow them instead!
Great numbers of people believed John and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as a sign of repentance in preparation of the Messiah-Savior who would soon come. Jesus Himself was baptized by John, who witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Him and that Jesus was truly the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29-44) In time, many of John’s followers believed in Jesus, but others were still waiting for their Messiah to come.
In the mean time, Jesus spent much of His time telling people and demonstrating to them what the Kingdom of God was truly about. He went about doing good to people of all backgrounds and lifestyles and proving the love and mercy of God toward them. Finally He proved the prophecy of John by giving His life for the sins of the world on the Cross in the hands of His enemies.
Then what of this Kingdom that was so very near? Was it a fantasy? Was it merely a call for moral reform that ended in rejection?
Fortunately the story does not end there! The Crucifixion was followed by the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of their Ascended Lord! After the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we have Luke’s record of the Acts of the Apostles. There we find that Jesus is still talking about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Throughout Acts, we find the apostles and evangelists preaching the Kingdom (Act 8:12, 14:22), and Paul near the end of his life still persuading, expounding, testifying, and preaching about things concerning the Kingdom of God (Acts 19:8, 20:25, 28:23,31).
Our great heroes of the New Testament era did not see the vision of the Kingdom of God as a lost cause. Why should we in our day, when the faith has grown from a handful of unimportant and overlooked men and women in a remote part of the world, to what it is today? It would of course be easy to despair if all we observe is what we can see with our natural eyes. But we who have been born again have the supernatural ability to SEE the Kingdom of God! (John 3:3)