First the Kingdom 22b, the One Gospel continued
In the last message we discussed the question of the Gospel of the Kingdom vs the Gospel of Grace. For time’s sake, some details were left for this installment. This time I hope you all will bear with me, as I try to explain things very carefully. Many years ago I was taught that we were living in a time known as the dispensation of grace, and that the dispensation of the Kingdom of God was coming in the future. However, after reading the Bible for myself I began to question this teaching. First I began reading the Gospel according to Matthew, which is first in the order of books in the New Testament. I discovered that in Matthew, as well as the other 3 gospels that the Kingdom of God was definitely present at the first coming of Jesus! While He also fortold of future events relating to the Kingdom, there can be no doubt that He claimed the promised time had come.
From cross-references I learned that the hope of the Kingdom was firmly planted in the hearts and minds of God’s people by the words of the prophets in ancient times. Often highly symbolic language was used by the prophets, but the Holy Spirit always enabled at least some to know they had reason for great hopes of a future in God. At the heart of this hopeful future is the promised Messiah of Israel. The glory of His ministry can be summed up in this passage from Isaiah 9:6-7:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Also among the prophecies of Isaiah there is the picture of the suffering servant, who would give his life as a ransom for all. He would be the Lamb that all previous sacrificial lambs represented in the history of God’s people. His blood would atone for the sins of the world. He would be sacrificed and buried, and yet He would live to see His children, the fruit of His intercession for us all! (Isaiah 53). Today we can see this was referring to the resurrection of Christ.
At the time of His first coming, the people were not looking for the suffering servant. Instead of hoping for freedom from their own sins, they wanted freedom from the tyranny of Rome. This Jesus did not bring, so He was crucified, with both the consent of Rome and many Jews. After His resurrection, His disciples began to see the plan more clearly, and were able to help others see that freedom and forgiveness of sin was the greater need.
They did not however give up on the hope of the Kingdom of God. They continued to proclaim the Kingdom, and saw great progress in their preaching. The book of the Acts of the Apostles covers the advance of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the great center of the western world, Rome. However, several generations would live through times of persecution. The Christian Faith would not even be legal until 300 years after Christ. But when we look at the phenomenal growth of the faith during those hard times, we might see how understanding the present reality of the Kingdom of God and the future hope to see it prevail in the world had a part in that growth.
In fact when Christianity became dominant in that part of the world, its leaders and historians had no difficulty in seeing the hand of God in it. They could easily see the parables of Jesus being fullfilled, and that the Kingdom of God had won at least in part. Since that time there have been many seasons of decline and renewal, until a sort of permanent pessimism began to set in.
That is where the idea of separating the dispensation of grace and the dispensation of the Kingdom comes in. It appeared to some that this is the time to mostly present the Gospel of Grace, that Jesus came to deliver us from our guilt and shame. The First coming of Christ was to offer this Gospel of Grace. The Second Coming will bring the establishment of the Kingdom of God. These are seen as two totally separate issues. While this interpretation of the Bible makes much sense to many, and the prophecies of the Bible can be made to fit there, I find it in direct contradiction with the New Testament.
Earlier I mentioned that prophetic language is often highly symbolical. Each view of Bible prophecy acknowledges this, but each view differs on which parts are symbolical and how they should be interpreted. It is not that complicated if we take the clear statements of the New Testament and learn how the apostles understood the prophecies of the old.
It is true that many of the nation of Israel failed to accept Christ because He did not bring an end to Roman rule over them. However, those who did believe in Him continued to acknowledge His Lordship and Kingship over the whole world! (Matthew 28:18-19). Those who were born of the water and the Spirit could see the Kingdom of God now! They were in fact translated from the Kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God’s dear son. The Kingdom did not come with observation for the Kingdom was within them as righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost! They knew that God was working His Kingdom rule in them both to will and do His good pleasure, and writing His laws in their hearts and minds. They also knew that the nature of the Kingdom’s expansion was not through violence but by grace, truth and love. The Kingdom of God increases as hearts and minds are transformed by the grace and love of Christ!
It seems sad to me that so many are denied the excitement and joy of knowing and experiencing the Kingdom of heaven right now on this time line as we look for the greater days to come! We do not claim total fullfillment as do some. That would be a denial of the facts. But if you deny the current reign of Christ and His Lordship now, how could the Holy Spirit be speaking through you! (1 Corinthians 12:3).
A total paradigm shift from postponing the reign of Christ to the future, and embracing it today could make a powerful difference in us all! It could turn some of us from an escape mentality to a courageous forward march into the future. We are not only winners in eternity but in God’s glorious creation today.
Which path is most appealing to you? Do you desire an easy, passive life of regularly accepting things as they are, while you comfort yourself with the hope of the after life? Or are you interested in the tougher choice, to face the challenge that Christ has given, to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth? To find the purpose He planned for you before the world began and to throw yourself into it? Could this be the fire into which Jesus came to baptise you? Could it be the source of your passion and also the manner in which those rivers of living waters within you might be released?
This is the real point afterall. We do not all have to agree on how all Bible prophesies should be interpreted. It is crucial that we get the true and clear direction of God for our generation. Having a vision of where we are now and where God is taking us can greatly encourage us to fulfill our place in this glorious church, this Body of Jesus Christ.
What some might call heresy, I call liberation! What a joy and relief it was for me to learn from scripture that God’s creation which He declared to be “very good” is not destined to be literally burned to a crisp. In fact we continually look for a time when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea!” (Habakuk 2:14, Isaiah 11:9)