I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . . (Matthew. 6:10).
I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes (Luke 22:18).
When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30).
Jesus focused on the Kingdom early in his ministry. The primary thrust of early teaching was a call to repentance based upon an urgency imposed by the nearness of the Kingdom. He said: "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15)! In this he was continuing the major theme of John the Baptizer, whose preaching had first aroused wide public interest. He was also gaining attention by appealing to the Jews' intense interest in this theme. But Jesus' call to repentance based on the nearness of the Kingdom was different from that of John. John's was a call to a higher state of morality, whereas Jesus was calling the people to change their whole attitude to life (Matthew 3:8-10; Luke 3:7-14). This was to be done by resetting their minds from earth to heaven and from time to eternity. He tied this call to the Kingdom, for it was because of the nearness of the Kingdom that he issued the call. Why repent? Because the Kingdom of God was at hand!
Both Jesus and John understood that the prophetic promise of a Kingdom of God, as conceived in the messianic expectation, was not yet fulfilled. I mention this to establish a point of reference in time. The kingdom was not yet come when Jesus and John were issuing their calls to repentance based on its nearness. The kingdom promised by the prophets had not yet appeared. Now, beginning at this point, I propose to set forth the exact time of the coming, give or take a few seconds. As always, I will do this by focusing on the utterances of Jesus. Here is an initial clue: When Jesus gave prayer instruction to the disciples, he inextricably tied the coming of the Kingdom to the doing of the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. The utterance quoted on the previous pages, and again here, strongly suggest this:
THE COMINGBut when you pray, say: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Here, then, is the clue: The coming of the Kingdom is simultaneous with the act of doing the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven! Jesus' joining of these two ideas in one breath at the outset of this prayer strongly suggests that they are simultaneous in time, and may be identical. When one is praying for the Kingdom to come, one is also praying for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The two events may even be synonymous! This also implies that the will of the Father had not yet been done on the earth as it is in heaven, as of the day and hour when he uttered these words.
I am aware of the widely accepted interpretation of this prayer for the doing of the will of the Father. This is that it is a petition of a general nature and that it only asks for earthly conditions to improve. It conceives that men will rise to a higher state of righteousness, thus doing the will of God on the earth; then the Kingdom will come. I, too, once understood it in that light, but do so no longer. Now I know that Jesus was only asking the disciples to pray for him, that he alone might persevere to perform certain action defined in his mind as "the will of God." Then the Kingdom of God could and would come! The following discussion clarifies this view.
Many generations of subjugation to foreign kings had intensified the yearning for the Kingdom, as they perceived it, throughout the Jewish nation. There flourished in the hearts of Jewish patriots, then as now, the grand dream of the restoration of the rule of David with all its earthly pomp and glory. God had promised, and Jesus and John were not the only preachers asserting its nearness. It was a topic of wide interest, and the people were sure to go out of their way to listen to anyone who spoke of it with authority. The following quotations illustrate how Jesus responded to this interest in the Kingdom, and in particular to its coming.Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, the Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed (Luke 17:20).You see then how it was that the Pharisees, the disciples, and good men such as Joseph were asking questions about the Kingdom. They were intensely interested in its coming, and they were earnestly seeking it. The most common and fervent question was, "When?" It was into this arena of intense interest and expectation, discussion and speculation, that Jesus stepped with his bold and authoritative proclamations. It is not surprising that he quickly gained their attention; he would have done so even without the dramatic miracles, especially since he emphasized the nearness of the event.
So when they (the disciples) had come together, they asked him, `Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)?
Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the Kingdom of God (Mark 15:43).
Two things need to be clarified before we proceed. First, the New Testament expressions, "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" are synonymous. Jesus probably used the terms interchangeably. It is not possible to tell which of the two occurred in any particular saying because the New Testament accounts are not uniform. Matthew typically quotes Jesus as saying "Kingdom of Heaven," whereas the other Gospel writers render "Kingdom of God" on the same occasions. Matthew preferred "Kingdom of Heaven" and used it almost exclusively. The others used "Kingdom of God" exclusively and thus "Kingdom of Heaven" not at all. So you see that for us there can be no significant distinction. Failure to realize this has led many to err in their quests of the Kingdom.
Second, when Jesus said that the Kingdom "is at hand," he used the New Testament Greek word, eggus, that means "has drawn near" or "has come close." It implied that the Kingdom had drawn so close that its arrival was imminent. He applied the word similarly in other passages, reproduced here, that lead us to believe in the immediacy of it.Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is delivered up into the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:45; Mark 14:41).In the first instance, Jesus had hardly finished speaking when soldiers appeared to take him into custody. In the second instance, Judas, the betrayer, was already close. In the third instance, the two are already about a near as they could be.
Behold, he is at hand that betrays me (Mark 14:42).
And having drawn near, he asked him, What do you desire that I shall do to you (Luke 18:40,41)?
It was with this immediacy, then, that Jesus proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom to his contemporaries. I think of it as when I was a lonely farm lad. If we expected guests, I would be found on the front porch swing (or, in winter, with my face glued to a window). My eyes were eagerly scanning across the fields for a glimpse of their car turning off the gravel road onto the rutted dirt road a mile away. Is that it? No . . . but there it is! I would jump excitedly from the swing and rush into the house, loudly announcing to all inside, "They're here! They're here!"
That was exactly the kind of nearness Jesus expressed when he announced the coming of the Kingdom. Perhaps also it was with a similar attitude: eagerly! happily! The glad time has come! Close enough to see, close enough to hear, close enough that there is no mistake. It is at the very door! It is not necessary that the actual arrival be within a day, a week, a month, or even a year, considering that they had been expecting it for centuries. But it is necessary to suppose that the coming was to be a part of the experience of those who heard him. Otherwise, the "at hand" could have no relevance to them. Suppose that we had been among those multitudes, hearing that proclamation of the Lord. We would have understood his message to have relevance to us, and would have expected to experience it in our lifetimes, and very soon. If Jesus had only meant that the coming would be a hundred years or more from the time of the proclamation, he would have deceived us. More than this, he would have known that his teaching was deceptive. In other words, he would have been lying. That, of course, is a possibility which any earnest truth seeker must consider. I have even entertained the thought that Jesus did not know what he was talking about, but long ago, as the evidence mounted, I laid aside all doubts. Jesus is the Truth – of that I am convinced. His word is perfectly reliable.
The coming of the Kingdom continued to be a frequent theme of the Lord. He returned to it often during the two to three years usually allotted to this phase of his life on earth. He seems to have wanted its coming intensely, as suggested by his teaching the disciples to pray for it's consummation. "Thy Kingdom come . . ." is the very first petition of his prayer instruction, which suggests that this was a thing uppermost in his mind. Had something else been more weighty, he probably would have asked for it first. The coming, the doing of the will of the Father, the provision of daily bread, the forgiveness of debts, and deliverance from evil, are of great significance. But the emphasis was on the coming.
Seeking other clues to the time of the coming, let us focus our attention on the following utterance:Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).This passage confirms what I have already affirmed: that Jesus' prophecy had relevance for that generation. People who were hearing the teaching were to see its fulfillment. So, the coming of the Kingdom "with power" occurred before some of those hearing him could qualify for their graves. But when? The saying suggests also that at least one person standing there must taste of death prior to the the coming. Jesus was that man.
Jesus understood the Kingdom perfectly, and knew all the prior conditions essential to its coming. The prime condition was that the will of God must be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Jesus further understood that he alone must be the one to do God's will on earth so as to initiate the Kingdom. He also knew what action and attitudes this entailed, but he was not certain that he was equal to the task. He had as much free will and personal liberty as any other man, and he was tempted in all points common to others.
Therefore he did not know with certainty that it would come according to plan. He also did not know the exact moment of the coming in that he could not pin a date to it. He based his teaching of it's soon appearing, then, on the presumption of his faithfulness to the end. It was properly stated because, apart from his faithfulness in this matter, his earthly sojourn would be without purpose. When he instructed the disciples how to pray, and told them to say, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," he was soliciting their prayers for himself to the end that he might be faithful in doing the Father's will on earth so that the Kingdom might come. He also understood that the Father's will would be done by himself through the performance of a specific action. It was action of which the prophets had spoken that would be manifest to the people and to the disciples. He also knew that the people who witnessed the action would be unaware that it coincided with the Kingdom's coming. Not even the disciples would know! It would not be such an event as they were expecting and would continue to expect for some time afterward. So, if they understood that the Kingdom was to come as they witnessed him performing this action, they would not believe and would be offended. Yet he wanted both them and us to understand. So he chose to introduce an enigmatic clue, one that they would little note until the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit acted upon their minds. This clue he provided at the last supper when he said:I shall not again drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes (Luke 22:18).With these words in mind, we need only search the scriptures to find when he next drank of the fruit of the vine. If we can establish this (and if Jesus spoke accurately), we will know the exact moment of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Then we can consider only three possible conclusions: Jesus never said this, or he said it and was mistaken, or the Kingdom came exactly as he said.
The search need not be a long one. Follow the story in the Gospels and you will shortly read the account of his crucifixion. While hanging from the cross, he cried out as follows:After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, in order that he might fulfill the scripture, said, "I Thirst". A bowl full of vinegar stood there, so they put a sponge full of vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When therefore he had received the vinegar, Jesus said, "It is finished!" And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:28-30).What was this vinegar? It was wine – a sour wine, but none the less a fruit of the vine. Jesus' executioners had earlier offered him a drink of wine but he had refused it. Now you know the answer to a great mystery: Why Jesus, who fasted forty days in the wilderness, seemed to yield to the lust of the flesh with his last few breaths, though he knew that "all was now finished." He had been on the cross many hours, with his mouth parched with thirst and his body in agony, but had refused drink until he knew it was all over (Matthew 27:34). He also knew that it was too late for the drink to give any relief. At that point he reversed his earlier refusal and asked for the drink – and "received it" as the fruit of the vine. Now you know why he earlier refused the drink – it was not the moment of the coming of the Kingdom. You also know why he drank at the last moment: the Kingdom was come!
Throughout the agonizing crucifixion, he was subject to a continuing uncertainty about whether he would be faithful to the end. If he were not . . . if he should yield to temptation and come down from the cross (as was in his power), he would not have done the Father's will on earth, and the Kingdom would not come. So he waited to signal the coming, by drinking the fruit of the vine, until he knew that "all was now finished." He had been faithful! He had done the Father's will! The Kingdom was come! His last words and action informed us of this wonderful event.
Now, when he announced the clue in the upper room, he was probably not drinking vinegar but rather the more desirable form of the fruit of the vine (Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). Therefore he did not say "From now own I shall not drink vinegar . . ." because that was not what he was then drinking. No, but to establish a connection he used a term applicable to both the wine and the vinegar, that is, "fruit of the vine." Jesus wants us to know the exact moment of the coming. Otherwise he might better have drunk of the fruit of the vine when they first offered it. But he did not. When he had tasted of it, the scripture clearly states that in the first instance he "would not drink" (Matthew 27:34). Perhaps he thought it might have been water. So he tasted it. Determining that it was a fruit of the vine, he immediately refused it to preserve the validity of his clue.
Is it really so simple? How is it that the learned theologians, both Protestant and Catholic, have not realized this truth? Their ponderous tomes contain many convincing arguments pointing to this or that time; how is it that they have overlooked this?
I suggest first that the reliability of their conclusions is questionable because they often disagree with one another. Their methods of derivation of biblical truth are similar if not identical. Therefore their diverse conclusions cast a heavy shadow of doubt over the methods. My method, in contrast, is of the utmost simplicity and consists in listening to Jesus – to his very utterances as recorded in the four gospels – and in believing him. The theologians, on the other hand, have fallen into confusion through considering the sayings of Jesus as only one source of truth among many. They examine his words alongside the law, the prophets, and the apostles. On this basis they tend to find in the Bible almost anything they seek. I do not mean to imply that the other sources are without value. I mean only that apart from a prior and separate consideration of the utterances of Jesus, the others cannot be understood. Jesus alone is the Truth (John 14:6).
So, their method is one reason for their failure, but this is not the main reason. The main reason is this: they are prone to have a conception of the kingdom that does not admit of the truth that it has already come. Conditions on earth do not accord with their views of what must follow the coming of the Kingdom. Also, their views of the event of the coming tend to be characterized by apocalyptic co-events that they do not see at the death of Jesus. These views, firmly implanted in their minds, block the conception of the Truth. It is unthinkable. Examples of such views include (1) the initiation of the reign of perfect justice among men; (2) the dissolution of national distinctions; (3) the advent of secure worldwide peace; the end of war; (4) the return of the Lord, visibly, to reign over the world from Jerusalem, and (5) The elimination of poverty and hunger.
These things have not become reality, of course. Therefore the thought that the Kingdom is already fully come is to such men the utmost idiocy. They cannot think it, they cannot hear it, and therefore it is impossible for them to hear the truth as announced by the Lord. They have failed, utterly failed, to avail themselves of the Lord's promise:If you abide in my word, you will know the Truth and the Truth will make you free (John 8:31,32).This tells us much about such men. If they were genuinely dedicated to Truth, they would first examine the utterances of Jesus, who is the Truth, and then formulate their views of the Kingdom. Instead, they proceed in the reverse order: they form their views of the Truth, then bend the words of Jesus accordingly. Or perhaps, as here, they ignore them entirely.
I should hasten to say that it is not really so simple as I have suggested, due to the variants in the texts of the four gospels. Each renders the key upper room saying, upon which our knowledge of the definite time of the coming depends, somewhat differently. They read as follows:
From Matthew:I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's Kingdom (26:29).From Mark:Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God (14:25).And from Luke:I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes (22:18).The versions are all similar, but have differences as follows:
- (1) Only Luke speaks of the Kingdom's coming; the others refer to activity in the Kingdom.
- (2) Both Matthew and Mark include an idea not found in Luke: the word, "new." To what does it refer? To the fruit of the vine, to the act of drinking, or to something else?
- (3) Matthew is unique in including the words "with you."
- (4) Matthew speaks more specifically of "this" fruit of the vine. The others record "the" fruit of the vine.
- (5) Both Matthew and Mark include the expression "that day," not found in Luke.
How are we to explain this diversity? Not by saying the different writers recorded three different sayings, for each is most explicit in asserting that these are the words uttered by Jesus when, in the upper room, he took up the cup. So, we have several options, some of which I list here:
- (1) All the witnesses erred in recording his words.
- (2) One was correct, the others erred.
- (3) All are partly right, partly wrong.
- (4) Each accurately recorded different portions of the statement.
- (5) Some combination of the previous four.
I have come to favor (4) as the most likely explanation, with perhaps a little of (6). After all, none of the Gospel writers claimed to have recorded all Jesus' words, and here it is particularly evident that there are omissions. Luke, for example, completely omits any mention of the introductory words of both Matthew and Mark, "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many." and Matthew follows with the phrase "for the forgiveness of sins," that Mark fails to mention. Let us therefore see if the accounts can be combined to provide a complete statement that is reasonable and in harmony with the facts. Could the full statement have been something like this?
- (6) Errors of transmission have altered the sayings from an original uniformity.Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes. I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's Kingdom.The complete statement is thus the sum of the witnesses, in which Mark represents a fusion of the other two, and which preserved the key the/this contrast. Both beverages were "the fruit of the vine," which accounts for their relevance to Jesus as he presents the clue.
Jesus knew the Psalmist had prophesied that they would offer him "vinegar" to drink at his crucifixion. Therefore he needed to make the clue perfectly unambiguous. There must be no confusion to cause us to think that the coming was associated with the drinking of "this" new wine. He also may have known that he would drink again of the new wine after the coming, in the Kingdom, and with the disciples. If he thus foresaw two separate events, he introduced the second one into the statement only to resolve any ambiguity in the clue. Then the second event, the drinking of "new wine" with the disciples "in" the Kingdom, would follow as a confirmation that the Kingdom had already come.
This raises yet another question: Has Jesus yet partaken of the new wine with the disciples "in" the Kingdom? There is very good reason to think that he has, based on this statement of Peter from the Acts: ". . . but God . . . made him manifest . . . to us . . . who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (Acts 10:40,41)."
Our knowledge of the times and dining practices of Jesus and the disciples inclines me to think that what they drank was the new wine, not the vinegar. The implication of this is that, after his resurrection, they were with him in the Kingdom as they had not been before. This can be explained only by accepting that the Kingdom had come in the interval between the Last Supper and their supping with him after his resurrection. That would be consistent with its coming at the moment of his death. I therefore conclude that Mark's rendition is a mix of the two separate portions of the statement. It blends them into one and is thus not as accurate as the others. The objection, that this is unlikely because Mark wrote his account first, is not valid. It is likely that later accounts would be more accurate because their authors may have sought to make up what was lacking in Mark's version. Are not the modern versions of the scriptures considered more accurate than earlier ones because the later translators have corrected the texts to conform to more accurate manuscripts? It is certain that the Gospels do contain such inaccuracies as those suggested here. For example, when they asked Jesus, "Which is the great commandment of the Law?" Matthew omitted the words, "All your strength," which Mark included.
Or, more to the point of the present subject, consider the contrasts in the following parallel sayings about the coming and the kingdom:
From Matthew:For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom (Matthew 16:27,28).And from Mark:For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power’ (Mark 8:38-9:1).Here we encounter options similar to those we applied to the upper room sayings. From the uniformity of contexts there can be no doubt they are reporting the same utterance. The question arises: did he say they would see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom, or did he say they would see the Kingdom of God come with power, or perhaps both? These accounts cannot be both accurate and complete.
Luke's account of the upper room saying, while incomplete, is accurate in that there is no misstatement. This clearly explains why he refused to drink when the drink was first offered, then asked for drink when he was at the point of death. It answers many questions provided only that we can believe that the Kingdom came "with power" when Jesus received the fruit of the vine and "yielded up his spirit (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30)."
There are objections to this conclusion. Some will ask, "Why so enigmatic? Why not simply tell them, and us, that the Kingdom was to come at the moment of his death?" And why were they still asking him, following the resurrection, "Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel" (Acts 1:6)? If the Kingdom was fully come, why put them off with an evasive answer beginning with the words, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons" (Acts 1:7,8).
We can best answer these questions together. It will be seen that the facts on which they are based reinforce the belief that the Kingdom had already fully come, before the ascension, and that they were even then "in" the Kingdom.
There were at least two reasons why Jesus both evaded their question about the times, and gave them a clue to the time in an enigmatic fashion. First, as I have already said, Jesus was not certain that he was equal to the task set before him. Therefore he did not know with certainty that the Kingdom would come at the point of his death on the cross. Had he evaded the cross, or had he come down from the cross, or otherwise acted to save his life, then he might have survived to die a death unrelated to the coming of the Kingdom. To have told them, then, that the coming of the Kingdom would be coincident with his death might have turned out to be inaccurate. He would have deceived them.
Second, he knew the disciples, and he understood that they had typical Jewish kingdom preconceptions. Society had already answered their questions before they thought to ask them, as in our case, and so the questions, the key questions, were never asked. Not until after they had witnessed the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension, and had received the Holy Spirit would they be inclined to accept any modification of that view.
Therefore they remained unqualified to receive the Truth when Jesus ascended into heaven. Why tell them what they were not prepared to hear? Consider what their response might have been -- those yet geocentric men! Would they not all have responded as Thomas did when he was told of the resurrection: "I will not believe?"
Later, after receiving the Holy Spirit, he would take these words of Jesus ("what is mine") and "declare" it to them (John 16:15). Thus the Truth would (and did) arise from within their hearts and they would not be offended but would receive it with joy.
Surely some of them would have related the upper room saying to the drinking of the fruit of the vine, the vinegar, and realized it import? No, the mystery was secure. Their minds were too firmly set on the hoped for visible glorification of the realm of the world to entertain such notions. Similarly, most theologians of the Twentieth Century read the utterance just as I have done, yet without ever considering its obvious significance.
Jesus' other utterances regarding the Coming of the Kingdom also conform to this insight, but let us first examine the "taste of death" sayings in Matthew and Mark. Both passages refer to two separate comings that, as I shall show presently, are entirely different and widely separated in time. One of them, described as "the coming of the Son of Man in the glory of the Father and with the holy angels" (Matthew 16:27,28; Mark 8:38 – 9:1; Luke 9:26-27), is associated with divine retribution on sinners. Then it is that he will "repay every man for what he has done" (Matthew `6:27). Everyone will see and recognize this "Coming" since it is not possible for "every man" to be judged and "repaid" without being aware of the highlights of the event. Since therefore we have not yet seen this coming, it has not occurred. He clearly speaks, in the same breath, of a coming that those standing there and hearing him would see before they would taste of death. This latter "coming" is that of the Kingdom, which all except Jesus saw before tasting of death. Of course they did not recognize it as such, or even observe the actual coming. Had they done so, Jesus would have been in error when he earlier said,The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed . . . (Luke 17:20).Matthew says that Jesus used the words, "the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom," whereas Mark relates that he used a different expression, "the Kingdom of God come with power." The two versions of the same utterance, being different, cannot be both accurate and complete. I consider that either Matthew was inaccurate, or else early scribes introduced an aberrant version, for he speaks of a "coming of the Son of Man," albeit "in his Kingdom," as distinguished from coming "in the glory of his Father." However, the "coming of the Son of Man" phrase carries a special significance for Jesus. He separated it from the "coming of the Kingdom." Therefore it is unlikely that he would describe the coming of the Kingdom as in any sense a coming of the Son of Man.
There is no difficulty in Mark's rendition of this utterance, which speaks explicitly of the coming of the Kingdom "with power." This is exactly what transpired with the death of Jesus. It is possible to see in Matthew's rendition yet a third "coming," when they were to see Jesus coming into their midst "in the Kingdom," since the Kingdom itself had already come at the time of his death. In this view, Jesus' words in Matthew are tantamount to a prediction of his visible resurrection. It suggests that everything that happens on earth after his death is "in" the Kingdom.
A more complete account of the utterance is then as follows:Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power, and before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.Why did he condition their observations by the thought of tasting of death? The answer is simple. He knew that he, alone, must taste of death before the Kingdom's coming, since that was the sole condition of its coming. Therefore the tasting of death was, in his mind, constantly associated with the coming of the Kingdom. They were inseparable events. But this association applied only to him, since he alone had to die to effect the coming of the Kingdom. There were some standing there, (everyone excepting only himself) who would not taste of death until they had either seen the Kingdom come in power, or the Son of Man coming in his kingdom, or perhaps both, since either is true. His other statements about the coming of the Kingdom are consistent with this view. First, there is the opening petition of the Lord's prayer, which begins, "Thy kingdom come . . ." and continues, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). We now see, as I have already suggested, that this instructive prayer is a request for their prayers on his behalf, that he might be faithful to do the Father's will on earth as it is done in heaven. He knew full well how he must do the Father's will, but he did not know that he could do it. Temptation was intense. What was the nature of this temptation? It was to save his life – and so lose it (Matthew 16:25)! Of course, we now know that the prayer was answered affirmatively. He was equal to the task; he did do the Father's will on earth as it is done in heaven. The Kingdom did come, exactly as he said. He refused to save his life, and therefore he kept it for himself and everyone else, as life eternal.
What of those sayings in which he spoke of the Kingdom as though it had already come in the days of his flesh? Two utterances are of special interest here:But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20).The second, also addressed to the Pharisees, is from Luke:Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, Lo, here it is, or there, for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20,21).We rightly draw the conclusion from these utterances that in some sense the Kingdom was already present on earth before the death of Jesus. I take it to mean that in the presence of the Lord, or wherever demons were being exorcised by the power of the Spirit of God, the authority of the Kingdom was dominant. This, however, was not the "coming" to which Jesus looked. He constituted a beachhead of the Kingdom, which had invaded the world in his person and was in mortal combat with the forces of evil. Yet it had not won the decisive victory, the issue was yet in doubt, the beachhead was not secure. The authority of the Kingdom was not universal and it was not effective, outside the presence of the Lord, to do the will of God on the earth. God's sovereignty was active in the presence of Jesus, but not in the world at large. The latter was yet subject to a different monarch.
The Coming of the Kingdom was to be a total overthrow of the power of Satan over the world. It would be the final establishment of a new rule of God following the crucial victory of Jesus. He would win a fierce battle of the spirit by the giving of his life.
Clearly, the Kingdom did not come with signs to be observed. It definitely did not come so that men could recognize it and point it out to others saying, "Lo, here it is!" or "Lo, there!" This should not surprise us, nor should we have expected such signs to accompany its arrival. Jesus has already informed us that it "comes not with observation" (Luke 17:20). His statement is final and authoritative. There was, of course, a sign – the drinking of the fruit of the vine. But no one recognized it to cry out, "Lo, here!" because the sign was not such as they sought. Only in retrospect, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, can anyone recognize the coming. They are those to whom "it is given" to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). Others cannot receive it, not even when it is stated clearly and simply. They may hear it, as sounds in the air; or they may see it, as ink on the page, but they cannot receive it because to them it has not been given.
The King James Version of Luke's rendition of these verses easily leads one to think that the coming of the Kingdom is "into" persons (Luke 17:21), and it is often so misunderstood. Surely it was not inside those blind Pharisees to whom Jesus addressed the statement? No, it was not. Understood correctly, Jesus was saying to them, "When it comes, you blind Pharisees will never see it. Why, it is right here in your midst already!" No. Jesus nowhere speaks of the Kingdom being inside anyone, for that would not be consistent with its real character.
I have already stated that the "coming of the Kingdom" is different from the "coming of the Son of Man," to which Jesus also refers repeatedly. It is necessary to emphasize this distinction because so many have erred in associating the two in time, as they continue to do. A common belief is that the Son of Man will some day come to judge the world. After that, his Kingdom will come as he "sets up his Kingdom on earth and begins his millennial reign." It is ironic that the error of equating the two comings results from Jesus' speaking of them together, in the same sayings. The error could be easily avoided by careful consideration of what he said about each. The Lucan passage listed above is a case in point.
Concerning the coming of the Kingdom, they will not say, "Lo, here!" or "Lo, there" (Luke 17:20,21) because it will not come with observable signs to incite such an outcry. On the other hand, neither will they say to us, "Lo, here!" or "Lo, there" (Luke 17:22,24) at the coming of the Son of Man – but for a different reason. Absolutely everyone will see it for himself or herself and there will be no one in ignorance to whom to herald the event. Every eye will see him (Luke 17:24)! So, in one case, there will be no heralds because no one will see it. In the other, everyone will see it so that there will be no need of heralds. If there are heralds of the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus tells us not to believe them because all will see him when he comes. So, in contrast to the coming of the Kingdom, which is not with observation, the coming of the Son of Man is with universal observation. No one can fail to see it. Thus, when it occurs, it will after all be like the coming of the Kingdom in that there will be no heralds shouting, "Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" but for radically different reasons. Therefore Jesus mentions the two events together, not only here but in Mark 8:38-9:1 and parallel passages. It serves his purpose of helping us to understand both events by specifying similarities and distinctions made evident by the association with heralds.
The "Synoptic Apocalypse" (Matthew 24:4-44; Mark 13:5-37; Luke 17:22-38) confirms what I am saying here about the coming of the Son of Man. There, Jesus describes this dramatic event in vivid detail. He compares it with lightning in that "the lightning comes from the East and shines as far as the West." This is truly an event of universal observation!
I do not mean that no one saw the coming of the Kingdom. I mean that those who saw did not recognize it because it did not match their preconceptions. Jesus had stated that some would "see the Kingdom come with power" (Mark 9:1). John's Gospel clarifies the puzzle when it quotes Jesus as saying, "Except you be begotten again, you cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). The apostles had not been begotten again at the time of the crucifixion and the coming of the kingdom, therefore none of then recognized it in its coming. They saw the events, to be sure, but they did not perceive their significance. They could not, because the Spirit had not yet come to them. On the contrary, the victorious event that was the fulfillment of their earnest desires for the Kingdom seemed instead to be defeat. It inspired in them only disappointment and despair of the worst kind. They mumbled out of the depths of their despair to that stranger on the road to Emmaus, "We had thought that this was he who is to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21)!"
Jesus stated that the Kingdom would come when he next drank of the fruit of the vine (Luke 22:18). He expected this would be at the moment of his death by crucifixion, and so it came to pass when he cried out, "I thirst!" and then received the vinegar (John 19:28-30). It was his last act. The Kingdom did come. It came consummately, exactly as he predicted.
It is tragic when anyone cannot believe it. Sadly, almost no one can. Nearly always it is because their preconceptions, hopes, and expectations of the Kingdom are inspired by the love of life. Therefore their expectations cannot possibly match the realities of the Kingdom. If only they would dwell on the utterances of our King, they would quickly learn better. He repeatedly warned of the consequences of the love of life in the world, and made our salvation directly and solely dependent on learning to hate life.
The apostles must soon have come to realize this Truth, for there is no hint of a yet future coming of the Kingdom in their New Testament epistles. Instead, their comments on this subject are thoroughly consistent with the prior coming of the kingdom. There is no New Testament record of anyone repeating, or instructing anyone else to repeat, the "Lord's Prayer" with its opening petition, "Thy Kingdom come . . . (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2)." Is this not a very strange omission, considering that his Apostles were men who had been, before his death, eagerly seeking the Kingdom? No, not if they had already realized the Kingdom's coming as a finished event in history. They did not continue to utter this prayer after the death of Jesus because . . . they soon came to know that the Kingdom had already come! Their prayer had been answered!
Jesus knew the Old Testament prophets well. He professed a positive relationship to them, saying:
THE PROPHECIESI came not to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17).And,Not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18).Now, suppose you and I had been standing before him and hearing his words. We would have understood him to mean that it was his intention to fulfill the prophets in consequence of his coming, and that he would do so very shortly. Jesus was not unaware of how his hearers understood his words – it was to impart that exact idea that he had uttered them.
We who come hundreds of years later often fail to consider what his words conveyed to those to whom he was immediately speaking. This is often the first question we should ask: What did his immediate audience understand him to be saying? This is surely a major key to interpretation, and we are likely to err if we fail to consider it. The words may at first impart a very different idea to us who have come thousands of years later. Here, those among us who do not see the prophets fulfilled are apt to suppose that he came to set in motion a long chain of events that would eventually, many thousands of years later, produce the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
This is a mistake because that is not what he said. Neither was it what his immediate hearers understood him to say. Thus, we are apt to conclude that he was mistaken and that the prophets remain unfulfilled. Otherwise, the only logical responses are to conclude that he lied to them or that he was mistaken. Either option does nothing for his reputation. However, if he spoke the Truth, the perfect Truth that he intended to be understood by those who heard him immediately, we must acknowledge that the prophets have been long fulfilled. Those who say he spoke specifically for us who have the benefit of the centuries to aid our interpretation, and not for those who heard him immediately, do him a disservice. They put him in a position where it was not possible for him to speak the Truth directly to those who heard him and also to us who only hear him through the recollection of those immediate ones. Thus they render his words subject to the vicissitudes of time – meaningless because they can mean anything from the differing points of view of the centuries.
But no! Jesus' Truth is absolute and therefore unaffected by history or time. Anyone who understands him aright must hear him in the relationship of immediacy. Are we so foolish as to think Jesus did not know how easy it would be for us to understand him immediately simply by considering how those to whom he spoke in immediacy must have understood him? Hearing him thus, as contemporary with him, all can understand, the centuries notwithstanding. Jesus was not foolishly caught in the contradictory position of having to lie to them to get the Truth to us.
So, from this we see that, according to his words, his purpose in coming was to fulfill the Law and prophets, while here. If he did not fulfill them in that long ago time, we must consider that he was subject to err just as we are. But then he is not the personification of Truth as he claimed when he said, "I am the Truth . . ." (John 14:6), and we should consider him an impostor. Additional support for this view comes from another utterance in which he said:The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone enters it violently" (Luke 16:16).Here Jesus considered that the Law and the Prophets had already, beginning with John, encountered their terminus. He was then living in the age of their consummate fulfillment, and was himself the personification of that fulfillment. These words make it rationally impossible to understand Jesus' view of the prophets as one that projected their tenure through the centuries to come. This terminus, or fulfillment, is implied in the Sermon on the Mount each time he entered the phrase, "You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you . . . (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39,44)." His word stands in relation to the law and the Prophets in these cases as a supplanting contrast – a word vastly different from the one it supplants. It is so different that it represents an absolute discontinuity having no relationship to its predecessor save this, that it is its . . . fulfillment! The discontinuity is not to be represented by a gap, as though there were a great leap between them. No, but they were separated by a distinct boundary, or interface, which is . . . the Kingdom of God.
Therefore he said, in the words already quoted,The Law and the Prophets were until John. . . (Matthew 11:13; Luke 16:16).What since then?The good news of the Kingdom of God is proclaimed (Luke 16:16)!Thus it is the coming of the Kingdom that constitutes the terminus of the Law and the Prophets. They were prophets of the Kingdom who could only look forward to it. They did not know how to look backward to it. Therefore, they are no more.
Again, what did Jesus say? He said that they were until John. So, therefore, they are no more. Ah! The good news of the Kingdom! Not "New prophesies of the Kingdom." Not "new light on the old prophecies of the Kingdom." Not "Good news about the understanding of the prophecies of the Kingdom." No! None of those. What, then, is it? Wonderful good news!
Now good news pertains to something "good" that has already happened or that is to happen immediately. Otherwise, it is only a "good prophecy" of something yet to happen. If it is "good news of the Kingdom," it can only mean that the coming of the Kingdom has either already happened, or that it is about to happen very quickly. It must occur so quickly that the news of its nearness is joyful "good news" to the hearers – that is, to those who hear it immediately. By no stretch of logic or imagination can a Kingdom which still has not come on earth, in this year of our Lord 1988, have been "good news" to Peter, James, and John. Yet this is exactly the word imparted to them by both Jesus and John the Baptizer.
The good news of the Kingdom, preached to and by the first disciples, was no lie. Therefore that good news, which was that the Kingdom of God was at hand, is good news no longer. It is not "news" of any kind, any more so than last years, or last centuries, newspaper. Therefore, any "good news of the Kingdom" that we now proclaim must be different. It must be this, to those who hear it for the first time in any century: The Kingdom of God has come!
This is seldom good news to theologians who cannot admit the thought that the Kingdom has already fully come on the earth. Most of them have views of the consummate kingdom that are in sharp contrast to today's realities and to the realities of the history of the last two millennia. They cannot "see" the Kingdom, and in their blindness they plunge on into the abyss of theological speculations. These speculations generally picture Jesus as mistaken in his expectations of the coming of the Kingdom. They present his words as words that cannot have relevance to the real world of our times. Perhaps Jesus himself, in anticipation of these late nay sayers, diagnosed their condition correctly when he stated:Except you be born from above, you cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).
The spokesmen of Christendom have generally insisted that the Kingdom of God and of Christ must conform to the pattern of the kingdoms of this world, though Jesus has expressly stated otherwise. As usual, they ignore Jesus to cling to their dreams for the future of the world. Listen to what Jesus had to say:
THE SIGNIFICANCEMy kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from this world (John 18:36).In saying, "My kingship is not from this world," and in illustrating how this results in a radical effect on the conduct of himself and of his disciples, he shows that the characteristics of his Kingdom are "wholly other" from those of the worldly kingdoms and authorities. Some characteristics of the kingdoms of this world are: They are inspired by the human lust for power. They are established by military action, and thus secured. They are governed by a king and his agents who rule from a palace in the capital city. Their endurance is dependent on the loyalty of many subjects, and so on.
The Kingdom of God is not like this. If it were, then the hope of Christendom would be realized by a visible return of Christ at the head of heavenly armies, to vanquish the kings of earth at Mount Megiddo. We would see him victoriously leading his forces across the Kidron Valley, past the tombs of the prophets, and up the steep slope of Moriah. Then he would pause while construction workers labored to pave a way across ancient Arab cemeteries and to reopen the Golden Gate for his entrance into the Holy City. Finally the last obstructing stone would be removed, and such a shout would go up as could be heard on the Mount of Olives, all the way across the Kidron Valley. The procession would then move through the gate to occupy the holy Mount Moriah with its Mosques of Omar and El Aksa. There, in Jerusalem, the King would establish the seat of world power, sending out his agents and armies to secure a thousand years of peace on this earth! The Kingdom of God would be come!
But no! His Kingdom is not like this. If it were, the disciples (his servants), would have fought so that he might not be delivered to the Jews. Something else has happened instead. Where men looked for a mighty ruler marching in triumphal procession, a young man, executed and disgraced, is taken down dead from a cross. Where men looked for a benevolent monarch to reign in peace from Jerusalem, we see instead a Jerusalem divided and forsaken, cast from one ruler to another as a pawn of political and religious power, the object and prize of war. Where men looked for a worldwide reign of one government unifying the nations in justice, peace and prosperity we see instead the persistent blooming of divisive racism, nationalism, cultism and ideology until today the whole world labors fearfully under the threats of nuclear, chemical and military genocide.
I see all these things and yet I know and am persuaded that God's Kingdom has come on the earth. The weight of the biblical revelation is too powerful and convincing to deny. We must, in faith, believe it contrary to the testimony of the natural senses. Also we must conclude that the Kingdom of God has a reality and significance radically at variance with the traditions of Christendom. The purpose of the following pages is therefore to investigate the real character and significance of the Kingdom.
A kingdom that was consummated at Calvary cannot mean the realization of a just society on earth – either by a slow process of spiritually inspired social revolution, or by the sudden, apocalyptic overthrow of the forces of evil by God's universal rule of righteousness. The Kingdom has fully come, and yet poverty and suffering abound worldwide. We read of famines, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and pestilences (Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:10). Crime and immorality thrive. Warfare grows ever more fierce and destructive. The unification of the race remains an elusive dream in this epoch when new, bellicose ideologies and nations are rising around the globe. Even old ones, once thought dormant, are rising anew to press their militant claims. Of what use is a Kingdom that seems to have no corrective influence in the world? Why bother with seeking it? Most people turn away from the Truth at this point, as almost everyone raises these questions. They are few who go beyond them to the eventual realization that such evidence as I have just cited is actually confirmation of the operation of the Kingdom in the world today.
Here, briefly, is an example of what I mean. Both Daniel and David prophesied that the Messiah would shatter the nations, dashing them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm 2:9; Daniel 2:40,41). Now, isn't that exactly what is happening, such that today we look out upon a potsherd world? It is the rule of God in his Kingdom that first destroyed the Pax Romana and that now continues to frustrate all human aspirations toward "one world." The human, churchly expectation is in diametric opposition to the reality of God's rule. Failing to understand the will and purpose of God, men have embraced a geocentric "attitude to life," and the result is utter blindness to the Truth. Tragically, pathetically, Christendom continues to insist that God's Kingdom must order the world according to a human point of view. Men forget that in its very essence the coming of God's Kingdom must mean that God's will is done, as distinct from man's. It is as though they expect God to rule the world according to their dictates. Why, then God would only be man's vassal King!
The coming of God's Kingdom means that God in Christ has defeated all contenders to ultimate power and has taken up his great power and begun to reign. This is precisely what Jesus arose from the tomb to announce to us and to the world:All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to me (Matthew 28:18).The Kingdom of God came on earth, as it is in heaven, at the hour of Jesus' death on the cross. In view of the straightforward and consistent biblical testimony to this fact, what can be the end of those who search the scriptures and yet do not believe?
Jesus became and yet remains King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the head over all things; all things have been put under him. Therefore Christ has ruled the world since that day and he will continue to rule it until the end. The reluctance of men everywhere to accept the Truth grows out of this simple fact: Jesus as King of Kings is not administering his kingdom on the earth in a way that pleases the will of men. In their affection for life on earth and for the world that nourishes that life, men are prone to insist that the world itself must become a paradise. Therein lies their great error. Contrary to human speculation, the world is exactly as God wills it to be. It is wholly consistent with the active exercise of the power of Him who has taken up his great power and begun to reign.
Jesus stated that the heavens and the earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33. The King is actively ruling to maintain this bondage to futility. Therefore, there can be no enduring peace on earth. There can be no end of poverty. There can be no end of pestilence, corrosion and thievery. There can be no end of that which men call death.
What, then, is different in consequence of the coming of the Kingdom? Just this: The usurper had appropriated the rule of the world of men, and Jesus wrested the authority away from him. He has triumphed over him by refusing to love his life or to fear death. As a direct result of this personal yet cosmic victory of Jesus at Calvary, he compelled the earth to resume it's only legitimate function. It has begun to yield, to the Glory of the Father, those who respond to his call to become his sons and daughters.
Everything must be understood through the comprehension of the freedom of the will of every man. The Christ maintains the world in its bondage to futility lest men find their Glory here. This drives us to despair for the world and to seek our consummation in the Heavenly Glory. When that becomes our will, our only will, then we are qualified to enter it as the children of God – for that is the sole purpose of our being here. That is the only purpose of our existence.
That the words of Jesus have been preserved is dynamic evidence of the rule of the Kingdom of God in the world. This is exactly as he prophesied, saying:Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).Men strive for one world brotherhood, but Christ in his Kingdom effectively frustrates all their efforts to produce it. He will never permit it to be realized. The breakup of old empires and the persistent fragmentation of the nations of the earth is evidence of the rule of God in his Kingdom. Thus has he fulfilled the prophecy of the Psalmist: "You will dash them in pieces like a potters vessel" (Psalm 2:9).
Because of all this, somewhere every day someone is deciding, of his free will, to hate life in this world so as to inherit eternal life in the Glory of God. Remember that the whole creation has absolutely no purpose outside that of fulfilling its intended function of producing children for the Glory of the Father. When anyone, anywhere, hears that word of the King:Whoever loves his life loses it, but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).And also that word that says:Call no man on earth "Father", for you have one Father, in heaven, and all you are brothers (Matthew 23:9).And when one not only hears, but responds from the heart by the yielding of his will to conform to the will of the Father and desires with all his heart to leave this world and to enter the Father's Glory in eternal union with the Father as his child, then the Father's will is done again on earth as it is in heaven. The Father's will is being done exactly as it was when Jesus died on the Cross to bring the Kingdom to the earth. Whenever anyone thus yields his or her will to God, that also is the living proof that His Kingdom has been consummated on the earth.
All kings in all kingdoms rule to the single end that the will of the king is done throughout the realm. The Kingdom of God is the same, in that God in Christ rules to the single end that the world yield up the children of the Father to his glory.The earth was barren before the coming of the Kingdom. It had been created for the specific purpose of bearing the fruit of children of God for the glory of the Father, but none were forthcoming. Therefore all was lost, futile, and vain, and the whole world was under the power of darkness (Luke 22:53; John 3:19; 8:12; 12:46). But, now that God in Christ is ruling, divine children are being begotten into the realm of the Father's Glory. The earth has become fruitful. It must be, for the Kingdom of God has come!
The coming of the Kingdom is therefore not at all to be viewed as a progressive, continuing process such as some have taught, in the belief that it is somehow to be equated with the development of civilization. No kingdom comes partially or incompletely. Either its authority is complete and effective, or else it has not yet gained the power to rule. The Kingdom of God is no exception and the New Testament presents its coming in the Greek punctiliar action. Such action is like this: first, it has not happened; then, instantly, it has already happened. Related events may lead up to the coming, but these are not the coming. When finally it comes, it has already happened. It is over and past and no one can rightly speak of it in the present tense as though one could see it happening progressively. No. One can only say "The Kingdom is at hand" then suddenly he says, "The Kingdom has come!" This is the way it was when the Kingdom came on earth as it is in heaven.
It is also the same in its coming into the consciousness of every individual. With everyone who has received the truth, there was a time when each spoke of the coming of the Kingdom as a future event saying, "O, Lord, let thy Kingdom come!" But then the heart was opened and the light burst forth with splendor and one could suddenly say only, "Praise the Father that his Kingdom came!" This moment of Truth, when suddenly the light has already burst forth into consciousness, is surely the most blessed and joyous moment in all this life until that hour when we shall see him in his glory.
"The Kingdom of God was consummated on the earth when Jesus died on the Cross." On hearing this statement a seminary professor once retorted derisively, "Do you mean to say that the Kingdom of God has fully come while war, poverty, and injustice continue rife on the earth? No one can believe it!"
I mention this man because his geocentric view is typical of churchmen who insist that God cannot be actively ruling while these evils continue. They assert that the rule of God aims to produce a utopian society and thus they betray the earth-centeredness of their thinking. By this I mean that their primary values are earthly ones, also their primary threats. This prohibits their accepting a heavenly kingdom that does not bring an earthly peace. If we first allow for their refusing to take the teaching of Jesus seriously for all their professed devotion, then we should acknowledge that such objections are honest.
The maintenance of seemingly evil conditions under the rule of God certainly calls for an explanation. There is first the matter of appearances. Human rulers appear to abide the same as ever, in their full spectrum from the malevolent dictators to the benevolent monarchs. When Jesus wrested his victory from Satan, Caesar and Sanhedrin there was no apparent end of Roman rule nor any visible change in administration. The Romans continued to exercise their authority, except that they suddenly received it from a different source. This change in power at the highest level was invisible to men so that the Romans themselves were unaware of any change in the sources of their power.
When Daniel prophesied of the four beasts, "Their dominion was taken away, but their lives were preserved for a season and a time" (Daniel 7:12), he was speaking of this very thing for the Romans dominion, as something of themselves, was taken away from them. Yet their lives were preserved in that we yet see their successors carrying out their functions as though nothing had happened.
There is no real contradiction between what is and what we see to be. To be sure, many see an apparent contradiction due solely to their misconceptions of the Kingdom. But if their apparent contradiction were to be resolved in favor of their ideas, there would then be a real contradiction in Truth, which is a thought unreasonable. For the biblical and reasonable testimony (as of two witnesses) agree consistently in that whatever is eternal is to us unseen, and the Kingdom is eternal. It follows, therefore, that the kingdom itself must forever remain unseen as an object of human perception. And yet, we see it vividly through the eye of faith, having been begotten of the Spirit in accord with Jesus' statement:Except you be begotten from above, you cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).There the matter rests, and the eye of faith would not have it otherwise. It follows that anything, to be eternal as is the Kingdom, is and must ever remain unseen. If it can be seen, it is only a component of the temporal reality that passes away, in the same manner as that of the whole world. Therefore, whatever can be seen in this way is of the world. Yet Jesus has been careful to teach, in sharp contrast to this, that the Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). I must conclude, then, that any kingdom that we can see will pass away. It is subject to the temporal futility that binds the whole of creation and therefore it cannot be the Kingdom of God!
We must now finally consider the divine imperative, which is our legitimate choice and which I have already discussed at length. I ask this question: If God's surpassing eternal Kingdom and Glory were evident to human eyes, where would be the grounds for our choice in the freedom of the will? Would not everyone be compelled to select the glory of eternity rather that the relative puny and fading splendor of this age? So therefore the essential choice is and must ever remain an act of pure faith precisely because of the unseen character of the eternal verities, and so it continues to constitute a legitimate choice.
Do you ask, "How can one make a legitimate choice of an entity that cannot be seen?" Would not a "genuine choice" require an equal exposure to all the possibilities? Is it not understood, for example, that before a jury can make a decision concerning innocence or guilt, both defense and prosecution must be granted an equal hearing?
This seems a reasonable question. But a little reflection will show that the questioner has not grasped the least part of what I am saying; for it ought to be obvious that if anyone insists on having the same kind of visible evidence of the unseen as of the seen in order to make a choice between them, then for that person the unseen has never been seriously considered as an option. The perceptual distinction that differentiates between the seen and the unseen also must differentiate between their respective testimonies. The testimony to the material reality of the world is essentially visible, whereas the testimony to the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God is, like the Kingdom itself, essentially invisible so that the choice begins not with a consideration of the entities themselves, but with a consideration of their respective testimonies. If one chooses to heed visible witnesses to the world as credible above the invisible witnesses to the Kingdom, he has already made his choice in favor of the world without ever giving the Kingdom a hearing. So therefore the choice is clear and pure from the very beginning, not only with regard to the unseen entities, but also as regards their testimonies.
Those who have already chosen the world have acted as though the unseen testimony of the Kingdom were no testimony. In fact, it is the most powerful and credulous testimony of all. Just as it was written that "God has nowhere left himself without a witness," so in this age abundant witnesses give their evidence for him and his Kingdom. The rule of God is indeed effective in the seen world, but so as not to be recognizable as such to men. On the contrary, the visible consequences of the rule of God are often such as men, including churchmen, do not like to see. They are often frustrated because the changes they promote are contrary to the will of God – and God is ruling. It is for this reason that for all their efforts men have never been able to unite the world since the coming of the Kingdom. There is such a vast difference between the mind of man and the mind of Christ that the very rule of God prohibits the changes which men demand as evidence of the rule of God.
Nevertheless, when one has at last made the choice of the unseen Kingdom of God, it is discovered that even the visible testimony of the world bears witness to it, although indirectly. God in Christ exercises the regency of the Kingdom to the end that, above all things, the freedom of the will of man is protected and preserved, since only by the operation of the freedom of the will is it possible for children in the Father's image to be delivered into his glory. Apart from that, his whole purpose in creation would be thwarted and no man could be saved. That this also results in terrible inequities, transgressions, and sufferings due to the conflicts of the will of men means only that we are the sinners who bring it all upon ourselves. The Father stands always at the window – grieving, yearning and hoping for the prodigal's return.
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