Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Undivided Kingdom

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:25-28)
Jesus healed a man who was demon-possessed, blind and mute. He cast out the demon so that the man could see and speak (Matthew 12: 22-23). When some of the Pharisees heard of this, they came and accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub (literally, “Lord of the Flies”) whom they considered the ruler over demons (v. 24).

Now, if it had been just one or two demons that Jesus expelled, they might have been able to make a good argument that satan was causing a few demons to retreat in order to gain some sort of advantage. After all, satan is a schemer. But this was far more than a few. Everywhere Jesus went He was casting out demons from the multitudes that followed, doing major damage to the kingdom of satan. Indeed, this was one of the reasons He came: to destroy the works of the devil (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

Jesus answered their charge with a spiritual logic that turned the table on them. First, He pointed out that a kingdom or house divided against itself cannot stand. That being so, He then asked, if satan drives out satan, how can the kingdom of satan possibly stand. The Pharisees’ accusation was logically incoherent — it made no sense.

Second, if Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, then by whose power did their “sons,” their own exorcists, manage to cast out the few demons they were haphazardly able to expel? A small handful of exorcisms might be a demonic strategy, but Jesus was the one who was casting them out wholesale, running roughshod over satan and all his works. The Pharisees were being hypocritical, as Jesus pointed out by adding, “Therefore they [the “sons”] will be your judges.”

Third, if Jesus cast out demons by the Spirit and power of God (as indeed He did), then it was a sign that the kingdom of God had come into the world, for the Jews believed that when Messiah came, satan would be bound. Now here it was happening before their eyes, but in addition to the Pharisees being incoherent and hypocritical, they were also faithless.

Jesus was casting out demons everywhere He went, and He did it by the Spirit of God, as Peter later proclaimed: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). This was a demonstration that the kingdom of God had now come into the world.

The kingdom of God is an undivided kingdom. Though it would be a losing strategy for satan to divide his own kingdom, as Jesus pointed out, the kingdom of God not only has the power to divide it but was doing just that. Jesus added,
Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. (Matthew 12:29)
By the Spirit of God, Jesus came into the “house” of the “strong man,” and binding him, was able to “plunder his goods,” that is, to destroy the works of the devil and loose his captives. In this way, Jesus divided the kingdom of satan.

Having answered their charge, Jesus then addressed the Pharisees with sobering words about the undividable nature of the kingdom of God:
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:30-32)
The implication was clear. If Jesus was casting out demons by the Spirit of God, and the kingdom of God had now come upon them, then a dividing line was clearly drawn. We must embrace Jesus and His gospel of the kingdom, or else we will be working against both. They cannot be divided. To reject Jesus is to reject the kingdom of God as well.

Jesus also cannot be divided from the Spirit of God. To attribute His works to the “Lord of the Flies,” is to blaspheme, or speak evil against, the Spirit by whom those works were done. To reject Jesus, as the Pharisees were doing, was to reject the Spirit of God, and there would be no place for them in God’s kingdom. With such a stern warning, it was now time for the Pharisees to make a decision. There was nothing halfway about it; it was either all in or all out.
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:33-37)
Up to this point, the Pharisees had shown themselves to be a “brood of vipers” who could not speak anything good about Jesus and the kingdom He preached because their hearts were full of evil. If they did not change their words, they would soon have to give account for them, and would be condemned by them. To change their words, they would need to change their hearts and do as Jesus preached from the beginning: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:17).

The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is an undivided kingdom. It cannot be separated from Jesus and the Spirit of God. The kingdom of satan is broken. The Lord Jesus has bound him and destroyed his works, and is loosing his captives.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Kingdom of Quiet Revolution

But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known. (Matthew 12:15-16)
Jesus had so angered the Pharisees with His claim to be Lord over the Sabbath, they went out scheming how they might bring Him down. When Jesus learned of this, He departed. His kingdom is forceful, and those who enter in are passionate for it, but it is not about violent physical conflict.

As He left, large crowds followed after Him, many of whom were sick, for Jesus had just demonstrated that healing is a good thing and it is the Father’s will to heal even on the Sabbath. They came because they believed. Matthew notes the result very simply: “He healed them all.”

Jesus healed the multitude, then strictly admonished them not to make it widely known. He wanted to avoid the additional publicity, perhaps because He did not wish to exacerbate the situation of the Pharisees and confirm them in their hardness of heart, for there were still some among them who were open to His message. Matthew sees in this reticence a fulfillment of what Isaiah foretold:
Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
And in His name Gentiles will trust.
(Matthew 12:18-31, quoting Isaiah 42:1-4)
Though that passage may also have had a reference to Israel, the Servant whom God chose, in whom He was well pleased and upon whom He put His Spirit is the Lord Jesus (see Matthew 3:16-17). He was not a political agitator. He did not come as a rabble-rouser or one who stirs up treason. He did not get into shouting matches. He did not treat harshly those who were brokenhearted or fading into despair, the “bruised reeds” and “smoking flaxes.” He came for a larger purpose: to declare justice and set things right, not just for Israel, but for all the nations. He not only declared justice, He has been bringing it forth, and His cause will be victorious.

His conquest does not come by military combat or political maneuverings, but by the preaching of the gospel. Before He ascended to heaven, He declared that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. Then He commissioned His disciples to go and “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). This commission will not fail but be fulfilled, and justice shall come to all the nations through the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of Heaven on Earth does not come by political manipulation or military conquest, but by quiet revolution — the preaching of the gospel.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Kingdom of Sabbath Rest

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30).

For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8)
Early Jewish tradition spoke about taking on the “yoke” of the Law of Moses. However, this was a hard yoke that no one was able to bear. When a group of legalistic Jewish believers wanted to impose the law on Gentile Christians, Peter rose up at the Jerusalem council and said, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). In Romans 7, Paul details his own desperate struggle — and ultimate failure — to bear this bondage and uphold the law, finally finding deliverance in Jesus Christ (v. 25). The centerpiece of his letter to the Galatians is found in 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

Jesus calls us to a different yoke. Not the yoke of Moses, which He came to fulfill (Matthew 5:17), but His own. To take His yoke means that we must set aside all other yokes. Formerly, the law was a “tutor” whose purpose was to bring us to Christ. Now that He has come, we take His yoke and learn of Him. The yoke of the law was heavy and difficult; the yoke of Jesus is easy and light. It is a yoke of freedom, not of bondage, and the promise of Jesus is that by taking His yoke, we will find rest for our souls.

The rest we find in the Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the Sabbath rest it required. The Sabbath was a type; Jesus is the full realization to which the Sabbath could only point. Indeed, Jesus called Himself the “Lord of the Sabbath.”

One day, as Jesus was walking through a field of grain, His disciples helped themselves to a little bit of it and ate. This was on a Sabbath. A group of Pharisees witnessed this and were upset. Not because of what they did — that was quite acceptable by law and custom — but by when they did it. They complained to Jesus, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” But Jesus said to them:
Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:3-8)
Jesus vindicated the act of His disciples by comparing it with three examples from the Law and the Prophets:
  • It was not lawful for David to eat the sacred bread, which was a special offering to the Lord to be eaten only by the priests. Yet the necessity of hunger prevailed. How much more would this be true of Jesus, who was recognized with the messianic title Son of David (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9)? He accepted this designation, and even argued later that, not only was He the Son of David but He was also greater than David was because He was David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46).
  • It was not lawful to work on the Sabbath, and yet the priests of the Lord did not refrain from their work on that holy day. If the service of the Temple was exempt, then how much more would this be true of Jesus, who was greater than the Temple? On another occasion, He even compared His body to the Temple: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:18-22).
  • God desires mercy more than sacrifice. That is what the Lord said by the prophet Hosea: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). There is a principle that is greater than the requirement of the law and that is the mercy of God.
As if the Pharisees were not already scandalized enough by what Jesus said, He concluded with this declaration: “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Here was another designation with messianic implication, for “Son of Man” spoke explicitly of the humanity of Jesus, but it also implied His divinity. As Messiah and Lord, Jesus was greater than the Sabbath.

Jesus then went into their synagogue where, seeing a man who had a withered hand, the Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10) They were still looking for a way to entrap Him. Turning the table on them, Jesus asked, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?” (v. 11).

No one answered; it was an accepted practice to rescue one’s livestock, even on the Sabbath. Then Jesus answered them, while at the same time revealing the hypocrisy of their question. “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (v. 12). Then to prove the point, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched out his hand and it was healed (v. 13). The Pharisees were livid, and went out, plotting how they might destroy Jesus.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath, the Temple, the Law of Moses and the promise God made to David. He calls us to set aside all other yokes and take up His, for it is easy and His burden is light, and we shall find rest for our souls. For the kingdom of Heaven on Earth is a kingdom of Sabbath rest.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Kingdom That Divides

Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. (Matthew 10:11-14)
Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the kingdom and manifest the signs of it, but He cautioned them that not everyone would receive it. There would be persecution ahead. Some would be hospitable to them and believe their message; others would reject it. Those who received would have a blessing of peace given to them; for those who turned away the message, and the messengers, there was no blessing to offer. We will see Jesus talk about this again in Matthew 25:31-45, where He speaks of the division of the sheep and the goats based on how they receive His disciples. The principle, implied here but much more explicit there, is found in Matthew 25:40, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.” (See Those Who Will Inherit the Kingdom)

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves,” Jesus said, “Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). They would need to have great prudence and be innocent of evil. He warned them that they would be brought up and accused before Jewish councils, and flogged in the synagogues (v. 17). They would be betrayed to Gentile governors and kings, but the Holy Spirit would show them what to say (vv. 18-20). They would be widely hated in Israel because of Jesus’ name, and persecuted from city to city for being His disciples. Just as their Master would be despised, so they would be, too. It would be a comfort to be in such good company as His (vv. 21-25).

“Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known” (v. 26). The true nature of things would be made manifest. What was now being revealed to them in secret, they would soon preach abroad (v. 27). Though men may put to death the body, they cannot touch the soul (v. 28). The God who takes care of the sparrows, which are of very little value in the marketplace, knows the number of hairs on our heads, because we are of far greater value to Him (vv. 29-31).

“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (vv. 32-33). Here is the great dividing line: Whoever believes and confesses the gospel of Jesus Christ openly on earth will be acknowledged before God in heaven by the Lord Jesus. Whoever rejects Him on earth will be denied by Him in heaven. It is a sobering judgment, a sword that will even separate family members from one another. But if one chooses Jesus as King, he must love Him even more than father, mother, daughter and son (vv. 34-37).

All these things awaited the disciples as they fulfilled this great commission, and came to pass within a generation, after Jesus went to the Cross. His Cross became a cross each of us must bear (v. 38). It is the cost of following Jesus (was the scribe who promised to follow Him everywhere really ready for this?). It is the difference between losing life and finding it. “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (v. 39).

Now Jesus returned again to the reward for those who receive the ministry of the disciples:
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:40-42)
The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is a reward for those who believe the message of the gospel brought by the disciples. The cost for confessing the Lord Jesus may be great, but the cost for rejecting Him is infinitely greater.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Following the King

And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:18-22)

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. (Matthew 9:9)
What does it mean to follow the King? Matthew gives us three vignettes. The first is about a scribe, a teacher of the law quite taken with Jesus and His message. He said, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever you go.” There is no reason to doubt that he meant it, as least as much as he understood it. But did he really know what he was asking? Jesus laid it out for him: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He was not speaking of a life of poverty, but a life lived on a different basis. Follow Jesus and there is no telling where you might end up. Where He was heading, there was also a lot of persecution for Him and his disciples to endure (see Matthew 10:16-26). To follow Jesus is to step away from the security offered by the world and live in full dependence on Him.

The second brief story is about “another of His disciples,” which seems to indicate that the scribe of the first story really was also a disciple of Jesus, at least at some level. This second disciple wanted to follow Jesus, but first desired to go and bury his father. If he was the oldest son, it would have been his responsibility to do so. Since he was out in public, he was no longer in the private mourning period, which indicates that his father’s body had already been placed in the tomb. But it was the custom of Jews back then to go back a year later and gather up the bones and place them in a special box called an ossuary. That is likely what this man is referring to.

However, in practical terms, “Let me bury my father,” meant, “Lord, I can’t follow you this year. Let me wait until next year.” Jesus answered, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” He was not speaking against the burial custom or the young man’s sense of responsibility to honor his father. He was directing the man to the proper perspective. Had not the young man heard Him preach earlier, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”? That set the priority concerning everything, even family matters. “Follow Me,” Jesus said, and everything else that is needed will be properly tended. “Let the dead bury their own dead.” The man’s father would be reburied by those who stayed behind. It was a secondary matter, as are all things when the King has come. The main thing is to follow the King.

A little later in his Gospel, Matthew tells of another call to follow Jesus — his own. Matthew was a tax collector, probably a customs agent, working for the Herodian system that was much despised by the Jewish people. He was sitting at his booth one day when Jesus came and said, “Follow Me.” We do not know how the first two men responded, whether or not they followed Jesus with a deeper understanding and commitment, be we do know about Matthew: “So he arose and followed Him.” We do not know the issues of his heart which brought him to his decision, but he decided to leave behind the security of his position, which was lucrative, and make the kingdom of God his priority.

Matthew then threw a party for Jesus and His disciples (Luke 5:29 tells us this was at Matthew’s house), and many of own his friends and fellow tax collectors came, too. The Pharisees were once again offended. “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Though they were neither brave enough nor polite enough to ask Him directly, Jesus heard their remarks and said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).

The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is not for those who deem themselves righteous but for those who recognize their need of repentance. The repentance required is not only about turning away from the works of darkness, but also about turning from the dead works of religion (sacrifice without mercy) to the “physician” of souls.

To who follow the King we must recognize our need of Him, give up the security of the world and depend on Him alone, and make His kingdom our priority. Those who do will see His kingdom, Heaven of Earth.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Willingness of Heaven on Earth

When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-3)
In the Sermon of Heaven on Earth, Jesus taught them to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is the will of God being done on earth just as it is being done in heaven. When He came down from the mount, a leper came and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can heal me.” He had no doubt that Jesus had the power an authority to heal, but what He wanted to know what was the will of God in the matter. Would cleansing him of leprosy demonstrate the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven?

This was the only time anyone asked Jesus if He was willing to heal, and He settled the question: “I am willing; be cleansed.” And the man was healed of leprosy.

Jesus then went into Capernaum, where he was met by a Roman centurion who desired Him to heal his servant, who was at home paralyzed. Jesus again demonstrated the willingness of heaven to be manifested on earth. “I will come and heal him,” He said (Matthew 8:5-13)

Next, Jesus came to Peter’s house, where Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with fever. Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her (Matthew 8:14-15). That evening, people came to the house bringing many who were demonized and sick. Jesus cast out the demons and healed all who were sick (Matthew 8:16-17). It was the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven.

A little while later, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gergesenes, where He was met by two men who were violently demon-possessed, and He cast out the evil spirits (Matthew 8:28-34). Then He got back into the boat and came back across to His own town, where He healed a paralytic who had been brought to Him by his friends.

“Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you,” He said. When some of the scribes fumed over this, thinking Jesus a blasphemer, He said,
Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, — then He said to the paralytic “Arise, take up your bed and go to your house.”
The man got up, took his bed and went home. The crowds marveled and gave God glory, because Jesus showed it was the will of God in heaven to release His power on earth to heal sickness and forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8).

Not long afterwards, a ruler in the synagogue asked Jesus to come home and lay His hand on his daughter so that she would live. Jesus was willing, so He got up and followed him. Along the way, a woman who suffered from constant bleeding came up behind Jesus to touch the hem of His garment. “Be of good cheer, daughter, your faith has made you well,” He told her, and the woman was healed. Jesus was completely willing for her to receive it. Arriving at the house of the synagogue ruler, Jesus went in and raised the dead girl to life, for it is the will of God in heaven that even the dead be restored on earth (Matthew 9:18-26)

When Jesus left there, two blind men began to follow Him, crying out, “Son of David, have mercy on us.” Jesus stopped and said, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They answered, “Yes, Lord.” He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be to you.” They believed that He was both able and willing to grant their request, and they received their sight (Matthew 9:27-31).

Then a man was brought to Him, who was mute and demonized. Jesus cast out the demon and the man was able to speak. The crowds were amazed. “It was never seen like this in Israel.” But the Pharisees had no understanding of the will of God in heaven. They answered, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”

Jesus did not turn away anyone who came to Him in faith, but granted them whatever they were seeking. For the kingdom of Heaven on Earth is the willingness of God to forgive sins, heal diseases, and set the captives free.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Table of the Lamb

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!
(Revelation 5:12)
This is the song of the saints and angels in John’s heavenly vision of the throne room of God. In this scene, God has a scroll in His hand, sealed with seven seals. An angel calls out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” But no one is found until an elder says to John, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” John looks in the midst of all those who surround the throne and is surprised to see that the Lion is a Lamb “as though it had been slain.” The Lamb takes the scroll out of the right hand of God, for He is worthy.

In the days when this was written, it was a Roman practice to seal important documents such as wills or deeds with seven seals. Many Jews also adopted this custom. These were not to be opened by anyone except those who were worthy, or qualified, to do so. In this divine vision, it was the Lamb who had the right to take the scroll from the hand of God and open the seals, and this was cause for great rejoicing:
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped Him who lives forever and ever. (Revelation 5:8-14)
The “four living creatures” are those described in Revelation 4:6-8. They are seraphim, like the ones described in Isaiah 6, who worship God day and night. The twenty-four elders represent the Church ministering and worshipping before the Lord, like the twenty-four divisions of priests in 1 Chronicles 24:7-18 and the twenty-four orders of worship leaders in 1 Chronicles 25:9-31. They fall down before the Lamb bringing songs of worship and the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song concerning redemption and the fulfillment of God’s purpose on the earth.
You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Here is the reason the Lamb is worthy: He was slain for us and has redeemed us by His blood. He bought us out of the marketplace, paying the price of His own blood. He is the Kinsman Redeemer (Hebrew ga’al) who has paid the ransom on our behalf and set us free.
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.
This redemption is not just for Israel but also for the whole world, out of every nation and people. The purpose was to make us both kings and priests before God. The role of kings is to rule and reign with Him. This was God’s original plan when He created man to have dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:26). It is now fulfilled through Jesus Christ, who has been seated on the throne at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20-21). We also have been raised up and seated there with Him (Ephesians 2:4-6).

The role of priests is to bring prayer and worship before God in heaven. God’s purpose for Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), and now all who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ have become a “royal,” or kingly, “priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).

The domain of our kingship is the earth itself: “We shall reign on the earth.” For the role of the Kinsman Redeemer was not only to buy back His own people but also to recover their land. The earth, which was originally given to man when he was created, to subdue and fill it with the glory of God, once again comes under the dominion of the people of the Lamb.

For this reason, the Lamb is greatly praised: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing! … Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) is worthy, fully qualified, to redeem us, and all the earth, because He was slain on our behalf. He gave His body and blood so that out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation He might make kings and priests to our God.

The bread and the cup at the Table of the Lord is the constant sign of the worthiness of the Lamb, and of what He has done for us. As we partake of it, we are offering up our worship with all the saints and angels to give Him highest praises.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Table of Feasting

He brought me to the banqueting house,
And His banner over me was love.
(Song of Solomon 2:4)
The Hebrew word for “banquet” refers literally to wine, effervescent and intoxicating. It is a table of feasting. In the setting of the Song of Solomon, it is a place of intimacy where the Shulamite woman meets with her Beloved. He covers her with his banner, which is the declaration of his love.

The Table of the Lord is a table of feasting where we meet with our Beloved and He expresses His love for us. It is the secret place, where we can say, like the Shulamite woman, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Song 6:3). “I am my Beloved’s and His desire is toward me” (Song 7:10).

This privilege belongs to all who call on the name of the Lord, all those who trust in Him. God offers this table to the whole world, for He is calling out and redeeming a people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, all those who receive the Lord Jesus. The prophet Isaiah foretold of a great feast for all people:
And in this mountain
The LORD of hosts will make for all people
A feast of choice pieces,
A feast of wines on the lees,
Of fat things full of marrow,
Of well-refined wines on the lees.
And He will destroy on this mountain
The surface of the covering cast over all people,
And the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces;
The rebuke of His people
He will take away from all the earth;
For the LORD has spoken.
And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the LORD;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
(Isaiah 25:6-9)
It is a time when death is swallowed up and every tear is wiped away. It is the day of salvation. The Hebrew word for “salvation” here is yeshuah. As a name, it is Yeshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus. He is the one who by His death lifts the reproach from His people, by His Spirit removes the veil that blinds the nations, and swallows up death in the victory of His resurrection.

The book of Revelation also describes a great feast that is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. It is the marriage supper of the Lamb, where the Lord Jesus takes His bride unto Himself.
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” (Revelation 19:6-9)
The bride is the Church, whom Jesus loves and for whom He gave Himself that He might present us pure and holy before Him (Ephesians 5:25-27). He has given us a table over which He has set His banner of love. It is a table of intimacy with Him where we feast on the bread of His body and the wine of His blood. It is a sign that we are called to share the marriage supper of the Lamb and be His forever. For on the night He instituted this sign, He gave the cup to the disciples and said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). And so He shall at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

The Table of the Lord is the Table of Feasting.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Living in the Revelation of Heaven

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.” (John 5:19-20)
The Lord Jesus lived in the constant revelation of heaven, and He ministered out of the revelation. He did only what He saw the Father doing and said only what He heard the Father saying. He not only lived in the revelation of heaven, but also in the realm of heaven. He said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). Notice the tense of the verb: “who is in heaven.” Not was, or will be again, but is. Though He existed in Heaven before the incarnation, and then came down and dwelt upon the earth, He still remained in the heavenly realm. Notice also the designation He uses of Himself as being in heaven, the Son of Man. Though that term has divine implications, it also speaks clearly of His humanity. Jesus experienced heaven and earth simultaneously, both in His divinity and His humanity.

How such a thing can be is as mysterious as the Incarnation. We often tend to think of heaven as if it were a geographical location somewhere in the natural realm, perhaps far off at the edge of space. We point up to the sky and often refer to it as the heavens. But Paul spoke about being “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). This is something other than the starry firmament to which we have become quite accustomed.

The heaven of God is not a place of physical dimensions. It belongs to the spiritual realm, and as such, is of a higher realm, because everything in the natural was created by God, who is Spirit. When Jesus came, He experienced perfectly both the spiritual realm and the natural realm. He dwelt in heaven and on earth at the same time — and was constantly aware of it. That is why He could actually see what the Father was doing and hear what the Father was saying.

God is Spirit, and Jesus, as God, is Spirit. But we also are spiritual beings; that is the likeness of God in which we were created. Though God formed Adam’s body from the earth, He puffed His own breath into Adam’s lungs, and man became a “living soul,” a spiritual being. By the sin of disobedience, Adam broke the connection between the natural and the spiritual, and on that day he died, first in the spiritual realm, but eventually in the natural, too. That is why Jesus came, to remove our sin, reconcile us to the Father, and restore us to life in the spiritual realm.

Now the way has been opened for us to come to the Father, by faith in Jesus Christ. We have access into the heavenly realms. Indeed, Paul said that we have received every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:3) and have been seated with Jesus in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). Just as Christ “has not entered the holy place made with hands … but into heaven itself” (Hebrew 9:24), into the “Most Holy Place” (v. 25), so we also may now enter that holy place with Him:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
As we enter in, what will we see? What will the Father show us? Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.” Why did He show Him those things? Because He loved Him. Now consider what Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-23.
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
The same love the Father has for Jesus He also has for us. Now remember the promise He made to the disciples at the Last Supper: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12).

In Jesus Christ, we now have access to heavenly places, into the Most Holy Place and the throne room of God. We are loved by the Father with the same love He loves the Lord Jesus, and we have the promise of Jesus that we who believe in Him will do greater works. Just as Jesus did only those things He saw our Father in heaven doing, that should be our mode of operation also. We should not do anything that we do not see Him doing or say anything we do not hear Him saying. Will not the Father show us those things, just as He showed Jesus? For just as Jesus lived continually in the revelation of heaven, so can we.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Table of Reckoning

Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:11)
In the death of Christ we died also. We do not make it so; He made it so. We simply receive it by faith. We reckon it to be so. The Greek word is a term of accounting and has to do with how one counts or considers a thing. For example, to reckon something to be true means to count it to be true, or to consider it to be so. The ESV shows it this way: “So you must also consider yourselves to be …” Weymouth’s Translation has, “You must regard yourselves as …”

“Reckon yourselves,” Paul says. It is an exercise of faith. We count ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God because that is what God has said, and He cannot lie. Notice that Paul begins this verse with “likewise.” Like what? Like what we see about the Lord Jesus in the previous verses:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.(Romans 6:8-10)
Just as Christ died and now lives, even so we, if we have died with Him (and through faith in Him, we have), we will also live with Him from now on. Paul reckoned this to be true of himself when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). When he took inventory of the truth of Jesus Christ and His salvation work on our behalf, this is how it added up.

What then are we to reckon or consider as true of ourselves? First, that we are dead to sin. When we are dead to something, it no longer has any power or authority over us. We are no longer obligated to it in any way and do not have to give in to its influence anymore. That part of us that once was in bondage to sin has been set free by death, the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We can now reckon His death to be our own, so we do not have to let sin reign in us, or present ourselves as “instruments of unrighteousness” (Romans 6:12-13).

This is what Paul meant when he said, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), and, “Therefore put to death our members which are on the earth” (Colossians 3:5). We “crucify the flesh” and “put to death our members” by reckoning the death of Christ to be our own, for He was crucified in our place.

That is only half of it, however, and if it were all there was to our salvation, we would still be in miserable shape, for we would simply be dead. But the amazing grace of God is that not only have we died with Christ so that are dead to sin, we have also been raised with Christ and have been made alive to God! And that is how we are to now consider ourselves. We no longer have to present ourselves to the bondage of sin and unrighteousness. We have the life of Christ at work in us and can now present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God counts us as righteous, and we are free to live out that rightness which we have with Him.

The Table of the Lord is a place of reckoning. As we take the bread, we give account that His body was given for us. As we drink the cup, we count it as the blood that He shed for us. We behold His death, but also His life, and we reckon them as our own, dead to sin, but alive to God.

The Table of the Lord is the Table of Reckoning.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Table of Hiddeness

Set your mind on things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:3-4)
Paul tells us to set our “minds” on things above. The Greek word is phroneo and refers not only to the focus of the mind but also the attention of the heart. The KJV translates it “affections.” We are to focus all the attention of our inner man on things above, that is, of heaven. Why on things above? Because that is where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

The great truth for all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is that we have died — and yet we still live! As Paul declared in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

This new life we have is “hidden” with Christ in God. We are kept by God in a secret place, where enemies cannot find us. It is a treasure hidden away where thieves cannot break through and steal it. We set our affections on things above because that is where our treasure is, and Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

This treasure, this life we have in God is the Lord Jesus Himself. For not only have we died with Him, through faith in Him, but we have also been raised from the dead with Him and seated with Him at the right hand of the Father.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Notice that Paul does not speak of this as future expectation, but as accomplished fact and present reality. We have already been made alive together with Christ, raised up with Him and seated together with Him in the heavenlies. We set our affections on things above because that is where we are now seated with Christ.

The Lord Jesus is our life now and when He appears, that is, when He comes again, we will also appear with Him in glory. John speaks of this same truth: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:20).

This life we have in Christ is hidden. The world does not recognize it and does not know what to with it. It has no category for it. But it is not hidden from us. The bread and the cup are signs that point us to it. The Table of the Lord focuses our affections on these spiritual realities, teaching us that, in His death, we died also. His body was given for us; His blood was shed for us. We enjoy them together as we share in the bread and the cup.

The Table of the Lord also teaches us to watch for His appearing. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). When we take of His table, we not only proclaim His death (and our death with Him), we also proclaim that He is coming again. It reminds us that, when He who is our life appears, we shall also appear with Him, and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

The Table of the Lord is the continual sign of our hiddeness with Christ in God.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Postmodern Culture is a Myth

The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that’s not postmodernism; that modernism! That’s just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can’t prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.
— William Lane Craig,
“God Is Not Dead Yet”
Christianity Today (July 2008)
Many changes have been emerging in the western Church in recent years based on the notion that the world has gone “postmodern.” William Craig’s incisive comment lays bare that concept. Relativism and pluralism are applied, not across the board, as would be so if we truly were in a postmodern age. Rather, it is applied selectively, only to those things which cannot be verified by the empirical method—and that is the heart of modernism.

The problem with modernism, as it was before and is now, even under the new window dressing of “postmodernism,” is that the empirical method, or verificationism, cannot itself be verified by the empirical method. It cannot be proven by any of the five senses, so it falls under the weight of its own requirement: Since it cannot be proven by the senses, it must therefore be a matter of personal taste.

The answer to the problem posed as modernism, in its old and new forms, is not to back away from classical apologetics, but to continue upholding the reasonableness of the Christian faith.

We commend the work of Dr. Craig in this endeavor. He has written extensively in this field, and you can find some of his books here.