Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Growing Presence of the Kingdom

Many Christians expect the kingdom of God to come in all at once, lickety split, full and complete. That was the expectation the Jews had in Jesus’ day. They were looking for Messiah to come as a king who would immediately triumphant over the nations, but He came as a suffering servant and was nailed to the cross. For them, a crucified Messiah was no messiah at all, just a contradiction in terms.

The disciples also appeared to initially have had the same expectation. After the resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days teaching them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3 — that would seem to be a misplaced priority if the kingdom was not mean for this present time). Then before He ascended to His throne in heaven, they asked, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They wanted it to be full and complete and all at once.

However, look at how Jesus answered them. He did not say Yes and He did not say No. But He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). In other words, the timing of kingdom completion is for the Father to know, so Jesus did not answer in terms of when it would come. Instead, I believe He answered in terms of how it would come:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
The Holy Spirit would come upon them, and when that happened they would be taking the testimony about Jesus the Messiah into all the world. The significance of the word “Messiah” is that it identifies Jesus as God’s “Anointed” King (see Psalm 2). The Holy Spirit was part of the Old Testament expectation concerning God’s coming kingdom, and this expectation was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came upon the them at Pentecost, and He remains on the church even today. That by itself is enough to establish that the kingdom of God has come and is now present in the world.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus came to the disciples and declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Then He sent them out to make disciples of all nations. The fact that Jesus has already been given all authority on earth is another thing that by itself establishes that the kingdom of God has truly begun. Couple that with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church, and we have a very powerful combination indicating that the kingdom is now is now present in the world.

We are in the kingdom and the kingdom is in us. The kingdom is present in the world inasmuch as the Spirit-baptized church is in the world. The kingdom is now present but it has not yet come in all its fullness — that will not happen until King Jesus returns. But it has most certainly begun, and it continues to grow and advance day by day. We are presently living in between the times of its inauguration in the world (when King Jesus ascended to His throne) and its full manifestation (when King Jesus returns). That is why Paul refers to Him, even now in this present age, as Messiah and King. That is also why Peter refers to us, the Church, as a “royal” priesthood, the priests of the King.

I recently posted about the growing presence of the kingdom of God in the world, “Carrying the Kingdom.” Someone asked how I could speak of the kingdom as advancing. It did not seem to him that the kingdom is growing and things are getting better, but that things are getting worse. However, I think the world is in a much better condition since the cross, the resurrection and the ascension of King Jesus to His throne.

For example, in addition to many wonderful technical advances, which make life considerably easier for a large and growing portion of the world, there have also been tremendous advances in medicine and the healing arts — many people are living longer, healthier lives today than in the past. The world is also a much more civilized place than it was centuries ago. Though there are places where we can still find barbarity, it is not as prevalent as it used to be.

Much of this improvement has been because of the influence of Christianity, the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. A number of years ago, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe wrote a book called What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? It talks about the pervasive and amazing influence the gospel has had in the world. You can preview the book a bit at Amazon. Even just perusing the chapter titles will give you an pretty good idea of how the world is a much better place because the kingdom of God has come. I also recommend a recent book by Christian sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright, Upside: Surprising GOOD NEWS About the State of Our World — the title speaks for itself.

Though there is much trouble in the Middle East with the Arab states, and has been for well over two thousand years, there have recently been hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have come to Christ there, with thousands of new churches planted in Muslim countries, many of them even in the more difficult Muslim communities. Jerry Trousdale has written a book about it called called, Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus.

Evangelism is exploding in many parts of the world and among many different groups. It has been estimated that the church in China is growing by about 20,000 new believers each day. Plus another 20,000 new believers in Africa.

There is still much left to do, of course, but there is a lot that has already been accomplished that has changed the world for the better. I believe that the commission Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 will not fail but will be fulfilled, that all the nations of the world will become disciples of King Jesus.

The kingdom of God has come into the world, is present today and continues to increase and advance. Be encouraged, Jesus is Lord over all and His kingdom is increasing everyday.

(See also The Gradual Kingdom)

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