This is the first part of a study of the Kingdom of Heaven by my friend Michael White. The paper in its entirety can be downloaded here.
By: Michael White
We are all familiar with the term, “kingdom of God,” but what does it mean? What is its nature? When we look at the world around us it’s easy to see that God’s “will…” is not always done “…on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We are challenged as Christians “How could a good God allow such pain and suffering?” Moreover, there is within the Church significant disagreement concerning various doctrines and religious views, even those that represent blatantly heretical false teachings. If the Kingdom of God is truly among us today in 2016 (Luke 17:21), why aren’t all of our prayers answered the way we want, and why hasn’t Christianity triumphed as the dominant worldview? Since our ability to share knowledge has increased so dramatically with new technologies, and with such an abundance of books and study materials available to us than at any time in human history, why do we see such a wide divergence of doctrinal views rather than a coming together in greater agreement? And what did Jesus mean in responding to a Pharisee’s question about the kingdom of God, when He said “nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you (in your midst)” (Luke 17:21)? Then In the very next verse, Jesus turns to his disciple’s and tells them to watch for signs that would precede the coming kingdom? So which is it? Is the Kingdom of God here now? Then what did Jesus mean that it is still to come (Matthew 17:11)? Is Jesus contradicting Himself in the very same passage?
W.E. Vine Defines the Kingdom of God as “the Sphere of God’s rule” (Psalms 22:28; Psalms 145:13; Daniel 4:25; Luke 1:52; Romans 13:1-Romans 13:2). But “Since the Earth is the scene of universal rebellion against God” (Luke 4:5-Luke 4:6; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 11:15-Revelation 11:18), then the Kingdom of God is “the sphere in which God’s Rule is acknowledged”.
Despite the fact that the earth is in rebellion against God, God chose out of humanity a people for Himself, the Nation of Israel, providing them both His Law, a Land and kings to administer His Kingdom on Earth (1 Chronicles 28:5). While Israel adopted a half-hearted allegiance toward God’s authority, they ultimately abandoned even that, taking part in the earth’s common rebellion (Isaiah 1:2-Isaiah 1:4).
A critic once asked Billy Graham if Jesus died for people on other planets, to which he replied, “I think that we are the only planet in the whole of God’s universe that is in rebellion against God.” The sad reality is that even Israel, God’s chosen people, were characterized by rebellion and Idolatry. Israel was given the Covenants, the Scriptures and the very lineage of Christ, yet still refused to accept His offer of a loving, lasting relationship with Him. Israel’s refusal culminated in a curse from God on their last earthly King, Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) that none of his descendants would inherit the throne (Jeremiah 22:30). The Temple and their capital city, Jerusalem were sacked and burned, and the subjects of the Kingdom, the Jews (Matthew 8:10-12, John 8:39), being exiled to captivity in Babylon. Despite all this “God has not relinquished His sovereignty in the face of rebellion demonic and human, but has declared His purpose to establish it” (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25).
The best way to understand the Kingdom of God is by breaking it down into the various phases through which it has passed in the course of human history. The Scriptures make it clear that the Kingdom of God will unfold in five distinct stages;
1.) The Prophesied Kingdom (The Kingdom foretold in the Old Testament)
2.) The Presented Kingdom (The Kingdom presented to its subjects by the King himself)
3.) The Postponed Kingdom (The King defers and conceals the Kingdom from His subjects upon their rejection of his Kingship.)
4.) The Physical Kingdom (Its subjects physically realize and receive the Kingdom.)
5.) The Permanent or “Perpetual” Kingdom (Everything that defiles is removed from The Physical
By understanding these phases, Jesus’ seemingly contradictory response to the Pharisee and his disciples mentioned above can be explained. The Pharisee was waiting for the Physical manifestation of the Kingdom on earth before committing to being a part of it through his acceptance and allegiance of the King. What he did not realize is that he did not need to wait for the physical manifestation of the kingdom to be a part of it. Rather he needed to be repent and receive Jesus as his personal King to be qualified to enter the Kingdom when it is physically manifested on earth in the future. By waiting to commit the Pharisee would be too late. Jesus urges him not to wait but explains the Kingdom is inward at that present time. Therefore Jesus message was “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” In that sense, the Kingdom of God was within. The Disciples who already were a part of the Kingdom inwardly, having received Jesus as their King were waiting for its physical manifestation on earth so Jesus tells them what signs would precede its future establishment when he returns to rule physically at his second coming. Both statements are equally true, and there is no contradiction as we will see. The difference is the audience asking the question. Jesus explains the signs privately to his believing apostles so they will not be confused by his public rebuke of the unbelieving Pharisee who refused to repent.
A Prophesied Kingdom
Scripture first reveals the kingdom as the Prophesied Kingdom to Daniel in Daniel chapter 1. Israel was in captivity in Babylon for rebelling against God (Daniel 1). Because, Man’s rebellion cannot thwart God’s plan to establish His sovereign rule. God made it known to the prophet Daniel that one day He would come to His people Israel and establish a Kingdom on this earth that would never end but would continue into eternity. The Gentile Kingdoms that would rise and fall throughout history (including the final Gentile kingdom led by the Antichrist), would be crushed by this manifestation of this prophesied kingdom. When The Lord Jesus returns, His kingdom will finally take its rightful place of authority on earth as it already has in heaven, established as the worldwide Kingdom (Revelation 11:5). The prophesied kingdom was revealed in scripture first to Daniel in (Daniel 2:44) that, “In the time of those kings…” (Antichrist’s ten-king confederation) “…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” –( Daniel 2:44 NIV 1984)
The Jews exclusively believed this would be their kingdom and for a good reason. First, this promise was given to a Jewish prophet Daniel about the Jewish nation, then in captivity. Second, Daniel prophesied again in chapter 9 of the book of Daniel that “70 sevens” had been decreed for “your people” (The Jews) and “your holy city” (Jerusalem)… “to anoint the most holy” (The Messiah) (Daniel 9:24). This anointment of their King would usher in this Kingdom. There are also other promises made to Israel throughout the Old Testament concerning this Kingdom. One of these many previous promises was made to King David, that one of his descendants would eventually rule this kingdom. “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:16). Not only would this king be a descendant of David (1 Chronicles 17:11-14) but He would also be the Messiah! “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5,6 – 5) The Apostles understood this implication when they met Jesus in person for the first time. “…We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ) (John 1:40b). They asked Jesus at the Ascension if he would “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6) in recognition that this prophesied Kingdom was Israel’s. Jesus himself did not deny the nature of it but merely said that the timing would be kept hidden.
Israel’s story played out historically exactly as prophesied. Jehoiachin died in captivity in Babylon (the last earthly king) and his grandson Zerubbabel led the exiles back to the land of Canaan 70 years later in the time of Ezra. Zerubbabel never became king. He was governor of Judah because there was a king in power in Persia (Cyrus). Israel was a vassal state of the Persian Empire. When Daniel made his predictions, not only was the Davidic line cursed, but the temple was in ruins, and the people deported to Babylon. The likelihood of them even being a nation was slim, at best. Despite this, God promised them a Kingdom even while in captivity, notwithstanding their disobedience. Now that’s Grace! This Prophesied Kingdom and coming King now became the “hope of Israel” (Acts 26:6,7, John 1:41, Acts 3:19)
A Presented Kingdom
In the first book of the New Testament, Matthew records the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, citing Jehoiachin in the family line but being careful to note that Jesus was not a blood descendent of Joseph. The scripture says Matthew 1:16, Jesus was the adopted son of Joseph (and the physical son of Mary Luke 3:23). Mary’s genealogy is found in Luke stating “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,”. This is important because Joseph’s bloodline was cursed. Jeremiah 22:28-30 As God would sovereignly direct it, Mary is descended from Nathan, David’s other son, not Solomon Luke 3:31. Therefore, Mary is not in the lineage of Jehoiachin but still in the line of David, avoiding the curse mentioned above. God solved the problem of the curse on David’s line through the virgin birth. Jesus had Legal right to the throne through Joseph and Lineal right to the throne through Mary. The virgin birth makes Jesus the only candidate for the Davidic throne, setting Him up for the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. Jesus is the rightful King who present’s His kingdom.
Imagine the apostles’ excitement in what was about to become a reality. For centuries they had been under the boot of gentile nations (Daniel 2) from the time of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon on down to Rome, and now the hope of all Israel Luke 24:19-21, Acts 28:20 had appeared to them in person! “…We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). – John 1:40b. The long awaited, prophesied kingdom, was now about to be presented to the nation of Israel by the person of the King Himself. All of the Gentile Kingdoms predicted in Daniel 2 had come to power, fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy up to this point, making the manifestation of a physical kingdom on earth a prophetic possibility for Israel. ”Behold your King comes to you …” Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 21:5.
To receive this Kingdom, Israel would have to “repent” and receive the King who offers it to them. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17 is the King’s key message to Israel. The Kingdom is near – that is, the person of the King has arrived and is offering Israel the promised kingdom all they need do to be a part of it would be to repent and receive Jesus as their King This, in essence, is the gospel message. It says “repent and receive Jesus as your King and you may enter into his Kingdom when he establishes it.”
Unfortunately, Israel as a nation did not receive their King or his message as a nation. There are three great rejections of this Kingdom offer in Israel’s history. First the rejection of John the Baptist; The Father’s Prophet, Second the rejection of Jesus; The Son, and third the rejection of The Holy Spirit; the stoning of Stephen an instrument of the Holy Spirit. The first one is John the Baptist. John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus preparing the nation Israel for the King and the kingdom. John the Baptist comes to Israel, preaching “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” Matthew 3:2. John’s message from God was to the nation Israel, not Gentiles Matthew 3:1-3; they were being called to repent because they had not kept the Law and the Covenants of the Old Testament. Israel had failed to administer God’s Kingdom on earth, 1 Chronicles 28:5, Isaiah 1:2-Isaiah 1:4, fallen into idolatry, and been carried away into captivity for 70 years failing to produce the “fruit of the kingdom” Isaiah 5, Matthew 21:43. The fruit of the Kingdom was that Israel would be a light to the Gentiles and lead them as an example to Christ. Gen12:1-3, Isaiah 49:6. Moses had predicted this Deuteronomy 4:35-31 years earlier when they had initially received the Law and Land of Canaan from God to administer his Kingdom on this earth. Later Daniel confessed the national sins of Israel in his prayer Daniel 9:10, 11. Now beginning in Matthew’s Gospel John the Baptist calls the nation to national repentance, the temple was rebuilt, the King had arrived and defeated the curse of the nation. Jesus was now calling them so that they might receive their long-promised Kingdom. As a Prophet, John the Baptist was a representative from God. John is called the greatest of all prophets and is the prophet who would announce this King in the power and spirit of Elijah Malachi 4:5,6. Elijah would precede the coming Messiah. John, the Baptist’s message, is rejected, and he is thrown into prison only to await a beheading. By rejecting John, Israel had rejected God. Luke 10:16, Matthew 10:40. John himself is confused by this rejection, asking Jesus “Are you the one to come or should we look for another” Matthew 11:3. Jesus, after reassuring John tells his apostles that if they (Israel) had accepted John, the Baptist’s testimony, he would have been the Elijah to come. Matthew 11:14 John the Baptist would have fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi 4:5,6 before the Kingdom would be set up if Israel had repented and received Jesus as their king at his preaching. Later Jesus would challenge the unbelieving Pharisees on this exact topic asking them “John’s baptism–where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” Matthew 21:25
The second significant rejection of the offer of the Kingdom by Israel is the rejection of; the Lord Jesus Christ himself. After the rejection and imprisonment of John the Baptist, Jesus goes to Galilee (where Johns ministry had been), and “from that time on,” begins to preach publicly to Israel the same message “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”. Matthew 4:17. Jesus effectively picks up where John left off. Jesus then sends out his Apostles to preach the same message publicly to “the lost sheep of Israel” in Matthew 10. The person of the King was present and calling his chosen people to possess the Kingdom, and he instructs his servants to preach the same message publicly. Jesus Predicts Israel’s rejection in (Matthew 10) in three future phases both in his present-day Matthew 10:24,25 fulfilled in Matthew 12, after he had resurrected and returned to heaven Matthew 10:17-20 fulfilled in Acts 1-12 and in a future day during the tribulation not yet fulfilled Matthew 10:21-23, Matthew 24.
Jesus’ disciples had been told to preach this message publicly upon returning to Jesus after preaching “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”, there was no report of a mass repentance but rather only that the demons submitted to them. Jesus tells them that His message will be rejected despite the evidence of the miracles. Matthew 10:25 The Pharisees bring this prediction to fulfillment in chapter 12, accusing Jesus of performing these miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus tells them plainly that the Kingdom of God had arrived and the proof was in the miracles. That the Strong man (Satan) has been bound and Jesus had entered his house and performed many miracles that they should believe in. “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” Matthew 12:28 This rejection of the King and his miracles that attest to his deity are now turned back in judgment upon the nation of Israel. Jesus declares that this blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, by whom the miracles were performed, will not be forgiven and the Kingdom would now be concealed from its enemies. Up until this point, Jesus had gone exclusively to the leadership of Israel with a very public message like John the Baptist before him. Now he begins to teach the crowds in parables, concealing the nature of the Kingdom from the unbelieving masses. The parables describe the form the Kingdom will take on here on earth, while the King is absent from it in heaven. Jesus only explains the parables to his disciples in private, even when a Pharisee openly asks him in public he tells the unbelieving Pharisee to believe “The kingdom of God is within you.” The Second rejection of the Son and his servants has now begun. This rejection will manifest itself at the cross when Jesus is Crucified. Like John the Baptist they will murder the “heir.” Matthew 21:38
Jesus leaves the nation of Israel at the close of chapter 12 comparing Israel to a man who had a demon, the very thing they accused him of! Jesus describes a demon of idolatry and that the demon had “come out”, (Babylonian Captivity) but upon returning to the house of Israel found it “unoccupied,” ready to receive its rightful occupant the King Himself and “swept clean.” The house was swept clean during the Babylonian exile of 70 years from the wicked sin of Idolatry. But Israel would not repent or receive Jesus to be their King so the house remains unoccupied or “desolate” Luke 13:35, Matthew 23:38. The demon of idolatry that had been cast out will now go and find seven other demons “like itself” (Spirits of Idolatry KJV). They will come and re-occupy the house of Israel. (This will happen during the tribulation when Israel accepts the antichrist; a Satan possessed gentile in place of their Messiah) “And the final condition of that man (Israel) will be worse than the first,” “That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” Matthew 12: …45b, Revelation predicts this same end for the unbelieving nation. “She will become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird” Revelation 18:2, Israel is referred to as “Babylon” the very place of idolatry they had left during the exile. Revelation 17,18.
The Kingdom of Heaven has now been presented a second time to Israel. The Father first presented it through John the Baptist, then The Son and his servants, the disciples presented it. But Israel would not have Jesus as their King and refused to repent. This rejection leads the King to withdraw and conceal the kingdom. From Matthew 12 on the King will prepare his servants “all who have ears to hear” for the changes that will happen to this Kingdom on earth after Jesus is crucified and ascends into heaven. The Postponed form of the kingdom is what the Parables of the Kingdom describe to those who have ears to hear. Finally, the third rejection of the kingdom takes place after the resurrection in Acts chapter 8 at the stoning of Stephen. The key phrase is “you always resist the Holy Spirit” Stephen full of the Holy Spirit tells Israel to accept Jesus as their king and receive the kingdom, but Israel stones him instead. We will spend more time on Stephen later. This leads us into the next phase of the Kingdom the Postponed form of the Kingdom.
 W.E. Vine – Vines Expository Dictionary.