CHAPTER 27: THE ESSENCE OF THE KINGDOM
There is fair reason
to think that as a community, we have failed to appreciate the fact that
the Kingdom will be fundamentally about the expression of God's spiritual
characteristics, both in us and in the natural creation. All too often
we focus on the results of this, such as there being no more war
or famine, and that alone is our view of the Kingdom. " The Kingdom"
becomes a hazy picture of an ideal world with none of the physical frustrations
of the present order. But fundamentally, the Kingdom is about the triumph
of God's righteousness over sin, it is about the supreme state of glory
to God, given to Him by redeemed mankind.
We must ask the question:
'Why do I want to be in the Kingdom?'. It seems that there is a widely
held perception of the Kingdom as a kind of glorified tropical holiday
which stretches on for eternity, with palm trees blowing in the wind and
exotic fruit dropping into our mouths. If this is why we want to be there,
are we not downright selfish? Are we not striving to achieve a state of
eternal personal happiness in terms of our present, worldly experience
of life? We may look, for example, at the promise that " the former
troubles (will be) forgotten" (Is. 65:15), and enthusiastically apply
to the struggles of our present lives. But the context is concerning the
" troubles" of sinful behaviour; we may well remember the physical
activities of the past (with Divine nature it seems we certainly will);
but like Israel we will forget our sins (Is. 54:4).
John Thomas wisely pointed
out that " God manifestation, not human salvation" is the purpose
of God. We should not be in the faith, labouring towards the Kingdom,
just so that we personally can have eternal life. Indeed, " eternal
life" in John's Gospel refers to knowing and understanding God rather
than simply to infinity (Jn. 17:3; 1 Jn. 5:20). Rev. 4:8 describes eternity
as ceaselessly revelling in the moral glory of God's character, rather
than abstractly enjoying the fact we have eternity in our natures. We
must strive for the Kingdom because we wish to see our perfect Father,
the God whose righteousness we have come to love and be consumed by, gloriously
manifested in ourselves. We will wish to live to give Him maximum glory
and pleasure. The concept of eternal life is therefore almost incidental
to our existing in a morally perfect state; it is a by-product of that
state. " Eternal life" should be read as referring more to the
quality of that life, rather than its eternal duration being the
fundamental construct behind our conception of the Kingdom. This is how
the phrase " eternal life" seems to be used in John's letters
(1 Jn.1:1-3; 2:24,25; 3:15; 5:11,13). We must not be like the rich young
man who desperately asked: " What must I do that I
may have eternal life?" , as if he saw having eternal life
as the ultimate possession to get under his own belt. Notice how our Lord's
reply described 'having eternal life' as 'entering into life', 'having
treasure in heaven', 'entering the Kingdom of God', rather than personally
possessing eternal life (Mt.19:16-23).
We need to intricately
examine ourselves on these issues; is our spiritual endeavour truly unselfish?
Or do we somehow, subconsciously, seek for entry to the Kingdom as some
kind of personal self-justification? Do we have chronic fear of rejection
at the judgment? If so, this may well be due to the intensity of our desire
to have a personal reward which we feel we have risked a lot of present
enjoyment in order to attain. But if we only want to be in the Kingdom
to give God glory, surely our attitude will be that we will not want to
be there, if we cannot glorify God. If rejected, our attitude would be
'Thank You, Lord, for being able to give You just a fraction of glory
in my few days of life!'. All we wish for then is to be destroyed: 'If
I don't give You glory Lord, just take me out as soon as possible, please!'.
But if we are correctly motivated in seeking entry to the Kingdom, then
surely we can be so humbly confident of being there, that such speculations
about rejection are only pipe-dreams.
If we are truly seeking
God's glory, then we will know the ineffable joy that we have in
this life, when we feel that we are living to God's glory. It may
be that we get through a trial how we know God wished us to; we may live
an hour or day in truly clear conscience with God. Without being self-congratulatory,
or self-righteous, we know the joy of living with God and in Him, to His
glory. To be absolutely perfect in our very nature should strike us as
so wonderful that we will be willing to go through 70 years of trauma
in this life, just to experience 10 years of that. But the Kingdom will
be eternity in such a state! This is why we must grow to
truly love God's ways, to adore His spirituality, and be committed heart
and soul to reflecting it in our own characters. There is a massive difference
between wanting the Kingdom for these reasons, and seeing it as a glorified
David's view of the
Kingdom and his longing for it, were not expressed in terms of his exulting
that he would live for ever in a time when all present problems had vanished.
Instead, he and other men of God have looked forward to the time when
they would be perfectly spiritual. Ps.119:5,6 is an example of this: "
O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes (in this life); then
shall I not be ashamed when I have respect unto all Thy commandments"
. David looked forward to the Kingdom as a time when he would be totally
obedient to God's will, as expressed in His commandments. David therefore
asks that God will help him in this life to be obedient to them. Our love
of righteousness now will therefore be proportionate to the fulfilment
which we experience in the Kingdom. David's view of the Kingdom was of
a time when he would be obedient to all the commands. The one thing he
desired was to sit in God's house and enquire further into God's ways,
" that I may behold the beauty of the Lord" (Ps.27:4 cp. 60:6);
all he wished to do was to enter further into the spirituality of God.
If we have no desire for that now, then how much verve will we have to
be in the Kingdom? Life eternal will be all about coming to know God and
Jesus (Jn.17:3). Paul was prepared to " count all things but loss"
in this life, " for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus
my Lord (that he would have in the Kingdom)...that I may know him"
(Phil.3:8-10) more fully and completely, in the Divine nature. It is no
accident that the Scriptures speak of intercourse as 'knowing' the other
party, and that they liken the Kingdom to an eternal consummation. Selah.
righteousness, speaking about the characteristics of God and their beauty,
tend to be seen as only things for the soft hearted, or those who are
'into that kind of thing'. It seems as if we feel that 'getting on with
the work' is just another way of giving God glory which can excuse us
from being truly spiritual. But bashing a thousand bills does not
compensate for hearty, loving discussion of " the beauty of the Lord"
. A discussion about how to refurbish the Bible exhibition is not
just another way of doing this. Eaves drop a few conversations at the
back of the ecclesial hall. Is the presence of real spirituality
evident in many of them? Could it be true that we have come to perceive
the Kingdom as a glorious retirement package which includes eternal life,
and we feel we must work as hard as possible in order to pay the premiums
for it? If we see the Kingdom in 'physical' terms, as an arena for our
own self-fulfilment and enjoyment, then our attitude to God will also
be very material and utilitarian; the love of God, the two-way knowledge
of Him which we should have, will disappear. We will forget the child-like
faith which is somewhere within each of us, dealing with God in a clipped,
business-like way, with an eye on what we are going to get out
of the whole exercise. Is this one of the reasons for the coldness in
our worship, the triteness of our communal prayers, the emptiness of our
protocols, which are so often lamented?
" They that wait
upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings
as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint"
(Is.40:31) is a clear Kingdom prophecy. It has a simple literal fulfilment;
we will no longer be hampered by our puny energy level, perhaps we will
literally run every where in the Kingdom. Yet there is also a very strong
spiritual aspect to this. The idea of running in response to the word
of God is common in Scripture (Hab.2:2; 2 Thess.3:1 A.V.mg.; Ps.119:60,32;
147:15; Am.8:11,12; Dan.12:4). Isaiah is therefore speaking of a time
when no longer will we spiritually weary as easy as we do now;
then we will walk in God's ways and not faint. In this flesh, we so easily
tire of being spiritual. " I will run the way of thy commandments,
when thou shalt enlarge my heart" (Ps.119:32) shows how David
longed for this very thing in this life. If we love righteousness, then
we will pray this with like fervour; and have the full answer in the Kingdom.
Do we long for our minds to be spiritually and intellectually enlarged,
so that we might glorify God the more? Are we like Daniel, grieving
for our lack of comprehension of the word?
" The sun shall
be no more thy light by day...for the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting
light, and thy God thy glory" (Is.60:19) does not mean that the literal
sun will be destroyed. The true light is God's word (Ps.119:105); in the
Kingdom, we will not be conscious of whether there is or is not a sun
or moon. The revelation of God to us through His word will totally fill
our consciousness; it is in the light of this that we will see all things,
rather than seeing things physically in the light of a literal sun. It
will not be a case of the sight of our eyes giving us some kind of heightened
aesthetic pleasure in the Kingdom; the mental vision and insight into
God's character which we will then have will be all we are aware of.
In the Millennium, the
greatest blessings of the mortal population will be in spiritual terms.
It is easy to think of their lives being enhanced just in physical terms.
But there is ample evidence that having fruitful fields, healthy children,
a high standard of living for little work- all things mentioned in Isaiah
65 as being experienced by the mortals- do not necessarily give a higher
level of peace and true joy. The good time that is coming on the earth,
even for the mortals, we must perceive from a spiritual angle. Even
in this life, there is nothing more beautiful to behold than someone coming
out of the world, their life being progressively influenced by God's word,
their whole being joyfully opening up like a flower to the Lord's voice.
It will be our matchless joy to behold this in the Millennium years. This
will be the fundamental cause for the contentment which the mortal population
can enjoy. An unspiritual man would not enjoy sitting under his
own vine and fig, nor would he be content with just building for himself
and not renting out to others. Isaiah 65 speaks of a time when the mortal
population will do just this. However, this will not be a state into which
they are forced, or just find themselves in. There is ample reason to
think that not all will respond to the word, and it is inconceivable that
these are the ones pictured in prophecies like Isaiah 65. Indeed the reference to 'sitting under vine and fig tree' (Mic. 4:4) is likely an allusion to the 'dwelling in booths' of the feast of Tabernacles; and the rabbis used the expression to refer to the studying of the Law (1). The intended picture may be of a Bible School which never ends.
" They shall not
labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble...for they are the seed of
the blessed of the Lord" (Is.65:23) proves that these descriptions
only concern " the seed of the blessed of the Lord" among the
mortals. No longer will the bearing of children be in vain, due to children
not going the way of God. Because " their offspring with them"
will glorify God, " they shall not labour...nor bring forth"
in childbirth in vanity. This must mean that the lack of vanity in these
things will only be on account of the children (" their offspring
with them" ) glorifying God. The pain of childbirth and the vanity
of child-rearing will remain for those who do not centre their lives around
spiritual things. " Before they call (in prayer), I will answer"
(Is.65:24) is a more obvious example of these blessings on the mortals
being fundamentally spiritual in nature.
The Saints In The Kingdom
It cannot be over-emphasized
that the saints will not be passively doing nothing in the Millennium
age. Mt.21:28-31 defines being in " the Kingdom of God" as working
in the vineyard, both now and in the future Kingdom. " The vineyard"
must refer to the means of bringing forth spiritual fruit, according to
the Lord's use of the vine figure in Jn.15. Being in the Kingdom is therefore
all about bringing forth the fruits of spirituality, glorying in showing
forth the moral likeness of God. It follows that when we enter the Kingdom,
we will not bear the fullness of fruit in a moment.
As God is infinite,
it will take eternity to get to know Him. Life eternal will be all about
getting to know God and Jesus (Jn.17:3). By all means compare this with
how David saw the Kingdom as a time of enquiring after God in His
temple (Ps.27:4). Likewise the priests of the Old Covenant would have
grown in their knowledge of God. " I am the good shepherd, and know
(Gk. 'am getting to know', continuous tense) my sheep, and am known (being
known) of mine. As the Father knoweth (is knowing) me, even
so know I (I am getting to know) the Father" (Jn.10:14). The relationship
between us and our Lord will therefore be one of progressive upward knowledge,
as He has with God. Thus a state of ultimate knowledge of God will not
be flashed into us at the moment of acceptance at the judgment.
For this very reason,
the Kingdom cannot be an inactive state. God is dynamic. For us to grow
in His knowledge will be a continuously dynamic process. It is pointed
out in John's Gospel that those who will truly know God will not fully
know Him now, in this life. Thus the blind man in Jn.9:12 said that he
did not know where Jesus was; Thomas likewise said that the disciples
did not know where Jesus was going (Jn.14:5,7); in Jn.4:32 Jesus said
that He had meat which we do not know of. Those who said (in John's
Gospel) that they did know Jesus, often found that they did not.
Thus Jesus said that the Samaritans worshipped what they did not know
(Jn.4:22), although they were convinced that they did. Nicodemus thought
that he knew Jesus, when he did not (Jn.3:2); the Jews thought that they
knew whence Jesus was (Jn.7:26); " now we know that thou hast
a devil" , they boasted (Jn.8:52); " we know that this man is
a sinner" (Jn.9:34)- and how wrong they were. Those who accepted
they did not fully know Jesus will spend eternity coming to know Jesus
God's word in the Kingdom
We may well ask 'Will
we have the Bible with us in the Kingdom? Will we grow out of it? We will
immediately understand all its depths, or will they be revealed
over a period of time? Or is the Bible just a means to an end, an introduction
to God for our use in this life only?
If the Law of Moses
is to be re-enstated to some degree, we can reasonably expect substantial
parts of the books of the Law to be in use in the Millennium. As the priests,
it will be our duty to expound these to the people. Israel's journey through
the wilderness typifies our struggle through this life towards the Kingdom.
In this wilderness journey, we are fed daily by the manna, symbolizing
God's word. Yet as soon as they entered Canaan, the manna ceased. Then
they ate the fruit of the land. This may mean that for us personally,
we may well be sustained by a far more glorious form of spiritual feeding
than the manna which we now know. 2 Pet.1:19 speaks of the more sure word
of prophecy shining as a light (candle) in the dark (" squalid"
, R.V.mg.) place of our mortal mind, " until the day dawn,
and the day star arise in your hearts" . When the day of Christ's
coming arrives, we will then have the fullness of the light of God's revelation.
The present word of prophecy is but a lamp struggling against the darkness
of our natural mind, in this life. But at the Lord's return, our very
innermost beings will be filled with the light of God's revelation in
Christ. Somehow our knowledge of God will be of such a different magnitude,
that we will no longer relate to the word of prophecy in the same way
as we do now.
Thus in the new Jerusalem,
" there shall be no night there; and they need no candle" (Rev.22:5).
The candle, common symbol of God's word (e.g. Ps.119:105) will no longer
be needed by the faithful, because " the Lord God giveth them light"
. Our personal, direct contact with God will replace the ministry of the
Bible as we now have it.
2 Chron.9:23 records
how people came to Solomon to hear his wisdom. This points forward to
the Lord's future Kingdom (cp. Is.2:1-5). The people will have to physically
travel to hear this wisdom, it being the motive behind the journeys. This
would suggest that instruction will be more by spoken than written means.
The parable of the marriage supper (Mt.22:1-13) is what " the Kingdom
of heaven is like" . As with so many of Christ's parables, this one
too is quarried from the book of Proverbs; in this case Prov.9:2-5, which
describes how wisdom makes everything ready for her feast. The food and
wine which is there represents the wisdom of God. The Kingdom of God is
therefore likened to this supreme feast on the knowledge of God. The Kingdom
will therefore be a feast of such things. We love God in this life, but
surely we cry out for a greater understanding and appreciation of Him?
Do we not cry for wisdom, and lift up our voice for understanding? If
we do have this feeling, then we will be supremely motivated to strive
to reach that glorious time of true knowledge.
Lk.16:11,12 draws a
parallel between the " true riches" and " that which is
your own" ; both phrases, in the context, refer to our reward in
the Kingdom. The true riches is the spiritual knowledge of God. In Christ
are hid all the riches of God. David rejoiced at the truths of the word
more than at finding great riches. We can look forward to a highly personal
knowledge of God in the Kingdom; the riches of knowledge " which
is your own" . This is in the same sense as Rev.2:17 speaks of each
believer receiving a stone with " a new name written, which no man
knoweth saving he that receiveth it" . No other being will be able
to enter into the personal knowledge of God which we will then have; as
even in this life, it is scarcely possible to enter into another believer's
spirituality and relationship with God. To some degree, the Kingdom will
be something different for each of us, although this diversity will be
bound together by the great unity of all being the collective bride of
Christ, and all manifesting the same God, all having the same " penny
a day" .
To summarize this chapter.
We have been suggesting that the pictures of the Kingdom which we have
should not just be of the frustrations of present life being overcome.
The curing of the blind, the healing of the deserts etc. must not be seen
as ends in themselves. We must see behind the physicality of these things
to the idea that they will all be declarations of the fact that sin has
been overcome. Thus Jesus in Lk.5:24 says that basically there was no
difference between him doing a miracle, and forgiving someone. There is
a strong connection between physical and spiritual healing, especially
seen in the way in which Christ's miracles are recorded. The praise of
the nations in the Millennium will not just be because of the better physical
environment which they now experience; they will praise God because of
His mercy and truth in forgiveness, according to the ancient promises
The offer of the Kingdom
of God must not be seen as a glorified insurance policy, either deep within
our hearts or in the way we preach. It is the love and mercy of God, His
fundamental characteristics, which should be what we preach to others.
The full manifestation of them is what the Gospel of the Kingdom is all
about. Our Lord went around preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mt.4:23);
but rarely, if ever, did He launch off into an exposition of Isaiah's
Kingdom prophecies as we are wont to. Instead He spoke continuously of
the love of God, speaking parables which illustrated various facets of
His loving character, and how God would have us respond to it. Now of
course it is true that we cannot understand or respond to God's love without
a detailed understanding of true Bible doctrine about Him. But it is equally
true that to remain at these alone is not the true knowledge
of God. They are but a pre-requisite, a vital first stepping stone, to
a living relationship with Him which we show in our lives.
(1) See Peter Ackroyd, Exile And Restoration (London: S.C.M., 1968) p. 191.