Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God. In fact, He mentions the Kingdom over 100 times in the four Gospels. The Kingdom of God is the theme of a great many of His parables. In fact, the Gospel is called “the Gospel of the Kingdom” several times. Yet today, the gospel that is preached concerns only Jesus’ substitutionary death for our sins—rarely about His Kingdom. As a result, many evangelicals don’t even know what the Kingdom of God is.
Some assume that the Kingdom of God will not manifest itself until Christ’s second coming. This is understandable, since some passages are clearly a reference to the culmination of Kingdom when Christ reigns here on earth. However, Jesus likewise taught plainly that the Kingdom of God was ushered in at the time of His public ministry, with statements such as, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Some also assume that for the present at least, the Kingdom of God is simply a spiritual kingdom. In actuality, it is a real kingdom—here on earth, yes, even now. Let me explain.
What makes up a kingdom? All kingdoms have four elements: a king, a domain, laws, and citizenry. Well, so does the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the king. The domain is heaven and earth. The laws are the commands of Christ. The citizenry are those who “subject” themselves to the king. Now it is apparent that the Kingdom of God certainly differs from earthly kingdoms quite a bit. First of all, our king currently reigns from His throne in heaven. Most kings preside over their kingdoms among their subjects. However, Jesus made it clear that the domain is both heaven and earth (Matthew 6:10 and 28:18). This is just another example of the reason for the incarnation, so that the king would walk among His subjects. The second coming will usher in a period of the king reigning with His subjects here on earth. Therein lies why some presume that the Kingdom of God does not actually begin until His second coming. However, He reigns now, even if He resides in heaven.
So then we come to the laws. Jesus came with many teachings. Many think they are optional. However, I already discussed that to remain on the Vine we must abide in Christ; that is, obeying the King’s commands. I likewise discussed that building on the rock means obeying His commands. Let me provide a third illustration also from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’“ (Matthew 7:21-23)
Here Jesus explains how we enter the Kingdom, specifically referencing the culmination of the Kingdom as I mentioned earlier. The term used here is the “kingdom of heaven.” Careful study shows us that the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of heaven are synonymous, with preference given by certain gospel writers to one term versus the other. This is apparent by reading parallel passages in various gospel accounts and seeing the same exact story given with variant use of the two terms (compare Matthew 13 to Mark 4, for example).
It is clear that this passage refers to judgment (note the reference to “that day”), and is clearly discussing salvation. However, my point here is exclusively the treatment of the subject of the Kingdom laws. Jesus makes it obvious that selection on judgment day is based not simply on believing, but doing the will of His Father. Jesus also does not regard signs and wonders as pertinent to salvation, but rather He chastises those who merely call Him Lord, as “you who practice lawlessness.” Clear from this passage is the fact that there are indeed LAWS; for if rejection is for practicing lawlessness, then there are certainly laws given.
So what are these laws? Pauline writings (specifically Romans and Galatians) make it clear that one can not be saved through following the Law of Moses: circumcision, adherence to days, months, seasons and years, specific diet, and so on. The council in Jerusalem further clarifies that the only burdens from the Jewish teachings that apply to the Gentiles were abstaining from fornication, abstaining from things sacrificed to idols, and not eating blood and strangled animals (Acts 15:28-29). No regard is given to the Mosaic Law here. So we can confidently conclude that it is not the Law of Moses that Jesus is referring to (see also Hebrews 8:7-13)
However, Jesus did say that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the religious leaders of His day, we would not enter the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). But Jesus then clearly teaches what He means. He goes through precepts from the Mosaic Law, one item at a time, and explains what His expectations are by stating, “You have heard it said [in the Law], but I say…” If you read His teaching, you will see that He raises the bar big time! He does not take away the Law, but expands on it and clarifies His expectations. It is following this dissertation that Jesus shares what “lawlessness” is, explaining that those who hear “these words of mine” and act upon them build on the rock and those who neglect them build on sand, resulting is certain destruction. But that begs the question: what about the rest of the Old Testament teachings that Jesus does not explicitly address in His teachings?
Jesus says that He did not come to abolish the Law, but rather fulfill it. He then says that not the least letter will be taken away until it is “accomplished.” This meaning the fulfillment of the messianic prophesies and His work on earth (see Luke 18:31, John 19:28-30, John 17:4, and Matthew 26:56).
We read in John’s gospel of Jesus telling the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me that you might have life” (John 5:39-40). When Jesus says “the Scriptures,” He is specifically referencing what we today refer to as the Old Testament. He makes it clear that eternal life is through Him, not the Old Testament teachings. Jesus further elaborates during the Upper Room discourse with His disciples on the night He was betrayed, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10). Here Jesus makes it clear that He submitted to His Father and obeyed all His commandments, abiding in His love. Jesus, in this passage says He fulfilled the Law by obeying all of His Father’s commands (in turn fulfilling all the prophesy); now in the same way as Jesus obeyed His Father’s commands, we are to obey Jesus’ commands. The baton has been passed to us. For Jesus’ teachings are precisely what the Father commanded Him to say, and even Moses directed all to listen to Him (see Deuteronomy 18:15-19, John 7:16-17, and John 12:44-50)
Another clear example from Jesus concerning our requirement to observe His commands is the Great Commission passage in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus says to His disciples:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Here Jesus commands His disciples to make more disciples, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them. This clear instruction is obviously meant to carry forth through the ages, as each successive generation of disciples is explicitly commanded to both observe this command and teach the next generation to observe ALL His commands. Jesus did not leave us guessing what the new “law” is: it is His commands! Therefore our faith must be derived from the red letters (see also John 14:21, 23-24, Hebrews 8:7-13, ).
So that leaves us with the final aspect of the Kingdom: citizenry. Again, Jesus does not leave us guessing. He speaks quite a bit on the matter. In fact, we have already discussed several pertinent teachings. [coming next]
– Marc Carrier