Kingdom of Heaven Notes

Chris —  February 15, 2015

Christ said his disciples are the "salt" of the world.My audience for my blog is our church family at the Red Brick Church. Currently I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount which means that we are focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven. Given that our time on Sunday mornings is limited, I am making my study notes available. Bear in mind that these are simply my notes and are not particularly well organized and certainly not edited.

Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of God – The “Kingdom of God” references the sovereign rule of Christ the King with his people and a redeemed/new earth. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God during his first advent and it will one day be fully manifest when Jesus returns for the consummation of his kingdom.

Contra first century messianic expectations, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus established that his Kingdom would be first about internal transformation and morality rather than about politics and power.[1]

The Sermon on the Mount, particularly the beatitudes, describes what is necessary for Kingdom qualification. Elsewhere, we see those qualities that either disqualify one from the Kingdom (see Pharisees) or make it very difficult to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 19:16-26).

The Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of God should be distinguished from the universal sovereignty of God. All people are under the sovereign rule of God. But not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who recognize their spiritual poverty and are born again enter into eternal life have citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3, 5).[2] Jesus begins the Beatitudes with the promise that those who see their spiritual poverty and come to Him will be received as Kingdom citizens (Matthew 5:3).

Jesus stressed that he inaugurated the Kingdom of God during his earthly ministry (Matthew 16:28).

[20] Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, [21] nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:20-21

Or consider Matthew 12:28:

[28] But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Matthew 12:28

So the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated. Never the less, Revelation 20 references the Millennial (or alternatively Messianic) Kingdom and shows us that the Kingdom of God will not be fully established until Christ returns:

[1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. [2] And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [3] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

[4] Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. [5] The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. [6] Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

[7] And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison [8] and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. [9] And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, [10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

[11] Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. [13] And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:1-15)

In order to reflect that the Kingdom has been inaugurated even though it has not yet been fully established, and following the lead of Gerhardus Vos, George Ladd, and others[3] theologians often reference the timing of the Kingdom of God using the phrase “already (Matthew 12:28, Luke 17:20-21)/not yet (Isaiah 65:17, 66:2; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1).”[4]

In the New Testament, the idea that the Kingdom has begun, but is not yet fully established, is referenced as the “mystery of the kingdom” (μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν) John Piper summarizes:[5]

So the kingdom has come according to Matthew 12:28 and Luke 17:21; and the coming of the kingdom is still future according to Luke 19:11–12 and many other texts. This is puzzling. It threw the Pharisees into confusion. It took John the Baptist off guard (Matthew 11:2–6). It caused one crowd to want to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4:29) and another want to make him king (John 6:15). It baffled Pilate when Jesus was on trial (John 18:36–37). It left the apostles confused and hopeless between Good Friday and Easter (Luke 24:21).

Behind this confusion was what Jesus called the “mystery [or secret] of the kingdom.” Let’s turn to Matthew 13 and see how the parables of the kingdom unfold the mystery of the kingdom for us. What is mysterious about the kingdom is that it has come partly but not fully. There are hints about this in the Old Testament (e.g., Isaiah 53—the suffering servant). But by and large the Old Testament does not clearly separate the two comings of Christ. It sees one great day of the Lord coming when God would deal finally with sin and defeat his enemies and gather his people into a kingdom of peace and righteousness and joy and make the earth and the heavens new and glorious with the Messiah ruling forever and ever. But it didn’t make clear that this day of the Lord—the coming of the kingdom—would happen in two stages: first, with Jesus coming as a suffering servant to atone for sin, and second, with Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

This is the mystery (the secret) of the kingdom—the arrival of the kingdom in a preliminary, small way in advance of the final consummation when all the enemies would be defeated and all sin and satanic power and sickness and suffering would be gone forever. The mystery, as George Ladd puts it, is “fulfillment without consummation.” Fulfillment of the kingdom is here; but consummation of the kingdom is not. Many kingdom blessings can be experienced today; many are reserved for the consummation and the coming of Jesus.

Schreiner writes:

The surprising element in Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom is its ambiguous character. The kingdom can be explained in terms of the already-not yet. The kingdom was inaugurated in Jesus’ ministry but not yet consummated. It had arrived, but the full salvation and judgment promised had not yet come to pass.[6]

The inauguration of the Kingdom of God by Jesus should be see within the framework of biblical theology or God’s unfolding plan for redemption. The below table is adapted from Graeme Goldsworthy’s summary of how the Kingdom of God unfolds:[7]

The Kingdom-PatternEstablished —–EDEN 

THE FALL

Protevangelium Redemption Announced Seed of the Woman
Judgment / Grace Previewed Redemptive Act:Noah
The Kingdom Promised  AbrahamRedemptive Act:Exodus
The Kingdom —————Foreshadowed  David-SolomonRedemptive Act:Prophetic Promise of Salvation
The Kingdom at Hand—–  Jesus ChristRedemptive Act:His life, death, and resurrection
The Kingdom Consummated————-  Return of Christ

There are three major views regarding the timing and nature of the consummation of the Kingdom of God. The premillennial view holds that Christ will return prior to establishing his 1,000- year reign on earth. The amillennial holds that there is no future millennium but rather than the Millennium is taking place now in heaven. When Christ returns, the eternal state follows. The post-millenial view is that the Millennium is now and that history will progressively improve. Post-millennialism was popular during the 17th-18th centuries but is relatively uncommon now.

The below descriptions are from the Desiring God web site.[8]

Premillennialism (represented by Jim Hamilton): The return of Christ happens before (pre-) the thousand-year reign of Christ, which is a reign of the risen Christ on the earth.

Amillennialism (represented by Sam Storms): The return of Christ happens after the thousand-year reign, a reign that occurs in heaven, in the intermediate state, and not upon the earth. Those who have died in faith and entered into the presence of Christ share his rule and reign during the current church age in which we now live.[9]

Postmillennialism (represented by Doug Wilson): The return of Christ happens after (post-) the thousand-year reign, which corresponds to the Christian age, and the reign of Christ from heaven leads the church to triumph by and through the gospel to such an extent that the Great Commission will be successfully fulfilled, and the Christian faith will pervade all the cultures of all the nations of men. All Christ’s enemies will be subdued in this way, with the exception of death, which he will destroy by his coming.

Without thoroughly evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each view, the pre-millennial position is the one held by our church. High level, here are the basic reasons we hold to the pre-millennial position:

  • Revelation 20:4 is a very difficult verse for the amillennial position to interpret.
  • A number of Old Testament passages describe a time that does not seem to correspond with either the present age or the eternal state (Isaiah 65:20, Isaiah 11:6-9, Isaiah 11:10-11, Psalm 72:8-14).[10]
  • Other passages besides Revelation 20:4 in the New Testament predict a distinct millennial age: Revelation 2:26-27, 12:5-6.[11]

Each of the major views of the millennium is prone to certain errors. Given the belief that history will trend in a negative direction until Christ returns, at times a weakness of the pre-millennial view has been an overly negative view of the short-term trajectory of history. Premillennialists have also erred at times in trying to interpret the relationship of current events to Scripture.[12]

It is important to see the theological purpose for the Millennium. The Millennial or Messianic Kingdom is when Christ will have victory in this space and history. While Jesus came humbly and gently in his first advent, when he returns he will come in all his glory and power and everyone will know that He is God.[13] It will be the time when Christ fully establishes his Kingdom and accomplishes what is necessary so that the Kingdom can be handed over to the Father. If justice is to be served, this must happen in this space and history.[14] Turner summarizes:

This Millennium is an intermediate transitional stage of God’s kingdom that further extends his rule over the entire earth, not just the colonies of the redeemed. However, because of the continuing presence of sinners, there are still difficulties and problems that finally erupt in the rebellion of Revelation 20:7-9. The ultimate extension of Christ’s rule involves the exclusion of all sinners from the renewed heavens and earth (Rev. 20:10-12; 21:8, 27; 22:15, 19).[15]

Some (especially Premillennialists?) have held that the Sermon on the Mount does not have immediate application for the age of the church. MacArthur counters:

Because of its seemingly impossible demands, many evangelicals maintain that the Sermon on the Mount pertains only to the kingdom age, the Millennium. Otherwise, they argue, how could Jesus command us to be perfect, just as our “heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)? For several reasons, however, that interpretation cannot be correct. First of all, the text does not indicate or imply that these teachings are for another age. Second, Jesus demanded them of people who were not living in the Millennium. Third, many of the teachings themselves become meaningless if they are applied to the Millennium. For example, there will be no persecution of believers (see 5:10–12, 44) during the kingdom age. Fourth, every principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount is also taught elsewhere in the New Testament in contexts that clearly apply to believers of our present age. Fifth, there are many New Testament passages that command equally impossible standards, which unglorified human strength cannot continually achieve (see Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 1:9–10; Col. 3:1–2; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16).[16]

Keller’s explains that the inauguration of the Kingdom of God should be understood as the establishment of a new regime.

Now the kingdom of God can best be understood if we think about what happens when anybody comes into power. When a new president or a new king or a new governor or a new mayor or a new CEO … when anyone comes into power … that person’s new power is expressed through a new administration. The new administration is a new set of priorities and a new set of policies and a new set of strategies, and if the policies and priorities and strategies are wise, if they meet the needs, what happens is there is (I guess the catchphrase today is) “improved quality of life,” and that’s good!

Jesus Christ, though, is the supernatural and ultimate King; and when he comes into power, his power is expressed through a new administration called the kingdom. A new set of priorities, a new set of powers, and a new set of strategies. The effects are far greater than anything we might call “improved quality of life.” The effects are more comprehensive and radical than we can imagine.

 When Jesus Christ comes into power over our hearts or over our lives or over our families or over our groups, communities, or institutions, there’s total transformation in every dimension of the life of that entity. Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount is here to show us just how far-reaching that transformation is, and the Beatitudes can only be understood in that context. The Beatitudes we just began to read are very famous. “Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” and so on.[17]

Stein points to the central importance of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament:

The heart of Jesus’ teachings centers around the theme of the kingdom of God. This expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-five times. It also occurs twice in John (3:3, 5). It is found in such key places as the preaching of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2); Jesus’ earliest announcement, “The time has come . . . The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15; cf. Matt. 4:17; Luke 4:42–43); the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10); in the Beatitudes, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3, 10); at the Last Supper, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25); and in many of Jesus’ parables (Matt. 13:24, 44, 45, 47; Mark 4:26, 30; Luke 19:11).[18]

Historically, some theologians argued that there is a distinction between the “Kingdom of God” and the “Kingdom of Heaven.” But nearly all theologians now agree that the terms are used synonymously. Matthew favored using “kingdom of heaven” because the Jewish component of his audience was uncomfortable saying “God” directly and preferred a “circumlocution,” that is saying the same thing a different way.[19]

The phrase kingdom of God holds out a promise for the future. Davies and Allison write:

In so for as the beatitudes bring consolation and comfort to Jesus’ heavy-laden followers, they function as a practical theodicy. Although 5:3-12 does not explain evil or human suffering, the verses do by putting into perspective the difficulties of the present lessen pain and anguish and effect encouragement . . . This happens through an exercise of the imagination . . . Eschatological promises for the poor, the meek, and the persecuted reveal that all is not what it seems to be. That is, the truth, like the kingdom is hidden (cf. 11:25; 13:33,34). Only the future—with its rewards and punishments—will bring to light the true condition of the world and those in it (cf. 23:31-46). Those who use the eye of the mind in order to foresee and live for the future promised by the beatitudes will, with their faith, possess a secret vision and hope that makes powerlessness and suffering bearable.[20]

“What Jesus projects is a countermetanarrative, an alternative to Rome’s, a narrative not of coercive power but of witness. Already by Acts 17:7, his disciples are being accused of turning the whole world . . . upside down . . . So to witness the kingdom of God as far as the edges of the earth, as Jesus commissioned his disciples to do, was to expose Rome’s aspiration to limitless domination, as blasphemous.” Richard Bauckham.[21]

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[1] “The thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is that the message and work of the King are first and most importantly internal and not external, and spiritual and moral rather than physical and political. Here we find no politics or social reform. His concern is for what men are, because what they are determines what they do.” John MacArthur, Matthew (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 133. For a summary on the centrality of the Kingdom of God in the Synoptic Gospels, see Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 41–79.

[2] Carson, The Sermon the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7, 11–13.

[3] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974).

[4] John Piper, “Is the Kingdom Present or Future?,” Desiring God, February 4, 1990, http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/is-the-kingdom-present-or-future ; Carson, The Sermon the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7, 14–15.

[5] Piper, “Is the Kingdom Present or Future?” For more on the “mustard seed” beginnings of the Kingdom including an exposition of Mark 4:35, see my sermon on that passage, “Storms.”

[6] Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, 79.

[7] Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 56.

[8] “An Evening of Eschatology Moderated by John Piper with James Hamilton, Sam Storms and Doug Wilson,” Desiring God, September 27, 2009, http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/an-evening-of-eschatology . See also Andy Naselli, “Should Churches Require All Members to Affirm Pretrib and Premil Views?,” Andy Naselli: Thoughts on Theology, April 30, 2013, http://andynaselli.com/should-churches-require-all-members-to-affirm-pretrib-and-premil-views.

[9] Wood summarizes that some amillennialists believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is taking place now in heaven while others hold that it is the age of the church here on earth. Leon J. Wood, The Bible and Future Events (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 27–29.

[10] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1127–1131.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, or Eight-Eight Reasons Christ Will Return in 1988, Oil, Armageddon and the Middle East Crisis, The Beginning of the End etc.

[13] Chris Brauns, “A Position on the Doctrine of Eschatology,” 1992, Unpublished, 34.

[14] Ibid., 36.

[15] David L. Turner, “The New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:1-22:5,” in Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church: The Search for Definition, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 291.

[16] MacArthur, Matthew, 138. See also Harry A. Sturz, “The Sermon on the Mount and Its Application to the Present Age,” Grace Theological Journal 4, no. 3 (Fall 63).

[17] Keller, “Coming to Christ: Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount.”

[18] Robert H. Stein, “The Kingdom of God,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984).

[19] Turner, Matthew.

[20] Davies and Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew: In Three Volumes, 467.

[21] Bauckham, The Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, 107.

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