Kingdom of God: 5

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The fact is, that the kingdom of God, which will exist manifestly in the millennial reign of Christ (treated of in No. 1), exists now in mystery, and is found wherever there is the acknowledgment, real or in profession only, of the name and authority of Christ, while He Himself is hid in God on high. It is within this kingdom of course, that the church has its existence at present. Nay, more; it is at present the only thing in the kingdom which is really precious to Christ; and we shall have to look at passages which, on this account, speak of the church, or rather of those who compose the church, as the kingdom. Still, it is not as the church that these passages contemplate it, and the kingdom itself is a much wider thing.
For full instructions as to the special or distinct place and blessedness of “the church,” we look in vain, except in the Ephesians and other Epistles of Paul. The kingdom of God, one would repeat, exists now in mystery, and comprises the whole sphere in which the name and authority of Christ are recognized, whether nominally or really, during the period of Christ's session at the right hand of God. There is, of course, a wide difference between a sovereignty exercised openly and visibly in the form and character of royalty on the earth (Jerusalem its center and the whole earth its sphere), and a sovereignty exercised from heaven by invisible agency and moral means, such as Christianity is now. This latter is the kingdom of God in mystery; the former is the kingdom of God as the Jews were taught by ancient prophecy to expect it, and as it will yet surely exist in the millennial age. Modified, however, even then by the introduction and co-heirship with Christ of the heavenly saints, for which room was made by Israel's rejection of their Messiah on the earth. When He takes the kingdom, it will be as the glorified Son of man; and the heavenly body, the church, now forming by the Holy Ghost, will be united with its Head in the administration of that kingdom, so that even then it will have the character of the kingdom of heaven.
As the open establishment of the kingdom is inseparably connected with the repentance of Israel and their reception of the Messiah, it pleased God, by the proclamation that His kingdom was at hand, solemnly to put to the test whether Israel was in a condition, morally and spiritually, to receive it. Accordingly the preaching of John the Baptist, and the earlier preaching of our Lord Himself and His disciples, was simply this, the announcing that the kingdom was at hand, and calling upon Israel to repent and believe the glad tidings. God knew of course, that they would reject the kingdom thus preached to them; and He had arranged everything accordingly. The kingdom they hoped for was to be put off on account of their unbelief; and the kingdom which was actually at hand was the kingdom in mystery, as it has existed from that time until the present.
Though God knew well that they would reject the kingdom, both in the rejection of its royal Heir and in the rejection of His fore-runner—though God knew this, I say—the responsibility of Israel was not thereby diminished in the least. All was ready on God's part; “the Child was born to Israel, the Son given,” Whose name was to be called Wonderful, on Whose shoulders the government was to be, and Who was to sit on the throne of His father David, executing judgment and justice forever. He gave full proof that to Him belonged these dignities and glories; and had they received Him, His reign would doubtless have commenced. But God knew that they would not receive Him. He knew they would crucify and slay Him, and He delivered Him into their hands to be thus crucified. But did that make them less guilty? Not in the least. The foreknowledge of God is one thing; man's responsibility is another.
God knew men would break the law; yet He gave it, that what was in man's heart might be manifest. God knew that Israel would, by their sins, forfeit the land of Canaan, and have to be scattered, as at present. He told them that He knew this before He brought them in. (See Deut. 31:16-2116And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them. 17Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? 18And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods. 19Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. 20For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant. 21And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware. (Deuteronomy 31:16‑21)). Still, He brought them in. He knew that they would reject the prophets and messengers by whom He spake to them, and offered them forgiveness and mercy, if they would but repent. (See Ezek. 3:7-97But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted. 8Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. 9As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:7‑9)). Nevertheless, He sent them, rising up betimes and sending. Was their responsibility diminished by God's foreknowledge of the manner in which they would treat the messengers of His mercy? Surely not. So when, last of all, He sent His Son, sent Him as the One born to be King of the Jews, He knew all that they would do unto Him. From the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, to the last taunt that was addressed to the holy Sufferer on the cross, God foreknew all.
Why should this hinder Him from presenting the kingdom to them, and offering them its felicities and its glories on condition of their repentance, any more than the foresight of their failure under any former test should have hindered Him from applying it? God would make manifest what man, what Israel, was, and so appealed to them in the most affecting way, through the medium of the hopes which, for so many generations, had been indulged by them as a nation—hopes based on the prophecies considered in our last. And they understood that Jesus claimed to be the One Whose coming was the object and center of their natural hopes. The superscription in Latin, and Greek, and Hebrew, placed over the cross by Pilate, told plainly enough that it was as King of the Jews He was rejected by the nation. Thank God, He did foreknow what they in the hatred of their hearts would do. Their sin has thus been overruled to our salvation; their fall has become our riches. In due time, when the church has been formed and perfected, and caught up to meet its Head in the air, when all the “mysteries of the kingdom” have had their accomplishment, Israel, as we have seen, humbled and broken-hearted, shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah; and the kingdom shall be established manifestly and in power. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”
Let us look now at some of the passages in the New Testament which relate to this subject. We shall find them ranging themselves under one or other of these classes. 1. The passages which announce the kingdom in such a manner and in such connections as necessarily to awaken in the heart the thought of that kingdom of Christ, which we saw in No. 1 to be the great subject of Old Testament prophecy. 2. The passages which speak of the kingdom as it now exists in mystery, including all on earth that own, whether truly or in mere profession, the sovereignty of Jesus in heaven. 3. The passages in which the expression is limited to that which really and truly owns the name and authority of Jesus; the kernel, so to speak, which alone gives value to the shell. There may be a few others giving the general characteristics of the reign of God apart from circumstances altogether.
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying: “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:1-31In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:1‑3)). It is by no means certain that the phrase “kingdom of heaven” here would suggest to the mind of John the Baptist himself any other thought than that of Messiah's reign—the kingdom which the God of heaven was to set up. The passage quoted by the evangelist respecting him is one which clearly has not yet received its full accomplishment; nor will it, till “the times of restitution of all things.” “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa. 40:4, 54Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:4‑5)). There can be no mistake as to what kingdom it is that is depicted here. It ensues on the accomplishment of the whole warfare, and travail, and chastisement of Jerusalem (verses 1, 2); and in it Zion and Jerusalem have the office of bringing good tidings, and crying to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God” (verse 9).
Without doubt the kingdom of heaven was really to exist in a very different form before the arrival of this blessed period; but it was Israel's sin which afforded the opportunity, so to speak, for its existence in its present manner; and before it actually took this form, it was to be seen whether there was in them the heart to respond to these joyful tidings; and hence this mission of the Baptist. (continued from p. 8) (To be continued, D.V.)