The Past Phase of the Kingdom (Introduction): Chapter 5

 •  22 min. read  •  grade level: 14
The kingdom, as already remarked, is ever one and the same in its constitution and fundamental principles, but we have different displays or representations of it at different periods of its history. Thus, there has been a past representation or exhibition of the kingdom as there is now a present one, and there will yet be a future and different display of it in the millennium. (See the Chart.)
These stages may be appropriately called the three phases of the kingdom, which take their character from the different dispensational conditions and circumstances under which the kingdom appears and is made known. And it is of considerable importance to see clearly the distinctly different characteristics of each of these phases or dispensations, as most of the errors that have been made on this subject are due to mixing and confounding these phases together, as if there were little or no difference between them.
We will therefore now proceed to consider these three phases - past, present and future - in order, and specially note the principal passages that relate to each class respectively, with the view of rightly dividing the Word on this, as on all subjects of Scripture. (See the complete List for all of the passages.)
The past phase (indicated as P.1) was the introductory announcement of the kingdom, set forth in the ministry of John the Baptist and our Lord, who preached repentance and salvation to the Jews, in view of the coming kingdom, then said to be near at hand. This preaching was therefore called the “gospel of the kingdom,” because the setting up of the kingdom was then looked upon as imminent, provided the Jews accepted Christ as their King.
John, as the appointed messenger of God, called upon all to repent and mend their ways, as a preparation for the advent of their King then about to appear in their midst, and who some time after did actually present Himself to the Jews as their Messiah King, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:99Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9). “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass” (Matt. 21:55Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. (Matthew 21:5)). Therefore, it was John’s appropriate mission to announce, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” because the coming presence of the King naturally suggested the inauguration of His kingdom.
A new era commenced with the preaching of John, while his ministry and that of our Lord’s constituted a distinct and different dispensation (though but a very short one) from all that had preceded it, and quite different also from the Christian or Church dispensation which succeeded it after the Day of Pentecost. “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:1616The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. (Luke 16:16); Matt. 11:12, 1312And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. (Matthew 11:12‑13)).
That this was a distinct dispensation in itself, and unlike any other, may be clearly gathered from the passages that refer to the ministry of John and our Lord, in which we see the peculiar features that distinguish it from any other period. These may be briefly noted as follows:
1. It was marked by the actual presence of the King -though not recognized as yet in power to reign - who as King specially presented Himself to Israel, but was rejected. He said, “The kingdom of God is [among] you,” because the King was there. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11, 4311He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:11)
43The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. (John 1:43)
).
2. The King being then on the scene, our Lord’s preaching specially directed attention to the establishment of the Messiah’s reign on the earth, which at that time was declared to be near at hand. This was the one leading thought and object of the preaching of that day.
3. This gospel of the kingdom was then limited, and therefore only proclaimed by our Lord and His disciples to the Jews. It was wholly Jewish in its character. “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5, 65These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10:5‑6)).
After the resurrection of Christ, when another great change was to take place and a new dispensation introduced, the disciples were commanded to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” This fact in itself furnishes us with a very distinct line of demarcation between the past and the present phase of the kingdom.
The Lord often spoke to His disciples about His coming kingdom, when they should “eat and drink at My table ... and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” And we cannot wonder that, in view of all this, the disciples were led to enquire, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” as they were evidently under the impression that it might come to pass in their day. “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:2121But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. (Luke 24:21)). Moreover, the grand scene on the Mount of Transfiguration was expressly given to them as a glimpse of the coming glory of His millennial reign, while His remarkable prophecies in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 all directly pointed to the events that should precede and usher in that glorious day of His triumph and reign.
Consequently, the current and all-prevailing thought of that time among devout Jews - who were “waiting for the consolation of Israel” - was the setting up of the Messiah’s kingdom. It was the characteristic feature of that period. And from all this we can see the reason why the gospel preached by our Lord was specially designated the “gospel of the kingdom.” *
(* The glad tidings of God, that brings salvation to all who believe, is in its essential character ever the one same gospel throughout all ages, but like the kingdom, it is presented in the Word under different aspects, to set forth its different characteristics, and to mark the dispensational order of time in which it is proclaimed.
4. The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:2424But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)): The gospel is now preached to all, both Jews and Gentiles alike, which is expressive of the free grace of God that gathers out believers in Christ from all classes, not only to be saved, but also to be associated by faith with Christ in heavenly places.
6. The everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6, 76And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6‑7)): This is probably the same as the gospel of the kingdom that will be preached to all nations during the day of tribulation, having the approaching judgments that are to precede the setting up of Christ’s kingdom distinctly in view, as may be gathered from the words which will then be preached. “Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”)
The important point to note here is the significant fact that this phrase is used for the fourth time in the great prophecy of our Lord in Matthew 24, and nowhere else, thus furnishing us with a connecting link between the preaching of Christ and His apostles and the preaching of the godly remnant, which is yet to take place in the day of tribulation. The conclusion that naturally follows from this striking coincidence is that the gospel which will be preached by the Jews at the time of the end (Matthew 24) will be the same, in its main features and character, as that which was preached by the Lord and His apostles nineteen centuries before, seeing that the very same words - “gospel of the kingdom” - are employed to designate both these preachings, while these words are never used in any other connection.
In other words, both should be regarded as distinctly Jewish, while the burden of each appears to be identically the same, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” because the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on the earth appeared, and will yet appear, an imminent fact, alike in both these proclamations of this special gospel.
Perhaps the more correct way of putting this view would be to say that while Christ and His disciples first began to teach that His kingdom was near at hand, this line of teaching was to be continued, as if on the morrow, by His Jewish brethren at the end of the age, without taking into account the long interval of time between these two periods. The duration of time appears to be entirely eliminated from our Lord’s representations, while the whole Christian dispensation (which was never the subject of prophecy) was bridged over, and the last days of the age and His day, when on earth, are brought together, as if they were today and tomorrow.
We have numerous instances of this in Scripture, such as, “The time is at hand,” and, “Behold, I come quickly”; “The acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance” (Isa. 61:22To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; (Isaiah 61:2); Luke 4:18, 1918The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18‑19)); and many others. Of this mode of teaching adopted by our Lord, we have a very striking illustration (that bears directly on the point we are now considering) in the tenth chapter of Matthew.
In this chapter we have the Lord directing and sending forth the twelve apostles to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and to no others, while they were to say, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
After giving minute instructions to them, as to the way in which they were to conduct their mission, we find the Lord extending His discourse in a peculiar manner down to the Jewish remnant of the last days, thus connecting them with the twelve men before Him as preachers of the same gospel of the kingdom, without noting the long interval of time between them, as if they were one and the same company.
This remarkable transition begins about the seventeenth verse and continues to the twenty-third verse. The statements and directions agree substantially with His prophetic teaching in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. This fact may be readily seen by a comparison of these passages when put side by side, as in the following parallel columns:
“Beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. ... But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Mark 13:9-139But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. 10And the gospel must first be published among all nations. 11But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. 12Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. 13And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Mark 13:9‑13) But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver
another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”
you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
Seven points of similarity stand out very plainly in these parallel passages, showing that they relate to the same time and circumstances:
1. Their preaching of the gospel of the kingdom;
2. Brought before kings and rulers;
3. Persecuted for their testimony;
4. Helped by the Holy Spirit to speak right words to their persecutors;
5. Divisions and betrayals in families;
6. Hatred of all for Christ’s sake;
7. Those who endured to the end should be saved.
And as it is generally admitted that the portions just quoted from Matthew 24 and Mark 13 relate to the coming day of tribulation, so also must it be admitted that the passages quoted from Matthew 10 refer to the same period, because the statements in Matthew 10 are identically the same as those in the other two chapters. For they all describe the same persecutions and sufferings of the faithful Jewish saints at the time of the end (allowing that Matthew 10 may have had a preliminary and typical fulfillment in the history of the apostles), therefore it may be reasonably inferred that our Lord, while instructing the twelve apostles (Matthew 10), passed at the end of His discourse from them and that day, over the whole Christian dispensation of nineteen centuries, to connect the Jewish brethren of the last days with the twelve as if they were one company, inasmuch as both companies would be Jewish messengers of the same gospel of the kingdom, and have to pass through the same trials and persecutions, though at different times.
Indeed, this inference seems to be fully and remarkably confirmed when we come to verse 23 of Matthew 10, “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”
Now the words, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come,” could not possibly apply to the twelve apostles, seeing they have passed away hundreds of years ago, while the Son of man has not yet come. Moreover, no satisfactory explanation of this peculiar passage can be given but that which connects it with Matthew 24:29, 3029Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29‑30), “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened. ... And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven,” and Mark 13:24-2624But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, 25And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. 26And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24‑26), “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened. ... And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
Thus we find these three scriptures - Matthew 10 and 24, and Mark 13 - exactly agreeing as to the events that are to transpire at the end of the age, during the day of tribulation, and the coming of the Son of man immediately after that day - looked at entirely from a Jewish point of view.
It may be well to observe here that in Luke 21 (which is another account of the same prophetic discourse of our Lord given in Matthew and Mark), in verses 12 to 19, we have very similar and, indeed, almost the same words used as those given in the two parallel columns from Matthew 10 and 24, and Mark 13, which describe in like manner the Jewish persecutions, and how they were to be hated of all for His name’s sake, while they were not to premeditate what they should speak when brought before kings and rulers. But on carefully reading these eight verses in Luke 21, it becomes apparent that they were directly and solely applied to the apostles, whom He was then instructing, and not (as in Matthew and Mark) to the Jewish remnant at the time of the end.
This difference of application is seen in the words (verse 12), “But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you” - that is, before the tribulation described in the two previous verses (10 and 11) should come to pass - and also in the words, “Some of you shall they cause to be put to death.” But this difference is still more strikingly indicated by our Lord’s remark in Luke, “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom,” whereas in Matthew and Mark He says, “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father [or, the Holy Spirit] which speaketh in you,” thus showing that the Lord Himself would give those who went forth as His messengers while He was on the earth the needed mouth of wisdom, while the messengers of the latter day, after He had ascended into heaven, would be guided as to what they should speak by the Holy Spirit, in accordance with Christ’s teaching in John 16 and 17.
By comparing and contrasting the foregoing passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we also see how remarkably our Lord identified the Jewish remnant at the end with the disciples whom He was then instructing. They appeared to be in His thoughts as the continuation of one company, notwithstanding the long interval of time between their respective missions, so that the same directions would be suitable to both companies, seeing they would be preachers of the same gospel of the kingdom, and be persecuted for their testimony in the same manner.
In all this we see the strictly Jewish character of the mission of our Lord and His disciples - the past phase of the kingdom - which had nothing in common with the present order of things.
Summarizing these remarks and scriptural references concerning the past phase of the kingdom, we may now briefly recapitulate the conclusions arrived at as follows:
1. In this past phase we have the announcement of Christ the King then present to the Jewish nation, in prospect of the setting up of His kingdom on the earth. This was its special and distinguishing feature.
2. This proclamation of the Messiah King and His kingdom, in accordance with the prophecies of the Old Testament and the hopes and expectations of the Jews, was appropriately called the “gospel of the kingdom,” and as such was a presentation of the gospel distinct from any other, and preached only to the Jews in that day.
3. The gospel preached by Christ and the apostles, while Christ was on earth, was connected with and appeared to be similar to, if not identically the same, as the gospel of the kingdom that will yet be preached by the Jewish remnant in the day of tribulation, as shown in Matthew 10 and 24, and Mark 13.
4. “The everlasting gospel” referred to in Revelation 14:6, 76And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6‑7) is represented as being preached in the day of tribulation. “Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come.” In one sense these words are equivalent to the message delivered by our Lord and His apostles, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” though necessarily more explicit in calling attention to the hour of His judgment, which will then be very near, and on the eve of the Lord’s coming to judge the nations prior to the establishment of His millennial kingdom, as stated in Matthew 24:29, 3029Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29‑30) and 25:31, 32. *
(*The everlasting gospel is probably so called because it will be the continued announcement of the glad tidings first made known in the Garden of Eden, which has been everlastingly proclaimed, under different forms, through all the ages. Therefore “everlasting,” and so set forth at the end, in view of the immediate setting up of Christ’s kingdom through judgments.)
5. This gospel of the kingdom which was then preached was entirely different in its character and the objects it had in view from the present preaching of the “gospel of the grace of God.” Then it was, “Repent and be ready for the Messiah’s reign and kingdom on the earth” - the earthly calling; now it is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and His finished work of redemption for full salvation and eternal life, while hoping and waiting for the heavenly calling at the coming of Christ to translate the Church to heaven.
Thus we see dissimilarity in every feature between these two presentations of the gospel, and it is a great mistake to regard them as one and the same, or that one is a continuation of the other. It is this sad error that has been used to deprive thousands of believers of the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s personal return, at any moment, to take His waiting saints to heaven, according to His own words, “Behold, I come quickly,” “Watch therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come,” and, “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching.”
For it is argued, by those who hold that these two different presentations of the gospel are the same, that the Lord could not come at any moment, until the gospel is first “preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations” (Matt. 24:1414And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)), erroneously assuming that the gospel of the kingdom in this passage is the same as the gospel of the grace of God now preached (Acts 20:2424But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)), which it plainly is not, as the text itself and the context show.
Then on this false assumption they conclude that as a great many nations have not yet heard the gospel of grace that is now being preached, the Lord cannot come (according to their interpretation of Matthew 24:1414And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)) until that event has been accomplished, and so, in this way, they postpone the blessed Lord’s coming indefinitely.
It is therefore of the utmost importance to see distinctly the dispensational difference between these two gospels, and to clearly understand the true meaning of these two scriptural phrases.
The present gospel of grace will be preached until the Lord comes to translate the Church (which may take place at any moment). Then the gospel of the kingdom, which was first preached by Christ and His apostles, will again be resumed and preached, chiefly by godly Jews, during the whole day of tribulation, “in all the world for a witness to all nations, and then shall the end come.” The “end” mentioned here will be the end of the age and of the great day of tribulation, when the Lord will come to judge the nations and set up His kingdom. And those who endure to the end of that day shall be saved to enter into the full enjoyment of millennial blessings on the earth. Here again the word “saved” is erroneously supposed by many to mean going to heaven, when it is obvious, from the whole tenor of the chapter, that it is the millennium which is in view, and not heaven at all. The two companies in Revelation 7, the 144,000 and the palm bearers, are examples of this, for they both pass through the day of tribulation, and the sealed Israelites are seen after it safely on Mount Zion with the Lamb (surely not in heaven, but in Palestine, where Mount Zion is), while of the palm bearers it is said, “These are they which come [not came] out of the great tribulation,” the blessings described as their portion being also millennial.
6. The past phase of the kingdom ceased with the death of Christ and will be revived again, to a certain extent and for a short period, when the present or Christian dispensation comes to an end. For then the Jewish order of things will be partially restored. Thus the past and future phases join in this point, with a long interval between.
7. In noting these dispensational distinctions (the difference between the Lord’s time on the earth and the present) it is important ever to bear in mind that our Lord’s general teaching, as well as His prophetic utterances, extended far beyond the day of His personal ministry down to the present time, and even to the millennium.
We must therefore regard much of His teaching as applicable to all times and to every phase of the kingdom, especially the great moral and spiritual principles that always distinguished His divine teaching.
But for all this the dispensation in which He lived and wrought was unique, and should not be considered as identical with the present, from which it was so entirely different. For everything was changed on the Day of Pentecost, when the Church was formed and a new dispensation commenced.
Many who have not clearly seen this point have often seriously misapplied some of our Lord’s teachings, in which they endeavor to adapt Jewish thoughts and observances to Christian believers and the Church.
We will now proceed to consider the present phase.