Month: April 2013

Hijacking the Historical Jesus: Chapter 17 (excerpt)

The Main Themes of Jesus’ Teachings:

The Kingdom of God

Most New Testament scholars, liberal and conservative alike, believe the main theme of Jesus’ teachings is the Kingdom of God (also called the Kingdom of Heaven). Both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). But, what exactly is the Kingdom of God? First, a kingdom is the domain (or sphere of rule) of a king. Second, since God is the King of His Kingdom, then the Kingdom of God is wherever God rules.

Jesus Teaching his ApostlesTo be more specific, we need to look at what Jesus said about God’s Kingdom. Jesus often taught in parables. Parables are true to life stories that teach spiritual truth. In Matthew, chapter thirteen, Jesus taught the people parables about the Kingdom of God, telling them what the Kingdom would be like. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said that people could accept or reject the word of the Kingdom. Those who accept the word of the Kingdom would bear much fruit (Matthew 13:18-23). In the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, Jesus explained that the Kingdom of God would start out small but would grow to the point of filling the earth (Matthew 13:31-33). In the parables of the tares and the net of fish, Jesus preached that, in God’s Kingdom, the unsaved would mingle with the saved until the harvest on the last day when the Son of Man would send God’s angels to separate them, sending the unsaved into a “furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:36-43; 47-50). In the parables of the pearl of great price and the hidden treasure, Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was worth more than everything a person owned (Matthew 13:44-46).

These parables teach us that the Kingdom of God has two distinct phases or stages. First, the Kingdom of God apparently has a present stage in which God’s Kingdom (the church) is growing throughout the world. During this stage, God’s Kingdom grows until it fills the earth. Still, nonbelievers live side by side with believers during this stage. Second, the Kingdom of God has a future stage in which the Son of Man will come and send His angels to separate the unsaved from the saved, sending the unsaved into eternal torment.

The Apostle Paul spoke of the present stage of God’s Kingdom when he wrote, “For the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Hence, the present stage of God’s Kingdom is a spiritual stage—God ruling in the hearts of believers.

The New Jerusalem: 14th Century French TapestryThe future stage of God’s Kingdom is spoken of in the following manner: “And the seventh angel sounded [his trumpet]; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15). Revelation, chapters nineteen and twenty, tell us that Jesus will bring God’s kingdom to earth by reigning on the earth and shepherding the nations with an iron rod for one-thousand years (Revelation 19:11-20:15). Hence, the future stage of God’s Kingdom is when God’s Kingdom physically comes to earth when Jesus returns to rule on earth (Matthew 24:29-31; 25:31-32). Jesus taught the apostles that they would sit on twleve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the coming Kingdom (Matthew 19:28), and that many Jews would not make it into God’s Kingdom, whereas some Gentiles would sit and feast with the Jewish patriarch Abraham (Matthew 8:10-12). Jesus told Nicodemus that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). To be born again, a person has to believe in Jesus for salvation (John 3:16-18).

From these passages we can gain insight into God’s Kingdom. In its present stage, God rules in the hearts of believers—those who trust in Jesus alone for salvation. But, in the future, Jesus will return and bring God’s Kingdom to earth, and He will reign on the earth for one-thousand years. The Kingdom of God coming in all its fullness was prophesied in the Old Testament and will be fulfilled by Jesus at His return when He conquers the enemies of Israel and establishes God’s Kingdom on earth (Zechariah 14:1-5, 9-21; Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:6-7; 11:4-9; Zechariah 9:9-10). Jesus instructed believers to pray for God’s Kingdom to come to earth (Matthew 6:10).