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Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Kingdom: of Heaven, God, or Both



The Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God
The book of Matthew uses the phrase, Kingdom of Heaven and the other synoptic gospels use Kingdom of God.  Comparing parallel passages, it could be assumed that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God are the same.  Many commentators believe they are identical, but a few notice a difference.

Which phrase did Jesus employ?  Probably both of them at various instances, but possibly to different groups of people depending on the delivered message.  The majority of the Jewish leaders and the general Judean population rejected Jesus as the Messiah because He did not meet their Messianic standards of a conquering King and initially, the disciples could also be included in this group.  There are two lines of Messianic prophecy presented in the Old Testament:  one is the suffering servant; the second is the conquering King.  Two contrary portraits would require two different individuals, however, true Christian prophecy students know both portraits will be fulfilled by one individual, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with an interlude of approximately 2000 years between the suffering servant and the conquering King.

The basic scripture prophesying the characteristics of the suffering servant aspect of the Messiah can be found in Isaiah 53.  The Judeans were not expecting a poor humble teacher from Nazareth, even one Who healed the sick and raised the dead.  They were anticipating a political Messiah, a warrior leader who would militarily deliver them from the Roman Empire and the remainder of the world.  Their expected Messiah would be a great leader who would transform Israel into the ruling kingdom of the world.  It can be asked, to what person did they attribute the suffering and death described in Isaiah 53 and other scriptures?  It is my opinion they will receive their anticipated “messiah” during the last days in the person of the beast/antichrist when Israel, particularly Jerusalem, will become Mystery, Babylon.  I suppose the churches of today are not the only ones who misunderstand and misinterpret scripture.

The Judean leaders and rulers of the first century have been described as legalistic and ritualistic.  They had a fervor for works and considered themselves beyond the need of repentance, spiritual deliverance and the righteousness of God.  After all, they had the temple sacrificial system to atone for their possible sins.  The Judean leaders and the majority of the Judean populace were expecting a mighty warrior but instead, this is what was before them.

·         He was born in a stable with a manger as a bed.
·         He grew up in Nazareth, and can anything good come from there.
·         He was the son of a carpenter.
·         During His earthly ministry, He didn’t have a place to lay His head.
·         On the day all Jewish eyes were on Him, He rode into town on a   borrowed donkey.
·         He was crucified on a cross as a common criminal.

The Kingdom is Within You
Although it can be argued the Kingdom of God did not fully manifest until after the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, it was proclaimed as being near or in one’s midst in a spiritual sense.

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.  (Luke 17:20-21 KJV)

The phrase “is within you” is alternately translated as:  inside you; not something that can be observed; already among you; in your midst; does not come with observation.  “Does not come with observation” is the number one translation.

The Kingdom is Not of this World
Later, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus a question concerning His Kingdom.  The answer He gave is somewhat different from the answer given to the Pharisees.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.  (John 18:36 KJV)

The word “now” is definitely in the Greek manuscript version.  A commentator, Gaines R. Johnson, stated that “most of the translators of today’s Bibles are Amillennial in their prophecy position and have removed the word ‘now’ because they do not accept the literal return of Jesus or a literal Millennium (paraphrased rendition of Mr. Johnson’s quote)”.  The newer translations removing the word ‘now’ include:  NASB; AMP; NLT; ESV; CEV, and there may be others.

In this particular scripture, Jesus is referring to a literal political Kingdom initially located in the realm of Heaven.  This Kingdom, located at the throne of God, will be brought to the earth at the beginning of the Millennium.  Jesus Christ currently reigns as the King of the Kingdom of God.  Prior to the Millennium there will be a literal return of Jesus.  He will reign as King of the earth, for a literal thousand years. 

The Kingdom of Israel
Regardless of one’s rapture position, millennium position, or dispensational position Jesus, the son of David, will literally return to the earth and the Kingdom will be returned to the Israelites.  An accurate identification of Israelites today is uncertain for some individuals who research and study this situation.  John Hagee and his minions maintain that an Israelite is anyone calling themselves a Jew.  Other people are not so certain that all professed Jews are actually Israelites.  God will identify 144,000 Israelites from twelve different tribes during the 70th week of Daniel.  It may be that God is the only one who knows for certain the identity of the Israelites.

Prior to His ascension, the disciples asked Jesus if this was the time He would restore the kingdom to Israel again. 

When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
(Acts 1:6 KJV)

Jesus did not deny them the restoration of the kingdom but confirmed that it would occur, but just not yet.  The disciples were inquiring about a literal kingdom and Jesus answered saying that it was not for them to know the time of the actual restoration of that literal kingdom.  It would happen, but in the meantime they were to preach and teach the Kingdom of God throughout the earth.

And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.  (Acts 1:7-8 KJV)

A Gaines R. Johnson quote concerning Acts 1:6-8:

This is one of the most hated and least understood doctrines of the Bible, yet one of the most important in rightly dividing the truth; the separation of Church Age doctrine from Tribulation doctrine. Some churches do not want to hear this, because they think that the Church has replaced Israel. Certainly the whole world reviles at the prospect of hated Israel becoming the head of the Kingdoms.

Two Kingdoms, Yet Only One Kingdom
It has been said that Jesus actually taught two different Kingdoms or at least referred to them in different instances:  the Kingdom of God for now and the Kingdom of Heaven for the Israelites and the world at His return.  These two phases of the Kingdom would be similar to the suffering servant and conquering King prophesied in the Old Testament.  One Kingdom but two presentations.  Both would be fulfilled by the same Messiah at two different time periods.  In like manner both Kingdoms will be fulfilled by the same Messiah at two different time periods.

The first iteration of the Messiah was as the Lamb of God or the suffering servant.  The second iteration will be as the Lion of Judah or the conquering King.  Now the Kingdom of God is within us:  by thoughts and actions; by repentance and good works.  The Kingdom of Heaven will occur at the return of the Messiah in which all Kingdom prophecies will be fulfilled.  As one commentator stated, “The Kingdom is now, but not yet”.

To the original Judeans, and the Gentiles (nations or non-Israelites), who accepted His Messiahship, He preached the Kingdom of God – repent unto righteousness.

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.  (Mark 1:14-15 KJV)

To the Judeans of His earthly time Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Judeans were the prophesied heirs of a literal political kingdom and this literal physical kingdom was to come.

Kingdom Differences
The difference between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God may be inferred from Matthew 11:12.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.  (Matthew 11:12 KJV)

From Robert Utley:
There has been much discussion about the meaning of this verse and how it should be translated. The first phrase in a positive sense, can indicate that the kingdom of heaven is vigorously pressing forward, or in a negative sense, can refer to the violent reaction of the Jewish leaders to the preaching of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

The second phrase seems to be a play on the word " vigorous" and was used of sinners eagerly grasping, or responding to, the gospel.

From Warren Wiersbe: 
Suffereth violence literally, is forced, overpowered, taken by storm. Christ thus graphically portrays the intense excitement which followed John's ministry; the eager waiting, striving, and struggling of the multitude for the promised (conquering) king.

The violent take it by force:  This was proved by the multitudes who followed Christ and thronged the doors where he was, and would have taken him by force (the same word) and made him a king (John 6:15). The word take by force means literally to snatch away, carry off.

The literal political physical Kingdom as prophesied to the Israelites was attempted to be taken by force.  Jesus entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt.  Why did Jesus plan this demonstration? For one thing, He was obeying the Word and fulfilling the prophecy recorded in Zec_9:9.

Rejoice 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 KJV)

This prophecy could apply only to Jesus Christ, for He is the only One with credentials that prove He is the King of Israel.  The Judeans apparently misinterpreted this prophecy because they were proclaiming Him as the triumphant King, but of course He did not fulfill their expectations at that point in time.  This section of scripture is usually referred to as “the rejection of the King” by most commentators.  The decline to perform the warrior Messiah role resulted in the rejection by many.

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:  (Romans 11:25-30 KJV)

In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount concerning swearing, Jesus added a small phrase that initially appears innocuous but has much significance.

But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  (Matthew 5:34-35 KJV)

Jerusalem is the city of the great King.  Jesus will rule from Jerusalem during the Millennium.  Actually, Jerusalem will be destroyed during the wrath of God but will be rebuilt.

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