By Samuel Clough
It is important when studying the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25 to understanding the context that surrounds the passage. The overall biblical context, the context of the book of Matthew, and the immediate context of the preceding chapters all help to make the passage much more clear and more easily understood.
By Samuel Clough
Though many in recent times neglect fasting as a discipline, it has been given to us as a gift and it will help develop strength in our inner man if we will simply us it. While there is a purpose and value for targeted seasons of fasting, there is great benefit from a life rhythm of regular fasting every week. Though the idea of fasting regularly every week is foreign to many western believers, throughout history the practice of regular fast days every week has been common.
The first and primary reason to fast is to tenderize the heart. Fasting should be rooted in love for Jesus and out of a longing for His return. Fasting that is rooted in this reality will also serve the purpose of deepening our longing for Him. Jesus set this context for fasting in the Scripture. If you are new to fasting or to this approach to fasting, there are many helpful resources on this topic located here on Mike Bickle’s website.
And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. – Matthew 9:15 NKJV
While our primary motivation for fasting should be out of longing for Jesus’ return, the Lord is also strategically using fasting to prepare a people in this hour for what is coming. God has given fasting to us as a gift in this hour to prepare us. He loves us whether we fast or not, but by embracing fasting we will be better prepared for the coming shaking.
The Preparatory Work of Fasting
The western world has experienced unprecedented prosperity in the last generation, but it is also now on the brink of massive crisis. Everywhere we look there are clear indicators of a coming crisis in every area including the religious, economic, and political components of our world. What has been normal in the last few generations will not be normal much longer. The seasons ahead will not be marked by the abundance that we have known for the last two generations.
While fasting is primarily a tool to strengthen our longing for Jesus, in His kindness God is also giving us fasting to prepare our hearts for the hardships that are coming. Believers who fast now are preparing themselves like wise virgins. They are storing up oil for the hour that is coming by voluntarily developing the muscle of denial before it will be required. The hour is coming when denial and lack will not be an option, but a reality.
The battle that most of us face right now when fasting is the desire to eat what we want, not the desire to eat because our health or survival depends on it. By fasting a day or two a week, most of us do not face actual hunger; we simply battle the desire to eat. It’s not true hunger that is warring against when we fast; it’s the desire to eat the things we want to eat.
For the most part, we are accustomed to the ability to have whatever we want to eat whenever we want it and fasting is uniquely designed to begin to dismantle this mindset.
By saying “no” to the desires of our body one or two days a week, we condition our body to live in subjection to the desire of the spirit. It must be understood that Paul did not believe his body was inherently bad, on the contrary he longed for the resurrection of the body. Fasting must never be the out working of an attitude that despises the body. We must have a healthy view of the body if we are to fast properly. A healthy view of the body begins with the understanding that God Himself, in the person of Jesus, took on a body like ours. Right now a human body sits at the right hand of God with all power and authority. Our body is to be cherished as a masterpiece of design by God, but it is not to dominate us.
Paul disciplined his body so that his appetites stayed within proper bounds and his body did not become a stumbling block to him. He did not despise the body, but he lived so that his body served the purposes of his spirit rather than his body dominating his life and potentially disqualifying him for the things he desired most. The body is healthy and good, but was not made
to dominate a human being.
But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others I myself should become disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:27 NKJV
Tragically, the western world is far more dominated by the appetites of the body than most realize. Most westerners see western society as the most sophisticated and advanced society on earth but, in reality, the average western individual lives a life that is completely dominated by the pursuit of the physical desire for comfort, food, leisure, and sex. Fasting is a tool that helps break this addiction and awakens the heart to living for the great pleasure of loving God.
Perhaps the most valuable part of fasting is learning to love Jesus in the midst of self-denial or lack. While most of our lack now is through a voluntary choice when we fast, the day is coming when there will be real lack and, if we have not learned to love Jesus in the midst of voluntary denial, we will be offended with Jesus when we face imposed self-denial.
By choosing lack now, we prepare ourselves to face the reality of the lack that is coming and to be unoffended with Jesus when it comes. Tragically, many believers will be greatly offended with Jesus when they face real lack, because they have not prepared their hearts to love Him in the midst of pressure and lack.
Teachings that distort the nature of God’s blessing have unintentionally prepared believers to be offended with God because they only know how to love Him in the midst of abundance and have no theological point of reference for relating to God in the midst of pressure or lack. As Isaiah says, “They will pass through it hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward.” (Isaiah 8:21 NKJV)
Loving Jesus under pressure and lack is a legitimate heart test that many in this generation will face, some in very extreme ways, because God will expose everyone’s heart through the pressures of the end of the age
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith-the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:6-9 NKJV
My brethren, count I all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be prefect and complete, lacking nothing. – James 1:2-4 NKJV
Jesus connected weakness and love in the act of fasting. We embrace the weakness of fasting because of love. Fasting doesn’t earn anything with God nor does it get Him to notice us. It is an expression of love from our heart to His born out of the pain of the fact that He is not physically present with us. It tenderizes us to experience His love more.
But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. – Matthew 9:15 NKJV
Love is expressed most deeply in weakness. As fallen men we spend our lives groping for strength and yet love can blossom most deeply in our weakness. Love from a position of strength is different from love from a position of weakness. Love that flows from strength tends to be self-absorbed as the lover is confident in their own ability and their own person. Love from a posture of weakness is a completely different kind of love as the lover focuses on the one being loved and loses sight of self.
At the end of the age, God will use a combination of voluntary weakness and imposed weakness to both expose our hearts and to tenderize them that we might love Jesus more deeply and long for His return with greater desire. Fasting out of voluntary weakness prepares us to respond correctly to weakness that is imposed on us by forces beyond our control.
We cannot choose whether or not we live in periods of imposed weakness, but we can embrace the process and prepare for the possibility by embracing voluntary weakness through fasting.
Understanding the Process of Preparation
We must understand the crisis that is coming. It is foolish to ignore the signs of what is coming. It is also unbiblical to assume that God will protect us from every form of suffering. All over the earth, believers are suffering some very intensely. We are not immune to the same sorts of things. Many believers do not have a theology of suffering. Because of this they are being setup for a great falling away because their view of God does not include the possibility of suffering. This distorted view of God is ignored both of the Scripture and the experience of millions of believers worldwide. It is a western god that God Himself will dismantle.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 NKJV
We must embrace preparation for the crisis. We are not to look at a looming crisis and be paralyzed by fear. We are to have understanding of what is coming and prepare our hearts before God. He will be faithful to give us what is needed. Some feel that a crisis is coming but they fail to prepare. The key to preparation is to value the small things. Faithfulness in “little things” is the preparation to be faithful under great pressure.
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. – Luke 16:10 NKJV
And he said to him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.” – Luke 19:17 NKJV
Many are aware that trials are coming, but fail to prepare. Some fail to prepare because of a spirit of denial that looks at coming pressure and prefers to ignore it and turn away rather than prepare. This is because the human spirit tends to turn away from suffering rather than embrace it. Others fail to prepare because they are presumptuous. They are either presumptuous that they can already stand, or they are always waiting for a “big event” that will suddenly prepare them to stand.
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:12
When we are not faithful in little things when we have little pressure we will not be prepared for strong pressure. By the same virtue, faithfulness in little things is what equips us. We must value the small things. Many people never make progress or build a strong life in God because they don’t value small things.
We must understand that preparation for big crisis comes in small, daily decisions. Fasting a day each week, giving small amounts of money, and obeying in small things all really matters.
While the vast majority of people do not fast because it can be difficult, it also must always be understood that fasting is simply a tool one can use rather than the end goal. The end goal is loving Jesus more tenderly and more devoutly. For this reason, those with medical situations, children, pregnant women, and those who have struggled with eating disorders should not fast food in the way that other individuals can. While most individuals can fast with no injury if they take care of their body properly, others should be careful and take the proper precautions. For those who cannot fast food, other type of fasts can be entered into in order to work the muscle of fasting.
By Samuel Clough
Jesus gives the beatitudes as His introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. These heart values overshadow the entire sermon and they are the foundation on which the rest of His teaching is built.
Tragically, many have considered the Sermon on the Mount to represent some type of perfection that is unobtainable but that was not Jesus’ intent in giving us the sermon and the beatitudes. Others have sought a “deeper meaning” rather than simply taking the text as it is written. In reality, the beatitudes are quite clear and plain and therefore it is important that we read them with a simple, literal hermeneutic. They are not difficult to understand; they are difficult to live.
The Beatitudes serve as a measuring stick or “litmus test” for our hearts by revealing the character of God that should be formed in our own hearts. Not only is it a measuring stick for our own hearts, but it is an evaluation tool for our ministry as well. Our ministry should produce the fruit of the Sermon on the Mount in those we minister to.
Jesus was intentional in the Sermon on the Mount to directly correlate a reward with each of the beatitudes. Therefore, each of the beatitudes not only produce fruit in our own heart, but they have significant rewards attached to them. It is critical to understand that the beatitudes have a direct correlation to your future because of the significance of the rewards Jesus offers in association with each of the beatitudes. If we take Jesus’ offer of reward seriously, we will take the beatitudes seriously.
It is my personal conviction that the Beatitudes, together with the letters to the church in Revelation 2-3 were both given by Jesus to clearly and directly prepare us for the Judgment Seat. The Judgment Seat can be a terrifying reality, but Matthew 5, Revelation 2-3, and all of Scripture were given so that we could prepare ourselves to receive great reward when Jesus evaluates our life. We do not have to approach the Judgment Seat passively. We can aggressively prepare because Jesus has already given us insight into how He will evaluate our hearts on that day.
As we approach the Beatitudes as preparation for the Judgment Seat, there are several conclusions we can draw from Jesus’ offer of specific rewards in Matthew 5:
- Often we don’t take the beatitudes seriously because we don’t take Jesus’ promise of rewards seriously and because we fail to interpret His rewards literally which is the way He intended us to interpret them.
- Jesus correlated each beatitude with a significant reward in order to give us the requirements for that specific reward in the age to come. The Beatitudes are a list of “job requirements” for the age to come.
- Jesus plainly offers us rewards for each of the beatitudes because He desires to motivate us to pursue each of the beatitudes. He knows that the beatitudes are in opposition to the spirit of this age and so He offers significant reward to us to help motivate us to go against the spirit of the age and pursue the culture of His kingdom.
- Because Jesus rewards the beatitudes so significantly in His kingdom, we should likewise rewards these beatitudes in our own ministries. Jesus is giving us the values that we should value in ministry. When you build ministry teams and set a leadership culture, you would be wise to value the same things that Jesus does. He is going to invest significant authority in the age to come for those who cultivate the beatitudes in their own heart. In light of that, we should also develop ministry cultures that value those who embrace and demonstrate the beatitudes over and above those who have gifts or talents.
- Jesus desires to rewards us for these heart values. Therefore, we must see the beatitudes are being actually obtainable. Many approach the beatitudes as if they were ideals that are impossible to actually live out. Jesus intends us to pursue the beatitudes are realistic goals for our life. He longs to release strength to us through the power of the Holy Spirit to empower our weakness to actually live the Sermon on the Mount. Many completely miss out on the rewards Jesus desires to give them because they do not believe the beatitudes are realistic. All the while Jesus longs to release strength to our hearts to live them out.
- To neglect the Beatitudes is to position ourselves to suffer great loss at the Judgment Seat. The positive side of that is that embracing the Beatitudes will position our hearts for great reward on that day.
The downloadable teaching notes associated with this post look at each of the Beatitudes in light of the rewards offered to them. I would encourage you to look over these notes and pray through them. Jesus offers massive rewards for the Beatitudes and we are wise to examine each of them so that we may position our hearts to receive the rewards that Jesus wants us to received. Let’s prepare actively for the Judgment Seat by receiving the character of God in this age and positioning our heart to receive His rewards in the age to come.
This is a companion to the post “Preparing to Overcome” that examines preparing for the Judgment Seat through the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. You can read that post here.
By Samuel Clough
The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into His fields. – Matthew 9:37b-38 (NLT)
No one would deny the great need for laborers for the gospel in this hour. Not only is there the great need among the nations of the, but previously evangelized cultures in the western world are growing more and more ignorant of the gospel and more and more in need of a gospel witness.
The need for the gospel to go forth with power is clear and the need is as great as it has ever been in history. There are more men lost and in bondage on the earth now than ever before in human history. God is laying this burden on the hearts of believers all over the earth, but it is imperative that we do not merely respond to the call but that we return to the apostolic method of missions whether we have in view missions to the lost in our neighborhood or to an unreached people group.
What are we to do when are hearts are burdened by the great need of the gospel to go forth in power? Though our first impulse is to zealously enter into activity, Jesus summarizes the apostolic missionary method in Matthew 9:38. Before we undertake any activity, if we are truly burdened for the overripe harvest fields, we are to enter the place of intercession asking God to send out laborers into the fields and I fear that our familiarity with the language of the Scripture has masked just how radical Jesus’ instructions are.
Most of us, burdened with the great need of the gospel to go forth, immediately devise ways of motivating others to the call. We find new and innovative ways to call people to the great need of the sharing the gospel. We use charts and graphs to clearly indicate the great need. We devise powerful sermons that move the human heart to respond. We create training programs to equip individuals to evangelize. We teach new and innovative methods to communicate the gospel. In other words, once we get even a hint of the burden of God’s heart for the gospel we set ourselves immediately to activity and completely bypass Jesus’ instructions on how to respond to an overly ripe harvest.
We fall prey to this error for many reasons, but one reason this course of action is so deceptive is because the activities we have already listed are all necessary to the cause of world evangelism. Individuals must be called to share the gospel. They must be trained and equipped. Believers must understand how critical the hour we are living in is. It is not that what we are doing is wrong, the issue is that, in the rush to activity; we are setting the cart before the horse. Matthew 9:38 exposes our error in clearly declaring that laboring for an apostolic sending of men from heaven is the horse that must pull the cart of missions.
Saints, we have had a lot of gospel activity but the reality is what we have had little fruit. A lot of sweat, tears, blood, effort, and money have been expended and yet we have not seen the kind of results that the apostles saw. While there are many reasons for our lack of fruit, Matthew 9:38 identifies one of the critical errors.
The Apostolic Pattern
Saints, if we desire to again see apostolic missionaries of the same kind as the early apostles were, we must return to the apostolic method of missions and the apostolic method is to first pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers. The most well known apostolic missionary, Paul, was sent out of a community in Antioch that was obedient to the apostolic pattern. In Acts 13:2, the saints were in the place of prayer and the Spirit expressly sent Paul and Barnabas forth to the gentiles and so began the career of one of the greatest apostolic missionaries of all time.
Part of the secret of Paul’s success was that he did not just go to the gentiles with a burden and under the compulsion of human emotion, but he was sent by the Spirit. After all, that is exactly what is means to be apostolic. Apostolic simple means a “sent one.” In fact, it is a clear indicator of our lack of understanding of what it means to be apostolic that we constantly attempt to define what is apostolic according to role and function. We define an apostle by what he does, but an apostle is defined by who his is. To be apostolic is to be sent and only the Holy Spirit can effect a sending. When we begin defining what is apostolic by the activities that accompany it rather than by the God initiated sending that is the basis of all that is apostolic, we have already lost the essential elements of what it means to be apostolic.
The Holy Spirit is the Grand Architect
We must understand that man is not the grand architect, nor even the executor, of the plan of world evangelism, but rather that the Holy Spirit is the architect of the cause of Jesus on the earth. In the book of Acts we clearly see the Holy Spirit actively directing the work of the church. While we would acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit, we are much more prone to use the “wisdom” of 2,000 years of history to prop up human effort while we give the Holy Spirit lip service and then ask Him to provide the miraculous power when we need a “sign” or a “wonder” to back up our gospel claims.
And is it not part of our fundamental problem that our gospel campaigns our often our campaigns and not His? Saints, the Holy Spirit has not changed His role. He is still God. He is still the grand architect of the church as He is the one that makes known to us the mind of Jesus and tells us what is on His heart. Is it not the height of arrogance that we build so much of our gospel activity on human wisdom and human zeal and then ask the Holy Spirit to sprinkle a few miracles on it as though He is simply power for our programs?
We ignore the Holy Spirit as a person and as the all-wise God and instead use Him for power and then we stand amazed that so little power is on the gospel. Frustrated, we read the accounts of the apostles and become disillusioned that there is not power on the gospel, but when we have not followed the apostolic pattern, we should not wonder that the Holy Spirit does not gives His full endorsement to our activities.
We must again give the Holy Spirit His place as the grand master architect of missions and as the possessor of the mind of God if we expect His power to accompany our proclamation. It is true that He always uses men and that is precisely where the confusion comes in. He uses men and then we come to believe that something is intrinsic in man and so we seek to duplicate the pattern we see played out in a man rather than go back to the place of the sending of the Holy Spirit that is what made the man unique in the first place.
The issue of missions then is putting the Holy Spirit back in His place through the application of Matthew 9:38 and one of His primary roles, as the initiator of gospel activity, is to send men and women. As already noted, this is foundational to the understanding of what is apostolic because contained within the very definition of apostolic is the understanding that one who is apostolic is one who is sent.
It is true that the community of saints must send and individual, but that sending must be a secondary sending. When a community sends an individual whether it is to pastor a local church, or to go labor across the earth that sending must be an affirmation and acknowledgement of a sending that has already taken place, because before one can be properly sent by men they must have been marked as a sent one by the Holy Spirit.
Saints, one sent men can do more to turn the world upside down then a thousand believers sent by human effort and motivated by human zeal. The great need of the earth right now is not laborers, it is sent laborers and there is a tremendous difference. There is a reason that Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1, and Acts 9 are such pivotal passages and the reason is that they mark the sending of a man from heaven. Men that are sent from heaven change history. Men that are sent from man merely increase activity. God, in His kindness, may give some measure of blessing to man’s efforts, but He will not give an apostolic outcome where the apostolic pattern is not followed.
If the great need then is sent men is there any way we can increase the number of heaven sent laborers in our generation? Matthew 9:38 holds the promise for us. Are you burdened for the gospel? Do you feel the Lord’s heart both for your own nation and for the nations of the earth? If so, then the first thing is not to preach your burden or call others to missions, although that may very well come, the first thing to do is drop to your knees and ask the Lord of the Harvest to send men.
If you truly understand the great need of the harvest and the vast need for laborers you will understand the gross inadequacy of human effort and be pressed into the place of intercession crying out that God would send men knowing that a sending from heaven is the only solution to the great need of the earth in our hour.
Contending for Sent Laborers
The place of prayer is the place where the great missions enterprise is lost or won, for it is only in that place that we can secure the favor of heaven to send men for white harvest fields demand sent men, not merely laborers sent of energy, zeal, and humanistic motivations. Jesus’ instructions to His disciples were radical. They were ready for His call to lay down their lives and labor in the harvest fields, but I suspect they were surprised to hear Jesus’ admonition to rather pray that God might send men. As a measure of how significant Jesus’ words were, Acts 6 reveals that the apostles learned this lesson well as they gave themselves to prayer and the Word that sent ones might go forth and they shook the powers in their generation because their labor in prayer secured sent ones.
How different Jesus’ value system is from ours! We rush to activity, and the fact that we rush so quickly to activity betrays the fact that we have so little confidence in prayer and the reason we have little confidence in prayer is that we have little confidence in God Himself. We are more confident in our ability to labor than we are in God’s ability to send, though it is the heaven sent ones that are truly apostolic and that change history.
Does laboring on our knees preclude laboring in works? Certainly not. We must put our hands to the tasks in front of us in obedience to Jesus. He certainly calls us to labor, but He calls us first and foremost to the labor of prayer. He calls us first to gaze upward and cry out for sent ones to again walk among us and advance the gospel with power as the apostles of old did. We will labor until our bodies are exhausted and spent, but we must labor as sent ones from heaven, and it is the place of prayer that will secure this sending. Jesus’ command does not give us the luxury of praying and then refusing to go when sent.
The Holy Spirit has not changed. He is still jealous for Jesus’ glory. He is still the grand architect of the gospel enterprise. He waits only for a company of people who will resist human initiative and lay hold of Him in prayer beseeching Him to send men of His own initiative into the harvest. He will send men if we stand before Him and ask for apostolic witnesses. He will anoint the gospel with power when it goes forth according to the apostolic pattern.
By Samuel Clough
We often speak of the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” in Christian circles but I am afraid that very few of us actually know what we are talking about. I say this because there seems to be volume upon volume written on the kingdom, each volume trying to present the kingdom slightly differently and, at the end of the day, it seems most believers are confused as to what the kingdom actually is and are unable to clearly articulate the kingdom when asked to define exactly what the kingdom of God is. I have seen a teacher pose that question to seasoned believers and the saints questioned looked dumbfounded and were at a loss for words to clearly articulate exactly what the kingdom is. It is a significant issue that we struggle to understand something that is at the cornerstone of Christian theology and is at the heart of the apostolic proclamation of the gospel.
Now, obviously I cannot give the kingdom a full treatment in one post. Volumes have been written on the kingdom so any small thing I can post here cannot even begin to be exhaustive. However, I believe a few short words about the essence of what the apostles, and Jesus, actually meant when they used the term “The Kingdom of God” may help to demystify the kingdom making it much more approachable and understandable.
Two Primary Misunderstandings
I believe there are two primary misunderstandings that have caused confusion about what the kingdom actually is. The first misunderstanding arises in the fact that the word kingdom is a foreign word to the western mind. We operate in governmental structures that are rooted in the ideas of democracy and, to a lesser extent, a republic and so the word kingdom is foreign to us. For us it is a word that we encounter only in fairly tales and ancient history. It is not something that we can tangibly relate to. Dictator would probably be the closest word to kingdom that we could understand, but it has negative connotations that make its use unsuitable.
The second misunderstanding that causes confusion is the influence of Greek thought on Christianity. Because of Greek influence on western thought and culture, we spend more time looking for the “ultimate meaning” of a passage rather than wrestling with the literal words in front of us as the Hebrews would. Compounding the issue is Matthew’s description of the kingdom as the “Kingdom of Heaven” which, because of the Greek dualism which separates “heaven” and “earth” that we have embraced, makes the kingdom even more ethereal. So, because of our heritage of Greek thought, we are looking for the ultimate meaning of a kingdom that seems just as ethereal and mystical as “heaven.” Because we think that “heaven” is some other ethereal realm, we struggle to create ways to make the “kingdom of heaven” relevant and tangible to existence on the earth. Understanding the misunderstandings that have clouded the definition of the kingdom for us, let’s now look at a few simple concepts that will help us gain a better understanding of what the kingdom actually is.
The Kingdom is Simply a Government
The simplest way to properly view the kingdom, coming from a western perspective, is to use the word government rather than kingdom. When you swap this word it is amazing how clear Biblical passages become. When Jesus or the apostles declare the “kingdom of God” they are essentially declaring the “government of God.” When you read a passage and substitute the word government for kingdom, just that word substitution will immediately enable the western mind to better understand the passage as the apostles intended.
The second concept that can help us understand the kingdom, or government of God, is understanding why Matthew uses “Kingdom of Heaven” rather than “Kingdom of God.” First, Matthew never wrote “Kingdom of Heaven.” He wrote “Kingdom of Heavens.” (Use any Bible software, or consult commentaries, and you will see clearly that heaven in the book of Matthew is always plural even though it is translated in English in the singular.) Now, this did not make sense to the Greek mind and so translators have rendered it “Kingdom of Heaven” in accordance with the Greek concept and model of reality which defined two distinct realities consisting of “heaven” and the physical, or earthly, realm rather than according to the Hebraic understanding of one unified reality consisting of both the heavens and the earth.
So what is the “Kingdom of Heavens”? This is explained in Genesis 1:1 when we are told that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God created the heavens as the place of His throne, or His government, and then created the earth as man’s place of government. The earth then was under the heavens, or subservient, to God’s throne. This idea is all throughout the Old Testament once you understand what the language means and understand that the word “heaven” is never in the Old Testament as a singular but is always plural.
The Old Testament is filled with consistent references to the heavens as God’s dwelling place and as the seat of all power and authority over the earth. This was the Jewish, and apostolic, understanding of the universe. The key is understanding that the Greek idea of “heaven” is foreign to the Jewish mind. Once you understand the basics of the Jewish concept of “the heavens” the Old Testament becomes much more understandable and the simplicity of the Jewish understanding of the cosmos becomes very apparent when you read the Scriptures.
The Apostolic Proclamation of the Kingdom
Now it is a popular misconception that earth is under satan’s rule until Jesus returns. This is actually false. The earth is still completely under the power of the heavens. This is actually the correct understanding of the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is not primarily His ability to manipulate events to produce a desired outcome, but rather His present rule over all of creation. The Bible makes this completely clear in multiple places. Just a few references that are helpful on this subject are Daniel 4:32, Psalm 103:19, Romans 13:1-2, and 1 Peter 2:13-23. (Leave a note in the comments if you are struggling to understand the present authority of God and I’ll try to write a post on that topic in the future.)
So we now can understand that “kingdom” is another word for government and “heaven,” or the more accurately “the heavens” is a reference to the throne of that government. Now notice how Young’s Literal Translation helps us understand this even futher:
And in those days cometh John the Baptist, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Reform, for come nigh hath the reign of the heavens,’ – Matthew 3:1-2 (YLT)
Young’s translation, being literal, makes the text clear. John was proclaiming the the ruler of the heavens, in other words God Himself, was coming near to them. Can you see now why the people flocked to John to repent and to cleanse themselves in an act of baptism? John was not announcing some sort of ethereal or “spiritual” kingdom, but rather was declaring that the ruler from the throne over all creation was coming near among the people. The ruler of the heavens, the location of God’s throne, was now coming near His people as a man.
If ever anything would drive men to repentance this would be it! And so it did with the people flocking to John to prepare their hearts for his arrival. They knew full well how disastrous it was when God appeared to His people in the wilderness during the Exodus so they were now preparing their hearts for His visitation in their day and time. You can see now also why Matthew used the phrase “Kingdom of the Heavens.” He was writing to a Jewish audience so that phrase clearly conveyed what he was trying to convey which is that the very ruler of the government of God was among them. In addition, the Jews would have read “the Heavens” as a euphemism for God since the heavens are His dwelling place. This would allow Matthew to clearly convey the Kingdom of God to a Jewish audience.
The other writers were targeted on a wider audience than Matthew so they used the phrase the Kingdom of God because the Greeks, and others, did not necessarily have the same understanding as the Jews of the heavens so they, rather than using the euphemism that Matthew used, just plainly used the term the kingdom of God which clearly communicated that they were referencing the very government of God.
And Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus – Acts 17:7 (ESV)
We can see clearly that the apostolic presentation of the gospel continued in this same vein. They clearly preached the government of God. In fact, this is one of the major factors in the early persecution of the Christians. The Jews shared the morality and monotheism of the Christians, but it was the aggressive message of the early apostles of a real and present government over the government of Caesar and the coming of the ruler of that government, Jesus, to shatter all the governments of the earth that caused such an uproar. The Romans could not tolerate such preaching because they were declaring another kingdom that was going to usurp Rome.
In fact the Greek words used to refer to the preaching of the gospel in the New Testament are the same words that were used of a messenger of Caesar who was delivering Caesar’s decree to the people in remote places. In other words, the proclamation of the gospel was a governmental decree carried by messengers of God’s government called “apostles,” which simply means “sent ones.” The apostles were offering the people redemption and forgiveness that they might have right standing with God’s government and be kept safe in the hour when God Himself chose to smash the rebellion of the nations and to move His governmental headquarters from the heavens to the earth.
Can you see now why Paul who write letters encouraging the saints of their citizenship in the kingdom of the heavens and their role as ambassadors of this government? The early church clearly understood the “Kingdom of God” to be a governmental reality that they were declaring, both as a present reality and as a coming reality in the installment of Jesus as an earthly, as well as in the heavens, king and the destruction of all unrighteous government. This why the church in Thessalonica, though Paul was only with them a very short time, had been taught eschatology. Paul simply declared the government of God and the repentance that was necessary before that government destroyed the rebellion of other governments. The apostolic proclamation of the kingdom was governmental.
This is also why Jesus could say that the kingdom was within us when our hearts were submitted to His government. The earth at present is in rebellion against His government and is in the delusion that the rebellion is successful. Those who have repented understand that there is a higher government consisting of a present king that is also coming to destroy the delusion and rebellion on earth. In their repentance, they now become messengers of this government, carrying the reality of it in their hearts and in their witness. This coming government, along with the offer of redemption and immorality through the Spirit, is the cornerstone of the apostolic proclamation of the gospel.
Why is the kingdom demonstrated when signs and wonders occur? It is simple. Healing and other signs serve two purposes. First they demonstrate the nature of God’s government. Satan has deceived man that God is a tyrant who desires to inhibit man from true freedom. Healing and deliverance oppose that lie by demonstrating the true nature of God’s government. These signs clearly demonstrate that satan is actually the tyrant and it is God’s government that brings the maximum freedom and pleasure to man.
The second purpose these signs serve is to validate the governmental proclamation of the gospel. We are to declare a present ruling King as well as a King that is coming. How are men, under the delusion of the present rebellion, to know that this proclamation is valid? In order that men might know, God grants signs and wonders as a miraculous testimony that our proclamation is true because they demonstrate an authority beyond that which man, or satan, can exert.
There is much more than can be written on this topic, but this should help to simplify the issue of the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Hopefully you can see that it is much simpler than we have made it out to be. It is simply God’s present government which also includes a future military action, led by Jesus, in which He will destroy all rebellion and relocate the headquarters of His government from the heavens to the earth. Many valid insights have been taught over the years, but I fear we have made the kingdom too mystical and not as practical and real as it is.
Let us return to the roots of the faith and the simplicity of the gospel proclamation rather than trying to examine the apostolic proclamation through hundreds of years of philosophy and cultural mindsets that are different from the cultural understanding that Jesus and the apostles preached from.