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.
By Samuel Clough
…For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. – Revelation 19:10b (ESV)
I’ll admit up front that this post is long, but the topic is critical and the full consideration of it is has profound implications for how we interpret Scripture and therefore how we live.
Revelation 19:10 is an absolutely critical passage containing a massive, hidden gem. I’ll admit up front that we all know that Scripture repeatedly provides us with multiple meanings from a single passage. However, what follows is a critical, and I might argue the primary, meaning that is often lost on readers and has significant repercussions for the way you interpret Scripture. In short, Revelation 19:10 unlocks all prophecy by providing the key that is necessary to rightly interpret the prophetic Scriptures. Now let’s examine that key.
Given just how much of the Bible is dedicated to the writings of the prophets and how much of our theology is based on the proclamation of the prophets, understanding this key rightly has massive implications for how we read and understand the Bible. Once you grasp the key of Rev 19:10, you can better navigate the entire Scriptures and especially the Old Testament prophets. The lack of the application of this key has caused many to be confused as they read the Old Testament and also caused the development of faulty hermeneutics that allegorize passages that are intended to be literal. Let’s break down Revelation 19:10 then and find the critical key contained within it.
I want to focus on the final sentence of the verse. The verse says, depending on your version, that the testimony (or witness) of Jesus is the spirit (or essence) of prophecy. So we have the spirit, or essence, of all prophecy being connected to the witness of testimony of Jesus. So then at the root of prophecy you will find the declaration of Jesus and a testimony of Jesus. Prophecy, by nature, is a forward looking gift. We also know from I Corinthians 13 that prophecy will cease at the end of the age when Jesus comes. Therefore, the witness of Jesus given by the spirit of prophecy is forward looking but only necessary before the end of the age. In other words, it exists only to give testimony of Jesus in this age.
Therefore so long as prophecy exists, there must be a testimony of Jesus still to be given. Implied in that is that for prophecy to cease, the testimony of Jesus contained within prophecy, must no longer be necessary. In other words, in our current age which is filled with darkness, we have need of prophecy to point us forwards to a testimony of Jesus that is yet future, but when we enter an age of light we will no longer need prophecy as a testimony to Jesus. Now we know that the majesty and mystery of Jesus will be proclaimed for all eternity. Therefore prophecy is aiming at a specific testimony of Jesus that is desperately needed in this age, but not in the age to come.
The one thing that marks the age to come above all else is that Jesus will physically reign in Jerusalem. The present age and the age to come are separated by many things, but the one primary thing is that presently we await Jesus’ return from the heavens whereas in the age to come He will be openly reigning over the whole earth from a throne in Jerusalem. So then prophecy gives a needed witness of Jesus until Jesus Himself is reigning on the earth bringing “that which is perfect” and eliminating the need for prophecy as we know it.
From that we can clearly say that the spirit of prophecy is aiming towards the installation of Jesus as King over the Earth at the end of the age. After that event occurs, prophecy is no longer needed. But why is the spirit of prophecy necessary in this age? It is because men’s hearts and minds are blind to the judgment to come and to the reality of Jesus’ rule. They are as mockers in Noah’s day (Matthew 24:37-38) and it requires the spirit of prophecy to confront the cloud of deception on the earth with the bold declaration that Messiah is coming.
Understanding this, we could now re-write Revelation 19:10 in the following way: the Spirit of prophecy, or the root life and essence of it, is the full revelation of the Messiah ruling over the whole earth. Implied in that definition is the declaration of the events that will lead to the installation of the Messiah on the earth at the end of the age. Therefore, prophecy’s life consists, not merely in its present accuracy with regard to current events, but rather in whether or not it contains the essence of the eternal mystery of God’s glorious day of judgment whereby God installs the Messiah over the earth, judges all wickedness, and restores creation by the Messiah.
The prophets collectively refer to this event as the “Day of the Lord.” The spirit of prophecy then always contains, not just direction concerning the situation at hand, but a witness to the ultimate “Day of the Lord.” This is quickly illustrated by a brief examination of the prophetic Scriptures. Not only is this found in the prophets, but a careful reading of the New Testament will point out continual references to the day of the Lord showing its preeminence in the minds of the apostles.
Here is how the lack of this key has caused confusion among many in reading the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, the prophets may address a particular situation, leader, or dilemma but as you read the prophetic words you begin to notice that prophecies almost always include elements of language that seem to supersede or go beyond the issue at hand. The prophetic will address an event but then add climatic language, usually in the first person for God, describing an ultimate victory or destruction always accompanied by a Divine claim of personally visiting the planet and extreme events that accompany that appearing. The problem that some face is that the specific event being addressed is clearly understood, but the climatic language almost seems to be hyperbole when it is only considered in relation to the actual events that unfolded.
The language of the prophets then becomes confusing for many and, not understanding the spirit of prophecy, is interpreted as allegorical by others. The reality is that these prophecies are merely operating according to the spirit of prophecy which means that, at their core, they are always aiming at the ultimate revelation of the Messiah on the Day of the Lord. The exaggerated language or visual language that supersedes the issue at hand is not allegorical, but rather it is the prophet seeing that the moment at hand is merely a picture or a parable of actual events and an actual day to come.
In a moment or crisis, the prophet is also seeing the ultimate crisis of the end of the age. In a period of judgment, the prophet may erupt in terrifying language which is not out of character with the prophecy but rather is connecting the present prophecy with the ultimate judgment at the end of the age. The description of rulers and characters in the prophets accompanied by unusual language is serving to illustrate something concerning the Messiah or something that is anti-Messiah.
The reality is that the ultimate events of the end of the age which are the full revelation of Messiah, the ultimate judgment of all evil, and the permanent installment of the Messiah as the supreme ruler and representation of God on the earth, are intricately interwoven with every period of history. In the age to come we are going to see that all of history was an exact parable illustrating the human predicament and constantly foretelling the ultimate conclusion of the age. We are going to find that God was so kind and loving that virtually all the events of human history are illustrations of some facet of the drama concluding in the restoration of all things.
Once we understand this paradigm, we will see that the correct hermeneutic when interpreting the Scripture is far more literal than we thought it was. We read over the prophets thinking that their predictions refer only to events past and pass over the extreme language where the prophet sees a glimpse of the judgment at the end of the age in the midst of the present judgment. In reality, we were meant to consider the tragedy the prophet was confronting as a picture and then carefully consider the prophet’s language and prepare our hearts with trembling for the yet future day that the prophet was seeing.
Jesus Himself obviously communicated a literal hermeneutic to the apostles when He opened the Scriptures for them because when you read the New Testament you see the writers interpreting Old Testament passages that perhaps could be seen as allegorical or figurative before the appearance of Jesus, as literal. If you sift through the Old Testament references used by the apostles you will find them connecting all sorts of verses that we would not naturally consider to be literal and using them as literal prophecies of elements of Jesus and His life.
Amazingly you will find a tremendous amount of the apostles theology came from the Psalms, a book which we look at primarily as emotional and figurative. That alone should give us pause because the Psalms have far more to say about the ultimate events of the age and the installation of Messiah as a global ruler than they do of His first appearance as a redeemer.
Since we are approaching so many of these passages in hindsight after the Lord’s first appearing, we don’t seem to notice that, absent the knowledge of the first coming, we would not naturally interpret these passages as literal. This becomes especially terrifying when we consider the events of the second coming because most of our interpretation of the Day of the Lord and the ultimate events of the age is not literal.
We seem constantly in search of a code to explain the Scripture rather than wrestling with the Scriptures as a literal record of the events and issues of the age. The Angel’s declaration to John in Revelation 19:10 clearly directs us that the prophecy and events recorded in the Scriptures is critical for us since all true prophecy contains a witness to a great and terrible day that is yet future. It should radically affect the way we live when we realize with clarity that these prophecies are not hyperbole, nor merely symbolic, but literal declarations of a day to come.
By Samuel Clough
I have been considering the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The siege and the ensuing conquest stands out as one of the most painful and graphic events in history. In taking Jerusalem, it is recorded that the Romans killed nearly 1.1 million people. The Jews were so starved that Josephus says they staggered around looking for anything to eat, even chewing leather. It is even recorded that at least one person ate their own child. Escaping Jews were crucified all around the city to the point that the Romans ran out of crosses. The Jews, though bickering among themselves, desperately fought the Romans to the end in a losing battle. It is said that the Romans, when they finally broke through to the temple area, were in such a passion of anger against the Jews that they did not even follow Titus’ orders but brutally slaughtered anyone and destroyed everything. In the heat of this passion, a soldier threw a flaming torch into a room around the temple which started the temple burning. Though Titus apparently did not intend to destroy the temple, the fire grew out of control and the temple was soon completely destroyed. In the process, man, women, and children were burned to death and those that did escape were slaughtered by the Romans. It is recorded that Titus refused to accept a wreath of victory for the conquest, saying that there was “no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God.”
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” – Luke 19:41-44
After solemnly considering these events, I believe this event has grave implications for us. Consider just for a moment all the brutality, death, and destruction during the fall. Consider that the area around Jerusalem, previously lush and desirable, was left practically a desert. Why did Jeruslaem fall in such a dramatic way? According to Jesus the city was going to suffer tremendously because it did not know the day of its visitation. The city that rejected God in the flesh and condemned Him to a cross, just 40 years later was surrounded by a multitude of men on crosses as the Roman war machine steadily tore down the Jewish resistance. They rejected one man on a cross and so were surrounded by the death of the cross. Some translations in verse 41 show that Jesus wept audibly. His heart was in pain because He knew what was coming.
What we must realize is that this event is a graphic foretaste of the end of the age. One reason why we struggle with various prophecies in books like Revelation, Daniel, and the other prophets is because of the extreme nature of the events the prophet foretells. The events seem so far beyond what we are accustomed to and so we tend to discard what the text actually says trying to ascribe symbolism to the text. The fall of Jerusalem stands in contrast that that method of hermeneutics, instead demanding that we take prophecy literally. In the fall of Jerusalem, God is gave us a foretaste of what the entire world will experience due to the global rejection of His Son. If Jerusalem suffered so violently because it did not know the day of its visitation, how much more will the entire world suffer having not known the last 2,000 years of visitation?
We must realize that violent days are coming upon us. The Scripture tells us that the earth will stagger like a drunkard. If Jerusalem suffered so terribly for rejecting Jesus in their day, what is going to happen when God calls the entire world to judgment for the rejection of His Son? What are the days going to be like when God unleashes the destruction, not just of one city, but of the world? If one city could suffer so much for rejecting 3 years of ministry, it should cause us to tremble at what the world will endure for rejecting 2,000 years of light.
We must begin to prepare out hearts for what is to come. I do believe the Lord will keep us in the day of His wrath, although we will suffer to an extent just as Jeremiah suffered along with the others in Jerusalem in His day. That being said, we must begin to trumpet a wake up call because the earth has no idea what is coming. The earth has been lulled to sleep. Humanity is in the same position as they were just before the great deluge. The idea of such a flood was beyond their comprehension and so they ignored it until the rains finally fell and it was too late. Let us not be like those that ignored Noah’s pleas, but rather let us be like Noah a preacher of righteousness preparing for the days ahead and warning men that they might be saved.
The best way to prepare our hearts is to begin to take the Word of God literally. We must begin to read the Word and realize that there are things to come and those things are not exclusively symbolic, but rather are real events that must come to pass when God chooses to call the world to accountability for their treatment of His Son. Yes, God is rich in mercy and even now calls men to repentance, but there will come a day when the fruit of the earth is fully ripe and God will swing his great sickle into the harvest of the earth. Those that are His will welcome that day, but the earth though will experience the wrath of God against the great rejection of His Son. What happened in Jerusalem in 70AD is merely a terrifying foretaste of what will come all over the earth in that day. Let us live our lives in light of that day and let us warn others to throw themselves upon the merciful arms of the living God while He still delays His final days of reckoning with the earth.
One thing is for sure: God is going to vindicate His Son, and I don’t think we have the slightest comprehension of what it will look like when God decides to vindicate His Son on a global level.