Introduction to Revelation: Part 4

The Kingdom of God & the Already Not Yet

Often it is very easy to get caught up in viewpoints about the millennium, and I do not want to detract from the importance of the millennium. For even though the millennium – the 1,000 year reign of Christ mentioned in the first few verses of chapter 20 – takes up a very short space in terms of the book itself, its importance is seen in how we interpret what its saying.

But before we discuss these things specifically, I believe we need to begin our study of this book by briefly examining the nature of the kingdom of God. For when we speak of the “millennium” we’re talking about the Kingdom of God, and specifically the reign of His Christ.

Tom Schreiner says, “Those who participate in the first resurrection will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6), although the nature of this reign is intensely debated, and scholars differ on whether it refers to the reign of saints in the heaven during the time between the resurrection and the return of Christ or to a reign of the saints on earth before the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth.”[ix]

We can see the importance of this idea of the reign of Christ in how it manages to seep into how pastors and theologians comprehend the overarching theme(s) of this book. For instance, Warren Wiersebe, a Premillennialist, says, “The overriding theme of the book of Revelation is the return of Jesus Christ to defeat all evil and to establish His reign.”   Note how he uses the word “establish” in lieu of the word “consummate” which is the term an amillennialist would use because of the emphasis on Christ’s current reign.

The amillennialist would remind us of verses like we find at the end of Mark’s gospel, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19 – also see Ephesians 1:20-23)[i]

Now, most theologians believe that Christ is reigning now, but what is the nature of that reign? I think the difference lies in whether or not one believes that His current reign is somewhat lesser or mostly spiritual (i.e. in the hearts of his people).

Dispensationalist John MacArthur puts it this way:

So God rules spiritually now over the hearts of those who know Him by faith. And that’s been the case since His saving work began. There is a spiritual element of the Kingdom that has existed since God started redeeming men. But this is not that spiritual Kingdom of which we read here, but rather that earthly literal Kingdom which comes at the culmination of human history.[ii]

However, I think that this emphasis on the future nature of Christ’s kingdom does injustice to His victory at Calvary, and does not fully comprehend the fullness of Christ’s current reign.

You can now see the rub, can you not? How we think about the kingdom of God shapes how we view the book of Revelation, and perhaps the millennium question in particular.

The Already/Not Yet

I believe the critical hermeneutical principle which will help us most is called the “already/not yet” principle. In order to understand most of the NT – especially the words of Jesus and the book of Revelation – we need to understand this important principle.

For our purposes, I believe that we need to get our heads around two truths about the nature of God’s kingdom. The first is that it has been inaugurated by Jesus Christ, and will be consummated upon his return. The second is that God is working dynamically in history to bring about the expansion of His kingdom and its final consummation.

Regarding the first truth, it is worth quoting R.C. Sproul at this point at length:

Many professing evangelicals today believe the kingdom of God is strictly in the future, although there is no biblical foundation for that. This view robs the church of important teachings concerning the kingdom that are clearly set forth in the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament opens with John the Baptist’s announcement of the kingdom: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).

Another time the Pharisees asked Him when the kingdom of God would come, and Jesus replied, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). The kingdom was in their midst became (sic – because) the King was there. In another occasion, He said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

So John came first with his warning of the radical nearness of the kingdom. Then Jesus came announcing the presence of the kingdom. This was followed by the acme of His redemptive work in the ascension, when He left earth to go to His coronation, where God declared Him King. As Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, read to depart, His disciples asked him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They had been waiting for Jesus to make His move, to drive out the Romans and establish the kingdom, but Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

In answer to their question about the kingdom, Jesus gave the fundamental mission of the church. Men would be blind to His kingship, so His disciples were given the task of making it visible. The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.[iii]

When Jesus returns it will not be to establish a kingdom, but rather to consummate a kingdom which has been established from before the foundation of the world, and which He reigns over at this very moment.

Indeed the book of Revelation, as we mentioned earlier, was written to assure Christians that He is in control over all things – He is the Lord of history.

Interestingly, Beale thinks that John wrote Revelation with the book of Daniel in mind – especially important in Daniel is the already/not yet function of his literature. Some things were occurring right away for Daniel during his time, while others he saw as distant and far away. Those things which Daniel saw as far away, John saw as fulfilled at least partially in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the inauguration of his kingdom.

Beale puts it this way:

John probably views the death and resurrection of Christ as inaugurating the long-awaited kingdom of the end times predicted by Daniel, which will now continue throughout the church age.

Side note: for those more advanced in prophetic study or curious about these things, one of the things Beale and other see in Revelation is that at the beginning of some of the major sections/division there is a reference or allusion to something from Daniel chapter two (1:1, 4:1, and 22:6) Beale says that a pattern definitely emerges, “John is employing the same allusion as a literary device to give structure to his whole book.”

This also has ramifications for how we understand the millennium.

Douglass Kelly says, “The exercise of this heavenly authority over all lesser powers is the main thing that is happening in this age between the two comings of the Lord; which, as we shall seek to demonstrate, is the prime meaning of the millennium. The millennium is not a literal period of only one thousand years that will occur much later; rather it is that period of victorious outreach of the Gospel to the nations: a time that last from Jesus’ first coming to his last.”[iv]

All of this can be comprehended by identifying how the Bible speaks about the kingdom of God and the reign of His Christ in other places, and how we are to understand this in light of what we read in chapter 20. Is Jesus’ reign something future, or is it now and to be seen with our eyes in the future? How should we think of, and describe his reign?

This is what R.C. Sproul was speaking of earlier when he said that Christ’s kingdom was “inaugurated” but not yet “consummated.” There are some promises, and some realities that are presently being realized in the church age, yet will not come to their full glory until Christ returns. Our very salvation is like this, for we are saved NOW, yet we have not yet fully realized that salvation. We have the down payment of this reality in the giving of the Spirit, yet not the consummation of this reality in the presence of our Lord and Savior.

The second principle is tied to the first, and it is this: The kingdom of God is “dynamic.” That is to say it is more than just this idea of God separately reigning in heaven, He is working out His will in and amongst us in time and space. He is ruling here – He is involved in our lives – His rule is not detached.

John Frame quotes Geerhardus Vos for us on this matter:

To him (Jesus) the kingdom exists there, where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings men to the willing recognition of the same.

Then Frame says, “On this definition, the kingdom is dynamic, indeed dramatic. It is a world-historical movement, following the fall of Adam, in which God works to defeat Satan and bring human beings to acknowledge Christ as Lord. It is, preeminently, the history of salvation.”[v]

Anthony Hoekema puts it this way:

The kingdom of God, therefore, is to be understood as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. It means the great drama of the history of salvation has been inaugurated, and that the new age has been ushered in. The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less that the reign of God over his entire created universe. “The kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal. (quoting Ladd)”[vi]

He goes on to say, “The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”[vii]

Now given what we know of these two principles, we know that God is both reigning supreme over all, but also dynamically working in and through His creation to bring about His purposes. This points to the linear nature of history – God is working toward something.[viii] What He is doing now in and through us by His Spirit and His Lordship over all history and creation is a shadow of what will be upon the consummation of His purposes.

Christ inaugurated a kingdom (the already) and with that inauguration has brought forth fruit first by His cross work, and now by His Spirit’s powerful work here on earth through the spread of the gospel. One day He will return to consummate His kingdom (the not yet) and upon that return will usher in the visible reality of his reign (the already).

While futurists await a future “literal earthly” kingdom (which we all look for), the way in which we speak about and think about God’s exercise of power and authority over the world, and the souls of lost people is important. I believe its crucial that we understand God as working even now dynamically, personally, powerfully in history and in the lives of men all across the globe to expand his kingdom – a real kingdom of real people.

So you can see how these perspectives function to shape our viewpoint of the book itself and the millennium. But they also shape how we live our lives as Christians – especially what kind of mindset we take toward events here on earth and circumstances in our personal lives.

NOTE: Some of the dispensationalists might argue that God rules “spiritually in the hearts” of men, but not physically here on earth, and does not rule them in any way other than in their hearts. To me this is a false dilemma. The postmillennialist has it right in the respect that when God saves a man, there is fruit and evidence of change not only in that man’s heart, but in his life and in the society in which he lives. To argue a distant futurist reign of Christ is to argue the opposite of how the Bible describes the efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross. He truly is Lord of all and he exercises that Lordship full now, though it is unseen (as Sproul mentions above). I’m not saying that the Postmillennial view is perfect, but their mindset on the nature of the kingdom certainly seems to make more sense and align more Biblically to me.

The Millennium

With this cursory understanding of the kingdom of God under our belts, let us examine the four major views on the reign of Christ in the millennium.

Amillennialism

The Amillennial view (Amil) is probably the simplest of the four major viewpoints on the millennial question.

Wayne Grudem says, “Those who are said to be reigning with Christ for the thousand years are Christians who have died and are already reigning with Christ in heaven…This view is called ‘Amillennialism’ because it maintains that there is no future millennium yet to come.”[x]

John Frame describes it:

The Amil believe that the millennium is now, the whole period from Jesus’ ascension to his return. He emphasizes that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus ushered in a new era of world history. Jesus has now achieved a great victory over Satan, sin, and death…The Amil says that Satan no longer deceives the nations (20:3) as he did before the coming of Christ. Before Jesus came, believers in the truth God existed mainly in Israel. The other nations were deceived by Satan into worship idols. But after the resurrection, the Christian church received power to reach people of all nations with the message of the gospel. And God will continue to empower this mission until the last day, until there are believers from every kingdom, tongue, tribe and nation.[xi]

R.C. Sproul adds…

The Amillennial position, which holds some points in common with both of the premillennial positions, believes that the church age is the kingdom age prophesied in the Old Testament. The New Testament church has become the Israel of God. Amillennialists believe that the binding of Satan took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry; Satan was restrained while the gospel was preached to the world, and this restraint continues today.[xii]

The verses that come to my mind as typically cited in terms of the defeat of Satan are as follows:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

Frame describes how the Amil views the future…

Amils affirm that toward the end of this era Satan will be released briefly, as Revelation 20:3 indicates (also verses 7-8). He will then deceive the nations again, presumably achieving some measure of his old power. But he will be frustrated and defeated by the return of Christ and the judgment that will result in his final destruction.[xiii]

Amils believe that the first resurrection is simply that spiritual resurrection that has taken place and realized during the intermediate state. The second resurrection is the physical resurrection of the body preceding the judgment when Christ returns. Frame says, “Similarly, the first death is the physical death of human being; the second death is the condemnation of the wicked, a death that believers do not experience.”[xiv]

Postmillennialism 

Most folks who are of the post-mil persuasion also believe that the millennium period of 1,000 years is NOW just like the Amils believe. John Frame notes that some older literature reveals that there are a few Post-mills who have said that is a part of this time now, but more will reside in the future. Post-mills also agree with Amils on the binding of Satan during Christ’s ministry and his release for a short time before Jesus’ return.

John Frame describes the difference between Amils and Post-mills:

Well, although the postmil agrees with the amil that our age is a time of persecution for the church, he also thinks that during this time Christians will come to have more and more influence in general culture. Believers will indeed gain wealth, influence, and even dominance.[xv]

Sproul describes this unique part of Post-millennialism:

What distinguishes postmillennialists from amillennialists and premillennialists is the belief that Scripture teaches the success of the Great Commission in the age of the church.[xvi]

Grudem says, “ The primary characteristic of postmillennialism is that it is very optimistic about the power of the gospel to change lives and bring about much good in the world.”

I must admit that when I study the history of the world since the spread of the gospel, I do not see a uniform trajectory upward toward a world of people who are united in morals and standards. Certainly I believe that since Christ the world has been changed in huge part by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that the world was in darkness before He came – so much so that every other nation worshiped idols except Israel. Can you imagine if we looked around the world today and every other nation except one the size of Rhode Island worshiped wooden blocks and golden statues? So certainly the gospel has transformed our world.

However, the post-millennial viewpoint was really made popular and caught on prior to the 20th century. It was perhaps at its height at the end of the 19th century when medical cures were being found, the industrial revolution was in full swing, and great revivals had swept across the world many times over the course of the past several hundred years. Then came World War I. The gruesome bloodshed and seemingly worthless outcome was more than conservative theologians could swallow in their assessments of world events and the human situation on earth.

However, not all theologians and pastors had to wait until the bloody events of the 20th century to object to Postmillennialism’s optimistic theology. J.C. Ryle, the great 19th century contemporary of Spurgeon, wrote hinting about this way of thinking:

Let us dismiss from our minds the vain idea that nations will ever give up wars entirely, before Jesus Christ comes again. So long as the devil is the prince of this world, and the hearts of the many are unconverted, so long there must be strife and fighting. There will be no universal peace before the second advent of the Prince of peace. Then, and then only, men shall “learn war no more” (Isaiah 2:4).

Let us cease to expect that missionaries and ministers will ever convert the world, and teach all mankind to love one another. They will do nothing of the kind. They were never intended to do it. They will call out a witnessing people who shall serve Christ in every land, but they will do no more. The bulk of mankind will always refuse to obey the Gospel. The nations will always go on quarreling, wrangling, and fighting. The last days of the earth shall be its worst days. The last war shall be the most fearful and terrible war that ever desolated the earth.[xvii]

The theology fell out of style, yet there are some very smart theologians whom I respect who still hold this theology today. John Frame[xviii] and Keith Mathison both consider themselves Post-Millennial.

I say all that because, while I do not consider myself Postmillennial, I really respect those who take that view, and their arguments are generally very scriptural. They point to many times, both in Scripture and in the time since Christ, when Christian influence has changed the world for the good. They remind us that when Jesus changes someone’s head and heart, those changes lead to changes in our actions which affect the society in which we live.

NEXT TIME…..Premillenialism…..

FOOTNOTES

[i] Ligonier has a devotional published about the kingdom of God which cites these verses in Ephesians: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/seated-at-gods-right-hand/

[ii] John MacArthur sermon on Revelation 20 (Part 1): http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/66-73

[iii] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 307.

[iv] Kelly, Pg. 11

[v] John M. Frame, ‘Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief’, Pg. 87

[vi] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Pg. 45

[vii] Anthony Hoekema, ‘The Bible and the Future’, Pg. 51

[viii] For more on the linear nature of history, see Anthony Hoekema’s ‘Created in God’s Image’

[ix] Tom Schreiner, New Testament Biblical Theology, Pg. 846-847.

[x] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1110.

[xi] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1087-1088

[xii] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 313.

[xiii] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088

[xiv] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088

[xv] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088.

[xvi] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 314.

[xvii] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke 21:10-19. Here Ryle is discussing the Olivet Discourse and particularly, “Christ’s predictions concerning the nations and the world.” That this important, and sound, theologian and pastor would raise such a warning flag against the post-mil mindset while its popularity was at its zenith is (to me) a very important note.

[xviii] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1094

Suffering and Hope

About a year ago I wrote a blog post called ‘suffering yields hope’, and today I get to take the text from that post (Romans 5:1-5) and preach a sermon based on that text.  I’ll be using some of the thoughts I had a year ago when I posted those thoughts, but below are my expanded notes on the matter.  In this particular text Paul is examining how hope is sparked (to use Tom Schreiner’s vocab) through adversity.  This is an odd thing for the saint to proclaim upon first blush, but as you look deeper into the text it makes a great deal of sense – at least “for those who have eyes to see.”

I pray you profit by the notes, and by this look at how suffering produces in us character and endurance – not in a vacuum, but by the powerful work of God’s Spirit within us.

PJW

Suffering Yields Hope: A look at Romans 5:3-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

My thesis is that we Christians can have joy because of both the finished work of Christ, AND because of the unfinished working of God in our lives through trials. The first was accomplished through suffering, and so is the second, and tonight I want to explore how trials work to bring us joy.

From a personal perspective, this passage means a great deal to me. About a year ago my wife Kate and I began memorizing the first five verses in chapter five as a sort of faith response to some adversity we were working through.

I had lost my job and was in the nascent stages of a trying to figure what the future held for my family and my career. As Katie and I memorized and talked about the passage together, we began to see how God could use our trial to refine and even bless us more than we could have imagined at the time.

My sermon notes were born from a blog post I hammered out on my iPhone in a café in Old Town Alexandria. It was one of the most discouraging trips to the Washington DC area in recent memory, and in the midst of trying to refresh some old connections, I stopped between meetings and contemplated what this passage really meant.

Like Jacob, I was wrestling with God. I needed to know that my pain was more than simply an accident, more than just a cosmic mix up.   What I learned to do was trust in the word of God. To believe God and to bank on His promises and believe there is really hope for tomorrow. That’s what this passage is all about – promises and a hope born out of adversity, refined by pain, and sealed by the Spirit of God who is our down payment on that hope until the day Christ returns. Before we look at the passage let’s ask God for His blessing upon our evening.

Background of Justification

I’m going to focus tonight on Verses 3-5, but first we need to understand the foundation upon which Paul builds his case for hope:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Paul has spent the last chapter (four) arguing that Abraham was justified by faith and that this same faith that justified Abraham is what makes us right with God as well.

The result of this justification – this right relationship with God – is peace with God. John Stott says, “The pursuit of peace is a universal human obsession, whether it is international, industrial, domestic, or personal peace. Yet more fundamental than all these is peace with God, the reconciled relationship with him which is the first blessing of justification.

Abraham had faith in the future work of Christ, whereas we have faith in the finished work of Christ. It is this faith in Christ’s bloody cross-work that brings us peace with God. As Paul says elsewhere:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)

So Paul is describing the result of this reconciled relationship with God – and the result is peace and hope. That hope is “in the glory of God.” That is to say, that we rejoice in the fact that one day we will inherit the great result of a relationship with God – eternal life in His presence, amidst His glory.

This is point one – we have joy in the hope of future glory because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross.

Yet there is something missing isn’t there? All of the language employed by Paul indicates that there is peace with God now, and yet we still do not have realized peace in every area of our lives. There is a tension that every Christian faces between what is realized here in this life, and what will be enjoyed in the life to come – this is known as the “already/not yet.

It is the reality of this tension that leads Paul to explain to us that the hope we have through trials is grounded in the reality, both seen and unseen, of what Christ has accomplished through His reconciling work on the cross. But hope is also found in His subsequent work within us through the Holy Spirit which leads to His glory and our assurance.

Paul, who is a master at anticipating our doubt and cutting it off at the knees, goes on to explain these great truths and how they work themselves out. Having laid a foundation for how the gospel of Christ’s work brings us peace, he expands upon the thought…

Rejoicing in Sufferings and the Sequence of Joy

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

As I was examining this verse – verse 3 – a year ago during my own trials, I’ll admit that Paul’s words “we rejoice in our sufferings” seemed far from my own present reality. His writing didn’t match my attitude. But as is so often the case, God’s word corrected my attitude, and as I read through Paul’s reasoning I began to realize that there is a process in all of this – a sequence of events. God wasn’t going to grant me a sudden intellectual understanding that would zap my emotions and heart and that would be it. I had to live it, and work through it over time.[i]

I had to trust that this was the way He worked and that He was meticulously sovereign over the circumstances in my life. Most of us believe God is sovereign over all things, do we not? But do you believe that He is meticulously sovereign? Do you believe that His hand is in everything – allowing the evil and the good in your life as a means of refining you?

Well this is what Paul believed – Romans 8:28 ought to be a dead give away there. Here in chapter five Paul gives a detailed explanation as to why it is that as Christians we can expect an even greater hope from sufferings and it involves a sequence of refinement.

1. Suffering Produces Endurance

Tom Schreiner says, “Those who undergo troubles are toughened up, so that they are able to withstand the storms of life.”

And Paul was no stranger to these storms; he was writing from experience. In 2 Corinthians 11 we read this:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 ESV)

Yet through this Paul saw what trials yielded: Joy and Hope. Hope begets joy and the Spirit affirms (Rom. 8:16) that we are right to hope – he whispers to us that we won’t be disappointed in what our Father has planned for us!

Think about that closely and it makes sense. If you’ve been going through the exercise of running, you will gradually gain more and more endurance. The more you run, the longer you can run, the farther you can run, and what seemed like a difficult objective two months ago, is really a piece of cake today – you’ve built up endurance.

2. Suffering Produces Character

The same is true of character. As you run this race of life, and your endurance is built up, you will develop maturity. This is true of any human being, but it is also true of our spiritual lives as Christians. We develop a depth of maturity when we have endured many seasons of difficulty. We’ve been there. We know what to expect, and our minds are prepared. We have character – worn from years of first hand experience.

As John Stott says, “…if suffering leads to glory in the end, it leads to maturity meanwhile.”

God uses trials to produce character. The word here in the Greek is Dokime (dock-ee-may) and it’s the quality of a person who has been tested and has passed the test.[ii]

It is perhaps the most painfully ironic thing about life that human beings learn more from pain and testing than we do from blessing and easy times. We shouldn’t be surprised when our heavenly Father uses trials to create within us a character that leans on Him, and is more like His Son Jesus.

It is the testimony of history that those saints who have gone through the toughest trials have long endured as men and women of great character. Of course I have already mentioned Paul as our example, and we know Christ is our ultimate example, but there are scores of others throughout church history who have found themselves refined and built up in their faith by the trials God allowed to come their way. The testimony of history is so pervasive with this theme that many years ago John Foxe was compelled to document how Christian martyrs had died in the faith with great joy and zeal for their Lord.

When we have trial-refined character we see things like these men and women who died for their faith saw them. They learned to prize what is truly valuable above all the things of this life – their perspective was eternal and it was based in reality and work that Christ had accomplished on the cross and in their lives.

3. Suffering Produces Hope

As we build character hope is sparked. Character begets hope because the man or woman with character is wise; they have knowledge combined with wisdom and therefore know where to place their confidence. They’ve seen life’s transient and fleeting nature, and they know what the real stuff of life consists of (so to speak).

This long view is more than earthly wisdom earned by grey hairs, it’s spiritual wisdom banked by miles of suffering and character forming. It’s the experience of the Potter’s clay who (personified) looks down on the shop floor with knowing glances at the discarded mud that used to hang upon its/his ever winnowed cylindrical frame.

Schreiner rightly says, “Why does tested character spark hope? Because moral transformation constitutes evidence that one has really been changed by God. Thus it assures believers that the hope of future glory is not an illusion. There is a pattern of growth in the here and now, however imperfect, that indicates that we are changing. Believers, then, become assured that the process that God has begun he will complete (1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6).”

Not Put to Shame

As we go through this sequence of refinement, it is God’s love poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that witnesses to us, so to speak, that these trials are for a reason – a purpose.

This is point 2 of my thesis – that this internal witness of God’s love in our hearts is what causes us not be put to shame and to have hope through suffering. Therefore (as Stott says) “suffering is the best context in which to become assured of God’s love.”

“…the Spirit has the unique ministry of filling believers with the love of God. What Paul refers to here is the dynamic experience of the Spirit in one’s life.”[iii]

This is such an intangible thing isn’t it? I mean, how do you explain to an unbeliever that you know God’s working these things to your good? Obviously you point them to Scripture, but it’s hard to explain to them that when you read these Scriptures there’s an internal assurance going on. The Spirit is reassuring your heart and God’s love is made manifest to you in such a clear way that its simply undeniable that what is going on in your life is happening for a good reason.

As Stott rightly says, “what the Holy Spirit does is to make us deeply and refreshingly aware that God loves us. It is very similar to Paul’s later statement that ‘the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (8:16). There is little if any appreciable difference between being assured of God’s fatherhood and of his love.”[iv]

So while Christ’s finished work on the cross is our bedrock reality, and the great truth upon which our lives and future lives are built, God still has a plan for our refinement here in this life. That is what this sequence is all about. Paul is showing that we can have joy both because of what God has done in Christ, and also what God is doing through the Spirit in us now. For this reason we are not put to shame.

Now some might interject that hope can only be gained amidst trials if we respond correctly to trials. That is probably correct. However, God is working in us to help us do just that. He is working out His will within us and that’s why the link here with Romans 8 is so important and why we need to lean heavily on God during trials – indeed that is a great deal of what trials are meant to make us do. Therefore, we need to remember three key truths about this refinement process:

  1. That God is working for His good pleasure and is invested in this process of our life’s pains and trials

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

  1. That God is powerful enough to finish what He started

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [31] What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28-31 ESV)

  1. That Jesus Himself suffered and saw joy through the agony and shame

We can look at Jesus, our supreme example, to see how He endured trials because of the hope He had – a well founded hope – that God would justify Him in His work. Listen to what Hebrews says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

And Jesus was justified in His hope was He not? Paul certainly believes He was because of the resurrection. The resurrection confirmed that Jesus’ hopes were not in vain. And because we are united with Christ spiritually, we have reason for the same hope He had. Consider Romans 6:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5 ESV)

Jesus set for us not only the example of suffering, but of how to suffer: in joyful hope for a future not be worthy to be compared to this present age.

Conclusion

Therefore, the internal testimony of the Spirit, and the love God has shed abroad in our hearts, combined with the truth of Christ’s finished work on the cross, ought to give us ample reason for joy and for hope in this life.

As Christians, we look back (to the cross) we have hope. We look around us now (at our trials) we have hope. We look ahead (to Christ’s return) to the future, we have hope.

How many of us here will be spending some time – maybe a lot of time – in the hospital in coming days? How many of us will deal with sickness? How many of us will deal with job loss or financial difficulty? How many of us will have strife in relationships?

My guess is that the answer to all of these questions is that all of us will be dealing with these things because that is the life we’re promised. We’re not promised to have it easy when we become a Christian. The Christian life is a life of joy through adversity, not life without trouble.

God is calling us to believe in His promises, and to ground our hopes and our attitudes in the reality of His finished work on the cross, and the work He’s doing in our lives as evidenced by His love poured out through the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us.

The consequences of this are vast. It means that sickness and death and financial ruin are cause for great joy. That’s right – great joy! These are signs of adoption, “God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12).   The real question we need to ask ourselves tonight is whether our attitudes reflect the reality of these truths. If you are a Christian and you are bitter about your circumstances then I urge you to repent of that bitterness and see that God is working in you to refine you and build your character in order to make you more like His Son.

If you are not a Christian, then this must seem completely foreign to you and probably a little strange. To think that the worst things in life can actually be turned on their heads in order to signify great blessing just isn’t a normal way of thinking about life – but that’s what Christ has done. He has turned the world upside down (Acts) and confounded the wisdom of the wise of this age. If you are not a believer in Christ, if you have not put your full faith and trust in His work on the cross, then you are still estranged from God and His wrath abides on you. You do not have peace with God, and the promises of peace and real joy in this lifetime and in the life to come are not yours…but they can be.

“Since Jesus is the Son of God…God’s saving promises are fulfilled only in Jesus and in knowing Jesus as the Son of God.”[v] Lay aside your pride and trust in Christ. Submit to His Lordship and repent of your sin – He is calling you to follow Him and to a life of abundant joy. Call upon His name and be saved.

 

 

 

[i] I like what Wiersbe says, “Justification is no escape from the trials of life…No amount of suffering can separate us from the Lord; instead trials bring us closer to the Lord and make us more like the Lord.”

[ii] John Stott, commentary on romans, page 142.

[iii] Schreiner, Commentary on Romans, page 257. He also quotes from Edwards here on how when the Spirit communicates God’s love, he’s basically communicating himself (I assume he means his character because of the doctrine of simplicity of God — God is love).

[iv] John Stott, Commentary on Romans, page 143.

[v] Tom Schreiner’s NT Biblical theology, chapter 7, pg. 233. This statement actually comes from the context of describing who Jesus is in relation to Johannine titles (the I Am and “logos” etc.) and how it is in knowing Jesus himself that is the key – the saving key, as it were – to being a part of/recipient of God’s promises (to Abraham and those who trust in what Jesus said). I enjoyed adding this quote because how often do we think of quoting a scholarly work when giving an invitation! Ha! The idea just made me chuckle – yet isn’t it true that it is the theology – when correctly understood – leads us to a right understanding of who God is? And that is the call here – for a right understanding of who Jesus is and for us to be reconciled to Him.

The Kingship of Christ

This evening I had the privilege of preaching the final part in a three-part sermon series on the offices of Christ. Tonight’s message was on the kingship of Christ.  Though I did not get audio recorded for the sermon, I hope the text is profitable to you.  Merry Christmas!

PJ Wenzel

Christ Our King

December 22, 2013

Well we are just days from the celebration of Christmas, and this will be the third message I am bringing in anticipation of that celebration.  We have seen thus far how Jesus fulfilled the long anticipated offices of both ‘prophet’ and ‘priest.’

Tonight, we are going to see how the baby born of Mary was destined to fulfill that third and most glorious office of ‘king.’

As we anticipate a wonderful time in God’s word this evening, we remember the eager anticipation with which God’s chosen people had waited for the Messiah.

I pray that tonight we will have our minds renewed and reminded that we live in the time of great blessing, and also a time of anticipation – the anticipation of the return of our great King.

Our Text for this evening is Luke 1:26-33 which is traditionally known in Christendom as ‘The Annunciation.’  Turn with me and we’ll read that and then go to the Lord for His blessing upon our time together this evening.

Exegesis of Luke 1:26-33

1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,

For contextual purposes, this is the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, not Mary’s. If we were reading the entirety of the first chapter of Luke’s gospel we would have just learned of the miraculous birth of a baby boy named John to elderly parents Elizabeth and Zachariah, and the context for the statement on the “sixth month” would make more sense.

Nazareth, as noted by many commentators, was 70 miles outside of Jerusalem to the northeast.  To call it a “city” might conjure up incorrect images in our modern minds – there was no Greek word for “town”, so that the word “city” was meant to distinguish between a populated area and a rural area.  Nazareth was a very small, out of the way village that probably didn’t hold more than a few hundred people.  Nazareth was the definition of obscurity itself.[i]

It is perhaps significant that Gabriel is sent “from God” to both Mary and Zachariah.  In this context we see Luke use a description of Gabriel’s origin as being “from God”, whereas in his visit to Zachariah Gabriel himself tells Zachariah where he hailed from:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (Luke 1:19, ESV)

I mention this because I want us to meditate upon the weightiness of this message from Gabriel.

Gabriel is only mentioned twice in the New Testament – both in this first chapter of Luke.  He is also mentioned two other times in the Old Testament, and both of those references come to us by way of the book of Daniel.  Indeed it is Gabriel who announced to Daniel the 70-weeks vision that we looked at a few weeks ago.

As of late, there has been a modern flair up in interest surrounding demons and witches and angels.  This is especially reflected in the different TV shows and movie being pumped out of Hollywood.  I do not think the rise in interest is necessarily godly or beneficial, but stems from a vain curiosity and the desire to sell advertising on TV shows and box office tickets in the theaters.

However, this passage (and others like it) indicates to us that the significance of Gabriel is not bound up in who he is, but rather who he represents and where He came from: the throne room of God.

Angels in the Bible are messengers, and their authority rests on the fact that they convey a Word from God.[ii]  So too Gabriel has come to deliver an authoritative word from the throne room of God.

1:27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

Verse 27 conveys to us that this young woman Mary has been betrothed[iii] to a man named Joseph.  But the most important thing conveyed here is that Joseph is “of the house of David.”  This means that he is a direct descendent of the famous King of Judah, and Jesus would share in that lineage.

In fact, John MacArthur states, “Thus Jesus inherited from His adoptive father, Joseph, the legal right to David’s throne, while His physical descent from David came from His mother, Mary. In every legitimate sense – both legally and physically – Jesus Christ was the Son of David and born to be Israel’s true King.”

For many Israelites, David typified the greatness of Israel. Generation after generation told of the glory of his kingdom, and how God used a mere shepherd boy to unite an independent mix of tribes into a single kingdom under the rule of a single monarch.  What Saul had failed to successfully do in the flesh, David did in the power of the Spirit of God.  David’s kingdom, then, represented all that was glorious about the Israel of yesteryear, and Israelites looked forward to a day when once again a king would sit on the throne of David, but more on that in a moment…

1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

It is evident from Gabriel’s greeting that he intended to convey comfort and calm.  He meets her, as most have aptly mentioned, in an indoor setting, and his appearance and words – despite their comfort – baffled Mary.

Gabriel’s words are indeed astounding.  He conveys that God is with Mary – essentially he’s saying that God will be her fortress and help (which we see reflected in her response – the Magnificat) and that He would never leave her or forsake her.  Matthew Henry ponders whether or not she would have thought of Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).

Those in the Catholic tradition read this verse from the Latin Vulgate translation, which is “gratia plena”, or “full of grace” in English, making the whole of the greeting, “Hail Mary full of grace.”

While modern Bibles more accurately translate this “favored one”, those in the Catholic tradition pervert the intended meaning of the original language by stating that Mary who is “full of grace” is actually the bestower of grace, rather than the recipient of grace.[iv]  In fact, they go so far as to state that Mary is the one in whom all grace is vested, and that Jesus never dispenses grace without her consent (see the most recent catechism of the Catholic Church).

This is a gross distortion of the narrative, and a corrupt perversion of the text that violates the sense of what is being conveyed in order to accommodate an entire system of unbiblical doctrine (Mariology).

Furthermore, I think its safe to say that the Catholic interpretation violates one of the basic biblical rules of interpretation, which is that we don’t use historical narrative to trump the didactic portions of scripture.  Yet that is exactly what the Catholics do here.  They create doctrine where there is none, and ignore the clear teaching of the rest of the NT in order to justify their interpretations.

What is being conveyed here is much more straightforward. Gabriel is announcing to Mary that God, by His own grace and in accordance with the mystery of His will, has chosen this humble girl to carry in her womb God incarnate.  It is God’s favor, not Mary’s which is in view in this verse.

1:29-30 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. [30] And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

The fact that the angel had to reassure Mary not to be afraid ought to give us a clue as to the spectacular nature of this visit. When a messenger from God’s throne room visits you it stands to reason that the moment might shake you to the core.

Mary must also have been acutely aware of her own insignificance and sinfulness. She was a finite human being, and yet God had chosen her for an awesome task.

I love the point that John MacArthur makes: “All genuinely righteous people are distressed and terrified in God’s presence (or, as in this case, one of His holy angels), because they are acutely aware of their sin. Gabriel’s appearance and greeting unnerved Mary; nothing in her brief life could have prepared her for this astonishing event.”

1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

Like the instructions given to Zachariah concerning the naming of John, Mary is also given specific instructions as to what the name of her child will be.

The name “Jesus” basically means, “God saves” – and a more fitting name I cannot think of! In the ancient world the name of a person carried a lot more weight than it does in our current modern culture here in America. The name of a child conveyed, in many ways, the hopes and aspirations of the parents for that baby.  In this case, God had a specific plan for this child, His Son, and the name of the child reflects that purpose: God will offer salvation through the life of the one being born of Mary.
1:32-33 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, [33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

It is an understatement to be sure that Jesus will “be great” (as MacArthur notes, “his life will define ‘great’”).  And with this statement we come to the theological meat of this passage – the kingship of Jesus.  There are so many dynamics and nuances to the kingship of Christ. But tonight I want to simply examine three parts:

  1. The predicted king
  2. The kingdom breakthrough
  3. The return of the king

 

The Predicted King

The Type of King

Before we examine how this king had long been predicted, I’d have us just notice what type of king has been predicted.  Gabriel tells us the child who will be born will not be an ordinary child, but rather the “Son of the Most High. ”[v]

In other words, He will be the Son of God, holy, divine, and completely different than anyone ever born to a woman.  Not only will He be an everlasting king, but also his kingdom will be everlasting.

So He will be a different kind of king with a different king of kingdom.

The Fulfillment of the Davidic Promise

Gabriel also says that the Lord will give this child the throne of his father David. So in human lineage, this child will be a descendent of the family of David, and therefore will fulfill the Davidic promise of an everlasting kingdom/throne – as Gabriel says, “of his kingdom there will be no end.”

For many years the Jews must have wondered at the nature of the promise to David. Naturally, they must have thought that the promise meant the kingdom would never lack a Davidic king – someone from the lineage of David himself. But it had been 1000 years since that promise was given, and hundreds of years since Israel had a king of their own from David’s house.

Obviously God had a different kind of “everlasting” kingdom in mind. Let’s examine the original text of the promise as we try and grasp the significance of Gabriel’s words:[vi]

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:12-16)

For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
3 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’”(Psalm 89:2-4)[vii]
 
 
The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.” (Psalm 132:11-12)
 

Now, as time progressed, the people of God sinned, their kingdom was torn apart, and they endured exile and every manner of deprivation.  Gone were the glory days of David and Solomon.

Yet despite the fact that the people of Israel had transgressed and broken covenant with God[viii], He reassured them that He would remain faithful to His covenant with David and raise up a king who would save them and “restore their fortunes.”

So during this time the Israelites looked forward with hope that God would one day usher in a kingdom that would save Israel by the hand of this “root of David.”  Several OT prophets gave them reason to hope:

In Jeremiah… 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

17 “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel…(Jeremiah 33:14-17)[ix]

And… 

Their prince shall be one of themselves;
their ruler shall come out from their midst;
I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me,
for who would dare of himself to approach me?
declares the Lord.
22 And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 30:21-22)

 

In Ezekiel (one of my favorites)… 

My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28) 

And in Daniel…

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, (Daniel 2:44)

There are many other passages that reiterate the same message.

And when we read the New Testament we find that Peter (Acts 2:24-36) interprets these prophecies and proclaims in no uncertain terms that Jesus of Nazareth is the one who fulfilled them:

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
 

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”
 

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:24-36)

Note that Peter sees Jesus as both Lord and Christ. He is both King and Savior.

From these verses it is apparent that not only was there a predicted King to come from the line of David, but that the man who fulfilled that role is seen by the New Testament authors to be none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

The NT authors do not simply view Jesus as reigning in a spiritual sense, rather His reign is over all of the created order. While it may be difficult to describe the nature of His kingdom, we know it is unlike any kingdom here on earth. And we know that one day what our eyes cannot see now will be consummated in such a way that no one will be able to avoid seeing it![x]

It is to these two topics we now turn…

The Kingdom Breakthrough 

When Jesus walked from town to town He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom of God.”  That He was proclaiming a kingdom, there is no doubt. Here is one example of what Jesus was saying near the beginning of His ministry:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

I believe that the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that when Jesus was “proclaiming” a kingdom, He was inaugurating a kingdom, and that when Gabriel announced to Mary that Jesus would inherit the throne of David, this wasn’t a mantle He would inherit some time in the distant future.

It seems clear to me that given all the times He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” it would be very difficult to argue that Jesus did not inaugurate a kingdom during His earthly ministry.

One very powerful instance in which Jesus proclaims the inbreaking of the kingdom is found in Matthew 12 where we read the following:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:22-28)

Note how the people connect the sovereign work of Jesus to the possibility of his Davidic kingly lineage.  Jesus confirms their thinking.  If He has sovereignty over the demons, then “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Jesus doesn’t say “the kingdom of God will come in my millennial reign” or “the kingdom will one day come upon you” or some such thing.  Rather He states that the kingdom “HAS” come upon you.

This is a message Jesus never abandoned.  In fact He proclaims His kingship right until the day of His death.  In an exchange with Pontius Pilate we read the following:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33-37)

I think that many Christians wonder what kind of kingdom this is. What is the nature of Christ’s kingdom? When Gabriel announced to Mary that her Son would be the heir to the Davidic throne, how are we to understand this?

A King for All Nations

We need to understand that the kingdom Jesus inaugurated was different in scope and character than what the Jews expected.

For instance, we know now that the Heir David’s throne will not only reign over all his people, but in the original covenant with David there are indications that God’s intention is for His king to bring His law to all nations.

In 2 Samuel 7:19 David responds to God’s promise in the following way:

And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! (2 Samuel 7:19)

Peter Gentry comments, “…since the god whom the Davidic king represented was not limited to a local region or territory, but was the creator God and Sovereign of the whole world, the rule of the Davidic king would have repercussion for all the nations, not just for Israel…This, I submit is the logic behind David’s response in verse 19, and this is why he claims that a covenant that makes the Davidic king son of God is the instrument of bringing Yahweh’s Torah to all the nations. David’s own understanding of divine sonship is clearly indicated by his statement in 7:19 that the covenant is God’s charter or instruction for humankind.”

The New Testament ramifications of this are that the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus proclaims is one not simply for Israel, but for all nations.

Already/Not Yet

Another way the kingdom Jesus inaugurated is different than what the Jews expected is that it has a sort of incomplete feel about it – at least that’s how we tend to perceive it, isn’t it?

As Greg Beale comments, “Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’s kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judiasm. Part of the reason for the unexpectedness is that the kingdom had begun but was not consummated, and this lack of consummation was to continue on indefinitely. This stands in contrast to OT prophecies of the latter days whose events were predicted to occur all at once at the very end of history.”[xi]

In fact, this frustration in understanding the nature of Christ’s kingdom was expressed by the disciples just prior to Christ’s ascension:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

What Jesus is saying here is that the nature of the kingdom during the church age is going to look different – you will perceive it differently – than you probably thought.

Not only that, but the SCOPE and reach of the kingdom would be grander than the disciples first thought.  Jesus wasn’t going to restore the kingdom to Israel and sit down on a throne in Jerusalem, instead He was going to ascend to heaven and sit down on the throne of God and rule over all creation!

Instead of sending armies out from the holy city to conquer His enemies, He was sending fishermen out to conquer evil with the Sword of the Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit living inside them.  He would literally be working His will in and through them while at the same time ruling over all creation from heaven’s highest throne.

Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner says:

It is clear, then, that when Jesus spoke of the future coming of the kingdom, he was not referring to God’s sovereign reign over all history, for God has always ruled over all that occurs. The coming of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed designated something new, a time when God’s enemies would be demonstrably defeated and the righteous would visibly blessed. The future coming of the kingdom relates to the realization of God’s promises of salvation…When Jesus announced the presence of the kingdom, he declared that God was about to bring about the salvation that he had always promised.”

But it would be inaccurate to describe Christ’s reign as only a “spiritual reign.”  And I think that because we cannot taste, smell, see, or physically hear Christ’s kingdom, we have a tendency of describing His “literal reign” as purely “future.”  This is wrong.

It would be more accurate to say that He “literally” reigns over all the created order right now. He “literally” is in control over all of things. We read as much in Hebrews 1:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3)

Therefore it is not as though He just reigns in our hearts, nor will He just reign over the world in the future; rather He literally upholds all of creation as we speak, right now.

Therefore there is a very palpable “already/not year” tension to Christ’s kingdom. We can sense that there is more to come, yet we also know that there are wonderful privileges we have right now.

For example, we have received salvation, yet we have not yet realized the consummation of that salvation (we are still in the world). We have been sanctified (set apart), yet we are still being sanctified (made holy).  We are adopted, yet we continue to behave as orphans, and have not realized yet all of the privileges of sonship – including the glorification of our bodies.  Jesus reigns at God’s right hand, and yet His kingdom is not seen physically by the world.

The great Princeton Theologian Gerhardos Vos says, “Although in one sense the inheritance of this world lies yet in the future, yet in another sense it has already begun to be realized in principle and become ours in actual possession.”

Schreiner says, “One of the unique elements of Jesus’s teaching about God’s kingdom is that it is both present and future. When we speak of God’s kingdom as present in the ministry of Jesus, we are not referring to the notion that God is sovereign over all history. Rather, the kingdom is present in Jesus’ ministry in that the saving promises of the kingdom had dawned with his coming. In other words, the OT promises of a new covenant and a new creation and a new exodus were beginning to be fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus.”

He concludes, “In other words, the kingdom is already inaugurated but not yet consummated.”[xii]

Greg Beale says, “The great expected latter-day restoration was beginning through Jesus, a restoration that was inextricably linked to Israel’s kingdom prophecies.”  Emphasis on “beginning.”

Therefore, the kingdom that Jesus ushered in was one marked by salvation and the outward behavior of a people being conformed to His own image. New creations in Christ displaying the fruit of the Spirit are the outward manifestations of this kingdom.  The gospel being spread by the church militant throughout the world and the Spirit of truth exercised through the living and active Word of God are the weapons of the kingdom’s army.  The kingdom is here and is present, Jesus is reigning at the right hand of God over all creation, and His Spirit lives within us testifying to the fact that one day He will come again to conclude and consummate the battle and His kingdom.

That is why Vos can say that, “We assume that he (Jesus) regarded the kingdom as in principle already present, although he regarded the eschatological consummation as still future.”[xiii]

It is to that “future” consummation – that “not yet” I mentioned a moment ago – that we now turn as we conclude our study.

The ‘Return of the King’

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work ‘The Return of the King’ we read of the journey of one Aragorn son of Arathorn who is heir to a kingdom “long bereft of lordship. ”  The kingdom of Gondor has been turned over to stewards – those entrusted to watch over the kingdom until a king returns to lead his people.  The line of kings is thought to be broken, and there are few who even know of Aragorn’s existence.

As evil spreads and begins to manifest itself in Tolkien’s world of ‘Middle Earth’ Aragorn is hesitant to claim his birthright and lead the kingdom of men.  Why? Because he knows of the weakness of men. Men like his ancestors are vulnerable to the corruption of power and he has no desire to be a tool of corruption.  As the saying goes, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Thus, he tarried.

Eventually Aragorn finds his courage in the confidence and hopes of his friends and fellow travelers, it seems.  The tale ends with the consummation of the return of the king and the beginning of the grand session of Aragorn over the kingdom of Gondor.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a similar situation do we not?  We look around and see evil on the rise. The bad is proclaimed as “good.” The forces of darkness seemingly closing in on all sides.

And yet, our King tarries.

However our King, who has possessed absolute power from before time began, is free from any hint of corruption.  Unlike Aragorn, He tarries not due to any inherent deficiency, but because as King over the cosmos He is sovereign over time and the course of history.

Theologian John Frame writes, “…God’s decision is clear: that the history of redemption will take millennia, leaving space for dramatic movements, ups and downs, twists and turns, longings and astonishments. Salvation is to be a great epic, not a short story. God will glorify himself, not by measuring his kingdom in time spans appropriate to human kings, but by revealing himself as “King of the ages” (Rev. 15:3).

His time has not yet come.

Therefore Christ, who reigns now from heaven, will one day consummate His kingdom here on earth. On that day “every tongue” shall confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” – that is to say that everyone on earth will either be forced to, or willingly and joyfully proclaim the kingship of Jesus.

That day will be both awesome, and terrible as Scripture says. The shear revelation of the power of the Lord Jesus in all His glory will terrify all unrepentant humanity.

I fear sometimes that we are so conditioned to think of Jesus as an infant born in a stable, or the kind-hearted healer of humanity that we fail to see Christ in His fullness – we forget Gabriel’s words – “He will be great!”

Certainly His majesty is described well by the apostle John:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16, ESV)

These images ought to evoke fear and trembling into the hearts of finite man. The majestic holiness and splendorous glory of the Son of God on that day will never be rivaled.

So while we recognize the current reign of Christ, we must also internalize and cling to the truth that His reign will one day be consummated.  When He comes again, all enemies will cry in despair while His children shout for joy!

Conclusion 

In conclusion, when Gabriel announced Christ’s coming to the Virgin Mary, he was delivering a message from God Himself.

That message was the announcement of promises soon to be fulfilled, and the inbreaking of a kingdom upon the sons of man.

Tonight we come before the Lord and remember that He is king.  We praise God that after so many years He faithfully fulfilled His promise and sent a King to rescue His enslaved children – though this king did not act like the kings among the children of men. 

This king was meek and lowly. This king came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt.

This King was born to poor parents among dirty animals and the smell of a barnyard, yet would offer the sweetest sacrificial fragrance to the Father.

This King ushered in a kingdom that, though unseen, has freed millions of captives whose lives have displayed the fruit of His kingdom’s power – a power that extends from the heavenly right hand from whence He reigns, to the moment-by-moment interactions of His Christian soldiers.

This King will one day consummate His kingdom, and bring all men into visible subjection to Himself.

In that day, His defeated enemies will wish for rocks and mountains to fall upon them rather than face His wrath, and His children will rejoice with an incomparable joy.

On that day we will remember the prophet Zephaniah’s words:

17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth. (Zephaniah 3:17-19, ESV)
 

On that day, His children will once again say, “The King is here!”

Closing Prayer

END NOTES


[i] It is interesting how many commentators describe the obscurity of this small town of Nazareth – especially in contrast to Gabriel’s previous destination which was the bustling metropolis of Jerusalem.  Some note that the “city” of Nazareth being located in Galilee was significant because it was Galilee which was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” due to its proximity to foreign lands and probably its mix of inhabitants.  Some even see this as an early sign that Jesus was born as a Savior to the world and not the Jews alone.

[ii] In his book ‘Unseen Realities’, R.C. Sproul writes about this passage, “So we see, again, the angel functioning both as messenger and as authoritative communicator of the Word of God.”

[iii] As John MacArthur notes, “In Jewish practice, girls were usually engaged at the age of twelve or thirteen and married at the end of a one-year betrothal period.”

[iv] Leon Morris states, “It is, of course, a complete misunderstanding to translate ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’, and understand the words to mean that Mary would be a source of grace to other people. Gabriel is saying simply that God’s favor rests on her.”

[v] Geldenhuys notes that there are no articles in the Greek so that it is just “Son of Highest” which he says is done “in order to indicate the absolute uniqueness and highness of His divine Sonship.”

[vi] There are SO many other scriptures that I could have quoted here. I love, for instance, what is found in Zephaniah 3:15-20 and the emphasis of God being in the midst of Israel, His people.  He is called “a mighty one who will save” and that “he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love, he will exult over you with loud singing.” So beautiful the picture of the love of our king.

[vii] Later in this same Psalm (89) in verses 34-37 the author beautifully repeats the promise again, “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.  His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.”

[viii] Peter Gentry notes that, “Traditionally, theologians have viewed the Davidic covenant as unconditional. It is true that the content of the covenant consists in the might promises made by Yahweh. Nonetheless, as verses 14-15 (of 2 Sam. 7) show, faithfulness is expected of the king, and these verses foreshadow the possibility of disloyalty on the part of the king, which will require discipline by Yahweh.”

[ix] There are so many good passages which anticipate the coming king in the context of a new covenant – one of the anticipatory passages of David’s offspring that I didn’t mention above is in Jeremiah 23:5-8. It is a neat passage which talks about how the people of Israel will one day see a “righteous Branch” raised up from David and that Branch “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” I really appreciate the work of D.A. Carson and Greg Beale who had this passage and several others listed in their ‘Commentary on the New Testament Use of the old Testament.’

[x] I simply cannot accept John MacArthur’s view on the nature of the kingdom.  MacArthur incorrectly states, “The Lord Jesus Christ clearly did not establish His kingdom at His first coming.”  I will endeavor to show in section two of my exegesis on Luke 1:32-33 that Jesus Himself said that the kingdom of God had come.  MacArthur’s view is a distortion of Scripture based on a hermeneutic that must protect his dispensational premillennial view at (seemingly) all costs.  So while I greatly respect Dr. MacArthur’s scholarship on many fronts, its clear that his thinking takes a bizarre turn in his commentary on Luke 1 when addressing this topic.  Not only is he wrong on the aforementioned item, but he distorts the amillenialist view of eschatology by asserting that “the promised kingdom is not limited to Christ’s present spiritual reign, as amillenialists advocate.”  I don’t know who he is reading, but I have yet to find an amillenialist who believes Christ’s reign is merely spiritual and not a reign over all of creation, a real actual sovereignty that exists but will be consummated at His second coming.  All of this distortion is done in an effort to preserve the idea that Christ’s physical reign will be only during the millennium. MacArthur has to virtually ignore all the scriptures that refer to Christ’s current session.  Lastly, MacArthur’s argument against a “merely spiritual” reign is, in fact, what he himself argues!  For he states the following, “Jesus Christ rules spiritually in the heart of every believer and that spiritual rule will last forever because salvation is forever. But that does not preclude the future literal, earthly, millennial kingdom.”  In other words, he believes that Christ’s reign right now is just spiritual!  Really, there is very little difference between his view and that of the amillenialist when it comes to the future and current reign of Christ in that He and the Amill folks both believe in a current spiritual reign of Christ (Despite what he writes in his commentary, for the sake of charity I will give him the benefit of the doubt that if he were here arguing with me he would say that he also believes Christ reigns over creation and all things as well and take steps to qualify his words) as well as a future physical reign of Christ at His second coming.  Obviously after that the time, nature, and location of that reign is highly disputed and MacArthur’s dispensationalism asserts something completely different than the Amill folks he picks a fight with in this instance.  But other than those (important) distinctions, there is no need to misconstrue the views of those who don’t agree with his own (wacko) view.  I took the time to work through this because its important to understand and stand firmly by the fact that when Christ came He DID usher in a REAL kingdom.  Just because that kingdom doesn’t look like what MacArthur thinks it ought to look like doesn’t make it any less REAL and doesn’t take away any of the ramifications of the reality of that kingdom.  These ramifications must be addressed and cannot be simply ignored by blindly looking toward a future kingdom while ignoring present realities. To do this would ignore the significant already/not yet tension that the NT writers (especially Paul and the author of Hebrews) see/describe.

[xi] These notes from Greg Beale are from his New Testament Biblical Theology on page 431 and are actually a part of an excursus on eschatological aspects of the inaugurated end-time kingdom in the synoptic gospels. A very helpful little section of his book indeed.

[xii] Sam Storms has this to say, “Thus the kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God, or his sovereign lordship, dynamically active to establish his rule among men. There are two decisive and dramatic moments in the manifestation of his kingdom: first, as it is fulfilled within history in the first advent of the Son, whereby Satan was defeated and men and women are brought into the experience of the blessings of God’s reign, and second, as it will be consummated at the close of history in the second advent of the Son, when he will finally and forever destroy his enemies, deliver his people and all of creation from evil, and establish his eternal rule in the new heavens and new earth.”  This is just a fantastic summary of the kingdom theology that the New Testament gives us.  I would have included in the main body of the sermon, but there were already so many resources and authors from which to draw that I had to slim the manuscript down a little.

[xiii] Vos’ description of the already/not yet and the kingdom were taken from pages 34 and 166 of an Anthology of his work compiled by Danny Olinger.