Series: “Christ’s Kingdom” (post #4)
“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28, N.K.J.V.)
When Jesus was born into the human race, He didn’t bring His heavenly kingdom with Him. What I mean is, daily life for those in Israel — to say nothing of daily life around the world — didn’t change. Why not? It was because the kingdom that Satan had so effectively and prolifically built within the confines of planet earth didn’t fall. To the contrary, it continued to hum right along, just as it continues to do so today.
Even when Jesus began His three-and-a-half-year public ministry by being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall. Even when Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations in the Judean wilderness, Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall. Even when Jesus preached His most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount, Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall. Even when Jesus healed people, cast out demons, walked on the water, and performed other miracles, Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall. Even when Jesus died on the cross, Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall. Even when Jesus arose from the dead, Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall. Even when Jesus ascended back to heaven forty days after His resurrection, Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall.
And make no mistake, saying that Satan’s kingdom didn’t fall is just another way of saying that Jesus didn’t usher in His kingdom upon the earth. This was something that caused Christ’s disciples no end of frustration. As a matter of fact, do you know what the last question a group of them asked Him was? In the closing moments just before He ascended back to heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6, N.K.J.V.). The kingdom those Jews were asking about was the kingdom the Messiah was prophesied to establish upon the earth according to scores of prophecies from various Old Testament prophets. That kingdom will be Christ’s heavenly kingdom come down to the earth, and I’ll deal with that whole subject more thoroughly in a later post.
For now, though, I just want to explain what Jesus did do during His earthly ministry rather than bring in His kingdom. What He did do was bring a touch of His heavenly kingdom to every place He went and everything He did. As our text verse quotes Him saying to a group of lost Jewish religious leaders, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Jesus wanted people to understand that when they saw Him, they were looking at the “King” of the KINGdom of God. As a matter of fact, I side with all the commentators and Bible scholars who contend that Jesus literally offered the Jews the ushering in of His kingdom upon the earth during the days of His ministry. Consider the following facts:
- John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus, preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” in the days leading up to Jesus beginning His public ministry (Matthew 3:2).
- Jesus, once He began His public ministry, preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He also preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
- When Jesus sent His chosen 12 out on their first preaching trip, He said to them, “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Matthew 10:7).
- Jesus also said to the chosen 12 about that preaching trip, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).
- The Jews knew that the prophet Elijah was prophesied to come before the Messiah could establish the kingdom age. This was literally the last prophecy from the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6). That’s why they were always looking for Elijah as much as they were looking for the Messiah. Well, Jesus actually said to a large gathering of Jews one day, “If you are willing to receive it (the kingdom of heaven), he (John the Baptist) is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14). Likewise, at a later date, Jesus told Peter, James, and John, “I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him…” (Matthew 17:12).
The point of these references seems clear. If Israel as a nation had spiritually discerned that John the Baptist was the possible fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy, and if they had spiritually discerned that Jesus was the Messiah who could establish the prophesied kingdom, Jesus would have instituted His kingdom during the days of His earthly life. But because Israel (not as each individual but as a national whole) didn’t appreciate the “Elijah” aspect of John the Baptist’s ministry, they similarly didn’t recognize that Jesus was the promised Messiah and consequently rejected Him. And, of course, by rejecting the King they rejected His kingdom. To use Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:14, they weren’t “willing to receive it.”
Those who object to this whole line of interpretation point out that if Jesus had established His kingdom at that time, He wouldn’t have been able to die on the cross for the sins of the world, which was His highest purpose in coming to earth. This objection has merit. However, this isn’t the only scriptural case of God dealing in opposing offers that seem to contradict each other.
Think back to the Garden of Eden. God offered bodily immortality to Adam and Eve if they resisted the temptation to eat of the forbidden fruit. The offer was, if they didn’t eat that fruit they would never die. Now, was this offer legitimate? Did God mean what He said? Absolutely.
But the flip side of the coin is that God, in His perfect foreknowledge, knew that Adam and Eve would eventually eat that fruit and plunge the human race headlong into sin. Therefore, even before He created them and made them His offer concerning immortality, He had another plan — the one He knew would truly come to pass — waiting in the wings. And what was that plan? It was Jesus (God the Son) coming down to the earth and dying on the cross for the sins of the human race. As evidence that God knew that Adam and Eve would eventually eat that fruit, Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
You see, in God’s mind two seemingly contradictory futures can be legitimate at the same time. So, did Jesus genuinely offer to establish His kingdom upon the earth before He died on the cross for the sins of the world? Yes. But even as that offer was made God knew in His foreknowledge that Israel wouldn’t accept it. This meant that the prophecies about the Messiah (Jesus) being put to death, prophecies such as Isaiah 53:4-12, were never actually in jeopardy of not being fulfilled.
As I said earlier, in lieu of Jesus being able to formally establish His heavenly kingdom upon the earth, He contented Himself with bringing a touch of the kingdom wherever He went. When He taught, that was the kingdom on display. When He healed, that was the kingdom on display. When He performed miracles, that was the kingdom on display. Each time He did any of these things, He was showing the people of Israel what their nation was shunning.
Sadly for them, they — particularly their ruling religious elite — never repented of their unwillingness to embrace Jesus as Messiah. In a strange way, though, their rejection of Jesus worked out well for the entire world because it allowed Jesus to delay the establishing of His kingdom and die on the cross as the potential payment for all of our sins. This, as I’ve explained, was the plan that God had waiting in the wings. And thankfully for us Gentiles, it’s the plan that allowed the doors of Christ’s kingdom to be thrown open to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews to whom it was originally promised.