Summary: This article was written and published Oct. ’14. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God, but as taking a certain character and form of heavenly government. It will eventually come to actual physical reality – the heavens ruling the kingdoms of men on earth. This certainly has been the lesson God has been trying to impress upon the civil heads during all “the times of the Gentiles.” These “times” are when God is hidden in heaven and He exercises control over events in this world through His hidden hand of providence. However, at the end of the age God will take outward and direct action, by His power, to bring in this reality through the Lord Jesus Christ. Before the kingdom and reign of the Son of Man over the earth comes to fruition at the beginning of the millennium, and the Messianic kingdom as a sub-set of this, the kingdom of the Father must first be established in the heavens (Matt. 13:43). With the Spirit’s help, these are the critical points I attempt to explain here. Further, I beg the reader to prayerfully ask for the Holy Spirit’s help in comprehending God’s thoughts and perspective from His word.
Have you ever personally experienced the work of the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind to a biblical truth from God’s word, it being formed clearly in your understanding by God’s grace, and yet because of feebleness and weakness you have great difficulty finding the right words to properly express and communicate the truth? I admit I find myself in this situation in trying to answer the above questions in the title of this post. Like all believers, teachers, and ministers, we all see through the glass dimly. It is not that the truths will be different later; no, they are the same now for us to understand as they will be then. But when we are finally physically brought into the presence of God there will no longer be any weakness on our part or external distractions and hindrances to contend with.“For now we see through the glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (I Cor. 13:9-12) But that is enough said about our present limitations. God is so wonderful and gracious.
I Cor. 2:9-10
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.”
You see, for the believer God has bridged over our dullness of perception by giving us His Spirit. And it is apparent that God is more than willing to reveal “His things” to His children. So we speak, “…the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” (I Cor. 2:7) As believers we always need God’s wisdom to understand God’s things that concern us, the glory He has for us, and His purpose and plan for doing so. It is clear that God’s intention is to share these understandings only with Christians – those who have the seal of the Spirit.
The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God; only it is the kingdom in a fuller and more developed form than you will ever find mentioned in the Old Testament scriptures. All that is revealed in the law and the prophets are two earthly kingdoms that God will bring about:
1.) a Messianic kingdom over Israel (Is. 9:6-7, Jer. 33:14-21)
2.) the kingdom of the Son of Man which fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:44-45, 7:13-14).
No doubt that all Israel was looking for and expecting the first. And for good reason. This kingdom and its Messiah was all about Israel. Promises and prophecies in the oracles of God, of which the Jews were the caretakers, all spoke of this glorious kingdom for Israel. This nation would be restored and exalted above every nation on the face of the earth. They would finally be the head and not the tail, above only, and not beneath. All the peoples of the earth would fear Israel and serve them (Deut. 28:9-13, Isa. 60:11-12).
However, the kingdom of the Son of Man was not as well known or perceived from the scriptures. A second Adam as the substance of the first Adam in shadow and type was not understood. Israel and their teachers concentrated on the promises of Messiah. Their privileges are traced back through physical descent to Abraham (John 8:33, 37 – actually, Abraham is the olive tree of Romans eleven. He was the depository of all earthly promises, and such privilege originally came by physical descent from him. The nation of Israel were the natural branches). Messiah’s physical descent must come through David, the royal line passing through Solomon, the son of David (Matt. 22:42). These are the two great heads of the Jews. So we see that at the time of Jesus Christ the built up expectation of the Jews was not for a second Adam, but for the coming of Messiah (Luke 4:17-21, John 4:25-26) and the establishing of the kingdom of God in Israel (Luke 19:11, Acts 1:6).
We all know the results of Jesus’ coming to Israel – “He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11) They rejected Jesus as their Messiah and would not have Him as their King. And we know the kingdom was taken away from Israel at that time (Matt. 21:43). There would be no Messiah, there would be no Messianic kingdom, no restoration of Israel, and no throwing off of the Gentile chains of oppression. After sixty-nine weeks of total time concerning the Jews and their holy city, Messiah the Prince is presented to them (Dan. 9:24-25). Yet Messiah is cut off, and He receives nothing – He receives no kingdom (Dan. 9:26). All the promises and prophecies, specifically referencing their blessing and exaltation, would be put up on the shelf, so to speak. Time is suspended, Israel is set aside. The people of the prince who is to come destroy the city and the sanctuary (Dan. 9:26 – the Roman army under Titus in 70 AD). The Jews would be scattered into the nations. There would be no city, no temple, and no practice of their religion. The Jews would continue to be the tail and not the head, below and not above. Living among the Gentiles, they would only be profaning Jehovah’s holy name (Ez. 36:19-22).
We know that Matthew’s gospel is the only place in Scripture where the term “the kingdom of heaven” is used (32 times). This is significant. At the time of Jesus’ rejection by the Jews there is the ending of one dispensation, a transition period of time, and the beginning of a new dispensation. The preaching of the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” was the transition period between the ending of the Jewish dispensation (Israel set aside) and the beginning of the “kingdom of heaven in mystery” (Christendom on the earth – Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 13:11, 13:24-30). The seven parables of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew show us a complete picture of the development of the kingdom of heaven for a certain period of time – while the Son of Man is away in heaven until at the end of the age and He returns. The first parable concerning the Sower simply shows us the instrument God uses in sovereign grace to establish the kingdom of heaven – the word of God. This parable is descriptive. The remaining six parables are all similitudes. It is the second parable and its interpretation that is critical to understand (Matt. 13:24-30, 13:37-43). It shows Christendom as a spoiled crop in the field of the world for the entire length of the age.
We have already spoken of the transition period and the beginnings of the new dispensation. We have spoken in detail about the seven parables and the picture they draw for us to understand. The early chapters of my book, “The Corruption and Death of Christendom” adequately teach a proper understanding of this development. However, often we completely miss out on understanding God’s purpose and intentions in the things He does. A great example of this was God giving the Law to Israel. In man’s dullness of perception he thinks he can use the law as a religious means of gaining righteousness and life (Gal. 3:21). Like all the other religions of the world at that time the Jews assumed they could “do” their religion and become acceptable to their god, albeit their god was the one true God. Yet God’s purpose in giving the Law to Israel was death and condemnation (II Cor. 3:7, 9). All those “of the works of the law,” that is, all those of Judaism, were under a curse (Gal. 3:10). The Scriptures teach the law could never justify anyone (Gal. 3:11). God used the law to prove the utter depravity of man’s condition. But this is the common thing for natural man to do – he completely misunderstands the purpose and intention of God.
The name change we see in Matthew’s gospel – now calling it “the kingdom of heaven” – points us to the purpose and intentions of God in His eternal counsels. The kingdom of heaven, when it is fully developed, will be the rule and reign of the heavens over the earth. The kingdoms of men are found on the earth. In the “times of the Gentiles” there are four world empires – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. At the end of the “times of the Gentiles” the Roman empire will be revived. The stone cut out without hands will come and destroy all Gentile rule and power. There will be nothing left of these empires. They will be crushed together, and become like chaff that the wind carries away so that there is no trace of them (Dan. 2:34-35, 44-45). After this the stone made without hands will become a great kingdom that will fill the whole earth. This will be the kingdom and glory of the Son of Man, as well as the Messianic kingdom for Israel. This “filling the whole earth” will take place during the coming millennium. Jesus must continue to reign until He (God) has put all enemies under His feet (I Cor. 15:24-26).
The reign of the Son of Man over the millennial earth, with Israel as the center of this government and Jerusalem as the capital city, will go on for one thousand years. This earthly kingdom will be the last kingdom and rule of man on the earth. Jesus is the glorified Son of Man. All the results and consequences of the failure and disobedience of the first Adam will be made good by the faithfulness and obedience of the second Adam. But make no mistake – this will be the last kingdom of man on earth. Even this will come to an end (I Cor. 15:24). It just so happens the kingdom and reign of the Son of Man will be through Jesus Christ, the glorified and perfect Man.
This speaks of what is on the earth and how the kingdoms of men will be sorted out. It speaks of what will be Israel’s glory and position, and the place of the Gentile nations that remain. But this says nothing concerning the place and privilege of the church. Nor does this say much about the God of heaven that Daniel spoke of (Dan. 2:44). What of the kingdom of heaven? Are we to understand the kingdom of heaven is simply the kingdom of the earth? Maybe Matthew just made up the term to be different. Maybe its use is inconsequential. This is where our dullness of perception kicks in, if we have understood even thus far. We always think only earthly thoughts. We only have the perception of earthly things. We never seem to rise up and take hold of heavenly thoughts and heavenly things. We do not understand or embrace our heavenly calling. We prefer to have Israel’s earthly calling. Thus, when it suits our teachings, we readily exchange the two callings. An earthly calling we easily understand and perceive, and therefore embrace. It is why we think that the church is Israel, or in the least grafted in! We love to be taught with Israel’s earthly teachings. They feel so comforting and emotional.
Lay up treasure in heaven?!? We haven’t a clue how to do that! But we have Christian classes to teach us all about retirement planning, tax liability reduction, saving accounts, nest eggs, 401Ks, trusts, and inheritances. We know very well how to lay up treasure on earth, and still justify it as the will of God personally for us. “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:2) We don’t know how to do this; again we haven’t a clue!?! Our dullness of perception will not allow us to perceive heavenly things. Sadly, we are much like Nicodemus. Jesus said to him:
“Are you a teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what we know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
We do know how to build all kinds of things on the earth; things purposely meant to catch our eye and get our attention. We do these things and build these things in the name of Christ as if we have a directive from God. So often we embrace a Jewish mindset, thinking that it is the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16), while all along it is the evil leaven that penetrates through all of Christendom (Matt. 13:33).
So what is God’s ending purpose concerning the kingdom of heaven? Simply stated, it will be to impress the rule and reign of the heavens over the whole earth. It will be the “God of heaven” doing this, setting up a kingdom that will never end (Dan. 2:44). The God of heaven is the Most High God. This name – “Most High God” – always points to the millennium. The God of heaven will then become God Most High who rules and reigns over the earth (Gen. 14:18-20) The Most High directs the millennial order of the earth through the restoration of Israel in their land (Deut. 32:8-9). (Please note: Satan is presently the god of this world – II Cor. 4:4) This then becomes the meaning of the term, “the kingdom of heaven” in its end results.
Here was the judgment of the pride and arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:24):
“They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew from heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”
Nebuchadnezzar is made by God to crawl as an animal for seven years. Although this actually happened to him, it serves as a type and shadow that prefigures a greater and more significant truth. This is similar to the experience of Jonah used as a type prefiguring the death of Jesus, the Son of Man (Matt. 12:38-40, 16:4, Luke 29-30). Nebuchadnezzar’s experience becomes symbolic of what would happen and the lesson to be learned by the Gentiles, during the time that spans the entire “times of the Gentiles.” The lesson to be learned by the Gentiles is that God Most High actually rules and reigns over the earth.
During the “times of the Gentiles” the only control God exercises is through hidden providential actions. He is responsible for setting up all civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-7, John 19:11, Dan. 2:37). This is done in His providence, regardless of their outcomes and effects resulting from human responsibility – they are all appointed by God, all given authority from God as God’s ministers, and therefore they will all answer to God for the responsibility of the position God places them in. This is the general failure of the Gentiles in the complete “times of the Gentiles.” (When the number seven is used prophetically it means completeness, entirety, or perfection, regardless of whether it refers to good or evil) They generally act like beasts who go their own way, independent and rebellious, and do not acknowledge the God of heaven or His will (Dan. 4:25). The character of every beast is that it does its own will (Dan. 8:4, 11:16, 36). This is what Nebuchadnezzar’s judgment symbolically depicts – the entire “times of the Gentiles” where the Gentile kings and kingdoms act like beasts independent from God (Dan. 7:3, Rev. 13:1, 11).
During these “times” evil is allowed to grow and prosper in the world. And we should fully understand that God’s grace and the gospel have no effect on this. Even God coming and taking on human flesh did not change the world. Jesus’ presence, when He came into the world He created, only brought out the full extent of man’s sin and hatred (John 15:22-25). The cross shows this reality. And the cross did not change the world. The course of this world and age continues to be nothing but evil ripening to the end (Gal. 1:3-5). Now of course God, in providence, restricts evil during these “times.” He will not allow its full display until the end, that is, the man of sin to be revealed (II Thess. 2:3-12).
But this still is all that is on the earth, and earthly in character. It does not explain the full extent and establishment of the kingdom of heaven. What I eventually want you to see is that we should be speaking of the kingdom of the heavens. Fully established in the purpose and will of God, it will be the heavens ruling over the earth. The aspect of the kingdom of heaven we are missing, especially to our understanding, is how the Father’s kingdom will be established in the heavens, and there to rule over the millennial earth. It will be this:
“Our Father who is in the heavens…Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
There are numerous truths here to be pointed out. It is “our Father” and therefore is uniquely a Christian revelation and possession. Also the Father is in the heavens. Further, the Father’s kingdom is in the heavens where the Father is. And one last point, the Father’s kingdom has not been established yet – prayer was to be made by believers for it to come.
The throne of God was established on the earth in Jerusalem in the time of David. The ark of the covenant and God’s glory in Solomon’s temple was the physical presence of God and His throne on the earth. God dwelt on the seat between the cherubim. But soon after that God leaves His throne, and rule was given over to the Gentiles. But the intention and purpose of God was for the heavens to reign and God to establish from above His grace and power in blessing over the earth.
Up to this present day God has not taken His great power and acted as King in His own kingdom. Neither has the Son of Man returned to the earth to establish His own throne and glory (Matt. 25:31). Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, waiting till it is time to make His enemies His footstool (Heb. 10:12). During this present time the kingdom of heaven exists and develops in mystery and patience. It is not the kingdom in power and glory. It is not this in either the heavens or the earth.
I see two things in Scripture that must happen before the kingdom of the Father is established in power in the heavens (while always being mindful that all God does as His work has as a foundation the redemptive work of Jesus Christ).
The first thing: all the wheat planted in the field must be removed to the barn (Matt. 13:30). This is the glorifying and rapture of the true church. The sons of God the Father are taken from this world to the Father’s house in the heavens (John 14:1-3). Jesus went away there to prepare places for us. That is where the believer’s eternal habitation and abode is located – in the Father’s house, the Father’s kingdom. And Jesus said He would come Himself and retrieve us. He doesn’t send others to get us. We are too important to Him; He comes Himself.
The second thing: Satan and his angels must then be removed from the heavens. “And war broke out in heaven…so the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the devil and Satan…he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev. 12:7-9) When this takes place the heavens will be free of all evil.
The kingdom of the Father will then be established in power and glory in the heavens. At that time it will be said in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” (Rev. 12:10) This is not the end of conflict and rebellion on the earth. When Satan is cast down it is “woe” to the inhabitants of the earth and sea (Rev. 12:12). But it is the reason for all the rejoicing going on in the heavens, where the church now resides. And it all goes in this order: the church is first taken from the earth to the heavens (I Thess. 4:13-18); then Satan and his angels are cast out and down to the earth.
Now the God of heaven will become the Most High God, possessor of the heavens and earth. And His Christ, the Son of Man, the Melchizedek priest who is representative of the Most High God, will be on the earth and in Jerusalem bringing blessing by righteousness and peace (Gen. 14:18-20, Heb. 7:1-3). The heavens will exert their influence over the whole earth. “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:43)
It is interesting to observe in the book of Daniel, which is a prophetic book specifically detailing the “times of the Gentiles,” that God is never seen as the God of the earth. He is only seen as the Most High, the God of heaven. It is only until after the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled that the Most High God becomes the possessor of the heavens and earth (Luke 21:24).
The church’s place is in the heavens. It is to be in the kingdom of our Father, not in the kingdom of the Son of Man. In God’s government we rule over the earth with Jesus, as His bride and help-meet. In God’s government we sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” (Rev. 4:4) This is the picture of the church seated on endowed thrones around God’s governmental throne in heaven. And it is after the rapture of the church. This is when it is shown that we have been made both kings (Rev. 4) and priests (Rev. 5) to His God and Father (Rev. 1:6). This is when we will function in these roles.
One of the great mysteries of the kingdom of heaven is understanding God’s ending purpose for it (Matt. 13:11). The development of the kingdom of heaven on earth is the spoiled crop of wheat and tares in the field – Christendom in the world (Matt. 13:24-30). But the purpose is not the crop, but the planting of the wheat, the preserving of the wheat, and the removal of the wheat into the barn. God’s purpose for the kingdom of heaven is to form the body of Christ on the earth and eventually take the true church to the heavens. His purpose certainly isn’t the tares. From the words of the interpretation, the ultimate ending objective of God’s work in the kingdom of heaven is to bring the sons of the Father into the kingdom of the Father in the heavens, and there for them to shine in His glory and grace over the earth (Matt. 13:36-43). Sure the tares are bundled together and left in the field to be burned. On the earth the Son of Man’s kingdom involves judgments and government and the removal of all things that offend (Matt. 13:39-42). But the church is to be found elsewhere, in the heavens, in the Father’s kingdom.
The true purpose of God and the object of His affection and delight is clearly shown in two other parables found in Matt. 13 – the hidden treasure in the purchased field and the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44-46). Both are symbolic of the true church. While the kingdom of heaven is developing on the earth, both are hidden out of sight and not on display. But no one can doubt the desire of God to possess the church and have her for His own – the Son of Man sells all that He has; He gives up all that is rightfully His. Christ demonstrates His love for the church by giving Himself for it (Eph. 5:25). “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone.” But His desire was not to be alone. “But if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:23-24) He gives up everything, going down under death and the power of the enemy, drinking the cup of God’s wrath, so that the Father could bring many sons to glory by Him (Heb. 2:10). But notice, they are brought to glory. They are brought into God’s presence and glory. And Jesus, as the glorified Man, shares His glory with them (John 17:23). So that there is no confusion as to whether the Father loves us, He immediately says, “…that the world may know that You…have loved them as You loved Me.” (John 17:23) Finally, Jesus makes it clear as to the place, the glory, and His desire for us – “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me.” (John 17:24) To be where He is, is to be in the Father’s kingdom, the Father’s glory, the Father’s house. This is God’s purpose for His sons, as it will be fulfilled according to the working of the greatness of His own mighty power, in the full establishment of the “kingdom of heaven.”