Today we will be exploring the topic of the Kingdom of God, and how it was established in the days of Yeshua, is present today, and how it will come to certain fulfillment over all the earth at some point in the future.
To understand this further, we can begin by looking at how Yeshua taught about the kingdom.
Luke 17:20-21 – When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Yeshua replied, “The kingdom of God will not come with observable signs. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For you see, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
All throughout his ministry, Yeshua spoke of the nearness of the kingdom. This nearness was to be demonstrated through healings and as a witness against those who would not believe.
Luke 10:9 – “Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’
Luke 10:11 – “‘We are wiping off even the dust of your town that clings to our feet as a witness against you. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near.’
The nearness of the kingdom was also to be the motivation for repentance for his immediate audience.
Matthew 4:17 – From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Therefore, in Yeshua’s teaching, the advent of the kingdom was to be evidenced through miraculous events that would be a witness to those seeing them, and a prompting of repentance for those who wished to be included within it.
In Luke 17, Yeshua is asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom would be established, and Yeshua has to doctrinally reset their expectations. He mentions it would not be something dramatic with an observable political program and a specific location, but was a present reality already changing hearts, minds, and bodies.
This mention of the nearness of the kingdom presents similar challenges even today. Most believers in our day have the same expectation as the Pharisees: that the Messiah of God will come to rule and reign over a physical kingdom, and all nations will be a witness to the power and majesty of God.
However, to hold this view misses the essence of what Yeshua was teaching: the kingdom is not the coming visible manifestation of a political entity, but is an invisible, living community made up of those with changed hearts of obedience toward God.
Commentators have split over the interpretation of the words expressing that the kingdom of God is “in your midst,” or “within/inside you” in verse 21. Even in English, we can sense the similarity of these meanings, and both present different shades of the reality of the kingdom as Yeshua describes it.
Some commentators have chosen to interpret the meaning as “within you,” pointing to the internal nature of being born from above, and how God desired to rule their hearts.
For example, Charles Ellicott had the following opinion:
“The marginal reading, “among you.” has been adopted, somewhat hastily, by most commentators. So taken. the words emphatically assert the actual presence of the Kingdom. It was already in the midst of them at the very time when they were asking when it would appear. The use of the Greek preposition is, however, all but decisive against this interpretation. It is employed for that which is “within,” as contrasted with that which is “without,” as in Matthew 23:26, and in the LXX. version for the “inward parts,” or spiritual nature of man, as contrasted with the outward, as in Psalm 103:1; Psalm 109:22; Isaiah 16:11.
Psalm 103:1 – My soul, bless the LORD, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Psalm 109:22 – For I am suffering and needy; my heart is wounded within me.
Isaiah 16:11 – Therefore I moan like the sound of a lyre for Moab, as does my innermost being for Kir-heres.
It was in that [inner] region, in the life which must be born again (John 3:3), that men were to look for the kingdom; and there, whether they accepted it or rejected it, they would find sufficient tokens of its power.”
Other modern commentators have sided with the “in your midst” interpretation citing the fact that the kingdom was already being manifested in that day as Yeshua ministered to the people of Israel.
Here is an example from the Pulpit Commentary:
“That kingdom will be marked out on no map, for, lo, it is even now in your midst. It may be asked – How “in your midst”? Scarcely not as Godet and Olshausen, following Chrysostom, think, “in your hearts.” The kingdom of God could not be said to be in the hearts of those Pharisees to whom the Master was especially directing his words of reply here. It should be rather understood “in the midst of your ranks;” so Meyer and Farrar and others interpret it, Luke 17:21″
With these differing opinions, Albert Barnes states what I believe is a reasonable balance between both positions.
“When an earthly prince visits different parts of his territories, he does it with pomp. His movements attract observation, and become the common topic of conversation. The inquiry is, Where is he? which way will he go? and it is a matter of important “news” to be able to say where he is. Jesus says that the Messiah would not come in that manner. It would not be with such pomp and public attention. It would be silent, obscure, and attracting comparatively little notice. Or the passage may have reference to the custom of the “pretended” Messiahs, who appeared in this manner. They said that in this place or in that, in this mountain or that desert, they would show signs that would convince the people that they were the Messiah. Compare the notes at Acts 5:36-37.
Acts 5:36-37 – “Some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his followers were dispersed and came to nothing. “After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. He also perished, and all his followers were scattered.
“Is within you – This is capable of two interpretations.
1. The reign of God is “in the heart.” It does not come with pomp and splendor, like the reign of temporal kings, merely to control the external “actions” and strike the senses of people with awe, but it reigns in the heart by the law of God; it sets up its dominion over the passions, and brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
2. It may mean the new dispensation is “even now among you.” The Messiah has come. John has ushered in the kingdom of God, and you are not to expect the appearance of the Messiah with great pomp and splendor, for he is now among you. Most critics at present incline to this latter interpretation. The ancient versions chiefly follow the former.”
To my way of thinking, there exists a difference of meaning because both interpretations have merit. Both present the obvious truth that Yeshua was making with the Pharisees: whether internal to each individual or already present in their midst, either way, the coming of the kingdom has nothing to do with the setting up of a visible organization or entity ruling over the entire earth, and this is what they were hoping for a messiah to come and do.
How like the Pharisaical expectation is the modern expectation of a returning Messiah to defeat all of the enemies of God and to physically rule and reign from a physical throne in the physical city of Jerusalem. To hold to this view is to disregard passages speaking of the spiritual nature of the New Jerusalem to to which we are called, not the physical location.
For example, after recounting the dramatic appearance of the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai, the writer to the Hebrews says this:
Hebrews 12:22-24 – Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels, a festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to a Judge, who is God of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, and to Yeshua, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel.
This is the “city” that we have been called to!
The apostle Paul, contrasting fleshly Israel with God’s true spiritual people, writes:
Galatians 4:26 – But the Jerusalem above [that is, the heavenly or spiritual Jerusalem] is free, and she is our mother.
Unfortunately, it appears that Christians today have fallen into the same false hope of the religious elite of Yeshua’s day, and misunderstand his purpose and goal for God’s people. The kingdom of God was established by Yeshua and continues to grow to this day.
That the kingdom of God has already been established during the lifetime of Yeshua and the disciples is a fact that is borne out by several historical factors that are brought out within the Word of God.
One of the most foundational aspects is the fulfilled prophecy of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
In Daniel 2, the king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a dream that he did not understand, in which he saw an image made of various metals: gold, silver, bronze, and iron mixed with clay. Daniel interprets each of those metals to be representative of various empires that would be established from his days forward into their future.
Almost all commentators agree the final kingdom of iron mixed with clay was the Roman empire. Daniel predicts that the kingdom of God, an eternal kingdom, would be set up or established “in the days of those kings.”
Daniel 2:44 – “In the days of those kings, the God of the heavens will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever.
Whatever eternal kingdom God was establishing would therefore have to be established prior to the demise of the final earthly empire of the vision: the Roman empire.
If Yeshua was successful in establishing the kingdom of God “in the days” of the Roman empire, then this prophetic vision has been fulfilled, at least to its establishment in time. The fullness of its fulfilment, the crushing and ending of all other kingdoms, is still in process.
Other indications that the kingdom was established in that first century timeframe was that Yeshua provides some timing markers within various teachings.
Matthew 11:12 – “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force.
Yeshua is here indicating that the kingdom of God had been in the process of being established since the preaching of John the baptizer which preceded even his own ministry.
In another place, Yeshua says to his detractors:
Matthew 12:28 – “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Essentially, Yeshua is saying that if miraculous healings are taking place by God’s Spirit working through me, these things are outward evidence that the kingdom of God is being established.
Matthew 16:28 – “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Most clearly, Yeshua made reference to the fact that the kingdom would be firmly established within the physical lifetime of some of his disciples.
Based on these various indicators, I believe that the kingdom was being established internally within the hearts of God’s people during the life and ministry of John the baptizer and Yeshua. This invisible kingdom of God ruling hearts was being evidenced by the outward workings of extraordinary miracles of conversions and healings.
After the death and resurrection of Yeshua, the disciples carried the gospel message of this kingdom to the scattered tribes of Israel among the nations. The culmination of the establishment of the eternal kingdom was finalized at the destruction of Jerusalem, when the old system of Judaic sacrifice, symbolized by the temple, was destroyed and eradicated forever, never to be rebuilt.
Because the eternal kingdom was to be established “in the days of those kings,” there would be no end to it. It would continue to grow until it filled the earth.
This is where I believe we are now in the biblical timeline of events. God’s kingdom has been firmly established two millennia ago, and has been growing and spreading, ebbing and flowing like a rising tide throughout the world during each successive generation.
Yeshua told a parable of the kingdom expressing how the kingdom would grow over time, not be established in an instant.
Matthew 13:31-32 – “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. “It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”
This parable is a metaphor for how the kingdom would grow over time, like any other living thing God has created. But even as it grows, the kingdom is being manifested every day in the lives of believers through their changed hearts, minds, and bodies. As we learn and place God’s commands within our hearts by faith, we then begin to express outward actions in accordance with his will by that same faith. Those outward actions then influence the individuals around us as an outward demonstration of the inward reality of the invisible kingdom, and the outward reality of the kingdom adds another branch, another area for animals to metaphorically enjoy its shade and perch within its protective covering.
The good news of the kingdom is that it will reach its fulfillment when every heart is in alignment with the principles of the God of the universe. The prophetic certainty is that it will take place, we just don’t know when. Since it has already been going on for over two thousand years, we need to understand the full growth and maturity of the tree in Yeshua’s parable may still not happen for hundreds or possibly even thousands of years. This may sound foreign to modern evangelical ears, but this is the pattern and projection of God’s Word and sure prophecy regarding his kingdom on this earth. Two thousand years in light of an eternal kingdom is only the beginning.
This should not be a cause for dismay, but one of energizing hope for the future of all people, and for our participation in being co-laborers with God in bringing this to pass! Our role is to faithfully pass that baton to each successive generation, and it will all be fulfilled in God’s perfect timing and within his purpose. Each heart won with the gospel or good news of the eternal, invisible kingdom is another place where God’s kingdom is established. It is promised to continue to grow until God is “all in all,” (1 Cor. 15:28). In that day, there will be no need for a physical representative kingdom, because God will be ruling every heart as he intended from the beginning, and all the world will culminate in manifesting his glory and majesty.
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