The Progress of the Kingdom (1)
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end… Isaiah 9.7
The essence of the Kingdom of God is to increase. The Lord Jesus commanded His followers to pray for the coming of the Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10). In heaven the rule of Christ is total, everywhere, all-encompassing, and the cause of continuous joy, rejoicing, singing, and celebration. We’ve a ways to go before this is true on earth, but we should be praying for it. And we must believe that the Lord would not command us to pray for something He did not intend to supply, if only in part.
Seeking the Kingdom of God earnestly is the Christian’s highest priority in life (Matt. 6.33). Jesus “brought near” the Kingdom of God during the years of His earthly ministry (Matt. 4.17; 16.28). From the moment Jesus began His public ministry, the Kingdom of God was advancing on earth as in heaven. When the promised Spirit of God was poured out on the first Christian Pentecost, the Lord put in place the motive power for the irresistible progress of the Kingdom of God. The power of God’s Spirit energized, equipped, led, and drove the first believers until a beachhead for the Kingdom had been established as far away as Rome. By His power this Kingdom has advanced steadily through two thousand years, and it will continue to grow and increase until the Lord comes again to bring the Kingdom in its fullness in the new heavens and the new earth.
We cannot be said to be seeking the Kingdom of God if we do not truly expect to realize progress in the Kingdom’s advance, in and through our lives. The character of the Kingdom of God is to increase, expand, grow, advance, overcome, overwhelm, and supplant all other false fiefdoms of men, whether personal or political. It spreads out like light, pervades like salt, and enlivens like leaven as it brings the fullness of Jesus Christ Himself into every place (Eph. 1.22, 23).
In this series of our studies in Kingdom Civics we will consider the various ways the Kingdom of God makes progress in and through the people of God, the Church. My purpose will be to convince the reader that God will advance His Kingdom, and to entice the reader to find this prospect so completely enthralling that he will take up the mandate to seek the Kingdom by every means in every situation, fully expecting to see Kingdom progress in and through his life, every day of his life.
The Scriptures provide much encouragement for us to envision this Kingdom as advancing continually, and ourselves as settings and agents by which this advance occurs.
In this first installment we want to consider briefly just a few of ma references of Scripture that teach us to think about the Kingdom of God in terms of continual progress and advance. From there we will examine more carefully the images, means, and outcomes of the Kingdom as it comes on earth after the pattern and practice we may observe in heaven.
Old Testament images of Kingdom progress
The Old Testament abounds with images and teaching concerning the coming of a Kingdom from God which will extend over all nations and peoples. These passages are so many and so clear that they provide an understood motif for all New Testament teaching about the Kingdom. The New Testament does not repeat these many references, although they can be seen to be clearly in the background of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom. The New Testament takes these references, and the teaching of Jesus, as given, and pursues the work of seeking the Kingdom in the full conviction of the certainty and reliability of these teachings.
Here is a very partial, but representative, listing of Old Testament texts which teach the coming and expansion of a Kingdom from God:
Genesis 49.8-11: God will send a Ruler descended from the tribe of Judah. When He comes the dynasty of Judah will cease (v. 10) because “Shiloh” – literally, “Him Whose it is” – will have come to claim His throne. He will extend His rule until He has achieved “the obedience of the peoples.”
Psalm 72: The reign of David’s son will overtake all kings and kingdoms, and the glory of the Lord will fill the whole earth. Solomon is the king immediately in view, and he realized a partial fulfillment of this prophecy of David (the superscription, “Of Solomon” should probably be understood not as meaning “composed by Solomon” – cf. v. 20 – but as “concerning Solomon”). Yet beyond Solomon David’s greater Son is the One through Whom the fullness of this prophecy will be achieved.
Isaiah 7: There will be “no end” of the increase of the government of God’s Son from the time He comes among men and forever. The righteousness, peace, and joy of the Kingdom of God will continue to grow and expand as God’s King rules over His Kingdom from the throne of David.
Daniel 2.44, 45: The Kingdom God sends to earth during the period of the Roman Empire will grow like a huge stone until it overwhelms all other Kingdoms and “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them” (Dan. 7.27).
Micah 5.2-4: The Ruler Who comes as a Shepherd to God’s flock from the city of Bethlehem shall extend the reach of His Kingdom “to the ends of the earth”, and He shall bring peace to all peoples.
Haggai 2.6-9: The Lord will shake all nations and bring all the glory of all nations into the house and temple of the Lord, which temple is the Church (Eph. 2.19-22).
Zechariah 8.2-23: In the day of the Lord’s grace “many peoples and strong nations” will seek the Lord and plead with the people of God to “Let us go with you, for we have heard that the Lord is with you.”
The parables of Jesus
Jesus frequently used images and metaphors which suggested a pervasive and growing presence of the Kingdom He had come to announce: light, salt, leaven, growing seeds, fields being sown, nets full of fish, and so forth.
His most telling parables concerning the Kingdom of God come in Matthew 13. Allow me to summarize what these teach concerning the progress of the Kingdom:
The parable of the sower: The entire field is sown with the “word of the Kingdom” (v. 18). It does not all bear fruit, of course, but the presence of the “good seed” is everywhere established, if only for a brief time.
The parable of the weeds: The entire field – which is the world, v. 38 – is sown with and begins to grow with the good seed of the Kingdom – those who have been translated into that Kingdom by grace through faith (v. 38). When the angels come for the harvest, they do not encounter a weed field, waiting to be burned, but a wheat field, waiting to be harvested, interspersed with pockets of weeds.
The parable of the net: The Kingdom of heaven gathers “fish of every kind.” So far and strong is the reach of the Kingdom of God that many force their way into it who have no true interest there. Theirs is a kind of “feigned obedience” (Ps. 81.15 NASB) but not a true participation in the Kingdom. They will be separated from it on the last day.
The remainder of the New Testament
The book of Acts sets the pattern for how we should think about the progress of the Kingdom of God. From obscure beginnings, by the power of the Spirit and Word of God, the Kingdom advances to the ends of the earth, bringing new life to people from every nation and tribe, making all things new in their lives and communities, and turning the world upside-down for Jesus Christ. In the process the citizens of the Kingdom, its ambassadors to the world (2 Cor. 5.17-21), work to reconcile all things to God, to live for the glory of God in all things, to relieve the groaning creation of a portion of its sin-inflicted burden, to renew culture and transform society, to proclaim liberty in God’s Spirit to all who are slaves to sin, and, essentially, to see the miracle of the first Pentecost and the book of Acts repeated again and again “to the ends of the earth.”
The mindset of New Testament writers is one of personal growth on the part of those who have believed; growth in the churches as the Body of Christ; increase of the Gospel to new parts and places; taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ; silencing every foe of God and His truth; increasing the light of the Kingdom against the darkness, which fades away in its presence; and persevering in doing good and proclaiming truth for the praise of the glory of God’s grace, until He returns to take us unto Himself.
The witness of the Old and New Testaments is thus that we should expect the Kingdom of God to grow and increase in and through the people of God, by the power of God’s Word and Spirit, so that all of life, and all peoples and nations, come under the influence of its light and truth.
We are simply not reading the Word of God as He intends if we do not understand it to teach us to seek first the Kingdom which is growing and expanding on earth as it is in heaven.