The Presence of the Kingdom: The New Testament (10)
...to [the apostles] He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Acts 1.3
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus…Hebrews 3.1
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. Hebrews 12.22-24
The Kingdom “on the ground”
With the apostles and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God became something more than merely a vision; it became a lived reality which the apostles sought and for the expansion of which they labored through all their days. The Kingdom of God is an eternal, heavenly realm that is very much “on the ground” and on the move by the Spirit and Word of God, working in and through His redeemed people.
This was the experience of the apostles, as we have seen; it is what they have bequeathed to us.
As we might suppose, the apostles sustained a clear vision of the Kingdom, one that brought forward all the previous teaching of Scripture into the framework of the Gospel and the Person and work of Jesus Christ. For the apostles, the Kingdom of God was intimately bound up with Jesus and the work He presently is doing, both at the Father’s right hand and by His Spirit in and through the Church. It is a real domain of righteousness, peace, and joy, entered by those who believe and embodied in the Church, the Body of Christ. Like a great, growing stone, that Kingdom advances toward the day of Christ’s imminent return in glory.
Jesus Himself instilled this vision into His apostles, as we see in Acts 1.3. Having spent over three years teaching, proclaiming, and embodying the coming reality of the Kingdom, and promising His disciples they would see it and rule in it during their lifetimes, He now added a “graduate seminar” in Kingdom review and enlargement, lest they should lose sight of what He had taught them concerning what must be their highest priority in life (Matt. 6.33). And, as the writer of Hebrews—writing in one of the latest books of the New Testament—demonstrates, receiving and advancing “on the ground” in that heavenly calling and Kingdom is what should characterize our lives in Christ here and now.
The reality of the Kingdom
The reality of the Kingdom broke into history, and into the lives and ministries of the apostles and all believers, on the first Pentecost.
With Jesus’ ascension and rule and the coming of the Spirit, the certainty of everything He had taught and promised became for the apostles the new framework for human experience. Everything the apostles taught and did from that moment forward was with a view to seeking and realizing the rule of Jesus Christ increasingly on earth, as it is in heaven, and in preparing for the full and final attainment of His Kingdom upon His return.
The apostles’ vision of the Kingdom of God revolved around three foci: above, beyond, and within. Let’s look briefly at each of these, beginning, in this installment, with the first.
The Kingdom above
In the first sermon of the Christian era Peter declared the rule of Jesus as King and Lord to be the orienting fact of the new epoch (Acts 2.33-36):
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:
The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
A new order had been established on earth; a new power was unleashed among men and nations; a new agenda was beginning to unfold; a new King was on the throne; and God was now calling all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel. If we would enter this new realm, we must consider Jesus and desire to take our place in that heavenly assembly of saints and angels, so that we bring that heavenly domain through our heavenly calling to earthly reality in every aspect of life.
Paul also understood the central significance of the Kingdom above, where Christ rules at the right hand of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15.25-27). Only in the light of that reality, and against the backdrop of where that reality is leading, can we do works which will last and conduct ministries that will not be in vain, but will have power to actualize in human history the unseen reality of the rule of King Jesus (1 Cor. 15.58). We must set our minds on the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3.1-3), so that we allow this heavenly vision to shape our earthly work and experience.
In the book of Revelation the apostle John was shown a series of overlapping, integrated visions of the powerful effects of the Kingdom above on all the affairs of men and history. Whatever transpires on earth is the result of things ordained in heaven and carried out by God’s faithful angelic and human servants.
The apostles understood that the rule of Jesus Christ is the determinative fact of human history. We cannot understand our lives, our faith, or our reason for being apart from a proper orientation “under the heavens” to the throne of Jesus Christ and the eternal covenantal and Kingdom purposes of God.
We have been seated there with Christ, Paul insists, so that we might live from this vantage point and fulfill our callings as ambassadors of Jesus Christ to a world in which the darkness is receding and the new light of the Kingdom of God is advancing day by day (Eph. 2.6, 7; 1 Jn. 2.8). Seek the Kingdom above, that you might know and advance it here below.
For reflection or discussion
1. What do we mean by saying that the apostles understood the Kingdom of God as a heavenly realm being worked out “on the ground”?
2. Why do we need a vision of the heavenly realm, and of Jesus, exalted in glory? How can we nurture such a vision?
3. “A new order had been established on earth; a new power was unleashed among men and nations; a new agenda was beginning to unfold; a new King was on the throne; and God was now calling all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel..” In view of this, what is our responsibility as Kingdom citizens and ambassadors?
Next steps—Transformation: How much does the Kingdom “above” factor in your daily walk with and work for the Lord? What can you do to improve in this heavenly vision?
T. M. MooreTwo free booklets can help you realize more of the presence of the Kingdom in your life. Order your copies of The Gospel of the Kingdom and Joy to Your World! by clicking here and here.A companion book to this study of “The Kingdom Presence” is available at our bookstore. Listen to an excerpt from The Kingdom Turn, by clicking here. Then order your free copy. To learn more about the work of Jesus as He sits exalted in glory, order a free copy of our book, What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth? by clicking here.
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