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. And it is a realm of righteousness, peace, and joy, embodied in the Church, the Body of Christ, which 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).
The reality of the Kingdom
The reality of the Kingdom broke into history, and into the lives and ministries of the Apostles, on the first Pentecost.
With the coming of the Spirit, the reality of Jesus’ ascension and rule, and 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 attaining 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 that you yourselves see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
‘The LORDsaid to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
Till I make your enemies your footstool.’
Therefore let all the house of Israel assuredly know that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
A new order had been established, 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.
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).
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).
How much does the Kingdom “above” factor in your daily walk with and work for the Lord? Talk with a Christian friend about this question.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.