Sunday, March 06, 2022

The Coming Kingdom

The little band of Jewish disciples who followed the Messiah in “the days of his flesh” asked to be taught to pray. The Lord’s answer was in the form of a pattern prayer, one that was appropriate at that time while the kingdom of God was being announced as “at hand”.

But repentance was required of those who would be the King’s subjects and, for the most part, that was not forthcoming.

Within a short time Israel’s jealous rulers, with the help of their Gentile rulers, would crucify their long promised King. The Apostle John, in the opening chapter of his Gospel, sums it up this way, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

With that context in mind, “Your kingdom come”, along with the many Old Testament promises that describe the kingdom of God in glowing literal, material and earthly terms, might seem to be nothing more than a pious wish, for the disciples would have in mind the picture painted by the prophets: an organized community ruled over by a son of David and in possession of well-defined territory.

Literally Fulfilled

So then, those who had journeyed with the Lord Jesus and watched him “proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” would find no reason to expect anything other than a literal fulfilment of prophecies that spoke of their nation as being lifted up above the nations. They asked their resurrected-but-not-yet-ascended Lord in Acts 1:6, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Now, on a number of occasions Jesus had corrected views and expectations held by his disciples or by others. But in this case he did not tell them to refocus their hopes. By not doing so, he allowed their yearning for a future material earthly kingdom ruled over by a son of David, to stand. This kingdom would be one in which God’s will would “be done on earth as it is in heaven”. As to the point in time when that would become a visible reality, he only said, “It is not for you to know times and seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Later they would learn that this part of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants would go into abeyance (or be set to one side for a time) at least until “the fullness of the Gentiles” had come in.

So a new commission was given the disciples; they were to go into all the world (contrast this with Matthew 10:6) and preach the good news to every creature. Resulting from that ministry a new entity would come into existence, Christ’s ecclesia, the church. Jesus told them that details concerning it and things yet to come awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit as promised in John 16:7-15. These “mysteries” (things previously known to God but not revealed to Old Testament prophets) are recorded for our benefit in the New Testament epistles. But would the new message given to the disciples result in the establishment of the kingdom for which they were told to pray? Yes, but not yet.

How Long, O Lord?

The scriptures indicate that before the kingdom comes in a visible form on earth, there is to be a unique time of trial for Abraham’s descendants called “Jacob’s trouble”. Why would God permit his chosen people to experience such an unparalleled trial after they had already suffered through past centuries? I offer the following thoughts:

  1. I do not think God will be bringing his wrath to bear on 21st century Israelis for committing the awful crime of the nation’s leaders and others in the first century. (That is unless they express their approval of it by ignoring the salvation God graciously offers to all men through the death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah.) I arrive at this understanding from reading Acts 2:24, Isaiah 53 and Hebrews 2:3.
  2. I do think it will be a wakeup call for those Jews who are on earth during the tribulation. Both Testaments clearly establish that in times when God is speaking severely to a nation, mercy is always shown to a “remnant” that genuinely sorrows over their nation’s sins.
  3. Initially, all nations will be used by God as his instruments in dealing with Israel bringing pressure to bear upon the chosen people. Jerusalem will be surrounded with the armies of the world. But when that discipline has produced the desired result in Israel, God’s wrath will be poured out on those nations.

Praying in Harmony

So, while we may be sympathetic with Israel’s defense of itself against the many attacks made upon it in the past and in the present, and also see in the nation’s history a record of divine preservation, it is not my understanding or faith to believe that by such means the prayer: “Your kingdom come” will be fulfilled. Those Israelis ignoring the warning of the awesome and terrible time of Jacob’s trouble yet to begin, and Christian Gentiles who think that military force or political agreements will bring in the kingdom of God, are just not in tune with God’s plan.

The Lord taught his disciples to pray in line with the fact that he was initially sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and much of his teaching is best understood by standing in the shoes of the disciples as he gave them an example of how to pray while the King was in their midst expounding the standards by which they, as his subjects, should live. He was making a bona fide offer to his people and his disciples’ prayer was to be in tune with his mission. Alas, Jerusalem did not know the things that belonged to its peace. That attitude will not be changed (except by relatively few) until “after the tribulation of those days ... the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven ... all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”.

Every Lord’s Day some gather to remember Jesus Christ in his first appearing and sacrifice while awaiting our Lord’s return for his own. Thus, though already assured they are justified and have peace with God, they are told not to be troubled by the knowledge of what will happen on earth in the day when the Lord will be dealing with Israel and the nations. The world stage appears to be getting ready for Scene 1 and the appearance of a very deceitful leader, but we should not be fearful or troubled by indications of a gathering storm. “Blessed are all those who wait for him,” first of all, and bearing in mind the future needs of believers in Israel and among the nations as foretold in Revelation, I find myself praying “Thy kingdom come”, don’t you?

— Colin Anderson, “Thy Kingdom Come”, December 2014

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