The Coming Kingdom in the Gospels

Copyright © Tim Warner

The Kingdom in the Birth Narratives


The first event featured in the New Testament was the birth of Jesus Christ. Interwoven into the birth narratives, in Matthew and Luke, references to Christ’s coming Kingdom abound. There is more emphasis on the fact that Jesus, as the Messiah, would rule as King, than on His role as Redeemer.
The New Testament opens with the following statement. “The book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham, the son of David.” (Matt. 1:1). This statement is meant to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of two distinct covenants. The title, “Son of Abraham” refers to the covenant God made with Abraham, that through one of His seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise deals with the salvation of both Jew and Gentile, as fully explained by Paul in Galatians 3. The title, “Son of David,” however, refers to the covenant God made with David, that one of his descendants would sit upon the Throne of David and rule the nation of Israel forever. Luke, in his narrative of Christ’s nativity, records Gabriel’s message to Mary as follows:

Luke 1:31-33
31 And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Israel forever: and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (KJV)

The child Jesus was destined to rule over Israel, and His Kingdom will last forever. Gabriel was alluding to Isaiah’s prophecy of the “Christ,” the Anointed One.

Isaiah 9:6
6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this. (KJV)

We stated in the first article that the term “Throne of David” was exclusively a reference to the political kingship of the nation of Israel. The kings of Israel from the seed of David all possessed “the Throne of David,” (cf. 2 Samuel 3:10, 1 Kings 2:12,24,45, Jeremiah 17:25, Jeremiah 22:2,4,30, Jeremiah 29:16, Jeremiah 36:30). Therefore, Isaiah’s prophecy that the child would sit upon the “Throne of his father David,” is a promise of a political King for the nation of Israel. That Gabriel cited this passage, and applied to the child in Mary’s womb, proves that Jesus’ destiny was to be the King of Israel.

In both of these prophecies, the birth of Christ was announced by proclaiming His coming Kingdom. The angelic choir’s announcement to the shepherds, “Peace on earth,” also referred to this Kingdom, (Luke 2:14). The wise men came looking for “He that is born King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). In fact, Herod’s massacre of the infants was an attempt to stop the fulfillment of the Messianic Kingdom. Even John the Baptist’s father prophesied of this hope.

Luke 1:68-74
68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, (KJV)

The reference to the Abrahamic Covenant, and Israel’s living at peace, is an obvious reference to the Kingdom promises in the Old Testament.

“The Christ”

A big part of the birth narratives is the announcement of Jesus’ being the promised “Christ.” “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11). The title “the Christ” refers specifically to the Davidic Covenant. “Christ” is the English transliteration of the Greek “Christos,” which means “Anointed.” The Hebrew equivalent is “Messiah.” The Jewish practice of anointing its kings with oil began with Israel’s first King, Saul. “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said: “Is it not because the LORD has anointed you commander over His inheritance?” (1 Sam. 10:1). After Saul’s being deposed from the throne of Israel, David became “the anointed” in his place. “Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons’.” (1 Sam. 16:1).

When Samuel found David, he “anointed” him king of Israel. “So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah” (1 Samuel 16:12-13). From this point on, David was referred to as “the anointed” (cf. 2 Samuel 12:7, 2 Samuel 19:21, 2 Samuel 22:51, 2 Samuel 23:1, Psalm 18:50, Psalm 89:38,51, Psalm 132:10). The Hebrew texts of these passages use the word “messiah” (translated “anointed”) in reference to David.

It is very important to keep in mind that the title, “the Anointed” (the Messiah – Hebrew, & the Christ – Greek) refers to the Kingship of the nation of Israel, stemming from the practice of pouring oil on the head of the King of Israel as a sign that he is God’s chosen. The promised seed of David, who would sit upon David’s Throne and rule the nation of Israel forever, became known as the expected “Messiah” (Hebrew), “Messias” (Aramaic), or “Christ” (Greek). The expectation of the Jewish people can be clearly seen in the following passage: “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ).” (John 1:40-41). Even the Samaritan woman at the well was awaiting the coming of this promised King of the seed of David. “The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He’.” (John 4:25-26).

Whenever you see the word “Christ” in the New Testament, the meaning is always the Anointed King of Israel promised to David. Peter explains it best in his Pentecost sermon. “‘Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne’.” (Acts 2:29-30). If we keep in mind that whenever we see Jesus called “Christ” in the New Testament, it refers to His role as Israel’s promised King, we will get the proper sense of the text, and realize just how prevalent Jesus’ Kingship of Israel really is in Scripture.

The Destiny of the Redeemed According to Jesus

When Jesus spoke of the destiny of the saved, He spoke only of His coming Kingdom. The resurrection of the righteous would be accomplished so they could participate in the Kingdom of the Christ. Jesus never spoke of an eternity in heaven for the saved. Nor did the disciples ever hear of such a teaching from Jesus, the Jewish leaders, or from the Old Testament. Jesus taught that the very Kingdom of the Christ, which the Jewish nation anticipated, based on the many Old Testament prophecies we discussed in the previous article, would be the reward and inheritance of the saved. There was not the slightest hint of heaven being the destiny of the redeemed.

Matthew 19:27-29
27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life. (KJV)

Jesus placed the “everlasting life” in His coming Kingdom. The reward for the followers of Christ will be the Kingdom of God, not heaven. While speaking to the scribes and Pharisees who rejected Him, Jesus said:

Matthew 8:11,12
11 And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (KJV)

The “children of the Kingdom” were the Jews, to whom the covenants belonged. Jesus told the unbelieving Jews that they will end up in outer darkness and Gentiles will inherit the Kingdom prepared for the Jews. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the patriarchs of the Jewish people. Yet, Gentiles will inherit their eternal reward. Notice the connection between the reward expected by the Jews and the promised reward of the Gentile believers. It is one and the same, the Kingdom of God on earth.

A word of explanation is required here because many assume that Matthew’s use of the term “Kingdom of heaven” means the Kingdom is in heaven. The true meaning is that the Kingdom is FROM heaven. This phrase is used only by Matthew and is interchangeable with the phrase “Kingdom of God” used in the other Gospels and throughout the New Testament. This is easily demonstrated by comparing the parallel passages in the synoptic Gospels. In each case where Matthew recorded Jesus saying “Kingdom of heaven,” the parallel passages in Mark and Luke recorded “Kingdom of God.” From this we may conclude the phrases are interchangeable. Those who have developed doctrinal positions based on distinguishing these phrases are mistaken.

When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, He had in view the same Kingdom that was promised in the Old Testament, the Kingdom the Jews eagerly awaited. In fact both phrases (Kingdom of Heaven & Kingdom of God) are abbreviated from Daniel’s primary “Kingdom” prophecy. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44 KJV). The full title is “The Kingdom of the God of heaven.” “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven” were apparently shortened titles. But there is no question the Gospel writers used them interchangeably. We may conclude then, that in no way did Jesus mean to indicate that “heaven” was the location of His coming Kingdom, or that He would rule from heaven in some mystical way.

Jesus even taught this Kingdom, anticipated by the Jews from the Old Testament Scriptures, would also be the reward and destiny of the Gentiles who would be saved through the ministry of the Apostles. Speaking to the Jews who did not believe, Jesus said the following:

Luke 13:26-29
26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27 But He shall say, I tell you, I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.
29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. (KJV)

Notice the contrast to the Kingdom of God is hell. The Jews who rejected Christ will end up in hell while the Gentiles and Jews who accept Him will inherit the Kingdom of God promised to Israel in the Old Testament. Notice also our  inheritance will be shared with the saints of the Old Testament. What inheritance was promised to the saints in the Old Testament? It was certainly not heaven! It was a land inheritance within the context of a restored creation.  Jesus made no distinction in final destiny between the saints of the Old Testament and those of the New. When Jesus spoke of those from the east, west, north and south he included the whole world. Jesus was including us in the promise of inheritance in His Kingdom. The Kingdom, which Daniel wrote was “under the whole heaven,” is to be the destiny, inheritance, and reward of Christians. The teaching of Jesus Christ, about His Kingdom being the destiny of the righteous, was not new. He simply reaffirmed the Old Testament teaching for His disciples.

Many of the Jews of Jesus’ day made the same mistake that many Jews make today. Based on the fact that the Messiah would be Jewish, He would rule from Jerusalem, and the prophets of Israel predicted His Kingdom, they assumed that being “Jewish” was all that was required to enter that Kingdom. The Kingdom had lost its significance as the reward of the righteous, as Psalm 37 and Daniel 7 so clearly state. It had become only the hope of a political revolution to many Jews.

Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who was well acquainted with the Kingdom hope, that an inheritance in Messiah’s Kingdom was not automatic just because someone is Jewish. Nor could it be attained by the good works practiced by the Pharisees.

John 3:3,5
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….
5 Jesus answered, Verily verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (KJV)

Nicodemus came to Jesus because of Jesus’ claim of being the Messiah. Jesus did not tell him his concept of the Kingdom was all wrong, but how he could enter that Kingdom he so eagerly desired. Being “born again” is the only requirement. The Jews of His day who were not “born again” would not see the Kingdom of God because they would not be resurrected in the resurrection of the just.

Jesus Taught There Would be Two Comings

The Scribes and Pharisees only knew of one coming of Christ. They believed when He came He would deliver them from their Roman oppressors and establish the Kingdom of God. They knew of the prophecies about the birth of Christ, but it is obvious the religious establishment had no idea He must die for the redemption of the world, and there would be a long interval of time before He would set up His Kingdom on the earth.

The religious leaders were not the only ones of this opinion. The disciples and others believed this also. We find Jesus spending much time explaining that it was not yet time to set up His Kingdom.

Luke 19:11-19
11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. (KJV)

Jesus had quite a crowd following Him as He walked from Jericho to Jerusalem. Many of them believed Jesus was the promised Christ. They apparently thought when they reached Jerusalem Jesus would establish His Kingdom. Jesus tried to correct this error in the following parable.

12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.

Jesus was showing them He must first go away before the Kingdom of God would come.

13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.

Here, Jesus instructed His followers to serve the Lord with the expectancy of His return.

14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.

These were the Jews who at the crucifixion said, “away with this man …. crucify him”.

15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.

Jesus will judge His followers when He returns at His Kingdom. Now let’s see what the rewards are.

16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.
19 And he said likewise to him, be thou also over five cities.

Since the rest of this parable appears meant to be taken quite literally, these rewards should also be taken literally. And why not? The crowns, mentioned in the Epistles, are for rulers in the Kingdom.

Unbelieving Jews Will be Excluded from Christ’s Kingdom

We have seen that Jesus, when preaching the gospel, did not speak of heaven as the reward of the saved. Rather, He spoke of the same Kingdom promised to Abraham and his seed, and to David. We have also seen the hope of this Kingdom includes Gentiles, the adopted sons, as well as the believing Jews of Jesus’ day. We are those who come from the east, west, north and south. Yet, Jesus also warned unbelieving Jews that they would be cut off, and not inherit His coming Kingdom.

Luke 13:24-29
24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many I say unto you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able.
25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut the door, and ye [unbelieving Jews] begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us: and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are;
26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye
[unbelieving Jews] shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.
29 And they
[believing Gentiles] shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. [brackets mine] (KJV)

As believing Gentiles, we will inherit the Kingdom of God. The Jews who rejected Jesus will be weeping and wailing when they find a great gulf fixed between them, their father Abraham, and their Christ.

The self-righteous priests, scribes, and Pharisees were quite confident that they would have the highest positions in the coming Kingdom of Christ. In Jesus’ parable of the husbandman who lent out his vineyard, Jesus angered them with the idea that this Kingdom would be torn from them and given to someone else.

Matthew 21:33:41
33 Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.
35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.
38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. (KJV)

The Jewish leaders were the husbandmen who wanted to seize the inheritance. Jesus made it clear that they were being disinherited by God and replaced by more faithful husbandmen. Those faithful husbandmen were Jesus’ disciples.

Matthew 21:42-43
42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (KJV)

Jesus did not mean the Kingdom would be given to another nation besides Israel. He meant it would be given to a pure Israel, an Israel with the unbelievers removed. It would be given to a pure remnant of Israel with circumcised hearts. Notice what Jesus told the disciples.

Luke 12:32
32 Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (KJV)

The disciples, as Jews, replaced the priests, scribes and Pharisees, receiving the positions in the Kingdom that should have gone to them. Jesus made this clear to the disciples in the upper room.

Luke 22:15-20,28-30
15 Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
16 “for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves;
18 “for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you….
28 “But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.
29 “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me,
30 “that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (NKJV)

The disciples, as the new leaders of a purified Israel, without the unbelieving element, received the New Covenant and the most honorable places in the coming Kingdom of Christ, ruling beside Him from His Temple. The idea that God’s programs for the “Church” and “Israel” are entirely separate, is not biblical. Christianity is the fulfillment of true biblical Judaism. The Church’s firm foundation is Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah. The Apostles of the Church are Jewish, and received the Jewish New Covenant as their charter. Because the New Covenant was later broadened, and allowed Gentile inclusion into the Jewish Church, we now have the right to reign with the Jewish Messiah from His Jewish Temple, with the Jewish Apostles. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd” (John 10:16 KJV).

Jesus stated plainly for His disciples that the Kingdom inheritance attached to the Gospel message is the same Kingdom proclaimed from the beginning of the world. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34 KJV).

In this article, we have seen a unity between the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ regarding the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ teaching assumes a literal reading of the Old Testament prophecies of the Kingdom. Jesus never spoke of heaven as the destiny of any redeemed people. In the next article we will examine the Kingdom parables of Jesus.

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