Saturday, March 7, 2020

Clearing Up Some Confusion Concerning the Kingdom of God (Part Two)

The celestial kingdom of God

Remarkably, there are some believers who deny or question the existence of any heavenly realm besides the visible heavens that we see above. For example, one believer stated that he was “pretty sure” that a heavenly realm that is distinct from what can be seen from earth was no more real than the hell in which most Christians believe. When asked to elaborate on his belief, he went on to say that “the Bible never really describes heaven as more than what we see above,” and that “a place where we dwell with God and all these weird religious concepts of heaven are never spoken of in scripture.”

While I would agree with this believer that there are a number of false religious concepts of heaven that are never spoken of in Scripture (such as the idea that heaven is a place where people “go when they die,” and is populated by immaterial, “disembodied souls”), I don’t think Scripture allows us to deny that there is an actual place called “heaven” in which Christ currently dwells and sits enthroned, and which is other than (and beyond) “what we see above.” Following his ascension from earth (Acts 1:9-11; 2:34), our Lord “passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14), entered into what the author of Hebrews called “heaven itself” (Heb. 9:24), and came to be “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man...” (Heb. 8:1-5). There, Christ purified the “heavenly things” of which the tabernacle and other related man-made structures on earth are said to have been but copies or representations (9:23). To believe that the heavenly place in which we’re told Christ is now sitting enthroned – and from which he must depart (and descend) in order to appear in the earth’s atmosphere (1 Thess. 4:16-17) – is simply “what we see above,” is clearly absurd. Scripture is clear that there exists a transcendent realm that, in relation to the earth and its inhabitants, is both above us and unseen by us.

Consider also Rev. 12:7-12, where we read of a heavenly realm that is inhabited by heavenly beings, and from which Satan and his messengers are going to be banished at some future time. This heavenly realm (which is referred to in this passage as both “heaven” and “the heavens”) is clearly distinguished from the earth. Satan and his angels belong to the heavenly realm at present (cf. Eph. 6:12), although they can apparently travel to and from the earth as they please (cf. Job 1:6-7). However, following the “war” referred to in v. 7, Satan and his angels will be banished from the heavenly realm and “thrown down to the earth” (v. 9). That the heavenly realm in view here is above the earth is further evident from v. 12 (where the devil is said to have “come down” or “descended” to the earth). In response to the expulsion of Satan from heaven, we read that someone in heaven declares that “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come. Thus, just as the kingdom of God is going to be present on the earth at a future time (i.e., following Christ’s return to the earth), so there will be a time when the kingdom comes to be present in the heavenly realm, also (evidently, the coming of the kingdom in heaven occurs before the coming of the kingdom on the earth).

Keeping the above points in mind (as well as what was argued in part one of this study concerning those who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God on earth), let’s now consider the following argument:

1. Mortal, flesh-and-blood humans will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God that’s going to be established on the earth after Christ’s return.
2. However, according to Paul in 1 Cor. 15:50, “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God.”
3. In 1 Cor. 15:50, Paul was not referring to the kingdom of God on the earth.

If Paul had in mind the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth when he wrote what he did in 1 Cor. 15:50, then he would’ve been contradicting the scriptural fact that there will, in fact, be mortal, flesh-and-blood humans in this kingdom during the eon to come (as was demonstrated toward the end of part one of this study). But of course, Paul wasn’t contradicting Scripture. He simply didn’t have in mind the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth. But if the future location of the kingdom of God that Paul had in mind in 1 Cor. 15:50 is not going to be the earth, then what location did Paul have in mind?

Answer: Paul had in mind the heavenly realm, where Christ is presently located. It is in contrast with the conditions that will characterize the kingdom of God on earth during the eons to come that Paul told those in the body of Christ that “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God.” Rather, what Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 15:50 was the kingdom of God into which the saints in the body of Christ will be entering after the snatching away and meeting in the air – i.e., the kingdom of God as it will exist in the heavenly realm (and which he referred to in 2 Tim. 4:18 as the Lord’s “celestial kingdom”). It is the kingdom of God in heaven – not the kingdom of God on earth – in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment.” It is because the location of the kingdom for which those in the body of Christ are destined is celestial in location that we (who are presently “soilish” in nature) must come to wear “the image…of the Celestial,” and thereby become “celestials” (1 Cor. 15:48-49). Our mortal, “terrestrial” body must be transformed into a body that is fit for the realm where Christ, the Celestial One, resides and inherently belongs – i.e., the heavens (1 Cor. 15:47). In 2 Cor. 5:2, our glorified body is described as “our habitation which is out of heaven. As in 1 Cor. 15:47 (where Christ is referred to as the Lord out of heaven), the term translated “out of” in this verse (ek) expresses the idea that, after we’ve come to wear Christ’s celestial image, the heavenly realm will be the place to which our glorified body will inherently belong.[1]

Moreover, since it was in the heavens that Christ was located when Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth (Heb. 8:1; 9:24), we can conclude that it is also in the heavens – and not on the earth – that those to whom Paul wrote will be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-9), and where they will be “manifested in front of the dais of Christ” (v. 10). Hence, the future, vivified body that we in the body of Christ will possess after “the mortal may be swallowed up by life” is described as being “eonian, in the heavens.” (2 Cor. 5:1). In accord with this fact, we’re told by Paul that our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Savior also” (Phil. 3:20), and that we have an “expectation reserved for [us] in the heavens(Col. 1:5). Based on these and other related verses, we can reasonable conclude that the location of the kingdom of God in which the saints in the body of Christ will be enjoying their eonian allotment is not going to be on the earth. It’s going to be the heavenly realm in which, according to Rev. 12:7-12, the kingdom of God is going to be established after Satan is cast out of it.

“Troublesome” verses concerning the kingdom of God

As noted at the beginning of part one of this study, Don Bast asks the reader five questions in the introduction of his book The Secrets of the Kingdom. These questions are based on certain verses he found particularly “troublesome” back when he believed what he used to believe and teach in his fellowship group (and which he had difficulty reconciling with what he used to believe).

Mr. Bast’s first question is based on 1 Cor. 6:2-3: “How is the body of Christ going to judge the world and life’s affairs if it is caught away to the far-off place in the sky, called the celestials?”

In one my earlier blog articles, I argued that the “world” (kosmos) which we’ll be judging is the heavenly/celestial part of the kosmos. However, I’ve since come to believe that we who are members of the body of Christ will be no less involved in the affairs of earth during the eons to come than Satan and his messengers are presently involved during this wicked eon (which is the position I defended in part four of my study on Revelation 12 (see the last section of this article). Although Satan and the rest of the beings Paul referred to as “the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials” (Eph. 6:12) aren’t terrestrial beings who reside on (or naturally belong to) the earth, they are, nevertheless, very much involved in what takes place on the earth. In fact, in Psalm 82, we find God rebuking this class of beings (who are referred to as “the gods” and as “sons of the Most High”) for judging unjustly among the nations of the earth, and showing partiality to the wicked (v. 2). In verses 3-4, God makes it clear how these heavenly beings ought to have been using their authority:

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

 In accord with this understanding of Psalm 82, A.E. Knoch commented on Christ’s words in John 10:34-36 (where Christ quoted from this Psalm) as follows:

“The term "gods" is translated "judges" in Ex.21:6, 22:8-9, where it refers to men. But our Lord does not appeal to this, but to Psalm 82:6 where the context clearly excludes men. The mighty spiritual powers of the past who overrule the affairs of mankind are called sons by God Himself. Even Satan is called a son of God (Job1:6). He is called the god of this eon (2Co.4:4). Now if God said to these subjectors, "Gods are you," notwithstanding the fact that they failed to right the wrongs of earth, how much rather shall He have called Him God Who shall dispossess them?”

Since the body of Christ is going to be displacing the wicked celestial beings who are in view in Psalm 82 and Eph. 6:12, it’s reasonable to believe that we will be just as actively involved in the affairs of mankind as these beings have been since the beginning of human history (even if our influence – like the influence of the celestial beings we’ll be displacing – goes largely unnoticed and unrecognized by those over whom we’ll be exercising our authority). And as I noted in my Rev. 12 article, the authority and influence that these celestial beings have over the gentile kingdoms of which they are “chiefs” or “princes” (Dan. 10:13-21) is consistent with there being human kings (as well as other religious and political leaders) exercising their own authority on the earth. From this it follows that our authority and influence over the nations during the eons to come will not be in conflict with Israel’s role as the dominant earthly power, or with the exercise of her political and religious authority during the eon to come. Rather, it will complement and supplement it (for no Israelite during the eon to come – including those among the 144,000 – is going to be spending the majority of his time outside the land of Israel, where the nations will be dwelling).

Mr. Bast’s second question is based on what Paul wrote in 2 Tim. 2:11-12: “Why does Paul say only those who endure will reign with Christ when all the body of Christ was chosen for a place of a son, to reign in the celestials, before the foundation of the world?”

The reason Paul wrote that only those who endure will reign with Christ is because only those who endure will reign with Christ. We know that all in the body of Christ are going to be “manifested in front of the dais of Christ” to be “requited for that which he puts into practice through the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). And we know from 1 Cor. 3:12-15 that this event will involve some saints receiving (and others forfeiting) “wages.” We also know that, by virtue of “suffering together [with Christ]” and “enduring,” some saints will be “glorified together” with Christ and will “reign together” with him (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12). Thus, in addition to having eonian life (which will be the “common” blessing of everyone in the body of Christ, and will involve living with Christ for the eons and enjoying “every spiritual blessing among the celestials”), some saints in the body of Christ will – by virtue of having endured and suffered together with Christ – have a role in reigning with Christ as well.

Mr. Bast’s third question is based on 1 Thess. 4:16-17: ”How can the body of Christ ever be with the Lord in the celestials when he is on earth sitting on a throne?”

This question correctly presupposes that Christ is, in fact, going to be “on earth sitting on a throne” at some point following his return to earth at the end of this eon (and, as demonstrated in part one of this study, this throne is going to be located in Jerusalem during the eon to come). However, the question also seems to be presupposing that Christ will be continuously present on the earth for the entire duration of the eon(s) to come. But is this assumption warranted?

I think every believer would agree that Jesus Christ will be on the earth during the eons to come for as long as he needs to be, and that – beyond this – he’ll be free to come and go as he pleases. But will Christ have to be on earth for the entire duration (or even most of the duration) of his reign during these eons? One prophecy which implies that Christ is not going to be continuously present on the earth during the eon to come is found in Ezekiel 37:21-22 and 24-26 (cf. 34:23-24):

“Behold, I shall take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will convene them from all around and bring them to their own ground. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king for them all. They shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they be divided into two kingdoms any longer.”

“My servant David will be king over them, and there shall come to be one shepherd for them all. They shall walk in My ordinances and observe My statutes, and they will do them. Thus they will dwell in the land that I gave to My servant Jacob, in which your fathers dwelt; they will dwell on it, they and their sons and their sons’ sons throughout the eon, and David My servant will be their prince for the eon.”

According to this prophecy, David  in addition to being among the Jewish saints who will be restored to life in the “former resurrection” to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God – is going to be reigning as king over the kingdom during this time as well. But why would David be reigning as king over this future kingdom if Jesus Christ himself is going to be permanently present and reigning on the earth for the entire time as well? We know that Christ will be “the King of kings” during the eons to come. However, Christ is apparently going to delegate authority to David to reign as king in the kingdom that he (Christ) is going to restore to Israel after he returns to earth. The fact that David will also be reigning as a king in the kingdom that will be established on the earth by Christ suggests that Christ is not going to be present on earth for the entire duration of (or even the majority of the time during) the eon that is being referred to in the above prophecy.   
                                                                                     
That Christ isn’t going to be permanently present on the earth during the eon to come shouldn’t be surprising when we keep in mind that the kingdom of God is going to be present in two different locations/realms (i.e., on the earth and in the heavens). Whenever Christ is not personally present on the earth, David will function as the highest authority on the earth, in his stead. Thus, even if those in the body of Christ were to be continually in Christ’s presence whenever he is present on the earth (although I don’t think Paul’s words in 1 Thess. 4:17 necessitate this view), it’s likely that Christ will not actually be on the earth for the majority of the time during the eon to come. Although we can’t do much more than speculate, it’s possible that much of what Christ will be doing on the earth after his return will be occurring near the beginning of the eon, and will involve the setting up/establishing of the kingdom of God on the earth, and the making of decisions that will determine how things will be for the remainder of the eon (for example, the judgment that we find described in Matthew 25:31-36 will clearly be a judgment that takes place near the beginning of the eon to come, and will determine the circumstances in which people will be living for the majority of the duration of this eon).

Mr. Bast’s fourth question is based on Rom. 4:13: “How can the law, and temple worship, along with animal sacrifices be reinstated for Israel in the kingdom age when they are the ruling nation on earth, if the promise to Abraham to be heir of the world, is not through law?”

In Rom. 4:13 we read, “For not through law is the promise to Abraham, or to his Seed, for him to be enjoyer of the allotment of the world, but through faith’s righteousness.”

If what Paul wrote in Romans 4:13 means (or implies) that the law, temple worship and animal sacrifices cannot “be reinstated for Israel in the kingdom age when they are the ruling nation of earth,” then Paul would’ve been implying that the divine promises to Israel we find in Ezekiel 36-48 (for example) will never be fulfilled, and that God’s covenant-based faithfulness to Israel has essentially been nullified. But is that what Paul’s words in Romans 4:13 mean, or imply? In the words of Paul (which I believe he likely would’ve said in response to such an idea), “May it not be coming to that! Now let God be true, yet every man a liar.”

The “promise” that Paul had in view in Rom. 4:13 is, I believe, God’s promise to Abraham that he would be “a father of many nations, according to that which has been declared, ‘Thus shall be your seed’” (Rom. 4:17-18).[2] When Paul affirmed that “the promise” in view in Rom. 4:16 was “not through law,” he simply meant that this promise (which came to Abraham before the law was given) was not dependent on the law for its fulfillment, and could not be invalidated by the law. God’s covenant with Abraham was made hundreds of year before the law was given, and thus did not contain any law-based conditions that could nullify it. As Paul stated in Gal. 3:17, “a covenant, having been ratified before by God, the law, having come four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not invalidate, so as to nullify the promise.” The promises Abraham received from God (including the promise that Paul had in mind in Rom. 4:16) were given without any reference to the law, and were never dependent on any legal observance for their fulfillment or confirmation. The promises depended solely on God’s own faithfulness.

This lack of dependence on the law for the fulfillment and confirmation of the promise that Paul had in view in Rom. 4:13 was Paul’s only point in saying that the promise is “not through law” (even the NIV Study Bible – which is in no way a “pro-dispensationalist” commentary – explains the expression “not through law” as meaning, “not on the condition that the promise be merited by works of the law”). There is, therefore, no conflict between what Paul wrote in Rom. 4:13 and Israel’s covenant-based expectation. Regardless of how Mr. Bast (or anyone else) may or may not interpret Paul’s words in this verse, we need not doubt that God’s promises to Israel concerning “the law, and temple worship, along with animal sacrifices” being “reinstated for Israel in the kingdom age” (as prophesied in Ezekiel 36-48 and elsewhere) will, in fact, be fulfilled.

Mr. Bast’s fifth and final question is based on Gal. 3:16: “How can the promise made to Abraham, and to his seed, to be heir of the world, be only for Israel if the seed is Christ?”

In Gal. 3:16 we read, “Now to Abraham the promises were declared, and to his Seed. He is not saying “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of One: And to “your Seed,” which is Christ.”

I agree completely that God’s covenant people, Israel, are not (and will not be) the only beneficiaries of the blessings that are available in and through Christ (who Paul referred to as the “Seed” of Abraham in Gal. 3:16). The believers to whom Paul wrote this letter (most of whom were likely gentiles and former idol-worshipers) were members of the body of Christ, and – as members of this particular company of saints – did not belong to God’s covenant people. However, these believers had clearly come to be “of Abraham’s seed” (in the sense referred to by Paul in Gal. 3:29), and had received what Paul referred in Gal. 3:14 as “the blessing of Abraham” (i.e., justification by faith; cf. vv. 5-9). But does this mean that the Galatian believers to whom Paul wrote belonged to the same company of believers as those who belonged to God’s covenant people, Israel? No. In fact, later on in his letter to the Galatians, Paul actually referred to this second company of believers (to which God’s covenant people belonged) as follows:

”And whoever shall observe the elements of this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, also on the Israel of God(Gal. 6:15). 

Notice how Paul referred to the “Israel of God” as a distinct category of people on whom he desired God’s mercy in connection with what he’d just said concerning the observance of “the elements of this rule” (the “rule” being that which was expressed in v. 15). Who is it that constituted the “Israel of God” referred to here, and why would Paul specify “mercy” as being that which he desired would be “on” this distinct category of people (instead of simply “peace,” as he desired would be on everyone else referred to)? Although many Christians (and even some believers in the body of Christ) want to understand the “Israel of God” as just another reference to the body of Christ, this interpretation is simply not tenable. In order to understand the “Israel of God” as another reference to the body of Christ, one must not only understand the word “Israel” in a way that Paul never used the word elsewhere in his letters (see, for example, Romans 11), but they must ignore or “explain away” Paul’s use of the word “also” (which indicates that Paul is now referring to a category of people distinct from those whom he had in view previously).

When we understand the expression “Israel of God” in a literal and straight-forward way, it becomes clear that Paul was simply referring to the believing remnant among God’s covenant people, Israel. That is, it refers to those believing and faithful Israelites who, having been called by God through what Paul referred to as the “evangel of the Circumcision” (Gal. 2:7), share in Israel’s covenant-based expectation, and will be among the “all Israel” that will be saved when Christ returns (Rom. 11:26-27). It is these who will receive an allotment in the kingdom of God on earth (i.e., the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel). And while some within this category of believing Israelites correctly acknowledged and respected the fact that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision mattered for those belonging to the company of believers that constitutes the body of Christ, not all did. In fact, some within this company of believers were very much opposed to what Paul called the “elements of this rule.” Hence – for the sake of those who did “observe the elements of this rule” – Paul expressed his desire for God’s mercy on the entire category of Jewish believers constituting the “Israel of God.”

At this point, it would be worth responding to a commonly-held belief among Christians that, in passages such as Romans 2:28-29 and 9:6-8, Paul was broadening the meaning of the terms “Jew” and “Israel” to include all believing gentiles, and that the body of Christ can thus be considered “spiritual Israel.” The reality, however, is that Paul was actually narrowing the meaning of the terms “Jew” and “Israel” in these verses. That is, he was making the meaning of these terms more exclusive. The category of Jews/Israelites who can be understood as constituting true Israel (i.e., the “Israel” referred to in Rom. 9:6 that is comprised of “the children of God,” and which Paul referred to in Gal. 6:16 as “the Israel of God”) is a subcategory of “Israel according to the flesh.” When, in Rom. 9:8, Paul distinguished between “the children of the flesh” and “the children of the promise,” the distinction is not between ethnic Israelites and Gentiles, but rather between (1) descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who are fleshly descendants only and (2) descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who are also chosen and called by God. Similarly, when Paul referred to “the Jew” in Rom. 2:28, he was referring to a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose circumcision is not just of the flesh but – more importantly – of the heart. Thus, the “Israel” to whom the kingdom is going to be restored after Christ’s return is not merely “physical Israel” (i.e., those who are Jews/Israelites according to the flesh only); rather, it will be comprised of Jews/Israelites whose circumcision is also “of the heart” and “in spirit.”

In Romans 4:16, Paul actually presupposed the existence of two separate categories of believers who could both be considered as being “of the seed of Abraham.” In this verse we read, 

Therefore it is of faith that it may accord with grace, for the promise to be confirmed to the entire seed, not to those of the law only, but to those also of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all...’”

Notice how Paul had two categories of Abraham’s “seed” in view to which the “promise” to Abraham would be confirmed: (1) those he referred to as “those of the law” and (2) those referred to as “those also of the faith of Abraham.” Who did Paul have in view as “those of the law?” It couldn’t have been unbelieving Jews, for the “promise” of which Paul wrote is only being confirmed to believers, and not to unbelievers (Rom. 9:6-8). But nor could Paul have been referring to believers in the body of Christ. Being “of the law” identifies one as a member of God’s covenant people, Israel. However, as I’ve argued elsewhere (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/09/gods-covenant-people-why-most-believing_95.html), no one in the body of Christ – whether uncircumcised or circumcised – can be considered as being “of the law” (for those in the body of Christ have no covenantal status or covenant-based relationship with God). Rather, when Paul referred to certain believers as “those of the law” he was referring to those who comprised the believing Jewish remnant (the “Israel of God”), among whom are included the “tens of thousands” of believing, law-keeping Jews referred to in Acts 21:20. It is these believers among God’s covenant people who are the true Israel (as referred to in Romans 9:6-8), and who are being reckoned by God as Abraham’s seed. Members of the body of Christ are referred to as Abraham’s seed as well (since we are “in Christ”). However, we in the body of Christ are not the seed of Abraham that is “of the law” (i.e., the “Israel of God”).

NoteFor those interested in reading more about how the calling and expectation belonging to the saints in the body of Christ is distinct from that which belongs to the “Israel of God,” see my three-part series, “Revisiting the Two Evangels Controversy” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2019/10/revisiting-two-evangels-controversy.html). In part one of this series, the reader will find a number of links to other articles I’ve written in defense of this important scriptural truth.



[1] Similarly, in 1 Cor. 12:15-16 the term ek expresses the idea of a bodily member being “of” (i.e., belonging to) the body. In Gal. 2:15, it expresses the idea of sinners being “of” the nations. In Phil. 4:22 it expresses the idea of certain saints being “of” Caesar’s house. For another example of the expression translated “out of heaven,” see Matt. 21:25-26.

[2] It is this worldwide group of descendents (which makes Abraham “the father of many nations”) that I believe constitutes the “world” in view in Rom. 4:13. Just as the term “world” can refer to a multitude of people (rather than to a location), so an “allotment” or “inheritance” need not refer to land (see, for example, Heb. 11:7; Titus 3:7; Ps. 2:8; Isa. 19:25). 

Clearing Up Some Confusion Concerning the Kingdom of God (Part One)

Introduction

In the introduction of his book The Secrets of the Kingdom, Don Bast states that, in a fellowship group of which he was a member for over 20 years (and in which he’d “been a main speaker for over a decade”), it was believed and taught that “the kingdom of God was for physical Israel alone.” Astoundingly, we’re also told by Mr. Bast that one of the members of this fellowship group (who was “in her early 70’s” and had “grown up in this group”) was surprised to learn that Paul even wrote about the kingdom of God!

When I first read this, I could hardly believe it. As long as I’ve believed anything at all concerning the kingdom of God, I have never believed that it is “for physical Israel alone.” And for as long as I’ve believed that the body of Christ is constituted by a company of saints that is distinct from God’s covenant people, Israel (which is a position I’ve defended elsewhere on my blog), I’ve believed that the kingdom of God over which Christ will be reigning for the coming eons will be just as present in the heavens as it will be on the earth (and that believers in the body of Christ will be enjoying their allotment in the kingdom of God in its heavenly location rather than its earthly location). I was, therefore, astonished to learn that a fellowship group in the modern era – one which I’m assuming encouraged independent thought and study of Scripture (and was free from the influence and oversight of some larger Christian organization) – could, for 20+ years, believe that the kingdom of God “was for physical Israel alone,” or that anyone in such a fellowship group could, for nearly 70 years of their life, be ignorant of the fact that Paul wrote about the kingdom of God. And yet, it happened.

Later on in the introduction of his book, Don Bast asks the reader five questions that are based on certain verses he found particularly “troublesome” back when he believed what he used to believe and teach in this fellowship group (and which he had difficulty reconciling with what he used to believe at that time). Now, to be clear, I haven’t read Mr. Bast’s book yet. I’ve merely read the introduction (which is publically available on Amazon.com) to try and get a general idea of the doctrinal positions being defended in the book before deciding whether or not to purchase it. Thus, the purpose of this article is not to criticize or provide a rebuttal to anything Mr. Bast has written in his book (at least, I won’t be doing so directly). Instead, I simply want to try and answer the five questions asked by Mr. Bast in his introduction, and – in doing so – see if they challenge or undermine anything I currently believe (as they did, at one point, for Mr. Bast).

Before I answer his five questions, however, I think it would be helpful to provide an overview of what I believe concerning the kingdom of God and its two locations during the coming eons of Christ’s reign. I’ll begin by considering what Scripture has to say about the kingdom of God that is going to be established on the earth after Christ’s return.

The earthly kingdom of God

That the kingdom of God is going to be established on the earth at some future time should not be surprising to any student of Scripture. The expectation of believing Israelites has been terrestrial in nature ever since God promised to give to Abraham and his offspring “all the land of Canaan for an eonian allotment” (Gen. 17:7-8; 48:4). In accord with this fact, it is on the earth – specifically, in the land promised to them by God (the capital of which will be the city of Jerusalem) – that believing Israelites expected to enjoy their allotment in the kingdom during the reign of the Messiah (Isa. 2:1-4; 11:6-9; 14:3-7; Isa. 35:6-7, 32:15, 35:1; Isa. 51:3; Isa. 65:25; Amos 9:13). With the only exception being certain prophecies concerning the Messiah in which an ascension to heaven is implied (Psalm 16:10-11; 68:18; 110:1; Daniel 7:13), nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures is heaven ever said to be the future home of any human being.

When we come to the “New Testament,” we find no change concerning the prophesied expectation of God’s covenant people. Although the source and character of the “calling” of believing Israelites is celestial (Heb. 3:1), the eonian expectation to which they’re called is earthly. It is “the land” (or “earth”) – and not the heavens – which Christ promised the “the meek” they would enjoy as an allotment (Matthew 5:5), and it was “the twelve tribes of Israel” that Christ promised his disciples they would judge after he returned to earth to sit on the “throne of his glory” (Matt. 19:28). Even when Christ referred to “wages” and “treasures” in “the heavens” (Matt. 5:12; 6:19-21), he didn’t say that anyone would be going there to receive their reward. Rather, it is after Christ has returned to earth that the faithful will be recompensed (Matt. 16:27; 19:28-30; Rev. 22:12). Similarly, the “allotment” that Peter referred to as being “kept in the heavens” for those to whom he wrote (1 Pet. 1:3-5) is be given “…when the Chief Shepherd is manifested” (1 Pet. 5:4). And we know that the manifestation of Christ to which Peter was referring here is that which will involve his return to earth.

The enthronement of Christ after his return to earth (as referred to in Matthew 19:28 and 25:31) will mark the beginning of the fulfillment of the following prophecy from Jeremiah 23:5-8: 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely…then they shall dwell in their own land.” 

In Revelation, John also clearly prophesied that the saints would, during the eons to come, be reigning “on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10; 20:4-9), and not in the heavens. Even the “celestial Jerusalem” that we’re told God is preparing for the men and women of faith referred to in Hebrews 11 (see Heb. 11:10, 16; 12:22) – and in which faithful Israelites will be reigning as kings during the last and greatest eon (Rev. 21:9-14; 22:3-5) – is not going to be in heaven, for John twice described the city as “descending out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2, 10). Thus, Scripture is clear that the kingdom of God is going to be established on the earth, and that it is in this location that God’s covenant people will be enjoying their eonian allotment.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the kingdom of God is frequently referred to as the “kingdom of the heavens.” However, this expression does not inform us of the location of the kingdom about which Christ taught during his earthly ministry; rather, the words “of the heavens” are a reference to the source and character of this kingdom (see Daniel 2:34-35, 44). Thus, the expression “kingdom of the heavens” is simply another way of referring to the kingdom that is going to be set up by the God of the heavens, and is perfectly consistent with the fact that it is on the earth that this kingdom will be established when Christ returns (Matt. 6:10; 13:41, 43; Luke 21:31).

Although the kingdom of God on the earth will have dominion over the entire earth (with all other kingdoms being under its authority), the geographical territory of the kingdom of God will be the land of Israel (with the city of Jerusalem on Mount Zion being its capital; see Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:22; 14:4-21; cf. Rev. 14:1). Based on this geopolitical fact alone, we can conclude that the kingdom of God on earth is going to be distinctively Jewish in nature (and that its distinctively Jewish character is inseparably connected with its earthly location). That this was the understanding of Christ’s twelve apostles during their apostolic ministry is evident from Acts 1:6-8 (where we find recorded an interesting exchange between Christ and his disciples shortly before his ascension into heaven):

Those, indeed, then, who are coming together, asked Him, saying, “Lord, art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Yet He said to them, “Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father placed in His own jurisdiction. But you shall be obtaining power at the coming of the holy spirit on you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in entire Judea and Samaria, and as far as the limits of the earth.”

At the time that the disciples asked the question recorded in v. 6 (which, according to Acts 1:1-3, was forty days after the disciples had received instruction from the risen Christ concerning the kingdom of God), they still believed that Christ was going to be “restoring the kingdom to Israel.” In fact, the question they asked Christ shortly before his ascension to heaven suggests that this was the very subject on which Christ had been instructing them during the past forty days. It’s also worth noting that Christ didn’t say anything to correct their belief that he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. He simply told them that it was not theirs “to know times or eras which the Father placed in his own jurisdiction.” Christ’s response to his disciples implies that he is going to restore the kingdom to Israel, but that it was simply not God’s will for them to know when this time would come.[1]

In conjunction with what Christ personally taught his disciples on the subject of the kingdom of God, there are a number of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that the disciples likely had in mind when they asked Christ whether he was, at that time, going to be restoring the kingdom to Israel (see, for example, Jer. 23:5-6; 31:1-40; Isa. 61:1-62: 12; 65:17-24; Ezek. 36:24-38; Mic.2:12-13; Zech. 8:20-23; 14:8-20). The longest and most detailed continuous prophecy concerning the kingdom of God during the coming eon is, arguably, found in the last thirteen chapters of Ezekiel. In these chapters, it’s prophesied that the land promised to Israel (the boundaries of which are specified in Numbers 34:1-15 and elsewhere) will constitute the geographical territory of the kingdom that is going to be restored to Israel, that God’s servant, David, will reign as king over the restored nation, and that a magnificent temple will exist in the land of Israel during this time (with the last nine chapters of Ezekiel being largely devoted to God’s detailed instructions for the construction of this future temple, including its dimensions, parts and contents).

We’re further told that those who will be enjoying an eonian allotment in this geopolitical territory will be caused by God “walk in [his] statutes,” and will “be careful to obey all [his] rules” (Ezekiel 36:27; 37:24). These “statutes” and “rules” are clearly those that were given by God to Israel alone (Lev. 18:3-5), and are frequently referred to throughout Ezekiel (e.g., Ez. 5:7; 11:12, 20), with a special emphasis placed on the keeping of God’s Sabbaths (e.g., Ezekiel 20:12, 13, 16, 20, 21, 24; cf. 44:24). Among the statutes and rules which God’s covenant people will be obeying during the eon to come are, of course, those pertaining to Israel’s temple-based worship and sacrificial system (Ezekiel 40-48). [For a more in-depth defense of the position that a fourth Jewish temple is going to exist in the land of Israel during the eon to come – and that worship in the temple during this time will involve animal sacrifices – see part one of my study on the “abomination of desolation” (link)

In light of these and other related prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures that concern the eonian destiny of God’s covenant people, Israel, we can reasonably conclude that the kingdom of God on earth – i.e., the kingdom that Christ is going to be “restoring to Israel” – will be distinctively Jewish in nature. However, it should also be noted that the kingdom of God on earth will not be populated exclusively by Israelites, for we know from Ezekiel 47:21-23 that there will be people from among the nations who will be enjoying an allotment in this kingdom as well. In these verses we read that the “sojourners” or “foreigners” (lit. “guests”) who are residing among the twelve tribes at this time must be treated as “native-born among the people of Israel”: 

“This is how you will divide this land for yourselves among the tribes of Israel. You must allot it as an inheritance among yourselves and for the foreigners who reside among you, who have had children among you. You must treat them as native-born among the people of Israel; they will be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the foreigner resides, there you will give him his inheritance,” declares the Lord Yahweh.

As argued in part five of my study on Matthew 25:31-46 (click here), I believe the first generation of these righteous gentiles (i.e., those who will be alive on the earth when Christ returns to earth) will constitute the “sheep” to whom Christ will be declaring, “Hither, blessed of My Father! Enjoy the allotment of the kingdom made ready for you from the disruption of the world” (Matt. 25:34).

It’s also clear that many of the saints who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom during the time period prophesied in Ezekiel 36-48 will be mortal human beings (see, for example, Ezekiel 36:8-12; 37:25-26; 44:20-25; cf. Isaiah 11:6-8; 65:20-25; Jeremiah 23:3-6; 30:18-20 [cf. v. 3]; 33:10-11, 19-22; 59:20-21). In these and other passages, we read of things said concerning people in the kingdom – including the priests who will be ministering in the temple – that can only be said of mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites, and in which only those who are mortal will be involved during this time (such as marrying and “multiplying” in the land). This category of Israelites in the kingdom will initially consist of those belonging to the generation that will be alive on the earth at the time of Christ’s return (such as the 144,000 sealed Israelites and the “vast throng” referred to in Rev. 7:2-17). However, multitudes more will be born into, and grow up in, the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel.

Of course, there will be some immortal people enjoying eonian life in the kingdom of God on earth. But this category of saints will be constituted exclusively by those believing Israelites (and certain believing “God-fearers,” such as Cornelius and his household) who died before Christ’s return to earth. It is these who are going to be restored to life in what is referred to in Scripture as the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) and the “former resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6; cf. John 5:29). And – as I’ve argued elsewhere – this is a resurrection that will occur 75 days after the return of Christ to the earth (click here for an article in which this view is defended). Those who are raised from the dead by Christ at the “former resurrection” will be “neither marrying nor taking out in marriage” during the eon to come, “for neither can they still be dying, for they are equal to messengers, and are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36).

In contrast with those who will take part in the “former resurrection,” the rest of the people who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God after it’s been established on the earth will be mortal, flesh-and-blood human beings. In fact, both before and after the “resurrection of the just” takes place, the mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites who will be enjoying their eonian allotment in the kingdom of God on earth will likely far outnumber the resurrected Israelites and God-fearers who will be enjoying their eonian allotment there. This will also be the case during the fifth and final eon as well (and likely to an even greater extent). For, in addition to what we read concerning the kingdom of God on earth during the next eon (which will include the “thousand years” referred to in Rev. 20), it can also be reasonably inferred that there will be mortal human beings living on the new earth during the final eon, as well. Not only is this implied by Paul’s words in Eph. 3:21 (where we read of “all the generations of the eon of the eons”), but it accounts for the fact that the “log of life” will be present in the New Jerusalem to provide its life-sustaining fruit and healing leaves for those who will need it during this time (see Rev. 2:7 and 22:2).

Here, then, is a summary of what we find affirmed concerning the kingdom that, in accord with the disciples’ question in Acts 1:7, is going to be restored to Israel:

1. The geopolitical territory of the kingdom of God that is going to be established on the earth when Christ returns will be the land that God promised to the patriarchs of Israel (the boundaries of which are specified in Numbers 34:1-15 and elsewhere).

2. The capital city of the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel – and which is referred to as the “beloved city” in Rev. 20:9 – will be Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4; 30:19; 33:20; 52:1-2; Jer. 3:17; 30:18-20; Zech. 8:22; 14:4-21).

3. God’s sanctuary (i.e., the magnificent temple we find described in great detail in the last few chapters of Ezekiel) will be “in their midst for the eon,” and by this the rest of the nations will know that God has hallowed the nation of Israel.

4. In this earthly kingdom, God’s covenant people will be caused to walk in the ordinances and observe the statutes of the law that God gave to them (among which will be those pertaining to Sabbath-keeping and Israel’s temple-based worship and sacrificial system).

We thus have no less reason to believe that the kingdom of God on earth is going to be distinctively Jewish in nature than we have to believe that it’s going to be on the earth. Or, to put it another way, we have just as much reason to believe that those who will be in the kingdom of God on earth are going to be keeping the precepts of the law and worshiping God via a temple-based sacrificial system as we have to believe that the kingdom of God is going to be on the earth. To affirm that the kingdom of God is going to be established on the earth after Christ’s return while, at the same time, denying that there’s going to be law-keeping, temple worship and animal sacrifices occurring in this kingdom is completely inconsistent. Such a confused position as this can only be derived from an arbitrary and selective reading of the very prophecies that reveal to us that there is, in fact, going to be a kingdom established on the earth following Christ’s return.

But will the earth be the only location where the kingdom of God is going to be present during the eons to come? No. As will be demonstrated in part two of this study, the earth is not even the first location in which the kingdom of God is going to be present when Christ begins exercising his God-given authority over heaven and earth. Prior to its establishment on the earth, the kingdom of God over which Christ will be reigning for the coming eons is first going to be established “in the heavens” and “among the celestials.”





[1] Thus, we read elsewhere that the “day of the Lord” – i.e., the prophesied period of divine indignation that will prepare the earth for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel – will come “as a thief in the night” (see 1 Thess. 5:1-3; cf. 2 Pet. 3:10).