Saturday, March 7, 2020

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).

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