Clarifying Kingdom Confusion
Good morning everybody; I hope you all are staying warm. If you’re still cold I’ll try to supply the fire this morning from up here, the pulpit. Let’s take our Bibles if we could and open them to John 18:33. The title of our message this morning is Clarifying Kingdom Confusion. As you’re turning there, as I indicated last week I had the wonderful privilege of opening up the Texas House of Representatives in prayer on Thursday I believe it was, and they kind of sent me a memo ahead of time, they said we’d like a short prayer and we’d like it to avoid sensitive political issues, so I had to take out that part where I was going to pray “everybody who disagrees with my political philosophies is on their way to hell.” [Laughter] So I toned it down a little bit but it was a wonderful time.
We are continuing on in our study of John’s Gospel, but as you’re going to see this morning we are going to be camping on verse 36. We are in a section of John’s Gospel related to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Chapters 18-19 is everything that went on related to the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We have seen Christ’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and then Jesus is ushered through several trials, legal trials. The first two that John talks about are trials that are religious in nature and these were trials that he experienced at the hands of the Jews, a trial before Annas and then Caiaphas, as we have talked about.
And then Jesus is handed over to Pilate. Why is He handed over to Pilate? Because as we saw last week the Roman Empire had come on the scene and they had removed from the Jews the right to execute criminals. John told us, you might recall from last week, that this was [verse 18] “to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.”
Had Jesus been executed by the Jews He would have been stoned to death. If He had been stoned to death that would have invalidated all of Christ’s prophecies about His own crucifixion, and in fact, as I showed you last time there are many prophecies in the Old Testament about His crucifixion. He could not have died through stoning; He had to have been pierced. And that’s why God orchestrated things the way He did and allowed Jesus to be handed over to Rome for execution.
John takes the material related to Pilate and he organizes it around four questions. There are four questions that Pilate asks in this section. The first one we looked at last time, what accusation do you have against this man? And now we move into the second question that Pilate asks and this is a question that Pilate asks of Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And you’ll notice verse 33 as it begins to explain it to us, John 18:33 says, “Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?”
In the first question and answer session Pilate was outside the Praetorium interacting with the Jewish accusers. Jesus was inside the Praetorium in incarceration. Now why did the Jews not come into the Praetorium? We saw last week in verse 28 that they were trying to protect themselves from ceremonial uncleanliness. Hanging out with the Gentiles, in other words, would make them unfit to celebrate the Passover, blind to the fact that they were in the process of sacrificing the One who was the fulfillment of all of those rich Passover prophecies and pre-figurements in the Old Testament.
So now Pilate leaves outside his conversation with these unbelieving Jews, he goes inside the Praetorium where Jesus was incarceration, and he begins to ask Jesus a series of questions. He is inside the headquarters that he was using at the time in the city of Jerusalem and he begins to inquire to Jesus, are these things that have been spoken against you true?
Now at this point, and John doesn’t talk about it but Luke brings it up in Luke 23:2, it says, “And they began to accuse Him,” that would be the Jews, “saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” The problem is, Jesus in the prior trials was never tried on those charges. No witnesses were ever produced by the Jews to try Jesus on those specific charges.
So what has happened is the charge has been switched right in the middle of a trial. And it shows you the underhanded nature of these unbelieving Jews. They convicted Christ in their own court system of blasphemy but the problem is, the Romans don’t care about blasphemy. What they care about is insurrection, is this man leading a revolt against Rome. And so right in the middle of the scenario they switch over to a charge that Jesus had never been tried under, and this shows you the unbelieving nature of the Jewish nation and their utter rejection of Jesus Christ. So Pilate, being confused, probably by the smorgasbord of charges that have been raised against Jesus Christ, wanted to hear it, or this evidence, from Christ’s lips Himself.
And consequently Pilate asks this question of Jesus Christ in verse 33, “Are you the King of the Jews?” You’ll notice verse 34, Christ’s response. “Jesus answered, ‘Are you saying this on your own initiative or did others tell you about Me?’” Jesus is trying to ascertain whether Pilate is an honest seeker of truth. I mean, does Pilate want this answer to the question “are you King of the Jews’ for the benefit of his own personal salvation or is it because he is simply being manipulated by other individuals. In other words, Pilate, which side are you on, is essentially what Jesus is asking. Are your motives personal or political? Are these things that you are inquiring about of your own volition, or did others put you up to it?
It is very interesting to me that as we watch this conversation unfold Jesus is very concerned about the personal salvation of Pilate. Isn’t’ that an amazing thing about Jesus Christ, the Second Member of the Trinity? As He is being mistreated, as He is being unjustly accused, as people are even hitting Him in the face, as we saw happen in one of the prior trials of Jesus Christ, Jesus is not concerned about Himself. He’s not concerned about vindicating justice for Himself; He is concerned about the personal salvation of Pilate because after all, Pilate is a being that bears the image of God, as all humans do. And because He is a being that bears the image of God Jesus well recognizes that this man, Pilate, is going to be spending eternity somewhere. He’s either going to be spending it separated from God in a place of conscious torment for all eternity or He will be spending it with God.
And it is interesting that no matter how badly Jesus is abused and mistreated His concern is always for the souls of people, because people last forever. All of us in this room will be alive somewhere a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, a billion years from now, a trillion years from now, we will be with God or we will be separated from Him. And that’s why the Bible is so interested in what we are going to do with this man, Jesus Christ. That’s why God is interested in this, because what we do with Jesus Christ depends on where we spend our eternity, because after all, as Solomon tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes, “God has set eternity into the hearts of men.” [Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart …”]
What you see happening here is unmerited grace is coming out towards Pilate, as God, in this age of grace that we’re living in now extends this opportunity for all people. Even if you’ve abused Jesus Christ, even if you have used His name in vain, even if you have lived your life as if He doesn’t exist, He’s still interested in you because your decision related to Him will determine where you spend eternity. Sadly Pilate could care less about these things, as many people are that very way today.
You’ll notice verse 35, it says, “Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?’” Pilate, in other words, in verse 35, gives sort of a flippant sarcastic answer. Isn’t it interesting that you have God in human flesh interested in your personal salvation and Pilate simply doesn’t give Jesus the time of day? Pilate probably assumed that this opportunity that he had before him would always exist. And many people are that way, they hear over and over again eternal truths and they are just very flippant, sarcastic, unconcerned, as if the opportunity that is before them will always be, and yet life doesn’t work out that way. Today’s opportunities will not always be there tomorrow. Pilate had a golden opportunity to secure his eternal destiny and yet he did not take advantage of that opportunity.
Pilate is not interested in Jesus Christ for personal salvation; he merely wants clarification of the Sanhedrin’s charge against Him. So he flippantly asks am I a Jew? In other words, I need clarification on why the Jews have accused you because I’m a Roman and I don’t understand all the Jewish religious intricacies.
It is interesting that Pilate, there in verse 35, acknowledges that “the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” You’ll notice that it was the nation of Israel in its rebellion and unbelief against God that turned against Jesus Christ. That, in essence is the outworking of something John told us was going to happen all the way back in the beginning of his Gospel. You might remember John 1:11, which says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”
And now years have passed and this prophecy is coming to pass. John records it, talking about the beginning of Christ’s ministry, that He would come to His own and His own would not receive Him and now we’re seeing the outworking of that as even Pilate is acknowledging that it was the Jewish leadership that turned Christ over to Pilate for execution.
And now we come to this very troubling or interesting, depending on your point of view, verse. In fact, this verse, verse 36, is so abused; it’s so misunderstood that I would like to spend the rest of today on verse 36. Notice Christ’s answer to Pilate, verse 36, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’”
What is Christ’s point, before we being to talk about what He didn’t mean? His simple point is this: My kingdom is no immediate threat to Rome, because that’s what Pilate is worried about; are you leading an insurrection? And Christ’s simple point is the kingdom that I am the king over is no immediate threat to Rome. That’s his only point. And sadly what has happened since the fourth century A.D., with the rise of something called amillennialism, is people have used this verse to teach an idea which I believe is heretical; the idea is simply this, there is no earthly reign of Christ on the horizon. There is no earthly reign of Christ coming to rule on planet earth.
The word “millennium” is a Latin word, it’s a compound word actually, it comes from two Latin words, mille, which means a thousand, and annum which means years. We know from Revelation 20:1-10 that there will come a time in history where Jesus will rule planet earth from Jerusalem for a thousand years. An amillennialist denies that; “a” you’ll recognize as a negation, it’s like saying atheist, no God; agnostic, no knowledge, amillennialism, no earthly reign of Christ.
Well, if there is no future earthly reign of Christ on the horizon, because after all Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world,” what do you do with all of the Old Testament passages, and the New Testament passages for that matter, that speak of a one thousand year reign of Jesus Christ? What you do is you take all of those passages and you spiritualize them. You chide others that take them literally but you yourself take them spiritually.
So for example, there is a prophecy about the nations will beat their swords into plow shares, which is talking about global peace, and that gets reinterpreted as the peace of God reigning in our hearts. There is, for example, a prophecy about the Dead Sea coming to life in Ezekiel 47 and teaming with life. Well, that, in the amillennial system, gets repackaged as we go from death to life spiritually. So a very spiritual meaning is attached to all of these concepts and prophecies. And what happens is the prophecies themselves lose their literal grammatical historical sense.
So there is no, in amillennialism, a future reign of Christ because Jesus is reigning as king in our hearts right now. And quite frankly if this is the millennial kingdom I’m sorry I signed up for this deal in the first place, because what we have today with Christ is wonderful but it pales in comparison to the kingdom age that is on the horizon. And consequently there is tremendous confusion in the church today over this issue of the kingdom; is the kingdom yet future or is the kingdom something that is manifesting itself now. That’s why I’ve entitled this message Clarifying Kingdom Confusion.
I would actually go so far as to say this: every major heresy that has come into the church is ultimately rooted in this amillennial idea that the church now, as it exists, is the kingdom of God. You take, for example, this heresy that we watch regularly on so-called Christian television, the prosperity gospel, this idea that if you are, in fact, a Christian you are entitled to a life of health and wealth and prosperity and leisure, this idea that you should never get sick, what does that ultimately come from? It comes from an idea that we are now in the kingdom age because in the kingdom age there will be complete healing and since I am a kid of the kingdom and we’re in the kingdom currently then I should be able to confess away any disease I might have. And if my bank account is not as prosperous as I would like it I have the power as a kid of the king to command that bank account to increase. It’s called the “name it and claim it” doctrine, I call it the “blab it and grab it” doctrine. But it ultimately comes from this idea that we are in the millennial kingdom now.
And what happens is people grab this one verse, they ignore everything else the Bible has to say on the subject. They grab this one little verse and they construct a whole doctrine around it.
Let me just show you an example of what I am talking about. I found this yesterday on a school, I don’t know if it’s necessary I give you the name of the school, but it’s an amillennial school. And this is the way their doctrinal statement reads: “Amillennialists believe that Christ’s millennial kingdom extends from His first coming up to His second coming at the end of this present age.” In other words, the kingdom of God is not something yet future; the kingdom of God is something that is happening now, between the two advents of Christ, His first advent and second advent. And they go and they say, “The millennial reign of Christ is therefore now,” I don’t want my pie in the sky, I want it right now is the mindset. “The millennial reign of Christ is therefore now, both in heaven and on earth,” and notice the verse they use to support their doctrine. “Jesus Himself declared before Pilate, Pontius Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. He reigns presently in the hearts of the new covenant people while they are on the earth….”
You’ll notice that John 18:36 is a favorite verse, or a favorite passage for amillennialism. What I would like to do this morning is to show you what the whole Bible has to say about this issue of the kingdom. Now I am currently writing for Pre-trib Perspectives a long series on this; I think I’m up to part 33, which I’m not going to give you that whole series today. I have reduced what I want to talk about to eight simple points. If you want more details you can read that series, we faithfully put it out on the name tag table when each new issue comes out. But if you understand these eight simple points you will not fall into kingdom confusion. You will have a framework by which to interpret a verse, like John 18:36.
So let’s go ahead and start with point number 1, and that is the writings of the Old Testament prophets. The concept of the kingdom is not something that just jumps off the page in the New Testament; it is a concept that is very carefully developed in the pages of the Old Testament. If you were to read these three verses today, Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 11:6-9, Isaiah 65:17-25, you would walk away with a biblical understanding of what the kingdom of God is.
[Isaiah 2:1-4, “The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.  And may peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”
Isaiah 11:6-9, “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.  Also the cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Isaiah 65:17-25, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered of come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness.  I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; and there will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying.  No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed.  They will build houses and inhabit them; they will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They will not build and another inhabit, they will not plant and another eat; for as the lifetime of a tree, wo will be the days of My people, and my chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain, or bear children fro calamity; for they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, and their descendants with them.  It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,’ says the LORD.”]
What is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is a time in history where Jerusalem will be the center of world spiritual and political authority. The capital of the coming kingdom will not be Washington D. C. (praise the Lord for that!). It will be the city of Jerusalem. The word, Isaiah 2:2-3 says will go forth from Zion and the nations will go to Jerusalem to worship the king. [Isaiah 2:2-3, “Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.  And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”]
It will be a time in history where there will be perfect justice. It will be a time in history where there will be world peace. The nations will beat their swords into plowshares, we are told. It will be a time in history where there will even be peace in the animal kingdom, wolf and lamb will lie down together, a child will be able to put his or her hand in the cobra’s next and not be harmed. It will be a time in history where the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and it will be a time in history where people will experience abnormally long life spans. In fact, in Isaiah 65:20 it talks about how if an individual dies at the age of 100 everybody is going to kind of sit around and say wow, what a tragedy that such a young man died.
Now you simply compare these kingdom conditions to what is happening today and you very clearly see that we are not in the kingdom. Is Jerusalem the center of world spiritual and political authority? I don’t think so! That green area represents Islamic nations that desire to drive the nation of Israel into the sea, and that little tiny red dot is the nation of Israel fighting for its life against a sea of totalitarian dictatorships that have as part of their charter the ambition to eradicate the Jews. Obviously Jerusalem is not the center of world authority; Jerusalem is in the way of progress.
I like the way Benjamin Netanyahu puts it. He says, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today there would be no more Israel. That kind of sums it up, doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like kingdom conditions.
Beyond this, do we have perfect justice today? I’ll let you leave that one for your consideration. We have world peace today? Are the events that happened in Ferguson or Iran or these things that happened recently in Paris, is that in any way a semblance of world peace? Of course not. Is there peace in the animal kingdom? The last time I was at the Houston zoo I noticed that wolf and lamb were in different cages. Is the earth filled with the knowledge of the Lord? We can’t even get the Bible taught in the public school system anymore, and we’re having the hardest time keeping the Bible in the church, as the church is becoming more and more infatuated with marketing programs and things of that nature. Are people living as the lifespan of a tree today? Isaiah says 65:22, “For as the life time of a tree, so shall be the days of My people.” Obviously not if you make it to 100 you’re considered fortunate. But this is the way the Old Testament describes the kingdom of God.
Now number 2, this kingdom was offered to the nation of Israel on a silver platter. When Jesus was present He offered His kingship and the accompanying kingdom to them. We discover that through the repetition of a phrase that is used about four times, three times in Matthew’s Gospel, “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Now when you study the language, “at hand,” what it means is not that the kingdom is here but the kingdom is near. The nation of Israel, had they enthroned Christ on His terms would have experienced the full nature of the kingdom of God as would have the entire planet. But the gospels very carefully reveal how the nation of Israel rejected that offer. This was an offer that was legitimate and bona fide in nature but it was an offer given only to first century Israel.
In Matthew 10:5-7 it says this: “These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans;  but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This would not be a passage we would use at a missions conference because it is not global in nature; it was an offer given to the covenanted people.  “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Because the nation of Israel is the covenanted nation they were given the opportunity to enthrone the King and had that happened the kingdom, as Isaiah describes it, would have become a reality to planet earth. But sadly, as we have been studying the Gospel record, this takes us to number 3, there was a rejection of that offer. In fact, the turning point in Matthew’s gospel is Matthew 12:24, which says, “But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man cast out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” The moment they make that statement is the moment the die has been cast, the offer of the kingdom is now off the table.
John 12:37 gives the turning point as well, and it says “But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.” The offer is extended; the offer is turned down. And isn’t it interesting how God has a way of turning lemons into lemonade, because what happened is the nation of Israel, as we have been studying, turned Christ over to Pilate; Pilate, as we will discover in John’s Gospel, will execute Christ and in the process the God of the universe took the sins of the whole world and attached them to Christ. And consequently when the Jews turned down the offer of the kingdom and surrendered Christ to Rome for execution God took a very tragic event in human history and turned it around for something positive, to pay the sin debt of the world, which is how God operates. God takes lemons and turns them into lemonade.
What about the offer of the kingdom them? Here’s the key thing to understand; it is not cancelled but it has been postponed. We are living in a period of time where the offer has been extended to Israel, yet Israel turned it down, leading to not the cancellation of the kingdom but the postponement of the kingdom. And consequently God never leaves the earth without a witness of Himself. The nation of Israel is, in essence, on the shelf; they’ve been on the shelf, they’ve been in timeout, they’ve been sitting on the bench for 2,000 years as they continue on in that state of unbelief.
So what does God do? He never leaves the earth without a witness of Himself. In His eternal plan it was His intention to raise up the church of Jesus Christ. That takes us to number 4. And you see, the moment the nation of Israel turns down the offer of the kingdom you see a shift or a switch in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He is no longer ministering publicly to the nation of Israel but now He is ministering privately to a smaller remnant because they are going to be the foundation stones of this new move of God that is on the horizon, which is not the kingdom of God, which is in a state of postponement, but rather this new move of God that’s coming that’s called the church.
In Matthew 1-12 Jesus is engaged in public ministry, but once they attribute His miracles to the devil He begins to engage in private ministry to a select few. His focus in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel is the whole nation of Israel but once they attribute His miracles to the devil His focus is on the smaller believing remnant. The purpose of His miracles shifts; in the early part of Matthew’s gospel his miracles prove to the whole nation that He is the Messiah. But once they attribute His miracles to the devil His miracles take on the focus of training this remnant. The offer of the kingdom, which is prominent up through chapter 12 disappears from Matthew’s gospel at this point and it’s at this point Jesus starts to reveal an interim program called the age of the church, a period of time that we are living in now; we’ve been living in it in the last 2,000 years while the kingdom is in a state of abeyance and postponement.
In the first part of Matthew’s Gospel He spoke openly in discourse form; in the second part of Matthew’s Gospel He begins to speak in parables. What is a parable? A parable is a story with a hidden meaning; it’s designed to conceal truth from the nation and reveal it to the Jewish remnant.
And consequently we move into number 4, the age of the church; this church is finally born in Acts 2. What is the church? The church consists of all people, regardless of their nationality, Jew or Gentile, who have trusted in the very Messiah that national Israel rejected. The nation of Israel turned down the offer of the kingdom; God never leaves the earth without a witness of Himself and consequently we have a new man, as Paul calls it, a body, a spiritual organism consisting of all people, whether Jew or Gentile, who have trusted in the very Messiah that the nation of Israel rejected.
What is the church supposed to be doing? What’s our job? Why are we here? We have three responsibilities. Number 1, glorify God, Ephesians 3:21 [“to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”]. Number 2, edify the saints, Ephesians 4:11-16. [“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”]
We air supposed to edify and bring to maturity the believers so that they can become a complete and mature man. And then what’s our responsibility? Just to sit, soak and sour? No, it is to go out as healthy sheep and fulfill the great commission through world evangelism. Probably the most important thing to understand is that the church is not the kingdom and that is the great amillennial confusion and deception. They want the church to be the kingdom.
Let me explain to you why the church cannot be the kingdom of God. Number 1, the New Testament references to the kingdom of God place the kingdom in the future. How did Jesus teach us to pray? “Thy kingdom…” what? “come.” Now I may have been born in the morning but it wasn’t yesterday morning. Why would I pray for a kingdom to come as the Lord instructed me if it’s already here? The whole concept does not make any sense.
Beyond this, number 2, Jesus is never called the king of the church. I guess I should have run this one by Bruce before we sang that last song about Jesus is our King, we can make mistakes in the body of Christ; it’s not just his mistake but my mistakes. But what you discover is that Jesus was never called the king of the church. Peter puts it this way: Jesus is called, and by right, and in covenanted manner, is the King of the Jews, the King of the Nations, the King of the World, but He is never called the King of the church. When you study New Testament passages related to the church what you’ll discover is Jesus is the groom; we are the bride. Jesus is the head, we are the body. But the king/subject imagery simply is not dominant in the New Testament.
Beyond this, number 3, Jesus is never said to be ruling from David’s throne. There are many, many theologians that are out to convince people that Jesus, right now, in heaven is ruling from David’s throne. There are two problems with that. Number 1, David’s throne is on the earth, not in heaven; it’s in the city of Jerusalem. If Jesus were ruling from David’s throne you would see a visible, physical Jesus Christ ruling from Jerusalem on David’s throne the way the Scripture describes it. On the contrary, where is Jesus Christ now? Not on David’s throne. We are told in Romans 8:34 that He is at the right hand of the Father. [Romans 8:34, “who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”]
Number 4, the church age that we are living in is an age of prolonged carnality. There are many theologians that deny the reality of a carnal Christian. They don’t believe you can be a carnal Christian. My advice to them is try to go be a pastor for a month or two and then tell me if your doctrine doesn’t change, because the fact of the matter is the church of Jesus Christ is filled with people that are saved, that simply have not grown up. In fact, the book of Hebrews, chapter 5, verse 12, says, “For though by this time,” that’s speaking of a long period of time, “you ought to be teachers, but you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God….”
John Walvoord, the great prophecy scholar says this: “The Christian era has been no golden age of righteousness, nor has the church conquered the world. It is more accurate to recognize that the world, to a large degree, has possessed the church.” But you see, in the kingdom of God there won’t be rebellion, there will not be carnality, there will be perfect justice. When sin is committed it will be immediately and instantaneously dealt with.
Another reason we are not in the kingdom, I think this is number 5, we preach a different gospel, don’t we, than what John was preaching. What was John and Jesus and the twelve preaching? They were saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” What gospel do we preach? Acts 16:30-31 says this: “And after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They said” to him what? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your household.” There was never any offer of a kingdom to that Philippian jailer.
Dwight Pentecost puts it this way: “The new command of Christ, ‘you shall be My witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” does not coincide with the gospel of the kingdom which precedes the institution of the kingdom. Beyond that, we are called the heirs of the kingdom. James 2:5 says this: “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”
Peters puts it this way: “If the church is the kingdom and believers are now in it, why designate them as heirs of the kingdom?” See, we are citizens of the kingdom; we are heirs of the kingdom that’s coming; we represent kingdom values on foreign soil, but that doesn’t mean that the kingdom has arrived yet. We are simply ambassadors of that coming kingdom.
Beyond that, the church, maybe not so much in America but around the world is suffering dramatically. John 16:33 says this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” When the kingdom comes God’s people will no longer suffer. Peter says the church, instead of being represented as a kingdom is held up as a struggling, suffering people.
And a final reason why the church cannot be the kingdom is because Satan is running loose, isn’t he? In the kingdom the devil himself will be bound in a place called the abyss, for a thousand years. That’s described in Revelation 20:2-3. [“And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;  and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.”]
The amillennialist will tell you flat out that Satan is bound right now. If that’s the case then he must be on a pretty long leash, because Satan is wreaking havoc, not only in our world, Satan is wreaking havoc in the church of Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul warns us in Ephesians 4:26-27, “…do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Why is it, if Satan is bound now that we are to put on the full armor of God?
When you compare what the Scripture says about the kingdom to the modern age of the church it simply cannot be said in any way, shape or form that the church is the kingdom of God. But what happens to the church when the church gets confused on this? They get away from their priorities. What are our priorities? Glorifying God, edifying the saints, fulfilling the great commission. If I begin to understand that the church is the kingdom of God those priorities disappear. The priorities become bringing in kingdom conditions. And that’s why from many pulpits around this country there is so much talk about social justice, bringing in social justice, bringing in those conditions that are prophesied in the Old Testament.
Beloved, I’m in favor of political activism, as being salt and light. I am in favor of being involved in culture as a preservative. I am being in favor of being involved in the culture to slow down the progress of evil. But if you’re asking me to get involved in those activities, right or left, for the express purpose of establishing the kingdom of God on the earth, count me out, because if I got involved in those types of things I would be leading the church into doing something that only Jesus Himself can do. Yes, we can be a light to a dark world and improve things here and there but the general trajectory of this world, as Paul tells us, is from bad to worse, men waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. [2 Timothy 3:13, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”]
And that general downward trajectory will not be altered until Jesus Christ Himself alters it through the establishment of the kingdom, a job He never gave to the church. Show me your eschatology and I’ll show you your ecclesiology. Show me what you think about the end and I’ll show you what you think about what the church ought to be doing. The church is all about reaching and teaching. The church is all about evangelism and discipleship. The church, in certain instances can restrain evil but in no way, shape or form are we to be involved in the establishment of the kingdom of God on planet earth.
And so that is our function; that is our task. But you know what? The day will come, I don’t know when, that God will be finished with the church in the sense that its earthly mission will terminate. There is a full number that are supposed to come in in the age of the church. Once that number is reached the body of Christ will be complete, the bride of Christ will be complete and God will, through what we call the rapture or the translation of the church, take the church out of the world.
And then what does God do? Has God ever forgotten about these kingdom promises? He has not because one of the things God cannot do is He cannot lie. Titus 1:2 says this: “In the hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie….” If God has made these promises they will come to pass. Once the church is removed there will be a re-offering of the kingdom to the nation of Israel in the events that we call the great tribulation period.
Matthew 24:14 says, “This gospel of the kingdom,” that is the exact same offer that was made by Jesus, John the Baptist, the Twelve, and the Seventy, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” The nation of Israel will be given another opportunity to respond to the offer of the kingdom. That opportunity will be just as real as it was when Christ was here on planet earth. They get a second chance.
And how many of you know that God is a God of second chances? Probably some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible is in the book of Jonah, where it says “the Word of God came to Jonah a second time.” [Jonah 3:1] Isn’t that great, “a second time,” after all of this season of rebellion and disobedience God never forgot what He sought to accomplish through His choice prophet.
And may I just say to you that the world looks at the nation of Israel as a nuisance. The Christian church looks at the nation of Israel as a nuisance, a bunch of unbelieving Jews in the sands of the Middle East, and may I just say to you that is not how God looks at the nation of Israel. They are an elected, covenanted nation, a nation that God Himself made promises to which can never be forgotten. That offer is extended to you, the nation of Israel, and guess what? This time they get it right. They enthrone Jesus Christ. Yet, it will take the events of the great tribulation period to achieve this.
Jeremiah 30:7 says, “Alas! For that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress, but he will be saved from it.” Do you want some good theology? Here it is: God knocks us down so we look up. That’s how God got hold of all of us and God is about read to knock Israel in her pride down once again, but this time they will acknowledge Jesus Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 23:37-39, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her winds, and you were unwilling.  Behold, you house is being left to you desolate!  For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me,” and praise the Lord the verse doesn’t stop there, from now on I will say to you, “you will not see Me until,” I love the “untils” in the Bible, “until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!”
I came to you the first time, I wanted to gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but the problem wasn’t Me, the problem was you; you wouldn’t have Me. So behold, you are moving off into a season of discipline which will even involve the destruction of your temple and I, during this time of discipline will be at work through another spiritual man called the church.
But once you acknowledge Me as the Messiah, by chanting a Messianic psalm, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD,” which is Psalm 118:26, then the kingdom will come. Do we understand that we could win, in the age of the church, every human being to Christ and yet if tiny Israel remains in a state of unbelief, with the whole Christianized, the kingdom of God cannot come. Conversely, you can have the whole world move into unbelief and yet tiny Israel acknowledges Christ as their King and there will be the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth.
And once this offer is re-extended to the nation of Israel in the tribulation period, after the church has been removed and after that offer is accepted the authority of planet earth will be transferred away from the devil’s grasp into the grasp of Jesus Christ. Revelation 11:15 says it the best: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”
When you study the book of Revelation have you noticed that so many of the judgments sound like the book of Exodus? We have sores in the sixth plague of Exodus and the first bowl judgment in Revelation. Rivers to blood, first plague in the book of Exodus, third bowl judgment in the book of Revelation. Darkness is in the ninth plague of the book of Exodus and the fifth bowl judgment of the book of Revelation. Hail is in the seventh plague of the book of Exodus and the seventh bowl judgment in the book of Revelation. Why the parallels? Because in the book of Exodus God was taking His people, Israel, out of 400 years of bondage. That’s what the Exodus was about; they had been there for 400 years. Think about that, our country has only been here a little over 200 years. Think about being in bondage in Egypt for 400 years and God takes you out. And that’s small pickings compared to the book of Revelation because you know what God is doing in the book of Revelation? He’s not taking an nation out of 400 years of bondage; He is taking a planet, He is taking the earth itself out of the bondage that this planet has been in ever since the fall in Eden.
Romans 8 tells us that the earth itself is in travail and groaning because of the satanic bondage that it’s in. And how wonderful it is to learn of a time in history where the devil’s grasp on planet earth is taken away. The church, through all of its programs, cannot get this done, but Israel’s response to the offer of the kingdom in the tribulation period will be the triggering event. And as this happens the kingdom of God, this long awaited kingdom that we are to pray for, will be established on planet earth. Daniel saw it as a stone cut without human hands that destroys in an instant the kingdoms of man and that stone grows and grows and grows and grows until it fills the whole earth.
In our charts that we use we have the rapture, which concludes the church age, followed by the tribulation period, where Israel responds to the offer of the kingdom leading to the return of Jesus and the establishment of the kingdom of God on planet earth.
We have Armageddon followed by a second coming of Christ, followed by that glorious one thousand year reign of Christ that we call the kingdom of God. The kingdom is not now; the kingdom is yet future, and consequently we are to pray “Thy kingdom come.”
And you look at me and you say what is this strange, weird doctrine you’re talking about; I have been going to church my whole life and I have never heard anything like this. May I just say to you that the way I am talking is exactly how the church of Jesus Christ taught and thought for the first 200 years of its existence. What I am saying was mainstream by the generations that followed the apostles. Here’s a quote from Justin Martyr, he says, “But I and every other” very early church father, “I and every other completely orthodox Christian feel certain that there will be a resurrection of the flesh, followed by a thousand years in the rebuilt, embellished, and enlarged city of Jerusalem as was announced by the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah and others.”
The temple will be rebuilt, Jerusalem will be the focus of the earth again; a thousand year reign is coming. I believe it and Justin Martyr says every orthodox Christian believes it as well. In other words, if you were to deny what I am saying in the first 200 years of church history you would be thought of as unorthodox.
Philp Schaff, the well-respected church historian writes this as he is commenting on the first 200 years of the church. He says:: “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm,” now the Greek word for a thousand is chilia, so the early premillennialists, which is the system I’m describing, were not called premillennialists, which is a Latin word, but they were called chiliasts. “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius.”
And there was a school that promulgated these views in Antioch of Syria, which is at the northern tip of the nation of Israel. These were, what we could call, literalists. We might even call them fundamentalists; they said God means what He says and says what He means; if the Bible says there’s going to be a literal thousand year reign of Christ, my goodness, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And for the first 200 years in this school at Antioch they promulgated this doctrine. And so these things that I am saying here are not strange things. In fact, if you take the time to look at our Sugar Land Bible Church position statements you’ll find the same stuff.
We write, “As a framework for interpreting and teaching prophecy, we hold to a pre-tribulational,” that would be the church removed before the tribulation, “a pre-tribulational, premillennial position” What does it mean to be premillennial? It’s different than being an amillennialist. A premillennialist believes Jesus Christ comes back first, and the kingdom follows. We cannot, beloved, have the kingdom without the King, it’s an impossibility. Yet the amillennialist teaches that we can have the kingdom without the King.
Do you know what happens when we start thinking that we can set up the kingdom of God without the King? Crazy social experiments begin to take place, like the one launched by John Calvin when he politically took over Geneva, and he began to put on trial people that disagreed with him theologically. We could talk about the Salem witch trials; we could talk about the Crusades. We could talk about any number of things where the church has gotten out of the priorities of God because we have not carefully thought through or developed our eschatology.
The reason I am passionate about this subject is if we understand what our role is we will continue being what God has called us to be, because we lose power when the church becomes some sort of grotesque concept that God never envisioned. The church has power when it functions under the priorities given to it by our head, Jesus Christ. The church, when it gets outside of the priorities of God is emptied of its power. And that’s why there is this great deception that is on, launched by the devil himself, to confuse the church about this coming kingdom.
What happened to the school at Antioch? Well, they were eclipsed by another school, which is that bottom circle in Alexandria. Alexandria eclipsed Antioch. Alessandria, led by people such as Augustine, Origen, began to spiritualize the prophecies of the kingdom. They began to say those prophecies are not literal. They will simply repackage them and make it sound as if they’re happening in the church today. Augustine came forward with his first formal treatment on amillennialism, called The City of God, and from the fourth century onward the church has been completely confused on this topic. And it didn’t start crawling out of the amillennial deception until around 1800 A.D.
And how tragic it is, how problematic it is to hear the church using these expressions, kingdom living, kingdom work, building the kingdom, bringing in the kingdom, we’re a colony of the kingdom, we’re a sneak peak of the kingdom. The future, we’re told, has broken into the present, already not yet, inaugurated eschatology, realized eschatology. Those are just buzzwords for the same amillennial deception. That’s all they are. And yet when you listen to Christian vernacular you hear these words constantly. Brian McLaren of the emergent church, talks about how the church is the kingdom of God here and now.
Well Andy, you like The Purpose Driven Life don’t you? I mean, you would never criticize that, 40 Days of Purpose, I mean, that’s real popular, that’s almost as popular as the Bible. I cannot get on board with that. Why? Here is the progenitor of the movement, Rick Warren. “I stand before you confidently right now and say to you that God is going to use you to change the world… I’m looking at a stadium full of men right now who are telling God that they will whatever it takes to establish God’s Kingdom on earth,” once you start talking like that count me out.
Or Russell Moore, the President of Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who replaced Richard Land. Russell Moore says “The locus of the kingdom of God in this age is within the church, where Jesus rules as king. As we live our lives together, we see the transforming power of the gospel and the in breaking of the future kingdom of God.”
Well, that was an intro, now for the conclusion. You guys are glad I didn’t say now for the body of the sermon. John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Given this framework that I have given you how would we interpret Christ’s statement here in John 18:36. Three points, very quickly. Number 1, the offer of the kingdom is off the table at this point. It’s been off the table ever since Matthew 12. Christ is saying there is a kingdom coming one day, but it is no eminent threat to Rome at this time, although you have accused Me of insurrection.
The second point to consider is the Greek word nyn, translated now; “My kingdom,” a better translation would be “is not now established.” Christ was not denying the kingdom’s ultimate arrival upon the earth, but only denying its immediate arrival. The New American Standard Bible I don’t think does a very good job translating this; I think it shows up more clearly in the King James Version or the New King James Version but if you look at the Greek text in that last clause you will see the word “now.” Jesus is not making a statement that there will never be a kingdom the way the amillennialist takes it; He is making a statement that that kingdom is not now; it is no eminent threat to Rome, something that He wanted them to understand, having accused Him of insurrection.
And then finally, number three, the Greek preposition, ek, translated “of,” that does show up in the New American Standard Bible, the Greek preposition, ek, translated “of,” indicating origin or source. It will come down from heaven to the earth rather than originate from the earth ultimately at Christ’s Second Coming.”
Christ is making a statement of where the kingdom comes from. Once the kingdom comes to the earth where does it come from? It comes from where? Heaven. That’s why Jesus, John the Baptist and the twelve said very clearly to first century Israel, “Repent, for the kingdom of” what? “heaven is at hand.”
Daniel 2:44 puts it this way: “In the days of those kings,” speaking of the events surrounding the dissolution of the empires of man and the establishment of God’s kingdom upon the earth at the end of the tribulation period, Daniel 2:44 says, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed.” “From,” which is a translation of the Greek preposition ek is simply a statement of origin, or it’s simply a statement of source.
What is Jesus saying in John 18:36? He’s not denying a future kingdom; He’s simply saying that the offer of the kingdom, since it’s late in My ministry, is off the table, number 1. Number 2, the kingdom is not now going to be established because we are entering into a prolonged period of time called the age of the church. And number 3, once that kingdom comes it is coming from heaven to the earth. The rule of God in heaven which is never violated or second guessed is going to be established on planet earth for the 1,000 year reign of Christ.
My question is, which citizenship do you belong to? Are you a citizen of this world system that is disintegrating? Or are you a citizen of the coming kingdom which, as the book of Hebrews tells us, cannot be shaken? And how do you transfer your citizenship from one to the other? By simply responding to the gospel, which is to believe. We call the gospel “gospel” because the gospel means good news. It’s good news because Jesus paid everything on our behalf. All of the hindrances to me having a relationship with God have been paid for, thanks to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do nothing of my own accord but receive what He has done for me as a free gift. And that only happens one way, by faith; to believe, for “without faith it is impossible to please God.” [Hebrews 11:6]
In the quietness of our minds and hearts trust in what Jesus has done. It’s a transaction that happens in the quietness of the mind and the soul. It is not a matter of walking an aisle, raising a hand, joining a church, giving money, it’s a matter of something that happens between you and the Lord; you trust in what He has done. And the moment that happens your citizenship changes in an instant, away from the collapsing systems of man into a kingdom that we become ambassadors for that is yet on the horizon, which can never be shaken. Even as I am talking I would encourage you, if you are unclear on your eternity, the best you know how and understand that you trust in what Jesus has done. If it’s something that you have done or are doing then on the authority of the Word of God you have just altered your eternal destiny. I’m available after the service to talk. Shall we pray.