Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
In our studies so far we have seen that it is God's intention to set up His Kingdom on earth with Jesus Christ as its king. In the Kingdom He will ultimately dwell in perfect fellowship with men and women to whom He has given immortality. We have considered how this reconciliation has been made possible by the loving provision and sacrifice of Jesus. The burning question now concerns our individual relationship to this glorious future. How can you and I be among those cleansed from sin and invited into the Kingdom of God? As this chapter heading indicates, Jesus invites us to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), but how should this be done?
There is a growing tendency to see the choice of the road
back to God as a matter for individual selection. Many
people claim that provided the motive of a person's
life is pure and the heart right then God will recognise
these as the basis for reunion with Him.
lead to Godwe often hear said, or
him in your way, and I in mine, but we both get there
in the end. And this is now said not only with
reference to all the different branches of the Christian
faith, but to include most other religions as well.
But is this God's view? Would it not be wise to enquire what He has said about it before we set out to seek His Kingdom?
I would like to lay before the 'many road' theorists the case of Cornelius. He was a Roman centurion of very remarkable character; indeed it would be difficult to fault his lifestyle. Here is the inspired description of him:
devout man, and one that feared God with all his house,
which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to
God alway(Acts 10:2).
You might well think:
What more could one ask? Here
was a sincere and thoroughly religious man who brought
up his family in the faith, regularly prayed to God,
and was very generous to those in need. Would that all
men who claimed to be religious lived such a life! Surely
such a man need not worry about his eternal future.
If there is any reward in the next life here is a prime
candidate for it.
But what was God's message to him? It was that there was something else he ought to be doing:
men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname
is Peter: .... he shall tell thee what thou oughtest
to do(Acts 10:5-6)
This 'something that you ought to do' was a matter of great importance, for it concerned Cornelius' salvation. Peter was to tell him
whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved
So sincerity, devotion, charity, a godly life, and constant prayer, commendable though they undoubtedly were, proved insufficient to make this man acceptable to God. The only way for a man to come to God was by accepting His Son, and the Apostle Peter could explain to Cornelius how to do this.
ONE WAY OF LIFE
The way of life is a figure that recurs throughout the Bible. In its opening chapters we are told that as well as the tree of knowledge there was another tree in the garden of Eden, one that had the ability to give eternal life to those who ate its fruit. This is a symbol of the immortality that God will bestow in the future. But when Adam and Eve were thrust out from God's presence because of their sin, the way to this tree was barred lest they should return to eat of it and become immortal sinners:
he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of
the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword
which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree
of life(Genesis 3:24).
Notice that, in symbolic language, there was only one
way back into God's presence, and after Adam's fall
it was closed; although the way was
in the sense of being preserved for opening at a future
time. By the work of Jesus this way has been opened
again for those who desire to seek God:
saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life:
no man cometh unto the Father but by me(John
In their preaching after Christ's resurrection the apostles impressed this on their hearers. Christ was the only one in the whole world through whom eternal life was possible:
is there salvation in any other: for there is none
other name under heaven given among men, whereby we
must be saved(Acts 4:12).
On reflection, this must seem perfectly reasonable. God would hardly have sent His own Son into the world to die in such agony for the sins of mankind if there was some other way of redemption. There is no doubt therefore that reconciliation with God can be found only within the Christian faith.
But what do we mean by Christianity, for there are many forms of it in the world? Does it matter which one of the paths we tread provided it has a 'Christian' label? Again Jesus bids us take great care! He certainly did not visualise more than one path to life. In the whole world there are only two ways as far as he is concerned, and they lead in opposite directions: one a strait (i.e. narrow) and unfrequented way leading to life, and the other a broad and busy way leading to destruction:
ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and
broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and
many there be that go in thereat: because strait is
the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto
life, and few there be that find it(Matthew
There is no doubt that this teaching is out of tune with the
current mood that tries to soften the differences between
very opposing viewpoints in religious spheres. But there
is also no denying that it was the position of the original
Christian church. In fact the New Testament Epistles
came into being because of this recognition that there
was only one way to life. Paul wrote with tears
in his eyes (2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18), begging
his converts to abandon variations they had made to
his teaching. They were amendments that today would
be regarded by most people as completely insignificant,
yet he saw them as a matter of life or death. Those
who adhered to the new teaching had
grace(Galatians 5:4). To the inspired Paul, as
to his Master, there was only one gospel and
the slightest tampering with it was fatal. Read his
repeated emphasis of this in his letter to Galatia:
though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other
gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto
you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say
I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto
you than that ye have received, let him be accursed
Thus it is certain that, as far as the message of original Christianity is concerned, all roads do not lead to God. There is only a single way, and that is a narrow one that permits no deviation from the set path, and only those who find it and go along it will reach the Kingdom of God.
How can you find that road?
THE BIBLE THE ONLY GUIDE
Our studies so far have served to emphasise the vital place
of the Bible in God's dealings with mankind. The very
reason for the existence of Scripture is to tell us
what God is doing and how we can be associated with
His plan. To look elsewhere for any guidance to the
Kingdom of God would be ruinous. Yet whenever the question
of religion crops up we almost invariably hear people
start the conversation by saying
I think ....
The Bible says ....The Bible
often comments on this tendency to rely on our own choice
in matters of belief and religion, and says how catastrophic
following such thoughts and inclinations will be:
way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that
walketh to direct his steps(Jeremiah 10:23).
is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end
thereof are the ways of death(Proverbs 16:25).
So the first thing any aspirant to the way of life must do is to accept the guidance of Scripture:
they speak not according to this word, it is because
there is no light in them(Isaiah 8:20).
holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise
unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus
(2 Timothy 3:15).
But you might ask:
What of the teaching of the Church?
Has it not a Christ-given authority of equal status
with God's written revelation?' In answer one could
Which Church? Roman Catholic? Greek Orthodox?
Protestant? Nonconform-ist?The variations of
belief and practice between these sections of Christendom
are enormous. Which is correct? We have already seen
that beliefs have changed during the history of the
Church, making it difficult to accept that they still
one gospelspoken of by Paul.
Its practices have also changed. Was the terrible Inquisition
of the Middle Ages conducted with the approval and authority
of Jesus? If it was God's will then, why is it
not similarly carried out now? Or have God's standards
and requirements changed?
The fact is, as we saw in an earlier chapter, modern Christianity bears little relation to the original message of Christ and the apostles. A Church which has altered beyond recognition the teaching about the Kingdom of God is hardly likely to be able to direct men and women to a destination it no longer believes in.
Where authority in religion is concerned, it is the Bible or nothing. There is no middle ground.
WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
This was the heartfelt cry of the jailor at Philippi to Paul and Silas when he realised that they were preachers sent by God. Paul's response was immediate and direct, and illustrates the first century way of conversion to Christianity:
on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
The jailor clearly wanted to know more, for the record continues:
they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all
that were in his house(Acts 16:31-32).
The result of this preaching was the baptism of the man and his household:
he took them the same hour of the night, and washed
their stripes; and was baptised, he and all his, straightway
In responding to the jailor's plea Paul was obeying the final command of Jesus to his disciples:
ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every
creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall
be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned
Setting foot on the road to the Kingdom of God therefore involves taking two steps: belief is the first and baptism the second.
BELIEF IN JESUS
or faith, is the very foundation of acceptance by God.
To distrust or doubt Him and His purpose prevents any
person from coming to God.
Without faith it is
impossible to please him(Hebrews 11:6). And this
belief must be in the mission of His Son through whom
the purpose will be accomplished.
What does a prospective Christian need to know about Jesus? There are two main aspects of his work that must be accepted. Referring to first century practice we find that these are the 'Name' of Jesus and the 'Kingdom of God':
when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning
the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus
Christ, they were baptised, both men and women
These two aspects contain the whole of the message about the
purpose of God with man.
The things concerning
the Kingdom of God, as I am explaining
in this book, are the matters relating to His plan for
the future of man which is the theme of the Bible. The
name Jesus means 'Saviour', so the things concerning
the Name of Jesus Christare the
things we considered in the previous chapter, the cross
and his sacrifice for sin which has made salvation in
the Kingdom possible. Both parts of Christ's work must
be understood and accepted by those who claim to believe
Understanding and believing this dual mission of Jesus will have a profound effect on a person. There will be an awareness of sin and of estrangement from God. A life of self-gratification will become empty and pointless, and the reality and permanence of death a burden that needs to be lifted. The perfect life and love of Jesus will touch a sympathetic chord when it is realised what he went through to enable man to become immortal.
There is one word used in the Bible to describe this changed outlook-repentance. Without this change of heart and mind the subsequent rite of baptism becomes a mere outward ceremony. This is the unanimous voice of the New Testament:
did baptise in the wilderness, and preach the baptism
of repentance for the remission of sins
said unto them, Repent, and be baptised every
one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission
of sins(Acts 2:38).
The rite of baptism is commonly thought of as the ceremony by which a young baby is initiated into the Church. Rather is it an obligatory early step on the way to the Kingdom of God. As Jesus himself said:
verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water
and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of
We have already seen that everywhere in the New Testament this 'birth of water' is regarded as the next stage after belief and repentance. The Acts of the Apostles describes the spread of the gospel and it is a regular feature of the book that when it records a conversion to Christianity, it is accompanied by a reference to the convert's baptism.
One thing is very clear. Baptism was effective only if it was preceded by belief. An Ethiopian visitor to Jerusalem, responding to the preaching of Philip about Jesus, asked if he could be baptised. Philip replied:
thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest
It is therefore certain that in those times baptism was exclusively for believing adults. There is not the slightest hint of any exception to this rule.
WHAT IS BAPTISM?
Christian baptism is the complete immersion in water of a believer who has confessed faith in Jesus. There is ample Biblical and historical evidence for this, and indeed the meaning of the word excludes any other view. The word is the anglicised equivalent of the Greek word that means to 'dip' or 'plunge'. Speaking of the Apostolic age, the Encyclopaedia Britannica says:
the ceremony the candidate for baptism is submerged
under the water(14th Edition, Art:
Examples of this abound in scripture. John baptised in a certain
because there was much water there
(John 3:23). When Jesus had been baptised he came up
out of the water(Matthew 3:16). Philip
and the Ethiopian
went down into the water ....
and he baptised him(Acts 8:38).
To this can be added the testimony of historians. Referring to the time of the apostles, Mosheim says:
sacrament of baptism was administered in this century
without the public assemblies .... and was performed
by immersion of the whole body(Century 1 ch.4).
And Dean Stanley agreed:
can be no question that the original form of baptism
-the very meaning of the word-was complete immersion
in the deep baptismal waters(Lectures on
the Eastern Church).
There is therefore no doubt as to the mode of baptism practised by Christ and his disciples.
THE EFFECT OF BAPTISM
By the act of baptism a believer makes a public confession of faith in the work of Jesus, both past, present and future. This includes what Jesus achieved on the cross and identifies himself with his sacrifice. The immediate effect of true baptism is to cancel out all the believer's past sins, allowing a completely fresh start to be made in life. The symbol of washing in water is thus very appropriate:
and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus
Christ for the remission of sins(Acts
and be baptised, and wash away thy sins
Thus purified, the believer becomes
in Adam, and all the far reaching
benefits of the sacrifice of Jesus are available. Paul
emphasises the change in his letter to the Corinthians:
as in Adam all die, even so in Christ
shall all be made alive(1 Corinthians 15:22).
Adammeans to possess the sin-prone nature that
has been inherited from him, and without forgiveness
this results in death. But all those who by baptism
in Christwill be forgiven their
sins for his sake, and be related to eternal life.
Baptism is therefore no unnecessary ritual, but the only means of becoming related to the redemption and reconciliation made possible by Christ's death on the cross, and to an inheritance at last in the Kingdom of God.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BAPTISM
The vital nature of baptism is emphasised when we realise the meaning that underlies the act of immersion. In his letter to the Roman Christians Paul explains that at baptism the believer undergoes in symbol what Jesus experienced in fact. Jesus died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and then rose again to a new life. The baptised person repeats this in a symbolic way. He dies to his old life, is buried under the water, and then rises from this temporary 'grave' to a new life. These are Paul's words:
ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus
Christ were baptised into his death? Therefore we
are buried with him by baptism into death: that like
as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory
of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness
of life. For if we have been planted together in the
likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness
of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man
is crucified with him, that the body of sin might
be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve
sin .... Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe
that we shall also live with him(Romans 6:3-8).
The believer's baptism is thus regarded as a sort of crucifixion.
The old man, the past life dominated by sin, is destroyed
and left behind in the baptismal water. On rising from
the water a new life is commenced which, because it
in Christ, will lead to forgiveness and
In an alteration of the figure Paul then goes on to say that by baptism we change masters, and change the rewards of our service as well. Previously slaves to sin and earning his wages, we have now become slaves of God to experience His blessing:
God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin,
but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine
which was delivered you .... But now, being made free
from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your
fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God
is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord
(Romans 6:17, 22-23).
Baptism is therefore an essential step on the way of life.
IS CHRISTENING BAPTISM?
Coming after the Bible teaching we have just considered, this question hardly needs asking. All the elements of Christian baptism are absent when a few drops of water are sprinkled on the forehead of a baby. Belief and repentance are clearly not possible in one so young. Sprinkling is not immersion and so the 'burial' with Christ does not occur, and the 'rising' to the new life cannot take place.
There is not the slightest Scriptural justification for infant baptism. As one theologian of the last century observed:
numbers who have been educated in the belief that
the Scriptures enjoin infant baptism, are astonished
on searching for themselves, to find that they do
not even refer to it at all(Dr. Ball, Morning
Star, p.209. 1869).
Dean Stanley in 1879 justified the change from the original practice in these words:
almost universal practice of baptism was that of which
we read in the New Testament .... that those who were
baptised were immersed in water .... But in practice
it gave way since the beginning of the seventeenth
century .... With the few exceptions just mentioned,
the whole of the Western Churches had substituted
for the ancient bath the ceremony of sprinkling a
few drops of water on the face. The reason of the
change was obvious. The practice of immersion, Apostolic
and primitive as it was .... was peculiarly unsuitable
to the taste, the convenience, and the feelings of
the North and West .... There is no one who would
now wish to go back to the old practice. It had no
doubt the sanction of the Apostles and their Master
.... Baptism by sprinkling was rejected by the whole
ancient churches as no baptism at all .... It (i.e.
sprinkling) is a striking example of the triumph of
common sense and convenience over the bondage of form
and custom(The Nineteenth Century
Review, Oct. 1879).
Whether it is 'common sense' deliberately to alter the rite God has selected to be the way to forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of eternal life I must leave you to judge. As to sprinkling being more 'convenient', Christians well might ask where they would be if Jesus had studied his 'convenience' rather than die on the cross? Those who claim to follow him can scarcely use such an excuse for disobeying him.
LIFE IN JESUS
After baptism the believer, who has now become a brother or sister of Christ, commences the journey along the way of life to the Kingdom of God with light step and a heart full of gratitude and love to God and Jesus for all that they have done. The Christian's position now is one of great privilege, but with corresponding responsibilities. The necessarily brief review that follows tries to show what life in Christ involves.
A Christian does not travel far along the way of life before the truth of Paul's words becomes evident:
must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of
The greatest tribulation for all true Christians is our own failure to respond to God as we would like, for although our past life was erased at baptism the human nature we possess was not changed, and we continue to sin. But the great difference after baptism is that, if we confess our failures and repent of them, all sins will be forgiven for Christ's sake and we start again with a clean sheet. Achieving this forgiveness for his brethren and sisters is the present ro^le of Jesus as our mediator in heaven. The clear and comforting message is that there is no limit to the forgiveness God will grant for his sake:
is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea
rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right
hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us
any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous(1 John 2:1).
is one God, and one mediator between God and man,
the man Christ Jesus(1 Timothy 2:5).
And the effectiveness of the mediation of Jesus is heightened by his personal experience of the trials and temptations of our nature. He remembers just what it was like to be human:
all things it behoved him to be made like unto his
brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful
high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation
for the sins of the people(Hebrews 2:17).
we have not an high priest which cannot be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all
points tempted like as we are, yet without sin
he is able also to save them to the uttermost that
come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make
intercession for them(Hebrews 7:25).
The baptised believer has the kindest, the most understanding, and the most effective spokesman in the whole universe to beg for his forgiveness; and God, at the request of His Son is pleased to forgive any sin that is truly repented of.
Forgiveness is freely available, but it must be sought in prayer. The above quotation concerning Christ as our high priest continues with this counsel:
us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in
time of need(Hebrews 4:16).
Prayer is the privilege of Christ's brethren and sisters, not only to obtain forgiveness but to offer praise to God and to seek for His help in difficulty. All who experience the value of this exercise will hardly need the repeated exhortations to engage in it:
without ceasing(1 Thessalonians 5:17).
careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be
made known unto God(Philippians 4:6).
ought always to pray, and not to faint(Luke
Jesus has gone before us to the end of the way and has already eaten of the figurative tree of life. His life as revealed in the gospels is the model for all that would follow him:
this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus
that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so
to walk, even as he walked(1 John 2:6).
also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that
ye should follow his steps(1 Peter 2:21).
Christ's respect for his Father, his obedience to God's will, his love for his fellow man, his compassion-all these and more are displayed in the gospels as a pattern for his disciples of all time.
OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST
In addition to his example he gave specific commands that would test the love and allegiance of his friends. He made this point on several occasions:
ye love me, keep my commandments(John 14:15).
a man love me he will keep my words(John 14:23).
ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love
are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you
There is no mistaking the import of these words. Obedience to the Master is the hallmark of discipleship, the test of a real Christian. People today shy away from the idea of commands. They are regarded as an infringement of personal liberty or a means of inhibiting freedom of expression, and should therefore be evaded as often as possible. But the Christian disregards the commands of Jesus at the very expense of his claim to Christianity:
we do know that we know him (Jesus), if we keep
his commandments. He that saith, I know
him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar,
and the truth is not in him(1 John 2:3-4).
Where do 'Christian' countries and people stand today if judged by this rule?
THE COMMANDMENTS OF CHRIST
Many different commands of Jesus to his followers are recorded in the gospel records, covering all aspects of a disciple's life. An important aspect is the Christian's relationship to others:
is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I
have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends
This was to come second only to the prime duty of loving and obeying God:
thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and
with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love
thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment
greater than these(Mark 12:30-31).
And to show that a neighbour is anyone in need Jesus went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:27-37).
On another occasion Jesus said that he regards any loving work done for others as being done to himself, and similarly, to neglect others is to neglect him:
I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one
of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it
unto me(Matthew 25:40).
But love of others is not the only duty of a Christian.
An extensive series of Christ's commands to his followers
is contained in the address commonly known as the 'Sermon
on the Mount' (Matthew chapters 5-7). It is a wide ranging
description of how Jesus expected his followers to behave.
Topics covered include: angry and evil thoughts, divorce,
truthfulness, not resisting personal attack or insult,
generosity to others, hypocrisy, prayerfulness, trusting
in riches rather than reliance on God, keeping to the
narrow way and avoiding false teachers. Many people
on reading these commands will say
very well as an ideal, but in practice they cannot be
kept. Society just couldn't carry on if they were.
Jesus did not take this view. He clearly saw the danger that some of his followers would be merely nominal Christians, and concluded his address by emphasising the vital importance of obedience. Compliance with commands such as he had just given would mean entry into the Kingdom of God: disobedience would mean exclusion.
every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter
into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the
will of my Father which is in heaven
To reinforce this he gave them a parable. A wise man and a foolish man each built a house. The wise man went to a lot of effort to dig down so that the foundations were on rock. The foolish man was content to build directly on the soil, with no foundations. Outwardly the two buildings looked equally good, but when driving rain, wind and floods came the house with no foundation collapsed and was washed away. These two men represent the two categories of Christ's listeners: the wise man those who hear Christ's commands and obey him, and the foolish man those who hear the commands yet choose to ignore them, and therefore perish (Matthew 7:24-27).
In saying this I do not want to give the impression that it is possible to earn eternal life. Redemption is the gift of God, given freely through His grace. The mistake of the Pharisees was to believe they could be acceptable to God just by good works. But as a gift can be conditional and still remain a gift, so eternal life will be given on the basis of our use of the abilities and opportunities God has given us. Christ's parable of the Talents clearly teaches this (Matthew 25:14-30). Almost the last words of Jesus to his friends show that loving obedience to him is the basis on which the fruit of the tree of life can be tasted at the end of the Christian's journey to the Kingdom of God:
behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me,
to give every man according as his work shall be.
Blessed are they that do his commandments,
that they may have right to the tree of life,
and may enter in through the gates into the city
TAKING OUT A PEOPLE FOR HIS NAME
Judged by these high standards of belief and behaviour it would seem that Christianity has failed. Almost week by week the world grows more evil, violent and materialistic, and the impact of the teaching of Christ appears to be fading. This is a real problem for those who believe that a time of peace and blessing for the world will come by the gradual spread of the Christian influence. But an understanding of the present purpose of Christianity makes its apparent lack of progress understandable. It may be a surprise to learn that the Bible does not define the purpose of preaching as an attempt to convert the world. Rather is it a call to men and women of faith and love to come out of the world and to prepare themselves for the time when Christ would return to set up the Kingdom of God. This is the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles:
at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out
of them a people for his name(Acts 15:14).
ye were of the world, the world would love his own:
but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen
you out of the world, therefore the world
hateth you(John 15:19).
have manifested thy name unto the men that thou gavest
me out of the world .... I pray not for the
world, but for them that thou hast given me. I have
given them thy word .... they are not of the world,
even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou
shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou
shouldest keep them from the evil(John 17:6,9,14-15).
come out from among them, and be ye separate,
saith the Lord,and touch not the unclean thing; and
I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you,
and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord
Almighty(2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
So whilst, in a literal sense Christ's followers remain in the world, in a spiritual sense they are separate from the world in that they repulse its ways and influences. It follows that such commands as those in the Sermon on the Mount were not given for the regulation of society at large, but as a personal code of discipline for those few who willingly respond to the call to separation from the evil world in which they perforce have to live.
This idea of a calling out is perpetuated in the meaning of 'ecclesia', the word translated 'church' in the New Testament. The original church, or ecclesia, was not the building but the community of Christian worshippers. 'Ecclesia' is derived from two Greek words: ek, meaning 'out of', and klesis, meaning 'a call'. The original Christians were therefore a community of 'called out ones', and this process of calling out men and women on the basis of their belief in Jesus has continued to this day. A related word is 'saint'. In Bible usage a saint is not someone who has been canonised by the Church, but one who is 'set apart', this being the simple meaning of the original word. So 'the saints' simply refers to members of the Christian body, and derives from their separation to become servants of Christ.
A REWARD FOR LOVING OBEDIENCE
Although daily discipline is required from the baptised followers of Christ, their lives are still full of joy and peace for they know that imperfections in their service to Christ will be forgiven upon repentance. Above all, they look forward to their reward in the Kingdom of God. The hope of eternal life, participating in the work of their returned Lord, and sharing in all the blessings of his reign is a continual source of happy anticipation. Although this reward is yet future and therefore not strictly within the subject of this chapter, it can be appropriately considered at this point. Seeking the Kingdom in faith and obedience must inevitably lead to finding it.
There is an increasing tendency among people today to disparage
the idea of a reward.
Virtue is its own reward
they say, implying that to expect a reward for service
demeans the Christian ideal. Yet the teaching is present
throughout the Bible. We are told that even the Son
of God found the prospect of future happiness an incentive
in his difficult life, and we are urged to look to him
for an example of what our attitude should be:
us run with patience the race that is set before us,
looking unto Jesus .... who for the joy that was
set before him endured the cross, despising the
The time when this reward for faithfulness will be given
is clearly stated in Scripture. It is not at the death
of a believer, but at the resurrection, after Jesus
has returned to the earth. The book of Revelation, speaking
of the time when
the kingdoms of this world are
become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
says these events will include:
time of the dead, that they should be judged, and
that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants
the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that
fear thy name, small and great(Revelation 11:18).
The resurrection of the saints at the return of Jesus to the earth is clearly taught throughout the Bible. It was the fervent hope expressed by all God's faithful men of the past. Job, David, Hezekiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Paul and many others all refer to it (Job 14:14-15, 19:25-27: Psalm 17:15; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Philippians 3:11 etc.). Death is regarded as a state of unconsciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:5), that will be interrupted by the voice of Jesus calling from their graves all who in their lifetime had known God's ways:
verily I say unto you, The hour is coming .... when
the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and
they that hear shall live.
not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which
all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and
shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the
resurrection of life; and they that have done evil,
unto the resurrection of damnation(John 5:25,
That this was the hope of the early disciples of Jesus is evident from their reaction when faced with the death of their loved ones:
know that he shall rise again in the resurrection
at the last day(John 11:24).
the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a
shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the
trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first
.... Wherefore comfort one another with these words
(1 Thessalonians 4:16,18).
THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST
Although the details of when, where and how are not revealed, all the resurrected ones, together with certain who are still alive at Christ's return, will be summoned before Jesus to have judgment passed on their lives. Paul often reminded his readers of this:
we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ;
that every one may receive the things done in his
body, according to that he hath done, whether it be
good or bad(2 Corinthians 5:10).
charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus
Christ, who shall judge the quick (i.e. the living)
and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom
(2 Timothy 4:1).
In almost his last address to his disciples Jesus likened this solemn event to a shepherd dividing his mixed flock into two groups: sheep on his right side and goats on his left. He was speaking of the time of his return in glory to sit on his throne-the restored throne of David. The 'goats' will be banished from his presence to suffer punishment and destruction, but the 'sheep' will be invited into the Kingdom that God had been preparing from the beginning of human history:
ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared
for you from the foundation of the world(Matthew
THE REWARD FOR FAITHFULNESS
What is the reward given to those who are accepted by Jesus when he returns? It has many facets, but the principal one is the gift of immortality. Then at last will the words of Jesus be fulfilled:
give unto them eternal life(John 10:28).
this is the will of him that sent me, that every one
that seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have
everlasting life(John 6:40).
Paul describes the exhilarating and dramatic process by which weak, sin-prone and mortal creatures will instantly be changed to beings perfect in mind and body, suitable for the fellowship of the Father and His Son:
a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last
trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall
be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed ....
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption,
and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then
shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is
thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?(1
INHERITING THE EARTH
These now immortal beings will be given the earth as their eternal dwelling place. The Bible never promised heaven as the reward for the righteous. David and Jesus concur in telling us this:
meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight
themselves in the abundance of peace. The righteous
shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for
ever(Psalm 37:11, 29).
are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth
You may recall from our studies in chapter 5 that this is exactly what God promised Abraham. He was to inherit for ever the land in which he was then living, and was to share this possession with his great descendant, Jesus, and with his many spiritual descendants, the saints.
THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB
Within this overall picture there are glimpses of other activities that the immortal saints will enjoy. First among these will be a joyous union between Jesus and the now perfected Redeemed. The figure is of a Bridegroom united with his Bride in a delightful ceremony, with the angels as happy spectators (Revelation 19:6-9). Paul also hints at this meeting of Christ and the Saints (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), but the details of where and when this union will take place is not revealed. We are told, however, that in this day of supreme happiness Jesus will look back on the sufferings he endured on the cross and know that they had been worth while:
shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be
KINGS AND PRIESTS UNTO GOD
After the rapturously happy union of Jesus and his Bride has been celebrated, it will be their task to bring about the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, resulting in the transformation of the world into the delightful condition that we considered in chapter 2. Jesus will be the king of the whole earth and the administration of his government will be shared by his immortal brethren and sisters. We have already noted (p.28) that Isaiah foretold the coming of a king who would reign in righteousness and princes who would rule in judgment. When we look at some express promises of Jesus to his believers we find the identity of these assistants.
To his immediate circle of twelve apostles he promised the supervision of the twelve tribes of Israel, by then regathered and obedient:
I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in
the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in
the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve
thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel
are they which have continued with me in my temptations.
And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath
appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my
table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the
twelve tribes of Israel(Luke 22:28-30).
But rulership will not be confined to the apostles. Each
one of the redeemed will be given a position of authority
over the nations of the world. Christ's promise to
that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end
him will I give power over the nations, and he shall
rule them with a rod of iron(Revelation 2:26-27).
And these immortal beings will thankfully recognise that it was through the sacrifice of Jesus that they have this position of rulership:
thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by
thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people,
and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and
priests: and we shall reign on the earth
This reign of Christ and the saints will continue for a thousand years, as we read in another part of Revelation concerning those who have been accepted at Christ's tribunal:
lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years
By the Millennium the world will be cleansed of all sin and evil, so making it a place which God can inhabit in perfect fellowship with man. When this indescribably happy time has come, the Kingdom of God will have entered its final and permanent stage. But this is the topic of our last chapter.
In chapter 1 we saw the outlines of the picture of Gods plan for the earth: later chapters have filled in some of the detail. I do hope now that the whole Bible picture of the Kingdom of God is coming together in your mind. We have not built up this portrayal of the Kingdom by picking out a few isolated passages but by looking at the whole Bible; and because a coherent picture has resulted we can be confident that we have correctly understood its message.
At the beginning man fell and sin and death entered into the world, with inevitable alienation from a righteous God. But in Eden God promised a redeemer who would destroy the power of sin, and eventually reconcile man again with his Maker. Later God promised Abraham that this deliverer would descend from him, bringing blessing to all people and ruling over the world. Abraham would also inherit for ever a portion of this earth, and have a large number of descendants who, because of their similar faith and obedience, would share this blessing with him. Later still God made a promise to king David concerning a descendant of his who would reign for ever on his throne. These promises gave rise to the Jewish hope of a coming Messiah or Christ.
Then we saw from the New Testament that Jesus was the one who came to fulfil all these promises. The theme of his preaching was the Kingdom of God as foretold in the Old Testament. His disciples also preached a literal reign on earth, and confirmed the teaching of Jesus that belief and baptism were the conditions on which a personal share in this Kingdom would be possible.
At his first advent Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Through him God's mercy is extended to all who believe and obey His Son, to give them eternal life at the second coming of Christ.
At his second coming Jesus will take over the rulership of the world from existing governments and set up the Kingdom of God. The saints, having been made immortal, will share with Jesus this task of ruling the earth, bringing in a time of unparalleled blessing for the world.
WILL YOU SEEK THE KINGDOM?
When you pick up the Bible you have in your hands the opportunity to receive God's gift of eternal life, made possible by the loving devotion of His Son. This present book is an attempt to humbly express this revealed purpose of the Almighty, with the object of extending a helping hand to those who may feel the need of a guide through the pages of Scripture. Of necessity the appeal so far has been to your understanding, as I have attempted to explain God's purpose through Jesus. But the gospel of the Kingdom is more than head knowledge. It demands an emotional response as well. Jesus died in agony for you, and God's invitation is for you to believe this with all your heart, to love and to serve Him, and so share the perfect life that will be experienced when Jesus returns. A true appreciation of the life and work of Jesus can kindle a flame in your innermost being that nothing can extinguish, and will make the task of following the Saviour a pleasure as well as a duty.
I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my
voice, and open the door, I will come in to him
Can you hear him knocking?