In our previous study on "The Last Things" we saw that the focus of the gospel is on the coming Kingdom of God (the coming day of the rule of God over the people of God). In that study we looked at the sequence of events that will lead up to the day when the Kingdom comes in glory. In this study we will look in a more general way at Biblical prophecy on the Kingdom of God.
The prophets in the Bible were special people chosen by God to reveal his word to his people. God revealed his truths to these people (possibly visions etc), and they in turn told their fellow-countrymen. What they said was written down and finally included in the Bible. Moses, through Jesus to John (the writer of the book of Revelation) were all prophets. Sometimes what they said concerned the future, but most often it concerned the present. That is, it was "forth telling" rather that "fore telling".
Their message was twofold:
i] A call to righteousness. They would denounce the evil of their age, warn of coming judgement, and call for repentance.
ii] Announce the Kingdom. They would announce God's plan to gather together a people to be with Him forever - to bless, rule and direct them. This plan, they said, is working itself out this very day - it is "now" (but also future - "not yet").
Biblical Prophets view the future in a unique way:
i] Compounded events. Biblical prophets tend to compound future events so that something that is hundreds of years away becomes very close.
ii] Jumbled events. The biblical prophet tends to jumble the sequence of events which lead to the setting up of the Kingdom of God. There is little concern to maintain a strict order.
iii] Different levels. This is probably the hardest point to grasp, but it is the key to understanding biblical prophecy. The prophet speaks to his own day and what he says comes true in his own day, but it is also true for a future time. Let me illustrate. Jeremiah the prophet predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, describing the event in vivid language. What he said came true in 590 BC when the Babylonians destroyed the city. What he said also pointed to the destruction of the city again by the Romans in 70AD and still points to the destruction of the world at the return of Christ. Prophecy has different levels of fulfillment.
The prophet always speaks within the framework of the biblical theology of the Kingdom of God (see details in study 1). History is moving to the point in time when God will set up His Heavenly Kingdom - a dimension where all his children will dwell with Him forever. We commonly call it heaven. God has allowed the reality of heaven to be mirrored in the world in different times and in different forms. Although each manifestation of the Kingdom takes on a different form, each is a true expression of the one final reality of the Heavenly Kingdom. When a prophet speaks about any one of these manifestations of the Kingdom, what he says of the one applies to all.
Once we understand this link we are able to apply the words of an Old Testament prophet to ourselves. His words are no longer just for the Jews who lived in the time of the Historic Kingdom of Israel. When the prophet condemns the Israelites for their lack of faith, injustice or their constant chasing after other gods, the prophetic word also applies to our age. We, like the Israelites, are members of the Kingdom of God, and so God's word is for all members.
We tend to think that Jesus would have known everything, but the truth is he saw the present and the future in much the same way as the Old Testament Prophets. He didn't even know the date for the end of the world. In coming to this world and taking human form, he "emptied" himself of his divine nature while here (but without setting aside divinity).
His perspective was similar to all the prophets who had gone before.
i] Compounded events. The end is close. His disciples develop this thought.
ii] Jumbled events. No great concern to keep to a strict order.
iii] Different levels of meaning. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is "at hand" - it is close to us. Actually we are in it "now". All that Jesus said is true, then, now and in the future. As Paul puts it, "Even now we dwell with Christ in the heavenlies". Yet, at the same time, we await it. It is "not yet".
1. The Present Spiritual Kingdom. (The Church Era) 30AD (Pentecost) to Christ's Return. The key event which ushered in this Kingdom was Jesus' death on the cross. He died, he rose again, and he ascended to his Father in heaven to receive a Kingdom. Jesus is now Lord, he reigns, he is bringing all things into subjection to himself. We see and experience this Kingdom in the church, but the church is only a picture of reality, it is still part of the earth and as such we await the dawning of the new age - heaven.
i] The time is fulfilled. If you read Matthew's gospel you will notice many quotes from the Old Testament. The writer is saying this:- all the prophecies in the Old Testament are coming true in Jesus. He is doing all the things that the prophets said would happen before the coming of the Kingdom. Therefore the Kingdom is bursting in upon us. As Jesus said, "If I by the finger of God .... do these things (Cast out demons etc.) then you know that the Kingdom of God is near to you."
ii] The victory over evil - Jesus' death and resurrection, Ps.22, Mk.8:31, Mk.10:45, Matt.12:38-40, Jn.2:19 etc.
iii] Jesus crowned King. Dan.7:13, Ps.110:1 etc. Mk.14:62, Lk.22:69.
iv] The outpouring of blessings upon members of the Kingdom. The key blessing we receive is the gift of the Holy Spirit, i.e. Jesus comes to us and makes us his friend forever. Dan.12, Joel etc., Jn.13-17, Lk.18:28-30.
v] The Kingdom will have a strong influence upon the world. Matt.13:33, Jn.16:8-11, 17:20-23.
vi] In the Last Days (now) there will be a failure of the Christian church to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus, Matt.24:9-14 c.f. Matt.7:15-23, 24:36-25:46. During this time we will see the rise of false leaders who try to take the place of Jesus ("false Messiahs", "Anti-Christ", i.e. either an ideology, a government, a dictator, even spiritual leaders), Mk.13:21-23. The Bible says that during these days Christians must be watchful, faithful, prepared and diligent, Matt.24:43,50, 25:10,19). We must also work hard at getting the gospel out into the world while there is time. The Bible says in doing this we bring the day closer, 2Pet.3:10-13.
vii] The failure of the church will bring upon it God's "chastisement" (punishment with the aim to reform), i.e. a time of persecution. Mk13:14-20, Matt.10:17, 24:9, Matt.15-28. Lk.21:12, Jn.15:20, 16:2. Titus 3:12, Rev.2:10.
viii] The return of Jesus to rescue and separate the remnant who stand firm through this great trial. Matt.24:15-22, 25:31-46.
2. The Heavenly Kingdom. From the return of Jesus through eternity.
The events leading up to the return of Jesus and the dawning of the New Heavens and the New Earth are even now taking place.
i] Gentiles are being made part of God's family as well as Israel. Isaiah 9:2, 49:6, Dan.7:14, Hosea 2:23.
ii] The struggle of Christians in the world against evil. Matt.5:13-16, Matt.10, Jn.4:35-38, 10:14-18, 12:24-26, 17:15-19.
iii] The growing impact of that struggle - people converted, the enemy put to flight (Satan), Lk.10:17-20, Jn.16:8-11, Matt.24:29-31.
iv] God's historic people, the Jews, believe in Jesus. Romans 9-11. This is happening today. Many Jews are becoming Christians.
v] The final victory over Satan.
a) Cataclysmic upheaval leading up to the destruction of the world by fire. Matt.24:29-31, Mk.13:24-25, Lk.21:25-28, 2Pet.3:10.
b) The return of Jesus in view of all people. Matt.24:27-28, 25:31.
c) Jesus will gather together into the air all that are his, Matt.24:30-31, Mk.13:27. This will include all those who have died believing in Jesus. They will be raised from the dead and join with those who are alive, 1Cor.15:51-54, 1Thess.4:13-18, Phil.3:18-21.
d) The destruction of Satan/the Devil, and his forces, the "Anti Christ" and powers of evil. Jn.12:31, 2Thess.2:8, Heb.2:14, 1Jn.3:8.
e) The judgement of all mankind 2 Cor.5:6-10, Heb.9:27. For those who are against Jesus or who have ignored Him - destruction. Matt.11:20-24, 12:32-42, 25:31-46, Lk.13:1-5, Jn.5:28-29, 2Pet.2:9, 3:7. Those who have followed Him - life. 1Jn.4:17.
vi] New Heavens and a New Earth. Jesus is even now preparing a new dimension in which we will dwell with Him forever. After the final victory we will go there with Him. Lk.18:28-30, Jn.6:39-40, 14:1-7, 17:24, Rev.7:9 and chapter 21.
Christians have always felt that the end is close, and it is right to feel that way. What is your response to this truth?