Vol. 8, No. 10
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The term "church" is used to refer to those who are "called out" for a special purpose. It is used as a term of distinction and separation. Jesus of Nazareth promised to build his church when he was among his disciples at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:18-19). His purpose was clear and resolute: "I will build my church and the gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it." Nearly in the same breath he said he would give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter. On the first Pentecost day after the crucifixion, resurrection and Ascension of Jesus (events recorded in Acts 2), Peter and the other apostles gave access into the kingdom as they preached the Gospel of the kingdom. The text says, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).
God wanted to reveal to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon things that would transpire in the future. God gave him a dream wherein he saw a terrible image. Ultimately, God provided to the king the details of his dream and the interpretation through one of his servants by the name of Daniel. Daniel identified King Nebuchadnezzar as being the head of gold and three successive kingdoms that would be inferior to his. Of the fourth kingdom, that is, the Roman Empire, the text reads, "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Daniel 2:44).
The prophet Isaiah points to the same event: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2-3; cf. Luke 24:46-47).
John, the forerunner of Jesus came on the scene and worked valiantly to prepare the people's hearts to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah and to enter into his forthcoming kingdom. The herald cried, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). John, being filled with the Spirit of God from his mother's womb, properly identified Jesus: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Included in these words are not a subtle hint of his purpose in taking on him the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16-17).
Jesus continued the work begun by John as he taught men and women the spiritual nature of the kingdom he had come to establish (Luke 17:20-21; John 18:36). His message included belief in him as the Son of God, the need for repentance of one's iniquities, to enter into the kingdom through the new birth (John 3:3ff), and to bring forth fruits of righteousness all of one's days as one serves the Lord with godly fear. "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).
From the days of Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan, throughout his ministry and up until the moment of his Ascension, Jesus spoke of his work with reference to the kingdom as is indicated in the following: "To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
Jesus made it clear that the kingdom was breaking on the horizon. Its coming was imminent. "And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1). Just before his return to the Father, he instructed his apostles to remain in the city of Jerusalem until "ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
The promises of God to redeem his people culminated in the power of God coming upon the apostles as they were baptized in the Holy Spirit and able to speak about the "wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11) in languages they never before studied. The apostle Peter explained the manifestation of the Spirit's work as the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy (Joel 2:28ff). He continued to explain David's prophecy and how God had fulfilled his promises to David by raising up Christ to sit on his (David's/God's) throne (Acts 2:22-36). The apostle Peter would have the people of his day, and ours, too, to understand that Jesus has been exalted at the Father's right hand and currently reigns as the Supreme King of kings. The apostle Paul also teaches that Jesus Christ is currently reigning over his people (1 Corinthians 15:20-26). John indicated to his suffering brethren that Jesus is the "prince of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5) and that he, along with them, was already in the existing kingdom of Christ (Revelation 1:9).
Philip, the evangelist went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them (Acts 8:5). We then read just a few verses later, "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). It is interesting to note that those who heard Philip preach "things concerning the kingdom of God" did the same thing the people did when Peter used the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Acts 2) and thereby were added unto the church (Acts 2:47). They were all baptized into Jesus Christ as they experienced the new birth (John 3:3-5).
The church Jesus established is the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). We know the church is the kingdom of heaven because God does not fail to keep his promises. He is not "slack" concerning his promise. God has all power and is able to work things according to the counsel of his will and he is able to work even through disobedient, rebellious people (Ephesians 1:11). God was not shocked by the rejection of his Son in that he was crucified at Calvary. The apostle Peter declared how he was delivered and slain according to the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). Jesus has no need to return to Jerusalem to set up a political kingdom. He is King now and his reign is superior to any earthly reign. He could no better fulfill God's purpose for him in Jerusalem than he can from his current throne.
Death is our common enemy. It prevents us from fulfilling our dreams and plans; however, through death Jesus was able to conquer death and rise again to fulfill God's purposes for him (see 1 Corinthians 2:4-8). May the kingdom of our Lord increase!