|Volume 23 Number 1 January 2021
Louis Rushmore, Editor
“Who Knew What When?” is a common international news headline. Let’s explore “Who Knew What When?” concerning, “Who in the first century believed Jesus’ kingdom was spiritual?”
As the first century A.D. began, there was an air of expectancy among the Jews that the long-prophesied kingdom of the Messiah was about to be established (Isaiah 2:2-3; Daniel 2:26-45). The fourth earthly kingdom from the time of and including the Babylonian reign under Nebuchadnezzar – the Roman Empire – had been ruling the Jews for a little less than 100 years. Therefore, the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth created quite a stir among the Jews as John and Jesus both began preaching that the kingdom was near (Matthew 3:1; 4:17).
The Jews expected an earthly kingdom comparable to the kingdom as it was when Solomon was king. Israel desperately wanted to overthrow Roman rule and occupation of their homeland. Therefore, many Jews were aroused by the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. They wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him their earthly king (John 6:14-15). However, many of the Jews turned away from following Jesus Christ once they realized that He did not come to establish a physical kingdom (John 6:66). “Who Knew What When?” Many of the Jews who formerly were stirred by preaching about the kingdom were among the first to understand that the nature to the kingdom about which John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth preached was spiritual rather than physical and earthly. The apostles, though they continued with our Lord, still clung to the notion that Jesus was about to establish a physical kingdom (Acts 1:6).
The Jews would not have crucified our Lord had He determined to establish a physical kingdom, because that is exactly what they wanted. The Sanhedrin and Jewish rulers would not have resisted the Christ and caused Him to be crucified if our Lord had come to establish an earthly kingdom that could repel the Romans. The Sanhedrin also understood, therefore, the true nature of the kingdom Jesus came to establish was spiritual and not earthly, despite its charge against Jesus before Governor Pilate (John 19:12). [Premillennialists make the same mistake as the first century Jews in expecting an earthly kingdom when Jesus Christ, instead, is the King of a spiritual kingdom – the body, the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18).]
One of the thieves on the cross – the penitent thief – seems to have grasped the true, spiritual nature of the kingdom Jesus came to establish. Jesus as well as the two thieves also on Calvary’s hill that day were about to die physically. Their deaths were inevitable. Yet, the one thief trusted in the establishment of the kingdom by the crucified Christ (Luke 23:42).
Alas, the apostles of Christ on whom our Lord would depend to administer the kingdom and spread its borders in the first century did not understand the spiritual nature of the kingdom. Earlier in the ministry of Jesus, the apostles vied for positions in an earthly kingdom that they expected Jesus to establish (Matthew 20:21; Mark 10:35-37). After Jesus resurrected and immediately prior to His ascension, still the apostles expected the soon to be established kingdom to be physical (Acts 1:6); they were clueless that the kingdom was spiritual. Others, mostly enemies of our Lord, realized the spiritual nature of the kingdom and wanted no part of it. The penitent thief also realized the spiritual nature of the coming kingdom. The apostles, however, had no idea yet that our Lord was about to establish a spiritual kingdom. Had the Holy Spirit not inspired the apostles and directed their preaching and teaching (Acts 2:1-4), apparently the apostles would have been unable to comprehend the nature of and to administer the spiritual kingdom – the church (Acts 2:47).
“Who Knew What When?” The many disciples who turned from following Jesus Christ realized that our Lord’s kingdom was to be spiritual. The Sanhedrin and Jewish leaders understood that Jesus came to establish a spiritual kingdom rather than to re-establish Solomon’s kingdom. Governor Pilate understood that our Lord’s kingdom was spiritual rather than physical; otherwise, he could not have found Jesus faultless (Luke 23:4, 14; John 18:38; 19:4, 6). The penitent thief believed in the spiritual nature of our Lord’s kingdom. Lastly, the apostles, too, comprehended the true nature of the kingdom of prophecy – the church, and they were willing to die for it (Acts 12:2).
Every person worldwide needs to realize the true nature of the kingdom of Jesus Christ – the church – and to obey the inspired message that was proclaimed on the birthday of the church (Acts 2:38) to be added to it by Jesus Himself (Acts 2:47). Waiting for Jesus to establish a physical kingdom is misguided and useless. Joining oneself to a manmade church rather than being added to the spiritual kingdom Jesus established is pointless and without the ability to save anyone from anything. Don’t be like the many who turned from Jesus in the first century or even like the clueless apostles prior the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon them. Embrace the Gospel message, obey it (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17) and be added to the spiritual kingdom today!
Our Fellowship in Christ
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
Possibly now, more than ever, our fellowship in Christ is being attacked. Personally, I believe true fellowship in the Lord’s church has been under attack for a long time. However, especially since the onset of the Coronavirus, fellowship has suffered greatly. Folks have been “forced” to “hole up” and be separate from others, which is a direct attack on the fellowship we need in Christ. The biblical word “fellowship” is defined as a “partnership, companionship, camaraderie.” It is a beautiful closeness that only can be experienced and enjoyed by those who are in fellowship with God. What is our fellowship in Christ all about?
Firstly, let us note the plan. God’s plan for the early church was quite clear. “And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46). Notice some of the elements of this plan. Their fellowship was frequent: “And they continuing daily…” This could quite possibly be one of the clearest reasons why some congregations never experience the beauty of real fellowship; they are simply never together. Our meeting together for worship and Bible class can never achieve the closeness that meeting together daily can bring. How can we really know and love one another if we simply just cross paths on Sunday?
Their fellowship was also friendly: “with one accord… with gladness and singleness of heart.” It was an enjoyable experience for these Christians to be together. They were not cliquish, clamoring or contentious. Bad attitudes, fighting and feuding all hinder the enjoyment of being together.
Their fellowship was also focused: “in the temple and breaking bread from house to house…” Their eating together (“breaking bread from house to house”) was a direct result of their worshipping together (“in the temple”). Worship should draw us close to God and close to each other. Closeness to each other is often expressed through sharing food and time together. God’s plan for His church is for us to be united and to spend precious time together.
Secondly, let us understand the portrayal. “Fellowship” is portrayed in various Bible descriptions. Fellowship is all about being “fellowcitizens.” “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Fellowcitizens portrays the idea of belonging together. Fellowship is all about being “fellow soldiers.” “And to our beloved Apphia and Archippus our fellow soldier…” (Philemon 2). Fellow soldiers portrays the idea of battling together. Fellowship is all about being “fellow helpers” (3 John 8). Fellow helpers portrays the idea of benefiting together. Fellowship is all about being “fellow workers.” Paul reminded the church in Colosse of this important fact (Colossians 4:11). Fellow workers portrays the idea of being busy together. Fellowship is also all about being “fellow heirs” (Ephesians 3:6; Romans 8:17). Fellow heirs certainly portrays the idea of being blessed together eternally. Christians, who are in fellowship with God and each other, have an inheritance awaiting them! Each portrayal of fellowship shows that we are in this life together to accomplish a common goal.
Lastly, let us see the power. True biblical fellowship empowers and encourages our faith. We were not created to be alone – to be islands. The power of fellowship is seen in faithfulness. When we are joined together the way God intended, we help each other to remain faithful. A lion is much more effective in taking down a lone antelope compared to a whole herd. Our spiritual lion (1 Peter 5:8) is much more effective at stopping a single Christian compared to one who is with the herd every day (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). The power of fellowship is seen in forgiveness. When we are close, as the family of God should be, it is much easier to forgive one another when we sin (Ephesians 4:32). Often, grudges and hateful attitudes are held for years, simply because we do not know and love one another properly. The power of fellowship is seen in fortune. True biblical fellowship is like finding a spiritual fortune! Sadly, many Christians never find this fortune. Far too many Christians are disconnected and never really tie in with the family of God, and thus, they never really experience the fortune that is found in true biblical fellowship.
God’s plan for the New Testament church was never made up of people simply rubbing shoulders on Sunday. Fellowship in Christ is a camaraderie, companionship and closeness that is a foretaste of Heaven itself. If our fellowship here on earth is not right, we will never enjoy fellowship in eternity. May we each do our part to fulfill God’s plan for our fellowship in Christ. May we each daily live the portrayals of biblical fellowship, and may each Christian experience the power and beauty of our fellowship in Christ Jesus. Could it be said of us, “And they continuing daily…”? Think about it!