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“Your Kingdom Come”

25 April, 2008

The next phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come”, is a theme that crops up everywhere throughout Matthew; the ‘kingdom of heaven’ occurs 32 times and the ‘kingdom’ in general about 55 times. There are several ways to approach all this richness about the coming kingdom. One of them is through Jesus’ kingly geneology in Matt 1 (which I talked about in my first post on the Lord’s Prayer). I also mentioned three other general ways that we might approach speaking of the kingdom, which I’ll explore some now.

The gospel of Jesus and his work

The first ‘focal point’ of kingdom language that we can point out concerns the announcement of the King and what he has done to usher in this kingdom and bring its citizens into it. The very first thing Matthew records Jesus preaching after withstanding Satan’s temptations and entering into his official ministry was, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (4:17). This continued to characterize his ministry after calling the first of the apostles: ‘And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people’ (v. 23). The large crowds that begin to follow him as a result of his preaching, teaching and healing are those to whom he addresses the Sermon on the Mount. The well-known Beattitudes include further kingdom announcement: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (5:10).

Jesus commissions the twelve apostles to go to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ to announce the kingdom in the very same way: ‘And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay’ (10:7-8).

In a way, the meaning of all this becomes clear when the Pharisees were trying to attribute the redemptive work of Christ to the work of the Devil, and Jesus responds that he can’t have received his authority from Beelzebul, since everything he’s doing is overthrowing that evil kingdom, and ‘every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste’. Then he offers the alternative interpretation of his work, the true one: ‘But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (12:28). Jesus is hear saying (not the only time), that he is in his person and work the kingdom which has come among us. His coming is the coming of the kingdom, because he is the King of the kingdom and his redeeming work ushers in that kingdom reality. This reality of the kingdom, however, is also in a real sense still coming. Its presence is in Jesus and his redemptive work by the Spirit, but the reality that the kingdom belongs to (so to speak) is the reality of the age to come. That’s Jesus’ point about recognizing Christ’s works to be according to and part and parcel of the final redemption being ushered in even now by the Spirit of God:

‘Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ (12:31-32)

The people of God and the age to come

So one aspect of the reality of the kingdom is that it is the announcement of the kingly person and redemptive work of Jesus on our behalf, culminating in his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension: ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’ (16:28). Yet there is another aspect, which I’ve already started to mention, the aspect of the redemptive ‘place’ of the kingdom in the Holy Spirit and his ushering the citizens of the kingdom into our everlasting dwelling place in the age to come. Jesus also ‘came in his kingdom’ at Pentecost.

So those who belong to the King are also part of the kingdom, and the ‘place’ of the kingdom is just as important to recognize as the ‘work’ of the kingdom, and all these things are inseperable from one another. Jesus is redeeming a people for himself, a faithful citizenry who will enjoy his kingdom bounty: ‘I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (8:11-12). In the King’s heavenly banquet hall, those who are children of promise will enjoy an everlasting feast with their King, together with the ‘fathers’ of promise, but those who do not embrace the King and his promises, even though they are heirs to the kingdom, will be cast out. In other words, the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant of grace by faith will inherit everlasting life, and those who reject this covenant and this King in unbelief, no matter their biological lineage, will suffer everlasting death. Once again, Jesus is talking about the kingdom as the gospel and the realities of the age to come, as well as the children of these gospel promises who enjoy these realities through looking to Christ in faith.

Likewise, Jesus contrasts the reality of the kingdom of heaven, and its inbreaking in his own person and work, with everything that has come before: ‘Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kindgom of heaven is greater than he’ (11:11). Now, Jesus is not contrasting John as an unbeliever with those in the kingdom who believe, but he’s contrasting John’s office as in a real sense the last Old Testament prophet, with the new covenant realilty that he announced. ‘For all the Prophets and the Law prophecied until John’, v. 13; but their prophecies are now fulfilled in the coming of the King himself, and the ushering in of the reality of his kingdom even now, in his redemptive work. Everyone who believes in Jesus the King — including John and and Old Testament believers! — belongs to the New Covenant, the kingdom of the age to come which in its least is greater than the best of what is passing away.

The character of the kingdom of heaven as the citizens of the age to come is also seen in Jesus’ blessing upon Peter’s confession that he is the Messiah: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (16:16). Jesus responds:

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (16:17-19)

There are so many things going on in Jesus’ statement here, but I want to focus especially on the fact that the church is built upon the true and faithful confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially as this is an apostolic confession. They are the ones commissioned to bear this proclamation of Jesus and his work out into the world on Jesus’ behalf, in his name and with his enabling and authority. I also want to point out that the church built upon this confession of Christ is the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven. Being brought into or shut out of the church is being brought into or shut out of the kingdom. The churchly reality of this age is a sign of the kingdom reality of the age to come, because the visible inbreaking of that age includes not only the coming of Christ but also the ingathering of his people, who are brought together by the Spirit in common and corporate confession of our King and his work on our behalf.

The parables of the kingdom

Finally, I’ll mention that both of these aspects (and probably more) are seen throughout the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. I won’t get into them here, but they are rich in imagery and description both of the King and the proclamation of his redemptive work, as well as of the kingdom citizens who are by faith ushered into the reality of the kingdom of the age to come by the power of the Spirit.

The kingdom has come in our King, and is here and is spreading in the church’s proclamation of his person and work, and will come in its fullness in the coming of our King again to usher in fully the life of the age to come of which we are citizens even now.

One Comment
  1. 25 April, 2008 10:50 pm

    ‘For all the Prophets and the Law prophecied until John’, v. 13; but their prophecies are now fulfilled in the coming of the King himself, and the ushering in of the reality of his kingdom even now, in his redemptive work. Everyone who believes in Jesus the King — including John and and Old Testament believers! — belongs to the New Covenant, the kingdom of the age to come which in its least is greater than the best of what is passing away.

    Good stuff b. Wish you were here the other day during chapel when RSC closed his sermon on Elisha with a very similar exhortation. It was very uplifting. I’m sure it will be on in a few days or weeks.

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