Jesus’ primary message was the kingdom of God, the rule of God’s grace, breaking into time and history now, hidden in the hearts of those who know Him and established visibly across the world someday in power and glory. God is sovereign over this entire universe but His kingdom is not acknowledged by everyone. He has permitted rebellion by angelic and human creatures who do not wish to submit to His Kingship. But in the face of this rebellion, God has not relinquished His authority. Rather, He exercises authority in history sowing the kingdom seed of His truth, calling all people everywhere to willingly submit to His rule of grace and mercy.
God’s sovereignty in human history is so absolute that He is able to allow the exercise of rebellious free will and still establish His ultimate kingdom purpose. (Rebellion does not disprove God’s sovereignty — it demonstrates how perfect and absolute is His power, wisdom and authority — He allows rebellion and still accomplishes the purpose which He determined before the beginning of time.) The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple but this was not a defeat for the kingdom of God. Rather, it was God using the Babylonians to judge idol worshipping Israel:
“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose up against His people, until there was no remedy. Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans (Babylonians)” (2 Chronicles 36:15-17).
God acted in history by calling to rebellious Israel through the ministry of the prophets. After Israel had rejected the prophets and despised the patient mercy of God for centuries, the Lord acted in history by judging Israel through the Babylonians. Then, after seventy years, the Lord used a pagan Persian king, Cyrus, to reestablish Israel. Listen to what the Lord said to Cyrus:
“Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand to subdue nations before him ... I will go before you ... I will shatter the doors of bronze ... I will give you the treasures of darkness ... so that you may know that it is I, the Lord God, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me” (Isa. 45:1-4).
God called and anointed Cyrus to destroy the Babylonians and send Israel back to their land to rebuild the temple, even though Cyrus did not know the Lord when God first began to work through him. Eventually, Cyrus came to realize that the God of Israel was directing his life and giving him success. The king then said, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him and let him go up’” (2 Chron. 36:23).
Who gave Cyrus his earthly kingdom? God did. Who moved Cyrus to release the Jews to return to their home land? God did. Who moved Cyrus to call for the rebuilding of the temple? God did, even though Cyrus did not know the Lord when God first began to use him as an instrument of kingdom purpose and even though Cyrus was an idol worshiping pagan when God first called him.
God is active in history establishing His kingdom. “He makes the nations great, then destroys them” we read in Job 12:23. The Lord God determines not only the time for each earthly empire and kingdom, but also their geographical boundaries as Paul reveals, He determines the “appointed times and the boundaries” of nations (Acts 17:26). Daniel says, “He controls the course of world events; He removes kings and sets up other kings” (Dan. 2:21).
He works through those who love Him but also exercises His sovereign will through those who do not know Him. His power is so great that He can allow the exercise of rebellious human and angelic will and still establish His ultimate purpose.
This is the God “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). This is the God who says, “I am God and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 46:9b,10).
This is the God of whom the Psalmist said, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Ps. 33:11).
This is the God of whom Solomon spoke, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand” (Prov. 19:21). The counsel of the Lord will stand against the plans of the tyrant, the boastful kings and queens of corporate kingdoms and political / military empires.
This is the God who declares, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand” (Isa. 14:24).
This is the God who mocks the powerbrokers of this fallen world, saying, “Well then, where are your wise men? Please let them tell you, and let them understand what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt” (Isa. 19:12).
This is the God whom Isaiah extols, “O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness” (Isa. 25:1).
This is the God who has spoken a word of purpose over your life and mine. Indeed, He spoke this word long ago, designed us from eternity with a unique, once in a universe convergence of DNA, talents, skills, personality, resources and opportunity that we might bring Him glory.
You and I are an expression of the exercise of His will and nothing in the universe can restrain the exercise of God’s will. His perfect wisdom cannot be out-thought. His perfect power cannot be out-fought. God will have His way in every generation and will move all of time and history toward the fulfilling of His good purpose. And though the history of the kingdom of God on earth reveals continual, unremitting conflict with the kingdom of Satan, it also reveals God’s triumph. There will be a final destruction of Satan’s kingdom at the end of the age and in the ministry of Jesus we see continual confrontation with and victory over demonic powers.
Revelation of The Counterfeit King (Matthew 4:8-10)
When Satan tempted Jesus, he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said, “All these things I will give you, if you fall down and worship me” (4:9). Jesus did not deny Satan's corrupting influence throughout the kingdoms of this world nor did He deny Satan’s masquerade as the counterfeit king. But from that time, He began to break the devil’s rulership in the lives of men and women.
Recognition of the True King
Jesus was preaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath when a man with a demon cried out, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). Notice, the demonic cry was not only a cry of recognition of the Person and power of Jesus but also recognition of the final triumph of His kingdom and the ultimate destruction of the counterfeit kingdom, “Have you come to destroy us?” This is even more clear in the incident in which Jesus confronted a legion of demons in two men. The demons cried out, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt 8:29). They understood their own final, inevitable destruction, that a time was coming when Jesus’ triumph over them would be complete and they would be cast into a place of eternal torment.
Signs of the Kingdom:
When John the Baptist first saw the adult Jesus, he recognized Him as the Lamb of God and long awaited Messiah (John 1:29,20,35,36). Later, John was in prison and he sent his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). John may have been wondering, “If Jesus is the Messiah, why am I in a dungeon? Where is the kingdom of God?”
John did not have a faith problem; he had an expectation problem. He may have shared the common, nationalistic misunderstanding of the Jewish people concerning the Messiah and the kingdom of God. They were expecting a conquering King who would drive the Romans from the land and immediately restore the glory of King David’s rule. They were expecting a kingdom breaking into history visibly, victoriously, gloriously through political / military means.
John rightly understood his ministry as being the forerunner to the Messiah, preparing the hearts of the people to receive Jesus. He quoted the prophecy of Isaiah and applied it to himself, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23). John knew who he was and he knew who Jesus was but he evidently believed that Jesus would usher in the visible kingdom of God now. This caused him to wonder, “Why the delay?”
Jesus replied, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4 ,5).
What they saw and heard was the rule of God’s grace, the Lordship of grace, forcefully overthrowing the violence of hell's destruction in the lives of hurting people. Jesus considered these signs to be proof of the presence of the kingdom, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come near you” (Matthew 12:28).
To answer John’s question, “Yes, Jesus is the long-expected Messiah. Yes, His kingdom is breaking into history now. But no, not in the way you expected. Political / military governments are not being overthrown; rather, demonic governments are being overthrown as hearts and lives are transformed by the conquering power of grace.”
Those who hear the kingdom message and turn and submit to Jesus’ rule are living in His kingdom now. God has, “Rescued us from the domain (jurisdiction) of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). We are living in this world and are nominal citizens of particular nations but we are not of this world. We are citizens of the kingdom of God.
However, there is a conflict. Though it is not fought through military or political means, we are in a war. Since the true King and His rule are rejected by many, those who enter His kingdom find themselves in conflict with the rebels and with the world system that reflects their rebellion. Our King does not lift us out of this conflict. Instead, He plants us in it so that He can release His kingdom purpose through us.
We are His messengers proclaiming His gospel of the kingdom. We are His hands, touching broken lives. We are His light shining in the darkness. Because the world loves darkness, it makes war against the light. But the warfare only drives us deeper into Christ’s kingdom of grace.
The greater the conflict, the more we turn to the Lord and the more completely we submit to His rule. The more we submit to His kingdom authority, the more He can teach us about exercising kingdom authority. This is, after all, the purpose of God in history: to have a people living in His kingdom, through whose lives He can express His kingdom.
The Original Purpose of Humanity
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them’” (Genesis 1:26,27).
“Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). The word cultivate, abad, means to serve and carries a sense of stewardship. Humanity was created to represent God’s kingdom as servant / rulers over the earth. However, this stewardship could only be a reflection of God’s rule in man's life. Man the creature could fulfill his role in ruling over, cultivating, serving creation only as he lived in right relation to God the Creator and Ruler of all. As God ruled in humanity, humanity could rule on earth. We were created in God's likeness so that we could both know God and represent Him. As the Psalmist said, “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord but the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Psalm 115:16).
Loss of Kingdom Rulership
In Genesis 3 we read the account of Adam and Eve disobeying God and choosing to obey Satan. In doing this, they relinquished their authority on earth to Satan. From that moment in history, humanity ceased to represent or express the kingdom purpose of God on earth. Rather, Satan began a program of incarnating his perverse values in fallen human personalities and expressing his rebellion against God through fallen men and women. Men and women establish Satan’s values in the societies and institutions which they build. Satanic kingdom values are expressed through oppressive governments, greedy and selfish economic systems, racist divisions between people groups, artistic expressions of violence and depravity, religious systems that deceive and enslave and through exploitive, abusive relationships in families and societies.
As Jesus moved toward the cross, He acknowledged Satan’s limited rulership in this world, “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of this world is coming” (John 14:30).
The Apostle Paul refers to Satan as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The Apostle John says that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19).
The majority of this world is submitted to Satan’s values and therefore, Satan is their king. He is, in that limited sense, the ruler of this world. This is not to say that God is out of control or that His sovereignty is in any way restricted by Satan. God is sovereign over this universe and is continually at work establishing His kingdom purpose in history while allowing rebellion against His purpose. We are living in a conflict of kingdoms.
Recovered Kingdom Rule in Christ
In the hours before the cross, Jesus revealed the beginning of the destruction of Satan’s reign, “Now judgement is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31). On the cross Jesus broke the power of Satan's rule, defeated Satan and his kingdom. He disarmed powers and principalities of Satan’s kingdom, triumphed over them, made an open spectacle of them on the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).
Jesus disarmed and triumphed over Satan by making Himself a sin offering, taking upon Himself our sin, God’s judgment of sin, our separation from God because of our sin and the death we should have died because of that separation. Satan was thus disarmed of the right to condemn sinners who, trusting in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, are forgiven, cleansed and reconciled to God.
Satan was disarmed of his ability to use death as an instrument of fear, as the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebr. 2:14,15).
Though Satan still carries on a program of violent rebellion against God, incarnating his evil into souls and social institutions, he is a defeated enemy. The rule of God is pressing into the kingdom of darkness and all of history is the record of this confrontation. The history of the kingdom of God on earth is a history of conflict with the kingdom of darkness. However, the outcome has never been in doubt. On the cross of Jesus, God’s ultimate triumph began.
But how do we enter and share in the triumph of the kingdom of God?
Entering the Kingdom
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (or born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Jesus taught that we must be spiritually regenerated, raised from spiritual death to life, to enter His kingdom. Born again may also be translated born from above. When we put these words together we get a true sense of what Jesus was saying, “You must be born again by power from above.”
Born again refers to spiritual regeneration and implies that in our natural state we are spiritually dead. Unless we move from spiritual death to spiritual life, we will not even see the kingdom of God. Born from above refers to the Person and power necessary to regenerate a spiritually dead sinner. Only God can do this. There is no other person or power on earth that can resurrect spiritually dead people and open our entrance into God’s kingdom. Only God can give new life to dead sinners. It is a miracle that comes from above. The regenerating, life giving power of God is released into the lives of those who believe on the Savior whom God has sent.
Salvation takes place because God, in His great love for us, has chosen to save lost sinners. God not only chooses to save, but He accomplishes this work entirely by His power released through the preaching of the cross of Christ (Romans 1:16 I Cor. 1:18,23,24).
We enter the kingdom because God seeks us and calls us: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
“No one can come unto me, unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
God seeks us and draws us but there is also a human responsibility in this. Having been awakened by God to the presence of the kingdom, we exercise our awakened will and turn from our sin and open our heart to the new possibilities of life in Christ, believing that Jesus is who the Scriptures testify that He is — Son of God, Lamb of God, risen Lord. We abandon all false means of salvation, trusting only in Christ’s atoning death. We trust Him to do what He says He does — save, cleanse, redeem, forgive.
Having turned from our sin, we surrender to Christ every aspect of our being, declaring Him to be Lord of our life. Rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13), we now live under the present Lordship of grace.
Peter declared, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John. 14:6b). Through repentance and faith in Christ we enter the eternal kingdom of God.
Having entered the kingdom, we enter kingdom time:
Our past time is forgiven, its enslaving power broken by grace.
Our present time is redeemed and empowered by the life of the indwelling King.
Our future time emptying into the absence of time is more certain
than the universe itself and grasped by the hand of faith.
We are born into the kingdom of God by the power of the God who is present in time and coming at the end of time in power and glory. But our birth into this kingdom was an act of violence.
The Violence of the Kingdom
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The people of Jesus’ day were expecting the violent intervention of the kingdom of God, a forceful, military overthrow of the Roman Empire and all the empires of man. Even John the Baptist was perplexed, “You are the Messiah. Where is your kingdom?” Jesus’ response: watch.
Watch as a woman thrown down in the dust is raised by grace to a new beginning. Watch as a man whose personality is so demonically bound he cannot live in human society, living among the tombs — watch as he is restored to sanity. Watch as a storm is calmed, the lepers are healed, the dead are raised, the guilty are forgiven.
Yes, Jesus was introducing the kingdom of God, but not through political / military means. Yes, entrance was violent, but not the kind of violence people expected. It was the violence of grace penetrating the hearts of hopeless men and women; the light of grace casting down the prevailing kingdoms of darkness which oppress, deceive and enslave; the power of grace breaking the rule of sin and guilt, establishing the rule of Almighty God.
People were saying, “We don’t see a violent invasion.” Jesus said, “Watch, go and tell what you see and hear.” What they saw and heard was the rule of grace forcefully overthrowing the violence of hell's destruction in the lives of hurting, broken people; the power of God’s grace doing violence to the binding power of deception and hate, liberating the captive and setting free those who once were bound.
And yes, the kingdom suffers violence. John was arrested and killed, Jesus was opposed, ridiculed, arrested and crucified. His followers were and continue to be brutally persecuted.
However, Matthew 11:12 may also be translated, “The kingdom of heaven is pushing forward and people are entering it by force.” God is pushing into history one heart at a time and people are entering by force. We are born into the kingdom but birth is a forceful, intentional event.
A life bursting into this world is not a casual affair — physical birth is attended by travail, pain, struggle, tears, sweat, blood. It is the same when a life bursts into the kingdom of God. Spiritual birth is a struggle which God initiated in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God forcefully entered history and confronts men and women with the truth of the gospel of grace.
When anyone is birthed into the kingdom of God, this new birth is attended by a confrontation with truth which leads to conviction of sin — Godly sorrow, and repentance — an intentional turning from the values and powers of this world. New birth is attended by the gift of faith bursting through the tombs of unbelief and spiritual death — an intentional turning to a Lord whom we cannot see but believe.
There is now the possibility of the recovered rule of God in any life across the world. This new kingdom possibility is within our reach, it is at hand. It happens as we receive the King and He establishes His rule of grace within us. This happens as the force of God’s will is joined to the force of our resurrected will.
We could not birth ourselves a second time, achieve the forgiveness of our sins, bring about the transformation of our personality. But as the force of God’s grace awakens our will, we give place to the Kingship of God in our life, and the power of God raises us from death to life.
Yes, the kingdom of God is pushing into history. Yes, it does involve force. But no, it is not the force we expected. It is the violence of love invading hate, truth confronting lies, healing overcoming brokenness, grace overpowering guilt.
Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power and “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). He confronted hell’s destruction in the lives of men and women and said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
Through the cross and resurrection, Jesus broke the power of Satan's rule. He then commissioned His church, invested His wisdom, power, authority, name and anointing in that church and sent the church out to proclaim the message and continue the work of the kingdom of grace.
Instruments of Kingdom Ministry
Having entered the kingdom, we enter kingdom ministry. We not only confess, “The King is restoring me out of brokenness and gathering me into the wholeness of His salvation.” We also confess, “The King is reaching out through me to restore my brothers and sisters.”
We not only confess, “The Lord is restoring my family.” We also confess, “The Lord is using me to restore the families of the world.”
We not only confess, “The Lord is setting me free from addictive behavior, from bondage to bitterness, and fear.” We also confess, “The Lord is using me to set at liberty the captives around me.”
We are among those who share the light and life of the kingdom in these dark regions where death has reigned too long. Jesus multiplies His life through us as He once multiplied fish and loaves. He not only establishes His kingdom rule of grace in us; He also releases the flow of kingdom life and grace through us.
This has been happening now for two thousand years. The idea that people can be healed of disease, leading to the establishing of hospitals — this began in churches. The idea that slaves should be free and the enslavement of men and women outlawed, women treated not as property but as persons, the idea that the unborn are people, that the unwanted newly born ought not to be abandoned to death, that the helpless elderly should be cared for, that orphans are worthy of compassion, that lives plundered by shame and guilt can be birthed by grace into new creation — all this came out of the forceful entry of the kingdom of God into fallen human society.
The disciples were gazing into the heavens, watching as Jesus ascended into the glory of heaven. An angel interrupted their awe, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Jesus will return and complete what He has begun. Yes, but even today time is filled up with His presence. His kingdom rule of grace is within the grasp of every broken life that will kneel before His conquering kindness. Then He says, “Go, share the gift of grace you have been given. Freely you have received. Freely give.”
Fill us O Lord with your grace.
Make us vessels of grace overflowing with grace.
Then send us out, pour us out.
1. If you are a disciple of Jesus, how are you a sign of the presence of the kingdom of God?
2. How are you an instrument of kingdom ministry?