Monday, January 25, 2010

The kingdom of God is within you

The kingdom of God is not what the world expects.  Human nature demands a theology of glory.  When the Anointed One came, His Apostles expected a champion who would defeat the Romans and liberate Israel, "restoring the kingdom." (The people seeing Christ endure humiliation and torture at the hands of Rome without putting up in resistance so much as a word may go far toward explaining why the throngs of Palm Sunday cheering "Hosanna to the Son of David!" were replaced in less than a week by a bloodthirsty mob jeering Him to His death.)

But the Messiah, the great King, chose a different way.  Even though He could have done so, rather than use His divine power to subjugate and conquer, Christ chose to suffer and die for the sins of the whole world.  His theology is a theology of the Cross.  Though Christ accomplished what He had promised, He did not do it in the way men expected.  Jesus liberated God's chosen people -- all who trust in Him are the true Israel, whether Jew or Gentile -- from enemies greater than Rome: sin, death, and the devil.

Many Christians today want a glorious Christianity, a "victorious Christian life."  They want health, wealth, and the good opinion of men.  They want their enemies punished.  And Jesus is an end to their means.  They want a theology of glory.

One way this is expressed is in their interpretation of Christ's "thousand-year reign" mentioned in Revelation.  In their opinion, this reign is literal, with them in positions of authority (just as the Apostles schemed for themselves!).  But as Jesus did during His first advent, so He continues to do: God Incarnate rules through His Word and Sacraments, through grace, through humility.  Though to the world it appears often as though God has abandoned His people, He has not.  Though mockers might boast that "God is dead," He is risen again and will return at the Last Day to judge the world, at which time He will establish His visible kingdom among His people forever.

Some of those Christians who want a theology of glory offer in support of their doctrine Biblical references to believers' ruling with Christ and judging angels and His thousand-year reign mentioned in Revelation.  These factors indicate something other than a literal, thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth:
-John uses many symbols -- including symbolic numbers -- in his Revelation;
-Christ declared that His kingdom is not of this world but within the believer;
-Jesus commanded His people to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to give to God what is God's; and
-Jesus declared that if He had desired it, His followers would fight to establish His rule on Earth.
It is worth noting also that when Christ speaks to His Apostles regarding His return in Matthew 25, a plain reading of the text doesn't show a Rapture/Great Tribulation/Thousand-year Reign (you pick the order) preceding Judgment Day.  According to His own word, when Christ returns, He will judge us all:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:31-32).
Following are some passages relating to the nature of Christ's kingdom and the rule of believers with Him.  Note in the first that the Apostles will "sit on twelve thrones" and judge the "twelve tribes of Israel."  Note also that this will occur "in the regeneration."  His taking His throne occurs upon His return at the Last Day, as indicated in the Matthew 25 passage above.  This is when the regeneration occurs:
"Then Peter answered and said to Him, 'See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?'

"So Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first'" (Matthew 19:27-30).
Note in the next passage the contrast between the visible and glorious expression of God's power on Earth when Moses received the Former Covenant and what believers receive now under the New Covenant in Christ's precious blood.  It is no less than the kingdom of God:
"For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, 'If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.' Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, 'I tremble with fear.'
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.' This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of things that are shaken--that is, things that have been made--in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:18-29).
Next the term "royal" is applied to the Church, much of which endured severe persecution at this time.  In other words, they didn't look like kings:
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
Here's more on Christians judging.  Unlike the passage noted earlier, this is not addressing the Apostles judging the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but all believers judging the world and angels:
"Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life" (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)!
And here's a passage illuminating the judgment of fallen angels.  Note when their judgment is to occur: "the great day":
"And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day . . ." (Jude 1:6).
Here again is mentioned the "day of judgment":
"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment . . ." (2 Peter 2:4-9).
Next, more thrones.  Those who remain faithful to Christ come to life and reign with Him for a thousand years."  This is called "the first resurrection."  Verse 6 notes that those who "share in the first resurrection" will be unharmed by "the second death" (being cast into the lake of fire on Judgment Day), reigning with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6).

The rest of the dead (unbelievers) resurrect after the thousand years end, on Judgment Day:
"Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.
"Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4-6).
Next, the believer's throne is contemporaneous with eating and drinking at Christ's table in His kingdom (calling to mind the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven), and it is tied also to Christ's ascending His throne on Judgment Day.  We see also twenty-four white-robed elders with thrones:
"You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30).

"The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" (Revelation 3:21).

"Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads" (Revelation 4:4).

"And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God" (Revelation 11:16).
And the Judgment of Matthew 25 expanded in Revelation 20:
"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:11-15).