(If you have not read the previous posts in this series, you can find them here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3)
A fourth theme to look for in the book of Matthew is the “kingdom.” Matthew is the only one of the Gospel writers who uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven”, and he does so 32 times. Thirteen times he uses the word “kingdom” by itself, and five times he uses the phrase “kingdom of God.”
So what does Matthew mean when he uses these phrases?
First, the kingdom refers to the kingship, rule, or authority of God. The primary meaning of both the Hebrew and Greek words for kingdom is “the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king.” When we use the word “kingdom” in our modern context, we may mean the realm over which a king exercises authority or the people who belong to that realm, but in biblical usage, these meanings are secondary. Kingdom refers first and foremost to the authority to rule.
When Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:7-13, one of the petitions is “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What is being sought in the request for His kingdom to come? The answer is the following phrase, “your will be done.” The petition seeks that the Lord’s rulership would extend to earth as it does heaven, since now the ruler of this world is the devil (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:8-11).
This kingship of God is a rule that will be bestowed upon Christ. Jesus predicts in 16:28, “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." This makes only makes sense if we think of kingdom as kingship. This rule of Christ is also why we find so many references in the book to Christ’s authority. He taught with uncommon authority (7:29). He had authority to forgive sins (9:6). He was able to give authority to his disciples to preach, heal, and cast out demons (10:1). And finally, after His resurrection, He said to His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18).
That being said, any meaningful reign does have a realm. The second way “kingdom” is used in Matthew refers to the realm in which God’s reign may be experienced. So is this a future kingdom or present kingdom?
Several references indicate that the kingdom is present or, at the very least, imminent. The very first message of the kingdom comes from John the Baptist in ch3, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus echoes this message in 4:17 and commands His disciples to do the same in 10:7. Most of Jesus’ parables in Matthew place the kingdom in the present, each being introduced by the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (13:31, 44, 45, 47; 20:1).
There is also evidence that the kingdom of heaven represents a present blessing of true disciples. The Beatitudes (5:2-10) tell us of such blessings, with the kingdom of heaven being the only one not spoken of as a future blessing. This section of text begins and ends with “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” while all the others use future tense verbs: “…they shall be comforted…they shall inherit the earth…they shall be satisfied…they shall receive mercy…they shall see God…they shall be called sons of God.”
Further, Jesus declares in 12:28, “…the kingdom of God has come upon you.” So the kingdom should rightly be understood as a present reality. But…
There are numerous references in Matthew that would indicate that the kingdom of heaven is a distant future reality, a reality that comes at the end of the age. For example, in 8:11, Jesus says that in the kingdom of heaven, many will come from the east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Clearly, this must be a heavenly gathering since Jesus was saying this almost two millennia after the patriarchs’ deaths.
One parable, the parable of the ten virginss, in 25:1-13 puts the sets the kingdom in the future: “For the kingdom of heaven will be like…” In Christ’s prediction of the judgment of the nations in 25:31-46, He states that the inheritance of the kingdom will come after the Son of Man comes in His glory.
So what are we to make of all this? George Eldon Ladd is helpful here: “Fundamentally, as we have seen, the Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign reign; but God’s reign expresses itself in different stages throughout redemptive history. Therefore, men may enter into the realm of God’s reign in its several stages of manifestation and experience the blessings of His reign in differing degrees. God’s Kingdom is the realm of the Age to Come, popularly called heaven; then we shall realize the blessings of His Kingdom (reign) in the perfection of their fullness. But the Kingdom is here now. There is a realm of spiritual blessing into which we may enter today and enjoy in part but in reality the blessings of God’s Kingdom (reign).”
So the kingdom is a reality that we look forward to in the second coming of Christ, but it is also a reality now in the blessings of Christ’s rule over our lives. Christ is a king. He came to rule in the hearts of men.
We will spend time looking at this wonderful theme in our text for this Sunday’s message, 3:1-12.
Posted by Greg Birdwell