In our Bible studies so far we have seen that the golden thread running through the whole of the Old and New Testaments is the plan to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, ruled over by Jesus, bringing glory to God in the highest, and exquisite peace and happiness to man. It was the theme of Christ's preaching, and the hope that the apostles and other first century preachers laid before their hearers.
Yet today you can read almost any book that attempts to explain the Christian message, or listen to any sermon that tries to define the Christian faith, and not find a mention of the things that the Bible associates with the Kingdom of God. I have before me a Manual of Instruction for Members of the Anglican Church, written about the turn of this century. It is a book of over 400 pages setting out in detail the history, practices and beliefs of the Church of England. Yet in the very comprehensive index of about 600 items there is no entry at all under the heading 'Kingdom of God'. In the text of the book there are three passing references equating the Kingdom of God with the Church, but no evidence for this relationship is given. It seems almost incredible that, 1900 years after his first advent, the very theme of Christ's preaching is barely mentioned in a book that attempts to set out the system of faith he established. This is not an exceptional example, for similar disregard of this theme can be noted in the majority of more modern books on Christianity. It cannot be disputed that the return of Christ to the earth to set up God's Kingdom is no longer the central message of the Church that bears his name.
How and why has the change come about?
The Apostle Paul was the man who brought Christianity to the famous Greek city of Ephesus. After spending about three years with them establishing the community of believers, he left to continue his work elsewhere. Some years later, on a voyage to Jerusalem which he knew would end in his arrest and imprisonment, he interrupted his journey near Ephesus and called to him the elders of that Christian community to bestow his final advice and benediction, and to warn them of the dangers that lay ahead. He told the sad group that it would be their last meeting with him:
"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more."
Note how this one phrase "the kingdom of God" was used by Paul to epitomise all that he had preached to them. His very next comment shows the all-embracing sense in which he used the term:
"Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:25-27).
He then looked into the future and saw the truths he had preached becoming corrupted, so in sadness he warned them of the dangers:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock .... For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (vv28-30).
This was no new warning. From the beginning of their association Paul had constantly told them to be on the lookout for error that would creep into the faith:
"Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (v31).
He impressed on them that the only way to remain free from error was to keep close to God and His Word-here only could salvation be found:
"And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (v32).
Thus Paul's final warning (and in such circumstances how fervent and genuine must it have been!) was to beware of the inevitable arrival of men with false teaching, and to combat their ideas by keeping close to God and the Bible.
The duty of guiding the Christian community at Ephesus later fell on Paul's young convert Timothy. To him Paul repeated the predictions by the Holy Spirit that some time later (for that is the true meaning of the word "latter" in this case) the truth of the gospel would be perverted by hypocritical men with hardened consciences:
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats ...." (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Nor was this prediction confined to Paul. Peter warned his readers that just as there had been false teachers in Israel of old, so would there be among the ranks of the Christians:
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies .... And many shall follow their pernicious ways .... And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you" (2 Peter 2:1-3).
There is no escaping the meaning of these emphatic words of God through the Apostles. Men would "depart from the faith", speak "perverse things", quietly bring in "damnable heresies", and with "feigned words" and by "speaking lies in hypocrisy" would "draw away disciples after them". These warnings were divine prophecies as surely as was the overview of world history that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, or the prediction by Daniel of the coming of the Messiah-and were equally certain of fulfilment.
As the guiding hands of the inspired Apostles were removed, so these predictions were proved true. John, the last survivor of the twelve disciples, in his letters at the end of his life speaks of those who were promulgating wrong doctrine, and bids his readers keep away from them (1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7-8). In the very last book of the Bible, in letters from Jesus himself to those early believers, we learn of his abhorrence of the false doctrines and evil practices that had already crept into his church (Revelation 2:14-16,20; 3:1-3).
These references clearly show the explicit teaching in the New Testament that predicted a falling away from the original truths taught by Christ and the apostles. As we come forward from apostolic times into the next century and beyond, we find that many beautiful and simple doctrines were mutilated beyond recognition at the hands of these false teachers, including the teaching about the Kingdom of God.
Where the inspired New Testament historical record breaks off, the human chronicler continues. Among the many Church historians, possibly the most respected for accuracy is Dr. Mosheim, whose Ecclesiastical History, published in 1755 has become the standard work on the subject. I will draw considerably on Mosheim in the next few pages, but also consult other independent authorities such as the historian Gibbon and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The plan of Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History is a simple and convenient one. He takes the history of the Church century by century, commencing with the days of the Apostles, and examines in each period various aspects of ecclesiastical life. Thus for a given century there is a chapter on external events that affected the church, another on the personalities of the period, another on the rites of the Church, yet another on its divisions and heresies. There is also a chapter on the Church doctrine of each century, and in tracing the teaching about the Kingdom of God, these are the ones we will especially study.
First I would like to give a century by century resumé of Mosheim's account of the trends that developed in the early church in the first six centuries. It is a complete fulfilment of the Apostles' predictions that men would "depart from the faith", listen to "seducing spirits", and accept "false teachers" that brought in "damnable heresies".
Century 1: 'Scripture the rule and standard'
In this century Christian teaching was based solely on the Old Testament together with the books of the New Testament as they became written. Speaking of the Christian's belief and practice in these early days, Mosheim says:
"The rule and standard of both are those books which contain the Revelation that God made of his will .... and these divine books are usually called the Old and New Testament. The apostles and their disciples took all possible care .... that these sacred books might be in the hands of all Christians, that they might be read and explained in the assemblies of the faithful. (All quotations from Mosheim are from Part II chapter 3 of the relevant century. Italics mine).
Century 2: 'Beautiful simplicity effaced'
At the beginning of this century the primitive teaching of the early church was largely maintained. Mosheim reports:
"The Christian system, as it was hitherto taught, preserved its native and beautiful simplicity .... The public teachers inculcated no other doctrines than those that are contained in what is commonly called the Apostles' Creed.
But soon this simple approach gave way to a complicated philosophical method:
"This venerable simplicity was not, indeed, of long duration; its beauty was gradually effaced by the laborious efforts of human learning, and the dark subtilties of imaginary science."
He goes on to speak of philosophy altering "the simplicity of the Christian religion" and of it producing
"Nothing but perplexity and confusion, under which genuine Christianity almost disappeared."
So within 150 or so years of the ministry of Jesus, the simple message of his gospel was already being lost.
Century 3: 'Celestial wisdom in subjection to philosophy'
In this century the departure from the original teaching of Christ and the Apostles accelerated, mainly because of importation of ideas first promulgated by Greek philosophy. Here we are introduced to men such as Origen, whom the church today reveres as one of its 'fathers'. Of this century Mosheim writes:
"The Christian doctors who had applied themselves to the study of letters and philosophy, soon abandoned the frequented paths, and struck out into the devious wilds of fancy. They looked upon it as a noble and glorious task to bring the doctrines of celestial wisdom into a certain subjection to the precepts of their philosophy .... Origen was the head of this speculative tribe. This great man, enchanted by the charms of the Platonic philosophy, set it up as the test of all religion."
In other words, if their human philosophy thought God's teaching reasonable they would accept it! If not, they would alter it!
Century 4: 'Vain fictions and pagan rites'
During this period Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire with Constantine as the first Christian emperor. Freed as it now was from persecution, and under the patronage of the emperor himself, the Church had greater opportunities for development, which it exploited to the full; although at the expense of the purity of the original faith. The obsession with philosophy bore fruit in this century, and many pagan concepts were introduced as an incentive for the idolaters to become Christian. Mosheim's description makes sad reading:
"Those vain fictions, which an attachment to the Platonic philosophy, and to popular opinions, had engaged the greater part of the Christian doctors to adopt before the time of Constantine, were now confirmed, enlarged, and embellished, in various ways."
"An enormous train of different superstitions were gradually substituted in the place of true religion and genuine piety .... a preposterous desire of imitating the Pagan rites, and of blending them with the Christian worship .... all contributed to establish the reign of superstition upon the ruins of Christianity."
"The doctrines of Christianity had not a better fate than the sacred scriptures from whence they are drawn. Origen was the great model whom the most eminent of the Christian doctors followed in their explications of the truths of the gospel, which were, of consequence, explained according to the rules of the Platonic philosophy, as it was corrected and modified by that learned father."
Century 5: 'Clouded with superstition'
According to Mosheim the simplicity of original Christianity became almost a matter of derision to the 5th century followers of the new ideas, and the pace of change even increased:
"The sacred and venerable simplicity of the primitive times .... appeared little better than rusticity and ignorance to the subtil doctors of this quibbling age."
"If, before this time, the lustre of religion was clouded with superstition, and its divine precepts adulterated with a mixture of human inventions, this evil, instead of diminishing, increased daily."
Century 6: 'A motley mixture of human inventions'
As all Mosheim's comments are now becoming repetitious we will conclude our brief survey of the development of Christian doctrine after his observation on this century:
"When once the ministers of the church had departed from the ancient simplicity of religious worship, and sullied the native purity of divine truth by a motley mixture of human inventions, it was difficult to set bounds to this growing corruption. Abuses were daily multiplied, and superstition drew from its horrid fecundity an incredible number of absurdities, which were added to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles."
These extracts are but a few samples of many similar ones from the pen of Mosheim, and they demonstrate the accuracy of the predictions of the first century inspired writers. The "grievous wolves" did come, the "men speaking perverse things" did arise, the "false teachers" did bring in "damnable heresies", and many did "depart from the faith" originally preached. History records that a few groups of sincere and devoted Christians remained loyal to the primitive and simple faith first taught by Christ and his disciples, but as time went on the vast majority of converts entered a Church contaminated with human speculative thinking mingled with pagan ideas and practices to encourage the idolaters; a Church that had become wealthy and dictatorial, and whose message bore little resemblance to the true gospel of the Kingdom of God.
A LITERAL KINGDOM DISCOUNTED
Needless to say, the doctrine of Christ's return to earth to be king over a literal Kingdom of God was one of the primitive beliefs that was soon put under the closest philosophical scrutiny by men such as Origen, who tried to measure everything by his Platonic rule. The result is described by ancient writers and more modern historians who relate how this doctrine of the Millennium fared over the years.
Without doubt the original Christians expected the Kingdom to be set up at the return of Christ in fulfilment of the promises to Abraham and David. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says:
"Faith in the nearness of Christ's second advent and the establishment of his reign of glory on the earth was undoubtedly a strong point in the primitive Christian Church" (14th edition: Art. Millennium).
In the same article we read that the early fathers of the Church believed in the coming Millennium "simply because it was a part of the tradition of the Church", and that they were "pronounced millennarians, holding the very details of the primitive Christian expectations". (my italics).
One of these early fathers was Irenaeus, bishop of the Church at Lyons in the year 177, a man who conversed with some who could still recall meeting the Apostle John. He speaks of God bringing "to the just the times of the Kingdom", and of his restoring to Abraham "the promise of the inheritance", in "which Kingdom saith the Lord, many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
About the same time lived Justin Martyr who is described as "a valuable authority for the life of the Christian Church in the middle of the second century" (Ibid. Art: Justyn Martyr). In his dialogue with Trypho he refers to the reign of Christ for a thousand years, and says that all those Christians who were truly orthodox knew of this reign, when Jerusalem would be rebuilt and adorned and enlarged. He also regarded the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham as the Christian hope:
"We, together with Abraham shall possess the Holy Land, and receive an eternal inheritance therein, being the children of Abraham by the same faith"
Thus it is evident that the beliefs of the early Christians concerning the Kingdom of God were the same as those which we have already considered together in this book, and it is gratifying to find such independent confirmation that our exposition has been on the right lines.
We have already seen from Mosheim's testimony that Church doctrine in general underwent a drastic change by the importation of pagan ideas, and records tell us that the teaching about the Kingdom of God did not escape the attacks. Speaking of the belief in the literal return of Jesus to set up the Kingdom the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the Millennium continues:
"After the middle of the 2nd century these expectations were gradually thrust into the background. They would never have died out, however, had not circumstances altered, and a new mental attitude been taken up. The spirit of philosophical and theological speculation, and of ethical reflection, which began to spread throughout the Churches, did not know what to make of the old hopes of the future .... These wild dreams about the glorious kingdom of Christ began to disturb the organisation which the Church had seen fit to introduce."
It seems almost inconceivable that what to an earlier generation had been a solid hope, based entirely on Scripture, was now regarded as "wild dreams" which could not be fitted into the new theology. Foremost in this 're-interpretation' of the beliefs about the Kingdom was Origen in the 3rd century. Mosheim says of this time:
"Long before this period, an opinion had prevailed that Christ was to come and reign a thousand years among men .... This opinion .... had hitherto met with no opposition, .. But, in this century, its credit began to decline, principally though the influence and authority of Origen, who opposed it with the greatest warmth, because it was incompatible with some of his favourite sentiments."
Notice the reason for Origen's rejection of the doctrine of Christ's reign on earth. It was not because it was unscriptural, or because it had never been a part of original Christianity, but because he could not fit it in with his new ideas!
So the doctrinal battle was joined. Some remained true to the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles in this matter: even the name of Lactantius, the 4th century tutor of the son of the Emperor Constantine, being included among the millenarians. But the new ideas eventually prevailed. In his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Gibbon describes how the original faith lost ground:
"The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. The assurance of a Millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justyn Martyr and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine. .... It appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers .... But, when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign on earth was first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism" (Chapter 15).
It seems almost impossible to understand how such a fundamental aspect of the teaching of Christ could have been discarded by his professed followers. But such is the result when man makes his own thoughts his guide, rather than relying on God's Word.
But these 4th century Christians still had the gospel records containing innumerable and indelible allusions to the Kingdom of God. If, according to the new ideas, the Kingdom no longer referred to the reign of Christ at his return, then what did they put in its place?
The Kingdom of God was the Church itself! This was the revolutionary idea of Augustine of Hippo at the beginning of the 5th century. (This Augustine must not be confused with the man who a century or so later is believed to have founded the Church in England.) Speaking of the original belief in the Millennium the Encyclopaedia Britannica continues:
"This state of matters, however, gradually disappeared after the end of the 4th century. The change was brought about by .... the new idea of the Church wrought out by Augustine on the basis of the altered political situation of the Church. Augustine was the first who ventured to teach that the Catholic Church, in its empirical form, was the kingdom of Christ, that the millennial kingdom had commenced with the appearing of Christ, and was therefore an accomplished fact. By this doctrine of Augustine's the old millennarianism, though not completely extirpated, was at least banished from official theology."
So commenced the official Church belief that the Kingdom of God is not a literal Kingdom to be set up at his return, but is and always has been the Church over which Jesus is considered to reign. I trust that, apart from the clear scriptural teaching on the Kingdom that we have considered in earlier chapters, our brief look at how the Church developed subsequent to the first century has convinced you that this cannot be the case. Is a system that deliberately introduced Greek philosophy, pagan beliefs and pagan ritual into primitive Christianity, and that later engaged in a tyrannical rule over men's mind and bodies even to the extent of intrigue and murder to achieve its ends -is this the reign of Christ on earth, bringing glory to God in the highest and peace, joy and happiness to mankind?
If you believe it is, then you must do so in defiance of everything the Bible has to say about the Kingdom of God on earth.
Possibly conscious of the inadequacy of the suggestion that the established Church is the Kingdom of God, many advance the idea that it is a reign of grace in the heart of a believer in Jesus. In its motives, thoughts and actions, such a heart is under the control of the Saviour, and thus he reigns there as king. On asking for scriptural support for this belief the inquirer is usually referred to the words of Jesus, "the kingdom of God is within you".
It is one of the tragedies of modern religious thought that people take hold of isolated passages of scripture and use them to build a whole edifice of faith and belief, often in opposition to the general run of Bible teaching. This particular concept of the Kingdom is an outstanding example of this practice.
Rather than take the phrase in isolation, let us look at the whole passage as recorded by Luke:
"And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. And he said to the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say unto you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation" (Luke 17:20-25).
With the whole passage before us we are better able to understand its meaning. Note first of all to whom Jesus was speaking: initially it was the Pharisees, who regarded Jesus as their enemy and rival, and then to his own disciples.
The first thought that comes to mind in considering this incident is: "Why did the Pharisees need to ask the question?" If a spiritual reign of grace was Christ's teaching when he went about preaching the Kingdom of God-and we have already seen that the Kingdom was the very theme of his message- then surely everybody, including the Pharisees, would not be looking for overt signs of its coming, for it would obviously come at differing times to different people. The question would thus be unnecessary. So the fact that the question was asked at all gives us some insight into what Jesus was saying about the Kingdom-or rather what he was not saying. We repeat that if Jesus, in preaching the Kingdom of God, had been inviting his hearers only to expect some inner feeling of goodness and peace, then the Pharisees would never have needed to ask the question about when it would come-the answer would have been obvious.
The second thought is suggested by the word Pharisees. Every reader of the gospels knows the sort of men they were. They regarded Jesus as a rival to their position of power and esteem in religious matters. Because of this they rarely, if ever, asked questions to gain information, but rather in an attempt to trap or embarrass Christ, and to reduce his standing in the eyes of the ordinary people who avidly listened to him. There are many examples of this in the four gospel records. So the question was really a sneering challenge to Jesus. "You have been talking all this time about the Kingdom of God-is it ever going to come?" When confronted with men like this Jesus never gave a straight answer. As he had previously said to his disciples, those who did not want to see the truths about the Kingdom of God would remain blind as far as he was concerned:
"Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive ...." (Mark 4:11-12).
We can be sure that the Pharisees came into the category of those that are "without" the scope of Christ's message, and Christ's reply maybe was intended as being a sort of parable, to conceal rather than to enlighten. Should we not therefore probe its hidden significance as we would any other of Christ's parables, rather than take the superficial meaning?
The most convincing proof that Jesus was not referring to an indwelling spirit of grace as the Kingdom of God lies in the characters of the men to whom he said "the kingdom of God is within you". Was Jesus reigning in the hearts of the Pharisees? Were they the Kingdom of God? The questions hardly need asking! This is what Jesus said was within these obstinate and evil men:
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess".
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:25,27-28).
Thus on Christ's authority the Pharisees had evil hearts "within" them-certainly not the Kingdom of God in any possible sense.
What then did he mean?
First a comment on two of the words Jesus used. The Kingdom does not come with "observation", he said. The original word used is unique to the New Testament, so we cannot apply the normally helpful method for gaining an insight into a meaning by comparing how the word is used elsewhere in the Bible. But a related word is used, and this carries the meaning of "watching carefully" for something or someone. It is used to describe the Pharisees' careful scrutiny of Jesus to see if they could find something to criticise (Mark 3:2; Luke 6:7;14:1; etc.), or of the careful watch set at the gates of Damascus in case Paul would slip out of the city unobserved (Acts 9:24). Weymouth's translation gives the underlying idea:
"The Kingdom of God does not so come that you can watch closely for it" (New Testament in Modern Speech).
The word translated "within" is also not a frequent one in the Bible, although its root is very often used and translated by familiar words such as in, into, within, among, with, by, for, etc. Most translations of the passage other than the A.V. retain the word "within", but usually give "among" or "in the midst of" as an alternative. Clearly, "within" in the sense of being "within, or among, a group" is different from an indwelling within an individual.
But comparatively recent discoveries of manuscripts of personal correspondence from the time of Jesus throw additional light on Christ's words. From these letters, written between friends, it becomes clear that the phrase "within you" is an idiom which would have been readily understood by those addressed by Jesus. An idiom is a word or phrase that in common usage has a different meaning to the literal meaning of the words. For example, if it was reported that at a meeting a certain person "took the chair" we all know that it means that he presided over the assembly. But if the words were translated literally they give the impression that the president was a thief! Similarly, in the case of the Greek original of "within you" the colloquial meaning was not inside you but within your reach.
E.G. Turner, Professor of Papyrology at the University College, London, published in 1968 a book entitles The Greek Papyri in which he says:
"C.H. Roberts has pointed out that the words 'within you' (entos humon) is a common turn of phrase in Greek popular speech. It means not 'inside you' in a physical sense, not even 'inside your number' (in the sense of belonging to a group: but, available, or, within reach. A doctor asks for his cloak to be sent up from the country so that he may have it 'within him', i.e. within reach. A man writes a sentimental letter to a lady saying that he is disturbed that she is 'outside him', i.e. 'out of reach'".
So the real meaning of "within you" is to have something within reach-in one's power to grasp it. Roberts, in another paper shows that the early Christian writers, when commenting on Christ's words we are considering, also gave them this meaning.
In what sense then was the Kingdom of God within the grasp of the Pharisees? Let us allow the Bible to interpret itself. As Jesus travelled around the countryside preaching the gospel, he sent his disciples to cities that lay ahead so that, by their miracles of healing and their preaching, the inhabitants could be prepared for the visit of Jesus himself. He instructed the disciples to:
"Heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:9).
When Jesus himself did such miracles the Kingdom of God was said to have arrived:
"If I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you" (Luke 11:20).
It is quite easy to see the way in which Jesus used these words. By his preaching the Kingdom of God had come near to them, and was now within their reach. People had received the opportunity to hear and accept his teaching about it, had witnessed in his miracles the great power by which the Kingdom would be established (Paul terms miracles the "powers of the world to come" Hebrews 6:5), and especially did they have in their midst the one who was the embodiment of all that the Kingdom stood for, and was its future King.
Returning to Christ's confrontation with the Pharisees, we can see that he was replying to their hostility by saying in effect: "There is no need for you to watch closely and intently for the Kingdom of God. If only you had eyes to see you would know that I, the one here in your midst, am the long promised ruler of the future Kingdom, and the one who by preaching and miracle has brought it near to you for your acceptance. But because you have been so obsessed with a critical 'observation' and close watching of me you have failed to see who I really am and what I am offering you. I have brought the Kingdom of God within your grasp, but you have refused it."
This understanding of the phrase "within you" makes it consistent with the whole of Christ's teaching and with the rest of Scripture.
Having replied to the Pharisees in this slightly enigmatic way, Jesus turns to his disciples, and talks plainly about his future coming to set up the Kingdom of God. First he would suffer and die, and then he would be separated from them, and they would long for his return. He says that his future coming will be as obvious to them and the world as his present ro^le should have been to the Pharisees. This seems to be the import of the ensuing passage, here in a modern paraphrase of the passage from Luke:
"Later he talked again about this with his disciples. 'The time is coming when you will long for me to be with you even for a single day, but I won't be here', he said. 'Reports will reach you that I have returned and that I am in this place or that. Don't believe it or go out to look for me. For when I return you will know it beyond all doubt. It will be as evident as the lightning that flashes across the skies. But first I must suffer terribly and be rejected by this whole nation'" (Luke 17:22-25, The Living New Testament).
Thus Jesus explained to his disciples that they would not have to 'observe' or 'watch closely' for the coming of the Kingdom. When it finally came it would be obvious to all.
So when we consider the phrase "the Kingdom of God is within you" in its Biblical and social context, and in association with all the other teaching of Jesus, such as we have already examined in chapter 7, there is no support for the idea that the Kingdom preached by Jesus is a reign of grace in the heart. Grave danger will result from basing our beliefs on just one verse of Scripture, and when such beliefs can only be sustained by taking the words out of their context and then interpreting them in a way that is contrary to the whole of Bible teaching, the result can be personal disaster-not to speak of the dishonour to God in mishandling His Word.
At the same time, it is quite evident that there is a sense in which God can and does dwell in the hearts of men and women. There are many allusions to the glorious truth that God and Christ do dwell in the hearts of those who love them and are faithful. One of the themes of the Epistles is the spiritual temple of God founded in Christ, in which God dwells in a spiritual sense now, and will dwell in a much greater sense in the future. Then it will be said that the "Tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them" (Revelation 21:3). But this is a different Bible figure from the Kingdom of God. He reigns over the Kingdom, but dwells in His Temple.
After considering in chapter 7 the teaching of Jesus and his apostles about the Kingdom of God, and noting the difference between this original message and the teaching of organised Christianity today, I posed the question of how the change had come about.
In the beginning of this chapter we saw the apostles' predictions that after their death the original faith would be polluted from inside and outside the young Church.
With the aid of authoritative historians we then examined the history of the Church during the next few centuries. Concerning the Church in general we learned that from the second half of the 2nd century it gradually veered away from the primitive simplicity of the faith, and began to incorporate the ideas of Greek philosophy. Later this became a deliberate policy in order to attract converts from paganism. Eventually the new ideas so completely took over that the few who still clung to the original faith were regarded as objects of scorn or derision, even persecution.
The clear New Testament doctrine of the return of Christ to set up the Kingdom of God on earth was a particular target of these attacks. Whilst generally adhered to for the first 300 or so years, it later became regarded as an allegory and finally viewed as a heresy.
Instead, the Kingdom of God was said in the 4th century to have already arrived with the reign of Christ over his Church, despite the fact that the Church by this time was corrupt in practice and astray in doctrine.
In more recent times the Kingdom of God has been regarded as manifested when a heart is sympathetically attuned to the divine mind and God reigns supreme in the person's life. We looked at the only Bible passage to suggest this and found that the phrase "the Kingdom of God is within you" was addressed to the hypocritical Pharisees, who Christ certainly did not consider to be God's children, rather the reverse. We saw that Jesus almost certainly used the word 'within' in the sense of his bringing the Gospel (good news) of the Kingdom of God within the grasp of his hearers for their acceptance and ultimate salvation.
When Israel long ago turned aside from the true worship of God they received this plea from God to return to Him:
"Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16).
What advice would He give to the Churches today?
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