THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
People who believe in God know three things about Him : He is all-powerful ; He is everywhere ; and He lives for ever. If God has a kingdom, then we should expect it to be all-powerful; and to be everywhere ; and to last for ever. Nothing should be able to resist it ; nothing should be outside it ; and nothing should ever take its place.
This is all very simple, and we can prove all three points from the Bible. First, the kingdom of God is all-powerful. We have that in the Lord's Prayer : "Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory" (Matthew 6.13). Second, the kingdom of God is everywhere. We have that in a Psalm : "The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all" (Psalm 103. 19). Third, the kingdom of God is everlasting. The Lord's Prayer gives us that again : "Thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, for ever."
And if that were all, the Gospel of the kingdom would be very simple indeed. There would be nothing else to say, and there would be nothing to preach. We should all be part of the kingdom of God, and we should never want to be anything else.
We know this is not true. In the heavens all may be well, but it is quite different on the earth. Some nations have governments which do not believe in God. Nations which say that they do often quarrel with one another. People who go to vote do not elect their governments because they are godly governments, but because they think they will serve them best. Many people in what are called " Christian " countries very rarely bother to worship. You and I do not always run our lives as though the thing we wanted most was for God to rule over us. There is so much wrong with this earth of ours that God is obviously not in full authority.
This, surely, is what lies behind another sentence in the Lord's Prayer : " Thy kingdom come ; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven." Sincere Christians want the kingdom to be as real amongst men as it is now amongst the angels. But they know that it is not so at present. And that is why there is a Gospel of the kingdom. Something needs preaching, and something needs doing, before the kingdom of God is firmly established on the earth.
There once was a time when the earth, too, was utterly obedient to God, its undisputed King. Before Adam learned to sin, God ruled on earth and creation was obedient. Afterwards it was different : obedience was a rare and hard thing when sin had come into the world. All too easily, the spirit of man ran riot, as in the days before the Flood, when God looked down on man and saw that " every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually " (Genesis 6. 5). In spite of judgements like the Flood, the world as a whole was peopled by men and women who did not find it attractive to do as God wanted ; and it is the same to-day.
Of course God is still all-powerful. He can make the nations obey Him, and He can punish them when they do not. He has played a big part—how big we do not know—in arranging the course of history, for, as Daniel puts it, "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will " (4:17).
There-could be no fuller expression of the control which God has over the world than in these words : " Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel : Thus shall ye say unto your masters : I have made the earth, the man and the beast that arc upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto Me " (Jeremiah 27. 4-5). No one, in the long run, can resist God's will.
Yet there is something God will not do. He will not turn our free-will into something mechanical. If we are sinful, He can punish us, but He will not make us righteous unless we arc willing. If the nations are rebellious, He can bring them to an end, but He will not make them obedient unless they are prepared to obey. Our power to choose stands between God and absolute authority over the earth, and will continue to do so until God is satisfied with those whom He has brought to obedience, and takes steps to be rid of those whom He cannot reform. " In heaven " the angels do as God wants with a ready mind. " In earth " obedience is a rare thing, and without God's help it is always imperfect.
If we look for the kingdom of God on the earth up to now, then, we have to look for two things. We may find men and women who want to obey God, and who truly honour Him as their King. Or we may find Him exercising His authority over some nation and some land. Or we ma}' find both.
These things are what we do find, in the Old Testament to begin with. Sometimes a man may stand up for obedience to God. This is what Abel did against Cain (Genesis 4). This is what Noah did at the time of the Flood. Then God may choose a man of obedient heart to leave his people and go God's way : this is what He did to Abraham when He said, " Get thee out from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Genesis 12.1).
Then He takes the descendants of that man (through Isaac and Jacob), and gives them a promise : " If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then shall ye be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people : for all the earth is mine ; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation." (Exodus 19. 6). Here we have the word "kingdom" used about God's people for the first time, but they had no mortal king as yet, and are not often spoken of as a kingdom until later.
So far, God said only that they would be His kingdom if they were obedient : and the nation was not very obedient, in spite of its promise, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (19. 8). Much forgiveness must have been needed to uphold God's promises to them in spite of their Golden Calf, their unwillingness to enter the Promised Land for fear of the inhabitants, and their idolatry when they got there. But still God kept His agreement with them, even when they broke theirs with Him, and, when they asked for a mortal king over them, allowed them to have this too (i Samuel 8. 5). After the death of Saul, there ascended the throne a man specially picked out by God. This David was much more than simply the second mortal king of the kingdom of God. He was the king of a line which should never have an end. His royal lineage should never die out, and one day there was to come from it a King who would himself reign for ever (2 Samuel 7. 12-17 ; 1 Chronicles 17. 11-15).
Meanwhile this chosen race, selected from all families of the earth to keep alive the knowledge of God, continued its miserable course of disobedience. David's son, Solomon, sowed the seed of the kingdom's collapse by his indulgence and his foreign marriages. In the next reign the larger part of the kingdom split away from the house of David, and continued in a course of unrelieved wickedness until God could spare it no longer. This section of the nation was ingloriously dispossessed from the land about seven hundred years before Christ (2 Kings 17. 9-18).
With the house of David it was not much better. There were a few righteous kings, who kept the sin of the people at bay (such as Hezekiah and Josiah), but there were wicked ones too (particularly Manasseh), and weak ones, under whom idolatry and corruption flared up. In the end, a little under six hundred years before Christ, this kingdom went the same way as the other (2 Chronicles 36. 14-21). About eight hundred years after God's promise to Israel about "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation," there seemed to be nothing left but hope. To the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, the prophet sent this message : " Remove the diadem ! Take off the crown ! This shall not be the same : exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it ; and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is, and I will give it him " (Ezekiel 21:26-7).
Such a promise had been given to David four hundred years before. Between then and this dreadful day when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the kingdom of Judah, it had been repeated many times, by David himself and by the prophets. But, for nearly six hundred years to come, the only hope of its fulfilment rested in a scattered people who, wonderfully, did not perish in their exile. They survived to return under Cyprus, grow relatively powerful and independent under the Maccabees, and then fall under the sway of the Romans.
They were there when a certain maiden of the house of Judah bore her precious burden into Bethlehem, and there gave birth to the Son of God and laid Him in a manger.
The Jews had read their prophets' words, and were expecting their promised King. They knew that he should be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2. 5; Micah 5. 2), and the angel's words to Mary were just what they expected of their Messiah, their Christ, their anointed one : " He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David ; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end " (Luke i. 32-33).
Now they watched Him eagerly as He set about His work, " preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God " (Mark 1:14). When they saw how easily He could provide food for their bodies, they tried to hasten His decision, and take Him by force and make Him a king (John 6. 15). Given a public opportunity, they proclaimed Him aloud as the promised Christ : " Hosanna ! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord ! Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord ! Hosanna in the highest !" (Mark n. 9-10).
But this was not what happened. The Lord Jesus Himself gave no encouragement to their enthusiasm, and when the rulers condemned Him, the public praise was quickly stilled. A mere matter of days afterwards they were crying to a different tune : " Crucify him !" (15: 13). The last public recognition of His claims, as He died, was given to the Lord in the writing upon His cross : " Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews." And although the Lord rose from the dead, the disciples who came to Him to ask whether they might now expect the kingdom to be established were given no encouragement : " It is not for you to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (Acts 1:6-7).
There was to be no re-establishment of the throne of David just then, and there has not been for well-nigh two thousand years afterwards. All that the prophets had spoken about that time of glory remains unfulfilled, and yet the Lord said that He believed all their message (Luke 24. 25, 27, 44). And still they went on preaching the Gospel of the kingdom after the Lord had ascended into heaven (Acts 1:3, 8:12).
Our next step is the critical one. God's
kingdom, we said, does not now embrace the earth in the same way as it does heaven.
The reason is that men are not yet willing to obey God as the angels do. God
ruled, in the past, over some men and women who were willing to obey Him, and
even set up a kingdom in Palestine, with
which He was very patient until
became incurable. The kingdom collapsed,
then, not because God was weak, but because His people decisively rejected Him.
How, then, could it be restored? This could only be, surely, if His people would turn to Him again and obey Him willingly. The King would be sent, and the people could humble themselves, and obey Him if they would. If they did not, they could be punished, or the}' could be replaced, or both. But they could not inherit the kingdom.
What actually happened? First, they were certainly called to obedience. " Repent ye, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15). Second, they refused, taken as a nation. There were some who repented and accepted the baptism of John or of Jesus' disciples, but there were many who " rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized " (Luke 7. 30). By its behaviour at the trial, the nation as a whole took up the attitude which the Lord had prophesied about it in a parable, and said, " We will not have this man to reign over us " (19. 14). So far from turning aside from the stiffnecked attitude of their forefathers, the Jews pursued the same course, so that the Lord must say unto them : " Fill ye up, then, the measure of your fathers I" (Matthew 23. 32). It was the same even when the gospel was preached after the Lord's resurrection. There were many Jews who believed, of course, but there were many more who did not. Paul had repeatedly to leave them and turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13. 46), and later had to mourn his nation's rejection of the gospel (Romans 9-11).
Third, they were rejected. This is clear in what we have already said, but nothing could be clearer than the Lord Jesus' own words to them : " The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof " (Matthew 21. 43). The Jews have a part still to play in the purpose of God, but, when they rejected the Lord Jesus, they were themselves rejected from the privileged position which they had held for so long.
Fourth, they were replaced. God did not leave Himself without a people when He put the Jews on one side. There was '' the nation bringing forth the fruits thereof " to take their place. When Paul said, " Lo, we turn to the Gentiles " he made it plain who this new nation was. It was not a single race, now, but men and women of every nation who received the wav of God in humble obedience. When he wrote of Israel as a tree cut down from its stock, and the Gentiles as a wild branch grafted into its place (Romans 11:17-25), Paul taught the same lesson.
God has, in fact, found for Himself a new chosen race, by causing the gospel to be preached in the world. "Repentance and remission of sins is preached in his name among all nations" (Luke 24. 47), and those who repent as they hear the gospel of the kingdom become its new members, and its new heirs. This is what Peter writes to them : " Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people . .. which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God " (1 Peter 2. 9-10). The words echo the promise made by God at Sinai : " a kingdom of priests and an holy nation." Believers of all nations have taken over the position held by Israel before.
One or two things should be pointed out about this aspect of the Kingdom. It is real enough, as we have shown, and as Paul shows again when he says of the faithful that God " hath translated them into the Kingdom of His dear Son " (Colossians 1.13) ; or John when he speaks of himself as " your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ " (Revelation 1:9). But it has no land : its members are strangers and pilgrims in the earth (1Peter 2.11). And it has no forces. Its members would not fight for foreign powers, that is, in this world's armies, and, for the present at least, they have no authority to fight for Christ : " My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, but now is my kingdom not from hence " (John 18. 36). Servants of the King Jesus Christ must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient (2 Timothy 2. 24).
Admission to it is not automatic. Jews of olden times were born into the kingdom as it then was. We can only gain admission to it by being born again* : " Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God " (John 3. 5). When John preached the gospel of the kingdom of God, he called men to repentance and baptized them. When the Lord took up the message He preached the same way. The apostles did the same : " When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women " (Acts 8. 12). The new chosen generation, this second royal priesthood, is made up of those who recognise the Lord Jesus as king, and, repenting of their sins, take upon themselves His obedience in baptism. They are taught first, then they confess, and then they are baptized by being covered in water. Each one makes his decision for himself.
Its laws are at once very gentle, and very stern. They are very gentle because the law of Christ offers infinite forgiveness to the penitent. The Lord can say, " Go, and sin no more 1" (John 8. n), where the old law would have stoned to death. They are gentle because many of the old restrictions, on matters of food and holy days, have been abolished, so that, for those who eat and live with thanksgiving, " the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit " (Romans 14. 17). They are stern, because, no matter how much the Lord will forgive, He will not be satisfied, really satisfied, with anything less than perfection (Matthew 5. 48). They are stern because it is what we think which matters, at least as much as what we do : hatred is as bad as murder, and lust as bad as adultery (5. 21-28 ; 1 John 3. 15). They are stern, because, while no Christian is given any right to punish another at this time, there is a time to come when wilful sin must be accounted for before God's judgement seat (Hebrews 10. 26-31).
During this period, in fact, we have great freedom as to whether we will be faithful or not. As many of the Lord Jesus' Parables of the Kingdom show, there are all kinds of people to whom the gospel of the Kingdom is preached. The seed of the Kingdom falls on the wayside, or among thorns, or on stony ground, or on good ground : and only on the good ground, where fruit is brought forth, are " the children of the Kingdom " to be found (Matthew 13.19, 38). The Kingdom is like a nourishing tree growing from a small mustard seed, and the faithful who shelter under it are like the fowls flying from all parts, that is, from all nations (Matt. 13:32 : compare Daniel 4. 12). The Kingdom is found and embraced only by a few, like the merchant who looks for the pearl of great price, or the 1:1:111 who stumbles upon the treasure hid in a field (Matthew 13. 44-4t3). At present it embraces both good and bad, and only the future will weed out its tares or cast away its bad fish (13. 24, 41, 47). Some of its citizens are watchful, and some are indolent, for the kingdom is like unto ten virgins, five of whom were wise, and five foolish (25. 1-13). While the king is absent, some of his servants serve him diligently, and some waste their opportunities (Luke 19. 11-27).
But, above all, this aspect of the Kingdom of God is only temporary. None of the promises about the setting up of David's throne are fulfilled by it. The constant repetition that only the future will decide, between the good and the bad, and between the active and the lazy, show that something better and decisive is to come. The last parable referred to, like some of the others, points to a fuller expression of the Kingdom at a future time.
Look at the setting of this parable more closely. " They thought the Kingdom of God should immediately appear " (Luke 19:11). We know by now what they thought : if Jesus were their Christ, He would restore David's throne and make Israel powerful among the nations, and He would do so at once. Pie had already dealt with that expectation from one point of view, for when " He was demanded of the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come " (17. 20), He told them that the Kingdom did not come "with observation," and added :" The Kingdom of God is within you." Sometimes it has been supposed that He meant that the Kingdom was within—in our hearts—and nowhere else, but this is not so. What the Pharisees were being taught was that it was no use just looking for the Kingdom to happen, if you were blind to the King himself in your midst. Or, again, it is no use expecting the Kingdom to use its power for you, unless you are willing that God should rule inside you. There was Jesus among them, and they did not believe in Him : how could they hope for any part in the Kingdom until they received Him into their hearts? As we have already said, God will not, in the end, make people obedient against their will, but He cannot receive into His Kingdom those who are not willing to obey.
"Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven " (Matthew 5. 20).
But now the Lord is going further. They still thought the Kingdom was to come at once, but He uses a parable to show that, though it will indeed come with all the power they expect, it will not be yet. The Lord is like a man going into a far country—His journey will take a long time—and although He receives His kingdom, the time before He comes back will be so long that His servants will have plenty of time to prove their loyalty. In simple words the Lord makes it plain that His servants must serve Him faithfully during His long absence, so that, when He returns in His power, they shall have their reward. This fits in, of course, with what we learned from the other parables, and there is overwhelming evidence that it is true.
The Lord Jesus will come back again. This is what it depends on, and of this there can be no doubt. He spoke of coming back even before He had gone away : "When the Son of man is come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory " (Matthew 25. 31). His disciples learned the truth again from the angels, at the moment when they had seen the Lord disappear: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you to go into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven " (Acts 1:11). They taught this same message as they set about their preaching: "He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you : whom the heaven must receive until the time of the restoration of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began " (3. 20-21). Note these words particularly : Jesus Christ must come back, so as to fulfil what the prophets had spoken. This hope of a King over the earth, " whose right it is," is not in vain.
The Gentiles were taught the same message : " God hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead " (Acts 17. 31). The world is not to be left to its own devices for ever, but will one day be compelled to accept the rule of God.
When we come to the other books of the New Testament, the teaching is the same. "He shall judge the quick and the dead, at his appearing and his kingdom " (2 Timothy 4:1).
" The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ ; and He shall reign for ever and ever . . . We give thee thanks, 0 Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast and art to come ; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power and hast reigned " (Revelation n. 15-17).
To see how this will come about, another glance at the Old Testament picture will help us. After man had sinned, the world mostly went its own way without regard to God. Yet even among unbelieving nations, God held the reins, and saw to it that events worked out according to His will. In particular, He made it clear through the prophet Daniel that the nations would not for ever be able to treat the earth as though it was their own : the time would come when they would have to bow before the Creator. And so, in a well known dream (Daniel 2), Nebuchadnezzar is given a vision of a great, manlike image, with head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron. He is told that his own empire (the gold) will not last for ever, but will be replaced by the Persian (the silver). This, too, shall fall to the next power, that of Macedon (the brass), which in its turn shall give place to the Roman (the iron): — all this by the decision of God, who rules in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.
Yet this succession will not go on for ever. The image finishes off ingloriously in feet of iron and clay, by which God signified through the prophet that there should come a time when the area of the former empires should be divided between strong and weak kingdoms, and never acquire an}' abiding unit}'. This spells defeat to the ambitions of conquerors—whether they are Turkish, or German under the Kaiser or the Ftihrer, or French under Napoleon. It spells defeat, too, to any human attempt to set up a single state. But it spells opportunity for God, and when the vision goes on to describe how the image was struck down by a stone, cut out " without hands," it tells us that a king of God's providing, Jesus Christ, the virgin-born, will then come and wrest power out of the hands of men. "In the days of these kings will the God of heaven set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. And the kingdom shall not be left unto other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever " (2. 44).
This is not the place in which to go into times in detail. The world has waited for 2000 years since the Lord Jesus Christ was born, and all the signs are that it may not have to wait for much longer, as God counts time. The coming of the Christ to set up the kingdom over all the earth is to be in a time of trouble such as never was (Daniel 12. 1 ; Luke 21. 25-26), and the powers of destruction which we now possess, show us how easily and quickly such a time could arise. The awakening of depressed nations to a new sense of their rights and opportunities shows the same again. The increase of numbers on the earth faster than food can be provided for them will no doubt emphasise the trouble in yet a third way. But the coming is, also, to be at a time when there is a new awakening in the Jewish nation. The Jews will be returning from their long scattering abroad, and establishing themselves in Palestine (Joel 3. 1 ; Luke 21. 24) ; and this is a thing which we have seen in our century for the first time in nearly 2000 years. We have seen it on a scale which has not been equalled since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt : and this is one of the clearest of the things which have been " spoken by the mouth of God's holy prophets since the world began " (see, for example. Jeremiah 31:10-14, and Ezekiel ch.36-37).
This is a direct link with what we said about Jewish rejection earlier. Israel rejected the Lord Jesus, and so lost its place as a privileged people. It became, instead, a witness to the judgements of God, in its sufferings and scatterings. But the scattering was only to be for a time, and Paul, who mourns the unbelief of his people, speaks of a time when God will restore them : "There shall come out of Zion a deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob " (Romans 11:26, 15). The Jews will be present in Palestine to see their Icing when Pie returns, " and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son " (Zechariah 12. 10). It will not be a pleasant experience for Israel to see before its eyes the evidence of the sins of its ancestors, but the sight 'of the Lord Jesus in His returned glory will be the critical test. When " every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him " (Revelation 1:7), Israel will have to decide whether it will now be faithful and repentant, or not, and according to its decision will depend its future. Continued rebellion will be punished, while submission will lead to an honoured place among the mortal people of the world (Ezekiel u. 17-21).
It may seem strange to write about mortal people in those days, but the position is easy to understand. When the Lord comes back, there will be men and women in their graves who lie, waiting the resurrection, and there will be some still alive who also know His way and await His judgement. These will stand together before His judgement seat, and the worthy among them will be blessed with immortality, when they hear the words, " Come, ye blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world " (Matthew 25. 34). But there will be many who survive the war with which the Lord conquers the nations who will, as yet, be fit for no such blessing.
Of these, the Scriptures say that they will live under obedience, ruled over by the Son of God and his immortal friends (for example, see Revelation 20. 4, 6, and such special promises as Matthew 19. 28). They will have duties of worship to perform, and they will be expertly taught the will and law of God (Isaiah 2. 2-4). They will live in circumstances of great plenty and prosperity, with peace to guard their paths (Psalm 72), and during that period of blessedness have an ample opportunity of making up their minds whether they, in their turn, will serve God and live.
The principle, even then, will be the same as it has always been. The Kingdom of God exists where there is free obedience to God's law, and this can be its only abiding basis. God will bless with immortality those who come humbly before Him, but He cannot do this with those who will not. Even, therefore, during the early part of the reign of blessedness which the Lord Jesus will bring with Him, there will be those who must be taught, and must make up their own minds which way they will go. The obedient will have every opportunity to attain to the fullest blessedness of immortality. The disobedient must also, in their time, be destroyed. As Paul puts it of the reign of the Lord : " He must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet " (I Corinthians 15. 25).
We can easily see, then, what must happen in those days. When the Lord Jesus is reigning from Jerusalem, the blessings of His reign will be such that there will be no temptation to revolt—other than that which lies within the human heart. But this is no guarantee that the world will submit with a ready mind to the Lord's rule. Even in Eden, Adam would
not do that, and the heart of man is more wicked than Adam's, in the days before he sinned. Though there is everything to be lost by rebelling against the Lord Jesus, we can be absolutely certain that, so long as there is human nature, for so long will obedience be irksome and rebellion attractive. The prophets of the Old Testament subtly hint at this chafing against authority, even when describing the peace of those days : " Every man shall dwell under his own vine and fig tree, none daring to make them afraid "—as though there would be some who would bring terror even into that Paradise—if they dared. Even more clearly is it indicated that some of the nations will be unwilling to go to worship, and will need to be compelled (Zechariah 14. 16-21).
In fact, only the penitent will repent. Only the teachable will learn. And for the rest, the power of the Lord Jesus will no doubt hold it at bay for as long as He is willing to tolerate it at all. As the picturesque language of the Book of Revelation puts it, " Satan shall be bound " (20. 2-6) during that period. But the period must have an end. All enemies must be put under the feet of the Lord before He hands over His completed work to the Father, and therefore, in the end, sin and death themselves must absolutely give up their power.
The final phase of what is revealed, then, is tersely set out in the passage just quoted. When the Lord will endure sin no longer, " Satan shall be loosed " (20. 7). Sin will be allowed to have its unfettered sway for a little while longer, and those who can be persuaded to rebel against God will do so. Those who are not on the Lord's side will be revealed—apparently they will still, as they have always been, be in the majority, for they " compass the camp of the saints about "—and defeated.
What follows completes the purification of the earth. Piecemeal, all the powers and effects of evil are abolished absolutely. Sin is taken out of the way for evermore : " the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire." All who can still be rightly brought before God's judgements stand before His great white throne to be judged, and those who are not found written in the Book of Life go to the same permanent end. With the end of sin and of impenitent sinners comes the end of death, too, and so the apostle sees death itself handed over to destruction. And with the end of death there is no more need for a place of burial; and Hades, too, is cast into the Lake of Fire.
The kingdom of God then enters into its perfection. Out of His kingdom is cast everything that offends, and the closing chapters of Revelation set out the transformation. Jerusalem is no longer the name given to just one place in a wide earth, " the city of the great king." It becomes the dwelling place of all the blessed, the name for an earth made perfect, when John sees " the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven " (21. 2). God is no longer a far off being, whom sinners can only approach through priests and sacrifices, for now there are no more sinners, and " the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them " (21. 3). God's rule is no more in the slightest degree challenged, even by human unhappiness, for " God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes " (21. 4).
Once, the Lord Jesus had stood upon a mountain in the days of His temptation, and had seen with an inspired eye all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The temptations had come to Him to take them for Himself, refusing the Cross and the suffering and declining to obey the will of God. And He had refused : " Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve " (Matthew 4. 8-10). But now He has conquered in the right way. By humbling Himself and becoming obedient unto death, all power has been given to Him in heaven and in earth, and the kingdoms of the world have become His. And so John, seeing in the Spirit that future day of perfection, is himself carried unto an exceeding great and high mountain, and sees all the kingdoms of the world in the shape of this New Jerusalem, having the glory of God (21. 10), and with the glory and honour of the nations brought into it (21. 26).
Forbearance and power will have wrought together to the appointed end. God will have allowed His kingdom to be defied and limited upon the earth for long enough. Sinners will have gone by the broad way which leadeth to destruction, and will have been destroyed. The righteous will have trodden the straight and narrow path which leadeth to life, and their little obediences will now have been gathered together into the everlasting Kingdom which shall never be destroyed.
As the Lord promised, they who are accounted worthy to attain to that age will be " like unto the angels " (Luke 20. 36). They will be like this, not only because they will die no more, but because they, too, of their own redeemed will, will be " ministers of God that do His pleasure." They will have been born again, to begin the life of purification which is made possible to those who enter the Kingdom of God (John 3. 5). They have accepted the tribulation which comes to them, knowing that this will bring patience, experience and hope without which none shall inherit the kingdom of God (Acts 14. 22). They have set their affections on things above, knowing that " righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit " are the ingredients of God's kingdom (Romans 14. 17). And now, after judgement, they will have been made perfect in body, for " flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 15. 50).
When all His brethren are in this condition, the Son of God will be able to hand over the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all (15. 24-28). And His prayer and ours will now be fulfilled in its every meaning :
" Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven."
No longer will there be any exceptions. In earth, too, amongst men—as well as in heaven amongst the angels—the song will be sung without any sadness :
" For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.”