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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Kingdom, and Entrance Into It

Prophetic Ministry

Acts 13:27; Matthew 11:11-15; Luke 16:16

I think we can recognize that the common link between Acts 13:27 and Matthew 11:13 is "all the prophets." In the one case they heard not the voices of the prophets; n the other it is said (verse 15), "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

The Prophets Prophesied of the Kingdom

First of all, we must understand the meaning of this whole statement in Matthew 11 - "all the prophets ... prophesied until John." What did they prophesy? Of course, they prophesied many things. One paramount concern in their prophecies was that relating to the coming King and the Kingdom. So much was that so that in the New Testament the matter of the Kingdom is taken for granted. When you open the New Testament and begin to read in the Gospels, you find that no explanation is given. The Kingdom is not introduced as something of which people were unaware. You find from among the people those who came to the Lord Jesus and used the very phrase, and you find the Lord Himself, although the matter was not mentioned by others, who came to Him, using the phrase "the Kingdom" without any introduction or explanation.

Nicodemus was a case in point. We have nothing in the narrative to indicate that Nicodemus said anything at all about the kingdom. He started by saying: "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teachers come from God." There was nothing about the Kingdom in that. The Lord Jesus interrupted there and said: "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:2, 3). Evidently that was the thing that was in the mind of Nicodemus, and the Lord knew it. You see, it is a thing taken for granted in the New Testament; and although later (as we find in the Book of the Acts and subsequently) the true heavenly explanation is given, or there is some teaching concerning its true meaning, the Kingdom is something that is already very much in the minds of the Jewish people, and of course it has come from the prophets. The prophets had much to say concerning the Kingdom, and some of them had something very definite to say about the King. We will not try to prove that. It is a statement which you can easily verify.

What did the prophets prophesy? Inclusively, they prophesied concerning the king and the Kingdom. What was the culmination of the prophets in that comprehensive connection? It was John the Baptist. He gathered them all up; he was, so to speak, the inclusive prophet. What was John the Baptist? He was the terminal or turning point between all that had been and that which was now going to be, between the Old Testament and the New. That is the statement here - "all ... prophesied until John." Until John; now - from John. What was the message of John? "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). But alongside that, the great outstanding note of John is, "Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Those are not two different things; they are one. "The kingdom ... is at hand": "Behold, the Lamb of God!"

The Kingdom Present in Christ

What was the issue, then, from John's time - the issue which sprang into new meaning, new force, because it had become an immediate one; no loner that of prophecy but now the issue of actuality? It was the Kingdom of Heaven. "The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached." The prophets had prophesied it; now it is preached as having come, and having come with "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world."

What, then, is the Kingdom of Heaven? We have led up to this step by step, and when we answer this final question we shall see clearly what it was that these Jewish rulers and dwellers in Jerusalem never saw, though they heard the prophets week by week.

I am going to press the challenge of this again. I feel that it is a very solemn thing that ever the Kingdom of Heaven should have come near to anyone. You see, the Lord is eventually going to judge everyone on their opportunity. The opportunity has been given - and contact is opportunity. The very availability of the Kingdom is opportunity. What is done with opportunity? The Lord Jesus walked in the midst of the Jewish nation three and a half years. His very presence among them was their opportunity - and what a terrible, terrible consequence followed their failure to make good their opportunity!

Now there may be someone in this category who reads these words. Through reading them, there has become available to you, even if never before (but surely we could hardly say that), the gospel of Jesus Christ - the knowledge of the fact of the lord Jesus and His Cross. To have ever had that within your reach is enough to settle your eternal destiny. If the Kingdom of Heaven is come near - within the compass and range of your life, to your knowledge - that is the ground upon which your eternal destiny may be settled. Of course, there was very much more in the case of these people, and their condemnation was so much the more. The prophets prophesied in their hearing, and yet because of something in their own make-up, because of some reaction from themselves, the rulers and the people never heard what they were hearing; they never recognized that here was something which had very great implications, and that they must find out what those implications really were. They did not take the attitude - 'If there is something here which concerns me, I must know what it is.'

You could hardly ask for less than that, could you? But the very absence of that kind of reaction to the presence of the gospel, as I have said, may be the ground upon which judgment will take place. It did in their case, and a terrible judgment it was! What a judgment, those two thousand years of Jewish history! "Your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38). Was there ever a story of more awful desolation than the story of the Jews since then? But, even so, that is only a parable of desolation; something here on this earth. What must desolation in the spiritual and eternal sense mean - forsaken of God, and knowing it? It is a solemn message, and of course it paves the way to this other part, the "violent" entering into the Kingdom. This is something to take seriously, something about which you cannot afford to be careless or indifferent.

What is the Kingdom? The answer to that can be given in three or four quite brief statements. What did the Kingdom of Heaven prove to be? I repudiate that system of interpretation which claims that a literal, earthly, temporal kingdom was offered to the Jews at this time. I do not believe it. It would have been a poor sort of thing for the people of whom we read in the Gospels to have had the kingdom in their hands - not much glory or satisfaction to God in them! Look at Palestine today, and see what kind of kingdom it would be in the hands of those people! What is possible for the world when that kind of thing gets the kingdom? No, I repudiate the interpretation of a temporal kingdom being offered to Israel by Jesus at that time. But what did the Kingdom of Heaven, which was preached in the days of John the Baptist, prove to be and to mean, as the Lord Jesus interpreted it, and later the Apostles?

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 1 "What the Kingdom Is (1. A New Life)"

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