By Luther W. Martin
Israel of old was called out of Egypt by the God of heaven. He was their One God, their Ruler, as well as the Creator of the universe. Their government was a theocracy, a rule of God.
Egypt represented a state of sin, a condition of enslavement, as far as the children of Israel were concerned. Thus, the predicament in which the Jews found themselves, was one of being captives in a hostile land.
But, the God of heaven, who had spoken to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel), had promised that he would make of them a great nation, and that he would provide for them a productive land, one that “flowed with milk and honey” (a figurative expression of a land in which they would dwell and prosper).
According to Joshua, the successor to Moses, as a leader of the children of Israel, all of God’s promises to their fathers had been kept and fulfilled by the God of heaven.
So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which he had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.
The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that he had sworn to their fathers. And not a man-of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand.
Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass (Josh. 21:43-45).
Joshua gives plain evidence that God kept his promises to Israel. But there were conditions attached to God’s promises: Israel was to remain faithful and obedient to God. Instead, Israel became as “a gadding bride”; an unfaithful spouse. Consequently, Israel lost the land and blessings that God had formerly promised. There was captivity by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians. Then finally, while Daniel was a captive in Babylon, he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) wherein Daniel identified the King of Babylon as the “Head of Gold”; then a lesser kingdom would arise; the Medo-Persian Kingdom, portrayed as the “breast and arms of silver”; which prevailed from 538 B.C. to 330 B.C. Next, the image was described as having “belly and thighs of bronze,” in reference to the Grecian Kingdom of Alexander the Great, which would succeed the Medes and the Persians. The Kingdom of Greece as a world empire prevailed from 330 B.C. until 323 B.C., only seven years.
The final world kingdom typified by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-image, was that of Rome, described as “legs of iron, with feet of iron and clay, mixed.” Ten lesser kingdoms (representing the toes of the image), and being divisions of the Roman Empire, included: (1) Franks, (2) Ostro-Goths, (3) Visi-Goths, (4) Vandals, (5) Burgundians, (6) Saxons, (7) Suevi, (8) Gepicli, (9) Lombards, and (10) the Eastern Empire.
And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the day, the silver, and the gold – the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure (Dan. 2:44-45).
In view of the “checkered” history of the Jewish people, it is not surprising that the very last question asked of Jesus by his disciples was: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
In ancient times, God had set up Judges to rule or be his representatives to his people. But the Jews wanted to have a king like the Gentiles surrounding them. They cried: “Give us a King! Give us a King!” So, the God of heaven gave them Saul, David and Solomon. But after Solomon’s reign, chat nation split into two kingdoms. Ten tribes in the north comprised Israel, while two tribes in the south were known as Judah. Israel deteriorated first, becoming idolatrous. Later, Judah did the same; although Judah never became quite as sinful and rebellious as Israel had become.
Therefore, it is quite obvious, as to why the Jewish people were yearning for a “kingdom” once more.
Matthew’s Expression: “Kingdom of Heaven”
Of the four biographical books of Christ’s life, only Matthew uses the term “Kingdom of Heaven.” It is not used by Mark, Luke or John. Inasmuch as Matthew’s biography was written by a Jew for the Jews . . . to convince them of the divinity of Christ, I suggest that Inspiration chose this expression in an effort to outline to the Jews, the nature of this new Kingdom that the God of Heaven, through the sacrifice of his Son, was going to establish. Christ came into the world to “seek and save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).
(1) A kingdom has a kingl Christ became and is that Kingl He is the lawgiver for his kingdoml No one else has that authorityl Christ, the King of Salem, the Prince of Peace, has all authority, both in heaven and on earthl This is spiritual authority . . . heavenly decrees (Matt. 28:18).
(2) A kingdom has territorial boundariesl Christ’s kingdom, his “called-out citizens,” are found in every nationl His kingdom has penetrated and permeated all other kingdoms (nations) of the world
(3) A kingdom has a center of government! It may be a palace, or a capitol city. In any event, the seat of goverment authority is indicated; perhaps by a “throne.” Christ is seated at the right hand of God in heaven; reigning, ruling over the citizens in his kingdom (see Acts 2:22-29).
(4) A kingdom also has tenurel The kingdoms of men or nations of men, are temporary. They rise and fail I But the kingdom of Christ shall continue as long as time shall last (see 1 Cor. 15:20-28).
“Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God”?
Scholars tell us that these two expressions refer to one and the same Kingdom! But Matthew was the one biographical writer who sought to impress his own people, the Jews, with the spiritual or heavenly aspect of Christ’s Kingdom!
Christ reminded Peter, as the Apostle struck off Malchus’ ear with his sword: “My kingdom is not of this worldl If it were, then would My servants right!” (Jn. 18:10,36)
John the Immerser began his preaching with the message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2)
Jesus began his preaching, by announcing: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).
The twelve were cautioned not to go into the way of the Gentiles, nor to enter a city of the Samaritans, but in going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, they were to announce: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 10:5-7)
John the Immerser did not live to see the kingdom established on Pentecost. But Jesus taught: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater that John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11).
Matthew used the expression “Kingdom of Heaven” thirty-one times. But with Mark writing to convince the Romans of the divinity of Christ; with Luke writing to convince the Greeks of Christ’s divinity; and John writing his “spiritual” gospel . . . not one of the other gospel writers used the expression “Kingdom of Heaven.” It therefore appears that Matthew’s message to the Jews must have been designed to impress upon them the purpose, nature and substance of Christ’s heavenly kingdom; designed to call out a people from earth’s carnality and prepare this community, congregation, assembly, etc., to become spiritual Israel, with the hope and goal of a heavenly home forevermore.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 7, pp. 202-203
April 6, 1989