By Mike Willis
When .john the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, his message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). We can hardly imagine the excitement which such a message must have caused in Israel. For Yeats, the Israelites had been longing for the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom. Indeed, at that time, they were subjected to the Romans. In their concept of the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom, the Romans would be overthrown when the kingdom was established. Hence, the Israelites anxiously anticipated the coming of the kingdom of God.
The phrase “at hand” is translated from the verb eggizu which means “to approach, draw near.” John was announcing that the kingdom of God was just around the corner. We see the same phrase when we read Paul’s statement “the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:8). In that context, the meaning of the words “at hand” is obvious; Paul meant that his death was imminent. Similarly, when we read John’s announcement that the kingdom of heaven is “at hand,” we need to remember that nearly two thousand years ago a divine messenger announced that God was ready to establish His kingdom on earth.
Even today, men are still asking, “When will the Lord establish His kingdom upon this earth?” We need to let the Bible give us the divine answer to the question of when the Lord establishes His kingdom. Hence, let us go to the word of God for the answer to when the kingdom would be established.
Prophecies About The Establishment of the Kingdom
1. Dan. 2:44. Without going into a lot of detail, let me briefly relate that Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the coming of four kingdoms beginning with Babylon and including the Medo-Persian kingdom, the Grecian kingdom, and the Roman kingdom. During the fourth kingdom, God said, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44). Hence, the kingdom of God was to come in the days of the Roman kings.
2. Dan. 7:13-14. Later, Daniel saw a vision of these kingdoms in their succession again. This time, he said, “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” Notice that the kingdom was given to the Son of Man when He came with the clouds into the presence of God. (This passage does not say that the kingdom will be given when the Son of Man comes from the Ancient of Days to this earth.)
3. Isa. 2:2. Isaiah foretold that the kingdom of the Lord would come in the “last days.”
The Kingdom During The Lifetime of Jesus
The next step we need to notice in the examination of the scriptures regarding the establishment of the kingdom of God is to move to the lifetime of Jesus. Let us be reminded that Jesus was born during the days of the Roman kings in the reign of Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2:1). John’s ministry began during the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Lk. 3:1). The fulness of time had come for God to send forth His Son; the fulness of time had come for the kingdom to be established (Mk. 1:15). Hence, let us consider the statements made concerning the establishment of the kingdom of heaven during the lifetime of Jesus.
1. Lk. 1:32-33. When Jesus was born, the angel foretold to Mary the reign of Jesus saying, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever;. and His kingdom will have no end.” Hence, from the very beginning of the life of Jesus, it was understood that He was the prophesied king of the kingdom of heaven.
2. John said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Obviously, the Lord’s kingdom had not been established at that point. Hence, we can eliminate any doctrine which teaches that the kingdom of God was established prior to the coming of John the Baptist. Furthermore, Jesus later said, `Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt. 11:1 l ). This passage furthermore shows that John the Baptist never enjoyed the blessed privilege of being a citizen of the kingdom. John came and died without ever seeing the kingdom of God established. The kingdom of God was not established during the lifetime of John.
3. Jesus said, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). At this point in Jesus’ life, the kingdom of heaven had not yet been established. This message is recorded as having been the first message delivered by Jesus following His baptism at the hands of John. Hence, the kingdom of God was not established this early in Jesus’ ministry.
4. Later, Jesus sent the twelve apostles on the limited commission to preach as follows: “And as you go, preach saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Mt. 10:7). Obviously, fhe kingdom of heaven had not come at that time; rather, they announced that its coming was to be “at hand.”
5. Later, Jesus taught, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Mt. 16:28). Hence, Jesus placed the establishment of His kingdom within the lifetime of those to whom He was preaching. Any understanding which we have of the establishment of the kingdom of God has to fit Mt. 16:28. The view which says that Christ’s kingdom has not yet been established must come to grips with the fact that Jesus said that it would be established during the lifetime of those to whom He preached. Did He lie? Was He honestly mistaken? Are there men still alive who heard Him preach? Is there another alternative which I have not considered? The only alternative with which I am familiar which fits this passage is the one which teaches that the kingdom of God was established within the lifetime of those to whom He preached. Mark’s account of this same occasion says, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (9:1). Notice that Mark taught that the kingdom was to come with power.
6. Later, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper. During that, He stated, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Mt. 26:29). We can know when the kingdom was established by knowing when the Lord’s Supper .was observed. When we determine that the Lord’s Supper was observed, we shall know that the kingdom has been established.
The Fulfillment: The Establishment of the Kingdom
The kingdom of heaven was establishment in exact keeping with what divine prophecy foretold. Let us notice the fulfillment of these prophecies. During the days of the Roman kings, one like unto the Son of Man ascended to the Ancient of Days. The record of the ascension of Christ states, “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Prior to His ascension to the Ancient of Days, Jesus had instructed His disciples to tarry in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). The power was to come when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8) and was to be a sign that the kingdom of God had come (Mk. 9:1). Everything was in readiness for the kingdom to come. The Son of Man had ascended to the Father; the apostles were awaiting the power which was to mark the coming of the kingdom of God.
Finally, the day arrived when the kingdom came. It was on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).
The Holy Spirit came to give the apostles the power which was to mark the coming of the kingdom of God. Peter stood up and announced that the “last days” had arrived.
This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: “And it shall be in the last days . . . .” (Acts 2:16-17).
Isaiah’s prophecy that the kingdom would come in the last days could now be fulfilled since the last days had arrived.
The time of the coming of the kingdom was closely enough . connected to the prophecy of John the Baptist that it would be proper for him to have said that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The events recorded in Acts 2 came within the lifetime of those who heard Jesus speak in Mk. 9:1.
All will have been fulfilled if I can but demonstrate that the disciples were drinking the fruit of the vine in commemoration of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Significantly, it is recorded that those who were baptized “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The phrase “breaking of bread” is generally understood to be a technical phrase to refer to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Hence, they were drinking the fruit of the vine in the kingdom of the Lord.
Post-Pentecost References to the Kingdom
To further demonstrate that the kingdom of God was established on the day of Pentecost, let us consider some of the references made after the day of Pentecost to show that the Lord’s kingdom was already in existence.
1. Acts 11:15. In this passage, Peter refers to the events of the day of Pentecost as “the beginning.” He said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). The day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the kingdom of the Lord.
2. Acts 8:12. When Philip preached in Samaria, he preached the kingdom of God. “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” Think about this for a minute. Philip preached the “good news” of the kingdom of God. If I promised you that I would give you $10,000 on August 15th and then came to tell you on August 14th that I had postponed giving you that $10,000 for two thousand years, would that be good news? Yet, my friends, this is exactly what premillennialism says happened with reference to the establishment of the kingdom of God. The kingdom was nigh unto .being established but the Jews rejected Jesus and crucified Him. Consequently, God postponed the establishment of the kingdom for over two thousand years. How could Philip preach that as “good news”? The good news was that the kingdom had been established!
3. The Christians in Colassae were members of the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13-14); the Ephesians were “fellow-citizens” (Eph. 2:19). The Thessalonians were to walk worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12). The Christians in the seven churches of Asia were in the kingdom of God (Rev. 1:9).
The kingdom of God has been established. Contrary to both Jewish and modern dispensationalists’ expectations, the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom also known as the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has been in existence for nearly two thousand years. My friend, you too can be a part of this divinely established kingdom if you so desire. You need to be born of the water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5) in order to enter that kingdom. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. are willing to repent of your sins, confess faith in Christ, and be buried in the waters of baptism for the remission of your sins, you can become a citizen of the Lord’s kingdom.
Truth Magazine XXII: 28, pp. 451-454
July 20, 1978