What the Kingdom Is

There is perhaps no term in Scripture so largely used and so little understood as that of "the kingdom of heaven." Yet its importance must be (in some measure at least,) proportionate to the frequency of its use. It is only, indeed, one book - the Gospel of Matthew, - in which it is found, though there thirty-one times; but the kindred expression, "the kingdom of God," is used much more extensively, and in some parables in other Gospels is found in its stead. Taken together, these expressions have a very large place in the New Testament, and their interpretation will correspondingly affect a great deal of Scripture. I propose, therefore, a serious examination of the doctrine of the kingdom as covered by these terms, and to inquire as to the practical bearing of the doctrine also, which assuredly there must be, for "all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

"The kingdom of heaven" is a New Testament term, then; but it has its roots in the Old Testament. The idea is found in the germ in Daniel, in the prophet's words to Nebuchadnezzar, who, effectually humbled by his durance among the beasts, should learn by it that "the heavens do rule" (chap. 4:26). This is expanded afterward into the thought that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (v. 32). Here we have but the idea, however,- the rule of God, supreme necessarily over men. Here there is no thought of a special, limited, dispensational kingdom. This "dominion," as the king himself says, "is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation" (v. 34).

"The Times of the Gentiles"
But the book of Daniel carries us further than this in the direction we are seeking. Historically and prophetically both, it has for its scope "the times of the Gentiles," of which the Lord speaks (Luke 21:24),- that is, of Gentile supremacy over Israel. But this is the consequence of her sin, and of God's controversy with her, and it means the interruption of His own dwelling in her midst, as of old He did, and as He yet will do. For Jerusalem shall yet be, saith the Lord, "the place of My throne, and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever" (Ezek. 43:7).

The "place of His throne" had been given up before Nebuchadnezzar could lay waste the city and the temple, and a notable change, therefore, is found in the Old Testament books which give us the history of that solemn and important time. The ark had been the symbolic throne of Him who "sitteth between the cherubim;" and as "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth" it had passed through Jordan to take possession of the land (Josh. 3:11). Now the glory had left its dwelling place on earth, as Ezekiel had seen (chap. 10:18; 11:23), and the very decree which ordains the rebuilding of the temple is that of a Persian king to whom the "God of heaven has given all the kingdoms of the earth" (2 Chron. 36:23; Ezra 1:2).

This is no mere casual expression. It is characteristic of the books of the captivity - of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel. Although the eternal throne of God can never be given up, yet a dispensational throne is now removed; and this is what characterises the times of the Gentiles - a responsible throne on earth which is set up by God, and yet not God's throne, not the kingdom of God. For the kingdom of God men must wait, but in hope; for the kingdom of God shall come.
Daniel accordingly shows us the end of these Gentile empires, and beyond them all a wholly different one:
"In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (chap. 2:44).

This is in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, but the features of this final kingdom he is not able more distinctly to see. The vision granted later to the prophet (chap. 7) develops, as we may easily see, the spiritual significance both of the Gentile powers and of that which supersedes them. For the king, the image has the form of a man, though with no breath of life in it; and there is brilliancy enough, though increasing degeneracy. But to the prophet's eyes there is no human form, no unity; plenty of life and vigour, but bestial. On the other hand, as to the final kingdom, though not much is seen as to detail, one feature newly given is of the sweetest encouragement. It is that the government is in the hands of One like a son of man, under whom the saints too possess the kingdom.

Here, then, is a "kingdom of heaven"- a heavenly rule on earth,- a final world-wide triumph of righteousness and peace. We recognise it as that of which all the prophets speak, the expansion of the first prophecy of the victory of the woman's Seed,- the unforgotten goal and purpose of the ages.

The Kingdom Announced
Old Testament prophecy soon comes to an end after the voice in Daniel has uttered itself. There is a long pause of expectancy, and then one more than a prophet takes up the burden of those many years past, and announces the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But the people are not ready: and the voice is of one crying in the wilderness, a priest who has forsaken the sanctuary, and stands apart from men. The baptism of repentance must precede the remission of sins. The mountain must be levelled with the plain, that the way of the Lord may be prepared.

Then there is another Voice, and He who was announced is come. The kingdom is presented, now with the signs and powers which make good its claim, and are ready to establish it among men. Nothing is wanting, except, alas! the loyal hearts that should greet their divine King; but here is a lack that nothing can compensate for. The more fully manifested, the more fully He is rejected. He finds in a Gentile the faith He cannot find in Israel (Matt. 8:10). And thereupon declares that. many shall come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. with wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The King Rejected
The steps of His rejection it is not necessary here to trace. The twelfth chapter of Matthew already shows it complete. His mighty works, instinct with the power and love of God, they ascribe to Beelzebub, and He warns them that for blasphemy against the Holy Ghost there is never forgiveness. They sought signs, but none should he given them but the sign of the prophet Jonas, the Son of Man three days and nights in the heart of the earth. The chapter ends with the solemn disowning of natural ties: whosoever did the will of His Father in heaven, the same was His brother and sister and mother.
 
This introduces the thirteenth chapter, in which seven parables give us the prophetic character of the kingdom of heaven as it now is, the King rejected and away. Instead of finding fruit in His vineyard, He goes forth to sow the seed of fresh fruit among the Gentiles. Speaking in parables, because hearing they heard and understood not, He instructs His disciples in the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (v. 11) ,- that is, in things not forming part of what had been revealed in Judaism, things which had been kept secret from the foundation of the world (v. 35).

Two Forms of the Kingdom
We see, in fact, in these parables that while the essential idea of the kingdom of heaven is preserved, the form of it is widely different. It is still a kingdom of heaven, and in the hands of the Son of Man; not yet, however, established in power, but committed into the hands of men, and of men who fail in the administration of it Thus there is disorder, and a possibility of evil even in high places,- purging and rectification needed when the King comes in power. "He shall send forth His angels, and they shall purge out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity." The mysteries of the kingdom terminate thus in its manifestation. The kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:9) looks on to His kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 3:12), when the fruits of the present sowing-time are husbanded.

These two forms of the kingdom of heaven need to be distinguished carefully. The Lord's address to Laodicea very plainly distinguishes them: "Him that overcometh will I give to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father on His throne." It is as Son of Man He is seen in these addresses; His own throne, therefore, is clearly what is His as Man, in contrast with the Father's throne, the divine one. It is plain at once that while His saints are promised to sit with Him upon the one, none but One Himself divine could sit upon the other.
The Lord has, then, a present kingdom; but in it we can serve only and not reign. We are "translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son" (Col. 1:13). The time for Christians to reign cannot be yet; cannot be till He takes the kingdom in the form in which the Old Testament shows it,- comes as Son of Man, and reigns publicly.

It is with His present kingdom we are now occupied. This is established in a very different way, namely, by the sowing of the seed -"the Word of the kingdom." The kingdom extends no further than as this is, in some way, "sown in the heart." Yet it may not be savingly. It is the sphere of profession and privilege that is before us. The devil may take away that which was sown in the heart. The man may have no root in himself, the heart being a "heart of stone." Or the springing up of what is native to the soil may choke the good seed so that it is unfruitful. By and by, among the wheat also the enemy sows tares. All this is a picture of the kingdom.

There may be other aspects of it, and there are. We may be called, as in the last three parables of this series, to look at the divine plan and purpose, which cannot fail of accomplishment; but from the human side there cleaves to it ever the idea of condition, of possible failure, of a mixture of evil with the good, of coming judgment needed to rectify this. If the idea of mercy come in, it is still conditional, never pure grace, as witness the parable which closes the eighteenth chapter of the same gospel.

The King is away, the administration in the hands of man in the meantime: this accounts for most of the characters we are considering. It is the distinctive, fundamental feature of this "mystery"- form; and as such, we must now examine it more attentively.