Waiting for the Kingdom

THROUGHOUT the sacred Scriptures, the subject of the kingdom of God is a very prominent one. In our Lord’s prayer it is represented as that agency which will be employed for the reestablishment of the divine will upon the earth. God is the Great Emperor of the universe, and the vast majority of his creatures elsewhere are in full loyalty to his government. Upon the earth, however, there is an exception. Fallen man is in rebellion against God’s will and has been in rebellion for more than six thousand years.

Throughout this long period of sin and death, God has made many promises concerning the blessings of the kingdom which he proposes to establish upon the earth. Many of those whose hearts have been in harmony with God and with righteousness have rejoiced in these promises. Frequently, however, some have not been willing to await God’s time for the establishment of his kingdom, but have undertaken abortive efforts of their own to set it up.

All such efforts have failed and, of course, will continue to fail. This failure of human efforts, however, will in no sense discourage those who have faith in the promises of God and who believe that in his own time and way all of the glorious promises which he has made in respect to the future blessing of mankind will be fulfilled, and that ultimately the knowledge of his glory will be caused to fill the whole earth as the waters cover the sea.

God’s laws, which are just, holy, and good, must be upheld in order for his blessings to be available for his creatures. It was because of disobedience to divine law that the penalty of death came upon the human race. Satan used his influence in connection with the disobedience of our first parents. He succeeded in tempting them to transgress the divine law, and has used his advantage with rare ability and unearthly persistence in dragging mankind into unspeakable physical, mental, and moral depravity, thus turning the earth into a wilderness. (Isa. 14:17) But the depth of man’s calamities are not of such a sort that infinite wisdom, goodness, and power cannot provide the means by which God can be just and yet receive him again into his favor, a favor more interesting and blessed because of his former disaster.

A definite plan of operation was instituted by God to seek and to save that which was lost; that is, to deliver the groaning creation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. (Rom. 8:19-22) And how wonderful are the steps of the heavenly purposes! A loving Shepherd himself went after the lost sheep. He left the ninety and nine in their accustomed pastures, and laid aside his heavenly glory and betook himself to the problems and mistakes of the missing one. He humbled himself and became a man.—Phil. 2:7

At his birth in Bethlehem, the heavenly host manifested an intensely favorable interest in the great proceedings, for a multitude of them praised and glorified God, and one of them gave an amazing message of goodwill and worldwide hope, saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”—Luke 2:10

What wonderful patience was manifested by the Good Shepherd in seeking and saving fallen man! He was not discouraged by the risk and privation of his errand of mercy. He steadfastly resisted the temptations of the adversary and endured the contradiction of sinners. When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion, for they were as sheep having no shepherd. (Matt. 9:36) He came to minister, and went through every city preaching the glad tidings, healing multitudes, shedding tears at Bethany and weeping over Jerusalem.

While often faint and weary, he did not give up the pursuit. How great was his agony in Gethsemane’s garden! What depth of sorrow brought forth strong crying and tears! What unutterable anguish on Calvary! He, through whom all things were made, who always did those things pleasing to the Father, was nailed upon a cross, the gazing-stock of the soldiers, of the accusers, of the curious and indifferent, all of whom joined in heaping ridicule upon him.

But he endured it all, for, in the language of the parable, he went after that which was lost until he found it, and when he found it, he “layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing.” (Luke 15:5) But none of the ransomed can fully know how deep were the waters crossed, or how dark was the night through which the Lord passed, ere he found the sheep that was lost. What a heavenly sweetness in the picture! The Shepherd did not chide the wandering sheep, or seek to drive it back with increased terrors, but took it in his arms and bore it back to its proper home and blessings. Man was guilty, and Jesus came to help him in his weakness. Our Lord did not come as a wrathful avenger, but as a sympathizing friend.

The Good Shepherd’s Continued Compassion

Jesus’ compassion for the multitude brought forth criticisms from the lofty, the self-righteous, and hard-hearted, yet he continued to be sympathetic, kind, forgiving. Three of his parables, namely, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, reveal these divine attributes in operation for the ultimate recovery and blessing of the fallen human race. Through these simple illustrations we are able to understand some of the depth of divine compassion, and of why it is true that there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.

Of Jehovah himself, the prophet wrote, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression? … He retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”—Mic. 7:18,19

How wonderfully merciful and sympathetic the Creator has been, and what depth of love is manifested in sending his Son to recover the sinful and lost race! While God’s justice could not clear the guilty, yet his loving sympathy for the condemned race has caused him to suffer no less than those who have violated his law. A faithful Christian once said, “Sin is more awful to God than to us. Our senses are dulled, and we suffer for only a few years, but he has suffered for six thousand years. It cost him nothing to give blessings, but it is infinitely harder to withhold them. Sin has cost God more these six thousand years than it will cost him to shower blessings through all eternity.”

Consider the heights of divine fortitude, the amazing strength, the firmness of mind, that has enabled God to endure that which his wisdom and foreknowledge would dictate in this great drama of the permission of evil—the dispensing of wrath, indignation, anger, in all long-suffering against sin, the permitting of his name to be reviled, reproached and misrepresented to the utmost limit, and his glory as the incorruptible God changed to the image of man, birds, beasts, and creeping things. Consider him beholding the course of his beloved Son from Bethlehem to Calvary, suffering the just for the unjust.

But if God has recorded for our admonition his manifestations of wrath, indignation, anger against evil, he has likewise recorded in no uncertain terms the showers of blessings he will dispense when Christ’s kingdom is established. Paul writes that if God “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) Time would fail to repeat all of the abundant testimonies given us in the Scriptures concerning God’s purpose to bless mankind. These are positive, glorious, thrilling earthly promises of blessings yet in store for the repentant race, and in them we are told of the triumphant ring of joy and real pleasure the great author of redemption will have in the dispensing of these blessings in due time; and that due time will be the kingdom time. Note a few of these reassuring promises:

“I create new heavens and a new earth.”—Isa. 65:17

“I create Jerusalem, a rejoicing, and her people a joy.”—Isa. 65:18

“Before they call, I will answer.”—Isa. 65:24

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.”—Isa. 65:25

“And many nations shall … say … let us go up to the mountain of the Lord”—Mic. 4:2

“All nations shall flow unto it.”—Isa. 2:2

“All flesh shall come to worship before me.”—Isa. 66:23

“I will make the place of my feet glorious.”—Isa. 60:13

“Behold, I make all things new.”—Rev. 21:5

To such, and many more, exceeding great and precious earthly promises the Creator attaches his signature; as, for example, “I the Lord will hasten it in his time.” (Isa. 60:22) Untold millions have perished amid harrowing scenes, on battlefields, by disease, calamities, plagues, swords, and poverty. All these in due time will be awakened under new heavens and in a new earth, where the knowledge of the Lord will be worldwide. When it dawns upon their minds as to why they have been called forth from the tomb and have been given the privileges of that new kingdom rule, and that these wonderful blessings of God have been purchased for them through the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, can we be surprised that they will say, “Other lords … have had dominion over us: but by Thee only will we make mention of Thy name.” Mankind will become so enraptured and entranced with their new surroundings that “the former [things] shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”—Isa. 26:13; 65:17

Some Who Could Not Wait

The experiences of mankind throughout the six thousand years of the reign of sin and death have been so distressing, and the promises of God so thrilling in their portrayal of the blessings of the new age, that many who have known of these promises and believed in them have found it difficult to wait for God’s time for them to be fulfilled. The result of this impatience on the part of God’s people has time and again manifested itself in fruitless efforts to establish the kingdom ahead of time. Wishfully thinking that the kingdom should be established, and misinterpretation of the kingdom promises have frequently led the Lord’s professed people to conclude that it has become a reality.

This evidence of human impatience in the outworking of God’s plan was manifested even in the Early Church. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, indicates that some in that congregation apparently were claiming that the kingdom had been established through them, even at that time. He writes, “Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us.” That Paul did not think these to whom he was writing did actually reign is indicated in his concluding statement on the point, which reads, “I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.”—I Cor. 4:8

The Lord’s program for the consecrated followers of the Master in this age is one of self-sacrifice and suffering. It is only on the basis of our suffering with Christ that we may hope to reign with him when his kingdom is established. There is no scriptural way, therefore, in which the people of God, while still in the flesh, can be said to reign with Christ. Losing sight of this fundamental teaching of God’s Word made possible the development of the great apostasy of the Dark Ages in which it was claimed that God’s kingdom was operating through the papal hierarchy. Paul forewarned of this falling away, and the development of the antichrist system, but it required centuries before the complete counterfeit of the kingdom became apparent.

While individuals and small groups of the professed followers of the Master may have made claims concerning the establishment of the kingdom in their day, this idea did not take on any great proportion until the time of Emperor Constantine. Prior to that, Christians were openly persecuted by the Roman emperors and were accorded no recognition by the kingdoms of this world. The cross was despised and rejected by an unbelieving and pagan world. This meant that those who espoused the name of Christ suffered with him because of their allegiance to his cause.

But so far as the great body of professed Christians was concerned, this entire picture of persecution and ostracism on the part of worldly kingdoms was suddenly changed by Constantine, who himself professed conversion to Christianity. In the year 313 A. D., this emperor put his signature to a decree reading, in part, “Henceforth in perfect and absolute freedom, each and every person who chooses to belong to and practice the Christian religion, shall be at liberty to do so without let or hindrance in any shape or form.”

How the Christians must have read the lines with astonishment when they realized the implication of this new change of attitude on the part of earthly governments! Just emerging from ten years of persecution by Diocletian, they were now free to meet and sing and pray and read their Scriptures in the open sunlight, anytime, anywhere. And this was but the first of other favors that were shortly to come to them. The historian records that “Constantine ordered the state funds to be used to rebuild their churches, ruined in the previous persecution; he donated land by the acre, built new churches wherever needed in the east or the west—magnificent, costly structures. Christian clerics were relieved of taxation and became officials. Even laymen were shown marked favor in political appointments. Gift was piled upon gift, and privilege upon privilege. Decrees were issued exhorting the public to abandon their ‘ancient superstitions’ and accept the ‘truth’.

“Complete and expensive copies of the Scriptures were furnished to Christians by the state, replacing those destroyed by former persecutors. Could or should they decline to accept these marvelous favors thus bestowed upon them? Should they decline to avail themselves of the wonderful opportunity thus afforded to proclaim the Gospel of the Son of God to the large audiences now forthcoming because of governmental favor toward the church? Should they refuse to rejoice that now multitudes suddenly saw the light?”

The church had endured persecution—bitter, death-dealing persecution. Now the reverse was true and they were enjoying the favors of the state. Could they endure prosperity? What was to be their attitude toward this new aspect of the Christian life? How were they to view the future? The great and sudden relief experienced by the lifting of the hand of persecution evidently had the effect that Satan desired it should, because the historical record shows that the great body of professed Christians at the time concluded that the days of waiting for the kingdom had ended.

One historical writer, in telling about this, says, “When they were relieved of their persecution, and came into honor after having been so long reckoned the filth of the world, the cry was straightway raised that the kingdom of God had come. The emperor was the visible favorite of God, the predestined overthrower of the powers of evil—even while the devil was still the reigning prince.”

Following the last session of the Council of Nicea in the year 325, Constantine made a splendid banquet, about which the historian Eusebius, a bishop and one of the guests, has left us the following account:

“The proceedings were sublime beyond description. The soldiers of the emperor’s bodyguard were drawn up before the door of the palace with bared swords. The men of God, over three hundred bishops, some of them bearing in their bodies the marks of the last persecution, passed by them proudly into the interior of the palace. Some sat at the same table with the emperor. One might easily believe he beheld an image of the very kingdom of God.”

Following this, and amidst violent, stormy internal disputes, the nominal church multiplied, for the state was still friendly and the sons of Constantine improved on their father, for they not only favored the church system, but persecuted paganism. The professed followers of the Master quickly caught the spirit, and with even more ardent zeal than was manifested by the arm of the state. They, like so many others who are not willing to await God’s time for the exercise of kingdom powers, themselves took the law into their own hands. Professed Christian mobs tore down pagan temples, shattered their idols, burnt their libraries, and slaughtered their priests. There was no restraining them, so fierce was their faith and zeal for the alleged kingdom of God.

But Satan was still “the god of this world.” (II Cor. 4:4) While the professed church as a whole entered into these revelries in connection with the establishment of a counterfeit kingdom of the Lord, there still remained a few true followers of the Master who did not share in this viewpoint and therefore did not enter into these unchristian activities. Concerning these, the historian says:

“Some indeed during this century, were disgusted with the pride and arrogance of the clergy and aimed at primitive simplicity and opposed the general trend; but the only fruit of their labor was that they were branded with infamy.”

Evidently this little flock of true followers of the Master were branded as being anti-kingdom, even as it still is true of some today. When the prince of this world offered the kingdoms of the earth to our Lord, he declined the gift, choosing the present cross and present rejection and finally death, while carrying out the Father’s arrangements of suffering which must precede the glory of the kingdom. But what the Son of man refused, the nominal church, centuries later, accepted, and installed a Roman bishop at the head, who, in the name of God, received the headship of the kingdoms of this world. From thenceforth it was woe unto those who dared to be anti-kingdom.

These abortive kingdom efforts, however, were not limited to the large body of professed Christians who finally became amalgamated into the Roman Catholic church-state system. When the Protestant movement got under way, Satan still was active both with the small and large groups of Protestantism and almost without exception these have fallen prey to this master-stroke of delusion.

The Protestants, in separating from Rome, never completely passed out of the harmful shadow of the unauthorized kingdom. Many of the Protestant systems united with the state. Even today, most professed Christians confuse the present church with the coming kingdom, and when their hopes prosper or their activity apparently is blessed in a material way, they forthwith believe that the kingdom of God must be here.

Kingdom Established by Divine Power

While all true Christians should be on the alert, watching for evidences that the kingdom is near, they should always keep in mind the great fundamental truth of God’s Word which makes it clear that divine power, and not human effort, is to establish that kingdom.

We should never lose sight of the fact that the church in the flesh is a suffering church, not a reigning church. It is the privilege of the Christian to bear witness to whatever God may be accomplishing. He is to tell of the glorious kingdom which God will establish, and in this present great time of trouble when the nations of earth are crumbling in preparation for the kingdom, it is the Christian’s privilege to bear witness to this fact. But beyond this the Christian must not go. He is to await the consummation of his hope and realize that he is in no sense to attempt the exercise of kingdom power until he has proved his faithfulness even unto death. Then, in the first resurrection, he will experience his exaltation to glory, honor and immortality as a joint-heir with the Master.

Misapplication of Promises

In the second psalm, Jehovah makes a definite promise to Jesus in which he says, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [nations] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Without doubt the Master knew that this and other like promises applied to him. Nevertheless, he did not make the mistake of misapplying them and expecting that they were to be fulfilled during the time of his earthly ministry.

As a matter of fact, when Jesus did ask of his Father things pertaining to his followers, his petition was a very restricted one. Instead of asking for all the nations for an inheritance, he said, “I pray not for the world, but for those which thou host given me.” (John 17:9) Jesus recognized that the time had not then come for him to ask his Father for the rulership of the whole earth. He knew, furthermore, that the due time for this request would not come until his own sacrificial work, as well as the sacrificial work of his body members, was completed.

Nearly all false claims of the kingdom being established through God’s professed people while still in the flesh are based upon misapplication of the promises of God. By the misapplication of promises and instructions concerning the kingdom and its operation, deceived followers of the Master have justified themselves in the practice of intolerance and the judging of all those who do not agree with them nor cooperate in their premature kingdom efforts.

In I Corinthians 15, the apostle tells us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. In this wondrous chapter, the apostle also makes it clear that those who do become associates with Jesus in his messianic kingdom must undergo a change of nature. “This mortal must put on immortality,” the apostle says in I Corinthians 15:53. To ignore these clear statements of the Word of God leads to all sorts of invalid interpretations and practices. Christians should ever be on the alert so that they will not be drawn into these attractive looking, but actually pseudo kingdom arrangements which are unauthorized by God and must certainly fail eventually. On this point, a faithful Christian once said:

“Temptations continually assail the Lord’s people—suggestions to do some wonderful works in his name and to prove to themselves and to others that they are heaven’s favorites. The lesson for us to learn is, that the work which the Father has given us to do is not a work of convincing the world, but rather that we should quietly, yet as effectively as reason and propriety will permit, let our light shine” and to simply manifest a desire to occupy “the reasonable position of servants, ministers of the truth.”

The Divine Commission

Our Lord’s great commission to his followers was to go to all nations, preaching repentance and remission of sins in his name, making disciples, teaching to observe all the things commanded by him. (Luke 24:47; Matt. 28:19,20) Consulting a concordance, we find under the heading of ‘preach’ and ‘witness’, that the message preached by the apostles was “repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ,” “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus and the resurrection,” “peace [or justification] by Jesus Christ,” “Christ crucified,” “the cross,” “the grace of God,” “the Gospel of Christ,” “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

It is found, also, that the proclaiming of the knowledge of God as outlined in these various phases of the kingdom message meant that through the goodness of God men would be led to repentance.—Rom. 2:4

The entire Jewish community perished as a nation at the close of the Jewish Age because of their failure to accept Jesus. (Luke 19:42-44) Thirty-seven years before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Master wept over the city, mourning because their house was to be left unto them desolate. Yet the Gospel of repentance toward God and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ was the only message which our Lord authorized to be sent to them. Is there any authority to alter, amend, or substitute the Gospel message at this end of the age?

Those who are guided by the Word of God will not permit themselves to be sidetracked into an erroneous philosophy, simply because the world today stands on the brink of ruin. They will realize that it is a most wonderful time to proclaim more zealously than ever the glad tidings of great joy concerning the blessings coming to mankind just beyond this time of trouble. Thus they will be messengers of comfort in a dark and distressed world.

The fact that some at various times have mistakenly supposed that the kingdom of God was established in their day should not lead us into a condition of indifference in the sense that we will take the position that even now the kingdom is in the remote future. Neither should we be blind to the fact that in our day the kingdoms of the world are actually being overthrown by the power of God, and that this does mean the near-establishment of God’s kingdom.

Nevertheless, we should keep clearly in mind that this work we see transpiring in the earth is wholly in the hands of God, that it is not for his people in the flesh to feel that in any way they are now privileged to exercise kingdom authority.

We can rejoice to be living in this most wondrous time of the earth’s history. We can lift up our heads with confidence as we note the stately steppings of our God, and realize that the quick work of destruction which has been foretold is even now taking place in the earth. True, the period required to destroy the old order has already stretched out over many years. But this is a short work as God reckons time. To him, a thousand years are but a watch in the night when it is past. Sudden destruction shall come upon them, the apostle says, but we must remember that this is expressing God’s viewpoint of suddenness and are not to look for a precipitous demonstration of divine power that will bring an end to the old order of things in a few brief days.

The time will come in the outworking of God’s arrangements when miracles will be manifested in the establishment of the kingdom. These miracles include the resurrection of the ancient worthies and eventually the resurrection of all mankind from the dead. The prophecies indicate that the miracle-working power of God will be manifested on behalf of Israel. Evidently it will be this that will tend to convince Israel and all nations that at long last God has interfered with the evil course of man and that he now intends to use his power for the protection of his people and the establishment of his rule of authority in the earth.

Meanwhile, let those of us who are privileged to be living in this wondrous period when the old is being destroyed in order to make place for the new, rejoice more and more in the opportunity that is ours of proclaiming the glad tidings of the kingdom and of thus being witnesses for God and for his glorious arrangement.

Let us not do this, however, in a condemnatory spirit, realizing that if some fail to appreciate the message of the kingdom now, the Lord will cause them to understand in that future glorious new day when all the blind eyes will be opened and all the deaf ears will be unstopped.

The divine commission of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Christ today is that outlined by the prophet in Isaiah 61:1-3. Outside of the activities outlined in this commission, the Christian has no right to go. It is our privilege to believe in the kingdom, to wait for the kingdom, to pray for the kingdom, to preach the kingdom. But it is God’s work to establish the kingdom. He will accomplish this, not through his people in the flesh, but through Christ Jesus our Lord, now the express image of the Father’s person, whose second presence is already a reality.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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