The Kingdom of God
In the Old Testament book of Daniel, Nebuchad- nezzar, the king of Babylon, was given a Divine message in the form of a dream. He dreamed of a great image made of a succession of various metals: A head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. The prophet Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that his dream was actually a prophecy representing a succession of great empires. The Babylonian empire was to be followed by the Persian, then the Greek, and so on, right on down to the mixed state of nations we have today. History has proven the details of this prophecy to be perfectly accurate.
In the dream, the image was struck on its feet by a stone, which broke the image in pieces and then grew to become a great mountain filling the whole earth. Daniel interpreted this as follows:
"And 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 for ever" (Dan.2:44).
The kingdom of God, represented by the stone which filled the whole earth, is not a nebulous entity up in the sky; it is a very real kingdom to be established on earth. Many other scriptures, too, reveal that the kingdom of God, and the ultimate dwelling place of the righteous is to be here on earth. For example:
"(Thou) hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and WE SHALL REIGN ON EARTH" (Rev. 5:10).
"And the LORD shall be KING OVER ALL THE EARTH" (Zech.14:9).
"For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall INHERIT THE EARTH" (Ps. 37:9).
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall INHERIT THE EARTH" (Matt. 5:5).
Some might protest, "But doesnít the Bible say that our reward is in heaven?" Yes, it does (Matt. 5:12); but consider: If our reward is in heaven, there are two possible ways that we may receive it. Either we must go to heaven, or someone must bring it to us from heaven. Nowhere does the Bible say that anyone will go to heaven. Quite the contrary: "...no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man" (Jn.3:13).
Rather, Jesus himself said:
"And, behold, I COME quickly; and MY REWARD IS WITH ME, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12).
The reward, eternal life, is indeed in heaven at the present time, reserved until the day it will be brought to us, when Christ returns to establish Godís kingdom here on the earth.
You see, the earth has always been a permanent part of Godís plan. Ecclesiastes 1:4 declares that "the earth abideth forever". It is Godís sworn purpose to ultimately fill the earth with his glory, as he states in Numbers 14:21, "But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD". Remember, too, the familiar words of the Lordís Prayer: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10 RSV). The "kingdom of heaven", as it is sometimes called, is not heavenly because of its location, but because of its character. When Godís will is at last done on earth as it is in heaven, and when the earth is finally filled with the glory of the LORD, then it will truly be a blessing for "the meek" to "inherit the earth".
There is more to this subject of the "gospel of the kingdom of God": It has its roots in two Old Testament covenants; one which God made with Abraham, and another with David. These will be dealt with in more detail in the next two chapters.
The Promises to Abraham
The man Abraham is one of the most prominent characters in all the Bible. This is because God made a covenant with him, including certain promises which form the foundation of the New Testament "gospel of the kingdom of God". There are many people who feel they understand the gospel, yet know very little about Abraham. In the 12th chapter of Genesis, verses 1 through 3, God promised Abraham a number of blessings, the most important of which was that all nations would be blessed in him. Now listen to the New Testament commentary about this, found in the 3rd chapter of Galatians:
"And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the GOSPEL unto Abraham, saying, IN THEE SHALL ALL NATIONS BE BLESSED" (Gal. 3:8).
Think about that: The gospel is to be found in the simple promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham! But how is this blessing of all nations to be accomplished? Later in the book of Genesis, God expanded upon his promise to Abraham:
"Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward, for all the LAND which thou seest, TO THEE WILL I GIVE IT, AND TO THY SEED FOREVER" (Gen.13:14-15).
"And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, ALL THE LAND OF CANAAN, FOR AN EVERLASTING POSSESSION" (Gen.17:8).
Notice that this promise of land (specifically, the land of Canaan, encompassing modern Israel), to be inherited forever, applied both to Abraham himself, and to his seed. Now, this word seed (or offspring, as it appears in some Bible versions) is notable because it can be either singular or plural. In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul expounds upon the singular aspect of the seed:
"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, Ďand to seedsí , as of many, but as of ONE; Ďand to thy seedí, WHICH IS CHRIST" (Gal. 3:16).
Jesus Christ is the singular seed referred to in the promise of everlasting inheritance of the land. Both Abraham and Jesus are, therefore, to be given that land forever. But what does this mean for us? How do we fit in? Galatians 3 continues:
"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christís, THEN ARE YE ABRAHAMíS SEED, AND HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE" (Gal. 3:27-29).
The words are so clear, yet how few believe them! The promise of inheriting the land forever was given to Abraham and his seed. His seed is Christ, and those who have "put on" Christ in baptism. This is how people of all nations can be blessed through Abraham! The promise has not yet been fulfilled, however. Itís a fact that Abraham never inherited even so much of the land as to set his foot on (Acts 7:4-5). But at the resurrection of the dead, when Christ returns to establish his kingdom, Abraham and his faithful seed of all nations and generations will inherit that very real land forever.
"For the promise, THAT HE SHOULD BE HEIR OF THE WORLD, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law (of Moses), but through the righteousness of faith... Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end THE PROMISE MIGHT BE MADE SURE TO ALL THE SEED" (Rom. 4:13-16).
"... ye shall see ABRAHAM, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD..." (Luke 13:28)
The Promises to David
Next to Abraham, David, king of Israel, is one of the most important of all Old Testament characters. To both these men, God made promises which involved a seed. Abraham and his seed (which is Christ, as it says in Galatians 3:16), were to inherit the land of Canaan, modern Israel, as an everlasting possession. This promise of the seed was taken a step further when God made his covenant with David a thousand years later. In the 7th chapter of 2 Samuel, God said to David:
"And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy SEED after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his KINGDOM. He shall build an house for my name, and I WILL STABLISH THE THRONE OF HIS KINGDOM FOR EVER. I will be his father, and he shall be MY SON" (2 Sam. 7:12-14).
The New Testament points once again to Jesus as the promised "seed" of David. Listen to these words from the 1st chapter of Luke:
"And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and OF HIS KINGDOM THERE SHALL BE NO END" (Luke 1:30-33).
Jesus, then, is the seed spoken of in the promises made to both Abraham and David. The opening words of the New Testament confirm the importance of this fact:
"The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the SON OF DAVID, the SON OF ABRAHAM" (Matt.1:1).
Davidís throne was in Jerusalem. When Jesus Christ returns to sit upon Davidís throne, he, too, will be in Jerusalem. This glorious future of the city of Jerusalem is the subject of a multitude of Bible prophecies. But to those who do not believe that the kingdom of God will be established on earth, such scriptures are a problem. Often, they are interpreted as referring to heaven. But in Isaiah 62:4, weíre informed that Jerusalem shall "no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate", words that can only apply to the literal city. Isaiah continues in verse 6:
"... ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make JERUSALEM A PRAISE IN THE EARTH" (Isa.62:6-7).
Speaking of this future age, Jeremiah the prophet states:
"At that time they shall call Jerusalem THE THRONE OF THE LORD, and all nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to JERUSALEM" (Jer. 3:17).
Jesus himself, the future king of the kingdom of God, describes Jerusalem as "the city of the great King" (Matt. 5:35). The following picture emerges from all this: The kingdom of God will be centered in the land promised to Abraham and his seed --- todayís Israel. Its capital is to be Jerusalem, when Jesus Christ returns to establish his throne there, as promised to David. The dominion of the kingdom will extend over the whole earth, and at last "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14).
This is truly good news! Indeed, it is the good news or gospel of the kingdom of God.
After his resurrection, Jesus sent out the apostles with these instructions:
"Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized will be saved..." (Mark 16: 15-16)
This, in a nutshell, is what we must do to be saved. First, we must believe the gospel. The gospel, as we have seen in previous chapters, relates to those things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, of which so many people know so little.
But once there is belief in the true gospel, there is something else required: Baptism. Since baptism must be preceded by belief, it should be obvious that the practice of christening infants is not baptism. Throughout the New Testament, baptism is represented as a decision for believers, and is always preceded by instruction in the gospel. For example, in the 8th chapter of Acts, we read:
"But WHEN THEY BELIEVED Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, THEY WERE BAPTIZED, both men and women" (Acts 8:12).
What exactly is the purpose of baptism? First and foremost, baptism is the means by which forgiveness is made available to us: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38 RSV). It signifies a death, burial and resurrection to a new way of life; and thus, it is the beautifully appropriate means by which we may identify ourselves with Christís death and resurrection. Hereís how Paul describes it in his letter to the Romans:
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are BURIED WITH HIM BY BAPTISM into death: that like as Christ was RAISED UP FROM THE DEAD by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in NEWNESS OF LIFE. For if we have been planted together in the LIKENESS OF HIS DEATH, we shall be also in the LIKENESS OF HIS RESURRECTION: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom.6:3-7).
Clearly, the figure of death, burial and resurrection is in no way approximated by the sprinkling of babies. It can only be signified by immersion. In fact, the very meaning of the Greek root word bapto is to dip or immerse.
It is also through the act of baptism that we become related to the promises made by God to Abraham:
"For as many of you as have been BAPTIZED into Christ have put on Christ... And if ye be Christís, THEN ARE YE ABRAHAMíS SEED and HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE" (Gal. 3:27-29).
Some expositors have argued that water baptism is unnecessary; that itís been superseded by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But in Acts, chapter 10, after the Holy Spirit had been poured out on an assembly of people, Peter said:
"Can any man forbid WATER, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he COMMANDED them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:47-48).
Water baptism is necessary. In his first epistle, Peter wrote:
"...baptism doth also now SAVE us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 3:21).
Baptism is clearly not an outdated ritual. It is full of meaning, and is, in truth, a prerequisite for salvation. It is the first act of humble obedience to God performed by those who, believing the gospel, wish to put to death their former sinful lives and commit themselves to his service.
This writer is certainly not the first to have reached the conclusions presented in this booklet. Evidence exists that there have been Bible students throughout the centuries who have held these beliefs, and in some ages were persecuted and even killed for their "heresies". Today, there are undoubtedly scattered individuals or organized bodies who, as a result of personal Bible study, have arrived at similar conclusions.
One such body (and the one with which the author is affiliated) is known as the Christadelphians. The name is derived from two Greek words meaning "brethren in Christ". In existence as an organized community since the mid-1800ís, Christadelphians now number many thousands world-wide. Readers interested in learning more are urged to contact the Christadelphians in their area.