Thursday, September 28, 2017

A new chapter to "Filling The Temple: Finding A Place for the Holy Spirit"

Jesus, Spirit, and Kingdom

Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women

there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist:

yet he that is but little in the kingdom of heaven

is greater than he.”

Matthew 11:11


Jim McGuiggan[1] taught me that Jesus (like John the Baptist before Him) was not springing something new and unprecedented by declaring, “Repent, because the kingdom of God has come near!” (Matt. 3:2, 4:17; Mk. 1:15).  For new Christians like myself, who began their Bible reading in the middle of the Bible at the NT, the kingdom sounded like a new idea.  And, to be sure, Jesus and John were heralding new developments in God’s kingdom that were then, and now remain, positively breathtaking.

From the beginning, God as Creator occupies the throne over Creation as its King and Sovereign.  In this sense, there is nothing over which God does not rule and nothing lies outside of His “kingdom”.  But after Creation has suffered a Satanic rebellion against its King, God establishes a more narrow, exclusive place for those who are still loyal to Him.  Now, it is as though there is a “kingdom within God’s kingdom”—the narrow part set off against the rest of Creation, which is within God’s universal rule over all Creation.  That new “kingdom within a kingdom” first existed in Israel, as God’s exclusively chosen people among all the nations of the world.  God was King over Israel; the rest of the nations (or Gentiles) were under the reign of Satan.  When Jesus arrives, He carves out for himself an even narrower “kingdom”.  It will include not all of Israel, but a narrower “remnant” that includes those Jews marked by Messianic faith in Jesus.  And to this Jewish remnant God will bring in Gentiles sharing that same faith, thus fulfilling God’s work and promise through Abraham.  Through evangelistic outreach, this new “kingdom of God” works until the end of history to reclaim from the rebellion what had been lost to God. 


When does the kingdom come?

One of the most puzzling aspects of Jesus regards His teaching about “the kingdom.”  Especially difficult to grasp is the timing of the kingdom of God:

a.   Future (in Heaven).  Since it is called the “Kingdom of Heaven” (or “Kingdom of God”), some say the kingdom is Heaven.  When we die and go to Heaven, we enter Jesus’ kingdom[2].  1 Cor. 15:24-25 says, “Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet.”  The kingdom is handed over to God the Father by Jesus in “the end”, at a time when all of His enemies are vanquished.  This would be at the end of the world, when Jesus returns to judge mankind and admits the saints to Heaven.  But notice that even this passage says that Jesus is already reigning, which is to say that the kingdom is already in existence before Jesus hands it over to the Father; Jesus reigns until that happens.  The kingdom already was present.

b.  Present (with Jesus).  In some sense, the kingdom arrived with Jesus.  Just as John the Baptist had preached (Matt. 3:2), He declared:  “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (or “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”)[3].  When Jesus arrived and began His ministry as Messiah or Christ, the kingdom had arrived because Jesus was the long-awaited King! 


It is important to understand that the kingdom did not begin with Jesus.  Long before (around 1000 BC), God had promised King David an eternal dynasty over Israel.  That dynasty lasted four centuries, but seemed to have ended when Babylon overthrew the nation around 600 BC.  Had God broken His promise?  The prophets declared it was not so, that God would keep His promise by sending another “son of David” to rule over the kingdom.  Jesus was the one to fulfill all of these kingdom-prophecies, and while He was Christ on earth, the kingdom was now here!  Thus, as McGuiggan has well taught me, when Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, He was not creating something brand new; Jesus came to “restore” the kingdom that began centuries before and to carry it through new development.

c.   Future (soon after Jesus, but before the end of the world).  Jesus declared to the people of His day, “I assure you: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (see Mk. 9:1; Matt. 16:28, 24:30ff.; Lk. 9:27).  This arrival then is different from the sense in which the kingdom already was present, and also different from the end-times aspect of the kingdom (which, we in modern times now know, lies centuries future from the time of Jesus).  By this promise, the kingdom was scheduled for a first-century arrival!  That promise was made to people who were contemporaries of Jesus and was guaranteed to find fulfillment before all of them had faced mortality.


Spirit and Kingdom

As it turns out, the Holy Spirit may be a key factor in keeping these different aspects of the kingdom straight in our thinking.  The matter turns on when Jesus became King, and the Spirit is there at every step.  Since Jesus was God, He ruled over Creation, as King, since the Creation began, even before His incarnation.  In this sense, Jesus was King while “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2).   In another sense, Jesus was born “king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2).  We are now at a historical time when the rebellion against God is full-blown.  Jesus arrives as the King who will address that rebellion.  He will restore God’s kingdom so that His will, once again, may be done “on earth, as it is in Heaven.”   This birth had its cause in the working of the Holy Spirit, when the future mother of Jesus was told by the angel Gabriel:  “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35).  It was that the Spirit enabled His conception that caused Jesus to be born a King!

 But in yet another sense, Jesus did not actually become King until He was “anointed.”  Going back to the first two kings over Israel, Saul and David, a person was officially declared king after being anointed.  This was a ceremony in which olive oil was poured over the head.  However, when King Jesus was anointed it was not with olive oil; it was with the Holy Spirit in the event of His baptism (see Luke 3:21; 4:1, 14 and Acts 10:38).  It was at His baptism—when the Spirit descended upon Him—that Jesus became King.  When that happened, the kingdom had come!  To declare Jesus to be the Christ or Messiah (both words translate as “the anointed one”) is to declare His kingship and the arrival of His Kingdom.

The Messiah made a powerful declaration that ties the Spirit to the kingdom.  When Jesus was accused of exorcising demons by using the power of Beelzebub (Satan), He declared:  “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”  In Jesus’ words, the presence of the Spirit was indicative of the kingdom’s presence!  By the Spirit’s power, Jesus wielded kingly authority that put demons (agents of the rebellion) to flight.  Even as He speaks, the kingdom is “here.”  The opponents of Jesus envisioned just one demonic kingdom divided against itself—Jesus versus Beelzebul.  However, Jesus insisted that actually two kingdoms had collided when He exorcised and did so by the Spirit’s power—the newly restored kingdom of God (empowered by the Spirit) versus the kingdom of Satanic rebellion.  As we have seen, that makes sense because Jesus was anointed as Messianic King when the Spirit came upon Him in baptism.  From that time on, the kingdom was present.  His opponents could not see it.

But what about the kingdom that Jesus said would arrive in the lifetime of His audience?  Since Jesus was destined to die Himself less than four years after the start of His ministry and since this greater development did not arrive before His crucifixion, it seems He spoke of a time between His death and however many decades would remain before His hearers also died.  This allows a time frame of fulfillment that cannot go beyond the first century AD.  Did this happen in the first century?

From Nation to Remnant

We have spoken of the room left in the covenant with David that allowed for God’s punishment.  That covenant promised an eternal dynasty, but threatened judgment from God if the “sons of David” became rebellious toward God (the true King).  Israel, too, had come under the power of Satan’s rebellion.  The result was the total loss of the throne in the Babylonian conquest in 586 BC.

But the prophets raised-up promises from God for restoration of the kingdom, for the coming of a new “son of David”, and for the outpoured Spirit.  Jesus arrived in precise fulfillment of the prophetic timeline set forth by Daniel, in the days of the fourth Gentile kingdom to rule Israel—Rome.

When Jesus arrived and declared the at-hand Kingdom of God, the Jewish people knew what He meant.  But Jesus found the rebellion so deeply entrenched in the Jewish culture and religion that He would not allow automatic admission to the longstanding people of God.  Admission would be only on an individual basis, conditioned on repentance and faith in the Anointed One.

And God responded to rebellion in Israel in two negative ways.  First, He brought to an end the “Old Covenant” as the basis on which people would join to God and so enter His kingdom.  That arrangement prevailed since Moses in 1400 BC, and was based on the requirements given through Moses in the Jewish OT Scriptures.  That covenantal relationship was made concrete through God’s presence in the Jerusalem Temple and through the religion practiced there.  But God considered that covenant broken and was bringing it to an end.

Secondly, God issued a solid threat to bring His judgment and wrath on the entire Old Covenant arrangement—that kingdom (or nation), that Temple, that religion.  There would be those who escaped by ending the rebellion and joining the Messiah.  But one aspect of the Messianic ministry of Jesus was to declare God’s righteous anger and to declare the rapid approach of judgment.  Specifically, Jesus threatened a destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple.  This actually happened in 70 AD and when Jesus voiced the threat in Matt. 24, this was also conjoined with a declaration that the kingdom would come in a way made visible in the lifetime of some of those listening to Jesus.

Matthew 24 is difficult to interpret, but let me try briefly.  Jesus threatens destruction that will utterly dismantle the magnificent Temple structure (vs. 1-2).  His disciples respond by putting three specific questions to Him:

·        When will this happen?

·        What will be the sign of your coming?

·        What sign will indicate the end of the world?

The rest of the chapter answers these questions.


Kingdom arrives with Spirit, at Baptism

Just as the kingdom had arrived with the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism, the kingdom would arrive again (in a new stage of development) at the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” on Pentecost!  Had not Jesus declared that they would see the kingdom arrive “with power”?  And in Luke/Acts, when promising the Spirit to His disciples, did He not declare the Spirit’s arrival and their reception of that gift would come “with power”?  See Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8, which link promises regarding Spirit and kingdom.  In other words, when the church—the new body of Christ—would be anointed with Spirit on Pentecost, the kingdom would again be present!

Jesus was born to be King, later was anointed as King and, still later, even on the Cross the sign posted by the executing powers declared Him to be “King of the Jews.”  We might say that Jesus always was King!  But Jesus did not actually ascend to the throne of David (now situated not in Jerusalem, but in Heaven) until after He rose from the dead.  I see Jesus, Son of David, as the heir of a lost throne.  Although He was King by right, Jesus yet had to defeat the usurping enemy to reclaim that throne (similar to the way David was often on the run, away from his throne, until he showed himself to be king and reclaimed the seat of power).  The King came to reclaim a kingdom that had thoroughly been overtaken in rebellion.  Listen to Peter in the second chapter of Acts: 

“Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing this in advance, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: He was not left in Hades, and His flesh did not experience decay.  God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this.  Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear.  For it was not David who ascended into the heavens, but he himself says: The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’  Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!”

It was the Pentecostal outpouring that put supply of Spirit in Christian baptism.  Now, each and every Christian baptized into Messiah Jesus would receive the Spirit in his/her own anointing (2 Cor. 1:21-22).  With Pentecost, and in the event of every Christian baptism that ensued, the kingdom has come with power.  The Spirit has twice descended upon the “body” of Christ; first upon His own body that would go to the Cross, then upon the body of Christ that would emerge from the Cross as the church.


Greater than John?

This understanding illumines a number of passages—potentially any Scripture mentioning “kingdom.”  The prophet Isaiah wove together prophetic promises of the coming Messiah with promises of the outpoured Spirit and with notions of the restored Davidic Kingdom.[4]  In view of the way that Jesus would later link kingdom and Spirit, that makes sense. 

Note also how the many “parables of the kingdom” begin to glow when they are read as expressive of Spirit power.  For example, the three trajectories of failure in the Parable of the Sower are starkly contrasted with the production of miraculous increase for the seed that found good soil.  Is this not consonant with later, epistolary descriptions of the Spirit’s power in the life of Christian (as opposed to “living by the flesh”)?  When Jesus sets forth childlikeness as just the thing demanded by the kingdom, might this not presuppose the new birth, and that of the Spirit?  Again, when Jesus declares at the Last Supper that He will drink the grape anew not until He drinks it anew with the disciples in His Father’s kingdom (Matt.26:29), can we hear this as anything other than His promise to join the eventually Spirit-filled community when the Last Supper has become the Lord’s Supper?  We get to such understandings merely by picking up on the link between kingdom and Spirit.

There is more.  Consider the places where Paul forbids entrance into the kingdom to sinners, but grants access to those cleansed by Spirit (1 Cor. 6:9-20; Gal. 5:13-26).  Spirit and kingdom share identical concerns.  The rebellion is kept outside the kingdom and does not receive the Spirit.  It is those who end their rebellion—through faith, repentance and baptism—who enter the kingdom and receive Spirit.  We find much the same from Peter (2 Peter 1:11ff.), where the abundance of the Christian virtues (and these, doubtless, come from the Spirit) promises entrance to the “eternal kingdom.”

And this seems to shed bright light on this passage:  “I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11).  Just who—even in the Christian circle—could equal, much less surpass, the greatness of John the Baptist, when he himself was greater than any who had been “born of women”?  It starts to make sense when we remember that the great forerunner, the wilderness voice of God, prophesied the coming of One greater than He, and “greater” precisely because He would baptize in Spirit (while John merely baptized in water).  The coming King was identified to John when, during the baptism of Jesus by John, the Spirit descended upon Him as a dove (John 1:29-36).  Jesus, in a privilege uniquely His as Messiah—a privilege not shared by any other baptized by John, nor even by John himself—received the Spirit!  And that “kingdom privilege” would be received by “the least in the kingdom”, making them greater than John—not because of any inherent greatness of their own, but because of the greatness brought upon them by the Spirit of the living God.  Every Christian—baptismally indwelt by the Spirit—by privilege of grace, becomes greater than John, who himself was greater than all other humans (born of women).  Recall that Jesus discussed together the approach of both kingdom and Spirit, both bound to a promise from God, at the close of Luke and in the opening chapter of Acts.  And just as the kingdom gave demand to repentance (Matt. 3:2; 4:17), so did the offer of reception of the Spirit (Acts 2:38).[5]

The link is rather subtly drawn in Scripture, but the connection between kingdom and Spirit is undeniable.  It offers meaning to many passages, as shown in demonstrating why the likes of people like us could ever surpass John the Baptist in greatness.  Spirit and kingdom converged in the Messiah, and they converge in Christians who are baptized for the remission of their sins of rebellion and baptized in order to receive the Holy Spirit.  They thus enter the kingdom, and all of this because of the baptismal outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost.



[1] See McGuiggan’s excellent little book The Reign of God (Lubbock, TX:  Montex Publishing Company, 1979) for an essential outline of the development of the kingdom across Bible time.  His kingdom theology has become so deeply woven into my own belief system that I will credit him appropriately, not with this insight and that particular, but with making a deep and lasting imprint on my own entire conceptual framework.
[2] This is an inadequate view, especially if one ignores the kingdom’s existence in the here and now, while simply waiting to enter Heaven.
[3] Note that Jesus preached this (Matt. 4:17) and sent His apostles out to preach the same (Matt. 10:7).
[4] See Isaiah 7:13-14; 9:6ff.; 11:1ff.; 16:5; 32:14-15; 42:1ff.; 59:20-21; 61:1ff.
[5] John was said to have preached “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”  The demand for repentance as prerequisite to receiving New Covenant blessings (such as Spirit) is explicitly mentioned in connection with baptism only in Acts 2:38.  Twin blessings attend repentant baptism here:  remission of sins and reception of Spirit. However, the same demand to repent is also set forth in Luke’s form of Jesus’ Commission (Luke 24:47) and here also sin-remission is promised.  It is inconceivable that apostolic preaching of Gospel would ever omit repentance as a conversionary requirement.