56. Christ’s Kingdom Expressed

Focus on Christ Meditations: 56.  Christ’s Kingdom Expressed

Mt 12:28   I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

We now move to the heart of the will of God in respect of the Kingdom of God. How did Jesus express the kingdom?  We finished Study No. 54 with a quote from Daniel about the coming of the Son of Man and picked up on two words in that were in those verses and we said, “Dominion” speak of dominance, domination, and the power to rule. “Kingdom” speaks of the realm or territory or area where his reign exists, where we start thinking about the expression of the reign of the king, how he shows he is king as he reigns. ‘Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control.  I want us to now zoom in on that last definition, the fact of ‘reign’ being all about being in control, not merely coping, not merely surviving, but being in control.

In the UK we have a Queen but these days she is mostly just a figurehead, the authority rests with Parliament, but when a king truly reigns, it means that have absolute control, absolute power and absolute authority. When we see this in respect of sinful human beings, they are usually despots who abuse their power and abuse their subjects. When we come to the ruler over the Kingdom of God, the ruler is a benign controller who controls for the benefit of his subjects. That is the big difference between the kingdoms of the earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.  So let’s see ‘Christ in Control’. It is so obvious we have probably never thought about it.

Control over the material world: This is the most obvious thing in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and many of us struggle to believe that this is still true of his body today when we allow him to lead. In the pages of the Gospels we see Jesus in control of the elements – calming a storm, walking on water, turning water into wine, expanding bread and fishes to feed thousands; these are all examples of Jesus being in absolute control of material elements.

Control over health and life itself: When we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and even raising the dead, we see this power and authority over the material world being applied into flesh and blood human bodies. This is Jesus reigning in the most obvious ways. If we believe Scripture, the very scriptures we have been looking at earlier in this series, where we have seen that Jesus was involved in creation (Jn 1) and now upholds this world by his powerful word (Heb 1), the fact of him controlling nature and the state of human bodies should not surprise us.

Control over himself: Now here is an area we don’t tend to think about but when it is paralleled into our lives as part of his body today it becomes very pertinent. Let’s consider various ways we see this.

i) In respect of Satan: The Gospels record Satan coming with three temptations before Jesus starts his ministry, seeking to bring him down, but in each case he remains firmly in control of his mind and his behaviour and gives right responses. This is significant because Satan questioned his very identity, but Jesus remained firmly in control of his own thinking about himself and so did not succumb to the enemy’s negatives; he knew who he was and what he was to do, right up to an including the Cross and never deviated from that, even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was confronted with the awfulness of what was just about to happen

ii) In respect of human prejudices: Jesus not succumb to prejudices or false religious expectations which we see in the way he met with and spoke to the Samaritan woman, the adulterous woman, the Greek woman, a leper who he touched, tax collectors etc. who he dined with, all of whom we have considered previously, and all of whom would have been rejected by respectable Judaism.

iii) In respect of his speech: But it goes beyond meeting with the unclean, the sinners and so on; it includes how he encountered and responded to the leaders and religious elite; he did not speak out of turn, he was in complete control of his tongue. He did not waver before ‘great people’; he knew who he was and therefore never felt defensive, as we so often do. He never felt uncomfortable in any situation because he knew who he was and knew the power and authority that he had.

iv) In respect of his emotions: This is an area where we are so often stunted and so our emotions are oppressed by expectations or hardened and calloused by the hard knocks of life or the hard words of parents or teachers or other people of influence that shut us down. No, he was clearly saddened by the fact of his disciples’ little belief sometimes, he was saddened by the grief that he saw in those he loved (at Lazarus’s tomb) and he anguished over the thought of being separated from his Father on the Cross.

In each of these ways Jesus was in complete control. He knew people (Mt 12:25, 27:18, Jn 2:24) and was not fazed by them, whether they were the great and good and influential or whether they were prostitutes, demon possessed, sinner and crooks. In one sense we might say he was above them all and was therefore not controlled by what they thought, either of themselves or about him. (There is another aspect of his reign that appears to run completely contrary to this, but we will leave than until the next study.)

For the time being can we remind ourselves that we Christians are ‘the body of Christ’ and therefore with his Holy Spirit within us we are called to reflect him and portray him to the world around us. We fail to do that when we don’t reject the lies from the past we have been told about ourselves, or we fail to let him heal us up over our hurts from the past, and we thus allow the enemy to demean us in our own thinking about ourselves, and so we feel inadequate in the presence of ‘big’ people, or ‘trying’ circumstances.

And then we forget what Paul tells us, that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” and, even more, we forget that this was, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 6,7) This is our place – next to him. And why? So that we can catch his heart and purpose and receive from him everything we need to stand with heads held high as God’s children.

The apostle Peter said the same thing: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him.” (2 Pet 1:3) Putting that into our own words, “The power that Jesus has as the Son of God ruling at his Father’s right hand, has also been given to us to help us meet the needs of every day and be godly (knowing and responding to God in every circumstance) as we share in his life, share in that experience of him, the ruler of all things seated on high.”

As the apostle Paul put it, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Eph 1:22,23)  Sometimes the Message version puts it very well. Here is Eph 1:20-23: All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the centre of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” This is what this is all about! Hallelujah!

54. Christ’s Kingdom Prophesied

Focus on Christ Meditations: 54.  Christ’s Kingdom Prophesied

Mk 1:14,15   Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

In our search for the Christ, we have seen him ascend to heaven where he rules at his Father’s right hand, but in order to understand this rule more fully that is now operating from heaven, we need to backtrack to our earlier studies to see the prophetic background for this kingdom. Now we will look at the prophecies, not as mystified seekers but observers after the event, or maybe observers watching the event being rolled out, for we will see the coming of the kingdom both on earth and from heaven. Our verses above show us Jesus commencing his ministry with this declaration and in so doing he was declaring that the prophecies of old were about to be fulfilled, and the outworking of that we will see in the following study. We will recap many of the things we’ve seen previously, but now we will see them in the light of knowledge we have gained of the Coming One and his ministry.

The signs of conflict are there from the outset, in the account in the Garden of Eden. Remember the Lord’s words to Satan: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15) Satan will have followers (demons?) but there will be offspring of the woman (humans) and, in the conflict that follows, her offspring (one of them) may get injured but Satan’s offspring will have their head (him) crushed and defeated.

The picture that follows in Scripture is of a world living in Sin, ultimately following Satan (see 1 Jn 5:19), enticing them to reject God’s presence and wisdom, i.e. they do their own thing and live in unrighteousness. The centuries pass and eventually kings come and go in a nation that is formed, Israel, a nation that so much of the time, despite having been called by God to be a light to the rest of the world in the way they reveal the Lord, stagger or hobble in that relationship, so much of the time getting it wrong and only rarely rising to greatness. Into this context the big prophets speak.

The first glimpse of something different on the horizon, comes from Isaiah, with talk of a son to be called Immanuel or ‘God with us’. (Isa 7:14) Was God coming to this people in a new way? But then, a little later there is talk of another child: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders …. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7) I have taken out the power words in the middle to see the simple and fundamental work of this coming child – that of a ruler, whose rule will go on and on, and who will be modeled after king David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13,14, Acts 13:22) who will bring justice (righting all wrongs) and righteousness (establishing right living). This is the first real talk of a coming ruler bringing in a new kingdom. In the middle of those verses were those words we have stumbled over previously, that this ruler, will be called God!

A little later in Isa 11 we have more talk of a Coming One and the nature of his work is spelled out even more: “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” (v.4,5) and this is followed by amazing pictures of peace and harmony on the earth.(v.6-9). Again a bringer of right living and right dealings for all people. In Isa 32:1 we find a similar but vague reference: “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice.” (v.1) and the following verses show how righteousness will prevail, but it is not clear who or when. However, as a statement of God’s will it again puts righteousness and justice high on His agenda.

Jeremiah has only hints of a new reign: “they will serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” (Jer 30:9) and, “Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me.” (v.21)

Ezekiel challenged an existing reign with a hint of a new future: “O profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, his is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.’” (Ezek 21:25-27) but again the intent is vague, simply that God will not tolerate the reign of sin and will replace it with a reign of righteousness.

It is only as we come to Daniel again that we reach the clarity of the coming ruler: “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13,14)

Now you might have been asking, why have we been covering this ground again? We’ve been here in earlier studies, so why are covering it again? When we first looked at it, it was an investigation into what was actually there. After that we had a look at names of Jesus and the things he did. Having covered all that ground, what we are now doing is going back over that ground to see what it really meant and how it was really worked out, and then how it really affects us today.  Now in those two verses from Daniel, laying a foundation for the coming one to be seen as a ruler from heaven, there are two words used that we might think are the same, but aren’t; there is a subtle difference.

The first word is “Dominion” and synonyms for it speak of dominance, domination, and the power to rule. It is all about the one who is above or over others. Thus Paul speaks about “the dominion of darkness” (Col 1:13) where, when it comes to Satan, “We know that …. the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19).  That is the unbelieving world, but “he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” (Col 1:13) So dominion focuses on the one who is over others. (The psalmist was able to say, “dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” – Psa 22:28 i.e. God is over and above all the nations of the world, sovereign ruler, even though he allows Satan delegated power over unbelievers).

The second word in those verses is “Kingdom” which speaks of the realm or territory or area where his reign exists. When we talk about ‘kingdom’ we start thinking about the expression of the reign of the king, how he shows he is king as he reigns. Now we are drawing near our goal. What does it mean that Jesus reigns? A clue: ‘Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control. Be prepared for some surprises as we seek to move into deeper understanding.

35. Jesus’ Work

Meditations in 1 John : 35 : Jesus’ Work

1 John  3:8,9   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

There is a constant link that keeps appearing in John’s writings here, that of the believer’s behaviour being linked directly to Jesus, and it appears here again, in these two verses. However, before John brings the behaviour part, he refers to Jesus but we need to see it in context because, as is so often the case in the letters of the New Testament, the thought pattern flows on from one link to the next.

John in the previous verse has just referred to Satan: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”  Jesus, challenging some Jews who had appeared to believe but then had doubts, said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (Jn 8:44a)  In their thinking had arisen thoughts of rejecting Jesus. Left to itself that thought develops into wanting to get rid of Jesus (modern atheists try and ‘destroy’ Jesus intellectually) Jesus continued, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44b) Satan wants to get rid of Jesus and he lies in his efforts to do it. (Modern atheists similarly want to get rid of Jesus and unwittingly speak untruths about him in their efforts to do that).

The truth is that those who are led by Satan express Satan’s thoughts and ideas. Satan is both a liar and a murderer; and so he tries to deceive people into believing untruths and his ultimate aim is to bring about the destruction of people, still separated from the love of God. There is this same link in the apostle Paul’s teaching. In respect of the magician, Elymas, he declared, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)  Those who are led by Satan express Satan and work in his ways.

Now we come to the first verse above: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Near the end of this letter John writes, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that same contrasting style of teaching and he contrasts us who are in God’s family and the rest of the unbelieving world who are under Satan’s sway. Paul made a similar contrast: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) Satan holds ‘dominion’ (sway) over people’s lives while God seeks to draw us into the realm of His rule where we can be freed to receive His blessing. Satan rules over spiritual and moral darkness. It is no coincidence that John refers again and again to light versus darkness

So Jesus has come to deliver people out of Satan’s darkness, out of the place of self-centred and godless unrighteousness. He does it by forgiving their Sin on the basis of what he achieved on the Cross, and in bringing that forgiveness he opens up the way for them to be reconciled to the Father in heaven, free from guilt and shame, and he sets them off on a new path that is love-filled and Spirit-energised where we are no longer striving to achieve acceptance but just ARE accepted by God. No longer do we have to strive for meaning and purpose because God puts new meaning and purpose into our lives.

Then comes this cast iron logic again: If Jesus is working to set us free from Satan’s lies and deception and free from sin led by him, then “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (v.9)  No, says John yet again in a slightly different way, we’ve been born again by God’s Holy Spirit and are new creations and the seed of God’s Spirit and God’s word lives in us, and as word and Spirit grow in us there is less and less opportunity for Satan to come back on us and lead us astray again. Note that same word again – “continue” – which refers back to the life we previously had where sin energised by self-centred godlessness means that we were continually sinning. Now, however, we have new lives, new purpose and we are new beings for whom sin is alien.

Do you remember the apostle Paul said the same thing: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are new creations and the old life has gone and a completely new life has come that is diametrically opposed to the old life. No, we may occasionally trip over our feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, but sin motivated by self-centred, godless living, is no longer part of our equation. We are free and it has been the work of Jesus that has done it. Hallelujah!