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We read in Mark 11 how at the triumphal entry of Jesus the people cried, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!" (verses 9, 10).
It was a time of great excitement: people spreading garments on the road, waving leafy branches which they had cut from the fields, shouting their hosannas as they went before and followed after the figure of one riding on a colt. For, as their words show, they were convinced that at last the kingdom of David was coming. Jesus was the King-"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (note the parallel in Luke 19:38-"Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"). The long hoped-for event was being ushered in. Surely such an event called for celebration by word and action in every way.
Long ago Isaiah had prophesied of one to come and had said, "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom" (9:7), and Zechariah had cried, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass" (9:9). Clearly this was the day of prophetic fulfillment; Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, riding on an ass's colt. The King was coming in His kingdom!
Let us think together upon the kingdom. What does the Bible have to say? Is it really something to be excited about? Let us consider the subject matter under three heads: the significance, the nature, and the arrival of the kingdom.
I. The Significance of the Kingdom
The significance of the kingdom can hardly be exaggerated. The Old Testament looks forward with high expectancy to its coming some day, and the New Testament is filled with references to it.
Jesus begins His ministry with the proclamation of the kingdom: "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15).
So urgent is this message that Jesus does not stay long in one locality-"And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them; but he said to them, 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose'"(Luke 4:42-43). Note also the great importance of the kingdom in that Jesus says He was "sent for this purpose," to proclaim the good news about it.
Sometimes the message of Jesus is spoken of as threefold: teaching, preaching, healing. For example, "And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people"(Matthew 4:23). At the center stands preaching, which is the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.
Not only does Jesus proclaim the kingdom, but also He sends out His disciples to do the same. "And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal" (Luke 9:1-2).
The message is so compelling that the true disciple must give it absolute priority in his own life-"Seek first his (God's) kingdom and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33), and must also give it priority in his own witness-"Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60).
Again the importance of the kingdom may be noted from Jesus' telling His disciples to pray for it-"Our Father who art in heaven...thy kingdom come."-and his assurance that no sacrifice is too great to make for the kingdom-"There is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more" (Luke 18:29, 30).
Further, even as Jesus' ministry begins with the proclamation of the kingdom-"the kingdom of God is at hand"-so likewise it ends with it. For after His death and resurrection He is still speaking of it to His disciples: "To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
Nor does the proclaiming of the message of the kingdom end with Jesus' departure. It becomes the message of the church and the early apostles. "Philip.preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12). Paul at Ephesus ".entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). The last verse in Acts-hence quite important-speaks of Paul's final work in Rome, namely, as "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered" (28:31).
The significance of the kingdom, and the message about it, can hardly be exaggerated. It is a first and last in Jesus' and the apostles' teaching; it demands complete priority in life and witness; there is no sacrifice too great to be made for it.
But for all that, is it really something to get excited about, to sing hosannas and wave palm branches?
Indeed, says Jesus, the kingdom is so valuable and desirable that it is "like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again [it]...is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:44-46).
According to Jesus, the kingdom is the most exciting, the most valuable discovery in all the world. No wonder Jesus came preaching it, no wonder He spent forty days talking about almost nothing else, no wonder He wanted disciples to realize its inexpressible value and to go out and proclaim it even as He had done. No wonder "Hosanna!" is the shout. The kingdom is at hand!
II. The Nature of the Kingdom
What then, we must inquire, is the kingdom? Toward an answer let two preliminary things be noted. First, a matter of terminology: namely, there is no difference in the New Testament between "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven"; the phrases are interchangeable. For example, we have noted how in Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying, "The kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe the gospel." The parallel passage in Matthew (4:17) has Jesus saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In Matthew heaven is regularly substituted for God, probably because of the pious Jewish custom of avoiding the use of the divine name wherever and whenever possible. The other three Gospels, and the New Testament in general, use the phrase "kingdom of God."
Second, there is a difference between the phrases above and the phrase "the kingdom of David" (as used by the people at Jesus' triumphal entry). The average Jew looked forward with great expectation to the literal, earthly fulfillment of the passages in Isaiah, Zechariah, and elsewhere in the Old Testament about the firm and immovable establishment of David's throne. This would occur in Jerusalem, and from the Holy City all the world would be ruled in justice and truth. Possibly many in the throng sang hosanna because they tended to identify "the kingdom of David" with the "kingdom of God" and eagerly looked forward to Jesus' earthly coronation and sovereignty.
Of course, it was a strange spectacle: great David's greater Son riding on an ass's back. No prancing steed, no marching soldiers, no battle cries. Some must have wondered, and some must have felt that this was a different kind of king and kingdom from what had ever been known before. Their hosannas must have been the richest and truest of all.
In order then to understand the nature of the kingdom we should recognize that Jesus from the outset of His ministry was seeking to change many people's thinking from their earthbound viewpoints. Hence along with the proclamation of the kingdom He also says "Repent"-".the kingdom of God is at hand; repent." "Repent" means "change your mind" or "attitude." The Old Testament, Jesus implies, did took forward to a worldly kingdom, but now it is time to look deeper, to see more clearly, to adopt a new perspective. This, says Jesus, is a kingdom far more wonderful than the reestablishment of David's throne and receiving the material blessings therefrom. It is verily the kingdom of God; it is "at hand"; and therefore is good news-gospel-far beyond that of the majesty of even the most glorious kingdoms of earth. "Repent"-change your mind-and "believe."
Let us then inquire specifically concerning the nature of this "new" kingdom. What kind of a kingdom could have such inestimable value as He everywhere proclaims this kingdom to possess?
To answer: it may seem a bit surprising that Jesus nowhere specifically defines His terms. He never says, "The kingdom of God (heaven) is this.." Rather does he say again and again, "The kingdom of God (heaven) is like this.."
For example, we may note the parable of the unjust servant. Recall how it begins (Matthew 18:23): "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.."
The parable goes on to describe how the king who was owed a vast sum of money by one servant nonetheless upon this servant's entreaty "released him and forgave all the debt." What a joy it must have been to know forgiveness of so great a debt, to be a free man again! The parable continues with the account of this same servant not being willing to forgive a trifling sum that a fellow servant owed him. The result: the restoration of the earlier debt and deliverance into jail. "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
The kingdom is "like," or "may be compared to," this earthly story of monetary indebtedness. It is as if you were to imagine being hopelessly in debt and in jail for a sum too large for anyone to repay and then your creditor taking pity and forgiving every single penny. Can you imagine your joy when you realize all this? Or can you imagine your grief if you were to lose everything by failing to show mercy likewise?
By implication Jesus is saying that in the kingdom of God something far more wonderful than forgiveness of an unpayable monetary debt is involved, namely, the forgiveness of an impossible weight of trespasses and sins. There is no debt so heavy as the debt of sin, no imprisonment so inescapable; but in God's kingdom there is complete remission of the debt and marvelous freedom from the bondage. Little wonder the kingdom of God is "the pearl of great value," "the treasure hidden in a field" which to have is worth sacrificing everything else! No wonder Jesus proclaimed the kingdom from beginning to end, and likewise did the early apostles-for this was good news beyond one's fondest imagination!
But let us not forget that the forgiveness of God, though not merited, and given by grace, does not continue if we do not forgive others. Has someone else sinned against us? Then we must likewise forgive as we have been forgiven. How petty the sin or sins of my brother against me in comparison with my huge amount against God! If I do not freely forgive, then I no longer am forgiven-and the kingdom of heaven is my existence no more.
The picture from this one parable (others could be cited) shows that the kingdom which Jesus came preaching is the realm of life in which man is right with God and with his neighbor. It is living in the realm of grace, not exacting "an eye for an eye," not working to achieve divine and human relationships, but rather accepting, loving, forgiving others even as God Himself accepts, loves, forgives. It is not a realm in which evil is overlooked. Rather it is looked squarely in the eye and measured all the way through; but once having been fully seen, even exposed, it is thereupon promptly and completely forgiven. God does exactly that; in His kingdom man does it too!
The kingdom of God is therefore an amazing reality in this sordid sphere of earth. Until Christ proclaimed it, the world was sunk in a morass of sin and guilt before God and of bitterness and judgment toward one's neighbor.
Kingdom living is to accept the magnificent truth that God forgives us every tawdry bit of sin, and in turn we are to forgive every sin and evil any may have committed against us. Suddenly the world becomes pure, the air bracing; man smiles in the presence of God, as he reaches out his hand in love and tenderness to his brother man!
This is at least one aspect of the kingdom Jesus came preaching . Do you wonder that the crowds sang their hosannas, that the children lifted their sweet voices, that the rocks almost cried out in exultation! Truly the people did not fully understand, but underneath it all was the realization that it was a day never to be forgotten. "Hosanna! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David....Hosanna in the highest!"
III. The Arrival of the Kingdom
Finally under this head, let us consider two questions: first, when does this kingdom come; second, to whom does it belong?
When. To answer: the kingdom is both present and future. On the one hand Jesus said it was here now: "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15). "Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21). It is also future, for His disciples were told to pray, "Thy kingdom come"; and Jesus looked forward to the day when He would again sup with His disciples in the kingdom of His Father (Matthew 26:29). What accounts for these seemingly different chronologies of the kingdom? Namely, Jesus viewed the kingdom as present and growing within the world, but its full completion resting in God's hands . To illustrate this point, Jesus spoke of the kingdom as "like a grain of mustard seed" which, though tiny at the beginning, grows to "the greatest of shrubs," or "like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened" (Matthew 13:31-33).
The kingdom of God was not truly known until Christ came proclaiming it. The law and the prophets were until John, since then the good news of the kingdom is preached (Luke 16:16). It will not achieve its consummation, however much its growth in the world, until at the end the evil is sorted out from the good. Then to those at His right hand-"the king will say.'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Matthew 25:34).
To whom. The kingdom belongs only to those of childlike attitude-"Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mark 10:15). A small child accepts a parent's forgiveness completely, and whatever his playmate's faults against him he readily forgives and forgets. The child lives in a happy world of being forgiven and forgiving. So must we all become as little children if we are to share in God's kingdom.
The kingdom only belongs to those who are "poor in spirit"-"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Those who are not proud in spirit, who are willing to bend so low as to admit their need of God's grace and to gladly show forth that grace and love to others: to such belongs the kingdom.
The kingdom is also a possession of those "who are persecuted for righteousness' sake." "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). Strangely enough, one of the signs of the kingdom's reality is persecution from without. The world becomes antagonistic toward anyone who breaks out of its mold, a mold that includes neither facing up to evil nor knowing the wonder of forgiveness. Even as Christ was reviled and persecuted, so will there be for all members of His kingdom times of real sorrow and pain. Yet through it all there is blessedness.
Finally, the kingdom belongs only to those who are "born of water and the Spirit." "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). In other words, there must be the forgiveness that cleanses and the renewing power of God's Spirit which makes one live a life of mercy and compassion toward others. God has promised the gift of His Spirit to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and those who so believe and so receive live henceforth in God's eternal kingdom.
God's kingdom is an amazing reality. We behold it nowhere, and yet it is everywhere present, as people humbly submit themselves to God's marvelous grace and show forth that grace to others. It is a kingdom of childlike existence, a kingdom in which pride of spirit is replaced by humility of spirit, a kingdom in which one's self-protective, self-conscious, self-defensive spirit is more and more purified by the Spirit of the living God. It is a new world-regardless of persecutions that must come-so exciting, so joyous, so rich and full that one lives to share it, to proclaim it, to help others also find its glory.
So do we rejoice to cry with the disciples and children of old, "Hosanna! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!"
For there is nothing in all the world that can begin to compare with the joy of living in that kingdom.