Digression 4: The Doctrine Of Salvation
There can be no doubt that the physical, political Kingdom of God does not now exist, seeing it will be established after the Lord's return (Dan.2:44; James 2:5; 2 Tim.4:1,8; 1 Cor.15:50 etc.). "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God". However, in prospect we are now saved, sealed with the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption (Eph.1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor.1:22), in the heavenlies now (Eph.1:20; 2:6), having risen with Christ acceptably in baptism so that in prospect sin has no more power over us (Rom.6:11), "receiving (now) the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet.1:9). This idea of being saved in prospect, whilst still having to strive for the Kingdom and having the possibility of falling from grace, is foreshadowed in the experience of natural Israel. After their baptism at the Red Sea, Israel were declared the Kingdom of God by reason of God being their King through their promised obedience to His word (Ex.19:5,6). They were "saved" (Jude 5) from the power of Egypt (cp.sin). Yet they had to walk through the wilderness (cp. our probations), behaving according to the responsibilities of being God's Kingdom, and yet still capable of backsliding before they became established as the physical Kingdom in the land. Those very same Abrahamic promises of inheriting the land of Canaan as the centre of the coming Kingdom are made to us through our Red Sea baptism. Abraham lived in the land of promise in his mortal life, but did not of course experience what it would be like in the Kingdom (Heb.11:9). That he had to look forward to in faith, as do we, his seed. No wonder Bro. Roberts described the ecclesia of today as "the Kingdom in miniature".
Peter leaves us with no doubt as to the validity of this parallel: "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood (cp. "a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation", Ex.19:6), an holy nation, a peculiar (i.e. purchased) people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness (Egypt) into His marvellous light (cp. the glory at Sinai?). Which in time past were not a people (Kingdom), but are now the people of God" (1 Pet.2:9,10). Alluding to this same idea, our guardian Angels, speaking on our behalf, welcomed the risen Lord into Heaven with the song "Thou...hast made us unto our God (now) a Kingdom of priests; and we shall (in the full manifestation of that Kingdom) reign on earth" (Rev.5:10). Paul in Hebrews 12 describes our being in Christ in language referring back to God's declaration of Israel as His Kingdom at Sinai (Heb.12:18,29= Ex.24:17). A significant detail in Acts 7:36 now falls into place: "He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs...in the wilderness forty years"; yet Ex.12:41; 33:1 say that the bringing out of Israel was at the Red Sea. These two 'bringings out' of Egypt (the flesh) are experienced by us, firstly at baptism, and secondly in actually entering the Kingdom at the second coming. Our bringing out from the Kingdom of darkness into the sphere of God's rulership only occurs in prospect at baptism and must be confirmed at the end of our wilderness wandering.
In common with the majority of prophecy, the predictions of the future Messianic Kingdom had their primary fulfilment in the first century. The following Biblical proof indicates that the Kingdom prophecies are capable of a relatively small preliminary fulfilment in forms other than the final political Kingdom to be established on the Lord's return:
- The result of healing lame people in Acts 3:8; 14:10 was that they leaped (this is emphasized) and walked, praising God. This seems to be couched in the language of Is.35:5,6 concerning lame people leaping and praising God; a prophecy we normally apply to the future Kingdom.
- Simeon waited for "the consolation (comfort) of Israel" (Lk.2:25), referring to the Kingdom prophecy of Is.40:1,2- and saw it have a fulfilment in the first coming of the Lord.
- The disciples' request to know exactly when the Kingdom would be restored ('When will Ez.21:25-27 be fulfilled?') was met with a promise that while they would never know the exact date, that was immaterial as they would possess the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit soon (Acts 1:7,8)- implying that what they would do with them would be a primary fulfilment of the Kingdom prophecies which they were enquiring about. Sadly orthodox (and not so orthodox) Christendom has perverted such passages to teach that through the indwelling of the Spirit we are now fully in the Kingdom. In no way is this true, nor can it be.
- It was quite possible that the full Messianic Kingdom could have been established in the first century, depending upon how the Jews responded to Christ's Gospel. All things were ready for the feast, representing the Kingdom, and the Jewish guests invited- but their rejection of the offer resulted in a 2,000 year delay while the invitations were pressed home on equally laid back Gentiles (Mt.22:4). Similarly Peter understood that the Lord must remain in Heaven "until the times of restitution of all things (cp. Mt.22:4), which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began"; but he felt, under inspiration, that "all the prophets...as many as have spoken (note the emphasis; cp. "all His holy prophets"), have likewise foretold of these days" (Acts 3:21,24), i.e. the days of the first century.
- Isaiah's prophecies of Christ being a light to the Gentiles in the Kingdom were fulfilled in Paul (Is.49:6= Acts 13:47; and is Is.49:4 also a prophecy of Paul's thoughts? "I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought...yet surely my judgment is with the Lord").
- Psalm 2 is clearly about the future Kingdom: "The uttermost parts of the earth" for Christ's possession, v.8; v.9= Rev.2:27 and Dan.2:35 concerning the Kingdom. Yet it is given a first century fulfilment in Acts 4:24-28.
- "The sunrising (AVmg.) from on high hath visited us" (Lk.1:78) through Christ's mission, fulfilling the prophecy of Mal.4:2 about Christ as the sun of righteousness in the first century, although it clearly has reference also to the greater dawning yet to come.
- "In that day (of the future Kingdom- v.14) will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen" (Amos 9:11)- a clear future Kingdom prophecy, but quoted about the building up of the first century church in Acts 15:14-16.
- Acts 2:30-33 says that our Lord's exaltation in Heaven fulfils, albeit primarily, the promise to David of Christ reigning on his throne. This is confirmed by 2 Sam.7:12 saying that God would "set up" David's seed to have an eternal Kingdom; and "set up" in the Septuagint is the same word as "resurrect", as if in some way the promise would be realized after Christ's resurrection.
- The image of Dan.2 has its' main fulfilment in the events of the second coming; but Is.41:25 describes the Lord's first advent as coming "upon princes as mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay"- Daniel 2 language (and cp. Mt.3:2 with Dan.2:44).
- Isaiah's promise of new Heavens and new earth (Is.65:17) was fulfilled primarily when the Jewish system was finally ended in AD70 (2 Pet.3:13); but it clearly has an application to the Kingdom.
- The pouring out of the Spirit gifts described in Joel 2 was primarily fulfilled in Acts 2, whilst looking forward to "the great and the terrible day of the Lord". Thus Joel 2:32 "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered" was fulfilled primarily in the first century too; it is quoted in Rom.10:13 in this connection.
- The loyal band of Bible students in the temple expected redemption to appear in Jerusalem (Lk.2:38), presumably because of the Old Testament prophecies like Joel 2 concerning Christ being manifested in Jerusalem at His second coming and Kingdom. But their first century application of these was not wrong.
- The Lord's showing judgment to the Gentiles and not publicly striving or crying in his preaching (Mt.12:18-21) primarily fulfilled the Kingdom prophecy of Is.42:1-3. Note how His gentle, low pressure attitude to preaching will be the same in the Kingdom as it was in the first century. In the same way Is.54:13 concerning the preaching of the Gospel in the Kingdom is quoted about Christ in Jn.6:45.
- Our Lord's final Bible class showed how the Old Testament prophets described the preaching of the Gospel world-wide from Jerusalem (Lk.24:47) in the first century. He must surely have been referring to 'Kingdom' passages like Is.2:2-4.
In line with all this evidence for the establishment of the Kingdom in prospect in the first century- and no more than in prospect, let it be emphasized- it is to be expected that there are a number of hints that in some limited sense we are now in the Kingdom. The watchful student will not have been slow to pick them up:
- "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (cp. Egypt, 1 Pet.2:9,10), and hath translated us into the Kingdom of His dear son; in whom we have (now) redemption through His blood...for by Him were all things created (the new, spiritual creation of believers is finished in prospect)...you...now hath he reconciled...if ye continue in the faith... whereunto I also labour, striving..." (Col.1:13,14,16,21,23,29). This shows how our comprising the Kingdom in prospect is dependent upon our continued personal effort. The contention is sometimes made in discussion with those who wrongly believe that the Kingdom in its full sense is the church of today that "into" in Col.1:13 can mean 'for'. However, the Greek preposition 'eis' means 'in the interior, into, indicating the point reached or entered' (Strong). Thus Phillip and the Eunuch "went down both into (Gk: 'eis') the water" (Acts 8:38)- from which we correctly argue that baptism is by full immersion into water. However, it is true that at times 'eis' is translated with the idea of 'towards', although this is not its primary meaning. The rest of the quotation from Col.1 made above would suggest that we should understand 'eis' here in its normal meaning.
- The New Covenant which is to be made with Israel on Christ's return has now been made with us in this life (Heb.8:10 cp. v.13).
- Our comprising the Kingdom to some degree is understandable seeing that God speaks of "those things which be not as though they were" (Rom.4:17). Thus Abraham and those believers who have died are described as 'living unto God' in prospect, because He can foresee their resurrection (Lk.20:38). It is to this that Rom.6:11 refers: "Reckon yourselves (i.e. in prospect)..alive unto God through (having been resurrected with) Jesus" in baptism. In the same way as in prospect we should reckon ourselves resurrected to eternal life, unable to give service to sin any longer, so in the same way we are now in the Kingdom. Careful attention to the tenses in 1 Cor.15:20 indicates the same logic; by His resurrection Christ has "become the firstfruits of them that slept"- not those 'who are sleeping', but "that slept", seeing that because of their Lord's resurrection they also are alive in prospect. Similarly if Christ had not risen "they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" (1 Cor.15:18), implying that now they are not perished. The practical meaning of all this is that we should live now in the same joy and righteousness as if we were in the Kingdom. "The day (of the Kingdom) is at hand: let us therefore...walk honestly, as in the day" (Rom.13:12,13), i.e. as if we are now living in the Kingdom which is soon to come.
- Jesus reasoned that only 'babes' had spiritual understanding (Lk.10:21,22), and babes enter the Kingdom (Mt.18:4), implying that our grasp of the real spirit of the Truth in child like simplicity and tenacity makes us effectively connected with the Kingdom now.
- We have been called to "glory" in possessing Divine nature in the Kingdom (2 Pet.1:3,4). Obviously we do not have that now. Yet we are firmly connected with that hope; Peter earlier described himself as "a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed" in us (1 Pet.5:1). Likewise we have been credited with righteousness now through Christ (Rom.9:30), yet our reward in the Kingdom will be a "crown of righteousness" (2 Tim.4:8).
- "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor.5:17) is very much the language of Rev.21:5 concerning the creation of new things on the ruins of the old, at Christ's return. Yet this dramatic change must occur within the believer as a result of being in Christ in this life, before he can share in the wonders of that future age.
- The reasoning of Hebrews 3 and 4 concerning "the rest" of the Kingdom is probably the clearest example. "We which have believed do enter into rest...for he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His" on the Sabbath (4:3,10). Thus those who no longer relied on the works of the Law but on faith were living in the spirit of the Sabbath- they had in some sense entered the rest. But despite their reliance on faith, works were still necessary: "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God...let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall.." (4:9,11). This is a perfect cameo of the whole argument; in prospect we are in the Kingdom, but have a very real possibility of falling from grace, and still need to labour for the final entry into that Kingdom.
- In the same way as the resurrection and establishment of the Kingdom have happened in prospect, so too has the judgment. "If we would judge ourselves (i.e. examine ourselves to the point of realizing we deserve condemnation at the judgment), we should not be judged" (1 Cor.11:31), i.e. condemned, at the judgment seat of Christ. Thus Jude 23 speaks of pulling a man out of the fire, i.e. saving him from condemnation in Gehenna, as if to some extent the unworthy are now experiencing their punishment, as the righteous are their reward. The fire of condemnation at the judgment has already been kindled by men's attitudes now (Lk.12:49), and hence by doing good to such men when they abuse us we (now) "heap coals of fire on his head" (Rom.12:20); note that "thine enemy" here must therefore refer to someone who is responsible, i.e. in the ecclesia (cp. 2 Thess.3:15, which implies 'an enemy' was first century vocabulary for a shunned and rejected false teacher).
- The possession of the Holy Spirit in the first century was possessing "the powers of the world to come" (Heb.6:5), showing that at that time there was a foretaste of the coming Kingdom. Thus in answer to the question about whether He would then fully restore the Kingdom of God, our Lord basically said: 'When, exactly, you can't know. But you will receive Holy Spirit power coming upon you (Acts 1:8 AVmg.) and will spread the Gospel world-wide from Jerusalem; which is tantamount to saying that in a limited sense the Kingdom is coming right now, although when it will finally be fully established is not for you to know'. Further support for this is found in our earlier suggestion that Kingdom prophecies like Is.2 were fulfilled to some degree in the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem in the first century.
- Jn.3:3-5 emphasizes the need to be born of Spirit to enter the Kingdom. This occurs to us in a limited sense now through the word (1 Pet.1:23; 2 Thess.2:13), so that we are born again into that Kingdom. Yet the full birth of the Spirit is after acceptance at the judgment.
- The Pharisees will be thrust out of the Kingdom at judgment (Lk.13:28), implying that in a sense they were part of it before its establishment.
- "He that is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than" John the baptist (Mt.11:11). The following verse speaks of preaching the Gospel of that Kingdom (Mt.11:12 cp. Lk.16:16), perhaps implying that by responding to Christ's Gospel of the Kingdom we are associated with the Kingdom, and are thereby "greater" than the message which John preached.
- Mt.1:17 mentions that there were 42 generations before Christ. This must have some connection with the 42 stopping places before Israel reached Canaan, as described in Num.33:2. Thus the birth of Christ would be like God's people entering the promised land of the Kingdom in some way.
- Phil.2:15 describing the believers now as lights shining in the world is alluding to the Septuagint of Dan.12:3, concerning the saints in the Kingdom shining as the stars. Once it is appreciated that we are now in the spiritual heavenlies (Eph.2:6) then this makes sense.
- Ex.38:18 describes the curtain over the door of the tabernacle in similar language to how the veil hiding the Most Holy is described. Christ is the door of the tabernacle through which we enter at our conversion (Jn.10:9). By doing so we also enter, in prospect, through the veil into the Most Holy of eternity and Divine nature.
- The parable of the camel (i.e. the rich would-be believer) being unloaded of its wealth before it enters the city (Mt.19:23,24) represents a rich man entering the Kingdom (the city = the Kingdom, as in Rev.22:14; 21:2; Heb.13:14; 11:16; a city can also represent believers). If he sheds his riches now, it follows he is then able in some sense to enter the Kingdom now. This mini parable is in the context of Mt.19:21: "Sell that thou hast...and thou shalt have (now) treasures in (the Kingdom of) Heaven". This is the same idea as in Mt.18:4: "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child (which necessitates parting with riches etc.), the same is (now) greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven". In these few words is our highest challenge.
We have shown how God's declaration of Israel as being His "kingdom of priests" in Ex.19:6 is quoted by Peter concerning the present ecclesia. Yet that promise was conditional: "If ye will obey my voice indeed...ye shall be unto me a Kingdom...and an holy nation". Despite their continual disobedience, God later speaks of Israel as His holy nation and Kingdom (Lev.20:26; Dt.7:6), showing that they could have this status of being His 'Kingdom' without obedience. Similarly, God "saved the people out of the land of Egypt (but) afterward destroyed them that believed not" (Jude 5). Their being saved from Egypt, as we have been from sin, did not guarantee ultimate salvation. By being called to the Kingdom, we enjoy this status in prospect, although this is not in itself a guarantee of salvation.
Christ "hath made us kings and priests" (Rev.1:6) in prospect, although we will only exercise this power in the Kingdom. Frequently we read of the saints being 'made' things which we must still strive to attain (Rom.5:19; 6:18,22; 8:2; 1 Cor.12:13; Eph.1:6; 2:13). God made Christ a sin offering, that we might be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor.5:21), although our Lord still had to exercise freewill effort to be that offering, as we must too. "God...saved us (in prospect)...that...we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Tit.3:5-7).
Finally, a brief word of reassurance for those to whom these ideas may be new. In no way am I suggesting that we are now in the Kingdom in its fullness; the passages examined above indicate that we are only a shadow image of that coming glory, "the Kingdom in miniature" (R.R.). But by grasping this fact we receive great motivation to "give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet.1:10), "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God" (1 Thess.1:4). It was this fact that we are saved in prospect which Paul used to stir Timothy out of his spiritual inertia: "God...hath saved us" (2 Tim.1:9). When properly grasped, it will do the same for us.