JESUS began His great Galilean ministry, which lasted probably eighteen months, by a short visit to Nazareth. As was His custom, He entered into the synagogue on the Sabbath. The roll of the Book of Isaiah was handed Him. Turning to chapter 61, which presents one of the clearest views of Messiah's redemptive work found in the Old Testament, He read verse 1 and one phrase of the second. Closing the book, He gave it back to the attendant and sat down. When the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened upon Him, He began His message by saying, "Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears." In order to see the full force of this utterance, turn to Messianic Times According to Isaiah 61, and study the message of this marvelous chapter. It is essential that the reader do this in order to comprehend fully our Lord’s statements. ( Messianic Times according to Isaiah 61.)
Isaiah 61:1 refers to the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus, in which He engaged for three and one-half years. He was anointed of God to perform His task. He was also commissioned according to this prediction, "to proclaim the year of Jehovah's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God," etc. He stopped with the phrase, "to proclaim the year of Jehovah's favor," which in Luke reads, "the acceptable year of the Lord." In the study of Isaiah 61, "the day of vengeance of our God" is shown to be the Tribulation. "The acceptable year of Jehovah" unmistakably refers to the Christian Dispensation. When Jesus stopped with this statement, He declared that this scripturethe portion which He had readwas fulfilled that day. In other words, He stated that He was the one of whom Isaiah spoke, that He had appeared upon earth to engage in the personal ministry foretold by the prophet and that He was announcing the dawning of "the year of Jehovah's favor"this Era of Grace. The time had arrived for Him to proclaim the beginning of this year of Jehovah's favor. Since the time had not come to declare "the day of vengeance of our God," Jesus stopped short of that phrase. He was exact in His reading and in His utterance.
In connection with this chart and study, there are six fundamental and vital facts which we must investigate.
JESUS CAME TO FULFILL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord contrasted the message which the people had been accustomed to hearing with that which He was delivering. In order that they might not draw any false conclusions and think that He was a revolutionist, He assured His audience that He had not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He knew the prophetic program outlined by Moses and the prophets and declared that He had come to fulfill it. David, for instance, had given in Psalm 110 His complete redemptive career, which consists of the first coming, His rejection by the Jews, His return to heaven, His position at the right hand of the throne of God, and His return to reign upon the earth in Jerusalem when God puts His enemies (Israel) under His feet. Refer again to the chart and the exposition of this psalm in order to have clearly in mind the program outlined for Messiah by the prophets. Since Jesus knew absolutely everything that they had said concerning this program, and since He declared that He had come to fulfill it and not to destroy anything that the prophets had said, we may be absolutely certain that He will carry out this pre-announced program literally and exactly.
His first coming to suffer and to die for man's redemption was unmistakably foretold by the prophets. In the same definite manner, the Christian Dispensation was foreseen. The church, consisting of Jews and Gentiles regenerated and saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirita living spiritual organismwas not revealed to the Old Testament prophets. (See Ephesians 3:1-13.) Isaiah said that the Messiah would proclaim (announce ahead of time) "the year of Jehovah's favor" as well as "the day of vengeance of our God." Jesus, therefore, knowing this program as outlined by the prophets, began to announce on this occasion the dawning of the period of Jehovah's favor. He fulfilled all prophetic utterances literally and exactly, which pertained to His first coming, His ascension to heaven, and His session at the right hand of God. During this age, He is waiting for the time to come when God will put His enemies under His feet. Then He will return and fulfill the rest of the redemptive career outlined by the prophets. He will carry out this program literally and exactly as foretold.
THE TERMS KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AND
KINGDOM OF GOD USED SYNONYMOUSLY
The subject of the kingdom of God is a very broad and comprehensive one. Unfortunately, far too little study has been devoted to this all-embracing theme. The term, kingdom of God, has various connotations. For instance, in Psalm 103:19-22, it embraces the universe. In I Chronicles 28:4,5, the kingdom of Jehovah is co-extensive with the literal kingdom of Israel. Again, in John 3:3,5 this phrase refers to the spiritual kingdom of God, in which only regenerated men are to be found. Once more, it has a different connotation in the parables of the kingdom found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. An examination of these chapters shows that the Lord was speaking of Christendom and called it, in the records by Mark and Luke, the kingdom of God, which might be represented graphically by a large circle. The church of Jesus Christthe real kingdom of God in which all regenerated people areis within this circle of Christendom (a circle within a circle). But remember that these circles representing different phases of truth are not co-extensive. Matthew in recording the parables of the kingdom used the term, the kingdom of heaven, where Mark and Luke have kingdom of God. The fact that the three evangelists are recording the identical words of our Lord in the parables and the further fact that Matthew uses the expression, kingdom of heaven, whereas Mark and Luke employ the phrase, the kingdom of God, show that these two terms are used in the parables interchangeably. Matthew, as just stated, is the one evangelist who uses the expression, the kingdom of heaven. He occasionally speaks of the kingdom of God. He wrote for the Jews who had an aversion to the use of the name of God and substituted "heaven" for it. All the facts lead one to the conclusion that Matthew, guided by the Spirit of God, gave his message in such a way as to appeal to them and their understanding without giving unnecessary offense. Another meaning of the expression, kingdom of God, is its application to the millennial reign of our Lord. One must investigate the facts of each context in order to determine the significance of these expressions.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
John the Baptist broke the silence of approximately four hundred years by announcing that the time was fulfilled and that the kingdom of God was at hand (Matt. 3:1-12). Jesus took up this same refrain (Mark 1:14,15). Under the restricted commission, the Twelve went out and made the same pronouncement (Matt. 10:7). During the latter Judean and Perean ministries, the Seventy were sent forth by the Lord to announce that "the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:9). John, Jesus, and the apostles declared therefore that the kingdom was at hand. They made no mistake. It came to hand. But what did they mean?
THE MEANING OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
As has been suggested above, one must look at all the facts of the context whenever the expression, kingdom of God, occurs in order to determine its exact connotation. In the parables of the kingdom (Matt. 13, Mark 4, Luke 8), without a doubt, it refers to Christendom. This series begins with the parable of the sower and ends with that of the dragnetat the consummation of the age. When these are studied carefully, it becomes evident that our Lord was speaking of Christendom. From this conclusion there can be no escape.
But in Matthew 8:11,12, the kingdom refers to the Millennium, because at that time many will come from the east and the west and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom. The same thing is true of Luke 13:28,29. The facts of the context of Matthew 16:27-17:13 show that our Lord was speaking of His return with the holy angels at the conclusion of this age to establish His millennial reign upon the earth. Also the facts of Matthew 19:23-29 and 25:31f prove conclusively that the kingdom there referred to can be none other than our Lord's glorious reign.
JESUS' TEACHING CONCERNING BOTH PHASES OF THE KINGDOM
When Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi, Peter confessed that He was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Then Jesus made the disclosure that it was God who revealed that fact to Peter. Thereupon Jesus said to him, "... thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" etc. (Matt. 16:18-19). The rock upon which Christ declared that He would build His church was the foundational truth which Peter had confessed; namely, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Here appears for the first time the word, church, as a designation of the aggregate of believers. The Lord promised Peter the keys in order that he might open it. From the flow of thought, it becomes evident that church here is used synonymously with kingdom of heaven. Paul used the term, "the kingdom of God," in this restricted sense in referring to the church (Rom. 14:17 and Col. 1:13).
But "the kingdom of God" refers to the Millennial Age in Luke 19:11-27. On this occasion, Jesus was approaching Jerusalem. The people were expecting Him to manifest supernatural power and to set up His glorious reign upon earth. In order to correct this false notion, He spoke the parable of the nobleman who went into a far country in order to receive for himself a kingdom and to return; but, before making his departure, he delivered to his servants his goods, to each a pound, with which they were to trade and get gain. After having received the kingdom in the far country, the nobleman returns, receives his goods from his servants, and rewards each according to his labors, allowing them to reign over the proper number of cities in his kingdom. The facts of this parable show conclusively that the kingdom of God here refers to the millennial reign of our Lord.
CHRISTIANS ARE NOW IN THE KINGDOM BUT WILL
YET ENTER IT AT THE SECOND COMING
Every born-again person is in the kingdom of God, according to the teaching of John 3:5 and Col. 1:13. The kingdom of God was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2). We who are offered all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus are enjoying the privileges of the kingdom in its present phase (Eph. 1:3,4).
But we who now are in the kingdom are through tribulations to enter into the kingdomthe millennial phase of it (Acts 14:22). Paul was confident that God would deliver him from all trials and would save him unto His heavenly kingdom (II Tim. 4:18). We who supply the Christian graces in our faith are promised an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
IN KEEPING with what has just been said regarding Messiah's redemptive career according to the Lord Jesus, I wish to note what the Apostle Peter declared regarding the subject. In preparation, may I ask the reader to study I Peter 1:1-12. In this passage we see that the Apostle was speaking of salvation in its three tensespast, present, and future. We were saved by the grace of God when we accepted the Lord Jesus; we are being saved now in that we are being guarded by the power of God through faith; and we shall receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls, which will be "revealed in the last time." We were saved from the guilt of sin by accepting Christ; we yield to the protecting and the strengthening power of the Spirit now and are being guarded or saved from the power of sin; at the rapture of the church we shall be saved from the presence of sin. Whenever salvation is mentioned in the Scriptures, one must look at all the facts of the context to determine which phase was before the speaker's mind.
No one who is given the truth concerning this salvation can keep from being interested in itif he is a normal person. The prophets of the Old Testament became absorbed in it; for Peter declares, "Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you" (I Pet. 1:10). They sought and searched diligently concerning it. Why did they do this? The answer is that they prophesied "of the grace that should come unto you." From this statement it is quite evident that the prophets foretold the grace that would come to us during this age. When they thus prophesied, they began to search and seek for more information about it. In view of these facts, the position which affirms that the Christian Dispensation is an indefinite interpolation of time revealed only after the Jews took a hostile attitude toward Jesus (a great misunderstanding) is obviously incorrect. Peter affirms that the prophets foretold this salvation and grace which are ours during this dispensation. This fact shows that they knew about it and foretold it. In order to refresh our minds on this point, let us review Messiah's Redemptive Career. Peter's statement will be seen to be in perfect accord with the predictions found in these discussions.
It is quite apparent from his statement that the prophets saw clearly the Dispensation of Grace and the salvation which we are now enjoying, but that the facts concerning "the time and the manner of time" were withheld from them. They wanted to know the timethe datewhen this grace would be brought to us. Furthermore, they were interested in "the manner of time," of the Christian Dispensation. They clearly saw it; but they did not understand the details connected with it: When it would begin and its outstanding characteristics; in a word, its setup. They understood the political organization and the social and economic systems of their own times. Furthermore, they knew the details regarding those matters which will obtain during the Millennial Age; but they did not understand the turn affairs would take and the setup during the period of grace. They sought, therefore, this information when they "testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them." They foretold clearly the first and the second comings of Christ. They likewise prophesied of this age. They knew that the Christian Dispensation would intervene between the sufferings and the glories of the Messiah. (That the reader may refresh his mind on this point, let him turn to Four Types of Messianic Prophecy.) They simply wanted to get a clear picture of this age.
Occasionally one of the prophets spoke only of the sufferings of Christ. Some of them, as we have already seen, focused their entire attention upon the second coming with all its glories. At times, different prophets blended the two comings of the Messiah into a single picture; then, on other occasions, certain ones laid before us, as it were, the outline of Messiah's redemptive career. A careful student should be able to discern these four types of predictions in the Old Testament. The prophets knew, therefore, about this Age of Grace and desired to discover the details, but God did not see fit to disclose them.
To Daniel, however, who was one of the last prophets, He did reveal the time of the sufferings of Messiah (Dan. 9:24-27). (I have discussed this prophecy in the study, The Jewish Calendar.) After his day, those who were interested in the subject could know the exact time when Messiah's sufferings would occur and the Christian Age would begin. When Jesus was born, there were certain ones who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). They knew from Daniel's prophecy that the time had come for Messiah's appearance.
Nevertheless, the Lord did not reveal to any of the Old Testament prophets the "manner of time" of this Age of Grace. In other words, He did not give them the signs of the times indicative of the birth of Messiah. Neither did He, as stated above, delineate the leading characteristics of this agepicture the setup of the present timenor give very much information concerning its close. For this information the prophets who foretold the sufferings and the glories of Christ (separated by this Age of Grace) sought diligently. Let us remember in this connection that the church as an institutioncomposed of born-again Jews and Gentileswas not revealed to the Old Testament prophets. It was, however, made known to them that they were ministering unto us and not to themselvesfor our special benefit.