THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
We have come to the point in the work of restoration where the Spirit is ready to give us the understanding of the difference between the place called "Heaven," and the Kingdom of God. It makes a difference in the manner in which we live as a Christian whether we view salvation as a plan to admit us to eternal residence in Heaven when we die, or whether we view salvation as a program of daily entrance into the Kingdom of God.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, Nor will people say, ĎHere it is,í or ĎThere it is,í because the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20,21)
Those who have read my material realize how much I have written about the goal of salvationóthat it is not eternal residence in the spirit world but change into the image of Jesus Christ, and rest in the center of Godís Person and will along with the Lord Jesus. I have written at length also concerning the Kingdom of God, that it is God in Christ in the saints governing the works of Godís hands.
There is no way in which we are going to make sense of the Scriptures, or of our theological reasonings, until we understand that Godís purpose in saving us is not to bring us to live forever in Heaven but to conform us to His image, which is the image of Christ.
Stop and think: most Christian scholars believe we will be with Christ, governing the earth throughout the thousand-year Kingdom Age (Millennium). So we are not in Heaven at that time, for our understanding is that Christ, the King, will rule from Jerusalem.
After the thousand-year Kingdom Age we will come down to the new earth in the form of the new Jerusalem, and from there we will govern for eternity the nations of saved peoples. So we are not in Heaven at that time.
So how can we teach that we are saved to make our eternal home in Heaven?
But what about after we die and before Christ comes to rule from the Throne of David in Jerusalem, and we with Him?
The Scriptures say so little about what happens to the Christian when he or she dies that I cannot speak with authority on this topic. The Scriptures teach concerning the Kingdom of God, not about what happens to us when we die. My own opinion is that the next world is largely a school, and when we die we are placed among people of our own spiritual development. If such were not the case we probably would be miserable, just as we are now when we are forced to live among people who are either farther ahead in Christ than we are or cold and indifferent toward the things of the Lord.
I donít believe most of us would enjoy being placed with our flesh and blood relatives when we die, especially if they are not serving the Lord diligently. We might want to visit them on occasion, but they are not a source of joy now and will not be after death.
In any case, the focus of the Scriptures, Old and New Testament, is the Kingdom of God, the doing of Godís will in the earth when the Lord returns.
The New Testament has three principal topics: the blood atonement; the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; and eternal life. There are lesser subjects, such as the gifts and ministries of the Spirit. But I think the "lesser" subjects probably are included under the three main topics. The Christian churches historically have made making converts a principal topic. However, in terms of the New Testament, making converts does not appear to be a primary emphasis.
We may calculate success in terms of how many people profess to believe in our doctrine. As nearly as I can tell, from the New Testament and personal experience, God is well able to bring to Christ any individual of His choice, although we are to work in the harvest as the Lord leads. I think Godís concern is identifying people who are willing to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Christ.
Perhaps we do not see as God sees. God has certain needs, such as a temple for Himself; a counterpart for His Son, brothers for His Son, and saints who are able to govern the works of Godís hands. These needs are not met by bringing a multitude of people into our particular theological beliefs. They are met only as some individual is willing to lay down his own life that Christ may express Himself through him or her.
I believe we all understand this to be true, but the simple truth is lost in the hurry-scurry of the mechanics of organizational activity. So we end up chopping with a dull axe.
If we view the program of salvation as that of changing us from the image of Satan into the image of God, of removing from us the unholy frailties of our inward nature, then such questions as: can we be lost once we are saved; can we be saved and keep on disobeying Godís commandments; can we be saved if we do not live a righteous, holy, obedient life; become irrelevant. If to be saved is to be made in the image of God in our inward nature, and at the coming of the Lord in our outward form, then to ask whether we can be saved if we do not become a new righteous creation is to question whether we can be saved without being saved.
You can see at a glance that if we are to discuss salvation competently we must define salvation correctly.
Chopping wood with a dull axe!
Let us consider four topics: Hell, Heaven, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and eternal life.
The Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
The current Christian message appears to be "Accept Christ and you will go to Heaven rather than Hell when you die." The purpose of accepting Christ is to escape Hell and go to Heaven.
Such is not the Christian Gospel. The Apostle Paul does not mention the term "Hell" in any Epistle. The Apostle Paul does not mention going to Heaven in any of His Epistles, except stating that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. In no manner could this statement be presented as an emphasis of the writings of the Apostle Paul.
So we can see that our current teaching is not scriptural. Yet, we pride ourselves on being scriptural. Therefore it is time for a reformation of Christian thinking and teaching.
Hell is a place. The rich man is in Hell because he behaved selfishly during his sojourn on the earth, not because he rejected Christ.
Heaven is a place. Our Father is in Heaven, along with Christ, the saints, and the holy angels.
Heaven and Hell are places. They both are mentioned in the New Testament.
Jesus Christ did not come to earth to bring the wicked to Heaven. The wicked belong in Hell. Jesus Christ came to deliver people from Satan so they would not have to make their home in Hell. Until Christ delivers us from wickedness, until He changes our inward nature and our behavior, we belong in Hell, not in Heaven.
But do not the prostitutes and drunkards enter the Kingdom of God ahead of religious people? Yes, they do. These sinners are willing to repent and thus enter the Kingdom. But religious people often are arrogant, smug, covetous, envious, anxious to be preeminent. They have no intention of repenting. Thus they shall bring their Christian religion into Hell, for this is where they belong.
We teach that the Bible says we must be born again if we are to make Heaven our home. But the Bible actually states that we must be born again if we are to see and enter the Kingdom of God, not escape Hell and make Heaven our home.
We teach that God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that we might escape Hell and go to Heaven. But the Bible states that whoever believes in Godís Son will have eternal life, not escape Hell and make Heaven his or her home.
So now we must decide if Heaven, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and eternal life are basically the same thing. If they are not, then our teaching and preaching are unscriptural.
Right here is the crux of this present essay:
Hell is a place. Where is it? Perhaps it is located under the surface of the earth. The New Testament does speak of creatures being under the earth.
But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. (Revelation 5:3)
There is so much we do not understand, isnít that so?
One thing we do know, however, is that Hell is an actual place of torment where people go whose conduct does not please God. The same may be said of Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire, or the outer darkness. As far as I can tell from the Bible, these all are actual places where people with destructive tendencies in their personality are assigned. God will not tolerate their presence in His Kingdom.
Whoever does not tremble at the thought of being confined for eternity in one of these places is lacking in common sense.
Heaven also is a place. Heaven in the present hour is the Throne of God. We understand that when the new Jerusalem descends through the new sky to be located on the new earth, the Throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it. This means that all we desire in Heaven will be found on the earth for eternity.
The Apostle Paul was caught up to the third heaven, so we understand that there are at least three heavens. The enormous red dragon is a sign in heaven, probably not in the highest Heaven where the Father reigns.
A very great deal of Christian literature is occupied with the thought of our going to Heaven, what Heaven is like. Perhaps we derived this concept from other religions. In actuality, the entire Bible has scarcely anything at all to say about our life in Heaven after we die.
The Bible does say it is appointed to man to die and after this the judgment. It may be true that the judgment will occur when the Lord returns and we all receive our reward.
As I stated before, I think the next life will consist largely of schools and that people will be assigned according to their spiritual development. Think of the good, honest people who have died without ever having had a chance to receive Christ or to grow in the Lord. My own opinion is that Christ will assign teachers to them. This makes a lot of sense to me.
I know we have declared that no good and honest person has ever lived. This is not only not scriptural, it is not even reasonable or sensible. The Apostle Peter declared to Cornelius that God receives all people who have integrity.
But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8 15)
Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism But accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34,35)
No doubt we all agree that Heaven is a place and Hell is a place.
But what about the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and eternal life. Are they places? No, they are not places, they are states of being.
Is going to Heaven the same as entering the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? No, it certainly is not.
Is going to Heaven the same as entering eternal life? It certainly is not.
If the above two sentences are true, then our preaching today is in error. So I better hasten to do some explaining.
The Kingdom of God is God in Christ in the saints governing the works of Godís hands. It is not a place, it is something that is born and grows in us. We must be born again of the Divine Nature to see and enter the Kingdom of God, of Heaven.
Perhaps most of the parables of the Lord Jesus are about the Kingdom of God. One may notice that the parables do not emphasize going to another place, such as Heaven. Rather they speak of a seed that is planted in us and grows to maturity.
But does this happen when we die and go to Heaven? I do not get this impression from the teachings of the Lord Jesus. Do you?
The basic parable of the Kingdom of God is the parable of the sower:
Then Jesus said to them, "Donít you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13)
The Seed that the sower sows is the word of God, the word of the Kingdom. The Seed is not the words of the Scriptures, as valuable in the Kingdom as those words are. The Seed is the Divine Substance of God in Christ, of which the words of the Scriptures are a counterpart in human language.
If we, having "an honest and good heart," keep the word and bring forth fruit with patience, the Kingdom of God begins to grow in us. This is the new creation. It is an inner creation, the transformation of what we are in personality and in action.
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matthew 13:31,32)
He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:33)
He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grainófirst the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:26-29)
One can gain a good idea of the Kingdom by going through the Gospel accounts and studying each parable. It is clear that entering the Kingdom is not the same as entering the place called "Heaven." We enter the Kingdom of God as the spiritual darkness is removed from us and the Divine Nature of Jesus Christ takes its place.
The Lord instructed us that if we would seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness our material needs would be added to us.
The Kingdom of God. His righteousness. What is the meaning of the expression "His righteousness"?
When we are willing to receive Christ, God ascribes righteousness to us. The imputing of righteousness to us frees us from the necessity of having to obey the Law of Moses in order to gain right standing before God.
Now the work of the Kingdom begins. The Holy Spirit helps us understand the commandments found in the New Testament. The Spirit guides us as we come to the Mercy Seat in Heaven in order to gain the wisdom and strength we must have if we are to keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles.
As we endeavor to obey Christ and His Apostles, our inward nature is transformed. Unholy character traits, such as rage, lying, and lust are driven from us by the Spirit and in their place is fashioned the peaceableness, the truth, and the self-control of Christ.
When our inward nature is changed in this manner, the result is outward righteousness of behavior. We act in a peaceful manner even when we are provoked. We tell the truth when the truth is injurious to us. We turn away from temptation and act in a godly manner.
This is the meaning of the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We must exercise what adamic righteousness we may have as we set out to follow the Lord. But our natural righteousness will fail under enough stress. The righteousness of behavior formed in us as Christ is formed in us will prevail against all opposition, physical and spiritual.
Being born again is the way in which we enter the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Godís reign in us, and our righteous behavior, operate equally on earth and in Heaven. They are not associated with a place but with a Personóthe Lord Jesus Christ.
Can such transformation of character take place on the earth? Of course.
Can it take place in Heaven? I think so, because most believers make very little progress in the Kingdom before they die and go to Heaven.
Will there be people in Heaven in various stages of development in the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? I would assume so. If we do not grow spiritually in Heaven we are facing a grim future.
The point is this: if we wait to die in order to seek to enter the Kingdom we will be punished for neglecting our salvation while on the earth. If we neglect to enter the Kingdom while alive on the earth we will be just as neglectful after we die. There is no evidence in the Scriptures that dying changes us for the better.
We see, then, that to claim we are saved to escape Hell and go to Heaven when we die is to misunderstand the Divine salvation.
Now, what about eternal life. Do we gain eternal life by going to Heaven?
Eternal life always follows righteousness, in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Eternal life is the result of being the slave of God and having a holy personality.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22)
Eternal life is the result of a godly personality.
What is eternal life? Eternal life is the Life of God, of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit. It is the power of resurrection.
Our human life is that of flesh and blood. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Only that which is of the Life of Jesus Christ inherits the Kingdom of God and is the Kingdom of God.
We have a physical brain. We have muscles, nerves, various organs, blood, and bones. All of these operate as cells are burned in the presence of oxygen. From this burning we are kept warm and have energy. Our brain, a marvel of there ever was one, enables us to engage in profitable activity.
However, this organism, as remarkable as it indeed is, cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The race of Adam comprises intelligent dustóanimals who have a spirit that can touch God.
If any person abides in Christ, he or she becomes a new creation. The race of Adam eventually vanishes. In its place is a superior humanity that in its entirety is drawn from the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Obviously we do not make this transition in a moment. Little by little, line upon line as it were, the eternal Word of God replaces the adamic personality. This is how we enter eternal life.
We understand then that eternal life is more than unending existence, it is a new kind of life, a superior life. If we sow to this new Life, attending to its nourishment every day of our discipleship, when Jesus returns He will raise our flesh and bones and cover them with a robe of Divine Life. This is the meaning of: "shall not perish but have eternal life."
How about those people who refuse the Life that is in Jesus Christ? In the Day of Resurrection they will be clothed with the corruption in which they have lived. Theirs is not an enviable destiny.
So we see that entering the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and gaining the eternal Life of Jesus Christ, is not a matter of being on the earth or being in Heaven. Such transformations of our state of being are independent of our location.
The Lord Jesus Christ saves us from the torments of Hell by making it possible for us to enter the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Christ saves us from the Lake of Fire by enabling us to overcome the eight personality traits over which the Lake of Fire always retains authority.
Dying and going to Heaven will not change us spiritually. What we are, we are. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who alone can change us spiritually.
Why is it important to understand that Jesus Christ came to enable us to enter the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and to gain eternal life, rather than coming to save us from Hell and to qualify us for entrance into Heaven when we die?
Such understanding is of immense importance!
In todayís teaching, the novice is told that if we will make a profession of belief in Jesus Christ he will escape Hell. He will enter Heaven when he dies. He ought to attempt to resist sin, but if he does not, he will go to Heaven because he has been "saved by grace."
If you were a sociologist, or even a nonprofessional, and you were told about todayís teaching, what outcome would you predict? Of course! A multitude of people who talk about God and live like the devil.
Your prediction has come to pass today in the "Christian" nations.
If, on the other hand, you were told that once the believer is born again of the Divine Life of Christ he must follow the Holy Spirit as He leads us in victory over sin, thus entering the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and that this procedure will cause the Life of God in in the disciple to increase, what outcome would you predict? Of course! You would expect to see people who were becoming more like Jesus Christ.
I have been pondering for many years the current Christian teaching. I marvel that theologians, seminary professors, pastors, evangelists cannot see that what they are teaching is not scriptural. My conclusion is that God has permitted this blindness in time past, but now is opening our eyes to what Christ and His Apostles taught.
I notice in todayís New York Times (11/24/2004) an article by Nicholas Kristof concerning the "Left Behind" series. I responded by E-mail to Mr. Kristof, pointing out that not all of us follow the current Evangelical line. His comments no doubt reflect the thinking of the average American who has heard that we believe all people, regardless of their circumstances, will be thrown into Hell if they are not "born again." Mr. Kristof made some mocking comments about this, and I canít say I blame him.
I explained to Mr. Kristof that being "born again" is not referring to conversion to Christian theology but to the birth and growth of the Nature of God in us. It is not an escape from the flames nor a ticket to Paradise. It is the making of man in the image of God.
Hopefully God will have mercy on us and open the eyes of His ministers to the fact that we have departed from the Scriptures. We may be anxious to make converts; but I am afraid we are preventing their growth in Christ by our grace-rapture-Heaven mythology.