The Kingdom of Heaven and its Mysteries.
by Leonard Strong
BELOVED Brother, [Thomas George Bell, Ed.] may I be allowed space for a few remarks on the especial and important force of the expression, "The Kingdom of the Heavens," at first found in the Scriptures by Matthew, chap. iii. 2, where John the Baptist is described as going forth in the wilderness of Judea, preaching "The kingdom of the heavens is at hand."
There are four several expressions used to denote "the kingdom of God." The kingdom of the heavens, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Father, and the kingdom of the Son of His love, or as it is translated, "The kingdom of God's dear Son," (Col. i. 13.) Now I think that this diversity of terms or designations, must simply refer to the manner of its administration, or the place of its manifestation. The kingdom of God must be wherever the authority, power, and will of God is really paramount. Thus, I understand that our Lord alluded to Himself when replying to the question of the Pharisees, (in Luke xvii.) He said, "The kingdom of God is within you," i.e., in the midst of you, if you had eyes to discern Me. I am the nucleus of the kingdom of God in Man, and in the world; the true kingdom of God in Man, in whom the power and will of God is all. The beginning of the new creation, where God must be all in all!
The expression, "Kingdom of God," is therefore a general term. Its force or proper meaning is included in all the others. The kingdom of the heavens must be the kingdom of God; while the kingdom of God is not necessarily the kingdom of the heavens and could not be while Jesus Christ was on earth. The same may be said of the other definite characteristics of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Father, or the kingdom of the Son of God's love.
The kingdom of God, as administered formerly in Israel, whether in its Theocracy, or when administered by Saul or David and his sons, was not the kingdom of the heavens. Its throne was upon earth, its centre of power and dominion were upon earth, the concentration of its authority, though of God, was upon earth, and the glory of God was upon earth, and He spake his law and commands upon earth. Moreover, when God, casting down the throne of David, transferred dominion to the Gentiles, its centre of power and administration was still upon earth, even Babylon. God gave to Nebuchadnezzar power, dominion, and authority over the nations, but this power was administered from a centre upon earth. All the authority upon earth was of God and given to man to exercise over others for the punishment of evil-doers and the praise of them who do well, and the centre of this power was to be upon earth.
This power, however, has always been abused in the hand of man, whether it has been delegated to David's throne or the Gentile powers, and God in His Word, in the Book of Psalms, in the Prophets, and especially in the Book of Daniel, has foretold the installment of ONE Who, as the Son of Man receiving power and authority from Him in the heavens, should exercise it from thence, and administer all dominion over the nations upon earth from the glory of His throne and dominion in the heavens. Yes, this blessed Man of the first Psalm, must first humble Himself and be obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross for our sins; be buried, and rising again the third day, must ascend to the right hand of God, and there expect until His enemies are made His footstool. He must be highly exalted, and be given a name above every name, that to Him every knee may bow. This Son of Man shall be brought before the Ancient of Days, and receive dominion and glory, that all the people of Israel, and all nations upon earth, may serve Him, and this His kingdom shall never pass away, shall never be destroyed. This is the kingdom proclaimed to be at hand by John the Baptist and our Lord—THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS!
The fourth kingdom, or fourth beast of Daniel, had sprung into being, and the Stone, Who was to break in pieces these Gentile kingdoms or dynasties, was ripening for His power and glory to which He would be exalted after the suffering of death; and the Jews were loudly called upon by John the Baptist, and by this divine Prophet, now among them, speaking the Words and doing the works of God His Father, to turn from their dream of restoration in the flesh, and of establishing their own righteousness, to HIMSELF, the Lamb of God, the bearer away of the world's sin, Who was about, by the means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant (which was ordained on earth), to mediate unto them a new covenant and an eternal inheritance, when by His Own blood, He had entered once into the heavens, having obtained for them an eternal inheritance, or as it is said in Heb. i., "When He had by Himself made purgation of our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, "according to Psalm cx.: "Sit Thou upon My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." From thence will He send out the rod of His power, from thence come forth to rule in the midst of His enemies.
Then, and not till then, will the KINGDOM OF GOD come with power, majesty and glory, when it is administered from the heavens or the firmament above the earth; when He shall come, the great Melchizedec! "Priest and King of the Most High God, possessor of Heaven and earth;" Who, bringing again into this inhabited earth, His first begotten from the dead, Heaven will be His throne, the earth His footstool.
Then, and not till then, will the heavens truly rule, and the saying of the prophet be fulfilled, "And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will hear, saith Jehovah, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn and wine and oil, and they shall hear Jezreel, and I will sow her unto Me in the earth, and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them who were not My people Thou art My people; and they shall say, Thou art my God."
The kingdom of the heavens was and is a Jewish hope! The Lord said to the High Priest, "Hereafter, thou shalt see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of Heaven." The resurrection and ascension of Messiah were necessary for Israel's glory, and the Gentiles' blessing through them. The promise, grounded upon resurrection, was that to which the twelve tribes, serving God instantly day and night in their earthly temple, hoped to come, (Acts xxvi. 6-9.) The hopes of David's throne are founded upon resurrection, (Acts ii. 30-36.) The resurrection made David's mercies sure mercies, (Acts xiii.) The ascension of Messiah is also necessarily connected with Jewish hopes; for it is by ascension He receives gifts for the rebellious, which in His ministration of the new covenant, He will give to Israel, when as the Lord God, He will dwell among them, (Psalm lxviii.) ; and it is as "exalted with God's right hand, a PRINCE and SAVIOUR," that He is to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins, (Acts v. 31.) This Jewish hope, therefore, the kingdom of the heavens, which John the Baptist and our Lord proclaimed to be at hand, depended upon His ascension to the right hand of God, and this would not be, except through His death.
Had the nation received the Lord as their Christ and King, the Romans would have slain Him, and thus having been made a sacrifice for sin, God would have raised Him to His right hand. When, after the raising of Lazarus from the dead, He rode into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass, according to the prophet Zechariah ix.: "Behold, Thy King cometh," &c., the people seemed almost ready to receive Him, and the Gentiles, also awakened, were ready to receive the King of the Jews, the Son of David, Who had raised the dead. The chief priests and elders of the Jews trembled, saying, "What shall be done; the whole world has gone after Him, and the Romans will take away our name and nation; it is necessary that He die, and the nation perish not." He himself declared His kingdom could not come unless He died and was buried. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit;" and that by His bearing the judgment of this world on His Own body, the prince of this world must be cast out; and by being lifted up from the earth, He would draw all to Him! The kingdom of the heavens, therefore, could not come until Jesus the Christ was exalted above the heavens.
In the 16th Matthew, the Lord, alluding to His rejection by Israel, speaks for the first time of one, and that the blessed one, of the mysteries, which would be developed after the kingdom of the heavens, as set up in His ascension, should be preached, that is, the building together of His especial assembly, or gathering from among men, of those who, during His rejection, should own Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. He appoints the apostle Peter first to open, by preaching His death and resurrection, the kingdom of the heavens to Jew and to Gentile; and this as a distinct thing from the building together of the believers as one body, the body and co-heirs of Christ when He comes to reign." "I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall have been bound in Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall have been loosed in Heaven." He then immediately spake of His death and resurrection which should be accomplished at Jerusalem. Accordingly, after He had gone up to the right hand of God, exalted above the heavens, He sent down the Holy Ghost to dwell in the believing Jews, according to the prophet Joel, and Peter stood up and proclaimed that Jesus Whom they had crucified was "exalted to be Lord and Christ." That He had shed forth from the heavens the Holy Ghost upon His servants and handmaidens, who had believed, and they were all commanded to be baptized into His name for the remission of sins, and they would receive the Holy Ghost. That those things which God had before shown by His holy prophets, that Christ should suffer, He had so fulfilled; let them therefore change their minds and acknowledge Christ's death for the remission of their sins, so that the times of refreshing should come from His presence, and God would send Jesus Christ whom the heavens must receive until the times of the restitution of all things. Thus then, was the kingdom of the heavens opened unto them, and proclaimed as immediately to commence by the revelation of Jesus Christ from Heaven in turning every one of them from their iniquities first, and then to extend its saving power to all the kindreds of the earth.
Thus, Peter used the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, opening the kingdom to Israel. Likewise also, he opened with the same keys the kingdom for the Gentiles, as seen in Acts x., when he preached to the centurion and his company at Caesarea—preaching peace by Jesus Christ as Lord of all—as ordained of God, Judge of all, and through Whose name, as now exalted to the heavens, God proclaimed remission of sins, and as they believed, the Holy Ghost fell on the Gentiles, as before upon the Jews; but alas, as of old, Israel was turned back through unbelief to perish in the wilderness, so now did this rebellious people declare by their chief priest and rulers, that they would not have this MAN to reign over them. They would have no king but Caesar. The rebellious husbandmen had killed the heir and now refused to acknowledge Him, though raised from the dead. The kingdom of the heavens therefore could not fully come! . . . Their rebellion and hardness of heart stood in the way so that the setting up of the kingdom was postponed. It could not deliver them and shed forth its saving power and glory over the earth. Stephen had seen the King, risen up and ready to come forth at their bidding, but they gnashed their teeth and rejected the testimony of the Holy Ghost, and were not forgiven. So the Lord shut the door, and retired as He said, "I will go and return to My place, until they acknowledge their offence and seek My face. In their afflictions they will seek Me early." (Hosea v.)
I said the kingdom of the heavens could not fully come; but Jesus Christ, the source and centre of all grace and power, the alone dispenser of life and blessing, is exalted and installed above the heavens; raised and seated above all principalities and powers of this age and the age to come. Satan and his angels we know are still in the heavens, and he is still the prince of the power of the air, god of this age on earth.
What then is now revealed to us by the holy apostle and prophets, through the Spirit now indwelling us? The kingdom is in abeyance; but a mystery that had been hid in God from the ages, is now made known unto us, which was ordained before the ages. for our glory. (Eph. iii. 9; 1 Cor. ii. 7.)
The Lord in glory descended into the air to call Saul of Tarsus to be the apostle of a heavenly calling to a heavenly inheritance, to Jew and Gentile, especially to the Gentiles, and a fresh revelation was given to the apostles to call out an election from among Jews and Gentiles to form a body for Christ in which He will, when He comes, manifest His glory. To call out a people for His name! A Bride, one of His Own flesh and bones as risen and exalted, a co-heir, a sharer in His glory, to come with Him in the heavens, when He shall come in the clouds of Heaven to raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen down, to set it up, that the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all the nations upon whom His name is called. When the heavens shall rule, and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and His Christ.
Thus, then is this present dispensation ushered in, which may be called the kingdom of the heavens in a mystery. As a kingdom it is called the kingdom of the Son of God's love, Whom men cast out; but Whom God has exalted in love, Whom He delights to honour, and to Whom He has given all power in Heaven and earth. We, who are called, are sharers in this love and glory, and said to be delivered from the power of darkness and to be translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, (Col. i. 13.) With this call, commenced the "mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven," which the Lord said, "it was given to His disciples to know and understand." The holiest of all is opened for us above the heavens. One Head and only source of life or power is the Son of God in Heaven. Henceforth, there is no centre of power, or blessing, or worship on earth. The Holy Ghost sent down from one Head, dwells in us, immediately connecting each of us with our Lord above the heavens, teaching how, walking in Him, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this evil age of the world, looking for that blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This interesting subject, the "mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, "is fully set forth in the seven parables of our Lord as related in the 13th chapter of Matthew's gospel, and of which I may, if spared and allowed, further write in a future paper.
"The Voice Upon The Mountains" 1868