WEEK 4: THE PRESENT KINGDOM
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:20
This evening we come to the last of our Bible overview sessions - and the aim of tonight is to see how the theme of God’s kingdom - people, place and rule - comes to its climax. And very simply they key to it at all, the final piece of the story that we’re going to look at tonight is to see how all three of those themes find their ultimate fulfilment in Christ: he is God’s true, ultimate person; he is God’s perfectly fulfilled place; he is now the source of God’s rule over us. You can see that verse there from 2 Corinthians - all of God’s promises find their yes in Jesus, he fulfils them. So tonight we’re simply going to run through how Jesus fulfils each of those kingdom promises:
Firstly let’s look at God’s people. I think this is probably one of the most foundational things to get right in reading the New Testament today - we often think like this: in the OT, God’s people are Adam and Eve, then Abraham, then Israel and so on; in the NT, God’s people are us, the church. Now that’s partly true, we’ve already looked at some aspects of that in previous weeks, but thinking of it like that misses the fact that the line of God’s people in the Bible narrows all the way down to Jesus first, he is God’s person, God’s true Israel, the second Adam, the Son of David and so on, and then out to us. Jesus ultimately fulfils God’s promises, not us. Let’s look at some of these:
Jesus is the second/true/last Adam - Luke 3:21-4:13; Romans 5:18-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 45-49
Let’s turn to Luke 3:21 - now what’s going on here is that Luke is wanting us to compare Jesus as the son of God with Adam as the Son of God. You can see that the whole passage is completely geared around the notion of sonship - READ vs 21-23 … and then we get a long list of sons all the way back to Adam, the son of God. So we’ve been told that Adam is the son of God and then straight away in Luke 4 the devil says to Jesus “If you are the son of God … do this”. What Luke wants us to see is that Jesus the son of God is now going to be contrasted with Adam as the son of God - will Jesus the son do what Adam the son did? Or will be different? Will he be obedient, will he trust God? And so then those other passages that I’ve listed there for you are all about what happens now that Jesus has succeeded where Adam failed - so we get all the language about Adam bringing death, but Christ bringing life and so on.
Now what all of this means is that Jesus Christ fulfils God’s purposes for mankind - because he is the second or true or last Adam, Jesus is the true man: Jesus is everything you and I were meant to be. You can see this in Hebrews 2:5-8. Now those verses are a quotation from Psalm 8, a Psalm all about God’s creation plans for man - do you remember God’s words to Adam to fill the earth and subdue it, God put everything under man’s feet. And look at the rest of the verse - READ v8b [substituting ‘man’ for ‘him’] - everything in the world was meant to be under man’s feet. “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” - now isn’t that a perfect description of our world: we look at mankind today and would we say that man is ruling the world exactly like he was meant to? No - wars, earthquakes, floods, disasters - everything is not yet subject to man. BUT, v9, we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels (like man), now crowned with glory and honour (like man) because he suffered death - do you see what’s happening? Jesus is the true man, the proper man - come to fulfil all of God’s purposes for man
Jesus is the true Israel (Galatians 3:14 - 16; Matthew 2:15)
Do you remember the promises to Abraham - from Abraham a great nation would come who would be a blessing to many nations - the nations would be blessed through Abraham’s line, through Israel. And a few weeks ago we saw in Isaiah that God commissioned his servant Israel: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (49:6). Well, Paul is saying in Galatians that that promise is now fulfilled in Jesus - he is the true Israel, he is the seed of Abraham, who brings blessing to the nations. You see, you and I here tonight in Gunnersbury as Christians because Jesus did what Israel failed to do - instead of being a light to the nations, Israel lived like the nations, sometimes even worse than them; but Jesus is the true Israel, obedient, faithful Israel and so now brings God’s blessing to Gentiles, to you and me.
So God’s promises to Abraham, and even God’s promises to humanity right back in the garden with Adam, are all fulfilled in Jesus - he is God’s true Adam, true Israel, true King.
Now, more quickly, when we come to think about God’s place there are a number of things we’ve got to hold together. God’s place in the Bible starts with Eden, then the land of Canaan and within that has special places like the tabernacle and temple. And when we get to the prophets and the people have been sent into exile, we saw last time that the prophets say that there will be a return to the land but it will be even better than before, it will be like Eden was at the very beginning. And right at the centre of God’s land is Jerusalem, or Zion, God’s city - the prophets said that at the end of the exile the people would return to Zion.
Now again, when we get to the New Testament all of these promises are fulfilled in Jesus: Jesus is the place where God now dwells:
Jesus is the true tabernacle (John 1:14)
Jesus is the true temple (John 2:18-22)
Jesus reigns from the true Zion, heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22)
Now this has a lot of really big applications for us: what it means very simply is that God’s place is where Jesus is and what this means is the end of all our notions of sacred space - no more sacred buildings, no more sacred land. Now, what does this do to our view of church … do we regard Jesus as God’s place or our building? That big building is not God’s house, God does not meet with us in there in any different way from how he meets with you in your bedroom or at your kitchen table.
And I think this also affects politics and how we view Israel and what we call the holy lands. I grew up in a church tradition mad about Israel and end-time prophecies and lots of media-analysis about who was doing what to the land, or what is happening to the land of Israel. And now I think that understanding the Bible’s storyline simply means that the land is irrelevant theologically - it is not where God dwells anymore. Now even if we’re not into middle-eastern politics and all that, I think there can still be a slight tendency sometimes to think that a trip to Israel and all the places of the Bible would have some sort of spiritual benefit, maybe that we’d feel closer to God to walk where Jesus walked and so on. And the Bible’s storyline says NO!
Actually this is what is happening in the book of Hebrews - it’s all about converted Jews who are actually beginning to want to go back to Judaism, to visible religion. When you think about it, Christianity is so radically different isn’t it - a temple you can’t see, a sacrifice you can’t see, a high priest you can’t see, sacred space you can’t see or enter, how inadequate compared to Judaism’s vibrant rituals and colourful festivals. And the writer of Hebrews is saying constantly: don’t go back to visible religion. You haven’t come to a mountain that can be touched etc - look at all the extremely physical imagery in 12:18ff … the writer is saying “look to go back to all of that, no matter how visible it was, well, all you’re going back to is a shadow, just a copy, an imitation of the real thing: you have the real thing now as you come to Christ.”
Jesus mediates the new covenant (Galatians 3:13-14; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:15)
One of the promises to Abraham was God saying “I will bless you” … and the main way we’ve seen that played out is as God’s makes covenants with Abraham and then with Israel and then David - the covenants show God’s blessing. And what happens with the covenants is that they say to Israel: “Be obedient and you will experience covenant blessings - a fruitful land etc; BUT be disobedient and you will experience covenant curses - you will go into exile, the land will be come barren” and so on - that’s what Deuteronomy 28 makes clear.
Now when we get to the New Testament what is very interesting is to see that God’s blessing now comes explicitly via Jesus - the blessing of the covenant comes to us from Jesus because Jesus bears the curse of the covenant: LOOK AT Galatians 3:13-14 - READ. So what’s happening here is a summary of the Bible’s story-line: Paul is saying to us “Look, we’re all under the curse of the law - we’ve all broken it, rejected God’s rule, just like Adam and Eve banished from the garden, just like Israel banished from the land of Cannan - we all deserve exile, the covenant curse of God’s judgment. But Jesus took the curse, the judgment for breaking the law, instead of us … and because of that, blessings now flow to us from what Jesus did. Jesus lives a perfect life for us, and then dies our death for us.
And this death, this great exchange on the cross, Jesus says that this blessing that it will bring to all the nations, to you and to me, is the new covenant - remember his words at his last supper, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” - and listen to how Hebrews 9:15 describes it: “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised inheritance - now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Because of his death, taking God’s judgment on himself, Jesus is now the source of God’s blessing.
Jesus rules as the true King (Matthew 1:1-17; Acts 2:29-33)
Do you remember again how mingled in with the promises to Abraham were the promises that kings would come from his line … and we saw that partially fulfilled in David and Solomon and the kings of Israel, and the king was meant to be the embodiment of the people, their representative before God - the king lived under God’s rule and the people lived under the king’s rule under God’s rule But remember God’s promise to David: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom … I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13). This is why Jesus is King - he is great David’s greater Son.
Galatians 3:29; 1 Peter 2:9; Romans 2:28-29
1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5
Romans 8:15-17; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22
(i) God’s People - Revelation 7:9-17
(ii) God’s Place - Revelation 21:1-5, 22-27
(iii) God’s Rule/Blessing - Revelation 21:3-4; 22:1-3
GOD'S BIG PICTURE
The pattern of the kingdom
Adam & Eve
The perished kingdom
Curse & judgement
The promised kingdom
The partial kingdom
Israel under Moses/Joshua
The prophesied kingdom
Remnant of Israel, servant, nations
Restored Land, New Temple, New Creation
New Covenant, New King
The present kingdom
New Israel - those in Christ
Individual Believers, Church
New Covenant, Deposit of the Spirit