Whose Kingdom Shall Have No End
Jesus began his ministry in his hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. But when he spoke of Elijah and Elisha ministering to citizens of alien nations rather than within Israel, the people of Nazareth prepare to kill him (Luke 4:28–29). Following his ministry in Nazareth, Jesus continued in Galilee, prophetically bringing to fulfillment what Isaiah describes as a ministry along “the way of the sea, . . . Galilee of the nations” (Isa. 9:1–2; Matt. 4:12–17). These people, formerly living in darkness, now saw a great light. In this way, the inauguration of Jesus' ministry is the inauguration of a messianic kingdom, a kingdom with a role in the vast world of darkened nations.
Both Matthew and Luke make the point well. This kingdom that Jesus brings is not restricted to Israel. From its initial stages, it embraces all nations. It is truly the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of Israel. No idea of Jesus’ promoting a restored kingdom for the Israelite people in distinction from the peoples of all nations appears in the Gospels.
An Expanding Kingdom
After his initial ministry in the major city of Capernaum, Jesus departs at daybreak to a desert place. The people find him and try to dissuade him from leaving them. But Jesus responds in a way that reveals a basic element of his kingdom: “To the other cities also it is necessary for me to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, for I was commissioned for this very purpose” (Luke 4:42–43).
Note three things about this statement. First, Jesus is under compulsion to move on beyond one city to many other cities. Second, Jesus has a strong consciousness of being commissioned with this task. Third, the kingdom of God is the heart of his proclamation. This factor of expansion becomes an essential characteristic of the kingdom of God. It cannot, it must not, be contained in one place. It must spread to many places. Even from this early point, the kingdom of God manifests this characteristic of extension beyond its current borders, whatever those borders might be. This growing, enlarging aspect characterizes the kingdom in Jesus’ growth parables. The seed of the kingdom grows “automatically,” containing in itself the power of expansion (Mark 4:28). The yeast inevitably permeates the entire lump of dough (Matt. 13:33). Even today, two thousand years after Jesus’ first aggressive expansion to the other cities, the kingdom of the Messiah continues to expand so that it fills the whole earth. Daniel’s vision of the stone cut out without hands that smashes all other earthly empires and then expands to fill the entire world clearly anticipates this inherent growth aspect of the messianic kingdom of the Christ (Dan. 2:35).
The leadoff parable of Jesus makes it clear that the growth of the kingdom, its expansion in this world, hinges on the spreading of the Word concerning the King and his kingdom (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23). Nothing can substitute for the distribution of the Word, which like a seed possesses in itself the power of growth. Two different sowers emerge in a related parable about the sowing of the Word (vv. 24–30). The first person sows the good seed, which is the Word of God. But an enemy sows foreign seed that competes with the true seed of God. In the present age, these two seeds will grow together. But at the last judgment, a permanent distinction of destiny will become apparent.
Whenever a church or fellowship of Christian believers fails to grasp this truth of the necessity of continuing growth in God’s kingdom, it will sadly fail to fulfill this vital aspect of the kingdom of God. Churches and individual Christians must always be aware of this critical growth factor of Messiah’s kingdom.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount may be treated as an introductory summary of his teaching. From this summary, two distinctive elements should be noted: (1) God as the “Father” in this kingdom, and (2) accountability in this kingdom.
A Father-Ruled Kingdom
Often in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents God as the “Father” in the messianic kingdom that he is establishing. The idea of God as a “Father” at the head of his kingdom is a very distinctive concept—one that conveys divine care, compassion, sensitivity, protection, and wisdom from God that is available for all the cherished citizens of this kingdom. These numerous references contain multiple practical implications that define the nature of this kingdom:
- “Always do your good works as members of the kingdom to the glory of the Father” (Matt. 5:16).
- “Pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good” (Matt. 5:44–45).
- “Do not do your acts of righteousness to be seen of men, or you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. . . . Instead, do your charitable giving in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:1, 4).
- “When you pray, shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).
- “When you pray, address your prayers to the Father by saying, Our Father in heaven. . .” (Matt. 6:9).
- “If you forgive men, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive, neither will your Father forgive you” (Matt. 6:14–15).
- “Do your fasting before your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:18).
- “Your heavenly Father feeds the birds. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26).
- “Your heavenly Father knows you need food and clothing, so never worry about these things” (Matt. 6:30).
- “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
These many references to God as “Father” provide a deeply personal understanding of the relationship between the sovereign Lord of this kingdom and all its citizens. The God of this kingdom is not a dictatorial Lord; he is a tender Father to all the members of his redemptive kingdom, regarding each of them as his own cherished son or daughter. Yet this fatherhood of God must not be separated from his role as the sovereign King who has confirmed a covenant with his people. The words of Herman Ridderbos are worth attention here:
“Because of the coming of the kingdom, heaven is not only the place of the divine transcendence and inaccessibility, it is also the center of the Father’s divine work of salvation which has been set in motion and is being continued and directed to the consummation of all things. This shows that God’s fatherhood is, as it were, full of and laden with the power of his kingship. The two do not represent timeless ideas . . . , but their indissoluble unity implies that God’s fatherhood derives its special significance from the great fulfilling events of the salvation identified by Jesus in his preaching with the coming of the kingdom.”
Many people have not had a nourishing, comfortable, warm relationship with their earthly father. But the true meaning of “father” will be found in God’s tender, caring, compassionate relationship to each and every one of his children. Every disciple of Jesus would do well to meditate deeply on the person of God as his loving heavenly Father in the totality of life’s experience.
Have you personally absorbed the fullness of the truth that God is your own loving heavenly Father? Can you accept all of life’s experiences, whether they seem good or bad, as coming from the sovereign hand of your compassionate heavenly Father?
An Accountable Kingdom
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount concludes with sobering words about God’s judgment. Earlier he had warned about the danger of his disciples’ being judgmental. For with the severity with which a person judges he will be judged (Matt. 7:1–2).
God is the Judge in this kingdom. Various passages do not always make it clear whether this judgment by God will occur in this life or in the life to come—or even in both the present and the future life. But Jesus’ concluding words in the Sermon on the Mount clearly indicate that in God’s kingdom, everyone will be judged by him. It will involve an ultimate judgment in which deeds in conformity to his will, not simply outward words, will serve as the basis of judgment. Jesus declares:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)
By referring to a future entering or not entering the kingdom of heaven, Jesus clearly speaks of a future judgment for all people. “On that day,” the consummate day of accountability, many will plead their claim to share in the eternal kingdom of God. But they will be turned back from any association with Jesus. “Away from me, you evildoers,” he will say. “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:22–23).
The conclusion to this sermon contrasts wise and foolish persons in terms of a final judgment. Hearing and doing Jesus’ words display wisdom. Hearing but not doing manifests folly (Matt. 7:24–27). Not doing the words of the messianic King will inevitably bring disaster in this life as well as the life to come.
Especially noteworthy is the role that Jesus himself will play in this final judgment. Jesus indicates that in that final day, people will appeal to “me,” saying, “Lord, Lord.” He notes that every person’s final destiny will depend on how he has responded to “my” words.
Who is this man Jesus? How can he make such a claim? The eternal destinies of all people on earth hinge on their relationship to him! His claim goes far beyond the imaginable. Yet his mighty works as well as his awesome words confirm the uniqueness of his identity.
So how do you stand today in relation to the teaching of Jesus? He is indeed by his teaching the final great Spirit-anointed prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15). Are you simply regarding him as one more Jewish teacher who made spectacular claims about himself? Or are you hearing and doing, perceiving, believing, and acting on all that Jesus taught? May the Lord Jesus himself give special grace for you and for me to hear and to do as Jesus teaches. Then we can share together in the blessings of his messianic kingdom, both in the present life and in the eternal future.
Excerpt taken from Chapter 5: The Progressive Revelation Of The Kingdom Of God In The Gospels, Christ of the Consummation: A New Testament Biblical Theology, Volume 1: The Testimony of the Four Gospels.
O. Palmer Robertson (ThM, ThD, Union Theological Seminary, Virginia) is the founder of Consummation Ministries. Previously, he was director and principal of African Bible University in Uganda and taught at Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Knox Theological Seminary. He has also served for many years as a teaching elder in various pastoral roles.
"The Kingdom Manifesto" by Matthew Holst
"Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done" by Amy Mantravadi
"Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels" by Guy Waters
The Sermon on the Mount by James Boice
The Church: God's Kingdom on Earth, with Craig Troxel, Carl Trueman, and Richard Phillips
 Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, (Paideia/P&R, 1978), 239f.