by | Jul 22, 2022 | Kingdom

Kingdom: An ever-growing reign (Matthew 4:17)

by | Jul 22, 2022 | Kingdom

The idea of God being the divine Ruler and King over Israel is almost as long as the nation’s history. Before the nation had any earthly king, God was its King. 1 Samuel chapter 8 recounts the sad situation when Israel preferred a human king over God, their divine King. So the concept of God as King, ruling over His kingdom and people (the nation of Israel) was not at all foreign to the people of Jesus’ day. But two things made Jesus’ use of the phrase “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of heaven” difficult for them.

1) Since the time of the exile (over 700 years for the northern kingdom of Israel, over 500 years for the southern kingdom of Judah) the people of God had not experienced God’s rule or reign over them in a tangible or particularly noticeable way. They were slaves or vassals under one nation or another all of that time. It was perhaps the darkest and most disheartening season of Israel’s history.

2) The phrases “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of heaven” had never been used by Old Testament writers or prophets.

So when John the baptizer, followed by Jesus, make their debut in ways that parallel the Old Testament prophecies regarding the forerunner of the Messiah, and the Messiah Himself (respectively), and THEN begin saying, almost in unison, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”, the people were more than a little bit confused.

Jesus’ first use of the phrase “Kingdom of heaven” appears in Matthew 4:17, but to gain clarity from the context, we’ll begin reading in verse 12.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew

Disciple & Apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew 4:12-17

TIME TO GET THINGS ROLLING

John’s arrest seems to have served as a marker or indication to Jesus that it was time for Him to move into more of a public ministry. His first step is to position Himself to fulfill another of the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecies, found in Isaiah 9:1-2.

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in the land of the shadow of death, The light will shine on them.

Isaiah

Prophet of Yahweh, Isaiah 9:1-2

Both the “great light” and “light” mentioned here represent God’s revelation through the Messiah that would come to Israel one day. We know this is what Isaiah referred to because later in chapter 9 he mentions a child to be born who will fulfill these things by the power and zeal of Yahweh (Israel’s God).

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah

Prophet of Yahweh, Isaiah 9:6-7

In case you missed it, notice Isaiah’s description of what this Messiah-child would do. He will be the one to fill David’s throne and rule over his kingdom. Notice that from that position of authority, the Messiah would establish a rule of justice and peace that would experience no end to its increase and would continue “from then and forevermore.” How will this happen? “The zeal of Yahweh of host will accomplish this.”

So to summarize:

  • The Messiah would come as a child to the northernmost region of Israel, the lands of Naphtali and Zebulun.
  • The “government” (of Israel, or something more?) will rest on His shoulders.
  • His rule will increase from that time forth and forever, never to end.

Fast forward to our passage in Matthew.

  • Jesus is born in Galilee (the region prophesied by Isaiah).
  • He returns there when it is time for Him to “go public” so there is no doubt that He fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.
  • John the baptizer, His forerunner proclaims that a coming Kingdom is “at hand.”
  • Jesus repeats that reality as He begins His public ministry.

OBSERVATIONS

My heart warms as I recognize connections like this. I’m awed and excited when I see how God (the one called “Yahweh” in Isaiah’s prophecy) has intricately woven together the historical strands that make up the narrative of the Bible. Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy was not coincidental or accidental. It was the determined purpose and plan of Yahweh, carried out to the minutest detail in history. It is accomplished with “zeal” by the God who has created and orchestrated all of history. It really is His story.

Particular to the “Kingdom,” that Jesus mentions, I have to believe that ALL of the descriptions of the Kingdom given in Isaiah 9 are meant to be taken seriously right along with everything else.

What I mean is this… based on this prophecy from Isaiah chapter 9…

  • We accept the prophsesied “child” as being literal and we readily identify Him as being Jesus.
  • We accept the divinity attributed to Him through the titles “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlating Father, Prince of peace.”
  • We accept the pinpoint accuracy of Jesus’ home turf being foretold as the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali.
  • We accept Jesus to be the inheritor of David’s throne (the Son of David), as mentioned in this prophecy.
  • We affirm that Jesus was indeed the “light” spoken of, John’s gospel emphasizes this in many places.

YET, generally speaking, we have not paid attention to or taken equally seriously the described characteristics of the Kingdom He is said to rule over.

  • From the time He appears (publicly?), His rule will increase and never stop increasing. (”from then and forevermore.”

I’m startled by how much we in the church have emphasized the items on the bullet-point list above but have failed to acknowledge an equally important detail of the prophesy. Jesus’ rule (the Kingdom) began with His appearing, started growing, and has not stopped growing ever since. Furthermore, it will never stop growing.

SIGNIFICANCE

If this is true (and it must be if we take the prophesy of Isaiah 9 seriously), then Jesus’ and John’s insistence that the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand” meant that it was being inaugurated with Jesus’ appearance as Messiah. That was the starting point, historically speaking.

From there, the Kingdom began growing, continued growing, and to this day, has never stopped growing.

Whether we recognize its growth or not in various seasons in history, Isaiah’s prophesy insists it is the case. To me, there’s no difficulty believing this no matter the ebbs and flows of history because as we will see in time, it is a “spiritual” Kingdom, one that crosses national borders and includes all cultures, people groups, genders, social classes, and more. It’s growth is not merely difficult to assess, it is impossible to rightly quantify.

Why is this important for us to understand?

Because no matter how terrible things may seem around us, historically speaking, we can rest. We can be at peace. We can live each day with confidence that Jesus reigns over His Kingdom, of which He has made us citizens, and that His Kingdom is expanding even now. We are included in the Kingdom growth plans of Yahweh, His zeal is still accomplishing the work He had in mind when Jesus arrived on the scene… and that expansion wil never end.

Pessimism be damned. We have every reason, based on the declaration of God Himself, to be the most optimistic people on the planet.

But there’s another thing that relates to our personal walk with Jesus…

A kingdom is not a nebulous entity or organization. Neither is it a nation. At the fundamental level, every kingdom is comprised of its citizens. That means the people in the Kingdom of heaven/God will continually be growing, in number and in spirit.

Jesus’ work in US is ongoing and continual because we are those citizens of His Kingdom. Don’t miss this point.

Whenever you feel dry spiritually or when you feel your quiet time devotional for the day yielded very little that you can see, set your mind on this truth…

“The Kingdom of Christ is advancing in me, even when I can’t see it or feel it.”

We are not alone. We are never alone. Our great King is with us and doing His work in us at all times.

Be encouraged friends.

 

Prayer Response

Would you join me in this prayer?

Yahweh, thank You for such intricate and detailed prophecies that bring to light how powerful and wise You are. We need to see thse connections to boulster and support our faith in life. You are so kind to give them.

Jesus, thank You for being so powerfully present and active in our lives. Enable us, help us to never forget that fact and to actively fight the discouragement and malaise that can creep into our souls when our feelings don’t line up with that reality.

And enable us to remember that Your Kindom is advancing all around us, in the terrible and awesome things happening in the world around us. Keep us hopeful because You are at work… and You do not fail.

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