Thursday, August 9, 2012
“Thy Kingdom Come”
As we have already seen, the message of Jesus could be summarized as "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel" ("The Message of Jesus" – 2/2/12). In some ways this message was very typical of Jewish speculation in the First Century about the end times. A variety of radical Jewish sects were looking for a final apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil. But most of these groups were thinking narrowly in terms of the future prospects of Israel. Jesus' message was different. While using much of the same terminology and referring back to the same Old Testament texts, Jesus' emphasis was different. He focused on the future kingdom of God, universalized the concept, and emphasized its moral aspects. We must repent in order to "inherit" or "enter into" the kingdom.
So, then, when we pray "Thy kingdom come," what exactly do we mean? One of the best explanations we have of how the kingdom unfolds is the parable of the wheat and the tares found in Matt. 13:24-30 and explained in verses 36-43. A parable is a story that illustrates a point, and Jesus was the master story-teller of them all.
In the parable of the wheat and the tares a landowner plants wheat in his field. Later, however, an enemy of his sows tares in the same field. (A "tare" is apparently the bearded darnel, a weed that looks at first like wheat until it grows out.) Once it became apparent that there were tares among the wheat the landowner's servants asked him if he wanted the tares pulled out of the field. He said "no," wait until the harvest. Then gather the tares first and burn them, and afterwards harvest the wheat.
Jesus then explained the parable this way: the landowner represents Christ Himself; the field is the world, the wheat seed is "the sons of the kingdom," and the tares are "the sons of the wicked one." The harvest is "the end of the age" (synteleia aionos – the completion and consummation of the age). Jesus goes on the explain further: at the end of the age "the Son of Man" (a messianic title taken from Dan. 7:13 in the Old Testament) will send out His angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire" (vv. 41,42; NKJV). Then, He says, "the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (v. 43).
It is apparent, then, that there are two different senses in which the kingdom "comes." The first is when Jesus Himself and later the church proclaimed the gospel and individual members are added to the church. The second is when Christ returns and establishes His personal, visible rule on earth. Until then the kingdom, in its spiritual form, and the world exist side by side. Thus to pray for the coming of the kingdom is to pray for the success of the gospel. But then it is also to pray for the speedy return of Christ, that glorious day when He shall descend from heaven, vanquish all His foes, and establish a reign of peace and justice on the earth.
Thus the Christian is a conservative and a liberal at the same time. He is a conservative in the sense that he wants to preserve the Christian heritage of the Western world. But he is also a liberal, profoundly liberal, for he can never accept the status quo. He is deeply impressed by the corruption and injustice that remain in the world, and he ever presses for reform. But he does it by peaceful means – by pleading with his fellow sinners to repent and come to Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and a new heart. But the final solution to the problem of evil awaits the return of Christ.