The Present Kingdom (Part 1 of 2) — By Alistair Begg / Truth For Life
Speaker, Alistair Begg
June, 13th, 2004
Since the Garden of Eden, God has promised to rescue us from our sinful condition and establish a Kingdom for Himself. On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg points us to the fulfillment of that promise in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The New Testament begins in a surprising way: with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. As Alistair Begg explains, though, given God’s promises to Abraham and David, this is exactly how it should open. Jesus, the Gospels tell us, is the one in whom all previous promises are fulfilled. He is the true Adam and true Israel who comes to represent and redeem God’s people, saving us not because of anything we have done, but by what He has accomplished for us.
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’
“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.
“When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
For those of you who are visiting with us this evening, we’re in a series of studies, trying to get an overview of the Bible, and we invite you to jump in where we are and to do as well as you can “joining the class” at this point. We are using the notion of the kingdom of God as the key to unlock the big picture of the Bible. We have considered the kingdom of God as it is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule; we have looked at that in its pristine beauty, if you like, in the garden of Eden. We’ve seen it spoiled. We have then considered that kingdom as it is promised to Abraham’s descendants, the promise of Canaan—the promised land—and the blessing that would attend Israel and, through Israel, the nations. We have considered the fact that the kingdom is partial in its fulfillment in the Old Testament in Israel, and we looked at that in some detail as we tried to cover a thousand years. We then, last time, dealt with “The Prophesied Kingdom,” focusing on the fact that although God dealt dramatically with great chunks of the people, there has always been a remnant, and the new temple and the new creation takes us beyond the model, and the new covenant and the new king—namely, Jesus—introduces blessing that is beyond all that we might anticipate. (The story so far, at least up until last time, was as follows, and for those of you who are able to follow that piece of geometry, then I leave it with you. For the rest of you, and incidentally, you will have all of this in your own copy when we finish this series in 2007.)
This evening we come to “The Present Kingdom.” I hope that’s an encouragement to you, the idea of “present”: we’re gaining on it, it’s getting a little closer, and we, as I said this morning, have crossed the divide from Malachi and into the opening of the New Testament.
If you just turn to the opening of your New Testament in Matthew for a moment, just so you can put your gaze on it, you may agree with me that the New Testament doesn’t open in a way that appears to be immediately inspiring, does it? I mean, if you’re just reading through the Bible for the very first time, and you get to the end of Malachi, and it’s pointing forward, and you say, “Well, I can’t wait till I start the new section of this,” and you open then to the new section, and it says, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham,” and then it begins from there, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah,” and so on, and if you’re honest, you’re tempted to say, “Oh, I think I’ll skip this part, and maybe I’ll just begin with another gospel altogether.” But then, if you keep in mind the promises that God had made to Abraham in Genesis 12 and the promises that he made to David in 2 Samuel 7, and you focus on the fact that everything is pointing forward from promise to fulfillment, then you realize that this is an essential way for the New Testament to open, because Jesus is the one who fulfills all these promises.
And what you have in Matthew, you have in a similar fashion in Mark—we read from a little bit of Mark—but right at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel, he begins, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and then he says, “It is written in Isaiah the prophet,” and he quotes from Isaiah, and he also quotes from Malachi. And what Mark is doing is reaching one hand back, as it were, to the prophets, and then pointing forward to the one who is to come. And, of course, it is made very clear that a herald is going to appear—the prophets had said this—“who would be in advance of God’s king,” and he would announce the arrival of the king, and he would urge people to get ready for him.
And, of course, that’s exactly what Mark says. Mark 1:4: “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. [And] the whole Judean countryside … went out to him.” So, Mark tells us John is here preparing the way, and then in verse 14, we have the appearing of Jesus: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” And interestingly—and, of course, should be no surprise to us by now—he says, “The time has come … [and] the kingdom of God is near.” That’s his very first point of contact.
And although the phrase “the kingdom of God” does not appear in that way in the Old Testament, nevertheless the concept is there, and at the risk of redundancy, let me say to you again that the Old Testament has pointed forward to Jesus’ coming, and Jesus has now come, and his disciples see what others had really wanted to see. You won’t recall this, but back in Luke chapter 10, on one occasion Jesus turns to his disciples privately, and he says to them, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” Now, what he’s referring to there is all of the prophetic activity that was pointing forward down through time. And people had awakened to a new day, and they’d said to one another, “I wonder if we will see the fulfillment of what the prophets are saying concerning the coming Priest, the coming King, and the coming Prophet.” What an immense privilege it was for this group of people to be granted this opportunity!
Christ, the Promises’ Fulfillment
So the time has come, and the fulfillment is in Christ. (I’m not, incidentally, sure if I’ve spelled “fulfillment” correctly there; I’m so stuck in the middle of the ocean. I may have spelled it correctly for America; I’m pretty certain I’ve spelled it incorrectly for the English language as it is spoken in other parts of the world. The reason I say that is ’cause I have one l here and two l’s up there, but I’ll leave you to check at your leisure—not that any of you could even care, and I shouldn’t have mentioned it. But anyway…)
The New Testament, as we’ve been seeing, never leads us to expect that there’s going to be any fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies other than those that find their fulfillment in the Lord Jesus. That is why we’re never encouraged in the New Testament to look for the fulfillment of these promises in the model—remember the partial fulfillment in the nation of Israel, which we referred to as a model that is pointing forward to the reality—and when you read the New Testament—and again, you’re sensible people, you need to do this—if you read the New Testament in this way, then you will find that there is no encouragement for us to think in terms of the fulfillment of these prophesies being in the model, because the model has been dismantled. So, instead of our focus being upon a new temple in the state of Israel, we don’t look to the model, but we look to the reality in Christ.
As I said last time, that is unsettling for some of you, because I know you want me to read books all the time about the Dome of the Rock, and how it’s all going to come down, and there’s going to be a new temple there, and how that is the key to everything in history. I understand where you got that from; what I’m saying to you is, you might want to read your New Testament a couple more times before you hang your hat on that particular notion.
Let me quote to you one commentator: “For the New Testament the interpretation of the Old Testament is not ‘literal’ but ‘Christological’. That is to say that the coming of Christ transforms all the Kingdom terms of the Old Testament into gospel reality.” Now, this is a very, very salient point; it is a crucial point—the idea of the New Testament interpreting the Old Testament, the fulfillment of prophesies from the Old being fulfilled Christologically rather than literally.
Chris Wright, another commentator, uses this analogy. I’ve found it helpful; I don’t know if you will. He says, imagine that a hundred years ago a father promises his son on his twenty-first birthday a mode of conveyance: he promises his son a horse and buggy, when he’s just a tiny boy. And he says, “You know, when you get to be twenty-one, I’m going to buy you a horse and a buggy.” Along the journey of life, cars are invented. And so, when the birthday finally comes, the boy is given a car instead of a horse. The promise has still been fulfilled, but not literally. The father could never have promised the boy a car, because he never understood the concept of a car—father nor son. In a similar way, says Wright, God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand, using terminology that they could figure on, using categories that they understood—categories with which they were familiar, like nation and temple and material prosperity in the land.
If you’ve ever thought about that, you say to yourself, “Well, I don’t understand how this ‘material prosperity’ thing works in relationship to the Psalms.” And it is transmuted, translated, into a kind of “wealth gospel” that is foisted upon people on the basis of what it says. And the people will come and say, “Well, it says quite literally here that God will do this: ‘If you do this, he’ll do this.’” “Oh,” you say, “of course it does! But is that the right way to understand it? Is it right to look for the horse and buggy after you’ve been given a car?”
You see, the fulfillment in that analogy and the fulfillment in the New Testament breaks the boundaries of these categories, so much so that to expect a literal fulfillment is actually to miss the point—to miss the point. Let me quote again: “To look for direct fulfilments of, say, Ezekiel in the twenty-first-century Middle East is to bypass and short-circuit the reality and finality of what we already have in Christ as the fulfilment of [these] great assurances. It is like taking delivery of the motorcar but still expecting to receive a horse [and a buggy].” All the promises of the kingdom are fulfilled in Christ.
Christ, the Second Adam
Now, what has the focus been? God’s people, God’s place, God’s rule and blessing. We won’t have time to look at them all; we’ll only look at the first of these. First of all, the fulfillment of the notion of God’s people—fulfillment, in Christ, of the promise. God’s people: Adam, the first man, failed in his role; that’s why the kingdom is spoiled. He was given the role, he was made in the image of God, and yet he was evicted from the garden. God, we’ve discovered, made a new start with the Israelites; they were called to be his people, they would display his character as and when they obeyed his law. But they also failed, and they were sent into exile.
But when you come to the New Testament, you discover that where Adam and where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds. And what the New Testament tells us is this: that Jesus is what the people of God were meant to be—namely, he embodies the true Adam and the true Israel. So Jesus is the true Adam.
When we studied in Luke’s Gospel, we were made very clearly aware of the fact that Jesus is there in all of his humanity, and so we have him described as growing and learning and crying and sleeping and dying. He descended from Adam, and he identifies with Adam’s race; and in part, that is what is taking place in his baptism. You remember when he was baptized, and John says to him, “This is the wrong way ’round. I should be baptized by you, and you’re coming to be baptized by me?” And Jesus says somewhat enigmatically in response, “Let it be so now; [for thus] it is [fitting] to fulfill”—interesting verb—“to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, “This is the right thing to do.” And part of that was his identification with us in our humanity.
But unlike Adam, he is tempted but doesn’t sin. And so what we have in the Lord Jesus is the only human being who perfectly obeyed God, his Father—the only human being who ever obeyed God perfectly. Therefore, what we have in Jesus is the one person to have lived who doesn’t deserve to be banished from the presence of God. Right? Sin exiles us, banishes us from the presence of God. In the person of Jesus, we have his perfect act of obedience: he kept the law to the absolute letter of the law; he did everything he should do; he did not do anything he shouldn’t do. Therefore, in his perfection, he does not deserve to be banished from God. But he is banished from God. And on the cross, he willingly faces the punishment that sinners deserve—sinners who are bound up in Adam.
Now, this doctrine, which is central to Pauline theology—you have it in Romans 5, clearly; it’s at the heart of everything—this is the kind of thing that, parenthetically, we need to know if we’re going to have a Christian worldview that was referenced this morning by Voddie in his preaching. When he said, “You need to know what you need to know,” he was talking about stuff that is absolutely central to the issues of our humanity and our understanding of why things are the way they are; and it is completely countercultural. The average person in the street, if you walked them in here and gave them even a taste of what I’m saying now, they’d say, “You know, that man is absolutely crazy; I don’t know where he got that stuff from; I frankly disagree with every word that is out of his mouth. What is this notion, that we deserve to be punished for our sins, that this one perfect person bore our punishment, and that somehow or another, if we are hooked up with him, that we are okay, and God says we’re alright, and we’ll go to heaven? I never heard anything as crazy in all of my life.”
But that is this doctrine of the federal headship of Adam and the federal headship of Christ: “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Walk back to your daily activities tomorrow, and walk amongst humanity—all of humanity in Adam: in Adam by nature, in Adam by descent, born in sin, shapen in iniquity, because we have been united with Adam in his rebellion against God. That is true of every single person on the face of the earth, without exception. And the actual answer to the predicament of humanity is for men and women to be introduced to the one person—the only person—who kept the law perfectly, who need not be banished from God, but who then was passively obedient to the death on the cross so that we, by faith, in grace, may be made members of his family.
Now, that’s a lot of words. Let me give it to you so you can see it before your gaze in Romans chapter 5. I’ve referred to it already; turn here for a moment, and just look at what it says. Romans chapter 5. There’s a heading in the NIV; if you’re turning to it there, it begins in verse 12. We won’t read it all, but you will notice there, “Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ.” We’ll just read verse 18 and 19: “Consequently,” he says, building on his argument, “just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
Now, let me put this up here and see if it helps. I’ll just let you look at that for a moment: “Adam,” “sins,” “condemnation,” and “death.” The “one man,” Adam; the “many,” the human race that flows from Adam, all caught up in the sin of Adam. Christ—his death on the cross, bringing justification and life—the “one man,” Christ; the “many,” those who trust in Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this: “As we were constituted sinners because of Adam’s sin, and apart from any actions on our part, so we are constituted righteous persons entirely apart from anything that we do. It is entirely and only because of Christ’s obedience.… All that was true of you formerly was the result of that one act of Adam. All that is true of you now is a result of the obedience of Christ.”
Now, my dear friends, if you can get this in your mind and have the Spirit of God anchor it in your heart, then it will do a number of things for you. One, it will humble you. Two, it will make an evangelist of you, because it will cleanse your mind from any silly notions that because Joe or Fred or Barbara or Colleen, or whoever it is, is a relatively nice person, that somehow or another there’s probably a way that they’re going to be slipped into heaven in any case. No, because what is being said here is that all of us are in Adam, and all of the promises that were there in the Old Testament are pointing forward to a way in which God will bring his people to himself. And so tonight, you look at yourself in Adam, you look at yourself in Christ, and you and I have done nothing, and yet we’re declared to be righteous.
It almost sounds wrong, doesn’t it? See, the gospel is so fantastic that if you preach it correctly to people who’ve got a modicum of a theological understanding, they’ll think you’re an antinomian—which means that you’re against the law, you’re preaching something like, “Well, you didn’t do anything, and you don’t have to do anything, and there’s never anything you need to do, and all you have to do is believe.” That is absolutely right; that is absolutely true. That’s the gospel—that’s the gospel. That’s the gospel that took the thief from the cross into the presence of Jesus. It wasn’t his baptism; it wasn’t his ability to articulate theology; it wasn’t his attendance at evening services; it wasn’t that somehow or another he had a wonderful track record. He had absolutely nothing to hang his hat on save the fact that the person on the cross next to him was apparently bearing his sin in his body on that tree, and he was staking his life and his eternity on the obedience of this man. He shouts to his friend, “We’re up here because we deserve to be. This man’s done nothing wrong!” And he gets it! “The sinless Savior [dies, his guilty] soul is counted free.” Why? “For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”
See, we’re not saved by anything done by us; we’re not saved by anything done in us. We’re saved on account of that which is done for us. And when you lack assurance, it will almost inevitably be because you are taking your own pulse, trying to examine your own spiritual life—seeing if you’re praying enough, seeing if you’re witnessing enough, see if you’re attending enough, see if you’re doing enough. Those are all valid questions, but they are not the questions that relate to the issue of what it means to be in Christ. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”
I mean, think about that fellow this morning. What an amazing story, isn’t it? I mean, it just gets more wonderful the better I get to know the chap. You know, he was so fluent that if he’d told me that he was a third-generation pastor, you know—that his grandfather had been a pastor, and his dad, and he had too—I wouldn’t have been surprised, and neither would you. But he never heard the name of Jesus till he was a freshman in college. He’s brought up in a home with a Zen Buddhist mother. What possible chance did he have of going to heaven, apart from the amazing grace of God?
Christ, the True Israel
Well, we must wrap this up; our time is gone. Jesus is not only the true Adam, but he is also the true Israel. Remember, when Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary took him to Egypt to protect him from Herod’s persecution. And Matthew, when he records that little incident, he says in Matthew 2:15, “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’”—which is a quote from Hosea chapter 11. And when you read Hosea chapter 11, you say to yourself, “Well, that wasn’t a reference to an individual. So isn’t that a rather cavalier use of Scripture on the part of Matthew?” But actually, Matthew knows exactly what he’s doing. He is deliberately identifying Jesus with Israel. But Jesus is different. Like the Israelites, he was tempted in the wilderness, but unlike the Israelites, he didn’t sin.
He then calls his first disciples. He chooses twelve. Interesting number isn’t it? It’s a significant number. By choosing twelve, he makes a deliberate statement. What is he doing? He’s calling to himself a new Israel, with his twelve disciples as the foundation of his new Israel, not the twelve tribes of Israel. The old Israel has rejected Jesus and will in turn be rejected by God. I haven’t forgotten about Romans 9, 10, and 11, for those of you who are concerned; it’s there, and it’s vitally there, and it’s truthfully there. But the fact of the matter is that as Jesus says to the Jews, “The kingdom of God will be taken … from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” What was he saying there? Well, he was reminding them of the fact that it was, if you like, changed days. When we studied Luke, we saw that the destruction of Jerusalem was coming; Jesus told the people about it; it came, carried out by the Romans in AD 70.
Now, in this, the focus is realigned. From this point on, the true Israel is not focused in the land of Palestine. The true Israel does not consist of those who are physically descended from Abraham; the true Israel consists of those who are Abraham’s spiritual descendants, both Jew and Gentile, those who follow Abraham’s example, placing their trust in God’s promises—promises which are then fulfilled in Jesus. And that promise, says Paul in Romans, “comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and [that it] may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law”—that’s the Jews—“but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. ”
Now, here is where this is of such pressing importance: it therefore follows that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile. It is the same principle: faith and grace. There aren’t two ways to be included in the family of God: one, on the basis of your ethnicity, and, according to a certain view of these things, if you happen to be fortunate enough to fit the group that is around at the right moment at the right time when all of this great fulfillment of things happens to happen in a real temple, in a real Jerusalem, in the real state of Palestine. I’ve never been able to understand how this works. No, but I can understand this: that the great hope for the Middle East is the same hope for Jew and Gentile; that the real opportunity to show the difference that the gospel makes in the Middle East today is for Jewish and Arab believers meeting together, worshipping together, praying together, and witnessing together, and saying to the people in the Middle East, “This is where our Judaism and our Arab background finds that it falls to the floor—not that we give up on it, but that it is not central to us. It does not define us.” Why? “Because we have by grace through faith been made the spiritual children of Abraham.” Remember, Jesus says to the Pharisees… they say, “Well, we have Abraham as our father, so we don’t really need to listen to anything you’re saying,” and he said, “Listen, don’t give me ‘Abraham as your father’ stuff; the devil is your father, and he is the father of lies.” Man, is that an anti-Semitic statement in terms of contemporary political correctness, is it not? Fortunately, it was a Jewish person saying it. But why was he saying it, to be unkind? No, to be clear.
So we preach the same gospel to all nations, to all kinds of people. Unregenerate, religious people are in need of the same salvation that we proclaim to irreligious, pagan people who never attend church. It’s the same gospel for all. That’s why we’re in Macedonia. That’s why we’re going to Prague. That’s why we’re in Bolivia. That’s why we’re in Germany. That’s why we supported our dear friends in Japan for so long. That’s why we’re involved in all of this. We’ve only one story—a story to tell to the nations.
Let me ask you a question: If this is the big picture, can you find yourself in the picture? I mean, let’s imagine that what I’m describing for you is just a big yearbook, and you get your yearbook… I’ve never had a yearbook in my life; it’s an American phenomenon, so I missed all of that. But I’ve gone through my children’s yearbooks, and I don’t know about you, I’m maybe weird, but I just always take the yearbook and I say, “Where are you?” You know, I don’t say, “Well, where’s Penelope from up the street? I’d love to look at…,” you know? No, no: “Where are you? I want to know if you’re in here, and I want to know how many pages you’re on; I want to know where you are.” Well, if you take, as it were, this gigantic book of the years of God’s providential dealings, you can look and find yourself in the first section of the book. You’re in here; you have at least one picture in the first section. You’re in under “Adam.” You didn’t have to do anything to get in. You’re in by birth. You can find your picture.
But now you must go to the second section, which is under “Christ.” Now, are you in here? Are you? Have you ever come to the point where you said, “Lord Jesus, the penny has dropped. I get this. You are the perfectly righteous one; I am completely imperfect. No imperfection will go into heaven. You died to bear my sin so that when I come and cast myself upon your mercy, you gather me, as it were, into this great company, into the framework of your kingdom that you’re putting together. And not because of who I am, but all because of who you are, and not because of what I’ve done, but all because of what you have done, I get my picture in the second half of the book.” And in the most simplistic terms, on the day of judgment, God will look in this book, and he will leaf through it, and he will look for your picture and for your name; and if it is not there, you will go to hell for all of eternity.
I urge you this evening, young person sitting in a row with Christian parents, make sure of this issue for yourself. I urge some of you who’ve been coming around here for a while, make sure of this issue for yourself.
Let us pray:
Just a moment, as we reflect upon all the wonder of God’s Word, as we think about where we stand in relationship to these things. Some of us tonight want to just, where we are, cry out to God. If you wonder what you’re supposed to say, there’s no special prayer. God knows your heart. I’ve found it helpful to keep this little prayer with me; you may find it useful: “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I’m weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but through you I’m more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment, and offering me forgiveness, and I turn from my sin and receive you as my Savior.”
Father, hear the prayers and cries of our hearts as we offer our lives to you, as we bring our gifts to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.