When Jesus first sent out his apostles he gave them power over demons and to heal, and he commanded them that they were to teach that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Modern religion has for the most part ignored the teaching that the Kingdom was long ago “at hand.” Some because they see no real importance in accepting what is taught. Others ignore it because it doesn’t work well for their doctrines if they teach that the kingdom of God is already here. If it isn’t about a physical kingdom or way off in the future, it requires some serious study, thinking and changing things right now, and so it doesn’t make the list. The rest have just never given it much thought.
So, most learners accept and have been taught that the church was a go-between or stop gap measure with the physical Kingdom yet to be delivered at a far away rapture time or in end times and still under preparation to be brought into this world. They teach and are taught an interactive kingdom on earth, with earthly thrones and powers, where people get their rewards downtown. Where the sinful serve the saints and where armed citizen soldiers are ever ready during the thousand years wait for Armageddon.
However, it seems the apostles saw it differently as they went forth and taught (as John had done earlier).
If the Kingdom was off several thousand years into the future the apostles, dunces that they must have been, had been given the ultimate “hard sell.” And if true, they were offering a pitch that probably would not have held the attention of the people in the audiences for two seconds.
They surely had their work cut out for them — you might say they were working with a serious deficit. And if you buy into that sort of theory, or that is what you have been taught and you never pondered its incongruities, perhaps it’s time that you should read some of the text again and maybe reformulate things.
The passage following from Luke 11 caught my attention this last week. I had once thought it was only a response to the scurrilous charge that Jesus was casting out demons through the authority of Beelzebub (literally – lord of the flies or of the manure pile – take your pick). While it is that, it is also more.
Immediately after the Lord taught his disciples to pray, and as part of that to pray “thy Kingdom come…” he healed a man possessed who was mute due to the spirit residing within him.
“And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’ And others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.’” (NKJV Luke 11:14-20)
If the kingdom of this world was casting out its own demons then it must be divided and self destructive. It couldn’t long survive that way. I get that. Most of us don’t fight against ourselves. Jesus said here, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.” That makes sense. So, God doesn’t do Satan’s work, and Satan, who has been allowed his domain, doesn’t sub out to God.
Christ then said to them, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” The answer to this rhetorical question and his condemnation of the mockers likely didn’t cause their ear flaps to lift very much that day. They didn’t believe their eyes anyway, so why listen to Jesus.
Then comes the point to the message: “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Jesus was not, for some consideration or for lack of better things to do, working Satan’s side of the street. He was the Messiah and was completing his part of the eternal gospel plan of salvation — then heralding in the coming of the Kingdom of God and calling for repentance. And as a consequence of that the Kingdom of heaven was bearing down on them at the very moment when he stated this. It was on approach. He was warning them. The Kingdom was “at hand.”
It would not come without observation. But they wouldn’t see what hit them, even though they saw the light and heard the whistle. (It wasn’t what they were waiting for and it is not what most today are looking for.) And if the Kingdom was near then so was God’s judgment as they had been told one would come with the other.
Now to the blinding glimpse of the obvious: the Kingdom is not now in the future and it is not now waiting behind the curtain to debut. It was right around the corner when this was said, and it is therefore in place right now. It was recorded and observed when it arrived. That means it has been here for better than two millenia.
So the Lord taught; and so we ought to pay attention. The Kingdom was given by God just as had been predicted by Daniel and all of the rest of the prophets, and exactly in the time frame which they gave. It came in the form it was taught that it would take. And the apostles and prophets from John to Peter went forth teaching that it was due to be put in place imminently. Jesus ushered it in with his resurrection and the twelve apostles led by Peter, with keys in hand, threw the gates wide open first to the former people of God, and then as promised to “all nations.”
“Surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”