Dear Friends of Israel,
When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When is the Kingdom of God going to come?” it showed that among the Jews of that time, there was a real expectation that the kingdom was at hand (Luke 17:20-21). For those Jews, the coming kingdom was always bound to their hope of a national and political salvation. The same hope was even found among the disciples, when they asked him after His resurrection, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus answered both questions in a somewhat evasive and unsatisfying manner. Why? On the one hand, the Kingdom of God is always tied to the appearance of the promised King, but the timing of His appearance will always be a mystery.
The King actually did appear at that time, but incognito, so to speak. They didn’t recognize Him, because His appearance was completely different than they had imagined. His Kingdom actually did arrive, but not visibly, such as a political empire. The Kingdom of God is an empire that must first be planted in people’s hearts through the proclamation of the Gospel, so that it can grow and bring forth fruit, before it can be seen outwardly. That’s why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is also referred to as the Gospel of the Kingdom in the New Testament. Our hope is that His Kingdom will truly appear one day, utterly real; the kingdom that Jesus taught His disciples to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.”
The mix-up between God’s Kingdom and the earthly empire caused the Jews to have a mistaken expectation of the Messiah’s appearance. They were expecting a political Messiah; not a godly one. Similar developments have also occurred in Christianity. With the rise of the state churches, the biblical concept of the Kingdom became more of a political concept. Those who were supposed to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom began to concentrate more on the political Kingdom, rather than the invisible Kingdom that the Holy Spirit builds through renewed hearts.
Thus, there exist two fundamentally different opinions in the Christian world today. Some believe that the Gospel must continue to be proclaimed on earth until the whole world accepts the message. Only then will the proclamation of the Gospel cause the Kingdom of God to be built on earth, and then the ruler of the Kingdom, Jesus Christ, will return.
The other opinion is that, while the gospel needs to be proclaimed to all nations, that will not in any way lead to the visible Kingdom of God being built on earth. Instead, the visible Kingdom will be built in God’s own time. That’s precisely how Jesus answered His disciples, shortly before His ascension. He no longer told them that He didn’t know when the Kingdom would come, like He did before His resurrection, but rather, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.”
The way the disciples worded their question shows that they expected the Kingdom would be built in their lifetimes, and that they would live to see His return, because they asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” There’s no doubt that they meant the messianic Kingdom of David.
Jesus clearly told them however, what their part would be in the building of the Kingdom, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
With the power of the Holy Spirit that He promised us, we are fully empowered to witness for Him and His Kingdom, until He returns.
Trusting in the power He promised us through the Holy Spirit, Shalom.