The Kingdom of God and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ

The Lord worked on the establishment of his church up to the point of his crucifixion,[1] and even after his resurrection, he continued working with his apostles on church-related matters up until his ascension.[2] Nevertheless, his church came into existence when Jesus began his earthly ministry. He began his earthly ministry when he was baptized by John, so this marks the point at which the kingdom of God appeared, and it also marked the point at which the Lord began his church against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.[3]

John the Baptist’s father prophesied of the imminent arrival of the Messiah’s kingdom,[4] and this was the kingdom that Daniel had foretold.[5] John the Baptist announced the imminency of the kingdom by exclaiming, “The kingdom is at hand.”[6] After John was put into prison, Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”[7]  To be “at hand” means “close by; near; soon in time, imminent.” Jesus said, “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” [8] This seems an undeniable proof that the kingdom of God was on earth, right then and right there.

When John the Baptist had fulfilled his calling, then the kingdom of God would appear. John’s role was to be the herald or messenger of the Lord.[9] The Pharisees wondered aloud that, if John was “not that Christ,” then why did he baptize others? [10] John would only say, “I am not the Christ…I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness…I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me.” When Jesus was baptized, he “went up straightway out of the water,” and God showed forth a sign from Heaven that showed publicly and plainly that this man was His Son, that he was the Christ, the Messiah, and that the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, had come.[11] The church therefore was always meant to be the public face of the Lord’s kingdom.

The Father had appointed to His Son this kingdom, and it was this kingdom that He, as its King, appointed to his Apostles to sit as princes on thrones[12] from which they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel.[13] Paul told the Ephesians that the church was built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” [14] If the apostles are sitting upon thrones in the kingdom and the church is built upon those men (meaning their doctrine and fellowship[15]), then the kingdom that Christ had reference to and the church that Paul had reference to are the same. But, not all who are members of the kingdom are members of the church, so the church by definition is a part (or subset) of the kingdom. The “gospel of the kingdom” [16] cries out to the members of the kingdom to take up their place in his church.

Jesus said that the “law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” [17] To press gives indication of effort and effort gives indication of desire and desire comes from the heart. This desire to put forth the effort to press into the kingdom is a holy desire that can only reside within a regenerated heart. To press into the kingdom is a manifest sign of divine life. Those who press into his kingdom manifest they possess the Spirit of Christ. To press into the kingdom, you must be able to see it and no one may enter it who does not belong to it. Only those who have been born again qualify under those terms.[18] Thus, Jesus’ kingdom was “not of this world” because it was not a carnal kingdom.[19] It came “not with observation” but was already there before it was seen. It exists in the heart of the regenerate, which is the domain that belongs to the Lord as King.[20] Once the regenerate has had “life and immortality brought to light through the gospel,[21] then he feels the pricking of the heart.[22] If he obeys the command to be baptized,[23] then his stung heart will receive the answer of a good conscience[24] and he will feel as if his sins have been washed away.[25]

A local church may have times when she flourishes and then she may have times when she withers, but, so long as her membership stays true to the “faith once delivered to the saints,”[26] she remains the public, earthly manifestation of the Lord’s kingdom. To stay true to the faith means to do as those first believers did after being baptized on the Day of Pentecost. They “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” They shared everything they had with one another because they “were together” and were “with one accord.” They lived together “with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.”[27]

At any given worship service, the Spirit may be felt more strongly than at other times. There may be times when it seems as if the Spirit was not in any part of a given worship service. Though some or all of the membership may feel this way, yet it changes nothing so far as that church belonging as part of the kingdom. Whether or not you particularly are “in the Spirit”[28] when the church meets to worship has nothing to do with that church being part of the Lord’s kingdom. You may feel as if you were not in the kingdom when you felt you were not in the Spirit at church that day, but, if you are a duly baptized and gospelly believing regenerate member of the Lord’s church, you were just as much a part of the kingdom even when you felt like you weren’t just as much as the times when you felt like you were.

Is it possible for an unregenerate to join the church? Yes, it is possible, but that does not alter the fact of that church being part of the kingdom, so long as that church is one of the Lord’s churches. Judas Iscariot was one of the Twelve Apostles[29] and that means he had to be a baptized member of the Lord’s church. We learn that he was in fact a wicked reprobate all the time he belonged to the church and served as an apostle.[30] Does that invalidate the church as part of the kingdom? Does choosing him as one of his apostles disqualify anything that Jesus did in setting up his church? No to both questions! Therefore, even should an unregenerate be mistakenly accepted into the membership and baptized, this by itself does not make that church no longer to be a part of the Lord’s kingdom.

A local church may make mistakes, but, if, when the membership learns they have made a mistake, they repent and correct the mistake, then the Lord will forgive that church. If, however, a local church persists in error and never repents of it, then the Lord will remove his presence permanently from that church. This is sometimes referred to as “removal of the candlestick.”[31] The church this happens to will have lost her identity as the Lord’s church, and she is therefore no longer one of his churches though her membership still meets to worship and represents themselves to others as one of his churches.

Michael L Montgomery

October 23, 2014

Midlothian, Texas

[1] See an example of this in John 14-17.

[2] See Luke Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-51; John 20-21; and Acts 1:1-8

[3] Matthew 16:18

[4] Luke 1:33

[5] Daniel 2:44

[6] Matthew 3:2

[7] Mark 1:15

[8] Luke 11:17-20

[9] Malachi 3:1

[10] John 1:25

[11] Matthew 3:16-17

[12] Luke 22:29

[13] Matthew 19:28

[14] Ephesians 2:20

[15] see Acts 2:42

[16] Matthew 24:14

[17] Luke 16:16, and in Matthew 11:12-13, he said much the same thing.

[18] John 3:3, 5

[19] John 18:36

[20] Luke 17:20-21

[21] 2 Timothy 1:10

[22] Acts 2:37

[23] Acts 2:38

[24] 1 Peter 3:21

[25] Acts 22:16

[26] Jude 1:3

[27] Acts 2:42-46

[28] See Revelations 1:10 for an example of this phrase when used to express being imbued with the Holy Spirit during the time of worship.

[29] See Matthew 10:4; 26:14; Mark 14:10; Luke 6:16; 22:3; John 6:71. Also, according to John 13:26, it appears that Judas was there when the Lord instituted His Supper and when he washed his disciples’ feet. The evidence therefore suggests that Judas was baptized, called to be one of the Twelve Apostles, and participated in the inaugural of the Lord’s Supper and Washing of the Saints’ Feet.

[30] There are far more scriptures to advocate Judas as a wicked reprobate than as merely a disobedient child of God. See John 6:70. It’s not that the Lord said Judas was possessed of a devil; it was that he was a devil. See John 12:6 where he is called a thief and that he cared not for the poor. See Matthew 26:24 where Jesus said that “woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” This is as much saying that it would have been better if Judas had never existed. If Judas was a child of God, then it seems terribly out of character for Jesus to say that it had been better if Judas had never existed. Even Peter was at one point told, “Get thee behind me Satan,” (Mat 16:23) but the Lord never said of Peter that it had been better if he had never existed.

[31] Revelations 2:5

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