THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND
--MATTHEW 10:1-15.--APRIL 10.--
Golden Text:--"Freely ye have received,
freely give."--Matthew 10:8.
JESUS had been preaching for more than a year when he appointed twelve of his followers to be specially his representatives sent forth--Apostles. He sent these two and two throughout Judea. They had not the Father's appointment. They had not yet received the holy Spirit from on high and did not receive it until Pentecost, some two years later. The holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:39.) But by virtue of the holy Spirit given without measure to Jesus at the time of his baptism, he conferred upon these Apostles his own special powers that they might heal the sick, cast out demons, etc. But their special mission, like his own, was not that of healing physical ailments merely, nor chiefly. They were to proclaim the Lord Jesus to be the King, the long-expected Messiah, and to tell the people that the time was at hand for the establishment of his Mediatorial Kingdom, in conjunction with their nation. This message would be in harmony with the expectation of all the Jews. For centuries they had been waiting for the fulfillment of God's promise made to Abraham that through them all the families of the earth would be blessed. The miracles of Jesus and the Apostles were to call attention to the proclamation, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matt. 3:2.) This message, in harmony with that of John the Baptist, was expected to arouse all the "Israelites indeed" and to attract their attention to Jesus as the King. They were particularly warned that their message was not for the Gentiles, nor even for their neighbors, the mongrel people called Samaritans. True Jews, and these only, were called upon to make ready their hearts and minds that they might be participants in the Kingdom and its glories. Their message was only "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."--V. 6.
They were to make no provision for their journey-- neither money nor extra clothing. They were to learn a lesson of absolute dependence upon the Master who sent them forth. They were not to be beggars seeking from house to house. On the contrary, they were to recognize the dignity of their mission and service for God and ambassadors of Messiah and were to inquire in each village for the most worthy, the most saintly, the most holy people, because these would be the ones who would be specially interested in their message--whether rich or poor. And such of these as received their message would be glad indeed to treat them as representatives of the King, whose Kingdom they announced. Their stay in each place was to be as guests until they were ready to depart to the next place. On entering into a house they were to salute the householder in a dignified manner, advising him of the object of their call. If received peacefully, cordially, their blessing would be upon that house. Otherwise they were not to lose their own confidence and serenity, but to pass along and look for one more worthy of the message and of them as its representatives. Those receiving them would receive a blessing. Those rejecting them and their message would lose a great privilege.
THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
Many wonder greatly why it was proper for our Lord and the Apostles to declare the Kingdom of Heaven at hand when, as a matter of fact, it has not yet come and, by the Lord's directions, its followers still pray, "Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven." The understanding of this furnishes the key to the appreciation of much of the Bible that is now misunderstood. We must, therefore, outline the matter in some detail.
For more than sixteen centuries Israel had been waiting for the fulfillment of God's promise that they would become so great that through them the Divine blessing would extend to every nation. Our Lord through the Apostles signified that God's time had come to fulfil all of his promises made to the Jewish nation if they were ready for them. To be ready they must be a holy nation. And to instruct them and prepare them their Law Covenant had been introduced to them through Moses centuries before. And now, just preceding Jesus, John the Baptist had preached to them reformation, repentance, getting into harmony with the Law, that they might be ready to receive the Messiah. While as a people they were the most religious nation in the world at that time, nevertheless [R4593 : page 121] but few of them were "Israelites indeed"--at heart fully consecrated to God; fully in accord with the principles of holiness. As a consequence, instead of the whole nation being ready for God's work, only a small remnant of them were saintly and received the message. At the close of Jesus' ministry only about five hundred worthy ones had been found, and the multitude cried, "Crucify him!" while the godless Pilate inquired, "Why, what evil hath he done?" Most evidently, therefore, Israel was not ready to be used of God in the blessing of the other nations.
God foreknew this, however, and through the prophets declared that a remnant only would be found worthy. To the nation as a whole our Lord declared, "The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." (Matt. 21:43.) Accordingly five days before his crucifixion our Lord said to them, "Your house is left unto you desolate. Ye shall see me no more until that day when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."-- Matt. 23:38,39.
The Kingdom privileges or opportunities which were first offered to natural Israel were transferred to Spiritual Israel, whose existence began at Pentecost. All "Israelites indeed" of the fleshly house were privileged to become members of the spiritual house--to receive the begetting of the holy Spirit and adoption into the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Of this Church St. Peter says, "Ye are a Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a peculiar people."--I Pet. 2:9.
After selecting as many Jews as were worthy a place in Spiritual Israel, nominal Israel was cast off from Divine favor until the completion of Spiritual Israel, when God promises that his favor shall return to them. (Rom. 11:25,26.) Meantime the invitation has gone through the Lord's faithful members to every nation, seeking such as have the spirit of loyalty to God, the spirit of "Israelites indeed." All such are accepted with the Jews as [R4594 : page 121] members of the same Kingdom. Around these Spiritual Israelites have gathered all sorts, so that there is an outward or nominal body or Church numbering millions, as well as a real body or Church scattered amongst them.
As at the end of the Jewish Age Jesus came to inspect them and to set up his Kingdom if enough worthy ones were to be found, so he will do in the end of this Gospel Age; he will come to Spiritual Israel to find the saintly. The Scriptures assure us that from first to last, from Pentecost until the end of this age, a sufficient number of saints will be found to constitute the elect Church of Christ, designed of God to be his Queen and Joint-Heir in the Millennial Kingdom, which will then be set up and begin the work of blessing the world. After the spiritual Kingdom of God shall have been exalted, the Bible assures us, in Romans 11:25-32, that God's favor will return to natural Israel and they will be the first nation to be blessed under the new order of things that will then prevail and through those of that people in harmony with God the blessing will extend to every nation.
"MORE TOLERABLE FOR SODOM"
The Sodomites were wickedly immoral; yet, in the Master's estimation, less wicked than those who, after hearing the Gospel, rejected it. This principle applies to many people and many cities of our day, as well as to Capernaum. The Master assures us that when the great Millennial Age, otherwise called the Day of Judgment, shall furnish opportunity for the whole world to be on trial for everlasting life or everlasting death, it will be more tolerable for the Sodomites than for many others. In proportion as anyone has come to a knowledge of Christ he has become responsible. The death of Christ secures for Adam and all of his race one full opportunity for salvation and no more. The majority have died in heathenish darkness without any opportunity; and many in Christian lands have disregarded their opportunity, as did the people of Capernaum. All must be brought to a full knowledge of their privileges in Christ and then all rejectors will be destroyed.--Acts 3:23; I Tim. 2:4; Matt. 20:28.
It is for us to be followers of Jesus and the Apostles-- to walk in their steps of devotion and thus to make our calling and our election sure to a share with Messiah in his Kingdom, which, during the Millennium, will bless Israel and all the families of the earth under a system of rewards and punishments, called judgments. The Scriptures distinctly tell us that the Israelites and the Sodomites will be sharers in that work of restoration--restitution. --Ezek. 16:50-55; Acts 3:19-21.