The Kingdom of God – the saved and unsaved

There is a growing movement worldwide that teaches that Jesus returned in 70 AD. If you wish to check out their arguments, search on Google for “preterism”. They teach that the tribulation occurred at 70 AD. While they make a number of valid points in interpreting relevant biblical passages, I cannot agree with them that the Kingdom has arrived at 70 AD.

They make some of the following claims:

1. The Kingdom started with the ascension, and it is spiritual, meaning it is in heaven. There will not be an earthly Kingdom.

2. The so-called Great Tribulation happened in 70 AD.

3. The beast was Rome, and the whole of Revelation refers to 70 AD.

4. The Parousia is only symbolic, just as the resurrection, etc.

Thus, according to them the Jews completely missed the train, there will not be an earthly Kingdom where the lion lies down with the sheep in the holy land, there will not be universal righteousness, no universal peace.

Let me share a few thoughts concerning this subject.

There was a strong expectation in the first century that the Kingdom would come in the lifetime of the disciples.

Consider the following verses:

Matt 10:23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.

Mark 8:38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Matt 23:33 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 34 that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 35 Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation.

Matt 24:34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place.

Mark 13:30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.

Luke 11:48 So you are witnesses and consent to the deeds of your fathers; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, `I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation.

Also, Peter at Pentecost preaches that the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit was what Joel spoke about:

Acts 2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 `And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. 21 And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Paul on the other hand teaches that all the faithful will be saved whether Jew or Gentile:

Rom 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. 13 For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

From the context it is clear that “saved” means escaping the divine judgment that was to come upon the world. It meant physical deliverance, just as it can be seen in Jesus’ example:

Matt 24:37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the son of man.

Noah and his family were saved (though the term is not used here) while all others perished.

1Pet 3:20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

They were physically delivered from the wrath of God.

Matt 19:23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

Matthew most often uses the term “kingdom of heaven” which was a very reverent way of referring to the kingdom of God, for they sought not to speak the name of God lest they blaspheme.

In eschatology the Kingdom of God (messianic kingdom) is preceded by the judgment of God. Being saved meant escaping that judgment. Judaism taught that the rich had the blessings of God (aren’t Pentecostals like that?). This is why the disciples are so puzzled. If those who are blessed by God cannot survive, who can?

Again, Jesus said,

Matt 24:11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end will be saved…

Matt 24:22 And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

Being saved is again being delivered from the wrath of God that was to come upon the inhabitants of the world. The former passage even hints that one may not endure and fall into the traps of sin. Evidently, such person will not be saved.

Now let us consider Luke:

Luke 1:69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath which he swore to our father Abraham…

It is clear from the above that the Messiah was coming to save God’s people from their enemies. Let us keep this passage in mind.

The very same idea is presented by Peter:

Acts 4:5 On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Ca’iaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, 10 be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Peter is talking to the Jewish rulers. He refers to the Jewish people (“we”). The Jews expected a national deliverer. Peter says, the deliverer is Jesus, don’t look for another, for God will not send another. How often v.12 is taken out of context and misinterpreted!

Now back to Luke again.

Luke 8:10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.

The only soil approved by Jesus is the one that produces fruit. The fruit is the righteous deeds, and the word of God… hmm… we know what that is to the Jews. It is the laws/instructions of God. The “secrets of the kingdom of God” is how one may get into the Kingdom, that is, how one may escape the judgment of God.

Contrast this with the story of the wealthy man who approached Jesus:

Mark 10:17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: `Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” 21 And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

Matthew’s story is parallel to this:

Matt. 19:16 And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

The term translated “eternal life” in the Greek is “zoe aionios” (“aion” = eon = age) which literally refers to life in the Age to Come (Olam Haba), that is, life in the Kingdom of God on earth.

Now let us have a look at Paul’s preaching in Athens:

Acts 17:22 So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op’agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, 28 for `In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”

The Greeks worshiped idols without being aware of their sin. So far God overlooked their sin committed in ignorance. What is Paul’s message? Is it the usual message we preach today? Believe in Jesus and you go to heaven? No, he says, God “commands all men everywhere to repent”! Why? Because the day of judgment was fast approaching, and God has already appointed a man through whom He would execute that judgment.

What is his message? Repent and be saved from the wrath of God.

The judgment of God indeed came upon the Jews and according to tradition believers escaped it as they left Jerusalem before the siege. But where pre-theist go wrong in my eyes is this, that there was no such judgment upon Gentiles. Thus, in a sense judgment came, but not in the full sense.

Both Jesus and the apostles taught that judgment was to come upon the whole world, therefore the urgency to take the good news to the Gentiles. However, while judgment fell upon Israel, the Gentile world avoided it ever since. So what happened?

Malachi wrote the following:

Mal. 4:4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “Behold, I will send you Eli’jah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

Doesn’t he suggest that in case the prophet fails in his mission to bring the nation to repentance God will strike the land with a curse? Jewish rabbis argue that it is not so, but it appears very much so to me. Otherwise what is the sense of adding “lest I come and smite the land with a curse”?

And the curse for large scale disobedience was exile. My view is that if the Jewish nation turned, the “great and terrible day of the LORD” would have come upon the whole world.

Since she didn’t, judgment befell upon the Jewish people only, and exile followed.

From the passages that dealt with being saved we derived that it meant escaping divine (but physical) judgment. However, that definition is not exhausting. I suggest that if we study the rest of the passages we find that the broader meaning is an entry ticket to the Kingdom of God on earth. Thus, the righteous who die in the meantime shall also be called saved.

I challenge you to study this area.


Leave a response »

Leave a comment, a trackback from your own site or subscribe to an RSS feed for this entry. Trackback URL for this entry Comments feed for this entry

Leave a response

Leave a URL