Hades could not stop Jesus’ plans. He had promised: “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Neither the Jews nor the Romans nor Hades could stop Jesus’ plans. The gates of Hades would burst open to let Jesus out. Jesus would prevail and build His church!
Immediately following this promise to build His church, Jesus told Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” The kingdom is “of heaven.” But Peter was to “bind on earth,” thus during his lifetime. This is in complete harmony with another promise Jesus made to His followers: “there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27).
THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM
Upon considering everything the New Testament says about both the kingdom of heaven and the church of Jesus, one finds it extremely difficult to differentiate between the two–what is affirmed of the kingdom is also affirmed of the church.
Very early in His ministry, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’ ” (Mark 1:14,15). Jesus, affirming that the kingdom was just around the corner, interconnected four vital elements: 1) the gospel, 2) the kingdom, 3) repentance and 4) faith. And is not the church of Jesus Christ precisely involved with the same gospel, repentance and faith? Most assuredly.
The gospel, of course, is the Good News of salvation based on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Therefore, the gospel of the kingdom could not be transformed from prophecy into reality until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Matthew 16, Jesus said the same about the church: Hades would not stop Him from building the church. In other words, He would indeed die, go to Hades, come out victorious, and then build His church. Thus, the church and the kingdom are equally predicted to commence following Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Everyone knows that no physical kingdom of God was set up in the first (or second) century. On the other hand, many recognize that in the first century, a spiritual kingdom of God was set up! Also, everyone knows that a church was set up. There simply is no escaping the reality that the church of Jesus Christ is that kingdom of heaven which Jesus promised would soon arrive.
UNIQUENESS OF THE BOOK OF ACTS
The book of Acts is unique. To ignore it is to miss a vital link in God’s dealings with the human race. Acts is the only book in the New Testament dedicated to the history of Jesus’ apostles after the ascension. After studying the Gospels, a student of the Word should turn to the book of Acts, confidently expecting to find the historical fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecies of the kingdom and the church. It was time for their arrival.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PENTECOST
Religious people often talk longingly of a return to Pentecost. They usually are referring either to speaking in tongues or to great multitudes being converted. I dare say that neither concern is of chief importance when evaluating what transpired on that particular Jewish Pentecost.
It was the year 30 A.D., less than two months since Jesus’ death and resurrection. But before Jesus left for heaven, He gave His apostles a very important command: “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait” (Acts 1:4. Except where otherwise noted, all quotes in this Insight will be from the book of Acts).
Remember that Jesus had promised Peter “the keys of the kingdom.” It is no coincidence, therefore, that Peter was the leading spokesman on the day of Pentecost. Keys open doors. Peter was chosen by God to initiate the kingdom of heaven, to inform people how they could enter. How did Peter unlock the doors? It was he who answered the anguished cry of the Israelites, “Men [and] brethren, what shall we do?” (2:37). “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ ” (2:38).
Most have no difficulty in recognizing this as the beginning of the Lord’s church. But we should equally recognize that Peter’s statement is a variation and divine explanation of what Jesus told Nicodemus: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Notice the parallelism between, “born of water and the Spirit” on the one hand and “repent… be baptized… receive… the Holy Spirit” on the other. Entering the kingdom and entering the church are one and the same.
Attention has been called to Mark 1:14,15, where Jesus interconnected four vital elements: 1) the gospel, 2) the kingdom, 3) repentance and 4) faith. On the day of Pentecost, Peter clearly preached the gospel, based on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In his entire message, he clearly called the Jews to faith in Jesus. Then in 2:38 he calls them to repentance. The gospel, faith and repentance are three things that Jesus connected with the kingdom. Certainly the kingdom of heaven was making its appearance as Peter spoke.
POWER OF THE KINGDOM: THE HOLY SPIRIT
In Mark 9:1, Jesus prophesied that the kingdom of God would come with power during the lifetime of His listeners. After His resurrection, He told the apostles: “I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Before Jesus ascended, he further clarified the matter: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (1:8). That happened exactly ten days later, on the day of Pentecost. So the power of the kingdom was provided by the Holy Spirit.
On the night of his betrayal, Jesus had explained to the Apostles: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear [them] now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12,13). These words are extremely important for understanding the relationship between the four Gospels and the Book of Acts. Red letter Bibles make a grave mistake. Jesus said that He did not reveal all the truth during His earthly ministry. He said all truth would be revealed when the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles.
Thus, the Gospels cannot be fully appreciated nor understood unless they are connected to the Book of Acts. It is in the book of Acts that the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles. It is in the Book of Acts that the kingdom of God comes with this power of the Holy Spirit. It is on the day of Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension that the real meaning of the cross and the empty tomb is made known to the world.
Speaking in tongues, of itself, was not the important thing. Rather, the tongues were proof of the important thing–that Peter was not preaching his own ideas, but that he was infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Old Testament prophecies, to explain the meaning of the cross and the empty tomb and to offer to the Jews the divine means of entering the kingdom of God!
POWER OF THE KINGDOM: MIRACLES
The kingdom also arrived with the power of miracles. Peter and John were instruments of God to heal a 40-year-old man who had been lame from birth. The healing was immediate and sent the man leaping. As the crowd gathered, Peter and John used the opportunity to preach salvation from sin through the very Jesus whom the mobs had killed.
This miracle was a demonstration of a power that no human has. Peter told the crowd: “Why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (3:12). Peter and John were arrested. The next day, when the council assembled, they wanted to know, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (4:7). When they later conferred among themselves, they admitted, “Indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them [is] evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny [it]” (4:16). The kingdom had arrived with the power of miracles.
Soon afterward, Luke (the author of Acts) records that “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4:33). Not a little power. Great power. This might refer to the continuance of the signs and wonders done by them in connection with their preaching. It could equally refer to the manner in which the Holy Spirit spoke through them. Later, the same type of statement is made regarding Stephen, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8).
Meanwhile, in Samaria, Simon the sorcerer was considered by the masses to be “the great power of God” (8:10). But when he saw the real power of God, Simon was converted to Christ. Peter and John then came to Samaria and laid hands on the brethren to impart to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simon was not only astonished; he thought there was something in it for him personally. He offered to buy this power, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (8:19). There was power, but it was not for sale. “Peter said to him, ‘Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!’ ” (8:20). Truly, the kingdom had arrived with miraculous power.
THE KING ON HIS THRONE
On Pentecost, Peter dwelt at length on the resurrection and ascension. In that context, he referred to the prophecy that the Messiah would sit on the throne of David. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter said that this prophecy had already been fulfilled! How? Notice carefully what Peter says in relation to David and Jesus. “David… being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ… Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God” (2:29-33).
David, foreseeing that the Messiah would sit on his throne, spoke of the resurrection. Since His ascension, Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God. He is on His throne. According to the way Peter expressed it, the throne in heaven is the fulfillment of Jesus sitting on the throne of David.
Peter’s climax is recorded in verse 36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Accomplished fact. The Jews had crucified Him; but God had made Him Lord and Christ. “Lord” is Ruler, Sovereign. “Christ” is Messiah, anointed One, Prophet, Priest and King. Peter was declaring that Jesus of Nazareth is King now! He is exalted. He is at the right hand of the Father. He is on the throne of David.
Jesus reigns! And no one reigns unless they have a kingdom to reign over. So, the kingdom came on that day of Pentecost. It had been called “the kingdom of heaven.” The King was ruling from heaven. As promised, He had sent the power of the Holy Spirit so that the kingdom would arrive with power.
Years later in Thessalonica, the Jews accused the Christians of “saying there is another king–Jesus” (17:7). There is another king. Present tense. The accusation was true. This is exactly what the Christians were preaching since Pentecost: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36). Jesus is Christ–Messiah–King. The kingdom of heaven is here now.
THE REJECTED STONE CRUSHING THE OPPOSITION
Peter and John were arrested and brought before the “Supreme Court” of the Jews. Peter said that the risen Messiah had healed the lame man. Then he charged, “This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone’ ” (4:11). The Jewish leaders had rejected Jesus, the stone, but that had not stopped God’s plans with the Jews nor with the Messiah.
Notice the difference between Jesus and Peter’s use of Psalm 118:22. Jesus asked if they had never read that Scripture and proceeded to quote it. Peter, on the other hand, via paraphrase, said, “This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Peter thus affirms that the prophecy had been fulfilled.
Jesus had quoted this “stone” prophecy when He explained the parable of the vineyard: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:42-44).
First notice: “kingdom… taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits.” That is practically an outline of the book of Acts. Over and over Paul is rejected by the Jews and turns to the Gentiles. “Behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (13:46). This is a clear fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy.
Notice secondly: “Grind him to powder.” That calls to mind Daniel’s stone prophecy: “A stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces… the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed… it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” (Daniel 2:34,44). (For more details on Daniel’s prophecy, see Insight #83: “Daniel Foretells Indestructible Kingdom.”)
This breaking process was already starting in the first century (though not completed until much later). In Thessalonica great numbers of Greeks were being converted. The unbelieving Jews stirred up the populace and the mob cried out: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (17:6). The followers of the humble Carpenter were turning the world upside down. Later, in Ephesus, so many people were being converted and leaving their idolatry that the bottom was falling out of the idol market. See Acts 19. The Stone was conquering.
CHURCH AGE PREDICTED BY AMOS
Probably the biggest doctrinal disturbance in the early church was the question of the salvation of the Gentiles. God had to work several miracles to convince the apostles that Cornelius’ household could be saved through the same gospel that saved the Jews. However, there continued an element in the church, especially among converted Pharisees, who believed Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians. Hence the consultation in Jerusalem recorded in the 15th chapter of Acts.
On that memorable occasion, Peter told the brethren: “So God… made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles]… through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they”(15:8-11).
Soon, James took the floor, and quoted a prophecy of Amos. Introducing the quote, he said: “Simon [Peter] has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written” (15:14,15). Then he quotes Amos 9:11,12, which in part says, “So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles.” Thus, the Gospel Age, the Church Age, the salvation of Gentiles were in direct fulfillment of O.T. prophecy.
Before the portion already quoted, Amos had said (as quoted by James) “After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down” (15:16). All of this in the context of accepting the Gentiles into the Church. Now the only other text in the Bible which uses the expression “tabernacle of David” is Isaiah 16:5: “In mercy the throne will be established; And One will sit on it in truth, in the tabernacle of David.”
Amazing! It prophetically speaks of someone sitting on the throne in the tabernacle of David. But neither the literal tabernacle of David nor the literal temple of Solomon had a throne. The tabernacle-temple was one thing; the palace was another. The altar was one thing; the throne another. The priest was one thing; the king another. But this prophecy combines the two! What other fulfillment can it have than that of our Prophet, Priest and King Jesus? And James indicates that it was already being fulfilled. The tabernacle of David, the throne, the Priest, the King, the Savior not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles was a present reality. Truly the kingdom of heaven had arrived.
THEY PREACHED THE KINGDOM
The summary of Philip’s preaching in Samaria is this: “he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12). The summation of Paul’s three months of preaching in Ephesus is this: “reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (19:8). Paul’s two years of preaching in Rome is summarized thus: “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31).
These three accounts–Philip in Samaria and Paul in Ephesus and Rome–are remarkable. Here we have 3 instances in which days and even years of preaching are summed up to consist of two elements: the kingdom and Christ. Yet, in all the book of Acts, there is no record of Philip or Paul ever mentioning anything about a future Jewish 1000-year earthly reign headquartered in Jerusalem. Therefore, such a millennium concept must not be what Luke had in mind when he recorded that Philip and Paul preached the kingdom of God.
Yes, there is one time in the book of Acts, where Paul clearly speaks of the kingdom in a future sense. In 14:22, he told the brethren, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Even so, the kingdom here is a promise to faithful Christians–certainly not to the Jews who were the cause of their tribulations (see 14:19-23).
The kingdom in the present sense can be seen by examining the details of what Paul did teach and preach. A detailed example is given in Acts 13:
–that Jesus was the descendent of David and the Savior, according to the promises (vss. 22,23);
–that there are glad tidings, namely that God raised Jesus from the dead in fulfillment of the promise made to the fathers (vss. 30-37);
–that faith in Jesus can do what the Law of Moses could not do, namely cleanse from sin (vss. 38,39);
–that since the Jews rejected eternal life through Jesus, the message was sent to the Gentiles in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (vss. 46,47).
Paul preached the kingdom by declaring Jesus as the Son of David–that involves Jesus being King. Paul preached the gospel of the kingdom by proclaiming that the promises to Israel were being fulfilled–they include the King’s kingdom. Assuredly, in the first century, a spiritual gospel and a spiritual kingdom appeared on the world stage–exactly within the timeframe prophesied by Daniel and Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is a present reality.
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)