An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount

by Kent Young

© 2017

Chapter 1 - THE KINGDOM

Too often readers miss the fact that Jesus had a distinct and discernable message that he intended to convey in giving the Sermon on the Mount. Many wrongly treat Jesus’ words as though they were a somewhat random collection of proverbs and ethical truisms.[1] A proper understanding of Jesus’ message will reveal, however, that each section of the sermon flows logically and naturally from the previous section and into the next. The careful reader can notice that the sermon as a whole has one coherent, all-encompassing message. Jesus gives a clue as to what this message is in the sermon’s introductory sentence:

“Let the spiritually poor be happy, because the kingdom of the heavens is theirs.” [2]
Matthew 5:3

With these introductory words, Jesus gives us a basic insight into what his teaching is going to be all about. A detailed explanation will follow, but first, just a basic summary. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is teaching his disciples what is required of them in order to enter and inherit the coming messianic kingdom. This is the all-encompassing message of the sermon. All of the ethical instructions that Jesus gives, we will see, come back to relate to the disciple’s potential standing in the coming kingdom.

Because of this fact, before going into the text of the sermon or looking otherwise at the sermon’s context, we would do well to look into what exactly Jesus is talking about when he refers to this kingdom. No item is given as much prominence within Jesus’ teaching as the concept of “the Kingdom.” Thirty-six times in the gospel of Matthew alone Jesus makes mention of either “the Kingdom of God” or “the Kingdom of Heaven.” With this topic being of such obvious importance to the Lord, it is unfortunate that Christians are so divided and even confused as to what exactly this “kingdom” is.

What (and When) is the Kingdom?

When reading secular history, if you come to a discussion about a “kingdom,” it should be fairly clear what type of thing is being discussed. For example, if a historian refers to the “kingdom” of Henry VIII, we know without controversy that the historian is referring to England during the first half of the sixteenth century. There was an observable civil government, with King Henry VIII as the seated monarch, ruling over a specific portion of land. This is the common, literal definition of a kingdom.

The problem is, though Jesus spoke (as did his forerunner, John the Baptist) about the arrival of a kingdom, there was no immediate appearance of anything that resembled a kingdom in the normal sense. The same civil governments remained in place and ruled over the same portions of land during the entire course of Jesus’ ministry; they remained in place even after his departure. No new kingdom immediately appeared. What then did Jesus mean when he spoke about his kingdom?

There are two basic ways of approaching an understanding of Jesus’ meaning. Firstly, one can suppose that something happened that caused Jesus’ proclamation of a coming kingdom to fail to come to fruition. In other words, Jesus meant “kingdom” in the same way as is generally understood, but either he was wrong about its imminent arrival, or perhaps something transpired which delayed it. The second approach is to assume that Jesus was simply borrowing the word “kingdom,” or using it in a figurative sense, referring instead to something entirely different from what a kingdom is normally understood to be.

In a sense, we are trying to discern, not only what the kingdom is, but also when the kingdom is. In a figurative sense, “the kingdom of God” is understood as a present experience of God’s working. This is how many contemporary Christians understand the expression. If such an understanding is correct, then we must conclude that Jesus used the word “kingdom” to refer to something quite different from its common, literal use. Others teach the kingdom as a literal entity, but as something taking place at a future time, a time when the kingdom’s existence will be obvious to believers and non-believers alike.

There are two theologians who defend the above two different understandings of the kingdom. Holding to the non-literal “present experience” view, is theologian N.T. Wright, and one who held to the future experience (and literal) view was the late Robert Govett. A look at how each of these men understand Jesus’ reference to his kingdom will help in gaining a proper and balanced view of what the kingdom actually is. We will start with Wright’s view.

N.T. Wright understands Jesus’ “kingdom” as essentially a “putting to rights” (his expression) of the created yet fallen world. Wright teaches, in no uncertain terms, that the coming of this kingdom (or the beginning of “God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven’”),[3] was inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; and thus it is something that is taking place at the present time. In chapter 12 of his book Simply Jesus, Mr. Wright discusses the prophecy in Isaiah 40-55. He makes a very interesting point about the two ideas he sees in this passage. He expresses these two ideas as “the return of YHWH to Zion, on the one hand, and the suffering of the servant, on the other.”[4]

First, there is the “return of YHWH to Zion.” Wright sees this line of prophecy as describing the establishment of a powerful kingdom where the Lord himself conquers Israel’s pagan captors, restores his people to their land, and reigns himself, from Jerusalem, over all the nations of the earth.

Second, Wright sees the other prophetic line describing the vicarious and sacrificial death of a “suffering servant” who dies to make atonement for the sins of his people. Wright sees both of these two lines of prophecy, obviously, as finding their fulfillment in Jesus.

The interesting (and somewhat unique) idea that Wright puts forth is that these two prophecies are, in fact, more linked together than is generally understood. He says, “This kingdom agenda, this rescue project, this return of YHWH to Zion, will be accomplished through the work, and now specifically the death, of the servant.”[5] Wright later even more boldly says, “The return of YHWH to Zion, on the one hand, and the suffering of the servant, on the other, turn out to be—almost unbelievably, as the prophet realizes—two ways of saying the same thing.”[6]

Wright sees the two prophetic lines as referring to one and the same event. To him, the sacrificial death of Christ is one and the same thing as the establishment of the kingdom described in Isaiah. Therefore, when Jesus in the gospels mentions “the kingdom,” including here in Matthew 5:3-12, he must be referring to the Church, the Gospel, or some other thing that is beginning immediately. In conjunction with the rest of his body of work, Wright sees this “kingdom of heaven” as being a renewal of the earth, as foretold by the prophets, that Jesus and his followers are in charge of bringing about during the present age.[7]

On the other hand, in his classic work entitled The Sermon on the Mount Expounded, Robert Govett views things very differently. Govett does not see “the kingdom” in Matthew 5:3 as something that was to begin immediately. He says, “It (the kingdom of heaven) really means, in every case-THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM OF MESSIAH...It is the kingdom which Israel was then expecting; a kingdom in which the patriarchs and prophets are to have part in by rising from the dead: Matt. viii. 11.”[8] For Govett, the kingdom is not something that commences with the cross or the resurrection of Jesus, but rather it is something that awaits Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection of “the last day” (John 6:40).

Who then, has the correct perspective? When Jesus refers to “the kingdom of the heavens” (“heavens” is plural in the original Greek), is he talking about something that, as Wright would say, began immediately at his first coming, being ushered in by his own resurrection? Or, is Govett correct in seeing this kingdom as awaiting Jesus’ return to the earth and the final resurrection of the last day?

Before answering the above questions, it must be pointed out that there is much about which those who hold these opposing positions actually agree. Firstly, both Wright and Govett agree that the nation of Israel, during the period leading up to Jesus’ ministry, had expectations of an earthly revolution and kingdom to be set up by the coming Messiah.[9][10] Govett believes that the Israelites were not so far off in expecting an earthly, revolutionary kingdom. According to him, they simply misunderstood the timing of that kingdom and, more importantly, their own need for repentance in order to gain entrance therein. Wright, it seems, in rejecting outright the idea of a national, political kingdom, thinks that the first century Jews were greatly misunderstanding what Isaiah and the other prophets were getting at.

More importantly, both Wright and Govett seem to agree that, despite being called “the kingdom of the heavens,” Jesus’ primary focus for this kingdom is its expression on the earth. Both Wright and Govett refer to Jesus’ phraseology in the model prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus says to pray, “let your kingdom come” and “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Wright and Govett appear to concur that the important point being made about this heavenly kingdom is that it will, at some point, move to the earth.[11][12]

If both Wright and Govett are correct that the kingdom that Jesus refers to is primarily concerned with its establishment on “the earth,” then the common understanding of this kingdom being what is commonly referred to as “heaven,” the eternal dwelling place of the believer, must be refused. Despite often being the focus of much Christian discussion and activity over the past several centuries, “Where do you go when you die?” is a question not often addressed in the scriptures.[13] Jesus and the writers of the New Testament did not primarily view the believers’ hope as “going to heaven when they die.” Rather, Jesus and his New Testament authors stress that, although they may die, there will be a day when they will “rise again” (John 5:25; 6:40; 1 Corinthians 15:16-19). The question with this passage is whether this resurrection, that John 6:40 says is to take place “on the last day,” precedes or follows the establishment of Jesus’ kingdom, and thus, for believers today, whether the kingdom is something that is already here, or is it something that is still yet to come.

The Kingdom Is Yet to Come

Govett makes quite a compelling case for the “future kingdom” position. He says this kingdom should be understood as awaiting its inauguration until Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection of the dead that will be associated with it.

Govett points out that Matthew 8:11 states the patriarchs will be reclining at table in this “kingdom of the heavens.” If the kingdom of the heavens will in fact be an earthly reality, then of course resurrection will be necessary for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be there. Govett points out that elsewhere, when proving the doctrine of resurrection, Jesus uses these same three: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as being examples of those who most certainly will be raised.[14] Govett also points out that, later in the same sermon (Matthew 7:21-23), entrance into the “kingdom of the heavens” is given or refused “by Christ at his advent.”[15] According to John 12:48, the judgment will take place “on the last day.” This must be parallel with the judgment which Jesus in Matthew 7:21,22 says will take place “on that day.” This “last day” judgment and subsequent entrance or non-entrance into the “kingdom of the heavens” coincides with Jesus’ sayings in John 6:40,44,54 as to when the resurrection will take place. It seems clear, by these verses, that “the kingdom of the heavens” awaits Jesus’ second coming and the final resurrection of the dead. Its inauguration is, for us today, a future event.

That’s all pretty clear, isn’t it?

But what would N.T. Wright have to say about this? Are there not other scriptures that would establish Wright’s point, implying or even declaring that “the kingdom” is something that already began with the first advent of Christ?[16]

The Kingdom Is Now Here

Jesus’ experience with the Pharisees as described in Matthew 12:22-32 is probably the best text used to defend the notion that “the kingdom” Jesus refers to so often is something that did, in fact, commence with his first coming. In this passage the Pharisees, seeing that Jesus is able to cast out demons by the power of his spoken word, accuse him of operating under the power of “Beelzebul” (later confirmed in verse 26 to be a reference to Satan). Wright makes a few important observations about Jesus’ response to this accusation.[17]

Firstly, Wright mentions Jesus’ pointing out the obvious: Satan’s kingdom does not oppose itself.

Secondly, Wright tells of Jesus’ making a point that concerns “the kingdom of God.”[18] Jesus tells the Pharisees that if it is by the Spirit of God that he casts out demons (and, as Wright points out, this is the only option left since it is absurd to assume Satan would do such a thing) then “the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Wright sees this statement as proving that the kingdom was arriving right then. He disagrees with Govett. He would say the manifestation of the kingdom does not have to wait for the second coming, the final resurrection, or anything else. Indeed, Jesus did not say, “Then you have a foretaste of what the kingdom of God will be like.” He said, “The kingdom of God has come upon you.” This parallels Jesus’ words in Luke 17:20,21 when he says, again to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is not coming with observation...for behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” The Pharisees, probably based upon their reading of the Old Testament, were looking for the physical manifestation of a national kingdom. Their hardness of heart caused them to miss the fact that the kingdom was, at least in some respect, already there.

Those who defend an essentially future concept of the kingdom (and I must confess here that I put myself into this category) must acknowledge this truth about the spiritual and present facet of the kingdom’s existence. Even Robert Govett, while he claims that the phrase “the kingdom of the heavens” exclusively refers to the yet-to-come millennial kingdom of Christ, nevertheless concedes elsewhere that there is an aspect of God’s kingdom that exists on the earth prior to that period.[19] While the kingdom is essentially future in its establishment, there is a spiritual sense in which God has already “delivered us from the authority of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Where Jesus is, whether in body or in spirit, there the kingdom of God is as well. That is why Jesus was able to tell the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21; Matthew 12:28).

Wright seems to go along with what some theologians refer to as the “already/not yet” principle. Wright sees the passage in Matthew 12 as proving that “God’s kingdom, God’s sovereign and saving rule, really is breaking in, on earth as in heaven;”[20] but to him, this only confirms that there has been an “initial victory” already in the war to establish God’s kingdom. However, Wright still does understand the need for a “final battle” to firmly establish God’s victory. Therefore, in some sense or other, both Govett and Wright concede that, during the ministry of Jesus on the earth, both statements are true in their own respect: The kingdom is, in fact, here “already.” The kingdom also remains “yet to come.”

However, where N.T. Wright’s understanding (and that of a growing number of similarly minded theologians) begins to go off-track in my opinion is with his explanation of the when of this “final battle.” If you read Wright carefully, you will see that for him, though the kingdom was “already/not yet” in Jesus’ own day, at the present time, Wright’s “kingdom” would be really only “already.” Wright does not see the “final battle” as being something to take place at the end of human history, but rather as something that took place, in its fullness, at the cross of Christ. “Somehow it appears that Jesus’s battle with the satan, which was the battle for God’s kingdom to be established on earth as in heaven, reached its climax in his death.”[21]

Indeed there is an element of scriptural support for N.T. Wright’s idea. Most notably the verse in John 12 when Jesus, in reference to his upcoming crucifixion, says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31 ESV).

We must concede that the aforementioned verses (John 12; Matthew 12; Luke 17) confirm that God’s official stripping of Satan’s authority did, in fact, take place at the cross. Jesus declares, following his resurrection, that “all authority in heaven and on the earth was given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

But, and this is where Wright misses it, we will err greatly if we suppose that this is the end of the story! Judgment has already been given to Jesus (John 5:22); yet the final execution of that judgment awaits the second advent of Christ. In the same way, though Satan has been already officially stripped of his authority, his final and practical casting down awaits the future kingdom period of a thousand years (Revelation 20:2,10). Yes, though God’s enemy is even now officially stripped of his authority, yet he still is reckoned the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) who “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8).

Going back to Matthew 12, Wright is correct to connect the coming of the kingdom spoken of in Matthew 12:28 with Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:29: “Or how is someone able to enter the mighty man’s house and plunder his goods unless first he binds the mighty man? Then, also he will plunder his house.” But Wright is incorrect to assume that today is essentially the day of “the plundering of the house.” There will be a glorious, future day of Jesus, with his saints, “plundering the house” of the world, which today is referred to as Satan’s domain. Revelation 11:15 speaks of a time when loud voices in heaven will say, “The kingdom of the world has become that of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Revelation 20 also describes a time when Christ will reign with his companions for a thousand years, and this is said to be immediately following, not preceding, the time of the saints resurrection (Revelation 20:4) as well as following the enactment of Satan’s sentence (Revelation 20:2).[22]

Therefore, in agreement with Old Testament prophecy “the kingdom of the heavens,” as proclaimed and taught about by Jesus, the period where God rules the earth as he does the heavens, while having a present, spiritual expression among God’s people today, must be correctly understood to be primarily a future reality.[23] Jesus, while now in heaven at the right hand of his Father, has a spiritual representative on the earth in the person of the Holy Spirit. Therefore he reigns, spiritually, to some degree, presently on the earth. However, the day is coming when Jesus himself will return to the earth. When he does he will establish the real, national kingdom of Israel, from where he will rule over all the earth for a thousand years. His kingdom is present spiritually, yes, but will be manifested openly in the future. This future, earthly kingdom is generally referred to as “the millennial kingdom” or simply as “the millennium,” because the book of Revelation describes this kingdom as lasting for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6).

So when Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount about “the kingdom,” he is speaking about a future reality about which his original hearers likely already understood. More importantly, Jesus is also telling his disciples that they are being given the opportunity to have a part in the rulership of this kingdom once it arrives, depending on their obedience to the teaching that he is about to give.

Jesus will also explain that this future kingdom has a present experience available to his hearers. As they submit to Jesus’ ruling presently, they have an experience of the kingdom even now. This concept of the essentially future, yet spiritually present nature of the kingdom is an extremely important concept to understand as we go forward in studying the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, Jesus did not speak simply of the arrival of his kingdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, what Jesus is primarily concerned with is his hearers’ entrance or non-entrance into this kingdom. As we have touched on briefly already, and as will be established as we look at the sermon itself, there is a required level of righteousness and spiritual character for a disciple of Jesus to be permitted to enter the kingdom, and especially to be granted the privilege of reigning with Jesus there.

Different Concept Than Being “Born Again”

Before going any further into the discussion of Jesus’ kingdom message, there is an important point that must be addressed.

It has been stated that Jesus is instructing his hearers about the spiritual condition of those who will inherit his kingdom. This fact should not, however, obscure for us another truth taught elsewhere in the scriptures. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus lays out, in a very clear way, the level of righteousness required for gaining entrance into the coming kingdom. However, this level of righteous living is not given as a criterion for receiving the gift of God referred to in John 3:3, the “new birth.” The spiritual experience of being “born again” is clearly laid out elsewhere in scripture as being a gift of God which requires no work from the one who receives it. Sometimes this “new birth” experience is referred to in scripture as “receiving eternal life” (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47). At other times, it is referred to as receiving “salvation” or as being “saved” (Ephesians 2:8), and at still other times, the new birth experience is referred to as “justification” or “righteousness” (Romans 3:24; 5:17).

Especially within Protestant circles, Bible readers and commentators rightly hold very dearly to this doctrine of the freeness of God’s gift of eternal life. The gift is rightly taught as being received by grace through faith. Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God offers forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ to all who will receive by faith. A biblical expression for this free gift of God, the one that will be used throughout this present work, is the phrase “new birth” or being “born again” (John 3:7). Apart from any merit of their own, sinners who are deserving of death and punishment, are forgiven of their sins because of the propitiating death of Jesus, and are given a spiritual “new life” through the person of the Holy Spirit. All of this is simply given, as a result of one’s faith in Christ. Perhaps the most famous passage in the whole Bible states this truth most eloquently: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but has eternal life.” Within evangelical circles, the doctrine of the “free gift” is generally taught with no objections. I ask you, reader, have you put your faith in the Lord Jesus? Have you believed in him, and by believing become one of God’s children? I encourage any who have not yet anchored their hope in the Savior, to read the Gospel According to John, to pray for God’s enlightenment, and to believe, and receive God’s free gift of eternal life!

However, perhaps out of fear of compromising this fundamental doctrine of God’s free gift of grace, many within these same evangelical circles often neglect, or even reject, the equally biblical doctrines of God’s reward and discipline of his own people. As we will see, it is this oft-neglected matter of God’s dealings with his own children that Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount.

As is often the case with natural birth, spiritual “new birth” comes with certain conditional privileges and responsibilities. In the same way, natural birth is a process that can never be undone; so a believer’s status as being “born again” is something eternally secure (John 10:28,29).[24] However, when studying much of Jesus’ teaching, we will find that many of the privileges and responsibilities that are made available at the spiritual new birth can, in fact, be forfeited by the child of God, through disobedience and unfaithfulness. We will find, as we study the Sermon on the Mount, that reigning with Jesus in his coming kingdom is one of these privileges a genuine child of God might forfeit through disobedience or unfaithfulness.

Scattered throughout the New Testament, not least of all in the teachings of Jesus himself, we find teaching regarding God’s discipline of his children, and often this discipline has to do with recompense within the coming millennial kingdom. This is a crucial point to understand. The kingdom, with its accompanying reward and loss for Jesus’ disciples, is the subject primarily addressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Not the gift of new birth, but reward as it relates to the coming millennial kingdom is the subject addressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. All of the disciples being instructed have already experienced the new birth by faith (with the obvious exception of Judas, the “son of perdition”). Jesus is not here explaining how to be born again, but is telling born again people what is required of them in order to receive the reward of reigning with Jesus in his coming kingdom.

The importance of the distinction between these two biblical concepts cannot be overstated.[25] It was discussed earlier that the scriptures use different words and expressions to refer to the free gift; words like “salvation,” “justification,” and “life” or “eternal life.” We need to be aware that these words and expressions, in the original Greek, do not necessarily point to the free gift. The Greek word translated “saved” (Greek: σῴζω), for example, can refer to the eternal salvation from God’s judgment (such as in Ephesians 2:8,9), or it can refer to salvation from other things, like physical death (Acts 27:20), God’s temporal judgment (James 5:15), bodily illness (Mark 5:23), etc. When studying the scriptures we need to be careful to avoid what is referred to as the “illegitimate identity transfer.” Jody Dillow describes this hermeneutical error as being “when a meaning in one context is said to be the meaning in all contexts.”[26] Unfortunately this error is quite common, especially with respect to fundamental doctrines. The fact is, however, that very often the biblical terminology used to describe each of the doctrinal principles we have mentioned, the gift of new birth and the reward pertaining to the kingdom, will overlap, often leading to confusion in study. We must be careful to avoid such a confusion.

We will evaluate the use of some of these overlapping terms later on as we continue our study through the Sermon on the Mount. We will find, of course, that context is the determining factor as to how the terms should be understood in each occurrence.[27] Because of the confusion that is sometimes caused by biblical terms with multiple meanings, throughout the remainder of this work the two doctrines being discussed will be called by the more specific terms: “new birth” (referring to eternal and irrevocable salvation which is gained by faith alone), and “kingdom reward” (referring to the reward and discipline within the millennial kingdom age of those who are already believers)

Now, let’s get into the text of the Sermon on the Mount itself.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] See, for example, Calvin’s comments on Matthew 7:12. (Calvin, J., & Pringle, W., 2010, p. Matt 7:12)

[2] In the original Greek, there is actually no verb in the opening clauses of each of the beatitude verses. The being verb “are” is supplied by most translations (“blessed are the poor in spirit,”) but just as well could the third-person imperative ( be supplied because of the imperative in the similarly constructed sentence in verse 12. This is the translation used here.

[3] (Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 2008, p. 18)

[4] (Wright, Simply Jesus, 2011, p. 158)

[5] (Wright, 2011, p. 155)

[6] (Wright, 2011, p. 158)

[7] (Wright, 2008, p. 201)

[8] (Govett, Sermon on the Mount, 1984, pp. 7,8) (Reference and emphasis his)

[9] (Wright, 2011, pp. 106-108)

[10] (Govett, 1984, p. 7)

[11] (Wright, 2011, p. 148)

[12] (Govett, 1984, p. 170)

[13] By this I do not mean to imply that the concept of where one goes when he dies is altogether ignored in the New Testament. There are a few places where this is discussed (see Luke 16:19-31 and 2 Corinthians 5:8).

[14] (Govett, Sermon on the Mount, 1984, p. 7)

[15] (Govett, 1984, p. 337)

[16] (Wright, 2011, p. 158)

[17] (Wright, 2011, p. 125)

[18] It is noted that Jesus here uses the phrase “kingdom of God” rather than the phrase used in Matthew 5:3, “the kingdom of the heavens.” There is certainly some reason for the same gospel writer to have quoted Jesus as using the two separate phrases. However, considering the fact that these phrases are used interchangeably between different gospels (see Matthew 13:11 compared to Mark 4:11 for one example), I take them to be related closely enough that the proper interpretation of the passages being discussed can still be found without having to go into any detailed contrasting of the two.

[19] (Govett, Kingdom of God Future, 1985, pp. 2, 3)

[20] (Wright, 2011, p. 125)

[21] (Wright, 2011, p. 126)

[22] It should be noted that Satan’s final sentence will be enacted at the end of the thousand years when he is cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10), as Satan will be temporarily released from this temporary holding in the abyss at the end of the thousand years (Revelation 20:3,7-9).

[23] There are two other scriptural issues that similarly have this future/present expression that may help to explain this point. The first is the coming of “the lawless one” and the second is the matter of resurrection.

The apostle Paul, in the second letter to the Thessalonians, tells of the future revealing of “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-6). This is parallel to the fact that, as has been shown, the kingdom of the heavens is also primarily future in its expression. In no uncertain terms, Paul describes the coming “lawless one” as being a literal man who will come on the scene in a future day, and he will exalt himself as being God. However, in that same chapter, Paul also speaks of what he calls the “mystery of lawlessness,” which is something that is clearly already present (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Similarly, John speaks of one coming that his hearers know of as the “antichrist,” but he also tells them of “many antichrists” who have already come, who receive that designation because of their false teaching about Jesus as the Christ (1 John 2:18,22). The eventual coming of this “antichrist” or “man of lawlessness” will certainly be a public and physical event, but these New Testament writers are warning that there is also a secret, spiritual reality that is already present and that awaits its public and physical manifestation. In a similar way, while the public manifestation of the heavenly kingdom awaits a future day, there is also a spiritual experience of that kingdom. As opposed to the lawlessness of the present day and the coming antichrist, the saints are told that they are citizens of this spiritual kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:17).

Though it has already been touched on in the body of this work, I would also like to elaborate a little more on the New Testament concept of “resurrection.” This point is even more illustrative of the future/present reality of the kingdom of the heavens because resurrection is something that is shown to be closely linked with the coming of the kingdom (Revelation 20:6).

When Lazarus had died, Jesus came to console the family, and when he did he had a most interesting conversation with Martha, Lazarus’ sister. Jesus told Martha in plain words, “Your brother will rise.” Having spent much time with Jesus, Martha was aware of Jesus’ plain teaching about a coming day of resurrection. She rightly knew that Jesus taught that the resurrection was to take place on “the last day” (John 11:24. See also John 6:40,44,54). Martha rightly understood the appointed time, but as Jesus will explain next, she missed the more important factor of the appointed One. Jesus does not argue with her about the future day of resurrection, but he does point out the more important fact about himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha perhaps should have remembered Jesus’ words in John 5:25 when he said of the resurrection, “the hour is coming and is now here.” The final resurrection does have an appointed day, but Lazarus (similarly with Jesus himself) did not need to wait for that day! The primary importance is not so much the time that the Lord has chosen but the person of the Lord himself. When Jesus is around, so is resurrection life!

Similarly, going back to the matter of the kingdom, the Pharisees understood, no doubt based on their reading of the Law and Prophets, that the kingdom was to be a visible, world-wide event. However, Jesus explains to them that they missed the most important part. They asked when the kingdom was going to come (Luke 17:20) and Jesus responded by saying that they need not look for signs, because the kingdom of God was already in their midst! (Luke 17:21) Jesus certainly did not mean that there would be no physical manifestation of the kingdom. The next thing Jesus does is tell his disciples about the days of the future appearance of the Son of Man (Luke 17:24-31). No, Jesus was explaining that, while it is certainly true that his kingdom will one day come in full manifestation, the more important fact was that the kingdom belongs to him. The Pharisees need not look for any signs, because they were rejecting the very person that the kingdom is all about. With the kingdom there is, as with the matter of resurrection, both an “hour is coming” element, and, because of the Lord’s abiding presence, an element of the “is now here.”

[24] An explanation of the eternal security of the believer would require more than is able to be explained in the present work. For a thorough explanation of the believer’s eternally secured position in Christ I would encourage you to read the tract on the subject by John H. Smith found at (Smith, 2016)

[25] Zane Hodges’ book The Hungry Inherit explains well the distinction that needs to be made between eternal life as a gift and the reward for faithful discipleship. He sees things slightly differently from what I am presenting here, in that he sees the primary distinction as being between kingdom “entrance” (which he takes to be an aspect of the gift) and kingdom “inheritance” (which he takes to be an aspect of the reward). Hodges teaches that all believers enter the kingdom, but only some will be rewarded with “inheritance” or “ownership” of it. (Hodges, 2011, pp. 81, 110) While I agree that there are distinctions of ownership levels within the coming kingdom, my view, as I articulate in this present work, is that, so far as the millennium is concerned, even simple entrance is a reward which genuine believers can still forfeit. Both Hodges and I agree that entrance into the eternal state, the New Jerusalem, is a gift given upon simple faith which cannot thereafter be forfeited.

[26] Dillow dedicates a few paragraphs to this concept in his book Final Destiny: The Future Reign of the Servant Kings (Revised Edition) (Dillow, 2016, pp. 27, 28). Dillow cites James Barr and his book The Semantics of Biblical Languages (Barr, 1961) as his source for the term “illegitimate identity transfer.”

[27] Bob Wilkin’s book The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible does a good job explaining how word confusion plays into Biblical interpretation. While most readers will not be in 100% agreement with all of his conclusions and definitions, I do recommend Mr. Wilkin’s work for how well it demonstrates the required contextual and exegetical consideration that must go into scriptural study. (Wilkin B. , 2012)