Editor’s note: This series comes from a sermon given at a recent conference on discipleship for Chinese house church leaders. This sermon has been translated and edited from its original version.
Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership.
The kingdom of Christ has arrived, but it has not been fully realized. In the words of one theologian, the kingdom has been inaugurated. The foundation has been laid through Jesus’s death and resurrection, through the work of the apostles, and through the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is the inauguration of the kingdom. In the second stage, we talk about the delay of the kingdom. We are in this stage right now. The Son of God sits on the throne, exerts his authority, and leads his church in order to advance the kingdom. This is the work of God himself. In the last stage, when Jesus Christ returns, he will bring his kingdom to perfection. He will return in glory, defeat his enemies, and destroy them in hell. Then he will lead us into a new heaven and a new earth. The whole earth will be filled with his glory and image, becoming a sanctuary of God. This is difficult to believe. What does it have to do with personal salvation or practical piety?
There are three stages. During the first stage, victory, our enemies are judged and defeated. When the kingdom was inaugurated, when Christ came to earth, he judged many enemies and cast out many demons, taking away their authority. At the same time, he showed compassion to wicked men, including God’s people, who were in captivity, and the Gentiles, hoping they would return to him. He set them free. Jesus says in Matt. 12:28-29, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?” Paul says we were captured by God and are his slaves, but at the same time, he calls us the inheritance of God.
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Jesus said something else that even more clearly demonstrates this truth about his judging our enemies and at the same time setting us free. Before he went to the cross, he said, “Now is the judgment of the world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” In this beginning stage, Jesus destroys our enemies (disease, sin, demons). The world had long been ruled by demons, but when the king came, he restored his honor and blessed his people with the year of Jubilee. Finally, it is also an ultimate attack against Satan, by which he takes back those whom Satan has captured. They now obey this new king and declare salvation to all humanity.
Now these evil spiritual forces have been defeated, we witness the advance and expansion of the kingdom. The Book of Hebrews shows how Jesus, through the inauguration of the kingdom, through being condemned to death, destroyed Satan’s authority over humanity and solved the problem of sin. Through his substitutionary atonement, Jesus liberated those who lived their whole lives in fear of death. If you truly understand what he did, it is not that you will not be afraid of death, but rather that death no longer has the final say because we have already died in him. We have been set free. In Colossians 2, Paul tells us that Christ disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them through the cross. This is the language of war, of spiritual warfare.
If today’s church is not a church at war, then we do not need to gather. After being saved, we can just look forward to the rapture. But this is just the beginning, and it brings with it tension. Now we do not care much about earthly enemies, but about spiritual ones. In Ephesians 6, after talking about all kinds of struggles – family issues, marital relationships, problems with children, relationships between employers and employees – Paul says everything comes down to one major issue. All of the problems that arise from relationships are related to one vertical issue: are the powers of the air in control, or is Jesus Christ in control?
Ephesians helps us understand that the Old Testament takes place against the backdrop of spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is real war. We do not fight this war with swords, like Islam. But when Jesus comes back to consummate all things, when the kingdom of Jesus Christ is perfected, his strategy will drastically change. He will come riding on a horse, trampling on many and spilling their blood. What for? To destroy the followers of Satan and those who have fallen into his snares, including those who do not believe in the Lord. Jesus will complete the war. Do not think there is no flesh or blood involved in spiritual war. In the end, everyone will rise from the dead. Some will rise and receive glorified bodies, and some will rise and receive bodies for destruction. Jesus will repay them for their deeds. The day of vengeance will come! But now, for the past 2,000 years, we have been living in the age of God’s grace.
If we do not understand this, we do not understand the big picture of God’s kingdom. Revelation says that when the days are fulfilled, Jesus will strike down the enemies of the world. His name is the Word of God, and he will come with armies of angels. From his mouth will come a sharp sword with which to strike the nations. The latter part of Revelation 20 describes the second coming. Jesus will judge the evil spirits and Satan, and then throw them into the lake of fire and sulfur. We should look forward to that most satisfying day. Those in heaven know this truth, and they ask, “How long?”
We’ve seen that our enemies will be defeated, but how does God triumph over them? This also involves three stages. The first stage happened on earth. God used the apostles and miracles to liberate those who were under oppression. The blind gained sight. Extraordinary blessings were poured out in that day. These things inaugurated the first stage. While speaking about how we entered this stage, Paul says that we were delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son. God has saved us from our sin and granted us forgiveness. This theme is key in helping us understand why the New Testament emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in our salvation. This is a very important thing God is doing on earth right now. Our salvation today was accomplished in the past by Jesus, but everything is related to the Holy Spirit’s work in us. If we do not understand the work of the Holy Spirit, we are pitiful. It is a very important sign of the end times.
We are told in 2 Corinthians 1 that God has put his seal on us. Ephesians 1 tells us we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance and indicates that we belong to him. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be bold in spiritual warfare. Even though there appears to be no flesh or blood involved in this war, it is both more terrifying and more satisfying than typical war. We have this guarantee so we can live out God’s power through the Spirit.
A passage in Hebrews says we are in a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Someone may revoke your nationality or cancel your visa, but no one can take away your authority as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. No one can deprive the ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven of their authority. It is an unshakable kingdom. With piety and awe, you serve the God who is a consuming fire. When the kingdom of Jesus Christ is fully realized and perfected, we will see things we cannot even imagine. Revelation spends two or three chapters talking about this, and then leaves the rest to our imagination.
But we can be certain about some things. Rev. 11:15 says, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” God and his regent, Jesus Christ, will be king forever and ever. When Jesus returns this world will be completely changed. Have you shared the gospel like this? This is reality. If we do not live in this reality, it will be very difficult to understand the end times.
As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we have unshakeable authority and security. How does this unshakeable security change the way we interact with others on earth?