In the evangelical culture we get caught up in the notion that the whole purpose for Jesus’ death and resurrection was to save you and me from hell and give us a hope of heaven. While that is true, it is only part of the picture. Jesus came to earth the first time to demonstrate His authority over all the kingdoms of the earth. Mark 1:14-15 says, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” We put the emphasis on the second part of that quote, while ignoring or downplaying the first half.
What did Jesus mean when He said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand”? Clearly the disciples had one idea. They thought He had come as a conquering king. That was indeed in the ultimate plan. But they had no idea that the kingdom would come in two installments. The first part would involve the coming of the King as a suffering servant to redeem His creation by offering up a sacrifice for sins. He would die a horrible and humiliating death at the hands of His own people in order to absorb the wrath of God the Father against man’s sins. Then He would ascend to Heaven where He would begin preparing a place for His followers when He comes again to reign. This is the part of the plan that the apostles could not grasp.
Another reason for Jesus’ first advent was to establish His bona fides as the rightful ruler of heaven and earth. He did that by demonstrating His sovereignty over nature, Satan, sin, death and all other powers in heaven and earth. (Col 2:15; Eph 1:21) When John the Baptist was in prison and discouraged by the seeming reluctance of Jesus to take up His throne, he sent some of his apostles to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responded by saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Mt 11:4-5)
Jesus was saying that His works were authenticating His claim to sovereignty. This is indeed what John had hoped to hear, but not in the way he expected. He had hoped for more than just signs. He certainly wasn’t expecting a crucifixion. He was expecting a coronation.
John had no notion of the Messiah as a Suffering Servant who would pay the penalty for sin with His own shed blood. He was looking for a Messiah who would come to set his people free from political oppression and establish His own righteous rule over the nations as heir to David’s throne. The apostles had the same expectation when they asked the risen Lord, “…Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” ( Acts 1:6) Now that the suffering and humiliation were over they saw no reason for Him to delay the establishment of His kingdom.
Today, we have the benefit of hindsight through the writings of the New Testament. We know Jesus came to die in our stead to save us from sin and that He is coming again to judge the living and the dead and set up His earthly kingdom – the same kingdom the Jews were expecting 2000 years ago. But we have a somewhat different perception of what that kingdom will look like. We tend to think of it as an other-worldly realm that we inhabit in a disembodied state. The Jewish believers saw it as a restored earth that they will inhabit in a glorified physical body. Their view was more consistent with scripture.
Jesus did more than just show His power to heal the sick, raise the dead and preach good news to the poor. He also demonstrated His power over nature. He turned water into wine (Jn 2:1-24), walked on the water (Mt 14:22-32), stilled a storm (Mt 8:23-27), and instantly created enough fish and bread to feed two crowds totaling well over 9000 people. On another occasion, He created enough fish to fill His disciples’ boats so full that they nearly capsized (Jn 21:4-8). He also caused a fig tree to wither overnight because it produced nothing for Him to eat, even though figs were not in season. (Mt 11:20-25)
These signs were designed to reveal that the fullness of redemption lies not just in freedom from sin and death for believers, but the liberation of all creation from death and decay. Jesus accomplished this as the second Adam, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”(1 Cor 15:20-22). The “all” includes not just mankind, but every living thing that has experienced death and decay because of our disobedience. Paul describes it this way in the book of Romans, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rm 8:19-23). In the Old Testament, this freedom from the bondage of death and decay is personified. Isaiah 35 says the desert will sing and rejoice (Is 35:1-2), the heavens will be filled with gladness, the sea and everything in it will roar, the field will exult, and the forest will sing for joy (Ps 96:11-13). These are anthropomorphisms that express the glory of the redeemed creation, something that we have never seen nor can we imagine.
The Old Testament paints a very detailed picture of what this freedom from the bondage of corruption will look like. It means the curse will be removed (Is 55:13), pre-flood topography and atmospheric conditions will be restored (Is 40:4-5 Rev 16:20), life will be lengthened (Is 65:20), streams will flow in the desert and on the mountain tops (Joel 3:18; Is 43:20; Is 41:18, Is 35:6-7; Is 30:25), the earth will produce an exceeding abundance of food and drink (Is 30:23-26, Ez 47:7-12, Is 32:15; Is 35:1-2; Is 41:18-20, Joel 2:21-24), every season of the year will yield a harvest (Amos 9:13), disease and infirmity will all be healed (Is 35:5, Ez 47:6-12; Rev 22:1-2), the wild animals will be tamed (Is. 11:6-9, Is 43:19-21), knowledge of the Lord and allegiance to Christ will be universal (Hab 2:14, Is 11:9, Is 44:4-5), peace will be worldwide (Is 11:9, Is 2:4), the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all God’s people (Is 44:3-5, Is 32:15) and God’s glory will be revealed in full (Is 40:5, Is 35:2).
First, the curse will be removed. Isaiah 55:13 says, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Revelation 22:3 says it more simply, “No longer will there be any curse.”
There were no thorns or briers when God created the earth. They began to grow as a result of God’s curse on the earth for Adam’s disobedience. Since that day the fate of creation has been inextricably linked to the fate of mankind. Therefore, the whole creation will be liberated from the effects of sin along with the saints when they are set free and given their glorified bodies. In some way we cannot understand, the whole creation lives in anticipation of that day. Then the earth itself will be set free from death and decay and will yield up its produce in abundance.
The conditions that existed in the Garden of Eden will be restored in the coming kingdom. Isaiah 40:4-5 says, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Revelation 16:20 says, “Every island fled away and no mountains could be found.” Scientists tell us that if the surface of the earth were perfectly level, water would cover the land to a depth of 1.6 miles. Before the flood the earth was more level. Much of the water that is in the ocean depths today once provided a protective canopy over the globe that shielded the earth from harmful radiation. That canopy more than doubled the atmospheric pressure and raised carbon dioxide and oxygen levels to optimal living conditions. The fossil record bears witness to the fact that life forms were much larger before the flood. For instance, the common dragon fly had a wing span of three feet! Cattails were sixty feet tall! A scientist in Japan simulated these conditions in a hyperbaric chamber and was able to grow a tomato plant that lived for over six years, grew to a height of sixty feet and bore over 1000 tomatoes!
These same conditions will cause lifespans to increase to lengths common before the flood. At that time most people lived to be several hundred years old. Methuselah, the longest living man recorded in the Bible, lived to be 969 years old. Speaking of the coming kingdom, Isaiah 65:20, says, “Never again will there be… an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.”
A scientist is Glenrose, Texas, is in the process of building a giant greenhouse that will reproduce these ideal conditions to test the hypothesis that prehistoric plants and animals may indeed have been larger and lived longer than their contemporary counterparts.
Water is mentioned often in connection with the restored creation. The Bible tells us that rivers will flow on barren heights, springs will run through the valleys, deserts will become pools of water, and parched ground will be turned into springs (Joel 3:18; Is 43:20; Is 41:18, Is 35:6-7; Is 30:25).
All this water will produce lush vegetation even in places that are now barren. Isaiah 35:1-2 says, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.”
Lebanon was known for its towering cedar trees. Solomon used these trees to build the first temple, the most magnificent structure in all of ancient civilization. Sharon was an especially fertile valley extending from the Mediterranean to the west of Jerusalem. Carmel was a range of lush and verdant hills reaching from the plain of Esdraelon to the sea. These were the most beautiful parts of the Holy Land. The entire creation will bloom and grow like these beautiful places. Every place will be a scenic wonderland.
There will be a perpetual harvest and scarcity will be replaced by a superabundance. Amos 9:13 says, ““Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” Barren lands will become fertile and fertile lands will become superabundant. (Is 32:15) Swarms of fish will exist where there were none just as in the days when Jesus filled the disciples’ nets and fed the multitudes. (Ez 47:9-10)
All disease and infirmities will be healed in the new kingdom. Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” Ezekiel saw a “river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Ez 47:6-12, Rev 22:1-2) This is a reference to the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven to become the seat of power in Christ’s kingdom. It will be a place where people from all over the world come for healing.
After the flood, God created enmity between man and the animal kingdom by allowing man to kill animals for food and placing the fear of man in animals to heighten their survival instinct. He also allowed some animals to become predators and others to become prey. This was necessary, because the world of lush vegetation and superabundance that had existed before the flood had now become a world of scarce resources for which all living things would have to compete.
But in the coming kingdom, those original conditions of superabundance will be restored and the predator/prey relationship that was never God’s original intent will be abolished. Meat eaters will once again become herbivores. Isaiah 11:6-9 says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain…”
The Bible tells us that everyone has an innate awareness of a creator God whether they will acknowledge Him or not (Rm 1:18-23). Unfortunately, many have repressed that knowledge by refusing to glorify God. However, in the coming kingdom, everyone will acknowledge God openly whether they like it or not because Jesus will be reigning. (Is 44:4-5) Some people may consider Him a despot, but they won’t be able to reject His rule because He will hold absolute power. The nations of the world will pay obeisance to Him or suffer the consequences. As the books of Habakkuk and Isaiah say, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14, Is 11:9).
Universal peace will reign because the law giver will become the law enforcer and no one will be able to withstand Him. Christ’s authority will be absolute and He will rule with a rod of iron and break in pieces those who oppose Him. (Rev 2:27; Rev 12:5; Rev 19:15) Satan, the present ruler of this world, will be bound and imprisoned in the bottomless pit. (Rev 20:2) He will no longer be able to incite one nation against another or one person against another. There will no longer be any need for the righteous to defend themselves because Christ will be their protector. Willingly or unwillingly, everyone will be completely subjected to Christ’s authority, so there will no longer be need for any weapons of war. All weaponry will be converted for agricultural use, where it is most needed. (Is 2:4)
There will be people in the kingdom who are believers at the time Christ returns to earth. These folks will exchange their mortal bodies for glorified immortal bodies when they enter into Christ’s kingdom. Other believers will be raised from the dead to live with Christ. They also will receive immortal bodies along with authority to rule as Christ’s sub-regents over parts of the kingdom. They will obey Christ perfectly, carrying out His will without exception. (1 Cor 15:53, Rev 20:4) These people will no longer be subject to disease, infirmity or death. Unbelievers alive at that time will enter the kingdom in their fallen state and be pressed into service for Christ against their will.
Throughout history, God has selectively revealed Himself to man through his Holy Spirit by way of the Old Testament prophets and His Son Jesus Christ. (Heb 11:1-2) In the coming kingdom, that same Holy Spirit will be poured out liberally over all the earth causing men from all nations to ally themselves with Christ and His people, the Jews. The era of Jewish persecution will be over and a new era of Jewish preeminence will be established. (Is 44:3-5)
Christ’s miracles exhibited all of these features of the coming kingdom. Even when He cursed the fig tree He was proclaiming the fact that there would never be a season when trees would be without fruit in the coming kingdom. What a wonderful picture of the coming kingdom of Christ! With so much to look forward to, why is it that the aspirations of so many Christian are so earth-bound? If we really understood what God has in store for us, shouldn’t we be more excited about the next world than this one? Yet we cling to our petty pleasures and refuse to let go of this life when our time to leave comes.
Is it any wonder Jesus’ disciples were so eager for Jesus to take up His rule? Is it any surprise that they would be so repulsed by the idea that He would allow His enemies to subject Him to such a disgraceful death? They had seen Him perform miracles that no one else had ever done or ever would do again. He had demonstrated that He is the rightful ruler over all creation. So why willingly give up His power to those who had no authority to take it from Him?
Not until Jesus was raised from the dead did they come to realize that it was to deliver them and all who would believe on His name from the wrath of God and the power of sin and death. Because of His sacrifice, we too can look forward to a restored world where moth and rust do not decay or thieves break in and steal (Mt 6:19). That is where we should lay up our treasures, not here on earth (Mt 6:20). We should set our sights on things above where our true life is hidden with Christ. (Col 3:1-4)