Under the topic of "dispensational truth" those further revelations which had been unknown until Paul's ministry have been devoutly explored by many. The purpose has been to observe how the teachings of Paul are distinguished from those of The Twelve, and that remains a most important distinction. Yet this need not, and it should not, obscure the importance of an earlier revelation which came through the sudden and strange appearing of John the baptist to announce the advent of a King and a kingdom.
Perhaps that pivotal point in history comes into sharper focus from the emphasis supplied by the words of our Lord. "The law and the prophets," He said, "are unto John; thenceforth the evangel of the kingdom of God is being brought" (Luke 16:16 CLNT). "Not among those born of women has there been roused a greater than John the baptist; yet he who is smaller, in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he" (Matt. 11:11). John was the last of the ancient Hebrew prophets, greater than any who had come before, and accordingly our Lord said he was "exceedingly more than a prophet," for of him it was written in Isaiah, "Lo: I am dispatching my messenger before Thy face, who shall be constructing Thy road in front of Thee" (Matt. 11:10).
True to the ministry he had been sent to perform, John disowned any honor for himself. "I am," he said, "the voice of one imploring"—thus nothing more than a "voice"—but "in the midst of you," he continued, "One stood of Whom you are not aware ... am not worthy that I should be loosing the thong of His sandal" (John 1:23-27 CLNT). "He must increase but I must decrease" (3:30).
John appeared at that stupendous moment in history when all that was reflected in the law and the prophets would materialize in a Person; God manifest in flesh; a light shining in a world of darkness; yet that light was concealed, as it were, in an earthen vessel and therefore largely unseen. Nevertheless, the King had come, king of a kingdom both earthly and heavenly, a kingdom universal, the increase whereof there will be no end.
There may be a valid question if the sense of the vital word which serves as the keynote of John's ministry was not regretfully blurred to our perception by the rendering from Greek into Latin and from Latin into English. "Repent," as we have it in the authorized version, was rendered from the Latin POENITENTIA, but the Greek is METANOEO, a verb from the noun METANOIA which consists of "change" (for META) and "mind" (for NOIA); thus a change of mind; so METANOEO appears to suggest an appeal to change the mind; and, according to its Scriptural usage, this may well extend also to a change of heart, thus an emotional change. Yet in an earlier English version the Latin POENITENTIA, which relates to punishment, was so rendered as to suggest "do penance" and so it was misused to support an ancient Roman ritual. Even now if we should assume that the English "repentance" is a true and adequate equivalent of the Greek METANOIA and that it was adopted to rectify the former connotation of doing penance, a serious question still remains if the usage of "repentance" has fully achieved that purpose, or if it continues to convey something of the former misconception relating to penance; especially because of its obvious root resemblance to POENITENTIA. Be that as it may, the fact remains that there was no taint of penance in John's message.
This of course is not to deny that one startling effect of METANOIA (if not rather a precondition thereof) is truly an awareness and conviction of sin; much as when the prophet Isaiah was suddenly confronted with the glory of the Lord, because of which he in awe and reverence then exclaimed, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isa. 6:5).
When John appeared so that he might announce to Israel the One who was about to come, we are not told how many or how few of that generation were convicted in like manner by an abrupt change of mind, resulting in a sudden and acute awareness that the former blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins, for these could be atoned only by the Blood of the Lamb. Yet for any who did experience that conviction, John promptly directed their attention to "the Lamb of God Which is taking away the sin of the world," whereupon he also enjoined a baptism of METANOIA for the remission of sins.
Yet we repeat that the word METANOIA itself has no inherent connotation of punishment or doing penance; it suggests rather a change of mind and heart which, in the context of John's ministry, seems especially relevant to a change of mental direction from the shadow of the law to the substance embodied in the Person of Christ as King of the kingdom of God. Paul indicates, however, that "sorrow according to God is producing repentance" (II Cor. 7:10) so in that light METANOIA becomes the effect of what David called "a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart;" thus a heart transformed to gratefully receive and appropriate the Blood of the Lamb, the only atonement for sins which God will accept; a far cry from the mistaken thought of doing penance.
Our Lord, as we are told, came soon after John had announced the King and the kingdom. "Fulfilled," said He, "is the era"—the era of the law and the prophets—"and near is the kingdom of God. Repent and believe in the evangel" (Mark 1:15).
It was not as if the law and the prophets would cease to exist, for our Lord said clearly they were to remain for total fulfilment (Matt. 5:17-18). Wherever any such fulfilment did occur during His earthly ministry, these are clearly stated (* Matthew 1:22-23; 2:15; 2:17-18; 2:23; 8:17; 12:17-18; 13:13-15; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:9-10; Mark 15:28; Luke 4:18-21; John 12:38-40; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 19:24; 19:36.); ten or more of such in Matthew, at least one each in Mark and Luke, six in John, and the single one in Acts concerning Judas (1:16,17) was also fulfilled during our Lord's earthly ministry though not declared by Peter until afterward. The number of such fulfilments stated here is intentionally conservative, for the purpose has been to exclude duplications wherever the same incident occurs in more than one account.
Except for those prophecies which were recorded as having been fulfilled before Pentecost, all other parts of Hebrew prophecy are reserved for future fulfilment after the beginning of Israel's forthcoming renascence. It is therefore significant that no further fulfilments of Hebrew prophecy are said to have occurred even until now; neither in Acts, nor in the epistles of Paul, nor in those of The Twelve. Yet the kingdom of God as first announced by John and then by our Lord was ordained to continue from that time onward. "The law and the prophets," we are told, "were until John; thenceforth the evangel of the kingdom of God is being brought" (Luke 16:16).
The Pharisees too were expecting a kingdom but their inquiry betrayed the fact that they envisioned only a kingdom of earthly and political constitution; something visible to the eye of flesh; and our Lord's reply indicates they were mistaken. "The kingdom of God," He said, "cometh not with observation." Here we prefer the Rotherham version: "The kingdom of God cometh not with narrow watching; Neither shall they say—Lo here! or There. For Lo! the kingdom of God is among you!" (Luke 17:20-21). The kingdom of God, then already present in our Lord as the King, was something the Pharisees could not understand and they would respect no evidence which they could not see with eyes of flesh.
Now inasmuch as those several fulfilments of prophecy which did occur during our Lord's earthly ministry were carefully recorded and we find no further fulfilment recorded thereafter, this becomes significant. We repeat this cannot mean that large remaining areas of Hebrew prophecy are to go unfulfilled; yet neither can it mean that the kingdom our Lord had proclaimed was to pass into eclipse and remain inoperative for a time until some further fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy is due. The fact remains that the kingdom had arrived and was present even among the Pharisees, though they knew it not. Moreover, it was destined to continue from "thenceforth," even from John's time onward, yet not in a form whereof it could be said "Lo here! or There." The kingdom of God from that time onward was to be "not with narrow watching" or "not with observation," as the authorized version has it. Thus it would continue also until a time yet future when the same kingdom will materialize in earthly as well as heavenly form.
Still when Pilate was apparently interested to learn if the kingdom of God which our Lord had proclaimed was in any way prejudicial to the current Roman kingdom, our Lord replied, "My kingdom is not of this world." It was not of that KOSMOS we still have here on earth today, but it would continue unseen to eyes of flesh from that time onward. As for any possible threat to then existing world governments, Pilate had no need to fear. The kingdom of God, in its then existing spiritual form, was seeking no political earthly jurisdiction. Our Lord said further it was "not hence" which could suggest also that the kingdom of God in earthly form was not from that time, but this would not deny that the same kingdom of God in spiritual form was already present in our Lord and would continue without interruption. He indicated further that His then existing kingdom consisted of truth alone and His testimony to the truth. "For this also have I been born, and for this have I come into the world, that I should be testifying to the truth" (John 18:33-37).
Our Lord did not tell Pilate, and even His own disciples did not yet understand, that the realisation of future royal glory, both earthly and heavenly, had to be obtained at the price of Blood. Dominion had to be wrested away from a powerful enemy. "For this was the Son of God manifested; that He should be annulling the works of the Adversary" (I John 3:8). This was to be neither by political intrigue nor by force of arms. It was therefore not as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah that our Lord appeared then to establish a beachhead for His kingdom; rather as a Lamb having been slain from before the foundation of the world(I Pet.l:20). In a realm where death had reigned supreme, the Lord of glory would meet and destroy the power of the Adversary only by means of His own death; "that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14 KJV).
Our Lord came proclaiming the evangel of a kingdom which no one then understood; and perhaps even now it is widely misunderstood in the context of one or another of variant teachings. To The Twelve who followed Him through the time of His earthly ministry, their fondest hope was then mistakenly centered on the early establishment of an earthly kingdom where they, together with Him, were presumably soon to reign on earthly thrones. Even when He told them plainly that He would be rejected by their existing generation (Luke 17:25) while His immediate mission was to suffer and die on the Cross at the hands of the Gentiles, Luke tells us "they understood none of these things ... and they knew not what was said" (Luke 18:31-34).
Apparently the disciples were no further enlightened even when our Lord stood talking with them on Mount Olivet at the impending moment of His ascension, forty days after He had risen from the dead. Even then they were vainly inquiring if He wasn't now about to restore the earthly kingdom they had longingly awaited so that they could finally begin to reign with Him in earthly glory (Acts 1:6,7).
Avoiding a direct reply which our Lord well knew they were not yet able to bear until they would receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost only ten days later, He thus alluded instead to that forthcoming event and the mission they.were to perform after they would receive power from on high. Until then even Peter would not be prepared to use the keys of the kingdom which were previously promised especially to him (Matt. 16:19). Until then the disciples did not understand that the kingdom John had announced, which our Lord had proclaimed, and which Paul continued to herald until he died (*Acts 20:25; 28:23,31; Col. 1:13; 4:11; II Tim. 4:18)—first to Jews and then to Gentiles—is a kingdom universal; heavenly as well as earthly. Though it will include a future earthly glory for Israel in an era now impending the same kingdom of God has continued to be operative in the hearts of believers who in spirit are no longer either Jew or Gentile but "a new creation" (Rom. 14:17; II Cor. 5:17).
Meanwhile most of Christendom has lost sight of the fact that the present spiritual kingdom ever will materialize in earthly form in future fulfilment of the law and the prophets; but also who do know this have mistakenly inferred that for the present time the kingdom has been suspended and displaced by the effects of Paul's ministry; a thought quite foreign to his own teaching.
The kingdom of God which Paul proclaimed is the same kingdom as John had announced when it was drawing near in the Person of the King. It is the same kingdom which will materialize with Israel at a time yet future. In form the kingdom of God may change from time to time but in essence it remains unchanged. The essence of the kingdom is the reign of God in the hearts of men. At a time yet future The Twelve will eat and drink at some table of our Lord in His earthly kingdom (Luke 22:30) but at present the kingdom consists not in food and drink but in what Paul called "righteousness and peace and joy in holy spirit" (Rom. 14:17). At present it is only for some who are being rescued out of the jurisdiction of Darkness and are being transported into the kingdom of the Son of God's love (Col. 1:13). Therefore the kingdom of God embraces and transcends the revelation and realization of every secret which Paul was graced to reveal, even as it meanwhile embraces and transcends other secrets incident to another phase of the kingdom, including secrets which have been intentionally concealed in parables until that future time when they will be fully revealed under a new administration of Israel's renascence (Matt. 13:11; 19:28).
Many present-day saints are of course well aware that an earthly form of the kingdom will appear at a time yet future when further fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy is due to resume; yet it seems that not all have shared the same readjustment of understanding as the early disciples realized from Pentecost onward. Some have assumed instead that those disciples went on expecting an earthly kingdom in apostolic days. Since it did not materialize then, many have now inferred mistakenly that everything denoted by the kingdom of God was postponed and went into eclipse for the duration of the present calling of those saints who will constitute the body of Christ, as if the kingdom cannot coexist with such a calling, although Paul's epistles testify that he continued to herald the Kingdom of God as long as he lived, according to Scriptures previously cited here.
During our Lord's earthly ministry, even up to the time of His impending death on the Cross, it appears that the privileges of Israel's national covenant had remained in effect, as if they of that favored nation were yet legally eligible for the kingdom, but only few of them entered; namely, The Twelve (including Matthias in place of Judas) and about one hundred twenty others (Acts 1:16). Meanwhile the Pharisees had succeeded in locking up the kingdom to all others (Matt. 23:13). Then at the near approach of our Lord's death on the Cross, it appears that all remaining covenant privilege was foreclosed to the nation at large by these His last ominous words to Jerusalem, the capital of that former covenant nation:
No mere inference can establish that the national import of those crucial words was ever afterward reversed or rescinded; not even by our Lord's intercessory prayer for Roman soldiers who were nailing Him to the Cross (Luke 23:34) nor by Stephen's dying intercession for some of his own kinsmen while they were stoning him to death (Acts 7:59-60). Neither of those intercessions could be of any immediate effect to the nation at large, for as John confirms while quoting from Isaiah, "they could not believe" because their hearts were to be calloused (John 12:39-40) until a time yet future when they shall indeed say "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." That cannot occur now until after the future fulfilment of much present remaining unfulfilled Hebrew prophecy.
Yet beyond the Cross the kingdom of God which our Lord had proclaimed was to be further announced, first to individual Jews and later to individual Gentiles, though not as some potentially impending earthly kingdom. Peter's message at Pentecost was basically this; that He who was crucified had been roused from the dead and had ascended to heaven; that God had made Him to be both Lord and Christ; and because of this the Holy Spirit had been sent forth according to God's promise. Then as convicted hearts inquired "What shall we be doing?" they were enjoined by Peter to "Repent (Greek, METANOEO) and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of your sins and you shall be obtaining the gratuity of the holy spirit." By such means from Pentecost onward the keys of the kingdom which had been promised only to Peter were being used to obtain kingdom access, first for individual Jews and later for individual Gentiles beginning with Cornelius. Those were plural "keys" for a dual purpose; much alike but they were not duplicates; and so Peter's messages at Jerusalem and at Caesarea were much alike, having also the same effect on Jews and Gentiles alike, but the messages were not identical.
Cornelius is sometimes said to have been a proselyte but this is not affirmed in Scripture; by inference it is rather denied. If Cornelius had been a proselyte there is no apparent reason why anyone else of The Twelve or even of the seven (Acts 6:5,6) could not have been sent to him but it is evident that Peter's personal presence was imperative. He alone had the alternate key to unlock the kingdom for Gentiles as he first had done for Jews and proselytes at Jerusalem. On a prior occasion Philip, who was one of the seven, had been sent to evangelise the Ethiopian eunuch who was unquestionably a proselyte, for he had worshiped in the temple at Jerusalem, not permitted to others than Jews and proselytes; yet later when Philip had arrived at Caesarea where Cornelius lived, he was not sent to Cornelius (Acts 8:40). That later required the personal visit of Peter and a key different from the one he had used at Jerusalem because Cornelius was the first Gentile to whom the kingdom was evangelized and when Peter long afterward referred to that incident, he identified Cornelius as a Gentile, not as a proselyte, for Peter said, "Ye know, that a good while ago God made choice among us that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe" (Acts 15:7 KJV).
This dual access to the kingdom, first to Jews and then to Gentiles, had to precede Paul's subsequent ministry. This becomes apparent because Paul had been called before the conversion of Cornelius; yet no one but Peter, not even Paul, could be sent to Cornelius when that visit concerned citizenship in the kingdom of God which is not to be mistaken for such different and speclal revelations as were separately disclosed first only to Paul. He alone could announce the revelation of a secret which he thus defined: "In spirit the Gentiles are to be joint enjoyers of an allotment and a joint body, and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:6).
The revelation of that secret, which shows that chosen Gentiles together with descendants of a former covenant people are now joint participants in the body of Christ, is in full accord with a present evangel of the "uncircumcison" a term of contrast to "circumcision," the sign of covenant. Kingdom citizens of this present era are called from "uncircumcision," for now there is no covenant nation. The present "evangel of the uncircumcision" was separately entrusted to Paul (GaL 2:7). It is for kingdom citizens of this present era, now while there is no covenant nation.
A different evangel of the "circumcision" (the sign of covenant) is for kingdom citizens in a future era of Israel's renascence. It was separately entrusted to Peter (Gal. 2:8) and it will become operative when Israel as a nation will become once again a covenant people. Meanwhile that evangel is necessarily held in abeyance.
In Jerusalem from Pentecost onward Peter spoke to the Jews as surviving descendants of a former covenant nation; "sons of the covenant which God covenanted with your fathers;" much like present living descendants of nations no longer existing who have no remaining privileges from a citizenship once enjoyed by their ancient ancestors. In like manner, national privileges which had been conditional on Israel's obedience had suffered default. Remembering too our Lord's last words to "Jerusalem, Jerusalem" (Matt. 23:37) and His equally solemn cursing of the symbolical fig tree as it suddenly withered (Matt. 21:19), it is scarcely conceivable how there could then remain any longer a covenant nation as such.
Yet descendant Jews at Pentecost were still individually "beloved because of the fathers;" and in relation to the kingdom of God they were to have a priority of call though not otherwise a preference; "to the Jew first and to the Greek as well." Thus to suddenly convicted and bewildered survivors Peter spoke almost sympathetically; as if to mitigate their identity with guilt: "And now brethren, I know it was by way of ignorance ye acted" (Acts 3: 17).
Externally of course, there still remained the appearance of a nation, including a temple and Levitical services, which continued for about forty years longer; and, because of these, those individual Jews who were to be called into the kingdom could be approached in the familiar atmosphere of their long cherished traditions, but the continuing sacrifice of animals was definitely no longer even a temporary covering for sins. All "circumcision" had become "uncircumcision" (Rom. 2:25).
Peter's letter, written in later years, appears to speak prophetically of that future era when Israel as a nation shall become once more a covenant people. There we read: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation .... who once were not a people" (our emphasis) yet now are the people of God, who "have not enjoyed mercy," yet now are "being shown mercy" (I Pet. 2:9,10). Though that letter was addressed to expatriates of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia and the province of Asia, it suggests a time then distantly future when Israel will have been restored as a royal priesthood and a holy nation after they long will have been "not a people." This was at most only faintly relevant to conditions prevailing when the letter was written but it will become vividly true of seven future ecclesias in Asia Minor—144,000 from The Twelve Tribes of Israel. They will be the fruitage resulting from a future proclamation of a "circumcision" evangel of covenant.
Fruitage produced from among the Jews of apostolic days was much different. While Paul lamented at the meager response of his brethren and relatives according to the flesh, to whom he proclaimed his own evangel of "uncircumcision," he shows that it did result at least in "a remnant according to tne choice of grace," but except for that remnant, he plainly said "the rest were calloused" (Rom. 11:5-8). From this we must conclude that there was no other than those two alternatives for the Jews of apostolic days and lt never had been God's purpose there should be any other. Everything the Holy Spirit led the apostles to do from Pentecost onward was essentially converging on that purpose of calling "a remnant according to the choice of grace" from among the Jews; and, simultaneously, an identical call from among the Gentlles. Peter was to unlock the klngdom first to the Jews and then to Gentiles Paul was to proclaim his own evangel to both alike. Neither Peter nor Paul encouraged any hope for some early manifestation of an earthly kingdom. This remains for a time yet future when Peter's "circumcision" evangel will be in season for a restored covenant nation.
Yet Paul as well as Peter made every effort consistent with faith to approach the Jews in their own traditional environment, though only to bring them into Christ. "To the Jews," he said, "I became as a Jew, that I should be gaining the Jews." Even in later years of his itinerant ministry he would hasten to be at Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 20:16). We are not told what his response may have been when some boasted to him about many tens of thousands who professedly "believed" yet meanwhile remained "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20,21). Knowing how Paul said he himself had died to law so that he might live unto God, we can only infer that he never tired of proclaiming the way of faith—righteousness "apart from works of law" for those who still sought to remain under law. Therefore it is not inconceivable that he may have said to the zealots for the law at Jerusalem even as he wrote to zealots for the law in Galatia: "Tell me you who want to be under law, are you not hearing the law? ... we are not children of the maid (Hagar) but of the free Woman ... we are not under law but under grace" (Gal. 4:21-31; Rom. 6:15). Even in a future era when Israel once again shall serve under law as they did of old, it still will be true, then as now, that "by works of law no flesh at all shall be declared righeous" (Gal. 2:16). A stated remnant of Paul's kinsmen accepted this teaching of his and died unto law, even as he had died unto law, while the rest, as he said, were "calloused" until a complement from the Gentiles will have been obtained (Rom. 11:25).
Thus even as the kingdom of God now embraces and transcends the present era of Paul's ministry, it will yet embrace and transcend the forthcoming era of Israel's renascence; beyond that it will also embrace and transcend the future millennial era for the judgment of the living nations, followed by a further era of new heavens and a new earth with a new creation; and since we are told that thereafter the Son shall be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, all this becomes to the present eye of faith as when the solar light disappears in the west at eventide though we know the light remains beyond the range of our limited vision. Even so, the kingdom which we first beheld on Judea's eastern horizon is a kingdom advancing from glory to glory, the increase whereof there shall be no end.
Melvin E. Johnson (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Four, March 1972)