OLD vs NEW TESTAMENTS
– Part Four –
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of Heaven had come to men. What does that mean? How do we experience it? And why do so few people enter the fulness of it?
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
In this piece (Part 4 of our series on the differences between the Old and New Testaments), we are exploring the nature of the kingdom of heaven and the way we can have a living experience of it.
In our next piece (the fifth and final part), we look at the practical application of the kingdom, and explore common questions on how Old Testament truths transfer to the New Testament - for example tithing, the sabbath day and more.
Let's get started:
1 - THE CHRISTIAN WALK
We were all born into this world with its norms which govern us without our ever even realising it. Our thinking patterns are so imbedded, and so perfectly natural to our nature that we never question them. But when we read the Bible something peculiar happens. Take this passage for example:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” – Matthew 5:38-40
Words like these are so foreign to our thinking that they clash against our entire sense of intellectual reason. But most of us never admit that we feel uncomfortable with portions of the Bible. Instead, we ignore those bits and adopt a generally Christian approach to life, and it all goes fairly well until we are ‘slapped on the right cheek’ or ‘sued for our tunic,’ or worse. In the heat of the moment, offering a second cheek borders on the ridiculous. Instead we do what comes naturally to us – we fight, we insult, we make law-suits, we do whatever needs to be done to get out, or to get even. This is our human nature, a nature that cannot agree with words like:
“love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44
We know these words are impossible to live by, so we make peace with the fact that we will do our reasonable best. But the world looks at the contrast between our words and our actions and they laugh. And if that really is all the Christian life amounts to, then they may have a point. Are we just like the rest of the world except that we have more rules to follow and try harder to be good people? Absolutely not! What we are born into, what we are given when God redeems us is so infinitely beyond that. Paul describes it as:
“the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and... the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” – Ephesians 1:18b-19a
We have been redeemed so that we could “taste the heavenly gift” and “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4, 5). And if that is true, where are these in our experience? That is the question posed by this piece.
2 - THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
In Part One of this series we discussed that when Jesus’ came to earth, God’s Kingdom came with Him:
“if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28
“Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
Heaven is the seat of God’s throne. It is the place where He dwells and the realm where His glory, His righteousness and His will permeates all things. Nothing is tainted, nothing is corrupted by evil or decay. It is a place where light infuses everything, life flows through everything, hope never fades, and love is the nature of all its creatures. All God upholds finds it's perfect expression there, without limit, without challenge and without end. This is the realm where the infinitude of God’s power is on full display. This is also the realm that God will welcome His children into at the end of all days.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.” – Isaiah 66:1a
We do not have to wait until we get there to taste the goodness of heaven, we can “taste the heavenly gift” now. We do not have to wait until we die to know “the powers of the age to come”, it is waiting for us now. Nor do we have to wait till then to experience God’s presence, He is calling us to enter it now.
God is the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s presence there is what makes it all it is. He is why it is glorious, why it is beautiful beyond description. But the mystery of the New Testament is that God comes to us. He comes and makes His home within us – He is here! If we could even begin to comprehend the meaning of that one statement our entire lives would be changed forever.
When we become children of God, because of the presence of God in us, we have access to the kingdom of heaven. Through fellowship with God we experience the reality of an entirely different plane of existence. In that place the only economy is the will of God. All things are done according to His pattern of perfection, of love and of righteousness. Everything functions differently there to how it does on earth.
In short, the kingdom which God has called us into looks absolutely nothing like the kingdom which God has called us out of.
3 - THE WORLD
The world is the domain of Satan. His character is what governs its norms because all are under the power of sin and therefore under his influence.
“the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” – 1 John 5:19b
For that reason he is called the ‘god’ of this world because all men follow him and all will worship him:
“ the god of this world has blinded the minds of them who believe not” – 2 Corinthians 4:4
“and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon... that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan” – Revelation 13:3a-4b, 20:2
We were born into this domain of Satan. We were children of this world. We adopted the norms, the belief systems and the habits of this world – because they were already imbedded in our carnal nature. By ‘carnal nature’ we mean the human nature we inherited through Adam (as we discussed in Part 2), a nature that always gravitates towards sin.
“through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” – Romans 5:12b
The trouble we find then comes when we are called to God. Suddenly all that was normal and acceptable and second nature to us in this world, are confronted by the norms and nature of an entirely different kingdom. And these two kingdoms are opposite poles, at war with each other. So when we seek to enter God's kingdom, we soon discover that we also want to resist it. And a war begins to rage inside of us.
4 - OUR SOLUTION vs GOD’s SOLUTION
Our solution to calm this storm is to wrestle with our carnal nature. We try to hold back our sinful urges. We attempt to reign in our thoughts and rebuke our desires. We try to discipline ourselves into godly submission. We think that if we can manage to exercise enough self-control, that we will win this battle – but none of us ever do. We never will because it is impossible to. In fact, that is not even what God expects us to do.
God does not want to redeem our carnal nature. He does not want to fix it or polish it up. God doesn’t even want to make it a tiny bit better than it is. That nature is fallen, it is “sold under sin” (Romans 7:14) and it was condemned to death when Jesus hung on the cross (see Part 3).
Even if the old nature could be redeemed, it would still be useless to us in our pursuit of God and His kingdom. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is a spiritual kingdom, and our old nature is carnal – it is of the earth – and therefore bound to the tangible physical world. It cannot access the spiritual realm.
5 - THE SPIRITUAL REALM
The best way we can describe what we mean is through the illustration of sound waves. There are sounds that our human ears can hear. And then there are sounds that go higher than our ear drums can receive. We have equipment that can read their presence, but we cannot hear them with our human ears. They are no less real than the ones we can perceive, the only difference is that our receivers (our ears) cannot recognise those sounds. There are also sounds lower than we can hear. Elephants and whales communicate this way, we could be in their company and not even know they are doing it since our ears can only receive a certain band of frequencies within a much broader spectrum of possible sound.
This is much like it is with the spiritual realm. Things that exist in spiritual form are just as real and as tangible as the physical ones are – except that they are only manifest to those who can receive the spiritual spectrum of experience.
“All flesh is not the same flesh, but there... are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies... There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” – 1 Corinthians 15:39-40a, 44b
Our human bodies are created to interact with the physical world through our five senses. And our soul interacts with the physical world through its 3 faculties: our intellect (designed to comprehend the world), our emotions (to connect with it) and our will (to affect it). Our carnal nature is the sum of body and soul, and it is perfectly designed to function in the natural world. But that same nature is useless to the spiritual realm.
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God... nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14
In order to discern spiritual things, we need spiritual faculties. So for us to interact with the kingdom of heaven (which is a spiritual kingdom), we need a new spiritual nature - one perfectly designed for that task. That is why God’s solution in redeeming us from our carnal nature is to replace it with a new, better nature. Therefore we need to have a spiritual birth, as Jesus says:
“unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5b
Just as we were born into a physical body, able to experience the world around us, so we must be born of the Spirit to experience the kingdom.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’” – John 3:6
How does this spiritual birth happen? You may recall that in Part 1 of this series we discussed how God’s solution to our sin was to place us “in Christ”. That way, His righteousness could be imputed to us. Here we find another facet of that truth. Jesus is the heavenly Man, He is God therefore He is Spirit.
“God is Spirit.” – John 4:24a
When God places us in Jesus, we are transformed from earthly (or carnal) creatures, into heavenly (or spiritual) ones.
“The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit... The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” – 1 Corinthians 15:45b,47-49