Part of this message was published in the A Witness and A Testimony magazine in 1957 as an article: The Things of the Spirit.
The Kingdom of God
"He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, that He taketh of Mine, and shall declare it unto you" (John 16:14,15).
"But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God... Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (1 Cor. 2:10,14).
The things of the Spirit. In putting those two passages together, one in John's Gospel, the other in the Corinthian letter, it is quite clear that the one in Corinthians is the fulfilment of the words in John. That is, that what the Lord Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do in declaring or revealing His things, the Holy Spirit really did do through the apostles. And what we have through the apostles is really the Holy Spirit taking the things of Christ and showing them to us.
We are occupied at present with these things of the Spirit concerning Christ, and in this chapter I want to take up one other of these major things which came in with Christ, about which He Himself said a great deal and about which the apostles said much, and about which their ministry as a whole is really concerned. I refer to what the Lord Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
Now, those of you who know the Gospels, know very well that He said a very great deal about the Kingdom of God. We are told right at the end of the book of the Acts, the end of the long, full life of the apostle Paul, that the last things he was talking about were the things of the Kingdom of God, receiving in his hired house where he was a prisoner, all who came, and speaking to them the things concerning the Kingdom of God (Acts 28:30). This, then, is a major matter in relation to the Lord Jesus, about which we need the Holy Spirit's teaching and interpreting, for really this is the thing that sums up the whole mission and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Everything else may be said to be gathered into this, and you only have to be reminded of the parables of the Kingdom to realise how very comprehensive this matter of the Kingdom is.
The Jewish Idea of the Kingdom
Now we need to prepare our way for the real heart of this message, reminding ourselves of the Jewish background and expectation as to the Kingdom of God. It was not strange language to those to whom He spoke in His time on this earth, this about the Kingdom of God. They had been looking and waiting for the coming of that Kingdom for many centuries. Their prophets had said much about it, and they were in expectation of the coming Messiah to set up this Kingdom of God. They believed that God was the Ruler of this universe. They believed that Israel was the nation in which He would set up His Kingdom on earth, and they were waiting for Him to do it. They were at the very time of the coming of the Lord Jesus, we are told, in expectation of this coming One. Their ideas of the Kingdom were entirely secular, entirely temporal, with all the personal, physical, earthly advantages that that would create for themselves.
Well, we know that that did not happen in the way in which they expected. Christ came, the Messiah came, but in their form of expectation the Kingdom of God did not come; they missed it. As they expected it, it was never instituted and set up, and because they missed it, a common phrase has come into existence about this Kingdom. It is said now to be 'the Kingdom in mystery', and I think what is meant by that phrase, which is not a Bible phrase by the way, is that it is a suspended Kingdom in its real nature, and it is something abstract and something rather indefinite. The mentality about the Kingdom in this dispensation is like that, that it is a kind of indefinite thing, and that people, many of them, are still waiting for the Kingdom to come, and that gives us our point in this very word.
The True Meaning of the Kingdom
We have already said that the whole ministry of the apostles was the ministry of the Holy Spirit interpreting and showing the meaning of the Kingdom of God, and the whole New Testament rests upon a present definite fact: that the Kingdom has come and is here; it is in existence. It may not be the temporal kingdom that the Jews looked for, it may not be in secular terms, but it is something even more real than that. The Kingdom is come in very truth, but in order to appreciate that, it is necessary for us in the first place to get a better understanding of the word 'kingdom'.
The translation which the translators have given to the Hebrew word is not a very happy or fortunate one. It at once conjures up ideas when you speak of a kingdom. It conjures up the idea of a system and a realm, but the real word does not, in the first place at any rate, mean that at all. The word behind our word 'kingdom' means 'sovereignty', 'rule' or 'reign', and so the Kingdom of God really means the reign of God, the rule of God, the sovereignty of God. It is only a realm or a form of government, an economy, as we call it, in so far as it takes its character from God. The Kingdom of God is only a realm in so far as it is where God's sovereignty is in operation, where God's rule is active. That, of course, is found in the synonym for the Kingdom of God, so often spoken of as the Kingdom of heaven. There is no essential difference between the two forms of expression. It just means, on the one hand, the personal rule of God, and on the other hand, the rule or sovereignty of heaven.
The Kingdom Now Come
In this particular and peculiar form, the Kingdom of God came in with the exaltation of Jesus Christ to God's right hand. You remember the Lord Jesus said to His disciples one day, "There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1). Now, that is a very interesting statement. That is the way Mark puts it: "till they see the kingdom of God come with power". You know that the miracles of the Lord Jesus are really, according to the original language, the powers of the Lord Jesus. Instead of speaking of them as miracles, they should be spoken of as powers. As His parables were an expression of His wisdom, His miracles were an expression of His power. They were powers in certain specific forms, and it is the same word, the same meaning. "The kingdom of God come in power", as a miracle. "Some of them... shall in no wise taste of death till they see the kingdom of God..." as a miracle, as a power, corresponding to His miracles in the days of His flesh.
But what was the supreme miracle or the supreme power? The apostle Paul under the tuition and illumination of the Holy Spirit, makes that perfectly clear in one statement: "the exceeding greatness of His power... which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:19-21). The supreme power, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus unto His exaltation, and the Kingdom came then, "Far above all rule". It says it has happened already, that Jesus, as this tremendous, superlative miracle of God, is at His right hand far above all rule and authority now. The Kingdom came then. And you will be gathering into that other statements, "For He must reign, till He hath put all His enemies under His feet" (1 Cor. 15:25). "He must reign" - and that is not future; that is now. "God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). It is something already done. The Kingdom has come, the Kingdom of God is in existence, and Christian history can only be explained in terms of a Throne, and that Throne is the Throne of Christ.
It is tremendously impressive that when the church, the people of God, have been in right relatedness to the exalted Christ as supreme Head and Lord, that church has been unconquerable, unquenchable, impregnable. Through everything that men and hell could do to bring it to an end, as they did with its Lord, it has gone on its way and all the hammers have worn themselves out, the anvil remains intact. But the impressive thing is this, that when the church has been out of right relationship with Him as its Lord, as on the Throne, as in the dark ages, the church has suffered defeat and humiliation. Which brings us to this point: there is God's fact, and if only we are adjusted to God's fact, do what it will, the world and the kingdom of darkness cannot overthrow the church. We shall march on, ''terrible as an army with banners" (Song of Songs 6:4).
The Holy Spirit the Custodian of the Kingdom
This whole matter is shown to have been put into the custodianship of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has taken up this whole matter of the Kingdom. His relationship to this matter is made very clear. Even in the days when the Lord Jesus was here, a comment upon something that He said by one of the apostolic writers was this: "But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). The Spirit is given when Jesus is glorified, which means He is exalted to the right hand of God in glory. The Spirit given; the Spirit then came expressly to take up this whole matter of the Throne rights, the Kingdom interests, of the Lord Jesus. His whole work is bent upon bringing this sovereignty of Christ into expression, this rule of Christ into realisation, this government of Christ into the church and through the church. It is the Spirit's business to do that, and alongside of that, to instruct us, to teach us, to show us the meaning of the sovereignty of Christ.
That is a big business, and you and I must seek to interpret everything in the light of that. The Spirit has come and He has come as committed to a particular task. He has come as the Custodian of a great and specific Divine purpose, and if the Holy Spirit is doing anything at all in this world with men and women, with you and with me, and in us, let it be understood that His aim is to make Christ absolutely Lord in every detail.
The Kingdom Working in Secret
It explains all that happens to us. Of course, this Kingdom, this sovereignty, is working very largely in secret. We have said that marks the change in the dispensation. Now the Kingdom, or the rule, is something that is so largely hidden because it is now spiritual and not temporal or secular. It is hidden, a secret working. But oh, how wonderful is this working secretly of the Spirit in relation to this rule! It forms a subject by itself, which we shall not pursue now, but let it be understood in general that there is a deep work going on from heaven by the Spirit of God in this whole creation. Sometimes we speak of a person as being a deep person. We pass the remark, 'Oh, he is a deep one', or 'She is a deep one.' What do we mean? There is something deep down there that is characteristic, but you just cannot always put your finger or your hand on it and define it and say what it is, but it is something very real that explains them. Well, in a very much fuller sense, that is the character of the rule of Christ by the Spirit in this dispensation.
There is something very deep going on. God's plans are very deeply laid. Sometimes you just get a hint of them, just see some little suggestion, token. There is something going on buried deep. God is deeper than all the wit and wisdom of men; God undercuts all the cunning of Satan. He is deeper than the deep things of the very devil himself. He is right down under it all, He has it all measured, all weighed up, all in hand, and when the full story is told, it will be seen that Satan was not having his way at all, but God was under it. It is secretly working, but it is very real.
The Kingdom and Patience
Now this large matter for practical help as we close. John, who as you know, is so much occupied with the spiritual aspect of things, in the opening of the book of the Revelation uses a phrase which I think is a clue to so much: "Your brother... in the kingdom and patience... in Jesus" (Rev. 1:9). The Kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, putting the sovereignty and the patience together, hand-in-hand. Sovereignty and patience - what does that mean? Well, it may very well mean God and Christ, in their absolute sovereignty, can afford to be very patient and wait a long time. They know they have got the thing in hand, they know how it is going to work out in the end, and they can be very patient because of sovereignty.
It may also mean that patience is the way of sovereignty, that if you have the power in your hand, you are not going to use it for men's instant destruction, but you are going to be patient. You see, men interpret God's patience and longsuffering as God's weakness or indifference, but His patience has to be interpreted in the light of His sovereignty in this way, and He is not going to use His power to force issues instantly. He is going to give us plenty of time. And John was knowing something of that in his exile in Patmos. Why did the Lord not, if He was on the throne, meet this Nero man, meet this terrible persecution from Rome, meet the sufferings of His servant and servants with swift deliverance? It is not God's way; He is not using His sovereignty in that way. He is giving men time, He is being infinitely patient, He is waiting. The rule and the patience go together.
But there is a third aspect to that. Why was John in Patmos? Was it because Rome and the emperor had sent him there into exile? Was it because of the persecution of the Christians in that time? Not a bit. They were mere blind instruments under the throne of Jesus Christ. What was the meaning of it? And if we get this, we have got the meaning of so much adversity and suffering. You see, virtues are the real power. Power is not official, power is not coming and bludgeoning people into submission and obedience. That is not power, that is not the Kingdom of God. The power of God's rule is the power of virtues, spiritual qualities, and there is a quality about Divine patience that is infinite power.
Where would you or I be today but for the infinite patience of God? Is it not that that has saved us, preserved us, kept us? Every day we have to worship God for His patience and we say this patience of His is such a mighty thing. What we owe to it! Where should we be without it? John was a fellow in the patience of the sovereignty. Angels are there, as you see in the context. But here is the point, John was really learning the power of the Kingdom of God and of Christ which was found in patience for, after all, the triumphant person is the one who can wait patiently. We know that weakness goes along with impetuosity; always together. Strength is not being passive, but waiting positively, waiting, because that kind of waiting is a mighty faith. It is a faith that God can do and will do. Well, "The mills of God grind slowly, But they grind exceeding small. Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all." He spreads it over a long time, but it is all right. The issue is a very thorough work.
Now, the Kingdom, the rule and patience, being brought together here means this: that you and I are being trained for rule, for government, along the line of necessitated patience. The impulsive, impetuous person will never reign, will never be put into responsibility of spiritual government. The work of the Spirit in relation to the Kingdom, the rule, is to bring about patience, Divine patience, in our hearts. I venture to say that perhaps that is one of the things that we all need more than anything else. You may be a very patient person - I know very well that I am not - but the Lord takes great pains because He sees that it is not only a virtue, it is a power; for 'virtue', literally translated as a word, means 'power'. It is power, it is virtuous, it is efficacious, and patience is that: it is the rule of the Spirit in our hearts.