The Kingdom of Christ
February 5th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-5-89 10:50 a.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor delivering the message entitled The Kingdom of Our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, we have come to the last and climactic and concluding days of His life in the flesh. And out of that scene and trial, we read in John chapter 18, verses 33 to 37:
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall, called Jesus, and said unto Him, Art Thou the King of the Jews?
Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me: what hast Thou done?
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered: but now is My kingdom not from hence.
Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art Thou a king? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king—
the strongest affirmation in the Greek language.
To repeat it, “Thou sayest I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice” [John 18:37].
In these hours of the trial and finally the crucifixion of our Savior, there was an incredible and unbelievable series and successions of paradoxes and anomalies. He who came to set the prisoner free [Luke 4:18], is now arrested and arraigned and imprisoned [John 18:12-37]. He who came to lead us into life is now bound over and delivered into death. He who was the center of angelic worship through all of the ages before, the eternity past [John 17:5], is now that lone and forsaken figure standing in the judgment hall [John 18:33]. And He of whom the prophet Isaiah said, “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor” [Isaiah 9:6], is now standing before a vapid and vacillating judge [Matthew 27:24].
The Jewish people who were crying for His blood refused to enter the Gentile judgment hall lest they be defiled [John 18:28]. And yet He stands there in their presence, the Holy One of the God of Israel [Mark 1:24]. And the most amazing anomaly and paradox of all; He says, “I am a king” [John 18:37]. Pilate listened incredulously and looked in amazement. “You,” this peasant from an undistinguished village in Galilee, “You are a king?” [John 18:37]. Betrayed by one of His own disciples [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50], delivered up to death by His own countrymen [Acts 3:13-14]; instead of being exalted and honored, He is denied and derided [John 1:11].
Had He been of the line of the pharaohs, had He been of the family of Nimrod, had He been of the race of the Caesars, Pilate might have looked upon Him at least in interest if not in honor. But this Man despised and spit upon, derided and denied [Matthew 27:29-30], and soon to be crucified and killed, He is a king? And not only did He speak that He was of royalty, and I might say that intrinsically imperial He was, and however He might be spit upon and denied, the centuries cannot deny the nobility of the truth on which He stood and on which He stands. A king, and He says, “I am the Lord of a kingdom” [John 18:36]. He speaks of “My kingdom”—one whose reality lies not in things seen, but in things unseen. And Pilate curled his lips in contemptuous disdain, “A kingdom, You?” [John 18:37]. The only kingdom to which Pilate had ever been introduced was the iron kingdom of the imperial Caesars of Rome, a kingdom of armies and of tax gatherers and of marching men, a kingdom that exacted obedience and tribute from its enslaved and unwilling subjects. And this Man is king of a kingdom! His power to rule, where was it? Standing there crowned with thorns, with a castoff dirty purple robe over His shoulders and with a reed for a scepter, where was His power to rule? [John 19:2; Matthew 27:28-30].
And in the exchange of words in the next chapter, Pilate says to Him as a representative of the Roman government, “I have power to crucify Thee, or to release Thee” [John 19:10]. And in keeping with that imperial ableness and might and glory, he delivered that peasant to crucifixion and to death [John 19:16-30]. But I ask you, dear people, who was triumphant, and who was victorious, and who was in ascendancy? Upon the brow of that humble Galilean is not today a crown of thorns but a diadem filled with all the everlasting stars of God’s heaven above us. And His sovereignty of spirit has grasped and seized the hearts, and minds, and admiration, and worship of the noblest men and women of the ages. And His kingdom has arisen in increasing glory and power above all the dust heaps of all of the dominions and kingdoms of this enduring world.
There is none like Him and the domain over which He rules. And as for Pilate himself, the candle of rulership that he held in his hand has been extinguished into the darkness for two thousand years. And the domain and the empire he represented has been lost, its grandeur forgotten. And as for Pilate himself, the only remembrance of it lies in this encounter he had with the Lord Jesus. And he lies in an utterly forgotten grave.
The kingdom of our Lord, bringing with it imperishable riches to those who call upon His name, is in ascendancy over all of the dominions and nations and empires of the world. There’s none like Him, and there’s none like the kingdom over which He rules. He speaks of His kingdom as not of this world. “My kingdom is not from hence. It is not of this. It is not of the earth. It is not of time. My kingdom is in another realm, in another glory, in another definition, in another age, in another life. My kingdom is not from hence, not in the earth.” He could have built His empire down here in this earth. He said to Pontius Pilate, “If My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight” [John 18:36]. We’d declare war. We’d conquer the earth.
I want to show you, if I can, that was not empty speech and vain language. Do you remember the verse that closes the story of His feeding the five thousand? There were five thousand men fed. How many other thousands there, women and children, we’re not told. There were five thousand men fed with a little handful of food, with a little boy’s lunch [John 6:9-13]. And when they saw that miracle, do you remember the next verse? “And they sought by force to make Him a king” [John 6:15].
The reason is obvious. Here is a man that can feed an army in a handful of food. And as you’ve heard all your life, an army marches on its stomach. If the army starves, the battle is lost. Here is a man that can feed an army in a handful of food, and not only that, but here is a man who can raise the dead. If a soldier is slain, He can speak him back to life [John 11:43-44]. How would you face an invincible foe like that? He could have been the head of a great, vanquishing, triumphant army and conquered the world. Instead, He said to Simon Peter, “Put up your sword” [Matthew 26:52]. Do you remember again when He was arrested and arraigned, and Peter drew that sword [Matthew 26:51], the Lord said, “Simon, Simon, if I will, I could ask My Father for twelve legions of angels” [Matthew 26:52-53]. A legion is six thousand soldiers. Twelve legions would be seventy-two thousand angels.
And do you remember in the [thirty-seventh] chapter of the Book of Isaiah in the days of Hezekiah when the Judean king was shut up in Jerusalem and the Assyrian army held him in a vise? [Isaiah 36:1-22]. That night one angel—one—passed over the Assyrian host, and the next morning they counted one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses [Isaiah 37:36]. And the Lord says, “If I will, I could ask My Father for seventy-two thousand angels” [Matthew 26:53]. He repudiated a conquest of this present darkened world.
Would you look again? Had He built His kingdom in this world, if His kingdom were of this and now; one, He would have shared it with Satan, and with darkness, and with sin, and with death. What a bargain that would have been for Satan to be coequal with the Prince of glory! And what would God have been in His definition and character thus to compromise the world with Satan? The Lord repudiated it [Matthew 4:8-10]. In the third temptation when Satan brought before the Lord Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and Satan said, “This, all of this will I give You if You will bow down and worship me,” and our Lord said, “Get thee behind Me Satan: [for it is written,] thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” [Matthew 4:8-10]. Had our Lord acquiesced in building His kingdom in this earth, its foundation would have been by force, by a marching army.
There was a Pax Romana, world peace, because the army of Rome had conquered civilization itself. There could have been a Pax Christiana, the force of the marching armies of Christ, the sword of God conquering and vanquishing the entire population and nation and civilization of this world. The Lord repudiated it, “Simon Peter, put back that sword in its sheath” [John 18:10-11]. The only empire and kingdom that those men could think of, could recognize, was that represented by the iron will of Rome [John 19:15].
But our Lord, looking upon that vision of Daniel [Daniel 2:31-44], our Lord repudiated it all. That head of gold represented the kingdom of Babylon, gone [Daniel 2:32, 38]. Those shoulders and arms represented the kingdom of the Medo-Persians, gone [Daniel 2:32, 39]. The mid-section and thighs represented the kingdom of the Greeks, gone, perished in the dust heap of the earth [Daniel 2:32, 39]. And those iron legs represented the kingdom of Rome [Daniel 2:33, 40], represented by Pilate, and its seven hundred years of history was already beginning to disintegrate and to die.
Jesus will never be known as the king of the glitter of pomp, or of the conquesting conversion by the sword, or by the fascinating, sensuous display of the ephemeralities of this time and of this earth. His kingdom is in another category, and its glory is not of this age. The glory of the kingdoms of this world can be found in marble palaces and colonnaded halls and jewel diadems. And the Lord repudiated it all [John 18:36].
My sweet people, there is more meaning in the humble manger of Christ in a cattle stall [Luke 2:8-16], and in the bare, rugged cross on Mt. Calvary [Luke 23:32-46], than in all the sweep of all the palaces and colonnaded alabaster columns of this world. And the entrance into the kingdom is not by might, and not by power, and not by riches, and not by force. When they asked, “Who is the greatest?” He took a little child and set the youngster in the midst and said, “The more like that little child you are, the greater you are” [Matthew 18:1-4]. And when the disciples quarreled about who would be next in the kingdom after Jesus [Luke 22:24], our Lord disrobed and girded Himself with a towel and began to wash their feet [John 13:4-5]. This is the kingdom of our Lord.
May I describe it in the few minutes that remain? The kingdom of Jesus; first: He alone is Lord. It is not shared with Satan, or with darkness, or with death, or with sin. He alone is King, King Jesus. In the fifty-ninth and in the sixty-third chapters of Isaiah, twice repeated, “God looked for someone to deliver, and found none” [Isaiah 59:16]. Then He said, “My arm shall bring deliverance and salvation” [Isaiah 63:5]. That arm of deliverance and salvation is Jesus our Lord, He alone and none other.
All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem
And crown Him Lord of all.
[“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” Edward Perronet]
It’ll be King Jesus, and He alone.
Again, the kingdom of our Lord is one of truth. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth” [John 18:37], truth incarnate; truth in flesh and in blood; truth not in a book, in a creed, in a philosophy, in a discourse, but truth living and viable, the truth of God. John 14:6, He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And the truth of God in Christ Jesus is ever here before us. He is transparent from head to foot. His whole life was in public. And even in solitude, the disciples were there to observe and to describe.
Truth; you can handle it. You can touch it. You can feel it. You can see it. You can hear it, truth of God that lived and walked in our midst, truth incarnate [John 1:14, 14:6]. How desperately we need somebody who is like us, who can understand and sympathize with our foibles, and our weaknesses, and our trials, and our temptations, and our sins [Hebrews 4:14-16].
Had it been an angel come down, what kind of a kingdom over which could he rule? He’d know nothing of us. But someone in our nature made like unto us! There are no more beautiful passages in all God’s Word than those glorious Scriptures in the Book of Hebrews:
It behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren.
Tried in all points as we are, though He without sin.
Able to sympathize with those who suffer and hurt.
Wherefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we
might find grace to help in time of need.
[Hebrews 2:17, 4:15-16]
There is no trial, there is no hurt, there is no suffering, there is no despair, there are no tears and no sorrows that He has not experienced. He knows all about us—that kind of a Lord. We did not and do not need another echo of a Seneca, or of a Marcus Aurelius, or even of a Socrates and a Plato and an Aristotle. We need a Savior, one who can walk with us, who loves us [Galatians 2:20; Revelation 1:5], who understands us, who sympathizes with us [Hebrews 4:14-16], who can forgive our sins [1 John 1:9], who can take us to Himself in heaven [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3]. And that somebody is King Jesus, the Lord Jesus; none like Him in heaven or in earth.
The kingdom of our Savior, it is open to everybody, to everyone, anybody, anyone, rich or poor, learned or unlearned. That kingdom, the parameters and the perimeters are infinite. There are no restrictive acts. There are no immigration quotas. There are no color boundaries. Anybody! The truer and the humbler you are, the more you will feel at home with the Lord Jesus. You don’t need a Diogenes lantern to find those who are brought into His presence and into His kingdom. It’s a wonder and a marvel! The kingdom of Jesus, open to everybody.
I have preached in the Church of England. That is the largest attended in the British Isles, in the city of London; there in that elegant pulpit, pomp and ceremony, and the elite of the British Empire seated there in the ritual. And I have preached in a leper colony in Nigeria, West Africa, and the whole church made out of mud; the church house made out of mud; the pews made out of mud; the pulpit made out of mud; the lectern made out of mud; the whole church made out of mud: and in the pulpit, getting ready to preach, listening to those lepers sing, “The great Physician now is near; the sympathizing Jesus.” And dear people, whether it was in the august, elegant pulpit in the city of London or that mud church in Nigeria, West Africa, the message was the same. The Savior was the same. The Lord Jesus was the same. Anyone is welcome. You, I, the greatest, the humblest, the richest, the poorest, the highest, the lowest, welcome. This is the kingdom of our Savior. It is a kingdom whose glory will fill the earth at His coming [Matthew 25:31].
O Lord Jesus, You not only died for me, bled for me [1 Corinthians 15:3], ascended for me [Acts 1:9-10], intercede for me [Romans 8:34], but, Lord, someday You are coming for me. Not the least of His saints will He leave in the dust of the earth hidden in the graves of this world. Jesus is coming for me [Titus 4:16-17]. And in that glorious day of triumph, we shall reign with Him as kings and priests upon this earth: the kingdom of our Lord Jesus [Revelation 5:10].
And last: it is a kingdom that shall abide forever [Daniel 2:44-45]. Death is conquered, and sin is vanquished [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. No more will we bow by the open graves and weep our hearts away. No longer will time waste our lives away and we sink under the weight of the judgment of death. In this last week, within a few days, I had four funerals, one after another. Weep and cry and bid goodbye. “Death shall be no longer. Neither sorrow, nor crying, nor shall there be any more pain: for these things are all passed away” [Revelation 21:4]. This is the everlasting kingdom of our Lord [Daniel 2:44-45]. Strangers and pilgrims are we here [Hebrews 11:10, 13]. Our home, everlasting home, is in the city of God that will soon be coming down [Revelation 21:1-3].
O blessed Savior, wonderful Lord, the King of my heart, and of my house, and of my home, and of my life, and of this dear church, and of the preaching of the gospel of hope revealed to us in Holy Scripture, and in the Spirit of Christ who moves in our midst [1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19]: blessed Jesus!
And now to you who have listened on television, could I make a humble appeal? If you will pray this simple prayer, God will open for you the doors of His kingdom, the gates of heaven, everlasting righteousness and life, joy and happiness unspeakable. A simple prayer, “Lord, You know, as I know, that I am a sinner [Romans 3:23], and I face the judgment of death. Death awaits me because I am a sinner [Romans 6:23]. I confess that Lord. You know it, and I face the judgment of death.” Number two: “Lord, You died in my place [1 Corinthians 15:3]. You paid the penalty for my sin that I might live [2 Corinthians 5:21]. And, Lord Jesus, I love You for it. And I invite You into my heart, and into my house, and into my home, and into my life.” And one other; on this screen you will find a telephone number. Call us and tell us you have opened your heart to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
God says in His Holy Word, Romans 10:9-10, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives,” that He can save and deliver, “thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto salvation, unto a God-kind of righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto that deliverance.” Call us. Tell us you have received the Lord in your heart, and it will be a new day and a new life and a new blessing. It is in His hands and ableness as the King of glory to bring it, a gift to you.
And to these who are in our sanctuary this holy hour, as we sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m coming down that aisle, down that stairway.” A family you, to put your life with us in our dear church, a couple you, to dedicate your house and home to the Lord, or just one somebody you: “Pastor, I received the Lord Jesus in my heart for all that He promised to be, and here I stand.” God bless you in the way as you come. While we stand and while we sing.