Many claim to preach the same message Jesus Christ preached. Why then are they ignoring the very heart of His message—when the world needs it more than ever?
People everywhere yearn for peace. They desperately want to see an end to poverty, violence, and disease. They want to love and be loved, to raise families and be left alone by dictatorial and selfish rulers. Yet such peace eludes us. Poverty, violence, and disease thrive, and governments that ought to help people often oppress them.
Mindful of this unfulfilled longing of the human heart, an ancient prophet once referred to “the Desire of All Nations” (Haggai 2:7). To what exactly was he referring, and how will this desire be fulfilled? Is it possible for mankind’s hope to become reality?
Haggai’s reference was to the Messiah, the One whom Jews have hoped for throughout much of their existence as a people. But this hope is not for one people only. It is truly the hope of all men and women everywhere. We hope for someone to bring an end to the evils we experience in life, and a peace that far exceeds the absence of war.
The Messiah of whom Haggai prophesied was Jesus of Nazareth, but His first coming was only a partial fulfillment of the prophecy. Haggai spoke of a turbulent time when God would intervene in the world in a way that no one could miss: “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations’” (Haggai 2:6–7). He was speaking to the people of Judah after their return from Babylonian captivity, urging them to build the second temple in Jerusalem. It was then a turbulent time, and the prophecy indicated that if they built the temple, “the Desire” spoken of would come. He would come to that temple and bring about lasting peace.
Jesus did come to that temple, but several centuries later. God’s timing is not the same as man’s timing! Even then, the prophecy was not completely fulfilled in the first century A.D. The time when He “will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and [He] will shake all nations” is yet ahead.
One must wonder: Will this prophecy ever come to pass, or is it merely a pipe dream with which we delude ourselves? To understand, we must grasp the larger picture of what God is doing here below.
Going back to the beginning, we see that God created life on this tiny orb, which He placed in a universe so large we cannot wrap our minds around it. We are like the smallest of ants crawling around on the earth. Nevertheless, the mind of man allows us to do truly amazing things. Though a few refuse to believe man walked on the moon, even the Soviet Union during the “Cold War” never disputed that twelve Americans did so. China’s leaders are investing time and resources toward achieving the same. They certainly believe the American flag is there! Yes, mankind is capable of amazing things, and you can make your own list of incredible human accomplishments.
Here we are, in comparison, the smallest of microbes on the tiniest speck in what seems like a limitless universe. Leaving out groundless hope and speculation, all evidence points to the fact that we are alone in the cosmos. No credible evidence of extraterrestrial life has ever been found.
So what is it all about? Why are we here? How could life come from the non-living? This is no easy question for scientists to answer! In fact, they cannot answer it! How could such intelligence as man possesses evolve from undirected laws? And how could such laws arise? Why do we see such perfection and beauty in the natural world? Are we to believe there is no purpose in all of this?
Returning to the question of whether that which all men desire will ever come to pass—and if so, how—we need to go back to a starting point. There is much left out of the picture and many side points that we do not have time to address in this article, so let us begin with the first man and woman. After all, there had to be a first.
Evolutionists claim that man came from some kind of primate, but one must wonder how evolutionary processes developed male and female, regardless of where it started. Reproduction from two, as opposed to reproduction by a single cell splitting, is rather remarkable. Did it result from some unknown freakish accident, with both male and female somehow arising at the same time? What a remarkable accident! Or is there a Creator who brought it about? We at Tomorrow’s World believe that the evidence is on the side of an Intelligent Being we know of as God. Furthermore, we recognize that God did not leave us without a revelation of His plan and purpose for us.
If we look at His revelation, we find that He made man and woman, placed them in a beautiful environment, and gave them a choice. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15–17). The choice was clear. He could either trust God, or he could choose to determine for himself what is right and wrong. We know his choice. He and the woman chose to do it their way, and all men and women since have continued this course. Is it any wonder that problems result when man thinks he knows more than the One who created him?
As God spoke concerning ancient Israel, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29). Contrary to popular belief, God gave us commandments, laws, and statutes for our good! Consider how different life would be if everyone observed even one of His commandments. What if no one committed adultery? How much more stable would be our marriages. What if no one stole from his neighbor? What peace of mind we would have when we leave our homes. No longer a need for security systems. It would be a very different world if any one of the commandments were kept. The problem is, of course, complex. You may keep these laws, but not everyone does. However, we live in a world where we all bear some responsibility. Just consider how much of the entertainment we “enjoy” features the violation of the Ten Commandments. Take sex and violence out of entertainment, and scriptwriters would suffer “brain freeze”!
Jesus Christ is “the Desire of All Nations”! Some theologians are famous for saying “Jesus is the answer,” and that He is. But in what way is He the answer? This is where many of these theologians miss the mark.
Christ, His Apostles, and first-century Christians understood that Haggai’s prophecy of “the Desire” was not completely fulfilled at Christ’s first coming. They understood something that is generally lost in today’s praise and worship services. Edward Gibbon explains, “The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ…. But when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ’s reign upon earth was at first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1, p. 262).
But is it heresy and fanaticism? Why did early Christians believe in the coming rule of a spirit-born Kingdom of God on earth? Because that is what Jesus taught! He preached a message about His coming Kingdom from the very beginning of His ministry. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…. Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:1, 14–15).
Jesus did not stay in one city, content with a comfortable little following. That was not why He was here. Instead, He traveled all throughout Galilee, Judea, and parts in between. Very early in His ministry, “the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; but He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent’” (Luke 4:42–43).
The Sermon on the Mount is at the heart of Christ’s message. Yet how many notice all the references to His Kingdom? Check these passages out in your Bible: Matthew 5:3, 10, 19–20; and 6:10. Of special note is the command to “seek first the kingdom of God,” and a warning that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (6:33; 7:21).
Many are shocked to learn the reason Jesus spoke in parables. They think that He did so to better relate to fishermen, farmers, and shepherds, but this is not at all the case. When His disciples asked, “Why do You speak to them in parables?,” He responded, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:10–11; Mark 4:10–11). Few understand this, but it was Jesus’ standard practice, often speaking to crowds only in parables, while later explaining the meaning of the parables to His disciples, alone: “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them” (Matthew 13:34). “And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples” (Mark 4:34).
A study of Scripture reveals that the Kingdom of God was the focus of Jesus’ parables. One parable was about a sower going out to sow. Some of the seed fell by the wayside, some fell on stony ground, some fell among thorns, and some fell on good ground (Mark 4:3–8; see verses 13–20 for the explanation). Matthew adds that this parable was about the Kingdom (Matthew 13:18–19).
It is important at this point to explain the difference between the expressions Kingdom of God and Kingdom of heaven. Matthew often uses “Kingdom of heaven,” but he used the terms interchangeably, as in Matthew 19:23–24. So what is the difference?
Most people assume that “Kingdom of heaven” means that we go to heaven, but this is both problematic and in error. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Yet two verses later He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (v.5). Are we to understand that while the “poor in spirit” go to heaven, the meek “inherit the earth”?
The answer is simple. In this context the word of indicates ownership. When we speak of the Bank of Morgan, we understand that the bank is not in the man named Morgan. Morgan was the owner or founder of it. Likewise, the “Kingdom of heaven” will be wholly owned and run according to the laws and principles of God, who reigns in heaven! On the other hand, our actual inheritance is the earth.
Many scriptures demonstrate in the clearest of terms that the Kingdom of God will be established on earth! One of the most powerful is found in Zechariah 14. The chapter begins by informing us that “the day of the Lord is coming” (v. 1). In reference to the Messiah, it tells us that “in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” (v. 4). This is confirmed by the New Testament account of Jesus ascending into a cloud from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9–12). Zechariah continues by declaring that “the Lord shall be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9).
Next, read Zechariah 14:16–19. Blow the dust off your Bible and read it for yourself! The Kingdom of God will rule on this earth, not up in heaven! Those who are Christ’s at His coming are destined to rule with Him (Revelation 20:4), and where will we rule? We are told that we will be “kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). So when the Bible refers to the Kingdom of heaven, it does not refer to a kingdom in heaven but simply to God’s Kingdom. It is another way of referring to the Kingdom of God.
We have already seen that the parable of the sower is about the Kingdom. Now let us look at a few more parables. Mark 4:26 reads, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.” Verse 30 says, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God?” Matthew 13 records that Jesus likened the Kingdom to a mustard seed, to leaven, to an enemy sowing tares among wheat, to hidden treasure, to a pearl of great price, and to a dragnet.
Jesus instructed His followers to preach the Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:60–62). His disciples understood that this would be a real Kingdom ruling on this earth. What they did not understand was when the Kingdom would be set up. That was why Jesus gave the parable of the nobleman. He gave the parable “because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). He went on to show that He would go into a far country (to heaven after His resurrection) and would return to the earth sometime in the future, calling His servants to account for what they had done with what they had been given.
Many have heard of Joseph of Arimathea, but how many realize that his goal in life was the Kingdom of God? Read it for yourself in Luke 23:50–51. Jesus spoke of this Kingdom after His resurrection, and His disciples understood His message. They wanted to know when (Acts 1:3, 6).
What about the Apostle Paul? What was his message? On one special occasion he spoke to the elders of Ephesus, saying, “I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more” (Acts 20:25). This was the same message he taught while in Roman custody: “So when they had appointed him a day… he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets…. preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:23, 31).
The newly ordained deacon named Philip went down to Samaria and “preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Note that he not only preached about the Kingdom, but also about the name of Jesus Christ. We also saw this in the previous paragraph regarding Paul’s preaching.
The word gospel simply means good news, and one cannot separate the message of God’s Kingdom from the good news of what Christ did for us. He gave His life so that we may live in God’s Kingdom. He is the way to the Kingdom and the King of the Kingdom! Yes, the central message of the New Testament is all about Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God! The problem is that the message that He proclaimed has been abandoned. It has been replaced by a message about the person of Christ. And sadly, the message preached about that person named Jesus is often grossly distorted or, frankly, describes someone else entirely.
As Paul corrected the church of God at Corinth, “For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it” (2 Corinthians 11:4). He went on to explain that not all who call themselves by the name of Christ are Christ’s servants. No, many are servants of another! “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (vv. 13–15). Those are powerful words! Paul called them ministers of Satan, even though they appear on the surface to be ministers of righteousness and ministers of Christ.
One must wonder why the good news of Christ’s Kingdom coming to this earth is not more widely preached. After all, unless He does return, no flesh will survive mankind’s rebellious path (Matthew 24:21–22). The return of Jesus Christ to this earth is the best news one could ever imagine. Perhaps that is why Jesus instructs us to keep it at the forefront of our minds when we pray. As the sample prayer says, “Your kingdom come…. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:10, 13).