Throughout Scripture, the opposition between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God is highlighted. After the establishment of the first ecclesia in Jerusalem, the Acts record seems to emphasize the pointed conflict between the ecclesia and the world. Being " of one accord" was a hallmark of the early brethren (Acts 1:14; 2:1,46; 4:24; 5:12; 15:25); but the world were in " one accord" in their opposition to that united ecclesia (Acts 7:57; 12:20; 18:12; 19:29). The two women of Proverbs both have surface similarities; folly parodies wisdom. Thus the words of the adulteress drip honey and oil (Prov. 5:3), just as those of wisdom do (Prov. 16:24). Rabshakeh promised the Jews an Assyrian Kingdom where everyone sat under their own vine and fig tree- consciously parodying Micah’s contemporary prophecies of God’s future Kingdom (Is. 36:16 cp. Mic. 4:4). The Assyrian Kingdom was set up as a parody of Solomon’s, which was the Kingdom of God (1 Kings 4:25; 2 Chron. 9:8). A glance through the descriptions of the beasts- the Kingdoms of this world- reveals that they are all set up in terms of the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom. The opening vision of Rev. 1 presents the Lord in His post-resurrection glory; but elements of that description occur throughout Revelation in portraying the beasts. The point is, they are all false-Christ’s. The Lord has a voice as the sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15), but the serpent, on the surface, speaks with just the same voice (Rev. 12:15). The four empire-beasts of Dan. 7, the kingdoms of this world, are a parody of the four living creatures of the cherubim (Rev. 4:6). The rejected man who built greater barns, such was his blessing, would have thought that he was receiving the blessings of righteousness (Prov. 3:10). There was a cruel and subtle confusion between the wicked and righteous. Israel actually fell for this; they came to describe the Egypt they had been called out from as the land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 16:13). And so we have the same tendency to be deceived into thinking that the kingdoms of this world, the world around us, is effectively the Kingdom of God, the only thing worth striving after.
The dragon has Angels (Rev. 12:9)
He figuratively comes from heaven to earth (12:10)
Speaks of us day and night before God's throne (12:10)
Has a name in his forehead (13:2)
Given power, throne and authority (13:13)
Does great miracles and signs (13:13)
Faithful followers have mark in their hands and foreheads (13:17; 20:4) and are " sealed" (13:16)
All the world worships the beast (13:12)
Followers as numerous as sand on the sea shore (20:8)
Their followers have one mind (17:3), and are world-wide
The woman clothed with a blood red robe and a cup (17:4)
The beast is, was and will be (17:8-11); an allusion to the Yahweh Name
Likewise Babylon is set up as a fake Christ and Kingdom of God:
Had proselytes and prophets (Jer. 50:36,37)
A mountain (Jer. 51:25)
A spreading tree giving much fruit to all who took refuge under it (Dan. 4:21); these words are used by the contemporary prophet Ezekiel (17:23) in describing the true Kingdom of God, as if to point the choice available to Israel: a part in the Kingdom of God, or that pseudo-Kingdom of this world.
" The golden city" (Is. 14:4) with a thick, embellished wall (Jer. 51:58); springs and rivers within her (Jer. 51:36)
" He that ruled the nations" with an iron rod " ...that did shake kingdoms" (Is. 14:6,16)
The morning star (Is. 14:12)
“The praise of the whole earth” (Jer. 51:41)
Desired to be exalted above the Angels in Heaven (Is. 14:13)
" The king of Babylon, my servant" (Jer. 25:9)
" Whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down" (Dan. 5:19)
The Kingdom of Babylon was a sight gazed at by all the earth (Dan. 4:11), comprising people from every nation, language and tongue (4:1)
The laws of the kings of Babylon, Media and Persia altered not (Heb. passed not, were eternal), Dan. 6:8.
Gave Israel a King they named 'Zedekiah'. 'Yahweh our righteousness'- a false Christ, who is Israel's true " Yahweh our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6)
Babylon was " raised up" by God (Hab. 1:5,6)
Arrayed in fine linen (Rev. 18:16)
" Thou...that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me" (Is. 47:8)
Has the voice of harpers and trumpeters, as does God’s Kingdom (Rev. 14:2 cp. 18:22)
The Lord Himself was surely aware of this theme when He spoke in His model prayer of the Kingdom, power and glory being ascribed to His Father; for these are the very terms in which Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon was addressed by (Dan. 2:37). The Lord is taking that form address and applying it solely to His Father- implying that Babylon’s Kingdom was but a fake replica of the one true Kingdom of the one true God.
The point is, there are two possible Kingdoms in which we can have a part: the the kingdoms of this world, or the Kingdom of God. The Lord presented the manifesto of His Kingdom in terms which consciously parodied the Roman empire which surrounded Him. Augustus had used the Greek word for ‘gospel’ / good news, and applied it to the new world order which his reign represented (1). He declared himself a God and instituted rites of worship. But the Lord offered citizenship in an altogether different Kingdom, defined albeit in similar terms, where humility and self-crucifixion were the signs of true leadership. His stress on the Kingdom of Heaven or of God in itself set up what He was offering in conscious contradistinction to the kingdoms of men. The world around us, especially through the medium of advertising, presents this world as the true Kingdom. If you buy this insurance policy, there will be true peace...if you smoke this cigarette, there will be a truly blessed life. We are pressurized more than we know to resign the true Kingdom for the fake one all around us, the various the kingdoms of this world. The wicked can even appear as the righteous, to the undiscerning. Thus the man who had such blessings that he needed to build bigger barns- for his barns overflowed- was experiencing apparently the blessings of the righteous (Prov. 3:32 NIV). But there is coming a time when the two worlds, the two Kingdoms, will experience their inevitable collision in the return of Christ. The stone will smite the image, and grind those kingdoms to powder. God’s anger will come up in His face against this world (Joel 3:2,13,16; Ez. 38:18-22; 39:17,20); and the world will be angry with God and His people in an unsurpassed way. The nations will be angry, and the wrath of God also will rise (Rev. 11:18). When their iniquity has reached a certain level, then judgment will fall (cp. Sodom and the Amorites, Gen. 15:16). This means that there will almost certainly be some form of persecution of God’s people by the people of this world in the very last days. The tension between the believer and the world will rise. The final political conflict in the land of Israel will be the ultimate and inevitable collision of flesh and spirit, of the serpent and the woman. As the kingdoms of this world will be gathered together to their day of threshing (Rev. 16:16), so will the responsible be (Mic. 4:12; Mt. 3:12). The burning up of the nations will be the same punishment as the rejected believers receive- they will in some sense go back into the world they never separated from, and share it’s destiny. This principle is clearly enough taught (although how in reality it will be articulated at the day of judgment is something that needs thinking about).
This should provide enough negative motivation to separate from the kingdoms of this world, fast heading as it is to its final collision with God’s Kingdom. But as we said at the start, we are separated more positively unto God’s Kingdom. The separation which is being achieved in us is fundamentally a separated, holy way of thinking. And yet there are times when the ways of this world push themselves upon us. We are forced into situations where we have no choice but to appear as members of the Kingdoms of men. Indeed, the whole nature of being human means that we must live in this world, although we are not of it. Consider how Daniel’s friends wore turbans (Dan. 3:21 NIV), how Moses appeared externally to be an Egyptian (Ex. 2:19), and how the Lord Himself had strongly Jewish characteristics (Jn. 4:9). Or how Naaman bowed down in the idol’s temple, helping his master in worship (2 Kings 5:18). And imagine all the difficult situations Joseph must have been in, as Prime Minister of Egypt, married to the daughter of the pagan High Priest. Or John the Baptist’s soldier converts, told to do their jobs without using violence (Lk. 3:14); or Cornelius returning to his post as Centurion. It seems almost certain that these men would all have tried to engineer their way out of their positions. Think of Daniel. He rose to be one of the leading ministers in Babylon; but then, some years later, nobody seems to have heard of him. He is again vastly promoted; and then some years later again, nobody seems to have heard of him. Surely the point is that he got himself out of compromising situations; he allowed himself to slip out of the limelight. And so for the student invited to a doubtful party, the brother invited to go out drinking at a family funeral, the office worker asked to do a shady cover-up for a colleague, the wife whose unbelieving husband expects her to accompany him into the dens of this world... somehow, seek the way of escape. Like Daniel, slip away, whatever the career or apparent wealth you may forfeit. Avoid compromising situations. Get yourself out of them. Visiting (in the Hebrew sense of coming near to) the fatherless and widow in the ecclesia is associated with being unspotted from the world; our closeness to the world of the ecclesia in itself will keep us separate from the pull of the kingdoms of this world (James 1:27).
And God will confirm you in this coming out from the world. He told His people to flee from Babylon, to come out of her and return to His land and Kingdom (Is. 48:20; 52:7; Jer. 50:8; Zech. 2:7). Babylon offered them a secure life, wealth, a society which accepted them (Esther 8:17; 10:3), houses which they had built for themselves (Jer. 29:5). And they were asked to leave all this, and travel the uncertain wilderness road to the ruins of Israel. They are cited in the NT as types of us in our exit from this world (2 Cor. 6:17; Rev. 18:4). Those who decided to obey God’s command and leave Babylon were confirmed in this by God: He raised up their spirit to want to return and re-build Jerusalem, and He touched the heart of Cyrus to make decrees which greatly helped them to do this (Ezra 1:2-5). And so the same Lord God of Israel is waiting to confirm us in our every act of separation from the kingdoms of this world, great or small; and He waits not only to receive us, but to be a Father unto us, and to make us His sons and daughters (2 Cor. 6:18).
(1) C.S. Lewis, God in The Dock: Essays On Theology And Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) p. 84.
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