The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (8)

Part Seven

False Christ’s and the True Christ

Jesus continues His answer to the disciples’ second question by repeating that although there will be many false Christ’s and false prophets, and many attention-grabbing supernatural happenings, one should not be fooled (Matt. 24:23-24).  We should take note that contra the scientistic naturalism so prevalent among “intellectuals” in our day, the Tribulation will be charged with spectacular supernatural manifestations and calls to worship.  It will be an extremely “spiritual” time, with no room for cool rationalism.

Verse 27 says that the real coming of Christ will be so singular and incontrovertible that nobody could mistake it.  It will be like a blast of sheet lightening across the sky.  Therefore, during this short period prior to the return one can expect news outlets working overtime in their propaganda and  false flags, “signs and wonders” distracting the masses, groupthink fomenting “the madness of crowds,” and the label “conspiracy theorist” and the like aimed at any who will not accept the “fact” that God has already come to earth in the person of the “prince” (Dan. 9:26b-27a) or Antichrist.  

The Return!

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31.

            The second coming of Christ is the beginning point of the real New World Order, not the utopian nightmare of the elite classes.  Jesus’s coming again into the world that He made but which crucified Him is not, as I understand it, the second part of a two part drama, but better the second phase of a single work, sandwiching the time of the Church. 

            In His continuing narrative on the Mount of Olives Jesus predicts that right on the heels of the Tribulation great cosmic signs will be beheld, involving the sun, the moon and the stars.  That is, the “firmament” of Genesis 1 will start to work erratically.  Providence, which through Christ upholds the normal functions of the sky (cf. Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3b) will falter, thus declaring to blind mankind the reality of his dependent creaturehood and the imminent shift in the control of the world-system.  “The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven” (Matt. 24:30).  Whatever it is, this “sign” will be in contrast to the malfunctioning of the heavens that presages it. 

            The earth will have witnessed not just intense suffering – whether localized around Israel or spread out throughout all lands – but it will have become familiar with great manifestations of spiritual power.  Nothing however, will compare to what happens next!  Jesus, the Danielic Son of Man, will appear “on the clouds of heaven.”  His countenance will be terrible; His grandeur intoxicating; His evident power crushing. 

            At the sight of the returning Christ a loud trumpet sound is heard, and angels descend for the purpose of gathering up the elect.  We are not told where the saints are taken, but as earth becomes the scene of the Kingdom it seems likely that they are carried to a place of safety ahead of the wrathful vengeance of Christ (Isa. 61:1-2; 63:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:6-9; Rev. 19:11-16). 

As in the Days of Noah

            I cannot expound every verse in Matthew, so I jump to Mathew 24:36 where Jesus picks up the thread of verses 15—31.  He refers to a “day and hour” that remains unknown to all but God the Father.[1]  This reminds us that “the Creation Project” which God began “in the beginning” is still running and will run until the new heavens and new earth are made.  This “day and hour” is too specific to mean the entire second half of the Tribulation.  It relates to the advent itself.  Thus, immediately before Christ comes people will be going about their business, which is what is meant by “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38). Then the day and hour will be upon them.  Just as the rain began falling once God shut Noah in the Ark, so the intervention in the affairs of life by the returning Christ will happen all of a sudden. 

            This brings up a question: doesn’t this way of putting things ignore the terrible sufferings that will be experienced during this time?  How can life go on as normal in the midst of so much upheaval? 

            My answer is somewhat tentative, since I do not believe the Scriptures furnish us with enough information to construct the end times picture with the degree of detail we would like.  But the fact is that there have always been many whose lives were only tangentially affected by evil times, especially the rich and powerful.  In what may well be an allusion to the same time of Tribulation the Apostle John records the black horse rider ordered not to touch the oil and the wine; products consumed by the wealthy (Rev. 6:5-6).  In a similar manner Paul, when speaking of the Day of the Lord, says that unbelievers will be celebrating “peace and safety” just before “sudden destruction comes upon them” (1 Thess. 5:3).  Another thing to consider is the extent and intensity of this “time of Jacob’s trouble.”  I think it is very possible that the “Great Tribulation” will impact some areas a lot more than others, particularly in the Levant.  I am not saying that it will not be felt on other continents, but perhaps not to the same extent.  One must also recall that in Nazi Germany life went on for the majority of compliant people even though millions of Jews, gypsies, handicapped, and POWs went through Hell on earth at the same time. This at least indicate that life’s patterns can continue in evil times for those on the “right side.”           

Jesus next mentions two men and two women in Matthew 24:40-42:

Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 

            I have made comments about this saying already in my chapter on Luke.  Are these verses perhaps speaking of the rapture or perhaps a removal of the saints before wrath?  If we examine verse 42 first, we see that Jesus is issuing a warning.  But is the warning about being taken or being left?  It is not easy to be definite, although as with Luke, the example of Noah (Luke also includes Lot) tilts the interpretation toward those taken being carried (paralambano) to safety.[2]  Glasscock writes,

It might be best to understand the taking of these as the collecting of the elect of v. 31 (not the rapture of the church, but the gathering of the sealed Jews and faithful Gentiles of the Tribulation) and leaving the others behind for the judgment about to come on the earth.[3]

            Matthew 13:41-43 and 13:47-50 appear to have the angels gathering the unbelievers to judgment with the saints being left to enter the Kingdom.  This may mean that my position given above needs reversing.  But I still feel justified in my interpretation, for I do not believe Matthew 13 precludes the saints being carried to safety before the ungodly are dealt with.  Moreover, the separation in Matthew 13 appears to take place after Jesus has returned (see below the separation of “the sheep and the goats” in Matthew 25:31ff.), and thus describes a different situation than Matthew 24:40-42. 


[1] Mark 13:32 says that not even Jesus knows this information.  We must parse such sayings carefully.  The Lord is saying that as the Servant of God He is unaware of the exact timing of His return.  This is because He has willingly set aside His divine prerogatives such as omniscience and omnipresence in order to become who He had to become for us. (cf. Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 10:9-10).   

[2] I do think that an argument can be made for a “rapture” in Matthew 24:40-41 when it is combined with Revelation 14:14-16, but it is not decisive.  Moreover, I cannot see the Church in either context. 

[3] Ed Glasscock, Matthew, 477.

The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (5)

Part Four

The Parables of the Kingdom (Pt. 2)

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

            The other five (or six) parables are shorter.  The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31-32) speaks of the “kingdom of heaven” beginning almost imperceptibly like a tiny seed but growing until it becomes a tree that can hold bird’s nests.  Does this depict positive or negative growth?  The wheat or the tares?  It is hard to say, but I side with the majority who see it as positive growth.

The Parable of the Woman Hiding Leaven

            The Parable of the Leaven (Matt. 13:33) has of course been interpreted as illustrating the private growth of the “kingdom” or Gospel in the world throughout history.  But this way of thinking about it would be foreign to the initial hearers of the message.  “Leaven” is not equated with good things in the Bible.  Jesus Himself consistently uses leaven as a negative figure elsewhere (Matt. 16:6, 11-12. Cf. Mk. 8:15).  Paul does the same (1 Cor. 5:6-8; Gal. 5:9).  When we come to the OT things do not change (e.g., Exod. 12:15, 19; 34:25; Lev. 2:11; 10:12; Deut. 16:4; Amos 4:5).  Are we now to believe that this word would be understood positively in this single case?  No, the growth of the leaven, which is “hid” remember (linking it with the devil’s surreptitious sowing in Matthew 13:25, 39), refers to the “tares.”  In my opinion it is best to understand the hidden growth of evil in history, not simply as the general impact of the unrighteous, but of a certain line of usually powerful men whose ambition and greed make them foils in Satan’s hands.  It is something like this that John is alluding to when he writes about the whole world being “under the sway of the wicked one” (1 Jn. 5:19).    

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

            The next parable is the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matt. 13:44) where a man sells everything once he discovers treasure in a field.  The treasure isn’t his until he owns the field!  The joy of the man and the value of the treasure show that this relates to the positive aspect of the “kingdom.” 

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Likewise with the parable which follows: a man finds “a pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:45-46).  Since a pearl is a thing of beauty it seems natural to infer that this depicts a positive aspect of the “kingdom”; perhaps the truth of the message preached?

The Parable of the Dragnet

            Finally, we read the Parable of the Dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50).  In this parable we see good and bad (clean and unclean) fish pictured, which reminds us of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. 

The Parable of the Householder

            After He has recited the seven parables of the kingdom Jesus closes with a parable likening the good listener; the one who comprehends Him, to a householder who can produce old and new treasures from what he has learned (Matt. 13:52).  This suits the disciples cum Apostles who bring truth out of both the OT and the teachings of Jesus.[1] 

A Summary 

            What one is left with after studying these parables is the crucial importance of hearing correctly (paying attention), the joint growth of lookalike good and bad (true and false) disciples, the secret insidious growth of what Satan has sown within the sphere of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 15:13), the surpassing value of having found the truth, and the job of separating the true followers from the false that is given to the angels at the second coming.  In this chapter “the kingdom of heaven” does not refer to the eschatological reign of peace but to the progress of “the word of the kingdom” in conflicting circumstances.  I think we are left with the following:

  1. The “word of the kingdom” is the same as the announcement “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  That certainly was “the word” that had been proclaimed up until then.
  2. The phrase “the mysteries of the kingdom” relates to the several aspects or perspectives about the progress of the kingdom before its consummation in the messianic age to come.
  3. This means that the majority of Jesus’s usages of “the kingdom of heaven” in these parables, as well as the other parables where we read “the kingdom of heaven is like” (i.e., Matt. 18:23; 20:1 ff.; 22:2; 25:14) do not refer to the eschatological Kingdom but rather to the growth activity toward that Kingdom.     
  4. All the parables that include the introductory formula “the kingdom of heaven is like” (which is peculiar to Matthew) describe either positive or negative characteristics of this growth or both.
  5. However, in Matthew 13:41, 43 and 44 the kingdom of heaven is the eschatological kingdom either just before its proper inception or in its consummation.

It is exceptionally difficult to decide exactly what form the progress of the kingdom of heaven takes since the message “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” is not the message of the Church.  I confess to not feeling able to take a decided position on the matter.  In my view the best option is to understand these Matthean parables as describing the route that elect, whether in the Church or not (i.e. Tribulation saints[2]), travel towards the coming age of fulfillment.[3]      


[1] Andreas J. Kostenberger, The Jesus of the Gospels, 93.

[2] By saying this I am showing my hand.  It lies ahead of me to try to prove that the NT distinguishes Church saints from pre and post Church saints (e.g., Israel and the Nations).  Unless we insist upon spiritualizing Revelation 21:23-26 we can readily see a distinction of peoples in the New Creation. It will also be my duty to argue for the removal of the Church before the Tribulation period.    

[3] Another less discussed yet glaring issue is the stubborn fact that the kingdom message of Jesus in the Gospels is not the same as the “Pauline” message of the Church.  Like it or not, the crowds were not hearing about the pending substitutionary death and resurrection of the Lord from either Him or His (clueless) disciples.  I shall seek to establish this fact later in this book. 

The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (4)

This is from the first draft of my book ‘The Words of the Covenant, Volume 2: New Testament Continuity’.

Part Three

The Parables of the Kingdom (Pt. 1)

            In any study of the Kingdom “the parables of the kingdom,” seven (or eight depending on one’s reckoning) of which are located in Matthew 13 are critical.  Although this is not a Bible commentary, it is important to take a look at these parables because they provide important information about the progress of God’s Kingdom program.[1]  We should remind ourselves that although the majority of OT texts refer to the eschatological Kingdom, there are verses such as Psalm 103:19 which declare, “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.”  There is then a sense in which God has a kingdom up in heaven (naturally enough), but this is not the same as the one on earth described in such vibrant terms by the Prophets; the eschatological Kingdom.  As we have seen that Kingdom is very much part of the theology of Luke.

            Prior to chapter 13 Matthew has employed the term “kingdom of heaven” in a futuristic sense.  It is something ahead (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 5: 3, 10, 19-20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11-12).  In several instances the passages plainly speak of the coming new aeon (Matt. 5:19-20; 8:11), but I submit that all the references ought to be taken in that way.  However, things change in Matthew 13.  

The Parable of the Sower

The first parable, the famous Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9; 18-23) is the key parable.[2]  This parable does not contain the formula “the kingdom of heaven is like,” which is seen in the other parables in chapter 13. 

The first parable acts as a sort of interpretive guide to the rest of the parables in the chapter.  At its close we see that the parable is all about how one hears.  “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9).  The ear has been made to hear rightly.  Matthew 13:14-16 (which cites Isaiah 6:9-10) relates the misuse of eyes and ears; the problem emanating from the heart!  We see this in Jesus’ interpretation of the first parable where He notes that the seed (i.e., the word) does not find receptive ground.  In Matthew 13:19 the person does not understand the word, and the cause is in the heart.  In Matthew 13:20-21 the word is gladly received, but there is no depth for it to take root.  That is, the heart is not prepared for the word.  The way Jesus puts it is interesting; “he has no root in himself” (Matt. 13:21).  This indicates that although the word was accepted it was accepted rather like a lover of fiction accepts a pile of books only to discover that nothing in the pile strikes their fancy.  Or rather, the books received require more than a mere foray of the imagination.  In Matthew 13:22 the third kind of hearer is too enamored with the world for the word to change their heart.[3]  At last we come to the hearer who “understands” (Matt. 13:23).  Hearers of this sort produce “fruit,” probably in accordance with their abilities and circumstances. 

A true hearer will understand the word.  That is what the Parable of the Sower is about.  Hopefully now we will be attentive to the other parables.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares tells us something crucial about “the kingdom.”  It shows us that the kingdom is something that is “planted,” is growing, and is vulnerable to assault from the Enemy.  This should put us on our mettle; we are not to think of the final eschatological Kingdom here.

In His explanation of the parable (Matt. 13:36-43), Jesus identifies Himself as the Sower of the good seed (Matt. 13:37), the devil as the Enemy who sows bad seed (Matt. 13:39), the field as the world (Matt. 13:38), the wheat as “the sons of the kingdom,” (Matt. 13:38), the tares the “sons of the wicked one,” and the reapers as the angels at the end of the age (Matt. 13:39). 

What Jesus is presenting in these parables is a kingdom in the making, not consummated.  What does this mean?  Some believe that it means that the kingdom of heaven is seen as beginning at the start of Jesus’ public ministry and extending through the visible church till the “end of the age” (Matt. 13:39, 49).  That is a common understanding, especially among Reformed commentators.  But it has problems.  Firstly, we are expressly told that “the field is the world,” not the Church (Matt. 13:38).  This must be carefully pondered, for it means that “the sons of the kingdom” cannot be synonymous with Christians!  And if that is the case then “the sons of the wicked one” cannot be false Christians.  Who then are they?  Perhaps the safest answer (although admittedly frustratingly indeterminate) is that these godly and ungodly “sons” represent two strands of sinners in all ages; the first saved by grace and the second enslaved by the devil?[4]  Also, if the kingdom equates to the Church, then in such a scenario the kingdom lasts only until the close of this dispensation (or until the separation – Matt. 13:39-43).  But surely the age to come (inferred here, though see Matt. 12:32. Cf. Matt. 19:28) is the true age of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 13:43), as it has been prior to this chapter?  Cutting the kingdom of heaven away from the age to come doesn’t work in any millennial perspective.  The eyes have to be fully open.  For example, one thing that ought to grab the attention, but may slip by is that “His kingdom” in Matthew 13:41 has to be different than “the kingdom of their father” in verse 43.  It is the nuances in the parables that make them challenging.          

I think we have to be clear on what is meant by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like.”  And to do that we have to connect it to “the mysteries of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:11).  If we understand the phrase to refer to what was being preached, that is, “the word of the kingdom,” then it is the proclamation of the Kingdom that is primarily in view.  In contrast to the Parable of the Sower, in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares “the word of the kingdom” is not the seed but instead produces the seed, which are “the sons of the kingdom.”[5]  The Sower is Christ who proclaims the word which produces the “seed.”  Continuing this line of thinking we can go one of two ways.  We can assume that the proclamation of the word by Jesus’ followers throughout what we know as Church history is meant, in which case the Church proclaims the Kingdom.  But that view, as we have just seen, is problematical.[6] 

Alternatively, we can say that the “word of the kingdom” was a particular message; one of the immanence of the next age (“the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) which ceased with the ministry of Jesus but perhaps will be resumed when that message is again relevant.  In light of Matthew 24:14 this second position looks to have something going for it, but it cannot account for the growth of the good and bad seed in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, so it is inadequate.       

To be clear on what I am saying so far, I am proposing that the announcement of the approaching Kingdom (“the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) by John the Baptist and by Christ is the same as “the word of the kingdom” referred to in Matthew 13:19.[7]  But may we go further and claim that this “word of the kingdom” is what is in view in Jesus’ refrain “the kingdom of heaven is like?”  That is to say, is Jesus saying something like “the kingdom represented in Me and My message of its soon approach is like this.”?  To interpret this way is to wrap the Person and Kingdom message of Christ together, which is attractive.  It is here that we must recall that Jesus is teaching about “the mysteries of the kingdom,” and that these mysteries concern its progress toward final consummation, not the consummation per se.  For instance, it cannot be that the devil sows false disciples in the messianic Kingdom itself since in any end times scenario the devil is incapacitated (however Revelation 20 is interpreted).  Let us keep reading.

Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.  The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! – Matthew 13:40-43.

            The close of the parable deals with eschatological issues.  The Son sends out His angels “to gather out of His kingdom all things that offend.” (Matt. 13:41 my emphasis).  This has to mean that there is an expression of the Kingdom that predates “the age to come.[8]”  Therefore, the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” must refer to an aspect or aspects of it that run from the first to the second advent.  The final piece of the parable finds Jesus speaking of the new aeon; “the kingdom of their Father” (which we know will be mediated by the Son).[9]  When Christ says that His angels will one day “gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend” (Matt. 13:41), He is probably referring to an event that happens right after Christ has returned to the earth.  In which case the “kingdom” in that place is the eschatological Kingdom in its infancy, though perhaps ahead of its formal inauguration.        

            We see then that the term “kingdom of heaven” is somewhat elastic in Matthew 13.  In Matthew 13:41-42 it refers to the eschatological Kingdom, but the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” refers to aspects of the kingdom already occurring.    


[1] Often the nuances within these parables are not dealt with adequately.

[2] “In many ways…this is the quintessential parable that opens up our understanding of all Jesus’s parables.” – Andreas J. Kostenberger, The Jesus of the Gospels: An Introduction, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2020, 92.  This perhaps goes a little too far. 

[3] Of course, we are to understand that the “heart” does not refer just to the emotional side of man, but to his driving impulses. 

[4] I do not mean that the “sons of the wicked one” necessarily include all lost men, but rather those who grow alongside the saints.  Remember, the evil one plants these people.  

[5] In Matthew 8:12 where the term “sons of the kingdom” is applied to Jews who are excluded from the eschatological Kingdom.  This reminds us that every parable must be studied for how words are used within its own story. 

[6] See D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” 316-317, 324-326.   It is also worth noting that the Church has not proclaimed the kingdom, at least not in a major way, unless one wishes to equate the kingdom to the Roman Catholic Church that is!  

[7] This is not controversial.  See e.g., John Nolland, Matthew, 539.

[8] That is to say, the eschatological Kingdom. 

[9] To these considerations we might add the Parable of the Workers in Matthew 20:1-16 and the Parables in Matthew 21:28-32; 22:1-12.  Of course, many writers insist upon relating that parable to the church. 

Shameless Plug: My Book is Out!

Roll up, roll up, look this way to see a new and amazing sight! Well, not quite. The truth is more in the region of “Oh, Henebury’s book that he’s been promising since Gutenberg is actually out now.”

I got my advance copies in the mail a couple of weeks ago. It was a strange feeling looking down at the thing I had spent over five years writing and nearly twelve years studying. I asked a friend who has himself published many books about this weird feeling and whether he ever felt that way. “Every time!” he replied.

Anyway, The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology, Volume one is released today. It is a Biblical Theology of the Old Testament (Volume two will deal with the New) centered on the expectations that God raises by His oaths and promises. It is available from many outlets including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It is published through Xulon. I managed to get Dr. Michael Vlach, now at the Shepherd’s Theological Seminary; Dr. Kevin Zuber of The Master’s Seminary; Dan Phillips who used to be a regular part of the Pyromaniacs blog, and Fred Butler of Hip and Thigh to write nice blurbs for the book. Since they have each taken an interest in what I’ve been doing I knew they could write something meaningful.

Answers to Some Questions I have Been Asked:

  1. What led to “Biblical Covenantalism?” – I completed my doctoral dissertation on Method and Function in Dispensational Theology in 2006. Around the same time I found myself in the unenviable situation of being let go from an institution I had sweated blood for during many long and sometimes highly stressful hours. Finding myself with a lot of time on my hands and with several unanswered questions about Dispensational methodology I plunged anew into the study of the Bible. One main question bothered me throughout. It was a simple question that I could not find any scholar even asking. The question was “Why does God make covenants?” Pondering a biblical response to that question led me to see the importance and vitality of the six covenants of God.
  2. What is “Biblical Covenantalism”? – At the most basic level it is the answer to the question “Why does God make covenants?” and finally seeing how God’s covenants provide a dual eschatological/teleological pathway for God’s Creation Project. It became apparent that the Person of the Promised Redeemer, King-Messiah could not be separated from those covenants. Indeed, He was pivotal to everything God is doing in Creation. As I state in the book: “

“I mean by it that the covenant oaths found plainly within the pages of our Bibles, and more particularly the covenants of God (i.e. associated with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Phinehas, and David, and mediated by Christ in the New covenant) compose together the main argument of Scripture. They pick up and carry forward creation’s teleology and eschatology. Every teaching of Scripture is subordinated to the divine covenants. Therefore, interpreting and following the iteration of the covenants is what Biblical Covenantalism is all about.”

3. Am I trying to find another middle path between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology? In his commendation Fred Butler asks this question. The answer is a very definite “No!” I believe Dispensational Theology (DT) is built upon different presuppositions than Covenant Theology (CT), and, for that matter, Progressive Covenantalism (PC). CT and PC are both mainly erected upon prior assumptions that are inimical to DT. Both are highly inferential systems, especially with regard to eschatology and the covenants of God. I believe Dispensationalism has got a lot of things right due to its hermeneutics. This includes the eternal importance of the nation of Israel, the Millennium, and the Rapture of the Church. My issue with DT is its method (which has hardly ever been thought through). As I see it DT is wrong in emphasizing Divine stewardships and defining itself through them and superimposing them on the covenants. I also think it is in error about DT only needing to focus upon eschatology and ecclesiology (and sometimes soteriology). Therefore Biblical Covenantalism (BC) as I see it is a corrective to DT in terms of its method and its vision. But, I hasten to add that I never started with Dispensationalism and then tried to tweak it. I believe I got BC from Scripture and can back it up from Scripture; hence the book!

4. What is the Place of Jesus Christ in Biblical Covenantalism? In line with what I said above, I was not happy with the method of DT. One problem with DT as I see it is the place it gives to Jesus Christ. The genius of Covenant Theology is its focus on Christology. Now what they do with Christ in finding Him in OT texts via types and shadows and by interpreting the OT on the basis of the NT (or rather their understanding of it), cuts right across what God has declared in His covenants and must therefore by in error. But DT’s emphasis is too often upon the Israel-church distinction (which is real) and the End Times (e.g. the Rapture, the Mark, and the Kingdom) and not upon the centrality of Christ in the whole Creation Project. In BC Jesus is the reason Creation exists and is preserved. He is also the One who redeems Creation and restores and will reign over Creation to the glory of God. He combines the promises of the covenants in Himself as the embodiment of the New covenant. It’s really all about Him.

5. (A Question I wish I had been asked) – Do You see Yourself as an Outsider? When I first saw clearly that DT had issues which were not being addressed I asked myself, “Do you want to put yourself beyond the pale by chasing this down?” My response was to forge ahead regardless, trusting the Lord to help me and to correct me as I went. So yes I know I am somewhat at the periphery and may stay there. I do harbor faint hopes that my work will be seen as a help and not a challenge and that more dialogue would be opened up as a result of people thinking through The Words of the Covenant.

Volume Two, “The Words of the Covenant: New Testament Continuation” is being written as we speak.

Update: The Book Will Be Available Soon

One of my least favorite things in the whole world is self-publicity. I don’t like it and I’m sure it’s unscriptural. The sin of calling attention to oneself is often exacerbated when one is promoting a ministry or a book. I have a book out soon. It’s not the work the world has been breathlessly waiting for, but it’s the best I can do. I hope I have written a sound, edifying, educational book which repays its purchase price. I think it does but my judgment is not to be wholly trusted on this matter.

According to the publisher, The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology, Vol. 1 – Old Testament Expectation will be ready by the end of the month. I for one am greatly looking forward to holding a copy in my hands. But that is to be expected since I have slaved away at it for about five years plus change.

The Words of the Covenant is just shy of 500 pages long and has over 1,300 footnotes (I tried to keep them down). I do not quote a lot of Dispensationalists because an affirmation from someone who is not oriented that way is weightier than from someone who would agree with one’s overall trajectory. Within its pages I present my ‘Biblical Covenantalism,’ at least of the Old Testament.

It can be bought for $42.49 in hardback and $32.49 paperback from Xulon Press: https://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781736770405

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Words-Covenant-Biblical-Testament-Expectation/dp/1662826206/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=henebury&qid=1630618895&sr=8-3

Expect another shameless plug when it’s finally released!

The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (2)

Part One

The Kingdom to Come in the Lord’s Prayer

            We are accustomed to treat the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” within our own “Church” context.  And no wonder, for the guidance and hope it supplies are a great boon to the spiritual life.  But if we situate it in its setting in the Sermon on the Mount we have to allow that it signified something a little different for the disciples; especially Matthew 6:10:

            Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

            In circa A. D. 30 Jesus’ references to God’s “kingdom” would, when combined with His messianic claims and miracles, summon up only one idea; the covenanted Davidic Kingdom predicted in, for example, Isaiah 11:1-10 or Jeremiah 23:5-6.  No one could envision the Church at such an early date, and passages like Acts 1:6 persuasively combat any argument from silence.[1]  No, the Father’s Kingdom which is to be prayed for is the New covenant Davidic Kingdom of the OT Prophets.  We also notice that this coming Kingdom is to be “on earth” not in heaven.[2]  This too accords with the Prophets.  The fact that Jesus instructs His disciples to pray for the Kingdom, and they would be praying for the Kingdom of Messiah, surely tells us that Yahweh will stick to the words of the covenant He made with David, and also those covenants He made with Abraham and Phinehas!

            There is a further consideration we need to make with reference to Christ’s words; for their anticipatory nature suggests that the Kingdom for which we pray will be synonymous with its portrayal in the prayer.  Which is to say, in praying “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we are saying (sometimes without thinking) that the Kingdom will not be present until this happens!  Similar to the teaching in Luke 19:11 that staves off any hopes of an imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ instruction here essentially does the same thing, at least in the sense that we now ought to realize that the Kingdom which was then preached as being “at hand” at the start of Jesus’ ministry was put off until the second advent.  Matthew 6:10 precludes any notion of the Kingdom of God being established in a world yet under the thrall of Satan and the governance of the wicked.  To put it in the words of John the Apostle, only when “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15) could it be said that the Kingdom of Heaven/God is present upon the earth.

The Context of the Proclamation

            Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issues a warning about false professors:

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. – Matthew 7:21.

            We must remind ourselves that at the time when this was taught Jesus (Matt. 4:1) and the disciples (Matt. 10:7) were proclaiming “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  There was a sense of urgency about the coming of the New covenant Kingdom that later no longer obtained as Jesus neared Jerusalem.[3]  When the Lord said this, the Kingdom of Heaven was proclaimed as being just around the corner.  Therefore, the admonishment about doing the will of the Father resonates with John the Baptist’s heralding of bearing “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8/Lk. 3:8). 

            Here again the Kingdom is in the future.  It is to be entered only by the righteous, therefore it cannot come in a world ruled by sin and unrighteousness.  If there is to be a different notion of the Kingdom later in the NT it will be discussed when and where it arises.[4]  It is not found in the Sermon on the Mount. 

The Centurion and the Sons of the Kingdom

            The next passage I wish to consider is the healing of the centurion’s servant and what Jesus says in relation to it.  Luke also records the incident (Lk. 7:1-10), but without the observations given in Matthew 8:5-13.  After the centurion expressed faith in Jesus’ power and authority to just “speak a word, and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8), the Lord spoke both about the faith of the Gentile soldier and the fate of those whom He referred to as “the sons of the kingdom.” 

When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!  And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12.

            Let us consider the faith of the centurion; of what did it consist?  He is a Gentile who is aware of what Jesus is doing and saying.  Jesus has made a deep impression on him.  He calls Him “Lord” (kyrios).  As a centurion he knows men, and he knows Jesus is no ordinary man.  In the culture of the time many believed that words could carry power, especially if associated with a deity.  It is safe to assume the centurion had witnessed Christ’s mighty works, and he came to believe, not that Jesus might have the power to heal his servant, but that He did have it.  Moreover, he was convinced that the power of Jesus’ words was sufficient to affect the world dynamically and authoritatively.  In sum, the centurion was sure that Jesus was who He claimed to be.  His trust in Jesus was grounded in the words of Jesus, supported by the works. 

            Now consider Jesus’ application of the centurion’s faith: “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 8:11).  The various points of the compass serve to indicate the far-reaching impact of the work of God of which Jesus is central.  As the Abrahamic covenant includes a provision for the nations (Gen. 12:3), Jesus would not be saying anything controversial about the Gentiles.  But putting it the way He does; that Gentiles will come into the Kingdom with some Jews (very religious Jews no less) excluded would be guaranteed to raise the ire of some listeners.  “Sons of the kingdom” refers to Israelites who are party to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and who therefore would expect to enter the Kingdom.  Jesus’ highlighting of the centurion’s faith in Him showed what would be the deciding factor.[5]  Mere ancestry was not a sufficient qualification.  Yet there will be believing Jews in the Kingdom.  Israel will not be replaced, nor does the passage say that Israel will be expanded to become mainly Gentile in complexion.  Faith in Jesus is the road to covenantal blessing.  Israel’s covenants do not bypass Jesus, they pass through Him.[6] 

            Matthew 9 mostly concerns reports of Jesus’ amazing healings and exorcisms.  All these reports are grouped together to show how Christ overcame the effects of the curse and the deleterious consequences of sin upon the body.  These include the healing of the Paralytic (Matt. 9:1-8/Lk. 5:17–26), the restoration of the young girl and the healing of the woman with the issue of blood (Matt. 9:18-26/Lk. 8:40-56), the healing of two blind men (Matt. 9:27-31), and the expulsion of a demon which had rendered a man mute (Matt. 9:32-34).  These mighty reversals of the different effects of the Fall, of which nothing equal had been seen in Israel (Matt. 9:33), are linked to the proclamation of the Kingdom (Matt. 9:35). 


[1] As I have already indicated, a way around this is simply to claim that the Gospel writers (particularly Luke) were writing in the 60’s to 80’s A. D. and wrote their Gospels from an ecclesiological perspective.  I find such claims untenable.  More will be said about this in a later chapter. 

[2]  A little further on Jesus says to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20).  By this we are not to think that heaven is the permanent home of the saints.  Treasures and rewards for the next life cannot be stored on earth in this life.  According to Hebrews 12:27 the earth (and the heaven) will be shaken so that any place one might think to store treasures will be “removed.” 

[3] Hence, the Lord’s resigned words in Luke 19:42: “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” 

[4] I shall give some consideration to the matter in my treatment of the Parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13. 

[5] Again, it should be noted how entrance into a future Kingdom is at issue.  

[6] As I have tried to show and will show, the coming Kingdom is the New covenant Kingdom.                 

Aspects of Biblical Interpretation – Telos on YouTube (repost)

I have been recording short video presentations on various themes.  The aim is to cover subjects in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Apologetics and Worldview, and other matters briefly and clearly, yet without being too simplistic or too technical.  The first mini-series we have done is on Themes in Biblical Interpretation.  The series, as well as other materials, can be viewed at the TELOS YouTube channel.

Here are the first three:

The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (1)

The Kingdom of Heaven?

Matthew 3 begins with John the Baptist proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:1-2).  It has him calling Pharisees and Sadducees “a brood of vipers.” (Matt. 3:7), which hardly matched the exalted spiritual status they gave themselves.  Later in this Gospel we see Jesus calling Pharisees (and scribes) hypocrites and “fools and blind” (Matt. 23:13-19).  In Matthew the religious leaders get called all kinds of names.  Modern scholarship has tried to correct these Matthean malapropisms, and we do know of Pharisees who became followers of Jesus (Acts 15:5).  All in all though, the portrait the Holy Spirit has left us in the first Gospel does them no credit at all.

After the temptation of Jesus, which I shall look at from Matthew’s perspective soon, we find Jesus immediately preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17).  This is of interest because it means there is a direct continuity between John’s preaching and Jesus’ preaching.[1]  There was therefore a large swell of expectation of the “kingdom of heaven” in the early days of Christ’s ministry wrought by the attention-grabbing efforts of the two men. 

Since Matthew is the only writer to use this designation “kingdom of heaven,” and that often in the same situations as the other Evangelists have “kingdom of God” it is obvious that the two expressions are very similar, if not one and the same.[2]  Confusingly, Matthew does employ “kingdom of God” in Matthew 6:33; 12:28; 19:24, and 21:31 and 43.  So what is happening here?  Why does Matthew use what appears to be a circumlocution for “God” most of the time, but not all the time? 

In Mathew 5:33 we read,

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.

Quite clearly, if Matthew had inserted “heaven” for “God” in this place he would have done away with the subject of the pronoun “His.”  The next instance is somewhat similar:

But Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.

            If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they shall be your judges.  But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. – Matthew 12:25-28.

            Jesus is speaking about the invasion of the kingdom of Satan (Beelzebub).  He explains that He expels demons “by the Spirit of God.” (Matt. 12:28).  It would sound a bit lame if instead of speaking plainly about “the kingdom of God” he instead had Jesus say “kingdom of heaven.”  Heaven is not the antonym of Satan, God is! 

            In Matthew 19 the context involves the Rich Young Ruler, who is asked “Why do you call me good?   No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Mat 19:17).  The conversation is about moral qualifications, and God is the standard.  It would be rather odd if after mentioning God as the standard of goodness to inherit eternal life, Matthew then omitted His name when responding to His shocked disciples.  This is how He replied:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-24.

            In verse 23 Jesus may be speaking about going to heaven (i.e. inheriting “eternal life”), or about the coming Kingdom itself.  In verse 24 He is referring to whose Kingdom it is; ergo, whose righteousness is the benchmark for entrance.  In which case, the subject had to be “God.” 

            Finally, in Matthew 21 we have two mentions of “kingdom of God.” 

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” – Matthew 21:31.

            Notice that the Lord has introduced the character of a father.  The first son in the story, who was recalcitrant at the beginning, repented and did his father’s will.  He was not the son who looked and sounded good but who was disobedient.  The first son was like the “tax collectors and harlots” who turned from their sin after considering the will of God through Jesus’ preaching.  Hence, the Person of God is the subject of the sentence.      

The last time “kingdom of God” is used by Matthew is in 21:43.  Here it is with the verse before it:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: `The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” – Matthew 21:42-43.

            Here Psalm 118 is quoted and Yahweh (“the LORD”) is the main Actor.  It is God who has disposed history in such a way that “the builders” refused the true cornerstone.  Very pointedly, Jesus stated that those kingdom-builders who professed to be in God’s employ were building their own little kingdom.  As God would take the rejection of His Son personally, the phrase “kingdom of heaven” would be too impersonal to suit the occasion here. 

            Those are my brief explanations as to why Matthew uses “kingdom of God” five times rather than his more usual designation of it as the “the kingdom of heaven.”  Readers are free to disagree with these reasons, but there must be reasons.   To recap then “the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew is a circumlocution, where possible, of the name of God for His abode. 


[1] This kind of similarity is what has encouraged some of the more liberal leaning scholars to hazard that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist. 

[2] Some traditional Dispensationalists like Lewis Sperry Chafer and John Walvoord adamantly held that there was a difference in meaning between the two terms.  See the explanation in Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980, 65-68.    

The Kingdom of God in Luke (Pt. 8)

Part Seven

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper/New Covenant

            I firmly believe that the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22:14-20) are some of the most important words in the NT.  The occasion for this world-changing event was the annual celebration of the Passover Seder, although Jesus had to celebrate it prematurely because by the time the real Passover was eaten, He would be dead.[1] 

The link between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper are clear and underlined by Paul’s reference to Jesus as “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.  The Passover is connected to the (old) Mosaic covenant, which is to be replaced by the New covenant; and Jesus’ role in this is critical.  If I may make an observation here about the importance of the Pauline designation with reference to the Gospel accounts (particularly in Luke 22:19 where the words “do this in remembrance of me” are present); the fact that Paul has used the term “Christ our Passover” points to the replacement of the traditional Passover lamb of the Mosaic covenant with the “Lamb of God” of the New covenant.  If this surmise is accurate then we have a strong indicator of the fact that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice not only superseded the OT Passover ritual, but that in doing so a continuity of the Passover in Jesus was created.  Since the old Mosaic covenant does not have a provision for a change in the Passover sacrifice, we are left to conclude that the only way that Jesus, the Lamb of God can be linked to the Passover (i.e. by Paul[2]) in a more than incidental way is if another covenant has taken over the Passover,[3] amplifying its significance in the Person of the Messiah.  As Bock puts it, “[Christ] has become the lamb who launches a new age.”[4]   

Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 22:15-16.

            Jesus’ anticipation of this Passover is explained when He uses it to institute the “New covenant in my blood” in verse 20.  It is clearly prophetic, as the words “until it is fulfilled” clearly show.  This gap between His partaking of the Passover and the appointed time (Lk. 22:15-18)) when He again eats it forms a further link between the Passover and the New covenant, re-situating of it in the Kingdom of God, which once more is a future reality to be manifested upon Christ’s return. 

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” – Luke 22:19.

            As pointed out above, the words “do this in remembrance of Me” are unique to Luke’s account.  He was doubtless told about this wish of the Lord by one who was present (Paul also includes the words – 1 Cor. 11:24-25).  The command to remember relates to both parts of the institution, as Paul shows.  The remembrance is not a mawkish sentiment wrought by a realization of approaching doom; understandable though that would have been.  None of the Evangelists say that Jesus was sad or distressed as He reclined in the Upper Room (That trial was to come in Gethsemane).  The reason for remembering Jesus is plainly centered around His death for us, although we should also consider His humble earthly ministry among sinners: the whole incarnation (Phil. 2:5-8).  Our chance of life as God the Creator intended it is all predicated on what Jesus achieved. Hence we remember.  

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” – Luke 22:20.

            Matthew and Mark have “this is My blood of the new covenant” (Matt. 26:28/Mk. 14:24).  I see no reason at all why Jesus could not have said both Luke’s version and Matthew and Mark’s version.  What is very significant is that this is the first recorded instance of the term “New covenant” since its solitary appearance in Jeremiah 31:31.

Although it is given sparse utterance, the notion of the coming New covenant reverberates throughout the OT and was the source of hope for Israel and the Gentiles.  Jeremiah was simply giving a name to a concept that occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Deut. 30:1-6; Isa. 32:9-20; 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 52:10-53:12; 55:3; 59:15b-21; 61:8; Jer. 32:36:44; Ezek. 16:53-63; 36:22-38; 37:21-28; Hos. 2:18-20; Joel 2:28–3:8; Mic. 7:18-20; Zech. 9:10; 12:6-14.; 59:15-21).  Now the Lord reintroduces the term at this decisive moment.  The solemn mood surely deepened as He spoke the phrase and brought it into the closest relation to Himself and His impending death.     

The words “New covenant” would stir powerful thoughts of Israel’s restoration and glory, exactly as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold.  It is little wonder that forty days later they asked the resurrected Jesus, “Lord will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  Such a question would have been encouraged by these words:

“But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Luke 22:28-30.

            Was this proffered kingdom something new and unexpected?  Nothing indicates that it was.  What may well have been surprising was the promise of the disciples’ exalted position in the Kingdom. 

There were twelve tribes in Israel and twelve main disciples (although Judas Iscariot was to be replaced).  But is it tenable to believe that the disciples hailed from all of those tribes?  Actually, the question is moot, because the special duty of the twelve will be that of judging the tribes, not leading them.  Jesus will be upon David’s throne, just as Gabriel had said (Lk. 1:32).  It would be naturally assumed the twelve tribes would mean exactly that; the twelve tribes of Israel.[5]  The name “Israel” would mean nothing else in this setting but those Jews directly descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Whatever is or is not to become of the meaning of that name later in the NT is not my concern right now.  My duty is to read what is in Luke, not freight supposed Pauline or Petrine reconstructions into the time before the Cross.  There is no room in the context for swapping the expected messianic New covenant, Israel plus the Nations Kingdom for a multinational spiritual body.[6]

The Kingdom and the New Covenant

            Before moving on I must insist a little more that we carefully consider the association of the Kingdom of God and the New covenant.  The Kingdom of God is the New covenant Kingdom.  The New covenant Kingdom is the covenanted Kingdom spoken of so often by the OT Prophets.  It arrives, to use the metaphor in Daniel 2, once the “stone cut out without hands” strikes down the kingdoms of man and the messianic Kingdom of righteousness replaces it. This, of course, did not occur in the first century A. D.

            But how can this be so, when the Lord instituted the New covenant in Luke 22 in anticipation of its coming into effect after His Passion?  This important question will have to wait until we examine 1 Corinthians 11, but I can say two things by way of preparation for later:

  1. The fusion of the first and second comings of Christ in the OT is not always apparent.  But here at the Lord’s Supper, and in consideration of Luke 19:11 etc., we can clearly see a two-phase work.  The first phase is centered on the cross and resurrection of Christ and the New covenant benefits which were unleashed from them (presently enjoyed by the Church within the bounds of the third major promise of the Abrahamic covenant – 1 Cor. 11:25-26 cf. Gal. 3:8).  Thus, the salvific benefits of being in the New covenant (and hence not under the Law) are present in “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:14), while the storied Kingdom of God still waits in the wings for the return of the King.
  2. Any attempt to introduce the Kingdom of God right after the cross and resurrection, however noble, constitutes a misunderstanding of the term and a direct contradiction of our Lord’s declaration immediately prior to Calvary and Mt. Olivet.  That the book of Acts in particular uses the term will have to be explored, but it is my contention that although one may validly speak of aspects of the Kingdom of God in the preaching ministry of the Apostles, the focus is not on the “already” but rather on the “not yet.”[7]                 

[1] See Robert H. Stein, “Last Supper,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Editors: Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 446. 

[2] In 1 Corinthians 10:16 the Apostle asks, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”  Stein says the term “cup of blessing” is taken from the third cup of the Passover (Ibid, 447), but there is no biblical warrant for the assertion.   

[3] “It signifies, not a temporal repetition but a new, eschatological beginning.” – I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, 806. 

[4] Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51 – 24:53, 1727.

[5] I shall discuss the complexion of the twelve tribes further on.

[6] Any theological interpretation which converts this expectation into an ecclesial one has gone the wrong way.  E.g., “The Institution Narrative…is a key transitional text for linking the royal Davidic identity and mission of Christ with the early apostolic church as the restored Davidic kingdom.” – Scott W. Hahn, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts,” in, Reading Luke, edited by Craig G. Bartholomew et al, 306, cf. 318, 320.  The expectation of a restored and beatified New covenant Kingdom where all God’s covenants are fulfilled cannot be diverted or altered even by God; in fact, especially by God, since He has placed Himself under oath to fulfill those covenants.     

[7] I realize, of course, that this position must be argued for, not merely asserted. 

The Kingdom of God in Luke (Pt. 7)

Part Six

The “Times of the Gentiles”

            A great deal has been written about “the Times of the Gentiles,” especially by Dispensational writers.  But before we can know what it refers to we must situate it in the discourse in which it stands.  I have given reasons why Luke 21:20-23 concern the end of days.  Jesus speaks of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (Lk. 21:20), and of the city being trampled down by the Gentiles (Lk. 21:24b).  It seems natural to think of Zechariah 12:1-3[1] and Revelation 11:2.  The context of, “the Times of the Gentiles” in Luke therefore points to the end time siege of Jerusalem by the armies of the Gentile nations.  But could Jesus mean something more than that?  For that to be so the phrase would have to resonate with undertones of prophetic significance. 

              The phrase “the Times of the Gentiles” is found only once in the Scriptures at Luke 21:24.  It sits in the middle of Jesus’ eschatological discourse after He enters Jerusalem just prior to His passion.  The term is of interest because it is an unusual turn of phrase.  Why did Jesus not simply state “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until God comes to wreak vengeance on Israel’s enemies” or some such words of woe that would fit the context well?  He didn’t.  He said “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (My emphasis).  There is a period of time that is given over to the Gentiles[2]; a period which, it appears, required little or no explanation among the Jews who heard it. 

            Dispensational interpreters have generally designated “the Times of the Gentiles” as a long period stretching over many centuries.  John Walvoord, for instance, writes,

For the Gentiles, the tribulation marks the close of the extended period of the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24), that period marked by Gentile control of Jerusalem since 600 B. C.[3]

His fellow Dallas Seminary professor J. Dwight Pentecost says,

The “times of the Gentiles” has been defined as that period of time in which Jerusalem was under the dominion of Gentile authority (Luke 21:24).  This period began with the Babylonian captivity when Jerusalem fell into the hands of Gentiles.  It has continued unto the present time and will continue through the tribulation period, in which era the Gentile powers will be judged.[4]

The times of the Gentiles is that extended period of discipline on God’s covenant people during which time no Davidic descendant sits on David’s throne ruling over David’s kingdom.  It extends from the destruction of Jerusalem and the emptying of the throne of David by Nebuchadnezzar until the ultimate repentance.[5]

            While these understandings of the term may be correct (particularly the last one), it should be noted that they are not based upon exegesis of Luke 21:24 in its context.  Darrell Bock, who is a Progressive Dispensationalist, and has written one of the most comprehensive commentaries on Luke’s Gospel, disagrees.  He thinks the verse indicates “a short- and long-term view.”[6]  He claims,

“More likely, the “times of the Gentiles” is a general way to describe the current period in God’s plan, when the Gentiles are prominent but will culminate in judgment on those nations.”[7] 

Bock does read his already-not yet views into the text at times.[8] 

            From a premillennial but not Dispensational side comes Craig Blomberg, who believes,

“that some interval of time must separate the destruction of Jerusalem from the complete fulfillment of all of God’s plans for Israel and the nations.”[9] 

This somewhat vague answer may be the best one can muster under the circumstances.  Still, there are a number of important cross-references which are due consideration.  Nearly everyone who comments on this verse relates it to Romans 11:25b; “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” 

            As with “the Times of the Gentiles” the Apostle Paul’s terminology appears without explanation but presupposes an agreed upon understanding.  In Paul’s case the fullness of the Gentiles is set in apposition to the restoration of Israel.  It assumes it.  It ought therefore to be possible to deduce a plausible meaning for both terms.  Again, it is not necessary to over-complicate matters.  The “fullness” (the normal Greek word is pleroma) of the Gentiles is clearly a terminal point, after which (“until”) the blindness of Israel will presumably be lifted.  In this view the “fullness of the Gentiles” is the completion of God’s present way of dealing with the Gentile powers in His Creation program.  And if there is to be a “completing” of this interaction with the Gentiles, it is surely not pushing the envelope to surmise that the period in which God is “filling” the Gentiles might be called “the Times of the Gentiles.”  Of course, we still have to try to discover just what that period covers, but the supposition looks to be relatively safe. 

            John Murray has argued that the verb eiserchomai (“has come in”) indicates entering the Kingdom of God and eternal life[10], and so he confidently asserts that “the fullness of the Gentiles” means that the Gentiles enter the Kingdom.  But the word erchomai usually means “enter” when it is used.  It does not suddenly take on a technical sense when its object is the Kingdom.  A theological interpretation is being forced onto the text.  The basic meaning is plain; in Romans 11:25 “the fullness of the Gentiles” concerns the completion of a program, after which there is a restoration of Israel.  Paul does not indicate whether this “completion” ends in joy or despair.  That is not where his thoughts are tending.  Murray has read his eschatology into the passage. 

            It seems to me to be reasonable to conclude that the “fullness of the Gentiles” of Romans 11:25 is the last part of “the Times of the Gentiles” of Luke 21:24.  On that basis the “Times of the Gentiles” probably signifies the period between the subsuming of Israel under foreign Gentile powers (Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Turkish, British) together with the loss of its kingly line.  Hence, Pentecost’s second definition in Thy Kingdom Come looks to be an accurate understanding of the phrase.


[1] Compare the call on creation to witness God’s judgment in Zechariah 12:1 and what we have said above concerning Isaiah 34:1. 

[2] “The period is one of gentile domination of the city, but a limit is set to it, namely the fulfilment of an allotted time.” – I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, 773.

[3] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981, 257.

[4] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, 315.  Pentecost goes on to adduce Daniel 2 and 7 which describe “the…prophetic outline of the course of the period.” (Ibid, 316-317). 

[5] J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises Throughout History, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1995, 115.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51 – 24:53, 1680. 

[7] Ibid, 1681. 

[8] Ibid, 1680, 1696 n. 51. 

[9] Craig L. Blomberg, A New Testament Theology, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2018, 587.

[10] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1982, Vol. 2, 93.