Episode 20: Christ's Kingdom- The Disciples' Perspective

Peace to Live By Episode 20: Christ’s Kingdom- The Disciples’ Perspective - Daniel Litton
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[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       In the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were a series of events that took place that lead to Jesus’ crucifixion, and then ultimately, his resurrection. Now, in the Old Testament, God had promised the Nation of Israel, his chosen people, that he would establish an everlasting kingdom on the earth for them. Therefore, the mindset of the Jewish people, at the time of Jesus, was that the Messiah would come and establish this kingdom. So, the Jews were constantly looking for the Messiah to come. Some even believed that the Messiah was John the Baptist, but he made it clear that he was not the Christ. But he did bare witness that Jesus was the Christ when he saw him. We even read in John 1 that “One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ)” (John 1:40-41, ESV).

       If you'll remember, Jesus taught his disciples how they should pray, on more than one occasion, by reciting to them the Lord's Prayer. In the prayer, he told his disciples to pray for God's kingdom to come. Remember, it says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, ESV). Undoubtedly, the disciples wanted this kingdom to come. They believed Jesus was going to be the king. One time Jesus even asked the disciples who they thought he was, and “Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). You see, the disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah, and that he was going to reign as king in Jerusalem, over Israel. The angel Gabriel had told Mary, before she became pregnant with Jesus, that, “”He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”” (Luke 1:32-33, ESV).

       When Jesus called his disciples—that is, called them to follow him in his earthly ministry—they believed that he was the Christ, but that he was going to establish an earthly kingdom at that time. But Jesus made it clear to them that this trip to the earth was not for the kingdom for the Nation of Israel, but rather for his crucifixion and resurrection. But they didn’t understand this. The following is recorded in Matthew 16:

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:21-23, ESV).

So, Peter had his mind on earthly things. He wasn’t thinking about what God was actually doing through Jesus, but he was thinking about what he wanted to happen. He was hoping to have a place in Jesus’ earthly kingdom, which he thought was going to be established very shortly.

       And Peter’s hopes were encouraged all the more when one day Jesus made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. John recorded the event in John 12, in which it states the following:

“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” (John 12:12-16, ESV)

But the disciples believed that this event was the beginning of Christ taking Jerusalem and becoming king of Israel.

       This can be further seen when the disciples took swords, after the Passover Supper, the Last Supper, as they were leaving with Jesus. Luke records the following in his Gospel: “He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough”” (Luke 22:36-38, ESV). So, the disciples thought they were going out for battle. They believed that Jesus was going to take his seat as king. The disciples knew they had found the Messiah, Jesus, and they thought now the time had come to establish his earthly kingdom.

       Fast forward with me to the scene at the Mount of Olives shortly thereafter. Here, Jesus is standing with his disciples, and the band of soldiers with the chief priest and Pharisees—the Jewish leaders at the time—were coming to arrest Jesus, just as he had earlier prophesied. Luke again reports the following. He is talking about Jesus here:

“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:47-51, ESV)

The disciples realized what was going to happen, and they thought the time had come from them to fight back. But they didn’t realize that God’s earthly kingdom was still a long ways off, at least in earthly time. First, Jesus had to die for the sins of the whole world, and be raised again to life. But they didn’t understand that at the time.

       I think often times in our own lives God is working, and we think he’s about to do something. He does do something, but it’s not the something we thought he was going to do. Or, maybe he has let us in on something that is going to happen, but hasn’t said when it’s going to happen. God works in mysterious ways (see Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-34). We should not be overconfident and do our own thing, like Peter did with drawing the sword and injuring the servant (see 1 Corinthians 10:12, Galatians 5:26). We have to wait for the Lord’s help. If we don’t, we may end up in a mess. God is leading, we just have to follow. We need to be strong and brave, and wait for his help (see Psalm 27:14).

       Peter ended up striking the person with a sword, probably in an attempt to kill the person, since he was aiming at his head (see John 18:10). But Jesus, even in the midst of being unjustly arrested, didn’t fight back. He entrusted himself to God in the midst of the terribly unjust circumstances (see 1 Peter 2:23). And I think we can all take a lesson out of this. When we are faced with situations in life that aren’t fair, we need to learn to trust in God, as God is always in control (see Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, 1 Corinthians 10:13). This is much easier said than done. It requires constant submission, or yielding, to God (see Romans 6:12-14, 1 Corinthians 9:27). Sometimes we just don’t understand why things happen in our lives, but we can know for sure that God is in control. He allowed whatever it is to happen, and he will lead us through it (see Psalm 23:4).

       After Jesus was arrested, his disciples deserted him. They fled (see Matthew 26:56). Undoubtedly, this had to break Jesus’ heart, as they had all earlier at dinner swore they would die with him if necessary (see Matthew 26:35). But push came to shove, and the disciples didn’t keep their word. Peter and John did follow Jesus and the crowd from a distance, but they really had deserted him. They hadn’t been arrested with him. They hadn’t stood up for Jesus. So, John was able to get himself and Peter inside the courtyard to watch what would happen to Jesus (see John 18:15-16). And, as I am sure many of you know the story, Peter ends up denying Jesus multiple times. The rooster crows, and Jesus’ earlier prophecy about Peter’s denial for him becomes fulfilled. And as Luke penned about Peter: “And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62, ESV).

       I am sure that many of us today in our lives have failed someone or a group of people. Perhaps we promised we’d do something, only to fail at doing it. Or, perhaps we promised we wouldn’t do something, only to do it (see James 5:12). Maybe we didn’t stand up for a friend when he or she needed help, or when others were attacking that person. Maybe we let the person burn at the mercy of others (see James 4:17). Whatever the case, the good news here is that while Peter did deny Jesus, he later found restitution with him. Jesus forgave him, and their relationship was restored to an even better place than before (see John 21:15-19). And indeed, Jesus will forgive us when we fail ourselves and fail others, no matter how bitter or sorrowful we may feel (see 1 John 1:9).

       And so Jesus would go through the fury of unfair and unjust trials (see Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18-19). The group of chief priests and Pharisees twisted what Christ had really done, and they sought for him to receive the death penalty based on false accusations (see Matthew 26:59). And they also didn’t believe his own testimony when he told the truth. You see, they had already decided what they thought about him—that he was hillbilly from Galilee who wasn’t worthy of anything good, and certainly by all means wasn’t worthy of his claim to be the Messiah. They had already made up their minds about him, and anything he would have said wouldn’t have mattered. They already perceived him as guilty no matter what.

       And so Christ was crucified, but because God allowed it (see Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19). It was actually God’s plan from the very beginning. Christ was dying for the sins of the whole world, even though the people thought they were putting him to death for crimes committed (see 1 John 2:2). We don’t really know if all the disciples were at the crucifixion. We know John was there (see John 19:26). They probably weren’t there because Jesus dying on the cross represented the totally demolition of the plans they had had. They thought he was the Christ, and that he was going to reign in Jerusalem as king. They likely saw the death of Jesus on the cross as the end all. They were likely devastated. Even though Jesus had told them what was going to happen beforehand, they still didn’t get it. And they had even seen a person rise from the dead, after being dead for four days (see John 11:44). But they didn’t get it. And I think if we had been part of Jesus' earthly ministry, we probably wouldn't have got it either.

       As the disciples sat and pouted, Mary Magdalene came back from the tomb of Jesus with some interesting and confusing news. Let's look at what John says about what happened. Turn with me to John 20, and let's start at verse 1:

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (John 20:1-10, ESV)

Both Peter and John hurried to the tomb based on what Mary had told them. One has to wonder what they were thinking as they ran there. But it is interesting how John states that the disciples had not understood that Jesus had to rise from the dead until they saw the tomb empty. It's not that they understood beforehand and just didn't believe. The text says they didn't even understand that it had to happen that way.

       One of my favorite scenes in the whole New Testament is when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden outside the tomb. Out of all the people Jesus could appear to first, he chose Mary Magdalene. Jesus loved Mary, and you have to understand that this was epic for the time. Women were often treated lesser at the time, but Jesus would have none of that. Now let's pick up on some more of the passage. Let's start in verse 11:

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11-18, ESV)

I can just picture the stone being rolled away, and Jesus standing there. I think the women who believed in him, like Mary, had more faith than the men (see John 11:27). After all, they were the ones going to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body (see John Mark 16:1). The men were sitting at home reveling in their devastation. Mark notes that the disciples were mourning and weeping over what had happened (see Mark 16:10). But Mary told the disciples that Jesus had appeared to her.

       But as John records, Jesus appeared to the disciples on several occasion thereafter (see John 20, 21). Thomas finally got to see him, and he believed (see John 20:28). As there was no kingdom being established, though, John records that some of them went back their old occupations before they followed Jesus (see John 21). That is, they went back to being fishermen. Apparently, since the kingdom hadn't been established yet, they didn't know what else to do. I don't think that it was that they thought the kingdom wouldn't be established, but that they just didn't know when. But while they were working one day, Jesus appears to them on the shore, and he helps them to catch some fish. And he carries on a conversation with Peter.

       Right before Jesus was to go back to heaven—for I don't think the disciples knew he was going to go back to heaven—they ask him about the kingdom. Luke records the following:

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11, ESV)

The disciples still thought Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on the earth after his resurrection. And they were right, in a way. He was going to establish it, just not right there and then. The angels assured the disciples that Jesus would be back to establish that kingdom.

       Fast forward at least a couple thousand years later. Jesus does return to the earth and establish his kingdom, after taking out his enemies—those who don't agree with him (see Revelation 19, 20). The disciples finally get the kingdom they've been waiting for. Jerusalem becomes the capital of the world, and the disciples reign with Christ for a thousand years. They finally receive what they had been waiting for for such a long time. But they get even more than that. John records for us in Revelation 21:14 about the New Jerusalem, after God creates the new heaven and new earth: “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14, ESV). So, not only does Jesus not leave his disciples hanging, but he gives them even more than they could have ever imagined. They have a place in human history—one that never can be taken away from them.

       In closing today, perhaps you've been listening to what I've been talking about, about how the disciples were hoping for Jesus to establish his kingdom, only to find it was still far away into the future. Perhaps you can relate to the disciples. Perhaps you were hoping that something in your life would happen—or that God would do something in and through you—only to find yourself still waiting. If you'll remember, Jesus taught his disciples that they should keep praying always and never give up on prayer, and he told them the Parable of the Persistent Widow so they would remember (see Luke 18:1-8). God doesn't forget his people who are waiting.

       But perhaps maybe what I've said today has been new to you, or maybe you've heard it many times before, but you have never believed on Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Remember, God wants everyone to come to know him—no matter who you are. He offers his free gift of salvation and eternal life to whoever will believe in him. He died on the cross as your perfect substitute and rose from the dead defeating the power of sin and Satan altogether. Jesus can set you free from your sins today, and he can also give you freedom from their stronghold. You don't have to keep living in bondage today. No matter what you've done—all sin can be forgiven through Jesus' sacrifice on your behalf on the cross.

       Being at peace with God is critical today. You don't want to leave this earth without that peace. Don't think you're smarter than God today. No one—no matter how smart you think you are, no matter how much credit you give yourself—can escape from God's wrath in the future apart from Christ. God doesn't want to have to send anyone to hell for their sins against him. Don't choose hell today. Don't choose to keep your sin today. Turn from your sin, and accept Jesus' perfect sacrifice on your behalf. He did it for you, so you can truly be free. No one is really free apart from the freedom that God offers through Christ. Oh, you may think you're free, but you haven't experienced true freedom until your in a right and everlasting relationship with God, the Creator of all things.

       If you would like to accept Jesus today as your personal Lord and Savior, then follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I am not right with you. I have sinned my whole life, living doing things the way I have wanted to do them. But today I accept your free gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus. I believe Jesus did die on the cross for my sins, and that he rose from the dead and is back in heaven with you. I give my life back to you, Father, and want you to make me new. I want to be like Jesus. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

       Let's pray:

Father, thank you for the opportunity to revisit accounts from your Word of things that actually happened—that really took place in the past. It's so encouraging and refreshing to consider these things anew today. I pray for those who have just accepted Jesus. I pray that you would lead them in their new faith and make them become like Jesus in their lives. I pray for those who still haven't accepted the Truth. I pray that they would take you seriously and accept it, Lord, for no one ever knows when the end has come. Bless us today, Father, and make us become more like Jesus. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton