Life-Study of Matthewby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament there are two basic ministries that constitute the kingdom of God: the priesthood and the kingship. In the Bible there is also a third type of ministry, the ministry of the prophet. However, the prophetic ministry is not a basic ministry; rather, it is a supplement to the priesthood and the kingship. When either the priesthood or the kingship is weak, the prophets come in to strengthen it. According to the Old Testament, the priesthood was with the tribe of Levi. Eventually, the Old Testament priesthood consummated in John the Baptist, a descendant of this tribe. In like manner, Jesus was the consummation of the Old Testament kingship, which was with the tribe of Judah. Jesus came as a descendant of Judah to be the consummation of the kingship. On the one hand, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ terminated the Old Testament priesthood and kingship; on the other hand, they germinated the New Testament priesthood and kingship. In other words, they terminated the Old Testament dispensation and began the New Testament dispensation.
When the priesthood brings people to God and the kingship brings God to the people, there is the heavenly reign, the heavenly rule. This heavenly reign is the kingdom, which today is the proper church life. Today’s church life is the kingdom with the priesthood and the kingship. This church life will continue until the millennium. In the millennial kingdom there will still be the priesthood and the kingship. On the one hand, we, the overcomers, shall be priests and, on the other hand, we shall be kings. Thus, in the millennial kingdom, the priesthood and the kingship will be even stronger than they are today. They will maintain God’s kingdom on earth so that the King may gain the people and that the people may gain the King. After the millennium there will be no further need of the priesthood. In eternity there will be only the kingship because in the new heaven and new earth with the New Jerusalem everyone will be in the presence of God. At that time God will be with man. Thus, there will no longer be the need for the priesthood to bring the people to God. In eternity God’s presence will eliminate the priesthood. Nevertheless, the kingship will remain so that those in the New Jerusalem may reign over the nations surrounding the city. This is a summary of the Bible in the light of the priesthood and the kingship.
In the previous message we considered the recommender, John the Baptist. In this message we shall consider John’s message of recommendation.
John’s message of recommendation is short, but it is crucial and all-inclusive. Matthew 3:2 says, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” The first significant word in this verse is the word “repent.” John began his ministry with this word. To repent is to have a change of mind issuing in regret, to have a turn in purpose. In Greek the word translated repent means to have a change of mind. To repent is to have a change in our thinking, our philosophy, our logic. The life of fallen man is absolutely according to his thinking. Everything he is and does is according to his mind. When you were a fallen one, you were directed by your mind. Your mentality, logic, and philosophy governed your way of life. Before we were saved, we all were under the direction of our fallen mentality. We were far away from God, and our life was in direct opposition to His will. Under the influence of our fallen mentality, we went farther and farther astray from God. But one day we heard the preaching of the gospel telling us to repent, to have a turn in our thinking, philosophy, and logic.
This was just my experience when I was saved. I was like a young horse running in my own direction. Actually I was not taking my direction, but the Devil’s direction, for the Devil was directing me through my fallen mentality, driving me far away from God. But one day I heard the call to repent—to have a change in my philosophy, to have a change in my logic and thought. Praise the Lord, I underwent a great change! I was moving in one direction, but when I heard the call to repent, I made an about-face. I believe we all have made this kind of turn, which is called conversion. When we were converted, we turned our back upon our past and turned our face to God. This is what it means to repent, to experience a change of our mind.
Every ism is a philosophy that directs one’s life. Nearly every political party has an ism, and that ism is virtually a god. But we do not have an ism—we have the Lord. We have God. Formerly, we were under the direction of a certain ism, but now we are under the direction of God. Our mind has been radically changed. We used to be heading in a certain direction, but now we are heading in the opposite direction. We have had a turn in our thought, in our concept.
The second crucial word in verse 2 is kingdom. In the preaching of John the Baptist, repentance, as the opening of God’s New Testament economy, was to have a turn for the kingdom of the heavens. This indicates that God’s New Testament economy is focused on His kingdom. For this we should repent, change our mind, have a turn in our pursuit of life. The goal of our pursuit has been toward other things; now our pursuit must turn toward God and His kingdom, which is specifically and purposely called in Matthew the kingdom of the heavens (cf. Mark 1:15). The kingdom of the heavens, according to the context of the entire Gospel of Matthew, is different from the Messianic kingdom. The Messianic kingdom will be the restored kingdom of David (the rebuilt tabernacle of David—Acts 15:16), made up of the children of Israel, earthly and physical in nature; whereas the kingdom of the heavens is constituted of regenerated believers and is heavenly and spiritual.
In his message, John the Baptist told people to repent for the kingdom. He did not say to repent that we might go to heaven or even to obtain salvation. He said that we must repent for the kingdom. The kingdom denotes a kind of reign, rule. Before we were saved, we were not under any rule. If there had been no police force, government, or law courts to tell us what to do, we would have done whatever we liked. However, when we heard the preaching of the gospel, we turned from a condition of no rule to a condition full of rule. Thus, we are now in the kingdom. Before we were saved, we did not have a king. But after we turned to the Lord, He became our King. Now we are all under the rule of this King. With the King there is the kingship, and this kingship is the kingdom. Today we are in the kingdom of this King.
The third crucial word in verse 2 is heavens. John said to repent for the kingdom of the heavens. The term “the heavens,” a Hebrew idiom, does not refer to anything plural in nature; rather, it refers to the highest heaven, which according to the Bible is the third heaven, the heaven above the heaven. This third heaven is called the heavens. The kingdom of the heavens does not denote a kingdom in the air, but a kingdom above the air, a kingdom in the heaven above the heaven, where God’s throne is. In this kingdom there is the ruling, the reigning, of God Himself. Therefore, the kingdom of the heavens is the kingdom of God in the third heaven where He exercises His authority over everything created by Him. This kingdom of the heavens must come down to earth. This heavenly reign must descend to earth to be the authority over the earth.
According to John’s word in verse 2, “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” This clearly indicates that before the coming of John the Baptist, the kingdom of the heavens was not there. Even after his appearance, during his preaching, the kingdom of the heavens was still not there; it had only drawn near. At the time the Lord started His ministry and even at the time He sent His disciples to preach, the kingdom of the heavens had still not come (4:17; 10:7). Hence, in the first parable in chapter thirteen (vv. 3-9), the parable of the seed, which indicates the Lord’s preaching, the Lord did not say, “The kingdom of the heavens is like....” Not until the second parable, the parable of the tares (v. 24), which indicates the establishment of the church at the day of Pentecost, did the Lord say this. The fact that Matthew 16:18 and 19 use the terms the “church” and the “kingdom of the heavens” interchangeably proves that the kingdom of the heavens came when the church was established.
When John the Baptist came, the kingdom of the heavens had only drawn near. It was approaching, arriving, but it had not yet come. This proves that in the Old Testament there was no kingdom of the heavens. Even at the time of Moses and David the kingdom of the heavens was not there. John said that the kingdom of the heavens was on its way; he did not say that it had arrived. When the Lord Jesus began His ministry, He also said, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near” (4:17). This indicates that even when the Lord Jesus began His ministry, the kingdom of the heavens had still not arrived. In his message, John the Baptist told the people to repent for the kingdom of the heavens, which, at that time, was on the way. The kingdom of the heavens arrived in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. This means that it arrived at the very time the church came into existence. Today anyone who has a change in his philosophy and comes back to God will immediately be in the kingdom of the heavens. Hallelujah, we are in the kingdom of the heavens! We have a King and we are under His rule.
Many times the ruling of the King within us makes it unnecessary for us to be ruled by the policemen or by the law court. This inward King can put the attorneys out of a job. However, those who have not repented and come back to God are not under the King. Instead, they constantly violate the law. For this reason, a great many are summoned to the law court. But we, the kingdom people, are under the King of the kingdom of the heavens. This King has come into our being. At this very moment He is dwelling in our spirit. When He speaks to us, He mainly says one word—“no.” According to my experience, His favorite word is “no.” We have a ruling “no” within us. Thank the Lord for this little word, for it saves us from a great deal of trouble. The speaking of the inward “no” is the ruling of the King within. Perhaps today you have heard the King’s “no” a number of times. If the kingdom people do not care for this “no,” they will become backsliders. Because we are in the kingdom of the heavens, the King rules us mostly by speaking the word “no.”
Now let us consider how John the Baptist was able to bring others into the kingdom. John’s ministry was to bring others to God (Luke 1:16-17). John the Baptist, a genuine priest, was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). There is no doubt that as he grew from infancy to adulthood, to the age of thirty, he was continually immersed in the Holy Spirit. Because he was flooded and saturated with the Holy Spirit, he could be bold. It is a serious matter to stand against the current of the age. To do this requires a great deal of boldness. How could John the Baptist be so bold as to stand against the Judaistic religion and the Greco-Roman culture? He was bold because for thirty years he was being immersed in the Holy Spirit. He was a person thoroughly soaked with the Spirit. Therefore, when he came out to minister, he came out in the Spirit and with power. Yes, he wore camel’s hair as a sign of his repudiation of the old dispensation. But that was merely an outward sign. There was also reality within him, and that reality was the Spirit and the power. The reality in John was not just the presence of God, but also the Spirit of God.
John was immersed, saturated, and soaked with the Holy Spirit. Spontaneously this caused him to be a great magnet. He could be a magnet because he himself had been fully charged. Year after year and day after day, he was charged with the Spirit. Therefore, in his ministry, he was a powerful magnet. With John there was the Spirit and the attracting power. Therefore, as Luke 1:16 says, he turned many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. (The Lord here is the equivalent of Jehovah.) The fact that John turned many of the Israelites to the Lord indicates that the nation of Israel had turned away from God. If they had not turned away from Him, they would not have needed John the Baptist to turn them back. Even those priests who served God in the temple by lighting the lamps and burning the incense had turned from God and were far away from Him. Elsewhere in the New Testament we are told that many priests turned to God (Acts 6:7). Thus, even the priests, the ones who served God, needed a turn to God. Therefore, John the Baptist was used to turn many to the Lord.
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