Matthew 11:12 (NIV84) From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
Luke 16:16 (ESV) “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.
The Kingdom and The Church
Today the distinction between The Kingdom and The Church has been lost. Though lip service may be given, the reality is that evangelism is predominately church recruitment, church attendance the evidence of being born again, church activity the seal of maturity.
The gospel proclaimed by Jesus and His apostles was not good news of salvation, though salvation is definitely a result of the gospel. And naturally to those who are delivered it is very good news. It is not good news about blessings or about relevant, contemporary church services. The gospel of the NT is the gospel of the Kingdom.
Matthew 3:2 (ESV) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:17 (ESV) From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 6:33 (ESV) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Acts 8:12 (ESV) But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Acts 20:25 (ESV) And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
To be ‘born again’ is to gain entry into The Kingdom.
John 3:3 (ESV) Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The Kingdom, as the term suggests, implies the rule and reign of a King – Jesus Christ (1Cor 15:20-28 essential reading to understand the advancing Kingdom). Those in His Kingdom; the people of His Kingdom, are those whose allegiance is to the King of Kings.
In its simplest form, Church is the people of the Kingdom meeting together.
1 Corinthians 11:18 (ESV) For, in the first place, when you come together as a church…
God’s people gathered as the church, is greater than a gathering of individuals; Church is more than the sum of all its parts. Together, it becomes a dynamic body, the unique mix of gifts and talents, coordinated as one in Christ (1Cor 12:12-31).
Synagogue or temple
The temple was THE place of sacrifice and worship. It was the physical location that symbolised God’s abiding presence: Under the old covenant the temple is where God dwelt. The NT reveals the typology of the temple. It was a shadow of the reality that was to come (Col 2:17). The temple of the new covenant is the people of God, citizens of His Kingdom.
1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (NIV84) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
It is interesting that by Jesus day the synagogue had greater emphasis than the temple. People would go to the temple but it was the synagogue that held power over the people.
When Jesus cleared the temple He referred to its significance as ‘God’s temple: “It is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matt 21:13) but concerning synagogues, the gospels says Jesus taught in “their synagogues” (Mat 4:23; Luke 4:15). Even in His own home town we are told “he taught them in their synagogue”. Though synagogues had been established as ‘teaching houses’, and once served a valid purpose, they had become places of control and fear, usurping the significance of the temple and became ‘the‘ religious power base.
John 9:22 (ESV) (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)
John 12:42 (ESV) Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;
When did the synagogues become the place of forgiveness and deliverance? How did the rulers of the synagogues become the power holders of people’s access to God and to deliverance?
The rulers of the synagogues became judges and the synagogues places of accusation (Lk 12:11); they judge people’s work based on membership of the synagogue (Lk 13:13-14). The synagogue was a place of self-advancement and justification (Lk 11:43) Jesus warned that synagogues would be places of oppression (Mk 13:9).
And finally, in Revelation they are referred to as ‘a/the synagogue of satan’ (Rev 2:9; 3:9).
And so by Jesus time a place established by men as a place of meeting for teaching etc became a religious organisation, ruled by political men, power-seekers establishing themselves as statesmen, judging God’s people. Those who participated in their synagogue were good, those who questioned the doctrine of the synagogue or challenged its authority or simply by accident crossed its rulers were judged and condemned.
Jesus was scathing in His assessment of what the synagogue and its rulers had become:
Matthew 23:16–24 (ESV) “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
The temple was a place of God’s presence, of sacrifice and forgiveness, or righteousness and mercy, it was replaced by the synagogues, places of man’s rule, of judgement and condemnation, self-righteousness and aggrandisement. A place that offered acceptance, not to seekers of the Kingdom and righteousness, but for this who are members, and judgement and persecution for those who seek the Kingdom apart from seeking their approval.
Synagogue and Legal Religious Entity
What is called church today is not a gathering of people of the Kingdom but a legal religious entity. It consists of rules, by-laws, statements of faith, buildings, programs and religious activity that the faithful adherents attend. These entities are legitimised by government, have legal status, tax benefits and notable structure.
Church in the NT was simply a gathering of the people of the Kingdom. The people gathered together in fellowship. It had no legal status, no rules, no by-laws or statements of faith, it was deliberate gathering of and commitment to the teaching of the apostles and pursuit of the knowledge of God in Christ. They met in homes and in the temple porches, no buildings, programs or religious activity. They met together to share the ‘Lord’s supper’ or love feast, to prayer, fellowship and praise (Acts 2:42).
Throughout the ‘so-called’ history of the church we see from Constantine onwards, a religious power base, no different to what the synagogues had become. Throughout this history there have been people of the Kingdom breaking free of theses ‘synagogues of satan’ seeking to return to the place of the temples freedom. To become the people of God in whom the Spirit dwells.
Revelation is not politically correct nor trying not to offend when it describes these institutions as synagogues of satan. John the baptist was not being polite when he called the power holders of this pseudo-jewish religion “a brood of vipers” (Mat3:7) Jesus was not being a statesman when he called the leaders of these houses of satan, blind leading the blind.
Matthew 23 is a clear diatribe of Jesus opinion of these men and their synagogues:
Matthew 23:4 (ESV) They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Matthew 23:13 (ESV) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
In Revelation 3:9 Jesus says that “those… who say they are Jews (citizens of The Kingdom) are not”. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus warns that just saying you are a Christian doesn’t make it so. He says that many will say they have done things in His name to which He will reply, “depart from me, I never knew you”.
Legal religious entities, like the synagogues of Jesus day, have become pseudo-christian religions, anti-christ in nature as they exist to usurp the Kingdom. That’s not to say all ‘churches’ are, but throughout history, if we have eyes to see (ears to hear the Spirit), we will note that gatherings of God’s people eventually become politicised – it was power holders in the Christian community that convinced Constantine to embrace Christianity and conquer the world. Through his efforts the name of Christianity went from persecuted minority to imperial religion. It became everything Christ opposed – thus ‘anti-christ.
And so, throughout ‘church history’ the people of the Kingdom, the church of Jesus Christ, have been persecuted by the synagogues of satan, pseudo-christian religion in the guise of legitimacy given by legal authority from the state. Constantine established it and so today even well intentioned Christians seek “caesar’s” legitimacy on their endeavours.
The conflict of the Kingdom is not a conflict against the world but against anti-christ. This fight has existed from the apostles days.
1 John 2:18–19 (ESV) Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Pseudo-christian Religion V The People of the Kingdom
Pseudo-christian religion has buildings called church, it is ruled by power-holders (pharisees), appointed by men, validated by theological degrees and letters of recommendation.
People of the Kingdom are the church when they meet for prayer, teaching, sharing the love feast in remembrance of Christ. They gather in homes, cafes, parks etc. They are led by elders, given as gifts to the church gatherings to teach etc.
PSEUDO-CHRISTIAN RELIGION PEOPLE OF THE KINGDOM (SUBJECTS of)
- Seeks affirmation from society Seeks affirmation from Christ alone
- Ruled by power-holders Ruled by Christ
- Rulers seek control and recognition Leaders seek Christ
- Speak to itching ears Speak Kingdom and warning
- Promotes its own truth Promotes Jesus alone as The Truth
- Judges those outside never itself Never judges outsiders only self
Many people, who long for Jesus appearing, sense these religious organisations called church are just not ‘it’. Its very function and existence seems to contradict what we sense The Church of Jesus Christ should be. The rulers of this synagogues proclaim a message that Paul says is really no gospel at all. (Gal 1:7 NIV84)
This has certainly been my experience. The more I seek Jesus Christ and His Kingdom the more I see within me the trappings of the pseudo-christian religion of western society and the more I rebel against it. Like a free radical, I find myself in opposition to the patterns of legal religious entities. I don’t seek union with them. I seek Christ and His Kingdom. I seek to be living in His Kingdom conformed to the pattern of His people gathered together, whatever its form, wherever it gathers, believing that only there will Jesus Christ be manifest in our midst…
Matthew 18:20 (ESV) For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
The tragedy is that we have been caught in the lie that these legal entities called church are in fact the only legitimate forms of church and we fear, just as the jews of the synagogues feared, that somehow these synagogues, these rulers have power over our souls. That to be seperate from them is to be seperate from God.
We were raised to believe that if a group is not legitimised by the government it is not really church. If we meet together in various locations in a non-systematic way and our meetings are not sanctioned by state registration, then it is an illegitimate group and not a church. (The SSM controversy is evidence of that. The institutional church is horrified as though marriage is a state sanctioned contract rather than a covenant established by God and before God.)
The New Covenant church however is the people of the Kingdom of God under the authority of His Christ (Rev 12:10). They meet together from house to house to break bread, and for prayer and for instruction etc. The elders are not ‘carded’ ministers recognised by an ordaining body but gifts of Christ recognised for the gift of Christ that they are (Jn 10:4; 1Jn 2:20,27).