The Kingdom of God: What It Is, Who It’s For, How It Spreads
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Acts 19:8–19:10
Global Missions Month
September is the month we emphasize global missions. In one sense, Christians are always on mission. We make disciples locally wherever we live, work, study, play. But local ministries[i] should never lose sight of global missions. When we talk about missions, we’re talking about making disciples where the gospel isn’t known at all, where there are no Christians gathering and giving and going. PeopleGroups.org estimates that 3,175 people groups remain unengaged. That means no missionaries, no church planting strategy. Nobody taking them the gospel; and without the gospel they’re perishing.[ii]
When we talk about missions, we’re talking about engaging these people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Acts serves us well when discussing missions. The risen Jesus advances his kingdom through his Spirit-empowered people spreading the gospel to all nations—that’s Acts in a nutshell. It began in Jerusalem. It spread to Judea and Samaria. And since chapter 13, we’ve watched the gospel spread to the ends of the earth—Syria, Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Galatia, Phrygia, Macedonia, Achaia.
Now Paul spreads the gospel in Asia, in Ephesus. We start where we finished in July, Acts 19:8. If you’re using a pew Bible, you can find that on page 928. In 16:6 the Holy Spirit forbid Paul from preaching in Asia. But now the Spirit opens a wide door for effective work (1 Cor 16:9). It’s one of Paul’s longest stays in a city. For several years he preaches Christ in Ephesus, the most happenin’ place in Asia. Acts 19:8…
8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
We won’t get beyond verse 10 today. That’s largely because I want to develop a theme Luke mentions. Then I want to relate that theme to our own participation in missions. The theme is the kingdom of God—you see it in verse 8. I want to answer three questions: what is the kingdom of God; how does the kingdom of God spread; who’s the kingdom of God for? The verses help answer those questions in part. But we also need the broader testimony of Acts as well as the whole of Scripture to answer them fully.
What Is The Kingdom of God?
Let’s begin with our first question: what is the kingdom of God? It says in verse 8 that Paul was “persuading them about the kingdom of God.” What’s that? Is that a specific place? Can we travel to this kingdom? Are we looking for castles?
Luke assumes we already know what he means. He’s mentioned the kingdom before. In 14:22 it’s something we enter, but only through many tribulations. In 8:12 the kingdom brings with it good news. We also find in 1:3 that the kingdom stood at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. But even these assume we know what he means. That’s because Luke developed the kingdom of God in his Gospel. If you read Luke’s Gospel, you find the following characteristics about the kingdom of God.
The kingdom fulfills all the hopes & promises of the Old Testament
To begin, the kingdom of God fulfills all the hopes and promises of the Old Testament. Numerous places in the Old Testament refer to God’s kingship. Because he created all things, God is King over everything and everyone. Psalm 29:10, “The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” Psalm 47:7, “God is king of all the earth.”
Daniel 4:34-35, “…his dominion is an everlasting dominion…his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”
In the beginning, Adam and Eve acknowledged God’s rule. God even created them to image his rule.[iii] Their lives—rightly ordered under God—pointed to his glory as the true King. But when tempted to rule their own lives, Adam and Eve gave in; and sin entered the world.[iv] Sin is rebellion against God’s rule. Ever since that day, the nations have raged against God’s rule (Ps 2:1).
Never does this mean God lost control as King. Quite the opposite. God proves his kingship by judging sin. God banishes humanity from his presence.[v] God curses the world with disease and death.[vi] Confusion and chaos wreck our relationships.[vii] God even promises to judge and exclude all evil from his creation one day.[viii]
But there’s also a complementary way God proves his kingship in the Old Testament; and that’s by redemption. God aims to establish his heavenly rule on earth, to bring peace to the chaos, to heal all that’s broken, to replace the evil with good. A new reality on earth. But even more amazing—he’d also redeem a people to live in it. He wouldn’t wipe out all rebels, though he had the right and power to do so. In mercy, he would save some and make them citizens of his new world order.
Shadows of this kingdom exist throughout the Old Testament. God prefigures this kingdom with Noah, then Abraham, then Israel, then David. But all these eras point forward to another. The ultimate kingdom hope was tied to only One who would reign on David’s throne forever. Isaiah 9:7, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
With this King would come wisdom and might—Isaiah 11:2. With this King would come righteousness—Isaiah 11:4. With this King would also come a divine reversal of the curse. Isaiah 35:6 anticipates the lame leaping like the deer. Isaiah 61:1 says the Spirit would anoint him to bring good news to the poor and bind up the brokenhearted. To encounter this King, would be to encounter the rule of God itself setting all things right in the world.
Jesus is the King who brings the rule of God on earth
Jesus then enters the picture in Luke’s Gospel. The angel tells Mary that Jesus would be the one to take David’s throne. Luke 1:33, “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David…and of his kingdom there will be no end.” In other words, Jesus is the King who brings the rule of God on earth. All the Old Testament hopes depend on his arrival and his work.
Jesus starts his ministry, how? Preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.[ix] He starts healing people, casting out demons, and raising the dead to prove that his kingdom restores all that sin has ruined. The kingdom comes near because the King has arrived.[x] He says in Luke 11:20, “If it’s by the finger of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” God’s rule manifests itself in the presence of Jesus. Diseases heal, demons flee, death releases, disciples bow. Why? Jesus is the true King who brings God’s rule on earth.
The way Jesus establishes his kingdom, though, isn’t through military power and royal pageantry. As Luke’s Gospel unfolds, it becomes evident that Jesus establishes God’s kingdom by dying on a cross and rising from the dead. His death and resurrection are how he defeats the power of sin and death that dominate those he loves. In Luke 4, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he’d only bow. But Jesus refuses. Jesus obeys his Father’s will. A cross will win him the nations. Jesus’ death and resurrection are how he makes the rebels into citizens.
The kingdom is upside-down and already-not-yet
But his death and resurrection also make Jesus’ kingdom rather unique. For starters, Jesus’ kingdom is upside-down. Normally, the rich run kingdoms. But Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Normally, the powerful run kingdoms. But Jesus says, “Let the children come to me…for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).
Normally, greatness means putting others down, lording your position over them. But Jesus says, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26). Why? Because that images the way Jesus saved us and made us his citizens. He was the greatest King, but became Servant of all. It’s upside-down to the way the world normally operates.
His kingdom is also inside-out. Luke’s Gospel shows how the Pharisees observe the law externally but neglect the heart. They clean the outside of the cup, but inside they’re full of greed and wretchedness (Luke 11:39). Many people live the same way today, thinking good external behavior somehow gets them into the kingdom.
Never. What does Jesus tell Nicodemus? “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The cross says we need our sin forgiven. The resurrection says we need to become new creations. We need new hearts to enter his kingdom. Only then does our outward behavior truly honor the King.
Jesus’ kingdom is also already-not-yet. In one sense, the kingdom already arrived with Jesus’ first coming. In Luke 10, the disciples announce that the kingdom had come upon them (Luke 10:9, 11).[xi] Same idea appears in Acts 1:6-8. The disciples ask Jesus if he was restoring the kingdom to Israel yet. But Jesus then teaches how the kingdom would come first in the gift of the Holy Spirit and the spread of the gospel to all nations. For now, the kingdom isn’t a place to go see. The kingdom is present wherever God’s rule in Jesus manifests itself among believers.
At the same time, the kingdom is not yet fully present. In Luke 22:18, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper as a sign of the kingdom still to come: “…I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Or, Luke 13:29, “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” In other words, even though we get glimpses of God’s rule in Jesus and in the church, the fullness of God’s rule on earth awaits a future day.
So we might describe the kingdom of God like this. The kingdom of God refers to God’s rule manifesting itself on earth in Jesus Christ. It has stages—it’s promised in the Old Testament; it’s inaugurated in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; it’s present in the church; it’s consummated at Jesus’ return. But essentially, it’s God’s rule manifesting itself on earth in Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of God is announced
Until Jesus returns the kingdom of God is announced. That’s where you and I fit in. The book of Acts is the kingdom announced by the church.
First sermon in Acts 2, Peter announces that Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God. The King is in his place of authority to establish God’s final rule on earth—here’s proof, he poured out his Spirit. Acts 3, a lame man of forty years, healed in Jesus’ name. What’s that about? Peter says, God glorified his Servant Jesus. The King is on his throne and just gave you a sneak-peak of what his kingdom is about—the lame will leap like the deer in his kingdom. Philip announces the good news of the kingdom in Acts 8.
You can imagine Paul explaining this stuff too, can’t you? They expected a Messiah with great military power.[xii] But Paul would say, “No, look here in Isaiah 53; he first had to humble himself to death.” They expected the kingdom immediately, to wipe out all the bothersome Gentiles.[xiii] But Paul would say, “No, the kingdom must first be announced to the Gentiles.” They expected automatic inclusion; after all they’re Jews.[xiv] But Paul would say, “No, no, you need a new heart to enter.”
The kingdom is announced in Acts. Beloved, if the King has come; if the establishment of God’s rule on earth has begun; if the way has been opened by Jesus for rebels to enter the kingdom, then we have some good news to announce, don’t we?
How Does the Kingdom of God Spread?
Which leads to our second question: how does the kingdom of God spread? Several clues answer this question. Verse 8, “for three months [he] spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them…” Verse 9, “[he] took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.” Verse 10, “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
What’s the answer? The kingdom spreads through Christians entering people’s lives and announcing the kingdom. Keep in mind, this isn’t just Paul announcing the kingdom. Sure, he was as an apostle. Sure, he had some unique freedoms. But others were announcing the kingdom too. Going back to 18:19, it’s also Aquila and Pricilla. In 18:25 it’s also Apollos. Colossians 1:7 implies that Epaphras was sharing Christ in Asia. Colossians 2:1 speaks of Laodicea. Paul hadn’t been there. Yet they too heard the gospel.
What’s the point? When verse 10 says, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord,” that’s not just because of Paul. It was the result of Paul announcing the kingdom to others, who then announced it others, who then announced it to others, and so on. That’s how the mission works. We make disciples of Jesus, who then make disciples of Jesus, who then make disciples of Jesus. The kingdom spreads by telling others about our King, what he did for us, and what he’s doing in the world.
Now, I’m not saying the kingdom’s growth is dependent on us. If you choose to say nothing about the kingdom, you won’t hinder its growth. You just won’t be included when it comes. Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory” (Luke 9:26). So you won’t be hindering its growth. But you will be forfeiting the treasure.
God doesn’t need us to spread his kingdom. But in his grace, he allows us to participate in it. It’s a privilege to announce Jesus’ kingdom. It’s the greatest privilege in all the universe to belong to his kingdom. There’s no greater joy than to know the King of heaven and earth. That’s our motivation to speak. Joy in his kingdom!
Think how animated people get at sporting events. I mean, Game 5 of last year’s World Series was insane. Seven home-runs, six of which were game-tying homeruns, back and forth scoring, bottom of the 10th inning the Astros pull off the win. You don’t have to muster up energy or boldness to shout—you explode with celebration. Complete strangers are hugging each other and saying “Did you see that?!” It’s easy to speak. Why? Your heart is compelled by something you perceive is amazing!
That’s how we announce the kingdom—only, the Game 5 win is nothing compared to what our King has achieved for us. It’s nothing! Once rebels. Now saved from condemnation. Forgiveness of all sins. Freedom from a guilty conscience. Made beautiful in God’s sight. Purchased to belong. Adopted into his family. Enabled to love. Heirs of the world. Assurance of resurrection bodies. Will reign with Jesus on the new earth. Knowing life in its fullest. Joy eternally increasing. Beholding the King face to face. The light of his countenance making us like him.
Come on, brothers and sisters! When you see those kingdom realities as they really are, there’s plenty to talk about! There’s so much glory to offer others in Jesus. So let me encourage you to look for opportunities to speak about the kingdom, and be faithful in them. As Paul models for us, speak the gospel regularly into the lives of others. The kingdom spreads to others by announcing the good news of Jesus. When people believe the gospel, the Holy Spirit reorders their life under the rule of God. The rule of God becomes manifest in their desires, deeds, and relationships.
Who Is The Kingdom of God For?
Now, not all listeners believed Paul’s message. Verse 9 says that “some became stubborn [i.e., they hardened their hearts] and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation.” What does Paul do? It says, “he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.” Tyrannus is a Gentile. Paul enters a Gentile lecture hall and reasons daily.
That’s very significant. It answers who the kingdom of God is for? Repeatedly, we’ve encountered a pattern in Paul’s mission. With each city, he offers the kingdom to Jews first. When they largely reject it, he then goes to the Gentiles—not exclusively but primarily.[xv] That’s what happens again in verse 9.
What should we make of this pattern? It certainly shows that the spread of the gospel won’t be hindered by Jewish unbelief. God’ll take the gospel elsewhere. He’ll advance his kingdom among others. But more specifically we need to understand this pattern in light of Paul’s teaching in 13:47. That’s the first place Paul shifts to the Gentiles; and he explains why by quoting Isaiah 49:6—“I’ve made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Isaiah 49 recognizes that the Jews hold a privileged place in God’s redemption story. But that same redemption story includes God extending his salvation beyond Israel to the nations through a particular Servant, Jesus Christ. And get this, in Isaiah 49 that extension would happen in the face of Israel largely rejecting the Servant.
The Servant’s mission wasn’t going to be smooth; it’s frustrating. The Servant cries in Isaiah 49, “I’ve labored in vain; I’ve spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” But then God responds, “It’s too small a thing to bring back the preserved of Israel; I’ll make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In other words, “Your work isn’t vain; I’m bringing the nations through you!”
Then all this is fulfilled in Jesus. He’s the light of revelation to the Gentiles—Luke 2:25-32. Jesus is the faithful Servant sent to bring Israel back to God. He comes to his own people; the majority reject him. But once he dies and rises again, he extends salvation to the nations. He says, “Go…and make disciples of all nations.” He says, “you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”
The reason Paul goes to the hall of Tyrannus is that he’s extending the gospel beyond Israel to the nations just as Isaiah foretold. Even more, it shows that Jesus the Servant is alive in Paul continuing the same mission he started. That mission includes all nations. Who’s the kingdom for? The kingdom is for Jew and Gentile alike (all peoples!) who trust in King Jesus to save them. Whoever you are—if you bow your knee to Jesus, and bring your life beneath his rule, the kingdom is yours!
That answer affects our movement. Our movement isn’t come-and-see; it’s go and tell. Our movement is outward, pushing into new regions, crossing cultures to new peoples. No restrictions! No limits! No matter the background, no matter the ethnicity, no matter the economic status, no matter the region—our God commands everybody to enter his kingdom through Jesus Christ. Therefore, so should we.
In order to do so, though, we must go to them. Yes, we’ll encounter languages and accents and customs we’re not used to. We’ll face social expectations and communication barriers that are difficult to overcome. We may even face various fears when entering places and environments less familiar to us. We’ll risk being misunderstood; and our words may even lead to great suffering. But if the kingdom is for all peoples, who are we to let fear and preferences and comfort stand in God’s way?
If the kingdom is for all, then let the kingdom move you to go to all. That doesn’t mean every Christian must pack their bags and move to the next people group. Paul left people behind to ensure the work continued and disciples matured where they were. When Paul asks the church in Rome to support his mission to Spain, he didn’t expect them to come with him but to support him. But he certainly hoped they shared the same mindset to promote the discipleship of peoples where the gospel was yet known.
Do you share this mindset? Do you look at the world through this lens? Over the last 4 years, we’ve seen refugees settle in Fort Worth from Myanmar, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, and Syria. At coffee shops nearby, I meet people from El Salvador, Nigeria, Serbia, Turkey, Vietnam, the Philippines. A man from Croatia lives down our street. Steve was sharing that he and Dana had some neighbors from Kenya over to the house. The opportunities to engage in missions are replete, if we have the eyes to see.
Missions is about conforming our mindset and our passions to God’s global purpose echoed throughout the Bible. In the promise to Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). In the prophets: people who’ve never seen will see and those who’ve never heard will understand (Isa 52:15). In the Psalms: “Let the peoples praise you, O God…Let the nations be glad and sing for joy…” (Ps 67:3-4).
In Romans: Christ came “to confirm the promises given to the patriarch, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom 15:8-9). In Revelation: a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, crying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10).
God’s mission to save a people from all nations saturates the Bible. How does that compel you to offer others the kingdom? One people group in Africa who need the gospel are those who are deaf. For many years now, Tim and Sheryl Foster have given themselves to announcing the kingdom of God to the deaf in Africa. They shared a little with you last month at the members meeting; and I’ve asked them to come and share more. As you listen, please consider ways you might strengthen your partnership with them through praying, finances, or even going with them in the summers…
[i]Further explanation between “local ministries” and “frontier missions” appears here: http://www.redeemerfortworth.org/blog/post/why-
[iii]Gen 1:26-31; Ps 8.
[iv]Gen 3:1-7; Rom 5:12ff.
[vi]Gen 3:17-19; Rom 8:20-21.
[vii]Rom 1:18-32; Tit 3:3; Jas 4:1-2.
[viii]Rev 20:11-15; 21:8.
[ix]Luke 4:38; 8:1; 9:11.
[x]Luke 10:9, 11; 17:20-21.
[xi]The same idea appears in Acts 1:6-8, where the disciples ask Jesus if he was restoring the kingdom to Israel yet. Jesus doesn’t dodge the question, but shows how the kingdom would come first in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
[xiii]Luke 19:11ff; Acts 1:6-9.
[xv]Acts 13:44-51; 18:5-8.