The Difference Between the Kingdom and the Church
April 25th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE KINGDOM AND THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-25-82 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the church bringing the message entitled The Difference Between the Kingdom and the Church. In this section of the great doctrines of the Bible on ecclesiology, the doctrines of the church, there is one other message in this series. The next time I preach here, the Sunday after the revival, the title of the sermon will be The Final State of the Church, the church at the end of the age; today, The Difference Between the Kingdom and the Church.
In Matthew 13, and if you would like to keep your Bible open there, so much of the sermon will concern these eight parables in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew. In the eleventh verse of that thirteenth chapter, our Lord said, "It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them who do not believe, it is not given" [Matthew 13:11].
When our Lord and the announcement of His kingdom and His kingship, and His Messiahship met rejection and opposition, the kingdom assumed a mystery form. And it is in that form today, and shall be to the end of this age. We’re going to make a distinction according to the Word of God in these three entities: the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and the church. The kingdom of God is universal and eternal; from the beginning to the end, all inclusive, yesterday, now and forever. The kingdom of God involves and includes everything of God.
Time, which is a creation of God – there’s no time in eternity – time, matter, the whole multi-verse above and around us, all the hosts of heaven, all of the humanity of the people who have inhabited this earth, everything God has created is a part of the kingdom of God.
In the one hundred and third Psalm, the psalmist says:
The Lord God hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom ruleth over all.
Bless the Lord, ye His angels…
Bless the Lord, all ye hosts…
Bless the Lord, all His works in all places of His creation,
Bless the Lord, O my soul."
That is the kingdom of God, all of God’s creation in all time, through all eternity. In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, beginning at verse 24, the apostle Paul says a thing that is so true of the workings of God, the providences and the moving of God through all creation. First Corinthians 15:24:
Then cometh the end, when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and all power.
For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet.
And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
[1 Corinthians 15:24-26]
Everything; the stars in their orbits, the suns in their courses, the seasons in their days, the generations in their passing, all time, tide, history moves toward the great consummation of the age when all of it shall be dissolved into, absorbed into, the kingdom of God. All creation, all history, the kingdom of heaven, the church, we, the angels, everything one day shall be absorbed into and made a part of the final kingdom of God.
Now: the kingdom of heaven is the mediatorial reign of Christ in this human generation, in this present age, in this dispensation. The kingdom of heaven you would call Christendom. Wherever the influence of Christ reaches, as these Wycliffe translators – and I’d like to say a word of love and appreciation for one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in the world, Cameron Townsend, "Uncle Cam," who is now in heaven, all that you have done, and all that we try to do in extending the name of Christ and the saviorhood we find in Him, is a part of the kingdom of heaven. It has to do with us. It has to do with us in this world. It has to do with humanity, with mankind. In it, you’ll find everything. You’ll find wheat and tares. You’ll find good and bad, all of it here together in the kingdom of heaven.
The church is an altogether different entity. So carefully do the Scriptures identify and separate the church from all of these other entities in the work and providences of God; the church is the body of Christ. He is here in visible form in us. The church is separate and distinct from these other creations of God. For example, the apostle Paul will write in 1 Corinthians 10:32, "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." It is very carefully separated. The Jew, the Gentile, and the church, those are the three tremendous entities in this dispensation; Jew, Gentile, and church.
In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation is the story of the marriage of the Lamb:
I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of many thunderings,
saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Christ: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.
[Revelation 19:6, 7]
How beautiful and how honored the position of the bride of Christ, His church, beyond any way we could describe it is she exalted, honored, glorified. "To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" [Revelation 19:8]. She has the honored place at the consummation of the age. She is the bride of our Lord and will be presented to Him at the consummation of this age. Now, there are other people there at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The next verse, "And He said unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb," kaleo [Revelation 19:9]. Now in John chapter 2, verse 2, it says, "Jesus and His disciples were kaleo," to the marriage at Cana in Galilee. He was not the bride. They were not the bride. They were kaleo. They were called. A better translation, I think, would be "they were invited" to the wedding at Cana in Galilee [John 2:2]. That is the kaleo, the same word here: "Blessed are they that are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" [Revelation 19:19].
When the church is presented to our Lord in all her glory, washed clean and white [Revelation 19:8], there will be guests at the marriage supper of the Lamb. John the Baptist said, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, standing by, rejoices to hear his voice" [John 3:29]. John was not a member of the church. He died before Calvary. The church is signally honored and glorified as the bride of our Lord, and the rest of God’s saints are the invited guests. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the patriarchs, the prophets, all of God’s great servants who lived before the day of our Lord, they are the guests. But the bride is the church, and how signally honored she is, God having some wonderful thing in store for us [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Now the rest of the sermon, if God will give us time; at the 8:15 service, I just got started good. Won’t it be wonderful when we get to heaven and I have my own planet and put down my soapbox, and there’s no more time, no more clocks, just preach forever? Man, that will be the most marvelous time in the world! And all of you that want to come to my planet, welcome; I’ll be looking for you. We’ll have a great time.
The kingdom of heaven; in the thirteenth chapter of the First Gospel, the Lord spoke to the great multitude, a vast throng: "Great multitudes were gathered together unto Him, and He went out into a ship" [Matthew 13:2], He had to. They were pushing Him in the water. He went out into a ship, and sat down; and the whole multitude stood on the shore, and He spoke to them in parables. And there are four parables that Jesus taught the multitudes about the kingdom of heaven in its outward form, as you see it, as human eyes look upon it. Then, when He had spoken to the multitudes [Matthew 13:3-35], He sent them away, in verse 36, and went into the house with His disciples, and He taught them four parables of the kingdom of heaven from a divine point of view, from a secret, inward point of view [Matthew 13:36-50]. So the kingdom of heaven has an outward, observable appearance. It also has an inward providence, an inward meaning, and we’re going to look at both of those in the few minutes right now.
First of all, the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven. The first parable says that a sower went forth to sow [Matthew 13:3]. And when he sowed, some of the seeds fell by the wayside, and the birds came and devoured it. Some of it fell on stony places. It grew up; because it had no depth, it soon withered away under the burning sun. Some fell among thorns, and they choked it. And some fell on good ground, and brought forth fruit [Matthew 13:4-8].
That is the way that the kingdom of heaven and the preaching of the gospel is received. Some people hear, and they hear, and they really hear, and they turn and are converted, and are saved, and become members of the kingdom of heaven. But many of them don’t hear, and those that do hear, hear for a moment. That is the reception of the kingdom of heaven and the preaching of the gospel in our day. When I was a boy, every preacher I ever heard was a postmillennialist, every one of them.
I never heard any other. They all were going to "preach in" the kingdom of God. The whole world was going to be saved by being converted under the power of the gospel. It’s a wonderful idea, but it’s not in the Bible. It’s not in the Scriptures, and it’s a dead doctrine today, because I don’t know of a preacher in the world or a Bible teacher under the sun that preaches postmillennialism today – that we’re going to bring in the millennium ourselves and then Christ will come.
No. The Bible plainly teaches us that when I preach, there’ll be some who’ll listen to the Word, and the birds will come; other interests will take their attention away. Some will listen for a moment, and then they have no depth and they turn aside. Some, the cares of the world, the vanities and ambitions and worldliness of life, will take it away. But some will always listen. That is the assurance that I have in my heart when I faithfully preach the gospel. Not everybody will be saved, and not everybody will respond, but God will always give us some.
Did you know that in the thirty-eight years I have been pastor here preaching in this sacred place, there has never been a time that I have preached in thirty-eight years but that God has given us a harvest. It has never failed. We had a beautiful, gracious harvest this morning at the 8:15 hour. I have that assurance from heaven. If I will be faithful, God will give me some; not everybody, but He will give me some. That’s the kingdom of heaven as we look at it in this present age.
There’s a second thing about it from our point of view, the parable of the wheat and the tares [Matthew 13:24-30]. The good man went forth and sowed good seed in his field. Then while he slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and when it came up, behold, Satan had oversown God’s field [Matthew 13:24-26]. That’s the kingdom of heaven as we look at it with our natural, historical eyes. It has in it bad. It is oversown by Satan. I listened to a family last week lamenting over their child, who is now a young man. They taught him faithfully, but he’s broken their hearts. Satan has oversown.
I have in my hands here a facsimile of the United States News and World Report. On it is a picture of Karl Marx, and the headline is, on the front of the United States News and World Report, "Marxism in United States Classrooms." And the article says that in our universities and in our colleges there are more than twelve thousand Marxist Communist teachers, professors. And it says that they have led a sharp turn away from the long prevailing approach to the American past, to American history, the story of American success, and they’re leading us to a bleaker new focus on inequality, alienation, and conflict, and it goes on and on; the oversowing of Satan.
What I can’t understand about these radical, left-wing communist professors is this: why don’t you go to Russia? Why don’t you get anybody to go to Russia? You have an open door from America to go to Russia. Nobody goes. Who would want to go? But if you were to open the door from Russia to the United States, you’d have so many millions of Russians wanting to come here, it’d flood the world; same way about Cuba; same way about any communist nation. Why, that’s why they built that wall through Berlin. The Eastern Germans were coming over by the millions just to escape the radical socialism of communism, and yet these professors want us to have a communist nation.
There’s no communist world that can feed itself. It is a dead, decadent system. Where does that come from? It’s the oversowing of Satan. You give your life, as our forefathers did, to build the freedoms we know and the liberties we know in this glorious land, and these oversown of Satan seek to destroy it. That’s the kingdom of heaven in our generation.
The third parable, the kingdom of heaven as we look at it, the parable of the mustard seed; it grows and becomes a big tree, and in it the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches. It prodigiously grows. It has grown to be millions and billions, and inside of it, every dirty, filthy bird takes its roost [Matthew 13:31-32]. That’s how we see the kingdom of heaven. That’s how we see Christendom. All you need to do is to read church history and see, even in the history of the church, how much of evil and corruption and violence and blood and death and persecution have characterized the church. That’s what Jesus says. We’re not to be surprised at that.
Then the parable of the leaven, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid until the whole thing was leavened" [Matthew 13:33]. When the Jew has Passover, he scours every part of the house, not just the kitchen, every part of the house. And then when he’s scoured the house, he looks up to God and says, "O God, You being my witness, if there’s leaven in my house, I do not know it. I have sought to scour it out." Leaven is a type of evil, it is a type of sin, and the kingdom of heaven is like that; in every part of it, there’s no section immune to it. You’ll find evil infiltrating in the church, in the school, on the mission field; everywhere will you find the weakness of humanity and the oversowing of Satan.
Now, that is the kingdom of heaven as we see it from our eyes. Then the Lord took His disciples privately, and He taught them the inner secrets of the kingdom of heaven, and they are these [Matthew 13:36]: first, the treasure hid in a field. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field" [Matthew 13:44]. That is Israel; buried among the nations of the world are the chosen people of our Lord. This is Ezekiel 37, God’s people, His treasure, hid in the nations of the world.
The most impossible for me to understand of all the verses in the Bible is Romans 11:26: "And so all Israel shall be saved." What does that mean? I don’t know. I’ve studied it more than fifty years. I’m no nearer to an understanding of it now than I was over fifty years ago. "And so all Israel shall be saved" [Romans 11:26]. I don’t know what that means. All I know is, according to the Word of God, the Lord is never done with Israel; not in the past, He is not done with it today, and He is not done with it in the future. "So all Israel shall be saved" [Romans 11:26]; whatever that means.
Just our looking upon it this moment, before we pass it by, Israel is a little tiny land in one place. It is seven miles wide. Israel is a tiny land not as big as our metroplex, and it has no more population than our metroplex. It’s about that size. That’s about how many Jewish people are over there in it. There is not a day that passes by but that little tiny country over there will be in a headline in Peking, in Afghanistan, in Iran, in Egypt, in London, in New York, in Dallas, in Moscow, in the whole world. Whatever happens over there is the headline article of every newspaper in the world. Have you ever read any headline articles about our metroplex in Peking or in Afghanistan or in Johannesburg or in Sidney? Have you? They don’t even know whether we exist or not, nor do they care. But Israel is in the mind of God, and Israel is in the mind of the world, and you can’t take it out. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that one of the fulfillings of the prophecies of God? This is Israel, the treasure hid in a field. God has a great purpose for Israel.
The second secret, mystery, of the kingdom of heaven that He taught us privately is, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: And He found one of great price, and he sold all that he had, and bought it" [Matthew 13:45, 46]. That is the church.
Every once in a while, I’ll hear a preacher, hadn’t studied the Bible. He’s just standing up there mouthing something that he learned somewhere, and he stands up there and he speaks of the pearl of great price as being our salvation – oh, dear! that we give up everything in order to have it. My brother, we don’t buy our salvation. We don’t purchase our redemption. Jesus did that for us [1 Peter 1:18-19]. We receive our salvation as a free gift from His gracious hands. He did it. He bought it. He paid the price, "and by grace are we saved through faith; and not of ourselves: it is a gift of God" [Ephesians 2:8]. It’s something Jesus has done for us. I couldn’t save myself, could never be rich enough to buy it; could never be good enough to deserve it. It is a mercy and a grace of God. That’s this parable. Jesus bought us, and in His sight, we are the great pearl of price for whom He gave His everything [Matthew 13:45, 46].
And do you remember in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation? There are four gates – there are three gates on each side of the beautiful, cubical, perfect New Jerusalem, our home in heaven. There are twelve gates, three on each side [Revelation 21:12-13]. And each one of those gates, John says, is made out of a solid pearl [Revelation 21:21]. A pearl is the only jewel that is made by life, vitally. All the rest were made mechanically by impersonal natural law like a diamond, under heat and great pressure. But a pearl is made vitally. It’s made by a living creature, and a pearl is made by a wound, by trauma, by hurt. That’s the way we enter heaven, in the trauma, in the hurt, in the wound, in the sufferings, in the tears, in the sobs, in the cries, in the blood of our Savior. That’s that parable. We are the pearl of price, and we enter heaven through His atoning grace [Ephesians 2:8].
The third parable is the parable of the net. It’s like a fisherman who casts His net into the sea, and when it is full he draws to shore, and the good does he keep, and the bad does he throw away. So it will be at the end of the age [Matthew 13:47-]. There will be a great separation. There’ll be a great judgment [Matthew 25:31-46]. Today, we live together; you, your family, the neighbors, all of us are together, but the great day is coming when there’ll be a separation. O Lord, that day!
When I was a youth in southern Indiana, I went to a Baptist association, and there was an old-time preacher who preached the sermon. I’ll never forget that man. His head was covered with white hair, white like snow, white like wool, white, white, pure white – long white hair, a full head of long white hair. And the theology of the old preacher was not quite right as I understand the Word of God, but the spirit of what he said was so true. This was it: he said, "In the memorial services and the funeral services that I hold, there’ll come a wife who’ll come and look in the casket on the still, silent face of her husband, and say, ‘Goodbye, husband. Goodbye.’ Or there’ll be a wife – a husband say to his wife at the service, ‘Goodbye’; or to parents, to a child or to a friend, ‘Goodbye’."
He said, "That’s not goodbye. That’s not goodbye." He said, "Goodbye is the great judgment day of Almighty God, when God separates the saved from the lost [Matthew 25:31-46]. Then will a husband say to his wife, ‘Goodbye. I’ll never see you again.’ Or the husband shall – or the wife shall say to her husband, ‘Goodbye, dear. I will never see you again.’ That," he said, "is goodbye."
Now, the theology of that I don’t think is according to the Word of God. I don’t think we’ll both be in the same judgment, but the spirit of it is true. There is a separation, a great gulf fixed, between these that are in Abraham’s bosom and these that are lifting up their eyes in torment [Luke 16:22-26]. That’s what this parable is about [Matthew 13:47-50]. Together, we’re here in this world, but there shall someday be a great separation. Lord, Lord, when that time comes, may you and I and mine and yours – may we be God’s, and may we have entrance into that kingdom of heaven. Grant it, Lord.
And the last parable is one concerning us who preach and teach, taking things out of the old covenant and things out of the new, and breaking to those who listen the bread of life [Matthew 13:51-52]. O Lord, that we could do that in this dear church, that the Word that is preached, and the message that is brought would always be in keeping with the truth of God. Grant it, Lord. Grant it.
Now one other, and our time is gone. The church, the church is the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:27], the bride of Christ. She is an election. She is an ekklesia. She is a called-out, ekkaleo, called-out body in this world. She is beloved of the Lord. Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it [Ephesians 5:25]; precious in His eyes.
Did you know if I lived one thousand generations, I’d never be able to understand a man who says, "Now, I want to be saved and want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to belong to any church." Well, that is inexplicable to me. Man, what it is up there in heaven? We’re going to be with Jesus, and we’re going to be with one another, and we’re going to sing the songs of Zion, the song of Moses and the Lamb [Revelation 15:3-4], and we’re going to praise God, and we are just going to rejoice in His great goodness. We’re going to do it. Well, how is it that you’re going to look forward to being in heaven with God’s people, and to sing the praises of the Lord, and to offer prayers of gratitude and glory to Jesus? Well, you certainly don’t like it down here. Now, I don’t understand that. How is it that you want us to be up there, and you want to be with us, but you don’t care anything about us down here? It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t sensible.
The church is the beloved of the Lord, the body of Christ, and we are a koinonia, a die gemeinde; isn’t that the most unusual thing in this world? As you know, I took a Ph.D. degree, and I had to pass a course in German, and when I read that German Bible, to my amazement, Martin Luther never uses the word kirche, church, never. You won’t find it in the German Bible. You won’t find the word church in the German Bible. What you find is the word die gemeinde; he koinonia, as they write in the New Testament. That means the communion. That means the fellowship. That means the participation. That means the sharing. That means the being together.
I’ve described for you, because of the Lord’s Supper here – I’ve described for you that traumatic meeting of the Baptist church in Munich that I attended soon after the Second World War. The city lay as far as the eye could see in desolation and ruins. The bombs had destroyed it, destroyed the church. And after the war was over, there came together, where the church had been in its shambles – there came that ragged, wretched, defeated, miserable, poverty-stricken little bunch of Baptists.
The preacher had been in the war, and he had been grievously wounded. He was greatly crippled, walked with difficulty. After the service, they had the Lord’s Supper, and after the Lord’s Supper, that little, wretched, miserable, ragged, poverty-stricken group of refugees who had survived that awesome, awesome war, they joined hands and sang "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds." And the second stanza of that song simply melted my soul:
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear.
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
["Blessed Be the Tie that Binds"; John Fawcett]
And I thought, "That is die gemeinde; that’s the koinonia. That’s the fellowship of the church." If we belong to the household of faith, we care for each other, pray for each other, love each other, minister to each other. And if there’s any need, we ought to be there to fulfill it. I’d like to think our church is like that.
I talked to a man last night about coming here to church. Goodness, he lives forty miles away from us. And he said, "Pastor, that doesn’t bother me." He said, "When we lived in Oklahoma, I drove forty-eight miles to a church, loved it." He said, "Did you know last Sunday, when we drove down to your church, I felt that I’d come home? It was just like my church that I drove so far to attend in Oklahoma." O Lord, I love that, where people feel, "I belong. I’m somebody, and they love me and welcome me." Nobody feel himself above or any better than anybody else. We’re just all sinners saved by grace and loving Jesus, loving His people; that is die gemeinde. That’s a koinonia. That’s the fellowship of God’s people.
Our assignment, of course, is so well known in the Great Commission. We’re to preach the gospel to every creature [Matthew 28:19-20]. We’re to win souls to Jesus. We’re to baptize them in the name of the triune God, and we are to teach them to observe the things God has given us to keep. Apostle Peter did that. The preacher did that, and baptized his converts. Philip the deacon did that and baptized his convert, that Ethiopian eunuch [Acts 8:38]. We’re to do that, and to win people to Christ, and to lead them through the waters of the Jordan.
And last, the destiny of our church; it’s to be raptured away. It’s to be caught up into glory someday. He doesn’t tell us when, but he surely emphasizes it in the Word of the Lord. This marvelous passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:15]. Paul is emphasizing the fact, "I don’t say this of me. I’m saying this from Jesus."
This we say unto you by the word of the Lord –
by the promise of the Lord –
that we who are alive and remain shall not precede them that are asleep –
they will see Jesus first –
For the dead in Christ shall rise when the Lord shall descend, and the trumpets shall sound, and the archangel’s voice shall be heard.
Then we that are alive and remain shall be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]
And the marvelous passage in 1 Corinthians 15, which is one of the high-water marks of all revelation:
This I say, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption –
As long as I am in this body of flesh, I cannot see Jesus face to face –
But I show you a musterion –
a secret in God’s heart –
We shall not all sleep . . .
We’re not all going to die; there is going to be a generation that will never die:
but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
O Lord, wouldn’t that be glorious to live in that generation? The type of it is Enoch, who, just walking along, suddenly he was not. God took him [Genesis 5:24]. The type again is Elijah. As he crossed over the Jordan River, the whirlwind and the chariot of God took him up to heaven [2 Kings 2:11]. There’s going to be a generation like that. The church is going to be raptured [1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. It’s going to be taken out of the earth. And oh, what marvelous things at the bema of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:10], things God hath in store for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Lord, Lord, unworthy as I am and sinners as all of us are, Lord, count us in that number. Put our names in that book [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:15]. Open for us the door into glory and receive us to Thyself. Be with us now, Lord, and forever in that better world that is yet to come. Now, may we stand together?
Our precious, our precious Savior, Holy Spirit of God, bless Thou the truth the pastor has sought to present this morning. The pages of the Holy Book are so filled with rich promises to us who find refuge in Thee. And, our Lord, it’d be lonesome to share them alone. God’s heaven is people. There is a throng. There is a multitude to sing and praise and we are so glad. It wouldn’t be heaven, Lord, if we were by ourselves. It is heaven because families are there, children are there, the saints are there, God’s redeemed are there. And we want to be there too.
While our people pray, and while we wait, and in a moment when we sing our song of appeal, a family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, "Pastor, today we have decided for God and we are coming." In the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, we are coming today." "Going to take Jesus as my Savior and I am coming." "Going to follow the Lord in baptism and I am coming." "We are going to put our life in this wonderful church and we are coming." May angels attend you in the way as you come. On the first note of that first stanza, take that first step, and welcome. And thank Thee, Lord, for this sweet harvest You will give us this hour, in Thy precious, and saving, and keeping name, amen. While we sing, welcome. Come.