The Things of God and The Things of Men

Reading through Matthew's gospel I am struck by the misunderstanding or lack of understanding Christ's own apostles had concerning Him and His kingdom. I dare not say this with a measure of bravado, as if I would have known better. I read and study His Word today and I do not understand many things. Yet, it is important to point out ours and their lack of understanding. We point it out to learn about what was going on then and what we can take from it now. Why did they lack understanding? Why did they lack understanding, especially when Christ gave such plain words?

A passage in Matthew that manifests the disciples misunderstanding is in Matthew 16:13-23,
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? {14} And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. {15} He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? {16} And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. {17} And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. {18} And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. {19} And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. {20} Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. {21} From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. {22} Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. {23} But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."
I believe the scriptures teach a literal, earthly, physical, Davidic kingdom to come; however, this literal kingdom was and currently is in heaven. It isn't made with hands. This kingdom is in heaven and will one day come down, be established, and set up (Dan. 2:44). Therefore, although it will dwell on the earth its origin is heavenly and currently is in heaven (Heb. 10:34, 11:16, 12:22) . It will be God's kingdom in heaven set up on earth. Therefore, earthly doesn't fully describe it. The kingdom of God is a literal, heavenly, Davidic kingdom set up on the earth.

Moreover, the kingdom of heaven is not only structural but has a conversation and will. For instance, in the Disciples Prayer from Matthew 6:10 - "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." The kingdom of heaven has a will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Of course, Christ's kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness and Israel is to bear that righteousness and be the light of the world and salt of the earth in and through that kingdom. Also, the Lord teaches this in Matthew 16. If the kingdom was only physical, of course, no "gates of hell" would prevail against it. The kingdom of heaven is not only physical but it is spiritual. The forces against the kingdom of heaven were not only physical but spiritual. Jesus essentially is from heaven and as the King of the kingdom of heaven He has planned to have man enter His kingdom. This group would be Christ's church. The rock that He builds upon is Himself and builds it with those that believe He is that Rock. With the Rock prevailing against "the gates of hell" those same gates wouldn't prevail against those built upon that Rock. Yet, how would He prevail against "the gates of hell"?

Now here are a few things to observe -

  1. This conversation is with his disciples, and He charged them to tell no man that He was the Christ. He doesn't give them the go-ahead to tell everyone this.
  2. In verse 21 from this time forward Jesus began to shew that He would be killed and raised again the third day.
  3. Peter, one of Christ's disciples {the one that had revealed to him by the Father that Jesus is "the Christ, Son of the living God"}, shortly after, his profession that Jesus is the Christ; and shortly after, Jesus began to shew that He would be killed and raised again the third day - rebukes the Lord.

Now given these brief observations, Peter and the disciples have had it revealed unto them that Jesus is the Christ. There is speculation outside the disciples, but now within it is settled. Yet, it seems that Peter doesn't understand the spiritual relationship of the kingdom of heaven, that is, the gates of hell and hell's companion, death. Peter's idea of the kingdom of heaven is based upon his understanding of the kingdoms of men - "things that be of men." Where does Peter get this understanding? Probably a few places. However, principally from his savoring of the things that be of men and this world. Peter is justified in thinking this from the prophets and by what Jesus is going to teach them right before His death concerning His second coming when His kingdom made without hands does come with Him. Yet, Peter's lack of spiritual understanding concerning the kingdom of heaven reflects his savoring of the things of men and the common singular view of Christ to deliver them from Rome, not the bondage of sin, the devil, death, and the gates of hell. Without this deliverance, the kingdom of heaven could come but He wouldn't have a church for it and if He could have a church for it they wouldn't be able to enter in. For Christ would have no means to have them enter or bring to His glory.  I do not believe it is mere coincidence that Christ begins to shew about His death and resurrection after the revelation of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the living God. The means of total victory over the gates of hell and provision to build His church hinge upon His death and resurrection.

Amazingly, Christ's death and resurrection was preached to them after He described His building of His church and the gates of hell not prevailing against it. It wasn't a mystery; however, their savoring of the things of men, in part, darkened their understanding concerning His death and resurrection. In fact, the disciples were afraid to ask Him about this saying of His death and resurrection (Mar. 9:31-32). We see their savoring of the things of men once again right after Mark 9:31-32 when they reach Capernaum. The disciples had been disputing who would be the greatest in the kingdom. Nonetheless, for our help, we need to recognize the distinction between what is and isn't revealed, to what is revealed and is or isn't understood.

Now there is much we could examine concerning the disciples not understanding His death and resurrection concerning the kingdom of heaven, for instance, the ignorance that God placed upon the nation; but, I can't help to think about what God has revealed today to us. God has revealed all that He wanted to reveal through the apostles and prophets, the apostle Paul being born out of due time to fulfill the Word of God. May we have the spiritual understanding that is needed, where it is needed, that we do not impose the things of men upon the things of God and miss the understanding that we ought to have. Thus we hold that which is spiritual on the right hand and the physical on the left knowing that God made them both (Luke 11:40).

Look Up,
Josh Strelecki

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