When Christ was born in Bethlehem, there were some who recognised Him as a King – among them the wise men from the East. Yet they were few. Nathanael was exceptional in addressing Him with these believing words: “Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel”. But to those familiar with prophecy, it should have been no surprise to find Him beginning His preaching ministry thus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
In this world there is another king and another kingdom. There is Satan, “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). He has great power and has, by his temptations, been influencing people everywhere to further his purposes. He has been, we are told, “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). It was with murderous purpose that he came into the Garden of Eden when our first parents were beginning to live out their lives, and were doing so to the glory of God, in absolute sinlessness. In thought, word and deed, they were acknowledging their Creator’s authority. Then Satan came with his temptations, and they succumbed. They fell from the state of perfect obedience in which they had been created. They entered into the kingdom of Satan. And all their descendants, inheriting the guilt of Adam’s original transgression, have been born into Satan’s kingdom.
Everyone in that kingdom is, more or less, furthering its interests – but not necessarily consciously. By promoting sin, atheism and false religion, individuals and organisations are strengthening Satan’s dominions; the result is that sinners are all the more likely to continue there, and that the prince of the power of the air will have his desire fulfilled in bringing these sinners down to a lost eternity, to be with himself and the fallen angels for ever.
Today Satan’s kingdom is flourishing. Very few hear the call to forsake that kingdom and enter the kingdom of Christ. And of those who hear that call, only a few obey it. The vast majority find the kingdom of Satan much more attractive; they close their eyes to that part of it which is beyond this life – to the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the blackness of darkness for ever. Satan is a powerful and wily strategist; he has made his plans with a view to keeping as many individuals as he possibly can within the bounds of this kingdom. He has a profound acquaintance with human psychology and he uses it to full effect so that by his temptations he may keep sinners out of the kingdom of Christ. As much as he dares, he will tempt each generation of sinners to go beyond the last. So today we see sins openly promoted which at one time would only have been committed in great secrecy. Shame is almost a forgotten concept.
The prince of this world is strong, but there is a stronger than he. That stronger one is the Son of God who, in the fullness of time, became man. John tells us why: “The Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Christ will bring to nothing the evil scheme devised by Satan in the hope of having the whole world under his sway throughout all time. He showed Himself to be greater than Satan in resisting his temptations by the Word of God. But He did more: “as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). Then Christ purchased to Himself a multitude of sinners whom “no man can number”. So that they might go free, He endured the punishment which fell on Him as their substitute.
After He had risen from the dead, Christ sent out His disciples to establish His kingdom throughout the world. They were to do so by proclaiming the gospel. He told them: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt 28:18). As the Almighty King, He was sending out His ambassadors to plead with the subjects of Satan’s kingdom, beseeching them to be reconciled to Himself. Paul, one of the greatest of these official representatives of the Almighty King, reminded the Corinthians how he discharged his office: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:20,21).
Paul went to Thessalonica also as an ambassador for his King. There too sinners were reconciled to God. And those still in Satan’s kingdom accused believers of “saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7). They – still unreconciled – were, of course, speaking in this way with a view to influencing the authorities against those who had entered the kingdom of Christ. The allegation was that believers were acting “contrary to the decrees of Caesar”, but the allegation was false. Their King was the One who had declared, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Allegiance to King Jesus in no way interfered with the allegiance that was properly due from these Thessalonians to Caesar.
In Thessalonica, and in every place where the gospel has gone, Christ has been exercising His kingly power in rescuing sinners from Satan’s kingdom, for it is a great part of the Redeemer’s work to bring sinners to fear the Lord. Whenever He has sent His Holy Spirit to a single soul, He has weakened the kingdom of darkness and strengthened His own. When the Holy Spirit gives new life – spiritual life, – He makes sinners willing to follow the Saviour, willing to acknowledge Him as the great King who has supreme authority. They recognise now that His “law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom 7:12). And they are made willing to bow to His direction in providence.
Certainly, in this world, their obedience is imperfect. And their public sins are liable to further the interests of Satan’s kingdom. But their King will not leave them in imperfection; He will at last bring them all to that part of His kingdom where there is nothing but absolute perfection. While they are in this world, He will order all things for their good. By His Holy Spirit He will bring them on towards perfect sanctification. And He will be glorified in all that He does in them and for them.
In every generation thus far, the King has described His subjects as a “little flock”. It is not for us to question His ways of working; He is acting according to His sovereign wisdom to accomplish all the divine purposes. It is not for us to ask, “What doest Thou?” any more than the pot can address such a question to the potter who is making it. If His kingdom in this world appears to be very much weaker than the kingdom of Satan, it is not for lack of strength on the part of King Jesus. He has more than sufficient strength to cause a nation to be born in a day.
Yet His subjects are to do all in their power to promote the interests of His kingdom. Whatever else they are able to do, they are to pray – in particular for the advancement of this kingdom. They may use the words with which the sweet Psalmist of Israel ended his prayers: “Let the whole earth be filled with His glory” (Ps 72:19). And the words of Isaiah: “Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down . . . ” (Is 64:1). And let them remember the command of the King: “Pray ye . . . the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest” (Matt 9:38).
He will undoubtedly triumph. He is, after all, the Lamb in the midst of the throne. As the one who has offered a sacrifice well-pleasing to God, “He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor 15:25). His victory will be confirmed on the last day, when all will be gathered before Him, when He will sit to administer judgement in righteousness. But what about ourselves? Are we subjects of this kingdom? How concerned we should all be to enter its borders before we pass out of this uncertain life!