|Now is there solemn pause in earth and heaven;
The Conqueror now
His bonds hath riven,
And Angels wonder why He stays below;
Yet hath not man his lesson learned,
How endless love should be returned.|
Hitherto our thoughts about |The Kingdom of Heaven| have been founded on the teaching of the King respecting His Kingdom recorded in the Gospels. But we must not forget to give attention to the very important time in the life of our Lord extending between His Resurrection and Ascension, during which He appeared to His Apostles upon terms very different from those on which He had previously associated with them. And though few records have been preserved of His instructions to them during this period, we find this general description, which very clearly shows the nature of those instructions. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, S. Luke records that the time was spent in |speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God| (Acts i.3). Consequently, though we have not His discourses in full, we know that the subject of them was still the same as in the time past -- the good news of |The Kingdom of Heaven.|
During the years of His public ministry the Apostles frequently asked their Lord to explain what they did not understand in His teaching. And we may feel sure that, at this time, many things must have appeared to them in a new light, and many sayings must have gained a force and meaning which they had failed to perceive before. And if |The Kingdom of Heaven,| about which He had said so much, was to be a real Kingdom, it is clear that there must have been many things on which they would require instruction, about the order and government of it, and about the practical carrying out of His loving designs for the salvation of the world. And inasmuch as we find that, almost immediately after their Lord's Ascension, the Apostles were fully prepared not merely to preach, as He had done, the good news of the Kingdom, but to call men into it as a Kingdom already established upon earth, we conclude that all these matters must have been fully explained to them during these days, and that these were |the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God| of which He spake.
Passing by, for the present, other questions of difficulty which would very probably arise in their minds, there are two passages in our Lord's discourses recorded in the Gospels which we can hardly doubt were discussed at this time; because some of His words have been preserved to us which connect those passages with what afterwards became the practice of the Church.
The first question of difficulty which would naturally arise out of one of His former sayings, and to which He provided the answer, was this -- What was to be the form of admission into |The Kingdom of Heaven|? He had said to Nicodemus, |Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God| (S. John iii.5). But what did the words mean? What steps were to be taken by one who wished to enter the Kingdom? With what use of water would the Holy Spirit's power be connected? Here was a practical question requiring a decided answer. And we conclude that this was one of |the things pertaining to the Kingdom| which were spoken of during this time, because we find a brief record of distinct instructions given by our Lord to His Apostles how they were to admit men as His disciples or subjects. No discourse is recorded, but this clear commission is handed down by S. Matthew -- evidently given in such a way that the Apostles could not fail to understand its meaning -- |Go ye and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost| (S. Matt. xxviii.19). And consequently Holy Baptism became at once, and has been ever since, the form of admission into |The Kingdom of Heaven| (Acts ii.38-41). And being an outward form, and yet a spiritual act, we have herein both |the water and the Spirit.| It is an outward form in which there is a ceremonial use of water; and yet it is a spiritual act, because united with the most solemn naming of the Name of God, as He has in these last days revealed Himself to man; |In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;| and S. Paul does not hesitate to say, |By one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body| (1 Cor. xii.13).
The other question arising out of some words of our Lord, which we conclude was discussed and answered by Him during this time, was the difficult one about the meaning of |the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.| He had once said, after S. Peter had confessed Him as the Christ, |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| (S. Matt. xvi.19). And the same words about binding and loosing were repeated shortly afterwards to all the Apostles (S. Matt. xviii.18). We can hardly doubt but that the question must have arisen in their minds what the keys of the Kingdom could be whereby the power of binding and loosing was given them. And although no discourse is recorded, it seems that this was another of |the things pertaining to the Kingdom| of which He spoke. For S. John, in the brief record which he has given of His first appearance to the Apostles after His Resurrection, has thus described what occurred: -- Suddenly the Lord was in their midst, and said, |Peace be unto you. And He showed unto them His Hands and His Side| in proof that it was He Himself. And He said again |Peace be unto you. As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.| And |He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained| (S. John xx.19-23). And ever since there has been this practical interpretation of the meaning of |the keys.| Christ's ministers have confidently acted, as having been entrusted by their Lord with His authority to admit men into |The Kingdom of Heaven| by Holy Baptism, or to defer the act of admission until after longer probation; to exercise the judicial power of excommunication, or expulsion from the Kingdom, for notorious sin and unbelief, as in the case of the incestuous Corinthian (1 Cor. v.3-7), or to re-admit after repentance, as S. Paul decided to do in the same case (2 Cor. ii.6-10); and to assure all men that in the holy Ordinances of the Church of Christ free and full remission of sins may be certainly gained.
We can readily imagine that many other matters were discussed amongst |the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.|
If disciples were to be made in all parts of the world, and were then to be taught |to observe all things commanded| (S. Matt. xxviii.20) by the King, the question must have arisen, Who were to be appointed to teach them? And thus the whole subject of the government of |The Kingdom of Heaven,| and the Orders and duties of the King's Ministers, would be opened.
Again, the words of institution of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, |This is My Blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins| (S. Matt. xxvi.28), pointed both to the ending of the old covenant, or testament, which was sealed in the blood of beasts (Exod. xxiv.5-8), and to the passing away of the Jewish ritual and modes of worship. And the question would arise, What forms of worship were to be observed by His subjects in place of those ordained by the Law of Moses? Sacrifices could no longer have their former meaning, when the Lamb of God, to which they pointed the worshipper, had been offered upon the Cross. Was |the breaking of bread| to take the place of all the old sacrificial services?
And with the subject of worship, the observance of the Sabbath would need to be considered. Was the Jewish Sabbath still binding on men's consciences? Was the Seventh Day to be observed in accordance with the Law of Moses, or was the First Day of the week to take its place, now sacred to the subjects of the Lord Jesus as that on which He rose, and to the keeping of which He had seemed to give His sanction, by appearing once and again on that day to the disciples as they were assembled together? (S. John xx.19, 26.)
On all these points we find, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, that the Apostles took at once a definite line of action. They knew what to do, and how to direct their converts. And though we have no record of the words of our Lord, we are confident that the Apostles were thus carrying out His own teaching, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, on all such matters |pertaining to the Kingdom of God.|
Amongst the few words recorded as having been spoken at this time to the Apostles, is this clear promise, |Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth| (Acts i.8). And in the power of the Holy Ghost we find that they went forth to publish the glad tidings of |The Kingdom of Heaven.| And, beginning from Jerusalem, they extended their work gradually to Samaria, and Syria, and to all countries, carrying out their Lord's commission, and preaching the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, as freely offered to all who would accept Him as their King, and enter through the strait gate of the New Birth into His Kingdom.
For fuller information about this period, see Bishop Moberly's |Discourses on the Great Forty Days.|
See the note in the margin of a Reference Bible.
It is well known that the Romanists have sometimes founded their argument, in support of the claims of the Papacy, very mainly upon this verse; starting with the assumption, of which there is no proof, that the Pope is the successor of S. Peter, and asserting that a power was hereby given to S. Peter which the other Apostles did not possess. The weakness of the argument becomes clear when it is known that the same words were repeated again to all the Apostles; and that the above explanation, and practical enforcement of them, were equally spoken to them all.
Testament and Covenant are translations of one and the same word. The Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments, because the Old Testament contains the record of God's dealings with men under the Old Covenant; and the New Testament declares the New Covenant made with all the world through Jesus Christ.
A question may arise in the minds of some, whether it is a historical fact that the early Christians were in no doubt about the substitution of the First for the Seventh day? The answer is that, from the first, there was no doubt about the observance of the First Day; but that amongst the Jewish converts the observance of the Sabbath was permitted for some time, in addition to the Christian festival, and was only gradually discontinued. See Rom. xiv.5; Gal. iv.10; Col. ii.16; and compare Acts xx.7; 1 Cor. xvi.2; Rev. i.10.
This view is strengthened by the account given by S. Paul of the direct revelation granted to him respecting the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Not having been amongst the number of His Apostles in the days when He was on earth, S. Paul had received no instructions from His own mouth. But the defect was supplied by direct revelation. He says, |I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread,| &c. (1 Cor. xi.23).