Lesson 1 March 29-April 4
The Kingdom of Heaven
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Matt. 5:1,17-20; Luke 17:20, 21; John 1:11; Matt. 13:33; Exod. 20:19.
MEMORY TEXT: "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHT: The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes it has been entrusted with special last-day truth about God. How best to share its insight into the kingdom of heaven is our subject this week.
GOD'S REPRESENTATIVES. In the Bible the phrases kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God refer more to a kind or quality or condition of people than to any one geographical area, political entity, class, or race. The kingdom of heaven occurs wherever there are individuals who freely and imaginatively live out the value system of God. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20).
Now God has always had a people to keep the ideals of His kingdom alive on this earth. In the Old Testament it was the patriarchs and then the Hebrew nation. Since the first advent it has been Christianity.
Unfortunately, the majority of men and women in every age has rejected or ignored God. From time to time this has even been true of His own representatives. God's chosen people have misinterpreted and misused the truths entrusted to them. They have at times lost sight of God's gracious character and in turn become exclusive and narrow.
It's always helpful to consider the context of any scriptural passage. However, there are special cases where it is almost a must. This is true in the case of the Sermon on the Mount. At the very outset in her book Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, page 1, Ellen White offers the following suggestion: "Let us in imagination go back to that scene, and, as we sit with the disciples on the mountainside, enter into the thoughts and feelings that filled their hearts. Understanding what the words of Jesus meant to those who heard them, we may discern in them a new vividness and beauty, and may also gather for ourselves their deeper lessons."
Who was the intended audience for what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount? Matt. 5:1. As suggested in the above statement, let us go in imagination to that event on the mountainside. What thoughts and feelings fill your mind as a result?
Jesus' ministry had been in progress for some time when He decided that the disciples should begin to bear heavier evangelistic responsibilities. He had prayed all night for wisdom to say precisely what they needed to hear in order to overcome their inherited misconceptions of His work and role as the Messiah. The disciples were the intended audience; but, as always, Jesus was happy to share the truth with anyone who was willing to listen.
What lesson did Jesus want to teach His disciples when He gave the Beatitudes? Matt. 5:20. What does this say to you about your righteousness?
It was not unusual for a Jewish teacher to expound upon the law in order to refine its application to fit the needs of a specific time and place. So if Jesus followed this Jewish method of contrasting the old with the new in the latter part of Matthew 5, that would not have aroused any suspicion. But content was a different matter.
The disciples were Jews, and they shared their countrymen's belief that the Messiah's sole purpose would be to reestablish the kingdom of Judah. Their understanding of Jesus' mission was clouded by these false expectations. They needed a corrective.
Do you have any false expectations of Jesus? If yes, what helpful corrective can the Holy Spirit apply in your life today?
God had given His people two gifts: (a) a knowledge of Himself, and (b) a knowledge of the ideals He had in mind for created beings. The chosen people had memorized the ideals but had lost sight of the God who stood behind them. Hence the law became a matter for prideful achievement. Religious individuals were inclined to draw attention to themselves rather than to God. While God's friends are supposed to be living evidence for the quality of heaven's values, they are above all responsible for keeping a true knowledge of God alive in society. This is what our world desperately needs today.
In what way does God depend upon His earthly friends in sustaining the values of the kingdom of heaven? Matt. 5:17-19. What does this say to you about the God you serve?
"The Savior came to glorify the Father by the demonstration of His love.... The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people."--The Desire of Ages, p. 671.
When our spiritual ancestors forgot God, the law became an end in itself. It became burdensome; joyful and willing obedience was replaced by legalistic and mechanical obedience. When we experience God's wonderful grace in our daily lives, pleasing Him becomes the source of our highest joy and contentment.
What is the message of those who would uphold the kingdom of heaven today? Matt. 5:20. How is such message applicable in your life?
"It is the darkness of misapprehension of God that is enshrouding the world. Men are losing their knowledge of His character. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. At this time a message from God is to be proclaimed, a message illuminating in its influence and saving in its power. His character is to be made known. "- -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 415.
Do you concentrate on your own personal achievement, to the point of crowding out a desire to share with your neighbors your knowledge, of the kind of person God is?
What is the relation between the church and the kingdom of God?
The phrases kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God are virtually interchangeable: they refer to the presence of God's values and His offer of salvation. There were times in Old Testament history when God's values and His offer of salvation shone brightly, and there were others when these were hardly visible. However, it was the life of Jesus that gave a full illumination of what it means to be a member of the kingdom of God. Since the time of Christ, the Christian church has tried to keep this illumination vivid, with some success and some failure.
How visible is the kingdom of heaven in the world today? Luke 17:20.
"The kingdom of God comes not with outward show. It comes through the gentleness of the inspiration of His word, through the inward working of His Spirit, the fellowship of the soul with Him who is its life. The greatest manifestation of its power is seen in human nature brought to the perfection of the character of Christ."--The Ministry of Healing, p. 36.
This passage in Luke indicates that members of God's kingdom on earth are difficult to identify by mere external means. They may be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; they may be in other religious communities. Or like the centurion who came to Jesus, they may show no outward allegiance to any religion. Eventually all of God's friends will come together as a remnant, but in the meantime what does their being scattered throughout all communions and peoples imply?
Why did many of Jesus' countrymen not realize the presence of the kingdom of heaven? Luke 17:21. He revealed most clearly the character of His Father in His life. What role did this have in their rejection of Him?
When you hear the phrase kingdom of heaven, do you tend to think of a specific church or institution, or do you think of an ongoing witness to the life of Christ? How is the kingdom of God, expressed in your life?
Why do you think the majority of God's chosen people rejected Jesus' description of the kingdom of heaven?
Jesus' offer of membership in the kingdom of God was rejected by most of His countrymen. They challenged His right to offer membership in the kingdom of God, because His description of the kingdom differed so widely from theirs. "The Jews looked for the kingdom of God to be established in the same way as the kingdoms of the world. To promote righteousness they resorted to external measures. "--Christ's Object Lessons, p. 77. They had completely inverted the value system of God, which placed service as the most prestigious of virtues.
What did God hope that the Israelites would achieve? Luke 13:18,19.
"As in obedience to His natural laws the earth should produce its treasures, so in obedience to His moral law the hearts of the people were to reflect the attributes of His character. Even the heathen would recognize the superiority of those who served and worshiped the living God."--Christ's Object Lessons, p. 289.
What does it mean to be a faithful member of God's kingdom? (Matt. 6:10). What part does trust in our heavenly Father play in this regard?
Jesus did not reject the law and the inspired guidelines His countrymen cherished. What He did reject was the picture of God they had come to entertain. It is a law that people become like the God they worship. Israel formed their understanding of God after earthly kings. They had long since forgotten God's reticence even to permit them a human king, and they had molded their religious insights after the principles that moved worldly governments. Jesus' ardent desire was to awaken in them a renewed picture of the Father that was lost sight of, a picture of love, graciousness, and trustworthiness.
How do you distinguish between true and false success? What is the connection between success and service in your relationships with others?
The kingdom of heaven was not withdrawn from the earth when Jesus ascended to the throne of His heavenly Father. Through the working of His Spirit in the lives of His earthly friends, the true principles of God's kingdom were to be kept attractive and highly visible until He should come again.
In what way is religious truth like leaven? Matt. 13:33.
"As the leaven, when mingled with the meal, works from within outward, so it is by the renewing of the heart that the grace of God works to transform the life.... There are many who try to reform by correcting this or that bad habit, and they hope in this way to become Christians, but they are beginning in the wrong place. Our first work is with the heart ....
"True obedience is the outworking of a principle within. It springs from the love of righteousness, the love of the law of God. The essence of all righteousness is loyalty to our Redeemer."--Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 97, 98.
Quite simply, our spiritual ancestors lost sight of their Redeemer. Their motives for obedience became pride and a desire for status of various kinds. Consequently, their pride in their status became their god, confusing in their own minds and in the minds of others who God is and what He is truly like.
What is your role as a church member in sustaining the kingdom of heaven? Ps. 67:1-3.
"Through His people Christ is to manifest His character and the principles of His kingdom." Moreover,"We are to praise God by tangible service, by doing all in our power to advance the glory of His name. God imparts His gifts to us that we also may give, and thus make known His character to the world."--Christ's Object Lessons, pp.296,300.
How do you show in your actions that gratitude to God is a living reality in your life? Is the spirit of ingratitude sometimes manifested in the way you view God and the way you treat other people? If so, what are some steps that you can begin taking today to help remedy this problem? What impact does your spirit of praise, gratitude and service have in building up the kingdom of God around you?
FURTHER STUDY: Read Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 1-5; The Desire of Ages, pp. 27-30, 407, 577; Christ's Object Lessons, "Talents Multiplied by Use," pp. 353-355; "The Lord's Vineyard," pp. 284-296; "Like Unto Leaven," pp. 101, 102; Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 737-742.
"An important lesson for every minister of Christ to learn, is that of adapting his labors to the condition of those whom he seeks to benefit. Tenderness, patience, decision, and firmness are alike needful; but these are to be exercised with proper discrimination. To deal wisely with different classes of minds, under varied circumstances and conditions, is a work requiring wisdom and judgment enlightened and sanctified by the Spirit of God."---The Acts of the Apostles, p. 386.
1. What caused the Jews to look for, Christ to set up, His kingdom on earth? What, would cause people to make that same mistake today?
2. Had we been Jews at the time of Christ's first advent, would we have accepted Christ, given the prevailing preconceived notions that the Messiah should work in an atmosphere of thunder and lightning? Would we, have understood that the reception of truth is progressive, that, God refines His presentation of it as people themselves become more refined? Note this from Ellen White: "The Word of God presents special truths for every age. ... God is leading out His people step by step. Truth is progressive.--Ellen G. White Comments, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 1000.
3. How can Christians best demonstrate to the world what kind of person God is?
SUMMARY: The kingdom of heaven is not a visible or tangible entity, such as a place or a particular group of people. Rather, it is the reflection of God's character exemplified through the lives of His followers.
The Russian language Voice of Hope radio broadcast most listened-to religious radio broadcast in the former Soviet Union, according to a survey conducted by the Moscow State University recently.
The Voice of Hope is broadcast over two of Russia's most powerful stations: Radio- I and Radio Russia, and is heard on nearly 900 stations throughout the former Soviet Union. These stations were established during the Communist era to blanket every Russian home in the Soviet Union with Communist propaganda. Now they tell the Russian-speaking world that Jesus is the answer to their needs. According to a separate poll conducted by the Voice of Hope, 14 million people in Russia listen to the broadcast regularly, and another 20 million people know about the program.
The Voice of Hope recently introduced a new weekly phone-in program that deals with current events and issues in society from a Christian perspective. From the start, callers from all over Russia and former Soviet countries kept six telephone lines busy for nearly two hours.
In 1990 the Voice of Hope became the first Christian radio program to broadcast over the Soviet Union's national radio network. The first 20-minute program was broadcast by a single local station, and brought in 75 requests for Bible studies. By the end of that year, 10 more local stations were broadcasting a weekly program.
In the beginning the church in Russia had no studio or equipment to produce its programs. So a state-owned station offered the use of their studios free of charge. Today the church-owned media center houses radio and TV studios, editorial and administrative offices, and a Bible correspondence school.
The broadcast's extensive coverage has reaped extraordinary results. The Bible school receives between 500 to 1,000 letters each week from listeners across the country. Since 1992, more than 18,000 people have completed the New Life Lessons.
When an Adventist leader went to a small city in the far north of Russia where no known Adventists lived, he found a group of Sabbath keepers! They had heard the Adventist message through the Voice of Hope programs and were enrolled in the Bible course. They were ready to be baptized, testimony to the power of God and radio to change lives.
Information for this story was supplied by the Adventist News Network and Adventist World Radio.
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