Invisible, Spiritual, Actual, Real: The Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near

Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge.” (Matthew 10:5-8)

As the mission of the church commenced, Jesus gave his first twelve apostles strict instructions — starting with where they were not to go.

Although Jesus’ intention was always to reach the entire world, there was a proper order to his mission. For both practical and promise-keeping reasons, the message needed to go to the Jewish people first.

Israel First

We saw in a previous post that Jesus’ “lost sheep of the house of Israel” language directly referenced the Old Testament prophets, beginning with Moses and extending all the way to Ezekiel during the Babylonian captivity.

The prophets recognized that God’s sheep, the people of Israel, had gone astray. They also recognized the culpability of corrupt kings and corrupt priests in leading them there. These were “evil shepherds,” abusing the flock for their own profit. Likewise, some of the stronger members of the flock also abused the weaker members.

God promised that he had seen all of this and would do something about it during the coming kingdom age, when a Davidic king-who-was-also-in-some-sense-God would arrive to make a new covenant with his people and establish his kingdom on earth.

Ezekiel 34:11-31 is worth reading in full, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll just quote a few verses:

“For this is what the Lord God says: See, I Myself will search for My flock and look for them. As a shepherd looks for his sheep on the day he is among his scattered flock, so I will look for My flock … I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak, but I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will shepherd them with justice.

The Lord God says to you, My flock: I am going to judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and male goats … I Myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep … I will save My flock, and they will no longer be prey for you.

I will appoint over them a single shepherd, My servant David, and he will shepherd them. He will tend them himself and will be their shepherd. I, Yahweh, will be their God, and My servant David will be a prince among them

Then they will know that I, Yahweh their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people.”

The Kingdom Announcement

The “Israel first” directive was necessary lest any time be wasted in fulfilling what God had promised to his people.

After all:

  • The promises were made to Israel.
  • The kingdom was to come through Israel.
  • It was Israel who had been praying and waiting for the Messiah.

So Jesus sent his apostles to Israel, with the announcement that their long wait was over. The substance of their proclamation was this: The kingdom is here. The Shepherd has come.

You are now in the era of fulfilled promises.

But … How?

Two thousand years later, many Christians are not aware that “the kingdom has arrived” is actually the biblical gospel message.

Helped along somewhat by the vagaries of English translation, we’ve changed Jesus’ message to mean, “The kingdom is coming, someday, so you need to prepare your hearts so you can go to heaven while you wait for it.”

But that’s not what Jesus said. He sent his apostles to announce that the kingdom was actually here and to demonstrate its presence and power through the miracles they were authorized to do.

And then, as now, it was a difficult thing to swallow.


Nowadays, it’s hard to believe the kingdom has come because we can look around us and see a world still rife with serious problems, including evil, unbelief, and incredible suffering.

In Jesus’ day, it was hard to believe the kingdom had come for pretty much the same reasons: Rome was still in power, Jesus was doing nothing to challenge it, and the people were still suffering under persecution and oppression.

Even so, Jesus insisted the kingdom was here. The challenge for Israel was to see it: to see the kingdom and the promises as fulfilled—or in process of being fulfilled—even though they looked so different from what was expected.

In other words, faith was required to see what was actually happening.

Invisible, Spiritual, Actual, Real

There is a doctrine afloat in our day that Jesus did not in fact fulfill the promises to Israel; that actually, when he came, his people rejected him and so the promises were all put on hold until a future era.

In this view, the subsequent mission to the Gentile world and the “church age” are just a placeholder until Jesus returns and restarts the original mission. Only then should we expect to see the Old Testament promises of kingdom, covenant, and inheritance fulfilled.

But I don’t hold to that view. I believe that Jesus’ kingdom announcement means exactly what it sounds like it means. The kingdom had actually come. The promises WERE being fulfilled—already, in Jesus’ day, and still in ours.

The proof was in the acts of power Jesus and his apostles displayed—authority over the invisible, spiritual enemies that plague humanity, seen in the form of physical corruption, guilt, demonic oppression, and death.

Yes, there is a caveat to this. It’s plain and obvious that the promises haven’t reached FULL fulfillment, not least as concerns the ethnic people of Israel. Yes, I do expect fuller fulfillment in the future.

But the New Testament picture is not one of a mission put on hold. It’s one of a mission begun and then extended over a longer, grander scale than we expected.

Others like to speak of the kingdom being “spiritual,” by which they mean it has nothing whatever to do with this world—it’s entirely about escaping to an ethereal afterlife while this world can and does go to hell in a handbasket.

But that’s not a biblical view either. Jesus brought the kingdom in a way that was spiritual, invisible, and slow-moving, but it was and is very present, very real, and very much relevant to this world.

“Spiritual and invisible” do not mean “not real” or “not connected to this world.” We cannot see particles, gravity, or the laws of physics. Most of what underlies and in fact constitutes this world is invisible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Likewise, what happens in the spiritual realm is VERY real and will affect what eventually manifests and takes shape in the physical realm.

And “slow” does not mean “not happening.” A tree may take hundreds of years to reach its full height, but its growth is certainly happening, and as it grows it changes the landscape around it—affecting the soil, moving rocks, recycling air, transforming sunlight into accessible energy, creating weather.

We Are the Tree

To say that the kingdom is not here, and that we are simply still waiting for it, is to miss the kingdom tree that is presently changing our landscape—and has been doing so, in subtle and powerful ways, for over two thousand years now.

In other words, we are not waiting for Jesus to come back and redeem the world. We are part of the redemption project, right now.

Nor are we waiting for him to take us out of the world. We are instead the force that should be shaping it—healing it, enlightening it, freeing it, restoring it.

The apostles were sent to Israel first. They took the kingdom announcement with them. Eventually (though this is skipping ahead in our story), the believers within Israel took the kingdom announcement to the rest of the world.

It spread, it remained, and it went to work. It found us somewhere along the way.

We find ourselves, now, challenged to believe what those first Israelite believers did—that the kingdom of God has come near, is at hand, is with us and within us.

And equally challenged to discover, for ourselves, what that means.


I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!

This is Part 139 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


This blog, Revelatory Creative, is a labor of love. My goal is to spend time studying and writing about the kingdom of God so that the church—you and me—can find our place within this largely forgotten but central Bible message.

But I can’t do it without your help.

You can become a monthly sponsor for any amount you choose. In return, you will get free access to the audio version of my 7-week “Your Kingdom Calling” course, as well as digital books and video series related to this blog. Visit Support to become a supporter and learn more!

And thank you … from the bottom of my heart! This work is possible because of you.


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