Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.

“But seek ye first, the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

This is the great command of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. The meaning is not that we must seek the kingdom first and then afterwards can seek a number of worldly things, such as riches and glory and the pleasures of this world. Rather, the meaning of this exhortation is that we must seek the kingdom always, in all things, as the principal consideration in our life. Everything else must be subservient to our seeking the kingdom. All the things of this world have their significance for us only in that they help us to seek the kingdom of God. When we understand the exhortation of our Lord in this manner, we see that it is truly a tremendous perspective of life that the Lord sets before us.

To understand the great implications of this exhortation it is of paramount importance that we rightly understand what is meant by the concept “kingdom of God.” In the history of the church there has been much misunderstanding about the nature of the kingdom of God. Many have taught an altogether carnal idea of the kingdom. A carnal idea of the kingdom was in fact the prevailing error of the Jews of Jesus’ day, and even of Jesus’ own disciples, before Pentecost. Modernism has as one of its chief errors a false conception of the kingdom. There have even been zealous advocates of the kingdom of Christ who have an entirely misdirected zeal for the kingdom.

The general idea of the kingdom of God is plain. The kingdom is the sovereign and supreme rule of God. It is the place where God is known and acknowledged as God, the holy and sovereign and righteous God of all. It is the place where He is worshiped, glorified, and served by His subjects. The kingdom is the place where God is the savior and protector of His elect people. In the sphere of the kingdom, God reveals His splendor and glorious majesty, His power and goodness among His people. There is no more glorious realm imaginable than the realm of God’s kingdom. There is no greater blessedness imaginable than the blessedness of being a citizen of the kingdom of God. The whole universe is the kingdom of God because He created it and He is sovereign Lord over it.

Satan struck a breach in the kingdom of God when he exalted himself in pride against God and vainly desired himself to be king of God’s universe. Because of his rebellion against God he became the archenemy of God. Satan brought about the fall of man and instigated in the heart of man rebellion against God, his creator and rightful Lord. Satan became the prince of darkness of this present world through his great wickedness in bringing about the fall. However, he is only a usurper of God’s throne. He rules only for a short space of time. Satan is by no means the rightful ruler of this world. He rules only by the sovereign permission of God. His destruction has, been absolutely determined from the beginning.

It was God’s sovereign purpose, even in and through the fall of the devil, to bring into this world a more glorious Ring. It was His eternal purpose that His only begotten Son, the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, should be the everlasting and glorious King of His kingdom in the new heavens and earth. By His decree God has determined to set His Son on His holy hill of Zion. The consummation of all things will be the final exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. The elect of God shall be around the throne of God and of His Son Jesus Christ. Together with the angels the redeemed of God shall sing the glorious song, “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever, and ever. Amen.”

The truth of the final and glorious triumph of the kingdom of God is the grand theme that- runs throughout the Scriptures from beginning to end. Think of the great part which the theme of the kingdom of God plays in the history of the Old Testament. We may even say that the central type of the Old Testament is the kingdom of David and Solomon as it foreshadows the triumphant and glorious kingdom of Christ. The prophets of the Old Testament again and again speak of the coming of the Messiah as the coming of the great and glorious King who will be the Son of David. He will establish a perfect kingdom that shall triumph over all the kingdoms of this world and shall be an everlasting kingdom of righteousness and glory.

When the Lord Jesus was born in the fullness of time, it was immediately declared that He was the great King born from David’s line. But the wicked Jews rejected Christ because they were looking for a carnal king. They hated the righteousness of God that Christ preached. They finally crucified Him, in the hope of utterly destroying Him, that they might raise up their own king. The nation of Israel still today looks for a king of their own making.

It is amazing how much Jesus spoke of His kingdom when He was on this earth. Jesus teaches us very plainly concerning the nature of His kingdom. His many parables set forth the mysteries of the kingdom. The beautiful “Sermon on the Mount” is a mighty treatise regarding the kingdom. It is of greatest importance that we listen to Jesus’ own instruction concerning the nature of His kingdom. This is something that many, even up to today, fail entirely to do.

Jesus declared plainly that His kingdom would be a heavenly kingdom. It would not be a kingdom of this world. Jesus declared that His kingdom would be a kingdom of righteousness and peace with God. It would be realized first of all in the hearts of His people by His Spirit and through the preaching of the Word. According to the abundant testimony of Jesus, His kingdom would not be finally realized until the day of His return. Then it would be realized in the new heavens and the new earth.

The kingdom of Jesus was established at the cross. This was something which was entirely unexpected by carnal and wicked men. Rather, the enemies of Christ; inspired by the devil himself, imagined that they had defeated and destroyed Christ at the cross. But Scripture testifies that in the cross Jesus spoiled principalities and powers, making an open show of them, utterly putting them to shame. That Christ was triumphant as the mighty Lord of His kingdom was proven in His resurrection from the dead on the third day and His exaltation at the right hand of God. We believe that now King Jesus is enthroned in the heavens in highest glory as God determined from eternity. To Him has been given all power and authority in heaven and in earth. He rules supremely over all the universe. Jesus, the King appointed by God, rules sovereignly and with almighty power through the history of this world. His purpose in this rule is finally to realize His glorious heavenly kingdom of righteousness in the new heavens and earth.

The kingdom of Jesus will come through the destruction of the kingdoms of this world. Many who claim to be advocates of the kingdom of God willingly forget this. They teach that the kingdom of God will come through the betterment of the kingdoms of this world and that these will finally evolve into the kingdom of God and of Christ. Scripture is plain that this world will in the end grow worse and worse in its enmity against God, its rebellion against Him, and its transgression of all of His commandments. When the cup of iniquity of this world is full, King Jesus will come to destroy the kingdoms of this world. He will dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. Jesus’ destruction of the kingdoms of the world will be His fearful righteous and holy judgments on them. The glory of King Jesus will shine most brilliantly when He executes righteous judgment on the kingdom of this world.

Two truths are abundantly plain from this. The kingdom of Jesus will not be of this world. It will not come through the change of the institutions of this world. It will not come through the conversion of the majority or all of the peoples of this world. It will not come through carnal political or social achievements according to the wisdom and power of men of this present world. The kingdoms of this present world will in the end be destroyed by King Jesus because of their wickedness.

The second truth that follows from this is that in their calling to seek the righteousness of the kingdom of God those who are truly citizens of the kingdom must separate themselves from this present world. The great kingdom calling sounded throughout the Scriptures is: Come ye out from among them and be not partaker of the abominations of this world. He that will be a friend of this world is an enemy of God. Compromise with this world in its wickedness will lead to being destroyed out of the kingdom of Christ. Those who join with this world, even in the foolish imagination that by doing this they will bring the citizens of this world into the kingdom of God, will in fact be destroyed by the same righteous judgments that in the end will destroy all the kingdoms of this world. To put this in other words, seeking the kingdom is emphatically an antithetical calling.

The kingdom of God and of Christ Jesus is a kingdom of righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount makes this so plain. The kingdom of God is characterized by the righteousness of God. The glory of the kingdom of God is the glory of the perfect righteousness of God. There can be no compromise of this righteousness. Righteousness is the foundation of this kingdom. For this reason, to establish this kingdom Jesus had to die on the cross. Almost no one understood this truth at the time when Jesus was crucified. Even Jesus’ own disciples little understood it. They did not understand this truth until the Spirit of Christ was poured into their hearts. The great issue of the kingdom of God is the issue of righteousness. This truth of the kingdom is again largely forgotten and even denied by many modern-day advocates of the kingdom of God. When Christ was crucified, the world imagined that it had triumphed in putting King Jesus to death. In fact, through the cross Jesus was absolutely victorious and triumphant over Satan and all that follow him.

The only way that we can understand this is if we understand that the great issue of the kingdom of God is righteousness. Christ established this righteousness through His sacrifice on the cross. By means of the sacrifice of the cross, Jesus gained the right to deliver His elect people from the kingdom of darkness of this present world and to make them heirs of His blessed and everlasting kingdom of righteousness. Because of the righteousness of the cross, Jesus arose in triumph from the dead and was exalted at the right hand of God. Jesus is King of His kingdom because of righteousness. This righteousness is His glory and power. Seeking the kingdom of Christ is therefore with grace in our hearts and by faith seeking the righteousness of the cross of Christ Jesus.

Another great truth of the kingdom that Jesus in all His teaching on this great subject made so plain is the truth that His kingdom is first of all spiritual in nature. It is not carnal and earthly. It does not come through carnal and earthly measures. It is not realized by the strength and wisdom of men. This truth of the kingdom is intimately related to the truth of the righteousness of God which characterizes this kingdom.

That the kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom means first of all that it has spiritual characteristics and spiritual requirements. We do not, we cannot enter into the kingdom by any~ human efforts, wisdom, strength, or achievements. Jesus taught this great truth of the kingdom to Nicodemus. Nicodemus belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. The main characteristic of this sect was the false idea that they were citizens of the kingdom of God through their own works of righteousness. Jesus condemned this teaching and the vain imagination of the Pharisees. Therefore He told Nicodemus to his utter dismay and confusion that except a man be born again he cannot even see the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” How the Pharisees hated this teaching of Jesus. It would not be an exaggeration to say that one of the main reasons why the Pharisees and other leaders of the Jews crucified Jesus was because of this particular teaching regarding the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. It would also not be an exaggeration to say that the chief reason why the truth of the kingdom is hated in the world today, even by those who seem to be advocates of this kingdom, is the spiritual hatred of the righteousness of this kingdom.

The elect of God become spiritual citizens of the kingdom of God through the wonder work of regeneration. Without regeneration no one will see the kingdom. The kingdom therefore is first of all a spiritual reality accomplished by God in the hearts of His people by the working of the Spirit of Christ. This truth is also largely ignored by many modern-day preachers of the kingdom. Our Lord Jesus referred to this great truth of the kingdom when He declared: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21).

One more characteristic of the kingdom taught again and again by our Lord Jesus is the truth that this kingdom is heavenly. It is heavenly in distinction from, in opposition to, being earthly. This has great implications for what it means truly to seek the kingdom. To seek the kingdom one must be other worldly, heavenly minded. One cannot seek the kingdom while setting his heart on the things of this world. We can seek the kingdom only by forsaking this present world. To seek the kingdom, the citizens of this kingdom must be ready to sacrifice if necessary all the things of this present world, to have nothing in this world.

In the measure that a man sets His heart on the things of this world he makes it impossible to seek the kingdom. The love of the things of this present world will draw a man away from seeking the kingdom. Seeking the kingdom we must be ready to count the things of this world as secondary in significance. If necessary we must suffer the loss of the riches and glory of this world and wait patiently for the true and lasting glory and blessedness of the kingdom that shall come down from heaven.

That the kingdom of Jesus is heavenly means that it is a future reality. It cannot and will not be perfectly realized on this earth but in a future realm which the Bible calls the new heavens and earth. The citizens of the kingdom live in hope and expectation for the glorious and blessed realization of the kingdom that is yet to come.

We have outlined what we believe are several of the great truths of the kingdom as they are taught us in Scripture and by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Only when we have a right understanding of these truths of the kingdom can we have any understanding at all of what our Lord means when He exhorts us to seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. We shall consider some of the practical applications of this in our next article.