Entering the Kingdom of God

Dr. Brian Allison

In just a few weeks, we will turn the calendar page to a new year, a new decade, a new century, a new millennium. The excitement is building. And it is a particularly important and exciting year for Unionville Baptist Church. The year 2000 will mark our fiftieth anniversary, the year of jubilee, our golden anniversary. On our anniversary weekend, different activities will occur – special services, a concert, and a banquet. Typically, special occasions are marked by a banquet. It is party time! In the Word of God, we even find this precedence of special occasions being marked by the celebration of a banquet. A banquet communicates joy and rejoicing, and underscores fellowship and communion.

At the end of history, when Christ returns to the earth and ushers in His eternal kingdom, there will be an incomparable, stupendous banquet. Revelation 19:7 reads, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready;" and 19:9 reads, "And he said to me, 'Write, "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."' And he said to me, 'These are true words of God.'" When Christ returns as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, it will be party time for the redeemed. God Himself will be the host.

The kingdom of God

Luke 14:16-24 contains a parable that concerns the banquet of God. It reads:

But He [Jesus] said to him, "A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.' And another one said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' And another one said, 'I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.' And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' And the slave said, 'Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'"

By way of background, our Lord was invited to a meal at the home of a leader among the Pharisees, a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus was mingling with the religious elitists, high society, people of influence, the power brokers. In this august group, Jesus took the opportunity to step on a few toes. He gave some biting teaching, running the risk of offending His audience. His indicting remarks referred to the matter of eating. In verse 12, we read, "And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, 'When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous'."

Jesus directed the attention of these elitists to the last day – the day of the general resurrection – and informed and exhorted them to have in view the end time as they engage in their present activity. Jesus taught that the day would come when there would be a resurrection of the righteous, and then it would be party time. One from the audience was stirred by what Jesus had said. We read, "And when one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, 'Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!'" In the mind of a Jew, the day of future resurrection – the commencement of eternal blessings – was the day of the inauguration of the Messianic kingdom. When Jesus made reference to the resurrection of the righteous, these Jews would immediately think of the coming of the kingdom of God – a time of great rejoicing and celebration. This great time of rejoicing and celebration is conveyed by the language of a banquet.

When we think of the kingdom of God, we must remember that this kingdom is not only a future manifestation, but is also a present reality. On the one hand, the kingdom of God is a spiritual phenomenon. When Jesus Christ appeared on the earthly scene, He came revealing and demonstrating the kingdom. He preached, "The kingdom of God is at hand" (cf. Mt. 4:17). On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out, and the kingdom of God became a present reality. Accordingly, through the Holy Spirit, God reigns as King in the hearts of those who have repented of their sins and have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Yet, on the other hand, the kingdom of God is a physical phenomenon. The kingdom will be visibly and eternally manifested in all its fullness when Christ returns to the earth. There will a new heavens and earth, and the glory of God will be pervasively and demonstrably revealed.

The Jews assumed that they would be in this future kingdom simply because they were the covenant people of God. Because they sustained a special relationship with God, they assumed that they would participate in the Messianic blessings. With this parable, Jesus issued a wake up call. The Jews, especially the leaders, were self-righteous, self-sufficient, and complacent, resting on their historical heritage and racial pedigree. Jesus took occasion, in response to His hearer's ejaculatory affirmation, to teach how one enters and enjoys the kingdom.

An invitation

How does one get into the kingdom of God? How can we be assured that we will have a place at God's banquet table? Very simply, Jesus teaches that one does not enter the kingdom because of pedigree or heritage, but by responding to the invitation and summons of God to enter. Let us consider this parable in detail. Luke 14:16, "But He [Jesus] said to him, 'A certain man was giving a big dinner [a banquet], and he invited many." Obviously, this 'certain man' must have been very wealthy. He was going to foot the bill for a very large company. This 'certain man' represents God; and the big dinner signifies salvation's (eternal) blessings realized and enjoyed within the context of the kingdom. So, this verse teaches that God invites certain ones to come and partake of salvation's blessings which are associated with the manifestation of the Messianic kingdom.

Now, the 'many' who receive this invitation do not refer to all peoples indistinguishably. The internal evidence of the parable confirms this (As we move on in the parable, we will see a contrast between this group and those who eventually come to the banquet.). We must remember that Jesus was addressing an audience of Jews, and the Jewish leaders in particular. Generally speaking, the 'many' refers to respectable Jews who sustain a special relationship with God.

When were the Jews invited to the Messianic banquet? When did they hear about the kingdom of God and salvation's blessings? Throughout the Old Testament history, they heard it repeatedly – Isaiah 2, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 40-66, Jeremiah 33, Ezekiel 37, Joel 2, etc. They prophetically received the invitation to prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of the kingdom. They were taught that a time of celebration awaited them. The invitation went out to God's people, through the Law and the prophets, to get ready for salvation's banquet.

And the invitation now goes out to all peoples. The kingdom has come, and God extends an invitation to everyone to enter the kingdom. God extends an invitation to everyone to receive salvation's blessings in Jesus Christ. Recently, on our Outreach night, a church member and I were invited into a home, and we sat around the dining room table with a woman and her daughter. We were given the opportunity to share the Gospel. This mother eagerly listened to the message. After presenting the Gospel, I invited her to be saved; and she responded that she wanted to be saved.

A summons

God not only gives an invitation, but He also issues a summons or command – "And at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now'" (v. 17). In the fullness of the times, Christ was born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that they might receive the adoption as sons (Ga. 4:4,5). In the history of salvation, the first coming of Jesus Christ marked the 'dinner hour'. Christ came preaching the kingdom; and it was time to enter the spiritual kingdom, though there would be a future, physical, eternal manifestation of that kingdom. Christ came and proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mk. 1:15). The dinner bell was rung to begin to partake of the banquet of God.

Accordingly, along with the invitation to receive salvation, God summons or commands everyone to repent. We read, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30,31).

Excuses made

The Gospel record concerning the Jews is a sad one. Jesus came to His own, but His own received Him not. He came preaching the good news of the kingdom, saying, in effect, "The big dinner is ready." His people refused to respond to the dinner bell – "But they all alike [no exception] began to make excuses" (v. 18a). Now, the custom in ancient times was to give an invitation to attend a banquet or feast, and those invited would indicate whether they would attend or not. The host would prepare accordingly, knowing how many he could expect – first an invitation, then a subsequent summoning. The act of refusal to attend a meal, having accepted the invitation, would have been considered a display of utter disrespect.

The Jews had received the invitation – they were anticipating the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom. Yet, when it was time to receive and partake of the salvation blessings (the banquet) of God, realized through His Son, they refused to come. They clearly showed their disrespect to God. It is the same with many people today. The invitation goes out to receive eternal life in Jesus Christ, the command is given to repent and believe; and yet people present all kinds of excuses – too busy, or family priorities, or community involvement, or school commitment, etc. I was at a dinner party recently, and we were talking about spiritual things; and one individual said, in effect, "I know the Bible is true and that we should be living a life that is pleasing to God, but I have not come to the point in my life of really being serious about it." It is a matter of priorities.

The individuals in this parable made excuses because they did not see the kingdom as a matter of priority. We read, then, "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused'" (v. 18). What a lame and feeble excuse. Who in his right mind buys a piece of land and then checks it out? And why such urgency to check it out? Could he not have honoured his commitment to attend the dinner first? Notice the second excuse – "And another one said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused'" (v. 19). Again, why would someone purchase an asset or merchandise before checking it out first to know whether it was functionable, or whether it met standards and needs? What a lame and feeble excuse. And there was a third excuse, "And another one said, 'I have married a wife [surely that would be a good excuse], and for that reason I cannot come'" (v. 20). Why wouldn't he take his wife to a big dinner in order to have a good time? Certainly, this event would have been a happy occasion for her.

Similarly, many offer feeble excuses for refusing to enter the kingdom. But, notice the essential point of each of these excuses in this parable. Notice that the first excuse concerns one's material possessions – a field. Material possessions keep many from responding to the command of God to enter the kingdom. Many are so concerned about wealth and security, about accumulating assets, about saving up money, about preparing for retirement and the future, that they have no time to consider eternal issues. Now, I am not saying that it is wrong to consider financial security, and to make preparations for the future, but it is wrong when our concern for the future and financial security takes the priority in our lives so that we do not consider spiritual things. The Word of God says, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you" (Mt. 6:33). We must get our priorities right; and the kingdom of God must come before our material possessions.

The first excuse concerned material possessions; the second excuse concerned work or profession – testing oxen for agricultural purposes. There are many who allow their job to get in the way of considering the kingdom. Their job has first place; they give their time and their best energy to their job. This, of course, reveals their own insecurity. The third excuse concerned marriage and familial relationships – having a wife. There are many who put their wives, their husbands, their families, etc. ahead of considering the kingdom. Clearly, what is implied in this text is that to put anything ahead of considering and entering the kingdom is wrong, and even fatal. We must minister to our families, we must provide for our families, we must support our families, but our families ought never to take first place so that it comes between us and the kingdom. Certainly God scoffs at all feeble excuses.

In considering the kingdom, the matter boils down to a question of desire. These individuals did not desire the kingdom more than anything else. They desired their possessions, their job or profession, their relationships (e.g. wives). They desired these things of the earth, rather than the things of the kingdom of God. What we will discover later on in the parable is this: because they desired the things of earth more than the kingdom, they lost the kingdom. This may be a bold statement, even an overstatement: If you desire anything more than the kingdom of God, you will lose the kingdom of God. We pride ourselves on our religion, even on our faithfulness to the Church; but if we desire anything more than the kingdom, we will lose the kingdom. Christ will have first place in our lives or He will have no place. Let us be very clear about that. Christ will take second place to no one and to nothing; and if He is not worthy of our first love, He does not want any of our love. We read, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it" (Mt. 10:37-39). God wants our best and our first, or He wants nothing. Do you have a lame and feeble excuse for not seeking first the kingdom, responding to His invitation and command? Your excuses may sound good now, but they will damn you then.

The master's anger

The host of the big dinner was extremely upset at the feeble excuses given for refusing to attend – "And the slave came back and reported this to his master ["No one wants to come, sir. They are more concerned about other things. They do not see your banquet as a priority. They do not think it is worthwhile to come."]. Then the head of the household became angry" (v. 21a). Many do not like to talk about God becoming angry. But God does become angry. He is a God of love, but He is also a God of wrath; and we need to preach the wrath of God just as much as we preach the love of God. There are certain things about which God becomes angry – the rejection of His overtures, the despising of His invitations, the refusal of His summons. Jesus came to the Jews in the fullness of the time. He came, as it were, ringing the dinner bell. The Jews rejected Christ, and nailed Him to a cross; and the wrath of God burned against them (see 1 Th. 2:14-16). In 70 AD, His wrath fell, and He destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. The Jews were no longer considered the covenant people of the Lord.

Bringing in the rejects

God's anger burns against our evil excuses and our rejection of His gracious offer of salvation. Yet God will have a people saved – "[He] said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame'" (v. 21b). The master, in compassion, offered the pleasures of the banquet to the rejects of society. Similarly, the people of respectability rejected the invitation and summons to partake of salvation's blessings, and God turned to those who were despised, destitute, disenfranchised, and diseased. God accepted the rejects in the Israelite society – the publicans and the sinners. The respectable people did not want salvation, so God turned to the people who had no respect. Do you notice that the slave was to bring them in? They were not simply summoned, but they were escorted into the banquet hall because they most likely thought that they were not worthy of such honour.

God is pleased to give the kingdom to the poor, and to give them grace to receive it. James 2:5 reads, "Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" Yes, these are the ones whom God has chosen to enjoy salvation, not those who consider themselves to be high society and respectable, those who see themselves as something special. Luke 14:11 reads, "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted." The Gospel is not for the self-sufficient, nor for the self-righteous. The Gospel is for the poor and the needy, those who recognize that they are nothing and that they have nothing. Unless you see yourself as needy, unless you see yourself as poor, you will not respond to the invitation and the command of God to enter the kingdom. Those who are poor in spirit hear the Gospel call, and feel the deep need to respond. It is very difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom (Mt. 19:23,24) because they are self-contented and self-sufficient. They enjoy the pleasures, the conveniences, and the perks of this life, which blinds them from considering the realities of that other life. Wealth has a way of anaesthetizing so that one cannot clearly see reality. Do you see yourself as poor and needy?

Compelling the vagrants and derelicts

God will save many, for He is gracious – "And the slave said, 'Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room'" (v. 22). God is pleased to bring many into His kingdom. The love of God runs out to a lost humanity, wanting to gather in multitudes – "And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled'" (v. 23). The master opened his home to foreigners and aliens. His generosity extended to all, and not simply to his kinsmen. Indeed, the love and mercy of God extends to all of humanity. Not only is He pleased to take those who are disrespected in the nation of Israel, but He is pleased to take those who are disrespected in the world. Not only is the Gospel for the Jews, but it is also for the Gentiles; not only for those in the city, but for those out in the country – the derelicts and the vagrants, those sleeping along the highways and finding shelter in the bushes.

The master says to his slave to go out and compel the strangers to come in; do not simply summon them to come in, don't simply bring them in, but rather compel them to come in, that is, strongly persuade or convince them. Such language suggests that these ones were going to be absolutely astounded that this grace would be extended to them; and so they would have to be persuaded that the banquet was for them. And so God extends His grace to many; and He will have many outside of Israel enjoy His salvation. 1 Corinthians 1:26ff. reads, "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh [not many philosophers here], not many mighty [not many people of power, status, and position], not many noble [not high society]; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God."

Filling the master's house

The great love of God is extended to a lost world. Now, notice the language here, "compel them to come in." The slave here represents not only Christ, but those in Christ, His disciples. Christ (and the apostles) came to the Jews; but we, as believers, through His power and Spirit, are to go to the uttermost parts of the world with the Gospel. God commands, "Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in." This is God's mandate to us as a Church. We are to go [not sit, not continue to pray, though we have to pray]. Now, why does God command us to go? For His glory – "That my house may be filled." Although numbers should not be the main motivation in labouring in the Church, we ought to be concerned about numbers because we are concerned about the glory of God in the salvation of people. Different ones say, "Do not worry about numbers. Let us just be concerned about being faithful. We have a nice little family here. Let's just nurture our little family. Let's be concerned about ourselves." God is concerned about numbers as well. God says, "I want My house full." That ought to be our desire. We ought never to be content with empty pews. As the people of God, we ought to be intensely concerned about evangelizing the lost so that God's house may be full, for His glory.

Excluded from the dinner

Those who refuse to accept the invitation and to respond to the summons will never enjoy the banquet – "For I tell you, none of the men who were invited shall taste of my dinner" (v. 24). The door to the banquet hall was shut tight to those who made excuses. And so the Jewish nation (with some exceptions) also received a harsh judgement. God rejected them. They did not even taste salvation's blessings, let alone enter in and enjoy them to the full.

All who refuse God's invitation and summons will experience a similar result. If you reject God, He will reject you. Have you heard the Gospel? Has the invitation come to you to receive God's grace? Has the command come to you, "Repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour"? If you reject Him, He will reject you. God is tired of your excuses. They may content you, they may appease others, but God is tired of them. In refusing His offering of salvation, He will reject you. In rejecting Him, you will have no participation in His kingdom. Today is the day of salvation. Right now! God may be speaking to you right now. Some people say, "I have time. I will get things right with God later." Often 'later' does not come. The time that you think you may have then, you are given now. You are not promised tomorrow. It is time to act now before time runs out. The doors of the banquet hall are beginning to close. Will you enter in?