THE NATURE OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM
From the beginning, men have been inclined to delineate God and the things of God within the framework of human notions. In His indictment of such folly, the Lord declared, " . . .You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you, and state the case in order before your eyes" (Psalm 50:21). This propensity, the Lord affirms, evidences a condition in which men "forget God" (verse 22). It is a most serious condition, not to be understated or ignored.
Few areas have suffered as much from debilitating human analysis as that of the kingdom of Christ. The misapprehension of its nature has produced division among professed believers. Theological walls have been zealously erected between believers because of this misapprehension. Flaws theological dogmas have been developed and perpetrated to the hurt and consternation of multitudes of people. Indeed, when the teachers of the law, so to speak, fail to see the nature of the kingdom they profess to represent, a most serious situation follows.
The Kingdom of Christ is the realm in which salvation is being accomplished for the individual, and the entire body of Christ. It is a domain dominated by "the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2). Here, "the Sun of righteousness" shines "with healing in His wings" (Mal 4:2). In this kingdom, Satan's power is neutralized as delusion is dissipated by illumination.
The King has been given "all power in heaven and earth" in order to bring God's "eternal purpose" to its culmination. Marshaling the angelic hosts, and commissioning the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus is bringing "many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10). He rebukes the devourer, binds Satan, and dispels the powers of darkness in His ministry of bringing men to God (1 Pet 3:18). In this kingdom God is working everything together for the ultimate good of "them that love the Lord, and are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28).
How grand is the kingdom over which Jesus presides! Through it evil is subdued and righteousness promoted. The intentions of the devil are frustrated, and he purpose of God is effectuated. The purposes of the wicked are overthrown, and the saints of the Lord are strengthened. The hearts of the righteous are illuminated, and strong delusion is administered to those that received not the love of the truth. The temptations of the people of God are controlled by King Jesus, and the angel of the Lord encamps round about them to deliver them from fear of evil (1 Cor 10:13; Psalm 34:7).
The announcement of this kingdom constrained men to press into it, seizing it with unparalleled energy (Matt 11:12). It was perceived as a prize to be obtained at all cost. Once seen, it was viewed as a inestimable treasure, for which the loss of all else was counted but a small thing (Matt 13:44). This is a kingdom that can be received by men--a kingdom that will bring eternal benefit. Thus the Spirit witnesses, "Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe" (Heb 12:28, NASB).
This is not a philosophical kingdom, but one with Divine objective. It is not an object of mere study, but one in which men participate. It is the result of Divine initiative, is governed by a Lord that is a Savior, and is animated by the Holy Spirit of God. Angelic hosts have been summoned into the activities of this kingdom, appointed "to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation" (Heb 1:14, NASB).
The objective of this study is to emphasize one of the marvelous traits of this kingdom. It is an ever-increasing kingdom. It does not diminish, lose its effectiveness, grow old, or become obsolete. Mark it well--this is not a kingdom that ought to increase, but one that DOES increase! That is its nature, a nature that cannot be effectively contradicted! It only remains for individuals to become identified with this kingdom. Once this is accomplished, they too will increase, advance, and grow within the framework of Divine objective! It is not possible to abide and not grow!
THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD
By way of introduction, it is necessary to draw attention to the kingdoms of this world. They provide a contrast that accentuates the glory of the kingdom into which we have been called. All of the world's kingdoms, whether political, philosophical, or natural, are destined to pass away. They have all been contaminated with the virus of iniquity. At their best, they are vastly inferior to the kingdom of God. This is a truth that must be seen if spiritual productivity is to be realized.
The kingdoms of the world are under the administration of our adversary. He operates unwillingly under the administration of the Living God. It is God that is "the Governor among the nations" (Psalm 22:28), fulfilling His will. As it is written, "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps" (Psalm 135:6, NASB). However notable these kingdoms may appear, they have within them the seeds of corruption. Thus, they are given over to Satan. He works through them in his vain attempts to thwart Divine objective. To many, this is a mystery, but it need not be so.
When our blessed Lord faced the devil in a time of concentrated temptation, the adversary sought to turn Jesus from His mission by showing Him the kingdoms of this world. "And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it" (Luke 4:5-6). Jesus did not contradict what the devil said. Nor, indeed, did the Holy Spirit provide a Divine disclaimer when He moved Luke to write his Gospel. What Satan said was true! It is to viewed within the greater context of Divine power, and it is to be comprehended!
Because of this condition, earthly kingdoms have not been entrusted with the ministry of preparing saints for glory. The truth of the Gospel has not been committed into their trust, and they have not been appointed to be the guardians of truth. Throughout history, and in accordance with Divine objectives, some governments have protected believers, cleared the way for the spread of the truth, and opposed the spread of sin. Such governments, however, were never permanent. They eventually became corrupt, even opposing the truth they once defended. Our own nation is a case in point. Ultimately, the kingdoms of this world have been given to Satan. They belong to him, and he works his diabolical purposes through them. This is the case because they are temporal.
Eventually, Jesus will be the only recognized Governor, and His purpose will swallow up worldly empires. This is described as the time "when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power" (1 Cor 15:54). At that time, the authority of Christ will no longer be resisted in any form. There will be no aggression against the King, the truth, or His people! The revelation of Christ will spell the end of all defiance against Him. As it is written, "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed-- for our testimony to you was believed" (2 Thess 1:7-10). No enemy of Christ will be able to stand before Him, and they certainly will not resist Him. Their cry will not be "to arms!" Rather, they will cry for the rocks and mountains to hide them from the presence and wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:16). Their destruction will be effortless--no battle, no engagement of the foe in any sense! Paul describes Satanic opposition at its apex, disintegrating it the presence of the Lord. In vivid words he writes, "And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming" (2 Thess 2:8).
This is the time when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ. He will be recognized by every personality, with no exceptions. For some, it will be the culmination of a great salvation. For others, it will be the beginning of everlasting torments. Make no mistake about this! The Kingdom of Christ will crush every other kingdom. As it is written, "And the seventh angel sounded; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever'" (Rev 11:15, NASB).
If we rise high enough, Jesus is the only Ruler now. However, He is not so recognized. The sounding of the seventh angel did not contradict the declaration that "all authority in heaven and earth" has been given to Christ NOW (Matt 28:18). That rule, however, has been obscured to those that live by sight. Jesus is ruling, governing the nations, restraining Satan, and employing even "the basest of men" to fulfill His purposes (Dan 4:17). The day that becomes apparent is the day the "kingdoms of this world" will become "the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ." None will contest His reign in that day! God has spoken! "I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance" (Isa 45:23, NASB). The Spirit made plain that this refers to the universal recognition of the Lord Jesus Christ that will occur when He "appears" (Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10).
In summary, the kingdoms of this world are, by Divine design and intent, temporary. Because of this circumstance, they have been given over to the Devil. All of this is accomplished within the framework of God's will, with the Lord Jesus being the supreme Ruler. No government, however powerful, can overturn the ministry of Jesus, which is to bring "many sons to glory." We do not trust in earthly governments, but in the God of all the earth. Whether it is Paul and Peter, incarcerated and killed by Nero, or John the Beloved, exiled by Domition--government cannot overturn the purpose of God! God is fully able to raise up heathen kings like Artaxerses, Nebuchadnezzer, Darius, and Cyrus to do His will (Neh 2:5ff; Ezek 29:19,20; Jer 43:10; Ezra 6; Isa 44:28; 45:1). However, these men and their governments eventually gravitated to Satan. God used them in spite of their bent, not because of it.
THE GOD OF HEAVEN SETS UP A KINGDOM
From the beginning, God has purposed a superior kingdom--a greater and preferred reign that would result in blessing and eternal life. The objective of this kingdom was not the resolution of earthly difficulties or the establishment of a worldly paradise. It would not compete with the kingdoms of this world. Rather, it would overcome all of them, eventually standing alone.
There was a time when majestic political kingdoms ruled the world. They seemed invincible, and were characterized by dazzling glory and resplendent decor and protocol. During the domination of the most glorious of these kingdoms, God revealed His determination to unveil a greater kingdom. He chose to make this known to Nebuchadnezzer in a dream. A holy prophet, Daniel, was chosen by God to reveal the significance of the dream.
If you recall the event, the king could not recall the dream sent to him. It transcended his natural abilities, speaking of things beyond the realm to which he was confined. Eventually calling for Daniel, he was reminded of the details of that magnificent dream. He saw a "great image," whose "brightness was excellent," and form "was terrible." This image had a head "of fine gold." His "breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass. His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay." Truly, from one perspective, an impressive image! From another viewpoint, however, it was marked by inconsistency and degeneration (Dan 2:31-34).
The king was captivated by the vision, looking long upon it. Soon, however, an event occurred in the vision that turned his eyes from the image. With arresting words and the power of God, Daniel revealed what the wicked king had seen in the vision. "You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan 2:35-36).
There are several things to be noted at this point. First, the stone was not of human origin. It was fashioned, or "cut out without hands," the product of Divine activity. Humanity did not help to form it. Nor, indeed, did it have a role in directing the course of the stone! And what is a small stone to a great image? Surely it is no threat! A rolling pebble, flesh reasons, can have no effect upon an impressive statue!
This was no ordinary stone! It expanded as it moved, becoming larger in nature and stronger in power! Directed by Divine providence, it headed for the great image, finally striking it in unmistakable and focused opposition. This stone was not like the image, either in constitution or in destiny! David struck Goliath in the head with a stone, but this stone struck the image "upon his feet that were of iron and clay"--the weakest part of the impressive statue!
The image was broken in pieces by this once-small stone, becoming "like the chaff of the summer threshing floors" (v 35). The image could not be renewed. It was utterly destroyed, and that by something small and unintrusive in its beginning. Notice the order of the materials in the image. When the image was set up, the order started with the most precious, and proceeded to the least precious; from the strongest to the weakest. However, in the destruction of the image, we begin with the weakest, and go to the strongest: i.e., "the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold." The stone struck the image at the point of its vulnerability, bringing it down to the ground, and grinding it into powder.
Daniel proceeds to interpret the dream to the monarch. His words declare the superiority of the kingdom of God, as well as its permanency. "And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Dan 2:44). Notice, Daniel speaks of the kingdoms as "those kings." Yet, the demise of the image is described as the "end of all these kingdoms." During a time of powerful, and apparently invincible, rulers, a devastating blow would be dealt by the God of heaven. He would decimate the work of the kings, which was their kingdoms, frustrating their reign, and removing their influence.
The kingdoms of which he speaks were earthly kingdoms; empires that ruled the world. At the peak of this form of political power, God would inject into the bloodstream of the world a kingdom that would never be shaken. The kingdoms are identified in Scripture. The first, represented by the head of gold, was the kingdom of Babylon, established during the early 600's, B.C. (Dan 2:37- 38). The second world kingdom succeeded that of Nebuchadnezzar, and was the Persians. Their rule began after the fall of Belshazzar, around 539 B.C. (Dan 5:28). The third was the Grecian empire. Their rule began after the overthrow of the heavenly prince that ruled through the Persians, around 336 B.C. (Dan 10:20). It is generally understood that Alexander the Great, who supplanted the Persian empire, is represented by the "rough (or shaggy) goat with a large horn between his eyes" (Dan 8:11). The fourth kingdom was Rome, dominant during the time of Christ and the Apostles. You may recall our Lord was born when Caesar Augustus was taxing "all the inhabited earth" (Luke 2:1).
Here was the wisdom and power of the world at its apex! The very best and prodigious efforts of the natural man were resident in these kingdoms. The borders of influence and dominion were extended, and it seemed as though nothing could displace this form of supremacy. With all of the power contemporary governments possess, they are nothing to be compared with those ancient world empires.
During the height of this kind of power, God would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed. As a world power, Babylon was destroyed, along with Persia, Greece, and Rome. They passed away, losing their dominion. However, the Kingdom of God would not be such a kingdom. It would never pass away or be displaced. Persia displaced Babylon, Greece superseded Persia, and Rome replaced Greece--but nothing would replace the Kingdom set up by God!
It may appear as though this Kingdom has declined, and is, perhaps, even destined for failure. But this is not at all the case! While there have been times when Christ's reign was not so apparent, it continues. It will eventually bring the downfall of all other kingdoms, just as surely as that small stone crushed the image in Nebuchadnezzer's dream. It will openly and unquestionably dominate the whole of creation, just as surely as that small stone became a mountain, filling the whole earth!
CHRIST EXALTED TO THE THRONE
After Jesus had risen from the dead and commissioned His disciples, "He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God" (Mk 16:19). Peter proclaimed that Christ had been "exalted to the right hand of God"(Acts 2:33). With great power he affirmed, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-- this Jesus whom you crucified" (Act 2:36, NASB). He was made "Lord" in the sense of sovereignty, and "Christ" in the sense of Saviorhood. His exaltation is in order to the affection of salvation. In that process, all of His enemies will become His footstool (Heb 1:13; 10:13). This is because they are obstacles to that salvation--obstacles that will be put down and utterly frustrated.
A most marvelous portrayal of our Savior's exaltation is found in the first chapter of the book of Ephesians. There the Spirit affirms both the fact and the reason for the elevation of the Son. God, it is affirmed, raised Jesus Christ "from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church" (Eph 1:20-22, NIV).
There is no power or authority that is not directly under the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ! The only exception to this is the Father Himself, Who put all things under Christ (1 Cor 15:27). Notice the extensiveness of the authority placed under the exalted Jesus. The KJV refers to "all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named." The NASB and NIV mentions "all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name (title, NIV) that is named." This is influential power in its totality, whether coercive or beneficent. Both the seen and unseen worlds are included--"every name that is named, not only in this world, but that which is to come!"
Elsewhere the Spirit affirms that every level of power was actually created by and for the Son. "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him" (Col 1;16, NASB). Now that Jesus has been "exalted," these powers are answerable to Him. Mind you, He has been exalted as "the MAN Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). It is humiliating beyond imagination that wicked powers must submit to Christ--but they must. That is why a sure escape accompanies every temptation (1 Cor 10:13). If all power was not subject to Christ, this could not be the case!
Satan, together with all of his under rulers, cannot intrude into the will of God, thwart it, or cause one soul that is following Jesus to fail! He is "seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8), but he cannot consume those protected by the "Good Shepherd!" He is incapable of separating us from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:37-39).
Consider that Jesus is the appointed "Head over everything FOR the church." It is true that He is over the Church--but that is not the point of this text. He has been given "to the church" as One over every form of rule and power. Wicked powers are held in check by Him, and holy powers are marshaled to minister to the saints (Heb 1:13-14). He rebukes the devourer and commands a blessing (Mal 3:11; Psa 133:3). No wicked power, be it earthly or from the unseen realms, can proceed with evil intent when rebuked by Jesus! Likewise, no blessing sent by Jesus to His people can be thwarted by inimical powers. He is head over all things for the church!
The presence of Jesus at the right hand of God gives the advantage to the believer! The purpose of His reign is to "bring many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10). Our Lord does not reign to underwrite superior political empires. His purpose is not to guarantee the spread of benevolence. He is ruling to implement God's great salvation--that is why He has been exalted to the Father's right hand.
A modicum of thought will confirm this to be the case. Prior to the Word becoming flesh, He possessed "equality with God." In the "form of God," He had power over all. Satan could not impose his will upon "the Word," nor could he successfully thwart Divine intent. When Scripture affirms all power has been given to Jesus Christ, it does not mean He had no power before! His exaltation followed His humiliation, when He took upon Himself the form of a Servant (Phil 2:5-8). Now, as a glorified Man, He rules in the behalf of those He is bringing to the Father. His Sovereignty is in the interest of those being conformed to His own Image! Having passed through the shadowy valley of earth, He now is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities"(Heb 4:15). Because of this circumstance, His ministry is effectual in our behalf. First, He knows the resources required to survive the onslaught of the devil. Second, He empathizes with us because He too "suffered, being tempted" (Heb 2:18).
How marvelous the reign of Jesus! It has been instituted for our salvation! His reign is the reason no believer will be ashamed or confounded (Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:6). This is why Satan cannot hide the way of escape accompanying every temptation! It is why we can resist the devil, experiencing him fleeing from us (James 4:7). Were it not for the exaltation of the Son, we would not be able to "keep the faith," "run with patience the race set before us," or "be faithful until death" (2 Tim 4:7; Heb 12:1-2; Rev 2:10). Our "labor is not vain in the Lord" because He is reigning over all of our enemies, as well as ministering spirits that assist us (1 Cor 15:58).
AFFIRMATIONS OF THE REALITY OF THE KINGDOM
We have not been called into a mythical kingdom! Christ reigns over a very real domain, with very real benefits and experiences. For this reason, believers must avoid empty philosophical notions of the kingdom of God. This is a kingdom we "receive" in Christ (Heb 12:28). It is imperative that believers have an accurate perception of that kingdom. Divine benefits come by means of perception. Without this, participation, at the very best, is extremely limited. When it comes to your salvation, unintelligibility is your enemy!
In this lesson, we are addressing the increasing nature of Christ's Kingdom. It is essential to understand this to be a very real kingdom--one in which we presently participate. There are things to be comprehended, relationships to be experienced, and promises to be possessed!
Transferred Into The Kingdom From this perspective, salvation involves participation in Christ's Kingdom. As it is written, "For He (God the Father) delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col 1:13 NASB). We have been placed in the care of Jesus, the appointed "Shepherd and Bishop of our souls" (1 Pet 2:25). This Kingdom is contrasted with "the domain of darkness." It is one of illumination, while Satan presides over a domain of ignorance and unfamiliarity. Because it is an INCREASING Kingdom, growth in insight and understanding is experienced by all of its constituents.
Characterized by Righteousness The Kingdom into which we have been translated is characterized by righteousness--absolute uprightness and integrity. The Father speaks of the Kingdom of His Son in this manner: "But of the Son He says, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom" (Heb 1:8 NASB). This passage refers to Psalm 45:6, which declares the eternal and uninterrupted association of God's kingdom with uprightness. The Hebrew passage confirms that kingdom is being administered by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wherever righteousness (both imputed and practical) is missing, Christ's reign has been rejected! The "unrighteous" can have no part in this kingdom (1 Cor 6:9)! Men may tolerate the ungodlike in their institutions, but they are not allowed in the kingdom of our God! To many, this may be considered narrow, and even bigoted. However, their opinion is of no value. The scepter of Christ's kingdom is one of righteousness. The declaration has been made by the Father to the Son. No contrary view can stand!
The kingdom of Christ is one of impeccable uprightness and godliness. From beginning to end, it is characterized by the Divine nature. The increase of this kingdom is righteous! Its advances are holy! There is no chicanery in this kingdom! The life of God fills it, and the spirit of Christ dominates it! There is no participation in this kingdom without this scepter being extended to the individual!
A Kingdom That Is Preached Unlike the kingdoms of men, this one is proclaimed, or announced. It exists independently and apart from human effort. Even if there were no righteous people, the kingdom of God is still in place. It is announced in order that men may participate in it. Praise the Lord! When the "day of salvation" drew near, God sent the harbinger, John the Baptist, to announce the kingdom was coming--that it was "at hand" (Matt 3:2). Following His baptism and wilderness temptation, Jesus immediately began preaching "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4;17). When Jesus sent out the seventy, He instructed them to preach, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 10:7). Here is a subject that dominated the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus, and His disciples! We do well to give attendance to it.
After Jesus had ascended into heaven, the kingdom of God continued to be proclaimed. "But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike" (Acts 8:12 NASB). Philip preached about Divine dominion and a Sovereign Savior. His was not a message of worldly solutions or institutional fervor! He proclaimed what God was doing, and how He was doing it!
Notice that the Person of Jesus was immediately associated with this kingdom. He is the Head of it, and under His auspices it is currently spreading. Philip did not preach the church at Jerusalem to the people of Samaria, but the kingdom of God under the reign of Jesus!
The activities of Paul the Apostle were also associated with this kingdom. While dwelling "two full years in his own rented quarters," he was "preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered" (Acts 28:31 NASB). Notice again, he proclaimed the kingdom of God, and taught concerning Jesus Christ. I cannot help but observe the remarkable absence of these two matters in contemporary preaching. It is a tragic commentary on the general departure from the faith that is all about us. Few people hear regularly about the reign of God or the Person of Christ. There is a prevailing ignorance about the nature of Christ's rule that is alarming, and it exists within the professed church!
The kingdom belongs to God, but it is administered by Jesus Christ. The purpose is the Father's, the implementation is accomplished by the Son! This is why the kingdom is identified with both the Father and the Son. "For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph 5:5 NASB). In a most remarkable word, the Spirit tells of the time of "the end," when the Son will deliver the kingdom back to the Father (1 Cor 15:24-25).
Hidden Now, It Shall Be Revealed The kingdom of God exists--even dominates--yet it is not apparent. Those without faith cannot discern the government of God. They do not behold Him "working salvation in the midst of the earth" (Psalm 74:12). Unless the heart is renewed, the individual cannot detect that "the whole earth is full of His glory" (Psalm 72:19; Isa 6:3). Still, this is precisely the way things are! God is still "the Governor among the nations" (Psalm 22:28). Christ is exalted, and has received "all power in heaven and earth" (Matt 28:18). Satan has been "destroyed" (Heb 2:14), and principalities and powers have been "spoiled" (Col 2:15). Reigning in uncontested power and glory, Jesus is "bringing many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10). But this does not appear to be the case to the unbeliever.
The Spirit declares this will not always be the case. The kingdom of which we speak will appear when Jesus appears. It is a kingdom that is already in place, but will then be seen by an assembled universe. "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom" (2 Tim 4:1 NASB). This appearing will take place when the present heavens and earth pass away. Currently, they are the obscuring factor! Those that watch the present heavens and earth cannot see the kingdom of God. They are looking at the scaffolding, soon to be torn down at the word of the Lord! For this reason, it is said of believers, "we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18, NASB).
It Started Small--It Is Growing! Because their minds are riveted to the earth, unbelievers cannot conceive of something small being blessed by God. When God set up His kingdom, He did not do it in an evident manner. He did not begin with world dominion, and an overthrow of visible powers. From earth's perspective [and only from earth's perspective] He started small. From heaven's perspective, the kingdom actually started off on an extremely large scale. Death defeated! Satan destroyed! Sin removed! Heaven opened! The world reconciled to God! Principalities and powers plundered! The Spirit sent! Angels marshaled for the salvation of men! Grace provided for sinners! You cannot get bigger than that! Still, all of this was, and remains, undetected to those living "in the flesh."
Jesus declared that what seems small to men, will not remain so! God did not institute an unimpressive salvation, nor did He exalt His Son to administer over a handful of constituents! In His parables, Jesus declared the nature of the kingdom over which He now presides. "He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches (Mat 13:31 NASB).
At first, the kingdom appeared absolutely non-competitive. What was the few believers in those days to compare with the empire of Rome? But how does it compare now? It has grown into a "tree," where men and women from every nation under heaven have found lodging! The life of God is in the "seed." Omnipotence lies within its fragile appearance! It has grown in the desert of this world, amidst the stormy assaults of the evil one. It could not be deprived of Divine nourishment, even when a "famine of hearing the Word of the Lord" (Amos 8:11-12) dominated the dark ages. Remarkable!
It has survived opposition, persecution, and even the appalling plague of indifference! Still it grows, bringing within its protecting walls (Isa 26:1) men and women out of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation. The final outcome of Christ's redemptive work will be a vast number of delivered personalities which no man is capable of numbering! How marvelous to know we are part of a work so wonderful and effective. Let us give Him thanks!
THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM INVOLVES PERSONAL GROWTH
Christ's kingdom is an increasing one! That characteristic exists on both collective and individual levels. It is the nature of this kingdom to expand, grow, and swell! It is lamentable that so much professed Christianity is noted for decline, lack of spiritual life, and lukewarmness. These are not Divine qualities, and do not appear where God is at work. Fellowship with God's dear Son is not attended by dissipation and retardation. Drawing back, in any form, is a sign of unbelief. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God.
The Word of God provides a revelation of the increasing nature of Christ's kingdom. It addresses believers, because of their transfer into Christ's kingdom, as those involved in the process of increase and advance. Salvation necessarily involves growth and increase. This is not something separate from salvation, but integral to it.
Glory to glory The New Covenant is glorious. It is the administration of the Holy Spirit of God, Who moves the saved toward their appointed culmination. As it is written, "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18, NASB). The phrase "from glory to glory" describes a state of advance. We are being transformed, or changed, from one stage of glory to another. The NRSV translates the phrase, "from one degree of glory to another." The NIV emphasizes continuous improvement; i.e., "with ever-increasing glory."
Those within Christ Jesus have been called into a Divinely appointed process. The Father has predetermined the destiny of those abiding in the Son. It is that they "be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29). Having been made "partakers of Christ" (Heb 3:14), believers are becoming more like the Son. They are being brought from one stage of glory to another, by the Spirit of our God! It is not possible to "abide in the Vine" and avoid this transformation--and there is no salvation without it! This is the outworking of the increasing nature of Christ's kingdom. It is not something we SHOULD do, but something that occurs in fellowship with the Son!
Strength to strength Within the realm of nature, strength dissipates. As it is written, "outwardly we are wasting away" (2 Cor 4:16). Time eventually erodes our natural energies. Some manage to stay remarkable adept, even though they are old. But every one of them will tell you, their outward man is perishing! That is the disposition of our physical nature.
From the attitudes of the contemporary church, it appears that some believe deterioration also characterizes the spiritual man. Older ministers are retired, and those of mature years are placed on the religious shelf to waste away. Their understanding is considered inappropriate for the modern times. But they are wrong--seriously wrong! In Christ's kingdom, spiritual strength does not abate with age. With a clear prophetic note, the Psalmist wrote, "They go from strength to strength, Every one of them appears before God in Zion" (Psa 84:7, NASB).
When the Lord's Christ was born, He was dedicated by an old priest. Although he held an infant in his hands, Simeon knew he had seen the salvation of God. The first one to tell those waiting for redemption in Jerusalem of the Lord's Christ was an aged woman, Anna the prophetess. How unlike the modern church! Two aged people employed to see and announce the greatest birth that ever has or will take place in the earth (Lk 2:25-28). Within, they had grown stronger in the faith. With keen spiritual vision, they were able to see what other seemingly qualified people were unable to see! To put it another way, this world did not distract them.
Moses stands as an example in this regard. Although he died at the age of 120, it is said of him, "Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died" (Deut 34:7). Truly, he went "from strength unto strength." Another faithful man of Moses' generation was Caleb. At the age of eighty-five, he was anything but weak. "I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. Now then, give me this hill country about which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out as the LORD has spoken" (Josh 14:11-12). He stands an historical example of the spiritual reality of which we speak!
See Paul at the close of his life. He is not spiritually decrepit. He is strong in faith, giving glory to God! Having fought a good fight to the end, he was ready to be offered to his God in full vigor and strength. "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim 4:6-7).
Spiritual strength consists of a number of things, all of which increase in strength and vitality. Spiritual insight, moral strength, and the ability to work in the Lord's harvest fields, do not dim as we walk in the Spirit. Those blessed with a "sound mind" will reason more soundly when they are old than when they were young! They will see more and further in the heavenly Kingdom than they did in their youth. Their spiritual energies remain remarkable, and are only handicapped by their deteriorating bodies. Their earthly tabernacles are not able to keep up with the increasing energy of their spirit! People in Christ DO go from "strength unto strength"--from one degree of strength to another increasing measure.
You will notice this strength is related to appearing before their God: "They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion" (NIV). The point is this: as we approach the Lord, increased strength is necessary! We must push away from the course of this world, and press into the heavenly realms. That requires spiritual strength--increasing spiritual strength! This is what Jesus referred to when He said, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force" (Matt 11:12). Suffice it to say, without that sort of spiritual tenacity, no progress will be made in the Kingdom. That is simply the nature of the Kingdom. It is an increasing one!
Brighter and brighter I recall singing as a child, "This little light of mine . . . " It was a noble song for a child, but not for one that has spent a lifetime in Christ Jesus! Our light may begin small, but it certainly does not remain that way. It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to increase! Is it is written, "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day" (Prov 4:18, NASB).
The glory of Christ is seen more clearly in those that live by faith. Their walk in the Spirit causes the "light of the glory of God" to shine more brightly in them. Our new birth is like the dawning of the day! As we live in the Son, the sun rises higher, illuminating the sky. When the sun begins to set, it gets larger, casting its rays across the horizon, and coloring it with unparalleled beauty! So it is with the righteous! Their life shines brighter and brighter until the full day of spiritual maturity is reached. Then they brighten their environment as they head for a realm for which they have been suited. It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to increase!
Growing Into A Temple While spiritual increase occurs on the individual level, it also characterizes the entire body of Christ. The objective of salvation is to bring the saints to a point where God can dwell evidently and effectually within them. How appropriately this is affirmed by the Spirit. "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Eph 2:19-22).
See the reason for our salvation! Together, we are structured upon the truth declared by the Apostles and Prophets. The shape and extent of this spiritual building are determined by Jesus Christ, the "Cornerstone." In Christ the entire body of believers is fitted together in a growing temple. They have been created in Christ Jesus to fit together, like the stones of the temple of old. The work of that ancient temple involved an incredible amount of men, for it was a noble effort. Solomon appointed 70,000 to carry loads, and 80,000 to quarry stones for the temple. He appointed 3,600 men to supervise this gigantic work (2 Chron 2:2,18). The stones were so precisely fashioned that when the temple was built, they fit perfectly together. As it is written, "And the house, while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built" (1 Kgs 6:7, NASB).
The church of God is superior to Solomon 's temple! It is comprised of "living stones" (1 Pet 2:5, NASB).Each one is fashioned in the quarry of spiritual life in a precise manner. They are fashioned together for a habitation of God! Together they are "growing"--advancing to a place where God Himself can fully dwell within them! This objective will be accomplished in "the world to come." Until that time, we are growing, advancing in the capacity to experience God Himself! That is the nature of Christ's kingdom--to advance to that appointed place.
A Growth Which Is From God The growth of which we speak is not contrived. It is not the result of human ingenuity. This is not something that can be marketed in the religious arena. Those that specialize in "church growth" have no access to this form of advance. Because it can be neither systematized nor exploited, it is of little interest to those in the flesh. This is, however, the only form of growth that is acceptable to God! It is the only increase recognized by heaven. It is on the part of wisdom to seek this type of increase!
Believers are warned by the Spirit to avoid the philosophies of men regarding spiritual advancement. His words are arresting. "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God" (Col 2:18-19).
The Spirit of God is not polite with those that rely upon the flesh. They have quenched the Spirit to lean on the weak reed of humanity, and that is why their efforts are not tolerated or overlooked by the Holy Spirit. The indictment of such men sounds like something spoken against the charlatans of our day. Self abasement, inordinate attention to angels, and much ado about visions. Such things, the Spirit affirms, have proceeded from the fleshly mind. They are the result of failing to cling to Christ Jesus. They have not come from God, but only detract from His great salvation. The outcome of such efforts may be impressive to men, but they had better not be to the saints!
The reason for the rejection is straightforward. It has not marshaled the spiritual energies of the saints. They attract attention to a special group of people, and invariably leave the people spiritually emaciated and weak. The kind of growth, or increase, that is required comes from God, and God alone. It is a growth that will outlast the world. It does not dissipate or fade away! It IS the nature of Christ's kingdom to increase--and to do so with "the increase of God" (Col 2:19).
THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM IS EXPANSION
The first covenant was not one of dramatic growth. The nation of Israel did not expand significantly, nor did it proliferate into all the world. God characterized this people as few in number. "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples" (Deut 7:7). This circumstance was not altered, even during the reign of King David, when their kingdom of kingdom reached it apex.
The glory of Israel was to be found in their smallness. In them, God demonstrated He was able to save "with many or few" (1 Sam 14:6). This was, however, only introductory! The kingdom of God was not destined to remain small. It is the nature of His kingdom to grow, and grow it shall under the Lord Jesus Christ! The prophets saw this afar, and prophesied of the expansion. "Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous Than the sons of the married woman," says the LORD. Enlarge the place of your tent; Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations, And they will resettle the desolate cities" (Isa 54:1-4, NASB).
Here was an occasion for shouting and great joy! Expansion! Recovery! Domination! That is the glorious outcome of the work of Christ!
Paul takes up the refrain, singing the praise of God regarding this growth and increase. He acknowledges the small beginning. He even affirms apparent barrenness and sterility. But it will not remain this way. It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to grow and expand! Hear what the Spirit says to the churches! "For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise" (Gal 4:27-28).
What manner of increase is this? The challenge is hurled into the arena of spiritual combat, "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband" (Gal 4:27, NIV). Christ will have more offspring then Moses! Grace will yield a larger household than law! Faith will produce a greater family than works!
Think of the extent of the knowledge of God before Jesus. Were you to place a dot in every quadrant of the world where God was known before the coming of Christ, it would not take long to count them! They would all be confined to the Mid-East. During the reign of Solomon, the borders of the kingdom were remarkably restricted, when compared with the extent of Gospel influence under Christ..
And what is this to compare with the glorious spread of the Gospel of Christ? Jesus announced the extent of the effort underwritten the Father and Himself. It was to begin in Jerusalem, but it would not be confined to that holy city! It would spread to "all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8, NASB). Israel never embarked on such a mission! The Gospel was to be preached to "all creation" (Mark 16:15). In a bold and Divinely ordained initiative, Jesus declared, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt 28:19, NASB). Christ's kingdom would bring an abrupt halt to provincial religion! It is the nature of His kingdom to increase!
About mid-way through the first century, the Holy Spirit spoke of the greatness of Christ's kingdom in this manner. "This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven" (Col 1:23, NIV). Because Philip preached the Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch, the Gospel was brought to the African section of the world. Paul brought the Gospel to Rome (Acts 23:11).
In the end, Christ's house will be "filled," as He desires (Lk 14:23). In the vision of the ages, John caught a glimpse of the glory of Christ's kingdom. A vast multitude was perceived by the Seer of Patmos. What a sight it was! "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'" (Rev 7:9,10, NASB).
Do you wonder, child of God, about the extent of the kingdom of Christ, into which you have been translated? Never has there been such a kingdom! It causes Solomon's kingdom to shrink and cease to be impressive! The Roman empire pales next to this kingdom, as well as the Grecian empire of Alexander, the domain of Darius, and the glory of Nebuchadnezzer's kingdom! What are they to compare with the kingdom of "our Lord and His Christ?" They all failed, but His kingdom marches on, growing and expanding! With remarkable consistency, it has rolled over all that have opposed it. It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to expand!
The Testimony of John the Baptist Here was a giant among men! Jesus testified to his greatness in a remarkable tribute. "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matt 11:11, NASB). John stood on a line of demarcation that separated two Divinely appointed covenants. None before him surpassed him. Filled with the Holy Spirit from the mother's womb, and appropriated called "The Voice" (Lk 1:41-44; 3:4), he was a giant among men! Hallelujah for John the Baptist, bold harbinger of Jesus!
But Jesus declares the least in the Kingdom--His kingdom--is "greater than" John the Baptist. How can this be so? It is certainly not a person-to-person comparison that our Lord makes. He is speaking of men from the standpoint of the era in which they lived. John lived at the close of one era. He brought the termination of "the Law and the prophets" as a means of access to and acceptance by God (Luke 16:16). His baptism became obsolete (Acts 18:25). What will this man have to say about Jesus?
The mighty prophet leaves no doubt on this matter. "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30 KJV). John knew the nature of Christ's reign. It was an ever-increasing one, and he was willing to fade into the background, that Christ might fill all in all! He was insightful, that is why he affirmed the necessity of his own decrease! A new day was dawning, and he knew it. In the words of Malachi, the time had come for the "Sun of righteousness" to rise with "healing in his wings" (Mal 4:2)!
THE BODY THAT INCREASES
Although this point has already been made, it will be well to make it again. The body of Christ is an increasing body. Those that fail to increase are, by virtue of that circumstance, at variance with the body! That is an arresting observation, and one that will doubtless be contested by those with a tolerance for the flesh. Notwithstanding, if the nature of Christ's kingdom involves spiritual increase, those not so characterized are a contradiction to the rule. If you can remain in Christ and NOT grow, what else can be excluded? How is it possible for an individual to remain in favor with God while contradicting the very nature of the heavenly kingdom?
Again, the Spirit speaks to the issue. The assumption of Scripture is that we have been joined to our Head, Jesus Christ. Another foregone conclusion is that the people of God are compacted together by what each receives from the Head. The grace received by every member becomes the means of an effective work whereby the body increases. Hear what the Spirit says to the churches. "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4:16 KJV).
The thought of "the whole body" not being joined together by design is absurd. That compactness is what makes it a "body." For parts of the body to fail to "supply" the grace ministered to them by the Head, is equally incongruous. For a work of God to NOT be effective through the members of the body is a contradictory concept, and is unworthy of being part of our thought processes! It is completely out of order to think of the body of Christ NOT increasing, and that increase NOT eventuating in the building up itself in spiritual love. This is the nature of Christ's kingdom! Where these qualities are not found in some measure, Christ's kingdom is not found as God means for it to be found!
For many, these are particularly difficult thoughts to embrace. A goodly amount of time is spent these days explaining the deadness of the professed church. Apparently plausible rationalizations are offered to us for the existence of fruitlessness, carnality, and general insensitivity toward God. All of these attempts to justify the lack of spiritual life, however, are to no avail!
The nature of Christ's kingdom is to increase--both on the individual and collective levels. Jesus has told us what the Father will do when branches bear no fruit--experience no increase. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away" (John 15:2). There are no exceptions to this rule! Jesus reaffirms the case to ensure we do not miss the point. "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:6). God will not allow people that do not grow to continue to be part of a growing kingdom. Those that fail to increase cannot remain in an increasing kingdom! It is not possible to refuse participation in the dynamics of spiritual growth and remain in God's favor. To do so would contradict Divine purpose and require God to violate His own nature.
The impact of this truth upon the human spirit is powerful. If Christ's kingdom is an increasing one, and expansion and growth is its nature, our responsibility is clear! As individuals, and as fellowships, we are to make progress toward heaven. Conformity to the Divine image is our appointed destiny. Heaven must become clearer, our understanding of God increase, and heavenly mindedness become more prominent. As this occurs on the individual level, Divine influence will become more apparent in society, thereby bringing glory to God.
God Causes Increase Care must be taken not to rely upon human resources to achieve spiritual growth. Divine influence is required for the desired end--spiritual increase. How poignantly this is declared by the Spirit. "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you" (1 Thess 3:12 KJV). The strength of this statement is confirmed in all major translations of Scripture. " . . . cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men" (NASB). " . . . make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else" (NIV). " . . . make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all" (NRSV). The word "make," or "cause," comes from pleona,sai, meaning "to do, make or be more, i.e. increase . . . to superabound: abound, abundant, make to increase, have over." The term "abound" comes from , and means "to superabound (in quantity or quality), be in excess, be superfluous; also . . . to cause to superabound or excel:--(make, more) abound, (have, have more) abundance, (be more) abundant, be the better, enough and to spare, exceed, excel, increase, be left, redound, remain (over and above)." 1
Who but God can cause such superabundance to break forth in the saints? This is why the Apostle prays for this to be experienced by the Thessalonians. It is the nature of Christ's kingdom! It is always appropriate to recall the words of the unusually active Apostle, "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase" (1 Cor 3:6,7, KJV). It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to increase!
Exhortations Are In Order While it is true that God CAUSES increase, He does so through appointed means. One of those means is exhortation. The people of God are encouraged to throw themselves into the process of spiritual growth. Here is an example of an earnest plea. "And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more" (1 Thess 4:10 KJV).
The nature of this exhortation is challenging. The Spirit does not settle for some growth, but for "more and more." The NASB puts it this way, "excel still more." In these words you sense the utter foolishness of seeking identity with Christ apart from advancement in Him. I cannot help but observe the extreme rarity of this posture in the nominal church.
A Matter of Pleasing the Lord What does it take to "please the Lord?" In fact, is that an appropriate question? Perhaps in part, but there is a wider perspective that must be sought. Pleasing the Lord involves infinitely more than attaining to a certain level of human conduct. It is more than achieving discipline in life. When we speak of "pleasing" the Lord, we are addressing more than achieving a goal. Worthiness is involved here, as well as a manner of life.
Here is a remarkable admonition. "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col 1:10 KJV). Think about the magnitude of this word! "Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord" (NASB). "Live a life worthy of the Lord" (NIV). "Lead a life worthy of the Lord" (RSV). You must recognize how this conflicts with much of the teaching of our day! Still, the legalist will seize upon this admonition to enforce the view that our works are what makes us worthy!
Notice, the point is to walk in a manner that is thoroughly pleasing to the Lord. " . . . to please Him in all respects" (NASB). " . . . please Him in every way" (NIV). " . . . fully pleasing to Him" (NRSV). And how is it possible to please the Lord in "every way?" The answer is found in the matter of increase! " . . . bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (NASB).
How can you hope to be "fruitful in every good work?" Is there a secret procedure? A certain discipline? Indeed, this is not how fruitfulness is realized! The answer is found in the good knowledge of God! True increase is found in the expansion of our understanding of God Himself. This is what delights the Lord (Jer 9:23-24). He desires the knowledge of Himself above burnt offerings and sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Here is the specific area in which Christ's kingdom grows and increases. The saved come into a deeper acquaintance with and fellowship of Deity. That, and that alone, is what makes them spiritually productive! It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to increase--to grow--to expand. The admonition is for you to become involved in process. Your growth will glorify God, and guarantee a place with Jesus in glory! Now, be up and increasing for the glory of the Lord!