A Baptist brother, preaching on “The Establishment of the Kingdom,” quoted Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16-21. In explaining Matthew 3:2, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he says it means “already there.” He gave for an example that having received a letter, to which we were going to reply, we would say: “Yours of — is at hand.” Please give us your views on the same.
The Greek verb rendered by the phrase “is at hand” in our Common Version literally signifies to approach, to draw near. The perfect tense is used in this passage in the Greek, and would be correctly rendered has come near, has approached. To draw near is one thing, and to be actually present, set up, is another.
We have the very same Greek word, in the same tense, differently rendered, in Luke 10, where the Savior, in giving instructions to the seventy, tells them if they entered a house or city that would not receive them, to shake the dust from their feet against them, and tells them to say: “Notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” This shows exactly what is meant in Matthew 3 — that the kingdom was nigh unto them. The kingdom of God was near when John began his preaching, and this is just what is said in the passage. John began the preparatory state of the kingdom, and this preparatory state continued till the crucifixion of Jesus, and the church was fully set up when the Spirit came upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost. The kingdom was present in its preparatory state when John began his preaching, and this explains the passages that speak of the kingdom as present while Christ was still on earth, such as when Jesus says: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The kingdom was present, in its preparatory state and suffered violence before Jesus died; but after this Jesus said: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The words will build signify something to be done in the future, as everyone knows; and as this was said after the other passage which speaks of the kingdom as already suffering violence, the first one must refer to the preparatory state, in which it was then present, while the other refers to the full establishment of the church, which was then in the future, but was fully established on the day of Pentecost, when three thousand entered by a law that was never preached to men on this earth till that day.
Elisha G. Sewell