The Kingdom of Grace and the Kingdom of Glory
The Christian message surrounds two great events: the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. As there are two distinct advents, so there are two distinct kingdoms brought to view in the gospel: the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory.
When Christ began preaching, "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:1 5), He was not referring to the future immortal kingdom. He was referring to the kingdom of grace, which was to be established by His own bitter suffering and death, although it had existed by purpose from eternity, and by promise since the fall of man (Rom. 16:25, R.S.V.; Gen. 3:15).
Says the writer to the Hebrews, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace . . . Heb. 4:16. The throne of grace represents the kingdom of grace, for the existence of a throne implies the existence of a kingdom. When Christ returned to heaven, we are told that He sat down on the throne (Heb. 1:3; 8:1, 2). He did not sit down on the throne of glory; He sat down on His throne of grace-His priestly throne of mediatorial office. Says the prophet, " . . . He. . . shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne.. . ". Zech 6:13.
The kingdom of glory still exists by promise; it will not be set up until the second advent of Christ. Says the Lord Himself, "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations . .Matt. 25:31, 32.
Confusing the Two Kingdoms
At the time of Christ's first advent, the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah to sit on David's throne. When they heard John the Baptist proclaim, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," they were filled with visions of the glory of a literal kingdom. Even John the Baptist and Jesus' disciples had no true idea of the purpose of Christ's first advent or the nature of the kingdom He was about to set up. They could not at first clearly distinguish between the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory.
The same confusion still exists in the minds of many who profess the Christian faith. When people say that Christ's second coming is His coming into the hearts of His people, they are utterly confounding the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory. When believers start looking for complete spiritual fulfillment or a second blessing of empirical perfection here and now, they are trying to bring some elements of the kingdom of glory over into the kingdom of grace—the "not yet" into the "now."
The Kingdom of Grace
A kingdom is usually established by warfare and conquest. The kingdom of grace is no exception. It has been established by Christ's conflict with, and conquest of, the kingdom of death and the devil. " . . . having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, He exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in His final glorious triumphant act!" Col. 2:15, Phillips. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil . . ." Heb. 2:14.
Who enter the kingdom of grace? Sinners — sinners of all sorts! For grace means favor or mercy to those who are sinful, lost and undeserving. The holy angels do not need or receive grace, and it is not their privilege to enter this kingdom. This kingdom is for the lame, the halt and the blind.
From His throne of grace, Christ pleads before Justice that sinners might be admitted into this kingdom. In themselves they have no right to enter. They deserve only death and destruction. But Christ makes intercession for the transgressors (Isa. 53:12). He has made satisfaction for their sin and satisfied Justice on their behalf. Between God and the sinner, nothing remains but mercy — infinite mercy. Grace means to be accepted in spite of being unacceptable. It is to be fully known and fully forgiven. Those who try to make themselves worthy or more qualified to enter do in fact dig ditches before the door of the kingdom which they can never get across.
Yet we must not get the idea that grace will tow a man to heaven against his consent. None enter but those who believe. Not that faith is self-generated by the sinner (for grace, and grace only, inspires and creates faith), but faith is the sinner saying "Yes" to God's invitation to enter the fold of justification and acceptance.
If only sinners may enter the kingdom of grace, who, then, inhabit this kingdom? And the answer is sinners! If they were not sinners, it would not be a kingdom of grace. Those within the kingdom eat, drink and breathe grace. And grace is only for sinners. Says the apostle Paul," ... for all have sinned, and continue to come' short of the glory of God. . . " Rom. 3:23. Here we have a definition of sin. It is to fall short of the glory of God. (And in the Hebrew and Greek languages, the word for sin generally means to fall short or to miss the mark.) Not only have all fallen short of the glory of God, but all continue to fall short of the glory of God. Therefore all the saints on earth are still sinners and will remain sinners in themselves as long as they fall short of the glory of God. And just so long do they need grace.
The justified (that is, those within the kingdom of grace) rejoice in hope of the glory of God. They wait, groan and long for their full restoration as sons of God. With Paul they say:
Now these facts plainly appear: God's people will be glorified together when their bodies are changed at the second coming of Christ. They have not yet attained to this glory, but they patiently wait for it in hope. Meanwhile they fall short of the glory of God, and. in this they are still sinners and confess themselves to be sinners—otherwise they are liars (1 John 1:8). And as long as they wait for this glory to be revealed in them, they need grace. Grace must reign till glory, even as Paul declares, " . . . even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom. 5:21.
Grace is free (although not cheap); yet it is hard for the proud heart of man to humbly accept the gift that contains the expensive outlay of heaven's treasure. And if sinners can be brought to see their need of grace, there is still within them a tendency to want to dispense with it as soon as possible. They want to "pay their own way." As Luther warns in his commentary on Romans, they are sometimes in too great a haste to become pure and sinless saints. The Reformer likened the situation of the rescued sinner to the man who was rescued by the good Samaritan. The good Samaritan, Christ, pours wine and oil into the wounds of the sinner and takes him to the inn for further cure. He asks the innkeeper to take care of the man, with a promise to repay the keeper's efforts upon his return. The sick man has begun to recover, but nothing would harm him so much as to imagine that he is entirely well. So, as Luther said, the church is an inn or an infirmary for the sick or the convalescing. It is the fold of grace, wherein the inmates are the objects of Christ's special solicitude and care. As long as they keep counting themselves as sinners and imploring God's mercy, God keeps counting that they are righteous. When the fanatical spirits in Germany tried to get above the truth of justification by faith, Luther exclaimed: "May God in His mercy preserve me from a church in which there are none but saints. I wish to be in fellowship with the humble, the feeble, the sick, who know and feel their sins, and who sigh and cry continually to God from the bottom of their hearts to obtain His consolation and support."
The truth of being continually justified by grace (Rom. 3:24 [note the present continuous tense] is for the comfort and consolation of the saints. It is not a soft pillow for hypocrites to put their heads on, nor an invitation to the presumptuous to carouse on the mercy of God. In case some antinomian spirit may pervert the truth into encouragement to sin with an easy conscience, we also say this: He who thinks he can continue to trample on God's law that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1; 1 John 3:9) is a thief and robber who tries to get into the fold of grace by a way other than the door (John 10:1). Those who live by grace know what it has cost God and Christ to get it for them. They delight in God's law after the inward man, and they mourn only because they fall so far short of its requirements (Rom. 7:22-25). They would rather die than commit a known sin; yet they know that their best acts are unworthy before God.
The law of God has not been set aside by the death of Jesus, but only its penalty and condemnation to those in the kingdom of grace. It still has its function to magnify sin to the believer so that he will ever be conscious that grace must continue to "much more abound" (Rom. 5:20).
The Kingdom of Glory
While sinners enter the kingdom of grace, only sinless beings can enter the kingdom of glory. Says the apostle, "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." 1 Cor. 15:50.
Little is said in the
Bible about this future, immortal state. " . . . it doth not yet appear
what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be
like Him . . . " 1 John 3:2. As Luther has said, we know as little about
the next life as a baby in the womb knows about the life he is about to
enter. But every believer knows this: In the gift of the Holy Spirit,
God has given him a foretaste, the first fruits, the down payment of the
powers of the world to come (Heb. 6:4, 5; Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:14). He knows
that life is not, and cannot be, fulfilled within the historical process.
Just as a great change—the new birth—took place when he entered the kingdom
of grace, so another great change must take place before he enters the
kingdom of glory. This final change takes place at the resurrection, at
the coming of Christ. This is the only genuine and valid second blessing
taught in the New Testament. The truth of justification by faith (the
kingdom of grace) gives meaning and hope to the doctrine of the second
coming of Jesus (the kingdom of glory).