by David Mann

FOR well nigh four hundred years God had kept silent, as far as any message to His people Israel was concerned, till one day one who declared himself to be a voice imploring, is heard in the wilderness, calling to Israel to get ready for the coming of the Lord.

From John the Baptist's message to repent and believe the evangel, because the long looked-for kingdom was NOW NEAR, it is very evident that up until that time no entrance into this kingdom had been possible. Isaiah had closed the door when he uttered the words found in chapter six of his prophecy.

As we open that chapter, we find the prophet calling to the heavens to hear, and the earth to give ear to what Jehovah had to say concerning Judah and Jerusalem. "Nation of sin," "People heavy with depravity," "Seed of evil doers," "Sons of corrupters," "They forsake Jehovah, spurn the Holy one of Israel."

From the above description of the condition of heart the people were in, is it any wonder that we find them at last in exile according to Ezekiel and Daniel?

Coming back to chapter six of Isaiah, we find the prophet telling that he hears the voice of Jehovah saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go to this nation?" Jehovah has something to say to this people, and Isaiah volunteers to go with the message, which we find in verses nine and ten:

And He is saying, "Go and say to this people:
Hear ye to hear, Yet you may not understand.
And see ye to see, And you may not know,
For stoutened is the heart of this people,
And with their ears, heavily they hear,
And with their eyes they squint.
Lest at some time they should see with their eyes,
And with their ears they should be hearing,
And with their heart may be understanding,
And should be turning about, and I shall be healing them."

From the above statements it is very evident that Judah, along with the ten tribes, were far away in heart from God, so much so that Jehovah sends the prophet with a message that will close their eyes, and stop their ears, until such time as He sees fit to offer them repentance and change of heart.

A fitting picture of Israel's condition is seen in the parable of Matt.21:33-40. God had planted a vineyard and leased it to Israel, expecting to harvest the fruit in due season.

He had sent His servants, the prophets, to them, whom they stoned and killed, and now Isaiah with his message of chapter 6, verses 9,10 takes away for the time being, any expectation of Israel becoming the priestly kingdom for which she had been chosen. In other words, Isaiah closes the door through which the nation would have become God's administrators on this earth.

About one hundred and fifty years after Isaiah's day, we find Judah in exile in Babylon (the ten tribes having been carried away to Assyria earlier), and while there, God tells them through Daniel when to expect that glorious time to which all the prophets pointed. Daniel almost set the day when God would unlock the door which Isaiah had closed, and Israel would once more be invited through the open door of repentance, into the kingdom.

Surely Israel has learned the lesson that God longs for heart-obedience, and not mere lip service, which their prophets have been denouncing those many years since Isaiah's day. That long period of suffering during the days of the Maccabees, should have brought them to their knees before God, and prepared them for the one who was about to make His appearance in their midst, as foretold by the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi.

The next voice we hear is that of John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah.

And now that long looked for moment has come, the arrival of the promised Messiah is imminent, and His forerunner is sent ahead of Him to open the long closed door into the kingdom. When the King comes on the scene He finds the door unlocked and, like His forerunner, He calls upon Israel to repent and believe the evangel, because the era was fulfilled and the kingdom was NEAR.

These are the circumstances we find as we open our so-called New Testament. That Jesus was God's Anointed is demonstrated by the signs and powerful deeds that were present during His ministry as He heralded the kingdom to Israel. These things belonged to that impending eon (Matt.4:23; Heb.6:4,5).

As we read on in the account of our Lord's ministry, we find Him selecting twelve to be with Him in this heralding of the kingdom. These twelve are sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel only. They are given the credentials which equip them for the task for which they had been chosen (Matt.10:5-42).

In Matthew, chapters five, six and seven, we find our Lord laying down, what might be called the kingdom constitution.

To the unbiased mind there can be no difficulty in seeing that the grace as later preached by Paul is conspicuous here by its absence. A place in the kingdom depended on how the hearers obeyed the instructions in the so-called "sermon on the mount."

Failure to put them into practice was likened to the acts of a man who built a house on a foundation of sand, which would not stand when the testing time came. A place in the kingdom will depend largely on conduct, or works. It was this message that brought our Lord into conflict with the religious leaders of that day.

The scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses' seat. They were the law enforcers, though they themselves gave more heed to their own traditions than to Moses' law.

But now the one of whom Moses wrote is here, and in His fundamentals He goes deeper than the precepts which Moses got at Sinai.

In the sermon on the mount He touches the very motives that are behind the acts, the thought and the look, that first grips the soul or senses.

This was too much for these self-righteous leaders, and they hated Him because He exposed their outward show.

The heralding of the open door into the kingdom by our Lord begins in Matt.4:17: "Henceforth begins Jesus to be heralding and saying, "Repent! for near is the kingdom of the heavens," and ends in chapter 16:20, where He cautions the disciples that they may be saying to no one that He is the Christ. In verse 21, we find again the words, "Henceforth begins Jesus," but now He tells of His suffering and death at the hands of the leaders in Israel, the elders, chief priests and scribes.

They were ever on His trail, and the crisis is reached in chapter 12 of Matthew, verse 14, where we have the Pharisees holding a consultation against Him so that they should be destroying Him. The leaders who ought to have been the first in the nation to welcome the open door, were the very ones who refused to enter themselves and sought to hinder those who would, with the result that the door is again closed, and He begins to speak in parables to them in order that Isa. 6 might be fulfilled in them once again, as of yore.

Instead of acknowledging our Lord as God's Anointed, because of the signs which He did in their midst, they said He was doing them by the power of Beezeboul, the chief of the demons. That which was a foretaste of the kingdom to them, they accredited to Satan. They failed to see the open door, which, though wide enough to let all enter, was a cramped gate and narrow way for those who desired to enjoy life in that kingdom.

That cramped gate and narrow way, as described by our Lord, in the sermon on the mount, was more than the leaders bargained for, and as He is about to quote Isaiah six, and close the door once more, He denounces them as a progeny of vipers, which recalls what Isaiah had to say in chapter 1:4. They were worse than ever.

Israel was still calloused in heart. Now that the kingdom door has been closed again by our Lord, quoting Isaiah six, it is no longer heralded as NEAR, but, by the language of the secret parables, is moved into the uncertain future.

From now on He tells of His sufferings and death at the hand of the leaders of the nation, His resurrection and coming again, all of which could have taken place during the lifetime of that generation.

As we follow on in the accounts of our Lord's life, we find Israel committing the greatest sin of their history, the murder of their Messiah. Now we know that, for the present, the kingdom door is closed. A dead Messiah! What will God do now? Is this the end of that nation?

If the tomb can hold its Victim, all future hope of the kingdom is gone, and this seems to have been the conclusion the disciples had come to, as we listen to that conversation which took place between our Lord and the two on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-17). The cross had blasted their hopes, their expectation was now a thing of the past, the kingdom, will it ever come?

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