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James Dodson


PRE-MILLENNIALISTS differ from Post-millennialists in their conception of the kingdom and reign of Christ. They hold that the kingdom of Christ is not yet established, although its principles have sway in the souls of believers. It is to be set up at His second coming. His rule in that kingdom is to be personal and visible, on the earth, and during the millennium, at least. During this time He will not only reign through the might of love and spiritual motive in men’s hearts, but also through compulsion over those who do not otherwise submit to Him. The chief support for this conception of the kingdom of our Lord they find in a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, special prominence being given to the promise to David that his throne should continue forever.

On the other hand, Post-millennialists believe that our Lord set up His kingdom at His first coming, and that He took His seat as ruler in this kingdom, when He rose from the dead and all power was given into His hands. He is now seated on David’s throne, ruling in the kingdom of grace, which is His only kingdom on earth. This is to continue until His second coming with the resurrection of the dead and the judgment, when the eternal kingdom of glory will succeed in its growing fulness, and for all who have become members of the kingdom of His grace. Christ is never to reign visibly and in person on the earth, in the kingdom of grace, even if He is thus to reign in that of glory. His kingdom on the earth is spiritual, and His rule through the millennium is to continue to be what it is at present, one of inner motive exclusively. Old Testament prophecy urged in favor of the pre-millennial view of the kingdom, when interpreted as the New Testament writers explain it, finds its fulfilment in the present dispensation.

It will thus be seen that the pre-millennial conception of the kingdom is almost identical with that of the Jews. Accepting the same literal interpretation of prophecies respecting it, it is scarcely possible to reach any other conclusion. Dr. Nicholson says: “Christ . . . should succeed to David’s throne precisely as a son succeeds his father; that He should succeed to it as being so identically David’s throne, that He would have as the inherited subjects of His kingdom ‘the house of Jacob, or, as elsewhere expressed, Judah and Israel—the self-same people whom David ruled; that, therefore, He should be a visible king reigning on earth.”[1] This and similar sentiments are found in all pre-millennial writings. The Jews were not so much in error in their conception of the nature of the kingdom the Messiah was to establish. But this kingdom, instead of being associated with His first, was to be set up at His second coming. Whether our Lord and the apostles endorsed this Jewish idea of His rule will be considered later. At the outset we must give attention to this question of the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. It is, of course, too large a subject to deal with further than as it is related to the question in hand, or otherwise than briefly.

Pre-millennialists urge the following argument in favor of their interpretation. The prophecies concerning the birth, life and death of our Lord have had a literal fulfilment. Therefore, we must expect a similar fulfilment of those which relate to His kingdom and reign.

This argument seems to have force. Let us examine it:

1. It is only presumptive; for it does not necessarily follow that prophecies about the birth, life and death of our Lord and those concerning His kingdom and rule should be fulfilled in the same way.

2. It is also to be noticed that the prophecies about the birth, life and death of Christ are incapable of any other than a literal fulfilment. How could He be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, become a man, be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, make His grave with the wicked, etc., except in a literal way? If He was to be a real being, then He must have a real birth into a real life, and the incidents of that real life would all be real, and prophecies of them would have a literal fulfilment. It does not follow, because prophecies which are of such a nature that they are incapable of any other than a literal fulfilment, are fulfilled literally, that those which are capable of another than a literal fulfilment, must be fulfilled in the same way. This, as it seems to us, completely sets aside all presumption in favor of the literal interpretation of prophecies of His kingdom and rule, as claimed by Pre-millennialists.

3. The great question is, whether our Lord has established a spiritual kingdom—a rule over men’s spirits, which is called a kingdom. If this be admitted—and who can deny it?—then it is more reasonable to argue that, as Christ was to be a real being, all the prophecies about His life are to be fulfilled literally in the real life He was to live; but, as He was to establish a spiritual kingdom, in which He was to rule spiritually after His death, that the prophecies about His kingdom and rule refer to this kingdom and rule, and are to be fulfilled spiritually. What right have we to assume that these prophecies refer to another than the kingdom and rule we know our Lord to have established, so long as they are capable of being interpreted in harmony with this known kingdom? Can anyone be justified in giving an interpretation to these prophecies which makes it impossible to refer them to this known kingdom, and then declare there must be another kingdom, of which we know nothing, in order to make this unnecessary interpretation possible?

4. But an examination of the prophecies themselves shows that they cannot be interpreted literally, because thus explained, they lead to impossible conclusions. Among others are the following:

(a) The Jewish commonwealth, with its priesthood, feasts, sacrifices and worship, will be restored, in connection with the kingdom which our Lord is to set up. Isaiah 66:20-24 is regarded as a description of the period of the kingdom, and mention is here made of “the house of the Lord,” to which “the children of Israel bring their offerings in clean vessels.” “Priests and Levites” are to be chosen for service. “New moons and Sabbaths” will be observed and “all flesh shall come to worship” before the Lord, in His temple at Jerusalem, from week to week. “No alien, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh” shall enter Jehovah’s sanctuary (Ezek. 44:9). The feast of tabernacles will then be observed, etc. (Zech. 14:16). The sanctuary and the tabernacle are to be set up again (Ezek. 37:26, 27).

(b) This Jewish commonwealth, with all its restored Jewish ritual and worship, together with the Gentiles who adopt Judaism, constitutes the visible kingdom over which our Lord is visibly to rule (Ezek. 37:21—28; comp. Zech. 14:16). The Israelites are to be gathered as one people (v. 22) and dwell in the land “given unto Jacob” (v. 25), and David—Christ on the throne of David—shall be their king (vs. 24, 25).

(c) This kingdom and worship is to continue forever. “Judah and Jerusalem” shall abide forever (Joel 3:20). The rule of David’s line—fulfilled in Christ—and the priests, Levites and sacrifices shall never cease (Jer. 33:17, 18). “My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore” (Ezek. 37:28). Now, if the word “forever” has here a limited meaning, as is probable, it at least means till the end of the age or period spoken of. If these prophecies, therefore, are of the reign of our Lord during the millennium, as our pre-millennial friends declare, then there is to be a restored Judaism until the close of this period, or as long as our Lord rules as King on the earth.

If the word “forever” really means here without end, as it sometimes does, as this kingdom is thought to be on the earth and forever, the interpretation which makes His rule personal and visible, makes it personal and visible on earth forever. In addition to the passages referred to above, read also Micah 4:7 and Dan. 7:14.

(d) There is to be the rule of physical force, as the enemies of our Lord are dashed in pieces (Ps. 2), and the nation and the kingdom which will not serve “Israel” “shall perish" and be “utterly wasted ” (Isa. 60:12).

(e) Those that submit and accept Judaism become the servants or slaves of the Jews (Isa. 14:1, 2; 61:5; 60:14; 49:23, etc.).

That the passages referred to, and others which might be quoted, do plainly teach what is claimed above, when literally interpreted, is tacitly, if not avowedly, admitted by different classes of Pre-millennialists. All classes of them believe that these prophecies teach the restoration of Israel to Canaan. But is this more plainly taught than that, at their return, they shall reinstitute their whole ritual, and be recognized as the people and kingdom of Christ, into membership in which none can enter unless they adopt Judaism?

May we not require them to carry their literal interpretation through, and demand that they accept not only the return of the Jews and our Lord’s visible rule over them and those who are joined to them, but also the description of their religious institutions as well?

But the majority of Pre-millennialists go further than this. They admit themselves bound by their interpretation to the reinstitution of the Jewish sacrifices, rites and observances, after their restoration to their own land. They endeavor, however, to stop short of the full extent to which the literal interpretation would seem to compel them to go. The Jews are to be restored to their own land before they are converted. They set up their old ritual, which continues until they believe in Christ, and then the Jewish sacrifices, etc., are abandoned. But if anything is plain this is just what these prophecies, literally interpreted, absolutely forbid. The glory of the kingdom culminates in the restoration of Israel’s ancient religious ritual and services. Isaiah’s last vision is of officiating priests and Levites, of the people presenting their offerings and thronging to Jerusalem to the Sabbath and the new moon observances. So, also, of Zechariah. His closing vision of what Pre-millennialists assume to be the millennial era, is of the remnant of the Gentile nations, as proselytes to Judaism, going up yearly to Jerusalem to worship the king, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles (14:16), of the people preparing their sacrifices in vessels holy to the Lord, and to service rendered to Him in His house, into which no Canaanite—uncircumcised—is permitted to enter. In all the prophetic descriptions there is no hint that the Jewish ritual, when reinstituted, is to give place to anything else. It is an integral part of the glory of the kingdom under the rule of the Son of David, and is said expressly, as above, to continue forever. This can mean nothing less, at least, than to the end of the millennial age, to which it is said to belong.

So evident is this that many of the most candid Pre-millennialists of the last generation were forced to the conclusion that the rites and sacrifices of the Jewish dispensation are to be observed in the millennial period, and they hazarded conjectures as to the purpose they are to serve.[2]

The most of the pre-millennial writers of to-day make no attempt to face these difficulties.

This is equally true of force succeeding the reign of spiritual motive, in case of the unrighteous, when our Lord is supposed to set up His kingdom. There is a section of Pre-millennialists who are forced to believe, from their literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, that when Christ comes as king in His kingdom, it will be to crush all opposers by His might.

Thus it is seen that each of the conclusions we have referred to as necessary from the literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, is admitted by different classes of Pre-millennialists—a pretty sure evidence were any proof, additional to what is so evident from the passages cited and from others which might be mentioned, needed, that this interpretation does legitimately lead to such conclusions.

Can we believe that the progress of the ages from the material and sensuous into the more spiritual shall be reversed? Is it possible that God will write failure upon His work in establishing Christianity by abandoning it for Judaism, with its priesthood and sacrifices, its rites and symbols, its physical force and its unsparing rigor? Is the culmination of the religious progress of the ages to be but a return to an effete and vanished system, adapted, as we had supposed, to the race when it was ignorant and unspiritual, and which, it was hoped, mankind had long outgrown? We surely are not required to accept a system of interpretation which makes such demands, unless there is no other which can save us from conclusions so anomalous and incredible. But there is more than the inherent improbability of all this against it. If anything is made plain in the New Testament, especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is that the sacrifices and priesthood, etc., of the Jewish dispensation were typical of Christ, His work and sacrificial death, and had their fulfilment in Him, and were so abolished forever.

If Paul also believed Old Testament prophecy taught that a restored Judaism, with its circumcision and its ritual, was to constitute the final realization of Christianity, could he have ventured to oppose so strenuously the Judaizing teachers of his own time! Could he have warned the Galatians that to accept circumcision and what it involved was to forfeit the benefits of Christ’s redemption ?

It is also strange that Paul, with all his yearning over his own people and desire to comfort them, never told them that the time was coming when Judaism should be restored, and their nation, with their old religion, should dominate the world under the Messiah—the Christ whom they were so long to reject. He might have added: “Your ideas of the Messiah and His kingdom, and of the part your nation is to play under Him, is according to the teaching of the prophets. Only you are wrong in supposing this is to occur in connection with His first coming. In connection with His first coming, and for centuries after, you must abandon Judaism, in order to be His followers. But in connection with His second, when He comes to set up His kingdom, you must restore Judaism, and all who would share in the full glory of His reign must accept the ritual that for centuries He demanded must be abandoned, before they could have part with Him.” We do not think this overdraws the antagonism between the conclusions rendered necessary by the literal interpretation of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the teaching of the New. As we discuss the question of the kingdom more particularly, we shall refer to one phase of this subject in greater detail.



[1] “Prophetic Studies,” 1886, p. 144.

[2] Rev. M. Fay, “The Second Advent,” pp. 120,583-86 ; Rev. W. R. Freemantle, “Lent. Lectures,” pp. 276-79; Rev. M. Bocett, “Israel’s Sins and Israel’s Hopes,” pp. 271-73; Rev. W. Pryn, “Good Things to Come,” pp. 165-67; Rev. A. Bonar, “Coming and Kingdom,” p. 222; Rev. C. Molyneux, “Israel’s Future,” pp. 25258; see also Blackstone, “Jesus is Coming,” p. 134.