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James Dodson

THE KINGDOM (Continued).

LET us carefully examine the teaching of the New Testament on the questions which divide Pre-millennialists and Post-millennialists as to the kingdom. Is it taught that this kingdom will not be set up until Christ’s second coming, that it will be on earth and territorial rather than, or even as well as, over men’s hearts, and that our Lord will reign in personal and visible presence, when it is established?

The first feature of the teaching of the Gospels which strikes us is, that it is represented as both present and approaching. From the time of John “the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it” (Luke 16:16). In the parables of Matt. 13, different features of a present kingdom are spoken of. It is never “the kingdom of heaven shall be like,” etc. The rich man might have found entrance into the kingdom of heaven, rather than turn away, and suggest to our Lord the statement that “it is hard for a rich man to enter into ” it (Matt. 19:16-25). Whatever Matt. 16:19 may mean, it at least declares that the power Peter received was to be exercised by him in connection with a present kingdom.

“Whosoever will humble himself and become as a little child is greatest” in that kingdom already; not shall be at some future day. The scribes and Pharisees do not enter into the kingdom of heaven, neither do they “suffer them that are entering in to enter” (Matt. 23:13, etc.).

It is also spoken of as “at hand”, John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2); our Lord himself (Matt. 4:17); His apostles (Matt 10:7); and the seventy (Luke 10:9, etc.).

Now, neither of these representations, if they be indeed different representations, leaves room for the idea that this kingdom is still future. Many Pre-millennialists attempt to explain away this difficulty by saying that our Lord came to set up His visible kingdom and reign, expecting His ancient people to receive Him; but through their rejection of Him, His purpose was defeated, and the kingdom was deferred until His second advent.[1]

It will be noticed, however, that our Lord did not say, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, if the Jews receive me. His declaration of its presence was absolute. He could not, therefore, on this supposition, have foreknown that they would reject Him. He must have misinterpreted Isa. 53 and the other prophecies of the rejection of the Messiah. Their rejection of Him must have come to Him as a surprise, and the delay in setting up His kingdom as an afterthought. Had they received Him, also, then He would have gone to His throne and not to the cross. Then there would have been no need that He should die and make atonement, in order that God should highly exalt Him (Phil. 2:9, 10). It is strange that anyone should attempt to save a theory at the cost of such conceptions of the foreknowledge and immutability of Christ, and the absolute necessity of His atoning work, as are thus involved.

It does not directly concern us in this discussion to inquire in what sense the kingdom was present during our Lord’s life and in what sense still to come. We believe, however, the distinction is to be found in this: While the kingdom, as a spiritual rule in the hearts of men, had begun, during our Lord’s life, as He taught its principles and gained followers, it was not until He had completed His atoning work and had been gifted with “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matt. 28:18) to administer its government and advance it among men, that it was formally instituted.

In this connection let us call attention to another point. Pre-millennialists hold that the coming of our Lord, which was said to be near and imminent in so many passages, was His second personal coming to set up His kingdom. If this be so, is it not strange that, while the writers of the epistles so frequently speak of the coming of the Lord as nigh, they never thus speak of His kingdom, although they make frequent reference to it? Is it not difficult to believe that these two events can be associated together, when one is so often said to be near, and the other is never thus spoken of?

The nature of this kingdom and rule is also very clearly taught in the New Testament. It “is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). It is not material but spiritual. It “is not of this world” κοσμός (John 18:36). Those who become members of it must be born from above (John 3:3-5), must have a real righteousness (Matt. 5: 20). Position in it is gained through meekness and humility (18:4). The members of this kingdom have their citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20). This kingdom is unseen, as it exists in, or in the midst of men, so that it cometh not with observation (Luke 17:21). It is the antipodes of the power of darkness, and the Colossian believers had all been already translated into it, when they had been delivered from this awful power (Col. 1: 13).

These and other passages make it plain that our Lord’s rule in this kingdom is not territorial, but over men’s hearts, as they are conformed to His image through the new birth, and thus gladly acknowledge His sway. It is enlarged, not by taking in new lands, but new hearts. It is pushed forward, not by omnipotent might, but by omnipotent love. Subjection is not formal and of the outward life, but real, of the spirit as well. In this kingdom. He is ruling now. He does not need to come in person and use His omnipotent might in order to exercise this sway. This kingdom and rule continue to enlarge as the Gospel of the kingdom (Luke 9:2; comp. v. 6), or the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19) is proclaimed.

This conception of the kingdom helps us to understand another of its aspects which is still future. This kingdom of grace on earth issues in the eternal kingdom of glory in heaven. Therefore it is that: Paul declares “The Lord will save me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). It is also to be noticed that in the first verse of this chapter, he charges Timothy, by the Lord’s “appearing and his kingdom” to preach the Word. Can we doubt that the kingdom which He associates with the Lord’s second coming is the heavenly kingdom. He speaks of in v. 18, rather than a millennial kingdom on earth, as Pre-millennialists believe? Peter also (2 Pet. 1:11) speaks of “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” referring to the everlasting kingdom of glory. The reward to those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake is to become sharers in the kingdom of heaven with its great reward in heaven (Matt. 5:10-12), and those who belong to it are commanded to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, for it is only there that they can be safe (Matt. 6:19). To the rich young man who asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life” (John 10:17), our Lord gave instructions how he might have “treasures in heaven” (v. 21), and when he refused to comply with them, Jesus said “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 23), showing that the great blessedness of entrance into the kingdom of God was in securing treasures in heaven. After telling his disciples that it was the Father’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom (Luke 12:32), instead of referring them to a reign in this kingdom on earth as their great reward, he urges them to secure treasure in heaven and to have their hearts there (vs. 33, 34), and not be filled with the thought of any future glory on the earth. “Many shall come from the east, etc., and shall sit down with Abraham, etc., in the kingdom of heaven: but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast into the outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11, 12). This is not the description of the sitting down, etc., in the millennial kingdom of our pre-millennial brethren; for they believe that at the beginning, or before it is set up, the sons of the kingdom, or the Jews, shall be gathered into it, and shall have first place, next to the king. It is a description of the kingdom in heaven and not on earth, as the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth (references to the lost in Hades) of those who are cast out abundantly show. It is this kingdom of God in heaven which “flesh and blood cannot inherit” (1 Cor. 15:50). The kingdom here spoken of is the one which believers inherit after the resurrection, as the connection of this verse shows. Now, the earthly millennial kingdom, according to pre-millennial conception, is one in which a great host of saints in the flesh shall have a share. In this place, where above all others, perhaps, we might expect the reference to be to this earthly kingdom, were there to be such a one, it is definitely and decisively excluded—a pretty sure indication that Paul had no knowledge of it.

Are we not then—in view of all these passages and of others which might be adduced—compelled to believe that the aspect of the kingdom of heaven under which it is spoken of as future, is the kingdom as it is in the heavenly glory, where there shall be the realization of its aims and blessedness in ever-growing fulness? In all the passages quoted, and they constitute nearly all the allusions to the kingdom in the New Testament, there is no reference to a future territorial and material reign of our Lord on earth; in the most of them, this idea is absolutely ruled out.

The expression “shall” or “shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” if it refers to the kingdom at all as future, must mean become sharers in the kingdom of glory. “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer must be joined with “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth,” or it may mean, come in the complete realization of its purpose, in bringing all men into loving subjection to Christ. We do not need to introduce any visible reign of Christ in an earthly kingdom to explain this passage. The kingdom of God, into which Paul said the Ephesians must enter through much tribulation (Acts 14:22), and of which the Thessalonians sought to be worthy through suffering (2 Thess. 1:4, 5), does not need to be a visible kingdom on earth, but the grander kingdom of glory, with its rewards in heaven. “If we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12) does not require us to think it a reign on earth, but in the eternal glory spoken of in v. 10. Is it not the absurdity of literalism to infer from Luke 22:29, 30, “I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom,” that this is to be a material kingdom, rather than consider the form of expression, “eat and drink,” etc., as determined by the circumstances which suggested this whole passage? In any case, Pre-millennialists believe this kingdom will not be enjoyed by the apostles until after their resurrection, and if they are then to eat and drink, why not in heaven as well as on earth, and, if at all, why not forever ? This is considered by Blackstone “the strongest proof that the kingdom will be literal and material.” As well might we believe that Rev. 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with me,” is to be taken literally. Both passages refer to the condescending and intimate fellowship our Lord is to hold with His people. Matt. 26:29 may well be interpreted in a similar way. The passage which was once urged most strongly for the doctrine of a material kingdom is Rev. 5:10. But it was without manuscript authority, as in the old version, and the revised version gives it, “They reign on the earth,” not “They shall reign.” As this vision is of the redeemed prior to the millennium, the reign, as already exercised, cannot be of a visible and material kind, our pre-millennial friends themselves being judges.

“Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2) is urged in favor of a literal and material kingdom here on earth. But this is followed by “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” in v. 3. Now; if v. 2 proves that the saints are to share in the literal judgment of the world, meaning the wicked of the world, then v. 3 must mean that there is really to be a literal judgment of holy angels, in which the saints are likewise to share. It is safe to say that a future judgment of angels in this literal sense is foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. It would be very unsafe to base so large an inference upon this one obscure passage. If it does not refer to judgment in this literal personal sense, in the one case, it does not in the other. May it not mean that the saints may judge the world and angels in the sense that the standard of their life and thought is that by which the world shall be condemned and the angels justified ? In any case, the saints might have a part with Christ in judging the wicked, and still there be no personal reign of Christ on the earth. In the passage “judge” can scarcely mean “rule,” for in this sense it could hardly be thought to be over angels. The apostles sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28), is a passage of acknowledged difficulty. The judging is restricted to the twelve and is not a general function of all the redeemed. Every one who has denied himself for Christ’s sake (v. 29) “shall receive an hundredfold”; but the apostles only are to judge. It is a special function exercised over Israel, and it will be over believing Israel, as most Pre-millennialists suppose; for they hold that Israel is to be converted before the second advent, or, at least, in connection with it. Whatever it may mean, therefore, it constitutes slight evidence for a personal reign of our Lord and His people on the earth. We have already given extended notice to Rev. 20:4-6. It may be added, in this connection, that nothing is said in that passage about a reign on the earth; it is “reign with Christ,” that is all. If the interpretation we have given of this passage be along the right line, then it has no reference to a personal reign. In Matt. 21:43, “The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” the meaning doubtless is that the special offer of its blessings to the Jews as the ancient people of God, shall be withdrawn, and its blessings be opened to the Gentiles, who would be prepared to bring forth its fruits. This began to be fulfilled when Paul at Antioch turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46), and when at Rome, after “testifying the kingdom of God” to the Jews (Acts 28:23) and their rejection of his message, he declared, “Be it known therefore unto you, that this salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles: they will also hear” (v. 28). It is significant that the kingdom of the Pre-millennialists is one in which the Jews are to have the first place.

We have now referred to about all the passages in the New Testament, pertinent to the question under discussion. That the kingdom of heaven is spiritual, a reign in men’s hearts, and not material, over earth as a territory—that this kingdom and reign began when our Lord was on earth, was more formally established at His ascension to the right hand of power, and that our Lord is now exercising His rule, seem abundantly manifest. If this is made clear, we must not assume that the principles and methods of this kingdom are to be revolutionized at some future time, and a rule of force as well as of grace in a material kingdom begun, unless upon the clearest evidence. Still less should we be disposed to do this, if we bear in mind that God’s kingdom on earth was once of this character, and that it has issued forth from the more material into the spiritual. A conception of it which requires us to believe it will revert back to the more material, is too much like progress ending in retrogression, at least in some of its features, to be acceptable. The support, also, which Pre-millennialists claim for this belief from the New Testament is in allusions which are scant and not without obscurity. It is doing them no wrong to state that their chief reliance, to make good their claim that our Lord is to reign personally on the earth, is upon Old Testament prophecy, in connection with their belief in the restoration of the Jews to their own land. We proceed to consider the prophetic teaching upon which they depend.



[1] See e.g., “Jesus is Coming,” p. 36; “Prophetic Studies,” p. 46.