The Premillennial View of the Kingdom

15 08 2008

[Article originally published in The Christian Statesman in May 1913]

In a number of ways the premillennial theory of the coming of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom on the earth keeps thrusting itself on our attention. The attitude and the aggressiveness of some who hold to certain forms of this theory make it necessary that attention be given it in these columns. It is conceded that there are some forms of the theory that may be held without marring the system of Bible doctrine or impairing one’s usefulness in the service of Christ. But the more popular form of the theory at the present time is calculated to do both. If one sees fit to hold, for example, that Christ may appear visibly in behalf of certain interests of his kingdom on earth, even to the extent of inaugurating the millennial form of the kingdom, no harm would be done provided it was at the same time maintained that he is now the universal king and does not need to come to earth to be crowned and enthroned. But when it is maintained that his kingdom in this world has not even begun to be established, that it will not be inaugurated until he himself appears, that he must come and occupy the throne of David in the strictly literal and worldly sense, and that all reform work designed to bring nations and governments into subjection to him as the reigning King is useless, we are constrained to speak out with boldness and to characterize such views as unscriptural and dangerous. Some who hold this view even single out the work of the National Reform Association and particularly the approaching Conference in Portland, and declare, with all the positiveness of a prophet who has received a direct communication from heaven, that all such efforts are vain.

The Second Coming of Christ belongs to that department of theology which treats of things yet in the future, and it is generally conceded that all such events are surrounded by more or less obscurity. And yet our friends who hold to the premillennial view sometimes speak with such assurance about the whole programme which is to be carried out when Christ comes that one might be led to suppose that they were the recipients of a special revelation on this subject. But it is not with the features of the theory that relate exclusively to the future that we now propose to deal. We are specially concerned with those features that relate to that part of the programme already carried out. Whatever obscurity may shroud the future of the Mediatorial government, there are some things relating to the past and the present about which there ought to be no room for doubt. It is the attitude of premillennialism, as set forth by its chief apostles today, with reference to these clearly revealed truths, that we propose to consider.

The teachings of the theory which to us seem specially objectionable are these: the Jewish people are preeminently if not exclusively the kingdom; Christ intended to set up his kindgom at the time of his first advent, but changed his plan because the Jews would not receive him as their king; the kingdom therefore hs not yet been inaugurated and will not be till he comes the second time; the present dispensation is designed solely to gather a people called the Church, which is no part of the kingdom, but is the bride of Christ; the relationship which the Gentile nations are to sustain to the kingdom when it is inaugurated will be merely one of subserviency to the Jewish people who will constitute the kingdom in the strict sense.

Every one of these statements we meet with a point-blank negative. The Jewish people are never presented to us in the Bible as the kingdom in any exclusive sense. They were the kingdom in miniature. They were the type of the kingdom. They were the instrument for its propagation during the Mosaic dispensation. But they were never the whole kingdom. The prophecies which predict the future greatness and glory of Israel refer, not to literal Israel, nor yet to the Church, but to the kingdom of Christ as embracing all nations. This is clear from the fact that the literal fulfillment cannot take place without the literal resurrection and enthronement of David, the literal rebuilding of the temple, and the offering of animal sacrifices (Ezek 34:23; 43:18-27). There are some who do not shrink from such literalness. It seems to us that they utterly misunderstand the use of language as employed by the inspired writers. They seem to have no conception of the picturesque and figurative use of the words. Moreover, the repeated statements of the Scriptures that the kingdom of Christ includes all the nations of the world ought to have guarded every attentive Bible reader against the error now under consideration (Ps. 2:1-3, 10; Dan. 7:13-14; Ps. 72:8-11). Especially is it to be noted that the kingdom was taken from the Jews and given to others (Matt. 21:43).

The notion that Christ intended to set up his kingdom when he first came but changed his plan because of the hostile attitude of the Jews is a foolish dream. He not only intended to set it up at that time in a very important sense, but he actually did it. His forerunner announced that the kingdom was at hand. He did the same. He calls his gospel the gospel of the kingdom. As far as the records show he used the word Church only three times, but the word kingdom was on his lips scores of times. It is derogatory to Christ as the Son of God to say that his plan was changed and this dispensation is an interpolation, as is done by certain premillennialists. After his resurrection his theme in talking with his disciples was still the kingdom just as it had been before (Acts 1:3). Force is added to our criticism by the fact that the kind of kingdom premillennialists contend for is the very same as that which the Jews were expecting. If Christ had consented to the establishment of such a kingdom they would have hailed him with joy as the promised Messiah (John 6:15).

Instead of this dispensation being designed solely for the formation of a Church, and not at all for the establishment of his kingdom, we maintain that the whole purpose of all dispensations is the establishment of his kingdom. This was the purpose of the dispensations before the first advent. They were preparatory to his coming as king. It is the sole purpose of the present dispensation. The organization and extension of the Church are subordinate to the advancement of the kingdom. The Church is the organized army for subduing rebellious individuals and associations (Gen. 22:17-18; Matt. 24:14; Rev. 11:15).

While there is no objection to our regarding the Church as the bride of Christ in a very important sense, ultimately, when the work of subduing the world is accomplished, the kingdom itself becomes the bride. Israel was the bride as well as the kingdom of Christ under the old dispensation. The marriage took place in the act of covenanting at Mount Sinai. At the final consummation the bride is called a city, not a church (Jer. 3:14; Hos. 2:19; Isa. 62:4; Rev. 21:9-27).

Finally, there is no evidence that the nations are all to serve the Jewish people. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. All are one. The literalism that interprets the Bible to mean national submission to the Jews is contrary to the whole spirit of the gospel. All those passages of Scripture that are so interpreted denote the submission of all nations to the kingdom of Christ himself as the universal Ruler (Isa. 60:12; 49:23; Gal. 3:28; Ps. 72:11).