THE COMING KINGDOM
The drama which has been unrolled before our eyes in the events of the "times of the Gentiles" has been a dark and tragic one, presenting little on which the spiritual mind can rest with pleasure or complacency. How could the ravages of wild beasts be a pleasant spectacle to rational men? How could the triumphs of Satan, the wars and bloodshed of mutually antagonistic nations, the great systematic organizations of evil, the oppressions and persecutions of the people of God, the oppositions and blasphemies of the apostasy, form anything but a painful subject of contemplation to those who have the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, and who enjoy the peace which passeth all understanding ? With a sense of relief we turn from the history of the past to the Bible pictures of the future, from the now nearly finished "times of the Gentiles" to the blessed "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" which are to follow! The stormy and painful past can only safely be studied in the light of the calm, glad future. Only when the glory of a perfected redemption is allowed to irradiate the dark enigmas of Divine Providence does their meaning become clear. Then we perceive "the end of the Lord," that He is very pitiful and of tender mercy, and that though the bud may have a bitter taste, yet sweet will be the flower. Even a human plan cannot be criticised until it is complete. If prophecy does not enable us to understand fully the complete plan of Providence in the creation and redemption of mankind, yet it puts us at any rate in a better position to judge of it than we can be without its help. There remains much that is mysterious, and we must wait for the explanation of many difficulties, suggested by its very revelations. "The secret things belong to God, but those that are revealed to us and to our children." The entire scheme of Providence is not unveiled to us as yet, and we must not reason about it as if we understood the whole; but nothing should deter us from receiving and holding for certain truth the plain predictions of Scripture as to the future. We must neither over-estimate our knowledge, on the one hand, nor under-estimate the amount of revealed truth, on the other; neither neglect or ignore any single plain prediction of prophecy, nor indulge in baseless speculation where Scripture gives no light.
We have considered the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome; it remains to consider that of the Son of man and of the saints. What are the peculiarities by which this future kingdom of God is distinguished from His present kingdom, the "kingdom of heaven," of which our Lord so frequently speaks in the Gospels? It is important that its distinctive features should be recognised, lest difficulties should arise from confusion of thought.
It is the kingdom for whose advent Christ taught us to pray, saying, "Thy kingdom come" -one consequently which was not then present, and which is not yet so, seeing that this prayer is still offered by the Church. Now there is a dominion or rule of God which cannot come, because it is always in existence; in the broadest sense His kingdom is from everlasting to everlasting, for His essential rule over all began with the first act of creation, and must endure for ever. This essential dominion comprises two parts; an acknowledged and manifested rule over the unfallen, and a secret control over the fallen-an over-ruling of their evil for good, exercised even during the period of their open rebellion against His authority. His dominion or kingdom has never ceased or been interrupted in the case of the holy angels, but it has been thrown off completely in the case of fallen angels and in that of sinful men. The kingdom of God for which we pray, as still to come, consequently is the manifested restoration of His authority over His fallen and rebellious creatures on earth; it is that state of things in which His will shall again be done on earth as it is in heaven; that is, perfectly and universally. This double aspect of the kingdom of God is recognised in the Lords prayer; as to His essential and eternal rule over the whole creation we are taught to say, "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever"; while as to His manifestly restored authority in this rebellious world we are directed to pray, " Thy kingdom come."
The redeeming work of Christ has already restored the authority of God in the hearts and lives of His people; it is willingly acknowledged by them in theory even now, though imperfectly owned in practice; the laws of God are to some extent written in their hearts and minds. But this kingdom of God is a spiritual one, a hidden and not a manifested one; it is the kingdom of God in a mystery. The future dominion of Christ is to be an open, manifest reign over the nations of the earth; a reign in which the King Himself will be visibly present among men, in which His righteous will shall be fully and clearly made known, and His just authority rigorously and constantly enforced, by the punishment of all rebels, and by the open reward of the faithful: a kingdom in which all enemies will be subdued under His feet.
This kingdom is represented in Daniel as destined immediately to succeed the four universal monarchies, whose conjoint existence occupies the "times of the Gentiles,"-as immediately following the fall of Rome, the fourth and last. In the earlier vision of the image we read that on its destruction the stone that smote it "became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth"; and, in the interpretation of the symbol, that at the close of the tenfold condition of Rome, "the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." In the later vision of the four beasts the same truth is reiterated, and it is stated that on the overthrow of Rome "behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." And again in the close of the interpretation we read, "But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his (i.e. Romes) dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall he given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him."
This is all that is revealed in Daniel about the kingdom of the Son of man and of the saints; twenty-five centuries full of events of momentous interest had to intervene before the close of the "times of the Gentiles," and the light of the earlier prophecies was made to fall on that long interval, rather than on its close. The broad fact was presented that at last the wild-beast empires should come to an end; that the persecutions and blasphemies of the "little horn" should cease for ever, and be followed by the glorious reign of Christ aud His saints. But of this final kingdom no particulars were given, save that it should last for ever, and never be succeeded or replaced by any other dominion. Unlike the previous empires, which each in turn fell, and made room for its successor, this kingdom was to be everlasting, "it shall stand for ever". According to the plan consistently pursued in sacred prophecy however, fuller light on this subject was given later on; progressive revelations, as to the distinctive features of this future kingdom of God, were made by Christ Himself and His apostles; and in the closing visions of the Apocalypse given to John in Patmos, the nature and divisions, the blessings and the glories of it, were unfolded, as well as the order of events connected with its introduction. There it is clearly revealed that, as might have been expected, a period of time and a series of events which together constitute what we may call THE SECOND ADVENT ERA, will intervene between the end of old Rome and the full establishment of the eternal kingdom of God on earth. It is shown that the coming kingdom is to be divided chronologically into two parts: a first, or opening section, which is to last for a thousand years; and a second, or main portion, which is to last for ever. We speak of the first, in consequence of its predicted duration, as the MILLENNIUM, and of the second, because of its endlessness, as THE ETERNAL KINGDOM. These two sections bear to each other the relation of a portico to a building, or of birth to life, the one being merely a brief introduction to the other. The millennial reign of Christ is an introductory time of putting down all rule and authority and power, of bringing everything into subjection to Divine authority, of giving men one last supreme season of probation under the righteous government of Christ Himself. It is the final stage in the work of redemption prior to the introduction of its eternal results. It closes by the destruction of the last enemy, death, together with the final expulsion and punishment of its author; and the eternal kingdom dates from this close and completion of the redeeming work of Christ.
The statements of Scripture leave no room whatever to question that the millennial reign of Christ is distinctly a part of the mediatorial work, by which the human race is redeemed and placed in a better position than that which Adam lost. The progress of that redemption has already been divided into three well-marked stages, and the millennial reign is simply a fourth. Each age has been like a higher form in a school, an advance on the previous one, both in the revelation which it has made of God-His will, His character, His purposes,-and in the degree of saving blessing which it has brought to mankind. The patriarchal age revealed the power of God to create and (in the good) to destroy; but from Adam to Moses there was no law, no moral law, to make known the Divine holiness, no ceremonial law to typify the great salvation to be revealed in its season. Judaism brought both of these, and then Christianity brought the great salvation itself. Thus the creative power, the perfect holiness, and the wondrous grace of God our Saviour have been all duly illustrated in succession; but the governmental power, the righteousness and justice of God, blended with infinite love, are yet to be fully manifested on earth, and the millennial reign of Christ is the age in which this last manifestation is to take place. The Christian dispensation has been one of forbearance with sin and of grace to sinners, but one in which Gods power and justice have been almost as much concealed in His dealings with the world at large-as His glory. But the millennial age is fully to exhibit these attributes; it is to be a reign of righteousness, a time of rewarding His saints and servants, a time of destroying those that destroy the earth, of ruling all nations with a rod of iron,- that is, in inflexible justice and resistless strength. "He that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father." " Behold, a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment." "He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment; He shall break in pieces the oppressor. In His days shall the righteous flourish." "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." It is the age of the manifestation of the power, righteousness, and glory of God in Christ.
But just as all the previous ages or dispensations of Providence, which have afforded so many stages of probation to mankind, have ended in apostasy and judgment, so, according to the teachings of Scripture, will even this millennial age, although so supremely blessed and glorious during its course. It is not only introduced by an era of judgment (#Rev 19:19-21) but, like all previous dispensations, it closes with a similar era (#Rev 20:7-15). The opening era witnesses the destruction of the Roman beast, with his false prophet and worshippers, the kings of the earth and their armies, together with the binding of Satan for a thousand years; while the closing era witnesses the final destruction of Satan, and of the rebel hosts gathered through his deceptions, as well as the destruction of the last enemy, death and hades being cast into the lake of five (#Rev 20:10, 13). Then-the work of redeeming the race of the first Adam having been fully accomplished by the second Adam, the womans Seed having crushed the serpents head,-the mediatorial kingdom of Christ passes into His eternal kingdom, as it is written:
"Then cometh the end, when lie shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. . . . And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all."
As Mediator, He delivers up the kingdom to God, even the Father, while as God and Man He continues to reign for ever and ever, for the eternal throne is "the throne of God and of the Lamb."
Christ is perfect God and perfect Man, in two distinct natures and in one Person for ever. As very God of very God, He is one with the eternal Father; and as Man, He is one with His redeemed people. But He is also a mediator between God and a fallen world. In the fulfilment of this office He veiled for a time His Divine glory, and though truly God, made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant. Therefore He will also hereafter, as Mediator; exercise for a season a peculiar dominion, till all enemies shall be subdued under His feet. The era of this peculiar sovereignty will be the millennium, or the day of future judgment. As God, He will share for ever in the supreme worship and dominion rendered to God the Father. The throne which is surrounded with eternal adoration is the throne of God and of the Lamb. As Man, He will also enjoy an everlasting dominion, to be shared with His people. But the peculiar dominion which He holds as Mediator will cease. When death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed, its purpose will have been completely attained. The God-Man will then resign that special dominion which He has held during the time of judgment. Thenceforth, as the Lamb in the midst of the throne He will share in His Fathers glory; and, as the Son of man, He will never cease to exercise visible sovereignty over a ransomed universe."(Rev. J. R. Birks " The First Two Visions of Daniel," p. 872.)
Later Scriptures about the kingdom thus amplify the brief, condensed, early predictions of Daniel. Similarly, in the earliest prophecies of the coming of Christ, His first and second advents were so blended, that they could not be distinguished apart; while in later ones there were intimations that the advent must be doubled, for Messiah was to be "cut off," on the one hand, and to reign for ever, on the other. It was not until the time of the first advent itself that it was made clear to the minds of His disciples that the sufferings of Christ must by a considerable interval precede "the glories that should follow"; and even they never understood how long an interval was to elapse between His advent to suffer and His advent to reign. So, as regards this kingdom. As foretold by Daniel, it seemed to be one; as more distinctly predicted in the New Testament, it is evidently twofold, like a star that to the naked eye may appear single, while under the telescope it shows itself to be double. It is important that this peculiarity of prophecy should be borne in mind, so that the fuller particulars of subsequent visions may be welcomed as giving additional light. The latest prophecy of the kingdom,-which is that in #Rev 19 - #Rev 22, should he allowed to cast its final rays back over all the earlier predictions on the subject, and its consecutive visions should be employed to bind together in their proper order the separate links of previous prophecies.
It must be carefully noted that while, as regards its subjects, the millennium is only a final stage of probation to mankind, and no part of the eternal state, yet as regards its rulers, the Son of man and the saints, their eternal state has already commenced before it is inaugurated. This is involved in the fact of the pre-millennial advent. The Lord Jesus Christ, as Son of man, has already risen from the dead; death has no more dominion over Him; He is already clothed with a spiritual body, and His saints are to be raised and changed into His likeness, at His coming. "Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christs at His coming." "When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." Raised from the dead, or changed, if living, at the voice of. the archangel and the trump of God, clad in the twinkling of an eye in glorious, incorruptible, immortal, spiritual bodies, His saints are "to meet the Lord in the air," and thenceforth their eternal state is begun; the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His Church is for ever united to Christ in resurrection glory. It is as risen and glorified that "the people of the saints of the Most High take the kingdom and possess it for ever." Those who live and reign with Christ are those who have suffered with Him, including especially the martyrs, who laid down their lives for His sake, and the apostles, to whom their Master said:
"Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me; that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." [#Luke 22:28-30.]
To the already risen and glorified, to those already clad in spiritual bodies like our Lords own body after His resurrection, earthly changes make no difference, their eternal state has already begun. Not in the thousand years of the millennium alone are His saints to live and reign with Christ, but as Daniel distinctly says, "for ever, even for ever and ever." So far then as the Church of which we are members is concerned, our eternal state commences at the first resurrection, before the millennium. Nothing that takes place during its course or subsequently can in any wise alter or affect the condition of the Church, "which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." This is clear, for the utmost perfection of creature existence must consist in full union to God, and the marriage of the Lamb brings this to His blood-bought Church. Even now we know what it is to be one with Christ in spirit, for "he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." But this is regarded in Scripture merely as betrothal; in resurrection there will be that fuller and more perfect union symbolised by marriage. The latter as contrasted with the former is not a passing, but a permanent condition.
"The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church. . . . Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of His bones. . . . This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church."
The first resurrection or marriage of the Lamb introduces the eternal future of the Church.
But the Church is not all that Christ has redeemed by His atoning death; on the contrary, it is only as the "first fruits" of a great harvest. The whole "Church of the first born" of all lands and ages, though "a great multitude which no man can number,"[!!] bears the same relation to the entire number of the redeemed as the "first fruits" presented of old before God to time entire harvest of the country. This is distinctly stated in Scripture: "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures." [#Jas 1:18.] In order then to obtain clear conceptions of the teachings of Scripture as to the future kingdom of Christ, it is needful to bear in mind
1. That the kingdom of the Son of man and of the saints, which is to succeed that of Rome, is an everlasting kingdom, never to be succeeded by any other-the last form of government which this earth is ever to know-the eternal, manifested kingdom of God over the redeemed race of man.
2. That the millennium is only the first thousand years of this never-ending reign.
3. That this introductory section is distinguished by its being the closing age or dispensation of this old world, prior to the creation of "the new heavens and the new earth" that it is part of the work of redemption, and not a part of its perfected results.
4. That during the course of the millennium redeemed humanity has not entered on its eternal state, though the saints who rise in the first resurrection and who live and reign with Christ, "the Church of the first born," have dominion.
5. That to Daniel in Old Testament times, the historical position of this kingdom alone was revealed, without any detail as to its character and course; and that to John in Patmos, six hundred years later, after the first advent, much fuller particulars were made known, so that the Apocalypse gives in detail the order of the events destined to occur both in time pre-millennial advent era, and in the post- millennial transition from the introductory thousand years to the eternal portion of the kingdom of God.
The order of events which it reveals in its closing chapters (#Rev 18 #Rev 19.) must not be changed or reversed. It is the final programme of the future. It puts first the fall of Babylon, followed immediately by the marriage of the Lamb, involving the "first resurrection" or resurrection of saints. Then the glorious epiphany of Christ and His saints for the final Armageddon conflict and victory. Next the binding of Satan, and the millennial reign of Christ and His saints, followed by the loosing of Satan for a little season, the post-millennial apostasy, and the judgment on it, the final destruction of Satan, the judgment of the dead, the second death, and then the descent of the New Jerusalem and the eternal kingdom of God.
This is the order in which the Divine visions follow each other in the closing chapters of the Apocalypse, and there is no warrant whatever for any transposition of the events symbolised. Here is the detailed Divine programme of what we may call THE SECOND ADVENT ERA, the period between the fall of Babylon, or final end of Rome Papal, and the full establishment of the eternal kingdom of God on earth. The "times of the Gentiles," lasting twenty-five centuries, were introduced, as we have seen, by the captivity era,-a transition period of one hundred and sixty years in length, during which Jewish power was declining, and Gentile power rising triumphant over it. The nineteen centuries of the Christian dispensation were introduced, as we have seen, by a Messianic and apostolic era of a century in length. Similarly the 1,260 years of the apostasy were introduced by the bisection era of the rise of the apostasies, of over a century in length. What wonder if the era of transition between the six thousand years of the dominion of Satan over this world, and the ETERNAL KINGDOM or God be a period of a thousand years!
We are now living in "the time of the end" of the Gentile age. The millennium itself with its introductory and closing events, may be regarded as "the time of time end" of the entire story of mans redemption and restoration to full fellowship with God; for we must repeat that though the Church has reached her full perfection prior to its commencement, the rest of the redeemed do not do so until its close. To mankind at large the millennial reign is indeed the Sabbath of its long week of sin and sorrow, toil and suffering, a bright earnest of the full blessedness which awaits it in the "new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." But it is nevertheless widely different from that perfected condition; for not until it is over, not until after the final judgment of the wicked, and the destruction of Satan and of death, is it said of the state of things which is to succeed the millennium and last for ever, "that there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain : for time former things are passed away," and "all things" made "new."
Even the glorious millennial reign is closed by a fresh outbreak of rebellion and apostasy, bringing down fresh judgments and destructions; but in the new heavens and in the new earth such experiences are for ever excluded. The blessedness of the nations of the saved is never again to be disturbed by sin and Satan, by death and judgment: in the eternal kingdom there shall be "no more curse," but unbroken peace and joy in perfect fellowship with God, in paradise restored in the new earth.