THE RULERS IN THE COMING KINGDOM.
IN the glorious predictions as to time coming kingdom of God on earth, much is revealed, but more is left in obscurity and involved in utmost mystery. When we have focussed on these predictions the light that streams from many other parts of Scripture, we yet feel that only the salient features become visible, and that the detail lies buried still in deep shadow. Eager imagination with her ready wings will fly unbidden forward, seeking some twig on which to alight, but she finds only a sea of mystery, and the fogs of ignorance soon drive her back to the shore of revelation, where faith may find firm foothold. That a multitude of difficulties should confront us when we try to conceive in detail the condition of society and of the earth during this millennial reign of Christ is only what might be expected.
Could the Jews of the Old Testament conceive the state of things now existing in the gospel dispensation: God dwelling in the hearts of men instead of a temple made with hands; national distinctions abolished, and Gentiles more highly privileged than Jews; religion independent of external observances, and the law replaced by the gospel? Could they conceive how Messianic prophecy would be fulfilled? With what apparent contradictions it must to their minds have abounded!
How could the everlasting Father, the mighty God [to become Ed.] , be born as a child and given as a son? How was the throne and government of David to be ordered and established with judgment and with justice for ever as predicted, when it was foretold elsewhere that restored Jerusalem was to be destroyed by "the people of a prince that should come" against it, and made desolate on account of its sins? How could Davids Son be Davids Lord, or a virgin conceive and bear a child? Above all, how could the Messiah, the elect Servant of God, be exalted and extolled and very high, and at the same time despised and rejected, wounded and bruised, stricken, smitten, and laid in a grave? That these difficulties could not be explained beforehand was however no reason why the predictions which suggested them should not be received and believed. And similarly-that we cannot conceive how the Divine predictions about the coming kingdom can be accomplished, is no good ground for our hesitating to believe that accomplished they will be. Messianic prophecy is all fulfilled, and the facts of gospel history shed back upon the ancient predictions such clear light, that to our minds they present little or no perplexity.
So shall future fulfilments explain all that seems dark and difficult in millennial prediction. Its difficulties are not as great as those involved in the doctrine of the resurrection, which is assuredly held by all Christians, for none such think of making the difficulties attending a belief of this doctrine a reason for rejecting it; why then should the slighter difficulties attending the statements of Scripture as to the future kingdom make us hesitate to receive them?
Fully recognising therefore the existence of difficulties which are for the present insoluble, let us seek to gather up the light that is afforded, both by the Old and New Testaments, as to that kingdom, for whose coming we daily pray.
The best and brightest characteristic of this glorious period is, that during its course the Son of man will again be personally manifested on earth. We do not say that His presence will be confined to earth as in the days of His flesh; He that liveth and was dead is now alive for evermore, incarnate still, though not in flesh and blood, but in a spiritual resurrection body, a glorified humanity. He can never again of course be subject to the conditions of time and space and material existence, as formerly, and therefore the statement that He will reign on this earth does not exclude His presence elsewhere. Even in the days of His flesh, and while on earth, He spoke of Himself as "the Son of man who is in heaven." How impossible then to limit His presence to any one sphere now or in the future In the forty days which elapsed after His resurrection we have proof that the powers of the spiritual body transcend all our conceptions; on the first day of His resurrection our Lord spoke to the woman in the morning, ascended to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God, in the day, and was present the same evening in the upper chamber in Jerusalem in the midst of His disciples. His personal reign on earth must be understood as affirming nothing further than that He will be visibly manifested on earth during that period as He is not now; in what way and to what extent it is not for us to say, because it is not revealed. He is now seated on His Fathers throne in heaven; He is then to ascend His own throne on the earth He has redeemed-the throne of His father David in Jerusalem; and hence it is said, "The name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there." If He is not to be personally manifested on earth, why does the millennial vision represent Him as coming from heaven to earth at its commencement ?. and why do all the passages which speak of it associate it with His personal epiphany? "Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him," can refer only to a personal advent. "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come and will dwell in the midst of thee. saith the Lord." "Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee." "The Lord God will give unto Him the throne of His father David," said the angel to Mary before the birth of Jesus; "and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end." "I saw in the night visions," says Daniel, "and, behold, one like unto the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven . . . And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, 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."
Our Lord likens Himself to a nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom (that is, the investiture of a kingdom as from a higher court), and to return, to reward the faithful, punish the unfaithful, destroy the rebellious, and establish His dominion. After the ascension the angels assured the disciples, whose minds were full of the Messianic kingdom, about the time of which they had just been inquiring-a kingdom which, as they well knew, was yet to be established on earth-that this same Jesus who had just ascended to heaven in the clouds in their sight would in like manner, i.e., visibly and personally, return. The hope of the kingdom on earth was not lost, only postponed by the intervening age of gospel grace to the Gentile world When "the times of the restitution of all things arrive," the heavens which received the risen Son of man will retain Him no longer; He returns to reign on the earth, where He was despised and rejected, to be crowned where He was crucified, to set up His throne where Pilate set up the cross, and inscribed over it, "This is the King of the Jews."
And He returns not alone. Scripture constantly states that in His train are to be, not only His mighty angels, but His risen and transformed saints. "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels"; "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints"; or, as Zechariah expresses it, "The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. . And every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even come up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts."
The share which His saints are to have in His coming kingdom was often alluded to by our Lord when on earth, and is perhaps too little dwelt upon in the joyous anticipations of His people. Its definiteness, its tangible character, remove this hope widely from the vague and shadowy anticipations of "heaven," which constitute the main idea entertained by many of their future portion. Heavenly rest is not all that will be brought to us at the coming of the Lord, but blessed and active ministry, high and holy service. "To you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven," means, as the context shows, rest from persecution, not an inglorious and uninteresting repose, but a glorious living and reigning with Christ. His risen saints are to share with Him the active administration of His kingdom, the actual government of the world.
Ye are they who have continued with Me in My temptations," said our Lord to His apostles, "and I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me, that ye may eat and drink with Me at My table in My kingdom, and sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." In #Isa 32. we read not only that "a King shall reign in righteousness," but that "princes shall rule in judgment," or in the figurative language of Psalm lxxii., that "the mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills by righteousness." "Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their resting-places. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; to execute upon the nations the judgment written: this honour have all His saints." [#Psa 149:5-9.]
As a king or great minister calls to his cabinet his specially trusted and valued friends, and appoints to the most responsible posts those of the most approved fidelity and ability, both for their reward and for the benefit of the kingdom, so as regards Christ and His saints. The holy martyrs are to be enthroned beside the faithful and true Witness: those who have suffered are to reign with Him. We must not regard this as a figure of speech, but as the description of an actual reality. The supreme and. distinctive feature of the millennium, the personal government of Christ and His saints, must not be explained away because of certain difficulties which it presents. This reign of the risen Christ and His risen saints over the nations of the millennial earth is the very essence of all the predictions of Scripture on the subject, and it is reasonable and harmonious with all we know of the Divine counsels and dispensations. To make it a spiritual kingdom is to miss its character altogether. For first, as we must again recall, this kingdom is one of a series of earthly monarchies, standing fifth after four preceding ones. This shows that in the main it must resemble them in its nature, although having many points of total contrast. Now if the millennial reign were spiritual, it would have no resemblance whatever in its nature to Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. This present spiritual kingdom of God does not consequently appear at all in Daniels fore-view of earthly empires; it is a thing apart, not of this world, not established by wars and victories, not maintained by military power, nor administered by laws having the sanction of present rewards and penalties. It exists, and has existed from its birth, alongside of the great Roman dominion, interfering with it as little as did Christ when on earth with Caesar. The saints have suffered from Rome, but have never even sought to overthrow its power. The growth of the true Church has not troubled the kingdoms of this world. It has been and is distinct and wholly alien from them in nature. It is no part of the image; it is a part rather of that mysterious "stone cut out without hands" which ultimately destroys the image. The spiritual dominion of Christ in His true Church, and the temporal dominion of kings and rulers on earth are, both in their intrinsic nature and in their outward manifestation, sundered wide as the poles.
The apostate Church with its temporal dominion tried to unite them, but succeeded only in producing Babel-confusion -" Babylon the Great"; but the millennial kingdom of Christ and His saints is in no sense a continuation of this present spiritual kingdom, of this Church age of mystery and forbearance. It is a new thing in the earth, a new dispensation, wholly unlike the present. It is a manifest kingdom, as earthly as any of the previous four in its sphere, only more universal in its extent. Each one of the previous four has been larger than its predecessor, and this embraces the entire world. The stone which destroyed time image of Gentile power takes its place, succeeds it, becomes a mountain, and fills the whole earth. This clearly symbolises a visible outward, earthly kingdom, universal in its extent, towering in its proportions, permanent in its duration, firm and immutable in its foundations. It is an empire which rests not on the narrow, fragile, unstable basis of clay and iron feet easily fractured and overthrown, but on a foundation broad and stable as that of a mountain. To conceive of it as a spiritual reign of an absent and invisible monarch is to miss the entire point of the prophecy. It is not a universal church, but a universal kingdom. True, its King is also the Head of "the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all;" true, the Church is the Eve of the second Adam, the bride of the Lamb, long betrothed as a chaste virgin to Christ, and united to Him for ever in resurrection. But His relation to her must never be confounded with His relation to the world. The risen saints are the associates of His glory, the sharers of His throne, the joint administrators of the kingdom, not its subjects.
In considering therefore the future of the inhabitants of the millennial earth, we who are Christians, members of "the Church of the first born," are not considering our own future, but that of others, that of those over whom it is our destiny to reign with Christ. Our own future is to be "for ever with the Lord," wherever He may be. He said, " I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also"; and again, "Where I am, there shall also My servant be."
Unless therefore we are to limit the Christ to one spot in His universe during the coming eternity, we must not so limit ourselves. By His infinite grace we are destined to be sharers of His glory, and of His Fathers peculiar love; ["The glory which Thou gayest Me I have given them. . Thou hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me" (#Joh 17:22, 23).] and sharers also of His work of reigning for ever and ever over the ransomed earth, and redeemed race of man. This is the revealed future of the Saints of the true Christian Church of this dispensation, and all we know of the nature of the spiritual bodies with which we are to he clothed at the resurrection, makes this wonderful and unspeakably glorious prospect seem a possible one. To bodies of flesh and blood it were of course impossible, but spiritual bodies are independent of time and space and material conditions; their motion swift as the glance of the mind, their appearance various as that of the angels, or as that of the Lord Himself after His resurrection; their constitution immaterial as that of the form that entered through closed doors, and was taken up and lost to sight in the clouds of heaven. To beings clothed in the likeness of the risen Lord, it can be no impossibility to rest in heaven and reign on earth at one and time same time. "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is"; we shall bear the image of the heavenly, as we have borne the image of the earthy. Why we should have been elected to such peculiar honour is as little to be explained as why it has pleased God to redeem men rather than fallen angels. Not unto us be the glory, but unto Him who "raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill: to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory."
But it is objected that this doctrine involves the inconceivable anomaly of intercourse between men in the flesh and those who are already clad in spiritual bodies, risen and glorified. On what basis does this supposed objection rest? Is there any inherent impossibility of intercourse between heaven and earth-between God who is a spirit and His creature man? Have not revelations from the unseen world been more or less the portion of our race from the beginning? and without them would not all knowledge of God have been impossible to us? Those revelations would doubtless have been fuller and freer, more frequent and more prolonged, but for sin. Incarnation closely linked heaven and earth for a time, for the Christ belonged to both; and even death and resurrection did not sever that link, for our Lord walked and talked and ate and drank with His people for forty days subsequently. He afterwards withdrew from earth for "a little while," because it was expedient for His Church that He should do so; but it was only to send the Holy Spirit to take His place and abide in the Church till His return. Communion between earth and heaven has been widening and deepening daily ever since that day; and though it is a spiritual communion during this age of mystery, this time of the Churchs walk by faith, and of Gods long suffering with a sinful world, yet there seems no reason in the nature of things, either from Scripture, or from analogy, why personal intercourse between the risen Christ and men on earth and in the flesh should not be resumed. If the risen Saviour could so veil and lay aside His glory when occasion required it, as to walk with the two disciples to Emmaus, and sit with them at their evening meal, why should not both He and His risen and glorified saints do the same in the future, when occasion requires?
It is quite true that flesh and blood cannot in its own strength stand before the full effulgence of the heavenly glory, as we learn from its overpowering effect on Isaiah, on Daniel, on the disciples on the mount of transfiguration, and on John in Patmos; but men can he strengthened to endure, on the one hand, and the glory can be veiled, on the other, as these instances prove. Are we in respect of heavenly intercourse with higher beings to limit the portion of mankind in the millennium, under the direct reign of Christ, to that of this present evil world under the direct rule of Satan? Are we to assume that because the privilege of constant communion with beings clad in spiritual bodies is denied to men now, that it must equally be denied in these days of heaven, upon earth?
As to the risen saints, on the other hand, is there anything contrary to the most perfect spirituality and to the highest enjoyments of heavenly bliss, in the thought of ministering to, instructing, guiding, and governing beings here on earth in a lower state than that which will then be ours ? Are not angels and the Lord of angels evermore doing the same even now? Would not such service be Christ-like? Is it not more blessed to give than to receive, to minister than to be ministered unto? Is not government the highest and noblest work to which intelligent beings can aspire? In its most majestic form is it not Gods own work the government of the universe ? Besides, does not Scripture expressly state that apostles and saints are to do this very thing? Is not the millennial reign of Christ on earth to be exercised through His people? "Have thou authority over five cities, over ten cities."
We may banish the notion that this reign over the earth implies such a perpetual presence of the rulers among the ruled as to involve exile from heaven, or exclusion from the place which the Lord Jesus is gone to prepare for us. There is no need to imagine that the children of the resurrection will be confined to this earth because they reign over it, or that they will be limited to any one of the "many mansions" of the Fathers house. They may have a special home of their own, without occupying it all the time, The countless stars of the midnight sky show us how numerous and how glorious those many mansions are. Shall we not visit them all by degrees as well as reign over this one, and enjoy our own prepared place? Surely the Lord never intended to imply that because He is gone to prepare a special residence for His bride, therefore she was to be to all eternity confined to it alone!
All difficulties as to the conditions of existence during the millennium and during the Eternal Kingdom of God which follows, will be found on reflection to arise from our ignorance merely, and not from any inherent impossibility. Now we know in part only-revelation is only partial. Then shall we know as we are known.