Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thy Kingdom Come

What is the kingdom of God? Now God is always king over all things (Psalms 22:28; 103:19; Daniel 4:32-37). But there is another kingdom that at least at one time was future (Daniel 2:44,45; 7:13,14; Isaiah 9:6,7). This kingdom is based on the promise of a kingdom to David's descendants (2 Samuel 7:12-16), but is enlarged to include the whole earth in a reign of peace (Isaiah 11:1-10; 2:2-4; Psalm 2). This promise is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:64; Luke 1:32, 33; 1 Timothy 6:14-16). But there are still questions.

What time does this kingdom begin? There are verses that seem to indicate the present time (Matthew 13:1-43; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20). But there are others that see it as yet future (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 22:29,30; Acts 1:6). The simplest way to take it is that both are true. That Christ, at His first coming, initiated in a new way the reign of God on earth, but that the full realization of this awaits the Second Coming. This fits in with the prophetic practice of identifying two related events such as the return of the Israelites from Babylon (Isaiah 45:1-7) and the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 42:1-4). Also, whichever view we take, we must admit there are some verses that have to be taken the other way. But, we say, the real kingdom is the one we favor. And so we interpret as many verses as possible our way, seeing those that remain as special cases. It seems simpler, though, to admit the Scripture teaches the kingdom in both senses and to interpret each verse in the way that best fits.

The other question is: how long does the kingdom last? And the Scriptural answer is forever and ever (Daniel 2:44; 7:14; Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:33). Now the millennium, from Revelation 20:1-10, can, if it is accepted as future, be seen as part of the kingdom. But the promise is not for a thousand years but forever. (I have personally struggled over the question of the millennium, but concluded that Revelation 20:1-10, taken in the most straightforward way, would indicate a future millennium. But I do not see it as the fulfillment of the promise of the kingdom.)

Also, how literally do we take the physical promises of the Old Testament regarding the kingdom? Part of the problem here is Platonism, which tends to see the physical as bad and looks for a purely immaterial after-life. Now Scripture says flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:50), but flesh in Scripture does not refer simply to the physical, but to our present condition of sin and corruption. I do not claim to know exactly how much of the Old Testament picture of the future state is literal and how much is symbolic. (Are there animals on the new earth?) But I am hesitant to relegate it all to the millennium or see it as just symbolic of the present time.

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