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Alva J. McClain on The Greatness of the Kingdom Part 3

18 Jul

PART 3: THE MEDIATORIAL KINGDOM IN THE TEACHING OF CHRIST

TGOTK McClain

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the third in the series by Dr. McClain, Former President of Grace Theological Seminary, which constituted the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 9–12, 1954]

I have in mind here, of course, the teaching of our Lord during the historical period covered by the gospel records. In approaching this important body of material, it is possible for men to forget that the stream of history never stands still, not even in the brief time-span of our Lord’s public ministry. His teaching about the kingdom, therefore, cannot be read accurately apart from the background of the constantly changing historical situation. This principle has been rightly stressed in connection with the great expanse of Old Testament history. It is no less important in dealing with the gospel records when the very narrowness of the time increased the swiftness of the current. Hence, we shall do well, not only to heed exactly what the King has said about his kingdom, but also to give careful attention to the time when he said what he did. To neglect this principle will plunge the interpreter into misunderstanding and confusion.

It is hardly necessary to remind you that the Gospels open with the announcement of a kingdom. It is announced by angels (Luke 1:11, 26), anticipated by the Magi (Matt 2:1–6), preached by John the Baptist (Matt 3:1–3), by our Lord himself (Matt 4:17, 23) then by the twelve apostles (Matt 10:1–7), after that by the seventy (Luke 10:1–9). Several strong expressions are used to indicate the proximity of this kingdom. As to its supernatural powers, it had come upon men (Luke 11:20). As to its King, it was actually in the midst of  men (Luke 17:21). As to its complete establishment on earth, the kingdom was at hand,” that is, impending or imminent (Mark 1:15).

It has been well said that “The Gospels present Christ as king. Matthew, tracing his genealogy, gives special prominence to his royal lineage as son of David. He tells of the visit of the Magi who inquire for the newborn king of the Jews, and the scribes answer Herod’s question by showing from Micah’s prophecy that the Christ to be born in Bethlehem would be a ‘governor,’ and would rule, ‘be shepherd of my people Israel’ (2:5–6). Luke’s account of the nativity contains the declaration that the child to be born and named Jesus would occupy the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob forever (1:32–33). In John’s account of the beginning of Christ’s ministry, one of his early disciples, Nathanael, hails him as ‘King of Israel’ (1:49). And Jesus does not repudiate the title” (Archibald M’Caig, “King, Christ as,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, III, 1802).

Relationship to Old Testament Teaching

Now the question naturally arises: What is the relation of the kingdom announced by our Lord and his disciples to that kingdom set forth by the prophets of the Old Testament? Perhaps the many answers to this question can be summarized under about four heads:

First, the Liberal view—that Christ took from the Old Testament prophets chiefly the moral and social elements, and made these the program of a kingdom which it is the responsibility of his followers to establish on earth today.

Second, the Critical view—that Jesus at first embraced fully the ideas of Old Testament prophecy, some of which were current among the Jews of his day; but later in the face of opposition he grew discouraged and changed his message. As to the nature and extent of this change the critics are not agreed.

Third, the “Spiritual” view that Christ took up certain spiritual elements from the Old Testament prophetic picture, either dropped or spiritualized the political and physical aspects, and then added some original ideas of his own.

Fourth, the Biblical view—that the kingdom proclaimed by our Lord was identical with that of the Old Testament prophets. I have named this fourth view the “Biblical” one because it is supported by the New Testament literature taken at its face value; which, by the way, is the only material anyone has on the subject. Without intending to imply that the late James Orr would have endorsed in every detail the view set forth in these lectures, it is fair to say that his words do support my central thesis: “In announcing the approaching advent of ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ Jesus had in view the very kingdom which the prophets had foretold” (James Orr, “Kingdom of God,” Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, II, 849).

That the kingdom announced by our Lord as “at hand” was identical with the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is very evident. The name “kingdom of heaven,” so often upon the lips of Christ, seems to have been derived from Daniel 2:44 and 7:13-14.  In support of his proclamation of the kingdom, our Lord constantly appealed to the Old Testament prophets; and he characterizes two hesitant disciples as “fools” because they have failed to believe “all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25; cf. 4:18–19; 7:27; 20:41–44). The closest search of the gospel records will discover no passage in which Christ ever intimated that his conception of the kingdom was different from that of the prophets. If the prophets were wrong in any respect, how simple to say so. But there is nothing. On the contrary, from the beginning of his ministry on earth to the end of it, his evaluation of the prophetic Scriptures remains the same: “All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44; cf. Matt 5:17–18). Furthermore, the very events attending the appearance of the Messianic King demonstrate the identity of the two kingdoms. Consider only two examples: Micah had predicated that the One who was to be God’s “ruler in Israel” would be born in Bethlehem (5:2 ); and Zechariah saw this king riding up to the city of Jerusalem “upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass” (9:9, ASV). Do I need to remind this audience that these very things came to pass exactly as predicted, that the gospel writers were fully aware of the connection between the prophecy and the history, and that no legitimate Biblical criticism has been able to remove the passages from the literary and historical records?

Still further, in the works and teachings of Christ may be found every aspect and element of the Old Testament prophetic kingdom, although we should not expect here the fullness of detail so apparent in the prophets.

First, the kingdom announced by our Lord is basically spiritual in nature, so much so that except men repent and “be born again” they cannot enter into it (Matt 3:2; John 3:3–5).

Second, its ethical aspect is set forth especially in the Sermon on the Mount, a body of material which contains little that is absolutely new, the main ideas being found in the Old Testament at least in germ. Some of the Beatitudes are transported almost verbally (Cf. Matt 5:5 with Ps 37:11).

Third, the correction of social evils appears often in our Lord’s teaching; and in his forecast of the complete establishment of his kingdom all such evils will be sternly gathered out by supernatural agency (Matt 13:41–43).

Fourth, the ecclesiastical aspect of his kingdom is recognized when he whips the money changers out of the temple. Why not simply ignore the temple if, as some argue, God is done with the nation of Israel and the Old Testament theocratic idea? On the contrary, as the mediatorial Priest-King, Christ lays claim to the Jewish temple, citing an Old Testament prophecy of the kingdom in defense of his action, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:15–17, ASV; cf. Isa 56:7–8).

Fifth, even the political aspect of the kingdom is assigned an important place in such passages as Matthew 19:28, where our Lord promises the Twelve that they “shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” and Matthew 25 where we have his own description of himself sitting upon a throne of glory judging living nations on the earth, in accordance with the vision of Isaiah.

Sixth, as to the physical aspects of the kingdom, read the New Testament record of blind men that saw, lame that walked, deaf that heard, the lepers that were cleansed; consider also the multitudes fed by supernatural power, and the deliverances from hazards of wind and storm and violence. That not one of these elements can be omitted without distorting our Lord’s picture of the kingdom, is being admitted even by critical scholars.

If the kingdom announced as “at hand” by our Lord was merely a “spiritual kingdom,” or as some have defined it, “the rule of God in the hearts of men,” such an announcement would have had no special significance whatever, because such a kingdom of God had always been recognized among the people of God. Compare the Psalmist’s confession, “God is my king of old” (74:12). Any denial of this would certainly be a new kind of dispensationalism.

And this brings me to a passage so important that it must be quoted in full. John the Baptist is in prison liable to lose his head for rebuking the immorality of an earthly ruler; strange situation for the herald of the great King who, according to the prophets, would correct all such injustices. Did John’s faith waver? It may be so, for he sent messengers to Jesus, asking wistfully, “Art thou he that should come (ho ercomenos—The Coming One), or do we look for another?” Now the answer of Jesus to John furnishes an infallible key to the interpretation of the Old Testament prophets and also the relation of his own message to their vision of the kingdom: “Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them” (Matt 11:2–6, ASV).  Such an answer was worth a thousand merely verbal affirmations. To John it proved that he had not been mistaken about the identity of the promised King of Old Testament prophecy. And to us it should prove what to John required no proof, namely, that when the kingdom comes it will be a literal kingdom, identical with the kingdom of the prophets.

But to this official answer sent back to John in the Roman prison, our Lord added a very special and personal word, an assurance intended to guard John’s mind against all future contingencies and doubts: “Blessed is he,” said Jesus, “Whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” How tender and gracious! For the rising tide of Jewish opposition had already demonstrated historically that the King would be rejected and the complete establishment of his kingdom long delayed—and John must die. He walked bravely, I am sure, into the valley of the shadow with this last precious assurance from his Lord, the King.

One other point should be noticed in this connection: The fact that John and Christ began their preaching of the good news of the kingdom with no formal explanation of its character indicates an assumption that their audiences would understand what kingdom was being announced. Why this assumption? The answer should be obvious: Israel had the prophets, read and taught in every synagogue. If the conception of our Lord had differed from the prophets, then a formal definition was essential at the very beginning. But there is nothing of this kind. This lack of more definite explanation has caused speculation and disagreement, when it should have sent us to the Old Testament.

Perhaps I should guard what has been said, by explaining that while our Lord follows closely the Old Testament prophetic pattern, there is no mere slavish repetition of words, phrases and texts. Rather he unfolds and interprets the utterances of the prophets, so that meanings become deeper and richer. Furthermore, it is quite evident that he did emphasize the spiritual and ethical aspects of the Old Testament vision, not only because these things were important in themselves, but also because the Jewish teachers had neglected them and were concentrating largely upon the political and national aspects. And like all true preachers of the Word, our Lord fought many of his battles over neglected truth. Today, were he standing in some pulpits, he might stress the other side.

Contingent Character of the Kingdom

In his own teaching, Christ and the kingdom which he proclaimed were inseparably connected. The kingdom was “at hand” because the King was present. Without the King there could be no kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To reject the King would be to reject the kingdom. And this brings us to a most significant fact, namely that the good news of the kingdom was announced to Israel alone. Even down to the work of the Seventy, the disciples were expressly forbidden to enter into any “way of the Gentiles” or “any city of the Samaritans” (Matt 10:5). More than one interpreter has had trouble  with that dictum of Christ: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). The most satisfactory explanation of the problem is to see, what our Lord saw clearly, the contingent nature of his announcement of the kingdom as “at hand.” To put the matter in a sentence: the immediate establishment of his kingdom was contingent upon the attitude of the nation of Israel, to whom pertained the divine promises and covenants (Rom 9:4). Not that the favor of God would terminate upon this nation, but rather that through them all the blessings of the mediatorial kingdom would flow to the world of nations.

That our Lord understood the contingent nature of his kingdom proclamation is clear from his evaluation of John the Baptist and his career. Every intelligent Jew knew that the final word of the final Old Testament prophet predicted the appearance of Elijah as the precursor of the established kingdom (Mal 4:5–6). And Christ declared concerning John the Baptist, “If ye are willing to receive him, this is Elijah, that is to come” (Matt 11:14, ASV margin). Still later, when historical events have demonstrated the certainty of his rejection and death at the hands of the Jewish nation, our Lord again refers to John; but now the historical situation has changed, and the die is cast. “Elijah indeed cometh, and shall restore all things,” he assures his disciples; but then he quickly adds, “I say unto you that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not” (Matt 17:11–12 ASV).  We have here a key to one of the most puzzling problems of New Testament eschatology in relation to the kingdom: How could the kingdom be “at hand,” and yet not near at hand? (Mark 1:15 with Luke 19:11). The answer is to be found in the word “contingency.” The very first announcement of the kingdom as “at hand” also called upon the nation of Israel to make a decision (Mark 1:15), a genuine decision, a moral and spiritual decision, and they made it; tragically the wrong way. The fact that all this was “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” does not in the least detract from its moral reality. Those who fail to see this can make nothing out of certain portions of our Lord’s prophetic teaching.

It should be clearly understood, however, that when I speak of “contingency” I refer to the human aspect of history. Certainly our Lord was not caught by surprise. There are evidences in his earliest teaching (recalled and recorded by the latest gospel writer, as we might expect, knowing the historical sequence) which indicate at least a veiled reference to his rejection and death (John 2:18–22; 3:14). Moreover his ministry met with opposition from the very beginning (Luke 4:28–29); even his popularity with the common people was only sporadic (Cf. John 6). This tide of opposition grew steadily to a definite crisis, and can easily be traced in the record of the gospels. The crisis is reached when his miraculous credentials are not only denied validity, but are actually attributed to the powers of the evil one (Matt 12:24–32). Not long afterward, having gathered his disciples about him, and having heard their adverse reports as to the public reaction toward his claims, there is a sharply defined turning point in his ministry: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must…suffer…and be killed…and be raised again” (Matt 16:21).

Kingdom Teaching in the Light of Rejection

We come now to a large and important body of material which may be termed his preparatory teaching in view of the historical certainly of his rejection by the nation of Israel. He outlines in a remarkable series of parables the future of the kingdom in the peculiar form (hitherto unrevealed) which it will assume during the temporary period of Israel’s rejection. And the parabolic method of teaching at this particular point, according to our Lord, is a divine judgment upon a people who have rejected a simple method of teaching (Matt 13:10–15). (How any expositor could miss this clearly stated fact might also be well called a “mystery”). Furthermore, Christ now for the first time announces the building of a new thing, the church, something wholly unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets (Matt 16:13–18). At the same time, in the clearest terms he assures his followers that the kingdom has not been abandoned, but that its establishment on earth is only deferred; and he carefully prepares them for the delay which will ensue before its ultimate establishment. While on their way to Jerusalem, because the disciples still “thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear,” he outlined the course of future events in a parable: A nobleman goes into a far country; there he receives a kingdom; then he returns; reckons with his servants who have been put to work during his absence; and suppresses by judgment all the “citizens” who had hated him and rebelled against his authority and rule (Luke 19:11–27). This is the divine program, according to the rejected king, who now unfolds it in perfect correlation with the movement of history. The disciples are not to be disturbed about the changing situation; they shall yet have a part in the coming kingdom, sitting on “thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:27–28; Luke 22:28–30).

In the face of the now historically certain rejection, our Lord leaves nothing undone in the prophetic program, but goes up to Jerusalem to offer himself as the Messianic king finally and officially in accordance with Old Testament prophecy (Luke 19:28–44). The triumphal entry, celebrated by Christendom for the most part without understanding, was an event of tremendous import, fulfilling to the very day the greatest time-prediction of the Old Testament (Dan 9:25).  Weeping over the city in divine compassion, because its people knew not the “time” of their “visitation,” our Lord turns to his disciples and privately unfolds the prophetic program more fully, revealing the parenthesis of time which will intervene before his return to establish the kingdom, but leaving its length undetermined for reasons which will appear later. In the record by Luke (21:10–27) the present era is clearly marked out and isolated from the “fearful sights and great signs” of the end; its beginning being indicated by the words, “But before all these” (v. 12), and its scope and close by the words, “Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (v. 24).

It becomes necessary also for our Lord to forewarn his disciples of changing conditions which they will soon be facing: In his personal presence and under his immediate supervision they had been sent out with neither scrip nor purse and they had lacked nothing, but now when they go some material provision should be made: “He that hath a purse, let him take it.” (Luke 22:35, 36). The supernatural effects in the physical realm, properly associated with the kingdom, will recede into the background during the era of the church. This will not mean an end of the supernatural, but rather that its operation will be largely behind the veil of divine providential control. Those who in the future kingdom shall be “first” must now for a time be satisfied to be “last”; and those who by every law of the kingdom should live must understand that now persecution and death by the hands of wicked men will often be their portion (Luke 21:12–19).

The Lord also now reveals more completely the various details related to his second coming and the kingdom (Matt 24:27—25:46). In this part of the gospel records there is a great wealth of material which must be passed over, except to say that believers are to be “faithful” during the King’s absence, watching for his return, and prepared to render an account of their stewardship at his coming.

One of the most striking facts about the career of our Lord upon earth is that during the death trials he continued calmly to urge, more clearly than ever before, his claim to be the mediatorial King of Old Testament prophecy. Before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, his testimony is unwavering.

Consider, first, his examination by the Sanhedrin, where the charge was primarily religious in nature. Angered by his silence under accusation by false witnesses, the high priest placed him under a solemn oath to answer whether or not he was “the Christ, the Son of God.” While the law of the formal oath (Lev 5:1) doubtless required our Lord to break his silence, there was something at issue greater than this, which was his identity as the mediatorial King of Old Testament prophecy. And thus his answer to the high priest becomes memorable: Thou hast said (Matt 26:64). This was not an evasion, as the ordinary English reader might suppose, but definitely “a Greek affirmative,” as A. T. Robertson has well said. Mark records it simply, “I am” (14:62). But the simple affirmation was not enough at a time like this. What is the evidence that his affirmation is true? His answer is: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of (the) power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” The unmistakable reference was to a pair of the greatest kingdom prophecies of the Old Testament, Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13, and Christ applied them to himself. Bruce has paraphrased in striking fashion the answer of the Lord to his Sanhedrin judges: ”The time is coming when you and I shall change places; I then the Judge; you the prisoners at the bar” (A. B. Bruce, “The Gospel of Matthew,” Expositors Greek New Testament, I, 320). The high priest, better schooled than some theologians, understood his claim, rent his clothing judicially, and called upon his fellow judges to pronounce him “guilty of death” (Matt 26:65). The action of the great Jewish council, dramatic as it seemed under the circumstances, was only a tardy judicial ratification of a tragic decision which had already become a fact of history.

Let us come now to the examination before Pilate the Roman governor. The charge here was political, and was so intended by the Jews who made it: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2). Now, however contemptuous Pilate may have been with the technicalities of Jewish religion, he could not ignore the political charge. Knowing this, the Jewish leaders were not slow to press their advantage: “If thou let this man go, thou are not Caesar’s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12). There are some interpreters who argue that this charge was a total misrepresentation of the true nature of the Messianic kingdom, and that our Lord’s answer to Pilate proves that his kingdom was wholly a “spiritual” matter, having no political or material implications whatsoever. It is passing strange that men have not seen the utter folly of trying to erect an adequate definition of our Lord’s kingdom based in large part on a brief conversation between him and a cynical Roman governor who knew nothing about the kingdom of God, and cared less. But what are the facts? In the record of John’s Gospel, the examination consists of three questions by Pilate and three responses on the part of Christ (18:33–38 ).

The first question was, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). Our Lord’s reply to this is a question of his own: “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” (v. 34). The purpose of this question was not to gain information—Christ certainly knew the identity of his accusers—but rather by this means to clarify the exact meaning of Pilate’s inquiry so that it could be answered intelligibly. If the source of the charge was Pilate, then it would be entirely political and nothing more. In that case the Lord’s answer would be, No, I am not a king in that narrow sense of the term. But on the other hand, if Pilate is voicing a charge made by “others,” that is, by the Jewish people; then the question is wholly different and must be answered differently. A charge of regal claims on the part of Jesus, if originated by the Jewish leaders, would carry with it all the implications of the Old Testament mediatorial kingdom; and would have to be answered accordingly.

We come now to the second question: “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me; what hast thou done?” (v. 35). Thus Pilate scornfully disclaims any and all responsibility for the charge, and the way is cleared for our Lord’s reply to the original question. The first part of his reply is wholly negative: “My kingdom is not of this world” (v. 36). The preposition is “ek,” indicating source or originating cause. His kingdom does not originate in the present kosmos or world system. As concrete evidence of this negative proposition, our Lord refers Pilate to the actual situation before his eyes: “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants  fight” (v. 36). This was something that Pilate could understand: a “king” with no military support, and who actually had to be protected from physical violence on the part of his own subjects, could give no possible concern to the politically realistic Pilate.

This brings us to the third question of Pilate. He has satisfied himself that there is no political danger in the strange figure before him—a little later he will actually write over his head, “This is the King of the Jews”—but just now he is mildly intrigued by the notion of a kingdom without any armed legions to support it; and so he asks of Jesus, “Art thou a king then?” (John 18:37). The answer of our Lord is without equivocation: “Thou sayest that I am a king,” or “Thou sayest it because I am a king.”  (So Alford, Ellicott, Robertson, and others).

Marcus Dods thinks we “must” render it, Thou art right, for a king am I.” (Marcus Dods, “The Gospel of John,” Expositors Greek New Testament, I, 852). That this is the proper meaning is made certain by the words which follow: “To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (v. 37, ASV). To this, Pilate has no answer, except to drop his cynical, “What is truth?” as he left the hall of judgment, tragically unaware that he had been in the presence of the King who is the God of all truth.

Now to deduce from this brief exchange between Pilate and Jesus the sweeping proposition that the Messianic kingdom is exclusively a kingdom of love and truth, which will never employ force in dealing with sinful men upon earth, is certainly theological conjecture at its worst. The Old Testament prophets had agreed that Messiah would rule over the nations “with a rod of iron,” and this was confirmed by the King himself in the days of his flesh (Luke 19:14, 27); but the force used will be that of divine omnipotence, not the force of human armies. In that remarkable vision of the coming of the King from heaven to establish his kingdom on the earth, John says that “the armies which are in heaven followed him” (Rev 19:11–14). Strange armies they are, bearing no weapons, and striking no blows. For it is the “sharp sword” of the King himself which strikes the enemy and wins the victory—”which sword proceeded out of his mouth” (Rev 19:21). That there is in the God of heaven a spiritual power which can produce political and physical effects on earth was clearly affirmed by our Lord in his final word to Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). Is it necessary for us to argue as to the nature of this “power” which our Lord says had been “given” to Pilate “from above”? Surely, in no sense was it “spiritual,” but clearly political and nothing else. And the inference is compelling: If this power from above can make itself manifest on earth in the political career of a Pilate, on what ground of either reason or revelation can anyone deny the possibility of its greater exercise through the perfect mediatorial King and his saints when he comes down to earth again?

Our Lord’s consciousness of his own regal person and authority never wavered, but only grew the stronger as he passed through the judgment of Calvary. Even there, suffering the agonies of crucifixion, he exercised the royal prerogatives which he claimed, by throwing open the doors of Paradise to a poor thief who prayed in his extremity, perhaps as only a Jew might have prayed, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:39–43).

In closing this part of the discussion, a question might well be raised: Why was the Lord Jesus Christ rejected by the nation of Israel when he offered himself and the kingdom for which they had long waited and prayed? I suggest at least six reasons, without pretending at all that these add up to a total answer:

First, the high spiritual requirements our Lord laid down as essential for entrance into the kingdom (Mark 1:15; John 3:3–5; Luke 18:15–17).

Second, his refusal to establish a kingdom merely social and political in character (Luke 12:13–30; John 6:5–15).

Third, his denunciation of the current religion with its traditionalism, legalism, and ritualism (Luke 11:37–54).

Fourth, his scathing arraignment of the ruling classes (Matt 23).

Fifth, his association with “sinners” (Luke 15:1–2; Matt 9:10–13).

Sixth, his exalted claims for himself (John 5:16–18; 10:24–33; 18:7). This last, however, would have been no stumbling block if Christ had given them their own fleshly desires. The world will deify any leader who will give them enough “bread and circuses.” But they will reject the true God if He asks them to receive what they do not want.

In this connection we should not make the mistake of blaming all this on the ruling classes in Israel. Luke speaks of three classes of men whose voices were united in the demand for the rejection and death of the King; the rulers,” the priests,” and the people (Luke 23:13–23). It was, shall we say, a combination of civil, religious and democratic authority. And the “people” here could not have been merely a “street mob,” for it was the Passover season, and leading Jews from all over the known world were present in the city. The name of Jesus had been on every lip. These happenings were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26).

One curious twist in the situation was that the “people” seemed to be sympathetic almost to the last moment (Luke 19:48—20:8; 20:19–26; 21:37—22:2). But suddenly the temper of the crowd changes. Matthew says that the chief priests and elders “persuaded the multitude” to ask Pilate for the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus (27:20). What arguments were used by these leaders, we are not told. But doubtless their arguments would have had something to do with the main charge laid before the Roman governor, and that was political, namely, that Jesus had forbidden the paying of tribute to Caesar, “saying that he himself is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2). Certainly the Jewish people here could have had no bias in favor of the Caesars; in fact, they would have welcomed with open arms any king who could deliver them from the tribute and bondage of Rome. And there had been a time when, impressed by our Lord’s supernatural power, they had been ready to take him by force and make him king. But now they see him, where he had never been before, apparently helpless in the hands of the Roman authorities. Does anyone suppose that the astute and highly intelligent Jewish leaders would fail to exploit the situation to their own advantage with the crowd? How easy now to point out the appalling incongruity before their eyes—the King of the Jews and a Crown of Thorns! Did the applause of the people, disappointed in their “hero,” turn swiftly into vicious anger? If so, nothing could have been more plausible psychologically. History has shown that the disappointment of the “people” can become at times a very terrible and violent thing.

 Article above adapted from BSac 112:447 (JULY 1955), pp. 210-225.
 About Alva J. McClain (1888-1968)

Alva J. McClain

Alva J. McClain, the founder and first president of Grace Theological Seminary and Grace College, was born in Iowa and later grew up in Sunnyside, Washington. Shortly after his marriage to Josephine Gingrich in 1911, he and his wife were saved under the preaching of Dr. L.S. Bauman. He had been attending the University of Washington, but removed to Los Angeles, where he attended the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and sat under the teaching of Dr. R.A. Torrey.

Upon graduating from Biola, he enrolled in Xenia Theological Seminary and completed work for the B.D. and Th.M. degrees–following which he was called to the First Brethren Church of Philadelphia, where he served from 1918 to 1923. During the pastorate he taught at the Philadelphia School of the Bible. Because of ill health, he resigned and removed to California, where he finished his work for the A.B. degree at Occidental College, graduating as valedictorian. Later he was awarded the honorary degree of LL.D. at Bob Jones University, and the D.D. degree at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.

In 1925 and 1926, he served as professor of Bible at Ashland College. In 1927-1929 he taught Christian theology at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. In 1930, the first graduate school of theology in the Brethren Church was organized at Ashland College under his leadership, where he served as its first academic dean and professor of Christian theology.

In 1937 Grace Theological Seminary was organized under his direction, and as first president and professor of Christian theology, he served from 1937 to 1962. Dr. McClain authored many short treatises, but will be remembered for his monumental work on Christian theology, The Greatness of the Kingdom, one of seven volumes he had projected concerning the entire scope of Christian faith. He will long be remembered as scholar, theologian, educator, master teacher, and Christian gentleman.

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