PART 2: THE MEDIATORIAL KINGDOM IN OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY
[EDITOR’s NOTE: This article is the 2nd 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]
Since this area which we are about to enter is in certain respects the most important one of the entire investigation, something by the way of introduction should be said regarding the nature, interpretation and extent of kingdom prophecy.
The Nature of Kingdom Prophecy
a. Viewed from one standpoint, kingdom prophecy arises out of definite historical situation existing immediately before the eyes of the prophet. There is probably no exception to this rule. Even in purely predictive prophecy, or what some have called apocalyptic prediction, although the prophet may say nothing about the immediate historical situation, it nevertheless provides the background of what he has to say about the future. There is no such thing as predictive prophecy totally unrelated to history.
b. Sometimes prophecies of the kingdom have what has been called a “double reference,” or which might be more accurately called an “apotelesmatic” character. As Delitzsch has written, “All prophecy is complex, i.e., it sees together what history outrolls as separate: and all prophecy is apotelesmatic, i.e., it sees close behind the nearest-coming, epoch-making turn in history, the summit of the end.” That is, somewhat as a picture lacks the dimension of depth, the prophecy often lacks the dimension of time: events appear on the screen of prophecy which in their fulfillment may be widely separated in time. Thus the student may find a prophecy referring to some event in the near future connected with the historical phase of the kingdom, and also to some far off event connected with the Messiah and his millennial kingdom. When the first event arrives it becomes the earnest and divine forecast of the more distant and final event. An excellent example may be found in Isaiah 13:17—14:4, a prediction which begins with the defeat of Babylon by the Medes, and moves from that point immediately to a Babylon of the end-time. The same phenomenon may be observed in prophecies of the coming of the Messianic King, which New Testament history “outrolls” into two advents greatly separated in time. Such a view of prophecy does not mean an abandonment of its literality, as some have argued. The double prediction is literal, and is to be literally fulfilled: The Medes have destroyed historic Babylon, and God will also literally destroy a future Babylon. Christ has come once literally; and He will again break into the stream of history with no less literality.
Interpretation of Kingdom Prophecy
Without paying too much attention to individual variations, I have reduced the important methods now current to three, which I have named the literal, the eclectical, and the critical; being deeply conscious of the inadequacy of mere names. As I am in the habit of saying to my classes, you should feel at liberty to improve upon my suggestions—but be sure that yours are better than mine.
The literal method. Probably this method has never been stated better than by Ellicott: “The true and honest method of interpreting the Word of God [is] the literal, historical, and grammatical.” This method, as its adherents have explained times without number, leaves room for all the devices and nuances of language, including the use of figure, metaphor, simile, symbol and allegory. in their criticism of this literal method, most of its critics have been guilty of a “crasser literalism” than ever used by any reputable adherent of the method in its application to the Word of God. Certainly the literal method is not without its problems, but these problems are only such as naturally arise out of the nature of human language. Basically the method is extremely simple. For example, Psalm 72:6 speaks of the Messianic King as follows: “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass.” Here we have a literal coming—the Lord “shall come down.” Also the effect of his coming is literal, although in this case it is described by a simile—”like rain upon the mown grass.” If you have ever seen the glorious effect of a summer shower coming down on a field of grass which, has been cut, then you will have some idea of what the literal effect of our Lord’s coming will be upon a troubled world. Of course, if you wish to depart from simple common sense, you can say that in this text “grass” stands for the church at Pentecost; “mown” stands for the unsanctified state of the disciples upon that occasion; and, the “rain” stands for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once launched on the sea of conjecture, it is not surprising that interpreters finally arrive at strange ports, as far removed from reality as the “beautiful isle of somewhere.”
In a comparatively recent book written by Oswald T. Allis under the title Prophecy and the Church, the author in the course of his anti-millennial argument makes a curious attack upon the literal method of prophetical interpretation. First he criticizes severely some premillennial writers for being more concerned about “typical interpretation” than about the Old Testament history from which the alleged types are gathered. This criticism might well be taken to heart. But then Allis goes on to complain that, “If Ruth can give ‘a foreview of the Church,’ if ‘the larger interpretation’ of the Songs of Solomon concerns the Church, why must the Church be absent from the glorious visions of Isaiah?” Now it is hard for me to believe that the very able and intelligent writer of these words does not know exactly what he is doing, even though a careless reader might miss the point. Reduced to a simple statement, his argument is that if we premillennialists are willing to take Old Testament history typically, we should not object to the taking of Old Testament prophecy typically. “In dealing with prophecy,” Allis writes, our premillennial “treatment is marked by a literalism which refuses to recognize types.” This seems to Allis “strikingly inconsistent” on our past.
As a matter of fact, the inconsistency is in Allis and in his fallacious argument. Our answer is as follows: First, premillennialists take both history and prophecy literally. We may indeed, within proper limits, find in history certain types and shadows of things to come, but no one among us in his right senses ever questioned the literality of the history. But what about the author of Prophecy and the Church? Well, Allis accepts the history as literal, but denies the literality of the prophecy, at least in certain areas of the Old Testament, and insists that a typical interpretation is the only one! If Allis were as willing to accept the literality of Old Testament prophecy as he is of its history, I for one would raise no serious objection if he should find some legitimate “types” in both. I would insist, however, that just as in any proper interpretation of Old Testament history Joseph is always Joseph and not Christ, even so in prophecy Israel is always Israel and never the church. This does not mean that the preacher must never take a prophecy concerning Israel and apply it to the church. But he should always know what he is talking about, and make certain that his hearers know.
There is, after all, a fundamental difference between Biblical history and prophecy which must not be overlooked. History deals with a literal event, which may or may not be a type pointing to some future event. Thus a type seems to be always prophetic in nature. As the late William G. Moorehead once wrote, “A type always prefigures something future. A Scriptural type and predictive prophecy are in substance the same, differing only in form.” On the other hand, prophecy (predictive) deals directly with the future reality. To talk about a “typical interpretation” of prophecy, therefore, is something like saying that prophecy should be interpreted prophetically! Perhaps it would help to clear the air if we could get rid of all the adjectives, and simply use the term interpretation alone in its first and original sense, “to give the meaning of.” We could then go on from there and talk about other things, such as types and applications. This is what we mean by literal interpretation.
The eclectic method. This is sometimes called the “spiritual” method, for the reason that “spiritualizing” is its most distinctive feature. The great church father Origen is generally regarded as the originator of this method, although in his better moments he insisted on…an exact grammatical interpretation of the text as the basis of all exegesis.” Origen was a Platonist in philosophy, which explains much in his theology. In his hands the spiritualizing method of Biblical interpretation became a useful tool in opposing the doctrine of a literal millennial rule of Christ on earth, something which no consistent Platonist could possibly accept.
The term spiritual should be rejected, I feel strongly, as a proper name for the anti-literal method of interpretation, for at least two reasons: First, the word spiritual is much too fine to be surrendered without protest for wrong uses; and second, no one of any consequence was ever known to employ the “spiritualizing” scheme consistently and exclusively. For example, Dr. Shedd speaks disparagingly of what he calls “the blooming age of Millenarianism,” and finds that this age was mainly caused by the adoption of “the literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies” as opposed to the spiritual method. But it must be said to the credit of this able scholar that he himself did not use the “spiritualizing” method exclusively, not even in his approach to Old Testament prophecy. He only resorted to it under the spell of his very narrow and inadequate notions about the kingdom. At other times in his Biblical interpretations Dr. Shedd became just as literal as the “literalists” whom he criticizes. Doubtless we should thank God that not all men are logically consistent in holding their erroneous opinions. What can happen when men cut loose from literality may be seen in Gregory the Great’s exposition of the book of Job, where we learn that the partiarch’s three friends denote the heretics; his seven sons are the twelve apostles; his seven thousand sheep are God’s faithful people; and his three thousand humpbacked camels are the depraved Gentiles!
Actually therefore the anti-millenarian scheme of prophetical interpretation is eclectic, employing both the spiritualizing and literal methods.
The critical method. Adherents of this method regard the Bible for the most part as a collection of human writings setting forth the religious experiences of men in their search for God. Since it was written by men, they argue, the Bible should be treated like other books written by men. Feeling no compulsion to defend any doctrine of Biblical inspiration or infallibility, they move through the Biblical literature dropping burning matches anywhere and everywhere, regardless of what may be burned up. The one good thing in this attitude is that the Bible is permitted to speak for itself literally. If the Bible says something which to these men seems to contradict history or science, so much the worse for the Bible. They simply reject what it says. Among the more moderate members of this school of interpretation is the late A. B. Davidson, who leaves no question whatever about his attitude toward the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and the coming kingdom. The question of interpretation here, he argues, is a “double one.” The first question is, what did the prophets mean? “And to this question there can be one answer,” writes Davidson, “Their meaning is the literal sense of their words” (Italics are mine). The second question has to do with the fulfilment of the prophecies. Again let Davidson answer his own question in his own words: “There is no question as to the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies; the question is how far this meaning is now valid” (Italics mine – “Eschatology,” Hasting’s Bible Dictionary, I, 73). Although we may regret his conclusion, at least Davidson’s candor is refreshing.
The Extent of Kingdom Prophecy
In a very real sense, all Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament is kingdom prophecy. Even those predictions which deal with Messiah’s humiliation and sufferings cannot be separated from the context of regal glory. As Archibald M’Caig has rightfully observed concerning the great prophetic period in Old Testament history, “The prophecies all more or less have a regal tint, and the coming one is preeminently the coming king” (M’Caig, “King, Christ as,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, III, 1802).
Generally we may say that Old Testament prophecy of the future mediatorial kingdom of God begins with a few scattered references in the Pentateuch; opens up clearly in the records of the historical kingdom; grows in volume and brilliance as the historical kingdom declines; and comes to its close in Malachi.
This material is so extensive that no attempt can be made in these lectures to present an exhaustive list of references; nor shall I try to deal with the ideas in the order of their historical utterance. I can only set forth in very much condensed form a series of generalizations, supported by selected but representative material from the inspired text as time permits. The question before us is, therefore, What do the Old Testament prophets say about the future kingdom? Whether their conception is identical or not with the kingdom announced in the gospel records is a question to be dealt with in a later lecture.
The Literality of the Coming Kingdom
This kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is not merely an ideal kingdom like the Kantian “kingdom of ends,” something toward which man must ever strive but never attain. On the contrary, it will be as real and literal in the realm of sense experience as the historical kingdom of Israel or the kingdom of Great Britain today. All prophecy from first to last asserts and implies this literality: in such details as its ruler (Isa 33:17), its geographical location (Isa 14:1–2), its citizens (Jer 23:3–6), its capital city (Isa 2:5), the nations involved (Isa 11:11), and numerous other details which will appear in the progress of this study.
Worthy of special notice here is the fact that the prophets picture the coming kingdom as one which will destroy and supplant other kingdoms which are literal (Dan 2, 7). The divine kingdom does indeed come down from heaven, but the arena of action is on earth where the heavenly kingdom supplants literal kingdoms and functions in their stead. There is no place left for an unfilled vacuum in human history. Furthermore, the prophets insist that the coming kingdom will actually be a revival and restoration of the Old Testament kingdom of history: “the former dominion” shall be returned to the nation of Israel in the city of Jerusalem (Mic 4:1, 7, 8); the tabernacle of David, which is fallen, shall again be raised up by divine power, “as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). In all these and a thousand other details there is the unmistakable flavor of literality.
And lest there be some misunderstanding on this point, let me say that I am not using the term literal as absolutely opposed to the term spiritual. Even spiritual things are literal; in fact, they are the most literal of all in the whole realm of reality. By literality here I mean that the prophetical details of the coming kingdom will be tangible in the world of sense experience: “Thine eyes shall see the King…they shall behold the land” (Isa 33:17); and “All flesh shall see it together” (Isa 40:5). With such words before us, therefore, we should not be too quick to criticize the literal-mindedness of the early apostles when they asked of the risen Christ, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
The Future Establishment of the Kingdom
The time of its establishment, to the prophets, sometimes seems to be very near at hand: Haggai says it will come in it “a little while” (2:6–9 ); Isaiah says, “a very little while” (29:17). Yet other predictions indicate that the kingdom is far in the future, after the lapse of “many days” (Hos 3:4, 5), or in the “latter days” (Isa 2:2). Doubtless the reconciliation of these forecasts may be found in the divine mind to which our many days are only a very little while.
The establishment of the kingdom is always preceded by divine judgments. There will be world-wide military preparation and devastating wars among the nations (Joel 3:9–16; Isa 3:25—4:1): great cosmic disturbances affecting the heavenly bodies (Joel 2:30–31); a special judgment upon the nation of Israel which will attend their regathering back into the land of the promised kingdom (Ezek 20:35, 33, ASV); and also a special judgment upon the living Gentile nations, based primarily upon their treatment of Israel whom they have scattered among the nations and robbed of their silver and gold (Joel 3:1–8). Some of these divine judgments will fall upon the earth itself, causing it to “reel to and fro like a drunkard”—all this to precede that glorious day “When the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem” (Isa 24:17–23).
Thus the coming of the kingdom in established form will be a world-shaking event. Although the divine work of preparation may seem at times almost interminable, its actual establishment will not be a long and gradual process, so imperceptible at times that sceptics will be able to dispute whether there even be such a thing as a kingdom of God. On the contrary, the coming of the kingdom will be sudden, comparable only to the falling of a great stone from heaven; supernatural in its descent as a stone “cut out without hands”; and catastrophic in its immediate effects, destroying the governments of earth so completely that no trace of them can be found (see Dan 2, 7).
The Ruler of This Future Kingdom
The names and titles applied to the coming King indicate that ‘he will be both human and divine in nature. He is called “a man” (Isa 32:1, 2), one like unto a “son of man” (Dan 7:13, 14), the “son” of God (Ps 2:7), a “rod of the stem of Jesse” (Isa 11:1), a “righteous branch of David” (Jer 23:5), “God” and “the Lord Jehovah” (Isa 40:9, 10, ASV), “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6, 7).
He will be perfect in character, wisdom and ability. The Spirit of God rests upon him in wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord; righteousness is the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins (Isa 11:1–5). He does not win his way to power by the ordinary means of demagoguery or military force; his voice is not heard in the street and a bruised reed shall he not break; yet unlike other rulers and statesmen he “shall not fail or be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth” (Isa 42:1–4).
But over against this clearly revealed glory, there is a deep note of mystery in the career of the coming King. He is presented in Old Testament prophecy as a man of sorrow, despised and rejected of men; wounded, bruised, afflicted and dying for the iniquities of men (Isa 53). He is the great shepherd of Israel, yet he is smitten by the sword of God, and the sheep are scattered (Zech 13:7; cf. Isa 40:9–11). He is “Messiah the Prince” of Israel, ruler of the nations, yet he is “cut off” and has nothing which belongs to his regal glory (Dan 9:25, 26).
This mysterious problem did not go altogether unnoticed by the Jewish rabbins; some thought there might be two Messiahs, one the “son of Joseph” who would die, the other the “son of David” who would reign in glory. Other Jewish scholars applied the prophecies of the suffering to the nation of Israel personified, a view favored by modern Jewish interpretation. These proposed solutions, however, seem to be deflnitely post-Christian in origin, and were motivated probably by Jewish antagonism toward the Christian interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. It is highly doubtful whether anyone, having the Old Testament Scriptures alone and with no knowledge of Christian history, could or ever did arrive at a correct solution of the problem: that is, not two Messiahs, but one Messiah with two comings separated by a vast gulf in time.
We do know, however, that the problem was given serious consideration in pre-Christian times by the Old Testament prophets themselves. These men saw clearly the sufferings and glory of Messiah; they also understood the sequence of events—the sufferings would be first, and the glory would “follow.” But the time relation between the two was an unsolved problem to the Old Testament prophets, although they searched their own inspired writings to discover “what time or what manner of time” was signified (1 Pet 1:9–11, ASV). If this time relationship was ever revealed exactly to the prophets, Scripture is wholly silent as to any such revelation. And this silence will become a fact of high importance when we come later to the gospel records and ask, Was the kingdom in any sense postponed?
The Nature of Government in the Kingdom
The Mediatorial Kingdom as set forth in Old Testament prophecy is monarchical in form. The ruler will sit upon a “throne,” and the government will be “upon his shoulder” (Isa 9:6, 7). He receives his authority and holds it by divine grant: he is God’s king, established upon his throne by God himself (Ps 2:6; Dan 7:14). His rule will be characterized by severity, but a severity based upon absolute justice and righteousness (Ps 2:7–9; Isa 11:4a). And although he will rule the nations with a rod of iron, yet with infinite tenderness he will deal with the meek and the needy, gathering the lambs in his arms and carrying them in his bosom (Isa 40:10, 11).
In its external organization, the prophets picture the kingdom with the mediatorial king at its head; associated with him are those who are called “princes” (Isa 32:1); the “saints” possess the kingdom, doubtless the saved of Old Testament days (Dan 7:18, 22, 27); the living nation of Israel is given first place of favor and authority on earth, and the nation which rebels against it will perish (Isa 60:3, 10, 12). The subjects of this kingdom will include “all people, nations, and languages” (Dan 7:14), though certain passages suggest an unwilling subjection on the part of some, a point I shall discuss later.
All the functions of government are centered in the person of the mediatorial king. The prophet Isaiah sees him and names him as “judge,” “lawgiver,” and “King”—remarkable forecast of the conventional divisions of modern government: judicial, legislative, and executive (Isa 33:22). The founding fathers of our own American government, approaching their task with a deep suspicion of human nature, designed a system of checks and balances to separate these three departments and keep any one of them from getting too much power. Although it seems clumsy, wasteful and inefficient at times, our government has provided a welcome refuge for personal liberty in such a world as this, and will continue to do so—if we can keep it. But this is not the most ideal form of government. When God’s own glorious King takes over the kingdoms of the earth, it will be safe at last to concentrate all the functions of government in one Person. This does not mean that he will do everything, but rather that he will be the directing head and final authority; thus providing a unifying center, both infinitely wise and good, for all the activities of government, something which no government on earth has ever had.
The Extent and Duration of the Kingdom
“In that day,” the prophet Zechariah declares, “The Lord shall be king over all the earth” (14:9). And the Psalmist describes the scope of his government with still greater detail, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust…. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him” (72:8–11). Instead of regarding government as a necessary evil—the less of it, the better—the beneficent rule of the mediatorial kingdom will permeate and affect every department of human life: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (Zech 14:20–21). That artificial and popular distinction between the secular and the sacred will disappear in the immediate presence of the King who is the giver and sustainer of all that exists.
The rule and power of this kingdom will never suffer any diminution or reverses, such as are common with ordinary governments: “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever.” This is because its foundation is not in man but in God: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7). And joining together in a single passage the two ideas of universality and eternity, Daniel describes the rule of the mediatorial King as a dominion extending over all, and also “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,” and “which shall not be destroyed” (7:14). The throne of this kingdom endures forever because, as the Psalmist declares, it is “Thy throne, O God” (45:6).
The Extensive Nature of the Kingdom
An examination of how and where the kingdom functions in human life will shed light upon its vast extension. Its establishment will bring about sweeping changes in every department of man’s activity, so far-reaching that Isaiah speaks of its arena as “a new earth” (65:17). Every need of humanity will be anticipated and provided for: “Before they call,” God says, “I will answer” (Isa 65:24). For the most part, the various current views of the kingdom are too narrow; in concentrating upon some one aspect, men have missed the richness and greatness of the kingdom. Nowhere in all Scripture is its great variety revealed so clearly as in the Old Testament prophets, who saw the coming kingdom functioning in at least six important realms:
The kingdom will be spiritual in nature. It will bring personal salvation from the hand of God (Isa 12:1–6), divine forgiveness for sin (Jer 31:34), provision of God’s own righteousness for men (Jer 23:3–6), moral and spiritual cleansing, a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:24–28), inward harmony with the laws of the kingdom (Jer 31:33), recognition by men of all nations that Jehovah is the true God, the God who is able to answer prayer (Zech 8:20–23), the restoration of genuine joy and gladness to human life (Isa 35:10), and the pouring out of God’s Spirit “upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28).
The spiritual blessings enumerated above are only a few out of the many which the kingdom brings to a sinful and needy world. I have no quarrel with the dictum of writers who insist that the kingdom is “spiritual,” unless they insist upon a definition of the term which is exclusively Platonic, or unless they should be so foolish as to deny that a spiritual kingdom can function in a world of sense experience. As a matter of fact, it would not be wrong to say that the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is basically “spiritual,” yet a kingdom producing tangible effects in every department of human life.
The kingdom will be ethical in its effects. At last there will be a proper estimate of moral values in human life; the fool will no longer be called noble (Isa 32:5); darkness will not be called light. An adjustment of moral inequalities will sweep through every department of human relationships (Isa 40:3–5). Moral retribution at last will become an individual matter: men shall no longer say, “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity” (Jer 31:29–30): thus removing one of the greatest present stumbling blocks to rational belief in a moral universe.
The kingdom will bring great social and economic changes. All wars will be eliminated (Zech 9:10). But instead of abolishing the arts and sciences which today are contributing to the horrors and destruction of warfare, these things will be turned to economic uses: the sword becomes a plowshare and the spear a pruninghook; and, I suppose, the stuff of the atomic bomb will generate power and light up the darkness (Isa 2:4). An era of worldwide peace will be ushered in by divine sanctions, never to end again (Isa 9:7). Social justice at last will become a reality, not merely something to be talked about by self-seeking politicians: Men will actually get and enjoy what they produce; one shall not build a house and another live in it (Isa 65:21–22). No longer will the weak, the poor, and the ignorant, be subject to economic exploitation; but they shall be redeemed from “deceit and violence” because they are “precious” in the sight of the great King (Ps 72:1–4, 12–14). With complete social and economic justice for all, everything in human life will be tenderly fostered. The hopeless invalid will not be consigned to the tragic comfort of euthanasia; neither will the backward child be finally and rigidly classified at a fixed capacity-level; “a bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench” (Isa 42:3, ASV). Even that stubborn obstacle to human understanding and international accord, the barrier of languages, will apparently be broken down. “The discord of Babel shall, as it were, give place to unity of language.” Philosophy, science and religion will dwell together in harmony, abundantly available to all (Isa 33:6, ASV).
The kingdom will have political effects. With its establishment on earth, a central authority will be set up for the adjudication and settlement of international disputes; and this authority will have not only the requisite wisdom to make just and impartial decisions but also the power to enforce them: “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he shall judge among the nations” (Isa 2:3–4). Thus resort to war will become both unnecessary and useless. National security, that political mirage of uneasy statesmen, will be guaranteed to all. Military science will become obsolete-”Neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa 2:4). The international problem of the Jew, which is certainly political in part, will be solved permanently by the divine restoration of this people to their own land (Amos 9:14–15), and by the reestablishment and unification of the Jewish state: “One nation in the land…and one king shall be king of them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (Ezek 37:22–24). The present Jewish State in Palestine indicates a trend toward the fulfilment of prophecy, but no permanent solution can ever be reached apart from divine intervention on the part of the mediatorial King (Zech 12:3–9).
The kingdom will have ecclesiastical effects. Its ruler will combine in his own person the offices of both King and Priest (Ps 110; cf. Zech 6:13). Thus both church and state become one in purpose and action; which is certainly the ideal combination if, as the Word of God teaches, there is but one true religion. The American policy of complete separation of church and state, which I fully approve under the present conditions, is not however the ideal policy, but rather a policy of safety in a sinful world where political and ecclesiastical power too often get into the wrong hands. In the days of the coming kingdom a central sanctuary will be established on earth, to which men from all nations will come to worship the one true God whose glory will be visibly revealed in the mediatorial King (Ezek 37:26–28; 43:1–7). With this revelation, what we call “religious freedom” will come to an end, and man’s dream of religious unity will become a reality, secured by divinely imposed sanctions wherever actively opposed (Zech 14:16–19).
It has been objected (carelessly, I think) that a central sanctuary at Jerusalem for worship would be a backward step, reversing the spiritual and universal principle laid down by our Lord when he said to the Samaritan woman, “The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…. They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21–24). The objection misses the point of the passage entirely. Our Lord was not abolishing worship in the city of Jerusalem (There are churches there today), but he was adding the idea of universality to the historical idea of localized worship. The reestablishment of a central sanctuary in Jerusalem for international worship will no more detract from the principle of universality than the going of Bishop Oxnam up to the First Methodist Church of his city next Sunday morning. The assumption that universality and locality in worship are mutually exclusive ideas is certainly unwarranted either in reason or revelation. Objections like this arise out of prejudice not logic.
The kingdom will be physical in its effects. Bodily infirmities will be healed, and disease controlled by divine prevention (Isa 35:5–6; 33:24). Longevity of life will be restored: in fact, it is suggested that the crisis of physical death will be experienced only by those incorrigible individualists who rebel against the laws of the kingdom (Isa 65:20, 22). The ordinary hazards of physical life, so tragic and heartbreaking today, will then be under supernatural control (Isa 65:23; Ezek 34:23–31). In that day some modern books on ethics will be largely obsolete: as for example, Durant Drake has written, “When we have done our best we are still at the mercy of fortune…. If all men were perfectly virtuous, we should still be at the mercy of flood and lightning, poisonous snakes, icebergs and fog at sea, a thousand forms of accident and disease, old age and death. The millennium will not bring pure happiness to man; he is too feeble a creature in the presence of forces with which he cannot cope” (Problems of Conduct, Revised Edition, 1920, p. 168).
The answer of the prophets to all this is that in the coming kingdom men “shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for calamity” (Isa 65:23, ASV). For the earth in that day will be under the direct control of One whose voice even the “winds and the waves obey.”
The inauguration of the kingdom will, furthermore, be signalized by tremendous geological changes (Zech 14:3–4; Ezek 38:19–20); and these changes could very naturally bring about corresponding climatic alterations, causing the waste regions of the earth to become fruitful and “blossom as the rose” (Isa 35:1, 6, 7). At the same time there will come a great increase in the fertility and productiveness of the soil, so that “the plowman shall overtake the reaper” (Amos 9:13). Even in the animal world some remarkable changes will come to pass: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb…and a little child shall lead them…. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Isa 11:6, 9).
Such is the extensive nature of the mediatorial kingdom as presented by the Old Testament prophets. And in closing, I would like to suggest that it satisfies and reconciles all legitimate viewpoints. The kingdom is spiritual; with effects which are ethical, social, economic, political, ecclesiastical, and physical. To single out any one of these important aspects, and deny validity to the others, is to narrow unwisely the breadth of the prophetic vision and to set limits upon the possibilities of human life on earth under God.
Article above adapted from BSac 112:446 (April 1955), pp. 108-124.
About Alva J. McClain (1888-1968)
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.