Reformed Theology

"My kingdom is not of this world…"

You may remember my recent post about the “Evening of Eschatology” at Bethlehem Baptist. Justin Taylor posted recently on What You Must Believe if You Are a Premillennialist, and included a lengthy chapter (really too long for a blog post) reprinted from a Sam Storms work-in-progress. Then Jim Hamilton posted a rebuttal, reiterating his argument from the panel discussion: that at the time of Christ, there were a lot of people, including Zealots and Rabbis, who believed the Messiah was supposed to come and establish his earthly kingdom on the throne of David; but, as it turns out, he didn’t come to do that the first time. In Hamilton’s view, Jesus is going to do all the things the Jews expected the second time around, when he returns to sit on the throne of David in the Millennium. Hamilton says this principle of expecting the fulfillment too soon is the same when it comes to the end times: that Scripture may lead Amillennialists to think that the consummation will happen at the Second Advent, but, as Hamilton says, it’s not going to happen until a thousand years later.

This argument falls flat with anyone who’s not a dispensationalist. We interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. We see the Old Testament kingdom and sacerdotal system as types and shadows of the ultimate realities, which are heavenly, and we do not see a legitimacy for a return to the Old Testament types and shadows. We do not see a gap between the First Advent and the coming of the Kingdom. We see Christ as having come as King already. As Kim Riddlebarger put it recently, his victory over sin and death is so much a bigger deal than a king kicking the Romans out of Palestine and ruling over a tiny strip of land in the Middle East. (I highly recommend that mp3 by Kim Riddlebarger about the Kingdom, by the way.)

Riddlebarger quotes Anthony Hoekema and George Eldon Ladd, who said the kingdom of God is to be understood as God’s kingly reign over his people as well as the universe. He also says when Jesus said “the kingdom is at hand”, it was literally “right under your noses.” Its coming has already begun, and Reformed Christians believe it will finally be consummated when Christ returns.

Even Abraham, when he received the promises from God about making a great nation from his descendants, did not consider an earthly kingdom the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, ESV). This kingdom that Abraham looked forward to is spiritual, and though there was a physical kingdom from his descendants, this was a shadow of the things to come. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24, ESV).

Hamilton says, “From the eagerness of the disciples to reject the idea that Jesus was going to suffer in Jerusalem, and from their desire to see the kingdom restored to Israel in Acts 1, they seem to agree with Justin that the continuation of sin and death is depressing.” But what he doesn’t understand is that the disciples had it wrong! We are not supposed to justify our misinterpretation of Scripture by saying that’s what the pre-Pentecost disciples did so it must be right! the mistake the disciples made was that they had an over-realized eschatology. They failed to understand that Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world”, and never will be of this world! (I submit that premillenialists are committing a gross error by neglecting this verse.)

Dr. Kim Riddlebarger writes in his book, A Case for Amillennialism,

Much like modern dispensationalists expect Jesus to reign over the nations in the future millennial kingdom, the Jews expected the Messiah to establish a political kingdom whereby Israel would rule over the Gentile nations. This explains why the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The New Testament, however, equates Israel’s restoration, prophesied in the Old Testament, with Jesus’ kingdom–a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36). (pp. 59-60)

Jesus is already sitting on the Throne. Revelation 3:21 (ESV) says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Jesus conquered (past tense), and sat down on the throne, indicating his work is complete.
As the author of Hebrews says,

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,” (Hebrews 10:11-16, ESV)

Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, on a throne that is much greater than David’s chair, governing the hearts and minds of his people. He is the king of the elect, and his kingdom knows no bounds.
When Stephen spoke about the nature of God’s kingdom to the Jews with their over-realized eschatology in Acts 7, they stoned him.

“Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’ […]”

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:48-50, 54-58, ESV)

Hamilton says they expected Isaiah 11 and 65 to be fulfilled at Christ’s first advent, but it wasn’t, so it’s going to be fulfilled when he returns. But this argument falls back on itself, because he says it will not be fulfilled at Christ’s second coming just as it was not fulfilled at his first. The wolf-and-lamb, child-and-adder, lion-and-lamb imagery in Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65 are symbols for peace, representing the undoing of the effects of the Fall of Adam, which we who are justified by the blood of Christ experience. R.C. Sproul’s Reformation Study Biblesays that Isaiah 11 and 65 are fulfilled in Ephesians 2:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-12, ESV)

Jim Hamilton mentions Isaiah 11 and 65 in an attempt to support his argument that death and suffering will continue for another 1,000 years while Christ is actually sitting on a physical throne in Jerusalem. But Scripture is explicit that at the consummation, death and suffering will be no more. It is one thing to say the Old Testament prophecies were partially fulfilled at the first Advent, with an expected consummation at the second: the New Testament teaches us this. But there is no grounds to say that they will be partially fulfilled at the second advent and then finally consummated after another thousand years. The only way to do this would be to take an overly-literalistic approach to Revelation 20. But Revelation 20 makes much more sense if you interpret it in the context of the literary framework of Revelation, as the seventh and final in a series of visions that each describe, from a different vantage point, the entire period of redemptive history between the kingdom’s coming (in the First Advent) and its final consummation (in the Second Advent). The principle of the perpescuity of Scripture means that we interpret the least clear parts of Scripture with the clearest. If there is any one singular passage of Scripture that makes no sense on its own, we cannot come up with an interpretation that is not supported anywhere else.

The flaw of the Jews who expected a political Messiah was that they interpreted Old Testament prophecy “reading through the lens of current events”, internalizing them and making them personal to the state of the Jewish nation under Roman oppression. The flaw of dispensationalists is that they interpret Old and New Testament prophecy with the daily newspaper in the same way, “reading the Bible through the lens of current events,” naming Antichrists, Gog, and Magog, the Mark of the Beast, etc., based on what’s happening in the news.

But His kingdom is not of this world.

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