The Kingdom of God On Earth
There are in the main two theories which, with modifications, are commonly held concerning the kingdom of God; the one that the kingdom of God is yet future, to be established at the second coming of Christ; the other that the kingdom of God is now here, having been established at the time of Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God, that is, definitely on the day of Pentecost. The adherents to the former theory generally deny that the kingdom of God exists now on the earth, hold that following the coming of Christ the earth will see an era of Divine dominion through Jesus Christ and His saints. Those of the other theory say that the only dominion on the earth ever to be looked for, is the present and advancing spiritual reign of Christ in the hearts of His followers; and that this present era will be succeeded by the general resurrection, the general judgment, the destruction of the world, and an eternal state of bliss for the saved, variously conceived of as being up in heaven, or in a new heaven and earth.
Wherever we see two such contrasting positions on a great Bible doctrine strongly held and defended by opposing parties, it is safe to conclude that both find some support in the scriptures, and that to that extent both are right; and that both fail to take into fair account all that the scriptures have to say on the subject, and to that extent both are wrong. Usually the one side of such a controversy represents a reaction from the other, both likely going to extremes. Yet the truth in such a case is not to be sought by the striking of an average and compromise of the two, but rather by a first-hand and open-minded study of the word of God.
Views Of The Early Church
Neither will we be prejudiced on apiori grounds, this way or that. It might be reasonable to incline to side with the almost universal belief of the early church during the first three centuries. The current teaching of early Christianity as set forth by the early “Fathers” — Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Tertullian, down to Lactantius who was preceptor to the son of the Roman emperor Constantine — was that the “Kingdom,” (by which was meant the millennial reign on the earth of Christ) would be inaugurated at Christ’s return. Not until the worldly favor following Constantine’s conversion had corrupted the faith, and state and church had become allied, and the professed bride became the harlot, was this hope and doctrine given up.
- “With the accession of the empire, under Constantine, to Christianity the main inducement to cherish such a hope of a speedily visible return of a victorious Redeemer passed away. Augustine and other teachers introduced an interpretation of the First Resurrection and the Millennial Reign which referred both to the present estate of Christianity; and this has been in subsequent times the prevalent Catholic interpretation.” (Pope, Com. of Theology. Vol. 3, p. 396.)
This most noteworthy fact stands supported by Schaff, Mosheim, and, so far as my knowledge goes, by all standard church-historians. However, we will not let even so weighty a circumstance as this prejudice our free investigation, but our one purpose will be to get as faithfully and perfectly as by God’s grace we are able, the teaching of God’s word on the subject.
Position Of The Writer
The present writer deems it desirable at the outset of this study to remove any misapprehension as to his own position. He stands committed to no human theory (not even to his own, in so far as he may hold any); nor does he advocate or countenance “speculation.” His one and only desire is to get all that God says on every topic, and as a free Christian he feels no necessity of manipulating the testimony of the scriptures either to please any man or to make it fit into any preconceived tenets or human standards of orthodoxy. But while maintaining his liberty and independence, he does not propose to ignore the positions generally held by his brethren; and in whatsoever he feels bound to differ with current views he does not do so because of loving to differ, or counting himself wiser than others, but only and solely upon the ground of God’s word, upon which alone, as simple Christians, we all stand.
It may also be in order to add that this writer rejects in toto the doctrinal systems and theories of Adventism and Russellism (now known as the “Jehovah’s Witnesses”) and that his study of the Word of God has led him to no clash with the teaching held by his brethren in the church of Christ, in any manner of fundamentals or any point of obedience, or any congregational practice, or in anything that should affect our fellowship in the Lord Jesus Christ. He believes in the full efficiency of the gospel unto its God-designed end, as the power of God unto salvation. Nothing he has found in the scriptures contravenes these positions.
Kingdom Here And To Come
In regard to the kingdom, all, or most of us, so far as I know, agree that those who are in the church of Jesus Christ have been translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13). I take it that God would not have told us this, except to give us the impression that Christians now are in the kingdom.
Nor is there any difference among us as to the fact that there is a sense in which the kingdom is yet to come. It does not matter what we may think is the nature of the “eternal kingdom” referred to in 2 Peter 1:11 —we will hardly dissent that it is to us so distinct and defined a future phase of the kingdom of God that it must be “entered” into even by us who are now in the kingdom (Acts 14:22). This, I think, admits of no real controversy. It is the outright statement of God’s word. The one and only issue on which a dissent may hinge is not whether there is to be any future manifestation of the kingdom; but rather, what will be the nature of it—whether we may look for the inauguration of a reign of Christ with His saints on the earth in a coming age, or whether the present dispensation closes with the destruction of the earth, and the kingdom to come will be a condition of eternal glory in heaven. The answer to this question must not be by human assertions one way or the other, but must take shape in the course of our faithful and patient examination of the scriptures. We will go at once to one of the central passages of the Bible’s kingdom teaching.
This verse forms the climax of the Divine interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. It reads as follows:
- “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever.”
The heathen monarch, Nebuchadnezzar, had seen in a dream-vision an image—a human figure; its head of gold; its chest and arms of silver; its belly and thighs of brass; its legs and feet of iron—the latter mixed with miry clay (or potter’s ware). While he looked, a stone, cut out of a mountain without hands, fell upon the feet of the image, then, the gold, silver, brass, and iron were reduced to small fragments, which were utterly swept away by the wind; and the stone which smote the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
The inspired interpretation of this symbolic vision, given by Daniel, was that the golden head represented Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom (Babylon); the silver represented another inferior kingdom; the next, the brass, yet another world-kingdom; this to be followed by a fourth, the strongest, the iron kingdom, which would be a divided kingdom both in form and as to substance; and in its last parts (the feet and the toes), would be weakened by the incongruous admixture of clay. The smiting of the image by the stone is interpreted in verse 44. We note that “in the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom”; that, secondly, this kingdom set up by God and itself indestructible, and never to pass into the hands of another people, shall destroy and break in pieces all these kingdoms; and, lastly, it shall stand forever.
Now the question of first importance to our inquiry is:
Has Daniel 2:44 Been Fulfilled?
Many will at once answer this affirmatively. It is widely claimed that this prophecy found its fulfillment in the establishment of the Church on the Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection. The reasons assigned for this view are as follows:
(1) John the Baptist announced the kingdom as “near” in which proclamation he was followed by the Lord and His disciples.
(2) After Pentecost the kingdom is spoken of as in existence.
(3) “Those Kings” mentioned in the prophecy of Daniel 2:44 have long since passed away, and their kingdoms have long since been broken to pieces. Therefore the prophecy, if it ever was to be fulfilled, must have been fulfilled in the past, when the kingdom of “those kings” (represented by the image in the prophecy of Daniel 2) was yet in existence—that is to say in the days of the Roman empire; which empire was in power when the church was established, but has since passed away.
This has seemed so evident and conclusive, that many have not given it any further thought. But if the inquiry is pressed further, and it be asked how, where, when, the Image was smitten and demolished it becomes evident that beyond the fact that the church was established in the days of the Roman empire—there is absolutely no further point of contact or resemblance between the prophecy and the alleged fulfillment.
This lack of correspondence has been thought due to obscurity of prophetic language. But, manifestly, though unfulfilled prophecy may be obscure, a prophecy, if it is a prophecy at all, should be recognizable after its fulfillment. Taking a look at the prophecy itself, we mark the following features:
A stone was cut out without hands.
It smites the image upon its feet, and breaks them in pieces.
The whole image in all its parts is broken up into small fragments, “like the chaff on a threshing-floor in the summer.”
The wind carries the pieces away, without leaving a trace.
The stone that smote the image becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth.
It requires no deep acquaintance with world history to perceive that no such event as here portrayed has ever transpired. The four world-empires came in due course; degenerating in quality, increasing in strength, even to the fourth, the iron world power, Rome. The church was established in the days of Rome. But Rome felt no shock nor tremor. Neither was she broken up, neither did she begin to be broken up, or to decline.
On the contrary she went on prosperously, conquering and to conquer. Much of her territory was added to her after Pentecost—Egypt, Dacia, Great Britain, went to swell her boundaries. She arrived at her greatest territorial extent about 180 A.D.—a century and a half after Pentecost. During this time she came nearer destroying the church than vice versa. Rome’s real decline dates from the days of Constantine—but, alas, the church’s decline began at the same time.
Some would meet the difficulty by the claim that the influence of the stone is permeating the kingdoms of the world so as to bring about their final disintegration and overthrow. With other words, that the stone’s smiting represents a moral, or spiritual effect and that the prophecy of Daniel 2:44 is not as yet fulfilled, but is really as yet in process of fulfillment. But the prophecy fairly taken represents, not a gradual process but a catastrophic event—a complete and radical demolition of the world kingdom by supernatural agency. The stone’s effect upon the Image is due to violent impact, not to “peaceful penetration.” The stone falls for judgment and destruction upon the world power—not for conversion and salvation of individuals. The Image is suddenly broken up—pulverized—by an act of God. It is not stated that the Image is to be transformed into the likeness and image of Christ, but that it is to be destroyed. Neither does it say that the stone lies in peaceful contact with the Image’s feet. The stone and the Image do not co-exist peacefully at all: when the one comes the other goes. Nor is it true that the stone by its growing gradually displaces the Image. The stone is not represented as growing at all until the Image has been reduced to chaff and winds have swept away its fragments into the nowhere.
As to the question of the stone’s growth—the church of Christ has had much fluctuation, but not anything like steady growth. It is doubtful whether now, after nearly 2000 years, there are any more real Christians in the world—I say not in proportion to the population, but in actual figures—than there were at the close of the apostolic era. To say that every time a convert is made to Christ the civil power is deprived of a member and supporter, the kingdom of God is correspondingly increased, is a palpable untruth; and if it were true, at the showing of the past 2000 years, and in view of the present prospects of growing unbelief and apostasy, the realization of God’s promise, and with it the return of Christ, is pushed immeasurably into the future. These explanations are one and all untenable. About the only thing that can be done is to waive all examination and to say that we cannot make out the details. But the trouble is that neither in detail nor otherwise can we trace the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 2 in anything that has ever happened in the past.
But if we see this, we are face to face with the perplexing fact that Daniel’s fourth world power has long since disappeared. If then the prophecy has not been fulfilled in the past, it would seem that it cannot ever be fulfilled. For the stone was to smite and to crush the feet of the image; and the feet concededly, were the Roman world-power. Since Rome has vanished how can the prophecy be at all fulfilled?
As for my part—if I could get no light on the point I would prefer to leave the question unsolved and to me unsolvable, rather than to try to satisfy myself and others with a cheap and false explanation, which can only do dishonor to God’s word. But there is a Divine explanation, clear and satisfying. We shall attempt to set it forth.
Notes On Chapter 2
The impossibility of the conclusion that Daniel 2:35 and 44 has been fulfilled in the past, has been felt by many great and good brethren; but it was never heard that their non-acceptance of such a view was reckoned as a departure from the faith, or that they were considered heretics because they did not believe that Daniel 2:44 had been fulfilled.
In the “Millennial Harbinger Condensed” (Vol. I, pp. 95, 96) Alexander Campbell, arguing against the teaching of William Miller, the father of modern Adventism, and the Millerites, who were expecting the end of the world in 1844, says,
- “Can anyone believe that the following predictions have yet been accomplished? Isaiah 59:16-21; 60; 61; 62; 63; 65:17-25; 66:10-24. Also Jeremiah 30:1-3, 17:24; 31; 32:36-42; 33:1-26; Ezekiel 36, 37; also chapters 38 and 39 concerning Gog and Magog. Can anyone say that these prophecies have been fulfilled? And if not can anyone show how they are to be fulfilled after the end of the world? Daniel 2:40-44; 7:7-14. 2-27. Compare these with John’s Apocalypse, chapter 16:12-21, with chapters 17, 18, 19, and especially chapter 20:1-10. Surely no one will affirm that all these things have yet to come to pass.”
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- “All the kingdoms of this world,” says Alexander Campbell in the Millennial Harbinger, under the heading “The Regeneration of the World,” “shall soon become the kingdoms of our Lord and King. He will hurl all the present potentates from their thrones. He will grind to powder the despotisms, civil and ecclesiastic, and with the blast of his mouth give them to the four winds of heaven . . . No trace of them shall remain. The best government on earth, call it English or American, has within it the seeds of its own destruction…carries in its constitution a millstone which will sink it to the bottom of the sea…The Land mourns through the wickedness of those who sit in high places. Ignorance, poverty, and crime abound because of the injustice and iniquities of those who guide the destinies of the nations. Men fear not God, that love not his Son, and that regard not the maximums of his government, yet wear the sword and sway the scepter in all lands. This is wholly adverse to the peace and happiness of the world. Therefore he will break them to pieces like a potter’s vessel, and set up an order of society in which justice, inflexible justice, shall have uncontrolled dominion. Jesus will be universally acknowledged by all the race of living men, and all nations shall do him homage. This state of society will be the consummation of the Christian religion in all its moral influences and tendencies upon mankind.”
- “How far this change is to be effected by moral, and how far by physical means, is not the subject of our present inquiry. But the preparation of a people for the coming of the Lord must be the result of the restoration of the ancient gospel and order of things. And come when it may, the day of the regeneration of the world will be a day as wonderful and as terrible as was the day of the deluge, of Sodom’s judgment, or of Jerusalem’s catastrophe. Who shall stand when the Lord does this?”