THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND CHRIST

 

By G. H. LANG.

 

T0 BELIEVE THE PROPHECIES OF THE WORD OF GOD IS eminently rational. Christ is the chief subject of them: "to Him bear all the prophets witness" (Acts 10: 43). The substance of their testimony concerns two great events in the career of Christ, one now past, the other yet to be fulfilled. They "testified beforehand (1) the sufferings which should come unto Messiah and (2) the glories that should follow them" (1 Peter 1: 11). And so they spoke in advance of two comings of Christ to the earth: one in humble guise to suffer; the other in glory to reign.

 

Here is a specimen: Psalm 22, from about 1000 B.C. "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me (verse 1) All they that see me laugh me to scorn (Verse 7) ... Thou hast brought me into the dust of death (verse 15) ... they pierced my hands and my feet" (verse16). This pictures the sufferings of crucifixion; but at verse 21 the strain changes, and the Sufferer, in oriental imagery, exclaims: "from the horns of the wild oxen Thou hast answered me. I will declare Thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise Thee (verse 22) ... Of Thee cometh my praise in the great assembly (verse 28) ... For the kingdom is Jehovah's: and He is the ruler over the nations "(verse 28).

 

Or consider this example from Isaiah 53, dating from Some 700 B.C.: "He was despised and rejected of men (verse 3)... By oppression and judgment he was taken away ... he was cut off out of the land of the living (verse 8) Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" (verse 10). But again the strain changes completely. Though cut off prematurely by death, "he shall prolong his days ... and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand (verse 10)... He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied (verse 11)... Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul unto death "(verse 12).

 

Here is another example, from about 500 B.C. In Zechariah 13: 7 God said: "Awake, O sword against My shepherd, and against the Man that is My fellow, saith Jehovah of hosts." Here is the suffering of the God-Man. But in 14: 4 the prophet says: "his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem ... Jehovah my God shall come, and all the holy ones with thee (verse 5) ... Jehovah shall be King over all the earth " (verse 9).

 

These are but samples of very many such prophecies, and it is to be observed that the same prophet conjoined predictions of the sufferings and the glories of the same Person. It is computed that in the Old Testament there are over 300 details of the former period of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. They were uttered or written over a period of a thousand years, beginning with Moses and ending with Malachi. Some 400 years elapsed between the last prediction and the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth, so that no prophet could at all influence the fulfilment of his words. Yet every one of these over 300 particulars was accomplished in the brief space of the thirty-three years of the life of Christ. The compound probability against this is so inconceivably vast as to make it wholly impossible that it should just have "happened." It could have been brought about only by the direct action of God.

 

Now the argument is this: If one giving me directions as to my road describes ten features of that road, such as turnings, crossings, inns, and churches, and as I go my way six of these features, one after another, are verified, I should have every warrant to expect the other four features to meet me. And inasmuch as the prophets did accurately and minutely foretell the first coming of Messiah, which they could in no wise have done apart from the instruction of the God who alone foresees the future, it is only rational to expect the same exact fulfilment of the conjoined predictions as to a second coming of Messiah to reign in glory.

 

Moreover, what shall we say to the fact that Jesus Christ most explicitly accepted and confirmed both classes of predictions as applying to Himself ? Of His death He said: "The Son of man goeth even as it is written of Him" (Matthew 26: 24); but He said also: "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the angels with Him (compare Zechariah above: "Jehovah my God shall come and all the holy ones with thee "), then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory" (Matthew 25: 31). After His resurrection He as definitely conjoined the two aspects of His career, past and future, by saying "Behoved it not the Messiah to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24: 26).

 

He who does not expect the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ to rule this earth nullifies the plain meaning of prophets apostles and of the Lord Himself, that is, of the Bible entire and, there being simply no other guide to the future, he sails into coming international darkness and tempest with neither chart, compass, rudder, nor star of hope by which to steer or to be cheered. Yea, more and worse; he will be misled by man's unwarranted expectations which will utterly disappoint him.

 

To touch but briefly all that Scripture discloses of the reign of Christ over the earth would require a book as big as the Bible itself. This cannot be attempted here. We will now consider what in the way of judgment upon the wicked He will execute at His visible return to the earth. We shall conjoin some very early prophecies with the last.

 

Fourteen centuries B.C. God said:

 

If I whet the lightning of my sword,

And mine hand take hold on vengeance;

I will render vengeance to mine adversaries,

And will recompense them that hate me.

 

(Deuteronomy 32: 31.)

 

Perhaps five centuries later a psalmist said:

 

Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O mighty one,

Thy glory and thy majesty.

And in thy majesty ride on prosperously

In behalf of truth and meekness and righteousness

And thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things.

Thine arrows are sharp:

The peoples fall under thee:

They are in the heart of the king's enemies.

 

(Psalm 45: 3-5)

 

Another six centuries pass and in Revelation 19: 11-16 there is this majestic scene:

 

And I saw the heaven opened: and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon, called Faithful and True: and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. And his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself. And he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations : and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

 

Verse 2 of the Psalm quoted had described this Ruler thus:

 

Thou art fairer than the children of men,

Grace is poured into thy lips.

 

Beauty of character and graciousness of speech were seen in perfection in Jesus of Nazareth. Such an one can be trusted to execute the holy wrath of God, without miscarriage of justice by either failure or excess. It is restful to know that none less perfect than He is judge. When here, He scorched hypocrisy, but comforted those who mourned over their sins; He condemned severely adultery, yet liberated the repentant adulteress and forgave the woman of the streets. By Him the dread but inevitable work of judgment shall be done effectively yet mercifully, and "the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and confidence for ever" (Isaiah 32: 17). He will destroy the destroyers of the earth, and grant possession of it to the meek (Revelation 11: 18; Matthew 5: 5).

 

As to the characteristics of His kingdom, they are summarized in Romans 14: 7 in the words: "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Here are five features, one negative, three positive, and a fifth explanatory.

 

(1) In millennial times men will eat and drink, but this will be incidental, subordinate. Now men often live to eat and drink; then they will eat and drink only to live. Now men are desperately "anxious, saying what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek" anxiously (Matthew 6: 31, 32). But Christ, Himself at the time poor and in need of these things, bade His followers (not all men) not to be anxious, but to remember that the God Who clothes lilies and feeds sparrows is their Father. He assured them that if they will concentrate upon doing what their Father thinks to be right, and will thus further His kingdom as the true interest of their hearts and the true end of their lives, then they would experience His divine care as to earthly, bodily needs. And following this counsel myriads of them have been enabled to live in righteousness, peace, and joy even in this present evil age.

 

In the days of Christ's visible reign this experience will be general. God, now to most men unreal, will become the great Reality, and trust in Him will banish fear of being in want to-morrow. This will deliver the heart from greed, from hoarding, from stealing, from gambling, and all else that results from fear of the future. God will respond to this trust by making seasons fruitful and certain, and all men will have all things needful in abundance and perpetually. Isaiah 11: 1-9; 65: 17-25, etc., will have literal fulfilment.

 

(2) Given a realm in which every person does only what is right to every other person, such a realm will naturally remain in peace, and to dwell there will be very joyful to all.

 

(3) To secure this delightful state it is absolutely needful, simply imperative, that human nature must be changed in its essence. Man must receive a new nature, he must be born again with a nature from above, for otherwise he can never see or enter that kingdom of God which is from above. Christ taught a religious but still natural man that this is the work of the Creator Spirit; and the Spirit effects this change when a man places his faith on Christ lifted up on the cross as his personal Redeemer. Let the agnostic scorn this as he will, it remains the real experience of myriads of his fellow-sinners, and if he were a true scientist he would take serious account of this testimony of tens of thousands of his fellow-men whose testimony he has neither moral nor rational ground to deny.

 

At the appearing of Christ in glory men will see that He is indeed the very Jesus who was crucified for their sins, and such as do then and there receive and trust Him, will experience that renewing work of the Spirit of God, and in His inworking power will live in righteousness and know peace and joy. Ezekiel 36: 25-37; Isaiah 44: 3-5; 59: 21; Joel 2: 28, 29, will then have general fulfilment. Every real believer upon the Son of God has present experience of this, which is a foretaste of that future and a guarantee that it is possible, yea, sure. By this means the unbeliever to-day can test the future for himself, and can satisfy himself that it is rational to expect the accomplishment of what God has promised.

 

Old Sir Thomas More gave to the world his notions of what would constitute Paradise on earth, and he called his book Utopia, which means The Happy Place. But he could not change the spirit of men, and so neither he nor any other reformer has been able to create Utopia. For the man is what he is in his spirit: one of mean spirit will be niggardly; one generous of spirit will be kindly. Now to them that obey Him God gives of His own Spirit of holiness and love; into such Utopia enters now; and by all men sharing this in Christ's day there Will become an out-ward general Utopia. Why the fulfilment of this seems deferred on the side of God we will touch on in the next chapter, but any individual can secure a genuine and present foretaste by the Spirit upon submitting to Christ as the LORD he means to obey.

 

Perhaps no sweeter or finer picture exists of that great era than the noble prophetic poem in Psalm 72. It reads:

 

Give the king thy judgments, O God,

And thy righteousness unto the king's son.

He shall judge thy people with righteousness,

And thy poor with judgment.

The mountains shall bring peace to the people,

And the hills, in righteousness.

He shall judge the poor of the people,

He shall save the children of the needy,

And shall break in pieces the oppressor.

They shall fear thee while the sun endureth,

And so long as the moon, throughout all generations.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass;

As showers that water the earth.

In his days shall the righteous flourish;

And abundance of peace, till the moon be no more.

He shall have dominion also from sea to sea,

And from the River [Euphrates] unto the ends of the earth.

They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him;

And his enemies shall lick the dust.

The kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands shall bring presents;

The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.

Yea, all kings shall fall down before him:

All nations shall serve him.

For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth;

And the poor, that hath no helper.

He shall have pity on the poor and needy,

And the souls of the needy he shall save.

He shall redeem their soul from oppression and violence;

And precious shall their blood be in his sight.

And they shall live: and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba;

And men shall pray for him continually;

They shall bless him all the day long.

There shall be abundance of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains;

The fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon;

And they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.

His name shall endure for ever;

His name shall be continued as long as the sun;

And men shall be blessed in him;

All nations shall call him happy.

Blessed be Jehovah God, the God of Israel,

Who only doeth wondrous things:

And blessed be his glorious name for ever:

And let the whole earth be filled with his glory.

Amen, and Amen!

 

Here are shown (1) the character of the King; (2) the universality of His rule; (3) the suppression of oppression, and the deliverance of the poor; (4) the increased fruitfulness of the earth; (5) the honour that shall be rendered to the King by all; (6) the perpetuity of His reign: "His name shall endure for ever "; (7) the eternal glory thus gained unto His God and Father [the closing doxology], who has thus "set His king upon His holy hill of Zion" (Psalm 2: 6), in spite of all opposition, human and Satanic, and has so "set Him to be blessings for ever" unto all mankind (Psalm 21: 6).

 

The third difficulty mentioned in ch. 40 as barring a universal empire is diversity of language, as imposed at Babel. The removal of this in the times of Messiah may be hinted in Zephaniah 3: 9, where God says, "Then will I turn to the peoples a pure language (Hebrew, lip), that they may all call upon the Name of Jehovah, to serve Him with one consent." This seems to imply the ability of all races to call unitedly upon the one God in one language. This agrees with Zechariah 14: 16, which pictures all nations making an annual visit to Jerusalem to worship Jehovah.

 

This promise of the eternal glory of the Son of God, and the eternal felicity of His subjects, shows that the millennial kingdom will lead on to and will be perfected in an eternal kingdom. The transition to that perfected state will be by three stages.

 

(1) The great Tempter will be allowed a short term again to tempt mankind. Under God's King the earth will have known perfect government, permanent peace, unbounded prosperity. But ideal outward conditions do not of themselves create ideal beings. Children of the godly are not sinless. So that when spiritual incitement to evil is again active it will be seen that unregenerate human nature is unalterable by a favourable environment. This will be the last and the conclusive demonstration that the theory is false that the man can be changed by improving his surroundings.

 

Now at last the dread contest which commenced in heaven when Satan rose up against the Most High, is concluded by his being cast into the lake of fire prepared for him and his angels (Matthew 25: 41). How glorious, how awful is the grandest of all natural gifts, the freedom of the will. How indispensable to its right exercise is the humility of love that bows reverently to the will of God and trusts instantly to His supporting grace. But when love of self displaces the love of God the sure end is eternal ruin, unless grace can restore through repentance and faith; and a sinner, alas, can reach a state when these are no longer possible.

 

(2) There will be a second resurrection of the dead, when all shall be judged according to their works; when eternal bliss or eternal woe shall be assigned to each; when to be found having one's name still un-erased from God's book of life shall be seen to have always been the prime factor worthy of all attention (Revelation 20: 11-15).

 

(3) This assize concluded, the almighty Creator shall split every atom in the universe; heaven and earth shall be thus purged by fire; and there shall follow renewed heavens and a renewed earth wherein shall dwell for ever only righteousness, with her handmaids peace and joy, wherein redeemed men shall enjoy eternal holiness and happiness and God shall be all in all for ever and ever (Revelation 21: 1-8; 2 Peter 3).

 

It will be a new idea to some that God has a programme already announced as to its general features and as to much detail. It is no invention of clever human brains, but has been standing in the pages of God's Book for nearly two thousand years. Many have seen it more or less clearly, more or less fully, and have walked by its light, rejoicing in the hope, pressing towards it as life's goal. Of it they have been assured by a reasoned faith; for the foretaste already enjoyed in peace and gladness of heart is the earnest of the perfected conditions promised, even as it is written that "we have the firstfruits of the Spirit" (Romans 8: 23), and "the Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1: 13, 14). The youth who receives regularly the interest on capital is thereby assured that there is capital which he will possess fully when he comes of age. This is the hope that maketh not ashamed, for the love of God (which is the moral energy and glory of that coming eternity) is already shed abroad in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit Who is given unto us (Romans 5 : 5). Faith is not credulity; it is a reasoned confidence based on sound premises. He who holds fast the hope of the gospel will not be put to shame: every other hope will be confounded.

 

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