[From Chapter 27 of the author’s book: ‘The greatness of the Kingdom’, pp. 519-526.]



In the field of inductive logic there is a class of fallacies which arise through the careless use of language. Bacon named them “Idols of the Marketplace  Nothing could be more profitless than discussion without some prior agreement as to the meaning of important terms.  To try to win an argument where terms are not mutually understood is like trying, as Locke has reminded us, “to dispossess a vagrant of his habitation who has no settled abode*


* “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” Book III, Chap. X.



Current discussions of the Kingdom of God involve the use of certain terms which often carry different meanings when used by different writers.  Sometimes a single writer will use the same term in more than one sense or use different terms to convey the same idea.  Such terms are “establish,” “earthly,” “heavenly,” “carnal,” “force,” “conditional,” “certainty,” “postponement,” “abeyance,” etc.  But most abused of all is the term “spiritual



No other word in the vocabulary of the doctrine of the Kingdom has been the occasion of more misunderstanding and useless argument.  A great deal of this confusion, in my opinion, has been due to the influence of Platonic philosophy in the field of Christian theology.  Many a preacher, who may have never read a single sentence from Plato, has been more or less, perhaps unconsciously, under the sway of the rigid metaphysical dualism of this philosopher.  To such men, the premillennial doctrine of a divine Kingdom established on earth, having political and physical aspects, seems to be sheer materialism.  Yet their own theological views may involve some very serious practical inconsistencies.  It has been said, with some justification, that a man’s life and actions are the surest guide to his actual beliefs.



A parable will illustrate the point:  During a church banquet a group of preachers were discussing the nature of the Kingdom of God.  One expressed his adherence to the premillennial view of a literal kingdom to be established on earth among men.  To this a rather belligerent two-hundred-pound preacher snorted, “Ridiculous!  Such an idea is nothing but materialism  When asked to state his own view, he replied, “The Kingdom is a spiritual matter.  The Kingdom of God has already been established, and is within you.  Don’t you gentlemen know that the Kingdom is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost?” And then the speaker reached hungrily across the table and speared another enormous piece of fried chicken!  Nobody tried to answer him.  As a matter of fact, no answer was necessary; he had answered his own argument.  As the French would say, “He was hoist with his own petard.” At the risk of being thought tiresome, let me recite the obvious conclusion: If the Kingdom of God can exist now on earth in a two-hundred-pound preacher full of fried chicken, without any reprehensible materialistic connotations, perhaps it could also exist in the same way among men on earth who will at times be eating and drinking under more perfect conditions in a future millennial kingdom.



But let us get back to a more serious side of the argument.  Of course, the Kingdom of God is primarily a spiritual kingdom, always, and wherever it exists.  But a spiritual kingdom, in Biblical parlance, can manifest itself and produce tangible effects in a physical world; or to be more precise, in the world of sense experience.  If it cannot, I would see no practical value in having it here and now.  But strangely enough, some of the very men who are so scornful of the alleged “materialism” of a millennial kingdom, are the most insistent that the Church today must make effective in society what they call the social and moral ideals of the present kingdom of God.  Thus, it is our duty to vote the right ticket politically, give to the Red Cross, help the Boy Scouts, support the United Nations, endow hospitals, etc.  But if a “spiritual” kingdom can and should produce such effects at the present time through the very imperfect agency of sinful men, why cannot the same thing be true in larger measure in the coming age when the rule of God will he mediated more perfectly and powerfully through the Eternal Son personally present among men as the Mediatorial King?  In other words, if there can be a divine kingdom functioning here and now in the realm of sense experience without the taint of “materialism”, what is wrong with the same thing in the future?  Any denial of such a possibility, on alleged rational grounds, would at last plunge us back philosophically into the hopeless dilemma of Platonic dualism, which is still the curse of much that is called Christian thinking in the field of eschatology.  Such a metaphysical dualism in Christian theology is today “obsolete” and “naive* The conventional sneer at what has been called the “materialistic and carnal kingdom” of Premillennialism, in my judgment, has lost much of its force.  What the opponents of the premillennial view of the Kingdom must now do, to win the argument on logical grounds, is to show that our Lord will never return bodily to earth in glory, personally and visibly.


* Burton Scott Easton, International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Chicago. Howard‑Severance, 1915), Vol. IV, p. 2565.



The reasoning of such men at times seems very curious.  If physicians conquer diseases, if scientists eliminate certain physical hazards, if by social legislation governments improve the quality of human existence, if wise statesmen succeed in preventing a war, etc., - these things are often cited as evidence of the progress of a present Kingdom of God.  But if the Lord Jesus Christ Himself returns to earth in person to accomplish these same things, more perfectly and universally, then we are told that such a kingdom would he “carnal



It should hardly he necessary to point out that, in the Word of God, it is nothing new to find a spiritual cause producing tangible effects in the area of sense experience.  On this point, the personal testimony of the late Ananias and his wife Sapphira would be very impressive.  These two people lived in the very beginning of that historical era when, as it is claimed by some, God established a “spiritual kingdom” among men.  But they learned by bitter experience that a spiritual force can operate in the physical world of nature.  Berkhof, [the A-millennialist theologian] in criticizing the idea that God will use force in the establishing of His kingdom, seems to feel that there is something utterly incongruous between spiritual power and physical effects, and that any such effects in the material world cannot be due to the power of God’s Spirit.**  But Ananias and his wife certainly died a sudden physical death because they had lied to the Holy Ghost.  As to the question of whether a display of “force” could have any salutary results in the Kingdom of God, which Berkhof seems to doubt, Luke is careful to describe the effect of the death of Ananias and Sapphira thus: “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5: 11).


** L. Berkhof, The Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951), p. 174.



The notion that a spiritual kingdom can have no immediate relation to considerations which are the stuff of physical existence, is one of the strangest idols ever constructed in the cave of the human mind.  God is spirit; and wherever His power breaks supernaturally into the system of nature, the cause may properly be called “spiritual,” whatever the effect may be; whether the healing of a disease, the raising of a dead body, the regeneration of a sinner, or the setting up of a political state on the earth.  The kingdom established at Sinai was not an earthly kingdom, although it was on the earth.  Actually, it was a spiritual kingdom which came down from heaven historically into the world of physical existence and operated there by the supernatural agency of God Himself.  If we hold fast this truth, we shall have less difficulty dealing with philosophically inclined theologians who seem to feel that there is something degrading about the idea of a spiritual kingdom established on earth in control of human affairs within the realm of sense experience.



One thing in this connection that seems to disturb some theologians is the thought of a kingdom in which the glorified Christ with His risen saints will be mingling with men of flesh and blood on the earth.  To illustrate this point, I quote from Berkhof’s final paragraph in his book on The Kingdom of God.  The author first states the premillennial view as follows: “Jesus Christ, the glorified Lord, will be seated upon the throne at Jerusalem.  And the risen and immortal saints will reign with him ‘the thousand years  And besides these there will be also men in the flesh, both of the Jewish and of other nations, some converted and others unconverted.  They will all share in the glory of the Kingdom, and all enjoy the open vision of Jesus Christ  Then with considerable indignation Berkhof exclaims, “With Brown we too would call out, ‘What a mongrel state of things is this!  What an abhorred mixture of things totally inconsistent with each other  This representation is not warranted by Scripture and grates upon our Christian sensibility. Beet truly says: ‘We cannot conceive mingled together on the same planet some who have yet to die and others who have passed through death and will die no more.  Such confusion of the present age with the age to come is in the last degree unlikely’” (p. 176).



Here we have a prime example of the influence of philosophic dualism in Christian theology.  If Plato were living today, giving a series of lectures on the millennial question, he might very well employ the exact language of Berkhof, Brown, Beet, et al.  Certainly in his philosophical sensitive soul he would regard with abhorrence the idea of a spiritual kingdom having any genuine and worth-while relation to the world of sense experience.  But the writers of Holy Scripture are not bound by any such philosophical prejudices.  While they recognized the reality of mind and matter, of spirit and body, to them there was not only one God but also one world.  And in this universe of God there is no unbridgeable chasm between that which is physical and that which is spiritual.  In the Garden of Eden, God who is spirit walks and talks with man made of the dust of the ground (Gen. 3: 8-10).  The Lord Himself with two angels is entertained in the tent of Abraham (Gen. 18).  To Moses the Lord spoke face to face, “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exod. 33: 11).  But the incarnation of the eternal Son in a body of flesh and blood is the supreme demonstration that there is no inherent or necessary antagonism between matter and spirit.  This is to say nothing of the risen [resurrected] Christ appearing over and over to men and women in the flesh, mingling with them, eating with them, and teaching them for the space of forty days.



The entire history of divine revelation bears no uncertain witness that the penetration of “spirit” into the physical realm of nature is never regarded as something strange, abnormal, or incongruous.*  It is true that human sin has introduced a limiting factor into the situation.  Man did lose his personal fellowship with God.  But sin itself at bottom is a spiritual problem.  While its effects are most apparent in the physical realm, matter is not an evil in itself.  The ancient error of Gnosticism has been universally rejected by orthodox theologians, yet its baneful shadow still hangs over certain areas of eschatology.  This alleged abhorrence at the thought of any intermingling of the “spiritual” and the “material” in a future millennial kingdom is not necessarily a normal reaction of the human reason.  It is rather what the psychologists have called a “learned reaction.” The Apostle Paul, well schooled in the philosophies of his day, solemnly warned against this danger: “Beware lest any man spoil you through [his] philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, ... and not after Christ” (Col. 2: 8).  And the next verse makes it clear that the warning had to do with a false dualism, which would later develop into the historic school of Gnosticism, but which already was present in Paul’s day: “For in him [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [somatikos].”  The incarnate Son of God, in whose body both deity and humanity dwelt together in perfect union, is still the most complete answer to all gnostic tendencies, whether ancient or modern.


[* Incongruous. That is, -  “Not in keeping with its surroundings, out of place]



It is only fair to say that Dr. Berkhof, from whose scholarly book I have quoted above, recognizes that “spiritual” and “material” blessings can dwell together in the final stage of the Kingdom without any necessary incongruity or discord.  In fact, in generous vein, he concedes that the premillennial view of the Kingdom has done some service as an antidote to a “one-sided spiritual conception of the Kingdom.” He says that Premillennialism “reminds us of the fact that the Kingdom of God is something more than the purely spiritual invisible reign of God in the hearts of men; and that in the future it will find expression also in a visible external organization.  It corrects the mistaken idea that the Kingdom consists only in spiritual gifts and spiritual graces, and teaches us to look with confidence for a material creation of resplendent beauty.  In view of the prophetic utterances to which it directs our attention, the erroneous impression that the future Kingdom will offer enjoyments only to the soul, is swept away by the glad assurances that it will afford rich and varied material blessings as well” (p. 158).  I doubt whether any pre-millennialist could have written any finer words on the point at issue.  They prove that Dr. Berkhof is not basically a Platonist in his philosophy.  If I understand him rightly, Berkhof has no serious objection to the mingling of spiritual and material blessings in the final and eternal state.  But he rejects the idea of such a mingling of things in a Millennial Kingdom this side of the eternal state.



While space does not permit any full discussion of the Biblical meaning of the Greek adjective pneumatikos, at least something should he said about its general usage.  It occurs twenty-six times in the New Testament, twice in adverbial form.  In itself the term does not necessarily connote something morally good - in Ephesians 6: 12 the demonic hosts are called pneumatika.  Nor does the term necessarily exclude the idea of physical substance - in First Corinthians 15: 44 the resurrection body of the Christian is named a soma pneumatikon.  With reference to the things of God, which is its general connection, the meaning of pneumatikos is something “emanating from the Divine Spirit, or exhibiting its effects and so its character”; that is, something “produced by the sole power of God Himself without natural instrumentality, supernatural.”* Therefore, the term may he used to designate a divine origin or cause, and also to describe the effects produced by such a cause in any realm whatsoever, whether physical or metaphysical.  If we hold fast to this general idea we cannot slip into unnecessarily narrow definitions.  Consider, as an excellent example of the broad New Testament use of the term, the text in First Corinthians 10: 3 where Paul affirms that the Israelites “did all eat the same spiritual food  What was this food?  Well, the Old Testament record seems perfectly clear; but let A. T. Robertson answer: “The reference is to the manna which is termed ‘spiritual’ by reason of its supernatural character**  Now all sorts of explanations have been offered as to the identity of this strange food which Israel ate for forty years in the wilderness, but no reputable scholar ever suggested that it was not a physical substance.  The people ground it in mills, beat it in mortars, baked or boiled it; it had a certain appearance and its taste was described; if kept too long it even bred worms! (Exod. 16 and Num. 11).  Yet the Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, says this manna was spiritual food.  Meyer, commenting on Paul’s statement, well says, “It was, although material in itself ... a food of supernatural, divine, and spiritual origin***


* Thayer, Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 523, 3.a.


** Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York: Harper and Bros., 1930), Vol. IV, P. 151.


*** Commentary on the New Testament, in loc.



It is true that occasionally the New Testament uses “spiritual” as a contrasting term to that which is either “natural” or “carnal  Thus Paul speaks of the “first man Adam” as “natural [psuchikon],” and the “last Adam” as “spiritual”; but the contrast here does not exclude the factor of materiality, for both Adam and Christ had bodies of flesh (1 Cor. 15: 45-46).  In verse 44 Paul applies the same contrasting terms to the two bodies: the present body is psuchikon, while the resurrection body will he pneumatikon.  But here again the idea of materiality is not excluded, for the resurrection body of Christ had “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).  The real contrast is between the respective energizing principles of the two.  Even where the contrast is between “spiritual things” and “carnal [psuchikon] things” (1 Cor. 9: 11), it is not invidious.*  For both classes of things here are good, originating with God who is the Creator of all; although, of course, the one is superior to the other.


[* ‘Invidious’.  That is, it is not “offensively discriminating]



In the Old Testament, spirit and matter are never absolutely opposed to each other.  The Spirit of God comes upon men to work wonders in a physical context: upon Bezaleel to give craftsmanship in metal and wood (Exod. 31: 1‑5); upon the judges to give skill in military affairs (Judg. 6: 34); upon Samson to bestow great physical strength (Judg. 15: 14).  Even in the much quoted passage from Zechariah - “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” - the physical factor is present.  For the tasks to be accomplished here were the rebuilding of the temple and the overcoming of foes who were obstructing the work (cf. Zech. 4: 6, 9 with Ezra 4: 1-4).