Is the Kingdom Yet to be Established?
The average American is aware of the periodic claim that “the end is near.” When Y2K was approaching, outcries of doom, global disruption, and Armageddon were widespread. Hal Lindsey achieved nationwide attention over thirty years ago with his national bestseller, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970). A more recent repackaging of the dispensational brand of premillennialism is the popular Left Behind book series (see “The Official…,” 2003). Every so often, a religious figure captures national attention by announcing the impending return of Jesus—even to the point of setting a date—only to fade into the anonymity and obscurity from which he arose when his claim falls flat, but having achieved his “fifteen minutes of fame” (see Whisenant and Brewer, 1989). The sensationalism sells well, and tweaks the curiosity of large numbers of people. Incredibly, this pattern has been repeating itself—literally for centuries!
One feature of the premillennial dispensationalist’s claim is that the kingdom is yet future, and that Jesus is not reigning now, but will commence His reign in His kingdom when He returns in the future to establish it in Jerusalem. However, several passages cannot be harmonized with such a view. First, the Bible teaches that the kingdom exists now, and has existed since A.D. 30. While Jesus was on Earth, He went to Galilee, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15, emp. added). He also stated: “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power” (Mark 9:1). In fact, Jesus “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). To insist that the kingdom is yet to be established is to fail to recognize that the Bible plainly declares that the kingdom already exists on Earth.
Second, the words “kingdom,” “Israel,” and “church” all refer to the same group of people—i.e., the saved, Christians, the church of Christ, or spiritual Israel. Jesus predicted that He would build His “church” and give to Peter the keys of the “kingdom” (Matthew 16:18-19). Jesus did not build one institution and then give Peter the keys to a different institution. Paul told the Galatian Christians: “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. …and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:7,29; cf. 6:16). He told Christians in Rome: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart” (Romans 2:28-29). Spiritual Israel is the church of Christ—that is, the kingdom.
Third, Jesus is reigning now in heaven, and has been since His ascension around A.D. 30. Peter explained that Jesus “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:22). Daniel predicted over four centuries prior to its fulfillment: “One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14). This prophecy was fulfilled at the ascension of Christ: “while they watched, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Jesus returned to heaven where He was given rule over His kingdom (Hebrews 10:12). When He returns a second time, it will not be to reign on Earth. Rather, “[t]hen comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter announced to the gathered crowd that Jesus was reigning at that moment over His kingdom: “God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.… This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore, being exalted to the right hand of God...” (Acts 2:30-33). Paul made the same point in his letter to the church of Christ in Ephesus: “He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet” (Ephesians 1:20-22). I repeat: the Bible repeatedly affirms that Jesus is reigning and ruling now over His kingdom.
Fourth, Jesus completed His work on Earth and, consequently, has no reason to return to the Earth to do any additional work. He explained to the disciples: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34, emp. added). Shortly before His departure from the Earth, He prayed to the Father: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You gave Me to do” (John 17:4).
Dispensationalists say that Jesus came with the intention to be King, and to set up an earthly kingdom, but that the Jews unexpectedly rejected Him. However, this claim is in direct conflict with the facts. On one occasion, after Jesus fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish—a feat that would constitute a tremendous advantage should war with Rome be forthcoming—John noted that “when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to a mountain by Himself alone” (6:15). Here was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to become the physical king that the dispensationalists insist He intended to become. But He refused! Why? He gave the reason to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). The dispensational claim that Jesus is coming back to be a king on Earth on a physical throne is the very thing first-century Jews tried to get Him to do—but which He refused to do.
Premillennialists also maintain that the modern nation of Israel is the recipient of various promises made in Scripture, and that it plays a prominent and continuing role in God’s scheme of things. This contention has had a profound impact upon U.S. foreign policy, and in the way people around the world—especially in the Middle East—perceive America. It must surely be a shock for many people to learn that the Bible depicts no such favored status. All people stand on level ground at the foot of the cross of Christ. God is no respecter of persons, and makes no distinctions between people on the basis of ethnicity (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11,28-29; Galatians 3:28). The promises that were made to physical Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled long ago.
For example, God announced to Abraham that He would give to his descendents (the Israelites) the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1; 15:7). This promise was fulfilled when Israel took possession of Palestine in the fifteenth century B.C. (Joshua 21:43-45; 2 Chronicles 9:26). What so many people today fail to recognize is that Israelites’ retaining the land was contingent upon their continued obedience (Leviticus 18:24-28; Joshua 23:14-16; 1 Kings 9:3-7). The complete and final forfeiture of physical Israel took place in A.D. 70. The reestablishment of national Israel, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple (i.e., the national promises of Deuteronomy 30 and Zechariah 12-14) were literally fulfilled in the returning remnant after the Babylonian captivity (Nehemiah 1:8-10; Isaiah 10:22; Jeremiah 23:3; Ezra 3:1-11).
Many of the Old Testament prophecies that predicted the return of the Jews after captivity were laced with predictions of the coming of Christ to the Earth to bring ultimate redemption. Hence, the national promises were spiritually fulfilled in the church of Christ, wherein both Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. For example, premillennialists are fond of calling attention to the concluding prophetic remarks of Amos: “ ‘On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ says the Lord who does this thing” (Amos 9:11-12). They insist that the fulfillment of this prophecy is yet future. They say the Temple, which was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans (Matthew 23:37-24:35), will be rebuilt on the Temple platform in Jerusalem (a site currently occupied by the third most holy shrine of Islam—the Dome of the Rock). They say that Jesus will return, set up His millennial kingdom, and reign on a literal throne for a thousand years, incorporating the Gentiles, in addition to the nation of Israel, into His kingdom. On the face of it, this prophecy certainly possesses terminology that fits the millennial interpretation placed upon it.
However, two Bible passages correct this interpretation, and settle the question as to the proper application of Amos’ prophecy. The first is the great messianic prophecy uttered by the prophet Nathan to King David regarding David’s future lineage and royal dynasty (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Nathan declared that God would establish and sustain the Davidic dynasty. Even though he also noted that a permanent form of the Tabernacle (that God refused to allow David to build—2 Samuel 7:1-7) would be built by David’s son (i.e., Solomon), God, Himself, would build David a house (i.e., a dynasty, a kingly lineage). It is this lineage to which Amos referred—not a physical temple building.
The second passage that clarifies Amos’ prophecy is the account of the Jerusalem “conference” (Acts 15). Following Peter’s report regarding Gentile inclusion in the kingdom, James offered the following confirmatory comment: “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written” (Acts 15:13-15). James then quoted Amos 9:11-12. In other words, on that most auspicious occasion, James noted two significant facts that had come to pass precisely as predicted by Amos: (1) after the downfall of the Jewish kingdom, the Davidic dynasty had been reinstated in the person of Christ—the “Son of David” (Matthew 22:42)—Who, at His ascension, had been enthroned in heaven, thereby “rebuilding the tabernacle of David that had fallen down”; and (2) with the conversion of the first Gentiles in Acts 10, as reported on this occasion by Peter, the “residue of men,” or the non-Jewish segment of humanity, was now “seeking the Lord.”
In light of James’ inspired application of it to the integrated church of the first century, the Amos prophecy, like all others in the Old Testament that premillennialists wish to apply to the future, finds ultimate and final climax in the momentous advent of the Christian religion on the planet. The premillennial treatment of prophecy is, in the final analysis, a demeaning and trivializing of the significance of the Gospel, the church of Christ, and the Christian religion as the final revelation from God to mankind. The kingdom is not future; it is here now. All accountable persons would do well to conform themselves to the preconditions that enable Jesus to add them to His kingdom (Acts 2:38,47; 8:12-13,36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:30-34; 18:8; 19:5: 22:16).
Lindsey, Hal (1970), The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
“The Official Left Behind Series Site,” (2003), [On-line], URL: http://www.leftbehind.com.
Whisenant, Edgar and Greg Brewer (1989), The Final Shout Rapture 1989 Report (Nashville, TN: World Bible Society).