DIFFERENT VIEWS OF THE KINGDOM IN CHURCH HISTORY
A. Throughout church history, there have been a number of different views concerning the nature of the kingdom of God. Here, I am going to mention four.
B. Kingdom=Messianic Government on the Earth. Old Testament saints, early Church (excepting the Gnostics): Understood the Messianic Kingdom in accord with what we just studied: a real government, on the earth, headquartered from a restored Jerusalem in a restored kingdom of Israel, on a restored earth under the leadership of the Messiah. The Messianic Kingdom is the restored kingdom of Eden and the restored kingdom of Israel under the governance of the Messiah. It is God’s ordained instrument for punishing the wicked and removing evil from the kingdom of creation.
Justin Martyr (103-165AD) –10 “Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. But that you may know that I do not say this before you alone, I shall draw up a statement, so far as I can, of all the arguments which have passed between us; in which I shall record myself as admitting the very same things which I admit to you. For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines (delivered) by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this (truth), and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven … But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, (as) the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.”
C. Kingdom = Church. This view has been the most influential in the church since Augustine. According to this view, the Church is the manifestation of the ethereal “Kingdom of God” in the “physical realm.” According to this view, the “Kingdom of God” – approximated with “heaven” because of Christo-Platonism – is “manifested” on the earth in the “natural realm” through the church (even if not “perfectly,” cf. Plato’s “copies”). God’s “dominion” is, according to this view, enforced on the earth now through the church, not at the Second Coming by God’s power. Thus, the Kingdom is ultimately identified and equated with the church. This has been the dominant view in the Western church from Augustine (354-430AD) to the Reformers (15th-16th centuries). It is the underlying foundation for how many in both the Protestant and Catholic traditions understand the “Kingdom of God” today. “Dominionism” can take different forms and shapes depending on the ministry focus of a particular stream.
D. Kingdom = Moral Ethic. “With the rise of liberalism during the Enlightenment, the Kingdom of God became viewed as simply a personal religious experience in which God reigns over the individual soul through the moral teachings of the Bible, especially those of Jesus.”
E. Kingdom = Divine Reign, Already but Not Yet. Perhaps the most popular view of the kingdom of God among evangelicals in the academic world today is the “divine reign” or “already/not yet” view, also known more technically as “inaugurated eschatology.” The most well-known proponent of this view is George Eldon Ladd, who taught at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1950s. In this view, the ‘kingdom’ that Jesus appointed for his disciples (Lk. 22:29) is ‘royal rule.’” This view claims that the Messianic kingdom was established in part or was “inaugurated” at the first coming, and will be “consummated” at the Second Coming.
F. All three of these views (and many of the others not mentioned) are clearly tainted by Platonic thought (though Augustine’s view much more so than Ladd’s), and depending on the circumstances, have the potential to undermine the foundation of Christian discipleship in this age as taught by Jesus and the apostles. These views define the kingdom generically as “God’s rule,” and then read whatever meaning they want into that term. However, to generically define “the kingdom of God” as “God’s rule” without paying close attention to the different ways in which the kingdom of God is actually portrayed and defined in Scripture, ultimately leads to confusion and a distortion of the gospel.
G. Confusion: If “the kingdom”=”the church,” then in what sense?
1. If church=kingdom of creation, then makes no sense since everyone is already a part of it!
2. If church=kingdom of Eden –are you kidding me?
3. If church=kingdom of Israel, leads to replacement theology and massive distortion of Scripture
4. If church=Messianic Kingdom
a) then we have our inheritance now, therefore we are kings now, therefore we treat those in our “kingdoms” accordingly (manipulation, control, greed, etc). Not good, especially when we have money and power. Many shepherds and congregations have been shipwrecked by this theology. God will call us to account in the Day of the Lord.
b) then the church ends up taking a self-righteous, hostile stance toward the wicked now, when God Himself is in fact giving the wicked a window of mercy now; end up working against God, forgetting that we are the chief of sinners
c) revival=establishing dominion; move of the Spirit is obviously good, but must be rightly interpreted or will lead to disillusionment
d) misinterpretation of the work of the Holy Spirit in this age
e) When did God lose dominion? The issue isn’t whether God has lost dominion or not, but how He is exercising His dominion at different times to accomplish His plan of redemption.
H. If kingdom=moral ethic
1. Makes no sense, and can only be argued for when a Platonic worldview is assumed
a) The kingdom of creation=moral ethic? The kingdom of Eden=moral ethic? The kingdom of Israel=moral ethic?
b) If the kingdom of Messiah=moral ethic – does this mean that Jesus is marching through the Edom of my heart in the last days? does this mean that He is restoring the twelve tribes of Israel in my heart?
2. Massive distortion of Scripture
3. Ethics loses its Biblical anchor
- If kingdom=already not yet
1. Confusion: what is actually already, and what is actually not yet?
a) Kingdom of Creation – Has always been
b) Kingdom of Israel – past, but Messiah not on David’s throne, and Israel definitely not praised as the crown of righteousness in the Lord’s hand yet
c) Kingdom of Eden –past
d) Kingdom of the Messiah – how much punishment of the wicked is “already?” Even Annaias and Saphira was an act of mercy to the church as a whole in light of the Lake of Fire to come; I am personally glad that God was fully merciful to me
2. What are the variables that lead to greater “manifestation” of the kingdom?
3. Again, misinterpretation of the work of the Spirit in this age
4. inaugurated eschatology, though less menacing than Kingdom Now, does not, in my view, honor the Old Testament enough
J. The Biblical gospel is inherently bound to time. However, Platonic thought makes time irrelevant since our hope isn’t bound to time, but to our escape from time. This why there is so much preaching in the New Testament about the Second Coming, and so little in the church today.
K. Christo-Platonism creates great confusion by meshing/merging the Messianic Kingdom into the Universal Kingdom/Kingdom of Creation, and then hoisting it all up into the Platonic “ideal realm.” The practical effect of this is that God’s true agenda and objectives in this age – mercy toward the wicked, and pruning, disciplining, and refining His people as they carry their cross – get obscured. This is because the Messianic Kingdom by definition, according to Scripture, is His instrument for executing vengeance against the wicked, purging the world of evil, and rewarding the righteous in context to the Second Coming and the age to come. In contrast, He is presently governing the kingdom of creation from His throne at the height of the heavens from a posture of longsuffering and mercy toward the earth, and this even when He sends judgments in order to drive people to repentance lest they inherit eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Lk. 6:36 –“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”) (NIVMt. 5:43-48)
6Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (NIVIs. 55:6-7)
1Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.” 2 Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress? 3 “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. 4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come. 5 I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. 6 I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground.” (NIVIs. 63:1-6)
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. 17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.” (NIVRev. 19:11-18)
Diagram 1: The Distortion of the Gospel Caused by Christo-Platonism
L. If the Messianic Kingdom is God’s instrument for executing vengeance against the wicked, and if the church is the Messianic Kingdom on the earth now, then the church is God’s instrument for executing vengeance against the wicked now (interestingly, the “wicked” usually end up being those outside of our ecclesiastical institution, or Jews. E.g. the Inquisition). As if we know the hearts of men in this age!
Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. (NASB1 Cor. 4:5)
M. Similarly, if the Messianic Kingdom is God’s instrument for rewarding the righteous, and if the church is the Messianic Kingdom now, then the church is God’s instrument for rewarding the righteous in this age (interestingly, the “righteous” usually end up being those inside our ecclesiastical tradition). Again, the Lord alone knows the heart, and many things that seem good and righteous outwardly to man may not actually be so from the perspective of the Lord, who examines the heart.
N. Furthermore, if the Messianic Kingdom is by definition restored perfection characterized by the complete absence of difficulty and suffering, and if the church is the Messianic Kingdom now, then the church is restored perfection characterized by the absence of difficulties now. This kind of mindset sets believers up for massive disillusionment when God allows difficulty into their lives, as He did with nearly all the saints in the Bible! It can also set believers up for arrogance, pride, and boasting when God blesses them with abundance! The hope of the inheritance of a future kingdom is our anchor to keep us on the narrow path through seasons of both prosperity and suffering.
“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. (NIVHos. 6:1)
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (NIVHeb. 12:7-11)
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (NIV1 Tim. 6:17).
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (NIV1 Tim. 6:17-19)
O. The truth is that God is restraining from setting up the kingdom of the Messiah because of His mercy toward those who would be crushed by it if it were to come now; and because He is still in the process of molding the character of those to whom He will later entrust the governance of the entire earth under the Messiah!
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything….12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (NIVJam. 1:2-4, 12)
10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (NIVJam. 5:10-11)
7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. 14 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. (NIV1 Corinthians 4:7-15)
 Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, LXXX.