How Do Preterists View the Kingdom of Chirst

How Do Preterists View the

Kingdom of Christ?

Fulfilled Magazine asked me to respond to the following question. My follows: "Futurism looks for a future, physical kingdom of God here on earth. Preterism, on the other hand, believes that we are in the kingdom now. Based on that, how would you describe the kingdom of God"? 

Those who look for a future kingdom typically believe that it will involve modern state of Israel and the restoration of the Davidic throne, which will be extended over all the earth.  They believe that the kingdom entails Jesus reigning over earth from earth, seated upon an earthly throne. This notion grows out of the fact that David reigned over an earthly kingdom whose capital city was Jerusalem.  Since Christ was to be the restorer of the Davidic throne, they suppose that Christ must also reign from earth, seated in Jerusalem. But this mistakes the case entirely. 

When our first ancestor sinned, God promised a "Seed" - a kinsman redeemer - to save the race. God told the serpent: 

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Gen. 3:17 

This prophecy, known as the "protevanelium," occupies two levels: On a spiritual level, it looked to the defeat of sin and death. The serpent - a personification of the power of sin and death - would bruise Christ's heel in his crucifixion.  But Christ would crush the head of sin and death in his atoning sacrifice and resurrection.  On an earthly level, the prophecy describes the enmity between the woman (God's people) and the serpent (the church's enemies). Christ would bring victory to his people, delivering them out of the power of their enemies.  Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, touched upon this latter aspect of Christ's appearance in his "song": 

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,  And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;  As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:  That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us…that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear." Lk. 1:68-75 

It is in Christ's deliverance of his people from their enemies that the "kingdom" exists and is realized. However, it is important that we keep both ends of the protevangelium in view.  Those who look for a future earthly King and kingdom typically lose sight of the fact Jesus was sent into the world to die for the world's sin.  Classic Dispensationalism teaches that Jesus came to establish an earthly kingdom, but when the Jews rejected him, nailing him to a cross, the church-age was introduced as a "stop gap" measure until the Jews are ready to accept Christ and convert en masse, at which time Jesus will establish his earthly kingdom introducing a millennial paradise of peace on earth.  Dispensationalism's idea of Christ as king upon earth should be compared with the prophet Daniel's depiction of Christ's coronation:  

"I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, and all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."  Dan. 7: 13, 14

Kingdom Received at Christ's Ascension 

Notice that Daniel's prophecy places Christ's coronation at his ascension, not his incarnation or second coming.  Jesus' death upon a Roman cross was foreknown and foreordained by God; the cross and church of Christ were not "stop gap" measures, but the eternal purpose of God to save his people (Isa. 53; Acts 2:23; cf. Isa. 53; Lk. 24:46, 47; Eph. 3:10, 11). The seat of Jesus' kingdom was never intended to be upon earth, but had always been set in heaven at the right hand of God. Thus, the reign of Jesus from the heaven is depicted all through scripture. This is particularly true of the "resurrection" Psalms.  Psalm two describes the murder of Christ and the victory of Jesus in his resurrection and ascension.  God "begat" Jesus as a Son in his resurrection; he set him as king upon his "holy hill of Zion" (heavenly Jerusalem), and gave him the kingdoms of the world for his inheritance, which he rules with a rod of iron: 

"Ask of me and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."  Ps. 2:8, 9; cf. Rom. 1:4  

Psalm 110 similarly describes Christ's rule from God's right hand in heaven: 

"The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies."  Ps. 110:1, 2 

Psalm 2 and 110 thus describe the reign of Christ; both extend it over the heathen and Christ's enemies; both set it at God's right hand in heaven in precisely the same terms as Daniel's coronation vision.  The New Testament epistles and Acts affirm that Psalm 2 and 110 were fulfilled in Christ's ascension (Acts 2:34, 35; 13:33; Heb. 1:13; 12:2; I Pet. 3:22). Moreover, John portrays the heavenly coronation of Christ as an accomplished fact, drawing on the imagery and language of Daniel and the Psalms (Rev. 5; 12:5), and Jesus himself indicates present fulfillment of Psalm 2 (Rev. 2:26, 27). Hence, prophecies like Isa. 9:6, 7, which speak of Christ ruling upon David's throne, looked for fulfillment in his resurrection and ascension, not upon earth. 

Learn War No More

Some will object that many, if not most, nations are in denial and rebellion of Christ's authority and Sonship: How does this square with imagery of the Messianic kingdom where the nations "beat their swords into plowshares" and learn war no more?  Consider this prophecy of Isaiah: 

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. "Isa. 2:2-4 

This imagery is commonly relied upon by Millennialists as foretelling a time of universal peace on earth under the Messiah. However, this mistakes the passage.  

First, it must be pointed out that scripture nowhere foretells a time when all nations willingly submit to Christ. Just the opposite: When Psalm 110 says "rule thou in the midst of thine enemies," it presupposes resistance to Christ's reign. Likewise, when Psalm 2 says the Son will break the nations with a rod of iron and thus urges earth's kings and judges to "kiss the Son, lest he be angry and ye perish from the way" (v. 12), it indicates that Christ governs all nations, whether they acknowledge him or not (cf. Zech. 14:16-19). Indeed, Isaiah himself says as much when he states that Christ will "judge among the nations and shall rebuke many peoples" (Isa. 2:4).  Thus, the notion of a time when universal peace will obtain on earth is mere fantasy. 

Second, when Isaiah says the nations will "learn war no more," he speaks only of those who walk in his paths; viz., those who obey the gospel. "Learning war" is the opposite of "rest from war." As the Jews obeyed God, he gave them rest from their enemies. But when they disobeyed, war was the result (Jud. 3:8, 11, 30; II Sam. 7:1, 11). "Learning war" therefore is to experience God's chastisement and correction; "rest from war" his reward and favor (cf. Jud. 3:1, 2).  Hence, Isaiah's imagery of the nations "beating their swords into plowshares" applies only to those who "ascend" the mountain of the Lord (receive the gospel), not the nations that remain in rebellion. 

It is helpful to our understanding the kingdom to think in terms of the Roman Empire.  Many nations came under Roman dominion, some willing made alliance and were free; others were conquered and subjected to tribute. Some nations continued in subjection to Rome; others tried to break free and rebel.  So with the kingdom of Christ: some nations freely obey the gospel and own Christ as Lord, others are obstinate and rebel.  Those that obey enjoy Christ's favor; those that do not experience his wrath. 

The Coming of Christ in Wrath

Almost all prophecies that describe Christ's receipt of the kingdom also describe his wrath.  Just as Dispensationalists mistake the nature of Christ's kingdom, they mistake the nature of his second coming, in both cases looking for a future bodily and visible manifestation.  Preterists believe that the second coming was spiritual (intangible/invisible) and providential; they believe that Jesus' coming in his kingdom in power described God's divine wrath upon the Jews and Romans for the murder of Christ and persecution of his church. Virtually all of the time texts of the New Testament place Jesus' return within the life-time of the first disciples.

"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." Mat. 16: 27, 28

We encourage the reader to consult the following passages, which represent but a few of the many that might be cited, demonstrating the first century return of Christ: Matt. 10:23; 23:36; 24:34; 26:64; Jn. 21:22; Heb. 10:37; Jm. 5:8; Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:7, 10, 12, 20.  The reign of Christ manifested in the overthrow of Jerusalem and the Roman civil wars of AD 68-70 did not expend Christ's wrath; they were merely its beginning.  The wars and calamities that beset men and nations down through history until even today represent the providential judgment of Christ as he rules the nations above the circle of the earth.  Earth's peoples, kings and potentates should therefore heed the warning of the Psalmist, and bow before heaven's king:

"Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." Ps. 2:10-12.

Conclusion

The kingdom is the dominion of Christ over earth, which he obtained at his ascension.

 


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