One universal theme held by human beings is a desire for a golden age of peace, prosperity and happiness. This desire has been depicted in varying ways and has been called by various names: the Age of Aquarius, Xanadu, Shangri-la, Utopia, and the Millennial Reign of Christ. It is a dream that seems to arise from deep within the human psyche and may have been planted by the Almighty as a subconscious need in the very makeup of human beings------just like the human need to believe in something greater than ourselves.
However, for a believer in the Bible, there is only one form of this dream that reflects truth----the hope of the coming Kingdom of God on earth particularly as it will be manifested during the 1,000 year millennial reign of Christ.
In fact, the very gospel, which Paul in Romans 1:8 called "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth", consists of belief in two primary things: These are described in the book of Acts, the book that details the evangelizing of the Roman world, the spreading of the gospel message to the Gentiles. In Acts 8:12, we read that what Philip the evangelist preached to the people of Samaria was "the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ." Likewise, in the last chapter of Acts, we read twice in this chapter of what Paul preached in Rome up to the time of his death. In v. 30, we read, " And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him."
In addition, it was the preaching about the kingdom of God that formed the focus of the ministry of Jesus. Time and time again we read that he came preaching the kingdom of God. Many of his parables were given to teach about that kingdom and the fact that he was its king. That is why he answered Pilate's question, "Art thou a king then?" by saying, "Thou sayest I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world...." (Jn 18:37).
A king rules over a kingdom and the Angel Gabriel promised Mary that the son born to her would be given the throne of his ancestor King David, and David's throne was a literal throne of a real earthly kingdom. Hence, when the disciples asked Jesus just before his ascension (in Acts 1:6) , "wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?", Jesus didn't dismiss their question as being ridiculous. He simply answered that it wasn't for them to know the times or seasons when this might happen------but he never implied that such a restoration would not take place. To restore is to re-establish something that previously existed.
The common foundation belief during the first three and one half centuries after the resurrection of Christ was that Jesus would return to earth, the resurrection of the dead would take place, and then he would then establish the kingdom of God on earth during a phase which would last 1,000 years-----the so-called millennial reign of Christ.
This was an orthodox foundation belief of the early church up until the time when Christianity became the state-sanctioned religion of the Roman Empire and the church in turn became a powerful institution-----around 360 A.D. During this period a very influential Christian named Augustine introduced a new idea which soon came to dominate the thinking of the Roman church. Augustine taught that the millennial reign was a figurative time period that began from the time of Christ's ministry. The one thousand years mentioned in Revelation when the saints would rule with Christ did not mean he would physically return to the earth. Instead, it meant that the spirit of Christ would rule the world through the Church hierarchy for a long indefinite period of time until Jesus returned to judge the earth and take his saints to heaven. The binding of Satan during this 1,000 year period meant that Satan would be cast out of believer's hearts. In other words, the whole teaching of Biblical prophecies relating to the kingdom were spiritualized and applied to the Roman Catholic Church.
This new thinking appealed to the newly empowered church clergy. Hence, is very short order, the whole doctrine of the coming kingdom on earth was supplanted with a new doctrine of the kingdom of God be realized through the Roman church. This fit perfectly with the newly ascendant doctrine that the abode of the faithful was as immortal souls in heaven.
Edward Gibbon, in his monumental work, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has this to say about this change in thinking>
"The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days and their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy, it was inferred that this long period of labour and contention, which now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon the earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection.
......The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was the preceptor to the son of Constantine [about 360 A.D.] It appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers; and it seems so well adapted to the desires and apprehensions of mankind, that it must have contributed in a very considerable degree to the progress of the Christian faith.
But when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign upon earth was a first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism." (from Chapter 13, The Progress of the Christian Religion)
I believe this significant change in interpretation of the millennial reign of Christ was also partly responsible for causing the Roman church to abandon the significance of the physical resurrection at the return of Christ and adopt Plato's doctrine of the immortality of the soul. With this false focus, is it any wonder that most of Christendom ignores the substance of one half of the gospel message-----the part Jesus emphasized-----namely the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God on earth and the millennial reign of Christ.
What then is the Biblical case for a literal Kingdom of God on earth? Why is this teaching such a vital part of the gospel? Why is so central to God's plan of salvation for mankind? I think we could advance at least eight reasons for its fundamental importance as answer to these questions.
1. It is required by the promise of regeneration of the physical creation. If there is never going to be a period of earthly perfection when Christ reigns on earth, how or why would the apostle Paul say that all creation hopes for a restoration when mankind is redeemed? If redemption is purely spiritual in heaven, there would be no need for a restored physical creation on earth and no need for physically resurrected bodies. Yet Paul says, (in Romans 8:v.20-21)
"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now." (NKJV).
The deliverance of sin-cursed creation must take place where we find creation-----namely on the earth.
In the Old Testament, we get a glimpse of what this regeneration will involve. In Isaiah 11:6-10 we read,
"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together. And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,...." (NKJV) This is a description of the characteristics of animal life that will exist on earth at a future time. A set future time on earth is required for this to happen which we believe to the during the reign of Messiah----who is clearly referred to in the opening verses of this same chapter. He is described as "a Rod from the stem of Jesse" who will have the spirit of the Lord resting upon him.
2. It is required if the physical resurrection of the dead is to have any meaning. That is, if the abode of the faithful is as spirit beings in the bliss of heaven, there is no need for such spirit beings to be reunited with the physical body because heaven is a spiritual realm. If there is no literal kingdom on earth, a physical resurrection is totally unnecessary for spirit beings who are to reside eternally in heaven. Yet the Bible repeatedly stresses that the dead in Christ are "asleep" and will rise in the last day at the resurrection. For example consider this exchange between Jesus and Martha after the death of Lazarus. "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day". (John 11 23-24 NKJV) A physical body is needed in order to participate along mortal human beings in a real kingdom here on earth.
3. It is required if the second coming of Jesus is to have any meaning. Otherwise, why would Jesus bother to return to earth? For what? To simply stop by and pick up his followers to take them back to heaven, and to survey the damage on earth? This hardly necessitates Jesus returning to earth because we read that the angels will gather the elect. In fact, the whole concept of the second coming of Christ is redundant without a kingdom on earth. It is no wonder the Catholic Church gives very minor treatment to the second coming of Jesus. Yet the bible clearly states, "This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts2:11)
4. It is required if the promised millennial rest spoken of by the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 4: 9 is to have the meaning it did to the early church -----namely as referring to the millennial reign of Christ during the seventh millennium from Adam. "There remaineth yet a rest [or keeping of Sabbath] for the people of God." (KJV) If the faithful dead are already enjoying an eternal state of bliss in heaven, there would be no need to have a distinct period of millennial rest. Such beings would already be in a state of blissful eternal rest.
5. It is required by the prophecy of Daniel concerning the final fate of Nebuchadnezzar's image. In Daniel 2:44, we read,
"In the days of these kings shall the god of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever". He then goes on to elaborate that this is brought about in symbol by the stone that is cut out of the mountain without hands and smites the image on the feet so that it tumbles.
Virtually all commentators believe this is referring to the reign of the messiah after the destruction of the Gentile powers. Just as all the kingdoms represented by the image referred to real kingdoms or empires here on earth, so this kingdom that becomes a great mountain is referring to real kingdom here on earth. This is demanded by the context because Messiah's kingdom is to consume all the existing kingdoms and this can only refer to the kingdoms here on earth.
6. It is required if Jesus is to sit on David's literal throne which was located in Jerusalem, a real geographic location here on earth, and if the twelve apostles are to judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the expanded land of Israel------what the Bible calls the first dominion. Jesus told his disciples, "That ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. 19:27-29) Likewise, Isaiah wrote, "For unto to us a child is born, and unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder : and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth, ever for ever.
The kingdom of God is to be a continuation of the kingdom that David reigned over. This is in accordance with the promise made to David that "thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever." (2 Samuel 7:16) Is it any wonder that the disciples asked Jesus just before his ascension, "Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel" They understood from prophecies such as this such a restoration was necessary and that it would be the role of the Messiah to carry it out. .
7. It is required by all the Old Testament prophecies about a coming messiah whom the Gentiles all over the world would seek after. The Gentiles have sought after no other Jew but Jesus----nor will they. In Isaiah 11, v. 10 we read, "And in that day, there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." Throughout the book of Revelation, Jesus is revealed as the "root of Jesse". It is clearly taught in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be someone the Gentiles would believe and that Gentile nations would submit to his rule and come to Jerusalem to do homage to the king. For example, in Micah 4:2 we read,
"Many nations shall come and say, 'Come, and let us to up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the god of Jacob, He will teach us His ways and we shall walk in His paths.....He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off."
These verses make no sense if we regard the Catholic Church as the kingdom of God and the faithful as immortal souls residing eternally in heaven. In addition, these verses in their entirety speak of many nations coming to Jerusalem, recognizing it as their capital, when the Lord reigns from Mt. Zion during a time of universal peace and prosperity. Real geographic locations here on earth are mentioned and a time is being described that has never yet been witnessed on the earth. However, these descriptions are perfectly consistent with what we know elsewhere about the millennial reign of Christ.
8. It is required if the Kingdom of God is to fall heir to all the kingdoms of the earth and be possessed by the faithful of all ages. We read in Daniel 7:27 and the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him". If this kingdom is to rule over all dominions, then it is clearly referring to kingdoms on this earth. This is perfectly consistent with what we also read in the 2nd Psalm (v. 7-8),
"The LORD has said to Me. 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession."
It makes no sense for God to give his son the kingdoms of the earth for his inheritance if his kingdom is a heavenly kingdom rather than an earthly kingdom.
In summary, the kingdom of God represents the innate desires of what most human beings long for: peace, justice, order, security, prosperity, social justice, good health, long life, righteous laws, righteous rulers and a good benevolent government. The Bible clearly teaches that things will be realized throughout the earth in the Kingdom of God under the righteous rule of Jesus the Messiah, the Kind of Kings. While we still see through a glass darkly regarding many details of the coming kingdom, the Millennial Reign of Christ, and what follows that period, the general outline is clear.
Let us therefore persevere in "faithful continuance in well doing" as we wait for the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior to usher in His millennial reign-----an appearing which we believe is imminent. For, "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:9)
Rick FarrarBack to the Gospel Message Article Index