To comprehend the subject of the kingdom, it is necessary to notice the belief and the expectations of the more pious portion of the Jews.
PROPOSITION 20. To comprehend the subject of the kingdom, it is necessary to notice the belief and the expectations of the more pious portion of the Jews.
This is a rule, covering doctrine, laid down by the ablest of writers; it is found in works introductory to the Bible or in defence of the Scriptures (e.g., Horne’s Introduction, vol. i., p. 393, Birk’s Bible and Modern Thought, ch. 12, Dunn’s How to Study the Bible, etc.), as a leading one in the doctrinal interpretation of the Word; its importance and value are urged by various considerations as the only possible way to attain to a consistent sense of a doctrine. If the rule applies to doctrine in general, especially ought it to be observed in that of the kingdom.[*]
Note. Modern systems of theology are erected in such an elaborate and systematic mode, a scientific and philosophical manner, that they are widely different from the simple and unscientific—yet purposely designed—treatment of doctrine in the Bible. The effect sometimes is, that the student, attracted by the elegance and magnitude of the superstructure of such systems, underrates the more rugged but firmer stones of the foundation in the Scriptures. Impressed by modern modes of thinking and the results of modern thought, he forgets to transport himself back to the ancient manner of thinking and expression. He lives in a world very different from that which existed when prophets predicted and disciples preached. This naturally leads to misconception and misinterpretation of the Scriptures. Hence it is, that the rule (which Horne, in Introd., justly remarks, is constantly violated by commentators and others) appropriately commends itself: “We must endeavor to carry ourselves back to the very times and places in which they (the Scriptures) were written, and realize the ideas and modes of thinking of the sacred writers.”
Obs. 1. It is universally admitted by writers of prominence (e.g. Neander, Hagenbach, Schaff, Kurtz, etc.), whatever their respective views concerning the Kingdom itself, that the Jews, including the pious, held to a personal coming of the Messiah, the literal restoration of the Davidic throne and kingdom, the personal reign of Messiah on David’s throne, the resultant exaltation of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, and the fulfilment of the Millennial descriptions in that reign. It is also acknowledged that the utterances of Luke 1:71; Acts 1:6; Luke 2:26, 30, etc., include the above belief, and that down, at least to the day of Pentecost, the Jews, the disciples, and even the apostles held to such a view. It is not denied, by able Protestant or Romanist, Christian or Unbeliever, that they regarded the prophecies and covenanted promises as literal (i.e. in their naked grammatical sense); and, believing in their fulfilment, looked for such a restoration of the Davidic Kingdom under the Messiah, with an increased power and glory befitting the majesty of the predicted King; and also that the pious of former ages would be raised up from the dead to enjoy the same.
Obs. 2. It is noticeable, that in all the rebukes given to the Jews by John the Baptist, by Jesus and the apostles, not one refers to their belief and expectations concerning the Kingdom. The rebukes pertain to their superstition, traditions, bigotry, hypocrisy, pride, ostentation, violation of duty, etc., but nothing is alleged that they misapprehended the Kingdom of the prophets in its fundamental aspects. This is indeed abundantly taken for granted by theologians, but without the least proof to sustain it. The student will see, as the argument proceeds, that such supposed ignorance would reflect severely upon the covenants, prophecies, and preaching of the first preachers of “the Gospel of the Kingdom.”
Obs. 3. A few brief testimonies are annexed: Van Oosterzee (Theol. New Test., p. 53–55), alluding to the belief of the Jews, informs us that they held to Messiah’s coming in a time of tribulation (which the New Test. confirms at the Sec. Advent), when Antichrist was reigning, and which would result in a great battle (so also Rev. 19, etc.) with hostile world powers. The Christ will be a descendant of David’s, will be anointed with the Holy Spirit, will set up his Kingdom in Israel, will remove evil and suffering, will introduce peace and blessedness, perform great miracles, awake first the pious dead Israelites, triumph over the heathen, and allow also non-Israelite nations to enjoy salvation. He then adds: “Of this Salvation, Jerusalem will be the centre; the purified earth, the theatre; and the restoration of all things, the crown.” Reuss (His. Ch. Theol., p. 115), under the title “Messianic hopes,” says: “The object of Christ’s coming may be stated in general terms to be the foundation of the Kingdom of God.” “There was needed, first, a political, moral, and religious restoration of Israel, such as the ancient prophets had foretold,” including “the recall of the dispersed Jews,” and “the re-establishment of the throne of David.” Schmid (Bib. Theol. N. Test.) declares that the Jewish faith embraced the idea of “a Kingdom of kings and priests; indeed of a Theocracy under a monarchical form,”—“an ideally real Theocratic Kingdom of the Messiah.”[*]
Note. Knapp (Ch. Theol., p. 323) has a singular statement. First, he acknowledges that “the ancient opinion” of the Jews was that “He (Christ) would be a temporal deliverer and a king of the Jews, and indeed a universal monarch, who would reign over all nations. Thus they interpreted Ps. 2:2, 6, 8; Jer. 23:5, 6; Zech. 9:4, seq.” Secondly, he confesses: “The apostles themselves held this opinion until after the resurrection of Christ, Matt. 20:20, 21; Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6.” Thirdly, he endeavors, as a support to his own theory of the Kingdom, to make out that a small number, instancing Simeon and the malefactor on the cross, did not so much expect an earthly kingdom as spiritual blessings. Fourthly, he makes out that many united the idea of an earthly kingdom and spiritual blessings. His concessions are all that we need; the effort to introduce the modern spiritualistic view in the ease of Simeon and the malefactor fails—(1) because all Jews believed in the plain grammatical sense of covenant and prophecy; and (2) because otherwise he makes these two to take a higher rank in the true knowledge of the Kingdom than the apostles (comp. above his concession), who were specially instructed in and preached the Kingdom.
Obs. 4. Some writers (as e.g. Thompson, Theol. of Christ, p. 33) take the unwarranted liberty of assuming, that at the First Advent the Jews (Nicodemus is instanced) believed themselves to be “already in the Kingdom of God by virtue of their birth in the lineage of Abraham,” and therefore only “looked to the coming of the Messiah for a higher assertion of that Kingdom.” This is misleading. Where is the slightest proof for so sweeping an assertion? All testimony is opposed to it. Instead of the Jews believing themselves to be in the Kingdom, they were looking for it to come. In the very nature of the case, it could not be otherwise, since all the prophets foretold its downfall, and its re-establishment under the Messiah. While holding that their relationship to Abraham would give them admittance therein when it arrived, there is no reason to think that a single Jew believed himself to be “already in” the Kingdom. On the other hand, we have the most abundant testimony to the contrary in Jewish faith, Jewish tradition, and the intimations of their belief in the New Test. Nicodemus, thus singled out and a foreign faith thrust upon him, was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees (Luke 17:20), instead of holding that the Kingdom was already here and that they were in it, demanded of Christ “when the Kingdom of God should come.”[*]
Note. As intimated under Obs. 3, some writers endeavor to smooth over this Jewish faith as much as possible. Knapp has been instanced. Another specimen in the same direction is to be found under Sec. 99, 1 (4), in his Ch. Theol., where he tells us that some of the Jews gave to the Kingdom “a moral and spiritual sense, denoting and comprehending all the divine appointments for the spiritual welfare of men, for their happiness in this and the future life,” etc. The truth is, that this is taking a modern spiritualistic conception of the Kingdom and fastening it upon the Jews, who never thus entertained it. Knapp gives no proof for his assertions, and they are not susceptible of any. All Jews held to the Messiah’s Kingdom in the same way, viz.: as the re-establishment of the Theocracy, allied with the Davidic throne and kingdom, and whilst some laid more stress on the temporal advantages and blessings resulting therefrom, others united with those the highest spiritual and moral happiness. The student, at the vestibule of our argument, cannot be too cautious in receiving such statements unguardedly made by good men. Attention is thus called to them, since they have an important bearing in shaping the interpretation of Scripture. Farrar (Life of Christ, vol. 1, p. 105), admitting that the phrases “Kingdom of heaven” and “coming time” “were frequent at this time on pious lips,” adds: “It seems clear that Ewald, Hilgenfeld, Keim (as against Volkmar, etc.), are right in believing that there was at this time (at the First Advent) a fully developed Messianic tradition.” Aside from the direct arguments adduced in favor of such a view, the manner in which the New Test. begins (Prop. 19) is amply sufficient to prove it. Hence we deprecate such misleading statements as the following: Walker (Philos. of the Plan of Salv., p. 128), after referring to the views of the Jews at the time of Christ’s appearance (viz.: that they believed that the Messiah “would deliver them from subjection to Gentile nations and place the Jewish power in the ascendant among the nations of the earth,” etc.), says: “Although some of the common people may have had some understanding of the true nature of the Messiah’s Kingdom, yet the prominent men of the nation, and the great body of the people of all classes, were not expecting that the Kingdom of Christ would be purely spiritual, but that it would be mainly temporal.” Now where is a particle of evidence that any Jew—much less “some”—had the slightest idea of a “purely spiritual” Kingdom. If it existed, the favorers of such a spiritual ideal would only be too happy to produce it as favoring their own view. They, by such efforts to link their modern conceptions of the Kingdom with some unknown Jews, only increase the difficulties of their view, for they make these unknown persons far superior to the twelve, who, although enjoying special teaching and revelation, and actual preachers of the Kingdom, entertained (e.g. Acts 1:6) the Jewish view down to the ascension of Jesus.
Obs. 5. If, in support of our Prop., Jews were selected, who are not approvingly mentioned in the New Test., it might be alleged that they misconceived the truth. It is proper, therefore, to confine ourselves to such as are evidently spoken of with divine approbation; who were under the divine guidance, and whose statements remain uncontradicted. Being pious, accredited believers, their testimony, whatever it may be, should have considerable weight, and be received as reliable. In confirmation of our position, we appeal to the expressed views of Elizabeth and Zacharias, of Mary and Joseph.[*]
Note. Let this be amplified. Take Elizabeth and Zacharias, who were “righteous” and “blameless,” and the phraseology of both fully accords with the idea of the literal Kingdom believed in by the Jews. When e.g. appealing to the prophets as predicting a horn of salvation in the house of David to save the nation from its enemies, to perform the covenant made with Abraham, etc., what was their understanding of this matter? Certainly an implicit trust through the Spirit, that all that the prophets predicted would be verified—not something else, but the real predicted subject matter conveyed by their expressions, received in strict usage with the common laws of language. That is, they understood the prophecies in their plain grammatical sense, and thus trusted in a literal, earthly kingdom to be erected. The proof that they did so is very evident in the history of their son John the Baptist. The son could not receive, being instructed by them, any other idea of the Kingdom than they themselves possessed. Now it happens that the very writers who so significantly laud and magnify “the enlightened piety” of Elizabeth and Zacharias, and endeavor to engraft upon their language modernized notions respecting the Kingdom, all, without exception, estimate John’s knowledge of the Kingdom as very “limited and Jewish.” Well may we ask, How comes it, if the parents were so enlightened that the son, specially consecrated, etc., failed in obtaining the same views? The simple fact is, that the knowledge of the Kingdom in both parents and son did not materially differ from that entertained by Nathanael, Nicodemus, or the Jews generally. Next, take Mary and Joseph, and from the announcement of the angel down to the very last—just like the apostles Acts 1:6—they believed literally (what has since become so unfashionable, and is stigmatized even by pious men as a mere “Jewish form” or “husk”) that “the Lord God will give unto Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever,” etc. Why they thus believed, and whether they were correct in it, will be apparent when we come to consider the covenants and promises. The comments of men that these Jews were miserably mistaken and self-deceived are far-fetched and derogatory to the Word; and if they only came from unbelievers it might be safely passed by; but coming also, as they do, from able advocates and defenders of Christianity, it is depressing to the truth. It gives a deplorable cast to the age and to the Scriptures, which, on their face, encouraged such faith and expectations. It ignores the express declarations that some of these Jews (as e.g. John the Baptist) were filled with the Holy Ghost when they held to this faith, and boastingly asserts the modern supremacy over these “ignorant” Jews. We, on the other hand, deeply feel that respect for the Messiah-announcing angel, due regard for the utterances of the Spirit, a proper estimation of the character of those ancients, require us to insist that these Jews well knew what their own language indicated, and that they were not deceived in its application. Consequently we object to the statements made by the writer of the Art. “Kingdom of God” (M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclop.): “In these (prophetic) passages the reign of the Messiah is figuratively described as a golden age, when the true religion, and with it the Jewish Theocracy, should be re-established in more than pristine purity, and universal peace and happiness prevail. All this was doubtless to be understood in a spiritual sense; and so the devout Jews of our Saviour’s time appear to have understood it, as Zacharias, Simeon, Anna, and Joseph.” Afterward he confesses that “this Jewish temporal sense appears to have been also held by the apostles before the day of Pentecost.” Observe: (1) The confusing of “figurative” with “spiritual;” (2) that the apostles not holding to this spiritual conception before the day of Pentecost were not “devout Jews;” (3) that it is admitted that the languge predicts a Jewish Theocracy, true religion, peace, and happiness, but this, grammatically taught, is to be spiritualized; (4) that the four persons named thus spiritualized it (!), having higher spiritual attainments than the Twelve—at least, being more “devout.”
Obs. 6. A large class, to make the ancient Jewish faith unreliable and inapplicable, fully admit the same, but then gravely misjudge the belief by pointing to the result, i.e. the non-realization of their faith, as evidence that the Jews were mistaken and wholly ignorant of the true idea of the Kingdom. No such Kingdom as they anticipated was raised up under the Messiah, and, therefore, this evidences either the human origin of their faith, or else that the language must in some way be susceptible of a meaning different from that contained in its legitimate grammatical sense, which they, in their ignorance, could not understand. But the question is, were they mistaken? This is too much taken for granted, and upon its assumption a huge superstructure arises. Briefly and anticipatingly: the non-fulfilment thus far is no evidence against the faith, for there are valid and satisfactory reasons given in the New Test. why it should not down to the present time be realized. This is far from saying that it never will be attained. “The Word of the Lord abideth forever,” and every “jot and tittle” will be fulfilled in God’s own time and way. This is simply prejudging the case from unreliable data—a jumping to conclusions from false premises. The reader may, prematurely in our argument, endeavor to decide how it comes then that this Jewish faith, if so erroneous and shown to be void by what actually occurred under the Messiah, still continued generally, almost universally, in the Primitive Church for three centuries.
Obs. 7. Another large class, agreeing with the former in the result, inform us that the non-fulfilment of the Jewish Messianic Kingdom expectations, indicates a Jewish misapprehension of Scripture language; and that hence, however the grammatical construction may demand it, the language, covenant and prophetical, expressive of such a faith must be interpreted to correspond with the result thus far attained. The non-fulfilment becomes both the rejecter of the ancient faith and the apologist for applying a spiritualistic interpretation. It is assumed that the prophecies relied on by the Jews to sustain their faith must mean something very different from its natural meaning—in brief, words, phrases, and sentences that had a definite meaning for centuries are, under the impulse of this misconception of the actual facts in the case, transmuted into something else to suit existing circumstances. This, too, is represented as faith in the Word—a reception of its divine teachings with implicit confidence. Need we be surprised at infidelity exulting in the gross confusion thus occasioned, and the more gross by implicating as utterly unreliable representative men, men of faith in the ancient church.[*]
Note. The question returns, Were the Jews really mistaken and is any one authorized to engraft another and diverse meaning upon the prophecies which excited their faith, in order that the language may be reconciled with a certain supposed result? The simple, sad fact is this: in this whole matter the Word of God is unfairly handled by the multitude. According to their notion of the church as the covenanted Messianic Kingdom, both the primitive and Jewish faith must be discarded, and the predictions of the Word must be made to accommodate themselves to this Church-Kingdom theory. The true and honorable method is the following: If the events did not take place, and have not yet occurred as predicted and believed in by these ancient worthies (i.e., as far as relates to the Kingdom), it ought to suggest the inquiry, Why have they not been realized? and then receiving the plain reasons presented in the Word why they have been withholden, deeply ponder them, and allow them the weight that divine teaching possesses. It is premature to assume, without mature examination, the foregone conclusion that they will never be verified in the believed-in grammatical sense, and thus bring reproach on the Scriptures containing and leading to such a sense; thus heap discredit on the belief of those ancient saints, making them misguided and ignorant Jews; thus hold up to scorn the faith of the Primitive Church, regarding it as mistaken in the leading doctrine of the Kingdom; and then, as a resort against infidelity, search for some accommodation theory to shelter those believers and the Scriptures. How can it be shown, with the reasons before us of the postponement of the Kingdom to the Sec. Advent, that God will not, as predicted, ultimately perform this glorious work? Instead of spiritualizing the language of the Word away into vagueness; instead of decrying the hopes of the pious of former ages (with well-intentioned motives and feelings), would it not be better to look at the most solemnly given assurances, coming from the Christ Himself, that these things are purposely postponed? Some preliminaries must first be logically passed over before we are fully prepared to discuss this postponement; if the student will patiently follow our steps he will be enabled to appreciate the irresistible force of the reasons assigned—reasons which for several centuries influenced and pervaded the Christian Church.
Obs. 8. The Apologetics of the Church makes too many concessions to unbelievers respecting the Jewish and Primitive faith, and, alas, too many sneers—according well with the ridicule of infidelity—are cast at their “low,” “grovelling,” “carnal” views of the Kingdom. Gentiles, in their self-approbation of position and favor, forget the caution given by Paul in Rom. 11:20.[*]
Note. Would it not be well to reflect over that which Peter tells us (1 Pet. 1:10–12), and not hastily accuse those to whom things were revealed, and to whom the proclamation of the Kingdom was intrusted, as knowing nothing of the true nature of the Kingdom and its resultant salvation. We, having the advantage of additional revelations and fulfilment, know indeed more respecting the method of God’s procedure, the duration of the postponement, the manner in which the Kingdom is to be manifested, the events which are to precede and accompany it; but they, as well as we now can, knew the main, leading predictions concerning the Kingdom, correctly apprehended the great outlines, perfectly comprehended its nature and relationship to Christ—for all these were plainly given in the Scriptures, connected with covenanted promises and confirmed by oath. The difficulties of distinguishing between the First and Sec. Advents (which many eminent men now experience in appropriating prophecies to the First that only pertain to the Second), a smitten and triumphant Saviour, a crucified and exalted King, etc., did not, by any means, efface a scriptural view of the Kingdom itself. This is already shown by the preceding Proposition; for, if otherwise, then no satisfactory reason can be assigned for the extraordinary manner in which the New Test. opens, taking, as it does, a previous knowledge of the Kingdom for granted. If they did make a mistake in their absorbing contemplation of the glorious Kingdom of the Messiah so as to overlook the antecedent humiliation, suffering, and death of the King, let not the man accuse them of ignorance concerning the Kingdom, which led to such a restrainment of prediction, when he to-day reverses their conduct by confining himself so much to the sacrifice that he overlooks the Kingdom.
Obs. 9. The force of Prop. 16, begins to appear. The knowledge that we have of this Kingdom is invariably attributed to the Old Test. Jewish and Primitive belief—over against the modern notion which would only find it in the New Test. and then by inference—based itself upon what the Old Test. declared concerning it. This fact meets us at the very beginning of the Gospels, and comes to us directly in the early preaching of “the Gospel of the Kingdom.” What Kingdom is taken for granted as known? Evidently the one predicted in the older Scriptures, and hence, without an investigation of the Old Test., from whence the Jews and the first Christians obtained their views and expectations, it is simply impossible to obtain a correct idea of the Kingdom. The New Test. begins with the conviction that the source of all true knowledge concerning it is to be found in the Word of God previously given.1 And this information imparted is not merely elementary in the sense that it is to be superseded by something else, for, as we shall show, it is so encompassed by covenant and prophecy, so imbedded in the Divine Purpose as unfolded and attested to by oath, that it becomes and ever remains unchangeably essential and fundamental in its nature. God will not, cannot produce a faith by the unvarnished grammatical sense of His Word, existing for many centuries, and then supersede it by another through men engrafting a different meaning upon the identical Scriptures which led to the former. Multitudes, indeed, dream that this actually takes place, but it is a vain, idle vision, productive of vast injury to the truth.
Obs. 10. The belief in this Kingdom had a preservative influence upon the Jewish nation. For, inspired by the hopes set forth in prophecy, it preserved even under the most adverse circumstances a tenacious trust which largely contributed in keeping them from the enervating influences and the idolatry of Asiatic nations. It kept them also, as Mill observes (Rep.Gov., p. 41), from “being stationary like other Asiatics.” The hope of the future, as prophetically allied with the nation, served as a bond of union, imparted patience under trial, and kept them separate and distinct among other nations.