The kingdom was not established under John's ministry.
PROPOSITION 41. The Kingdom was not established under John’s ministry.
It could not be, because no restored Theocracy, such as the prophets predicted, the covenant demanded, and he preached, followed. This is seen by the failure of John’s mission, which was designed to prepare, if possible, consistently with moral freedom, the nation for the Kingdom.
Obs. 1. John was not conscious of a Kingdom being established, as is noticeable in the message that he sent, shortly before his death, from prison to Jesus.[*]
Note. Consider the position of John in prison, and imagine the thoughts that must have arisen in his mind while confined for several months in the fortress. He had preached the coming of the Kingdom conditioned on repentance; he had seen and announced the Messiah, through whom, as he fondly anticipated, the Kingdom was to be established. Just before his imprisonment he had expressed the hope that the Messiah would be received, and hence looked for a speedy visible Messianic Kingdom. Now it is supposed (e.g. Neander’s Life of Christ, S. 135) that doubts arose in John’s mind respecting the Messiah on account of the delay. But this could not possibly be, owing to John’s specific mission, his testimony to Jesus, his having seen the attesting divine manifestation, and his having heard the confirming voice from heaven. John had no doubts concerning the Messiahship of Jesus. How, then, interpret the action of sending his disciples to Jesus? The explanation follows naturally from the hopes entertained by him, and the condition in which he was placed. Being imprisoned, the hope of a speedy establishment of the Kingdom (for had he not seen the Messiah?) implanted the hope of a speedy release from his prison; for then, under the reign of the Messiah as predicted by the prophets, he would necessarily experience deliverance from his enemies (as Zacharias believed, Luke 1:74). Such thoughts must, from the very nature of his belief, hope, and situation, have passed through his mind. To satisfy his mind respecting release, whether the Kingdom would be soon established, he sends two of his disciples (Matt. 11:2, 3), with, in his estimation, a test question: “art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” Now if we but reflect that (As Olshausen, Com. loci has well remarked, comp. Whitby loci.) “the Coming One” or “ ‘He that Cometh,’ has a fixed doctrinal signification, viz.: the Messiah” (denoting the One who should restore the Davidic Kingdom)—this was a most delicate way of asking why the Kingdom was not established, why there was a delay in its restoration. John proclaimed Him as “the Coming One,” and thus reminds Jesus of the fact by the question; but, in view of the non-appearance of the Kingdom and of his confinement in consequence, also in the latter clause indirectly urges Jesus to make no delay, invites Him to hasten and manifest His Messianic mission. There is no necessity to draw from the narrative the idea of John’s wavering in his Messianic faith (as unbelief has it), or of his being momentarily grievously tempted (as Olshausen), or that he misapprehended the nature of the Kingdom (as Ebrard, note to Olshausen), (comp. Whitby and Scott loci.) etc., but rather as Kendrick (note to Olshausen, loci) “that John stumbled rather at our Saviour’s slowness in assuming to Himself that temporal dominion which doubtless formed a part of his view of the function of the Messiah,” or as Lange (Com. loci), that he desired “himself to witness the manifestation of that Kingdom of heaven which he had announced,” and which, as a resultant, would bring deliverance. John thus expresses his hope in the Kingdom, virtually saying: If, as I believe, Thou art the Messiah, why not establish the Kingdom and impart freedom; it was an appeal. Now notice Chirst’s admirable reply: Well knowing that the Kingdom would be postponed on account of the nation’s unworthiness, He does not reject John’s Messianic hopes, but simply confirms His Messianic character by an appeal to His works—thus confirming John’s faith in Himself as the Messiah without intimating when the Messianic expectations would be realized. Renan (Life of Christ, p. 189) says, that when John’s disciples returned to him from Jesus, “we are led to believe that, in spite of his consideration for Jesus, John did not consider that he was to realize the divine promises.” This is an utterly unfair and unjust influence. We have seen why Jesus could not be more specific in answering John—the postponement of the Kingdom is the reason—but this did not forbid Him from confirming John’s faith in Himself as the Messiah, and, by consequence, that John should himself realize (at some time) the Messianic promises. The language indicates it.
Obs. 2. That no Kingdom was established is evident from the continued style of preaching the Kingdom after John’s imprisonment and death, for Jesus, the disciples, and the seventy announced it, not as actually present, but as still future.
Obs. 3. The imprisonment and death of John itself is indicative of our position, for it shows that, instead of a Kingdom, suffering is allotted; the Forerunner is rejected, and the Kingdom cannot be obtained without blood shed in its behalf. A martyred Forerunner is an appropriate foreground to a crucified King, and reminds us how dearly this very Kingdom is purchased.[*]
Note. Leathes (The Religion of Christ, Bampton Lectures for 1874), while misapprehending and spiritualizing the Kingdom that John preached, yet fully admits: “He certainly died without seeing the Advent of that Kingdom which he had proclaimed as near.” We cannot see how any one who holds the Ch. Church that was established on the day of Pentecost to be this Kingdom, can logically hold any other view. Hence many writers occupy Leathes’ position, and concede our Proposition. Our opponents involve themselves in the most glaring inconsistencies and contradictions by not adhering in strictness to their own Church-Kingdom theory. Thus e.g. Barnes and others (even including such as Nast, etc.) make the Ch. Church to be the Kingdom established on the day of Pentecost after the death of Jesus, but then again and again they tell us that the Gospel with its resultant spiritual reign is this Kingdom, and that this Gospel was preached and result gained in John’s time (thus making this Kingdom not to exist and then again to exist); and then, without seeing the absurdity of the proceeding, when commenting on Matt. 11:11, they make out that John is not in the kingdom of heaven, but that the least one in it (i.e. the Church) is superior to John, owing to privilege, etc., after having declared in other places that John was in it and caused his hearers to press into it. Alas! what confusion arises, when men forsake the plain sense of covenant and prophecy.
Obs. 4. This satisfactorily answers the question, why John continued his ministry after the public appearance of Christ. The solution is found in John baptizing not only in view of a Messiah to come, but of a Kingdom to come. The Kingdom, and meetness for it, was the burden of his preaching, and the foundation motive for urging repentance. Now if the Kingdom had appeared, as some writers contend, as soon as Jesus was baptized by John or even earlier, then John’s mission would have ended; but as the Kingdom was not manifested, John could continue his own ministry without change. Jesus only commenced (Matt. 4:17) His preaching when John was imprisoned.[*]
Note. The testimony of Killen (The Ancient Church, p. 11), that the Jews “anxiously awaited the appearance of a Messiah,” is that of every historian. But with this and as a resultant, inseparably united, was the idea of the Messianic Kingdom. Hence the preaching was continued as preparatory to the Kingdom. This, also, throws light on the baptism of Jesus, a difficult subject, because Jesus needed not repentance. Some (Farrar) make it to “prefigure the laver of regeneration;” others (Shenkel), a vicarious or representative act; others (Bernard), an act of humility, or (Barnes) an example sanctioning divine institutions, or (Lange) to remove ceremonial uncleanness, etc. This baptism was designed to indicate that the person receiving it was prepared or qualified for the Kingdom, yielding himself to the supreme will of God, hence David’s Son could properly receive it.
Obs. 5. The non-establishment of the Kingdom is shown in the fact that the disciples of John, instructed by himself, and their adherents after John’s death, even after the death of Jesus, formed a sect who still waited for the coming of the Messiah (Gieseler, Ch. His. 1:69, Lange’s Com., p. 69, etc.). This can only be accounted for on the ground that, not seeing the Kingdom established as preached by John, and unacquainted with or failing to appreciate its postponement to the Sec. Advent of the crucified Jesus, they still looked for the manifestation of the Kingdom, and, of course, then for the Messiah to restore it.
Obs. 6. The brevity of John’s ministry is readily accounted for; brief as it was, it was sufficiently long to indicate the unfitness of the nation for the Kingdom (comp. Lange, Com., Matt. 3:1–12, p. 68, 2d col.). Different writers inform us that it was very successful and give us glowing accounts how the multitude “pressed into” the Kingdom; but we have the decided testimony of the Lord Himself that, whatever degree of success attended John’s efforts in the beginning, his mission to the nation was acceptable only to the few; the representative men of the nation were not gained, they did not repent (Matt. 11:18).[*]
Note. As this is an important point, and misconception here will lead to misinterpretation, a few words may be added. The passage adduced to prove the success of John’s ministry is Matt. 11:12, and Luke 16:16. We refer, by way of illustration, to Barnes’ Com. loci, to show how comments are made. On this verse, he tells us of the multitudes who “rush” and “press” for the Kingdom, and this state of things “has continued,” etc., and yet, when commenting on verse 18 of the same chapter, forgetting what he had just penned, he then informs us that “this generation” “were not pleased with him,” etc. The reader is referred to the admirable comment of Judge Jones (Notes on the Scriptures, loci) on this passage, in which he consistently proves (take Luke 16:16 in connection as interpreter) that it teaches that men pressed against, resisted the Kingdom, treated it with violent opposition, although urged upon them. His criticism of the text corresponds with the context, and makes it to harmonize with the facts as they truly existed (so also Lightfoot, Schneckenburger, and others). Those, however, who retain a different rendering, to make it consistent with fact, interpret it (as H. Dana Ward, Proph. Times, Ap. 1874, p. 36), “every (wise) man presseth toward it,” or (as J. G. W., Proph. Times, vol. 11, No. 5, p. 72), “From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence” (permits a violation of ritualism), “and the violent” (the earnest penitents) “take it by force” (striving to enter into the strait gate, etc.). These, and others (comp. Lange’s Com. loci, Scott, etc.) are more or less forced, while Jones’s interpretation is natural and accordant with fact. That no national or wide extended repentance was produced is evident from the deputation (John 1:19–27) and subsequent events. The extravagant eulogies of “a holy violence,” and the making by some (Lange, etc.), John and Jesus to be “the violent,” are simply glosses; the violent—by conspiring to put the Messiah to death—took, as we shall show in detail, the Kingdom away from the nation.
Obs. 7. Some writers, in their eagerness to make out a preparation for the First Advent (which existed, and is temperately (e.g. Schaff, His. Apos. Church) described by others), tell us much of the preparation of the Jewish nation for the same. But this is shown to be utterly unworthy of credence, in view of the failure of John’s mission, the rejection and death of the Messiah, and the resultant judgments of God. (Comp. character of Jews as given by Jesus, Josephus, Harwood, Mosheim, Horne, etc.).[*]
Note. Often have we been pained and surprised to find careful and able writers fall into extravagances in this direction. Thus e.g. Dr. Luthardt (Bremen Lectures, Lec. 8, p. 128) says: “John the Baptist’s mission was to be bridesman. He led the bride to the bridegroom, to be united with Him in marriage, to be made one with Him. This is the end of the history of Israel,” etc. All that we have to say of this perversion of the marriage figure, as used in Scripture, is this: John found a very unwilling bride, and in his efforts came to his death, and Jesus also died; instead of a marriage there was gloom and death; the marriage was postponed. Men may—this is their apology—think to honor Christ by showing a successful mission in John, but they do it at the expense of truth; and Jesus needs no fictitious praise. Many illustrations of this could be given, but this will suffice. However, in this connection it may be well to mention another mistake that is prevalent. Farrar (Life of Christ, vol. l, p. 115) speaks of John’s baptism “as an initiation into the Kingdom.” This is nowhere asserted; and it is opposed by all the facts that we have already presented, and by others that will follow. It was a baptism of repentance to qualify for the Kingdom, and not to admit, or initiate into the Kingdom, as is seen e.g. by the force of Acts 1:6, (the apostles even not being cognizant of such a Kingdom).