It was necessary that Jesus and His disciples should at first preach the Kingdom as nigh to the Jewish nation.
PROPOSITION 55. It was necessary that Jesus and His disciples should at first preach the Kingdom as nigh to the Jewish nation.
That the Kingdom was nigh to the nation is distinctly stated, Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 11:20; Matt. 12:28. The covenanted Theocratic Kingdom was overthrown; at the appearance of the promised Davidic son, who should inherit the Kingdom, it was absolutely requisite, in view of the covenanted relationship of the nation to this Kingdom, to offer it to the Jews for their acceptance. This was done by John, Jesus, and the disciples.
Obs. 1. Jesus Himself tells us (Luke 4:34) that He “must preach the gospel of the Kingdom, for therefore am I sent;” and He must preach it as nigh—within reach—to the elect nation, for to it the promises are given. The reason why Christ did this, is assigned by Paul in Rom. 15:8, viz.: because He was “a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made to the Fathers.” Now the Kingdom is specifically promised to the nation, and to meet the conditions of the promise and to confirm them, it was necessary (Paul and Barnabas keep up the spirit of this feature even later, Acts 13:46) to tender the Kingdom to its acceptance.
Obs. 2. If Jesus came to fulfil the law and the prophets, if He came as the messenger of the covenant, the One through whom the covenants were to be realized, then it follows as a natural sequence that He could not otherwise but offer this Kingdom to the nation, for that nation was composed of the covenanted people, only conditioned—as found stated in the prophets, in the preaching of repentance, and in the future predicted repentance of the nation—by its national repentance and acceptance of the tender made.
Obs. 3. Hence the Kingdom was offered as nigh, on the condition of repentance annexed to the tender. The proclamation of nighness was involved in the fact (to be made plain hereafter) that, as a certain number of elect are contemplated as requisite to the establishment of the Theocratic Kingdom (former experience teaching that otherwise it could not be sustained), that number, in case of national repentance, would have been speedily obtained. But owing to the rejection of Christ, the number of inheritors must now be obtained in a different and more gradual way; and consequently the nighness of the Kingdom is conditioned by the national action. Coming to such a people so peculiarly related by covenant promises; coming in behalf of the covenant itself, any other style of preaching the Kingdom would have been out of place; inconsistent with His own Mission, with the relationship of the people, and with the predetermined number of “willing people” to be obtained previous to its re-establishment. In the very nature of the case and of past experience, the covenant required the offer of the Davidic-Theocratic Kingdom, while a moral fitness for the same demanded a previous repentance.[*]
Note. Barbour (Three Worlds, p. 121), influenced by his invisible spiritual Kingdom theory, says that the Kingdom was offered to the Jews in a “shadowy sense.” Never! the covenants, preaching, etc. all forbid it. It is strange that Schenkel’s accommodation theory is so largely prevailing among believers, when so derogatory to fundamentals.
Obs. 4. It was left, we find, to the moral freedom of the representative men of the nation to receive or refuse it. The phrase “nigh at hand” is indicative of a tender, which, if necessary, can be withdrawn. The phrase is purposely chosen, pregnant with meaning, and, in view of the power of choosing, leaves a degree of indefiniteness about it, which is materially heightened by its dependence on the preceding “repent.” For what then if they do not repent? In that case will they notwithstanding receive the Kingdom, or will it still be nigh to them? Leaving following Propositions to answer these questions, let it now be suggested (what so many entirely overlook) that the exact reversal of this formula would be, If you do not repent, the Kingdom will be far from you; now it is nigh, within reach; then it will be distant, removed, postponed. Alas! how fearfully true this became: nationally nigh, then nationally distant.[*]
Note. The conditionality of this matter is apparent from the call to repentance and the unfortunate result. God never violates moral freedom in His purposes relating to the nation. Jesus, with full purpose of fulfilling, and yet foreknowing the sad result, employs the only language adapted to their free agency. Such expressions as “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life,” “would not have this man to reign over us,” “ye would not,” “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” and kindred ones unmistakably indicate the power of choice. If not, where is human responsibility? The Saviour, therefore, in offering this Kingdom as nigh to them, addresses this power of choice, this capacity (we are not concerned with the question of natural or acquired, but only with the fact of actual possession), of making a suitable selection; and in view of the possibility of making a proper choice, exhibited in repentance, preaches, “Repent, for” (if you do so) “the Kingdom is nigh at hand,” i.e. the Kingdom already covenanted to you, and nigh to you in view of such a relation, will be given to you. But if you make no such a choice, if you refuse to repent, then, of course, this Kingdom is not nigh to you. Strange that so many theologians overlook the conditionality on which all hinges, and affirm (as Neander, etc.) that the Kingdom was established. The Primitive Church, taught by inspired men and their immediate successors, held to no such absurdity, but maintained in this matter a logical consistency.
In view of this conditionality, Jesus comes in a state of poverty, in order that the moral appeal to repentance may be fairly tested. Had He come rich, loaded with honor, etc., the Jews would have been influenced by selfish, improper motives. Hence the Theocratic King, to test the nation, comes in humble circumstances.
Obs. 5. It has already been shown (Props. 19, 20, 21, 22, 38, 39, 40, 43, etc.) what Kingdom was preached, how the Jews and disciples understood it, and hence that the people were aware of the Kingdom that was offered to them. If we are to credit the multitude, Jesus tendered a motive, held out an inducement, for repentance, which the nation misapprehended and could not understand. Those few, then, that did repent were influenced by mere “Jewish prejudice” and “Jewish partialism.” Thus the prevailing Church-Kingdom theory degrades the early preaching of the Kingdom from every point of view (comp. Props. 42–44).[*]
Note. Let it again be noticed that Jesus employs the very phraseology in vogue among the Jews indicative of this restored Davidic throne and Kingdom. Thus, to point out a single example which Neander (see Prop. 42, Obs. 6) and others attempt to make contradictory to Jewish expectations, viz.: the Sermon on the Mount. Now, keeping in view the Jewish ideas of the Kingdom and the phrases in common usage expressive of the same, the promises pertaining to “the Kingdom of heaven,” “the meek shall inherit the earth,” “fulfilling the law and the prophets,” “the least and great in the kingdom of heaven,” “Jerusalem the city of the great King,” “thy Kingdom come,” “the Kingdom of God”—these are all of a nature to impress the Jewish mind (as the result proves), that our Saviour alluded to the Theocratic-Davidic Kingdom as covenanted to the nation. It was, under the circumstances, simply impossible for the Jews to entertain any other view. The naked fact that they thus understood Him and were not corrected in their comprehension of the Kingdom, is evidence that our position is the only tenable one; for otherwise, knowing the grammatical sense of the covenants and how the same was held, Jesus would not be performing His mission worthily if it led to the indorsement of error, confirmed by His own language. Let the reader reflect: How could He ask them to repent, and on condition of such repentance offer them a Kingdom contrary to the universal expected covenanted one, without a suitable explanation? Common honesty required it. How could He urge repentance on the ground of something which they utterly misapprehended? Common charity forbids such a notion. Questions like these, involving the gravest of charges and reflecting upon the character of Teacher and hearer, must first be satisfactorily answered before we can give up the precious covenanted Kingdom.
Obs. 6. It is wrongly stated by Reuss (His. Ch. Theol., p. 147) that the expression “Kingdom of heaven” in the formula “restricts the idea to a coming period or place, to a state of things different from that in which humanity at present exists,” and objects to it therefore (through his modernized Church-Kingdom view) as “a less comprehensive form” than that of “Kingdom of God,” and attributes it as belonging “originally to the Jewish Theology, which assigned the idea of the Kingdom of God absolutely to the sphere of final or future things.” This is a misapprehension of the phrases; for we have shown (Prop. 45) that they are convertible, that all of them were used by the Jews to denote the restored Davidic rule under the glorious Messiah, David’s Son, and that they were employed by the first preachers without explanation according to common usage. This makes the phraseology “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” the more significant to a Jew, and the motive for a speedy repentance the stronger; for then, if penitent, the long-cherished hopes excited by covenant and prophecy might at last be realized.[*]
Note. The time selected for this preaching of national repentance was, humanly speaking, favorable, and the refusal to repent, under the circumstances, increases the guilt of the nation and evinces the power of depravity. While with Reuss (His. Ch. Theol., p. 39) we object to the theory advanced by some, “that the Jews during the exile, through the influence of the Babylonian and Persian civilization, underwent a complete metamorphosis” in religious matters, yet it must be admitted that the captivity and partial restoration produced changes—changes, however, which, instead of destroying, only developed the distinctive and characteristic traits of Judaism. Among the latter, a more steady and persistent attachment to and expectation of a coming King in the restored Kingdom by which they should be nationally exalted, according to the prophets. This produced an intense (and in many a selfish) exclusiveness, as evidenced by history. The sorrows and trials of the nation, the long-continued submission to Gentile domination, had more and more directed faith and hope to the covenants, so that, as far as the national situation was concerned, the time was favorable for such preaching, but the repentance urged, the moral preparation required, was too much for its representative, leading men.
Obs. 7. The reader is reminded that this preaching of the nighnees of the Kingdom, this offer of the Kingdom to the Jews at the First Advent on condition of repentance, is the key to the commingling of the Advents of Christ (Prop. 34). It could not be otherwise. It being predetermined as eminently suitable to tender this Kingdom at the First Advent of Jesus, the Messiah, and it being also foreknown that it would be rejected, the matter is so guardedly presented as not to interfere with the free moral agency of the nation, and as not to be opposed to foreknown fact. Yet both the rejection of the Kingdom at the First Advent, and the subsequent obtaining of it at the, now understood, Second Advent of Christ, are unmistakably predicted. Hence, too, in view of this offer and rejection, the prophets pass on and describe more repeatedly and vividly the scenes connected with the Second Advent.
Obs. 8. The reader, from what has been said, cannot fail to observe that this Kingdom, thus brought nigh by the offer made by Jesus and His coadjutors, is the same Kingdom predicted by the prophets (Prop. 35). There is only one Kingdom covenanted, the prophets describe but one, the Jews believed only in one, the disciples knew and preached only one, viz.: the covenanted Theocratic-Davidic. Jesus, coming to fulfil what the prophets predicted, the covenant demanded, could not preach any other Kingdom than the one described. Hence in His teaching He appeals to the prophets and appropriates their predictions to Himself (but only in so far as not to make the false impression that under Him the Kingdom was already established), as e.g. in Mark 12:10 He refers to the stone of Ps. 117, and applies it to Himself. This would naturally suggest the Stone of Dan. 2:34, 45, and the inference follows that, although rejected, He is the Head of the coming Kingdom, and through Him the God of heaven will yet set it up. So also Matt. 22:24; Luke 4:18, 19, etc.; and He does this to make the rejection of Himself the more inexcusable in them.
Obs. 9. Writers in abundance censure Millenarians (as e.g. the Primitive Church) for believing in the restoration of the Theocratic-Davidic Kingdom under the Messiah, on the ground of its “earthly relations,” “carnality,” etc. They do not pause to reflect that, owing to its Theocratic nature, it cannot be set up without a suitable moral, spiritual preparation in the hearts of those who are to experience its blessings. The proof is found in this first preaching, in its being brought nigh on condition of repentance, in its being offered solely in view of a proposed change of character. Those who inherit it as kings and priests must be among the penitent (Prop. 91); the nation itself before it can enjoy its restoration must be converted (Prop. 113). Therefore, seeing how it was proposed at the First Advent to the nation, and how it is offered to us now conditionally on repentance and faith in Christ as a future inheritance, it becomes thoughtful, reverent men to be extremely cautious how they write concerning it.