PART 4: THE MEDIATORIAL KINGDOM FROM THE ACTS PERIOD TO THE ETERNAL STATE
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the third in the series by Dr. McClain, Former President of Grace Theological Seminary, which constituted the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 9–12, 1954]
The Mediatorial Kingdom in the Period of the Acts
Two mistakes have been made in approaching the Book of Acts. At the one extreme are a few who see nothing there but the Kingdom; while at the other extreme are those who insist that Acts concerns the church alone. Here again I insist that, as in the Gospels, the Book of Acts must be interpreted historically, i.e., in accordance with the movement of events. To do otherwise will result in serious problems, both in Eschatology and Ecclesiology.
In spite of all our Lord’s teaching prior to Calvary, the disciples had failed to harmonize the fact of his death with their hopes concerning the kingdom. “We hoped,” they say, “that it was he who should redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, ASV). The solution of their problem was his resurrection, of course, as he reminds them: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and [after that] to enter into his glory?” This would have been clear to them had they not been “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25–26). That the kingdom has not been abandoned is evidenced by the question of his chosen apostles, asked at the close of 40 days of teaching by the risen King himself on the subject of the “Kingdom of God.” They said, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” The crucial point of this question is not whether or not there ever would be such a restoration, but rather is the time element. Not will this be done? but when? This is clearly indicated by the order of the words in the original: “Lord, at this time, wilt thou restore again the kingdom to Israel?” As Alford observes, any other explanation of the question “would make our Lord’s answer irrelevant” in the next verse: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons” (Acts 1:3–7). However, although the time element is to remain hidden, there is no indication that the kingdom may not be restored within the lifetime of the apostles. We tend to read 19 centuries into these Biblical passages.
Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost suggests that the Day of the Lord may be near at hand, and also powerfully argues the right of the risen Jesus to the throne of David. The effect on the audience, composed wholly of Jews from all over the known world, was startling: three thousand were convinced, and their so-called “communism” suggests that they were looking for the great social changes of the kingdom immediately (Acts 2:5–45).
But perhaps the best key to the historical situation in the Book of Acts is found in the third chapter where Peter, speaking to Israel from the temple porch with all the authority of one to whom Christ had committed the “keys” of the kingdom, makes an official reoffer of that kingdom (Acts 3:12–21). Peter’s words here are unmistakable: even their rejection and crucifixion of the King have not utterly lost for Israel her opportunity. If they will repent and turn again, their sins will be blotted out, and Jesus Christ shall be sent from heaven to restore all the things spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. And in confirmation of the bona fide character of this reoffer of the kingdom, we find early in the Acts period many of the miraculous signs and wonders which were associated with our Lord’s own original offer of the kingdom. This is at least one explanation of why some things are found here which are not being exactly duplicated today.
I do not mean to suggest that there are no miracles in the present age, but rather that they are now of a different character; not great public demonstrations designed to compel recognition (cf. Acts 4:16), as in this early part of the Christian era. The very Greek terms used are indicative of the special nature of these miracles: they were “signs” and “wonders” to a nation that by divine prophetic sanction had a right to expect such signs in connection with the promised kingdom. Consider, for example, the outpouring of the Spirit tangible to both sight and hearing (2:1–4), special miracles of healing the sick (3:1–10; 19:11–12), great physical wonders (4:31; 8:39; 16:26), immediate physical judgment on sinners (5:1–11; 12:23; 13:11), miraculous visions (7:55; 9:3, 10; 11:5), visible angelic ministry (5:19; 10:3; 12:7), and instant deliverance from physical hazards (28:5 ).
But once again the authenticating “signs” fail to convince the nation of Israel, although now these signs have become even more impressive by reason of the historical fulfillment of the death and resurrection of the King. For the problem was spiritual and moral rather than intellectual, and throughout the book of Acts we can trace the same growth of Jewish opposition to a definite crisis of official rejection, as in the ministry of our Lord. It came this time, not in Jerusalem, but in the great metropolis of Rome where Paul, now a political prisoner, gathered together the influential leaders of Israel into “his own hired” dwelling. They came in great numbers, and for an entire day he spoke with them, “testifying the kingdom of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets” (Acts 28:23–29). But there was no agreement, and after quoting once more the terrible prophecy of Isaiah which had been quoted by our Lord on a former and similar occasion, the Apostle Paul turns definitely and finally to the Gentiles. Again the nation of Israel had been faced with a decision, a moral and spiritual decision, and once more they made it the wrong way. Thus the historical die was cast, their holy city was shortly destroyed, they were scattered throughout the nations, to abide “many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice,” until they are ready to receive their promised King as he comes down from heaven to save them in their last great extremity.
To summarize briefly: the period of the Acts is therefore transitional in character, and its preaching and teaching had a twofold aspect.
First, there is the continued proclamation of the coming kingdom as an immediate possibility, depending on the attitude of the nation of Israel. But at the same time we have a church, begun on Pentecost, as the spiritual nucleus of the coming kingdom.
Second, as the tide of Jewish opposition grows, there seems to be a change of emphasis in the preaching. Whereas the period had opened with the kingdom in first place, the church having almost no distinguishable separate identity; as the history unfolds, the church begins to assume first place, with a glory of its own, while the established kingdom becomes more remote.
The Mediatorial Kingdom in the Present Church Age
Does the mediatorial kingdom exist in any sense during the present era; and if so, what is the relation of the church to this kingdom? I refer, of course, to the spiritual body of Christ, the true church, not that abnormal thing which is called “Christendom.” The promise of God to all believers of the present era is that we shall “reign with Him” in the coming kingdom. This body of true believers constitutes the royal family, the ruling aristocracy of the kingdom. It would not be improper, therefore, to speak of the kingdom as now existing on earth, but only in the restricted sense that today God is engaged in selecting and preparing a people who are to be the spiritual nucleus of the established kingdom. Thus, as Christian believers, we actually enter the kingdom prior to its establishment on earth, something so remarkable that it is spoken of as a translation (Col 1:13).
This peculiar aspect of the kingdom is set forth by our Lord in a series of parables which refers to the “mysteries” of the kingdom. We learn from these that the present era is a time of seed-sowing, of mysterious growth, mixed growth, and abnormal growth; a period of spreading error; a period which will come to the crisis of a harvest; yet out of this period, even apart from the harvest, there will come a pearl of great price (the church), and a treasure (the remnant of Israel purified and regenerated). Thus at the present time while God is forming the spiritual nucleus for the coming kingdom, He is also permitting a parallel development of righteousness and evil in the world; and both shall be brought to a harvest when good and bad will be separated, and the kingdom established on earth in power and righteousness at the second coming of the mediatorial King.
If I understand the words of certain premillenarian writers, they have made two kingdoms out of the one kingdom of Old Testament prophecy; one a purely spiritual kingdom which was established at Christ’s first coming; the second a visible kingdom to be established at his second coming. In the interest of clearer understanding and discussion, it would be much better to say that at his first coming our Lord laid the spiritual basis for the kingdom which will be set up at his second coming.
In support of the above mentioned theory, its adherents have pointed to the fact that so late as the history recorded in Acts 28 the Apostle Paul was engaged in “preaching the kingdom of God” (v. 31), which seems to be regarded as proof that a kingdom of God of some kind had already been established. This, in the field of argument, is a perfect non sequitur. The Old Testament prophets, twenty-five hundred years ago, preached the kingdom. In these very lectures, I am preaching the kingdom. But there is one thing about the kingdom which seems to be completely absent from all the recorded preaching of our present church era; that is the preaching of the “gospel” of the kingdom. If we stick to the Biblical records, the preaching of this “good news” was strictly limited to John the Baptist, our Lord, the Twelve, and the Seventy; all specially accredited messengers. What was this gospel of the kingdom? Fortunately, Mark tells us exactly what it was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye and believe the gospel” (1:15). That there was sometime to be a mediatorial kingdom was no particular news to the Jewish people; they had always firmly believed in that. What they did not know had to do with the “time”; and the good news preached by our Lord was that at last the time had come when God was ready to establish the long expected kingdom. The church today may indeed “preach the kingdom of God,” and should preach it; but to assume to preach the gospel of the kingdom today would involve a knowledge of the “times and seasons” certainly not possessed by any of our wisest theologians.
The Mediatorial Kingdom in the Millennial Age
This “age to come” will be ushered in by the exercise of our Lord’s immediate power and authority. He has “all power” now; he will take this power and use it to the full when he comes down from heaven. The age-long “silence” of God, the perennial taunt of unbelief, will be broken first by the resurrection and translation of the Church; then by the unloosing of divine judgment long withheld; then by the personal and visible appearance of the mediatorial King himself; followed by the complete establishment of his kingdom on the earth for a period specified by Holy Scripture as a “thousand years” (Rev 20:1–6). The description of this period, as set forth in Revelation 20, is very brief with few details. If any should ask the reason for this extreme brevity, the answer is at hand: The Old Testament prophets had already revealed these details in rich profusion, and the reader is presumed to know them. There should be no serious complaint on this point, except by those who do not take the prophets seriously or by those who misinterpret their writings.
Having already dealt with these details at some length, it will be sufficient here for me to say merely that during this glorious period every aspect of the mediatorial kingdom of prophecy will be realized upon earth—truly the “Golden Age” of history. Children are born, life goes on, men work and play; but under ideal conditions, the only limitations being those involved in the sinful nature and mortality which will still obtain among the earthly subjects of the kingdom. The period will close with a brief rebellion of unsaved humanity; and then the final judgment, its subjects being the “dead,” not the living. Before that great white throne will appear only those who have chosen death rather than life. Those who have trusted in Christ have already passed out of death into life, and cannot come into judgment for sin.
The Mediatorial Kingdom in the Eternal State
When the last enemy is put down by our Lord as the mediatorial king, when even death itself is abolished and complete harmony is established, then the purpose of his mediatorial kingdom will have been fulfilled. Then the Son will deliver up his kingdom to God the Father, to be merged into the eternal kingdom, thus being perpetuated forever, but no longer as a separate entity (1 Cor 15:24–28). This does not mean the end of the rule of our Lord Jesus Christ. He only ceases to reign as the mediatorial King in history. But as the only begotten Son, very God of very God, He shares with the other Persons of the Triune God the throne of the eternal kingdom. In that final and eternal city of God, center of a redeemed new heaven and earth, there is but one throne. It is called “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:3–5).
“And his servants shall serve him:
And they shall see his face;
And his name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there;
And they need no candle,
Neither light of the sun;
For the Lord God giveth them light:
And they shall reign for ever and ever…
These sayings are faithful and true.”
Alva J. McClain, the founder and first president of Grace Theological Seminary and Grace College, was born in Iowa and later grew up in Sunnyside, Washington. Shortly after his marriage to Josephine Gingrich in 1911, he and his wife were saved under the preaching of Dr. L.S. Bauman. He had been attending the University of Washington, but removed to Los Angeles, where he attended the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and sat under the teaching of Dr. R.A. Torrey.
Upon graduating from Biola, he enrolled in Xenia Theological Seminary and completed work for the B.D. and Th.M. degrees–following which he was called to the First Brethren Church of Philadelphia, where he served from 1918 to 1923. During the pastorate he taught at the Philadelphia School of the Bible. Because of ill health, he resigned and removed to California, where he finished his work for the A.B. degree at Occidental College, graduating as valedictorian. Later he was awarded the honorary degree of LL.D. at Bob Jones University, and the D.D. degree at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.
In 1925 and 1926, he served as professor of Bible at Ashland College. In 1927-1929 he taught Christian theology at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. In 1930, the first graduate school of theology in the Brethren Church was organized at Ashland College under his leadership, where he served as its first academic dean and professor of Christian theology.
In 1937 Grace Theological Seminary was organized under his direction, and as first president and professor of Christian theology, he served from 1937 to 1962. Dr. McClain authored many short treatises, but will be remembered for his monumental work on Christian theology, The Greatness of the Kingdom, one of seven volumes he had projected concerning the entire scope of Christian faith. He will long be remembered as scholar, theologian, educator, master teacher, and Christian gentleman.
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