Alva J. McClain on The Greatness of the KIngdom Part 4



[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.”

 Article above adapted from BSac 112:448 (OCTOBER 1955), pp. 305-320.
 About Alva J. McClain (1888-1968)

Alva J. McClain

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.

Alva J. McClain on The Greatness of the Kingdom Part 3



[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]

I have in mind here, of course, the teaching of our Lord during the historical period covered by the gospel records. In approaching this important body of material, it is possible for men to forget that the stream of history never stands still, not even in the brief time-span of our Lord’s public ministry. His teaching about the kingdom, therefore, cannot be read accurately apart from the background of the constantly changing historical situation. This principle has been rightly stressed in connection with the great expanse of Old Testament history. It is no less important in dealing with the gospel records when the very narrowness of the time increased the swiftness of the current. Hence, we shall do well, not only to heed exactly what the King has said about his kingdom, but also to give careful attention to the time when he said what he did. To neglect this principle will plunge the interpreter into misunderstanding and confusion.

It is hardly necessary to remind you that the Gospels open with the announcement of a kingdom. It is announced by angels (Luke 1:11, 26), anticipated by the Magi (Matt 2:1–6), preached by John the Baptist (Matt 3:1–3), by our Lord himself (Matt 4:17, 23) then by the twelve apostles (Matt 10:1–7), after that by the seventy (Luke 10:1–9). Several strong expressions are used to indicate the proximity of this kingdom. As to its supernatural powers, it had come upon men (Luke 11:20). As to its King, it was actually in the midst of  men (Luke 17:21). As to its complete establishment on earth, the kingdom was at hand,” that is, impending or imminent (Mark 1:15).

It has been well said that “The Gospels present Christ as king. Matthew, tracing his genealogy, gives special prominence to his royal lineage as son of David. He tells of the visit of the Magi who inquire for the newborn king of the Jews, and the scribes answer Herod’s question by showing from Micah’s prophecy that the Christ to be born in Bethlehem would be a ‘governor,’ and would rule, ‘be shepherd of my people Israel’ (2:5–6). Luke’s account of the nativity contains the declaration that the child to be born and named Jesus would occupy the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob forever (1:32–33). In John’s account of the beginning of Christ’s ministry, one of his early disciples, Nathanael, hails him as ‘King of Israel’ (1:49). And Jesus does not repudiate the title” (Archibald M’Caig, “King, Christ as,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, III, 1802).

Relationship to Old Testament Teaching

Now the question naturally arises: What is the relation of the kingdom announced by our Lord and his disciples to that kingdom set forth by the prophets of the Old Testament? Perhaps the many answers to this question can be summarized under about four heads:

First, the Liberal view—that Christ took from the Old Testament prophets chiefly the moral and social elements, and made these the program of a kingdom which it is the responsibility of his followers to establish on earth today.

Second, the Critical view—that Jesus at first embraced fully the ideas of Old Testament prophecy, some of which were current among the Jews of his day; but later in the face of opposition he grew discouraged and changed his message. As to the nature and extent of this change the critics are not agreed.

Third, the “Spiritual” view that Christ took up certain spiritual elements from the Old Testament prophetic picture, either dropped or spiritualized the political and physical aspects, and then added some original ideas of his own.

Fourth, the Biblical view—that the kingdom proclaimed by our Lord was identical with that of the Old Testament prophets. I have named this fourth view the “Biblical” one because it is supported by the New Testament literature taken at its face value; which, by the way, is the only material anyone has on the subject. Without intending to imply that the late James Orr would have endorsed in every detail the view set forth in these lectures, it is fair to say that his words do support my central thesis: “In announcing the approaching advent of ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ Jesus had in view the very kingdom which the prophets had foretold” (James Orr, “Kingdom of God,” Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, II, 849).

That the kingdom announced by our Lord as “at hand” was identical with the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is very evident. The name “kingdom of heaven,” so often upon the lips of Christ, seems to have been derived from Daniel 2:44 and 7:13-14.  In support of his proclamation of the kingdom, our Lord constantly appealed to the Old Testament prophets; and he characterizes two hesitant disciples as “fools” because they have failed to believe “all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25; cf. 4:18–19; 7:27; 20:41–44). The closest search of the gospel records will discover no passage in which Christ ever intimated that his conception of the kingdom was different from that of the prophets. If the prophets were wrong in any respect, how simple to say so. But there is nothing. On the contrary, from the beginning of his ministry on earth to the end of it, his evaluation of the prophetic Scriptures remains the same: “All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44; cf. Matt 5:17–18). Furthermore, the very events attending the appearance of the Messianic King demonstrate the identity of the two kingdoms. Consider only two examples: Micah had predicated that the One who was to be God’s “ruler in Israel” would be born in Bethlehem (5:2 ); and Zechariah saw this king riding up to the city of Jerusalem “upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass” (9:9, ASV). Do I need to remind this audience that these very things came to pass exactly as predicted, that the gospel writers were fully aware of the connection between the prophecy and the history, and that no legitimate Biblical criticism has been able to remove the passages from the literary and historical records?

Still further, in the works and teachings of Christ may be found every aspect and element of the Old Testament prophetic kingdom, although we should not expect here the fullness of detail so apparent in the prophets.

First, the kingdom announced by our Lord is basically spiritual in nature, so much so that except men repent and “be born again” they cannot enter into it (Matt 3:2; John 3:3–5).

Second, its ethical aspect is set forth especially in the Sermon on the Mount, a body of material which contains little that is absolutely new, the main ideas being found in the Old Testament at least in germ. Some of the Beatitudes are transported almost verbally (Cf. Matt 5:5 with Ps 37:11).

Third, the correction of social evils appears often in our Lord’s teaching; and in his forecast of the complete establishment of his kingdom all such evils will be sternly gathered out by supernatural agency (Matt 13:41–43).

Fourth, the ecclesiastical aspect of his kingdom is recognized when he whips the money changers out of the temple. Why not simply ignore the temple if, as some argue, God is done with the nation of Israel and the Old Testament theocratic idea? On the contrary, as the mediatorial Priest-King, Christ lays claim to the Jewish temple, citing an Old Testament prophecy of the kingdom in defense of his action, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:15–17, ASV; cf. Isa 56:7–8).

Fifth, even the political aspect of the kingdom is assigned an important place in such passages as Matthew 19:28, where our Lord promises the Twelve that they “shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” and Matthew 25 where we have his own description of himself sitting upon a throne of glory judging living nations on the earth, in accordance with the vision of Isaiah.

Sixth, as to the physical aspects of the kingdom, read the New Testament record of blind men that saw, lame that walked, deaf that heard, the lepers that were cleansed; consider also the multitudes fed by supernatural power, and the deliverances from hazards of wind and storm and violence. That not one of these elements can be omitted without distorting our Lord’s picture of the kingdom, is being admitted even by critical scholars.

If the kingdom announced as “at hand” by our Lord was merely a “spiritual kingdom,” or as some have defined it, “the rule of God in the hearts of men,” such an announcement would have had no special significance whatever, because such a kingdom of God had always been recognized among the people of God. Compare the Psalmist’s confession, “God is my king of old” (74:12). Any denial of this would certainly be a new kind of dispensationalism.

And this brings me to a passage so important that it must be quoted in full. John the Baptist is in prison liable to lose his head for rebuking the immorality of an earthly ruler; strange situation for the herald of the great King who, according to the prophets, would correct all such injustices. Did John’s faith waver? It may be so, for he sent messengers to Jesus, asking wistfully, “Art thou he that should come (ho ercomenos—The Coming One), or do we look for another?” Now the answer of Jesus to John furnishes an infallible key to the interpretation of the Old Testament prophets and also the relation of his own message to their vision of the kingdom: “Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them” (Matt 11:2–6, ASV).  Such an answer was worth a thousand merely verbal affirmations. To John it proved that he had not been mistaken about the identity of the promised King of Old Testament prophecy. And to us it should prove what to John required no proof, namely, that when the kingdom comes it will be a literal kingdom, identical with the kingdom of the prophets.

But to this official answer sent back to John in the Roman prison, our Lord added a very special and personal word, an assurance intended to guard John’s mind against all future contingencies and doubts: “Blessed is he,” said Jesus, “Whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” How tender and gracious! For the rising tide of Jewish opposition had already demonstrated historically that the King would be rejected and the complete establishment of his kingdom long delayed—and John must die. He walked bravely, I am sure, into the valley of the shadow with this last precious assurance from his Lord, the King.

One other point should be noticed in this connection: The fact that John and Christ began their preaching of the good news of the kingdom with no formal explanation of its character indicates an assumption that their audiences would understand what kingdom was being announced. Why this assumption? The answer should be obvious: Israel had the prophets, read and taught in every synagogue. If the conception of our Lord had differed from the prophets, then a formal definition was essential at the very beginning. But there is nothing of this kind. This lack of more definite explanation has caused speculation and disagreement, when it should have sent us to the Old Testament.

Perhaps I should guard what has been said, by explaining that while our Lord follows closely the Old Testament prophetic pattern, there is no mere slavish repetition of words, phrases and texts. Rather he unfolds and interprets the utterances of the prophets, so that meanings become deeper and richer. Furthermore, it is quite evident that he did emphasize the spiritual and ethical aspects of the Old Testament vision, not only because these things were important in themselves, but also because the Jewish teachers had neglected them and were concentrating largely upon the political and national aspects. And like all true preachers of the Word, our Lord fought many of his battles over neglected truth. Today, were he standing in some pulpits, he might stress the other side.

Contingent Character of the Kingdom

In his own teaching, Christ and the kingdom which he proclaimed were inseparably connected. The kingdom was “at hand” because the King was present. Without the King there could be no kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To reject the King would be to reject the kingdom. And this brings us to a most significant fact, namely that the good news of the kingdom was announced to Israel alone. Even down to the work of the Seventy, the disciples were expressly forbidden to enter into any “way of the Gentiles” or “any city of the Samaritans” (Matt 10:5). More than one interpreter has had trouble  with that dictum of Christ: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). The most satisfactory explanation of the problem is to see, what our Lord saw clearly, the contingent nature of his announcement of the kingdom as “at hand.” To put the matter in a sentence: the immediate establishment of his kingdom was contingent upon the attitude of the nation of Israel, to whom pertained the divine promises and covenants (Rom 9:4). Not that the favor of God would terminate upon this nation, but rather that through them all the blessings of the mediatorial kingdom would flow to the world of nations.

That our Lord understood the contingent nature of his kingdom proclamation is clear from his evaluation of John the Baptist and his career. Every intelligent Jew knew that the final word of the final Old Testament prophet predicted the appearance of Elijah as the precursor of the established kingdom (Mal 4:5–6). And Christ declared concerning John the Baptist, “If ye are willing to receive him, this is Elijah, that is to come” (Matt 11:14, ASV margin). Still later, when historical events have demonstrated the certainty of his rejection and death at the hands of the Jewish nation, our Lord again refers to John; but now the historical situation has changed, and the die is cast. “Elijah indeed cometh, and shall restore all things,” he assures his disciples; but then he quickly adds, “I say unto you that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not” (Matt 17:11–12 ASV).  We have here a key to one of the most puzzling problems of New Testament eschatology in relation to the kingdom: How could the kingdom be “at hand,” and yet not near at hand? (Mark 1:15 with Luke 19:11). The answer is to be found in the word “contingency.” The very first announcement of the kingdom as “at hand” also called upon the nation of Israel to make a decision (Mark 1:15), a genuine decision, a moral and spiritual decision, and they made it; tragically the wrong way. The fact that all this was “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” does not in the least detract from its moral reality. Those who fail to see this can make nothing out of certain portions of our Lord’s prophetic teaching.

It should be clearly understood, however, that when I speak of “contingency” I refer to the human aspect of history. Certainly our Lord was not caught by surprise. There are evidences in his earliest teaching (recalled and recorded by the latest gospel writer, as we might expect, knowing the historical sequence) which indicate at least a veiled reference to his rejection and death (John 2:18–22; 3:14). Moreover his ministry met with opposition from the very beginning (Luke 4:28–29); even his popularity with the common people was only sporadic (Cf. John 6). This tide of opposition grew steadily to a definite crisis, and can easily be traced in the record of the gospels. The crisis is reached when his miraculous credentials are not only denied validity, but are actually attributed to the powers of the evil one (Matt 12:24–32). Not long afterward, having gathered his disciples about him, and having heard their adverse reports as to the public reaction toward his claims, there is a sharply defined turning point in his ministry: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must…suffer…and be killed…and be raised again” (Matt 16:21).

Kingdom Teaching in the Light of Rejection

We come now to a large and important body of material which may be termed his preparatory teaching in view of the historical certainly of his rejection by the nation of Israel. He outlines in a remarkable series of parables the future of the kingdom in the peculiar form (hitherto unrevealed) which it will assume during the temporary period of Israel’s rejection. And the parabolic method of teaching at this particular point, according to our Lord, is a divine judgment upon a people who have rejected a simple method of teaching (Matt 13:10–15). (How any expositor could miss this clearly stated fact might also be well called a “mystery”). Furthermore, Christ now for the first time announces the building of a new thing, the church, something wholly unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets (Matt 16:13–18). At the same time, in the clearest terms he assures his followers that the kingdom has not been abandoned, but that its establishment on earth is only deferred; and he carefully prepares them for the delay which will ensue before its ultimate establishment. While on their way to Jerusalem, because the disciples still “thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear,” he outlined the course of future events in a parable: A nobleman goes into a far country; there he receives a kingdom; then he returns; reckons with his servants who have been put to work during his absence; and suppresses by judgment all the “citizens” who had hated him and rebelled against his authority and rule (Luke 19:11–27). This is the divine program, according to the rejected king, who now unfolds it in perfect correlation with the movement of history. The disciples are not to be disturbed about the changing situation; they shall yet have a part in the coming kingdom, sitting on “thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:27–28; Luke 22:28–30).

In the face of the now historically certain rejection, our Lord leaves nothing undone in the prophetic program, but goes up to Jerusalem to offer himself as the Messianic king finally and officially in accordance with Old Testament prophecy (Luke 19:28–44). The triumphal entry, celebrated by Christendom for the most part without understanding, was an event of tremendous import, fulfilling to the very day the greatest time-prediction of the Old Testament (Dan 9:25).  Weeping over the city in divine compassion, because its people knew not the “time” of their “visitation,” our Lord turns to his disciples and privately unfolds the prophetic program more fully, revealing the parenthesis of time which will intervene before his return to establish the kingdom, but leaving its length undetermined for reasons which will appear later. In the record by Luke (21:10–27) the present era is clearly marked out and isolated from the “fearful sights and great signs” of the end; its beginning being indicated by the words, “But before all these” (v. 12), and its scope and close by the words, “Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (v. 24).

It becomes necessary also for our Lord to forewarn his disciples of changing conditions which they will soon be facing: In his personal presence and under his immediate supervision they had been sent out with neither scrip nor purse and they had lacked nothing, but now when they go some material provision should be made: “He that hath a purse, let him take it.” (Luke 22:35, 36). The supernatural effects in the physical realm, properly associated with the kingdom, will recede into the background during the era of the church. This will not mean an end of the supernatural, but rather that its operation will be largely behind the veil of divine providential control. Those who in the future kingdom shall be “first” must now for a time be satisfied to be “last”; and those who by every law of the kingdom should live must understand that now persecution and death by the hands of wicked men will often be their portion (Luke 21:12–19).

The Lord also now reveals more completely the various details related to his second coming and the kingdom (Matt 24:27—25:46). In this part of the gospel records there is a great wealth of material which must be passed over, except to say that believers are to be “faithful” during the King’s absence, watching for his return, and prepared to render an account of their stewardship at his coming.

One of the most striking facts about the career of our Lord upon earth is that during the death trials he continued calmly to urge, more clearly than ever before, his claim to be the mediatorial King of Old Testament prophecy. Before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, his testimony is unwavering.

Consider, first, his examination by the Sanhedrin, where the charge was primarily religious in nature. Angered by his silence under accusation by false witnesses, the high priest placed him under a solemn oath to answer whether or not he was “the Christ, the Son of God.” While the law of the formal oath (Lev 5:1) doubtless required our Lord to break his silence, there was something at issue greater than this, which was his identity as the mediatorial King of Old Testament prophecy. And thus his answer to the high priest becomes memorable: Thou hast said (Matt 26:64). This was not an evasion, as the ordinary English reader might suppose, but definitely “a Greek affirmative,” as A. T. Robertson has well said. Mark records it simply, “I am” (14:62). But the simple affirmation was not enough at a time like this. What is the evidence that his affirmation is true? His answer is: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of (the) power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” The unmistakable reference was to a pair of the greatest kingdom prophecies of the Old Testament, Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13, and Christ applied them to himself. Bruce has paraphrased in striking fashion the answer of the Lord to his Sanhedrin judges: ”The time is coming when you and I shall change places; I then the Judge; you the prisoners at the bar” (A. B. Bruce, “The Gospel of Matthew,” Expositors Greek New Testament, I, 320). The high priest, better schooled than some theologians, understood his claim, rent his clothing judicially, and called upon his fellow judges to pronounce him “guilty of death” (Matt 26:65). The action of the great Jewish council, dramatic as it seemed under the circumstances, was only a tardy judicial ratification of a tragic decision which had already become a fact of history.

Let us come now to the examination before Pilate the Roman governor. The charge here was political, and was so intended by the Jews who made it: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2). Now, however contemptuous Pilate may have been with the technicalities of Jewish religion, he could not ignore the political charge. Knowing this, the Jewish leaders were not slow to press their advantage: “If thou let this man go, thou are not Caesar’s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12). There are some interpreters who argue that this charge was a total misrepresentation of the true nature of the Messianic kingdom, and that our Lord’s answer to Pilate proves that his kingdom was wholly a “spiritual” matter, having no political or material implications whatsoever. It is passing strange that men have not seen the utter folly of trying to erect an adequate definition of our Lord’s kingdom based in large part on a brief conversation between him and a cynical Roman governor who knew nothing about the kingdom of God, and cared less. But what are the facts? In the record of John’s Gospel, the examination consists of three questions by Pilate and three responses on the part of Christ (18:33–38 ).

The first question was, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). Our Lord’s reply to this is a question of his own: “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” (v. 34). The purpose of this question was not to gain information—Christ certainly knew the identity of his accusers—but rather by this means to clarify the exact meaning of Pilate’s inquiry so that it could be answered intelligibly. If the source of the charge was Pilate, then it would be entirely political and nothing more. In that case the Lord’s answer would be, No, I am not a king in that narrow sense of the term. But on the other hand, if Pilate is voicing a charge made by “others,” that is, by the Jewish people; then the question is wholly different and must be answered differently. A charge of regal claims on the part of Jesus, if originated by the Jewish leaders, would carry with it all the implications of the Old Testament mediatorial kingdom; and would have to be answered accordingly.

We come now to the second question: “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me; what hast thou done?” (v. 35). Thus Pilate scornfully disclaims any and all responsibility for the charge, and the way is cleared for our Lord’s reply to the original question. The first part of his reply is wholly negative: “My kingdom is not of this world” (v. 36). The preposition is “ek,” indicating source or originating cause. His kingdom does not originate in the present kosmos or world system. As concrete evidence of this negative proposition, our Lord refers Pilate to the actual situation before his eyes: “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants  fight” (v. 36). This was something that Pilate could understand: a “king” with no military support, and who actually had to be protected from physical violence on the part of his own subjects, could give no possible concern to the politically realistic Pilate.

This brings us to the third question of Pilate. He has satisfied himself that there is no political danger in the strange figure before him—a little later he will actually write over his head, “This is the King of the Jews”—but just now he is mildly intrigued by the notion of a kingdom without any armed legions to support it; and so he asks of Jesus, “Art thou a king then?” (John 18:37). The answer of our Lord is without equivocation: “Thou sayest that I am a king,” or “Thou sayest it because I am a king.”  (So Alford, Ellicott, Robertson, and others).

Marcus Dods thinks we “must” render it, Thou art right, for a king am I.” (Marcus Dods, “The Gospel of John,” Expositors Greek New Testament, I, 852). That this is the proper meaning is made certain by the words which follow: “To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (v. 37, ASV). To this, Pilate has no answer, except to drop his cynical, “What is truth?” as he left the hall of judgment, tragically unaware that he had been in the presence of the King who is the God of all truth.

Now to deduce from this brief exchange between Pilate and Jesus the sweeping proposition that the Messianic kingdom is exclusively a kingdom of love and truth, which will never employ force in dealing with sinful men upon earth, is certainly theological conjecture at its worst. The Old Testament prophets had agreed that Messiah would rule over the nations “with a rod of iron,” and this was confirmed by the King himself in the days of his flesh (Luke 19:14, 27); but the force used will be that of divine omnipotence, not the force of human armies. In that remarkable vision of the coming of the King from heaven to establish his kingdom on the earth, John says that “the armies which are in heaven followed him” (Rev 19:11–14). Strange armies they are, bearing no weapons, and striking no blows. For it is the “sharp sword” of the King himself which strikes the enemy and wins the victory—”which sword proceeded out of his mouth” (Rev 19:21). That there is in the God of heaven a spiritual power which can produce political and physical effects on earth was clearly affirmed by our Lord in his final word to Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). Is it necessary for us to argue as to the nature of this “power” which our Lord says had been “given” to Pilate “from above”? Surely, in no sense was it “spiritual,” but clearly political and nothing else. And the inference is compelling: If this power from above can make itself manifest on earth in the political career of a Pilate, on what ground of either reason or revelation can anyone deny the possibility of its greater exercise through the perfect mediatorial King and his saints when he comes down to earth again?

Our Lord’s consciousness of his own regal person and authority never wavered, but only grew the stronger as he passed through the judgment of Calvary. Even there, suffering the agonies of crucifixion, he exercised the royal prerogatives which he claimed, by throwing open the doors of Paradise to a poor thief who prayed in his extremity, perhaps as only a Jew might have prayed, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:39–43).

In closing this part of the discussion, a question might well be raised: Why was the Lord Jesus Christ rejected by the nation of Israel when he offered himself and the kingdom for which they had long waited and prayed? I suggest at least six reasons, without pretending at all that these add up to a total answer:

First, the high spiritual requirements our Lord laid down as essential for entrance into the kingdom (Mark 1:15; John 3:3–5; Luke 18:15–17).

Second, his refusal to establish a kingdom merely social and political in character (Luke 12:13–30; John 6:5–15).

Third, his denunciation of the current religion with its traditionalism, legalism, and ritualism (Luke 11:37–54).

Fourth, his scathing arraignment of the ruling classes (Matt 23).

Fifth, his association with “sinners” (Luke 15:1–2; Matt 9:10–13).

Sixth, his exalted claims for himself (John 5:16–18; 10:24–33; 18:7). This last, however, would have been no stumbling block if Christ had given them their own fleshly desires. The world will deify any leader who will give them enough “bread and circuses.” But they will reject the true God if He asks them to receive what they do not want.

In this connection we should not make the mistake of blaming all this on the ruling classes in Israel. Luke speaks of three classes of men whose voices were united in the demand for the rejection and death of the King; the rulers,” the priests,” and the people (Luke 23:13–23). It was, shall we say, a combination of civil, religious and democratic authority. And the “people” here could not have been merely a “street mob,” for it was the Passover season, and leading Jews from all over the known world were present in the city. The name of Jesus had been on every lip. These happenings were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26).

One curious twist in the situation was that the “people” seemed to be sympathetic almost to the last moment (Luke 19:48—20:8; 20:19–26; 21:37—22:2). But suddenly the temper of the crowd changes. Matthew says that the chief priests and elders “persuaded the multitude” to ask Pilate for the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus (27:20). What arguments were used by these leaders, we are not told. But doubtless their arguments would have had something to do with the main charge laid before the Roman governor, and that was political, namely, that Jesus had forbidden the paying of tribute to Caesar, “saying that he himself is Christ a king” (Luke 23:2). Certainly the Jewish people here could have had no bias in favor of the Caesars; in fact, they would have welcomed with open arms any king who could deliver them from the tribute and bondage of Rome. And there had been a time when, impressed by our Lord’s supernatural power, they had been ready to take him by force and make him king. But now they see him, where he had never been before, apparently helpless in the hands of the Roman authorities. Does anyone suppose that the astute and highly intelligent Jewish leaders would fail to exploit the situation to their own advantage with the crowd? How easy now to point out the appalling incongruity before their eyes—the King of the Jews and a Crown of Thorns! Did the applause of the people, disappointed in their “hero,” turn swiftly into vicious anger? If so, nothing could have been more plausible psychologically. History has shown that the disappointment of the “people” can become at times a very terrible and violent thing.

 Article above adapted from BSac 112:447 (JULY 1955), pp. 210-225.
 About Alva J. McClain (1888-1968)

Alva J. McClain

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.

Alva J. McClain on The Greatness of the Kingdom Part 2



[EDITOR’s NOTE: This article is the 2nd 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]

Since this area which we are about to enter is in certain respects the most important one of the entire investigation, something by the way of introduction should be said regarding the nature, interpretation and extent of kingdom prophecy.

The Nature of Kingdom Prophecy

a. Viewed from one standpoint, kingdom prophecy arises out of definite historical situation existing immediately before the eyes of the prophet. There is probably no exception to this rule. Even in purely predictive prophecy, or what some have called apocalyptic prediction, although the prophet may say nothing about the immediate historical situation, it nevertheless provides the background of what he has to say about the future. There is no such thing as predictive prophecy totally unrelated to history.

b. Sometimes prophecies of the kingdom have what has been called a “double reference,” or which might be more accurately called an “apotelesmatic” character. As Delitzsch has written, “All prophecy is complex, i.e., it sees together what history outrolls as separate: and all prophecy is apotelesmatic, i.e., it sees close behind the nearest-coming, epoch-making turn in history, the summit of the end.”  That is, somewhat as a picture lacks the dimension of depth, the prophecy often lacks the dimension of time: events appear on the screen of prophecy which in their fulfillment may be widely separated in time. Thus the student may find a prophecy referring to some event in the near future connected with the historical phase of the kingdom, and also to some far off event connected with the Messiah and his millennial kingdom. When the first event arrives it becomes the earnest and divine forecast of the more distant and final event. An excellent example may be found in Isaiah 13:17—14:4, a prediction which begins with the defeat of Babylon by the Medes, and moves from that point immediately to a Babylon of the end-time. The same phenomenon may be observed in prophecies of the coming of the Messianic King, which New Testament history “outrolls” into two advents greatly separated in time. Such a view of prophecy does not mean an abandonment of its literality, as some have argued. The double prediction is literal, and is to be literally fulfilled: The Medes have destroyed historic Babylon, and God will also literally destroy a future Babylon. Christ has come once literally; and He will again break into the stream of history with no less literality.

Interpretation of Kingdom Prophecy

Without paying too much attention to individual variations, I have reduced the important methods now current to three, which I have named the literal, the eclectical, and the critical; being deeply conscious of the inadequacy of mere names. As I am in the habit of saying to my classes, you should feel at liberty to improve upon my suggestions—but be sure that yours are better than mine.

The literal method. Probably this method has never been stated better than by Ellicott: “The true and honest method of interpreting the Word of God [is] the literal, historical, and grammatical.”  This method, as its adherents have explained times without number, leaves room for all the devices and nuances of language, including the use of figure, metaphor, simile, symbol and allegory. in their criticism of this literal method, most of its critics have been guilty of a “crasser literalism” than ever used by any reputable adherent of the method in its application to the Word of God. Certainly the literal method is not without its problems, but these problems are only such as naturally arise out of the nature of human language. Basically the method is extremely simple. For example, Psalm 72:6 speaks of the Messianic King as follows: “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass.” Here we have a literal coming—the Lord “shall come down.” Also the effect of his coming is literal, although in this case it is described by a simile—”like rain upon the mown grass.” If you have ever seen the glorious effect of a summer shower coming down on a field of grass which, has been cut, then you will have some idea of what the literal effect of our Lord’s coming will be upon a troubled world. Of course, if you wish to depart from simple common sense, you can say that in this text “grass” stands for the church at Pentecost; “mown” stands for the unsanctified state of the disciples upon that occasion; and, the “rain” stands for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once launched on the sea of conjecture, it is not surprising that interpreters finally arrive at strange ports, as far removed from reality as the “beautiful isle of somewhere.”

In a comparatively recent book written by Oswald T. Allis under the title Prophecy and the Church, the author in the course of his anti-millennial argument makes a curious attack upon the literal method of prophetical interpretation. First he criticizes severely some premillennial writers for being more concerned about “typical interpretation” than about the Old Testament history from which the alleged types are gathered. This criticism might well be taken to heart. But then Allis goes on to complain that, “If Ruth can give ‘a foreview of the Church,’ if ‘the larger interpretation’ of the Songs of Solomon concerns the Church, why must the Church be absent from the glorious visions of Isaiah?”  Now it is hard for me to believe that the very able and intelligent writer of these words does not know exactly what he is doing, even though a careless reader might miss the point. Reduced to a simple statement, his argument is that if we premillennialists are willing to take Old Testament history typically, we should not object to the taking of Old Testament prophecy typically. “In dealing with prophecy,” Allis writes, our premillennial “treatment is marked by a literalism which refuses to recognize types.”  This seems to Allis “strikingly inconsistent” on our past.

As a matter of fact, the inconsistency is in Allis and in his fallacious argument. Our answer is as follows: First, premillennialists take both history and prophecy literally. We may indeed, within proper limits, find in history certain types and shadows of things to come, but no one among us in his right senses ever questioned the literality of the history. But what about the author of Prophecy and the Church? Well, Allis accepts the history as literal, but denies the literality of the prophecy, at least in certain areas of the Old Testament, and insists that a typical interpretation is the only one! If Allis were as willing to accept the literality of Old Testament prophecy as he is of its history, I for one would raise no serious objection if he should find some legitimate “types” in both. I would insist, however, that just as in any proper interpretation of Old Testament history Joseph is always Joseph and not Christ, even so in prophecy Israel is always Israel and never the church. This does not mean that the preacher must never take a prophecy concerning Israel and apply it to the church. But he should always know what he is talking about, and make certain that his hearers know.

There is, after all, a fundamental difference between Biblical history and prophecy which must not be overlooked. History deals with a literal event, which may or may not be a type pointing to some future event. Thus a type seems to be always prophetic in nature. As the late William G. Moorehead once wrote, “A type always prefigures something future. A Scriptural type and predictive prophecy are in substance the same, differing only in form.”  On the other hand, prophecy (predictive) deals directly with the future reality. To talk about a “typical interpretation” of prophecy, therefore, is something like saying that prophecy should be interpreted prophetically! Perhaps it would help to clear the air if we could get rid of all the adjectives, and simply use the term interpretation alone in its first and original sense, “to give the meaning of.” We could then go on from there and talk about other things, such as types and applications. This is what we mean by literal interpretation.

The eclectic method. This is sometimes called the “spiritual” method, for the reason that “spiritualizing” is its most distinctive feature. The great church father Origen is generally regarded as the originator of this method, although in his better moments he insisted on…an exact grammatical interpretation of the text as the basis of all exegesis.”  Origen was a Platonist in philosophy, which explains much in his theology. In his hands the spiritualizing method of Biblical interpretation became a useful tool in opposing the doctrine of a literal millennial rule of Christ on earth, something which no consistent Platonist could possibly accept.

The term spiritual should be rejected, I feel strongly, as a proper name for the anti-literal method of interpretation, for at least two reasons: First, the word spiritual is much too fine to be surrendered without protest for wrong uses; and second, no one of any consequence was ever known to employ the “spiritualizing” scheme consistently and exclusively. For example, Dr. Shedd speaks disparagingly of what he calls “the blooming age of Millenarianism,” and finds that this age was mainly caused by the adoption of “the literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies” as opposed to the spiritual method.  But it must be said to the credit of this able scholar that he himself did not use the “spiritualizing” method exclusively, not even in his approach to Old Testament prophecy. He only resorted to it under the spell of his very narrow and inadequate notions about the kingdom. At other times in his Biblical interpretations Dr. Shedd became just as literal as the “literalists” whom he criticizes. Doubtless we should thank God that not all men are logically consistent in holding their erroneous opinions. What can happen when men cut loose from literality may be seen in Gregory the Great’s exposition of the book of Job, where we learn that the partiarch’s three friends denote the heretics; his seven sons are the twelve apostles; his seven thousand sheep are God’s faithful people; and his three thousand humpbacked camels are the depraved Gentiles!

Actually therefore the anti-millenarian scheme of prophetical interpretation is eclectic, employing both the spiritualizing and literal methods.

The critical method. Adherents of this method regard the Bible for the most part as a collection of human writings setting forth the religious experiences of men in their search for God. Since it was written by men, they argue, the Bible should be treated like other books written by men. Feeling no compulsion to defend any doctrine of Biblical inspiration or infallibility, they move through the Biblical literature dropping burning matches anywhere and everywhere, regardless of what may be burned up. The one good thing in this attitude is that the Bible is permitted to speak for itself literally. If the Bible says something which to these men seems to contradict history or science, so much the worse for the Bible. They simply reject what it says. Among the more moderate members of this school of interpretation is the late A. B. Davidson, who leaves no question whatever about his attitude toward the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and the coming kingdom. The question of interpretation here, he argues, is a “double one.” The first question is, what did the prophets mean? “And to this question there can be one answer,” writes Davidson, “Their meaning is the literal sense of their words” (Italics are mine). The second question has to do with the fulfilment of the prophecies. Again let Davidson answer his own question in his own words: “There is no question as to the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies; the question is how far this meaning is now valid” (Italics mine – “Eschatology,” Hastings Bible Dictionary, I, 73).  Although we may regret his conclusion, at least Davidson’s candor is refreshing.

The Extent of Kingdom Prophecy

In a very real sense, all Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament is kingdom prophecy. Even those predictions which deal with Messiah’s humiliation and sufferings cannot be separated from the context of regal glory. As Archibald M’Caig has rightfully observed concerning the great prophetic period in Old Testament history, “The prophecies all more or less have a regal tint, and the coming one is preeminently the coming king” (M’Caig, “King, Christ as,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, III, 1802).

Generally we may say that Old Testament prophecy of the future mediatorial kingdom of God begins with a few scattered references in the Pentateuch; opens up clearly in the records of the historical kingdom; grows in volume and brilliance as the historical kingdom declines; and comes to its close in Malachi.

This material is so extensive that no attempt can be made in these lectures to present an exhaustive list of references; nor shall I try to deal with the ideas in the order of their historical utterance. I can only set forth in very much condensed form a series of generalizations, supported by selected but representative material from the inspired text as time permits. The question before us is, therefore, What do the Old Testament prophets say about the future kingdom? Whether their conception is identical or not with the kingdom announced in the gospel records is a question to be dealt with in a later lecture.

The Literality of the Coming Kingdom

This kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is not merely an ideal kingdom like the Kantian “kingdom of ends,” something toward which man must ever strive but never attain. On the contrary, it will be as real and literal in the realm of sense experience as the historical kingdom of Israel or the kingdom of Great Britain today. All prophecy from first to last asserts and implies this literality: in such details as its ruler (Isa 33:17), its geographical location (Isa 14:1–2), its citizens (Jer 23:3–6), its capital city (Isa 2:5), the nations involved (Isa 11:11), and numerous other details which will appear in the progress of this study.

Worthy of special notice here is the fact that the prophets picture the coming kingdom as one which will destroy and supplant other kingdoms which are literal (Dan 2, 7). The divine kingdom does indeed come down from heaven, but the arena of action is on earth where the heavenly kingdom supplants literal kingdoms and functions in their stead. There is no place left for an unfilled vacuum in human history. Furthermore, the prophets insist that the coming kingdom will actually be a revival and restoration of the Old Testament kingdom of history: “the former dominion” shall be returned to the nation of Israel in the city of Jerusalem (Mic 4:1, 7, 8); the tabernacle of David, which is fallen, shall again be raised up by divine power, “as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). In all these and a thousand other details there is the unmistakable flavor of literality.

And lest there be some misunderstanding on this point, let me say that I am not using the term literal as absolutely opposed to the term spiritual. Even spiritual things are literal; in fact, they are the most literal of all in the whole realm of reality. By literality here I mean that the prophetical details of the coming kingdom will be tangible in the world of sense experience: “Thine eyes shall see the King…they shall behold the land” (Isa 33:17); and “All flesh shall see it together” (Isa 40:5). With such words before us, therefore, we should not be too quick to criticize the literal-mindedness of the early apostles when they asked of the risen Christ, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

The Future Establishment of the Kingdom

The time of its establishment, to the prophets, sometimes seems to be very near at hand: Haggai says it will come in it “a little while” (2:6–9 ); Isaiah says, “a very little while” (29:17). Yet other predictions indicate that the kingdom is far in the future, after the lapse of “many days” (Hos 3:4, 5), or in the “latter days” (Isa 2:2). Doubtless the reconciliation of these forecasts may be found in the divine mind to which our many days are only a very little while.

The establishment of the kingdom is always preceded by divine judgments. There will be world-wide military preparation and devastating wars among the nations (Joel 3:9–16; Isa 3:25—4:1): great cosmic disturbances affecting the heavenly bodies (Joel 2:30–31); a special judgment upon the nation of Israel which will attend their regathering back into the land of the promised kingdom (Ezek 20:35, 33, ASV); and also a special judgment upon the living Gentile nations, based primarily upon their treatment of Israel whom they have scattered among the nations and robbed of their silver and gold (Joel 3:1–8). Some of these divine judgments will fall upon the earth itself, causing it to “reel to and fro like a drunkard”—all this to precede that glorious day “When the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem” (Isa 24:17–23).

Thus the coming of the kingdom in established form will be a world-shaking event. Although the divine work of preparation may seem at times almost interminable, its actual establishment will not be a long and gradual process, so imperceptible at times that sceptics will be able to dispute whether there even be such a thing as a kingdom of God. On the contrary, the coming of the kingdom will be sudden, comparable only to the falling of a great stone from heaven; supernatural in its descent as a stone “cut out without hands”; and catastrophic in its immediate effects, destroying the governments of earth so completely that no trace of them can be found (see Dan 2, 7).

The Ruler of This Future Kingdom

The names and titles applied to the coming King indicate that ‘he will be both human and divine in nature. He is called “a man” (Isa 32:1, 2), one like unto a “son of man” (Dan 7:13, 14), the “son” of God (Ps 2:7), a “rod of the stem of Jesse” (Isa 11:1), a “righteous branch of David” (Jer 23:5), “God” and “the Lord Jehovah” (Isa 40:9, 10, ASV), “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6, 7).

He will be perfect in character, wisdom and ability. The Spirit of God rests upon him in wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord; righteousness is the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins (Isa 11:1–5). He does not win his way to power by the ordinary means of demagoguery or military force; his voice is not heard in the street and a bruised reed shall he not break; yet unlike other rulers and statesmen he “shall not fail or be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth” (Isa 42:1–4).

But over against this clearly revealed glory, there is a deep note of mystery in the career of the coming King. He is presented in Old Testament prophecy as a man of sorrow, despised and rejected of men; wounded, bruised, afflicted and dying for the iniquities of men (Isa 53). He is the great shepherd of Israel, yet he is smitten by the sword of God, and the sheep are scattered (Zech 13:7; cf. Isa 40:9–11). He is “Messiah the Prince” of Israel, ruler of the nations, yet he is “cut off” and has nothing which belongs to his regal glory (Dan 9:25, 26).

This mysterious problem did not go altogether unnoticed by the Jewish rabbins; some thought there might be two Messiahs, one the “son of Joseph” who would die, the other the “son of David” who would reign in glory. Other Jewish scholars applied the prophecies of the suffering to the nation of Israel personified, a view favored by modern Jewish interpretation. These proposed solutions, however, seem to be deflnitely post-Christian in origin, and were motivated probably by Jewish antagonism toward the Christian interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. It is highly doubtful whether anyone, having the Old Testament Scriptures alone and with no knowledge of Christian history, could or ever did arrive at a correct solution of the problem: that is, not two Messiahs, but one Messiah with two comings separated by a vast gulf in time.

We do know, however, that the problem was given serious consideration in pre-Christian times by the Old Testament prophets themselves. These men saw clearly the sufferings and glory of Messiah; they also understood the sequence of events—the sufferings would be first, and the glory would “follow.” But the time relation between the two was an unsolved problem to the Old Testament prophets, although they searched their own inspired writings to discover “what time or what manner of time” was signified (1 Pet 1:9–11, ASV). If this time relationship was ever revealed exactly to the prophets, Scripture is wholly silent as to any such revelation. And this silence will become a fact of high importance when we come later to the gospel records and ask, Was the kingdom in any sense postponed?

The Nature of Government in the Kingdom

The Mediatorial Kingdom as set forth in Old Testament prophecy is monarchical in form. The ruler will sit upon a “throne,” and the government will be “upon his shoulder” (Isa 9:6, 7). He receives his authority and holds it by divine grant: he is God’s king, established upon his throne by God himself (Ps 2:6; Dan 7:14). His rule will be characterized by severity, but a severity based upon absolute justice and righteousness (Ps 2:7–9; Isa 11:4a). And although he will rule the nations with a rod of iron, yet with infinite tenderness he will deal with the meek and the needy, gathering the lambs in his arms and carrying them in his bosom (Isa 40:10, 11).

In its external organization, the prophets picture the kingdom with the mediatorial king at its head; associated with him are those who are called “princes” (Isa 32:1); the “saints” possess the kingdom, doubtless the saved of Old Testament days (Dan 7:18, 22, 27); the living nation of Israel is given first place of favor and authority on earth, and the nation which rebels against it will perish (Isa 60:3, 10, 12). The subjects of this kingdom will include “all people, nations, and languages” (Dan 7:14), though certain passages suggest an unwilling subjection on the part of some, a point I shall discuss later.

All the functions of government are centered in the person of the mediatorial king. The prophet Isaiah sees him and names him as “judge,” “lawgiver,” and “King”—remarkable forecast of the conventional divisions of modern government: judicial, legislative, and executive (Isa 33:22). The founding fathers of our own American government, approaching their task with a deep suspicion of human nature, designed a system of checks and balances to separate these three departments and keep any one of them from getting too much power. Although it seems clumsy, wasteful and inefficient at times, our government has provided a welcome refuge for personal liberty in such a world as this, and will continue to do so—if we can keep it. But this is not the most ideal form of government. When God’s own glorious King takes over the kingdoms of the earth, it will be safe at last to concentrate all the functions of government in one Person. This does not mean that he will do everything, but rather that he will be the directing head and final authority; thus providing a unifying center, both infinitely wise and good, for all the activities of government, something which no government on earth has ever had.

The Extent and Duration of the Kingdom

“In that day,” the prophet Zechariah declares, “The Lord shall be king over all the earth” (14:9). And the Psalmist describes the scope of his government with still greater detail, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust…. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him” (72:8–11). Instead of regarding government as a necessary evil—the less of it, the better—the beneficent rule of the mediatorial kingdom will permeate and affect every department of human life: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (Zech 14:20–21). That artificial and popular distinction between the secular and the sacred will disappear in the immediate presence of the King who is the giver and sustainer of all that exists.

The rule and power of this kingdom will never suffer any diminution or reverses, such as are common with ordinary governments: “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 to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever.” This is because its foundation is not in man but in God: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7). And joining together in a single passage the two ideas of universality and eternity, Daniel describes the rule of the mediatorial King as a dominion extending over all, and also “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,” and “which shall not be destroyed” (7:14). The throne of this kingdom endures forever because, as the Psalmist declares, it is “Thy throne, O God” (45:6).

The Extensive Nature of the Kingdom

An examination of how and where the kingdom functions in human life will shed light upon its vast extension. Its establishment will bring about sweeping changes in every department of man’s activity, so far-reaching that Isaiah speaks of its arena as “a new earth” (65:17). Every need of humanity will be anticipated and provided for: “Before they call,” God says, “I will answer” (Isa 65:24). For the most part, the various current views of the kingdom are too narrow; in concentrating upon some one aspect, men have missed the richness and greatness of the kingdom. Nowhere in all Scripture is its great variety revealed so clearly as in the Old Testament prophets, who saw the coming kingdom functioning in at least six important realms:

The kingdom will be spiritual in nature. It will bring personal salvation from the hand of God (Isa 12:1–6), divine forgiveness for sin (Jer 31:34), provision of God’s own righteousness for men (Jer 23:3–6), moral and spiritual cleansing, a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:24–28), inward harmony with the laws of the kingdom (Jer 31:33), recognition by men of all nations that Jehovah is the true God, the God who is able to answer prayer (Zech 8:20–23), the restoration of genuine joy and gladness to human life (Isa 35:10), and the pouring out of God’s Spirit “upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28).

The spiritual blessings enumerated above are only a few out of the many which the kingdom brings to a sinful and needy world. I have no quarrel with the dictum of writers who insist that the kingdom is “spiritual,” unless they insist upon a definition of the term which is exclusively Platonic, or unless they should be so foolish as to deny that a spiritual kingdom can function in a world of sense experience. As a matter of fact, it would not be wrong to say that the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is basically “spiritual,” yet a kingdom producing tangible effects in every department of human life.

The kingdom will be ethical in its effects. At last there will be a proper estimate of moral values in human life; the fool will no longer be called noble (Isa 32:5); darkness will not be called light. An adjustment of moral inequalities will sweep through every department of human relationships (Isa 40:3–5). Moral retribution at last will become an individual matter: men shall no longer say, “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity” (Jer 31:29–30): thus removing one of the greatest present stumbling blocks to rational belief in a moral universe.

The kingdom will bring great social and economic changes. All wars will be eliminated (Zech 9:10). But instead of abolishing the arts and sciences which today are contributing to the horrors and destruction of warfare, these things will be turned to economic uses: the sword becomes a plowshare and the spear a pruninghook; and, I suppose, the stuff of the atomic bomb will generate power and light up the darkness (Isa 2:4). An era of worldwide peace will be ushered in by divine sanctions, never to end again (Isa 9:7). Social justice at last will become a reality, not merely something to be talked about by self-seeking politicians: Men will actually get and enjoy what they produce; one shall not build a house and another live in it (Isa 65:21–22). No longer will the weak, the poor, and the ignorant, be subject to economic exploitation; but they shall be redeemed from “deceit and violence” because they are “precious” in the sight of the great King (Ps 72:1–4, 12–14). With complete social and economic justice for all, everything in human life will be tenderly fostered. The hopeless invalid will not be consigned to the tragic comfort of euthanasia; neither will the backward child be finally and rigidly classified at a fixed capacity-level; “a bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench” (Isa 42:3, ASV). Even that stubborn obstacle to human understanding and international accord, the barrier of languages, will apparently be broken down. “The discord of Babel shall, as it were, give place to unity of language.”  Philosophy, science and religion will dwell together in harmony, abundantly available to all (Isa 33:6, ASV).

The kingdom will have political effects. With its establishment on earth, a central authority will be set up for the adjudication and settlement of international disputes; and this authority will have not only the requisite wisdom to make just and impartial decisions but also the power to enforce them: “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he shall judge among the nations” (Isa 2:3–4). Thus resort to war will become both unnecessary and useless. National security, that political mirage of uneasy statesmen, will be guaranteed to all. Military science will become obsolete-”Neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa 2:4). The international problem of the Jew, which is certainly political in part, will be solved permanently by the divine restoration of this people to their own land (Amos 9:14–15), and by the reestablishment and unification of the Jewish state: “One nation in the land…and one king shall be king of them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (Ezek 37:22–24). The present Jewish State in Palestine indicates a trend toward the fulfilment of prophecy, but no permanent solution can ever be reached apart from divine intervention on the part of the mediatorial King (Zech 12:3–9).

The kingdom will have ecclesiastical effects. Its ruler will combine in his own person the offices of both King and Priest (Ps 110; cf. Zech 6:13). Thus both church and state become one in purpose and action; which is certainly the ideal combination if, as the Word of God teaches, there is but one true religion. The American policy of complete separation of church and state, which I fully approve under the present conditions, is not however the ideal policy, but rather a policy of safety in a sinful world where political and ecclesiastical power too often get into the wrong hands. In the days of the coming kingdom a central sanctuary will be established on earth, to which men from all nations will come to worship the one true God whose glory will be visibly revealed in the mediatorial King (Ezek 37:26–28; 43:1–7). With this revelation, what we call “religious freedom” will come to an end, and man’s dream of religious unity will become a reality, secured by divinely imposed sanctions wherever actively opposed (Zech 14:16–19).

It has been objected (carelessly, I think) that a central sanctuary at Jerusalem for worship would be a backward step, reversing the spiritual and universal principle laid down by our Lord when he said to the Samaritan woman, “The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…. They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21–24). The objection misses the point of the passage entirely. Our Lord was not abolishing worship in the city of Jerusalem (There are churches there today), but he was adding the idea of universality to the historical idea of localized worship. The reestablishment of a central sanctuary in Jerusalem for international worship will no more detract from the principle of universality than the going of Bishop Oxnam up to the First Methodist Church of his city next Sunday morning. The assumption that universality and locality in worship are mutually exclusive ideas is certainly unwarranted either in reason or revelation. Objections like this arise out of prejudice not logic.

The kingdom will be physical in its effects. Bodily infirmities will be healed, and disease controlled by divine prevention (Isa 35:5–6; 33:24). Longevity of life will be restored: in fact, it is suggested that the crisis of physical death will be experienced only by those incorrigible individualists who rebel against the laws of the kingdom (Isa 65:20, 22). The ordinary hazards of physical life, so tragic and heartbreaking today, will then be under supernatural control (Isa 65:23; Ezek 34:23–31). In that day some modern books on ethics will be largely obsolete: as for example, Durant Drake has written, “When we have done our best we are still at the mercy of fortune…. If all men were perfectly virtuous, we should still be at the mercy of flood and lightning, poisonous snakes, icebergs and fog at sea, a thousand forms of accident and disease, old age and death. The millennium will not bring pure happiness to man; he is too feeble a creature in the presence of forces with which he cannot cope” (Problems of Conduct, Revised Edition, 1920, p. 168).

The answer of the prophets to all this is that in the coming kingdom men “shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for calamity” (Isa 65:23, ASV). For the earth in that day will be under the direct control of One whose voice even the “winds and the waves obey.”

The inauguration of the kingdom will, furthermore, be signalized by tremendous geological changes (Zech 14:3–4; Ezek 38:19–20); and these changes could very naturally bring about corresponding climatic alterations, causing the waste regions of the earth to become fruitful and “blossom as the rose” (Isa 35:1, 6, 7). At the same time there will come a great increase in the fertility and productiveness of the soil, so that “the plowman shall overtake the reaper” (Amos 9:13). Even in the animal world some remarkable changes will come to pass: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb…and a little child shall lead them…. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Isa 11:6, 9).

Such is the extensive nature of the mediatorial kingdom as presented by the Old Testament prophets. And in closing, I would like to suggest that it satisfies and reconciles all legitimate viewpoints. The kingdom is spiritual; with effects which are ethical, social, economic, political, ecclesiastical, and physical. To single out any one of these important aspects, and deny validity to the others, is to narrow unwisely the breadth of the prophetic vision and to set limits upon the possibilities of human life on earth under God.

Article above adapted from BSac 112:446 (April 1955), pp. 108-124.

 About Alva J. McClain (1888-1968)

Alva J. McClain

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.

Alva J. McClain on The Greatness of the Kingdom – Part 1


[EDITOR’s NOTE: This article begins 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 title chosen for these lectures, a phrase found in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel, will indicate the general thesis which I hope to establish, namely, “The Greatness of the Kingdom.” For a long time I have had a growing conviction that much of the disagreement over the subject of the kingdom of God has arisen out of narrow views as to its character. This situation obtains, of course, in more than one department of Biblical theology. Men have gone wrong, not so much in what they affirmed, but rather in what they denied or neglected.

This tendency has been given impetus by that natural bent of the human mind, best represented by the philosophers, which impels men to search for one principle or idea that will explain everything else. While this motive, held under legitimate restraints, has often led to fruitful results; it nevertheless is always attended with certain hazards. In the first place, there is the danger of omitting matters of importance which may stand outside our neat little formulas. In the second place, thinking now of the field of Christian theology, this passion for oversimplification may cause men to miss the richness and infinite variety of Christian truth in the interest of a barren unity. It was William James who once suggested that, considered from a certain abstract viewpoint, even a masterpiece of violin music might be described as “the scraping of horses’ tails over cats’ bowels!” Such a definition of course has the merit of simplicity; it gets rid of all the mystery of personality and genius, but the residue is not very interesting.

Now I feel strongly that the Biblical doctrine of the kingdom of God has suffered considerably from this tendency toward oversimplification. Men have forgotten the greatness of the kingdom, its richness and complexity, in the interest of their own partial and inadequate explanations. What I am saying is underscored by the very small place given to the subject of the kingdom in some well-known and honored works by conservative theologians. For example, in the books on Systematic Theology by A. H. Strong, Wm. G. T. Shedd and A. A. Hodge one looks in vain for even any mention of the term kingdom in their indexes. It is to the everlasting credit and honor of my dear friend, the late President of Dallas Theological Seminary [Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer] that in his own excellent Systematic Theology he was able to make such a large and important contribution to this particularly needy field of theological science.

It should be axiomatic that any conception of the kingdom of God which rests in large part upon a certain interpretation of a single text or passage of the Bible is to be regarded with deep suspicion. In this category are the systems built around such passages as “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), or “I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 16:19), or the parable of the leaven (Matt 13:33), or the ethical precepts of the sermon on the mount (Matt 5—7), or even Revelation 20. The doctrine of the kingdom should be determined by an inductive examination of all the Biblical material on the subject, and it should not have to stand or fall by the inclusion or exclusion of isolated passages where interpretations may be in serious dispute. To me there is no question as to the general meaning of Revelation 20, but I maintain that the essential outline of the Biblical doctrine of the kingdom can be established without it. And this doctrine, once established, should be our surest guide in our approach to the passage under controversy.

Definition of the Kingdom of God

Let me begin the discussion with a tentative definition. A kingdom involves at least three things: first, a king who rules; second, subjects who are ruled; and third, the actual exercise of the function of rulership. I do not think that much attention need be paid to the effort to show that the term kingdom refers to a bare divine sovereignty. The great ideas of the Bible are concrete rather than abstract, and such terms as the kingdom of God are intended to convey meanings which are pertinent to actual situations in the world of reality with which men are somewhat familiar. On the basis of the above analysis, the kingdom of God may be defined broadly as the rule of God over his creation.

Now it should be clear that this phrase the kingdom of God has no precise meaning or authority apart from the content assigned to it in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, passing over for the moment the various theories (and they are many), let us attempt to establish its content on the basis of an inductive study on the Biblical material out of which the original idea arose. In examining the very extensive array of references, especially in the Old Testament, we are immediately impressed by a series of differences which at first seem almost contradictory.

In the first place, it appears that the kingdom is something which has always existed; yet it also seems to have a definite historical beginning among men.

Second, the kingdom appears as something universal outside of which there lies no created thing; yet again the kingdom is revealed as a local affair beginning on earth.

Third, the Kingdom appears in Scripture as the rule of God directly; yet it is often pictured as the rule of God through a mediator who serves as a channel between God and man.

Fourth, the divine kingdom is set forth as an unconditioned rule arising out of the sovereign nature of Deity itself; yet on the other hand it often appears as a kingdom based on a covenant made by God with man.

Some of these distinctions, if not all, have been noticed by various Biblical scholars, and attempts have been made to explain them; either by asserting the existence of one kingdom with two aspects or phases, or by the assumption of two separate kingdoms. For example, Hengstenberg distinguishes between a “kingdom of power” and a “kingdom of grace.”  And Peters speaks of the one as “God’s universal, general sovereignty exercised by virtue of his being the creator,” while the other is the “Theocracy” or “Theocratic Kingdom.”  Recently we have seen the rise of a school of opinion, somewhat anti-intellectual in character, which, rejoicing apparently in the existence of religious paradox and tension for their own sake, is content to leave all such antinomies permanently unresolved.

For myself, while recognizing the reality of these Biblical distinctions, I am also convinced that the Scriptures offer a reasonable explanation. In one sense it would not be wholly wrong to speak of two kingdoms revealed in Scripture. But we must at the same time guard carefully against the notion that these two kingdoms are absolutely distinct one from the other. There is value and instruction in thinking of them as two aspects or phases of the one rule of our sovereign God. In seeking for terms which might best designate these two things, I have found nothing better than the adjectives universal and mediatorial. They are not commensurate terms, of course, but describe different qualities, the first referring to extent, the latter to method. Nevertheless, in each case the designated quality seems to be the most important one from a descriptive standpoint. As we proceed with the discussion, therefore, the terms used will be the universal kingdom and the mediatorial kingdom.

The Universal Kingdom of God

My treatment of the universal kingdom must be very brief, not much more than a summary of its chief characteristics. In any conventional system of theology this universal rule or control of God would be dealt with in part under the head of his work in providence. But it should not be ignored here. I shall ask you to note at least six things about it:

This universal kingdom is something which has always existed. Thus we read that Jehovah is “King forever and ever” (Ps 10:16). Again, describing the progress of a storm sweeping in from the sea across the land, breaking down the cedars of Lebanon, the Psalmist declares that God is in this violence of nature sitting as “King forever” (Ps 29:10). As a precious comfort in the midst of desolations brought by judgment, the Old Testament saint could say, “God is my King of old” (Ps 74:12). And the prophet Jeremiah bears a like testimony to the everlasting character of the divine rule, affirming that “The Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king” (Jer 10:10). And in the midst of his lamentations the same prophet finds a kingdom of God grounded in the eternal nature of God himself, saying, “Thou, O Lord, remainest forever; thy throne from generation to generation” (Lam 5:19).

This kingdom is universal in the most complete sense of that term. Nothing lies outside its reach and scope. It includes all things in space and time, in earth, in heaven and in hell. Jehovah is the “King of the nations” (Jer 10:7). Witnessing to the present reality of that universal kingdom in his own day, the Psalmist writes, “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps 103:19). Nebuchadnezzar, golden head of an ancient world empire, is cut down from his throne by divine judgment in order that “the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Dan 4:17, 25, 32). David the king, although reigning over a small nation in a small land, sees and speaks of a greater kingdom, “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted above all. Thou reignest over all” (1 Chron 29:11–12).

The rule of this kingdom operates generally through second causes; that is, what theologians have sometimes called the rule of ordinary providence. Thus the Assyrian monarch is a “rod” in the hand of Jehovah to accomplish his divine purpose in judgment against Jerusalem, though the king knows it not and has no intention to serve God (Isa 10:5–15). Likewise, the King of Babylon is God’s “servant” for the accomplishment of his will (Jer 25:9). In the sequence of the rise and fall of world empires, it is Jehovah who raises up and prepares the “Kings of the Medes” for the destruction of Babylon (Jer 51:11, 28–37). Long before his birth, the great Cyrus is named prophetically and then “anointed” to fulfill the purpose of Jehovah in rebuilding, his holy temple (Isa 44:28–45:4). At exactly the crucial moment a fit of insomnia disturbs the rest of the Persian Xerxes, causes him to call for the chronicles of his kingdom (something like our own Congressional Record), and the outcome of this seemingly insignificant incident is the rescue of Israel from national extermination, together with all the irreparable losses such a disaster would have entailed (Esth 6:1–8:17 ).

Upon special occasions and under certain circumstances the rule of God in this universal kingdom may operate directly through divine miracles. Without attempting just now to draw the precise line between what is called the natural and the supernatural, I mean that God.may break into the so-called closed system of nature (which of course He upholds and controls) with great exhibitions of his unveiled power. The Bible writers are never conscious of any necessary conflict between the divine rule through the system of nature and that through the miraculous. In both they recognize the hand of the same sovereign God who is transcendent as well as immanent. Thus we read that “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries. Who smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast. Who sent tokens and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt, upon Pharoah, and upon all his servants” (Ps 135:6–9). Here we have both nature and miracle. But in general, especially with reference to the earth, the method of divine control in this universal kingdom is through second causes—”Fire and hail; snow and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word” (Ps 148:8).

The kingdom of God in this universal sense exists regardless of the attitude of those under its rule. Some personal beings, the elect angels and the true people of God, have bowed in submission. Others, as in the case of the Egyptian king, are actively opposed to the revealed will of God. Still others, as the Assyrian of Biblical history, know nothing about the divine rule of such a kingdom. Nevertheless, we are told in Scripture, the Lord worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. Even if there were in all the universe not one solitary personal being not in rebellion against God, (whether angel or demon or man); even if there were no heaven of the redeemed but only a hell of the lost—it would still be true of this universal kingdom that “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” This kingdom is an ever-present reality from which there can be no escape.

In the light of these facts, it becomes clear that this universal kingdom could not have been precisely that kingdom of God for which our Lord taught his disciples to pray, Thy kingdom come.” For in the universal and providential sense, the kingdom of God has already come and the will of God is being done on earth. This rule of God, in fact, has always existed and has never been abrogated or interrupted. The key to the real meaning of the so-called Lord’s Prayer must be found in the clause, “as it is in heaven.” Although the kingdom of God ruleth over all, there is a profound difference between the exercise of its rule “in heaven” and “in earth.” This difference arises out of the fact that rebellion and sin exist upon the earth, sin which is to be dealt with in a way not known in any other spot in the universe, not even among the angels that fell. And it is precisely at this point that the great purpose of the mediatorial kingdom appears: On the basis of blood redemption it will put down at last all rebellion with all its evil results, thus finally bringing the kingdom and will of God on earth as it is in heaven. When this purpose has been accomplished, the mediatorial phase of the kingdom will finally disappear as a separate entity, being merged with the universal kingdom of God.

With this rather brief survey, of the universal kingdom, I shall now turn to a consideration of the mediatorial phase to which the Biblical writings give the vast, preponderance of attention. You should understand that during the remainder of our study, to save repetition, the term kingdom will invariably refer to its mediatorial phase,unless otherwise stated.

The Mediatorial Kingdom of God

The mediatorial kingdom may be defined tentatively as the rule of God through a divinely chosen representative who not only speaks and acts for God but also represents the people before God; a rule which has especial reference to the human race (although it finally embraces the universe); and its mediatorial ruler is always a member of the human race.

I shall trace the development of this kingdom as it appears imperfectly realized in Old Testament history; present its future form as forecast in Old Testament prophecy; its character as announced by our Lord in the period of the Gospel records; its place in the history of the apostolic period covered by the book of Acts; the peculiar form in which it exists during the present Christian church era; its visible and established form in the millennial age; and finally its mergence in and complete identification with the eternal and universal kingdom of God.

The Mediatorial Kingdom in Old Testament History

Attempts have been made to erect an absolute separation between the historical kingdom and the future kingdom of prophecy; but that there is a vital connection between the two should be clear from many passages with which we shall deal in later lectures. Certainly, the future kingdom is to be a revival and continuation of the “throne of David.” In a very real sense there is but one mediatorial kingdom of God. But where historically did this idea of mediatorial rule originate?

Let us review briefly its background. In Eden the newly created man cast off the rule of his Creator, arrogating to himself the perilous right to decide for himself what was good for him and his posterity. This attitude seems to characterize the early pages of human history, brief as the record is, so that Cain the fratricidal killer is not brought to the bar of human government to answer for his terrible deed. And Genesis 6:5 records the only possible end to such an era—universal, wilful and unrestrained wickedness. Following the divine judgment of the flood we have something new: the institution of human government by divine decree. Here again the record is brief, but its basic principle lays the foundation for all human law and government—”Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man, shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man” (Gen 9:6). This is not a law of personal vengeance, as some have claimed. The punishment of the murderer is to be inflicted “by man” in the collective sense. The moral justification for capital punishment is found in the very argument sometimes used to oppose it, namely, the preciousness of human life in God’s sight. Human government exists for only one reason—the protection, conservation and fostering of human life. But the establishment of human government by divine decree with its salutary principle for the conservation of life did not succeed. Things did not grow better but worse in certain respects, resulting finally in the judgment at Babel.

The mediatorial idea appears incipiently among the patriarchs. Following the confusion of tongues and the scattering of mankind throughout the earth, God turns away from “man” in the collective sense and calls out one man through whom he will accomplish his will on earth (Gen 12:1–4). In Abraham and Isaac and Jacob the mediatorial idea begins to take form historically in miniature. God speaks to these men and they in turn mediate the divine will, although often very imperfectly. The Genesis record indicates that within the scope of their own families the patriarchs were genuine mediators through whom God ruled in the chosen line of humanity. These men were almost absolute monarchs in their own households which included not only their own progeny but also servants, retainers, and fighting men( Gen 14:14).

In their hands rested the power of life and death, as may be seen in the offering of Isaac (Gen 22).

The mediatorial kingdom began in historical form with Moses and continued under the early great leaders who followed. This period is marked by the mediation of God’s rule through Moses, Joshua, the judges, and Samuel. At first thought it may seem strange to have a kingdom without a king. But we must remember that in this kingdom it is God, not man, who rules. Crude as were some of his ideas, Gideon was right about one thing: “I will not rule over you,” he said to the men of Israel, “the Lord shall rule over you” (Judg 8:23). And speaking of that long and remarkable period extending from Moses to Saul, Samuel characterizes it to Israel as an era “when the Lord your God was your king” (1 Sam 12:12). During this period the great leaders of Israel were in all cases chosen by divine appointment and invested with authority to speak and act for God within the scope of their prescribed responsibilities. Moses was to be to Aaron and the people “as God” (Exod 4:16, A.S.V.), a divinely appointed authority which was underscored in terrible fashion by the judgment upon Korah and the rebels who questioned it (Num 16). Joshua was invested with the same mediatorial authority by the word of Jehovah: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee” (Josh 1:5). Of the great leaders who followed, it was said, “The Lord raised up judges,” and judgment fell upon Israel because “they would not hearken unto their judges” (Judg 2:16–17). Of Samuel it was written, “The Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground,” and his word “came to all Israel” (1 Sam 3:10–4:1). In Samuel we have the connecting link between the period of Israel’s great leaders and the period of her kings. But through it all there is a kingdom, and this kingdom is God’s.

The constitution and laws of the kingdom were given at Sinai. Altogether too little attention has been given to the many faceted nature of the mediatorial kingdom in history as revealed by the Mosaic code. The limits of these lectures do not permit an adequate discussion of its bearing on matters which are ethical, social, ecclesiastical, political and physical; save to remark that these provisions could still be studied with great profit by modern political and social scientists. This will not surprise the informed premillennialist, of course, since he knows that we have here the foundations of a future millennial kingdom. But there is one thing which is often overlooked, namely, the spiritual aspect. For it is not wrong to say that the historical kingdom was also a spiritual kingdom. This can be shown by a study of the Pentateuchal material in the light of the Biblical meaning of the term spiritual. It is high time that this perfectly good term should be rescued from the abuse it has suffered at the hands of theologians who, either consciously or otherwise, are under the spell of Platonic philosophy. This point will be discussed in a later lecture.

The mediatorial kingdom in history reached the pinnacle of its glory under the first three kings. Each, one of these men held his throne by the decree and appointment of Jehovah. The entire monarchical career of Saul is summarized by the prophet Samuel in two brief statements, both addressed to the king: first, “The Lord anointed thee king over Israel,” and second, “The Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel” (1 Sam 15:17, 26). In the stead of Saul, it is Jehovah again who exercises his right of sovereign choice in the case of David (1 Sam 16:1, 13). And David, speaking as a prophet to whom the word of the Lord had come, thus indicates the divinely chosen line of succession, “Of all my sons (for the Lord hath given me many sons) he hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chron 28:5). It is significant that Solomon, the last of the kings directly chosen by Jehovah, is also the last king of the united kingdom of Israel.

Now it has been suggested that the setting up of kings over Israel meant not only a popular rejection of theocratic rule but also its end in history. Such a view cannot be sustained by any careful study of the Biblical record. As a matter of fact, the monarchical form of the mediatorial kingdom had been clearly delineated in prophecy. To Abraham, and also later to Jacob, it was said, “Kings shall come out of thee” (Gen 17:6; 35:11). Not only so, but in Deuteronomy some important rules were laid down for the selection of the kings as well as for their conduct politically, morally, socially, and spiritually (17:14–20). Still further, in giving prophetic directions for the succession of Solomon on the throne of Israel, David carefully guards against any misunderstanding. Solomon may indeed sit upon the throne, but the kingdom is still “the kingdom of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chron 27:5).

Let us now review quickly the events leading to the monarchical form. Following the death of Joshua and the elders that outlived him, there was a swift moral and spiritual deterioration in Israel. But after the manner of sinful men in all ages, instead of seeing the source of the trouble within themselves, they made the mistake of supposing that a change of governmental form would solve their problems. First, they tried to set up Gideon as a king, but their proposal was rejected by Gideon who insisted that “The Lord shall rule over you” (Judg 8:22–23). Their folly persisted, however, and finally they demanded a king (1 Sam 8:5); to which demand the God of Samuel assented (8:19–22), only reserving to himself the right to choose the king (10:17–24 ).

Now the key to the understanding of this rather curious situation is found in the words, “Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Viewed from the divine standpoint, the setting up of kings “like the other nations” was wholly unnecessary. The theocratic kingdom could have continued to be mediated through prophets and leaders like Moses and Joshua. Even David might have mediated the rule of God in Israel without all the trappings and splendors of a court like the other nations. Such an arrangement was not only unnecessary but could only add to the burdens of the people. Therefore, although God assented to their demand, he rebuked them for making it, and at the same time solemnly warned them of what they were getting into (1 Sam 8:4–18). This eighth chapter of First Samuel  is so important

that it deserves fuller attention than can be given in these lectures. In this brief record we are told how God gave the people their own desire for a government like the nations, and at the same time outlined prophetically the inevitable trend of all such government. The real point does not so much concern the mere political form of government, but rather the desire of the people to exchange a simple theocratic government, based on moral principles and dedicated to the general welfare, for what would become a great top-heavy governmental machine dedicated chiefly to its own perpetuation.

Consider a brief summary of the things, which, according to 1 Sam 8, would rise to plague the nation of Israel:

First, in wanting a government like the other nations, they took the first step toward the wrong kind of internationalism.

Second, a permanent government service would begin, both civil and military in character.

Third, this would lead to a bureaucracy swollen by job-making.

Fourth, the unnecessary expansion of government service would produce labor shortages in productive pursuits.

Fifth, after this they would get government for its own sake.

Sixth, such government would demand heavy taxation to support it.

Seventh, increasing taxation would lead to the confiscation of private property.

Eighth, much of this wealth would go to the partisans of the government.

Ninth, at last all the people would become servants of the state.

Tenth, the end result would be intolerable oppression and deep distress.

Can any thoughtful student of government in our times fail to see these very trends in the world of nations—yes, even in our own land of the free?

The decline of the mediatorial kingdom in Old Testament history. With the death of Solomon catastrophe struck the chosen nation. Israel was ruptured by a secession of the northern tribes which established their own government. But this did not mean the end of the kingdom in history. As H. C. von Orelli rightfully observes, “The smaller and often overpowered kingdom of Judah, which faithfully adhered to the royal line of David, passed through many crises and had many unworthy rulers. But the legitimate royal house, which had been selected by Jehovah, constituted spiritually a firm bond which kept the people united, as is seen, e.g., by a glance at the addresses of Isaiah, who is thoroughly filled with the conviction of the importance of the House of David, no matter how unworthy the king who happened to rule appeared to him.”  As the dying Jacob had said, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah” (Gen 49:10).

But the period of decline had begun, a period characterized by a more indirect mediation of the rule of God. There had been prophets before, but now they appear with greater frequency. Whereas Jehovah had often spoken directly to the great leaders and kings of Israel down to Solomon, now prophets become the immediate spokesmen of Deity, communicating his will to the kings, who sometimes obey. In the divided nation the kings take the throne either by inheritance or by force, and there is swift degeneration with notable exceptions. At the same time the prophets predict disaster and a future kingdom where God will mediate his rule through a righteous king who, like Moses, will be invested with the functions of both prophet and ruler.

The close of the mediatorial kingdom in history is dramatically recorded in the book of Ezekiel. The Glory of Jehovah, often referred to in the Old Testament, and called the Shekinah in non-Biblical Jewish writings, was more than a mere symbol of God’s presence. It was indeed a “sign and manifestation of his presence” but it also described “the form” in which God revealed himself.  Doubtless we are justified in seeing manifestations of this glory in such phenomena as the burning bush and the pillar of cloud and fire, but there can be no question as to its appearance on the Mount of Sinai where, we are told, “The Lord descended upon it in fire” (Exod 19:18). And when Moses went up by divine command, the inspired record declares that “the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai” (Exod 24:15–16). It was here that the historical kingdom received its divine constitution and laws, and when the tabernacle had been completed according to directions, we read that “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod 40:34). Thus the glory became the visible evidence of God’s presence and rule in the kingdom of Israel.

The departure of this same glory is described by Ezekiel under the most dramatic of circumstances, and indicates, I think, the definite close of God’s mediatorial kingdom in history (cf. 8, 9, 10  and 11). The prophet is sitting among his people captive in Babylon on the banks of the Chebar, when he is lifted up by the Spirit and brought in his visions to Jerusalem. There, in spite of the dreadful apostasy unfolded before his eyes, he sees “the glory of God” still in the city of David in its proper place (8:4). A little later an the vision, the prophet sees that “the glory of the God of Israel was gone up…to the threshold of the house” (9:3). There, he writes, “the glory of the Lord…stood over the threshold” for a moment, illuminating even the court with the ineffable “brightness” of Deity (10:4). “Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house” and stood above the cherubim “at the door of the east gate” (10:18–20). Finally the cherubim lifted up their wings and the prophet records the tragic end: “The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city” (11:23). Later on the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, and within its walls successively two temples were built, but you will read of no glory therein. The immediate presence of Jehovah was departed.

But there was something wonderfully gracious in the circumstances of God’s withdrawal. Not suddenly, but slowly, with tender reluctance, as if God were actually yearning to remain. But there was no entreaty or repentance on the part of the people as a nation. The elders of Israel go on bowing down to their idols, the women weep for Tammuz, the priests stand with their backs toward the temple of God and worship the rising sun (8:4–16). God is forgotten. And when God is forgotten, the glory is departed. Yet even in the midst of this melancholy vision, we may read the inspired promise that God will be a refuge to Israel during her scattered and dispersed condition (Ezek 11:16). This promise, however, is not something wholly apart from moral and spiritual attitudes. If God will continue to be a “sanctuary” to Israel, it is also true that to many in the nation He will also be a “stone of stumbling” and a “rock of offence” (Isa 8:14).

Furthermore, to the same prophet who saw the departure of the glory and the end of the kingdom in history, the Lord graciously gave a vision of the future return of the glory (Ezek 43:1–7). Just as the Lord’s glory departed by way of “the door of the east gate,” even so the glory will again return: “Behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east,” and “the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east” (43:2, 4). As to the general meaning of all this there can be no misunderstanding—the glory will return, the kingdom will again be established on earth, in the city of Jerusalem. Here, the voice of Jehovah declares, is “the place of my throne…where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever” (43:7). And if historically the final appearance of the glory was “upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city” (Ezek 11:23), even so the glory will return in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. “His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east…and the Lord shall be king over all the earth” (Zech 14:4, 9).

Why did the historical kingdom decline and apparently fail? In reply to this question, at least two things should be mentioned:

First, there was a lack of spiritual preparation on the part of the people. No government can wholly succeed among men unless there exists a sufficient body of its citizens who are in inward harmony with its laws. We are constantly in danger of forgetting the importance of this principle. To cite a rather recent instance—many of the people who helped to pass the 18th Amendment, because they thought it would be good for the nation, were personally not in harmony with the law for themselves. And so the end was dismal failure and repeal. I am not suggesting the possibility of any ultimate failure of the divine government. But even in the kingdom of God, its citizens are not all robots to be controlled mechanically by irresistible power.

A second defect of the historical kingdom was the imperfection of those through whom the rule of God was mediated. It is an axiom of political science that no government can be more perfect than its rulers. It will not be necessary to review the lamentable record of even the best of Israel’s leaders and kings: David with his double crime against society and against God; Solomon with his final violation of the most important regulations of the mediatorial economy. The important fact is that in the midst of the darkness of failure on the part of both people and rulers in the historical kingdom, the prophets bid us look forward to a better age when these two defects shall be remedied; an age when the laws of the kingdom will be written in the hearts of its citizens (Jer 31:33), and its mediatorial Ruler will be perfect in his character, wisdom and ways (Isa 11:1–4).

It should be observed that the independence and success of the Jewish state is inseparably bound up with the divine re-establishment of the mediatorial kingdom. The Maccabees made one of the most desperate and heroic attempts recorded in all human history to re-establish the Jewish state, and failed. All other attempts, through political and military means alone, will also fail. It must wait for a supernatural intervention on the part of God, just as it began in history with such an intervention at Sinai. “The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king” (Hos 3:4).

Article above adapted from BSac 112:445 (January 1955), pp.12-28.

 About Alva J. McClain (1888-1968)

Alva J. McClain

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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