In the account given of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, we are told that the King shall “say to those on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
1. In the Old Testament it was predicted that God would set up a kingdom, which was to be universal and everlasting.
2. Of this kingdom the Messiah was to be the head. He is everywhere in the Old Testament set forth as a king. (See Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11.; 52.; 53.; Micah 4.; and Psalms 2.; 45.; 72.; and 110.)
3. It is called, for obvious reasons, in the Scriptures, indifferently, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of the Son of Man (Matthew 13:41) and the kingdom of heaven.
4. It is described in the prophets in the most glowing terms, in figures borrowed partly from the paradisiacal state of man, and partly from the state of the theocracy during the reign of Solomon.
5. This kingdom belongs to Christ, not as the Logos, but as the Son of Man, the Theanthropos; God manifest in the flesh.
6. Its twofold foundation, as presented in the Bible, is the possession on the part of Christ of all divine attributes, and his work of redemption. (Hebrews 1:3; Philippians 2:6-11.) It is because He being equal with God, “humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” that “God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” All power in heaven and earth has been given into his hands; and all things,, the universe, put under his feet. Even the angels are his ministering spirits, sent by Him to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation.
7. This messianic or mediatorial kingdom of Christ, being thus comprehensive, is presented in different aspects in the Word of God. Viewed as extending over all creatures, it is a kingdom of power, which, according to 1 Corinthians 15:24, He shall deliver up to God even the Father, when his mediatorial work is accomplished. Viewed in relation to his own people on earth it is the kingdom of grace. They all recognize Him as their absolute proprietor and sovereign. They all confide in his protection, and devote themselves to his service. He rules in them and reigns over them, and subdues all their and his enemies. Viewed in relation to the whole body of the redeemed, when the work of redemption is consummated, it is the kingdom of glory, the kingdom of heaven, in the highest sense of the words. In this view his kingdom is everlasting. His headship over his people is to continue forever, and his dominion over those whom He has purchased with his blood shall never end.
8. As this kingdom is thus manifold, so also it is, in some of its aspects, progressive. It is represented in Scripture as passing through different stages. In prophecy it is spoken of as a stone cut out without hands, which became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. In Daniel 7:14, it is said of the Messiah that to Him “there was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him.” So, too, in Psalm 2:8, it is written of Him, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession;” in Psalm 72:11, “All nations shall serve Him;” verse 17, “All nations shall call Him blessed;” in Psalm 86:9, “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name;” in Isaiah 49:6, “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth;” in Habakkuk 2:14, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea;” and in Malachi 1:11, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles.” The Scriptures abound with passages of similar import. It is not only asserted that the kingdom of Christ is to attain this universal extension by slow degrees, but its gradual progress is illustrated in various ways. Our Lord compares his kingdom to a grain of mustard-seed, which is indeed the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs; and to leaven which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
9. Although God has always had a kingdom upon earth, yet the kingdom of which the prophets speak began in its messianic form when the Son of God came in the flesh. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, came preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand. Our Lord Himself, it is said, went from village to village, preaching the kingdom of God. (Luke 4:43; 8:1.) When asked by Pilate whether He was a king, he “answered, Thou sagest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.” (John 18:37). The Apostles wherever they went “testified the kingdom of God.” (Acts 28:23.) Their business was to call upon men to receive the Lord Jesus as the Christ, the anointed and predicted Messiah or king of his people, and to worship, love, trust and obey Him as such. They were, therefore, accused of acting contrary to “the decrees of Cæsar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.” (Acts 17:7.) Men are exhorted to seek first the kingdom of God, as a present good. It is compared to a pearl or treasure, for which it were wise for a man to sacrifice everything. Every believer receives Christ as his king. Those who receive Him in sincerity constitute his kingdom, in the sense in which the loyal subjects of an earthly sovereign constitute his kingdom. Those who profess allegiance to Christ as king constitute his visible kingdom upon earth. Nothing, therefore, can be more opposed to the plain teaching of the New Testament, than that the kingdom of Christ is yet future and is not to be inaugurated until his second coming. This is to confound its consummation with its commencement.
10. As to the nature of this kingdom, our Lord Himself teaches us that it is not of this world. It is not analogous to the kingdoms which exist among men. It is not a kingdom of earthly splendour, wealth, or power. It does not concern the civil or political affairs of men, except in their moral relations. Its rewards and enjoyments are not the good things of this world. It is said to consist in “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17.) Christ told his hearers, “The kingdom of God is within you.” The condition of admission into that kingdom is regeneration (John 3:5), conversion (Matthew 18:3), holiness of heart and life, for the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God; nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5).
11. This kingdom, in the interval between the first and second advents of Christ, is said to be like a field in which the wheat and tares are to grow together until the harvest, which is the end of the world. Then
“the Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:41-43.)
Experience concurs with Scripture in teaching that the kingdom of Christ passes through many vicissitudes; that it has its times of depression and its seasons of exaltation and prosperity. About this in the past, there can be no doubt. Prophecy sheds a sufficiently clear light on the future to teach us, not only that this alternation is to continue to the end, but, more definitely, that before the second coming of Christ there is to be a time of great and long continued prosperity, to be followed by a season of decay and of suffering, so that when the Son of Man comes he shall hardly find faith on the earth. It appears from passages already quoted that all nations are to be converted; that the Jews are to be brought in and reingrafted into their own olive-tree; and that their restoration is to be the occasion and the cause of a change from death unto life; that is, analogous to the change of a body mouldering in the grave to one instinct with joyous activity and power. Of this period the ancient prophets speak in terms adapted to raise the hopes of the Church to the highest pitch. It is true it is difficult to separate, in their descriptions, what refers to “this latter day of glory” from what relates to the kingdom of Christ as consummated in heaven. So also it was difficult for the ancient people of God to separate what, in the declarations of their prophets, referred to the redemption of the people from Babylon from what referred to the greater redemption to be effected by the Messiah. In both cases enough is plain to satisfy the Church. There was a redemption from Babylon, and there was a redemption by Christ; and in like manner, it is hoped, there is to be a period of millenial glory on earth, and a still more glorious consummation of the Church in, heaven. This period is called a millennium because in Revelation it is said to last a thousand years, an expression which is perhaps generally understood literally. Some however think it means a protracted season of indefinite duration, as when it is said that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years. Others, assuming that in the prophetic language a day stands for a year, assume that the so-called millennium is to last three hundred and sixty-five thousand years. During this period, be it longer or shorter, the Church is to enjoy a season of peace, purity, and blessedness such as it has never yet experienced.
The principal reason for assuming that the prophets predict a glorious state of the Church prior to the second advent, is, that they represent the Church as being thus prosperous and glorious on earth. But we know that when Christ comes again the heavens and earth are to pass away, and that no more place will be found for them. The seat of the Church, after the second coming, is not to be the earth, but a new heavens and a new earth. As therefore the Scriptures teach that the kingdom of Christ is to extend over all the earth; that all nations are to serve Him; and that all people shall call Him blessed; it is to be inferred that these predictions refer to a state of things which is to exist before the second coming of Christ. This state is described as one of spiritual prosperity; God will pour out his Spirit upon all flesh; knowledge shall everywhere abound; wars shall cease to the ends of the earth, and there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord. This does not imply that there is to be neither sin nor sorrow in the world during this long period, or that all men are to be true Christians. The tares are to grow together with the wheat until the harvest. The means of grace will still be needed; conversion and sanctification will be then what they ever have been. It is only a higher measure of the good which the Church has experienced in the past that we are taught to anticipate in the future. This however is not the end. After this and after the great apostasy which is to follow, comes the consummation.
12. When Christ comes again it will be to be admired in all them that believe. Those who are then alive will be changed, in the twinkling of an eye; their corruptible shall put on incorruption, and their mortal shall put on immortality. Those who are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Man and come forth to the resurrection of life, their bodies fashioned like unto the glorious body of the Son of God. Thus changed, both classes shall be ever with the Lord. The place of the final abode of the righteous is sometimes called a house; as when the Saviour said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2); sometimes “a city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10.) Under this figure it is called the new or heavenly Jerusalem, so gorgeously described in the twenty-first chapter of the Apocalypse. Sometimes it is spoken of as “a better country, that is an heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16); a country through which flows the river of the water of life, and
“on either side of the river was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; 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.” (Revelation 22:2-5.)
Sometimes the final abode of the redeemed is called a “new heavens and a new earth.” (2 Peter 3:13.)
As to the blessedness of this heavenly state we know that it is inconceivable: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9.)
“We know not, O we know not,
What joys await us there;
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.”
We know however:
(1.) That this incomprehensible blessedness of heaven shall arise from the vision of God. This vision is beatific. It beatifies. It transforms the soul into the divine image; transfusing into it the divine life, so that it is filled with the fulness of God. This vision of God is in the face of Jesus Christ, in whom dwells the plenitude of the divine glory bodily. God is seen in fashion as a man; and it is this manifestation of God in the person of Christ that is inconceivably and intolerably ravishing. Peter, James, and John became as dead men when they saw his glory, for a moment, in the holy mount.
(2.) The blessedness of the redeemed will flow not only from the manifestation of the glory, but also of the love of God; of that love, mysterious, unchangeable, and infinite, of which the work of redemption is the fruit.
(3.) Another element of the future happiness of the saints is the indefinite enlargement of all their faculties.
(4.) Another is their entire exemption from all sin and sorrow.
(5.) Another is their intercourse and fellowship with the high intelligences of heaven; with patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the redeemed.
(6.) Another is constant increase in knowledge and in the useful exercise of all their powers.
(7.) Another is the secure and everlasting possession of all possible good. And,
(8.) Doubtless the outward circumstances of their being will be such as to minister to their increasing blessedness.