THE KINGDOM FORETOLD BY THE PROPHETS (Cont.)
THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
With an Examination of DISPENSATIONALISM
and the "Scofield Bible"
IN the "Reference Bible" whose teachings we are examining the following is from a note on Matthew 3:2--
"The phrase 'Kingdom of heaven' signifies the Messianic earth rule of Jesus Christ, the Son of David." "It is the Kingdom covenanted to David's seed, described in the prophets."
I have two brief comments to make upon this dogmatic statement; first, that not a scrap of evidence is offered in support of it, and second that it is in flat contradiction to the great cloud of witnesses whose unanimous testimony I have cited above.
Then follows a note on the same chapter in which it is stated that "The Kingdom of heaven" has three aspects in Matthew, of which the second aspect (b) is "in seven 'mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven' to be fultilled during the present age," etc.
This statement as to there being "three aspects" of the one Kingdom; one of these "aspects" being "in seven mysteries to be fulfilled in this age," is very confusing. So far as I can see, it is not only without the slightest support in the Scriptures, but is altogether unintelligible.
Let it be noted, however, that we have here a clear admission that the Kingdom of heaven does exist during the present age. It matters not what is meant by the Kingdom's existing now in one "aspect" and now in another. It does exist now. Our Lord's prophetic parables in Matthew XIII, in which He foretold what the Kingdom of heaven which He had announced as at hand, was to be "like," were too much for the editor's theory. For no one can close his eyes to the fact that those parables marvellously describe God's work and His spiritual Kingdom during this present age. Very well then, how does the case stand upon this admission? Our Lord said the Kingdom of heaven was at hand, and He told what it would be like; and the event showed (as the editor here admits) that it was at hand, and that its likeness is precisely what the Lord said it would be. If so, what becomes of the basic doctrine of dispensationalism that the Kingdom of heaven our Lord announced as at hand was withdrawn and postponed? Manifestly, the editor's admission destroys that notion completely.
The case is very strong; and to realize this we have only to remember that in the days of Christ the Jews were occupying their own land and were enjoying a sort of national existence and a measure of independence. Yet at that time "the Kingdom of heaven" (whatever it was) had not yet come. Neither was the earthly kingdom then in existence; nor has it come, up to the present time. But "the Kingdom of heaven" did come immediately, even as Christ said it would come; and moreover, it took precisely the form and "likeness" predicted by the Lord in His parables. This the editor finds it necessary to admit. But how about the national existence of Israel, which the editor says is "the Kingdom of heaven?" What happened to that? So far from anything coming to pass in the nature of an earthly kingdom as expected by the Jews, what actually happened was the complete destruction of their city, temple, and nation, and the scattering of the people throughout the world, even to this very day. In a word, every vestige of their national existence was forthwith blotted out.
It is clear, therefore, that the "Kingdom of heaven," which formed the subject of the Lord's preaching and teaching, and the earthly kingdom for which the Jews were and still are looking, are not one and the same, but are distinct and utterly different the one from the other.
Turning back now to some of the principal prophecies concerning David, we shall find that while the prophets did not describe "the Kingdom of God" by name, they did describe the main features of this era of world-wide blessing to which the name "Kingdom of God" is given in the New Testament.
We may appropriately begin with the great prophecy found in Isaiah chapters 7-12. The words "and there shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" definitely connect this prophecy with the House of David. (See also Isa. 7:13,14). We give it the first place in our examination because it is the first prophecy quoted in the New Testament. It is therefore a very significant Scripture, both as determining the nature of the era which began when Christ was born of a virgin of the house and lineage of David; and also as fixing the character of Matthew's Gospel. For in the first chapter Matthew we have the angel's message concerning the Virgin Mary, in which he said:"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His Name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is God with us."
We have here the first statement in New Testament Scriptures of the purpose for which the Lord the Son of David was coming into the world. It tells of One about to be born in David's line Who should "save His people from their sins" in other words of the birth of a Saviour. Moreover, and this is the point we wish to emphasize, it plainly declares that the birth of the One Who was to save His people from their sins was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Hence there is no room for any uncertainty as to the meaning of that prophecy. It foretold an era of salvation for sinners, not of earthly greatness for Israel. It foretold the coming of the Lord for the express purpose of doing a work whereby His people were to be saved from their sins. It is therefore a prophecy of the cross, not of an earthly throne. This is what we find at the very beginning of Matthew's Gospel (which is commonly disparaged as "Jewish"), and in connection with the House of David.
With this clear light it is easy to see many details in Isaiah's prophecy--especially in chapters 11 and 12--which are fulfilled in this present age. Verse 10 of chapter 11 is specially significant:"And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse which shall stand for an ensign of the people: to it (or to Him) shall the Gentiles seek; and His rest shall be glory." (Margin.)
Here is a distinct promise of salvation for "Gentiles" through this "Root of Jesse." And not only so, but this very verse is quoted by Paul in Romans 15:12, who thus definitely links his gospel with that announced in the first chapter of Matthew. The way the verse is quoted by Paul, and the meaning thereby assigned to it by the Holy Spirit, is remarkable and illuminating. This is the quotation:"And again Esaias saith, There shall be a Root of Jesse, and He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in Him shall the Gentiles trust."
Here is a Kingdom-promise indeed. It tells of One Who should "rise to reign." But the Kingdom here foretold is the very opposite of the Kingdom expected by the Jews; for the passage, as thus divinely interpreted, had reference to One Who was to "reign over the Gentiles," and in Whom the Gentiles should trust (or have hope).
This portion of Isaiah is again quoted by Matthew at chapter 4:14-16, the quotation being frown Isaiah 9:1,2. There we find the foretelling of Christ's ministry, which was to begin in "Galilee of the Gentiles" (a very significant statement); and also of the nature of His ministry, which was to be the giving of light (and by implication life also) to them that "sat in darkness" and in "the region and shadow of death." These are words of the clearest gospel-significance, words which are so well understood that we need not dwell upon them. It surely goes a long way toward settling the disputed question of the character of Matthew's Gospel, that the prophecies cited at the very beginning of that Gospel, and declared to have been "fulfilled" --the one at the birth of Christ and the other at the commencement of His ministry --have nothing whatever to do with an earthly kingdom and everything to do with salvation for the whole world.
But we have also, in the passage last quoted (Mat. 4:14-16), a bit of evidence of the most definite and conclusive character as to the precise nature of the "Kingdom" which the Lord was then announcing as "at hand." For in what way and in what sense did the Lord "fulfil" the promise of bringing light and life to "Galilee of the Gentiles"? Verse 17 tells us plainly that He fulfilled it by proclaiming the message: "Repent ye, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." That message therefore had no reference at all to the earthly kingdom; for the Holy Spirit here testifies that it announced the era of promised blessing to the Gentiles. Thus it clearly appears that the prophecy of light to the Gentiles is fulfilled in the Kingdom of heaven.
Another surpassingly important prophecy connected with David is the Second Psalm (a Psalm of David). This great prophecy is distinguished by the fact that it speaks of God's Christ ("My Anointed"), of God's Son, and of God's King. It would require a volume to point out in detail the bearings of this Psalm. But for present purposes we need not dwell long upon it. To begin with, the subject of an earthly kingdom is conspicuous only by its absence. The first part (the opposition of earth's rulers and peoples) was fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4: 25-28). The words "Thou art My Son" were spoken by the Father at the Lord's baptism, where His death and resurrection were figured, and where He received the anointing of the Holy Spirit for His ministry. Moreover, Paul explains that God fulfilled His promise to the fathers, "in that He hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the Second Psalm, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee." This shows that the Second Psalm was a prophecy to be fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, we have in the last verse of the Psalm the unmistakable gospel-promise: "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."
This is the prayer of David the son of Jesse. It contains distinct promises concerning the Kingdom of David's promised Son. But it is plain that the prophecy has not to do with an earthly kingdom. For in verse 6 there is an evident reference to the first coming of Christ; for it speaks of the "rain" (the pouring out of the Holy Spirit) and the "showers" of blessing. The references to "righteousness and peace" in this part of the Psalm point to the Kingdom of God as it now is (Rom. 14:17). The words "And men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed" (v.17), point also to this present era, during which the gospel is being preached to all nations in obedience to Matthew 28:19; while verses 8-11 declaring the extent of His dominion "to the ends of the earth" indicate the universal Kingdom of glory that is yet to come.
This Psalm is specially pertinent in that it records the Lord's covenant and oath to David in these words:"I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David My servant; Thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne to all generations: Selah" (verses 3,4).
"My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips. Once have I sworn by My holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me" (verses 34-36).
The Psalm is written to celebrate "the Mercies of the Lord;" and its scope cannot be fully appreciated without a comprehension of what is meant by "the sure mercies of David," a subject too large to be entered upon now. It must suffice at this point to say that "the sure mercies of David" embrace the blessings of the Gospel, and chiefly the forgiveness of sins. But it is clear enough upon merely reading the Psalm that its subject is not the Jewish kingdom. Christ's "throne," which is prominently mentioned in it, is manifestly a throne of vastly greater dignity and glory than that of David or Solomonf.
Moreover, we find in this prophetic Psalm references to various subjects not in any way connected with the earthly nation. It is promised that the heavens shall praise the wonders of the Lord (v. 5), suggesting the exaltation of the crucified and risen One to the highest heavens. The reference to "the congregation of the saints" (v. 5), and the statement "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of saints," have an obvious application to this present age. It is, moreover, impossible to mistake the significance of these words:"Mercy and truth shall go before Thy face. Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy Name shall they rejoice all the day; and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted"(v. 14-16).
Finally, verses 38-45 contain suggestions of the cutting off of David's line in the death of Christ. Verse 45 is very clear: "The days of His youth hast Thou shortened: Thou hast covered Him with shame, Selah." Then there are in verse 48 questions which are very significant in connection with the resurrection of Christ: "What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? Shall He deliver His soul from the hand of the grave? Selah."
This and other Scriptures, written of Christ as Son of David, indicate a fact which is made very clear in the gospel-preaching of both Peter and Paul, namely, that God's promises concerning the Son of David were to be fulfilled in resurrection. And this is the very essence of Paul's gospel, as appears by those remarkable words: "Remember Jesus Christ of the Seed of David raised from the dead according to my gospel" (2 Tim. 8, R.V.).
THE PROPHECIES OF JEREMIAH
The prophecies of Jeremiah are specially significant because spoken at the time when judgment was about to fall upon the people of Judah, and upon the occupants of the throne of David. We shall not attempt anything like an exposition of the many prophetic utterances from the lips of Jeremiah that have a bearing upon our subject. But we can, in a few words, call attention to certain things which fully bear out what we are seeking to show in this chapter.
In Jeremiah 23: 5-8, we read:"Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth."
This is doubtless one of the prophecies referred to by Peter in Acts 3:24; and we can see at a glance that the language strikingly corresponds with Peter's words in Acts 2: 30, and Paul's in Acts 13:23,33. Here we have a brief outline of "these days" of the Gospel, beginning with the coming of the "righteous Branch" of the house of David ("Jesus Christ the Righteous"). Manifestly this prophecy excludes the idea of an earthly kingdom during "the days" spoken of. It demands that the Righteous Branch of David should be a King and should reign and prosper, and should execute judgement and justice in the earth. In other words, it demands just what is fulfilled in the present Kingdom of heaven. The period to which the fulfilment of this prophecy belongs is definitely fixed by the title "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS"; for it is during this present era of grace that the Lord is specially revealed as the righteousness of His people. (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5: 21; etc. )
The significance of this prophecy is intensified by that recorded in Chapter 33: 15-26, beginning with the words:"In those days and at that time will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land (or earth)."
These words point clearly to the incarnation of the Lord, and to what was to follow. The "days" of which the prophet is here speaking were the days of "the new covenant" under which sins were to be forgiven and the laws of God were to be written in the hearts of His people. (Jer. 31:31-34). The period to which the fulfilment of this prophecy belongs is fixed in the most definite way by the words of the Lord in instituting His Supper, when He gave the cup to His disciples and said: "This is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mat. 26:28). The whole of chapters 31,32,33 of Jeremiah should be attentively read.
Coming now to the portion to which we are specially calling attention, we find in verses 17 and I8 (chap. 33 ) these promises:"For thus saith the Lord, David shall never want a man" (or literally there shall not be cut off from David a man, see margin} "to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before Me to offer burnt offerings and to kindle meat offerings and to do sacrifice continually."
Obviously these wonderful promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, raised from the dead and glorified in heaven as a Priest after the order of Melchisedec, who was a king as well as a priest (Heb. 7:1,2). After the Christ was "cut off" as foretold by Isaiah (53:8) and Daniel (9:26), there was no man on earth to sit on David's throne; and after the destruction of Jerusalem (also foretold by Daniel 9:26) there were no priests on earth to offer the appointed sacrifices to God. But there is now and has been since the ascension of Christ, a Man in heaven to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel (the Israel of God). Moreover, God has also a Man before Him, as He said, to offer sacrifices continually (Heb. 8:3; I3:15).
It is easy, therefore, for us to see, in the light of the New Testament that Jeremiah's prophecy demanded that Christ should be born while the house of David still had a known existence in the world; and it demanded also the resurrection of Christ and His exaltation to heaven as both king and Priest. In other words, it demanded the very things which happened from and after the incarnation of Christ. So we have again a prophecy very definitely connected with David, and very definitely fulfilled in this gospel-era; a prophecy which excluded the possibility of an earthly kingdom's being announced at the Lord's first coming; if indeed such a thing were in God's contemplation at all.
THE PROPHECY OF ZECHARIAH
Finally, we refer to the remarkable and very precious prophecy concerning Christ (Zechariah 13:1-7), in which is found the oft-quoted reference to the wounds in His hands with which He was wounded in the house of His friends (v. 6). The chapter begins thus:"In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David for sin and for separation for uncleanness" (Margin).
Verse 7 indicates how the fountain was to be opened. For there we have the words: "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My Fellow. Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." No doubt can exist as to the fulfilment of this prophecy, for the Lord Himself has applied it (Mat. 26:31; see also verse 54).
To get the full significance of this prophecy--one of the clearest of all the glorious gospel-prophecies --we must go back to the word of the Lord spoke to David by the prophet Nathan, whom God sent to bring home to David's conscience his awful sin in slaying his faithful servant Uriah, in order that he might take his wife. At that time Nathan said: "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house." This must be kept in mind if we would understand David's connection with the gospel of God's grace. For we have two seemingly contradictory promises concerning David: first that God would build him a sure house and would "never" take away His mercies from him, and that he should "never" want a man to sit upon his throne; and second that the sword should "never" depart from his house. The latter promise was fulfilled when the sword of judgment was sheathed in the bosom of the Son of David; for by that stroke the house of David was "cut off," and cut off forever as an earthly thing. But the same stroke opened a fountain for sin and for uncleanness, wherein, by God's amazing grace, sinners of all nations may be cleansed from their sins. The other promises of this passage are, as we have already seen, fulfilled by Jesus Christ in resurrection.
In this connection we should recall Simeon's inspired words to Mary concerning "the sword" which was hanging over the house of David; for we remember that, after speaking of Christ as the "Light" that had come "to lighten the Gentiles" and to be the "glory of His people Israel," Simeon said to her: "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also" (Lu. 2:35 ). This word spoken shortly after the birth of Christ is quite sufficient without any other Scripture, to prove that no earthly kingdom was in prospect at that time. But the proof is greatly strengthened by the fact that what Simeon's words indicated is just what was foretold by prophecies concerning the promised Son of David.
The concluding portion of Zechariah's prophecy foretells also the cutting off of the greater part of the inhabitants of the land, which occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A. D. 70; and the salvation of the remnant, of whom God said: "They shall call upon My Name, and I will hear them: and I will say, It is My people; and they shall say, The Lord is my god" (Zech. 13:8,9).
This passage does not deal with arithmetical "thirds." It does not foretell that a mathematical "third" of the Jewish nation would be saved, and the other two thirds be destroyed. What it indicates is that there would be three distinguishable groups or parties in the land. And so it was. For in Christ's day, as the Gospels make evident, there were (1) the scribes and Pharisees (2) the Sadducees, and (3) the publicans and sinners. It was the latter group which, as a class, listened to the message of Christ, and from which His disciples were drawn. Verse 9 is fulfilled in those who were saved through the Gospel. (Acts 2: 21; Rom. 10:13; 1 Peter 2:9,10.)
The promise of this prophecy of Zechariah of a fountain for sin and for uncleanness is seemingly very "Jewish," being limited to "the House of David." But the "mystery of the gospel" is this, that whereas all "the covenants and the promises" do indeed pertain to the Israelites (Rom. 9:4,5), God has, in His grace, made believing Gentiles to be "fellowheirs and partakers of His promise in Christ by (means of) the gospel" (Eph. 3:6). And especially does the gospel offer to all the world the unspeakable blessings of the "everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David" (Isa. 55: 3). And moreover, it has now been revealed, as has been pointed out above, that the name "Jew" belongs properly to one who is a Jew inwardly, and "the Israel of God" embraces only the household of faith.