By John F. Walvoord
The Righteous Government of the Millennium
The cumulative evidence for the millennial reign of Christ presented in preceding discussion serves as a logical introduction to the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments fulfilled in the millennial reign of Christ. The doctrine of the millennial kingdom of God is one of the major revelations of Scripture pertaining to God’s program. As a theme for theological investigation, it has attracted a host of writers who have developed the kingdom theme from various standpoints.
J. Dwight Pentecost has summarized the various viewpoints on the kingdom of God as follows: “To some the kingdom of God is synonymous with the eternal state, or heaven, into which one comes after death, so that it has no relationship to the earth whatsoever. To others it is a non-material or ‘spiritual’ kingdom in which God rules over the hearts of men, so that, while it is related to the present age, it is unrelated to the earth. To still others the kingdom is purely earthly without spiritual realities attached to it, so that it is a political and social structure to be achieved by the efforts of men and thus becomes the goal of the social and economic evolution to which men press. To others with the same general concept, it has to do with a nationalistic movement on the part of Israel that will reconstitute that nation as an independent nation in the political realm. Then there are those who view the kingdom as synonymous with the visible organized church, so that the church becomes the kingdom, thus making the kingdom both spiritual and political. In addition there are those that view the kingdom as manifestation, in the earthly realm, of the universal sovereignty of God, in which He rules in the affairs of men, so that the kingdom is conceived as being both spiritual and material in its concept (“Biblical Eschatology,” unpublished Doctor’s dissertation, p. 550).
Premillenarians of course recognize the validity of more than one aspect of the kingdom. They insist, however, that the millennial form of the kingdom of God is not fulfilled by the eternal state, nor a present rule of God in the hearts of men. The doctrine of the millennial kingdom as held by premillenarians contradicts the amillennial concept, which identifies to a large extent the kingdom of God with the soteriological divine program and denies thereby any future earthly political kingdom of the Messiah subsequent to His second advent. It should be obvious, however, that the millennial kingdom, though in some respects the consummation of much kingdom truth in Scripture, is not the sum total of God’s kingdom purpose. There is, of course, a validity to the concept of an eternal kingdom to be identified with God’s government of the universe. In contrast, however, to this universal aspect, the millennial kingdom is the culmination of the prophetic program of God relative to a theocratic kingdom or rule of the earth. This in one sense began in the creation of Adam in the Garden of Eden, continued through human government, was manifested in the kingly line which ruled Israel, and has its consummation in the millennial kingdom which in turn is superseded by the timeless eternity which follows. Though there is a rule of God in the present age which can properly be described by the word kingdom, it is not the fulfillment of those prophecies that pertain to the millennial reign of Christ upon the earth.
The millennium government and earthly kingdom. One of the most significant facts relating to the millennial doctrine distinguishing it from the amillennial point of view is the teaching that the millennial kingdom is a rule of God on earth, thereby distinguishing it from a purely spiritual reign in the hearts of men through centuries of human history and distinguishing it from the will of God as expressed in heaven or in eternity future. The evidence for this is so abundant that it is strange that learned men have been able to deny this plain teaching of the Word of God. Psalm 2:8 records the invitation of the Father to His blessed Son: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”
Isaiah 11 paints the graphic picture of the reign of Christ on earth, a scene which cannot be confused with the present age, the intermediate state, or the eternal state if interpreted in any normal literal sense. As presented it describes the millennial earth. The righteous government of Christ is depicted in Isaiah 11:14: “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.” The description which follows describes animals such as wolves, lambs, leopards, kids, calves, young lions, all of which are creatures of earth and not of heaven, and further pictures them in a time of tranquillity such as only can apply to the millennial earth. The sweeping statement of Isaiah 11:9 confirms this judgment: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.” In the verses following, various countries of the earth are mentioned as having some part in the dealings of God at that time and therefore confirm that the earth is in view, not heaven. For similar passages see Isaiah 42:4; Jeremiah 23:3-6; Daniel 2:35-45; Zechariah 14:1-9.
By no theological alchemy should these and countless other references to earth as the sphere of Christ’s millennial reign be spiritualized to become the equivalent of heaven, the eternal state, or the church as amillenarians have done. A righteous reign of Christ on earth is of course precisely what one would have expected from previous study of the Abrahamic covenant with its promises to the earth, the Davidic covenant relative to the Son of David reigning on the throne forever, and the many promises pertaining to Israel’s regathering and re-establishment in their ancient land. The theocratic kingdom, therefore, of which the prophets spoke is an earthly kingdom which can find its fulfillment only in a literal reign of Christ upon the earth.
Jesus Christ the supreme King of the millennial kingdom. In Psalm 2:6, in spite of the opposition of the kings of the earth, God declares His purpose: “Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” This purpose will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom in the reign of Jesus Christ as the Son of David. As Lewis Sperry Chafer has succinctly stated: “Every Old Testament prophecy on the kingdom anticipates His kingly office: (a) Christ will yet sit on the throne as David’s heir (2 Sam 7:16; Ps 89:20-37; Isa 11:1-16; Jer 33:19-21). (b) He came as a King (Luke 1:32-33). (c) He was rejected as a King (Mark 15:12-13; Luke 19:14; cf. Gen 37:8; Exod 2:14). (d) He died as a King (Matt 27:37). (e) When He comes again, it is as a King (Rev 19:16; cf. Luke 1:32-33)” (L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, VII, 233).
The fact that Christ will reign over the earth is of course imbedded in practically every prophecy concerning the millennial kingdom. The absolute character of His reign is indicated in Isaiah 11:3-5. This central prophecy is confirmed by the angel to Mary in announcing the coming birth of Christ in these words: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). It should be clear from the details surrounding these predictions that these prophecies are not being fulfilled in the present age, nor are they a description of the sovereignty of God in the heavenly sphere. Many other Scriptures can be cited to substantiate the reign of Christ as King in the millennium of which the following are representative: Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:6-7 ; 11:1-10 ; 16:5 ; 24:23 ; 32:2 ; 40:1-11 ; 42:3-4 ; 52:7-15 ; 55:4 ; Daniel 2:44; 7:27 ; Micah 4:1-8; 5:2-5 ; Zechariah 9:9; 14:16-17 . These passages if interpreted in the ordinary literal meaning lead to the conclusion that Christ is the King who will reign over the earth in the millennial period.
A legitimate problem has arisen in the interpretation of the reign of Christ concerning how this relates to various prophecies which speak of David as King in the millennial kingdom. References to this concept are found in Jeremiah 30:9; 33:15-17 ; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25 ; Hosea 3:5, with more indirect references in Isaiah 55:3-4 and Amos 9:11. Several solutions have been offered to resolve this problem. One of the most common is to take references to David as indicating Christ Himself as the greater David. Keil and Peters, as well as Ironside, support this view (cf. Karl Friedrich Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, I, 72; Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, III, 572; and Ironside, Ezekiel the Prophet, p. 262). There are obvious difficulties, however, in this point of view in that Christ is never referred to as David elsewhere in the Bible though He is frequently called the Son of David, Seed of David, etc. A second view held by some interpreters is that the reference in some passages is to a future literal son of David who will sit on the Davidic throne, but who is not to be identified as Christ. Passages such as Jeremiah 33:15-21 are cited in support of this view. From many standpoints, however, this is less desirable than the first view. As many have indicated, no one today aside from Christ could prove His kingly lineage among the people of Israel. It is most unlikely that there should be another person closely related to Christ who is a descendent of David other than David himself.
A third solution of the problem is more simple and seemingly in keeping with the prophetic references throughout Scripture, namely, that by David is meant the resurrected David who shares with Christ as prince some of the governmental duties of the millennial kingdom. It should be clear from many Scriptures that the reign of Christ is shared with others. As Newell has written: “David is not the son of David. Christ, as Son of David, will be King; and David, His father after the flesh, will be prince, during the Millennium” (William R. Newell, The Revelation, p. 323). In the light of many prophecies which promise saints the privilege of reigning with Christ, it would seem most logical that David the king raised from the dead should be given a place of prominence in the Davidic kingdom of the millennial reign of Christ. As indicated in Revelation 19:16, Christ is “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” This would certainly imply other rulers (cf. Isa 32:1; Ezek 45:8-9; Matt 19:28; Luke 19:12-27).
Characteristics of divine government in the millennium. From a governmental standpoint, the reign of Christ in the millennium will have three important characteristics. First, it will be a rule over the entire earth. It was God’s intent from the beginning of the creation of man that the earth should be ruled over by man. Adam sacrificed his right to rule when sin entered the human race, God’s purpose, however, is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Psalm 2:6-9 God declares His purpose to set His king in Zion who will have as His possession “the uttermost parts of the earth.” In Daniel 2:35 a stone which fills the whole earth is an anticipation of the universal rule of Christ. Daniel 7:14 is explicit: “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” This idea is repeated in Daniel 7:27 and becomes a frequent theme of prophecy (cf. Ps 72:8; Mic 4:1-2; Zech 9:10). The title of Christ given in Revelation 19:16, “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS,” makes it plain that He is supreme ruler over the entire earth.
The second important characteristic of the millennial rule of Christ is that His government will be absolute in its authority and power. This is demonstrated in His destruction of all who oppose Him (cf. Ps 2:9; 72:9-11 ; Isa 11:4). Such an absolute rule, of course, is in keeping with the person and majesty of the King in whom is all the power and sovereignty of God.
The third important aspect of the government of Christ in the millennium will be that of righteousness and justice. Most of the millennial passages emphasize this as the outstanding feature of of the millennium. Isaiah 11:3-5 assures the poor and the meek that their cause will be dealt with righteously in that day. The wicked are warned to serve the Lord lest they feel His wrath (Ps 2:10-12). It seems evident from many passages that no open sin will go unpunished.
The subjects of the millennial rule of Christ at the beginning of the millennium will consist in those who survive the searching judgments of both Israel and Gentiles as the millennial reign of Christ begins. From many Scriptures it may be gathered that all the wicked will be put to death after the second coming of Christ; and only saints who have lived through the preceding time of trouble will be eligible for entrance into the millennial kingdom. This is demonstrated in the judgment of the Gentiles in Matthew 25:31-46, where only the righteous are permitted to enter the millennium. According to Ezekiel 20:33-38, God will also deal with Israel and purge out all rebels, that is, unbelievers, permitting only the saints among Israel to enter the millennial kingdom. The parables of the wheat and the tares (Matt 13:30-31) and of the good and bad fish (Matt 13:49-50) teach likewise that only the wheat and the good fish, representing the righteous, will survive the judgment. Confirmation is also found in Isaiah 65:11—66:16 ; Jeremiah 25:30-33. As the millennium continues, however, children will be born to those who are thus ushered into the millennial reign of Christ. Before many generations the children born to these tribulation saints will far outnumber their parents. They too will be subject to Christ’s reign and if openly rebellious will be put to death (Isa 66:20, 24; Zech 14:16-19). While it is obvious that even under the rule of Christ there will arise from children born in the millennium those who merely profess to follow the King without actually being saints, the true character of these is manifested at the end of the millennium in the final revolt. Meanwhile they are forced to obey the King or be subject to the penalty of death or other chastisement.
The place of Israel in the government of Christ. In contrast to the present church age in which Jew and Gentile are on an equal plane of privilege, the millennium is clearly a period of time in which Israel is in prominence and blessing. Though many passages speak of Gentile blessing as well, Christ will reign as the Son of David, and Israel as a nation will be exalted.
Passages of the Old Testament which have been studied previously anticipating a future day of glory for Israel find their fulfillment in the millennial reign of Christ. The regathering of Israel, a prominent theme of most of the prophets, has its purpose realized in the re-establishment of Israel in their ancient land. Israel as a nation is delivered from her persecutors in the time of tribulation and brought into the place of blessing and restoration.
J. Dwight Pentecost gives an excellent summary of the important place of Israel in the millennium in the following statement: “Israel will become the subjects of the King’s reign (Isa 9:6-7; 33:17, 22 ; 44:6 ; Jer 23:5; Mic 2:13; 4:7 ; Dan 4:3; 7:14, 22, 27 ). In order to be subjects, Israel, first, will have been converted and restored to the land, as has already been shown. Second, Israel will be reunited as a nation (Jer 3:18; 33:14 ; Ezek 20:40; 37:15-22 ; 39:25 ; Hos 1:11). Third, the nation will again be related to Jehovah by marriage (Isa 54:1-17; 62:2-5 ; Hos 2:14-23). Fourth, she will be exalted above the Gentiles (Isa 14:1-2; 49:22-23 ; 60:14-17 ; 61:6-7 ). Fifth, Israel will be made righteous (Isa 1:25; 2:4 ; 44:22-24 ; 45:17-25 ; 48:17 ; 55:7 ; 57:18-19 ; 63:16 ; Jer 31:11; 33:8 ; 50:20, 34 ; Ezek 36:25-26; Hos 14:4; Joel 3:21; Mic 7:18-19; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3). Sixth, the nation will become God’s witnesses during the millennium (Isa 44:8, 21; 61:6 ; 66:21 ; Jer 16:19-21; Mic 5:7; Zeph 3:20; Zech 4:1-7; 4:11-14 ; Zech 8:23). Seventh, Israel will be beautified to bring glory to Jehovah (Isa 62:3; Jer 32:41; Hos 14:5-6; Zeph 3:16-17; Zech 9:16-17)” (“Biblical Eschatology,” unpublished Doctor’s dissertation, pp. 651-52).
The lesser role of Gentiles in the millennium is the subject of many Old Testament Scriptures such as the following: Isaiah 2:4; 11:12 ; 16:1-5 ; 18:1-7 ; 19:16-25 ; 23:18 ; 42:1 ; 45:14 ; 49:6, 22 ; 59:6-8 ; 60:1-14 ; 61:8-9 ; 62:2 ; 66:18-19 ; Jeremiah 3:17; 16:19-21 ; 49:6 ; 49:39 ; Ezekiel 38:23; Amos 9:12; Micah 7:16-17; Zephaniah 2:11; 3:9 ; Zechariah 8:20-22; 9:10 ; 10:11-12 ; 14:16-19 (cf., Pentecost, ibid., p. 652). Outstanding in these Scriptures is the fact that, first, the Gentiles will share many of the spiritual and economic blessings of the millennial reign of Christ. Second, they will, however, occupy a subordinate role to Israel (Isa 14:1-2; 49:22-23; 61:5-9 ). Third, as indicated previously, only Gentiles who are declared righteous by the King will be allowed entrance into the millennial kingdom at its beginning.
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