Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST010/3 Universal Eschatology.


Universal Eschatology

1. The Second Coming of Christ

When we turn away from the future life as it particularly concerns the individual to the wider horizon of the events which are going to take place in the world, the event which sets the scene for the whole final triumph of our God and the consummation of all things is the Second Coming of our Lord or His personal return in glory. 

There have been a number of differing views on the subject and it is not the intention of the writer to give his approval to any one particular view. He will rather endeavour to point out the facts that seem to be undoubtedly stated in Scripture, briefly outline the various views and leave the student to come to his own conclusions. It is best, however, before actually dealing with the Second Coming to give a short account of the teaching of the Scriptures and the views held concerning the Kingdom of God.

(a) The Kingdom of God.

The word "kingdom" can be used in two ways; it can be used in a concrete way to mean "realm", territory", or "domain", , or it can be used abstractly with the idea of "sovereignty", "royal power" or "dominion". The idea of God's Kingdom and of God being king, ruler, lord in both of these ways is found all through Scripture. The outworking of the idea
varies but the substance is there all through.

(i) The Kingdom in the Old Testament.

While the actual phrase "the kingdom of God" does not occur in the Old Testament, the idea is abundantly evident. This is clear from such statements as "Thou art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the eairth" (2 Kings 19: 15) ; "The Lord shall reign for ever and ever". (Ex. i5-18)

"Thine, 0 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, 0 Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all" (1 Chron.29:11); "Your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King" (Isa.43:15); "His kingdom ruleth over all" (Ps.103:19); "The Lord sitteth king forever" (Ps.29:10). 

Perhaps the fullest and clearest statement is in Ps.145:11-13 - "They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations."

The idea of the kingdom in the Old Testament has at least three aspects. He is considered as King over the whole universe, the ruler and governor of all; He is considered as the king of the nation, Israel, who are particularly his people; and He is recognized as the King and Lord of the other nations, too, even though they do not always acknowledge Him as such; "He ruleth in the kingdom of men" (Dan.4:2.5). 

In the Old Testament the kingdom of God is to come through the instrumentality of a faithful Israel and the final setting up of the kingdom is always in the future.

(ii) The Kingdom in the New Testament.

Israel failed to fulfil her responsibility and when we turn to the New Testament we find that the idea of the kingdom has slightly altered. Before explaining further this alteration, the two titles given to the kingdom in the Gospels should be mentioned. Matthew prefers the expression "kingdom of heaven" and only four times uses any other. 

Mark, Luke and John on the other hand, use the expression, "kingdom of God". Some writers would make a difference in meaning between the two, but this seems rather
far fetched and not true to the Scriptures, for the simple reason that identical passages in Matthew and Mark or Luke have "kingdom of heaven" in one and "kingdom of God" in the other. 

The reason for the difference seems clearly to lie in the fact that the Jewish people would never pronounce the name "God", and "heaven" was one of the most common substitutes. It is more than likely that Jesus used the expression "kingdom of heaven" most frequently. 

This expression, however, would not be so understandable to the gentile mind; it would give the impression of "kingdom of the skies" or "kingdom of the clouds". Therefore when speaking to gentiles our Lord would probably use "kingdom of God", and writers of Gospels addressed to gentiles would do the same.

In the New Testament the idea of the kingdom of God was a twofold one. It had a "here and now" interpretation which was of a spiritual nature and had to do with relationship with God; it had also a "then and there" interpretation which was looking forward to an actual kingdom which was to beset up by our Lord. 

It also had a third idea which had to do not only with the spiritual relationship and experience of the person, but with the spiritual kingdom to which he belonged. The first and the third ideas are some what intertwined and are found in such references as the parable of the sower where the kingdom is likened to seed sown in the hearts of men and again when Jesus says to the Scribe, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of
God" (Mark 12:34). 

He speaks in the same way to the Pharisees when He says to them, "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt.12:28 R.S.V.). In the epistles Paul describes the kingdom in the same way in Romans 14:17 and Col.1:13.

An example of the second idea is found when our Lord says that He will drink the fruit of the vine new with His disciples in His Father's Kingdom (Matt.26:29). In the epistles the idea of the future kingdom is found in 1 Cor.15:50; Gal.5:21; Eph.5:5; and 2 Tim.4:1,18.
This idea of the apocalyptic coming of the kingdom was in existence before and at the time of our Lord's first advent. There was a considerable body of apocalyptic literature written by the Jews just prior to and also after the birth of Christ.

The Scriptural teaching concerning the kingdom includes all three of these aspects. When Christ came and died for us, He brought eternal life to those who believed, set up His spiritual kingdom in their hearts and imparted to them the spiritual characteristics of His kingdom. 

Those who were born again in this way became His church, which is His present spirit-
ual kingdom on this earth. There is clearly, however, a future kingdom which is yet to be set up. This will be at His second coming when Judgment will fall upon the ungodly and God will finally and forever rule over all as Kind of kings and Lord of Lords. 

The Book of Revelation deals with the subject of this final kingdom and God's final triumph over evil.

(iii) The History of the Doctrine.

Unfortunately the number of those who have kept a true balance between the aspects of the kingdom mentioned above, have been few. Usually one extreme has been unduly emphasized to the exclusion of the other.

In the early church the futuristic and eschatological idea seem to have been predominant.  Origen was the outstanding exception, but, as he rejected the literalistic approach to the Bible altogether, he could do no other than give a spiritual definition to the kingdom as well. The change in thought came with Augustine. 

The hordes of barbarians had swept down from the north and the Roman Empire as such was crumbling fast. He wrote his treatise "De Civitate Dei" (Concerning the City of God) to establish the fact that this was not the end of everything, but that the City of God which was the Church of God was the one lasting and undefeatable reality. 

In effect, he was saying that the millenium commenced with the first advent and the spiritual kingdom was the central concept. The idea of a future visible kingdom faded in the hierarchical ideas of the Middle Ages. It was not until the Reformation that the idea of the future kingdom came to the fore again. 

In more recent times there have been numbers of books written on the subject ranging from the eschatological outlook of Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer who discounted the present idea of a spiritual kingdom of the Gospel writers, to Ritschl, Harnack and others who emphasized nothing but the moral and spiritual side, sometimes with nothing of the Gospel in their teaching. 

There have been some evangelical scholars, such as James Orr and A.B.Bruce who have also treated the futuristic element as symbolic and limited the teaching of the New Testament to the spiritual kingdom. 

Others, like Rudolf Otto and R.I.Flew have maintained the balance and these words from the pen of Flew give a balanced view, "The kingdom has come in the Person of Jesus. Its blessing can be enjoyed now through faith. But it is not fully come. The final consummation is delayed" (Jesus and His Church p.32). How these various views spread into the different theories concerning the second coming will be seen in a later section.

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