by James T. Bartsch
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Luke 1:31-33
Has Christ's Kingdom Begun?
Disclaimer: This article is not about whether Jesus as the Eternal Logos of God is presently reigning up in heaven as God. He has always reigned as God. God is a great King over all the earth (Psa. 47:2, 7, 8). He always has been and always will. There is no dispute about that. This article is rather about whether or not Jesus has begun His reign as Messiah, the Anointed King of Israel, ultimate Descendant of David.
The Gospel Coalition is "a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures." In the Confessional Statement of The Gospel Coalition, in the section addressing "The Kingdom of God," we read, "The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation." In the final portion of the Statement, in the section entitled, "The Restoration of All Things," we read this: "We believe in the personal, glorious, and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ with his holy angels, when he will exercise his role as final Judge, and his kingdom will be consummated."
We gather, then, that this coalition, broadly representative of a conservative wing of the Protestant Reformation, is convinced that Jesus is already reigning in heaven as King, and that when He returns to Judge the earth, the Kingdom of God will be fully realized.
My question today is, "What do the Scriptures say that Jesus' Kingdom looks like?" Is it really accurate to say that the Kingdom Jesus envisioned when He taught His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done – as in heaven, so on earth" (Matt. 6:10) – is, in any sense, already here? Put another way, I ask, "Is God's will being done on earth presently the same way it is done in heaven?" If we cannot answer in the affirmative, is it accurate to say that God's kingdom, as Jesus envisioned it, has arrived in any sense at all?
If we interpret Scripture literally, that is, as its original authors intended it to be interpreted, we oftentimes run afoul of the views of many Protestants. And the problem is not with some outlandish interpretation. The problem is that in many key places, Protestants do not interpret Scripture as its original authors intended. Why is that? To me the reason is apparent. The Reformers reformed Roman Catholicism's Bibliology, her Soteriology, her Ecclesiology, but never her Eschatology. Let us look at some key Scriptures in this whole discussion of the Kingdom.
The Prophet Nathan's Prediction to David. (2 Sam. 7:1-17) (1) David told Nathan the prophet he wanted to build a permanent house in which God could live (2 Sam. 7:1-2). (2) Nathan gave his personal approval (2 Sam. 7:3). (3) At night God corrected Nathan, saying David was not the one who was to build Him a house (2 Sam. 7:4-10). (4) Instead, God would build a house [dynasty] for David! (2 Sam. 7:11). (5) God would raise up David's descendant (Solomon) after him. God would establish the throne of his kingdom forever, and he would build God a house (2 Sam. 7:12-13). (6) God would be a father to him, and he would be a son to God (2 Sam. 7:14). (7) God would never remove His loyal love from him (2 Sam. 7:15). (8) And then, Nathan was to give to David an amazing prophetic message. David's house and David's kingdom would endure before God forever! And David's throne would be established forever! (2 Sam. 7:16).
How would David and Nathan have understood this prophecy? David, of course, reigned from his literal throne in Jerusalem, Israel. So did his son Solomon. Solomon built a literal temple in Jerusalem. What was their understanding of this prophecy? Would they have understood it to mean that one of David's descendants would sit on the throne of the Father in heaven, and not on a throne in Jerusalem, reigning over the land of Israel here upon earth? I do not think so.
Dispensational Premillennialists (as opposed to Amillennialists and Covenant theologians) have traditionally interpreted all Scriptural literally. This does not mean we (I include myself among them) do not allow for metaphors and figures of speech. We do. But even metaphors have specific meanings.
Since the early 1980's a new breed of Dispensationalists has arisen. They call themselves "Progressive Dispensationalists." They have, in my estimation, made unfortunate concessions to non-literalists. They say, for example, that Jesus is presently sitting on the throne of David up in heaven. They agree that Jesus will return to this earth and reign from Jerusalem for a thousand years. But they concede that Jesus is presently sitting on David's throne. Like the Gospel Coalition, they employ the mantra, "Already, but not yet."
My response is that David never reigned upon a throne up in heaven. So how can Jesus presently be sitting upon David's throne? So how can His reign have begun?
The Messenger Gabriel's Prediction to Mary. (Luke 1:26-37) In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the messenger Gabriel to Nazareth to a virgin named Mary, espoused to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David (Luke 1:26-27). He told her not to fear, for she had found favor with God (Luke 1:30). He predicted that she would conceive in her womb and bear a son, whom she was to name "Jesus" (Luke 1:31). This son would be great, and would be called "the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32). Moreover, God would give Him the throne of His father David (Luke 1:32). He would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom would be eternal (Luke 1:33). It is worth noting that Gabriel included the same words, "throne," "house," and "kingdom" that Nathan the prophet had used when speaking to King David a thousand years earlier.
How would Mary have understood this prophecy? Would she have understood it to mean that her son Jesus would fulfill this prophecy by sitting up in heaven and reigning over the Church? She would have understood it to mean that her son Jesus would sit upon the throne of David in Jerusalem Israel. She would assume he would reign over the nation of Israel ("house of Jacob"), not over the Church. And she would assume that His kingdom would be unending.
Would any honest theologian say that Jesus is presently reigning over the nation of Israel? The vast majority of Jewish people do not admit that Jesus is their King. So how can Jesus presently, in any sense of the word, have begun His reign up in heaven? His own people do not acknowledge Him as King. I do not see any way that we can honestly say Jesus began His reign over Israel while seated on David's throne 2,000 years ago. That, to me, simply does not agree with what the Scriptures say would happen either in the prediction to David or in the prediction to Mary.
Psalm 110:1. The Messiah was instructed by Yahweh to sit at His right hand until Yahweh has made Messiah's enemies a footstool. Has Yahweh done that? I would say, "No." Therefore the Messiah's reign on earth has not yet begun.
Psalm 110:2. Is the Messiah's mighty scepter presently being wielded from Zion, Jerusalem, Israel? Is Messiah presently ruling in the midst of His enemies? The answer is "No." So His reign, which is to take place on earth, has not yet begun.
Psalm 110:5, 6. Is the Messiah presently shattering kings on the day of His wrath? Is He presently judging among nations, filling them with corpses? Of course not. Then the only plausible conclusion is that the Messiah's reign has not yet begun.
What has begun? In Psalm 110:4 we read that Yahweh has sworn and will not change His mind: "You (Messiah) are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." The truth of the matter is that Jesus has ascended to heaven and has begun now, for 2,000 years, his ministry as the Messianic Priest after the order of Melchizedek. That is perfectly in agreement with much of the argument of the epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17, 21).
Conclusion: So we conclude that the Davidic Kingdom of Christ has not yet begun. He has begun his Priestly Ministry after the order of Melchizedek. But He has not yet begun His rule over the Nation of Israel or over the Nations of the world. All those nations are presently in rebellion against Him. How can we possibly conclude that Christ's Kingdom has begun? His Priestly Ministry has doubtless begun. His Kingdom has not. It will be impossible for that to happen until He has returned to earth (Zech. 14:4, 9; Matt. 24:29-31; 25:31-46; Rev. 19:11-20:6).
For additional study, see another article by the author, "Not Already, Not Yet."
(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)
Updated July 9, 2021