Chapter 10

The King

There is a title given to the Lord in Isaiah (Isa. 9:6) which, while it has been taken to establish error on the one hand, seems on the other hardly to have been realized in its fulness of meaning by those most orthodox. It is that of "Everlasting Father," which is given in the margin of the Revised Version as (more literally) "Father of eternity." It is given to Him as One upon whose shoulder is the government in Israel, but of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end; and the titles given Him show His capacity for this rule. He is no ordinary king, but the "Wonderful" — "a phenomenon," says Delitzsch, "lying altogether beyond human conception or natural occurrence." Then He is the "Counselor," whose purposes in their deep unfathomable wisdom need and admit no help from others; who find, on the other hand, in Him their wisdom. For, thirdly, He is El-gibbor, "the Mighty God,"* infinite in resources, almighty in execution of His will; and then Abi-ad, the "Father of eternity," and "Prince of peace," which is the enduring effect.

{*Compare Isa. 10:21; Deut. 10:17; Jer. 32:18.}

But what, then, does this mean, "Father of eternity"? It is an inconceivability, says a recent commentator; for "eternity has no author." But the eternal state — eternity in that sense — has an Author; and it is just the glory of Christ, and coming here most perfectly in place among His other glories, that He is the Author of it. It is here that His "counsel" comes into full manifestation; it is here that the might of His Deity is seen in execution of His counsel; it is of this, finally, that peace is the necessary and abiding result. He it is who brings in that which endures forever, because in it divine love can rest in full satisfaction, eternity being only the seal of that perfection in which it can rest.

Thus Christ is the Father of eternity. The incorruptible seed of it was Himself, the corn of wheat dying that it might not abide alone. But it is when power is in His hand openly and His kingdom is established that it will be seen fully how "the times of restitution" have been waiting for Him, and what this implies for One with whom restitution is not bringing back that which has passed away, but the bringing in of that which cannot pass away.

The prayer that our Lord taught His disciples was not, as it has been often misconceived, "Father, may Christ's kingdom come." It was "Father, Thy kingdom come." And we need to recognize the difference in order to realize what Christ's own kingdom means. There has been put forth recently a view of this which will illustrate what I mean. It has been maintained that as it needs the double type of David and Solomon to give Christ's kingdom in its double character as that in which, first of all, enemies are subdued, and then peace prevails, so the millennial reign in which, to the last, enemies are being subdued, could only answer to the first part of this, the David-reign, and the Solomon-reign of peace would come after the millennium and be of long continuance. The millennium, it was argued, was neither in duration nor character a sufficient reign for Christ: it could only be the introduction to this, and the kingdom of peace itself must stretch far beyond it.

Now it is not my purpose to enter into the discussion of this, which it would seem a brief examination of Revelation would be enough to set aside; while the apostle's words in 1 Cor. 15 completely contradict it. For the time "when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father" is "when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. . . And when all things shall be subdued under Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all."

Thus the very idea of the Lord's reign as Man is this subdual of enemies and bringing things back to God. When this is accomplished, all is accomplished. He has no ends of His own beside. As He taught His disciples to pray for the coming of the Father's kingdom, so when he takes the throne, it is to bring it in. Every thing being settled according to God, He hastens to lay down the sceptre which as Man He has taken up, "that God may be all in all." He would not delay a moment the perfect blessing for which He has toiled, nor allow any other principle than that for which the "body prepared" was taken, "Lo, I am come, to do Thy will, O God."

This will prepare us for the better consideration of our Lord's kingship, so little understood, as it seems, by many who yet accept it as a fact, and look on to see Him take possession of His throne and share it with His people. Rule is for Him service still, and power taken is power to serve with. If in grace He has linked us with Himself in this, it is important to know the character of what is before us. Service we see, then, to be the suited preparation for a rule which will still be service, for love is the spirit of service, and cannot be separated from it.

In those anticipations of Christ with which the history of the chosen people furnishes us, the King came after both priest and prophet. Sacrifice being that upon which for sinners all must be founded, the priest was the first link between God and the people,* until the failure of Eli and his family causes a change. The ark goes into captivity for awhile, and when it returns is still in retirement. The prophet Samuel is raised up as an extraordinary instrument for awhile, and even offers sacrifice; but this only shows that there is no proper restoration. The people clamor for a king.

{*Moses, no doubt, preceded Aaron; and in Moses, prophet, priest, and king were in some sense united. But this was almost necessarily the character of him whom God first used to separate the people to Himself. Having consecrated Aaron according to the divine command, he in this respect retires behind Aaron.}

The need of a king had been long realized. God anticipates it even in Moses' day. Throughout the times of the Judges, though priests were there, and sometimes prophets, the judge had to be raised up as a temporary expedient for the lack of a king. "In those days there was no king in Israel: every one did that which was right in his own eyes."

Saul too, though, a king, is but a temporary expedient, yielded to the will of the people. With David only does the true king appear; and then for awhile Israel becomes a united and prosperous nation. But this also does not last: it is only the shadow yet, and not the substance; and to this the slow years are passing on.

His hands who have laid the foundation of the house, his hands must finish it (Zech. 4:9). The priest must be upon the throne (Zech. 6:13). Priest, prophet, king, each separately too weak, must unite in one for the accomplishment of the divine purpose. Love must meet the demands of righteousness, and take the veil from the face of God, before power can be put forth in a way worthy of God who is Love and righteousness. At the Cross, righteousness and power are both against the blessed Sufferer. After resurrection, and in the gospel, the King is hidden in God, that He may have a people conformed to His own likeness. Then at last, power must return to righteousness; what cannot be conformed must be destroyed: they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and them that work iniquity.

Yet even so, and though now there is power manifest, it is not as we might imagine — as most have imagined. There is not a general day of judgment and swift rooting out of evil to the uttermost, but a Kingdom of patient, however determinate rule, which persists for a thousand years. For a thousand years the lesson is given of the hopelessness of evil and the inherent curse that abides in it. The veil that has been over the nations is removed, and men are face to face with eternity and with God. The hands that bear rule were stretched out on the Cross for men, and there is no longer for any the possibility of denial or of ignorance of it. Satan is bound also for a thousand years; and, save in the heart of man, there is indeed "no adversary or evil occurrent." Death seems also, except for open rebellion, to have disappeared. Thus Paradise might seem to have come again for men; and no more with innocent ignorance of evil, but with the accumulated lessons of multiplied generations. If sin were but ignorance — were but deceivableness — were but circumstantial — now its dead hand must be dropped off of man and nature. "For the heavens rejoice and the earth is glad; the sea roars and the fulness thereof; the field is joyful, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord: for He is come, — for He is come to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth" (Ps. 96:11-13).

Such is the picture of the future for man with which the Old Testament closes; and had we only this we should most certainly believe that this would be the final condition, or passing at least peacefully and surely into that "heaven and earth in which dwelleth righteousness" of which Peter, borrowing from Isaiah, speaks. Who could imagine any further disaster to a world which had already endured so many? or think that this new Eden was destined to pass away like the one of old? and that any of those so blessed, so warned, so instructed, to whom faith might seem to have passed already into knowledge, could listen once more to the voice of the tempter, and fall from within view of an opened heaven into a hell as real and manifest?

Yet it is the New Testament that assures us that this will be. "When the thousand years shall be ended, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go forth to deceive the nations that are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up upon the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about and the beloved city; and fire came down from heaven and devoured them."

Thus comes to an end the last trial of man — perhaps of the creature — that shall ever be permitted. We may wonder, no doubt, why this is; but we may be sure, beforehand, that infinite wisdom, holiness, and love are in it, if God is in it. The Saviour of sinners is the King over all the earth, at the time when this last judgment of the living takes place; and He is "the same, yesterday, today, and forever." It is a permitted trial and exposure of those who through the long blessing of that wondrous time have hardened their hearts against all the goodness that appealed to them in it. It is the convincing proof that the condition of man is not the fruit of ignorance or of circumstances, but of sin, for which he is fully, and as judged by his own conscience, accountable. "Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life," is the Lord's own judgment of the men of His day. And here the end of confidence in the creature is reached absolutely. In God alone is help or hope.

After this last judgment of the living, the heavens and earth as now existing pass away, the judgment of the wicked dead at the "great white throne" takes place, and a new heaven and earth begin which are eternal. But events even such as these are not our present theme, but Christ Himself, though in such various relationship as all this implies; and we must now turn back to consider more particularly in this way our Lord's Kingship.

There is no doubt or difficulty with any Christian as to Christ's being King. It is a theological common-place that He is so. But as to what Isaiah, long before His coming, proclaimed of Him in the passage we were first of all looking at, "upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order and to establish it" — echoed and confirmed as this is by so much elsewhere — many Christians have still very great difficulty. It seems to them as if the title put upon His cross in the three languages of the world could only be given Him by enemies or detractors, and to take it seriously as His would only be (however unintentionally) to dishonor Him thereby.

Low and carnal thoughts there have been also as to a millennial reign, from the time of the early "Chiliasts," who imported into it the Jewish conceptions of Messiah's Kingdom with a large measure of their grotesque materiality. In very recent days, as in the present, there are those who would see in a renewed earth "the fairest nook of heaven," and bring down all the heavenly promises to earth-fulfilments. It seems almost needless to say, however, that Scripture keeps earth and heaven always distinct: and that as the earthly promises have their home in the Old Testament, so have the heavenly ones theirs in the New. But Christ is the centre and heart of both, and by reason of our interest in Him, we too, though Christians, have connection with Israel and the earth. To His own apostles the Lord promised that they should "sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28); and that is "when the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of His glory." When in heaven also John sees the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" take the book of the future, he records that in the praise of the redeemed that follows they say "We shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:10). And "to him that overcometh," the Lord Himself says, "will I grant to sit with Me upon My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father upon His throne" (Rev. 3:21).

This involves no taking up the earthly conditions again, whether for Him or ourselves. We have seen what this millennial kingdom means for Him, that the earth is put into His hands, in order to bring it back out of its long alienation, and subdue it to God. The "rod of iron," which is the symbol of its rule, (though a Shepherd's rod) dashes the rebellious in pieces like a potter's vessel (Ps. 2:9). This is again one of His promises to the overcomer to give him such power as this (Rev. 2:26, 27); but the character of it shows that it has to do only with a limited and peculiar time, and not with what is eternal. He is in this acting as the "Father of eternity," to give things their eternal order.

Israel will be then under the new covenant, which secures for them abiding blessing. None shall have need to say to another, Know the Lord; for they shall all know Him, and in His character as Saviour also: "for," He says, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Yet we shall make a great mistake if we think of this as if it implied a spiritual level such as in Christianity. In its way, it will doubtless be more perfect, but earthly and not heavenly, with no hostile world to meet, no cross to bear, no strangership in it. These are all the necessary result of their very blessing. Harder it is to think of the old ritual in measure restored, the temple and its services, and with the glory as of old, but now extending itself over the whole city of God — "a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night" (Isa. 4:5). Ezekiel sees it entering and filling the new temple (Ezek. 43:2-5), and hears of a "prince" who offers his sin-offering as of old, and has his inheritance and his sons (Ezek. 45:22; Ezek. 46:16). Notice, that he is not the "King;" and how all this, and the presence of the glory as of old, puts quite away the thought, if we ever had it, of any dwelling of Christ upon earth in this day of which Ezekiel prophesies.

He will reign, — and "on the throne of David"; so Scripture positively says: but this does not mean that heaven has become but another name for earth, still less for the land of Israel; it does not mean that the infinite glories of the Christ of God are to shrink into those merely of a mightier David or a wiser and more resplendent Solomon. The Old Testament conception of Messiah must be enlarged by the New Testament; not the New Testament one contracted to the measure of the Old. Only in this way, indeed, shall we find the Old Testament itself attain its complete meaning, when transfigured by a light not its own.

We have to remember also that the millennium is not eternity, nor the final rest of God. It is not the seventh day, the Sabbath of creation, but the sixth, the man and woman set over the earth to "subdue" and "hold it in subjection." The idea of a millennial sabbath is a foolish one upon the face of it; for God's sabbath can never be broken up again, could never be measured by a thousand years! No doubt, people have felt the incongruity, who have proposed to enlarge it, according to the "year-day" principle, to 360,000 years. That looks longer and more fitting, but only from a human standpoint; God's rest can only be eternal; and the close limitation to a thousand years has its lesson for us in this very way. It tells us that in taking the millennium as sabbath-rest, we are taking the temporal for the eternal, and the misconception, so fundamental as it is, must cling to all our thoughts of it.

Thus it is that we naturally expect as to it a spiritual development that, as to the earth, (and the millennium applies only to earth,) we shall not find in it, and not finding which, we shall be tempted to overlook or deny the plainest facts as to it, or to "spiritualize" what is too low to suit our notions of what ought to be. Yet how can we imagine for a moment an eternity for a "rod of iron," or (as this implies) the subduing of enemies? how can we spiritualize such things as these?

No, the millennial earth is not yet ready for it to be said, "The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell" — or "tabernacle" — "among them." That will be true as to the new earth, but we must not misplace it; and to misplace it, how much will be involved in this!

The millennium is a grand preparation-time. Even as to the heavenly saints, their joys and glories cannot be measured from this side of things. As to Israel and the nations, however blessed under the manifest rule of Christ they may and must be, it is for them only a preparation for eternity, — such a preparation as the centuries up to it, have been for the heavenly saints. And then, let us remember, it is a preparation still for earth, though for the new earth; and that means much — how much, we have none of us perhaps realized.

Over the millennial earth a heavenly King will rule, with a heavenly company of redeemed men by grace His associates and ministers; "upon the throne of David," but not in the palace of Solomon; and though with manifest and absolute power, yet with self-imposed restraints, both as to the manifestation and the exercise of this, such as the probationary and educational character of things implies, and a careful reading of the Old Testament will (I believe) make plain to one who reads it in view of this.

How blessed to turn to such a picture of that Kingdom as Psalm 72, for instance, exhibits! How different from any thing that hitherto has been seen on earth! But the New Testament alone it is which, if it does not say so much about the Kingdom, yet puts before us the King with the "crown with which," we may say, in a true and blessed sense, "His mother has crowned Him" (Cant. 3:11). For He is the Son of Man, and born of woman, and this is a glory won from His humiliation. From a deeper humiliation He has won another crown more glorious, and a crown with which His people crown Him with delight, "Emmanuel," God with us, even "Jesus, who hath saved His people from their sins."