by Jerry Shugart
III. The Messianic Kingdom and Progressive Dispensationalism
Was the Kingdom Inaugurated at the Lord Jesus' First Coming?
Darrell Bock says that "The kingdom is inaugurated with Jesus' first coming...throughout the survey of the kingdom concept in Luke's gospel, passages keep appearing that set forth the kingdom as
present" (Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Blaising and Bock, 43,47).
Bock singles out both Luke 11:20 and Luke 17:21 as evidence that the kingdom's arrival is declared even while the Lord Jesus walked the earth:
"Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, 'The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or
'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst" (Lk.17:20-21).
Later, however, when the Lord Jesus appeared before Pilate shortly before the Cross, He made it plain that His kingdom "is not of this world":
"Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my
kingdom not from hence" (Jn.18:36).
The Progressive Dispensationalists fail to realize that at Luke 11:20 figurative language was being used to enable the listeners to understand that the Lord Jesus is the promised King and not
to unequivocally declare that the promised kingdom was actually on the earth. When the Lord Jesus spoke about the kingdom being in the midst he was employing a figure of speech known as Metonymy or Change of Noun: "When one name or noun is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain relation...when the subject is put for something pertaining to it" (The Companion
Bible, King James Version [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990], Appendix 6: Figures of Speech).
Those who heard the Lord Jesus say that the kingdom is in the midst would know from the Old Testament Scriptures that the kingdom was not on the earth so they would understand that the Lord was using figurative language. He used the noun "kingdom" in the place of "king" so that those hearing Him would come to the conclusion that He was claiming to be the promised King of Israel.
Did the Lord Jesus' Kingdom Rule Begin When He Ascended into Heaven?
Bock writes that "it is clear that with Jesus' presence, and especially his Resurrection-Ascension, comes the beginning of Jesus' kingdom rule" [emphasis added] (Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Blaising and Bock, 65).
This teaching is false and it is a simple thing to prove that it is false. The Lord Jesus made it plain that the kingdom would not even be near until He returns to the earth:
"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (Lk.21:27-31).
The overall scheme of Progressive Dispensationalism is entirely dependent on the fiction that the kingdom is here already. However, these words of the Lord Jesus just quoted demonstrate that their teaching is false.
Bock also says that "the current phase of the kingdom has continuity with the kingdom to come" (Ibid., 66).
According to Bock the kingdom which is now present will continue until the next phase of the kingdom arrives. However, the Lord Jesus said that it will be when He returns to the earth when He will sit upon His throne, or rule in His kingdom:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory" (Mt.25:31).
The Greek word translated "then" means "then, at that time" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon).
So according to the Lord Jesus He will not sit upon His throne and the kingdom will not be here until "then," when He returns to the earth.
Bock understands that when the Lord speaks of sitting upon His throne he is speaking of ruling, saying "that throne is a pictorial description for rule" (Ibid., 51).
Bock says that the Lord Jesus is reigning now in His kingdom but the Lord Jesus says that will not happen until He returns to the earth.
A Mystery Form of the Messianic Kingdom?
Craig Blaising quotes the following passage in an effort to try to prove that there is a mystery form of the Messianic Kingdom:
"The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear" (Mt.13:41-43).
According to Blaising this passage is teaching that the Davidic kingdom will be on the earth before the Lord Jesus returns to the earth because the unsaved will be gathered out of that kingdom. He writes that the words 'gather out of His kingdom' "would appear to identify a situation 'before' the coming of the Son of Man as 'His kingdom.' Both those who belong to Him and those who will be condemned are
present in that form of the kingdom. After His coming, only the saved will be present in the kingdom. Both conditions, before and after His coming are called 'kingdom'...it is not a separate kingdom from that which
follows, but a phase, a 'mystery form' of the same kingdom" (Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 252-53).
Blaising is asserting that even before the Lord Jesus returns to the earth (when He will sit upon His throne) the Messianic Kingdom will already be on the earth. If he is right then some of those who will be gathered out of the Messianic Kingdom will be those who are "born again" because only those who are born again can enter into that kingdom (Jn.3:3-5). So if Blaising is right then we must believe that those who will be born again will be gathered out of the Messianic Kingdom despite the following words of the Lord Jesus:
"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (Jn.6:37).
The kingdom from which the unsaved will be cast out is the Universal Kingdom which is populated by
both the saved and the unsaved. There is no such thing as a mystery form of the Messianic Kingdom.
The Invisible Kingdom?
Darrell Bock writes that "Jesus rules from heaven, not earth, and thus the kingdom is invisible only in the sense that the rule does not originate visibly from earth" (Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Blaising and Bock, 53).
This cannot be correct because the LORD promised David that both his kingdom and his throne are established for ever:
"And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam.7:6).
Since David's throne was an earthly throne and his kingdom was a visible one and since that earthly throne and visible kingdom have been established for ever then throughout history it will remain an earthly throne and a visible kingdom.
But the Progressive Dispensationalists teach that the throne of David is now in heaven. However, that is impossible because the LORD said that He would not "alter" the promises which He made to David:
"I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant...Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.
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" (Ps.89:3,33-35).
According to Bock the Lord did in fact alter the promises which He made to David because He said that David's earthly throne and visible kingdom are established for ever but it was not really for ever because it is now a heavenly throne and an invisible kingdom.
Hath Translated Us Into the Kingdom of the Son
Robert Saucy writes that "the verse that most clearly expresses some kind of present position in the kingdom is Paul's statement that the Father 'has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into
the kingdom of the Son he loves' (Col 1:13)" (The Case for Progressive Dispensatioalism, 107-8).
Here is the verse which Saucy quotes:
"Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Col.1:13; KJV).
The Greek word translated "hath translated" means "to transpose, transfer, remove from one place to another" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1977], 395).
The following is the way that believers have been translated into the kingdom:
"Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places
in Christ Jesus" (Eph.2:5-6).
Today believers are said to be "in Christ" and are totally identified with Him and since the Lord Jesus is now sitting on the throne of the Father (Rev.3:21) then it can be said that believers are now with Him as He sits
at the throne of the Father. The Father's throne is the throne of the Universal Kingdom and not the throne of David. Therefore, Paul's words at Colossians 1:13 have nothing at all to do with anyone being translated into the Messianic Kingdom.
Acts 2 and Psalm 110
Robert Saucy writes that "the meaning of the 'right hand of God' in Psalm 110:1 and Acts 2:33 is, therefore, the position of messianic authority. It is the throne of David" [emphasis added]
(Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, 72).
When we look at Acts 2 and Psalm 110 we can see that Saucy makes another error. First, let us first look at what Peter said at Acts 2:
"Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses" (Acts 2:30-32).
One of the meanings of the Greek word translated "raised up" in both instances where it is used by Peter is "to raise up from death" (Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 47).
An examination of the "context" where the same word is used twice reveals that the subject is indeed the Lord Jesus' resurrection from the dead: "He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
Besides that, it has already been demonstrated that the Lord will not sit upon the throne of David until He returns to the earth so it is obvious that He is not now sitting upon the throne of David:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory" (Mt.25:31).
We also know that before the Messianic Kingdom will be set up on the earth that all the unbelievers will be
gathered out of the world because only those who are born again can enter into that kingdom (Jn.3:3-5). When we look at Psalm 110 we can see the Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of God and all the unbelievers remain in the world:
"The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool...The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen,
he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries" (Ps.110:1,5-6).
From this we can know that now the Lord Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God and the world is full of unbelievers and therefore the Messianic Kingdom has not yet been ushered in because only
believers will populate that kingdom.
When speaking of the career of the Lord Jesus Darrell Bock writes that "what emerges is a picture of a career that comes in stages as different aspects of what the Old Testament promised are brought to fulfillment
at different phases of Jesus' work. One might characterize these phases as 'already' and the 'not yet' of Jesus' career,or by reference to the kingdom, as the invisible and the visible kingdom of God. One should not fear
'already and not yet' terminology, since all Bible students accept its presence in soteriology: 'I am saved (i.e., justified) already--but I am not yet saved (glorified)' is good theology. The same structure applies to
Christology that is wedded to eschatology" (Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Blaising and Bock, 46).
The problem with this idea is the fact that no single aspect of salvation can be chararcterized as being already but not yet. For instance, the salvation of the soul happens the moment when a person believes (Hebrews 10:39; Eph.1:13) so it is obvious that there is no such thing in regard to the salvation of the soul as already/not yet. And the same can be said about the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom. The establishing of that Kingdom will only
happen once so it makes no sense to say that it has already been ushered in but at the same time it hasn't. Here is what Paul said concerning the method of his preaching:
"And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures" (Acts 17:2).
In order to take the concept of already/not yet seriously we must throw our reason to the wind because it defies logic. The concept is nothing more than a failed attempt to explain the fact that the Lord Jesus
said that the Messianic Kingdom would not even be near at hand until He returns to the earth:
"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And
he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass,
know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (Lk.21:27-31).
The Progressives Dispensationalists look at these words of the Lord Jesus and say that the Messianic Kingdom is "already" here even though the Lord Jesus said that Kingdom is "not yet" because it awaits His return to the earth. If there is a more outrageous example of theological legerdemain than the concept of "already/not yet" I am unaware of what it might be.
Thy Will Be Done In Earth As It Is In Heaven
The Lord Jesus told His disciples to pray in the following way:
"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Mt.6:9-10).
If the Messianic Kingdom is in our midst, as the Progressive Dispensationalists argue, then are we supposed to believe that the will of the Father is now being done on the earth as it is in heaven? If the Progressive Dispensationalists are correct that we are now living in the Kingdom age then we must somehow trick our mind into believing that the Kingdom age is an evil age because Paul described the present age as being evil:
"...who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (Gal.1:4; NIV).
The Progressive Dispensationalists put a lot of emphasis on the teaching of the kingdom of God found in the Bible. Saucy writes that "the concept of the kingdom looms large on the pages of Scripture. Its features are the dominant content of Old Testament prophecy. It is the theme of the proclamation of Jesus according to the Gospels...All this leads to the conclusion that the kingdom of God is one of the grand themes, if not 'the' theme, of Scripture" (The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, 81).
Despite the importance of the revelation found in the Bible about the Kingdom the Progressive Dispensationalists prove themselves unable to understand that the throne upon which the Lord Jesus now sits is the Father's throne and that throne is not the throne of David. And because of that error they assert that since the Messianic Kingdom has now been inaugurated then the New Covenant is in force now. Bock wrote that "in the Old Testament the fulfillment of the new covenant is tied to the inauguration of the kingdom (Jer. 31-33; Ezek. 36-37)" [emphasis added] (Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Blaising and Bock, 43).
Since the Lord Jesus is not now sitting upon the throne of David and therefore the Messianic Kingdom has not yet been inaugurated it is obvious that the New Covenant promised to Israel is not now in force. Next we will look at the failed attempt of the Progressive Dispensationalists to try to prove that those in the Body of Christ partake of Israel's New Covenant.