on the book of Revelation
By John Brown
F. Pitman, 1866
Revelation xx. 1-6.
"Men have nowhere given up hoping; nor acquiesced in the world's evil as the world's law. Everywhere they have had a tradition of a time when they were nearer to God than now—a confident hope of a time when they should be brought nearer again." Amidst the conflicts and toils of the present, humanity has looked both to the past and the future for comfort. The poets have sung of a golden age gone by, and there has been a vague belief that the former days were better than these. And this dream of a better time in the past is not wholly a dream, but has its basis in fact. It is the unspent echo of sweetest music from the bowers of Eden, and it finds a response in human hearts because it recalls that state of innocence when there was nothing to hurt or destroy. And while men have thus glanced backward with regret, they have also looked forward with hope. In the darkest days they have seemed to see the beacon-fire of promise on the hill-tops of the future. Again and again have the hands that were hanging down been lifted up, in the confident expectation of a good time coming.
Is this expectation true and well-founded? Or is it merely a poet's dream? A poet's dream it may be, for this is often deeper and truer than the historian's facts. But it is not merely a dream; it is a good hope, founded on the assurance of Him who is not a man that He should lie, or the son of man that He should repent. The Lord not only sustains this hope, but was the first to give it birth. Scripture is jubilant with the expectation that "there shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains: the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon, and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth." As the ancient prophet turned his face towards the future, it became bright with the light of coming glory. He declares that "the little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation, the Lord will hasten it in His time." In words of cheer he says to the Church, "The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." He bids her "lift up thine eyes round about and see all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for, the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended." In that blessed time of peace the nations shall not vie with each other in building the most powerful ships of war, or in forging the most destructive artillery; for "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
And the glory that lit up the face of psalmist and prophet makes radiant the visions of the beloved disciple in the isle of Patmos. Having told us of that royal victor who went forth on the white horse, and who overthrew one enemy after another, he then describes what next he saw. On mighty wing there descended an angel from heaven, having in one hand the key of the bottomless pit, and in the other a powerful chain. And he laid hold of the dragon, that ancient serpent whose trail was in Paradise, that serpent which is the devil or the accuser, and Satan or the adversary, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years shall be fulfilled. The saints are glad and triumph, reigning with their Lord. Thus Scripture throughout rings with the joyful promise that the earth shall have its golden age again.
In this general belief all Christian men agree and rejoice together. But when we come more closely to the question, there is very considerable diversity of opinion as to when and how that golden age shall dawn. One section of the Church believes that the millennial time of blessedness will be before the second coming of our Lord: while the other section contends that that second coming will usher in the millennium, that our Lord will appear in person, and reign on the earth with His saints.
In the course of these lectures, I have intentionally said as little as possible about the other interpretations of the book of Revelation that have been given, preferring rather, as I stated at the outset, to give only that which commends itself to my own judgment. In dealing with the millennium, however, I can hardly do so to any purpose without referring to the various opinions that are entertained concerning it. I have never been able to see my way to the millenarian belief in the "personal reign" of Christ on earth; but in speaking of it, I hope I shall not forget that it is the belief of some very devout and prayerful men whose Christian excellence wins my respect, even when their interpretation of Scripture fails to do so. I believe that they are in error, but in error that is based on a truth that was in danger of neglect, and which they have brought into prominence. They have lifted the eyes of the Church from the dust and conflict of the present, and directed her gaze more steadily to the great hope of Christ's second coming. For this we thank them, even while we part company with them; and let me say also, that if I reject their belief, it is not because it is too bright and too glowing, but because it is not bright and glowing enough. If my conception of Christ's kingdom were lower than theirs, I should feel at once that that was a fatal objection to it, and should abandon it for that reason alone. If I am not looking for that for which they are looking, it is because I am firmly persuaded "God has provided some better thing for us."
The history of the millenarian doctrine falls into three periods. The early Christians, suffering bitterly from the persecution of the heathen, looked for the near approach of Christ and the righting of their wrongs in an earthly kingdom, where the saints should have power. The blood of the martyrs, was the seed, and the kingdom of Christ was to be the harvest. There was diversity of opinion, but the views of many of the early Christians were of a very sensuous sort, and extremely objectionable. In the Alexandrian Church Origen resisted this chiliasm, as it was then called—chilias being the Greek word, as mille is the Latin, for a thousand—and its influence began to decline. In the Roman Church it maintained a longer hold. But with Augustine arose the idea that the Church is the kingdom of God upon earth; and this teaching, together with the altered political position of the Church, led to the downfall of the doctrine. When persecution ceased, and Christianity came to sway the civil power, this was thought to be the victory promised, and men accepted this as the millennium for which they had waited. The end of the world was looked for at the end of the first thousand years after Christ, and there was little, if any, expectation of a visible earthly reign of the Messiah.
But with the Reformation there came a revival of the millenarian hope. The persecution by the papal power took the place of that by the pagan so many centuries before, and the martyrs looked for a speedy coming of Christ, and a speedy redemption of His Church. Many minds found signs of His coming in the wonders that were taking place among them, and a thousand tokens in heaven and earth were interpreted as heralding that coming. The Reformers cherished these expectations. But the Anabaptists and others had such gross views of the millennium, that the Protestant Church, in both its branches, was obliged to denounce their caricatures as Judaizing fanaticism. The Lutherans denounced them in the Augsburg, and the Reformers in the Helvetic Confession.  These denunciations settled the matter for the whole Church for a time, though there were a few here and there who continued to put forth the doctrine.
The learned and devout Bengel introduced, in Germany, the third period of millenarianism. In 1740 he published his explanation of the Apocalypse. By calculations, of the truth of which he was very confident, he fixed 1835 as the date of the end of the world. In England, Joseph Mede had a century before revived the interest of the Church in millennial studies. By his book on the Apocalypse, he became really the father of the modern school of continuous historic interpretation, and ever since, more or less, there has prevailed the belief in Christ's personal reign with His saints on earth.
Those who hold this belief, trusting to certain calculations based on prophetic Scripture, say that we have reached the time of the end, and that we may almost any moment expect the second advent of our Lord. They trust to this for the conversion of the world, saying that the present agencies are only intended to spread the Gospel for a witness to all nations, and so to gather out an elect few. They say that the word and the Spirit, working through Christian institutions, are insufficient for the conversion of the world. Edward Irving, in his "Lectures on Prophecy," says:—"It will be shown to you from the word of God, I trust, that it is not by the progress of society, or the march of intellect, or the advancement of science; that it is not by the spread of modern opinions, or the rise and growth of liberal institutions; that it is not by means of schools, and hospitals, and peace societies, and temperance societies; no, nor even by means of Sunday-schools, and tract societies, and missions to the heathen, however good in their place these may be (and we have reason to thank God in many respects for these); it is not by these means that Satan's kingdom will be overthrown, that the world will be delivered from his dire oppression, and the universal reign of righteousness and peace be introduced; but 'by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven.'" In conformity with this view they continually show that the world is growing worse and worse. In this boasted nineteenth century light, superstition of the grossest kind, say they, grows rank, and the uprising and rapid spread of Mormonism and Spiritualism present prodigies so monstrous that we should regard them as impossible if we had not seen them. Then, looking upon the Church as it is as well as the world, they note "the great and rapid spread of scepticism within its borders; the very limited extent to which Scripture is now, by Christians, read, studied, and heartily accepted; the feebleness of our faith generally; the all but complete obliteration of old distinctions between the Church and the world; the very low estimate formed by outsiders of the spirituality, disinterestedness, and general moral elevation of believers; and the unscriptural idea of Christianity which now dominates in religious society. Looking at these things in the Church, they see iu them signs, not of advancement, but of an approaching catastrophe." They say there are special reasons for believing that the finger of prophecy points to 1866 or 1867 as the time of the second coming, when a very different state of things will be brought about. Then, at His coming, the dead saints shall be raised, and the living shall be changed, rising to meet Him in the air. To use their own words, "instantly on this, the earth's internal fires shall burst forth at a thousand orifices, the gases that compose our atmosphere shall ignite, the heavens and the earth shall melt with fervent heat, and the world, with the living wicked on it, and the dead wicked buried in it, shall be burned up." According to the prophecies of Zechariah, say they, our Lord shall appear, "and His feet shall stand upon the mount of Olives, which shall cleave beneath Him in the midst thereof." He shall then establish His court at Jerusalem, and shall, with the risen saints, reign there for a thousand years. The Jews, having been brought in with the fulness of the Gentiles, shall dwell in their own land, and thus Jesus shall literally sit upon the throne of His father David. According to the prophecy of Zechariah xiv., just referred to, it is said that the rest of the nations of the earth shall come up, either personally, or by deputy, to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles at Jerusalem. Some even maintain that the ancient sacrifices will be revived for the instruction of the Church. But the main hope of their belief is that the Saviour shall literally sit upon His ancestral throne in the glory of His kingdom.
This is, on the whole, a fair statement of millenarian belief. There are perplexing differences among them, being almost as many variations of opinion as there are writers, but in substance I think I have presented the main features of the school to which they all belong. Let me now say a word or two on a few of the principal points thus advanced.
And first on the matter of the dates that have been fixed. I do not hesitate to say that these have not a particle of evidence from Scripture on which to rest. It has been a favourite belief, that as the work of creation is represented as being completed in six days, the seventh being a Sabbath, and as it is said that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, the world would last seven thousand years, the last thousand years being the Sabbath of the millennium; and as the world, according to the calculation of some chronologists, has lasted about six thousand years already, we are therefore on the eve of the seventh millenary period. But no one will surely maintain that this is a fair application of Peter's words, when he said that with the Lord a thousand years are but as one day, and one day as a thousand years. I need hardly say that he was then sublimely affirming that all periods are equally present to the Infinite mind. This, and nothing more than this, was intended. It seems to me vastly more probable—for, when Scripture is silent, probabilities are all that any man can advance—that the world will continue for many thousands of years yet. It must be remembered that before Christ came, the work of preparation for His coming lasted four thousand years; and it is very likely, to say the least, that the period prepared for will be longer than the period of preparation. But on both sides this is mere guessing, without much ground to go upon; and we must leave it.
The more common mode of calculation with the millenarians is this: it is said that a prophetic day sometimes means a year, and that when John, in the Apocalypse, speaks of the wilderness state of the Church as 1260 days, he means really 1260 natural years; and as the Papacy was established in 606, when the Emperor Phocas declared the pope the head of all the Churches, and sole universal bishop, we thus reach 1866 as the time when this wicked one shall be destroyed by the brightness of Christ's appearing. Or thus Dr. Cumming reaches his famous conclusions. In a letter published a few years ago he says, "I have collected, from a comparison of the prophetic dates of Daniel and the Apocalypse with historic facts, that the first great period of 1260 years began in A.D. 530, or when the civil power invested the Roman pontiff with imperial and civil as well as hierarchical jurisdiction. It ended in 1790, as it began in 530, at which period the Papacy ceased to be an absolutely dominant power. Daniel tells us that two distinct periods of time are to be added to this last—one of thirty years, and another of forty-five. Adding thirty, we find that we land at the beginning of the drying up of the Euphrates, or wasting of the Mahometan dynasty in Europe; viz., A.D. 1820. Add to 1820 the second period of forty-five years specified by Daniel, and we arrive at 1865, at the end of which Daniel says, He that cometh is blessed." As we are now in 1866, and nothing very special has yet happened, I presume this calculation will require, and may possibly have received, revision. But mark how utterly worthless is the whole process of calculation from beginning to end. I will say nothing now of the sufficiency of what I take to be the more scriptural explanation of the 1260 days already given in the fourth lecture. I will simply deal with the mode of reckoning here adopted. And, first of all, it is by no means probable, much less is it certain, that a prophetic day means a natural year, and that therefore the 1260 days are 1260 years. For what is the proof advanced? The spies sent forth to Canaan searched the land forty days, and Israel, for their unbelief, were to wander in the wilderness as many years. "After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years" (Num. xiv. 34). Again, Ezekiel was bidden of the Lord to lie on his left side 390 days, and bear the iniquity of Israel. "For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, 390 days; so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel" (Ezek. iv. 5). It is said that in each of these passages a day represents a year; to which I answer, Yes, a day represents a year, but in each case "a day" means a day, and not a year. Because in these instances a day is openly stated to typify a year, it is surely a long step to take when it is assumed that therefore everywhere in prophetic Scripture, without any such statement, we are to conclude that a day means a year. But perhaps the strongest proof in favour of the year-day theory is the passage in Daniel ix. 24, where it is said, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness." Now it is admitted on all hands that a period of 490 years is here signified by the seventy weeks, and therefore it. is said a day stands for a year, seventy weeks being 490 days. But the reply is that the original words are simply these, "Seventy sevens are determined," etc. We happen to know that seventy sevens of years are meant; but, in fact, neither days nor years are mentioned. To show that the word for "seven" does not always imply a week of days, there are passages where the word "days" is added when a week is intended. There are two instances in the second and third verses of the very next chapter. It seems to me that the proof that a day means a year utterly breaks down.
It is sheer guessing, then, to say that the 1260 days mean 1260 years; and even if it were not, no one seems to know when we ought to begin to count them. The starting-point is a purely arbitrary one. We have seen that Dr. Cumming chooses 530 A.D., because he says the pope was then invested with civil and imperial power; Faber, Seiss, and others prefer 606, when the Emperor Phocas declared the pope to be head of all the Churches; while Newton could not make up his mind between 727, 755, 774, and 787. Between the first and last date there is a difference of more than two centuries and a half! And even if they were all agreed, there remains what seems to me the absurdity of supposing that the Divine dispensations would be arranged to count from the formal decree of a Roman emperor, or from the time when the pope broke away from the Eastern emperor, or obtained the exarchate of Ravenna. The Divine counsels are far more deeply rooted in the nature of things than that.
I cannot now dwell upon the unwarrantable and unphilosophical plan of lengthening out the 1260 days, as Dr. Cumming does, by adding to them the additional thirty days and forty-five days mentioned by the prophet Daniel. The book of Daniel and the book of Revelation, while they occasionally use the same symbols, have a widely different purpose, and bear on totally different events. The one is concerned with Jewish history, and, as we have seen, has been literally fulfilled; the other describes, in symbol, the spiritual future of the Church of God. But I must now leave this question of the dates and calculations of the millenarians, and in doing so can only express astonishment that they have found acceptance so long.
Let me now advert to the statement that Christ's second coming will be for the conversion of the world. It has been said, as we have seen, that the means at work during the present dispensation are wholly inadequate to this end, and that in fact both the Church and the world are growing worse instead of better. On the present spiritual condition of the race, as compared with the past, we none of us have accurate data for judgment; and therefore there will be differences of opinion. To the Lord alone all hearts are naked and open, and He alone knows perfectly the ebb and flow of spiritual life among men. But, looking at the facts as far as we can reach them, I come to a more cheerful conclusion than the one I have mentioned. I admit that our age has its special spiritual dangers, from the increase of activity, of wealth and luxury. But no age of the Christian Church has been without its peculiar perils and discipline. I see also that there are deadly errors ripening, and serious conflicts coming. But, on the other hand, there are features of the times that are intensely hopeful. I hold that even the sceptical books that have appeared and made a stir through the land are not tokens of a declining, but of an increasing spirit of inquiry as to the things of God. They are signs that the tide of truth is rising, and flooding those bays of human thought where for so long there has been a mere stretch of foul and barren beach. Christianity is certainly not retiring from our literature, our legislation, or our social life; but rather under its influence society is growing more just and more humane. It is more resolutely bent on grappling with the dreadful evils that were gnawing at its heart. Moreover, the Church is, with an energy hitherto unparalleled, carrying out schemes for meeting the spiritual wants of the people; and there are many things done and doing for which every Christian heart will be devoutly grateful to God. It is very possible that some old modes of life and action which have been regarded as part and parcel of Christianity, but which were, in fact, only part and parcel of ourselves, will pass away. But the Spirit of God is a creative Spirit, and the life that He implants will have its own mode of development. There are very many things about our religious societies, and much that is human about our Churches, that might vanish away without any very great cause for regret. I think we are on the eve of losing a good many things, the loss of which will be a great gain to the true life of the Church. We may have less reverence for human inventions, but wo shall have all the more for God's great verities afterwards. These external matters I hold lightly; but I do maintain that God's Spirit, working through God's word, as it is read or spoken, is with ever increasing power bringing sinful men within the sphere of His influence who is the Life of the world. The Divine working in these days does not show itself precisely in the forms of the past; but it is mighty and living, and, after all, life is the grand thing. In coming to- a right judgment on the efficacy or otherwise of the present means employed for the conversion of the world, let us not forget that 4000 years rolled away ere Christ appeared, and scarcely half that period has gone by since. Let us not overlook the manifest preparation going on slowly but surely in the heathen world. Men have begun to doubt the truth of the superstitions of their fathers; ancient systems of darkness are tottering to their fall. By-and-bye it may not be an exaggeration to speak of a nation being born in a day. So it may seem when the event comes, and yet the greater part of the work may have been silently going on out of sight, in the midst of a generation that believed there was little or nothing doing for the salvation of the world. I am not at all prepared to admit the work to be so hopeless at present that we can expect nothing for the world till Christ shall, in bodily form, appear on the earth again. We have Him with us now,—with us by the Spirit,—with us in the form He Himself declared to be most for our advantage. He said to His disciples, "It is expedient for you that I go away." He speaks of great spiritual works being accomplished, not through His bodily presence, but through His mediation and the descent of the Spirit which He would shed forth. Pointing to His miracles, He declares of the believer, "Greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father." Moreover, it is nowhere said that Christ's coming will be for the conversion of the world, except in such passages as this, "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son," words that, without any straining, admit of a purely spiritual interpretation. But on the contrary, Christ's second coming is distinctly stated to be for very different purposes. So far from the Church being then at its worst state, and the world needing to be converted, the Church shall then be complete, and shall be presented to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. He shall then "come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that have believed." He will then come, not to commence the salvation of His people, but to complete it. "Our citizenship is in heaven, whence also we look for the Saviour, who shall change the body of our humiliation, and fashion it like to the body of His glory, by that energy with which He is able to subject all things to Himself." All this is quite in the spirit of the rest of Scripture. When Christ comes again it will not be to convert, but to judge. "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. And before Him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . . Then shall He say unto them on His left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first." "The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." So runs the strain; and whether the means now in operation be sufficient or insufficient to convert the world, it is manifest that Scripture says nothing of Christ's personal presence accomplishing that end. When He comes again, it will not be as at first to seek and save the lost, but to be glorified in His saints, to wake the sleeping dead, and to execute judgment upon a world which has reached its end.
It may be said, it has been said, "If the world is to be converted before Christ come, if, ere He appear, the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, then His coming cannot be near; and yet men are bidden to watch for it as if it were." I can only answer that the first disciples were as urgently commanded to watch for His appearing as are we; still 1800 years have rolled by, and His second coming is not yet. They also were bidden to watch, I repeat, though His personal advent was not near; for in truth there are other and nearer forms of His coming, for which we are all to be prepared. He comes in life, He comes in death; He comes in mercy, He comes in judgment; yet too often He passes by, and blind eyes behold Him not; therefore it is said, "Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of man cometh." It has been well said, "When brighter light breaks on the world's darkness,—when old errors die, and old wrongs are abolished,—when the spirit of fervid piety gains full sway of Christian hearts, and the Church is wholly consecrated in time, talent, purse, and purpose to the Lord,—all this will be in answer to that inspired prayer, 'Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!'"
Let me now, as briefly as I can, refer to that other important aspect of millenarian belief—the personal reign of Christ on earth.
I have already said that there are some who take literally those words in the book of Zechariah, "And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof, toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains ; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, King of Judah; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee." It is believed that He will thus establish His court at Jerusalem, and with His risen saints reign there for a thousand years. Thus shall He literally sit upon the throne of His father David. With respect to the words of Zechariah, (chap. xiv.) I may just say that we can hardly insist upon interpreting a book so full of visions and symbols quite literally. Or, if we thus literally understand one part of this chapter, we must take the rest literally too, and we shall then meet with insuperable difficulties. There is, perhaps, some light given in a passage from the prophet Micah (i. 3, 4), where he says, "Behold the Lord cometh forth out of His place, and will tread upon the high places of the land. And the mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft." These words relate to the Assyrian invasion, and were then fulfilled. Jehovah did not, however, literally "tread upon the high places of the land," nor were the "valleys" literally "cleft." Without going more fully into this 14th chapter of Zechariah, which is beside my purpose now, it seems to me that its purport is sufficiently described when it is said that the prophet declares "that as the result of the advent of Messiah there should be a removal of the obstacles that prevented the accession of the Gentiles to the Church; that the gospel should then be diffused among all nations; and that the time should eventually come, when, to use the language of Isaiah, ' Many people would go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.'"  But—to pass by this to the main question—it is said that Christ will come to establish His kingdom; to which I reply that kingdom is already established, and a very serious evil flowing from millenarianism is that it disputes this. It is not because the kingdom is limited in its influence, that they say it is not as yet set up. Dr. Leask says, "Let us imagine the issue of Christian ministry—a Christianised globe, every land basking in the Sun of righteousness, every language sending up its daily anthems of adoration to the Saviour, and every form of idolatry, superstition, injustice, oppression, and moral wrong abolished from the rising to the setting of the sun. I ask, What then? Would not this satisfy the royal rights of the Lord Jesus? Would not this fulfil all the predictions on the pages of both Testaments regarding His kingdom and dominion? And would not this entirely supersede the doctrine of the pre-millennial advent, and prove conclusively that those who had taught it had all along laboured under a mistake? I answer, No!—emphatically, earnestly, No!" It is maintained that "the visible presence of the King" is essential to "the proper character of the kingdom of Christ." And because He is not visibly and bodily present, they say His kingdom is not yet set up. But, on the other hand, Scripture most plainly declares that by His resurrection and ascension Christ was exalted to be king. It is said that God the Father "raised Christ from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet" (Eph. i. 20-22). Peter, speaking of Christ, says, "Him hath God exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour." And, on the day of Pentecost, the drift of his argument was strongly in the same direction. He shows that the promise to David was that Christ should sit on his throne, and that that was fulfilled at the resurrection of Christ. "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." Peter then goes on to say that "this Jesus hath God raised up," that He is already "by the right hand of God exalted." He argues that David is not ascended into the heavens: "but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool." So far from the second coming of our Lord being the time when He shall enter upon His kingdom, it is rather the time when He will deliver it up to God, even the Father. "Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; 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 mark this—"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." Believe me, Christ is already king, and His kingdom will for ever grow in grandeur and power as the years roll on.
The notion of the personal reign has always seemed to me to degrade the relation of Christ with His followers. It is not merely, as I think, contrary to the letter of Scripture, but vastly more opposed to its loftier spirit. There are many who believe it will be vastly better for the world and the Church when Christ shall live again on earth in a body, and be visible as in body. They know not what manner of spirit they are of. Let them ponder the words of Dr. Bushnell. If Christ come in the body, "He will of course be here or there in space, a locally present being at some particular geographic point—Jerusalem, or London, or Rome—or going about in all places by turns. Hearing now that He is here or there, we shall think no more of seeing Him by faith, and begin to think of seeing Him with our eyes. Every ship that sails will be crowded with eager multitudes pressing on to see the visible Christ. Thronging in thus, month by month, a vast seething crowd of pilgrims, curious and devout, poor and rich, houseless all and hungry, trampling each other, many of them sick, not one of them in the enjoyment truly of God's peace, not one of a thousand getting near enough to see Him, still fewer to hear Him speak,—how long will it take, under such kind of experience, to learn what Christ intended, and the solid truth of it when He said, 'It is expedient for you that I go away?' Nothing would be more inexpedient, or a profounder affliction, than a locally descended, permanently visible Saviour. . . . There is nothing, I must frankly say, that would be so nearly a dead loss of Christ to any disciple who knows Him in the dear companionship of faith, as to have Him come in visible show; either setting up His reign at some geographic point, or reigning aerially in some flitting and cursitating manner which cannot be traced. How beautifully accessible is He now everywhere, present to every heart that loves Him; consciously dear, as friend, consoler, guide, and stay, in all conditions; close at hand in every sinking ship in the uttermost parts of the sea; the sweet joy of dungeons underground, where there is no light to see Him in a body; immediately and all diffusively present, to comfort every sorrow, support every persecution, and even to turn away the tempting thought before it comes." 
And, overwhelming as are these difficulties in the path to a belief in a literal personal reign of Christ on earth, they are not the only ones. Some of the millenarians—for there is perplexing diversity among them here—first state that the present constitution of things will be wholly changed, and then unconsciously assume that it will continue as it is. We are told that when Christ comes in the clouds of heaven, "The earth having given up the silent dust of the saints, then the fire that is treasured up in the very centre of the earth shall burst forth at ten thousand crevices,—'the elements shall melt as with fervent heat,'—the solid rocks shall blaze as if they were wax, and the rivers as if they were oil; and the weary old earth, having undergone the ordeal of the last fire, shall regain its pristine purity, and become fit for the immediate presence of the descending Saviour and His risen saints." So writes Dr. Cumming; and in this he is borne out by the apostle Peter, who tells us, in a book which is simply didactic and not symbolic, that "in the day of the Lord the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein shall be burned up." Yet, after such stupendous changes as these, it is quietly assumed that Jerusalem will be where it was, that Palestine will continue as before, and the Jews go up to dwell in their own land; and, since we are to take the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah literally, thither will all the nations of the earth repair to keep the feast of tabernacles! The earth and all its works shall be burned up: yet we are told of the amazing facilities for modern intercourse which Palestine will still possess after the kingdom is there established; and we are told that "it is not easy to estimate the commercial grandeur to which a kingdom may attain, planted as it were on the very apex of the Old World, with its three continents spreading out beneath its feet, and with the Red Sea on one side to bring in all the golden treasures and spicy harvests of the East, and the Mediterranean floating in on the other side all the skill and enterprise and knowledge of the West."
In all that is said about the earthly kingdom, it is also forgotten that a change shall pass on man as marvellous as that which shall pass over the earth at Christ's second coming. In the course of his sublime argument on the resurrection, in the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle shows that man will hereafter have a spiritual body. Just as there are different kinds of flesh in the natural bodies of earthly creatures, so there are bodies terrestrial and bodies celestial, and the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. Man will have his natural body first, and his spiritual body after. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore these must be laid aside, and there will be a resurrection. Every man in his own order, Christ the firstfruits, afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, as the trumpet sounds that heralds His approach, shall the spiritual body be assumed. At His coming shall the vital change be made, and then all the affinities of man's bodily nature shall be with a spiritual state. Yet, according to the millenarian theory, the risen saints are to live and reign in a world still fitted to an earthly body, for the Jews are to live in the literal Palestine, Jerusalem is to have its "commercial grandeur," and "golden treasures and spicy harvests" will come by way of the Red Sea for her use. Moreover, if the saints only are to rise and reign, those yet to be converted will still be in fleshly bodies. Thus there will be two orders of beings living together in the same world; one order having bodies of flesh and blood, and bound by earthly conditions, and the other order having spiritual bodies, and raised above those conditions.
Then, again, there is yet another difficulty in the millenarian's path. According to Scripture, as we have seen, at Christ's second coming the dead will rise and judgment will be declared. Thus the final spiritual state of mankind will have commenced. And if Christ's coming be before the millennium, then the millennium will be the beginning of the perfect spiritual state and blessedness of believers. And yet this twentieth chapter of the Revelation says that after the millennium has reached its end there will be a relapse. "When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth." If, then, pre-millennialism be true, sin shall prevail even after the old world is burned up and the new world has come; there shall be another fall, even after the spiritual body is assumed and the glorified state has come. The utter hopelessness which such a belief brings in, no words can describe.
I have at such length spoken of the difficulties of pre-millenarianism, that I fear I shall have very little time indeed for reference to the positive aspects of the chapter before us, to which we must now return. John saw Satan bound, and shut up in the abyss for a thousand years. With what sort of chain he shall be bound, we are led to see when it is said that he should deceive the nations no more. When worldly power is overthrown, false teaching checked, and public opinion purified, then shall there come to every land a long and blessed period when the powers of darkness shall be crippled. I trust that we have already entered too deeply into the spirit of this symbolic book to suppose that a thousand literal years are meant by the millennium. The Church has her 1260 days of sorrow; but her time of peace and victory shall be as a thousand years to these 1260 days. For a vast and lengthened period shall the malignant spirit of evil be deprived of his power to hurt or destroy.
During this time when truth shall be victorious, those who lived before the millennium, having risen to the heavenly state, shall there live and reign with Christ during the long interval before His second coming. John "saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." In blessed fellowship with their Lord, they waited for His second coming to the earth. This is the first resurrection—a rising to be with Christ. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." Taking these words as they stand, there is nothing in them to indicate a descent of Christ to the earth, but rather an ascent of faithful souls to live and reign with Him. These witnesses of Christ, who had tried to better the earth when they were on it, and had often seemed to try in vain, shall, as their reward, exercise upon it an influence they have not had before. They shall live with Christ, and with Him they shall reign. The rest of the dead lived not  through all that lengthened period of the thousand years. Existence had they, but not life in its high and blessed sense. Their life, in so far as life means enjoyment, was earth-bound, and had vanished away.
For saintly souls who depart in the faith, then, there shall be a triumphant reign with Christ; and for the earth, which they leave behind, there shall be a millennial rest from the inroads of the enemy, though not, it may be, an absolute freedom from the power of sin. Drawing nearer and still nearer is that better time. It will, most probably, be ushered in by fierce conflicts. Even now the hosts are gathering to the field, and it is time for every man to gird his sword upon his thigh. But after the storm there shall come a calm, deep and tranquil,—blessed foretaste of the rest of heaven. The golden age shall return with the dawn of the millennial day.
"Once the welcome light has broken,
Who can say
What the unimagined glories
Of the day?
What the evil that shall perish
In its ray?"
I will not attempt to paint, in all its glowing colours, the picture of the millennial future. Its merest outlines I can suggest only in part.
1 can imagine that man will have regained his lost supremacy over nature, that pain will be mitigated by the further discoveries of science, that many of the inroads of disease will be arrested, and that poverty and pauperism will flee the earth.
It is surely not chimerical to hope that then the fearful social evils which are the reproach of our modern civilization will have ceased for ever, that business will be purified so as to be no longer the enthronization of self, and that thus common life will become sacred, having inscribed thereon "Holiness to the Lord."
We are told that ignorance shall flee the earth; men's minds shall be enlarged by the growth of knowledge; best of all, they shall become spiritually enlightened. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. "In the last days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob ; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."
Then also shall Israel be brought in with the fulness of the Gentiles. Whether they shall or shall not go back to Palestine is a matter of very small import; but "they shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn," and that is of mighty moment. The veil shall be taken from Israel's heart, and the Deliverer shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness? And if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?
The wide world o'er also there shall be lasting peace, and the true brotherhood of the nations. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
And, to crown the whole, there shall be a rich outpouring of spiritual power and glory. Universal holiness there may not be, for tares and wheat shall both grow together until the harvest, and the harvest is the end of the world. Absolute perfection belongs to the heavenly, not to the earthly state. But extraordinary times of revival may cease to be extraordinary, and the tide of Divine life flow through the midst of the nations full and strong. The Church shall have her joy in the Lord, in measure such as she has never had it yet. Not the few, but the many shall seek their all in God. The day of liberty for which weary watchers, like sentinels of the night, have long looked, shall dawn at length. The sad miserere of a sin-stricken world shall rise to notes of gladness. The earth shall yield her increase, and the Saviour shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass; as showers that water the earth. In His days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."
"It was not then a poet's dream,—
An idle vaunt of song,
Such as beneath the moon's soft gleam
On vacant fancies throng,—
Which bids us see in heaven and earth,
In all fair things around,
Strong yearnings for a blest new birth,
With sinless glories crowned;
Which bids us hear, at each sweet pause
From care and want and toil,
When dewy eve her curtain draws
Over the day's turmoil,
In the low chant of wakeful birds,
In the deep weltering flood,
In whispering leaves,—these solemn words—
'God made us all for good.'"
1. Semisch in Herzog's "Real Encyclopadie."
2. "What saith the Scripture?" By W. P. Lyon, B.A.
3. "Christ and His Salvation," pp. 298 et seq.
4. Not "lived not again."
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.