December 16, 2017

Review of “The Greatness of the Kingdom” – Bibliotheca Sacra, 1955

Brian Collins

This review pertains to the articles found in Bibliotheca Sacra rather than the book by the same author with the same name. It was originally published here and is used by permission. We offer it in connection with the theme of our recent annual meeting.

McClain, Alva J. “The Greatness of the Kingdom Part I,BibSac 112, no. 445 (Jan 1955): 11-27.

McClain, Alva J. “The Greatness of the Kingdom Part II: Mediatorial Kingdom in Old Testament Prophecy,” BibSac 112, no. 446 (Apr 1955): 107-124.

McClain, Alva J. “The Greatness of the Kingdom Part III,” BibSac 112, no. 447 (Jul 1955): 209-224.

McClain, Alva J. “The Greatness of the Kingdom Part IV: The Mediatorial Kingdom from the Acts Period to the Eternal State. BibSac 112, no. 448 (Oct 1955): 304-10.

Note: McClain developed these ideas in a book-length treatment, also entitled the The Greatness of the Kingdom.

Summary

McClain defines the kingdom of God as “the rule of God over his creation” (13). Old Testament kingdom teaching reveals a number of paradoxes related to the kingdom: it “always existed,” but it has “a definite historical beginning.” It encompasses all creation, but it can be located at specific times and places on earth; God rules “directly,” and God rules “through a mediator;” the kingdom exists because of the “sovereign nature of Deity,” and the kingdom is grounded on the Davidic covenant (13). McClain distinguishes the two aspects of the kingdom represented by these contrasting statements as universal and mediatorial. The focus of McClain’s discussion in these articles is the mediatorial kingdom.

In McClain’s view the mediatorial kingdom is focused on the redemption of the human race, and eventually the cosmos. The “mediatorial ruler is always a member of the human race” (18).

Though the mediatorial kingdom had antecedents in the patriarchal families, McClain places the establishment of the mediatorial kingdom at Sinai. This kingdom eventually fails because the hearts of the people were not transformed by the law and because the rulers did not have the perfection needed. Thus the prophets look forward to “an age when the laws of the kingdom will be written in the hearts of its citizens (Jer. 31:33), and its mediatorial Ruler will be perfect in his character, wisdom and ways (Isa. 11:1-4)” (27).

According to McClain, the Old Testament prophets predict “a revival and restoration of the Old Testament kingdom of history” (cf. Mic 4:1, 7-8; Amos 9:11) (114). The re-establishment of the kingdom will be “sudden” and “immediate,” its ruler will be both God and man, and his rule will be a monarchy that will bring about justice (115-18). The kingdom’s extent will be world-wide and it will spiritual, ethical, social, economic, political, ecclesiastical, and physical (both in terms of personal health and in terms of the earth’s fecundity) effects (118-23).

McClain finds this same far-reaching kingdom with these far reaching effects declared as at hand by John and Jesus. The kingdom is at hand because the king is present, but the kingdom is still “contingent.” When the kingdom is rejected, Jesus outlines in parables “the future of the kingdom in the peculiar form (hitherto unrevealed) which it will assume during the temporary period of Israel’s rejection” (217). Also, only after the rejection of the kingdom does Christ begin to teach about the church. Jesus then proceeds to Jerusalem, offers himself as the king, and is rejected.

After the resurrection, Jesus spends forty days teaching the apostles about the kingdom. According to McClain, the kingdom is still being offered in the book of Acts, though the church is also taking root. As rejection to the kingdom continues, and as the church grows, the offer of the kingdom passes. McClain says this is why the signs and wonders tied to the offer of the kingdom have now passed away.

At present the kingdom is found on earth only in the sense that “God is engaged in selecting and preparing a people who are to be the spiritual nucleus of the established kingdom” (307). Christians are part of the kingdom, but the kingdom is not yet established. McClain rejects the idea that there is currently a “spiritual kingdom” and that in the future there will be a “visible kingdom” (308).

In McClain’s understanding, the mediatorial kingdom in all its aspects finds fulfillment in the millennium. Once the last enemy, death, is subdued “the purpose of [the] mediatorial kingdom will have been fulfilled” (310). Jesus will still reign, but he will reign no longer as the mediatorial king but as the divine Son with the other Persons of the Trinity.

Evaluation

McClain carefully constructed a plausible theology of the kingdom that takes into account the variety of biblical data about the kingdom. And yet, his proposition raises many questions.

Are the universal kingdom and the mediatorial kingdom really to aspects of the same kingdom? While mediatorial rulers gain the right to rule from God, the universal ruler, the “paradoxical truths outlined by McClain seem to point to two distinct, but related reigns. (This may be picky since McClain is fairly nuanced here.)

Is the mediatorial kingdom’s primary purpose redemptive? Working back from Hebrews 2:5-9 through Psalm 8 to Genesis 1:26-28, leads to the conclusion that the messianic rule of Jesus is a fulfillment of the Creation Blessing. If this is so, then it seems that the mediatorial kingdom’s function is not limited to redemption (though the prophets make clear that in a fallen world, it includes redemptive purposes). If this is the case, does this kingdom need to end with the millennium?

Did the kingdom prophesied in the OT and proclaimed as at hand by John and Jesus exist in the Old Testament? While it is true that the Messianic reign has roots in the Davidic covenant, it seems unlikely that this kingdom existed in the Old Testament era. McClain does an excellent job in his section on the prophets detailing the full extent of the kingdom and its effects. These effects are no more than foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

Was the kingdom offered, rejected and postponed in Jesus’s ministry and in the early church? McClain’s affirmative answer here makes sense of the fact that the kingdom prophecies of the OT are not being fulfilled in their entirety at present. But there is another way of making sense of this fact: the kingdom was inaugurated at the First Advent but its final consummation is delayed until the Second Advent. This option makes better sense of the affirmations regarding the fulfillment of kingdom promises that occur throughout Acts.

Thus instead of seeing, with McClain, a mediatorial kingdom in existence from the time of Moses until the exile, a kingdom which will remain in abeyance until the Second Coming, I would see no mediatorial kingdom in the Old Testament, the announcement of the kingdom’s nearness by John, and a presence of the kingdom in the person of Christ. The kingdom is inaugurated in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, but it will not be finally consummated until Christ returns.

Despite these differences, I still find McClain’s work helpful in a number of areas. He does helpfully distinguish the universal and mediatorial kingdom passages; his second article helpfully deals with some of O. T. Allis’s objections to premillennialism; his treatment of the “extensive nature of the kingdom” is masterful as is relation of each of the elements of OT kingdom prophecy with Jesus’ kingdom teaching; and his discussion of John 18:36 is also well done.


Dr. Brian Collins is employed at the Bob Jones University Press.


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