A Kingdom on Earth
Following his Lord's teaching, the disciple of Christ includes in his prayers to God a petition "Thy Kingdom come". In the light of what has been shown in preceding chapters the prayer can only be uttered with Scriptural understanding when the thought is fixed on a Kingdom that will be established on earth, taking the place of existing kingdoms, and ruled over by Jesus Christ. The second coming of Jesus Christ will have tremendous consequences for the generation that witnesses it; rulers and ruled alike will be affected; every aspect of human life -- social, religious, economic -- will come under a new directing Power.
When the apostle John received the last message of the Bible recorded in the book of Revelation, he saw in symbol the succession of events commencing in his own day and culminating in the great change in world affairs associated with Christ's return. In vision John foresaw the time when it would be announced: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). "We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth" (verses 17, 18). These verses outline the programme of events associated with the coming of the Lord.
"The time of the dead" is the time of resurrection, judgment, and reward. The one who died for men's sins and rose again is the appointed judge of men. Jesus said: "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father" (John 5:22,13). He therefore declared: "As the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice" (verses 26-29).
As the result of Christ's judgment, those who are rejected will be punished "with everlasting destruction" (2 Thess.1:7-9), even "the second death" (Rev. 20:6); but the approved will receive the gift of immortality -- the mortal will put on immortality, and the saying will be fulfilled, "Death is swallowed up in victory'' (1 Cor. 15:54). Paul declared that the Lord from heaven will change "the body of our humiliation and fashion it like unto the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself" (Phil. 3:21 R.V.).
The day of Christ's coming will be the time of reward when God "will give reward unto his servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear his name". The Lord Jesus identified himself with this work: "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12). The return of Jesus and the bestowal of life everlasting and the establishment of God's kingdom on earth are inseparable, as Paul's last words to Timothy clearly show: "I charge thee before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; . . . henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:1 and 8).
The Judgment of Nations
That will be also a day of wrathful nations and also of the revelation of the wrath of God, when He will "destroy them that destroy the earth". Of the wrath of nations and of the destruction men can inflict the present century has had experience. The prospects for the future grow more alarming as modern science achieves greater conquests over nature's secrets, and applies its discoveries to the development of weapons more destructive than man has ever before contemplated. But the destruction of the destroyers by divine intervention not only reveals the righteous judgment of God, but it also accomplishes the necessary removal of human rule that divine rule may be established. The kingdoms of the world are to become Christ's; not by peaceful penetration of his sway through the preaching of the gospel -- if that had to be the method hope might well give place to despair. The coming change will be effected by the overthrow of human kingdoms. The agency which will accomplish this was symbolized by God in a dream given to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as "a stone cut out of the mountain without hands". In the dream this stone fell on an image representing human rule, broke it to pieces and ground the fragments to powder. The interpretation, as given by Daniel under divine guidance, is clear: "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Dan. 2:44). Christ, the coming ruler, has been given the power to "dash in pieces as a potter's vessel" all nations that refuse his demands (Psa. 2:9; Rev. 2:27). "He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off" (Micah 4:3). It is written of Jerusalem when it becomes the capital of the Messiah: "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted" (Isa. 60:12). "There was given him (Messiah) dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:14). The disciples of Jesus have been assured that "if they suffer they shall also reign with him" (2 Tim. 2:12); and the prophet Daniel in vision saw this joint rule established: "The kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him" (Dan. 7:27).
The "reward" of God's people will include, then, the work of assisting the new "King of kings" in ruling the world. When this is perceived Christ's parable of the "pounds" is found to have a literalness that excludes any other views. Jesus is the nobleman who has gone away to receive a kingdom and to return. He gave his servants "pounds" to use in his service while he was away. On his return he will call the servants before him, and according to their service will give them rulership over "ten cities" or "five cities" (Luke 19:12-27).
The gospel of the kingdom of God which formed the great subject of the teaching of Christ and the apostles (Matt. 4:23, etc.; Acts 8:12), is not some nebulous idea lacking definiteness in form and content. It is connected with and is based upon the Old Testament promises of a new era on earth, under new rulers, with divine law universally recognized and obeyed. A review of some of these scriptures will establish this fact.
We have seen that God promised the land of Palestine to Abraham and his seed (Christ) for an everlasting possession. We have seen that Jesus is the heir to David's throne and appointed king of the Jews. The practical consequences of the fulfilment of these promises may be learned from a wide range of Scripture statements. Taken together, these Scriptures build up a picture of the transformed conditions under which people will live; but what is of still greater importance, they reveal the changes that will take place in the character of the people themselves.
Jerusalem - The Capital City
First, then, we notice that the capital city in the coming age will be Jerusalem. Here was David's throne in the past; here, too, will be the throne of David when it is occupied by Jesus. High in the Judaean hills, in the land that was crossed and recrossed by the armies of the great nations of the past, Jerusalem has seen more sieges than any other city. But the days of its conflict are drawing to a close, and a time of everlasting peace is near. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem", the psalmist counsels, "for they shall prosper that love thee" (Psalm 122:6). Jesus claimed Jerusalem as his city, saying: "Swear not by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King" (Matt. 5:34, 35). His meaning is apparent -- it had to be his own capital city -- the throne of the Lord over all the earth. The Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and "before his ancients gloriously" (Isa. 24:23). The prophet Isaiah, looking forward to this future day, calls upon the city to rise from the degradation of centuries: "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem" (Isa. 52:1-2). The city will then be beautiful as becomes its high appointment: "The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary and I will make the place of my feet glorious . . . and they shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations" (Isa. 60:13-15). When the "new heavens and a new earth" -- that is, the new political organization -- are established, God says: "Behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy" (Isa. 65:17, 18).
Jeremiah foretells the time when Israel will be given pastors after God's own heart, who will feed them with knowledge and understanding: and "at that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart" (3:15, 17).
The superb fitness of the city of Jerusalem as the throne of a universal ruler is the basis of the Psalmist's words: "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King" (48:2). The people of the future age will turn to Jerusalem for instruction: "Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:3); and will make pilgrimage to what will be, in a sense never true before, "the holy city": "It shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles" (Zech. 14:16).
These descriptions are not the expressions of a piety which has surrounded the city with a halo of sentiment they are as sure of fulfilment as the predictions of Christ's first advent. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) he will yet rule on Mount Zion (Micah 4:7). He was despised and rejected (Isa. 53:3); he will yet divide the spoil with the strong (verse 12). The predicted calamities of the city came to pass; the predicted exaltation will as certainly be seen. Jerusalem has been besieged (Deut. 28:52): laid even with the ground (Luke 19: 44); trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). She will yet see the glory of the king of Israel who rules the world, will become an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations.
A Changed Mankind
An important change in the world under Christ's rule will be the enlightened recognition of God, and of the duty of giving praise and thanks to Him for His goodness, and of rendering obedience to His commandments. The sins and vices, the crime and misery which spring from ignorance and perversity, will cease as men become instructed in and obedient to God's laws. In many ways the prophets speak of this: "Thy people also shall be all righteous" (Isa. 60:21). "They shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them" (Jer. 31: 34). "The isles shall wait for his law" (Isa. 42:4). "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (49:6).
Walking in God's Ways
The center of government which God has arranged is the most central spot on earth, accessible more easily than any other place from all quarters of the globe.
At the time when God promised Palestine to Abraham, it was the link between the great civilizations of that day. An even greater importance attaches to the near eastern lands as the result of modern developments. Besides uniting the Continental land masses of Europe, Asia and Africa, the sea lanes of the world make Palestine peculiarly accessible to all parts of the world. Trans-continental air lines also cross the land. Old cartographers made Jerusalem the center of the world -- modern developments have translated the fancy into fact. The combination of its central physical situation added to the past historical associations of the land as the scene of God's operation in the past and of Christ's own ministry, make Jerusalem the ideal center from which law shall go forth for all mankind and to which all nations can look for instruction and guidance.
Besides being the center of government Jerusalem will be the center of a universal religion based upon God's instruction. Men, truly informed in God's ways, will obey His commandments; and as a consequence righteousness will prevail, and peace will follow righteousness. Human efforts to establish peace are unavailing: the rivalries and ambitions of men and nations make it impossible. The world is one; the human race is one; but while the facilities for communication and transport, and the development of industry, make all parts of the world interdependent, the world is divided into nations with governments of various forms, autocratic and democratic. Everything in modern developments points to the need for a strong central government for the whole world -- but how can men devise it? It is beyond their power, but God has arranged for it. He has provided the King -- His Son, Jesus Christ, one who is wise and strong, kind and firm; patient with the erring, but stern in his dealing with hypocrisy and sham with tenderness for the needy but with invincible might for the suppression of wrong.
Poverty and destitution, springing from man's selfishness and misrule, will vanish under Christ's reign. The burdens of past wars and preparation for possible future wars, will no longer cast their shadow on the lives of men. There will be no need for armies and navies, for guns and armaments by which nations today maintain their possessions and preserve their ways of life. Christ will be supreme. Unerring justice and swift judgment by omnipotent power will teach men the folly of disobedience. Jesus and his co-rulers will direct men "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isa. 30:21), and will lead them in right paths. When this king reigns in righteousness and his princes rule in judgment ". . . the work of righteousness shall be peace: and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever" (Isa. 32:1 and 17).
A Time of Blessing
The following descriptions of life and conditions during Messiah's reign need no comment: "He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. 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 . . . Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight . . . His name shall endure for ever; his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed" (Psalm 72).
Isaiah also describes the equity and goodness of this reign: "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord: and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth" (Isa. 11:1-4).
The coming age will know no want; no famines will cause anxiety and distress. "The days come, saith the Lord, that the plowmen shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed" (Amos 9:13). Men "shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden" (Ezek. 36:35).
In the establishment of such an era of blessing divine wisdom will prevail. God declared to Moses: "As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Num. 14:21). Men will acknowledge God's goodness, and the words of God through Habakkuk will be fulfilled "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14).
An Enlightened World
This era that Christ's coming will inaugurate will last a thousand years. The redeemed will "live and reign with Christ a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4). Superb as will be the conditions in that time, the age of Christ's reign is not the end of God's purpose. It will come to an end because it is not itself the end of God's plan. It is, however, the final stage in God's redemptive work, and its end will bring to a glorious triumph God's conquest of sin and its effects. During the millennium the peoples who are the subjects of God's kingdom will be mortal, but the excellence of the conditions under which men will then live, will prolong life. Thus it is written that when "Jerusalem is a rejoicing, and her people a joy", "there shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days" (Isa. 65:18 and 20). The man who in the days of his ministry healed the blind, the deaf, and the dumb, and the lame, thus attesting that he was the one of whom the prophets had spoken, will yet exercise in fulness the same power for the benefit of all who have need: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isa. 35:5, 6).
In the coming age the whole of mankind will be enlightened in the knowledge of God's salvation, and this will result in a great harvest of men and women attaining to immortality at the end of the millennium. The final stages of tile work of redemption are revealed. First we notice that Paul, writing to the Corinthians, declares there are three stages in the resurrection of the dead: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept . . . For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. 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. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:20-26). From this statement we learn that Christ is the firstfruits: he is the example of the harvest to come; in him redemption is exemplified. Then "those who are Christ's at his coming form the second stage. There is a final stage -- "the end", -- and this takes place when Christ delivers up the kingdom to God -- that is at the end of his thousand years' reign.
This final resurrection will affect those who have died during the millennium. Those then raised, together with the living, will be judged; the faithful, who by faith and obedience have qualified for eternal life, will receive immortality even as those who have reigned with Christ were given it at the beginning of his reign. On the other hand the unfaithful die and pass into the oblivion of the second death. Paul's testimony of these "last things is supplemented in the teaching of Rev. 20. John describes the suppression of human rule for the thousand years under the figure of the chaining of "the dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan". The iron rule of Jesus is then relaxed to show whether human nature has profited by the long period of divine control. In the language of Revelation: "Satan is loosed for a little season". The revolt follows which brings the era to a climax in judgment, when the dead are judged, the righteous rewarded, and unfaithful arid rebellious overwhelmed in the second death. All who thereafter live will be the immortal redeemed, who have been purified by trial, perfected by discipline, forgiven through Christ's sacrificial work. Then the great drama of human redemption accomplished by God's grace will have reached its close.
Death will have swallowed up the rebellious; it will itself be swallowed up in victory by the giving of immortality to the faithful and forgiven in Christ Jesus. This becomes the character of the great Creator who is just and faithful, merciful and good. "Transgressors shall be destroyed" (Psa. 37:38; 145:20). "The wicked shall perish" (37:20). But "the meek shall inherit the earth" for ever when every curse is removed. "Behold, I make all things new" says God (Rev. 21:5); and God shall "wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:4).
PART II - THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND "THE CHURCH"
Early Christian Belief
Students who have carefully examined the teaching of the New Testament recognize that the early Christians believed in the return of Jesus Christ to establish God's Kingdom upon earth. Because they regarded the present world-order as only temporary, they held aloof from many of the activities of their fellow men. Bertrand Russell, who has no prejudice in favour of Christianity, states in his book, Power:
"Christianity was, in its earliest days, entirely unpolitical. The best representatives of the primitive tradition in our time are the Christadelphians, who believe the end of the world to be imminent and refuse to have any part or lot in secular affairs. This attitude, however, is only possible to a small sect."
Anticipating a little the argument to be developed later in this section, the remainder of the paragraph from Russell will be found of interest.
"As the number of Christians increased and the Church grew more powerful, it was inevitable that a desire to influence the State should grow up. Diocletian's persecution must have very much strengthened this desire. The motives of Constantine's conversion remain more or less obscure, but it is evident that they were mainly political, which implies that the Church had become politically influential. The difference between the teachings of the Church and the traditional doctrines of the Roman State was so vast that the revolution which took place at the time of Constantine must be reckoned the most important in known history".
Gibbon describes the expectation of a Millennium as "the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers in the first century -- and as one that seemed "so well adapted to the desires and apprehensions of mankind that it must have contributed, in very considerable degree, to the progress of the Christian faith". It is well known that Gibbon is ready to deride Christian teaching, as he does in the context of the words quoted. In the estimate of a modern historian, A. L. Rouse, this is one of his defects. As Rouse says in his book The Use of History, Gibbon "can never do justice to Christianity and what it did achieve"; because "he could not accept the supernatural . . . the author of The Decline and Fall seizes every opportunity to denigrate the Church and its adherents and to present them in a ridiculous light". We draw attention to Gibbon's testimony to the facts, as quoted, and leave him where, in the words of Rouse, he "ought to have been fair and impartial".
To Gibbon's statement we would add two short quotations from Bishop Gore's Belief in Christ, which candidly admits that the teaching of the New Testament concerns a kingdom to be set up on earth:
"And if the matter is frankly considered we must admit that the expectation of the New Testament is still that of a return of Christ to earth, a heavenly kingdom to come on earth . . . a new Jerusalem which is to come down from heaven as God's final dwelling-place among men (see e.g. Acts 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rom. 8:20-22)".
"It is undeniable that the apocalyptic expectation formed a large element in the faith of the first Church, and that it was, on the lowest estimate, a considerable feature in the teaching of Jesus. By the apocalyptic expectation we mean the expectation that Jesus, the Christ, who had been crucified and now was risen and exalted to heaven, was 'to come in glory' and to 'restore all things' and 'to judge the quick and the dead'".
This "frank" testimony of Gore, inasmuch as he leaned to a spiritual rather than a literal interpretation of the Kingdom of God, has particular value as an acknowledgment of the true New Testament teaching.
A Change in Doctrine
How then did the change come, by which men left the authoritative teaching of Jesus and his apostles, and while still claiming allegiance to Christ, accepted and taught contrary doctrines? The evidence for the length of Christ's reign on earth -- a thousand years -- is to be found in the last book of the Bible -- the Revelation. Around the book and its meaning in the early centuries contention raged. Hastings' Bible Dictionary says:
"The history of the interpretation of Revelation is an interesting chapter in Church history; but it is an inseparable part of a much larger chapter which it would be quite impossible to write here. Harnack describes the two contrasted, though not mutually exclusive, conceptions of Christianity, the eschatological and the spiritual, the relations of which make one of the chief themes in the history of Christian thought. The earlier eschatological view gave way, especially under the influence of Greek thought, to the spiritual conception of salvation. Chiliasm, of which Revelation was the one clear and authoritative source, 'is found wherever the gospel is not yet Hellenized'. It is evident that where Hellenistic views prevailed Revelation must be either rejected or spiritually interpreted".
We ask the reader to observe the influence that Greek philosophy had upon the methods of interpretation of the language of Revelation, with a consequent change in belief concerning the Millennium.
Gibbon informs us that the doctrine of the Millennium was laid aside "when the edifice of the Church was nearly completed"; that is, when the organization of the churches had developed during the third and fourth centuries.
In the Encyclopædia Britannica 14th edn., the article on The Millennium by A. Harnack traces the change by which "Chiliasm" (belief in the 1000 year reign of Christ) was gradually excluded from the teaching of the church, and the doctrine that the church itself was God's kingdom established in its place. The following extract illustrates this change:
"Faith in the nearness of Christ's second advent and the establishing of his reign of glory on the earth was undoubtedly a strong point in the primitive Christian Church . . . The earlier fathers, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, believed in Chiliasm simply because it was a part of the tradition of the Church and because Marcion and the Gnostics would have nothing to do with this conception. It is the same all through the 3rd and 4th centuries with those Latin theologians who escaped the influence of Greek speculation . . . These facts show how vigorously the early hopes of the future maintained themselves in the West . . . This state of matters, however, gradually disappeared after the end of the 4th century. The change was brought about by two causes -- first, Greek theology, which reached the West chiefly through Jerome, Rufinus and Ambrose, and second the new idea of the Church wrought out by Augustine on the basis of the altered political situation of the Church. Augustine was the first who ventured to teach that the Catholic Church in its empirical form, was the kingdom of Christ, that the millennial kingdom had commenced with the appearing of Christ, and was therefore an accomplished fact. By this doctrine of Augustine's the old millenarianism, though not completely extirpated, was at least banished from the official theology".
The Influence of Greek Philosophy
From this quotation it will be observed that Augustine played a dominant part in introducing and establishing the idea that the church was the kingdom of Christ. It is reasonable to suggest that a connection exists between this development and the other change in Christian belief for which Augustine was so largely responsible, which was considered in Ch. III, Part II. If man has an immortal soul, as Augustine taught, then the soul of the believer must continue after death on another plane; the place of reward is changed from earth to heaven. With such a transformation of belief, the idea of establishing a kingdom on earth with Christ personally present, ruling with his people over mankind, becomes too materialistic. Greek philosophy had influenced Augustine in his adoption of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. To provide a philosophic explanation for a crisis in human affairs which arose in his day, he formulated the view that the visible church was God's Kingdom on earth, and therefore the millennial kingdom was a mistaken hope. In one of his earlier works, Plato & Christianity, Wm. Temple, late Archbishop of Canterbury, speaks of "the service which Plato rendered to the church through Augustine" and traces Augustine's ideas about the Kingdom of God to their real source in Plato. He says:
"When Rome, which had called itself the Eternal City and had been regarded as such by all civilization, fell before the invasion of the Goths, St. Augustine was able to rally the spiritual forces of Christendom in loyalty to the Eternal City of God. Of course his interpretation of this is thoroughly Christian, but the idea behind it originates with Plato; and his discussion of civilization as displaying two tendencies -- the one towards selfishness and antagonism, the other towards co-operation and fellowship -- is drawn straight from the Republic itself".
Augustine was contemporary with the beginning of the breaking up of the Roman Empire by the barbarians from outside its boundaries. The Empire had hitherto appeared so stable and enduring that its disruption seemed to remove all that had permanence. Rome was given over by Alaric to his barbarians to sack, and this calamity, coming upon the city which was regarded as the center of authority, filled men with dismay. Augustine was equal to the crisis. He drew men's thoughts from the city of men to the city of God, which could not be affected by material disaster, and which included the faithful everywhere. In this way Augustine set forth the view that God's church was "the city of God" -- that amidst the changes men were witnessing, the church would abide. It alone had permanence, for it was God's Kingdom.
In his method of "spiritualizing" interpretation of Scripture Augustine followed in the steps of Origen, whose influence on Christian teaching has been noticed before when we traced the changes that led to the acceptance of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. This "father" was responsible for turning many away from the obvious plain meaning of the Bible to an allegorical interpretation. His influence in this respect and its effect on the doctrine of the millennium is shown by Dr. Archibald Robertson in the Bampton Lectures for 1901, entitled Regnum Dei: Lectures on the Kingdom of God in the history of Christian Thought:
"Millenarianism derived and retained its hold upon the minds of Christians from the supposed plain and literal sense of Scripture. But the Alexandrian school inherited the exegetical tradition of Philo, in whom Jewish Faith two centuries earlier had joined hands with Platonic philosophy. With his philosophy Philo had learned a method of exegesis but which he systematized and applied with unbridled ingenuity to the interpretation of Scripture itself . . . But it was Origen who gave it (allegorization) a permanent home in the church as an exegetical method. In no respect did the influence of his school cut more directly at the roots of Millenarianism than in this" (page 155).
Robertson also comments on the contribution made to this change of thought by what Harnack describes as "the altered political situation of the Church". Christianity became in the days of Constantine the religion of the Roman Empire. The day of persecution for the "Christian" was past: the civil power which had so often been the oppressor now became the protector of the organized Church. When "Christians" were entering more and more into the administration of the State their thoughts became less centered in what Robertson calls "Realistic Eschatology"; in other words, in Christ's personal return to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. The hope of the coming of God's kingdom gave place to the idea of co-operation between Church and State, the State having become Christian and the Church imperial. This co-operation proved a disappointment, but the change of belief concerning the Kingdom of God remained. In the words of Robertson:
"The illusion of the Christian Empire did not last very long, but while it lasted -- and its remains died very slowly -- men were necessarily less disposed to long for a visible reign of Christ and his saints on earth" (page 159).
"The Kingdom of God -- its history in the early Church is the history of the prevalence and decline of Millenarianism. It ends with St. Augustine. The history of the medieval idea of the Kingdom of God and of its more modern interpretation is mainly the history of the theology and constitution of the Church. It begins with St. Augustine" (page 169).
Even more emphatic than these words of Robertson is the following from Hastings' Bible Dictionary:
"The final defeat of Chiliasm in the West was due to Augustine, who, in his City of God, identified the Millennium with the history of the Church on earth, and declared that, for those who belonged to the true Church, the first resurrection was passed already. With the acceptance of this identification by the Roman Church, the power of Chiliasm was permanently broken".
It deserves to be noticed that no one before Augustine spoke of the Catholic Church as the Kingdom of God, and "this fact", says Robertson, "becomes intelligible when we notice that Augustine grounds this identification upon a revision of received exegesis, and that it is with him part of a new theological analysis -- the analysis of the conception of the Church".
Known by Fruits
One more quotation must be given from Robertson, because it shows how the departure by Augustine from the teaching of the apostles bore fruit in later ages in the growth of the Papacy which claimed that the Pope ruled for Christ on earth. Augustine laid the foundation of an idea of the Kingdom which was not fully realized until the church became the power above kings, and the Pope was able to control the laws and administration of kingdoms. Many centuries passed before this stage was reached, but in the Middle Ages it was largely attained. That this idea "ennobled" the interpretation of the Kingdom of God is only an opinion of Robertson's, and we may disagree on the historical facts which he states, it is evident that a quite different idea of the kingdom was substituted for that held by the early church. The passage to which we refer is in Regnum Dei, page 226, and is as follows:
"But Augustine who, nearly two centuries after Origen, superseded Millenarianism in the West, replaced it by a profound historical idea which fertilized and ennobled the merely hierarchical interpretation of the Kingdom of God and secured for it a long and fruitful influence in the life of nations as yet unborn. The de Civitate Dei lays the foundation for the characteristic medieval conception of the Kingdom of God, that of an omnipresent Church. Till that is realized -- until the Church can not only inspire, educate, and admonish, not only baptize and nourish with sacraments, nurse up and show forth to the world the Christian life, but can also control the actual legislation and administration of kingdoms, and enforce obedience to her laws and decisions, something is wanting to Augustine's ideal of the civitas Dei, to the kingdom, the complete reign of God on earth. But the elaboration of this ideal as a working system took many ages; nearly twelve centuries had passed before its theoretical completion was achieved.
"The conception of the Kingdom of God as an omnipotent Church, in the form, indispensable to its practical effect, of papal absolutism, was in large measure realized in the Middle Ages, and it is still in theory maintained by the Roman Catholic Church".
From the extracts given we see how Christendom fell away from the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles -- the authoritative Christian form of doctrine. The adoption by the Church of one error after another continued until the whole teaching of the Bible had been so changed that Paul's words were fulfilled -- men had turned "from truth unto fables". The "church" had lost the true "gospel of the Kingdom of God"; and had sold the birthright of God's truth which brings salvation; for the pottage of Greek philosophy, as set forth principally in the teaching of Plato.