Interview with Michael J. Vlach, author of HE WILL REIGN FOREVER: A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Published on April 18, 2017 by Joshua R Monroe

Lampion Press, 2017 | 640 pages

 

It would be difficult to find a larger biblical theme than that of the Kingdom of God, and just for that reason it becomes a subject very important for us to grasp in order to understand our Bibles well.

Hi, I’m Fred Zaspel, executive editor here at Books At a Glance, and we’re talking today with Dr. Michael Vlach, author of the new book, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God. It’s a beefy work, and we’re happy to talk to him about it.

Mike, welcome! And congratulations on your new book! It’s quite an accomplishment!

Michael Vlach:
Thank you, Fred; I appreciate that and look forward to talking to you today.

 

Fred Zaspel:
Let’s start with basics: what is the Kingdom of God?

Vlach:
I think the short definition would be: the Kingdom of God is the rule of God over his creation. I think when you’re dealing with the Kingdom you need three things. First of all you need a ruler; Second of all you need a realm; and then third you need the exercise of authority by the ruler in that realm. That’s what I think we are seeing with the Kingdom of God. As creator, God has rights and authority over everything that he has made. When you look at Scripture, I think there are two main manifestations of the Kingdom of God.

First of all, I think there’s a universal Kingdom in which God reigns over the entire universe from heaven. Daniel 4:34 says that his Kingdom endures from generation to generation. Then secondly, I think a particular phase of the Kingdom of God that’s important is what we call the mediatorial Kingdom phase. That’s the Kingdom in which God tasks man as his image-bearer to rule from and over the earth as his mediator for his glory. I think most emphasis in the Bible is on this mediatorial Kingdom, the reign over the earth. The nation Israel function as a Kingdom in the Old Testament. Obviously, they failed their mission; there was the need for Jesus to come along who will succeed where Israel has failed. But I think there’s a lot of emphasis in the New Testament on Jesus Christ, when he comes again, he will as the ultimate mediator and last Adam, set up his kingdom upon the earth. So, in short, the Kingdom of God is the rule of God over his creation.

 

Zaspel:
How is the Kingdom of God theme significant both in the Bible story and in personal Christian experience?

Vlach:
I think very significant for both. As I argue in my book, I believe the Kingdom of God is the predominant theme of Scripture. I understand there will be some who disagree, but I think all could agree that it’s a very big, important theme. I see it starting in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1:26-28, God expects man to successfully rule from and over the earth for God’s glory. Even after the Fall, that mandate is affirmed in Psalm 8, and in Hebrews 2, and in other passages, that God still expects man to have a successful rule over the earth. When you look at the Old Testament, much of the Old Testament is about the kingdom of Israel as a witness to the nations. But when you come to the New Testament, in Matthew 3:2 and Matthew 4:17, you see that the summary message of John the Baptist and Jesus, (and later the apostles in Matthew, Chapter 10) was, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When you come to the book of Acts, Chapter 1 begins with discussion of the Kingdom; the last chapter ends with instruction about the Kingdom of God; Paul has a lot to say about the Kingdom in his epistles. And then when you come to the book of Revelation, really the book of Revelation is about the Kingdom of God triumphing over Satan’s kingdom. And then, when you get to the last three chapters, Chapter 20 is about the millennial Kingdom; Chapter 21, and then through Chapter 22, verse 5, is all about the eternal Kingdom. And actually, when you come to the very last verse, talking about the new Jerusalem in Revelation 22:5, it says, “they will reign forever and ever.” So, I think the Kingdom of God is a major theme and therefore, because the Kingdom of God is such a major theme, I think that if one properly understands the Kingdom, one will be grasping the Bible storyline.

Now, in regard to personal implications, the Kingdom is a very personal thing because all of us are related to it in one way or the other. Jesus refers to believers in him as sons of the Kingdom and those who will inherit the Kingdom, but on the other side those who don’t believe in Jesus, the King, they are considered to be banished from God’s glorious Kingdom. So when John 3:3 says, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,” that’s a very personal statement.

 

Zaspel:
Would you go so far as to say that the Kingdom of God is the overarching theme of Scripture?

Vlach:
I do believe the Kingdom of God is the overarching, primary theme of Scripture. As a matter of fact, I think all the other themes can actually fit under that umbrella. So, I do think it is the primary theme.

 

Zaspel:
Okay, give us a brief overview of your book.

Vlach:
Okay. This is a Biblical theology of the Kingdom of God. This is not an Old Testament theology or a New Testament theology, but it’s specifically a Biblical theology of the specific theme of the Kingdom from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. What I’m trying to do is, I am trying to be comprehensive with Bible passages concerning the Kingdom. My grid was that if there was any passages that deal with the nature of the kingdom of God or the timing of the kingdom of God, I wanted to make sure that those passages were addressed.

Now, as far as the way the book lays out, it has four main divisions. There’s an introduction where the book discusses hermeneutical principles, understanding the Kingdom, some key definitions. Then there’s an Old Testament section, a New Testament section, and then there’s a section that deals with theological themes related to the Kingdom of God. Such as, how does the Kingdom relate to the already/not yet concept? The issue of Davidic covenant fulfillment, and various theological themes. But, as a whole, what I end up arguing is that God’s Kingdom program has been playing out since Genesis 1, when God tasked man with ruling the earth for God’s glory. And thus the storyline from Genesis 3 through Revelation 19, which is the Second Coming of Jesus, is God overcoming evil to establish his Kingdom upon the earth with Jesus and his saints ruling over the earth. That’s when you get to Revelation 20, you have the millennial Kingdom where we have the successful earthly Kingdom that God expects from man and thus Revelation 20 would be the fulfillment of the Genesis 1:26-28 mandate.

 

Zaspel:
You state that the goal of your book is “to present a comprehensive biblical theology of the kingdom of God from a new creationist perspective” (p.11). What do you mean by that? And what, then, is the contribution you are trying to make?

Vlach:
By comprehensive, I mean I’m trying to survey most of the passages, actually my goal is all of them, but most of the passages in Scripture that address the Kingdom of God, particularly its timing and nature. And one of the reasons why I want to do that is that I have looked at many fine books on the Kingdom. I’ve often noticed that oftentimes there is passages that aren’t addressed that I think should have been addressed that deal with the Kingdom. I think Acts, Chapter 3, verses 19-21 where it talks about Israel’s belief, the Second Coming, and the restoration of all things would be an example of that. So I’m trying to be comprehensive, but when I talk about a new creationist’s perspective, what I’m talking about there is a perspective that takes all aspects of God’s Kingdom program seriously and literally. This includes not only understanding the spiritual dimensions and requirements of God’s Kingdom, but also the physical, the national (which would include Israel), and international aspects of God’s Kingdom.

So when I put it all together, it’s looking at the material and immaterial aspects of the Kingdom of God. It’s looking seriously at the roles of national Israel, Gentile nations, the church, and then Jesus, who is at the center of the kingdom program, I mean, he’s the Messiah, he is the ultimate last Adam, his role as ultimate Israelite, Messiah, last Adam, in regard to the Kingdom. I like to say that this new creationist perspective is holistic. Often times when I look at books dealing with the Bible storyline or the Kingdom, I’ll see statements like: well, the Kingdom is spiritual but it’s not physical, or, it’s international, it’s not national. By that, they mean it’s not about Israel anymore. Or that the kingdom is about Jesus, but not Israel. I think all of those are false dichotomies and I think they present either/or scenarios when both/and is accurate. What I end up arguing is: Jesus is at the center of the Kingdom program; he’s the Messiah: he’s the last Adam. But there is a realm of the Kingdom that’s going to involve Israel, Gentile nations, the church, and then all matters material and immaterial.

 

Zaspel:
You recognize an inaugurated aspect of the kingdom today, right?

Vlach:
Yes, I think there are aspects of the Kingdom program that apply today.

 

Zaspel:
Just what is the Kingdom of God in this age?  And how would you situate yourself on this score among other interpreters who have written on the Kingdom of God theme – Alva McLain, George Peters, Geerhardus Vos, and George Eldon Ladd, for example.

Vlach:
Okay. First of all, I would say that I think God’s Kingdom program has been playing out in history since Genesis 1. So, ever since then, I think the Kingdom program of God to establish a successful Kingdom on earth has been in play. And I do also believe that the spiritual blessings of the covenants of promise – Abrahamic, Davidic, New – that there has been inauguration of some of those blessings. Now, my position would be: I believe the actual Kingdom reign of Jesus the Messiah is future, and that his reign from David’s throne is future. So that might make me a little bit different from what you see with a George Ladd or some others who have an already Davidic kingdom that is taking place. So, my view would be is that Jesus, the ultimate king and son of David has arrived, and with his death and with the cross he has laid the basis for the Kingdom. I do think our mission now, as the church, is not reigning in the Kingdom, but we’re called to endure and persevere for Jesus our King. We are to be faithful; 2 Timothy 2:12 says that if we endure we will also reign with him. I think if you look at revelation, Chapter 2, verses 26-27, Jesus promises that those who persevere are actually going to rule the nations like in a Psalm 2 sense, when he actually rules over the nations. So this is where I get where I would think that there would be some present aspects of the Kingdom, even though I would see the Davidic reign of the Messiah as future. I do believe that the son of David has appeared – that’s a major aspect of covenant fulfillment and Davidic covenant fulfillment. And all who believe in Jesus, the Messiah, are sons of the Kingdom and are qualified to enter the Kingdom.

I think another present aspect of the Kingdom would be that we are to evidence Kingdom righteousness in our lives now. So that’s what I think the Sermon on the Mount is about. Unlike some earlier dispensationalists I don’t say the Sermon on the Mount is just solely for people who are living in the future millennial Kingdom. I would say that’s a Kingdom ethic for Kingdom citizens in the now. And I would also say that as we share the gospel, we are sharing the gospel of the Kingdom. We’re sharing the gospel that if people believe in it, they would actually qualify themselves to be a part of that kingdom when it arises with Jesus’ Second Coming. So the Kingdom itself awaits the future, but there are several aspects of God’s Kingdom program that relate to today. Like you said, the way this book might be a little bit different than a Laddian and a lot of popular Kingdom approaches today would be that I would see Jesus’ assumption of the Davidic throne and his reign from the Davidic throne as still being future from our standpoint. I do believe when it comes to the already/not yet concept, I believe in it, but I may differ with some others when it comes to whether the Davidic reign of the Messiah is already or not yet, because I would see it more as not yet.

 

Zaspel:
And what will the kingdom of God look like in the eschaton?

Vlach:
I would say that both the millennial Kingdom and the eternal Kingdom, which are discussed in Revelation 20-22, are going to evidence what Acts 3:21 refers to as the restoration of all things. So, looking at Acts 3: 20-21, the Second Coming of Jesus leads to the restoration of all things. I think what’s going to end up happening, is when Jesus comes again and establishes his Kingdom, there’s obviously going to be a resurrection of the body for believers; and then creation itself is going to be restored. Which Paul talks about in Romans 8, I think verses 18 to 25. I think the animal kingdom is going to be restored; Isaiah, Chapter 11 teaches that. If you read Isaiah 65:17ff, it talks about human activity such as building houses and planting vineyards and all those things being done without the effects of the curse. So what we’re going to see is resurrection, not only of believers, but we’re going to see creation restored, the effects of the curse removed. This is also going to be a kingdom of righteousness in which Jesus and his people rule with righteousness and justice. One thing we have to remember about the Kingdom, is that when it’s in effect, the Saints are also reigning as well. So, Jesus was persecuted, obviously in this realm with his first coming, but he’s going to reign over this earth at his second coming and then those who are his saints who’ve also been persecuted in this realm are going to have vindication in the realm of their persecution. So in a nutshell, I would say that with the coming Kingdom looks like it’s going to be the successful reign of man through the ultimate man, Jesus Christ, and those who identify with him. It’s going to be on the earth for God’s glory.

 

Zaspel:
Highlight for us some of the primary factors that you argue demand a premillennial eschatology.

Vlach:
Okay. One thing that’s important in my book is I really think premillennialism is important to the Bible storyline. So in that sense it may be different from some other Kingdom books that have been written. But a lot of people think that Revelation 20 is the only passage for premillennialism; I think the storyline related to premillennialism begins in Genesis 1:26-28, where God expects man to have a successful reign from and over the earth on his behalf for his glory. When I look at the millennial views, premillennialism is the only millennial perspective that places Jesus, the last Adam, as ruling from and over the earth for his Kingdom. And I think that’s important. Then I think the rest of the Old Testament speaks of a coming earthly kingdom for the Messiah where nations will be ruled over and the creation will be set free from the curse. Again, that’s Isaiah 2, that’s Isaiah, Chapter 11. I also think Zechariah 14 is very important because that presents a scenario in which there is a siege of Jerusalem and there’s a rescue as the Lord comes from heaven, touches down on the Mount of Olives, and then, we are told, that the Lord is going to reign over all the earth. And then you see a scenario where the nations are responding to his reign at that particular time.

I would also say, too, that there are Old Testament passages that speak of conditions that are neither true of this present age nor of the final eternal state. Isaiah 65:20 would be an example where if someone were to die at the age of one hundred, they would be thought accursed. Well, that’s not true of this age and that’s not true of the eternal state where there wouldn’t be anybody dying.

When you come to the New Testament, I think there’s all kinds of passages that talk about a coming earthly Kingdom. Matthew 5:5 says that the humble are going to inherit the earth or the land. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus talks about a regeneration which most scholars think is a cosmic renewal. It’s at the particular time of this cosmic renewal, this regeneration, where you have the 12 apostles ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel. In Matthew 25:31, Jesus talks about assuming his throne at the time when he comes in glory with all of his angels to judge the nations. And then, lastly, when you come to Revelation 19 to 20, (I called this the cherry on the top of the sundae – we actually find out how long this earthly kingdom is going to be.) So in Revelation 19 to 20 we see the chronological indicator of then I saw, or and I saw to indicate this progression of events, which naturally seems to be that you have the Second Coming of Jesus which is followed by a Kingdom reign of Jesus and his saints. So Revelation 20 is not the only passage that discusses the coming earthly Kingdom of the Messiah but it tells us the time period, which is a thousand years. And I do believe that when this is completed you do have the fulfillment of the Genesis 1:26-28 mandate for a successful reign of man from and over the earth.

 

Zaspel:
We’re talking to Dr. Michael Vlach, Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary and author of the new book, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God. It’s a thorough treatment of the theme that I’m sure will demand attention from all sides, and it will find its place in theological libraries everywhere.

Mike, thanks so much for talking to us today.

Vlach:
Thank you, Fred.

Buy the books

He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God

Lampion Press, 2017 | 640 pages