“He answered and said to them, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given (Matthew 13:11).’”
With the upcoming release of the Left Behind movie, we have been studying the teaching known as Premillennialism at the heart of the drama’s plot. Premillennialists (PMs) believe that when Jesus came to this earth in the first century, He came to establish an earthly kingdom but He and His kingdom were rejected by the Jews. According to their teaching Jesus postponed the founding of His kingdom and instead set up the church as a temporary institution until He returns to enact a physical kingdom with Jerusalem as the capital for 1,000 years.
We will demonstrate that if this particular element of PM’s teaching is true then the Old Testament prophets, New Testament writers, and Jesus Himself were wrong about the timing of the kingdom’s establishment.
In the book of Daniel are interpreted dreams and visions that project the succession of great, then future, kingdoms to come in world history. Babylon was the first great kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:36-38), followed by the kingdom of the Medo-Persians (2:39, 7:5, 8:3, 20), who were subsequently conquered by Alexander the Great and the Greeks (8:5-7, 21), whose influence and rule were eclipsed by a fourth kingdom, the Romans (2:40, 7:24). Daniel boldly forecasted that in the days of those kings, the Roman Emperors, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people…and stand forever (Daniel 2:44).” The time to look for its establishment was under the Roman Emperors.
When John the Baptizer and Jesus preached in Judea, under rule of the Romans (Luke 3:1, Luke 2:1), both of them taught that “the kingdom is at hand (Matthew 3:1-2, Mark 1:14-15),” that is very near and imminent, not distant and centuries away. Instead it was within reach or “at hand.” In fact, it was so near then that Jesus told the people “that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power (Mark 9:1).” They would see the kingdom come with power in their lifetimes – not some 2,000 years later, or more, as PM’s suppose.
After Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus said that it was upon that truth that He would build His church (Matthew 16:16-18). In the next breath Jesus promised to give to Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven (v.19). In Acts chapter 2 Peter preached the first gospel sermon and used those keys to open up the kingdom to 3,000 souls (Acts 2:41). When Jesus taught that the kingdom was “at hand” He taught that men should repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). When the kingdom came with power Peter taught that they should repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38) and as many as believed were added to the church (v.47).
The notion that Jesus could not establish an earthly kingdom because the Jews refused His rule is inexcusable. The Bible teaches that precisely the opposite occurred. The Jews attempted to appoint Jesus their king by force, and He withdrew from them (John 6:15). His is not an earthly, temporary (1,000 year) kingdom. Rather it is an everlasting spiritual kingdom. Why does it matter? Those who do not understand the nature of the kingdom, the Lord’s church, will not be compelled to enter in nor have the urgency to do so that the Bible commands (Hebrews 4:7, 2 Corinthians 6:2) Willie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, is an Executive Producer of this movie and the false teaching at its core. It is disappointing that someone who should know better should endorse error.
God’s kingdom was established when and where the prophets (Daniel 2:44, Isaiah 2:2, Joel 2:1-2, Acts 2:16-17) said it would be. If the church is not the same kingdom that the prophets foretold, then none of their words should be heeded (Deuteronomy 18:22). Jesus did not come to set up a plan B, a fall back institution, but to establish the church which is according to God’s eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:10-11). That is why this discussion is so vital – the kingdom is no longer at hand (near future) it is present – are you in it or still waiting for a fictional kingdom?
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).”