Alva J. McClain and the kingdom of Christ
At LifeCoach4God, David P. Craig has posted an article originally written by Alva J. McClain (1888-1968), former President of Grace Theological Seminary, about the nature of the kingdom of God in the period of Acts and throughout the present age. McClain argued that Jesus is not now actually king, but that his kingdom was “an immediate possibility, depending on the attitude of the nation of Israel.” But I think McClain has misrepresented what the Scriptures teach on this subject.
From: Bibliotheca Sacra 112:448 (Oct. 1955), pp. 305-320.
Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost suggests that the Day of the Lord may be near at hand, and also powerfully argues the right of the risen Jesus to the throne of David. The effect on the audience, composed wholly of Jews from all over the known world, was startling: three thousand were convinced, and their so-called “communism” suggests that they were looking for the great social changes of the kingdom immediately (Acts 2:5–45).
But perhaps the best key to the historical situation in the Book of Acts is found in the third chapter where Peter, speaking to Israel from the temple porch with all the authority of one to whom Christ had committed the “keys” of the kingdom, makes an official reoffer of that kingdom (Acts 3:12–21). Peter’s words here are unmistakable: even their rejection and crucifixion of the King have not utterly lost for Israel her opportunity. If they will repent and turn again, their sins will be blotted out, and Jesus Christ shall be sent from heaven to restore all the things spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. And in confirmation of the bona fide character of this reoffer of the kingdom, we find early in the Acts period many of the miraculous signs and wonders which were associated with our Lord’s own original offer of the kingdom. This is at least one explanation of why some things are found here which are not being exactly duplicated today.
Jesus was already “made Christ” by God in heaven. This means he fulfilled all the prophecies of the promised Messiah who would reign upon the throne of David in Jerusalem over Israel forever. Jesus did not become king on the throne of David because ethnic Jews wanted him as their king, but because God gave that honour to him. Whether or not ethnic Jews approved, or believed it, was irrelevant. In the Hebrew and biblical tradition, God appointed kings and rulers, not men. Did McClain unwittingly impose his own democratic American political views, in which the people vote for the person they prefer for president, upon the Acts account? Such opinions are contrary to the Scriptures, which say that God appoints all the rulers of men.
I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn: lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. [Psa. 75:5-7]
McClain’s comments imply that he believed that the Jews, rather than God, determine whether Jesus reigns upon the throne of David, but that is an error. He proposed that the postponement of Christ’s reign accounts for the decline in miracles after the apostolic age. McClain continued:
I do not mean to suggest that there are no miracles in the present age, but rather that they are now of a different character; not great public demonstrations designed to compel recognition (cf. Acts 4:16), as in this early part of the Christian era. The very Greek terms used are indicative of the special nature of these miracles: they were “signs” and “wonders” to a nation that by divine prophetic sanction had a right to expect such signs in connection with the promised kingdom. Consider, for example, the outpouring of the Spirit tangible to both sight and hearing (2:1–4), special miracles of healing the sick (3:1–10; 19:11–12), great physical wonders (4:31; 8:39; 16:26), immediate physical judgment on sinners (5:1–11; 12:23; 13:11), miraculous visions (7:55; 9:3, 10; 11:5), visible angelic ministry (5:19; 10:3; 12:7), and instant deliverance from physical hazards (28:5).
The miracles at Pentecost and in the early Church were done to confirm the words of the apostles, who were doing the work of Christ, preaching the gospel to the world. They also demonstrated that Jesus is now reigning over all things in heaven and earth. After the time of the apostles, false teachers arose, and there began a period of desolation of the church, and of corruption of the gospel message, as foretold by the prophets and the apostles. [Acts 20:29-30; 2 Peter 2:1-3]
But once again the authenticating “signs” fail to convince the nation of Israel, although now these signs have become even more impressive by reason of the historical fulfillment of the death and resurrection of the King. For the problem was spiritual and moral rather than intellectual, and throughout the book of Acts we can trace the same growth of Jewish opposition to a definite crisis of official rejection, as in the ministry of our Lord. It came this time, not in Jerusalem, but in the great metropolis of Rome where Paul, now a political prisoner, gathered together the influential leaders of Israel into “his own hired” dwelling. They came in great numbers, and for an entire day he spoke with them, “testifying the kingdom of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets” (Acts 28:23–29). But there was no agreement, and after quoting once more the terrible prophecy of Isaiah which had been quoted by our Lord on a former and similar occasion, the Apostle Paul turns definitely and finally to the Gentiles. Again the nation of Israel had been faced with a decision, a moral and spiritual decision, and once more they made it the wrong way. Thus the historical die was cast, their holy city was shortly destroyed, they were scattered throughout the nations, to abide “many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice,” until they are ready to receive their promised King as he comes down from heaven to save them in their last great extremity.
To summarize briefly: the period of the Acts is therefore transitional in character, and its preaching and teaching had a twofold aspect.
First, there is the continued proclamation of the coming kingdom as an immediate possibility, depending on the attitude of the nation of Israel. But at the same time we have a church, begun on Pentecost, as the spiritual nucleus of the coming kingdom.
Second, as the tide of Jewish opposition grows, there seems to be a change of emphasis in the preaching. Whereas the period had opened with the kingdom in first place, the church having almost no distinguishable separate identity; as the history unfolds, the church begins to assume first place, with a glory of its own, while the established kingdom becomes more remote.
Jesus reigns as king among his saints, who have come to the spiritual mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem. [Heb. 12:22] McClain ignored the words of Peter in Acts 3, where he said:
For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. [Acts 3:22-24]
Since then, ethnic Jews who reject Jesus as their king and savior have been “destroyed from among the people” as Peter warned. This means that they are no longer Israel. The Jewish state in the Middle East is not “Israel,” according to Acts 3. Instead, when Jesus ascended to heaven, and was made Christ by his Father, Jerusalem and Mount Zion were raised up, as foretold by Isaiah:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. [Isa. 2:1-3]
Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled, at Pentecost. Jesus represents the mountain of the Lord’s house, the temple, and Mount Zion. He was the only begotten Son of God. [John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Heb. 11:17; 1 John 4:9] Jerusalem became heavenly, and spiritual, and the earthy city was cast out. [Gal. 4:24-31] Those who believe the gospel are raised up together, Paul said, and sit together in heavenly places in Christ.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: [Eph. 2:4-6]
McClain was blind to Acts 3:22-24, and obviously, he did not believe it. He was blind to the fulfillment of Isa. 2:2 at Pentecost. He followed the traditions of dispensationalism, and his views oppose the kingdom of Christ, who reigns in David’s throne forever.