The Reformed faith announces that the kingdom of Christ has come. Jesus Christ has established His kingdom in the world. He did this by His death, resurrection, and outpouring of the Spirit.
In the course of history, King Jesus has established His kingdom in all lands among all peoples and nations.
When the Reformed congregation sings Psalm 71, she celebrates a kingdom that has come.
Christ shall have dominion over land and sea,
Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be;
They that wilds inhabit shall their worship bring,
Kings shall render tribute, nations serve our King.
She does not sing about a future dominion of Christ but about a present dominion. The “shall” in the son of the New Testament church refers neither to the earthly future nor to the eternal future. But it is the “shall” of the hope of Israel under the old covenant for the Messianic kingdom. This hope has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The Reformed church, therefore, understands her song to mean that Christ does already have dominion over land and sea; that earth’s remotest regions are nowHis empire; and that nations are presently serving her King. The Messianic kingdom is here and now.
Against premillenialism, which puts the kingdom exclusively in the future, the Reformed faith testifies simply that the kingdom has come. Against postmillennialism, which looks for a bigger and better coming of the kingdom in the earthly future, Reformed amillennialism confesses that the kingdom has already come in the only form that it can or will take in history. In its glorious, fulfilled, New Testament form, the kingdom has been present on earth since the first coming of Christ.
Christ rules in the hearts of His elect people by His Word and Spirit. Subdued by sovereign grace, they believe on Him as Savior, confess Him as Lord, fight against sin and Satan, and frame their lives by His law. This is the reign of Christ.
Since the elect are not merely found in all nations butare the nations themselves, in the faith and obedience of the elect the nations serve the Lord. The reality of every nation is determined, not by its political organization or by the majority of its population, but by God’s election. Just as the real Israel was the elect in that nation although only a remnant, so also the real China is the elect Chinese, the real Netherlands is the chosen Dutchmen, and the real Africa is the predestinated Africans. The apostles carries out the “great commission” of Christ in Matthew 28:19, to make disciples of all nations (as it is in the original Greek), by converting the elect in all nations to Christ. By the present day, almost all nations have been discipled.
The corporate and institutional from of the kingdom is the church. Of the church, Christ is head and king. The church confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. The church is governed by the spiritual policy which our Lord has taught us in His Word. The members of the church are the citizens of the kingdom. In the church are enjoyed the peace and prosperity of the Messianic kingdom.
Basic to the Reformed understanding that the kingdom has come is a recognition of the kingdom as spiritual. The kingdom is the reign of Christ that dominates nations and peoples spiritually in the faith and holiness of the elect. It is the power of Christ exercised by preachers of the gospel and by ruling elders. It is the citizenry whose citizenship is in heaven. It is the peace of the pardon of sins and the prosperity of fellowship with God and eternal life.
All who see Christ as a carnal king and are determined that His kingdom be a carnal kingdom, like the Jews of John 6, will be completely blind to the present reality of the kingdom. At best, they will view it as a weak, small inglorious form of the kingdom which must be expected to develop into a far stronger, larger, and more glorious form in future history.
Seeing the kingdom as spiritual, the Reformed faith understands that the kingdom has come. It has come as gloriously as ever it will, or can, in history. This was the faith of the Reformers. In explanation of the kingship and kingdom of Christ as set forth in Psalm 2, Luther wrote, “The church in all centuries has been seriously harassed by the world; yet it stands, grows, rejoices, praises God, proclaims His benefits, while Satan and the world are enraged and indignant.” Luther denied that Christ has come to “found a new state.” Rather, he is “a teacher to instruct men concerning a certain unheard but eternal decree of God.” The Reformer warned against the error of regarding Christ’s kingdom as a carnal kingdom:
This is the difference which distinguishes our Kings from all other kings, and it must be most carefully observed. For it is the devil’s constant concern and tireless undertaking to confuse this kingdom with the kingdoms of the world and to make a worldly king out of Christ, who is a teacher of consciences. And the pope, a special tool of Satan, has rejected Christ entirely insofar as He is a teacher, and has seized the sword. In fact, the keys which Christ has given to the church he has turned to a political end. The fanatics or sectarians are deceived by these same thoughts and take over affairs of the state. For they abolish previous governments and introduce new customs and new usages.
This King is a teacher. Consequently He will not destroy the governments, He will not change civil laws, He will not seize kingdoms. These will remain in the same condition in which they were before in the world . . . . This King will not change or abolish this course or order of the world. For His kingdom is not of this world. But to all kingdoms, to all commonwealths, He will bring the new Word and new teaching about Himself that all who believe in Him and are baptized will have forgiveness of sins and life eternal. This is the kingdom of this King, this is His dominion, this is His imperium.
Looking back over the prophecy of Psalm 2 concerning the coming reign of God’s Messiah, Luther concluded:
This psalm describes the heavenly religion and true worship together with the true church and Christ, its Head. It shows that although the church lies hidden and concealed in the world and Satan and the godless seem to rule, yes, even in our own flesh, nevertheless through faith in this King the church conquers at last and triumphs against Satan and the whole world, according to this thought: “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (The Interpretation of the Second Psalm” inLuther’s Works, Concordia, 1955, Vol. 12).
The kingdom for Luther is the present reign of grace in the believer and the church. It is spiritual, not carnal.
Calvin agreed. In his commentary on Psalm 72, an outstanding prophecy of the kingdom of Messiah, Calvin explained the prosperity of the kingdom to be spiritual:
It is no uncommon thing for the glory of the spiritual kingdom of Christ to be portrayed under images of outward splendor. David, in conformity with this usual style of Scripture, has here foretold that he kingdom of Christ would be distinguishes for its wealth; but this is to be understood as referring to its spiritual character.
The entire Psalm, Calvin thought, is a prayer in which we ask that God “would be pleased to maintain and defend the Church under the government of his Son.”
The Reformed confessions authoritatively teach that the kingdom, being spiritual, has come. They forbid Reformed believers to conceive the kingdom as carnal and, therefore, to dream of a coming of the kingdom in future history that is either altogether new or different from the form that it has taken up till now.
The Heidelberg Catechism explains “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer to refer, list, to the reign of Christ in the elect believer (“rule us so by the word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to thee”) and, second, to the rule of Christ over His church (“preserve and increase thy church”). The goal toward which the progress of the kingdom in the believer and in the church tends is not a carnal, Jewish empire or the Christianizing of the nations in history, but the eternal kingdom of God: “till the full perfection of thy kingdom take place, wherein thou shalt be all in all.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith identifies the kingdom of Christ with the church (25.2), as does the Belgic Confession in Article 27, where it calls Christ the “eternal King” of the church.
The Reformed creeds base themselves here squarely on the Scriptures. Colossians 1:13 plainly teaches that the kingdom is a present reality into which New Testament believers have been translated. I Peter 2:9 describes the elect church as the “holy nation” and kingdom of Christ. John 3:3, 5 portrays the kingdom as spiritual, in that one can see it only when he has been regenerated, and present, in that one enters it through the new birth. Romans 14:17 denies that the kingdom is carnal, consisting of earthly things such as “meat and drink,” affirms that it is spiritual, consisting of “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
The kingdom has come, and it has come victoriously. Against all the opposition of Satan, the wicked world, and the power of sin, every elect is translated into the kingdom by sovereign grace. By the same grace of the King, he makes progress in obedience of life, is restored when he falls, and perseveres unto final glory.
Likewise, the kingdom is victorious in its institutional form as the church. Christ gathers, defends, and preserves His church. She grows in grace and knowledge. She grows numerically. Always there is a church that confesses the Lordship of Christ in truth.
She is the triumphant kingdom of Christ also when she is persecuted. Indeed, never is the invincible power of the kingdom more gloriously displayed than in these times. When the church was banned as an illicit religion and her members thrown to the lions by the Roman Caesars; when the Roman Church and compliant states shed the blood of Reformed believers in France and the Netherlands life water; when in the future under Antichrist the two witnesses lie dead in the streets and all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life suffer torture and death because they will not worship the beast, then, then above all, the saints do valiantly and the church conquers.
Does anyone professing Christianity dare to mock the faithful church in the world as defeated and defeatist because she does not Christianize the world? Is this not to mock the work of the Spirit of Christ? Quite a different appraisal of the church is given in Psalm 48.
Although the kingdom of Christ has already come and is always coming, it has not yet come perfectly. This awaits the coming of the King Himself, as Revelation 21teaches. Then new Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven (Rev. 21:2).
The one hope of the Reformed believer, therefore, is the coming of Christ. Then will be the resurrection of the body. Then will be the perfect coming of the kingdom.
The Reformed believer does not pray, “Come, millennial kingdom.”
But he prays, “Come, Lord Jesus!”