This is the third part in what has become a four part review of this book. I think the work is important enough as a Dispensational Biblical Theology to merit a piece of this length. I hope you will agree.
As Vlach entered upon the New Testament I was curious how much space he would devote to developing the message of Jesus in its pre-Pauline context. That is to say, I wanted to see if he would trace the teachings of Jesus from its grounding in the prophetic expectations in the Old Testament and its effect upon Jewish hearers in the first part of the first century A.D. I was not disappointed.
The author chooses the Gospel of Matthew as his frame of reference for understanding the kingdom aspect of Christ’s mission. This was a natural enough choice, although the present reviewer is also a fan of the speeches in Luke-Acts for this purpose. Of course, the selection of Matthew in no way eliminates interaction with the other Gospels, and Vlach picks up on some of the main kingdom emphases in Luke, especially the crucial Parable of the Nobleman in Luke 19:11-27(e.g. 357-360). About 150 pages of He Will Reign Forever are set aside for the Gospels. This allows Vlach to make the important textual and theological connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament around the Person of Jesus Christ and His kingdom understanding. The work done in these chapters supplies the basic proof for the underlying accuracy of the book’s hermeneutical consistency. At the risk of annoying some readers, this sort of work does not need to be done by those who automatically spiritualize the text whenever it threatens to unravel their view that Christ and the Church are what it’s all about. Again, it is worth noting the clever use of non-evangelical scholarship to drive home the fact that the author is not making his points because of some blind allegiance to Dispensational requirements, but because this is what the text of Scripture itself is saying.
Jesus’ identification with Israel is seen as a main emphasis of Matthew 2 (262). The author handles the Hosea 11:1 quotation in two ways; first via reference to corporate solidarity, but then also by noting the probable source of the allusion to Numbers 23 and 24; a position vigorously argued for by the late John Sailhamer (263-264). From there the “kingdom is at hand” passages in Matthew 3 and 4 are handled in chapter 16. I fully concur with this quotation:
According to Matthew 5:5 kingdom blessings include inheriting the land, which is a physical blessing. The view that Jesus is presenting a spiritual kingdom only appears more in line with a Platonic dualism between spirit and matter than a biblical worldview. (270, and something he returns to quite frequently in Part Three of the book).
Along with rejecting the spiritualizing view of the kingdom Vlach is also unpersuaded by the prominent “already/not yet” so prevalent today, saying “it does not do justice to the full package of kingdom blessings presented by John and Jesus at the time of their pronouncements.” (270 my italics. cf. 271).
In order to bring the cosmic drama between God and Satan into his discussion of the Temptation of Jesus the author deals with several Old Testament passages before tackling the Temptation itself. He poignantly states, “The arrival of Jesus was an invasion of Satan’s empire.” (285). He takes the opportunity to make important intertextual links in fleshing out the kingdom implications of Christ’s presence on the scene. This gives him the opportunity to remind his reader of some of the ground already covered in the Old Testament sections. I do wish that he had afforded himself the liberty to deal with the recent attempts of amillennial biblical theologians to quite irrationally identify “the anointed cherub” of Ezekiel 28 with Adam (281-282).
The topic of miracles is well handled in chapter 18, which focuses on Matthew 4:23-24. I very much liked the description of miracles as “acts of restoration” (296). That is good theology.
There will be much interest in the way the author expounds the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 19). He confines most of his remarks to Matthew 5. He briefly surveys rival interpretations before indicating that seeing the future fulfillment of the Sermon while making present application best fits the context (299-302). In taking this line he does not disallow a sort of already/not yet in the case of the Christian (304), but he does a good job showing how futurity is the main thrust of the passage. Along the way he takes a little time to dispense with the poor exegetical merits of interpreting “heir of the whole world” in Romans 4:13 (306-309). He does so, as is his manner, respectfully. Be that as it may, if the reader is following the argument he will be persuaded that trying to expand the land into the whole planet by means of this text is eisegesis of the poorest variety.
Vlach then skillfully shows that Jesus’ claim to fulfill the law in Matthew 5:17-18 is a substantiation of the solidity of the Old Testament promises (310-313). But He is offered and rejected. To quote the author again:
The cities of Israel were saturated with the proclamation of the impending kingdom of God. The eradication of sickness and demon possession on a wide scale was clear testimony of this fact. (319)
The offer of the kingdom was on the table, so to speak, until Matthew 12 (323). This rejection paves the way for the parables in Matthew 13, and the suspension of the kingdom until the second coming. The parables are a form of judgment upon unbelief (there’s a good footnote on page 327 but the author’s name, John P. Meier is misspelled Maier). In his understanding of the kingdom parables Vlach strikes a balance between growth of kingdom citizens and the advent of the kingdom itself.
It is not possible for this review, as long as it is, to comment on every chapter of He Will Reign Forever. But within the space limits of the book we get very helpful coverage of both the kingdom program and effective discussions of disputed passages (e.g. the meaning of Lk. 17:20-21, or the question “what if Israel believed?”). I did expect more on the Olivet Discourse, although Vlach relies on the momentum of his previous chapters to cover the ground. As he ventures into the Book of Acts few will leave behind the study of the Gospels without a greater appreciation of its kingdom implications and the continuity between Jesus’ view of the kingdom and the expectations raised by the writers of the Old Testament.
Of great importance for an accurate view of the kingdom in the New Testament is the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” I was so glad to see that the author clearly felt the same and so made room for a full elucidation of this question within its historical setting (401-408), interacting briefly with replacement theologians like N.T. Wright, O. Palmer Robertson, and Sam Storms along the way. The deductive nature of of this approach to reading the Bible is plainly seen.
I was happy to read that the author does not hold to the progressive dispensationalist position that Jesus is right now sitting upon David’s throne (410-413). He also provides an excellent presentation and interpretation of the restoration passage in Acts 3:19-21, citing numerous authorities to support his position of a future physical kingdom for Israel.
14 thoughts on “Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.3)”
Excellent reviews of Dr. Michael Vlach’s book, “He will Reign Forever.” I look forward to your final review and overall summation of the book. I count Dr. Vlach as one of my most trusted theologians….right up there with someone called Dr. Reluctant!
Thank you Ray. The final installment ought to be ready by the end of next week. We’ll see.
I must disagree that the kingdom offer expired at Matthew 12 because we see at Acts 3:19-21 that Peter told the nation to repent and if she repented then the Lord Jesus would be sent back to the earth so that these Jews could enjoy the times of refreshing.
At least that is the way i understand the passage in Acts 3.
Yes, Jerry, you make a good point. I think the contingency we see in Acts 3 works to show the counter-factual nature of the chapter. Luke 19:11 and Acts 1:7-8, as well as the teaching of Matthew 13 do put the kingdom into the far future it seems to me. The “offer” is predicated on an acceptance which will not come. Vlach deals somewhat with this matter on pages 418-421.
Thanks for your reply, Paul. I agree with you. If the nation of Israel would have repented then the Lord Jesus would have not returned immediately because His own prophecies list several things which must happen before His return to the earth. However, Peter never said that it would be an immediate return to the earth..
But do you think that it was a bonafide offer made to Israel?
In His grace,
Yes Jerry, it was a bone fide offer, in the same way that the Gospel is bone fide even though the Lord knows IF a person will believe.
I agree with you Paul. It was a bonafide offer to the nation of Israel.
And since the LORD was still dealing with Israel then it becomes obvious that the Body of Christ did not begin on the day of Pentecost. The children of Israel remained a special people unto the Lord as late as Acts 3:
“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut.7:6).
On the other hand, during the Church age there are no special people unto the LORD except for believers and in the Body of Christ there is no distinction between the Jews and those of other nationalities:
“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col.3:10-11).
The two different programs of the LORD are mutually exclusive. And since the LORD was still dealing with Israel at Acts 3 then it is certain that the Body of Christ did not begin at Acts 2.
Placing the Body of Christ as beginning at Acts 2 is the source of much confusion within Christendom.
Jerry, I cannot agree with your logic here. The fact that the offer of Acts 3 is bone fide and contingent but also, from God’s perspective, thoroughly foreknown as rejected, does not automatically mean that the Church as the Body of Christ did not begin in Acts 2. The Body of Christ can be initiated because the rejection of Israel is foreknown – as is the detainment of the kingdom (Lk. 19:11). John 7:37-39 indicate that a significant change occurred after Christ was glorified. The Spirit’s descent in Acts 2 is appealed to by Peter in Acts 11 and 15. There is continuity between these speeches.
While you are free to hold to what is often called hyper-dispensationalism, you will understand that I am hardly gung-ho for focusing on dispensations, never mind adding more to the list.
Paul, you admitted that the offer made to Israel was a bonafide offer so there can be no doubt that the LORD was still dealing with Israel at that time. He would not make a bonafide offer to Israel if that nation had already been cast aside.
Besides that, Peter said that what was happening on the day of Pentecost was what was foretold about Israel:
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16).
The prophecy found in Joel is set in Israel–“Blow the trumpet in Zion…” (Joel 2:15).
Since the prophecy is set in Israel with the children of Israel are in view then it is impossible that the prophecy was being fulfilled in the Body of Christ.
By the way, I am not adding a dispensation but instead I just have a different starting point for the beginning of the present dispensation.
Sorry Jerry, I don’t regard this as an answer. I have little time for ultra-dispensationalism of any stripe. Perhaps I will write on the subject of the beginning of the Church at some time, but the fact that individuals are being promised eternal life leading into the Church age even in John 7 and 8 shows that the two programs run coordinately because Israel’s rejection is foreknown.
Can’t wait for the final installment. This review makes me want to go through the book again.
Thanks Alf. I have a lot to cover in Pt.4 but I hope to at least give a closing summary.
Is there a #2 in this review summary? Thank you:)
The link is given under the title. Here it is: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/review-of-he-will-reign-forever-pt-2/