Review: “He Will Reign Forever” by Michael Vlach (Part 3)

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Read Part 1 and Part 2.

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 I am 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 Jesus 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 source 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 such as 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.

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