Michael Vlach, Professor of Theology at the Master’s Seminary, has written what I would consider the finest book on the kingdom of God since Alva McCain’s The Greatest of the Kingdom. He writes from a decidedly dispensational position and argues that the kingdom is the central and unifying theme of Scripture (pp. 5, 21-28, 582). His goal, as stated in the introduction, is “To present a comprehensive biblical theology of the kingdom of God from a new creationist perspective” (p. 11). He unpacks this statement on pages 14-16. Vlach rejects theological positions which advocate replacement theology (pp. 17, 367), or that attempt to reinterpret the Old Testament via the New Testament (pp. 32-41), and any ideas that the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 is incumbent on the church today (pp. 15-17, 60-67, 456-458, 544-545). Prophecies and promises concerning and given Israel in Scripture will be literally fulfilled (p. 17) in a literal kingdom on earth (p. 18). Vlach is premillennial (p. 17) and consistently uses grammatical-historical hermeneutics as his interpretive grid (pp. 33-37). As the author sees it, “The storyline after the fall of man in Genesis 3 will be the process by which God restores man to the kingdom mandate of Genesis 1:26-28” (pp. 63-64).
Following this storyline through Scripture is the uniqueness of He Will Reign Forever. After laying the necessary theological foundation for understanding the kingdom of God in Part One, Vlach launches into a systematic, thorough survey of Scripture’s teaching on the subject. Part Two outlines God’s kingdom program throughout the Old Testament. Tracing the kingdom from Genesis through the Exodus, on to the exile and regathering of Israel, and in the Psalms and writing prophets, Vlach makes his case for the centrality of the kingdom in Old Testament literature. Some important highlights include:
- Affirmation that the land promises found in the Abrahamic Covenant will be literally fulfilled (pp. 84-87).
- Israel’s OT mission was to draw the nations to God by means of their righteous living (pp. 95-96).
- Repentance of Israel as a nation is a condition for establishing the Messianic kingdom, which explains why Jesus did not set up the kingdom at the incarnation (pp. 100, 268-277, 322-324, 362-363, 367, 413-421, 431-452).
- The importance of the Davidic Covenant in regards to the restoration of the kingdom (pp. 115-118, 184-185, 569-579).
- How the Royal Psalms point to the kingdom (pp. 127-143).
- The New Covenant’s role in the kingdom (pp. 185-191, 199).
In Part Three Vlach turns to the New Testament demonstrating that the kingdom continues to be the primary theme (pp. 255-266). He begins this section by affirming that the New Testament authors defend the literal expectation of the Old Testament prophets and do not try to transcend or redefine what they wrote (p. 255). As such, “The NT continue[s] the kingdom storyline” (p. 255). Matthew, with its detail concern about the kingdom, is worthy of the 13 chapters Vlach devotes to it. These chapters, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the heart of the book and a most helpful study. Valuable exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount, the kingdom parables and the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 13, are just some of the important content found in this section. When Vlach turns to the remainder of the New Testament he finds that, while the kingdom is not mentioned as often, it always frames the discussion. In Acts the author sees, with McClain, a second offer of the kingdom to the Jews in Acts 3:17-26 (pp. 413-421), an offer they once again reject. In the epistles of Paul there are only 14 references to the kingdom compared to 121 in the Synoptics and, even when it is referenced, Paul never defines it (p. 431). Still the kingdom never fades from the scene. Vlach devotes a chapter each to Paul’s epistles and the book of Hebrews, three chapters to the Revelation and a short chapter summarizing the NT teachings on the kingdom.
Part Four handles some of the more difficult theological issues related to the kingdom including reasons a Millennial kingdom is necessary (pp. 551-567), and Augustine’s view that the kingdom is spiritual, which has dominated and still dominates the kingdom related theology of much of the church (pp. 563-567). Chapter 38 traces the issues of the “already/not yet” construct. Known also as inaugurated eschatology, it is embraced by many evangelicals who believe Jesus inaugurated His kingdom at His first coming, so that the kingdom, to a certain extent, is present on earth today, but awaits complete fulfillment at His return. The author gives detailed attention to this subject showing that certain aspects of the Davidic Covenant are in place during the church age, but fully rejecting that Christ inaugurated the kingdom or sits on David’s throne today.
He Will Reign Forever is the most thorough, up-to-date and useful guide on the kingdom of God of which I am aware. It deserves a wide and careful reading by all who want to understand God’s program for the ages.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel.