Historical Theology ReformedSystematic Systematic Theology

Charles Hodge on the Messianic Kingdom of Christ

Introduction

Theologians distinguish between God’s sovereign rule over the whole earth as king as abstracted from a particular historical context and Christ’s sovereign rule over a redeemed humanity and cosmos redemptive-historically. The former refers to God’s lordship over the world at all times and everywhere as the sovereign who possesses all authority and control. The latter refers to the incarnate manifestation of the messianic kingdom of Christ in time and space whereby Christ both secures and realizes his lordship redemptive-historically. In order to better understand the messianic, redemptive-historic kingdom of Christ, I explicate Charles Hodges’ doctrine below. Hodge was a systematic theologian at Princeton Seminary before its demise in succumbing to the sweeping tide of liberalism.  

The Old Testament Promise of the Messianic Kingdom

Promised in the Old Testament, the Kingdom of God, as a progressively inaugurated reality is a central theme in Biblical Theology. The center of that kingdom is Jesus Christ, the promised king. It was revealed that he would possess all dominion, authority, and power. Generating from the line of Solomon, and in accordance with that covenant given to Solomon, the Son is to be arrayed, finally, in all glory. His coming will be marked by judgment of all his enemies, the glorification of his church, and the consummation of his kingdom.

The Terminology Predicated of the Messianic Kingdom

This kingdom is revealed in the Scriptures through synonymous terms: the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of the Son of man. Gloriously described, the biblical writers and prophets grasp at its meaning through language reminiscent of the paradisiacal state of man in Eden and the theocratic glory of Solomon in his time of blessing.

Theanthropos: The Lord of the Messianic Kingdom

The Lord and sovereign of this kingdom is the magnificent Christ – the God-man – who rules over his kingdom, not as the Logos (the second person of the Trinity considered before the incarnation), but in his Theanthropic state. The word “Theanthropic” is composed of two root words, Theos (meaning God), and anthropos (meaning man). Together constituted, Hodge refers to the magnificent reign of the Lord Jesus over the kingdom of God as the God-man.   

The Foundation of the Messianic Kingdom

The foundation of this kingdom is two-fold: (1) The infinite glory of the Son of God as God and (2) the redemption of Christ realized through the incarnation. Due to the Logos’ infinite condescension in the incarnation and his perfect obedience in life, God has given him a name which is above every name. The infinite worthiness of Christ is the basis of his infinite condescension (the greater the glory, the greater the humility). This worthiness in relation to his condescension, even unto death on the cross, is the two-fold basis which constitutes his worthiness. Due to his worthiness, and the actual accomplishment of redemption for his people, he is fit to attain a glorious exaltation. This exaltation consists in his resurrection, ascension, enthronement, intercession, and, ultimately, his second coming.  Hodge writes,

“It is because He being equal with God ‘humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,’ that ‘God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (ST: Vol 3. 855).

Key Aspects of the Messianic Kingdom

Hodge describes this redemptive-historical kingdom as “being presented in different aspects in Scripture.” Referring to its extent over all creatures, Hodge refers to it as a “kingdom of power.”  Christ will deliver up to his father after finishing his present work of intercession (his work as a priest before God on the church’s behalf, always praying for them at the right hand of God, even now; 1 Cor 15:24). Referring to God’s people on Earth, the church militant, it is a kingdom characterized chiefly by grace. Hodge refers to Christ as the “absolute proprietor” and “sovereign.” “Proprietor” refers to an ultimate owner. For example, a sole owner of a local business would be its proprietor. “Sovereign”, on the other hand, is a title used in reference to a king. In this respect, Jesus is the Lord God almighty, reigning and ruling over his church as his kingdom even on earth. Finally, regarding the future consummation of that kingdom in the new heavens and earth, the kingdom is a kingdom of glory, an everlasting kingdom. Christ’s headship over his consummate kingdom will continue forever.

The Definitive Aspect of the Messianic Kingdom

Hodge affirms that, in a sense, God has always had a kingdom on earth. Yet, he distinguishes the general category of kingdom, which transcends all history, with the “messianic” kingdom of Christ. He believes the messianic aspect of this kingdom began at the incarnation of Christ. He bases this on our Lord’s own preaching of the kingdom in the Gospels (Luke 4:43, 8:1), Jesus’ own pronouncements that He is a king (John 18:37), and the apostolic proclamation consisting in the kingdom of God (Acts 23:23). Men are called to “seek the kingdom” as a present reality. For Hodge, those who receive Jesus truly constitute his earthly kingdom – those who profess allegiance to Christ as king constitute his visible church. Due to the present nature of the kingdom, Hodge pronounces a condemnation on modern eschatological systems denying Christ’s present reign. He states,

“Nothing, therefore, can be more opposed to the plain teaching of the New Testament, than that the kingdom of Christ is yet future and is not to be inaugurated until His second coming. This is to confound its consummation with its commencement.” (ST: Vol 3: 857)

The “Other-Worldly” Nature of the Messianic Kingdom

Central to biblical ethics is the notion of Hodge that this kingdom is essentially “other-worldly.” In other words, the kingdom differs substantially in the present age from the kingdoms of men. It is not a kingdom of earthly power, wealth, and success; rather, it is a kingdom consisting in righteousness, peace, and the Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God is primarily an internal reality which has external ramifications in the present age. For Hodge, the “conditions of admission” to this kingdom are regeneration (John 3:5), conversion (Matthew 18:3), and holiness of life (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10).

The Consummate Aspect of the Messianic Kingdom

This presently inaugurated messianic kingdom will ultimately be consummated by Christ at the end of the age. Those who are alive on the earth and believe in Jesus will be transformed into his image and likeness. Having beheld the glory of the Lord, they will be beatifically transformed into his image. Other joys the saints will experience in heaven include the manifestation of the glory and love of God, “the indefinite enlargement of their faculties” (their entire person will be made stronger), exemption from sin and sorrow, increase in their knowledge and love of God, and being in the presence of the brethren forever.

The Progressive Aspect of the Messianic Kingdom

In addition to the present/final aspects of the kingdom of God, Hodge teaches that there is a foretaste of the ultimate kingdom which is progressively realized through history. In an “already/but not yet” sort of fashion, the kingdom “gradually progresses” like a “grain of mustard-seed, which is indeed the least of all seeds; but when it is grown…is the greatest among herbs…” (ST Vol 3: 856). For Hodge, the inward grace of regeneration made manifest through the church’s proclamation of the Gospel has practical ramifications regarding the day-to-day experience and enlargement of the kingdom of God on earth.

Postmillennialism

In this vein, Hodge is what theologians refer to as “Post-Millennial.” This means he believes that the second coming of Christ will follow a “thousand year” golden age of Gospel/Moral triumph on earth preceding the second coming of the Messiah. Though many theologians disagree with Hodge as to his views of the millenium, it is hard to disagree exegetically with the overall optimism of his eschatology. The view that there is going to be a future epoch wherein God’s blessings are poured out to a remarkable extent is called “golden age” Postmillenialism (the golden age refers to that epoch of great blessedness). “Golden Age” Postmillenialism is distinguished from a generally optimistic “Postmillenialism” which maintains Hodge’s optimism and kingdom focus, but rejects the so-called “golden age.” In support of the latter view, I would contend that when our Lord and Master bids us to pray that his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, he is not only referring to his ultimate consummate kingdom but also that the kingdom of heaven might be realized, progressively even now.

Conclusion

Hodges’ general eschatological thrust is that of glory regarding the kingdom in substance, righteousness regarding the kingdom morally, and hope regarding the kingdom in its progressively realized and ultimately consumated aspects. Hodge’s kingdom doctrine centers around the sovereign, definitively actualized, progressively realized, and ultimately consummated rule of Jesus Christ over all the world in power, his sheep in grace, and his heavenly delivered people in glory.

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  1. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, 2013.

2 comments on “Charles Hodge on the Messianic Kingdom of Christ

  1. Solid writing and study! Great work.

    Like

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