Yong H. Kim
God, Heaven, and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos, by Meredith G. Kline. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006, xv + 293 pages, $31.00, paper.
This "octogenarian's" final book culminates his life-long study of the Word of God. God, Heaven, and Har Magedon delightfully portrays God and his glorious plan for his bride, the church. Dr. Kline does this by leading us on a journey through the Bible and, in particular, the story line of Har Magedon, the mountain of God. For the enemies of God, this mountain is a place of gathering for the eternal judgment of God, but for the people of God, this mountain is a place of gathering for the heavenly banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Faithful to the central message of the Bible, Dr. Kline helps us to see the beautiful love story of God, explaining the history of God's redemption, how God through his Son, Jesus Christ, accomplishes the eternal heavenly reality for his people through judgment and blessing.
Dr. Kline defines the meaning of "Har Magedon." The Hebrew word "Har" means "mountain." Explaining that John supplies the meaning of Hebraisti terms in the immediate context, Dr. Kline shows how Revelation 16:16 provides the meaning of "Har Magedon" as "the mountain of Gathering." "And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon" (Rev. 16:16 NASB). Then by connecting Isaiah 14:13 and Psalm 48:2, he further shows that Mount Zion or Jerusalem is the mountain of Gathering, the Har Magedon. In Isaiah 14:13, the "mount of assembly" or the "mount of gathering," is appositional to the "far reaches of the north" or "heights of Zaphon." And in Psalm 48:2, "Mount Zion" is appositional to the "far north" or again, "heights of Zaphon." Thus Mount Zion or the city Jerusalem is the Mount of Gathering, the Har Magedon.
In the Garden of Eden, we see the first Har Magedon battle in the "earthly arena." The first Adam had to perfectly perform the will of God to earn for himself and his posterity the consummated sabbath of the kingdom of God. This arrangement is what we call the covenant of works. In Ezekiel 28:13-14, God addresses an arrogant king. And there God says to him, in verse 13, "You were in Eden, the garden of God," and in verse 14, "you were on the holy mountain of God." By putting these verses together we are able to conclude that the Garden of Eden was the mountain of God. Then at the Mount of Gathering, in the Garden of Eden, we see the Har Magedon battle between the first Adam and Satan. This is the continuation of "the Har Magedon conflict that had erupted in heaven (68)" between God and Satan. But the first Adam completely failed, and with him, all mankind fell in sin. Perhaps Satan thought that he had won. However, the Har Magedon battle continued.
The Har Magedon battle has continued, but now God's people have a new Representative, our Lord and Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He will crush Satan's head and cast him down to Hell. But no longer through a covenant of works would God's people inherit the kingdom of God. A new covenant was needed, the covenant of grace, which would depend upon the eternal covenant made between the Father and the Son. "It is through his fulfilling of his probation assignment as Servant in his eternal covenant of works with the Father that the Son is entitled to be the Mediator-Lord of the Covenant of Grace" (74). It is here in Dr. Kline's discussion of the covenant of grace that we see one of his most welcomed statements, "The overarching Covenant of Grace ...was to unfold in several premessianic administrations (including the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic covenants) and have its full, culminative expression in the New Covenant." He does not describe the Mosaic covenant as exclusively a covenant of works. "Carrying forward the Abrahamic Covenant as they do, both the Old and New Covenants are, like it, administrations of the Covenant of Grace" (96). Of course, "at the same time the Scriptures indicate that in the Mosaic economy there was superimposed as a separate second tier on this foundation stratum of gospel grace a works arrangement" (96).
In chapters 9 and 10, Dr. Kline shows mini Har Magedon battles from Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic Covenants in which Noah, Abraham, and David were types of Jesus Christ, the Guarantor of the New Covenant. That brings us to chapter 11, the last chapter of the book, "Har Magedon in the Messianic Finale" (145). As a transition from "the old typal pattern to the New Covenant stage of the Har Magedon warfare" (145), Dr. Kline uses the visions of Daniel, especially the vision of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9. The figurative seventy weeks are the duration from the time of Daniel to the final consummation of the kingdom of God. In Daniel 9:25, we learn that "from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks." And verse 26 tells us that "after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off." Thus our Lord's death to the final consummation of the kingdom of God is one week. "Yet in the unfathomable wisdom of God this cutting off of the Messiah is the legal basis for the New Covenant; his blood is 'the blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (150). But in verse 27, we also learn that "for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering," which points to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. So the church age currently is in the last three and a half days. We see again in the book of Revelation the number three and a half years as "a symbolic period which we will be identifying with the interim leading up to the antichrist crisis and the second advent of Christ" (153). This interim is the church age. It is the thousand year kingdom era, but it is also a time of "persecution for the covenant community" (166).
We see the same thing in Revelation 11 where the church is symbolized as two witnesses. In verse 7 we read, "And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them." And in verses 11a and 12b we read, "But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet.... And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them." Here we see how the church of Christ is called to be like her Lord, imitating her Lord. The church as a whole lives out the very life of her Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus Christ died on the cross and just as He resurrected from the dead, the church is pictured to live the same life as her Lord. The life of the church is patterned after her Lordsuffering here on earth, entering glory in heaven. "Whether viewed from the earthly (3 1/2 years) or heavenly (thousand years) perspective, the interim history of the church militant is a martyr age in the double sense of the church's witnessing to Christ and suffering for Christ" (179).
"The Gospels reveal Jesus in the process of fulfilling the primal prophecy of Genesis 3:15. He appears as a divine warrior locked in mortal combat with the devil" (159). Yes, the Har Magedon battle did not end in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is successful in his defense of Har Magedon (159). And "only by the passive obedience of his submission to the Cross can Jesus silence Satan, the accuser of the brethren. The crushing of the serpent's head by the messianic seed of the woman is at the cost of the bruising of his heel" (160). "Ratification of this final administration of the Covenant of Grace took place on the cross; Jesus' blood shed there was the blood of the new covenant" (162).
Dr Kline's treatment of Revelation 20 is very helpful. He begins by looking at Matthew 12:28 where Jesus says, "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Jesus signals the coming of the kingdom of God then in verse 29, "Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house." Dr. Kline then moves to Revelation 20 saying, "And again, here even more clearly, there is a curtailing of Satan's precious world-wide success as a deceiver of the nations. This restriction of his evil influence is symbolized as a binding and imprisoning of the dragon in the locked and sealed Abyss (Rev. 20:1-3, cf. v.7)" (161). Jesus is then the stronger warrior who plunders Satan, rescuing his people (161). Jesus' binding will last a "thousand years," throughout the church age. "The millennium begins at the first advent... The millennium ends at the antichrist crisis and the return of Jesus to execute final judgment on Satan's forces at the final battle, the battle of Har Magedon" (172). Indeed, in Revelation 20:7 we read about the release of Satan from his prison after the thousand years. Satan will "come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle" (Rev. 20:8). When his forces surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city, Jesus our Lord will return to judge Satan's forces. "This antichrist episode is a resumption of Satan's challenge to the Lord of Har Magedon in Eden in the beginning, conspiring to overthrow him and to seize the cosmic throne on the heavenly mount (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4)" (181). "The outcome of this battle of the great day, the battle of Har Magedon, is the triumph of Christ, the salvation of the saints, and the doom of Satan and all his evil followers" (179).
I would like to conclude by commenting on Dr. Kline's understanding of the Lord's Day observance during the church age. His understanding of worship on the Lord's Day and its significance is a brilliant witness to biblical teaching. However, he believes that observing the entire Lord's Day as a holy day is no longer the will of God for us who live in the New Testament time. Herein lies the one matter in the book with which I have serious disagreement. Dr. Kline argues that, since the work of God during the six days of creation was a "holy kingdom-establishing activity," the work of Israelites during the six days must be the same. "This means that sabbath observance requires a theocratic as well as a covenantal setting, that is, a setting in which culture as well as cult is holy kingdom activity" (190). And we see only two historical situations that would fall into that category: Eden and Sinai. "In the New Covenant era ...in which the common grace principle is uniformly operative, the theocratic context prerequisite to the six-work-days component of the sabbath ordinance is missing" (190). Thus, the cultural activities of God's people in the New Covenant are not holy kingdom activities, they are common grace activities (194). So now "only one day then has a special significance in the covenant week under the New Covenant" (194). The covenant week under the New Covenant is "no longer a cultural-cultic sabbatical week" (196). Thus we cannot identify the sabbath with the Lord's Day. "And this means that contrary to traditional Sabbatarianism the distinctive first day of the new, dominical week is not a modified residue of the sabbath day of the fourth commandment, governed by the rules for sabbath observance, such as the prohibition of various non-cultic activities" (196). Thus the first day of the week is not the Lord's Day, as in the whole day set apart for us, but "simply the set time for believers to come together to meet with the Lord" (194). The Lord's Day of Revelation 1:10 is not the first day of the week but the Day of the Lord. But this Day of the Lord has an "already" and a "not yet" aspect. "It was inaugurated as the first advent of Christ through his resurrection and ascension.... There will be a climactic finale" (192). "But 'the Lord's day' of Rev 1:10 refers to the already realized heavenly enthronement of the Lord Jesus" (193).
Dr. Kline argues that the "prohibition of various non-cultic activities" is exclusive to theocracies. The question that may be raised then is this: Did Abraham, in a non-theocratic era, observe the sabbath, the whole day, as a holy day? Dr. Kline deals with this question in one sentence, "If there was sabbath observance in other covenantal contexts in redemptive history before the Law (e.g., the patriarchal community), it would be due to the presence there of an earthly altar perceived as a symbolic mountain of God, a stylized Har Magedon" (190). To me, this response may actually be used to argue that the patriarchs did in fact observe the sabbath as a holy day. In fact, God Himself made the sabbath day holy in Genesis 2:2. This setting apart of the whole day was first done at creation, not originally through Moses. Exodus 31:16-17 attests to the eternal significance of the sabbath, calling it a "covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel." Thus, both the sabbath and the Lord's Day point to the same heavenly reality. In the Old Testament, the week was structured so that the pattern for life was to look forward to the eternal rest of God. But in the New Covenant because that rest has been accomplished spiritually by our Lord Jesus Christ, the week is structured to begin with that rest. The six days of work that follow are to be lived in terms of that rest which has already been accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ. Having said all that, I truly believe that Dr. Kline's motivation in arguing his point was to obey God. He was driven by the truths that he saw in the Bible. But I lament the fact that there will be people who may misuse what Dr. Kline has said to justify their sinful desire to use the holy day for their selfish, worldly interests.
Even for those who do not agree with all Dr. Kline's points, this Christologically-focused book is a must. He reminds us that the word of God is indeed sweeter than honey. Let us pray that God would continue to bless his church with people like Dr. Kline.
Yong H. Kim
Christ & Heaven OPC
Long Beach, Cal.