Lane G. Tipton
While there is much to commend when considering the collected writings of a theologian as insightful and penetrating as Meredith G. Kline (1922–2007), this review article of his Essential Writings (Hendrickson, 2017) will limit itself to what is arguably the most neglected, yet most profound, dimension of his theology, namely, the foundational role that heaven plays in his theological understanding of the Scriptures.
Kline is, without a doubt, an heir of Princeton theologian Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949). He seeks to understand the Scriptures as a God-breathed revelational record of the history of special revelation. He prioritizes the glory of God and seeks to understand special revelation in light of the central concern for God’s glory. And the invisible heaven, the primal temple dwelling of God, made in the absolute beginning (Gen. 1:1; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 11:4; Isa. 6:1–6), is the permanent place where that glory will be revealed to angels and to God’s covenant people.
This God-centered and heaven-centered approach is featured in capsule form in something approaching an inclusio in this volume. Both the second essay, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony,” and the final essay, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium,” deal with the foundational reality of heaven, understood as a distinct, created, unseen temple dwelling of God. Heaven, according to Kline, is the presently veiled, temple dwelling of the triune God (Gen. 1:1), who has entered into his heavenly Sabbath Rest (Gen. 2:2). The heaven-temple, created in the absolute beginning, decisively shapes the character of special revelation and the eschatology of the covenant.
Regarding the character of special revelation, the history of special revelation includes not only the progress of earth history, but the progress of the history of heaven. The God who made the heaven-temple dwells in that temple realm in Sabbath Rest. It is this heavenly Sabbath Rest that is achieved by the ascended Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:47; Heb. 4:4, 8–11). Christ, the Last Adam and life-giving Spirit, has advanced the history of heaven to its climax, and by faith in this Christ the church presently is entering into heavenly Sabbath Rest by faith (Heb. 4:3) and will enter fully into it bodily by sight on the day of resurrection (Heb. 4:9–11).
All of this depends, of course, on the way that heavenly Sabbath Rest in a realm beyond Eden probation was promised to Adam before the Fall. In other words, the God-centered and heaven-centered theology is rooted in a proper understanding of the covenant of works. Entering into heavenly Sabbath Rest, beyond probation testing on earth, where the worship of God is brought to its consummate perfection, lies at the heart of the eschatology of the covenant of works. Kline’s work on the history of heaven has stimulating and fruitful implications for our understanding of the ordering to heavenly glory that is basic to the covenant of works and grace. The service of biblical theology to systematic theology in Kline’s work shines at this point.
But Kline’s biblical theology renders another valuable dogmatic contribution, which brings us to the final essay in the volume, Kline’s exposition of the “Har Magedon” motif and the issue of the millennium. Kline argues convincingly that Har Magedon is the Mount of Assembly. The realm of Sabbath Rest is the realm of the mountain of God, heavenly Mount Zion, the Mount of Assembly, or Har Magedon (Heb. 12:23). Of decisive significance, the heights of the heavenly Mount of Assembly (Zion) is set in sharpest contrast to the depth of the “Pit” in Isaiah 14:13–15, which is the background for the same sort of contrast in Revelation 16:16. The climactic expression of judgment at the end of the age is a permanent descent for the wicked to the Pit and a permanent ascent of the righteous atop Mount Zion, Har Magedon, the Mount of Assembly in heaven.
The dogmatic significance of Kline’s insight is simple and profound. The victory of the kingdom of God at the end of the age is the vindication of the Messianic Judge, and his people, who dwell atop the Mount of Assembly. Coincident with their vindication and ascension to heaven is the permanent consigning of all God’s enemies to the Pit or Abyss (Rev. 16:16). This great judgment ordeal ends the millennium, so that the saints might enter bodily into the revealed glory of the heaven-temple, where they will worship the ascended Christ forever. It is the history of heaven, moved already to its climactic expression in the ascended Messianic Judge, that frames the ultimate destruction of God’s enemies at the Har Magedon crisis—the Gog-Magog crisis.
The dogmatic value of Kline’s appropriation of the history-of-heaven construction is that the coming of God’s heavenly kingdom in its visible and outward grandeur does not come “until final judgment is executed against antichrist/Gog, and therefore not before the end of the millennium” (277). This entails the “identity of the Har Magedon and Gog-Magog events” and proves decisive against both premillennialist and postmillennialist views that understand the millennium as an age in which the kingdom of outward glory comes before the final judgment (277). Put most incisively, “there is no transitional stage in its appearing between the first and second advents of Christ” (277). The time point in which the kingdom comes in its outward glory is the time following the final judgment, when the glory and power of heaven itself will be made visible. That consummation of the kingdom will reveal the ascended Christ, seated at God’s right hand, enthroned amidst the praise of angels and his church (Heb. 12:22–24). That throne is in heaven (Isa. 66:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1–2; Col. 3:1–2).
Kline’s theology, in large part, is an attempt to sketch as clearly as possible from the Scriptures the foundational role that heaven, the realm created in the absolute beginning for the glory of God to be set on everlasting display, plays in the history of special revelation. His work remains of immense value to all who seek to develop the deeper Protestant conception set forth so ably by Vos.
The author is pastor of Trinity OPC in Easton, PA, and a Reformed Forum Fellow of Biblical and Systematic Theology.
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