What We Believe
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Introduction: The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation

Danny E. Olinger

While a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in the mid-1940s, Meredith G. Kline, under the supervision of New Testament professor Ned B. Stonehouse, wrote the equivalent of a ThM thesis entitled “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John.”[1] The work, which Kline himself referred to a half century later in print as an “unpublished paper,” can be found in Westminster’s Montgomery Library.[2] Whether the terminology “ThM thesis” or “unpublished paper” is used, it is easy to see on the surface why this document has existed in relative obscurity. It is arguably among the worst-typed, poorly-edited ThM theses and/or senior papers in the history of the institution. An examination of the thirty-four page document reveals multiple typos (“alreeady,” “breif”), different capitalization of the same name in a paragraph (“false-prophet,” “False-Prophet”), different spellings of the same word on the same page (“throughout,” “through-out”), multiple spellings of a name in the same section (“AntiChrist,” “Antichrist,” “Anti-Christ”), words lacking a letter (“concering”), words with a missing letter (“h shed”), verses that do not exist (John 14:54), several one-ended brackets, multiple open spaces for the insertion of Greek words where nothing appears, a block quote with a line in the middle jutting out, improvisation (“4 squared”), and the apparent use of more than one typewriter. Stylistically, it anticipates Kline’s penchant for hyphenated word creations (“harlot-Babylon,” “Scarlet-colored Beast,” “quotation-statement,” “cycle-themes,” “pre-what-have-you’s,” “Satan-controlled”), long sentences (89 words being the longest), and personal rhetorical outrage (“It is asking too much of us, to require us to cease comparing Scripture with Scripture to determine Scripture’s meaning, in favor of comparing Scriptures with the devices of the Greek stage!”).

Moving beyond the grammatical and stylistic considerations, however, a deeper examination reveals that it is also arguably one of the most theologically brilliant ThM theses and/or senior papers submitted at Westminster Seminary.[3] In the thesis/paper Kline proposed an advancement upon William Hendriksen’s recapitulationist outline of Revelation, as seen in his book More Than Conquerors.[4] Although Kline agreed with Hendriksen’s amillennial reading of the text, Kline thought that Hendriksen, by wrongly dividing the final chapters, had short-changed the contrast inherent in Revelation as Christ transforms his church-bride from being imperfect in the world to perfect in heaven.

That Kline, even as a student, would ruffle the feathers of an established Reformed scholar the caliber of Hendriksen gave notice of the fearlessness that would characterize Kline’s theological writings from his student thesis/paper to his last published work in 2006. In ground-breaking, and often controversial fashion, Kline sought to show that the covenant theology embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms was true to Scripture, particularly how God had created man in his image and entered into covenant with him unto the end of full communion. Since he taught over half a century in the Old Testament departments of Westminster Theological Seminary (1950–1965), Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (1965–1993), and Westminster Seminary California (1982–2001), this led to multiple books exploring God’s covenantal establishment and work in Genesis.[5] 

Following the path of the Reformed biblical-theologian Geerhardus Vos,[6] Kline believed that the eschatological outlook set forth at creation in the covenant of works in Genesis 2 is the mother-soil that holds the religion of the Old and New Testaments together. In Vos’s words, “Insofar as the covenant of works posited for mankind an absolute goal and unchangeable future, the eschatological may be even said to have preceded the soteric religion.”[7] In the biblical account, eschatology precedes soteriology.

In his second published article in 1953, “Intrusion and the Decalogue,” Kline explained the relationship in a way that Vos would have approved. In the opening sentence, Kline wrote, “It is by tracing the unfolding eschatology of Scripture that we can most deftly unravel the strands of Old Testament religion and discover what is essential and distinctive in it. For eschatology antedates redemption.”[8] Kline then stressed that both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace are eschatological in that they offer a way to the consummation, but the covenant of works comes first. The door through the covenant of works was never opened as Adam transgressed God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God could have brought eternal perdition to Adam by his covenant-breaking repudiation. That is, the Fall might have introduced at once a consummation of universal damnation, but God, by the principle and purpose of divine compassion introduced the covenant of grace, with its historical corollary common grace, as the new way of arriving at the consummation.[9] “This change in covenants from works to grace,” Kline said, “did not change the canons of eschatology.”[10] What changed after the Fall is that the conditions of the covenant of grace must be performed vicariously and as a redemptive accomplishment by the God-man.[11]

Forty-six years later in a review in Kerux of Gerard Van Groningen’s From Creation to Consummation, Kline indicated that he still held to this Vosian understanding. Kline first praised the substance of Van Groningen’s biblical-theological approach to Scripture as “happily he appreciates the foundational character of creation and seeks to highlight the eschatological aspect of the historical process, emphases dear to the Vosian hearts of the Kerux readership.” Such praise of Van Groningen’s work, however, was short-lived as Kline argued that Van Groningen’s denial of the covenant of works had led him to misconstrue the goal set before Adam in the garden. Van Groningen asserted that Adam already had everything in relationship to God as a creational gift. Kline replied:

That assertion contradicts the obvious. Vos rightly declares that according to the apostle Paul “the only reasonable interpretation of the Genesis-account” is “that provision was made and probation was instituted for a still higher state, both ethico-religiously and physically complexioned, than was at that time in the possession of man” (The Pauline Eschatology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952] 304).[12]

Kline then added observations that spoke just as much about Kline’s biblical-theological understanding of Scripture as they did against Van Groningen’s folly in denying the covenant of works and the eschatological hope it communicated. For Van Groningen to declare that Adam was in possession of everything in relation to God at creation left room for neither eschatology nor the new benefits that come to humanity through Christ and the Spirit’s work. It is the Spirit who transforms man’s spiritual nature that he might advance to the estate of confirmed righteousness prerequisite to the reception of the guaranteed felicity of the eternal Sabbath. It is also the Spirit who brings about physical glorification, the supernatural, consummating transfiguration that renders the cosmos a new heaven and earth for man. In Van Groningen’s proposal, the eschatological acts of God that propel man towards the consummation and the consummation itself are stripped of their biblical meaning. The result is that Van Groningen did what Kline endeavored never to do when exegeting Scripture—Van Groningen missed the message of the Sabbath.

Kline saw the biblical concept of Sabbath rest permeating the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Old Testament texts such as Genesis 2 and Isaiah 66 present Sabbath rest in terms of enthronement after the completion of labors by which royal dominion is manifested or secured. The biblical identification of Jesus as the second Adam in the New Testament guarantees that his redemptive achievement fits into both the eschatological structure that informed the covenant of works and the Sabbath rest that was promised therein. Kline said, “Indeed, Christ’s work is explicitly expounded by the Scriptures as a re-creation and perfecting of the imago Dei and as a bringing of his people into their Sabbath rest in the land of access to the tree of life.”[13] Further, the Sabbath rest of the risen Christ is his kingly session at God’s right hand. For believers to live and reign with Christ in the new heavens and new earth is to participate in his royal Sabbath rest.

In his writings, Kline traced the outworking of the covenants and the movement in the history of redemption in accord with the message of the Sabbath. In addition to his work on Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch detailed in his book Treaty of the Great King, he also took a keen interest in Job[14] and the minor prophets, particularly Zechariah.[15] But, no book in the New Testament caught Kline’s attention concerning the fulfillment of the covenantal promises through the person and work of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Spirit like Revelation did. He wrote articles, such as “The First Resurrection” and “The First Resurrection: A Reaffirmation,” that focused directly on the proper interpretation of Revelation 20. He wrote other articles like “Death, Leviathan and the Martyrs: Isaiah 24:1–27:1” and “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium” where the exegesis of Revelation was central to the arguments being made. Further, in three of his major books, Images of the Spirit, Glory in Our Midst, and God, Heaven, and Har Magedon, Kline exegeted and referenced Revelation more than any other New Testament book.

This might have been expected given Kline’s covenantal hermeneutic that led him to trace the line of redemptive-historical development from creation to consummation. Revelation with its declaration that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev.19:10) and its picture of the church’s heavenly life with God often provided the capstone for Kline’s explorations.

But, there was more to why Kline in his articles and books cited Revelation so often. He also understood Revelation to be a microcosm of the Bible as a whole, a covenant witness document of Jesus. He declared,

The Apocalypse is a covenant witness document of Jesus, the faithful witness, presenting his claims as the covenant Lord, testifying that he is the mighty messianic Angel, who was sent, who came and conquered, and is now invested with the Glory-Spirit, all authority in heaven and earth his. In demonstration thereof the Apocalypse confronts us with an overwhelming assemblage of images of his mighty acts as victor over the dragon and the beasts, judge of the nations, possessor of the keys of death and Hades, divine priest-kin who redeems a countless multitude out of all to enjoy and serve God in the heavenly Zion forever.[16]

As the last portion of the above quotation testifies, Kline did not see Christ alone in Revelation. He also saw the church that Christ had redeemed and was refashioning in his image to be his bride for all eternity. This transformation of the church from a pilgrim below to dwellers in the Father’s glorious mansion above through union with Christ and the down payment of the Spirit is a theme that Kline reinforced when talking about the message of Revelation. In Kingdom Prologue, he stated, “The Book of Revelation unveils the transforming work of the Spirit as he brings the church from its creation as candle-like image of the Glory-light of Christ (Rev. 1) to the perfecting of this Glory-image in the church at its ultimate merging with the heavenly Glory-community in the eternal temple-city (Rev. 21).”[17] In Images of the Spirit, Kline expressed it this way, “The church as portrayed in Revelation 21 and 22 is a church recreated in the likeness of Christ, the Glory-robed priest of Revelation 1. Coupled in this portrait with the symbol of the temple-city, New Jerusalem, is the symbol of the ‘bride adorned for her husband’ (Rev. 21:2).”[18] In Glory in Our Midst, he said, “It is Christ, the Son of Man who has decisively overcome the satanic dragon and has been established in supreme heavenly authority with cosmic dominion (cf. Rev. 1:12ff., 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14, 12:1ff.; 20:1–3), who then proceeds to fashion the seven menorah-churches, the true temple-city, by his authoritative, creative word through the power of the Spirit (cf. Revelation 2 and 3).”[19]

Kline’s passion was to show from Genesis to Revelation how this blessed covenantal reality came to be—the risen Christ dwelling with his Spirit-forged church in his holy temple-city on the mountain of God, the heavenly Zion. The realization of the hope of believers is found only in appeal to the merits of their Redeemer’s work in history and the Spirit’s application of the sanctifying efficacy of the perfected priesthood and sacrifice permanently embodied in the risen and divine Savior.[20] The movement of redemptive history towards completion of the covenantal promise in Christ finds its capstone in Revelation, “the fairest gem in Scripture.” Revelation unites “in a fitting consummation of the Divine Word the most precious themes of the Bible, illuminating the prophetic element of the Old Testament, elaborating and unifying the eschatological outlines inherent in the teaching of Jesus, Paul and the rest of the New Testament, and providing an inspiration by its solemn majesty that is not afforded so impressively anywhere else.”[21]

Consequently, in his writings, Kline explored the way that the two-register cosmology of the heavens and the earth that was presented in Genesis 1:1–2:3, a theological mapping of the cosmos with space and time coordinates, was developed throughout the Bible and came to a conclusion in Revelation. In the book of Revelation, “each series of visions or happenings on earth is introduced by a disclosure of the heavenly control center of the universe, where the earthly judgments are decreed and whence their executive agents descend.”[22] It is the place in Scripture, “with its characteristic opening of the heavens,” where one finds a formative impact linguistically of the two-register cosmology. It is also in Revelation at the consummation of redemptive history that “the visible-invisible differentiation of space comes to an end as the heavenly Glory is unveiled to the eyes of redeemed earthlings, their perceptive capabilities transformed now by glorification.”[23] The boundary of heaven and earth disappears. God himself is the Glory-temple, the realization of the Sabbath promise put forth at creation. 

The chapters that follow will unpack these and other themes that Kline saw in this New Testament “covenant witness document of Jesus” and “fairest gem of Scripture.” Examined in detail will be Kline’s unpublished thesis “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John,” his articles related to Revelation, “The First Resurrection,” “The First Resurrection: A Reaffirmation,” “Death, Leviathan and the Martyrs: Isaiah 24:1–27:1,” and “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium,” and the Apocalypse-related sections of his books Images of the Spirit, Glory in Our Midst, and God, Heaven, and Har Magedon.

Endnotes

[1] According to Meredith M. Kline in his essay on his father, “Meredith G. Kline: A Biographical Sketch,” Stonehouse served as “supervisor of Dad’s ThM thesis on the structure of the Apocalypse,” Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2017), xxiii. Meredith G. Kline himself referenced “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John,” as an “unpublished paper” in footnote 2 of his article, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39, no. 1 (1996): 207. The difference in terminology between “thesis” and “unpublished paper” requires a brief explanation. Westminster Theological Seminary did not require a thesis for a ThM degree until after it went through the accrediting process in 1956. Prior to that time, a student’s “senior” paper functioned in the same manner. 

[2] Kline’s “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John” was first listed as a holding in Westminster’s library in 1960 when he served as a member of the faculty. Although there is no date attached to the paper, Gregory Beale dates it as being written in 1945. The footnotes in the paper confirm this date as multiple works from the 1940s are cited, but none later than 1944. See, G. K. Beale, “The Structure and Plan of John’s Apocalypse,” in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, eds. Howard Griffith and John R. Muether (Jackson, MS: Reformed Academic Press, 2000), 119. 

[3] Undoubtedly, it made quite an impression upon the Westminster faculty. Three years after his 1947 graduation, the faculty extended an invitation to the then twenty-eight year old Kline to teach at his alma mater.

[4] William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1944).

[5] See, Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton, MA: M. G. Kline, 1986), “Genesis” in The New Bible Commentary, 3rd rev. ed., edited by D. Guthrie (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1970), 79–114, and Genesis: A New Commentary, ed. J. Kline (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2017).

[6] Kline’s appreciation of Vos’s biblical-theological hermeneutic is evident throughout his writings. In his first published article in 1953, “The Relevance of the Theocracy,” (Presbyterian Guardian 22, no. 2 (Feb. 16, 1953), Kline appealed to Vos as support to argue against a belief that a combination of the family, church, and state could produce the theocracy. Kline said that the family, church, and state “do not have their being in the same ‘dimensional’ sphere as the Theocracy. They exist in the sphere of common grace; but the Theocracy in the sphere of Consummation. As G. Vos points out: ‘The significance of the unique organization of Israel can be rightly measured only by remembering that the theocracy typefied nothing short of the perfected kingdom of God, the consummate state of Heaven (Old and New Testament Biblical Theology, 1942, p. 80)” (26). Near the end of his academic career, Kline stated in the preface of his 1986 book, Kingdom Prologue, that what he had done in writing on Genesis was to take “what is in Vos’s Biblical Theology the infrastructure, the particular historical pattern in which the periodicity principle gets applied” and make it the surface structure in examining Genesis (5). Then in 2001, the year Kline retired from teaching, he dedicated Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions to “Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949) pioneer of the biblical theology way.” Fittingly, Howard Griffith and John Muether borrowed from Vos when they entitled their festschrift for Kline, Creator, Redeemer, Consummator, which was Vos’s dedication to his Pauline Eschatology. Griffith and Muether wrote, “Dr. Meredith G. Kline has in many ways carried on and built upon the insights of Dr. Vos in the field of biblical theology. His work expresses the vision of that God who is Alpha and Omega” (10).

[7] Geerhardus Vos, “Eschatology of the Psalter,” in Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1986), 325. On the back jacket cover of Kline’s Glory in Our Midst, T. David Gordon argues that “the vision of Geerhardus Vos is never more articulately or thoroughly developed than in the writings of Meredith G. Kline … [I]n all of Kline’s writings, the reader perceives the profoundly eschatological perspective that undergirds and shapes the entirety of biblical revelation.”

[8] Meredith G. Kline, “Intrusion and the Decalogue,” Westminster Theological Journal 16, no. 1 (1953/54): 1.

[9] Kline, “Intrusion,” 2, and Meredith G. Kline, Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 155.

[10] Kline, “Intrusion,” 3. In this statement, Kline affirmed the key point in Vos’s contention that eschatology precedes soteriology. That is, the consummation hope of full communion with God set before Adam in the garden is not cast aside after the Fall into sin. Rather, it continues and is accomplished through the promised seed of the woman in the covenant of grace.

[11] In “Intrusion,” Kline used the terminology “covenant of works” for the Genesis 2:16–17 covenant that God established with Adam at creation and the terminology “covenant of grace” for the Genesis 3:15 promise of deliverance that God gave to fallen Adam and Eve. When Kline stylistically revised “Intrusion and the Decalogue” for inclusion in his 1972 book, The Structure of Biblical Authority, he changed “covenant of works” to “covenant of creation” and “covenant of grace” to “covenant of redemption.” In his books Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy, Studies and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963) and Kingdom Prologue, he preferred the terminology “covenant of creation” and “covenant of redemption.” However, when writing journal articles or reviews, such as his review of Gerard Van Groningen’s From Creation to Consummation (Kerux 14, no. 2 (Sept. 1999), Kline often reverted—perhaps through editorial influence—to the traditional Reformed terminology of “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace.”  

[12] Meredith G. Kline, review of From Creation to Consummation by Gerard Van Groningen, Kerux 14, no. 2 (Sept. 1999): 69. Kline argued along the same lines in Kingdom Prologue. He said, “The eternal state itself, when it was attained, would not of course be a mere perpetuation of man’s original beatitude. In fact, the latter would … be no blessing at all in view of the eschatological hope instilled in man’s heart as image of God and in view of the kingdom-program assigned to man with its ultimate objective of construing the cosmic-human temple-city” (61).

[13] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 61.

[14] Meredith G. Kline, “Job,” in Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed. C. F. Pfieffer and E. F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody, 1962), 459–490.

[15] Meredith G. Kline, Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2001).

[16] Kline, Glory in Our Midst, 88 (emphasis added).

[17] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 232.

[18] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980), 49.

[19] Kline, Glory in Our Midst, 162.

[20] Meredith G. Kline, review of The Unity of the Bible by H. H. Rowley, Westminster Theological Journal 18, no. 1 (1956): 18.

[21] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 2. For the sake of consistency and readability, quotations from Kline in the footnotes have been grammatically corrected. In this quotation, “th eschatological outlines” and “solumn” have been changed to “the eschatological outlines” and “solemn.”

[22] Meredith G. Kline, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony,” in Essential Writings, 25.

[23] Ibid., 24.

Danny E. Olinger is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, April 2021.

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