Christ our Lord came for no other reason than to bring God’s kingdom to man, who was not able to live with God after falling in sin. His very first public words are exactly those of His forerunner, John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Through His life, Jesus spoke of the kingdom as in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21) or in His parables (Matthew 13:1-52; 20:1-16; 25:1-30 …etc.). When He was asked by Pilate, Are You a King then?” He replied, “You say rightly that I am a King. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
On Palm Sunday, our Lord Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem as a King. Since He was not competing with Caesar, He didn’t encounter any resistance from the Romans. The problems rose internally from His people, the Jewish leaders. There was a problem, however, in understanding the nature of His kingdom.
The Nature of the Lord’s Kingdom
His kingdom was near by. The day when He would conquer Satan by His crucifixion was close. The Lord Christ wanted a spiritual, not an earthly kingdom, based on love. The Jews, at that time, wanted a kingdom like the other earthly kingdoms, based on authority of the ruler like Samson or Gideon or Joshua. They also wanted to show their mighty power expressed in armed forces. They never thought of a Godly kingdom. They shouted “Hosanna the Son of David”, that is to say, “O Son of David, save us”. They requested a son of David as an heir to the throne and crown of David, not the Son of God. He wanted to save them from their iniquities, hence His name “Jesus” or “Savior” was chosen and declared by the angel (Matthew 1:2), but they wanted salvation from the Romans. He wanted to free them from the slavery to Satan and sins, which is bitterer than slavery to the Romans. Slavery to Caesar is limited to this earthly life, while slavery to Satan destroys man’s eternity. He wanted to reign on the heart; they wanted Him to reign on a physical throne. They never thought of what He told them, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Therefore they refused Him and shouted later “No king but Caesar!”
We confess Jesus Christ is the King of His heavenly kingdom. He didn’t refuse the kingdom in general, only the earthly one. He refused the throne that was given to Him by men, as St. John reported, after the feeding of the multitude, “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to a mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:15). He told them “I do not receive honor from men” (John 5:41). He also refused the kingdom offered to Him by the ruler of this world when the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; saying to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8, 9). The Book of Revelation describes our Lord as the King of kings (Revelation 19:16). Daniel also described His eternal authority by saying, “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). At His birth, the three wise men, who visited Him, were looking for a King (Matthew 2:2). Even before that, Archangel Gabriel described Him as the King who will reign on the throne of His father David by saying, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33).
The royalty of both our Lord Jesus Christ and King David were very similar. David was anointed a king a long time before his enthronement; so was our Lord (Hebrew 1:8-12). David was enthroned after the defeat of Saul, so was our Lord who was enthroned after He defeated Satan on the cross on our behalf (Psalm 95). The thief crucified on His side bore witness to His royalty and divinity when he shouted saying “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
Starting by Palm Sunday, the Lord began practicing His authority as a King; and that was manifested by cleansing the temple and by changing the religious leadership. On that day, the priests, Pharisees and scribes were unable to confront Him. They were afraid of the people! The only thing they did was to ask Him about his authority (Matthew 21:23-27). The Lord Christ declared clearly to Pontius Pilate, while being mocked as King, that His kingdom is not of this world, saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). It is a spiritual kingdom since He reigns over the hearts of the believers through His cross. Through His sufferings, Jesus established His kingdom.
The Coptic Orthodox Church calls the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of peace. At the eastern side of the churches, the icon of the Lord represents Him sitting on His throne surrounded with the four non corporeal creatures; symbolizing the four gospels.
The Millennial Kingdom:
Those who believe in the “Millennial Kingdom” assume that Christ will come to reign on earth for a thousand years in His earthly kingdom, and the world will enjoy peace and prosperity. The wild nature will be removed, not only from man, but also from animals, that the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. There were not be wars, but rather they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning. The believers of this idea depend on Revelation 20:1-10 compared with Isaiah 2:2-4; 65:17-25; Micah 4:3, but originally it was the deliberation of the Christians of Jewish origin of the early centuries who adopted the idea of the “Messiah the King” who shall fulfill their Jewish thoughts and desires. Unfortunately, these thoughts were spread among some Christian sects starting in the 16th century, who considered these thoughts their main and great doctrine. They even suggested certain dates for the coming of Christ and starting His millennial kingdom.
The belief of our Coptic Church and the other Apostolic Churches concerning this issue, as it was discussed, could be summarized in the following:
1. Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, as He Himself declared to Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John18:36). In other occasions, Jesus rejected receiving an earthly kingdom (John 6:15; Matthew 4:8, 9). He taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer saying, “Thy kingdom come”… It is a spiritual kingdom spread over hearts “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).
2. The second coming of Christ will not be to spend one thousand years on earth in His millennial kingdom, but for judgment “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27; c.f. Matthew 24:30,31; 25:31-46; 13:40-42).
3. Suppose the second coming, according to their belief, will be for the millennial kingdom, therefore we should expect a third coming for judgment… which is unbiblical.
4. It is unacceptable to say that Christ will reign on earth for a thousand years, full of peace and prosperity, to be followed by destruction and desolation because heaven and earth will pass away (Matthew 5:18). “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2Peter 3:10). Moreover, it will be followed by spiritual desolation; since Satan will be released from his prison to deceive the nations (Revelation 20:7, 8), followed by the general falling away and the reveling of the man of sin (2Thesalonians 2:3-9), and the rising of the false christs and prophets (Matthew 24:24). It is not logic that Christ reigns over men for a thousand years with His spiritual influence, and after that Satan is able to deceive and lead them to fall away!
5. The apostle is talking about the resurrection of the dead, and the alive will be conformed and caught up to meet the Lord in the air to be always with Him (1Thesalonicans 4:16). So, we are wondering, will they come again with the Lord to start, by them, His kingdom on earth for a thousand years?! Will they eat and drink, since it is well known that after the resurrection they will not eat nor drink, but they will be like the angels of God (Matthew 22:30)?! What type of joy they will feel if they rise from the dead to find themselves staying again on earth for thousand years without eating, nor drinking nor working?!
6. How could He reign for a limited period (1000 years) while He should reign for ever, and His kingdom shall never be destroyed, but rather shall stand forever (Daniel 2:44; 4:334; 6:26; 7:14,27)?!
Actually the kingdom of Christ started upon the cross when He bought us by His blood… “The Lord reigned upon the wood” (Psalms 95) “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1Peter 1:18,19). Therefore we received peace because Christ is our peace (Ephesians 2:14-19) who reconciled us with the Father, as He reconciled the heavenly with the earthly, and the soul with the body (Colossians 1:20-22). We pray in the Liturgy of St. Gregory saying, “You became for us a mediator with the Father, and the middle wall You have broken down, and the old enmity You have abolished. You have reconciled the earthly with the heavenly, and made the two into one” or as we say in the Syrian fraction prayer, “Through the blood of His cross, He established the reconciliation of the heavenly with the earthly, and united the people with the peoples and the soul with the body”. Thus, the millennial kingdom started by the cross, and it will be extended till the second coming of Christ; and every believer in Christ the Savior and the salvation is living in the millennial kingdom. St. Augustine says, “There will not be a coming for Christ before His last coming for judgment, because His coming is happening now at the church in our members. The millennial kingdom of Christ already started on earth, and Jesus Himself is in the church, and the saints now are reigning.”
The expression “a thousand years” is a symbolic one, and couldn’t be understood literally at all, exactly like the entire book of Revelation, out of which this number is taken. Biblically, the number 10 represents perfection, (1000=10x10x10). St. Peter says, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2Peter 3:8). This thousand years period is an unlimited period, similar to the six days of creation, which is the period from the cross till the release of Satan from his prison (Revelation 20:7). Our Lord Christ Himself called it one year saying, “…to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19).
The kingdom of God, therefore, is a divine reality given to men in the church. It is the reality of God’s presence among men through Christ and the Holy Spirit, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). It is celebrated and participated in the sacraments.