In the 1880s an English author and social reformer named Thomas Hughes came to the woods of eastern Tennessee in America and founded an experimental colony called Rugby. Rugby was to be a place where Hughes' ideas of a just and equitable society could be realized. There would be no class or social distinctions such as those of England. In Rugby, through agricultural endeavors and support of various crafts, men and women could realize their potential in a planned and structured community.
Buildings went up. An inn was built. Hundreds of believers from England and America were attracted to the growing site. A small bit of England, without the class distinctions, was carved out of the Tennessee wilderness. For a time a thriving community attracted worldwide attention to the ideal that a planned community could produce a small utopian world. Rugby was even called a "New Jerusalem."
Unfortunately, Rugby did not endure. Typhoid struck one year, killing several. In time the financial backers pulled out, the economy changed and severe winters took their toll on the enthusiasm of the people. The inn burned and was not rebuilt. Gradually the money, the zeal and the people disappeared, leaving behind only a few to hold to the dream.
You can visit Rugby today, as I did a few years ago, and see a historic remnant of another noble quest to found a community on social ideals. It is one of many such communities across America and the world. Such communities were founded with the goal of making social changes that would produce "utopia"—a place where justice and peace would reign.
The problem with all of these efforts is they did not succeed. Eventually they had to conform to the reality of the world to survive. Go to Shaker Village in Kentucky or the Amana Colony in Iowa and you will see the same. The real world is cruel and unbending in its treatment of such efforts. Noble as they are, they have never worked. This is not to disparage any effort to bring about peace or justice, but the stark reality of history shows man's inability to create "the peaceable kingdom."
The promise of the prophets
Throughout the Old Testament books of the Bible we read prophecies of a time when peace would pour from the streets of Jerusalem under a restored kingdom led by a descendant of King David. These messianic passages fueled an ages-long hope among the Jews that they would see their kingdom restored.
Notice the essence of the promise from Isaiah. "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
"He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:2-4).
In another passage the prophet paints one of the most enduring scenes of peace and harmony. Not only were the Jews given hope from its imagery, but also countless others through the ages have yearned for the life it pictures.
"There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight is in the fear of the LORD, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.
"'The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea'" (Isaiah 11:1-9).
These prophecies never came to pass in Isaiah's day. Jerusalem fell captive to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The last king was taken to Babylon in exile along with the majority of his subjects. Seventy years later, in fulfillment of a prophecy by Jeremiah, a group of Jews were allowed to return to the city and begin a rebuilding project.
To that generation and others to follow, the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezekiel and other prophets took on new meaning. They hoped that God would fulfill His promise—that one day the kingdom of Israel would be renewed. Through the generations this expectation of a Messiah grew. With each generation the vision of this Kingdom changed till it became unrecognizable in comparison to the message of the prophets.
At times men would take up arms to overthrow the yoke of foreign rule and the people would hope in vain their "Messiah" had appeared. In the second century B.C. the Maccabean revolt offered a faint promise that was quickly extinguished. No leader, no matter how capable or brilliant, could bring to fruition the promises of the prophets.
When Jesus Christ came announcing the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14), His teachings and miracles soon gathered a following. The Jews wanted to make Him their king (John 6:15). But His first coming was not the time when God's Kingdom would be restored to Israel. The Jews could not easily grasp this idea, in spite of the fact that Jesus told them that the long-sought Kingdom, the time of restoration, was not near (Luke 19:11).
His death shattered the hope of many. Only a few beyond His immediate disciples remained in the days following His death. A man suffering the ignominious death of crucifixion could not be the Messiah. Again the promise and the dream of the Kingdom was not realized.
However, Christ's first coming merely set the stage for the events leading to the fulfillment of the promised Kingdom. The fulfillment of the ancient prophecies was for a time yet in the future. This dimension was hard for believers and unbelievers alike to grasp at the time. Christ's parables of the Kingdom of God were such that people were not to understand the full meaning (Matthew 13:11). (That remains true today.) This led to the inevitable confusion when, after the founding of the Church of God, time marched on and no Kingdom appeared.
The apostle Peter came to understand this near the end of his life. He wrote to members of the Church that he and they would die without seeing the Kingdom (2 Peter 1:15). Yet Peter's hope didn't diminish, for he had personally seen the majesty of its King (verse 16). Peter's words point us to the future, looking for the day of the Lord and a time of "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:10-13).
The apostle John's visions of the end time added one element to the visions of the prophets. The living Christ gave this last surviving apostle the vision that His rule on earth would include a period of 1,000 years following His second coming (Revelation 20:4). From this verse we get the term Millennium, Latin for 1,000.
Terms such as millennial or Millennium are then used to reference this time of peace and justice under the reign of Christ. Revelation is explicit that this reign of Christ will replace all forms of human government (Revelation 11:15).
The idea of the Millennium, the Kingdom of God, is revealed in stages throughout the Scriptures to give us the broad picture of God's intent to restore to the earth, a time when His government and rule over all is total and complete. There are many related Scriptures that amplify the idea of what is to come.
They reveal that man will no longer learn or practice the customs of war. Nations will be taught a culture based on the eternal law of God. The result will be one generation after another of equality and justice. Economic policies will build sustainable markets that will not be prey to the cyclical ups and downs we see today.
The Bible reveals a festival season that keeps this vision alive in God's people's minds. It is called the Feast of Tabernacles. You can learn more about this and other festivals in our booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind. God's festivals are Christ-centered and point to the future period when Christ will reign on the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Not by might...
God's Kingdom will not come by the might or power of any human. That is the inescapable conclusion of both Scripture and history. The best efforts of human society have failed and will always fail to create anything close to the prophesied Kingdom. Human nature is incapable of producing any lasting equitable system. Nothing short of divine intervention can bring to pass the vision the Bible gives on the Kingdom of God. God Himself confirms this in plain, but powerful language: "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).
Author Norman Podhoretz wrote a book called The Prophets: Who They Were and What They Are. One of his conclusions regarding their visions was profound. He speculates that Isaiah's visions of swords beaten into plowshares are among the most influential in all of Western literature, generating "tumultuous moral and political ambitions."
"But concerning the vision of a perfect world, I would say this: if one believes in God, one can—indeed must—accept that it is in His power to bring about so miraculous a transformation at the End of Days. But if one believes in God, one must by the same token also accept that it is only in His power to perform these miracles, and not in the power of mere mortals like ourselves" (2002, p. 324).
Look no more to the efforts of man to create the "peaceable Kingdom." Look to God and His direct intervention into the course of history to bring His Kingdom to this earth. Pray for that Kingdom to come. WNP