Michael J. Vlach holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska, a M.Div. from the Master’s Seminary and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written several books, including “Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation,” which is an authoritative work on the titular subject. Vlach currently serves as Professor of Theology at the Master’s Seminary. He has also taught courses for Liberty University.
And it is on that that note where I must issue a proviso to the reader. I had Dr. Vlach as a professor at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I now consider him a friend, colleague and elder in the Lord. So, yes, my review could be considered biased. However, I assure you that I have no problem criticizing the work of people I very much respect. That being said, I found nothing to seriously criticize in Vlach’s new book, “He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God” (Lampion Press). In fact, there is so much praise-worthy material that I could not possibly cover it all in a review.
“He Will Reign Forever” is a biblical theology of the Kingdom of God, exegeting and explaining the key passages. There is a foreword by John MacArthur and recommendations from several respected scholars. Given the sheer amount of Biblical data on the subject, the length of 638 pages is actually quite reasonable. At a certain point, the longer your book is the less money it will make. So, by writing more, Vlach was likely ensuring that he would make less. I doubt this was a concern of his. But the reality underscores that this project was a labor of love—made clear by his preface, which includes touching comments such as “My heart longs from the kingdom. I think about its coming daily. If statistics are correct, I am well into the latter half of my lifespan. Both of my parents have passed away. One of my sisters recently succumbed to a cruel fatal disease.” (p. 7). Theology is no mere abstract concept. It has real implications for our place in eternity. Dr. Vlach’s motives are based on more than just academic curiosity. He is trusting in God’s great and eternal plan for His people. And that motivation makes for a more powerful exposition of the pertinent passages.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
It is from Daniel where we get the clearest explanation of the coming Kingdom of God. In covering Nebuchadnezzar’s critical dream in chapter 2, Vlach does not disappoint:
“The kingdom of Daniel 2 replaces the fourth kingdom when it comes; it does not exist alongside it in a spiritual sense. Plus, just as the four previous kingdoms were tangible geo-political entities, so too will God’s kingdom be a geo-political group like Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, or Rome. The Christian church simply is not the fifth kingdom.
God created man to rule and subdue the earth (Gen 1:26–28). He established a kingdom on earth with Israel (see 1 and 2 Samuel), but Israel failed its mission and was dispersed to the Gentile nations. God granted authority to Babylon and then to Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and then a weaker but revived Roman Empire. But after this period of Gentile domination or what Jesus called “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) God’s kingdom will be established over the entire earth. King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream involved the broad panorama of human history from his day through the kingdom of Israel’s Messiah.” (p. 211). (Emphasis added)
Vlach’s exegesis is dead on. Some misinterpret the dream and the explanation to mean that the Kingdom of God was fully established at the First Coming with the destruction of the Roman Empire (never mind that the Roman Empire continued for hundreds of years). This would indicate that the Church is somehow the kingdom. Vlach takes the definitions in the dream consistently, leading to a broader interpretation that looks toward the future.
It is fairly well known that Jesus made it a special point to preview the kingdom via his miracle of manifesting the Shekinah glory (Matt 16:28–17:5; cf. 2 Pet 1:16–18). However, many miss the extent to which Jesus previewed the kingdom through other miracles. Vlach fills you in. For example:
“Jesus’ miracles extended beyond healings and exorcisms. They also included nature miracles. These, too, were demonstrations and glimpses of the kingdom. The first Adam was supposed to rule over the created realm yet he failed (see Gen 1:26–28). Not only did sickness and death enter because of this failure, but nature works against man as well. “Cursed is the ground because of you… Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you” (Gen 3:17–18). Ever since the fall man struggles with nature which overwhelms him.
Jesus’ nature miracles show He is the One who can rule and subdue the earth. According to Matthew 8:23–27 Jesus and the disciples were on a boat when “a great storm in the sea” arose (8:24). The experienced fisherman feared for their lives and called out to Jesus for help. Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea and the waters became “perfectly calm” (8:26). The response of the disciples was astonishment: “What king of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”” (8:27). (pp. 293–294).
While the Davidic Kingdom was not established at the First Coming, foretastes were provided as to what the Kingdom will be like when it is established at the Second Coming.
There are hundreds of more convincing examples that could have been chosen. I am convinced that if you put the time into reading Vlach’s newest book, you will come away with an understanding of Scripture’s overall teaching on the kingdom that would rival that of the majority of seminary graduates.
I seem to recall Dr. Vlach saying that it took him several years to complete “He Will Reign Forever.” The amount of work put into it is obvious and greatly appreciated. The writing is both academic and clear. It is a book that is of use to the student, professor and pastor. But it is also a book that is accessible to the interested layman. So instead of running out to Lifeway to buy the newest cookie-cutter “bible study” book, order “He Will Reign Forever” instead. It receives my highest recommendation. This was a review of the hardback, which I purchased here. The Kindle version is also available from Lampion and on Amazon here.