(The following is taken from an appendix to the book Patriarchs and Prophets).
“The question has been raised, and is now much agitated, If a theocracy was good in the time of Israel, why would not a theocratical form of government be equally good for this time? The answer is easy:
A theocracy is a government which derives its power immediately from God. The government of Israel was a true theocracy. That was really a government of God. At the burning bush, God commissioned Moses to lead His people out of Egypt. By signs and wonders and mighty miracles multiplied, God delivered Israel from Egypt and led them through the wilderness and finally into the Promised Land. There He ruled them by judges “until Samuel the prophet,” to whom, when he was a child, God spoke, and by whom He made known His will. In the days of Samuel the people asked that they might have a king. This was allowed, and God chose Saul, and Samuel anointed him king of Israel. Saul failed to do the will of God; and as he rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord rejected him from being king and sent Samuel to anoint David king of Israel; and David’s throne God established forevermore. When Solomon succeeded to the kingdom in the place of David his father, the record is: “Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father.” 1 Chronicles 29:23. David’s throne was the throne of the Lord, and Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king over the earthly kingdom of God. The succession to the throne descended in David’s line to Zedekiah, who was made subject to the king of Babylon, and who entered into a solemn covenant before God that he would loyally render allegiance to the king of Babylon. But Zedekiah broke his covenant, and then God said to him:
“Thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him.” Ezekiel 21:25-27. See also chapter 17:1-21.
The kingdom was then subject to Babylon. When Babylon fell, and Medo-Persia succeeded, it was overturned the first time. When Medo-Persia fell and was succeeded by Greece, it was overturned the second time. When the Greek empire gave way to Rome, it was overturned the third time. And then says the word, “It shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him.” Who is He whose right it is? “Thou . . . shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” Luke 1:31-33. And while He was here as “that Prophet,” a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, the night in which He was betrayed He Himself declared, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Thus the throne of the Lord has been removed from this world and will “be no more, until He come whose right it is,” and then it will be given Him. And that time is the end of this world, and the beginning of “the world to come.”
To the twelve apostles the Saviour said, “I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me; that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Luke 22:29, 30. From Matthew’s account of Christ’s promise to the Twelve we learn when it will be fulfilled; “in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19:28. In the parable of the talents, Christ represents Himself under the figure of a nobleman who “went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.” Luke 19:12. And He Himself has told us when He will sit upon the throne of His glory: “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations.” Matthew 25:31, 32.
To this time the revelator looks forward when he says, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15. The context clearly shows when this will take place: “the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that Thou shouldest give reward unto Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.” Verse 18. It is at the time of the final judgment, the reward of the righteous, and the punishment of the wicked that the kingdom of Christ will be set up. When all who oppose the sovereignty of Christ have been destroyed, the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.
Then Christ will reign, “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Revelation 19:16. “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High.” And “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.” Daniel 7:27, 18.
Until that time the kingdom of Christ cannot be established on the earth. His kingdom is not of this world. His followers are to account themselves “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20, R.V.
Since the kingdom of Israel passed away, God has never delegated authority to any man or body of men to execute His laws as such. “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Romans 12:19. Civil governments have to do with the relations of man with man; but they have nothing whatever to do with the duties that grow out of man’s relation to God.
Except the kingdom of Israel, no government has ever existed on the earth in which God by inspired men directed the affairs of state. Whenever men have endeavored to form such a government as that of Israel, they have, of necessity, taken it upon themselves to interpret and enforce the law of God. They have assumed the right to control the conscience, and thus have usurped the prerogative of God.
In the former dispensation, while sins against God were visited with temporal penalties, the judgments executed were not only by divine sanction, but under His direct control, and by His command. Sorcerers were to be put to death. Idolaters were to be slain. Profanity and sacrilege were punished with death. Whole nations of idolaters were to be exterminated. But the infliction of these penalties was directed by Him who reads the hearts of men, who knows the measure of their guilt, and who deals with His creatures in wisdom and mercy. When men, with human frailties and passions, undertake to do this work, it needs no argument to show that the door is opened to unrestrained injustice and cruelty. The most inhuman crimes will be perpetrated, and all in the sacred name of Christ.
From the laws of Israel, which punished offenses against God, arguments have been drawn to prove the duty of punishing similar sins in this age. All persecutors have employed them to justify their deeds. The principle that God has delegated to human authority the right to control the conscience is the very foundation of religious tyranny and persecution. But all who reason thus lose sight of the fact that we are now living in a different dispensation, under conditions wholly different from those of Israel; that the kingdom of Israel was a type of the kingdom of Christ, which will not be set up until His second coming; and that the duties which pertain to man’s relation to God are not to be regulated or enforced by human authority.”
Taken from the appendix of Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 761-764.
A PDF version is available here: Patriarchs and Prophets Appendix on the Question of Theocratic Government