What is “The Kingdom of God”? Is it simply a metaphor for all of God’s stuff and people? Is it an outdated phrase for waging war? Isn’t it just the church? This topic used to be so confusing for me. And, the more I study it and the more I hear people use the phrase “The Kingdom” the more I’m convinced that there is a lot of confusion surrounding this issue. It also seems that most people believe that the concept of the Kingdom springs up in the New Testament with little, if any, background. So, in an attempt to bring a little clarity, this is the first of a few posts on The Kingdom of God. This post deals with the background of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom (i.e. the Old Testament). Not understanding this will result in not understanding Jesus’ message.
In Genesis We See Creation, Fall, and a Promise
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. On the sixth day God created Adam. This newly created man was to be God’s ruler on earth. He was to have dominion and authority (some theologians say that Adam was God’s ‘vice regent’ -more on this in a later post). However, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and were kicked out of their garden paradise (Genesis 3). From this point forward sin corrupted everything. God destroyed the earth with a flood, save Noah, his family and the animal kingdom. This didn’t wipe out the problem (sin), but it did allow a restart with a righteous lineage. In Genesis 11 we see nations formed at the Tower of Babel with the division of language and from one of these nations is the man Abram (Abraham).
God says to Abraham in Genesis 12:2 “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And 18:18: “seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him…” There seems to be two ways in which Abraham will be great: (1) numerically and (2) as a blessing to all nations.
In Exodus God Establishes Himself as Israel’s Ruler
6:7 “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” And after God delivered the Israelites: 20:1-3 “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me…’” Thus, the Lord was to be their God. In Exodus chapters 21-23 God establishes the rules of this theocracy (theos– God; kratein– to rule).
God was to be the King of Israel
God had set himself up as king over Israel but, in 1 Samuel 8:5b, the Israelites said, “…appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 1 Samuel 8:1-8 Makes the point that while God remained faithful since the time of Egypt, the Israelites were continually unfaithful. He was a good king and they were unfaithful subjects. God says in 1 Samuel 12:12-17:
“And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the LORD your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the LORD has set a king over you. If you will fear the LORD and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king. Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.”
However, in spite of their wickedness, God had a plan- He knew this would happen -in Deuteronomy 17 God gave instructions for how a king was to act if there ever was one and in Deuteronomy 28 He predicted Israel and her king’s wickedness. However, the Bible is clear that God is the one who appointed them a king (Acts 13:20-23).
Saul the King
1 Samuel 11 tells us that the Ammorites were opressing Israel, but when Saul heard this “the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul” and he gathered the people of Israel and destroyed the Ammorites. And the Israelites made Saul their King. 1 Samuel, however, ends with Israel’s enemies persecuting them on all sides, King Saul committing suicide on the battlefield, and all of his sons being killed in battle. Thus, the kingdom was left in utter disarray and under oppression from its enemies (1 Samuel 31).
David the King
David is appointed King and, for the first several chapters of 2 Samuel, we see that David defeats his enemies and changes the course of history for Israel. Then God makes a promise to David. 2 Sam 7:11-17:
“From the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.‘” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
[take special note of “I will be a father, and he shall be to me a son” and “Your throne shall be established forever”]
Solomon the King
1 Kings 2: 10-12 says: “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.”
The first 10 chapters of 1 Kings sing Solomon’s praises. He builds and consecrates a temple unto the Lord and the Kingdom is having success like none other. 1 Kings 10:14-29 demonstrates the amount of wealth Solomon’s kingdom had obtained. It was completely unparalleled. Can you imagine what the Israelites are thinking about God’s promise to establish David’s throne forever as well has his promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations?
A Divided Kingdom: The Kingdom of Israel and The Kingdom of Judah
1 Kings 11:29-33 a shocking thing happens: the prediction of the separation of the Kingdom:
“And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel),because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.”
The History of the Divide
The Kingdom of Israel (Northern Kingdom) was obliterated in 720(s) BC, by the Assyrians who, after conquering the land, destroyed Samaria, its capital, and, according to the Bible, deported most of the occupants into exile, with the southernmost tribe, Benjamin, managing to survive by joining the Kingdom of Judah.
The Kingdom of Judah (Southern Kingdom) survived until 586 BC when it was conquered by Babylon, who ransacked Jerusalem, killed the heirs of the King of Judah before his eyes, gouged out the king’s eyes ensuring that would be the last thing he saw, and then deported the population into the Babylonian Captivity.
Hope of a Messiah King
Daniel 2:44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…
Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So, the Jews or Israelites, then, need another drastic change of events like when David became King, one to destroy their enemies and establish their Kingdom. The Jews need a ‘new David.’