The Kingdom of God in the Hebrew Scriptures
Like every major theme in scripture, the Kingdom of God starts in Genesis and is woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
Genesis and the Kingdom
Genesis opens with the Sovereign God as Creator, Sustainer and King of the Universe. God created mankind in His own image, blessed them, had intimate fellowship with them in the garden, and gave them dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28). God gave Adam and Eve one law, to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan, called “the serpent”, questioned the authority of God, tempting Adam and Eve to rebel against their King. The man and woman went for the bait and rebelled, choosing their own will over His, and eating the forbidden fruit. Afterward they heard the voice of God and hid in darkness. Oh, how great is their fall! As promised by God, “The day that you eat of [this fruit] you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Death entered the world, and the man and woman and all their offspring to come were separated from God and His kingdom and were plunged into the kingdom of darkness. The reality of the consequences of sin were made readily apparent as death immediately entered the scene: God killed the first animal to be used to clothe mankind- the first sacrifice of blood had been made to provide clothing for them to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). Genesis four recorded the first death of man as Cain murdered Abel, and Genesis five gave a genealogy of death- sin had entered the world and death was its curse. Genesis six recorded the dreadful misery of the downward spiral of man into the kingdom of darkness, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5) and thus God decided to destroy mankind from the face of the earth approximately 2400 B.C., except a remnant of eight people, Noah and his family, for “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).
In the midst of the darkness of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against their King, God mercifully gave them the first light- the promise of a King who would reverse the curse of sin and destroy the king of darkness, the serpent. God first spoke of this promise in the Garden of Eden to the serpent, Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He [the Seed of the woman] shall bruise your head [a death blow to Satan], and you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15) To Adam’s descendent Abraham, (approximately 2000 B.C.) God unveiled a plan for the establishment of His kingdom on earth through Abraham’s descendants- a kingdom with a territory, a nation and a promise to use that nation and land to bring the hope of salvation to all people, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) The future king would come through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, his son Jacob and his grandson Judah (Genesis 22:18, 26:4, 28:14). It was prophesied about Judah, “The scepter [a king’s staff] shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh [Peace] comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 49:10, cf. Numbers 24:17) This King to come would reign over all nations.
The Kingdom of God in Exodus through Deuteronomy
Exodus recorded the fulfillment of one of the promises of God to Abraham as the descendants of Israel went from a large family of seventy to several million people in the course of 400 years- they had become a nation. The Israelites were persecuted by Pharaoh and the Egyptians, who were afraid of this people that had multiplied so quickly, and sought to kill all the male babies that were born. The Lord raised up Moses, and he was, as a younger man, a man of two kingdoms, having been raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, yet nursed by his mother. He had much promise as one who would rule over all Egypt, the most powerful kingdom at the time. But Moses forsook the glory of the kingdom of Egypt and sided with his own people and with their God. The Lord spoke of how He had seen the oppression of His people and had come to deliver them (Exodus 3:7-9). He told Moses, “Come now, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) God revealed to Moses His covenant name, “I AM WHO I AM”- the Lord, Yahweh, is the eternally existent One. Thus now that Moses realized his own weaknesses, God used him to accomplish His kingdom work of delivering His people out of Egypt. God’s kingdom, seemingly so weak and miniscule, with Moses its’ humble representative, triumphed over the most powerful, visible kingdom on earth, led by Pharaoh. The people of Israel escaped from Egypt to go to the Promised Land approximately 1400 B.C.
Mount Sinai and Yom Kippur:
God’s promise to the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt into the desert at Mount Sinai was, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6). God gave them the covenant of the law through Moses at Mount Sinai. The Lord’s first commandment was, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) Their King was to be obeyed completely.
Throughout the giving of the law of Moses and the second giving of the law before they entered the land of Israel and conquered, is a sober reality that by and large, Israel would not keep this covenant with God and would not tolerate an invisible King to reign over her- instead she sought out priests, judges and kings to be a go-between between her and God. At Mount Sinai, the Israelites cried to Moses in fear, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19).
Thus the Lord established His tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, where the King of the Universe dwelled among His people. The Lord told Moses to make everything in the tabernacle “according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” (Exodus 25:40) The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood covered with gold. Everything in the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place was covered with gold, speaking to the Israelites of the Lord’s purity, holiness and priceless worth. Inside the Ark were the Ten Commandments written on two stone tablets summarizing the Lord’s covenant with them. On the cover of the ark, called the atonement cover, was the mercy seat, where the Lord’s presence was between two gold angels who were on top of the cover and who faced the mercy seat and bowed down before their King. The veil was made of blue, purple and scarlet thread and had the design of cherubim angels on it, reflecting the glories of heaven with all creatures bowing down before the King of the Universe. The veil separated the holy of holies from the holy place, and only the high priest was beckoned to see the King once a year in the Holy of Holies, and only with blood sacrifices offered for himself and for the people. The table of showbread in the Holy Place was a visual reminder that the Lord supped, fellowshipped, with His people. Every detail of the tabernacle was a visual picture to the Israelites of the nature of the invisible King they served and their relationship with Him.
God prophesied nearly 40 years after Mount Sinai as Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, that Israel was “a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations,” (Num 23:9) for Israel had the Lord as their King, while the nations were in darkness. Between their making an idol in the form of a golden calf and their entrance into the Promised Land is the account of 40 years of rebellion after rebellion of Israel against her King, till all the generation that had seen the Exodus had perished in judgment, other than two faithful men, Joshua and Caleb. A faithful new generation was raised up in the wilderness. God prophesied before they entered the Promised Land that they would get tired of having the Lord as their invisible King and would seek to have a visible king as all the other nations did around them, “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you… [you will] say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me…” (Deuteronomy 17:14)
The Kingdom of God in the Historical Books and Wisdom Literature
The Israelites under Joshua’s leadership conquered the Promised Land and were obedient to the Lord. After Joshua and all that generation died off, the Israelites lost their desire to obey their invisible King. The book of Judges recorded 400 years of darkness with times of deliverance- God summarized the plight of the Israelites during those 400 years, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Samuel was the last of the judges, and in his old age the Israelites pleaded with him that he appoint a king over them. The Lord told Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7-10, cf. 10:17-19, 12:12-17) God permitted them to have a king- in the midst of their sinfulness, God used an earthly king to establish His kingdom and point to a final King, the Messiah, who would one day reign over a remnant who walked by faith.
Saul was appointed as the first king of Israel approximately 1000 B.C. He started out humble but it quickly became apparent that he would not trust in the Lord, the invisible King or live for His invisible kingdom. As Saul rose in power, he trusted in his own strength, lifted himself up in pride and rebelled against the Lord, later persecuting the servants of the Lord’s kingdom. The result was that he was rejected as king (1 Sam 15:17, 23). Saul’s life as a king exemplifies the kingdoms of this world- the general pattern of history, with extremely few exceptions, would be rulers rising up in power, exalting themselves and persecuting the servants of the Kingdom of God.
David was then appointed by the Lord as king over Israel to replace Saul. Upon looking for a king, the Lord told Samuel to go to the house of Jesse to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king. No one even thought to bring David before Samuel as a potential candidate for kingship- he was short, the youngest, and a shepherd boy. The Lord rejected all the other sons of Jesse and anointed David as king. David’s life served as a type of the King to come, the Messiah. David wrote Psalm two, prophesying of the Messiah-king to come: “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their chords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens…shall speak to them in His wrath… ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’ I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” This Psalm, and other Psalms like it (cf Psalm 110, 45, 72) portray the Gentile kingdoms of this world in opposition to the Messiah, (the Christ) and His reign as God’s King and God’s Son. A Judgment Day will come when the Son of God will judge the Gentile kingdoms in righteousness and establish His kingdom forever.
The Kingdom of God in the Prophetic Books of the Hebrew Scriptures
These messages about the Messiah were an inspiration to Israel when all was going well with King David and then his son Solomon reigning powerfully over all her neighbors, but as the nation of Israel step by step wandered from the Lord, she split into two kingdoms (approximately 960 B.C.) and later went into exile (722 and 586 B.C.). The writer of 2nd Chronicles summarized what happened from 960-586 B.C.: “the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword.” (2 Chronicles 36:15-17) Amazingly, the very people that were supposed to be faithful to the Lord as their King ended up rebelling against their King and persecuting God’s people- it was a shocking horror story come true.
The prophets were filled with warnings to Israel and Judah of impending exile for their sins. The Lord prophesied through Isaiah the prophet, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not understand. Alas, sinful nation, a people weighed down with iniquity…Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers… unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom.” (Isaiah 1:2-9) God reached out through Isaiah to a small remnant who listened to His word and believed the Lord, repented and trusted in Him while the nation raced towards destruction in its rebellion and went into exile.
The Lord spoke judgment to the southern kingdom of Judah that her line of kings was cursed because of rebellion and Coniah, the king of Judah would be hauled off into exile by the Babylonian king. In the midst of this the future Messiah is spoken of, giving a ray of hope to an oppressed remnant, “None of his [Coniah’s] descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah… but I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back… and they shall be fruitful and increase… Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. …Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 22:30-23:6, cf. Ezekiel 37). This King is Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14)- “In Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.” (Isaiah 9:1-2,6-7, cf. Micah 5:1-5).
It was prophesied that this Prince of Peace would judge the nations and people opposed to His kingdom and overnight (Isaiah 66:7-12) usher in a “New heavens and a new earth.” (Isaiah 65:18). In this future kingdom of peace, “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 2:4, cf Isa 25:2-9, Micah 4:3, Isaiah 65:25, Zechariah 9:9-11) Even the animals would be impacted by this peace, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb… they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:6,9). This kingdom would be the kingdom of the meek, “In that day…I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted. I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever…the Kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:6-8, cf Ezekiel 37:21-28).
Persecution of the Faithful Remnant by Israel’s Kings
Israel’s kings were called to be leaders of a holy nation, but instead became the ones who persecuted the faithful remnant, even to the point of death. Jeremiah was a prophet who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of his people, which occurred in his lifetime (586 B.C.) He was persecuted most of his ministry as false prophets flourished in numbers and in words. The Lord encouraged Jeremiah at the start of his ministry, “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you… see, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:7-10, cf. 5:14, 15:21-22, 36:26). Jeremiah felt like a lone voice among an entire nation bent on scorning, mocking and persecuting him, but the Lord gave him what he needed. At times he felt like quitting (Jeremiah 12:1-6, 15:10, 15-21, 20:14-18)- even his own brothers treated him treacherously (12:6). He was falsely accused (43:2) and the Lord’s word spoken through him made him a reproach. His enemies sought to ensnare him, yet the Lord was with him to preserve him until his ministry was completed, and brought him safely home. Jeremiah was seized for preaching judgment and his life was threatened (Jeremiah 26:6-24, 37:13-31, 38:4-13), yet he never retaliated against his enemies, leaving it in the Lord’s hands, “do with me as seems good and proper to you” (Jeremiah 26:15), and the Lord took care of his adversaries (Jeremiah 28:1-17, 29:21-32, 39:16-19, Lamentations 3:52-66). Jeremiah served a vivid type and picture to come of the Messiah who would be despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53).
Another Picture of the Messiah-King
Though one main picture of the Christ to come in the Hebrew Scriptures is a reigning King who would judge the nations, the other picture is of a gentle King who would minister to the meek and broken hearted and lay down His life for the sins of the world, “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey…He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be… to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-11). This lowly King would come a first time and be persecuted and put to death, yet would not retaliate against His persecutors. In Isaiah, He was called God’s Servant: “Behold, My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard on the street [no political ambitions]. A bruised reed He will not break, a smoking flax He will not quench [so gentle with those who are broken]…I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles [salvation to all peoples], to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house [ministering life to those considered the scum of the earth].” (Isaiah 42:1-7). The Messiah to come prophesied through the prophet Isaiah of His willingness to be persecuted and not retaliate, even to the point of death, “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6). “Kings shall shut their mouths at Him [so shocked are they at His meek manner]…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed…He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet he opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth… He poured out His soul to death.” (Isaiah 53)
Thus the people of Israel were exposed to two different pictures of this Messiah-King to come: one who would conquer and reign over the earth and another of a gentle suffering servant who would die for the sins of the world. Not understanding the picture of the suffering servant, the Jewish people looked for their Messiah to deliver them from their oppressors and establish His kingdom on earth forever.
Daniel’s Picture of Kingdoms
The book of Daniel offers a unique perspective as it was written in Babylon during Israel’s exile (approximately 520 B.C.). Several times the Lord prophesied of the rise and fall of powerful kingdoms and wove in prophecy about the King of Kings and His kingdom. After a vision that prophesied the rise and fall of Babylon, Persia, Greece and the Roman Empire, God prophesied of His kingdom arising during and after the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, “In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed… it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44). This kingdom would be set up by “One like the Son of Man… 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.” (Daniel 7:13-14, 27). Notice that this kingdom is set up “in the days of these kings”- in the midst of the Roman Empire, a virgin would give birth to the Messiah (Isa 7:14, 9:1-6), and the Kingdom of God would invade the kingdom of darkness. As is typical throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the kingdoms of the world are judged as enemies of God’s kingdom. When Nebuchadnezzar heard this vision which included his kingdom of Babylon falling, he tried to change history by making a golden statue of himself. He ended up persecuting the remnant of God’s people, yet the Lord preserved His remnant. The theme repeats itself several times throughout Daniel as God humbled the mightiest kings of the world and preserved His remnant.
Judgment of the Nations
A prominent theme throughout the prophets is judgment of the nations. A future day is coming when all the nations will be opposed to God and will be judged. In Isaiah chapters 13-25 and Jeremiah chapters 46-51, judgment is pronounced on Israel’s various neighbors. A small remnant people from some of these nations will survive and serve the Lord in latter days. Genesis 10 recorded the genealogies of the nations and in chapter eleven at Babylon the people established their own tower to “make a name for ourselves” apart from the Lord. In the midst of the judgment of nations, God prophesied judgment on the king of Babylon and a prophecy about another king, Satan, who exerts powerful influence over the nations as a spiritual king, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.” (Isaiah 14:12-15). Satan is pictured as the spiritual force behind the nations opposed to God. This section of Isaiah ends with judgment over the whole earth, “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall totter like a hut…It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord will punish on high the host of exalted ones [a reference to Satan and his host of angels], and on the earth the kings of the earth. They will be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison… for the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 24:19-23) All the nations of the world are pictured as gathered against Jerusalem and the Lord’s kingdom in the end times (Zechariah 12:2-3, 9) and will be destroyed, but the faithful remnant of followers of the Lord would be preserved.
The Dawning of a New Age:
Without the light of the New Testament, it is apparent that teaching on the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness has a firm foundation in the Hebrew Scriptures with many loose ends that require further light from the King Himself, the Lord Jesus, and His disciples in the New Testament. John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt 3:2). The “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13:10) were about to be revealed as never before. The invasion of planet earth with God’s kingdom had begun. Jesus announced to the Pharisees, “the Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.” (Luke 16:16) The Old Testament prepared the way for the Gospel of the Kingdom- so much so that Jesus and His disciples used the Old Testament in the synagogues, “reasoning and persuading them about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8, cf 8:12).