The Kingdom Of God (Part 1)

Of all the Biblical concepts discussed among Christians, preached from pulpits, and taught in Sunday School classes, I find the subject of the Kingdom of God to be one of the most elusive. The very words conjure up in the minds of many a sense of mystery and mystique. For most of my Christian life I have been hard pressed to define the Kingdom of God in a simple and coherent way, and I suppose the same is true for many others.

After having looked on line to see how different ministries and denominations define the Kingdom of God, I have to say that there is much confusion on the subject and much misinformation being promulgated, even by well-respected and highly visible sources. Many understand the Kingdom of God (KOG) as strictly a spiritual reality, described as the rule of God in our hearts or the spiritual rule of Christ in believers. One website described it as “when you are under his lordship and he is in control of your life.” Both the Catholic and the Orthodox church define the KOG as the Church itself. Some see the religion of Christianity as the KOG, so that the spread of the Christian religion is the spread of the KOG. Others speak of the KOG as involving different aspects, from God’s universal reign over his creation to the present reign of Christ in heaven to the future rule of Christ on earth. Most speak of the KOG as a present reality, some as a future reality, and some as encompassing both ideas, which has become known as the already but not yet view.

With so many conflicting ideas of the KOG being promoted how can we know for sure what the Bible means when it speaks of the KOG. One thing that I noticed as I perused the different understandings of the KOG on-line, is that most, if not all, attempted to define the KOG by looking to the New Testament only, particularly the gospels. We do not have to go far into Matthew’s gospel, the first book of the NT, before we encounter John, who comes proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Because the KOG is such a prominent theme in the gospels it seems intuitive to look there for it’s meaning. But I think that this a mistake. Although much is said about the KOG in the NT, I don’t believe it is actually defined anywhere in it. Jesus’ kingdom parables often liken some aspect of the KOG to something else but without really defining the KOG. For example, the parable of the hidden treasure in Matt. 13:44 expresses the unsurpassed value of obtaining a place in the KOG, but without defining the KOG. It seems to me that the NT simply assumes a prior knowledge of the KOG among it’s intended audience. This is certainly true in the case of John the baptizer and Jesus, who both began their respective ministries proclaiming the nearness of the KOG. It is nowhere recorded that they had to instruct their hearers of a new KOG concept, hitherto unheard of. Instead, it is recorded that they declared the KOG as if they expected their hearers to immediately know what they were referring to. In other words, the NT begins with the assumption that there is already an understanding among the Israelites (the original audience of John’s and Jesus’ message) of the KOG, and that it was that KOG which was near at hand. The question that must be asked is what would a first century Israelite have understood the KOG to be and from where would they have attained that understanding.

The Hebraic Perspective

In answer to the above question, as to where the 1st century Israelite would have gained his understanding of the KOG, the only reasonable answer is from the Hebrew Scriptures. Now this should be obvious to all, seeing that the Hebrew Scriptures are the foundation upon which the teaching of Jesus and the apostles is grounded, but sadly it is not. So thoroughly has the religion of Christianity dissociated the followers of Jesus from the Hebraic foundation of the faith once delivered to the saints, that today, for most Christians, it would not even be in their thought process to look to the OT to define the KOG as proclaimed in the NT. This sad state of affairs commenced many centuries ago when early Gentile church fathers, from the 2nd century onward, began to divorce the faith from it’s Hebrew roots. The historical event of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection and ascension began to be interpreted through a Greek mindset and the NT documents understood from a Hellenistic perspective, so that over time the whole orientation of the faith of Jesus and his apostles was shifted away from it’s Hebrew mooring. The OT scriptures were then reinterpreted to fit this shift in thinking. Through the Greek influenced allegorical method of interpretation, the concept of the KOG was completely divested of it’s original meaning (found in the OT) and made to conform to the pattern of Greek thought which had become the predominant way of thinking among church leaders.

To escape this Hellenistic way of viewing the KOG we must read the Hebrew Scriptures with different eyes, the eyes of the ancient Israelite rather than the eyes of early Greek and Latin church fathers. The KOG cannot be divorced from the cultural and historical setting in which it was first revealed if we hope to arrive at a truly biblical understanding. With this as our fundamental and guiding principle, let’s examine the Hebrew Scriptures to see what we can learn.

Kingdom Of God In The OT

Here are all of the verses which reference a kingdom which in some way belongs to God:

  1. Ex. 19:6 –  ” … you (Israel) will be for me a kingdom …”
  2. 1 Chron. 17:14 –  “I will set him (David’s son) over … my kingdom forever …”
  3. 1 Chron. 28:5 –  “… he has chosen… Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Yahweh over Israel.”
  4. 1 Chron. 29:11 – “Yours, O Yahweh, is the kingdom: you are exalted as head over all.”
  5. 2 Chron. 13:8 – “And now you plan to resist the kingdom of Yahweh, which is in the hands of David’s descendants.”
  6. Ps. 103:19 – “Yahweh in heaven has established his throne and his kingdom rules over all.”
  7. Ps. 145: 11-13 – “They will tell of the glory of your kingdom… that all men may know of the glorious majesty of his kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom… “
  8. Dan. 2:44 – “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom… “
  9. Dan. 4:3 – “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom… “
  10. Dan. 4:34 – “His dominion an everlasting dominion; his kingdom from generation to generation.”
  11. Dan. 7:27 – “… His (the Most High) kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.”
  12. Obadiah 1:21 –  “Saviors will come to Mount Zion… and the kingdom will be Yahweh’s.”

I find possibly two, and only two, distinct concepts of the KOG in the Hebrew Bible. The first passage in this list is the first mention of a kingdom in relation to God and establishes the primary idea of the KOG in the Hebrew Bible – the KOG is synonymous with the nation of Israel. In the context God says, “… out of all the nations you (Israel) will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom…” {see also Ps. 114:2}.The idea of the nation of Israel as the kingdom of God is also expressed in the fact that Yahweh is presented in the Hebrew Bible as Israel’s king. This is seen clearly in 1 Samuel when the Israelites demand a human king to rule over them like the other nations. Yahweh spoke to Samuel:

Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.      1 Sam. 8:7

Later, Samuel addresses the people:

… you said to me, “No, we want a king to rule over us” even though Yahweh your God was your king. Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see Yahweh has set a king over you.    1 Sam. 12:12-13

The kingship of Yahweh over Israel is confirmed by the following passages: Ex. 15:18; Num. 23:21; Ps. 10:16; 24:8,10; 29:10; 47:2; 98:6; 99:1-4; Is. 6:5; 33:22; 41:21; 43:15; 44:6. Although God rules over all things, he has chosen a nation over which he reigns in a unique sense. The realm and the people over which a king rules is his kingdom; hence Israel is the kingdom of God. This is the predominant idea of the KOG in the OT.

I said that there are possibly two concepts of the KOG in the OT. The second concept is that God reigns over everything that he has created. Out of the above list of kingdom verses, the only ones that refer to this universal reign of God are # 6, 9 and 10, and possibly 4, although a case could be made for it referring to Israel. Of the list, # 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 12 and possibly 4, clearly have reference to Israel. I firmly believe that the remaining verses, #8 and 11, refer to the eschatological kingdom of Israel, though some would likely refer them to the concept of a spiritual kingdom of Christ, i.e. Christ presently reigning through the gospel or through the universal Church.

The Theocratic Kingdom Of Israel

As noted above, Yahweh was the king over the nation of Israel, making Israel the kingdom of Yahweh. For the first 400 yrs. or so after the exodus from Egypt, Israel had no human king; it was a purely theocratic kingdom i.e. God alone was their ruler. God, as king, had given the nation his law and the people were bound to him and his law by covenant. There were leaders (Moses and Joshua) and judges (Gideon, Samson, etc.) whom God raised up to carry out his theocratic will on behalf of the nation, but these never were considered true kings in the sense seen among the other nations.

When God eventually established a human king {see 1 Sam. 8-12} over Israel, it was still regarded as a theocracy, for the king simply became the representative of Yahweh’s kingship, ruling for Yahweh and on his behalf. The nation was still to regard Yahweh as their ultimate king and the king of Israel was not to be an autocrat, but was to rule in submission to Yahweh and his law {Deut. 17:14-20; 1 Sam. 12:13-15}. In fact, the throne of the king was regarded as the throne of Yahweh {compare 1 Chron. 29:23 with 1 Kings 2:12; also 2 Chron. 9:8}. A close relationship was to be maintained between the king and God’s prophets, who brought the word of Yahweh to the king and gave him God’s instructions and direction for the nation {see 2 Sam. 7:1-4 as an example; this should also put Prov. 21:1 in a different light}.

The kingdom of Israel is referred to as both the kingdom of the king who is reigning and the kingdom of Yahweh. In 2 Sam. 7:11-16, when Yahweh sent the prophet Nathan to David, he made this covenant with him:

“… Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh himself will establish a house for you… I will raise up your seed… and I will establish his kingdom… I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… Your house and your kingdom will endure before me forever; your throne will be established forever.”

However, when the inspired chronicler recorded this promise of God to David he made a slight adjustment:

“I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.”     1 Chron. 17:14

What we discover from this is that the kingdom of David and his descendants is synonymous with the kingdom of God. We see this stated again in 2 Chron. 13:5,8:

Don’t you know that Yahweh, the God of Israel, has given the sovereignty over Israel to David and his descendants forever.

And now you plan to resist the kingdom of Yahweh which is in the hands of the descendants of David.

So then, we are able to determine that the kingdom of God = the kingdom of Israel = the kingdom of David and his descendants. Additionally, the throne of Israel = the throne of David = the throne of Yahweh {see 1 Kings 8:20; 1 Chron. 29:23; 1 Kings 2:12}. Therefore, the throne and kingdom of Israel belong to Yahweh their true king, and he has given them into the hands of David and his descendants forever {see Ps. 89:3-4, 18-37}.

The Fall Of The Kingdom

The fall of the kingdom of God is, of course, based on the above analysis, inextricably tied to the fall of the house of David. Since the KOG was in the hands of the house of David, the fall of his dynasty was the fall of the KOG. The downfall of the house of David began with Yahweh’s judgment upon King Solomon:

So Yahweh said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees… I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of your father David, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”            1 Kings 11:11-14

This was fulfilled when all Israel, except for Judah and Benjamin, rebelled against Solomon’s son Rehoboam and made Jeroboam their king. Thus the kingdom of Israel was divided into the northern and southern kingdoms, with the house of David maintaining the rule over the southern kingdom. All of the kings of the northern kingdom did evil in the eyes of Yahweh until he brought the Assyrian army to devastate the cities and towns of Israel and take the people into exile. The Davidic kings in the southern kingdom were a mixed bag – some rebelled against God and others were faithful to God. After the fall of the northern kingdom the southern kingdom remained for about another 110 yrs. During that time eight descendants of David reigned. Of the eight, six did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, leading the people into idolatry. This led to the exile of the people of Judah and Benjamin to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty. Psalm 89 provides a vivid picture of the fall of the house of David. After describing the choice of Yahweh to exalt David and his seed to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Yahweh by an irrevocable covenant, the psalmist laments the fall of the house of David in his day with these words:

38. But you have cast off, you have despised, you have been angry with your anointed one (Heb. mashiach = Messiah). 39. You have spurned the covenant with your servant, you have dishonored his crown to the ground. 40. You have broken down all his walls, you have appointed his strongholds to destruction. 41. All who pass by the way plunder him; he has become a reproach to his neighbors. 42. You have exalted the right hand of his adversaries; you have caused all his enemies to rejoice. 43. Furthermore, you have turned back the edge of his sword; you have not supported him in battle. 44. You have put an end to his splendor; you have hurled his throne to the ground. 45. You have shortened the days of his youth; you have wrapped shame around him… 49. Where O Lord is the former covenant mercy which you swore to David in your faithfulness. 50. Remember O Lord the reproach of your servant… 51. … your enemies O Yahweh… have mocked the footsteps of your anointed one.

Ever since the fall of the house of David and the exile of the people of Israel into the nations of the world, the kingdom people of God have been ruled over by other kingdoms i.e. Gentile world powers. This sad state of affairs was foretold by such prophets as Isaiah, Hosea, Amos and Micah about 100 yrs. before it came to pass.

So the question must be asked, “Has God  forever annulled the covenant he made with David, that his line and throne would endure forever?” May it never be! Hear the word of Yahweh:

“If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I betray my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once have I sworn by my holiness – I will not lie to David – his (dynastic) offspring will continue perpetually and his throne remain before me like the sun. Like the moon it shall be established forever and as the witness in the sky, it is sure.   Psalm 89:30-37

The certainty of God’s promise to David became the hope of the post-exilic Israelites, who, on the basis of this covenant, looked for the day when the kingdom would be restored once again to the house of David.

The Kingdom Promise And Hope

The same prophets who spoke the word of Yahweh concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the downfall of the Davidic dynasty, and the dispersion of God’s people, also foretold of a future and final restoration of the kingdom of Israel under the final and ideal descendant of David, Yahweh’s anointed one. The prophetic picture that was painted by the words of the prophets became the impetus for the messianic hope of the Israelite people after their return to the land from Babylonian captivity. Now let’s look at some of these prophetic utterances:

“For the sons of Israel shall remain many days without king or prince, and without sacrifice or altar, without ephod or idols. Afterwards the sons of Israel shall return and seek Yahweh their God and David their king. They shall be in awe on account of Yahweh and his goodness in the end of those days.”    Hosea 3:4-5

“At that time, I will erect (again) the tent of David which has fallen down. I will close up the breaches in it’s walls and will raise up it’s ruins and rebuild it as in days of old…  I will bring back the captives, my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the cities which were desolated and shall live in them…  I will plant Israel in their own land never again will they be uprooted from the land that I have given them,” says Yahweh your God.        Amos 9:11, 14-15

“At that time,” says Yahweh, “I will gather the limping one and I will assemble the exiled one, even the one I have afflicted. I will make the limping one a remnant and the exiled one a strong nation. And so Yahweh will reign as king over them from that time and even until forever. As for you, O tower of the flock, O hill of the daughter of Zion (i.e. the citadel of David), to you shall come the rule, even the former kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”      Micah 4:6-8

“For now she gathers her troops, O daughter of troops; he has laid a siege against us. They will strike the ruling one of Israel on the cheek with a rod. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though insignificant you have come to be among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth one to reign for me in Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times… He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. And they (the Israelites) shall remain (in the land), for at that time he shall be great, even unto the ends of the earth. And he shall accomplish this peace.”    Micah 5:1-2,4

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress… the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…  You have enlarged the nation, you have increased her joy. They rejoice before you like the joy in the time of harvest… you have shattered the yoke of his burden and the rod of his back, the rod of his oppressor. Every warriors boot used in marching and every garment rolled in blood will become fuel for the burning fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders… for an increase of the rule and of peace without end, for the sake of the throne of David and his kingdom, to establish the rule and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time forward and even unto forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will accomplish this.       Is. 9:1-7

“The days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous branch for David and he shall reign as king and he shall act wisely and accomplish justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be liberated and Jerusalem will dwell in security and this is the name by which he will be called YAHWEH IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”     Jer. 23:5-6

After the return of the Babylonian exiles to the land of Israel in the 6th century B.C., still under the dominion of the Medo-Persian, then the Grecian, then the Roman Empires, the people lived with the expectation of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel under the reign of a descendant of David. There was not unanimity of thought on the details as to how it would all play out, but that it would happen was the nearly universal belief. We see this expectation clearly expressed in the Jewish apocryphal and pseudopigraphic literature of the intertestamental period, such as the Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras. We even see this hope explicitly expressed in the NT {see Lk. 1:30-33, 67-75; 2:25, 38; 23:50-51; 24:21; Acts 1:6; 3:20-21; 26:6-7}. By the time of the coming of John the baptizer on the scene, messianic expectations had waned, with only a remnant still maintaining a living hope within themselves. Yet everyone knew what the prophecies declared. When John came proclaiming that the kingdom of God was imminent what should we suppose his hearers to have understood him to be referring to.

Were The Jews Wrong In Their Expectation?

One of the main objections which Jews have had for the past two thousands years to Jesus being the promised Messiah is that the kingdom was not restored to Israel under his kingship. This fact must have also disturbed the early Gentile Christians who had to answer the charge that their Christ was seemingly a fraud. The prophecies foretold a Davidic king who would liberate Israel from her enemies, gather the exiles and reunite the divided kingdom into one, and reign over the house of Israel forever. Jesus of Nazareth obviously did not fulfill any of this but rather was put to death by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. How did early Christians explain this discrepancy? The main answer is that the OT prophecies concerning Israel were spiritualized to refer to the Christian church rather than to Israel and the promises of a restored kingdom of Israel were allegorized to refer to the newly formed Christian religion. As an example, Jerome, in his note on Is. 11:10-16 tells us how we should interpret these prophetic promises: “Let the wise and Christian reader take this rule for prophetical promises, that those things which the Jews… hold to be going to take place carnally, we should teach to have already taken place spiritually . . . ”  But were the early church fathers correct in this way of understanding the picture which the prophetic scriptures had painted? I categorically deny the validity of their hermeneutic, for such a hermeneutic calls into question the veracity of God.  As the apostle Paul said, “Let God be true and every man a liar.”

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven (or God) is at hand.”   Matt. 4:17 {see also Mark 1:14-15}

With this proclamation the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth began. But I ask again, “What did the Israelites hearing these words think Jesus was referring to?” They could only have thought that the kingdom of Israel, formerly in the hands of David’s descendants, but then in a fallen state, was about to be restored according to the promises of Yahweh recorded in the prophets. Now if Jesus had meant something other than what was promised, some invisible or spiritualized kingdom heretofore unheard of, then his failure to make this plain to his hearers would surely be a dereliction of duty on his part. And if the expectation of the Jews for a son of David to be raised up to deliver the Israelites from Gentile domination and to rule over the restored kingdom of Israel was misguided, then we can only conclude that Yahweh himself had deceived them, couching within the plain meaning of the promises some hidden and supposedly more lofty sense not readily accessible to the common reader. I contend that the Jews were not in error regarding their expectation, having derived their hope from the Scriptures themselves.

But if this is true then how should we account for the fact that this restored kingdom which was ‘at hand‘ then, did not appear at that time or at any time during the intervening centuries?

The Preparation For The Restoration Of The Kingdom

Before I answer that question we must look into how the LORD went about preparing his people for the fulfillment of those precious promises. The promises themselves along with the faithfulness of God were the ground of their hope to be sure. But it was the discipline of Yahweh upon the nation which evoked such a longing for the fulfillment. Only in the restored kingdom would Israel finally be at peace with both their God and the Gentile nations. In fact, in that kingdom they would be exalted above all the nations and God would live among them as in days of old. But ever since the dispersion of the southern kingdom under the Babylonians Israel had been subject to the rule of other lords instead of Yahweh. Even after many of the exiles returned to the land of Israel in 538 B.C. and the Temple and Jerusalem were rebuilt, the Davidic throne was never restored and the nation remained subject to foreign powers, first Persia, then Greece, then Rome, which was ruling over Israel at the time of Jesus. Living under the oppression of these Gentile powers would have one of two effects upon the nation – either it would produce an intense longing and a fervent seeking of God for the fulfillment of his promise, or it would induce a despondency and a turning away from God. The discipline that they were under was a test of their worthiness to receive the promises. Unfortunately, by the time of the early first century, the hope had soured for most Jews living in the land. The Roman oppression was cruel and life was hard and God seemed distant and unconcerned with their plight. As a result many in the land had grown cold in their  love for God and hardened in heart.

The ministry of John the baptizer played an important role at this point in Israel’s history. As a prophet raised up by God, his unique role was to prepare a people who would be ready for the restoration of the kingdom {Lk. 1:17}. This he would do by proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom, thus revivifying the ancient hope in their hearts, and by calling them to repentance, i.e. to return to Yahweh. This was necessary not only because of the spiritual condition of the people at this time, but also because of the way that God had raised up the Messiah, the promised son of David.

He grew up the son of poor parents from an obscure family, in an obscure and insignificant village in Galilee. According to an obscure prophecy “he had no outward form or majesty that [they] should regard him, nothing in his appearance that [they] should desire him” as their king. The Lord God had seen fit to make the chosen one from the line of David come on the scene in a humble manner rather than in all of the outward trappings of a royal son destined for the throne. This was also to test the faithfulness of the people. Because the Messiah would appear on the scene in an unexpected manner, it was essential that each Israelite be personally spiritually attuned to God. Only those who could be taught by God would know the true identity of Jesus and only those whose hearts were turned to God would be prepared to listen and learn {John 6:45}. This is the true significance of certain passages in John’s gospel which Reformed exegetes have wrongly employed as proof of their peculiar doctrines of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election and and Irresistible Grace. That no one could acknowledge Jesus as the Chosen One apart from God’s intervention is obvious due to the fact of his humble manner of life, his lack of any “outward form or majesty that [they] should regard him” as the promised Messiah. But this does not necessitate the Reformed position that God had unconditionally pre-selected in eternity past the precise individuals whom he would reveal the truth to. If that were the case then John’s ministry was unnecessary. John’s ministry was preparatory in nature i.e. by confession of sins and genuine repentance (turning of the heart to God) individual Israelites were made ready to be taught by God i.e. to hear and learn from him that Jesus was indeed the promised son of David, even though he didn’t look the part outwardly. This fact also accounts for why the Jewish leaders for the most part were blind to who Jesus was for they had rejected John’s ministry, refusing to repent and be baptized { Lk. 7:29-30, 33; 20:3-7}.

We can see this being worked out in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. In the first chapter of the gospel of John we find some of those who would later be chosen as Jesus’ close associates (the Twelve) in Bethany. We learn later that these men were Galileans. So what were these Galileans doing in Bethany? I propose that when the news of the appearing of a prophet, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins, had reached the villages of Galilee, these men went to hear this prophet for themselves. I also propose that these men were cut to the heart by John’s message and were baptized by him, turning their hearts back to God. It is even stated that at least two of them had become disciples of John {Jn. 1:35-40}. The account of Nathaniel’s first encounter with Jesus is instructive {1:45-49}. We see Nathaniel, based solely on Jesus saying that he saw him under the fig tree, conclude that Jesus was indeed the promised son of God, the king of Israel (please note that ‘son of God‘ as well as ‘Messiah‘ denotes the fact that Jesus is the descendant of David chosen to rule over the restored kingdom of Israel – see 1 Chron. 28:5-7). But how could Nathaniel have known the true identity of Jesus with so little to go on? His heart had been so thoroughly turned to God under John’s preaching that he was able to hear and learn from God the true identity of this man Jesus. Later, we see a similar thing with Peter, who in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”, declares, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” In response Jesus says:

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”      Matt. 16:17

The fact that Jesus of Nazareth was considered to be the descendant of David chosen by God to rule over the restored kingdom of Israel as it’s king, is a prominent theme of the gospels, though this fact has been diminished by the false belief that the titles son of God, Christ and son of man are meant to denote a divine Savior from sin and nothing more. That Jesus was considered by the authors of the gospels to be the literal heir to the throne of David and that they wished their readers to regard him as such is proved by the following verses: Matt. 1:1; 2:1-2; 21:4-11; 25:31-40; 27:11, 27-29, 37-43; Mark 11:9-10; 15:2,17-19, 26, 31-32; Luke 1:30-33, 68-69; 19:11-27, 37-38; 23:1-3, 35-39; John 1:49-50; 6:15; 12:12-15; 18:33-37; 19:1-3, 7, 12, 14-15, 19-21.

Jesus himself did not openly declare himself as Israel’s king. The people regarded him as an itinerant rabbi or a miracle-working prophet. But to come to the conviction that he was the chosen son of David was something that had to be revealed to each one  individually, and only those whose hearts were turned to God would receive that revelation. The fact that Jesus was not received as the long awaited king by the Jewish leaders and the mass of the population only confirms the unrepentant condition of their hearts toward God. This condition of hardness of heart would result in the postponement of the promised kingdom.

The Kingdom Postponed

After the ministry of John was removed from the scene there was still a period in which Israelites who did not turn to God under John’s message could do so under the proclamation of the same message by Jesus. While many ‘sinners’ did so, the religious leaders remained obstinate. There seems to me to be a definite turning point in the ministry of Jesus, when the unbelief of the leadership and of the multitudes reached a critical point of no return. From that point on Jesus knew that the kingdom would not be established at that time but would be denied to that generation and that his ministry would end in his death at the instigation of the Jerusalem leaders. The turning point seems to be after Jesus sent out the twelve apostles and then the seventy disciples, both groups proclaiming the same message as John and Jesus, “The kingdom of God is near” {Matt.10:7; Lk. 10:9}. After this we have Jesus denouncing certain cities in which he had performed most of his miracles, for failing to turn to God in genuine repentance {Matt. 11:20-24}. We then have the account of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had been sent by the Jerusalem council {Mk. 3:22}, declaring that Jesus was in league with Beelzebub, the prince of demons. They said this precisely because the people were considering whether Jesus could be the long awaited chosen son of David {Matt. 12:23-24}. Not only did the Jewish leaders not believe but they were actively working to prevent the people also from believing.

We then come to the enigmatic statement of Jesus in Matt. 12:43-45, which in my mind is an allegory of Israel’s spiritual condition at that time. The nation having been delivered from the spirit of idolatry by the Babylonian captivity, failed upon their return to the land to occupy their house with a sincere and fervent devotion to their God, and hence were now, in that generation, becoming worse than their fathers of that former generation.

After this Jesus began to speak to the people in parables. It is explicitly stated that this was done because

“The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you (the disciples). But to those on the outside everything is being done in parables, so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding, otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.’ ”     Mark 4:11-12

The point seems to be that because they refused to repent up to this point the people were to be left to themselves in their own self imposed ignorance, unable to hear and learn from the Father.

Soon afterward Jesus is rejected in his own home town of Nazareth {Matt. 13:53-58}. Within a short span of time after this he begins to speak to his disciples of his need to go to Jerusalem where he will suffer and  be put to death and then resurrected {Matt. 16:31; 17:22-23; 20:18-19}. This left his disciples confused; if this man was the promised son of David raised up by God to restore the kingdom to Israel then why was he talking about being killed? They did not understand {Lk. 18:34}.

At one point, speaking as the destined son of David, Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together… but you were not willing. Look, your house (the Davidic dynasty) is being left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”     Luke 13:34-35

In this passage, the house is taken by the majority of commentators to refer to the temple, while the rest see it as Jerusalem itself. But the verb aphietai = left is a present tense indicative which implies a present condition of the house being left in place, i.e a state of desolation. So then the house, being in a state of desolation, is being left in that condition. Since neither the temple nor Jerusalem were at that time in a desolate state the house must be referring to something else which was then in a desolate state, which I propose to be the house or dynasty of David. Because of the close association of the house of David with Jerusalem {see Ps. 122:3-5; Jer. 17:19-25; 22:1-5; Zech. 12:7-12; 13:1}, it being the capital city of the kingdom of Israel from where the Davidic kings ruled, the house or dynasty of David is here termed the your house i.e. the house belonging to Jerusalem.

Later, as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city he wept over it, saying:

“If you, even you, had only known in this day the things leading to peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”        Luke 19:41-44

The peace that Jesus refers to here can only be a reference to that shalom (complete well-being, safety and security and prosperity) which is to be a characteristic mark of the restored kingdom of Israel, according to the prophetic promises. Jesus here is certainly implying that this shalom could have been their’s had they been spiritually attuned through repentance. It is clear that by this point in the narrative the imminency of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel has been removed due to the unworthiness of that generation. Jesus also tells a number of parables which certainly imply a delay in the kingdom’s restoration – Matt. 21:33-43; 22:1-14; 25:1-13, 14-30.

The Solution

So then, the answer to the question as to how we should account for the failure of the kingdom, which Jesus proclaimed as near, to have been realized at that time, if we understand that kingdom to be the restored kingdom of Israel under the rule of a final son of David, is this – the establishment of this kingdom was contingent upon the Jerusalem leadership and the majority of Israelites acknowledging and confessing allegiance to the chosen son of David, Jesus of Nazareth. John was sent prior to Messiah’s appearance for the express purpose of calling the people to repentance in order that they might be in a prepared spiritual condition to be taught by God that this Jesus of Nazareth was indeed this long awaited King. The kingdom of David which would have been restored then, if the hearts of the people had been turned to God, was postponed, the king himself being removed from Israel, and is awaiting the appointed time for the fulfillment of those promises.

Further Confirmation

This is confirmed by the fact that later in his ministry Jesus not only began to talk about his impending death but about a coming of the son of man in the future {Matt. 24:30-31, 36-39; 25:31-34; 26:64}. In the Jewish mind of that time the coming of the son of man would most certainly be connected to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel based on the prophecy of Daniel 7. Everything points to a non-establishment of the proclaimed kingdom at that time and a future fulfillment of the promises.

This view of the kingdom is confirmed by statements in the book of Acts, of which the first and most important is Acts 1:6-7. Let’s get the setting first from verse three:

After his suffering, he (i.e. Jesus) showed himself alive to these men (i.e. the apostles) with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them during a forty day period speaking about the kingdom of God.

Then we are told in verses six and seven, that presumably on the final day of that forty day period, just before his ascension:

When they met together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the father has fixed by his own authority.

Now the popular commentaries really drop the ball here. Because the kingdom of God is so widely, yet mistakenly, viewed as a spiritual and invisible kingdom, or taken to be the church or Christianity itself, the commentators all declare the apostles to be in error in their conception of the KOG at that point in time. They speak of the apostles as still apparently having a ‘Jewish’ or ‘carnal’ or ‘worldly’ conception of the kingdom. But how can a conception of the kingdom which is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures and from promises given with solemn oath be considered ‘carnal’ or ‘worldly’? That their conception was ‘Jewish’ I admit, but why this would be an error I cannot see. These commentators want us to believe that Jesus’ own hand-picked disciples, with whom he spent time, over a forty day period after his resurrection, speaking about the kingdom of God, would at the end of that period be ignorant of the nature of that kingdom; but that Gentile church fathers of a later period would have a more accurate perception of the true nature of the KOG. I find this thinking not credible at all. The fact that they had been privy to the resurrected son of David’s personal talks about the KOG should assure us that they knew well the true nature of the KOG. Also, Jesus does not rebuke them for ‘carnal’ thinking, like he was wont to do {see Lk. 24:25-27; Jn. 14:9}, but simply informed them that the precise timing was not for them to know.

Some of the commentators suggest that they were still thinking ‘carnally’ then because they had not yet received the Spirit, which was to illumine their minds. But we see the apostle Peter in chapter 3, after having received the Spirit, still promoting the same supposedly ‘carnal’ idea of the kingdom to his fellow Israelites:

“Repent then, and turn back (to God), so that your sins may be blotted out, so that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (God), and that he might send the Messiah, the one who has been appointed for you, Jesus. For heaven must receive him until the times of the restoration of all things of which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his prophets.     Acts 3:19-21

We note here a couple of things. The restoration of all things of which God had spoke in the prophets must refer to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel and the fallen throne of David, for this is what is foretold in the prophets. But if the kingdom is synonymous with a newly founded Christian religion, formerly unknown, then how could it be called a restoration, for the word signifies a return to a former condition. If the kingdom is the newly formed church then there is no former condition to which it must be returned. Next, we observe that this foretold restoration is still contingent upon the repentance of the people of Israel. This is shown by the use of the Greek disjunctive particle an in verse 20 along with subjunctive verbs. Peter is not expressing doubt as to the fulfillment of the promises but only of the timing, which we have already seen, he was not privy to. Also, we note that Jesus, the one appointed to rule this restored kingdom has been removed from this earthly scene and will remain so until the time is ripe for the restoration.

The apostle Paul also maintained this same supposedly ‘carnal’ perception of the kingdom. In his defense before king Agrippa he declared:

“And now, it is because of an expectation of the promise which God made to our fathers that I am on trial today, the promise which our twelve tribes are hoping to arrive at as they are earnestly worshiping night and day. It is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me, O king.”      Acts 26:6-7

Observe here that Paul’s expectation is the same as that of the Israelites, an expectation based upon the promise of God made to Israel. This promise can only be that of the restored kingdom and throne of David, ruled over by a final descendant of David. The only point of contention between Paul and his fellow Jews who were opposing him is whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was this promised son of David. Paul declared that Jesus was indeed the chosen son of David and that the proof of this is the fact that God had raised him from the dead {see v.8}. If Paul had held the conception of the kingdom of God which became prevalent among early church fathers and is still the predominate  view, could he have equated his hope with that of the Jews, whom the church fathers accused of having a ‘carnal‘ hope? Also the fact that Paul speaks of this hope or expectation shows that it was not yet a present reality but was still a future thing {Rom. 8:24-25}.

Conclusion

Let’s review what we have learned.

  • Differing and conflicting views of the KOG have caused confusion and uncertainty as to the true nature of it.
  • The predominate idea that the kingdom is an invisible or spiritual kingdom established at the time of Jesus’ appearance is the belief inherited from early Gentile church fathers who demeaned the Hebraic conception as ‘Jewish’ and ‘carnal’.
  • The Hebrew scriptures declare the KOG to be the theocratic kingdom of Israel which was given into the hands of David and his descendants by an everlasting covenant. This covenant makes the KOG = to the kingdom of Israel = to the kingdom of David and the throne of David = to the throne of Yahweh
  • This kingdom was removed from the scene with the fall of the Davidic dynasty and the dispersion of the nation of Israel into the nations of the world.
  • God promised, through the prophets, to restore the people back to the land, and to restore the throne of David and the theocratic kingdom which belongs to it
  • God raised up John to make the people ready for the restoration of the kingdom by repentance. This was necessary because God had determined to raise up the Messiah from obscurity without any outward indications of his true identity, which could only be known by revelation, which was given to those whose hearts were prepared by repentance.
  • John and Jesus proclaimed the nearness of the restored kingdom of God which was promised in the prophets.
  • Because the Jerusalem leaders and the majority of the people failed to repent they were unable to hear and learn from the Father and so acknowledge Jesus as the promised son of David, resulting in the postponement of the restoration till a future indeterminate time.
  • This answers the objection of the Jews who deny Jesus is the promised Messiah because he did not restore the kingdom to Israel.
  • After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the apostles still maintained the same conception of the kingdom which is found in the prophets and is termed ‘carnal’ by early church fathers and modern commentators.

In part 2 we will examine the popular idea that the kingdom was indeed established in the 1st century and has been a reality in the earth even to this day.

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

9 thoughts on “The Kingdom Of God (Part 1)”

  1. Excellent work!!! I am not sure folks realize that the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” is used ONLY in the gospel of Matthew. “Heaven” is a circumlocution for the actual name of God. Thus “Kingdom of Heaven” is identical with the “Kingdom of God” or even more accurately.. the “Kingdom of YHVH”.

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      1. It is clear that the early believers looked forward to the restoration of the Kingdom of God which had previously existed on earth. Yet Paul talks about a kingdom of God that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit. He goes on in 1 Corinthians 15 to outline a process where perishable is replaced by imperishable, and mortal by immortal. How do you see this unfolding as part of the “restoration” of Israel? I hope you can tackle this issue in your followup work.

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  2. The sense I get from what you have written is that you believe there was the possibility of the Kingdom of God being established 2000 years ago, but it was not established because the Jewish people choose not to repent and believe that Jesus was the Messiah. The problem with such a view lies in OT verse that speak of the Messiah suffering, being betrayed and dying on a tree. So, if the Kingdom had been established 2000 years ago, these prophecies would not have been fulfilled and God would have spoken falsely. It seems that the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people, his death and his resurrection were part of God’s plan. In retrospect this seems plain from OT scripture, although it required the NT writers, likely with Jesus’ help pointing out the verses after his resurrection, to highlight the meaning of these verses. Your speculation that somehow things changed during Jesus’ ministry and God somehow changed course and delayed the Kingdom does make sense to me. I suppose it’s possible that Jesus’ own understanding may have changed, but I don’t believe God’s plan changed based on what the OT said would have to happen to the Messiah.

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    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for interacting with the article. Yes, one of the hardest things for us to understand is how God works out his plan and purpose in real time. I certainly believe that the rejection of Messiah by the nation of Israel was foreknown by Yahweh. We could say that God writes his plan taking into account the free will actions of men that he foreknows. Even though God knew they would not acknowledge Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of David and give their allegiance to him as such, thus forfeiting the kingdom which could have been established then if they had, the kingdom still had to be proclaimed as near at hand so that their rejection of him could be played out in real time. Of course, God wrote into the plan, based on their rejection of Messiah, the death of Messiah and the resultant reconciliation of the world. It is not as though God had to change course at any point in real time. All was foreknown and planned on that basis but had to be played out in real time. This is my feeble attempt to understand the unfathomable. Hope it helps clarify my position.

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      1. Thanks for your reply. As I read through to part three in this series, I discovered you had addressed this point and provided your position. Thanks for reiterating it though. Since the strict monotheism position is a small minority within Christianity I’m always interested when I come across people who have investigated the matter and come to similar conclusions as I have. I look forward to reading your other posts.

        I have to admit, I certainly struggle with the conflict between free will and prophecy of the future. If God can predict the future actions of individuals and record these predictions in scripture (as he does regarding Israel’s rejection of Jesus, Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial), then these individuals are not truly “free” as we classically understand that concept. Their true freedom would then entail the capacity to make God a liar.

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  3. I do not see it that way. God would, of course, know the final decision of any person in the future, even if they changed their mind multiple times before carrying out an action. God knows the final decision they freely make. Just because God perfectly foreknows that decision doesn’t mean the person wasn’t free to make it.

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