Study 5: The Kingdom of God
Defining The Kingdom | The Kingdom Is Not Now Established | The Kingdom Of God In The Past | The Kingdom Of God In The Future | The Millennium | Digressions (The Literality of the Kingdom, Summary of the History of Israel) | Questions
5.3 The Kingdom Of God In The Past
The Kingdom of God is the future reward for believers. As such, it is their motivation to live a life dedicated to imitating the example of Christ - something which will involve short term suffering and discomfort. It is therefore to be expected that all their days they will be consumed by an ever increasing desire to appreciate and understand the wonders of that future age. It will be the summation of all their spiritual strivings, and the full declaration of the God whom they have come to love as their Father.
The Scriptures abound with details of what the Kingdom will be like, and you will find it a lifetime's work to discover just a few of them. One way through which we can come to understand some of the basic principles of this future Kingdom is to appreciate that the Kingdom of God existed in the past in the form of the nation of Israel. This kingdom is to be re-established at Christ's return. Much of the Bible gives us information concerning the nation of Israel, in order that we can understand, in broad outline, how God's future Kingdom will be organized.
God is frequently described as "the king of Israel" (Isa. 44:6 cp. Isa. 41:27; 43:15; Ps. 48:2; 89:18; 149:2); it follows that the people of Israel were His kingdom. They began to be God's kingdom through entering into a covenant with Him at Mount Sinai, shortly after they had escaped from Egypt through the Red Sea. In response to their willingness to keep this covenant, they would "be unto (God) a kingdom...and an holy nation" (Ex. 19:5,6). Thus "When Israel went out of Egypt...Israel (was) His dominion" or kingdom (Ps. 114:1,2). After entering into this agreement, Israel travelled through the wilderness of Sinai and settled down in the promised land of Canaan. As God was their King, they were ruled over by "Judges" (e.g. Gideon and Samson) rather than kings. These judges were not kings, but Divinely guided administrators who governed certain parts of the country rather than ruling over the whole land. They were often raised up by God for specific purposes, e.g. to lead Israel to repentance and deliver them from their enemies. When the Israelites asked judge Gideon to be their king, he replied, "I will not rule over you...the Lord shall rule over you" (Jud. 8:23).
The last judge was Samuel. In his time the Israelites asked for a human king in order to be like the nations around them (1 Sam. 8:5,6). Throughout history, God's true people have been tempted to underestimate the closeness of their relationship to God, and to sacrifice this for an appearance of similarity to the world around them. These temptations are most acute in our present world. God lamented to Samuel: "They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). However, God granted them kings, beginning with wicked Saul. After him came righteous David, and a whole line of kings descended from him. The more spiritually-minded kings realized that Israel were still God's kingdom, even though they had rejected His kingship. They therefore recognized that they were ruling Israel on God's behalf rather than in their own right.
Understanding this principle enables us to make sense of the description of Solomon, David's son, reigning on "(God's) throne, to be king for the Lord thy God" (2 Chron. 9:8; 1 Chron. 28:5; 29:23). Solomon's reign of great peace and prosperity pointed forward to (or was 'typical' of) the future Kingdom of God. This is why it is emphasized that he was king over Israel on God's behalf, as Jesus will also sit on God's throne as King of Israel for God (Matt. 27:37,42; John 1:49; 12:13).
Many of the righteous kings recorded in the Old Testament enjoyed reigns which were typical of Christ's future Kingdom. Thus as Solomon built a temple for God in Jerusalem, so, too, will Christ in the future Kingdom (see Ez. 40-48). As Hezekiah and Solomon received presents and tribute from the surrounding nations (1 Kings 10:1-4; 2 Kings 20:12), and saw the land of Israel blessed with astounding fertility and prosperity (1 Kings 10:5-15; Isa. 37:30), so in Christ's world-wide Kingdom the same things will be seen on a far greater scale.
Despite Solomon's good start, whilst still quite young he made mistakes regarding his marital relationships which progressively sapped his spiritual strength as he grew older. "King Solomon loved many strange women...women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites...of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love...and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord...and Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord...and the Lord was angry with Solomon...Wherefore the Lord said...I will surely rend the kingdom from thee" (1 Kings 11:1-11).
Solomon's slide into apostasy was a life-long process. His relationships with women who did not share his knowledge of Israel's God led him to have a sympathy towards their false gods. His love for his wives meant that he no longer saw these gods as the spiritual perversions of the true God which they were. As time went on, his heart was no longer in the worship of Israel's God. "His heart was not perfect", i.e. his conscience no longer pricked him at worshipping fake gods. His lack of wholehearted commitment to the true God was "evil in the sight of the Lord", resulting in God breaking off his relationship with Solomon. Israel were told time and again not to marry the women of the surrounding world (Ex. 34:12-16; Josh. 23:12,13; Deut. 7:3).
By baptism into Christ we become spiritual Israel. If we are single, we should only marry within spiritual Israel, "in the Lord" (1 Cor.7:39) - i.e. other baptized believers "in Christ". If we are already married at the time of our baptism, we should not separate from our wives; our marital relationship is sanctified by reason of our faith (1 Cor. 7:12-14). Consciously choosing to marry those who do not know the true God will, in the long term, lead to our apostasy. Solomon evidently failed to appreciate the strength of God's warning about such wives: "Surely they will turn away your heart" (1 Kings 11:2; Ex. 34:16). Only an extraordinary level of self-control and intensity of repentance can make us exceptions to this rule.
We have earlier shown how that orthodox Christianity does not appreciate the Jewish basis of the Christian hope; they do not know the true God of Israel. Intermarriage with such people normally leads to a gradual declension from the glorious doctrinal truths which are the basis of our salvation. For this reason Isaac and Jacob went to extraordinary lengths to marry women who properly held the true faith, Isaac even waiting until he was 40 years old to find the right woman (Gen. 24:3,4; 28:1). The distress of Ezra and Nehemiah at hearing that some of the Jews had married non-Jews further shows the seriousness of this issue (Ezra 9:12; Neh. 10:29,30).
We have raised this matter at this stage to promote thoughtful reflection; marriage is discussed in more detail in Study 11.4.
The Judgment Of God
As a result of Solomon's apostasy, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two; Solomon's son, Rehoboam, ruled over the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and half the tribe of Manasseh, whilst Jeroboam ruled over the other ten tribes. This ten-tribe kingdom was called Israel, or Ephraim, whilst the two-tribes were called Judah. The people of all these tribes, for the most part, followed Solomon's bad example - they claimed to believe in the true God, whilst at the same time worshipping the idols of the surrounding nations. Time and again God pleaded with them, through the prophets, to repent, but to no avail. Because of this, He punished them by driving them out of the kingdom of Israel into the lands of their enemies. This was through the Assyrians and Babylonians invading Israel and taking them away captive: "Many years didst thou (God) forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit (word) in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the (surrounding) lands" (Neh. 9:30).
The ten-tribe kingdom of Israel had no good kings at all. Jeroboam, Ahab, Jehoahaz etc. are all recorded in the book of Kings as idol-worshippers. Their last king was Hoshea, during whose reign Israel was defeated by Assyria, and the ten tribes carried into captivity (2 Kings 17). From this they never returned.
The two-tribe kingdom of Judah had some good kings (e.g. Hezekiah and Josiah), although the majority were evil. Due to the people's repeated sins, God overturned Judah as His kingdom in the reign of their last king, Zedekiah. This was caused by their being invaded by the Babylonians, who took them captive to Babylon (2 Kings 25). They remained in Babylon for 70 years, after which some returned to Israel under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. They never again had their own king, being ruled by the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. Jesus was born during the period of Roman rulership. Due to Israel's rejection of Jesus, the Romans invaded them in A.D. 70 and scattered them world-wide. Only in the past 100 years have they started to return, thus heralding the return of Christ (see Appendix 3).
Ezekiel 21:25-27 prophesied this ending of God's kingdom as seen in the nation of Israel: "Thou, profane, wicked prince of Israel (i.e. Zedekiah), whose day is come...Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown (i.e. Zedekiah would cease to be king): this shall not be the same...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". Passage after passage in the prophets laments the ending of God's kingdom (Hos. 10:3; Lam. 5:16; Jer. 14:21; Dan. 8:12-14).
The triple 'overturning' of Ez. 21:25-27 refers to the three invasions made by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The watchful student will see in these verses another example of how the kingdom of God and its king can be treated as parallel; Zedekiah's overthrow was that of God's kingdom (see Section 5:2). Thus God's kingdom as it was in the nation of Israel ended: "I...will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel" (Hos.1:4). "It shall be no more, until..." carries the implication that the kingdom would revive when "he come whose right it is; and (God) will give it him". God will "give (Jesus) the throne of his father David...and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32,33) - at Christ's return. This, therefore, is when the promise of the kingdom's restoration will be fulfilled.
Restoration of Israel
There is a tremendous theme throughout the Old Testament prophets of the restoration of God's Kingdom on Messiah's return. Christ's disciples were well tuned in to this: "When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?" i.e. 'Will Ezekiel 21:27 be fulfilled now?' Jesus replied by saying that the exact time of his second coming they would never know, although the angels immediately afterwards assured them that he would, indeed, return at some point (Acts 1:6-11).
The restoration of the kingdom of God/Israel will therefore be at the second coming. Thus Peter preached that God would send "Jesus Christ...whom the heaven must receive (i.e. he must remain there) until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets" (Acts 3:20,21). The second coming will bring about the re-establishment of God's kingdom as a restoration of the old kingdom of Israel.
The restoration of God's kingdom is truly the theme of "all (God's) holy prophets":-
The return of Christ to establish this Kingdom is truly "the hope of Israel", to which we must become related by baptism.