The Kingdom Expected by the Prophets
It must be significant that the Kingdom of God is the substance of the very thing said about Jesus, even before his birth: “The Lord god will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
This announcement by the angel Gabriel came as no surprise as a description of the role of the Messiah. What the angel promised was exactly what the faithful were hoping for. If we ask what had prompted this hope. The answer is simply: the message of all the prophets. The recurrent theme of the Hebrew prophets is that the Kingdom of God will be established throughout the world with a rehabilitated Jerusalem as its capital and the Messiah as God’s agent administering an ideal world government. This promise of perfect government on earth receives the fullest treatment by the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament. We may cite as typical of their vision of the future a selection from the numerous passages describing the reign of the promised descendant of David in a renewed earth. The expected world empire would be God’s Kingdom administered for Him by His unique representative and vice-regent, the Messiah. “A throne will even be established in lovingkindness and a judge [an administrator] will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; moreover he will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness” (Isa_16:5).
The simplicity of the concept is well captured by the same verse translated by the Good News Bible: “Then one of David’s descendents will be King and he will rule the people with faithfulness and love. He will be quick to do what is right, and he will see that justice is done.”
What the prophets saw was a vision of utopian conditions on earth, following the conquest of the world by Yahweh (the Lord God) acting through His chosen agent, the promised King: “the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” (Isa_24:23). “He [the Messiah] will speak peace to the nations, and his dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the river [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth” (Zech 9:10).
Obadiah describes the supremacy of Israel in the coming Messianic rule:
“The community of Jacob will regain territory from those who took it from them . . . They will recover the Negev from Mount Esau and the Shephalah from the Philistines. They will regain the region of Ephraim and Gilead. The exiles of the people of Israel will annex Canaanite territory as far as Zarephath. The exiles who were in Sepharad will reclaim the Negev towns. Then governors will go up to Mount Zion to govern Mount Esau, and the Kingdom will be the Lord’s” (Oba_1:17-21).
Evidently, the Kingdom of God is to be a new political and territorial order with its headquarters in the promised land of Israel. This is the unanimous view of all the prophets. Jeremiah, too, had recorded the words of the Lord promising national restoration for Israel under the Messiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I shall raise up for David a righteous branch, and he will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In his days, Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely” (Jer_23:5-6).
Isaiah’s and Micah’s vision is no less clearly defined, with the additional guarantee of multilateral disarmament under the government of the Messiah:
“A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his [the promised deliverer, the Messiah’s] shoulders . . . There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace, on the throne of David, and over his Kingdom. To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore . . . The law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he will judge between the nations and will render decisions for many peoples, and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war (Isa_9:6; Isa_2:3-4; Mic_4:2-3.
One of the clearest descriptions of the Kingdom of god appears in Dan_2:44. Following the destruction of hostile world powers, “the God of heaven will set up a Kingdom [clearly here a world empire] which will never be destroyed, and that Kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” In Daniel 7 the same promised Kingdom is to be administered by the Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite self-designation) and his followers, God’s chosen people:
“And to him [the Son of Man] was given a dominion, glory and a Kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not be destroyed . . . Then the power and greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the supreme God. Their royal power will never end and all rulers on earth will serve and obey them” (Dan_7:14; Dan_7:27).
The revolution associated with the Messiah’s installment in his Kingdom is described by Zechariah:
“The Lord will go forth and fight against those nations . . . and in that day the Lord will be King over all the earth . . . Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts” (Zec_14:3; Zec_14:9; Zec_14:16).
These and many other passages in the prophets demonstrate beyond dispute that the Kingdom of god will be a new world government on earth, administered by the Messiah, God’s chosen King, assisted by a group of associates called in Daniel “the saints of the Most High” (Dan_7:27). The picture of a restored earth is common to all the prophets. It is the basis of the Messianic hope summed up by the term “Kingdom of God.”
The national hope of Israel of which the Christian Apostle Paul was fully supportive (Act_24:14-15; Act_26:5-8) had been described vividly and brilliantly by the great eighth-century BC prophet Isaiah. Paul was convinced that the Christian Gospel had been revealed, in advance of the coming of Christ, to the prophets of Israel (Rom_1:1-2; Rom_16:25-26; Gal_3:8; Tit_1:2). Any severing of the Gospel from its revelation in the Old Testament Scriptures leads to a disastrous misunderstanding. When Paul writes about the Gospel, he assumes that his readers know the background to the Gospel in the Old Testament. In out times, however, most readers approach the letters of Paul without that indispensable grasp of what the prophets meant by the Gospel.
A number of key passages in the prophets were recognized as testimonies to the restoration of sound government to Israel, the reinstatement of the monarchy of Israel in the person of the promised descendant of David. If the throne of David were not to reappear in Israel, with the Messiah as King, the whole Old Testament revelation would dissolve into pious legend, if not fraud.
Isaiah employs the verb “to preach the Gospel” in a number of passages:
“Go up into a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings, cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah; Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs . . . Therefore on that day my people shall know my renown, that it is I who have foretold it. Here I am! How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings . . . announcing salvation and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’ Hark! Your watchman raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion. Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the Lord comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of out God” (Isa_40:9-11; Isa_52:6-10).
Jesus saw himself in the role of the preacher of this good news. At his inaugural speech in Luk_4:18-19 he quoted Isa_61:1-2, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, and to announce a year of favor [the ultimate Jubilee] from the Lord.” Jesus appropriately ended the quotation it this point, but Isaiah’s prediction takes in the future and final fulfillment of these words, “a day of vindication by our God.”
Christianity as preached by Jesus is a confirmation of this sublime vision of the future of our world. Jesus was empowered at his first coming to heal and restore on a small scale only. The vast majority of the world remained in darkness. At his second coming he will inaugurate a worldwide restoration as announced by Peter (Act_3:21). Unfortunately the church, under the influence of pagan Greek philosophy, gradually lost its grip on the prophets’ grand proclamation of the Kingdom as a world government under the supervision of the immortalized Messiah. That promise of the good time coming was replaced by a pale, mystical and vague prospect of disembodied existence in "heaven." The collapse of the original Christian hope based on the teaching of Christ and the prophets of Israel, is traceable to the interpretative techniques (the term is too polite!) of such church fathers as Origen and Augustine, who explained away the plain meaning of the biblical text. The Bible provided in the Revelation a climactic prophecy of the Kingdom to which the rest of Scripture had looked forward. Augustine however chose to:
". . . allegorize the statements of Revelation and apply them to the history of the church [thus destroying the future and moving it into the present] . . . the thousand years is not to be construed literally, but represents the whole history of the church from the Incarnation to the final conflict. The reign of the saints is a prophecy of the domination of the world by the church [now!]. The resurrection is metaphorical and simply refers to the spiritual resurrection of the believer in Christ [now!]. But exegesis of this kind is dishonest trifling . . . To put such an interpretation on the phrase 'first resurrection' (Rev_20:6) is simply playing with terms. If we explain away the obvious meaning of the words, then as Alford says, "There is an end to all significance in language and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything."
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