Kingdom Come, Part 1: A Brief History of the Kingdom of God

high mountain photo

“Your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10)

As a writer and speaker I frequently hear from Christians who express frustration with Christianity as they know it. We are grateful for forgiveness and the promise of “heaven” (what most of us understand as the “gospel”), yet we sense there’s something more.

There is. Something much more.

If you feel trapped inside a paradigm that isn’t big enough to take in all of the Bible let alone all of life, and you chafe at the sense that there must be a bigger picture but you just can’t find it …

You’re not alone. Lots of people feel this way, for good reason: in the last several hundred years, we have reduced the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached to the gospel of forgiveness and going to heaven.

The one encompasses the other, but they are not the same thing.

From the very start, the kingdom of God is central to Jesus’s life and message. It’s also central to the prayer he taught us: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the heart of it all.

What Is the Kingdom of God?

Simply put, the kingdom is the rule of God.

Great, you may think, that’s helpful (not). God is in charge: why is that good news? And why do we have to pray for it? Isn’t that just a given? God is in charge, God will judge everybody, that’s why we need forgiveness—aren’t we just right back where we started?

Okay, so let’s break this concept down a little further, journeying through history to get a clearer picture of what it all means.

The kingdom of God is the rule of God in and through willing “imagers” of God (thanks to Michael Heiser for the term “imager”).

The kingdom was originally set up in Eden, with Adam and Eve as co-regents with God. They were given “dominion” (kingship) over the earth, not autonomously from God but as his agents.

In this situation, heaven and earth were essentially one.

God ruled and Man ruled, and these two things were the same.

Trouble in Paradise

But Adam and Eve broke faith with God and tried to establish themselves independently of him. When they did this, God’s direct rule over the earth—with the many benefits that are part of the direct rule of the Life-giver and Father of lights—was lost.

Now God ruled and Man ruled, but not together. They struggled against each other, Spirit against flesh, in a situation of disharmony. Other spiritual powers (i.e. demonic powers, Satan) came in and began to exert their rule as well.

If the original kingdom of God in Eden was like an empire in which the “little kings” and subjects both loved and willingly served the “High King” or emperor, now earth was a fractured empire in which the little kings were in rebellion, and even though the High King still reigns, the fractured empire could not receive the benefits of that reign because of its own rebellion.

God, however, planned to reinstate his rule. So he called a man named Abraham and created a nation from his descendants. He delivered this nation from slavery, gave them his law, and covenanted with them to become their king.

The LORD came from Sinai and appeared to them from Seir … So He became king in Jeshurun [Israel] when the leaders of the people gathered with the tribes of Israel. (Deuteronomy 33:5)

Just as Eden was a place of incredible fruitfulness and blessing as humanity walked with God, so God intended that his rule would bring incredible fruitfulness and blessing to Israel, and through them, to all of the nations of the earth.

Eventually the rule of God seen so clearly in his human regents in Israel would draw all of the nations to voluntarily worship Yawheh as High King.

Once again a people on earth lived under the direct rule of God, with all of the blessings and benefits that come with his kingdom. But once again there was a problem: the people rebelled. They chose other gods, violated the covenant, and rejected God’s rule over them.

Rejection and Reinstatement

This came to a head after the period of the judges, when the people of Israel demanded that rather than ruling directly through his chosen judges, Yahweh give them a king like the other nations. Samuel, the last of the judges, understood what was happening as the rejection of God’s kingship. God himself agreed:

Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7)

The kingdom of God on earth has always been about God’s reign being administered through willing imagers, human beings who receive authority from God and exercise it in accordance with his will and character.

That’s why God doesn’t just establish his kingdom by wiping out mankind; that isn’t the plan.

The kingdom can’t be said to have come on earth until the vision of Eden is restored: human beings walking with God and having dominion under him to be fruitful, multiply, and shape a heavenly society on planet earth.

The next significant step in kingdom history comes after the disastrous first king of Israel (Saul) has been deposed by God and a new king, a second king, is chosen. This king is David, and because he is loyal to Yahweh and a man after God’s own heart, the kingdom of God will be reinstated in his rule.

That David’s throne is the kingdom of God is most clearly expressed when it comes time for that throne to pass to Solomon. God says to David:

“Furthermore, I declare to you that the Lord Himself will build a house for you. When your time comes to be with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who is one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for Me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me. I will not take away My faithful love from him as I took it from the one who was before you. I will appoint him over My house and My kingdom forever, and his throne will be established forever.” (1 Chronicles 17:10-14)

God told David that he would adopt Solomon (whose name means “Peace”) as his son. He also told David to give Solomon a second name: Jedidiah, which, like David, means “beloved.”

From Golden Age to Exile

The reigns of David and Solomon were the golden age of Israel. The blessings of the covenant were seen in their day: Israel won victory over all its enemies and prospered to an almost unbelievable degree. The rule of God through his chosen kings did indeed bring life and blessing.

One of the most prophetically significant events during this time is the visit of the queen of Sheba, who comes to hear Solomon’s legendary wisdom. This is the mission of Israel being carried out: the rule of God is seen as so good and so right that the Gentile nations voluntarily come to seek and worship him.

But it didn’t last. Solomon fell into idolatry in his later years, and his son, Rehoboam, rebelled against God and lost the kingdom. The tribes of Israel fractured into two separate nations, called Judah and Israel. While Judah was sometimes faithful to God, Israel never was.

Both nations ended up in complete apostasy and were sent into exile. The kingdom of God on earth had ceased to exist.

The Beloved King

But God had not abandoned his plans for Adam (humankind), Israel (his chosen people), or David (his beloved king). Quite the contrary. God would keep his promise to establish David’s throne “forever.” Though the kingship would lapse for a time, it would be restored.

No prophet states this more clearly than Isaiah, the same prophet who warned Judah of its coming exile into Babylon. The familiar “Christmas prophecy” of Isaiah 9 is in fact about the kingdom:

For a child will be born for us,
A son will be given to us,
And the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom … from now on and forever.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

This is only one of many prophecies about the restored throne of David. Though it was a mystery at the time, looking back now we can see how Jesus is both David’s human descendant back on the throne and Yahweh himself taking back direct kingship.

As the God-man, Jesus is the kingdom of heaven come to earth.

At Jesus’s baptism, a voice from heaven thundered, “You are my beloved son” (Mark 1:11). This was not only a statement of affection, but against the backdrop of David and Solomon, both called God’s “beloved,” it was a declaration that “This is the king.”*

From the moment he began his ministry, Jesus’s declaration was that the kingdom had come. In the context of the Old Testament, the message could not be clearer: the rule of God was being resumed through his beloved son and king, bringing with it blessings and abundance and victory over God’s enemies.

But if you’ll remember, the kingdom was always about co-reigning, about willing “imagers” being given dominion and extending it in partnership with God. This is at play here too: not only is Jesus bringing the kingdom, he’s giving it to us.

We’ll explore what that means, and how it affects our prayers, next week.

(This is Part 61 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

*Thanks to Michael Heiser for this insight as well. His book The Unseen Realm is available from Lexham Press.