THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF
THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD
In Acts chapter 8, we read of the Gospel that the Apostles preached, and the people’s response to it:
From these words, we find that “the things concerning the kingdom of God” forms half of the Gospel, and therefore half of the things to be believed as a prerequisite to baptism. But the revealed particulars regarding the reign of Messiah are not simply points of doctrine to be understood and believed, they also give us strength and encouragement in our daily walk in life. Consequently, it is written in the Proverbs: “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). A clear perception of the coming Kingdom of God can provide us with immense strength, as it did in the case of our Master. Indeed, we are told to look at him from that particular aspect: “looking unto Jesus that author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus, then, gives us an example to look to, of one who was energised to overcome by a glorious and joyous vision of the future. And we, who follow in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21) can likewise be empowered to “overcome the world” (1 Jno. 5:4) by maintaining a vision and understanding of the glories of the Age to come.
In our preaching activities, it is common to say that the future Kingdom of God will be worldwide in its nature and scope, being a time when all peoples will have to submit to the authority of Messiah, the righteous judge (Isa. 11:4). Reigning as King, nations will have to submit to his rule, for he shall rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psa. 2:9). However, that is only part of the truth. In virtually all of the visions of the Kingdom that are contained within the Bible, the emphasis is on Israel, and how that Israel will be the central and dominant nation in the earth at that time. The Christadelphian Statement of Faith (the BASF) expresses it thus, speaking of Messiah’s rule (emphasis ours):
In these words, the BASF shows that not only is the kingdom to be a restoration of a similar polity of old, founded and established upon similar principles and arrangements, it is also to occupy the same territory: “in the territory it formerly occupied, viz., the land bequeathed for an everlasting possession to Abraham and his seed (the Christ) by covenant”. The reference to Abraham here is most important, for it is written that in the promises made to him, God “preached the Gospel unto Abraham” (Gal. 3:8). Those promises then, form part of the “things concerning the kingdom of God” – and comprise part of the Gospel that saves.
Certain promises were made to Abraham on various occasions, the most pertinent to our present considerations being recorded in Genesis chapter 15. In this place, the word of Yahweh came to Abraham saying, “I am Yahweh that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” Whereupon Yahweh made a covenant with Abraham. Various beasts and birds were taken, slain, and laid out after a sacrificial manner:
This then, is the land promised to Abraham’s seed; the territory of Messiah’s kingdom, which shall form the nucleus, or “first dominion” (Mic. 4:8) of a worldwide rule. But notice several interesting features here: in reply to Abraham’s question “whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it,” the promise was made: “unto thy seed have I given this land”. There are a number of points that come out from this: firstly, the words are specific in identifying the promised land. Secondly, the giving of the land to Abraham’s seed, was itself an assurance that Abraham would himself inherit the land. And thirdly, the land is not only spoken of in terms of its borders, but also in terms of the people who already dwelt there. These kingdoms of men were to be removed, to become the kingdom of Yahweh, and his Messiah (who were symbolised in the 2 lights which passed through the slain animals; cp Jer 34:18, Heb 1:3; Rev 11:15).
Although the actual land promised to Abraham and his seed is a specific area in the Middle East, we are not to suppose that the dominion of the coming king shall be restricted to that area. Enshrined within the promised made to Abraham was the prospect of world dominion: “the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, though the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Rom 4:13). The promise was, then, that he should be the heir of the world – but where in Genesis is that promise found? There is no place where these words were used in terms of a promise to Abraham. The answer lies within the fact that although a certain portion of land was promised to him and his seed for a possession, that land will be a nucleus of a world wide dominion. There are many passages which describe Jerusalem’s role at the centre of such a kingdom; the following are but a few examples:
Here then is the promise; a world-wide dominion with Yahweh’s Messiah enthroned upon the ancient David seat of power restored, with Israel being the place of future world rule. This is the day we yearn for, that sharing the faith of Abraham, we may be privileged to live and rule with him and his Seed in that great day (Gal 3:29).
That the kingdom proper will comprise the same land previously inhabited by Israel is without doubt in Scripture (as cited above), and is so described in the BASF. It is the kingdom restored to Israel (Acts 1:6), and its seat of power is the Throne of Yahweh, after the pattern of David and Solomon’s rule (1 Kings 29:23). But the verses cited above also tell us something of the peoples over whom Messiah will reign. “all nations shall serve him” implies that the nations maintain their own distinct identity, albeit subject to a new world ruler. Again, Psalm 2 (cited above) demonstrates that there will be kings subject to King Jesus: “be wise now therefore ye kings …”. And Isaiah 2 describes how “all nations” will flow to the house of Yahweh in Jerusalem—which proves that the people outside of the promised land will maintain their national identity.
Daniel chapter 7 describes how the beast-nations will lose their dominions to Christ—with the exception of the fourth-beast empire, which will be totally destroyed:
The beasts, then, maintain their national identity, and are permitted to live under the dominion of the Christ. Hence, the kingdom will be focalised in Israel, with the separate nations continuing to exist outside of it—under the rule of the Lord. The situation is that of a kingdom, and an empire: the Kingdom is Israel, and the Empire is the rule of Christ extended over the nations.
These principles can be seen by considering the promised restoration of the Edenic Paradise. Isaiah spoke of the days to come:
From the creation of the earth, there was a garden planted by Yahweh in Eden. Eden was the territory, of which the garden was only a part. Even so, in the age to come, Israel shall become like the garden of Yahweh, with the nations like the land around that garden. In his book Elpis Israel, Brother John Thomas writes thus:
There are certain important principles that emerge from a consideration of these things. The form, nature and scope of the kingdom is fundamentally Israel restored. Without Israel, there can be no kingdom. Of Israel it is written:
It logically follows that if Israel is to be saved “with an everlasting salvation”, then we who also desire salvation must become joined to Israel. We are as branches grafted into the Israelitish olive tree, and look forward to their being restored again: “if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving in of them be, but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11:15). Without Israel there would be no kingdom, no king, and no salvation. But for those who embrace the Hope of Israel in faith and love, there is the prospect of “life from the dead” when the Kingdom is Restored to Israel, and the individual nations will be governed by the righteous rule of Messiah.