The Kingdom of God and The Messianic Hope
This will be a survey of the development of God as King through the development of the concept of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God in the Hebrew Bible, the further development of the Messianic hope in the Intertestamental years, the revelation of the Messianic hope and the Kingdom of God in the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua and further looking at the issue of the Bilateral Messianic Community and the Kingdom of God in the Apostolic Writings epistles and Revelation. This survey of Scripture and Intertestamental writings will seek to draw unity of the Kingdom of God concept into the person of the Messiah.
Messiah and the Kingdom of God in the Hebrew Bible
“The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble. He sits enthroned on the cherubim; let the earth shake! The LORD is great in Zion; he is high above all the peoples. Let them praise your great and fearsome name (he is holy): “Mighty king who loves justice, you established fairness, justice and righteousness in Jacob.” (Psalm 99:1-4, CJB)
The Psalmist gives us a glorious picture of the God of Israel as King over all his people reigning in holiness and righteousness. The reign of God in the life of the Jewish People can be seen as Abram became a follower of God and put himself and his descendants under the authority of God. At Mt. Sinai with the giving of the Torah, God as King in love and reflective of His holiness, gave the Jewish People His Law for them to live by as subjects of their King. As we have seen above from the Psalms, the Hebrew Bible contains many verses on God as King including “Psa 47:2 asserting that God bears the title “king.” God reigns as king (e.g., Psa 93:1; 96:10), He rules (e.g., Judg 8:23; Psa 22:28), He sits on a throne (e.g., 1 Kgs 22:19; Psa 103:19; Ezek 1:26–28), and He maintains a kingdom (e.g., Psa 45:6; 2 Kgs 19:15)” (Seal, 2012, Kingdom of God).
With the choosing of David as King of Israel, the Jewish People had a human king that would rule them under the authority of God.
“David was a man who sought after God and his faithfulness was rewarded with the promise of an eternal ruler over all Israel from his line. The initiation of the promise to David of the Davidic Covenant is given in 2 Samuel 7:11-16” (Emslie, 2014, p. 6).
The promise to David of eternal rulership of his line over Israel because of the failings of David’s heirs and the eventual conquering by foreign nations gave birth to the Messianic hope, that a future righteous heir will come to rule once again on David’s throne in righteousness. Along with the promise to David and because of Israel’s living outside of the Covenant there was a need for God’s Kingship to be again manifested on earth and therefore God gave the prophets predictions of a time when God would again rule over Israel in the person of the Messiah, bring a new period of the Kingdom (Foster, 1998, p. 158).
Messiah and the Kingdom of God in the Intertestamental Period
In the Intertestamental Period, there is diverse opinions and pictures of what the Messiah was to be. The Hebrew Bible prophecies portray a Messiah who will reign eternally on David’s throne (Mic 5:2, Isa 9:6, Zech 12-14 and others) and also a Messiah that would suffer and die most notably in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. On this Rubin (1997), wrote that to reconcile the two pictures of Messiah that two Messiahs were proposed, Messiah Son of Joseph who would like Joseph in Genesis be the suffering Messiah and Messiah Son of David, who would be the conquering Davidic Messiah (p. 78).
The Qumran community who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and saw themselves as an alternative, purer priesthood than that in Jerusalem developed a concept of two Messiahs, one Davidic and one Priestly (Neusner, Avery-Peck & Green, 2000, Vol. 2, p. 878).
In the Psalms of Solomon 17 in the Septuagint, the Psalmist speaks of the Kingship of God and then speaks of a Messianic figure to come to restore Jerusalem and the Jewish people including:
“See, O Lord, and raise up their king for them, a son of David, for the proper time that you see, God, to rule over Israel your servant. And undergird him with strength to shatter unrighteous rulers. Cleanse Jerusalem from the nations that trample it in destruction, to expel sinners from the inheritance in wisdom, in righteousness, to rub out the arrogance of the sinner like a potter’s vessel, to crush all their support with an iron rod; to destroy lawless nations by the word of his mouth, for Gentiles to flee from his face at his threat, and to reprove sinners by the word of their heart. And he will gather a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness, and he will judge tribes of the people sanctified by the Lord its God.” (Psalms of Solomon 17:23–28, LES).
In 1 Enoch 37-71, the use of the Hebrew word Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ) is used twice to denote a transcendent, heavenly figure (Neusner, Avery-Peck & Green, 2000, Vol. 2, p. 878), which is in contrast to the other writings of the time that focus more on a human kingly figure.
Banwell (1996), commented on Intertestamental Jewish thought when he wrote, “The coming of the kingdom is the great perspective of the future, prepared by the coming of the Messiah, which paves the way for the kingdom of God” (p. 647).
Ladd (1959), summed up the Intertestamental views on the Messiah when he wrote:
“To the Jews, Messiah was expected to be either a conquering Davidic King before whom the enemies of God and of God’s people could not stand; or He would be a heavenly supernatural being who would come to earth with power and great glory to destroy the wicked and to bring the Kingdom of God in power (see Daniel 7). In either case, the coming of Messiah would mean the end of This Age and the appearance of the Kingdom in power” (p. 110).
Yeshua and the Kingdom of God
“This very day, in the town of David, there was born for you a Deliverer, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, CJB).
This verse breaks forth the news that the waiting for Messiah has come to an end. The Messiah has been born into the world, and the Messianic redemption is now to begin. This baby born in Bethlehem was Yeshua, the righteous heir of David that would rule forever on David’s throne over Jerusalem and the cosmos.
McKnight (1992) commented on Matthew’s view of Yeshua and the Kingdom:
“Jesus Christ inaugurates the kingdom of heaven, apparently in three moments or phases: in his public ministry, in his passion, and in his vindicating resurrection. Each of these moments is important to the story line of Matthew, and each is associated with the inauguration of the kingdom” (p. 534).
In line with tradition of Jewish teachers and sages, Yeshua taught his disciples to pray, and we read the model prayer he taught, commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:
“You, therefore, pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven! May your Name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us the food we need today. Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us. And do not lead us into hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One. For kingship, power and glory are yours forever. Amen.’” (Matthew 6:9–13, CJB).
In these words, Yeshua gave his disciples a picture of God’s Kingship and the importance of acknowledging it and that the coming of the Kingdom will require that God’s will to be done in the world. The recitation of this “Kingdom Prayer” can be seen in connection to the Jewish understanding of the recitation of the Shema (Deut 6:4) which acknowledges the oneness of God and is considered in Judaism to be taking upon oneself “the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Lipson, 2007, p. xviii) as can be seen in BT Berachot 13a I,
“So that one should first accept upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterward accept the yoke of the commandments” (Neusner, 2011).
As with the traditional Jewish understanding of first accepting the oneness of God and “the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” then accepting obedience to the commandments of the Torah (“the yoke of the commandments”), Yeshua in the Lord’s Prayer first calls His disciples to the recognition to the Kingship of God and then to a life of seeking the Kingdom, dependence on God, repentance and forgiving of others and then returns to God’s Kingship. In both cases the first focus on the King and His Kingdom and then the walk of faith follows.
Lipson (2007) further connected the closing of the Lord’s Prayer with the traditional blessing added to the recitation of the Shema in Jewish prayer:
“The prayer pattern he taught his disciples includes the words, “May your Kingdom come,” and ends with this doxology: “For kingship, power and glory are yours forever” (Matt. 6:10, 13). These words surely recall the insertion in the Shema: “Blessed be his name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever.” However, Yeshua saw that Kingdom, not as a dream of the future, but as a present potential reality. Where God reigns as King in people’s lives and communities, there is the Kingdom”.
In instructing the disciples to pray for the Kingdom to come, it can be seen that Yeshua is teaching that the coming of
“the kingdom is a process which cannot be imposed upon others through political activism. The kingdom comes by God alone. It is a divine force in the world that brings healing to suffering humanity. Hence, Jesus did not define the kingdom in terms of the future. He viewed the reign of God from his experience in the present” (Young, 2011, p. 80).
Bilateral Messianic Community and Kingdom in the Epistles and Revelation
“Paul remained two whole years in a place he rented for himself; and he continued receiving all who came to see him, openly and without hindrance proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.” (Acts 28:30–31, CJB).
From the above closing words of the Acts of the Apostles we can see that the Kingdom of God was the message that Paul and the other Apostles preached, a message of God’s Kingship in the person and work of Yeshua Messiah. The Bilateral Messianic Community was the body of believers who had accepted the message of the Kingdom of God and were to be the proclaimers of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Paul also saw that the Kingdom is also something that requires workers,
“Justus, also sends greetings. These three are among the Circumcised; and among my fellow workers for the Kingdom of God, only they have turned out to be a comfort to me.” (Colossians 4:11, CJB).
This working for the Kingdom will in this world include persecution that will test and prove those who are true to the Kingdom:
“Therefore, we boast about you in the congregations of God because of your perseverance and trust in all the persecutions and troubles you are going through. This is clear evidence that God’s judgment is just; and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4–5, CJB).
The book of Revelation looked to the triumph of the Kingdom of God:
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now have come God’s victory, power and kingship, and the authority of his Messiah; because the Accuser of our brothers, who accuses them day and night before God, has been thrown out!” (Revelation 12:10, CJB).
Ladd (1959), commenting on the Apostolic Writings’ view of the relation of the Kingdom of God and the Bilateral Messianic Community wrote:
“In the same way, the Kingdom of God, the redemptive activity and power of God, is working in the world today through the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is the fellowship of disciples of Jesus, who have received the life of the Kingdom and are dedicated to the task of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom in the world. Philip went to Samaria preaching “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8: 12). Paul went to Rome and preached first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, the Kingdom of God (Acts 28: 23, 31)” (p. 115).
Messiah as Unifier of the Kingdom of God
“The concept of the kingdom of God in early Judaism was shaped principally by three factors. At the basis was the OT idea of Yahweh’s eschatological epiphany in judgment to punish the wicked (i.e., Israel’s enemies) and reward the just (i.e., Israel). This was coupled with the idea of God’s reign through his elect messianic king of Davidic descent, bringing in a time of untold bliss for the Jewish people. The second factor was Daniel’s new understanding of the kingdom and its agent as transcendental, heavenly realities and the consequent deliverance of God’s people in primarily dynamic terms. The third factor was the centuries-long Gentile rule over Palestine, which intensified the longing for liberation, national identity and happiness” (Caragounis, 1992, p. 418).
As has been seen in the Hebrew Bible expectations of the Messiah birthed out of the belief in the coming Kingdom of God and the promise made to David of a righteous King to rule in God’s Kingdom, the further development of the Messianic idea in the Intertestamental Period adding a transcendent view of the Messiah inspired by the book of Daniel, the picture of the union of the Kingdom of God and the Messiah came together when in Bethlehem, a baby was born to be that point of unity.
Yeshua, the long awaited Messiah, sends out the disciples to proclaim the soon coming of the Kingdom of Heaven,
“As you go, proclaim, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is near,’ heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those afflicted with leprosy, expel demons. You have received without paying, so give without asking payment.” (Matthew 10:7–8, CJB).
With His earthly ministry, Yeshua sends his disciples to share with and add to the proclamation of the Kingdom.
“When Jesus announces that the Kingdom of God has come and is coming, this means that the last act has begun but not yet reached its climax: The last things have come and will come.” (Davies & Allison, 1998, Vol. I Matthew 3:2).
The proclamation of the Kingdom by both Yeshua and the Apostles was a proclamation of God’s reign as Edersheim (1896) wrote:
“A review of many passages on the subject shows that, in the Jewish mind, the expression ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ referred, not so much to any particular period, as in general to the Rule of God—as acknowledged, manifested, and eventually perfected” (Vol. 1, p. 267).
It is in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as understood to be the rulership of God that will mean a perfected world that was the message of the proclamation of Yeshua and the Apostles and it is the Messiah himself that stands as the one who through His life did the work of making the Kingdom know, through His death and resurrection to make atonement and conquered death that allowed for the perfecting of sinful people and allowing for them to walk in God’s way of righteousness and by His ascension to take His place as King Messiah to allow for the work of the Bilateral Messianic Community to spread the message of the Kingdom to the uttermost parts of the world (Matthew 28:18-20) and then to return in glory to reign over the perfected world as the universally acknowledged Messiah and Lord where the words of Paul will be fulfilled:
“Therefore God raised him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow— in heaven, on earth, and under the earth— and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is LORD— to the glory of God the Father.” (Php 2:9–11, CJB).
This post surveyed the development of God as King through the development of the concept of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God in the Hebrew Bible, the further development of the Messianic hope in the Intertestamental years, the revelation of the Messianic hope and the Kingdom of God in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Yeshua and further looking at the issue of the Bilateral Messianic Community and the Kingdom of God in the Apostolic Writings epistles and Revelation. This survey of Scripture and Intertestamental writings has drawn a point of unity of the Kingdom of God concept into the person and work of Yeshua as the Messiah.
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Caragounis, C. C. (1992). Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven. In (J. B. Green & S. McKnight, Eds.) Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Davies, W. D., & Allison, D. C. (1988). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
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Lipson, I. (2007). The greatest Commandment: how the Sh’ma leads to more love in your life. Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers.
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Rubin, B. (1997). You bring the bagels; I’ll bring the Gospel: Sharing the Messiah with your Jewish neighbor (Rev. ed.). Baltimore, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers.
Savage, J. A. (2004). The Kingdom of God and of Heaven. Galaxie Software.
Seal, D. (2012). Kingdom of God. In (J. D. Barry & L. Wentz, Eds.) The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Young, B. H. (2011). Jesus the Jewish theologian. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.