Israel’s History and the Kingdom of God
You are part of a kingdom—the Kingdom of God. But did you know that your story is part of Israel’s history?
You may know that the kingdom of God was Jesus’ primary message when He walked this earth. He began His ministry, with a proclamation: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). But what if there was a much larger, biblical context for this message? What if many believers are missing the true meaning of “the Kingdom of God?”
Likewise, Jesus taught us to pray. He said, “Pray in this way, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” At one point, he emphasized this so strongly to His disciples. He told them this is the most important thing I can teach you. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, everything else you need, will be given to you,“ Jesus said.
Jesus’ Parables about the Kingdom of God
Jesus often spoke in parables. He tried to help people understand what the Kingdom of God was like.
They were mostly uneducated people – starting with fishermen in the Galilee. Many times He begins a parable by saying, “The Kingdom of God is like…
- a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31)
- a merchant in search of fine pearls (Matthew 13:45)
- a fisherman that cast his net into the sea (Matthew 13:47)
- yeast that a woman puts into leaven (Matthew 13:33)”
The Kingdom of God, over and over and over again. This is so obvious for students of the Bible that most of us come away with the impression that the kingdom of God begins with Jesus, and virtually everything we need to know about the Kingdom of God is to be found in the New Testament. That vision of the Kingdom of God that starts with Jesus. After all, He’s the king of the kingdom, and he’s preaching that it’s here now. Why wouldn’t we believe that everything that follows is about building his kingdom on earth?
The Kingdom of God’s is Like a Movie…
That’s like coming into a long movie after the intermission. If you come into a movie in the middle, if you pay attention, eventually you’ll find out how it ends. And if you’re alert enough you’ll figure out who the main characters are, but you’ll never understand why it ends the way it ends. You won’t have an insight into the motivations and the real character of the people in the movie.
So it is with the Kingdom of God. It does not start in Matthew 4 with Jesus’ proclamation. Rather, it starts much earlier, in the book of Exodus. It starts with the people and nation called Israel.
When we look at Israel as God’s chosen example for the world and that and that really is, is what it’s about. God chose one people, one nation, to be the example for all and all of us kind of have to look at it to learn. The “lights come on” and the” title of the movie comes on the screen:” “The Kingdom of God.” It starts in the desert. It starts with the people. It starts with a national plan.
The National Plan for God’ Kingdom
Understanding this national plan is vitally important for the church today. We understand that God has an individual plan of salvation. “I’ve decided to follow Jesus” is the beginning of that. God’s plan for us is to be conformed in the image of His Son. However, we’ve learned that he has a family plan. We understand that God creates families. He has a plan for every family, but families become families of families. We call those people tribes. God has a tribal plan.
Enter the People of Israel
We have to look further back. What if this “story” of the Kingdom of God already began in Exodus? What if it started with the people of Israel?
Now, God loves every tribe, every people, every nation. However, God chose one people—one nation—to be an example, to learn how that nation deals with God. It’s like being the eldest child in a family with many siblings. Parents are often most structured with the oldest children. They expect them to set the example for all the other children.
In God’s “family of nations,” there is only one first-born: the people of Israel. God expects His followers to watch and learn from how He interacts with the people of Israel. They are our example, a model nation for us. In Exodus 19, God decides to start His kingdom with Israel, the former slaves of Egypt. He doesn’t recycle an existing nation. He creates a nation—a kingdom—out of very little.
Abraham’s Promise and the Kingdom of God
Even before Exodus, God chose Abraham (Genesis 12). He says, “Abraham, I’m going to make you a great nation, give you land. All the kingdoms of the world will be blessed through the nation that comes from you.” That’s Abraham’s promise.
Abraham had a son, Isaac. Isaac had a son, Jacob. Jacob’s name changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Jacob had twelve sons. They became the twelve tribes of Israel. Through Jacob’s second-youngest son, Joseph, the people of Israel came into Egypt (Genesis 46:1-4).
When the people of Israel came into Egypt, there were about 70 people (that’s like an extended family—not a nation yet). The Bible says that the people of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). There was an exponential growth over that time. Their sons were enslaved in Egypt for generations (Exodus 1:8-14).
Moses and Desert Freedom
Then God raised up a deliverer: Moses. God parted the Red Sea and redeemed His people (Exodus 19:4). Moses said, “Let my people go,” and Israel went free.
During her time in Egypt, Israel went from 70 people to two or 3 million people. They were now free in the desert.
God took this dysfunctional group, and He spoke to them in the wilderness. Exodus chapter 19 precedes God giving the law: the rules of the kingdom. In Exodus 19:6 God said, “Israel, you will be to me: a kingdom, a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation.”
God essentially said, “Today I become King. You are my kingdom.”
Israel and God’s Kingship
In the desert we had the beginning of the Kingdom of God. Israel accepted God’s kingship plus all the law and covenants that came after. Moses never was king, but he was always the servant of the Lord.
God, in His righteousness, united all the dysfunctional slaves. He turned them into a holy nation, a priestly kingdom. “Holy Nation” means they were a fully functioning society, not just spiritually. God showed how a kingdom (nation) with Him as King should operate in a family setting, in business dealings, and more.
Israel: A Kingdom of Priests
Israel was a holy nation and priestly kingdom (Exodus 19:6). However, only one of the 12 tribes was called as actual priests: Levi. They were the ones in “full-time ministry.” So, even though Israel is a priestly nation, not all Israelites are priests. Why? Because Israel is to have an intercessory role. It was not solely about religion. From God’s point of view, she would bring the Kingdom of God to every aspect of society.
And so God led Israel through the wilderness, turning unruly slaves into a people. Israel entered the promised land. Surprisingly, this is where things started to go bad.
Israel and the Promised Land
As soon as Israel entered the promised land, she started to prosper. She was blessed. Israel inherited wells that she didn’t dig, farms that she didn’t plant, and vineyards that she didn’t grow (Deuteronomy 6:11, Joshua 24:13). She was so blessed that she grew complacent.
As a nation, Israel started looking around at all the countries surrounding her. She said, “They all have kings. Why do we have to be the one nation with an invisible King?” (1 Samuel 8:1-10).
And so Israel came to her spiritual leader at the time, the prophet Samuel. She insisted, saying, “Samuel, give us a human king. We know God is King, but we want to be like all the other nations.” Samuel was grieved.
He went to the Lord saying, “They want a human King. What should we do?” And God responds, (I Sam. 8:7) “Listen to the voice of the people, and all they say to you, for they have not rejected you, Samuel. Today, they have rejected me from being king over them.”
Israel: A Divided Kingdom
For the first time since Israel got into the land, she rejected God’s kingdom. She rejected God as King. She rejected a holy, righteous, pure King; instead she got human kings. They were a disaster.
Human kings led Israel all the way to civil war. The 10 tribes in the north split off from the two in the south. Israel dealt with political manipulation, corruption, even assassination. The kingdom became so weak, she eventually succumbed to her enemies.
The Kingdom of Israel in Exile
The Kingdom of God on earth was toppled by human kings. Israel was exiled from the land to Babylon. For 70 years, there was no Kingdom of God on earth, no kingdom where God was king.
Afterwards, Israel returns to her land. It was not a triumphant return. She was never free again. Upon return, Israel is under the occupation of the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans. The Kingdom of God on earth had become an unimportant, vassal state ruled by pagan foreigners.
Worst of all, there was no word from the Lord. God was silent for hundreds of years, generation after generation.
Kingdom of God Bible Verses
Finally, “those who dwelled in darkness began to see a great light” (Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16). A man unlike any other arose in the Galilee. He was a miracle worker (John 9:1-11). He was also a preacher with a message.
What was the message he was proclaiming to Israel? He said, “Repent, oh, Israel, turn around, come back to God, The Kingdom of God is here” (Matthew 4:17). This is where many Christians start the story of God’s kingdom. However, Israel knew what kingdom Jesus was referencing.
Preach the Gospel of the Kingdom
Israel had the kingdom, Israel lost the kingdom. And for years, Israel was crying out saying, “God, restore us, we repent, would you return to us?” And then Jesus appeared, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. He told his disciples, “go and preach the gospel of the Kingdom.“
Jesus didn’t say, go preach the gospel of church growth or evangelism or salvation. Those are all good things that are included. Instead He said, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Matthew 24:14). When we live under the kingship of God, that changes the way we function in every area of society. All of our life is under the rule and the kingship of God.
The Church and the Kingdom of God
We as the church are supposed to bring the Kingdom of God to this world. That’s why we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
The disciples’ last question to Jesus before His ascension was, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus responded, “It’s not for you to know the times, or the seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” He was not saying no, but he did not say when. He said, “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit when he comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The majority of the Jewish nation rejected Jesus’ messiahship. The Holy Spirit came to the disciples with power and boldness. They took the good news of the kingdom all over the world. They turned the world upside down.
We read of the same Jewish disciples spreading the news globally. Through bringing the message, they fulfilled the prophecy of Israel as a light to the nations.
The Mystery of the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God was not only for Israel. At the beginning, God says to Abraham, “I’m going to bless you. And through you, I will bless all the nations of the world: all the nations, every tribe, every tongue, every people in every language, united under the kingship of the one true God,” (Genesis 12:1-2, paraphrased). This is God’s plan of redemption.
Sometimes we look at God’s plan of redemption personally: Jesus came and died on the cross for me so that I can live forever with Him. That’s true and good, but God has a global plan of redemption. God also has a plan to ransom every tribe, every people, every language. The Kingdom of God expands to graft every nation.
A Holy Nation and the Great Commission
I Peter 2:9 says, “You’re a holy nation, a people for his own possession, proclaiming the goodness of the one who called you out of darkness into light.” That is our mandate: God’s reign and rule over every aspect of our life.
Jesus said, ”And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed to all nations, as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). This is the Great Commission, that the good news of the kingdom would reach every nation around the world.
The majority of Jewish people today don’t accept Jesus as their Messiah. Less than 1% of Israel are Jewish believers in Jesus. So what happened?
Jesus and the Jewish Leaders
Jesus said, ”Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets, and stones those who were sent to her! How often I wanted to gather you like a hen would gather her brood, but you were not willing. Behold, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39).
To the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, Jesus said: “You will not see me again, I am not going to enter the kingdom, until you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” We see two requirements in Matthew 23 and 24. First, the gospel of the kingdom must be proclaimed as a testimony to all nations. Second, the Jewish people in Jerusalem, must accept Jesus as King Messiah and welcome Him back.
Jealousy in the family
Paul writes, “Lest you [Gentiles] be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers. A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in” (Romans 11:25). In this way, all of Israel will be saved.
God loves His people with faithfulness in a way where only He gets the credit. Israel can’t say, “we were the firstborn son, we were the chosen nation.” No, Israel rejected His kingship constantly. And the “younger children” can’t say, “Well, we were good,” because He says, “when you were disobedient, because of Israel’s disobedience, you received mercy” (Romans 11:30).
Israel as an Example
Even when Israel rejected God, our calling was certain. When we are faithless, He is faithful (Romans 11:29). You can look at Israel to understand how the King relates to his people—how a father relates to his oldest child. It’s both severe and faithful.
Even when the Jewish people consistently messed up, God has been faithful. He brought us back to our own land. We believe “All of Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
Our Calling in the Kingdom
God longs for the day when every tribe, every people, every tongue, every language serves under the kingship of Jesus. This is your call: to be messengers of the Kingdom.
In our families, finances, jobs, government offices, schools, wherever we go, our call is to say, like Jesus, “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
The Kingdom Purchased for You
Daniel 7 says, “Unto the Son of Man, was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away and his Kingdom, one that will not be destroyed.”
This is the Kingdom that Jesus purchased on the cross when he said, “It is finished.” We serve this king; we’re part of this Kingdom. He came to save, and to bring us into this Kingdom.
This article originally appeared on FIRM, October 12, 2021, and reposted with permission.