God's Kingdom in Prophecy

How did the Old Testament prophets characterize God's eschatological kingdom?

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So, the idea of the kingdom of God is more of a concept that biblical theologians will use to talk about what the prophets were looking forward to. Now, each prophet has their own different flavor and way that they’re articulating things and expressing things. But when you think about a kingdom, any kingdom needs a king, any kingdom has a people, and any kingdom is in a particular place. So one way of looking at what are the prophets looking towards, you ask, well, what are they looking for in terms of a king? Now, we might immediately think of a Davidic king, but the prophets are often looking ahead to God being the king — as you see in Isaiah 40 there’s this vision of God coming which develops in Isaiah 52 with the proclamation that God has come as king. And so you see then that the prophets are looking for God who’s going to come as a king. So you must ask, what does this king care about? What does he want to bring about? Well, one of the elements that we see that God as king wants to bring about, according to the prophets, is he wants to establish justice and righteousness in this world. In a world of injustice, he wants to make things right. Now, one of the means that kings in the ancient world used to bring that about is to have kind of key leaders who would bring about those realities. Well, in the biblical vision, God the king is going to be using a Davidic king, an agent who’s going to be establishing justice and righteousness in the world. So you see in Isaiah chapter 9 this vision of this son has been given, this child has been born. And what will that child accomplish? He will rule with justice and righteousness. In Isaiah 11 the Spirit is going to come out of a little shoot that’s going to come from the stump of Jesse. And what will that Spirit enable him to do? He’ll be wise but also bring about justice and righteousness in this world. So we see then that God the king will have an agent such as a Davidic king who’s going to bring justice and righteousness, but we also see that God as king knows that reconciliation needs to happen between he and his sinful people, so that’s where he sends, in Isaiah’s vision, the suffering servant who will serve the role of dying as substitutionary atonement for the sins of people who couldn’t be right with God, for those who were sheep who’d gone astray. So we see then God using some key agents to bring about a reality where there can be justice and righteousness in the world and where there can be forgiveness of sins made possible for the people. Now, when we look at who the people are in God's kingdom, we’re seeing these are people who are not just Israel. They’re coming from all nations, streaming to God. And they will be like God in terms of carrying out what he cares about: justice and righteousness in this world. We’ll see peace flooding the earth where lions and lambs will lie next to each other, which really, I think, is symbolic of nations who are hostile with one another having peace. So, we see then a grand vision in the prophets of a king establishing his kingdom in this world, where he’s creating a people, a community. But we need to ask what about place? And this is where Isaiah 56 * or 65 beautifully portrays this hope of a new heavens and a new earth where all the realities, where there’s hunger and thirst will be reversed. There’ll be great food.There’ll be flowing water. There’ll be * It’ll be like a return to Eden where the curses that were affecting creation before have been eradicated. So, this is the hope of the prophets, their hope in the kingdom of God himself reigning as king with the people who live in line with him in a place that’s like paradise.

Answer by Andrew Abernethy, Ph.D.

Dr. Andrew Abernethy is Professor of Old Testament and Director of M.A. in Biblical Exegesis at Wheaton College.