November 19, 2014

A Biblical Exploration of “Kingdom”: The Old Testament

by Lyndon Unger

Hey kids!  Guess what time it is?

It’s word study time!

excited kid

Two years ago in October 2012, I got mysteriously ill and ended up spending a week in the hospital.  Having nothing to do, being abysmally sick (not really able to eat or sleep), I decided to attempt to read a book on a subject that I had wanted to tackle for a while.  I had wanted to read Alva J. McClain’s book The Greatness of the Kingdom, which is an exhaustive look at the concept of “the kingdom” throughout the entire Bible.  I hadn’t ever really studied the topic in serious depth, so I figured that my illness provided me a perfect opportunity.  The problem was that my office was a horrid mess and my wife couldn’t find the book so I basically decided to do all the study on the topic myself…but that’s a lot of work so I simply did an exhaustive study of the term “kingdom” in the Bible.  I had an English concordance (on my phone) and I looked up every single usage of the word “kingdom” in both the OT and the NT, and started refining my understanding of the kingdom (I had a lot of free time).  I’ll post my findings in the order of Old Testament, New Testament and then kingdom parables.

Why that order?

Well, the reason is not because “the Old Testament comes first” (I tended to previously think of “the kingdom” as essentially a New Testament concept).  I had heard a lot of talk about “the kingdom” in the NT, and I had always been puzzled about something.  When Jesus arrived in Matthew 2:2, he was called “King of the Jews” and in 3:2 his initial message was “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”, but the people seemed to know what he was talking about.  They thought that Jesus was the promised king who would establish a promised kingdom, and nobody stopped him and said “hang on a second!  What in the world are you talking about?  Kingdom? What kingdom?”.  In the gospel of Matthew, the “gospel” that Jesus proclaimed was the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14).  That was the “good news” that Jesus brought to his listeners.

I had never heard anyone explain the setting up of the kingdom promises in the OT, so that seemed to be the logical place to start.  I also decided to treat the New Testament separately from the specific kingdom parables in the gospels for the purpose of limiting the length of the posts and prevent the New Testament post from becoming horribly unwieldy.

Here’s the first installment of my gleanings from my survey of the term “kingdom” in the Bible; this isn’t a comprehensive explanation of the concept, but rather simply the term “kingdom”.  This would only be one step in producing a properly and comprehensively biblical understanding of “kingdom”, but it’s a decent start.  I list the usages of the word “kingdom” according to their meaning, and I’ve written some notes about certain references that are either important or may be slightly confusing:

The Kingdom: OT Usage

1. Human empires & reign.


Gen. 10:10, 20:9; Ex. 19:6; Num. 24:7, 32:33; Deut. 3:4, 10, 13, 21, 17:18, 20, 28:25; Josh. 11:10, 13:12, 21, 27, 30, 31; 1 Sam. 10:16, 18, 11:14, 13:13-14, 15:28, 18:8, 20:31, 24:20, 28:17; 2 Sam. 3:10, 28, 5:12, 16:3, 8; 1 Ki. 2:12, 15, 2:22, 46, 4:21, 10:20, 11:11, 13, 31, 34-35, 12:21, 26, 14:8, 18:10, 2 Ki. 19:19; 1 Chron. 10:14, 11:10, 12:23, 14:2, 16:20, 28:5, 7; 29:11, 30; 2 Chron. 1:1, 9:19, 11:1, 17, 12:8, 14:5, 17:5, 10, 20:29, 21:3, 22:9, 29:21, 32:15, 33:13, 36:20, 22; Ezra 1:1-2, 7:13; Neh. 9:22, 35; Esther 1:14, 20, 2:3, 3:6, 8, 4:14, 5:3, 6, 7:2, 9:30, Ps. 46:6, 68:32, 79:6, 102:22, 105:13, 135:11; Ecc. 4:14; Is. 10:10, 13:4, 13:19, 14:16, 17:3, 19:2, 23:11, 7, 34:12, 37:20, 47:5, 60:12; Jer. 1:10, 15, 15:4, 18:7, 9, 24:9, 25:26, 27:8, 28:8, 29:18, 34:1, 34:17, 49:28, 51:20, 27; Lam. 2:2; Ez. 17:14, 29:14-15, 37:22; Dan. 1:20, 2:37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 4:17-18, 25-26, 31, 36, 5:7, 11, 16, 5:21, 26, 28-29, 31, 6:1, 3-4, 7, 26, 7:23-24, 8:22-23, 10:13, 11:2, 17, 20-21; Hos. 1:4; Amos 6:2, 7:13, 9:8; Ob. 1:21; Nah. 3:5; Zeph. 3:8; Hag. 2:22

a. In Ex. 19:6, the phrase “kingdom of priests” pictures a human kingdom where every subject of the kingdom is a priest (notice that the promise is conditional upon obedience in Ex. 19:5, and the promise is a future promise, with no explanation about the required length of obedience for the promise to come to pass).  This is not talking about something esoteric or metaphorical, and Ex. 19:5 isn’t something that has ever happened in the history of Israel…at least for more than a few hours or days (notice Ex. 19:8, 24:3, 32:1-10).

2. God’s universal empire and rule.

Universal Kingdom

2 Ki. 19:15; 1 Chron. 29:11; 2 Chron. 13:8, 20:6, 36:23; Ps. 45:6, 103:19, 145:11-13; 37:16; Jer. 10:7; Dan. 2:37-44, 4:3, 17, 25-26, 32, 34, 5:21

a. In 1 Chron. 29:11, David recognizes that “all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours” (God’s universal reign), and thereby “yours is the kingdom” refers to David’s kingdom in Israel; a sub-kingdom under God’s universal kingdom.

3. A singular global everlasting empire promised to a descendant of David.


Ex. 19:6; 1 Sam 13:13-14; 2 Sam. 7:12-16, 1 Chron. 17:11-14, 28: 5-7; Is 9:6-7; Dan. 2:44-45, 7:14, 18, 22, 27

a.I would suggest Ex. 19:6 is the first (possible) mention of the Millennial Kingdom in the Old Testament.  Ex. 19:6 doesn’t mention The Millennium (obviously), but the phrases “kingdom of priests” and “holy nation” are promises to national Israel regarding a post-obedience-to-the-law kingdom that have never been realized in Israel.  I suspect that these promises will not be realized in Israel until all the living Israelites are regenerate; this will only occur after many get saved in the Tribulation and enter the Millennial Kingdom (but it’s not really my intent to get into a bunch of eschatology here, but only to make a simple point that the promises haven’t been fulfilled yet and thus may point to the Millennial Kingdom).

b. In 1 Sam. 13:13-14, when Saul loses the kingdom, it’s said that if he would have been faithful to the Lord his kingdom would have been everlasting.  Saul clearly wasn’t faithful to the Lord (by any stretch), but that doesn’t negate the reality and legitimacy of the offer of an everlasting kingdom.  This also suggests that an everlasting kingdom in Israel (with a Jew on the throne) was offered by God, before David’s reign (though 1 Sam. 13:14 suggests, before David’s reign had even begun, that David won’t be the righteous king either – notice how the “man after his own heart” is commanded to “be a prince” and not a king?).  The king of that everlasting kingdom needed to be perfectly faithful to God.  This isn’t a mention of the Millennial Kingdom, but it definitely seems reasonable when understood in the light of a millennial kingdom, established in Israel, where the king will possess perfect righteousness.

c.  2 Sam. 7:12-16 contains several promises:

i. When David dies, someone from his line will become king.

ii. The future Davidic king will build a house for Yahweh’s name (temple).

iii. Yahweh will make his reign everlasting.

iv. Yahweh will be a father to him and he will be a son to Yahweh.

v. He will be disciplined by God “when he commits iniquity” but Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness (hesed) will not depart from him as it did with Saul.

vi. David’s house, kingdom and throne will be everlasting.

– These promises are all also contained in 1 Chron. 7:11-14, without the line “when he commits iniquity”.

– These promises are specifically to David and deal with a kingdom that is like in manner to his kingdom.  David’s throne is, and always has been, in Israel.  David’s line refers to actual genealogical descent.  There is nothing here other than the promise of an everlasting, earthly, physical, real kingdom in the same sense as every other tangible kingdom in David’s day.  The “kingdom” promised to David wasn’t some sort of metaphor for anything, and that’s seen in 1 Chron. 22:6-13 where David explicitly states that Solomon is the king that the Lord spoke of (or so he thinks).  If it is some sort of metaphor (which it may possibly be), I cannot find any reason in the text to think such is the case.

d. 1 Chron. 28:5-7 gives further reason to suggest that Solomon is the king that David was promised.  It mentions Solomon building a temple for Yahweh, how Yahweh says “I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father”, and how Yahweh promises that if Solomon remains obedient to his commandments and statutes, his kingdom will be established forever.  David would have thought that Solomon was the promised seed, and Solomon could have been if he were faithful (the offer was legitimate, just like Saul’s offer), but Solomon’s kingdom was anything but everlasting.  It is definitely worth noting that, just as Yahweh promised in 2 Sam. 7:12-16, Solomon was disciplined when he committed iniquity but his covenant faithfulness did not depart from Solomon; Solomon’s kingdom was split after he died and his royal line continued all throughout the Old Testament and continued all the way to a carpenter’s son from Nazareth whom you may have heard of…

e. Is. 9:6-7 (which occurs hundreds of years after Solomon) contains mention of the promised Davidic king who is still to come.  Isaiah reminded Israel that Yahweh’s promises, though looking forgotten, are never forgotten or annulled.  There still is a coming king, just like Yahweh promised, but this coming king will be called “Wonderful Counselor”, “Mighty God”, “Everlasting Father”, “Prince of Peace”.  The 2nd and 3rd titles are bizarre ones to use of one of an descendant of David.  Yet, it is promised that he will have unlimited rule and peace, and will sit upon the throne of David and rule David’s dominion (Israel) in everlasting justice and righteousness.


***Allow me a little side-rant here.  The phrase “Wonderful Counselor” in Isaiah 9:6 isn’t talking about “Counselor” in the sense of “a psychotherapist”; Jesus won’t have a padded couch that the people will come and lie on in order to tell him about their self-esteem issues and get a little chicken soup for the soul.  The phrase is talking about a military/strategic counselor, in the sense of Ahithophel (see 2 Sam. 15-17) or Daniel (see Dan. 1:20, 5:14-16).  Jesus will have the government on his shoulders because he will be the only person in history with shoulders big enough for the job.  His first qualification for the job of running the world will be that he’s a “Wonderful Counselor”, meaning that he will be the dispenser of wisdom and won’t need to go to anyone for advice.  He’ll know exactly what needs to be done in every situation; all day, every day.  He won’t make foolish decisions with policy, finance, military strategy, etc.  He’ll be the one whom all the experts go to in order to hear what he has to say about things…and every single expert will leave scratching their heads, saying “Why didn’t I think of that?  I am such a moron!”***

f. Dan. 2:44-45 (Actually Dan. 2:31-45) mentions a coming kingdom that will be established by God.  That kingdom will destroy all other kingdoms that came before it and be a global kingdom (Dan. 2:35).  Daniel explicitly names Babylon as the first kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision (Dan. 2:37-38), so it stands to reason that the following components of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision were also kingdoms like his (earthly, actual, physical kingdoms).  The kingdom Daniel speaks of may not be the coming kingdom that was promised to David, but Daniel describes it as an everlasting kingdom that won’t ever be destroyed or given to anyone else (Dan. 2:44).  That makes for some serious problems if the global and everlasting kingdom described by Daniel isn’t the Israelite and everlasting kingdom promised to David.

I hope that is somewhat helpful to set up the idea of what the Jews were expecting regarding “the kingdom”.  The OT promises and foundations for an understanding of the kingdom really challenge what little teaching I’ve had on the subject of the kingdom, and once I got through the OT research, I started wondering if I’d had some highly confused and contradictory instruction on the kingdom from many people in my past.  After completing my survey of the OT, I realized that the whole concept of “kingdom” in the OT is far less metaphorical than I was previously led to believe.

I’ll post my far more extensive NT notes next (along with accompanying thoughts), and then my specific thoughts regarding all the parables of the kingdom.

Feel free to toss out any thoughts or interactions, as always.

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him didn’t.
  • Mr. Mike

    I’m almost positive that I saw you outside of a gas station in Billings, Montana. You were trying just a little to hard NOT to be noticed. Anyway, you must have been really, really sick. I’m sorry about that but very glad you used the time wisely. Great post as always.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Not in Billings. Sorry. Never been there.

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Okay, I have a question. If through faith in Christ we are made to be a Kingdom of kings and priests (Rev. 1:6) who will reign forever (Rev. 22:5) with Christ, who exactly will we reign over?

    • Jason

      I’ve always assumed the new Earth, similar to Genesis 1:26 where God gave man dominion over all the rest of creation.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Well, I’m wondering whay passage you’re thinking about that teaches us that we’ll be a kingdom of kings? Rev. 1:6 only says “priests”.

      As for Rev. 22:5, I don’t feign to know much about the eternal state, but I can think of some possibilities. The most obvious being “the nations” in 22:2. I don’t believe that the NT gives us reason to think that the millennium or the eternal state will involve everyone being fully equal in all matters of recognition and reward. The NT gives me reason to suspect that some believers will have greater reward than others, and this may involve everlasting positions in whatever sort of governance occurs over the nations that exist in the eternal state.

      That is a GUESS though.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Thanks, Lyndon. That makes sense.

        As far as Rev. 1:6, my Greek Interlinear NT (Jay Green, Sr) use the word “king” (Strongs #935) in addition to priests. Same word mentioned in Revelation 5:10. But again these are older books.

        • Lyndon Unger

          Well, I’m at my office working now and have my language resources available. The KJV has “kings and priests” because the Greek text that the KJV is based on (the Textus Receptus) has the wrong Greek term there. The term in the Textus Receptus is “basileus” (kings) where as the term in my modern Greek text is “basileian” (kingdom).

          Similar terms but not identical, hence the confusion.

          As far as I can tell, there is textual variant here of note. The TR simply has it wrong.

          • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

            Entiendo ahora, El Guapo. 😉

          • Lyndon Unger

            I wish I could say something cool in Spanish.

            All I can do is name Mexican food and call someone a crazy chicken.

  • Jason

    Thanks for this study Lyndon! Since the Kindom is the promise we are hoping for we should probably start with understanding it. Ironically, at least for me, it’s one of the last things I heard about.

    “It’s not really my intent to get into a bunch of eschatology here”

    I think you may have trouble avoiding it with this topic…

    • Lyndon Unger

      I’ll do my best to not be unnecessarily introducing it. I guess that’s the best I can do.

  • tovlogos

    Thanks Lyndon…a systematic shot of theology, like medicine. It never fails — when a disciple is laid up in illness, the epiphanies flow. I was so terribly serious; but the side-rant got a giggle out of me.

    “…and nobody stopped him and said “hang on a second! What in the world are you talking about? Kingdom? What kingdom?”.

    Good catch — I had a similar thought in reference to the insidious demonic influence that’s still in the world, that nowadays is often referred to as mental disease. Yet in the Scriptures people were well aware of this burden. In some cases it was due to a lack of engagement with God; and in other cases, such influence was ultimately due to one’s passion ‘for’ God — exemplified by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.

    I get the same sense that there is a reward system in the kingdom; however, I am compelled by Matthew 11:11: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
    Spiros Zodhiates makes a point of the rewards; but this passage tells me one cannot possibly go wrong in the kingdom. I enjoyed this essay.


    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks GoodWord!

  • Andrew Bussell

    Thanks Lyndon! I love the study of the kingdom and “The Greatness of the Kingdom” is an excellent work on the subject! I hope you get a chance to read it. I wish it was more popular, but you know how it is… We dispensationalist are pretty weird with our theology and all saying that there is such thing as a physical kingdom 😉 looking forward to your next posts

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks Andrew. I hope the upcoming posts are helpful!

      I did get a chance to read McClain though. It was a very interesting read.

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