Isaiah 65 and 66, The Kingdom of God
The prophet Isaiah repeated throughout his book that in the near term Israel and Judah would be harshly judged because of their apostasy and idolatry, but far in the future God has plans to restore them when He sets up the Kingdom of God. The Messiah, spoken of in Isaiah 9:6-7 will rule over the kingdom of God, “For a child will be born to us (Israel), a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace…and there will be no end to His kingdom and His rule…to uphold it with justice and righteousness forever”. The Messiah will be born a baby boy who will become a great teacher, God in the flesh, and He will bring peace and justice to the world forever more. Part of this has already occurred with the first coming of Jesus Christ, but the last part will come after the second coming of Christ. Isaiah 65:17-25 details God’s plan to judge and destroy the fallen depraved world we currently live in, but God will recreate a new atmosphere (heavens) and a new earth in which Christ will reign forever. Jerusalem will also be recreated and be the center and capital of this kingdom. In Isaiah 65:18-19, we read, “I will create Jerusalem for rejoicing, and I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people”, saith the Lord. Aging and physical death will no longer be applicable and there will be such peace on earth that “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together”. Isaiah was inspired by God to write this over 2700 years ago, but obviously it has not happened yet and won’t until Christ comes back in judgment as the conquering king to set up His Kingdom.
The New Testament Teaching on the Kingdom
The phrase Kingdom of God appears in the New Testament over 80 times, and Jesus referred to it constantly. All of Jesus’ disciples, as well as all the religious leaders expected the promised and anticipated Messiah/Christ to set up the Kingdom, but they didn’t understand that Christ had to redeem mankind first. He could not have a Kingdom of sinners, so He had to atone for our sins first. Some of the teachings of Christ confused people when He said things like Luke 17:21 “behold the Kingdom of God is in your midst”, but I think He was saying that the Kingdom is in your midst in the person of Jesus. Some translations even say the Kingdom is within your heart, but either way Jesus was saying that to the extent Christ rules over our heart, we are in the Kingdom already. Nevertheless, the literal physical earthly Kingdom is yet to come. Therefore you can say that the broad view of the Kingdom is the rule of God over all of creation, and the narrow view is the spiritual rule over the believers in Christ even now. I can see both of these views in Paul’s first letter to Timothy 6:14-15, “I charge you…that you keep the commandment (of Christ)…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time”. We should be committed to obeying Christ now until the second coming at which He will set up the physical/spiritual Kingdom on the recreated earth. Peter wrote this as well in 2 Peter 3:10-13, “what sort of people ought you to be…looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God on account of which the atmosphere will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat…But according to His promise we are looking for a new atmosphere and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” At the end of His earthly ministry, just a couple of days before His crucifixion, Jesus promised to come again to earth in glory to establish His kingdom as a place for His redeemed people. In Matthew 25:31-34 we read, “when the Son of Man (His Messianic title) comes in all His glory, and all His angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne, and all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another…Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you”.
Prophetic Interpretation of the Kingdom
Professor Ron Rhodes wrote that the Kingdom of God is “God’s present spiritual reign over believers, and Jesus’ future reign after the second coming”. Therefore it is a present reality, but also a future realm in a physical place just as Colossians 1:13 says, “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Dr. Graeme Goldsworthy wrote his definition of the kingdom very simply, “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule”. The question must arise about the location of the kingdom, but Jesus said in John 18:36 “My Kingdom is not of this world”. Pilate was asking Jesus if He was the King of the Jews, and if so why were they not defending Him? Jesus told Pilate that His realm was not this fallen sinful world, and in verse 37 He said He is the king of the Kingdom of God. What about the Old Testament prophets? Where did they think the Kingdom of God is?
Each of the prophets had a two fold message to the audience God sent them to speak to: First, imminent judgment was coming because of their apostasy and idolatry, and second the good news was that in the distant future Israel would be completely restored and there would be peace, prosperity and first hand knowledge of the Lord God. You can check the history books and see that Israel and Judah were judged and taken from the land, but the second prophecy has not yet occurred. Even now that the Jews have been partially restored to the land, they have never had peace, righteousness, and first hand knowledge of the Lord—this can only happen in the Kingdom of God. Zechariah the prophet promised that the Lord would dwell in Jerusalem and actively rule on earth. Jeremiah 23:5-6 says that the Son of David, the Messiah will reign on earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem. Jeremiah 31:31-34 says that all will know God and be obedient to God. Isaiah 45:23-25 says all of remaining Israel will be saved and everyone on earth will worship God. Obviously this has not happened and cannot happen until Christ comes back and ends this fallen depraved world. Yet it is clear that the Old Testament prophets all expected that the Kingdom of God would be ruled by God on a recreated earth. Why have the traditional churches throughout history not recognized this?
In 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered most of the Jews throughout the Roman Empire. Again in 135 A.D. the Jews rebelled against Rome, and after a bloody war, Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered a depopulation of Jews and barred them from Jerusalem. Hadrian said “Wipe the memory of the Jews off the map”. No longer would it be called Israel, and the Romans renamed it Syria Palestine. Therefore from that point forward until 1948, there was no Israel. The ancient church fathers and theologians were perplexed with all the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel–when there was no Israel. Most theologians chose to relate prophecy to their present circumstances, and traditionally prophecy was interpreted metaphorically, figuratively, and only on a spiritual level. Today the traditional churches might say that all the prophecies will be fulfilled by the church or they will be fulfilled in heaven. Let’s look at a few prophetic passages from the Old Testament, and you tell me if they sound like your church:
Isaiah 2:2-4, “All nations will look to Jerusalem, from which the Word of God will go out and rule over the world, and there will be peace and justice” (paraphrase)
Isaiah 11:9, “The earth and all people will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, and everyone will look to the Son of David”
Isaiah 45:23-25, “All of remaining Israel will be saved and everyone on earth will worship God”
Jeremiah 23:5-6, “The Son of David will reign on earth from the throne in Jerusalem”
Zechariah 2 and 14, “The Lord will dwell in Jerusalem and actively rule the earth”
In the O.T. book of Daniel, we find the prophet Daniel as a captive in Babylon having to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. The king had a series of very troubling dreams, but the God of Israel enabled Daniel to explain the meaning of the dreams. Allow me to paraphrase the meaning of the dreams—Daniel was in Babylon about 600 B.C. and God revealed to him that there would be 4 great kings and kingdoms there in the Middle East and Mediterranean world. First the Babylonian Empire would be supreme, then the Persian Empire would rule, then the Greeks under Alexander, and lastly the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, God would do away with all those worldly kingdoms and set up His Kingdom on earth that would be eternal, just as we read in Dan.2:44, “In the days after those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed…it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”
The Sermon on the Mount
Perhaps the most famous and quoted sermon of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. The great theologian Augustine said “It is the perfect standard of the Christian life”. Some Christian denominations even think it is the way of salvation, but it is not. Jesus was shattering the illusions of the religious leaders who taught that they were saved by keeping the Law of Moses. Kent Hughes said that this sermon is “the antidote to the pretense and sham that plagues all religion including Christianity.” Jesus was teaching the attitudes and works that will be in the Kingdom of God. The way of salvation of course is the grace of God received by faith, just as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast”. The Pharisees and scribes were almost always in Jesus’ audience, and they taught salvation by keeping the Law. Therefore, Jesus had to straighten this out early on. In Matt. 5:20, Jesus addressed the false teaching directly by saying, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then went on to tell how the Pharisees routinely break at least 6 of the Ten Commandments. If you and I had been in that audience we would be wondering—“if the most righteous (supposedly) men in Israel can’t be saved by keeping the Law then what hope is there for us?” The point is that in the Kingdom of God people are humble, are honest, and they do keep the law. Jesus revealed that the Kingdom of God was coming, and in it there would be no evil, no hypocrisy, no lying, no sexual sin, etc. In the Kingdom there will be no more evil, no more death, and everyone will know the one true God, and worship and serve Him only.
What does the Kingdom of Heaven and/or the Kingdom of God look like? We can find the best physical description in Revelation 21-22. After destroying the fallen sinful world we currently live in, God will recreate a new earth similar to the original Paradise of Genesis 2. The dwelling of God will be the New Jerusalem that will descend down upon the new earth, and God will rule the earth from there. All evil will have been done away, and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there shall no longer be any death. There shall no longer be any mourning or crying or pain”. In Rev.21:7-8 we read that the “overcomers” shall inherit this new Kingdom on earth and all will believe in the one true God—The overcomers being the believers in Christ who have overcome spiritual death through the blood of Christ. The unbelieving sinners will be in the Lake of Fire. The Kingdom will be a real earthly physical and spiritual place, and I invite you to read Rev. 21:10-27 to discover its dimensions, appearance, and makeup. The heavenly city is glorious, dazzling in appearance, and totally awesome. Until that time, the Kingdom for us now is about a new King, which is Jesus as our Lord. It is about having a new nature as Paul wrote in 2 Cor.5:17, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature, old things have passed away, behold new things have come”.