Where Is the Kingdom of God in the Old Testament?
*Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Kingdom Life: Experiencing God’s Reign Through Love and Holiness.
The kingdom of God is birthed in the creation story. The picture of Adam, Eve, and the garden are a microcosmic foreshadowing of the kingdom. As we imaginatively venture into the majestic garden, planted by God himself, we see everything that is good—a wonderful image of the kingdom.
We know from Genesis that man and woman were formed and shaped by God and given the task to work, tend, and rule creation for God. While they were to rule over the garden for him, it was God who truly ruled. Everything was the way he designed it to be. His will had been done on earth as it was in heaven. I want you to breathe in that last statement and its context. God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven is a key point in understanding (and even witnessing) what the kingdom looks like, for it is what the very reign of God produces.
Author and minister David Young wrote, “The Old Testament was written so that we could understand what the kingdom of God is.” I agree. From Eden to Abraham, from Moses to David, from Isaiah to Malachi, we come face-to-face with the kingdom of God.
The Kingdom as seen in Israel
Scholar Scot McKnight professes that the biblical idea of the kingdom is deeply rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures and is grounded in the confidence that there is one eternal, living God who has revealed himself to us and who has a purpose for the human race, which he chose to accomplish through Israel. After Eden, it is to the ancient people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that we will look to understand the kingdom of God.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 1:1–3, ESV)
This great, blessed nation that God would make would ultimately become the people of his kingdom reign. Through this nation, all families of the earth would indeed be blessed. From Abram a great, blessed kingdom people would be born—the nation known as Israel. The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. He ruled over them as king on earth, in a way that mirrored his rule in heaven.
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6, ESV)
God ruled Israel and they represented that rule on earth.
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5–6, ESV)
With these words, God established a symbiotic relationship between the people and himself. The relationship rooted in God’s reign over his people put on display to the earth what the kingdom life looked like.
Of course, the story continues. Israel enjoyed kingdom life—until they didn’t.
Their chosen status would eventually meet human resistance. Instead of being ruled by God, Israel sought to rule like God. Their desire to rule like God was never clearer than when the nation of Israel asked for a human king to judge them, just as kings ruled all the other nations. God clearly understood what was taking place and told Samuel the prophet, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7, ESV). This choice, however, did not come without consequences, for it began a cycle of separation and sin for Israel as the people of God.
We can see a few bright spots on the timeline of the kingdom of Israel, noted by monarchs who did what was right in the sight of God. The most notable was King David. Of course, David was not without major flaws, but he was a king who had a heart that was likened to God’s. And it was to David that God promised to establish a kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:13–16). Ironically, this promise—combined with the continued rebellion of the people, their allegiance to their own rule, and the subsequent penalty for their actions—brought about the hope of a figure who would ultimately deliver them from the oppression and separation that the sin of self-rule had brought upon them.
The Coming King
The prophet Isaiah spoke of the grim reality facing ancient Israel when he wrote, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, ESV). Though the separation was prophesied, Isaiah also spoke bountifully about the coming of the One who would deal with their sin and rescue the people from captivity and separation to begin a new era of the kingdom.
Consider a few more prophecies of this coming figure:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6–7, ESV)
Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. (Isaiah 32:1, ESV)
Biblical scholar N. T. Wright detects in the Psalms and in Ezekiel further descriptions of this great Deliverer. He sees that the Rescuer would be the manifestation of God himself. Wright contends that Psalm 145 reveals that this redeemer would come as a king.
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. . . . All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. (Psalm 145:1, 10–13, ESV)
And Ezekiel describes the shepherding role of this king.
I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.
And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. (Ezekiel 34:22–24, ESV)
What Wright gathers from Psalms and Ezekiel isn’t just a keen observation; rather, it serves to cement a critical point for understanding the kingdom of God beyond the bounds of the Old Testament. It serves to point us to perceiving what the kingdom of God would look like within the realm of the New Testament age and beyond. But before we venture there, let’s review the ground we’ve already covered.
From our look into Eden, we learned that the kingdom of God can indeed exist on earth as it does in heaven. Then we saw that there was a period of time in which God’s rule over Israel displayed the kingdom, until the people’s desire to rule like God consumed them. This decision, along with the sin that came with it, separated them from their true king. In the context of this separation, the prophets spoke of the hope that one day God would again actively rule his people.
 David Young, King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience-Based Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 18.
 Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapids: Brazos Baker, 2016), 66–73.
 N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2018), 43–56.
Excerpted from Kelvin Teamer, Kingdom Life: Experiencing God’s Reign Through Love and Holiness (Renew.org, 2021).