Preparing for the Kingdom
We now commence a detailed look at the theme of the Bible. The teaching about the future Kingdom of God is like a golden thread running from beginning to end. It weaves in and out of the historical books, and throughout the prophets. It can be clearly traced in the Psalms, and appears again in the New Testament as the main motif of the teaching of the original Christians. We have seen in the previous chapter that we can have confidence in the truth of the Bible, and in chapter 2 we had a stimulating peep into the future when the Kingdom is established. We now open the Bible and see the thread of the Kingdom of God in its early pages and commence to trace it through the rest of the inspired Scriptures.
In looking at the beginning of the Bible for our first references to the Kingdom of God we are on firm ground. Jesus said that in the future he will invite the righteous into his Kingdom with these words:
ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared
for you from the foundation of the world
So God's plan for the earth has been developing from the beginning, and the book of Genesis (literally 'beginnings') takes us back to these early times. Where in Genesis can we learn about the Kingdom of God? Jesus answers the question, for in his preaching about the Kingdom he often directed attention to a man called Abraham. On one occasion he said to some who questioned him about salvation:
shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the
prophets, in the kingdom of God(Luke 13:28).
Why did Jesus single out Abraham, his son and grandson for special mention in connection with the Kingdom of God? It was because Abraham was one of the first people to be told about this wonderful future for the earth.
UR OF THE CHALDEES
The Euphrates is one of the major rivers of the world. It rises in the mountains of north east Turkey and meanders slowly through the plain once called Mesopotamia, now in modern Iraq. After a journey of about 1700 miles it joins the Tigris, and shortly afterward the two rivers flow together into the Persian Gulf. Today the desert creeps almost up to the banks of the rivers, but in Bible times the whole of the plain was watered with irrigation canals and channels, making it one of the most fertile and populous regions on earth.
As the modern traveller sails down the Euphrates he sees very many flat-topped mounds rising at intervals out of the river plain. These are not natural hills but the locations of ancient cities, where centuries of accumulated debris had gradually raised the site above the level of the surrounding area.
Not far from the mouth of the Euphrates, in the region known
to the ancients as Chaldea, is a large mound called
by the Arabs
the Mound of Pitch. In 1854
this mound was identified as the site of Ur of the Chaldees,
the city mentioned in the Bible as the birthplace of
THE HOME OF ABRAHAM
The site of ancient Ur was excavated from 1922 to 1934 by a British Museum expedition under the directorship of Sir Leonard Woolley. Ur was found to have been the most important town in the area and was noted for its Ziggurat, or (Drawing of ziggurat)
temple tower. This was a series of artificial platforms of solid brick, one on top of the other, that gave the appearance of a squat pyramid about 25 metres high. On the highest platform was a temple to the moon goddess, reached by a causeway of steps built into the sloping sides of the tower. Surrounding the Ziggurat were more temples for moon worship, and beyond these the houses of the city's inhabitants.
In about 2000 B.C. Ur was a very prosperous city. Down by the riverside boats tied up at the wharves and unloaded their cargo into sheds and warehouses. Rich merchants lived in large two-storied houses and sent their sons to schools where the curriculum included such difficult mathematical exercises as the extraction of cube roots. In a large building near the Ziggurat lived the king-god who presided over the civil and religious life of the city.
In this well ordered and surprisingly sophisticated society lived Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham. We can infer that he was an educated and cultured man, and was probably among the important members of the community of Ur. Bible references tell us that his family shared in the worship of the idols of those days (Joshua 24:2).
THE HOME OF ABRAHAM
The Bible tells us that the true God revealed Himself to Abram and instructed him to leave the idolatrous city where he had been brought up, and to migrate to an unknown destination:
the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy
country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's
house, unto a land that I will show thee(Genesis
trust in God was so strong that without questioning
he obeyed the command and
went out, not knowing
whither he went(Hebrews 11:8). Coupled with this
call to leave his country and family, God made a solemn
promise to Abraham:
I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless
thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a
blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and
curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all
families of the earth be blessed(Genesis 12:2-3).
In fulfilment of this promise Abraham did indeed become father of a great nation, for the whole of the Jewish race has descended from him. But the promise was much more far-reaching than that.
The concluding words of this promise,
in thee shall
all families of the earth be blessed
show that it was no ordinary one. God was saying that
the entire population of the world would one
day receive blessings through this one man. Clearly
the promise to Abraham was a vital step in the revelation
of God's plan for the earth and man. Here is the golden
thread of the Kingdom of God appearing in the very first
book of the Bible.
The importance of God's promise to Abraham is confirmed by the very many New Testament references to it. In chapter 1 we learnt that the Gospel preached by Jesus was the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. In writing to the Galatian Christians Paul states that the same gospel Jesus taught was originally preached to Abraham 2000 years earlier when God made the promise to him:
the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the
Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand
to Abraham, saying, 'In thee shall all the nations
be blessed'(Galatians 3:8,RSV).
THE HOPE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
As the promise to Abraham was included in the gospel preached by Jesus it is not surprising to find that the early Christians often referred to it in their preaching. When Paul stood trial for his faith he openly admitted it was his belief in these promises that was at stake:
now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise
made of God unto our fathers(Acts 26:6)
To Paul's listeners this
hope of the promise
meant only one thing: the promise of God to Abraham.
Another description was
the hope of Israel
and when Paul was arrested for preaching the Christian
message he exclaimed:
the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain
The Christian gospel therefore goes back at least as far as Abraham.
WHAT WAS SAID WHEN JESUS WAS BORN
If the promise to Abraham was so important to Paul we would expect to find direct references to the promise made to Abraham when other New Testament writers were talking about the mission of Jesus. And this is exactly the case. Luke records two inspired speeches made at the time of Christ's birth. One was by the father of John the Baptist, Christ's forerunner, and the other by Mary the mother of Jesus. Both saw in the work of John and Jesus the implementation of the promise to Abraham:
hath holpen (i.e.helped) his servant Israel, in remembrance
of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to
Abraham, and to his seed for ever(Luke
be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and
redeemed his people .... To perform the mercy promised
to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
the oath which he sware to our father Abraham
In his letter to the Roman believers Paul states that the
mission of Jesus was to
confirm the promises
made unto the fathers(Romans 15:8).
We have already found that Christ's work was to preach
the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and here that same
work is described as fulfilling the promises made to
the Jewish fathers; showing that the promises and the
gospel are the same.
Incidentally, the promise to Abraham is an example of the point made in chapter 4, that the New Testament depends completely upon the Old. Those who deny any relevance of the Old Testament to Christian belief dispense with its very foundations.
By these New Testament references we have established the principle that the promise to Abraham is the Christian gospel, it was connected with the work of Jesus, and it was the hope of the early Christian believers. We now refer back to the Genesis records to find out more about this promise.
DETAILS OF GOD'S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM
We have already noted that Abraham received the promise as he left Ur for an unknown destination. The place to which God guided him was the land of Canaan, later known as Palestine, in which is the modern State of Israel.
On Abraham's arrival in Canaan God repeated the promise to him. Many years later, after another display of Abraham's great trust in God, He again reiterated the promise. Each time further aspects were added. The passages below are a comprehensive statement of the promise:
the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated
from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the
place where thou art northward, and southward, and
eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou
seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for
ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the
earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the
earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise,
walk though the land in the length of it and in the
breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee
myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou
hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son,
thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee,
and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the
stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon
the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate
of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations
of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed
my voice(Genesis 22:16-18).
These references contain many aspects of the promise and you may find them confusing at first. If so, it might be worth reading the above quotations again to extract the main points before we look at the promise in detail. But before a closer look there are three comments I would like to make.
note the assurance that God gave to Abraham about the
fulfilment of the promise.
By myself have
I swornsaid God. As the letter to the Hebrews
says, this is the ultimate guarantee:
when God made promise to Abraham, because he could
swear by no greater, he swear by himself, saying,
Surely blessing I will bless thee ....(Hebrews
Secondly, the use of the word 'seed'. The equivalent word today is 'offspring' or 'descendant'. But the word 'seed' can be either singular or plural, so we will have to examine the context of the word to find out whether a single descendant or many descendants is intended.
Thirdly, God instituted the rite of circumcision as a token of His promise and commanded all Abraham's male offspring to continue the custom. Thus in Bible language 'the circumcision' is another term for the Jewish people, and 'the uncircumcision' for all non-Jewish or Gentile races.
THE PROMISE SUMMARISED
Combining the records of the giving of the promise, (or, as it is sometimes called, the covenant with Abraham), we can list the main features as follows:
1. Abraham's seed would become a great nation.
2. Abraham, together with his seed, will inherit for ever the
land in which he lived: that is Canaan, or Palestine.
Abraham's seed will
possess the gate of his
4. In Abraham and his seed all the earth will be blessed.
This summary emphasises the New Testament teaching that
this is no trivial promise. With words like
all the earth will be blessed
it must be apparent that something very important
is being foretold.
We will now look at each aspect in some detail.
1. Abraham's descendants to become a great nation
Obviously we must use the word 'seed' in a plural sense here. The promise was that Abraham's offspring would become very numerous and very great. To what people does this refer?
In the first case it must refer to the nation of Israel. Every Jew has descended from Abraham. Abraham's son Isaac had a son Jacob, whose alternative name was Israel. He in turn had twelve sons, from whom are descended the twelve tribes of Israel. At the end of his life Jacob migrated into Egypt with his family, then numbering 70 persons. Within 400 or so years from the time of Abraham the tribes of Israel in Egypt had increased to between two and three million people. This young nation left Egypt at the Exodus and eventually returned to the land of Canaan, becoming there an important and at times populous and prosperous kingdom. After various national vicissitudes, dispersions and persecutions, Abraham's descendants are again living in the land promised to Abraham, and have formed the State of Israel.
But Israel's possession of the land, past or present, cannot be regarded as fulfilling the promise to Abraham. Even in the most prosperous period of their history the prophets still awaited the final realisation of the covenant, as these concluding words of Micah's prophecy indicate:
wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to
Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from
the days of old(Micah 7:20).
The Jewish nation could therefore be regarded as a partial fulfilment of this aspect of the promise, but by no means its complete accomplishment. Who then are Abraham's seed in the sense God intended?
In Christ's day the Jewish nation prided themselves on
their descent from Abraham, and so applied the promise
to themselves purely on the basis of their natural lineage.
We be Abraham's seedthey said to him on
one occasion (John 8:33), and we can sense the satisfied
smugness on their faces as they claimed this relationship.
What was Christ's reply?
ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works
of Abraham(John 8:39).
And on another occasion they were told:
not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our
father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these
stones to raise up children unto Abraham(Matthew
What then is the criterion by which Abraham's true children are determined? Jesus had already given a clue when he said that Abraham's true children would behave like him. This idea is expanded later in the New Testament. Abraham's seed are not just his literal descendants, but all those who share his qualities. His chief quality was his faith and trust in God. Called to go out into an unknown land, he obeyed without question. Told that he would have a multitude of descendants when he was already 99 years old and his wife 90 he believed it despite the apparent impossibility. Even when he was requested to offer up his long-awaited and only son as a sacrifice, he was prepared to obey implicitly.
So faith rather than natural descent makes people children of Abraham. Paul made this clear to the Romans, (here is an occasion where 'the circumcision' is used to describe Abraham's natural descendants):
he (Abraham) received the sign of circumcision, a
seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had
.... that he might be the father of all them that
believe, though they be not circumcised; that
righteousness might be imputed unto them also: and
the father of circumcision to them who are not of
the circumcision only, but who also walk in the
steps of that faith of our father Abraham.
it is of faith .... to the end the promise might be
sure to all the seed; not to that only which
is of the law (i.e.natural Israel) but to that also
which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father
of us all(Romans 4:11-12,16).
The clear teaching here is that being a Jew or Gentile makes no difference as far as the promise is concerned. What matters is the display of similar belief and faith to that possessed by Abraham. Paul confirms this in another letter:
ye are all the children of God by faith in
Christ Jesus .... There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male
nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And
if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed
and heirs according to the promise(Galatians
We can now identify the 'seed' of Abraham with certainty. It is not just the literal descendants, the Jews, but all who believe in Jesus and in their lives display Abraham's kind of faith. These 'spiritual children' are the ones who will finally inherit the blessings contained in the promise.
The meaning of this blessing we consider next.
2. Abraham and his seed to inherit the land
The promise by God to Abraham was very explicit. Abraham
would one day possess the country to which he travelled
at God's command. He was told to traverse its length
and breadth in the assurance that one day it would be
his. Paul goes further and says that Abraham was promised
that he should be
the heir of the world
Has this part of the promise ever been fulfilled?
The answer is a definite
No. Abraham never possessed
the land. Genesis records that when his wife Sarah died
Abraham even had to purchase a burial site from the
local inhabitants. As he said to them on that occasion:
am a stranger and a sojourner with you(Genesis
The fact that Abraham had not come into this inheritance by the time he died is emphasised by the New Testament writers:
sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange
he (God) gave him none inheritance in it, no, not
so much as to set his foot on(Acts 7:5).
Unless the promise is to be broken-and with God's existence as a guarantee this is unthinkable-the time of Abraham's possession of the land must still be future. This is confirmed by some more words from the letter to the Hebrews:
faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a
place which he should after receive for an
inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing
whither he went(Hebrews 11:8).
In fact we are told that Abraham did not expect to receive possession there and then:
all (Abraham , Isaac and Jacob) died in faith, not
having received the promises, but having seen them
afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced
them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims
on the earth(Hebrews 11:13).
So another illustration of the faith of those 'fathers' was living as strangers in a foreign land, in the belief that one day they would inherit that land.
How will the promise be kept, for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
are long since dead? It can only be by their
resurrection. There is hardly a clearer teaching in
the Bible than the bodily resurrection of faithful men
and women; and if we consider the time when this
amazing miracle will occur we are immediately brought
back to our main theme of the Kingdom of God. In the
opening chapter I quoted the words of the book of Revelation
which spoke of the time when
the kingdoms of this
world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his
Christ. And the passage goes on to say that this
time of the dead that they should be judged, and that
thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants ....
This judgment of the dead, not only of Abraham but all his spiritual descendants as well, will be preceded by their resurrection. As Jesus said:
not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which
all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and
shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the
resurrection of life ....(John 5:28-29).
We can now see the relevance of the words of Jesus quoted
at the beginning of this chapter,
Ye shall see
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God.
They mean that Abraham will be raised from the dead
to inherit at last the land in which he was once a nomad.
And this will be not for the brief span of mortal life
Abraham's inheritance shared with his seed
This was an important part of the promise. Speaking of the promised land God said:
thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever
We have already seen that Abraham's seed are not necessarily his natural descendants but those who share his faith and belief. The promise to Abraham assures them that they too will inherit a part of this earth. Once again this agrees with the preaching of Jesus. He opened his 'Sermon on the Mount' with a series of blessings on the faithful, and one of these was:
are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth
You can now understand how apparently unrelated passages in the Bible are brought together and united by this all-pervasive theme of the Kingdom of God. Incidentally, this is best seen in the older translations such as the Authorised and the Revised versions of the Bible. It is one of the disadvantages of modern translations that in an attempt to use more modern language the underlying meaning of some passages has been lost.
Abraham's seed to
possess the gate of his enemies
I mentioned earlier that the word 'seed' could refer to
either a single descendant or many. From the part of
the promise quoted in the heading of this section it
would seem that as well as Abraham having a great number
of offspring there would also be one very notable individual.
Thy seed shall possess the gate of his
In Bible times the gate of a city was a very important place. As well as being a vital part of the defensive wall that enclosed the town, it was also the area where all the city business was conducted, where decrees were issued and where the city governors sat to receive homage from the people. There are several allusions to this custom in Scripture (Ruth 4:1-2; Jeremiah 38:7; Jeremiah 39:1-4). So the gate would be the equivalent of the Town Hall of modern cities. So for an invader to possess the gate of a city meant taking complete control of the town, after ousting the existing rulers.
God promised Abraham that he would have a descendant that
would one day
possess the gateof his enemies,
and rule over them. In view of our studies so far it
is clear that here is a promise to send Jesus to set
up the Kingdom of God, when he will
gateof the Kingdom of Men and replace it with
his own government. Or in other words of Scripture:
kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of
our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for
ever and everRevelation 11:15).
But we do not need even to assume that this single 'seed' of Abraham is Christ, for we are told it quite explicitly in the New Testament. Let me remind you again of one of the aspects of the promise, and then refer you to the teaching that the first century Christians based upon it. God said to Abraham:
all the land that thou seest, to thee will I give
it, and to thy seed for ever(Genesis
Note the phrase in italics and see how the New Testament picks it out and refers it to Christ:
promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The
Scripture does not say 'and to seeds', meaning many
people, but 'and to your seed', meaning one person,
who is Christ(Galatians 3:16,NIV).
There is no doubt therefore that the seed of Abraham, as well as referring to many who later would share his faith and his reward, also refers to an individual who would one day take over the rulership of the world after displacing those in authority. This person is Jesus.
So the features of the Kingdom of God we have learned about from other Scriptures are clearly found enshrined in this promise to Abraham.
But there is one more aspect of the promise to consider.
4. The whole world blessed in Abraham and his seed
This is the predominant feature of the promise, and the most far-reaching:
thee shall all families of the earth be blessed
in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be
We have already seen that Christ is the promised descendant of Abraham. What is the blessing that he will bring to the whole world?
It is a two-fold blessing. First, Abraham and his many descendants were promised eternal inheritance of the land subsequent to resurrection from the dead. This implies the gift of eternal life.
Secondly, the rulership of the world by the returned Jesus, will bring blessing to the earth, as we saw in chapter 2.
The blessing of everlasting life
That human life is terminated by death is almost too obvious to mention, but the Bible gives the reason for death. It is because of what God terms sin; and if sin can be removed the barrier to living for ever is taken away. In chapter 9 we will examine how removal of sin has become possible through the sacrifice of Jesus, but for the present purpose we need only to say that Jesus made eternal life possible for mankind.
wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal
life through Jesus Christ our Lord(Romans
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life(John 3:16).
And this never ending life is possible because through Jesus sins can be forgiven:
is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for
many for the remission of sins(Matthew 26:28).
the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from
all sin. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and
just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from
all unrighteousness(1 John 1:7,9).
So a part of the blessing promised to the world through Abraham's seed was forgiveness of sins so that eternal life in the Kingdom of God could be possible. This is taught clearly in the Old and New Testaments. Earlier I quoted the concluding thought of the prophecy of Micah, in which he still looked forward to the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham. The complete passage shows that it was forgiveness that the prophet particularly had in mind:
is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity,
and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of
his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever,
because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again,
he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our
iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into
the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth
to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou
hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of
The New Testament records the words of the Apostle Peter on one of the earliest occasions when the Christian message was preached after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and he too equates the blessing promised to Abraham with the forgiveness available through the sacrifice of Jesus:
are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant
which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham,
And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth
be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his
Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away
every one of you from his iniquities
There is thus no doubt that when God made the promise to Abraham He was promising the coming of the Saviour of the world, through whom forgiveness and eternal life would be made possible.
A blessing in very truth!
The blessing of perfect rulership
In chapter 2 we have already considered the blessings that
will come on the whole earth as a result of the return
of Jesus to set up the Kingdom of God and to
the gate of his enemies. But I would like to refer
to an additional passage that clearly identifies the
perfect rule of Jesus in the future with the fulfilment
of the promise to Abraham. In Psalm 72 there is a beautiful
description of the Kingdom of God under the perfect
rule of Christ. Peace and righteousness flourish in
the world, the poor are no longer oppressed, the earth
has become very fruitful, all the existing rulers of
the world have submitted to the new king, and his rule
is world wide. At the end of the psalm all is summed
up in words that clearly echo God's promise to Abraham,
In thee and in thy seed shall all the families
of the earth be blessed:
men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call
him blessed(Psalm 72:17).
We can now understand why the promise to Abraham is described as the gospel. Every aspect of the work of Jesus is included in the covenant God made with that faithful man 4000 years ago. The coming of the Redeemer, personal salvation, the establishment of God's Kingdom with Christ as its wise and blessed ruler, and the eternal possession of the earth by those who share Abraham's faith are all included. Let me in summary, remind you of what the promise contained.
1. Abraham was to become the father of a great nation. We saw that this referred first to the Jewish people, but particularly to 'spiritual Israel': those Jews and Gentiles who shared his faith and trust in God.
2. Abraham and this 'seed' are to share an eternal inheritance of the land of Palestine, once called Canaan. This implies their resurrection and the gift of immortality.
3. Abraham was promised a notable individual 'seed' who would share the inheritance with him, and would take over the rulership of the world. We saw that this great person is Christ, and that this promise was nothing less than the gospel of the Kingdom which Christ preached at his first coming.
4. The whole world is to be blessed in Abraham and Christ. This blessing is first the offer of eternal life by the forgiveness of sins, made possible by the death of Jesus; and secondly the perfect government of Christ when he rules over the Kingdom of God.
5. The promise to Abraham was the basis of the original Christian hope taught by Christ and his Apostles.
Finally in this chapter I would like to comment on the remarkable strength of evidence that is being built up for this Biblical concept of the Kingdom of God. First there is the destruction of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar by the stone which then went on to fill the whole earth. This is a clear promise to replace the Kingdom of Men by the Kingdom of God. Now, in a completely different way, and from another part of the Bible, there comes this same message: a time of blessing and peace for the world when Abraham's seed takes over and rules. It gives the sincere Bible student assurance that he is on the right track.
And this is not the only evidence. We follow the golden thread into another part of Scripture in the next chapter.