WISE series (Women in Seminary Education): This article was originally an assignment I submitted to Westminster Theological Seminary, where I am pursuing my Master of Arts in Theological Studies.
From the very beginning, God planned to build a Kingdom. In Genesis 1, God manifested his kingship by speaking the universe into existence by the authority of his word. Whether calling out light, land, or sea, creation obeyed his bidding. This is crucial to our understanding of the Kingdom, because it was always meant to be centered on God. The Kingdom is God’s holy people, living in God’s holy place, under God’s holy law, administered by God’s holy representative.
However, the Bible doesn’t present a “once upon a time… and they lived happily ever after” story. Instead, there is a tragic fall, a growing hope, and a final victory. In the unfolding story of Scripture, we see a Kingdom ruined by sin, redeemed through God’s covenant promises, and finally restored by a Crucified King.
A Kingdom Begun
God’s plan for ruling over creation was to be executed through his people. In Gen 1:27, God created Adam in his own image. As the first son of God, Adam inherited his heavenly Father’s rule. He was a vice-regent, a servant-king. God commissioned Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Each of these tasks served the purpose of building God’s Kingdom. It was a commission to expand God’s holy people and to rule over God’s holy place. Adam’s authority was to be exercised in submission to God—he was a servant-King, reigning under God and over creation.
Though God granted Adam a remarkable amount of power, he reminded Adam of his subordination by making one stipulation: for Adam to maintain his kingly role in the garden of Eden, he could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16–17).
Rather than reigning in submission to God, Adam sought to usurp God’s throne. In Gen 3:1–6, as a wicked serpent whispered lies to Eve, Adam stood passively by. Then, he ate the forbidden fruit, incurring judgment on himself and future generations. The Kingdom seemed to fall apart.
Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, but not before receiving a promise. The Kingdom that Adam ruined would be restored. Someday, Eve’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent, but “bruise his heel” in the process (Gen 3:15). This promise—the Protoevangelium—is the first proclamation of the gospel. And though it is only in seed form, it provides two essential truths which develop throughout Scripture. First, it signals that Eve’s offspring would claim victory over the serpent. Second, it indicates that this victory would be won through suffering. At this point, it’s unclear how this victory will come to pass. But Jeremy Treat notes, “As the story unfolds, we will see that the victory develops into a royal victory and the suffering into atoning suffering, with the final result of royal victory through atoning suffering.”
Kingdom Through Covenant
After the fall, humanity consistently rebelled against God, inventing every manner of evil. Cain murdered Abel (Gen 4:8), Lamech took two wives and glorified violence (Gen 4:19, 23), and wickedness grew so pervasive that God decided to wipe man from the face of the earth (Gen 6:5–7). Though the future seemed grim, God would not let his Kingdom crumble completely. Through Noah, he saved a remnant of people. God had a plan to redeem the Kingdom that Adam lost.
Through the next generations, God gradually revealed his plans for redeeming the Kingdom through his covenants. To Noah, he repeated the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth (Gen 9:1–3), sealing it with a promise that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:11). To Abram, God developed the covenant further, promising to make Abram into a great nation and that kings would come through his exceedingly fruitful line (Gen 12:2; 17:4–6). This everlasting covenant rested on God’s fidelity to his word. He would make Abram fruitful. He would establish a nation. He would bring forth kings.
Scripture takes an unexpected turn when this chosen people is enslaved by the Egyptians (Exod 1:8–13). How could God’s holy people be prisoners of a pagan society? Where was the kingdom? Where was their king? The people of Israel waited—and doubted—for God to fulfill his promise.
Then, God used Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. However, they were not just freed to live on their own. God set them apart as a holy nation—his nation—and freed them from Egypt to serve God. Upon Mount Sinai, God made another covenant, uncovering more details about the Kingdom he would establish. God said, “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…” (Exod 19:5–6). Of course, the whole world already belonged to God. Yet mankind constantly rebelled against his lordship and, by grace, God chose Israel to be redeemed as a holy nation that would represent him and his rule on earth.
Since the blessings of the covenant hinged on Israel’s obedience, God also showed grace by providing them with the law, revealing the ethical implications of living in God’s Kingdom. After all, God is a holy Ruler. He could not tolerate sin and its damning effects in his own Kingdom. By receiving the ten commandments, the Israelites were instructed in what it meant to be set apart as holy. Furthermore, all the moral laws God provided in Exodus and Leviticus were ultimately intended to point back to him—their good King.
The Israelites were called to reflect the God they served. God is pure, so his people were called to be pure. God is merciful and just, so his people were called to be merciful and just. God shows no partiality, so his people could not show partiality. God cares for the weak and vulnerable, so his people were to care for the weak and the vulnerable (specifically, orphans, widows, sojourners, and the poor). When Israel disobeyed and were guilty of living outside the jurisdiction of his Kingdom, God could not let their sin go unpunished. So, he provided a way of restoration. Through the sacrificial system, the Israelites could be forgiven rather than cast out from God’s people. And because sin was always present among the Israelites, one key truth came into focus: the Kingdom could only exist with atoning sacrifice. Only blood could wash away sin and purify God’s people.
In 1 Samuel a monarchy finally began and in 2 Samuel, David became the first example of a true servant-king. David began his reign in righteousness. He feared God and trusted in his sovereignty. God blessed David and made a new covenant with him, promising, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). After Israel’s turbulent history, this promise undoubtedly brought much comfort. Through the line of David, a Kingdom would finally be established! Even better, it would last forever! At first, everything seemed to be falling into place. David walked with God, led Israel in righteousness, and claimed victory over their enemies.
Then, just like Adam, David sinned. Though he was called to lead as a servant king, he stayed home from battle (2 Sam 11:1). Though he was called to protect the people, he abused his authority by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband murdered to cover up his sin (2 Sam 11:2–27). For a “righteous” king like David to sin so grievously pointed to the need for a better king, as did the failures of every king thereafter. The Israelites needed a King who would reign in perfect righteousness, justice, purity, and truth. A King who wouldn’t abuse his subjects, but would pour out his life for them.
A Coming Messiah
Finally, Isaiah sets the stage for such a King. Isaiah prophesied that a Messiah would reign from David’s throne and rule with righteousness and justice forever (Isa 9:7). The Spirit of the Lord would be upon him, and he would reign with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord (11:2). He would judge with equity and wipe out the wicked (11:4). He would usher in peace and harmony among creation (11:6–9). He would be “a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sin in darkness” (42:6b–7).
The anticipation of victory is palpable, until the prophecy takes a surprising turn. Harkening back to the protoevangelium, Isaiah uncovers how this King’s victory must be won through suffering. His exaltation would come through his humiliation. He would be high and lifted up, but his appearance would be marred beyond human semblance (52:14). He would be smitten by God, as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of his people (53:4–6). Jeremiah Treat writes, “Isaiah 52:13–53:12, therefore, represents not a contradiction in the Isaianic expectation of the Messiah but rather a new development regarding the means of the Messiah’s mission to establish the kingdom.” The Messianic King’s triumph was certain—and it would come through suffering.
The Perfect King
All of history was pointing towards Christ. When Jesus, the Messiah, came to earth, he succeeded where every other king had failed. While Adam’s disobedience made all men sinners, Jesus’s obedience would make many righteous (Rom 6:19). While David indulged his flesh, Jesus denied it and overcame every temptation (Heb 4:15). While the Israelites sinned in the wilderness, Jesus resisted the devil and submitted to God when he was tempted (Matt 4:1–11). Jesus was the one to whom the covenants had pointed—the everlasting King who would establish an everlasting Kingdom.
Throughout his life, Jesus spoke with authority and wisdom. As Moses imparted the law on Mount Sinai, Jesus’s sermon on the Mount instructed his hearers about life in the Kingdom. He had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17–19). He didn’t negate the seriousness of sin, but exposed it in the heart. And he warned that no one would enter the Kingdom unless their righteousness exceeded the scribes and Pharisees, emphasizing the holiness that God demanded. Nobody could hope to attain that level or righteousness. Nobody, that is, except for Jesus. He would live the perfect life others couldn’t—he alone would be found worthy of the Kingdom.
Jesus reigned by serving and manifested God’s compassion for the lowly and oppressed. He drew near to the despised, and was gentle to the undeserving. He fed the hungry and healed those afflicted by demons and disease. And every good work he did was a glimpse of the greater work he would do. He would feed the hungry soul. He would free his people from the bondage of sin. He would make the blind see his glory. He would build a Kingdom with people who had nothing to offer but their need.
Jesus spoke frequently of the Kingdom to his disciples, yet they didn’t understand him. They thought the Kingdom would come by taking up a sword like the rest of the pagan nations. As Jesus showed Peter on the Mount of Gethsemane, his Kingdom wouldn’t come by force (Matt 26:51–54). The Kingdom of God would be won with a sacrifice instead of a sword.
The Victory of the Cross
While the Old Testament continually pointed to Jesus, all of Jesus’s life continually pointed to the cross. He had come with a purpose—to conquer sin and rescue his people—and he would do this at the cross. What Jesus accomplished at the crucifixion is the climax of the prophecies, and the linchpin of the Kingdom. The cross was not a barrier to Jesus’s Kingship, but the battleground where his decisive victory ensured the restoration of God’s Kingdom. At the cross, Jesus became an atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people. As he drank the cup of God’s wrath, he crushed the king of darkness (Gen 3:15). As mockers pressed a crown of thorns upon his head, they unknowingly testified to the truth: Jesus was the Israelites long-awaited King (Mark 15:17–18). As crowds taunted him, telling him to save himself and come down from the cross to prove his authority (Mark 15:29–32), his imminent triumph compelled him to stay. As Jeremy Treat observes, “Jesus reveals his kingship not by coming down from the cross to save himself, but by staying on the cross to save others. Jesus reigns by saving, and he saves by giving his life.”
Jesus had provided a better covenant. Through the gospel, those who had been separated from God could be adopted as sons and receive the inheritance of the Kingdom (Eph 1:5). Through the gospel, Jesus imputed his righteousness to those united to him by faith, that they would be made worthy of the Kingdom (Phil 3:9). Through the gospel, God would always dwell with his people (John 14:16–17). Through the gospel, God called people out of darkness and into his marvelous light, making them a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” that they would proclaim his excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). Just as Isaiah had prophesied, Jesus was a light to all nations.
Through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, the Kingdom had come. Yet until his return, it won’t be fully realized. God is still building his Kingdom, rescuing enemy rebels from their sin and opening their eyes to the gospel.
A Kingdom Commission
Right before his ascension, Jesus gave his disciples a new commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matt 28:18b–20). Just as Adam had a mandate to fill the earth, the church was given a mandate to make disciples of all the earth—thus expanding God’s holy people. “Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the beginning point of what would later be a proclamation of the gospel to all the peoples of the earth, including not only Jews but also Gentiles.”
And just as the Israelites were called to obey moral laws to reflect the nature of the God they served, the Church was called to reflect the sacrificial love of their Crucified King. They too would enter the Kingdom by way of the cross, and die to themselves to find life in their resurrected King (Matt 16:24–25). By loving one another, living generously, doing good to all, walking in purity, embracing humility, showing mercy, and bearing the fruit of the Spirit, the New Testament church would show the world what the Kingdom of God was like. Someday, the King will return to usher in a fully realized Kingdom. He will bring his people to a new heavens and a new earth, where there will be no more sin or suffering (Rev 21:1–4). He will make all things new, fully restoring all that sin had ruined. Multitudes of people, from every tribe, tongue, and nation will gather before the throne to worship, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:10). The Crucified King will reign forevermore.
 Dr. Jonathan Gibson, “Kingdom Through Covenant” (lecture, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA).
 Gen 3:15, ESV Study Bible (Wheaten, IL: Crossway, 2008), 56.
 Jeremy Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 58.
 Dr. Iain Duguid, “Exodus: Part 1” (lecture, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA).
 Treat, The Crucified King, 75.
 Treat, The Crucified King, 107
 Matthew 28L 3:15, ESV Study Bible (Wheaten, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1888.