Though the exact phrases are not used, the kingdom of God is an important and all-encompassing theme woven throughout the scriptures.
Here are some of the most important threads in this tapestry:
The Garden, the Mountain of God
From the very beginning, the language of rule and representation is used.
See Genesis 1:26-28, the appointment and commission of mankind:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds
of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over
every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he
created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them.
And God said to them, “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
The concept of image here is used to denote a representative. Adam represents God in the world. God gives them a commission: to extend Eden into the world. They would do this by increasing in number and subduing (a term with military connotations) the wild, chaotic territory. In the same way God shaped and filled what was "empty and void" (Genesis 1), mankind would do in the rest of the world. So the extension Eden in this context is the extension of God's reign. It is helpful to note here that God himself planted the garden
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he
put the man whom he had formed.
In the ancient Near East, the concept of a garden and mountain were associated with kings. Only kings could martial the resources necessary to develop and tend lush gardens. Mountains were not easily accessible to ancient people, due to the lack of climbing technology, so they were the "abode of the gods".
These two ideas are joined very clearly in Ezekiel (see Michael Heiser's scholarship on this).
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was
your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your
settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they
were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed
you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the
stones of fire you walked.
In Genesis 11, mankind creates a rival mountain, the tower of babel. The whole story of the bible is a rivalry between God and those faithful to his Edenic vision and those who substitute alternatives.
I can't expand on this here, but I mention three great rebellions which set the stage for all that follows:
- Adam and Even follow God's rival, the serpent (Genesis 3)
- The Sons of God start a rival breeding program (Genesis 6)
- Mankind builds their own rival "abode of the gods" (the tower of babel) (Genesis 11)
God meets each of these rebellions by limiting the power of man (his earthly beings) and the sons of god (his heavenly beings) and setting plans in motion which will lead to the recovery of his rulership through the agency of man.
Nations Appointed to the Sons of God
In response to the rebellions, God divides the nations among the Sons of God (the heavenly beings) and sets aside one people for his own. He will use these people to reestablish his rule.
8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he
divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the
number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
The language of rulership then shifts from mountains and gardens to nations. The remainder of the Bible story is God's program to reestablish his rulership over and against mankind and the sons of god who have rebelled against him. God is going to "take back the nations". The nations that are faithful to him will overcome the nations that are in rebellion.
Father of Nations
First, he forms a covenant with Abraham and promises to make him the father of nations:
2 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. 3 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.”
Like All the Nations
God establishes Abraham as a nation through his son Israel, but the family still rebels against God's rulership. They are a unique nation, ruled by God through his appointed prophets. However, they ask for a king like all the other nations, and God shows his prophet that this is the people rejecting him as king:
1 Samuel 8:4-7
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at
Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not
walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a
king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said
to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you,
for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
Next, kingdom language is used more often once David is established. He is recognized by his people as the greatest of their kings, and recognized by God as a man after his own heart. The Davidic kingdom then becomes an important influence on the language and metaphors for God's rule.
God promises to put the "Son of David" on the throne forever. This ruler will be like God's own son, so that he rules for man and he rules for God:
2 Samuel 7:12-16
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I
will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body,
and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my
name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I
will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son...16 And your
house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.3 Your
throne shall be established forever.’”
The Kingdom of God: The Mountain That Fills the Whole Earth
The prophet Daniel has much to add to this, but I mention two important visions.
The first vision is the kingdom of God in Nebuchadnezzar's vision -- a mountain destroys the other nations and fills the earth. Here the concept of the mountain of God and kingdom are linked clearly as rival to the artificial mountain of God - babel.
King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a great statue representing the great nations of the earth:
34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck
the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35
Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all
together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the
summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a
trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image
became a great mountain and filled the whole earth... 44 And in
the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to
It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,
Note that we have come full circle. God's "holy mountain" represented by Eden will indeed fill the whole earth -- the commission he had originally given.
The second is the vision of the Son of Man. A human is given complete dominion over the nations:
13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and
glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Note: The entire book of Daniel is about the kingdoms -- God's kingdom over and against the rival kingdoms of the earth. The terms "Prince of Persia," "Prince of Greece," and "Prince of the People to come (Rome)" in Daniel 9 are the results of the nations appointed to the Sons of God and their opposition to the "Messiah the Prince" (also chapter 9). This prince, the Anointed one, will bring in everlasting righteousness (among other things).
It is the Son of Man (Dan 2), the Son of David (2 Samuel 7, Jer 23+33), the Son of God (2 Samuel 7, Psalm 2) who will ultimately fulfill the commission given to mankind. Of his kingdom there will be no end. He is the second Adam who rules for both God and man.
So when Jesus preaches the kingdom of God, he is not introducing something new. He is saying that in him God is doing what he has promised, taking back the nations. He is claiming to be the fulfillment of the entire narrative.
This is reflected in his commission, which is the spiritual successor of God's original Edenic vision:
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on
earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the