God’s Kingdom on Earth
Professor Stephen Hawking stressed that there is no long-term future for humanity on the earth. ‘Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.’(1) The entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of Spacex, said, ‘Humans need to be a ‘muliti-planet’ species…’in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.’ God, however, assures us that nothing is going to destroy the earth. He states through the prophet Isaiah, ’God himself that formed the earth and made it, he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18).’ God has a long-term purpose with the earth, ‘For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).’
God’s promises to Abraham concerning the future of humanity
God made several promises to Abraham, the ancestor of Isaac, Jacob, King David and Jesus. He promised Abraham that he would inherit the land of Israel, then known as “Canaan” (Genesis 13:14-15) and that his “seed” (offspring) would be as numerous as the dust of the earth. He also promised Abraham that his seed would inherit this Promised Land for ever and that, in his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 28:4-5). It is important to note that these future blessings would eventually include all people and were linked to Abraham, his offspring and the land which would become known as “Israel”.
The United Kingdom of Israel
God’s relationship with Israel is intimate. Deuteronomy 11:11-12 shows us that God cares for it, for ‘The eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it.’ In 1 Chronicles 28:4-5 we learn that God himself chose David to be king, first over Judah, then all Israel. Subsequently he chose David’s son Solomon to sit on the throne of ‘the kingdom of the Lord’. Although Solomon sat on the throne, the real king was God.
The kingdom overthrown by God
The prophet Ezekiel prophesies Jerusalem’s destruction and the removal of its king. God uses the king of Babylon (Ezekiel 21:26-27) to remove the ‘wicked, profane prince of Israel’ and to leave the land without a king ‘until he come whose right it is’.
The coming of the king ‘whose right it is’
Luke 1:31-33 tells us more about this king ‘whose right it is’. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says, ’Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David… And of his kingdom there shall be no end.’ The appearance of this ‘son of the Highest’ was an eagerly awaited event by those Jews who had studied Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Among those looking were wise men from the east. Seeing a certain star appear they followed its course to Israel and asked King Herod, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him (Matthew 2:2).’ During his ministry many of the Jews expected Jesus to declare himself king over Israel there and then. When he did not, many were disappointed, including the disciples. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples again asked him, ‘Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)?’ Jesus did not say when, but exhorted his followers to watch and wait patiently, ‘Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come (Matthew 24:42).’
Waiting patiently for Jesus’ coming
Many New Testament passages speak about the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, to set up his kingdom. In Thessalonians we learn that his followers had to experience considerable opposition and tribulation, but the apostle Paul constantly comforts them with a vision of a future time, when Jesus has returned. He exhorts them, ‘Wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).’ Paul exhorts them to continue to show love for each other and all people while they wait, ’To the end that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13).’
This kingdom will be all-powerful and everlasting
Through the prophet Daniel God compares ‘the kingdoms of men’ to a large statue composed of gold, silver, brass, iron and iron mixed with clay. A small stone strikes the image on its feet and becomes a great mountain, filling the whole earth. This small stone is a metaphor for the kingdom that God intends to set up, ’And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Daniel 2:35-44).’
God’s kingdom on earth overthrown again - temporarily
Jesus is very uncompromising in his condemnation of Israel’s leaders for their failure to obey God’s laws and give God due reverence, ‘Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (Matthew 21:41).’ Here Jesus compares the nation of Israel to a vineyard, owned by an absentee landlord: God. God lets out his vineyard to tenants (the Jewish leaders). These fail to pay the owner’s rent and beat the owner’s son (Jesus) to death, when he comes to collect what is due. Jesus explains that God will exact punishment and ‘He will miserably destroy those wicked men and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons (Matthew 21:41).’ Forty years after Jesus’ warning the nation of Israel was destroyed by Rome and most of its citizens dispersed. This was God’s punishment on Israel because its hypocritical leaders followed the letter of the God’s law, but not the spirit (Matthew 23). Like the wicked husbandmen in Jesus’ parable, they rejected the Son of God when he came, denying his claims and his miracles. Who are the other husbandmen Jesus refers to?
Matthew 1 sets out Christ’s genealogy, starting with Abraham. We also learn about Jesus’ unusual birth, born to a virgin through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus’ view on family is also unusual: “‘Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?’ And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother (Matthew 12: 46-50).’”
The household of God
The apostle Paul calls this family ‘the household of God’, and he includes both Jews and Gentiles. United by their faith in God’s promises and baptism into Christ, they will become ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Galatians 23: 26 -29) and part of God’s family of immortalised saints: ‘Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).’ Though King Solomon had the honour to build a physical temple for God to inhabit, Jesus was the corner stone of a spiritual temple for God to dwell in, a temple composed of apostles, prophets and faithful believers: ‘Built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2: 20 – 22).’
The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God
The ‘glory of God’ spoken of in Habakkuk 2:14 is the character of God, as described to Moses on Mount Sinai by the Angel of the Lord, God’s representative (Exodus 20: 4-6). God’s character was made easier for people to understand through their dealings with his son, Jesus Christ.
God’s character was made easier for people to understand through their dealings with his son, Jesus Christ. So, when Jesus has returned to set up his kingdom, the ‘household of God’ will share the divine nature and reveal the glory of God to all those then living on the earth. That way, eventually, the earth will truly appreciate the nature of God and seek to reflect it.
1) Starmus science and music festival, Trondheim, Norway, June 2017