From the Beginning: Reading the Gospel

One of the greatest needs of Pentecostalism is a true understanding the meaning of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the context of the gospel. Properly read, it interprets the New Testament; that is, the Old Testament serves to provide the meaning of the gospel. (See The Answer for Pentecostalism: Biblical Theology). With this conviction, given here is an overview of the message of the Old Testament for Pentecostals.

One book that would greatly help Pentecostals understand the message of the Bible as a whole is Vaughan Roberts' God's Big Picture, Tracing the story-line of the Bible. Following the lead of Graeme Goldsworthy and the method of Biblical theology, Roberts gives a simple, short and accurate explanation of the unfolding and progressive revelation of God and his kingdom in the Bible. My overview of the Old Testament here borrows much from Vaughan’s book and Goldsworthy’s approach:

1 The pattern of the kingdom (Genesis 1-2): Creation, The good beginning

Genesis 1-2 shows how God's kingdom was in the beginning when God first created everything. This kingdom is a pattern of how God wants the world to be in the end. Genesis 1:1-2:3 is the first account of God creating the world. It begins with God speaking words, commanding into existence the universe and everything in it. People were made in the image of God and were blessed in order to multiply to fill the earth and rule the world. In the beginning God was pleased with all of his creation because everything was good. Things did what God had commanded and his people obeyed his word. The high point comes in Genesis 2:1-3 with the seventh day (2:1-3), showing that 'rest' is God's goal for creation.

Genesis 2:4-24 gives a second account of God creating the world, focusing on God's creation of people and their special purpose in creation. When God created people, Adam and Eve, he gave them a garden he had planted to work and care for. God gave Adam and Eve commands to obey, and in particular one specific command that, if obeyed, would allow continued life. God was their king, and if Adam and Eve disobeyed his word, they would die.

The Kingdom of God
Genesis 1-2 reveals the pattern of the kingdom of God, showing the world as God intends it to be: a place of great blessing because God's kingdom ruled perfectly. The pattern of God's kingdom is God's people (Adam and Eve) in God's place (the Garden) under God's rule (the word of his command) through one man under God (Adam).

2 The perished kingdom (Genesis 3-11): Creation under curse

Genesis 3 tells how God's good creation was ruined and how the kingdom of God, as it was in the beginning, perished. Soon after the beginning of human history the bible records the beginning of human rebellion against God's command and his Kingship, and God's following judgment, grace and promise concerning the future.

Sin: Creation in rebellion
In a reversal of the order of God's work in creation, an animal, the Serpent, spoke to the woman, who led her husband Adam to break the command God had given him before he had made Eve. The Serpent's temptation of Eve to eat the prohibited fruit caused her to doubt God's goodness and to disobey his word. In accepting the fruit from his wife, Adam rejected God's authority as king over him.

In judgment God cursed the Serpent, Satan, and punished Eve and Adam with pain, struggle, toil and ultimately death. In doing so he cursed the ground from which Adam had been formed. God punished them in faithfulness to his word, which was meant to rule over them.

In mercy however God's judgment delayed death to allow people to have children and the cursed ground to produce food, even with death fast approaching. God also promised that one would be born who would crush Satan's power over people (Gen 3:15). This promise shows that God had a plan for the future. The New Testament says that God had this plan before he began creating the world: To show his grace by re-creating his kingdom in the world through this future man (Eph 1:9-11).

The perished Kingdom
God's kingdom was destroyed by the sin of Adam, and from Eve all people are born outside of that kingdom: Now we are not God's people; we do not live with God where he is; we do not have one man from God as our head and ruler; and we do not have God's gift of life. We reject Gods' Kingship; we live in a world alienated from God; we follow the disobedience of our one Father, Adam; and we die in our sins.

The spread of sin and death
Because of their sin in the land God had given them, God forced Adam and Eve out of the garden to have children and grandchildren who would now rule the world in evil ways, bringing death to all people. The sin of Adam's firstborn, Cain, who took the life of his younger brother Abel, brought another curse from God, demonstrating that God's judgment on people would increase as sin increased.

Judgment: Creation in reverse
Genesis 4 - 11 shows the beginning of the human race, and the spread of sin and death to all of society. Following their Father, Adam, all people rejected God's kingship, and God was grieved that he had made them. In judgment on the world God ended all life on earth by the waters of a flood. In a reverse of the order of his work of creation, God made dry ground disappear again under the waters. Every single person and everything that lived on the land died except Noah and those with him, eight in all.

Salvation: A new beginning for creation
As sin and judgment increased, Gods' grace also increased. In mercy on humanity, there was one man, Noah, to whom God spoke and who obeyed his word by building an ark to raise his life up above the waters and save his family and the animals with him. Through the ark, God saved a remnant of humanity and brought a new creation up out of the waters.

Disappointment: Spread of sin & judgment in the new world
This second beginning for the world did not create a renewed people for God. The sin of Noah and of his son Ham brought a curse on the people of Canaan from the one who had now become the second Father of the human race. Later, the building of the tower of Babel represented humanity united in rebellion against God's kingship, again incurring God's judgment on human society as a whole, forcing them to spread out over the earth, as God had commanded Noah and his sons, though now in divided people groups (Genesis 11).

3 The promised kingdom (Genesis 12-50): Promise of future blessing, Reversal of the curse

The kingdom of God was not simply the area where God ruled, for from the beginning God has ruled everyone and everything, including those outside his kingdom. But his kingdom was the place where his control was accepted willingly. Now God planned to reestablish his kingdom by bringing back under his rule a people who would want to live with him as their King.

In Genesis 11 all of human society united together to make themselves to be one great famous nation without God. And God judged them by confusing their language and dividing them over the whole world. But although sin increased and was met by God's judgment, God's grace also increased. Some years after God's judgment on humanity at Babylon, God again spoke to one man, Abram, who obeyed God's command, this time to leave his nation and go to a new land. God promised to bless Abram, whom he later named Abraham, by making him the father of a new and great nation blessed by God. He also promised to bless and curse others based on their response to Abraham, so that through this one man God's blessing would spread to all people groups on earth (Genesis 12:1-3).

In a reversal of his judgment on all peoples at Babel, God's promise to Abraham would reintroduce his blessing in creation to people from every nation by reestablishing one people under God. There are four elements to this promise:

It is to Abraham that God said, "I will make you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing... all the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you". God's promise was to Abraham, and all of his purposes would be come about through him.

Abraham's descendents would become a great nation that would be God's own people. This promise was later rephrased in this way: 'I will be your God and you will be my people'. But right from the beginning God's plan involved 'all peoples' from all nations, for God said to Abraham, 'all the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you'.

Abraham was commanded to go to another land that God would show him. God said later to Abraham, 'The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendents after you' (Genesis 17:8).

Abraham's descendents would be blessed and through him 'all the peoples of the earth will be blessed'. It was not only Abraham's physical children who would be blessed. Anybody could be included by treating Abraham well; God said to Abraham 'I will bless those who bless you'. But also God's curse would now come to those who treated Abraham badly.

The kingdom of God
God's promise to Abraham was a promise of a return of the kingdom of God: God's people (Abraham's descendents) in God's place (the Eden-like land of Canaan) under God's rule, and therefore enjoying his blessing. And all of this was to come about through the one man (Abraham). From Genesis 12 to 2 Chronicles the four elements of God's kingdom are progressively established, though only in partial fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham: A new people (Genesis 12 to Exodus 1) become God's people (Exodus 2 to Exodus 18) under God's rule and blessing (Exodus 19 to Numbers) in God’s paradise land (Deuteronomy to Judges) under God's king (1 Samuel to 1 Kings 11).

4 The partial kingdom (Genesis 12 – 1 Kings 11): The Kingdom of Israel

A new people: Israel
From Genesis 12 to Exodus 1 God created a new people. God promised to Abraham, "I will make you into a great nation," (Genesis 12:2) when he had no children and his wife's womb was already dead. But God kept his promise to Abraham by bringing life to what was dead in a miracle birth, so that Sarah gave Abraham a son, Isaac. God again brought life to Rebekah's barren womb when she conceived with two sons from Isaac, Esau and Jacob. But God's promise to Abraham passed from Isaac to his youngest, Jacob, whom God named Israel. God gave Jacob a huge number of sons, comparatively, twelve in all: Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. And the reason became clear, for from Jacobs’s sons, God created the new community of people, Israel, with twelve tribes.

Creation of Israel
God had created a new people, this time not out of the dust of the earth, but out of one man, Abraham, whose body was as good as dead. Like Adam and Eve, they were blessed to increase in number to fill the land of Canaan and subdue it. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob became exceedingly wealthy so that they could support a growing community that would become a great nation. When Jacob moved his growing household to Egypt, Israel was seventy people in all. After four hundred years in Egypt this new people had grown into a large community. As God had intended for Adam and Eve, "the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7).

But while God's people were growing in number and wealth their sin was also greatly increasing. Like Cain, Jacob's older sons hated their younger brother Joseph and planned to kill him. But when they saw some Ishmaelites they sold him to them, who brought him into slavery in Egypt.

Protection and provision
God was with Joseph and raised him up to be ruler over all Egypt. God gave Joseph knowledge and wisdom to store up food, and when a drought came upon the entire region, God brought the surrounding nations in Canaan to Joseph to be blessed by him, including Jacob's family. Jacob's family would not perish but have life, and would begin to increase in Egypt. Instead of bringing judgment on Jacob's family for their sin, God paradoxically used their evil to save Jacob's family from death.

Ironically God also used the evil of Jacob's brothers, who sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt, to not only preserve their lives, but also to bring all of Jacob descendents into slavery in Egypt. The next Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, hated the people of Israel and subjected them to extreme hardship (Exodus 1).

God's people: Redemption
God had planned a much greater deliverance for Jacob's family, (Genesis 15:14) whereby (from Exodus 2 to Exodus 18) he would bring punishment on Egypt and redeem Israel, so that they would become his people and a great nation. God's promise to Abraham hundreds of years earlier was now passed onto the entire community: "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God" (Exodus 6:7).

God's prophet
Israel’s extreme hardship caused them to cry out to God for help. God heard them and spoke to one man, Moses, who obeyed God and went to Pharaoh with God's words: "Let my people go!" Moses warned Pharaoh with great miraculous signs and acts of judgment that if he disobeyed God's word, he and all Egypt would come under Gods' judgment. But Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go. God told Moses that he would gain glory for himself by bringing judgment on the Egyptians and would save Israel, who would become his own people in the process. He did this in two ways:

Salvation for Israel
Firstly, in one night God passed through Egypt killing every firstborn son. The Israelite firstborn sons also risked judgment because Israel were also sinful, but God graciously provided them a way to be saved from the plague by telling each family to kill a lamb and put its blood on their doors. When God saw the blood, his judgment passed over that family, and their firstborn were spared. When Egypt saw that all their firstborn sons were dead, Pharaoh ordered Israel to leave Egypt, which they did under the leadership of Moses.

In their escape from Egypt (the Exodus) God saved Israel from his own his punishment by providing a substitute to die in their place (the lamb). He bought Israel at the price of these blood sacrifices. This redemption set Israel free from Pharaoh to belong to God.

Judgment on Egypt
Secondly, God drowned all of Egypt's army in the Red Sea after Israel passed through on dry ground. Israel were powerless against Pharaoh who chased them, because they were trapped. But God acted for them with his own power. He opened up the sea and they went through the waters, and then God closed up the sea again on Egypt. This baptism, as with Noah and his family in the ark, is a salvation by the waters of God's judgment for the purpose of placing a new people in a new land.

God's kingdom people
When Israel left Egypt, there were almost one million of them. In their exodus God showed that belonging to his kingdom was not automatic. Israel were outside God's kingdom; the only way they could enter his kingdom was by God's own judgment passing to a substitute who he would provide. This is also an act of God's own power. It was by God's act of saving this people from judgment that they became his own people.

A sinful people
Immediately after the Israelites had seen the great power God displayed against the Egyptians, God tested them by leading them into the desert where they could not find drinking water or food, and they grumbled against Moses and against God, and wanted to kill Moses. Again and again God miraculously provided for them, but again and again they tested God by doubting his goodness and by disobeying his instructions. Though Israel were now God's people, they did not live as God's people (Exodus 15-18).

God's Rule and Blessing: Law, Presence, and Sacrifice
God's promise to Abraham, "I will bless you" (Genesis 12:2), involved a promise of a special relationship with God: "I will be your God and the God of your descendants" (Genesis 17:7). From Exodus 19 to Numbers, God partially fulfilled that promise by bringing this newly redeemed people under his rule and blessing.

In Exodus 19 God did not lead Israel straight into his promised land but brought them first to a mountain (Mount Sinai) where he appeared to them. He said to them, 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself' (Exodus 19:4). Moses went up on the mountaintop to meet with God and God spoke to him. Then Moses told the people all that God had said: He told them how to love God, he told them how to love each other, he told them how to live as God's people. God gave his new and special nation his good word to obey, as he had done to Adam in the beginning. God was now ruling Israel and giving them the blessing of a new relationship with him. Israel were not absolutely free. They were free from slavery in Egypt, but they now belonged to God, and he was to be their God. God's kingly rule and blessing came in three ways:

Firstly, God's gave Israel his law: God was with them, ruling them by his word of command. Israel needed to learn how to relate to God as their God. They did not yet know how to do this, for he is not like the gods of the nations that were around them. So God made himself known to them by explaining how they should treat him. His words told them what pleases him and what his demands were. For example, he said 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2-3).

Secondly, God gave Israel his presence: God was with them, ruling them by his presence amongst them. In his law he gave them instructions for building a tabernacle. This was a tent where God's presence would be revealed among them. They were to be careful to make the tabernacle exactly as God had said, because it was to be a visible symbol of God's ruling presence among them.

Thirdly, God gave them sacrifices: God was with them, ruling them only because God himself would deal with their sin. In his law, God had provided a way so that Israel could escape God judgment. This was necessary because God would not allow sin to go unpunished. God also knew that Israel were no different from any other people since Adam. They broke God's law and deserved death as their judgment. But in their place God accepted the death of sacrifices that were to be made every day at the tabernacle. Also on the Day of Atonement every year (Leviticus 16) the high priest was to kill a goat as an offering for the sin of all the people, and sprinkle its blood in the tabernacle. The blood spoke of the life of the substitute animal. Israel could escape God's judgment of death and live only because God had provided sacrifices that he would accept as the payment of the punishment of their sin. In this way God enabled himself to continue to live with Israel.

Disobedience: The rebellion of God's people
Although Israel had seen God's powerful saving acts for them, and accepted his law, they were quick to turn away from what God commanded, as was Adam. While Moses was on Mount Sinai they made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' God's anger burned against them and he threatened to destroy them, but Moses prayed for them and for the sake of his Name God spared the nation. Nevertheless, Moses commanded the Levites to go throughout the camp with the sword, and that day about three thousand of the people died. God himself punished those who had sinned by striking them with a plague (Exodus 32).

Again and again God's people forgot God's word, they doubted that God's word was good, they disobeyed God's word and they did not live with God as king over them.

After being led from Mount Sinai to the edge of their promised land, ready to go in and take possession of it, Israel rebelled against God (Numbers 14). Again the Israelites sinned by grumbling against Moses. And again they were ready to kill him. They refused to go into the land because it was full of strong fighting men. Though Israel knew God sent disaster on the Egyptians and he divided the Red Sea in half so they could walk through it, they did not trust that God would make it possible for them to enter the land.

Again God threatened to destroy them, but Moses prayed for them and God relented for the sake of his Name. Nevertheless, God made all of them wander in the desert for forty years until most of the first generation of Israelites died, including Moses, all except Joshua and Caleb. But afterwards, God was ready to bring his people into the land he had promised them.

God's land: Inheritance
God had brought Israel out of Egypt, given them his law and lived with them through the tabernacle, but God had promised Abraham, 'I will give this land (Canaan) to your descendants' (Genesis 12:7). From Deuteronomy to Judges God partially fulfilled this promise by choosing one man, Joshua, who led his people to conquer Canaan and take possession of it.

Blessing and curses in the land
On the plains of Moab, on the edge of their promised land, Moses gave speeches to Israel on the importance of obeying God's laws in the land they were about to enter (Deuteronomy). He told Israel that God would bless them in the land if they obeyed his law: they would stay in the land; they would have many children and abundant crops. But if Israel did not obey God's law in the land, God would curse them: they would be rejected from the land, they would not have children, their crops would fail and they would die (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).

God's victory
After Moses died Joshua led Israel into the land of Canaan and they took it as their own (Joshua). It was obvious that God himself fought for Israel because they had easy victory in their battles even though their enemies were powerful nations much larger than they.

Judgment on Canaan
God commanded Israel to kill every person in the land, as God himself had destroyed all life in the days of Noah. It was on account of the wickedness of these nations that God was going to drive them out before Israel, not because of Israel's righteousness; God was using Israel to bring his judgment on these nations for their sin, such as worshiping other gods, killing their children and sexual immorality.

Holiness in the land
Another reason God commanded Israel to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan completely was that the practices of these nations would influence Israel to worship their gods and adopt their sinful behaviour. Israel did not, however, completely kill these people as God had commanded, but they did take most of the land. God gave them rest on every side, just as he promised Abraham. "Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled" (Joshua 21:45).

At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua warned Israel to continue to obey God's law. "Choose this day whom you will serve..." On that day, Israel promised to be God's people, to serve God and obey his word. If they kept their promise, they would have always lived in the land God gave them.

Disappointment: Sin in the land
After Joshua died Israel increasingly disobeyed God's word, rejecting God as king over them and worshiping other gods. So God punished them by letting their enemies rule over them (Judges).

Again and again, Israel's trouble brought them to the point of desperation and they cried out to God, who in kindness gave them a leader (a 'judge'). God's Spirit came upon Israel's judges to defeat their enemies and restore peace. But Israel soon rejected God's kingship and found themselves in trouble and crying out to God again. This cycle of sin in the land, judgment, repentance, deliverance through a judge, restoration to peace, and return to sin, repeated again and again and again after Israel had entered the land God gave them.

Rejecting God as Israel's king (1 Samuel)
When Israel had entered Canaan and Joshua had died they had no king over them in the land. Everyone did as he saw fit and sin increased in the land God had given them (Judges). The low point of Israel's sin against God at this time came when Israel asked God for a king to be like the other nations around them. Israel wanted a human king to rule them instead of God. Instead of seeking a king from God in order to obey him, they sought a king in rejection of God in order to sin. In anger, God gave them the king they wanted, Saul, warning them of what this king would do to them: the day would come when they would cry out to God for relief from the king they had chosen. And just as Adam had done, Saul rebelled against God’s word. In judgment, God rejected him as king. But in great mercy, God acted now to choose for himself the king he wanted over Israel, who would lead them to obey his word.

God's king: David, and his Son
From 1 Samuel to 2 Chronicles God's people, under God's rule and blessing in God's land, came under God's chosen king, David.

The promise of a single deliverer who would have permanent victory for Israel over her enemies has its origin in Genesis 3:15, in which God had said that the head of the Serpent (Satan) would be crushed by a future human man. God had promised to Abraham that kings would come from him (Genesis 17:6) and in Genesis 49:10 Judah (one of the sons of Jacob/Israel) was promised that his descendants would become kings and all the nations would obey him.

In Deuteronomy Moses commanded Israel concerning their future king in the land: God himself should choose their king and the king should respect and obey him (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). This Scripture was partially fulfilled in David, whose reign, although deeply and at times tragically marred by sin, was broadly characterized by obedience. And consequently, under David Israel became very successful and powerful, more than at any other time in their history.

During the time of Samuel the Philistines ruled over God's people. However God chose one man, David, from the little town of Bethlehem, and a shepherd, to be ruler over God’s people Israel. God kept his promise to rescue his people, and was with David to defeat the Philistines on Israel’s behalf. God gave David victory over his enemies in all his battles. David, the mighty warrior, ruled over not only God's people, but he also subdued God's land, Canaan.

God’s kingdom
David wanted to build God a permanent house, to replace the tabernacle. But God spoke to David, commanding him not to build him a house, but instead instructing him that David's son would build him a house. Ironically, God promised to build David a house; that is, a kingdom: God's kingdom. God also promised David that one of his sons would live forever as God's king. This forever ruler would be the Promised One who would bring God's blessing to all the peoples of the earth. “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

The kingdom in Israel
After David died David's son Solomon became king. With gold and wood he built the temple God had commanded. This was where Israel’s priests made blood sacrifices for their sins. When God saw the blood of the sacrifices – that great sign – he would pass over, or forgive, the sins of his people, as he had done since their exodus from Egypt. After it was completed, the glory of God filled the temple.

God had kept many of his promises to Israel. He now gave Israel rest in the land and they enjoyed great blessing under Solomon, as Adam and Eve had done in Eden. “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy” (1 Kings 4:20). Now that God's people were in God's place it seemed that soon they would become a blessing to all the people of the earth, as God had promised Abraham. The Queen of Sheba did come to visit Solomon to see his riches and listen to his wisdom (1 Kings 10:1-13). God had already made Abraham into a great nation. And he had already given Israel the land. Now God's king was bringing God's blessing to other peoples of the earth.

Disappointment: The sin of the first son of David
The promises of God about his kingdom were only partially fulfilled under David and Solomon: All the nations did not obey Solomon and certainly he did not defeat the chief enemy of God’s people, Satan. Instead, as did Adam, Solomon turned away from God in rejection of his word. He married many wives and began to follow their gods, the gods of the nations around him. Solomon’s disobedience was the beginning of the end for Israel. Before Solomon died, God told him that someday his kingdom would be torn apart. Here began the long wait for the arrival of the Son of David, the one man who would be king over God’s kingdom forever (the ‘Messiah’).

5 The prophesied kingdom (1 Kings 12 – Malachi): The coming kingdom of God

God's prophets
Moses was God's first prophet to Israel, to whom God gave his law at Mount Sinai after their exodus from Egypt. Israel became God's people by obeying his word received from Moses. To remain in God's land, under his blessing, they needed to continue to obey the Law of Moses. Disobedience would end in judgment from God: he would take away his blessing, eventually they would be removed from his land and no longer be his people (That is, the kingdom of God would no longer be the kingdom of Israel). All of the prophets of the Old Testament after Moses spoke to Israel (and Judah) about their obedience to God's law given through Moses: they reminded them of the blessings that would come to them if they obeyed it and the judgment (curses) that would come if they disobeyed.

Sin and Judgment
From the death of Solomon (1 Kings 12) to the exile of Judah (2 Kings 25) Israel and Judah committed a long and tragic decline into increasing sin and judgment. With Solomon, all Israel turned their hearts away from God, and after Solomon died God fulfilled his word of judgment: Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king and 10 tribes of North and East Israel rebelled and began their own kingdom in the North (which would now be called ‘Israel’), leaving the smaller southern kingdom of Judah in the South (the ‘Jews’).

The end of the kingdom of Israel
To stop his people from going south to the temple in Jerusalem (David’s city in Judah) Rehoboam made two golden calves at each end of his new kingdom in the North, telling Israel ‘these are the gods you should worship’. From Rehoboam on, Israel’s kings increasingly led Israel into increasing idolatry.

God was angry. He sent prophets to warn these kings and his people to stop being unfaithful to God. The first great prophets after Moses were Elijah and Elisha. Despite their wicked idolatry, Elijah and Elisha declared that there was still time for the people to return to God before his final judgment would come upon them. At that time the ruler over Israel was Ahab. Elijah challenged Ahab's prophets to a contest and demonstrated that God alone is God in Israel. Yet the king and all Israel continued to reject God's word. God's prophets began to warn them that God’s final judgment must now come upon them: they would be removed from his land and would no longer be God's people. Finally in anger God sent Assyria in 722 BC to attack and destroyed Israel. The only survivors of the destruction were either killed or taken as prisoners into Assyria.

The end of the kingdom of Judah
God’s promises remained with David’s family line and the smaller tribe of Judah. However in the end Judah’s sin was greater than that of Israel, whom God had destroyed, and even greater than that of the nations around them, some of whom God had also destroyed. Judah did have some faithful kings who brought God’s people to repent. But Judah, like Israel, rejected God again and again, continuing to turn away after other gods.

King Zedekiah ruled over Judah and did many evil things. Still he did not think that God would punish him. God sent the prophet Jeremiah to warn the king, but Zedekiah refused to listen. Finally in 597 BC, God in anger sent her enemies one last time, this time the Babylonians, to attack and this time to destroy the kingdom of Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and burned Solomon's temple to the ground.

The message of judgment: The end for the Kingdom of Israel
Both Israel and Judah did not take the warnings of God's prophets seriously. And so God carried out his judgment upon them. At that time the prophets spoke of these events not as accidents. God was faithful to his covenant established through Moses, which said that if Israel did not return wholeheartedly to God after their sin, he would judge them with exile and desolation. Their destruction took place to fulfill the curses given through Moses (see Deuteronomy 28).

Israel lost their lives and their land and their blessing. They were now a people rejected by God, expelled from his place, with no king of their own to rule over them, and without God’s ruling presence among them. The symbol of God’s throne and presence with them in the temple, the Ark of the Covenant, was no more. They lived in a foreign land of foreign gods and were oppressed by a foreign ruler.

For the Northern Kingdom of Israel, it really was the end. But in faithfulness to David, the Jews were not completely destroyed. Like Adam and Eve, the Jews were expelled from their land, and yet they lived. Like going back to Egypt, Jacob’s sons and daughters were taken into slavery, now in Babylon. Though a remnant of Judah remained, her exile did signify an end to God’s kingdom being revealed in Israel/Judah.

The message of hope: God's promise remains
Although God's judgment was necessary, God remained faithful to his promise to Abraham and to David. He promised to Abraham to bring his people under his rule and take them into his land where they would receive his blessing. And he promised to David that he would always rule them through a king from David’s family. Even though the kingdom of Israel/Judah had failed, Israel had a future hope.

Although the return of the Jewish exiles was disappointing, and demonstrated that God’s kingdom would not come about by a rebuilding of Israel, the partial kingdom, God would do a completely new thing in the future to bring about his real, perfect kingdom, this time forever.

God's people
There would be a new people (nation) belonging to God as a result of a new exodus that God would perform. God had promised that he would keep Judah from being completely destroyed. A small number would return from exile in Babylon (Isaiah 10:20-21). Through them God would create a new people of God from those who were not his people: "In the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God" (Hosea 1:10).

The prophet Isaiah said that a future man, referred to as ‘the servant’, would bring about a new exodus of God’s people (See Isaiah 49:5-6; 52:13 - 53:12). He would achieve this rescue for God's people by his death, which would save them from their sin. He would face their punishment (exile from God) in their place, so that God may forgive them as the new people of God.

The servant would not just do this for the nations of Israel and Judah. God said to him "I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6). The servant himself would fulfill God's promise to Abraham to bring God’s blessing to all the nations (Isaiah 60:1-3).

God's place
God would create a new Jerusalem and it would be the capital city of a completely new creation, involving a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-18). As in the Garden of Eden, a river would flow through this land giving life to the whole world. It would flow out of a new temple that God would himself build and enter (Ezekiel 40-48). Everything would be new; the problems of this old world would be no more; there would be perfect peace, health and prosperity (Isaiah 11:6; Amos 9:13-14).

God's rule and blessing
There would also be a new covenant that would not rely upon God's people. Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God that first covenant brought God's curse upon God’s people, instead of his blessing. This new covenant would not be completely new however. Rather it would fulfill all of the promises God made to his people in the old covenant, because it would finally deal with people's sin. It would bring complete forgiveness and a personal knowledge of God to God’s people. And God's blessing would be guaranteed (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

The prophets also spoke of a new blessing that this covenant would bring: God’s law would control God’s people in a new way; it would be from within (Jeremiah 31:33). The prophets Ezekiel and Joel made it clear that this was a promise of a new relationship with God. God promised to give his people his own Spirit. They would be controlled, no longer by their sinful desires, but by God's Spirit, who would live with them (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-32).

God's king
God would fulfill his promise to David to make one of his sons his eternal, universal king who would always rule God's people in his perfect kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7). David himself called him Lord, because, although he was one of his sons, he would nonetheless be the Son of God (Psalm 110:1). The prophet Daniel said that he would be 'like a son of Adam' who comes down from heaven and would be given all authority in heaven and on earth. Peoples from all nations and every language would worship him (Daniel 7:13-14).

Disappointing return (Ezra – Nehemiah)
In 538 BC king Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed the exiles from Judah to return to their land and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1). Only a small number made the journey back and faced strong opposition. Eventually they did build a new temple (Ezra 3-4:5) and some of the younger Jews celebrated. But those older wept because they knew that this temple, against the prophet’s expectations, was a great disappointment compared to the first temple that had been destroyed, let alone the new glorious temple spoken of by Ezekiel.

The leader Nehemiah began rebuilding the walls of the city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1-2), but also, against the prophetic expectation, received opposition. The priest Ezra called on the Jews to obey God's law, but once again they committed the very sins that brought God's judgment of exile upon them in the first place (Ezra 9:1-4). Despite Ezra's efforts the people were as unfaithful to God as they ever have been (Nehemiah 13).

This return was full of disappointment. The people were expecting the prophetic message of hope to come true in their efforts to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem. But it was clear that this did not happened: their temple was not the glorious one spoken of by Ezekiel; the people did not have new hearts; they did not have a new king ruling over all the nations, from a new Jerusalem, giving God's people perfect peace and prosperity. The wait for the arrival of the Son of David, the one man who would be king over God’s kingdom forever (the ‘Messiah’), continued.

The future: The Kingdom of God is coming (Haggai – Malachi)
Three prophets spoke God's word after the return of the Jews from their exile: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. They condemned the returned people for their unfaithfulness and warned them again of a future judgment. But they also explained that their hope should not have been in a return to the past. The new city, building and place that the prophets wanted them to expect were not part of this world now. They were much too great. God said through the prophet Zechariah that these temporary parts of Israel were just a sign of what God would do in the future when he brings his new creation (Zechariah 3:8). Israel's past was only symbolic of their future. The prophets before the exile had used the language of the kingdom of Israel to give people a picture of the future kingdom of God. But God's kingdom was no longer the kingdom of Israel. Therefore, God's kingdom would not come with a restoration of Israel. Rather, everything would be new. Their hope should be in God and what he would do through his future king.

The last of God's Old Testament prophets, Malachi, spoke that God would send a messenger ahead of this king who would prepare the Jewish people to receive him: 'See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come' (Malachi 3:1).

Four hundred years of silence
After Malachi’s words, hundreds of years passed without a single word from God. Israel remained small and were ruled by other nations who rose to power over them. After 400 years, the Romans ruled over Israel, whose king was Caesar Augustus. But while Caesar was getting ready to show the world how great he was by a census of his entire empire, God, the world's true ruler, was getting ready to show how great he was by coming into the world as one of his people. Finally, God was going to end the years of silence and keep his promise of an eternal king. And in the power of his Spirit, God did it by bringing his long awaited Messiah, the Son of David, into the world as a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem.

More on this topic

The answer for Pentecostalism: Biblical Theology


Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan, The unfolding revelation of God in the Bible, IVP, 1991.

Helm, David. The Big Picture Story Bible, Crossway Books, 2004.

Roberts, Vaughan. God's Big Picture, Tracing the story-line of the Bible, IVP, 2003. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.