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A king must have a people over whom to reign, and it is no different for the King of God’s kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. As the kingdom’s King, Christ reigns over men and women whom God has called from every nation and tribe and language and people to be citizens of His kingdom. The climactic manifestation of God’s kingdom people that we see in Revelation 7:9–10 finds its root in God’s redemptive acts in the Old Testament. Throughout the history of redemption, God called His people in order to reign over them in a way that reveals His holy character and accomplishes His good purposes.
In Genesis 1:26–28, God created human beings as His royal images to serve His kingdom’s purposes and rule as His vice-regents on earth. As bearers of the divine image, Adam and Eve were called to expand God’s sovereign rule beyond the boundaries of Eden by subduing the earth and multiplying and filling it with image bearers. However, after the fall of man, God pronounced enmity between the seed of the serpent (citizens of Satan’s kingdom of darkness) and the seed of the woman (citizens of God’s kingdom of light; Gen. 3:15).
The genealogy of Genesis 5 shows how Seth, Adam’s third son, became the father of a faithful line of mankind that led to righteous Noah, who found favor with God (Gen. 6:8). Of Noah’s three sons, Shem and his descendants were special in the eyes of the Lord. From Shem’s descendants, God chose to bless one man, Abraham, and promised to bless all the families of the earth through him (12:1–3). God declared that through Abraham’s seed the people of His kingdom would be as countless as the dust of the earth, the sand of the sea, and the stars of the sky (13:16; 15:5; 22:17). This promise of the kingdom’s numerous citizens was later reiterated to Isaac (26:4) and to Jacob (28:14; 32:12), who continued this chosen and righteous line. Through this promise, God took it on Himself to fulfill the original kingdom mandate given to Adam and Eve in the garden. Jacob’s twelve sons became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Out of all the world nations, the tribes of Israel were God’s special people, the people of His kingdom (Deut. 10:15). Under the leadership of Moses, God delivered the tribes of Israel from slavery in Egypt and formed them into a nation and kingdom of priests, distinguished as God’s treasured possession from all other peoples of the world (Ex. 19:4–6). Israel became a united kingdom during the time of David, and Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord (1 Chron. 29:23), reigning over the people of God’s kingdom. Alluding to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, the psalmist spoke of the glorious Davidic king, saying, “May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” (Ps. 72:17). In other words, the people of God’s kingdom will be blessed under the rule of David’s dynasty, eventually resulting in the glory of God filling the whole earth (v. 19).
The divine promise of Israel’s numerical increase shows how God’s purpose was to expand His kingdom to include all the families of the earth. God desired that His kingdom’s citizens come from every corner of the world. These citizens enjoy equal status as members of God’s kingdom regardless of their racial or ethnic identity, cultural background, geographical location, social class, or socioeconomic status. However, these peoples become citizens of God’s kingdom only through the blessing of Abraham’s seed and David’s dynasty. They do not become the people of God’s kingdom on their own initiative or ambition. Under the old covenant, the promise of Israel’s numerical increase as God’s special kingdom people was tied up with the Lord’s demand for exclusivity and obedience to the law of Moses. Israel’s decrease in number was a covenant curse for disobedience to the Lord’s commandments (Lev. 26:22; Deut. 28:62–63). On the other hand, Israel’s covenant faithfulness was rewarded with the covenant blessing of population increase (Lev. 26:9; Deut. 30:5, 9).
After Solomon’s death, Israel’s united kingdom was divided, and the two newly formed kingdoms of Israel and Judah often fought each other (e.g., 1 Kings 15). When the people of Israel ignored God’s ways and worshiped pagan idols, God appointed the prophets and sent them to announce His impending judgment. This divine judgment for covenant infidelity climaxed in exile, where Israel was no longer identified as God’s kingdom people; instead, Israel became God’s Lo-ammi (“Not My People”) for a time, like the gentile nations (Hos. 1:9).
Nonetheless, there was always hope for the future. Indeed, the Lord’s covenant faithfulness will prevail, and He will not utterly obliterate His kingdom people or eradicate His mercies and compassions (Lev. 26:44; Deut. 4:31), for He is a holy God who does not act in a way typical to emotionally vindictive human beings (Hos. 11:8–9). In other words, the future of God’s kingdom people is ultimately determined by His covenant love rather than by the people’s fidelity.
Therefore, the prophets proclaimed an eschatological (end-times, final) national unification of Israel and Judah under a future Davidic king (Jer. 23:3–8; 30:9; 33:7–26; Ezek. 37:15–28; Hos. 1:11). Under the reign of this Davidic king, the number of the children of Israel would immeasurably increase, and the nation would be instituted again as children of the living God (Hos. 1:10). Through Israel’s eschatological abundance of progeny, the promise given to the patriarchs would be fulfilled. The restoration of the Davidic royal dynasty, not merely on political grounds but more significantly on the level of moral covenant faithfulness through a perfectly righteous king, would lend stability to the eschatological unification, inviting the nations through Israel’s witness to become citizens of God’s kingdom (Isa. 2:2–3; 11:10; 43:8–10; Amos 9:11–15).
The postexilic condition of God’s kingdom people was not in any way close to the flourishing and glorious life that the prophets promised Israel and Judah within the restored covenant. Though the people had sporadic moments of obeying the voice of the Lord (e.g., Hag. 1:12), their obedience was temporary and fleeting. On multiple occasions, the people were urged to repent, do justice, and show mercy (e.g., Zech. 1:3–4; 7:9–10). The people’s religious fasting was not done with a sincere heart (7:5). Moreover, the people of God seem to have returned to idol worship (13:2), and corruption was prevailing among the priests (Mal. 1:6–2:9). The people’s disobedience was demonstrated in their profaning the temple (2:10–17) and robbing God of tithes and offerings (3:8–10). In short, God’s kingdom people did not show covenant loyalty and proved unable to keep the Lord’s commands. Indeed, the eager expectation found among postexilic prophets for a restoration beyond the restoration shows how the people of God’s kingdom looked forward to His deliverance as earnestly after the return from exile as they did before.
In the fullness of time, Christ came as the true Seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), in whom God fulfills all His promises (2 Cor. 1:20). Therefore, all who are united to Christ have become true descendants of Abraham and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29; see also Rom. 4:16). Through the church’s proclamation of the gospel, God gathers His chosen people from the ends of the earth, uniting them as His kingdom citizens.
The ingathering of God’s people from the northern kingdom took place as the good news of salvation went beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria in the book of Acts. Indeed, gentiles and Samaritan half-breed northerners have become, alongside Jews, “God’s people” and “beloved.” In Romans 9:26, Paul applies Hosea 1:10 to gentile believers in Christ as true Israelites. By quoting Hosea 2:23, Paul explains that to be God’s people is to be a harlot redeemed by God’s love (Rom. 9:25). Alluding to Exodus 19:6, Peter calls God’s kingdom people, both Jews and gentiles, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). Thus, a new people of God, comprising Jews and gentiles, become His kingdom citizens, united together under one head, David’s son, Christ Jesus (Rom. 9:24–26). If God shows mercy to His gentile-like people Israel (the “Not My People” of Hos. 1:9), surely nothing stops Him from showing the same covenant mercy to other actual gentile nations. In other words, all those who have become citizens of God’s kingdom by His grace in Christ were, in fact, “gentiles” in need of mercy (1 Peter 2:10). In effect, the name “My People,” which is reserved in the Old Testament for ethnic Israel, has become now in the latter days applicable to all citizens of God’s kingdom who trust in Christ.
Finally, the new order of eternal celebration in the new heaven and new earth is the ultimate fulfillment of the ingathering of God’s kingdom citizens where God dwells among His people, and they enjoy everlasting perfect communion with God and with one another (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1–4).