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The authority of any king is limited to the borders of his kingdom. Applying this axiom to Christ’s kingdom creates a tension between faith and sight. The Bible declares that the earth, including everything and everyone in it, belongs to the Lord (Ps. 24:1), yet the world is hostile to God’s reign, determined to break away from God and His sovereign rule (Ps. 2:3). Notwithstanding the rebellion, God declares that He will establish His anointed King on the holy hill of Zion (v. 6). Faith in the mediatorial rule of Christ, who subdues, rules, and defends us by restraining and conquering all His and our enemies (Westminster Shorter Catechism 26), is a comfort to the citizens of His kingdom. Yet, Scripture anticipates an expression of Christ’s kingship beyond the spiritual rule of His church, of which He is the sovereign Head (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18).

So often, the Bible describes the rule of Christ in geographical terms. His dominion is from sea to sea—indeed, to the ends of the earth (Ps. 72:8). Zechariah 14:9 anticipates that day when the Lord will be King over all the earth. Daniel points to that time when all the kingdoms of the world will be smashed to pieces and replaced with a kingdom that will never be destroyed (Dan. 2:44). It is best to see this geographical inclusiveness as fulfilled in that eternal state when God creates a new heaven and new earth that replaces the old creation, cursed by sin, with a new Eden-like world marked by perfect righteousness (Isa. 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). Perhaps the most significant feature of this future kingdom is the presence of the King in the midst of the citizens (Zech. 2:5, 10–11). Although the church today is in a hostile environment, it has the blessed hope that all the kingdoms of this world will fail and that the kingdom of God will prevail. Now, the church is in conflict; then, the church will be triumphant and will occupy a real place of peace and righteousness in the presence of the King.

Instructive to this kingdom theology is the attention given to the promised land throughout the Old Testament. Much of Old Testament theology concerns Israel’s conquest, inheritance, expulsion, and repossession of this land. The initial promise of a land was an integral component of God’s covenant with Abraham. God promised Abraham a land with geographic coordinates spanning from the Euphrates River to the river of Egypt (Gen. 12:7; 15:18–17:8). Although the Lord guaranteed to Abraham that his seed would possess the land forever, Abraham, at best, possessed it in little more than a symbolic way as he owned only a cave (Gen. 13:17; 23). Abraham knew that there was more to the land promise than dirt, as his principal concern was for a better heavenly country (Heb. 11:16). In one sense, Abraham’s experience mirrors the church’s: his “now” possession of the land did not equate to the “not yet” reality to come. This theology of the land serves as an object lesson of God’s kingdom.

First, the land was promised. Although the promise was sure, there was a geographical component to the promise that was unrealized not only by Abraham but also by his descendants. For more than four hundred years, Abraham’s offspring were subjects in a foreign land with no prospect of inheriting the ancient promise. But God renewed the promise (Ex. 6:8; 13:5, 11), and the nation took the first steps to its inheritance. Like their father Abraham, they trusted the promise without seeing the fulfillment, since the generation that left Egypt never crossed the Jordan. It is the same for the church now. By faith, we know that the meek will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5) and the spiritual seed of Abraham will inherent the world (Rom. 4:13). This is beyond our “now” experience, but it is the promise of God. One thing is certain: Christ has prepared a place for His people (John 14:2; Heb. 6:19–20).

Second, the land was prosperous. The Lord described the land as good and spacious, flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8). This is a figure of speech that speaks of the abundance the land would provide. The prosperity of the land was a vivid way of picturing the blessings that belonged to the redeemed. To be one of God’s redeemed people is to be in a place of spiritual richness. In Pauline terms, God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). The Christian’s “milk and honey” land equates to heavenly places.

Third, the land was populated. The land God promised to give Israel was not lying dormant or uninhabited for all the years they were under Egyptian bondage. The Lord said the land was inhabited by nations greater and mightier than Israel (Deut. 7:1). The presence of this native population posed both a problem for faith and a potential threat to faithfulness. The Lord addressed the threat by warning against inhabiting the land alongside the natives and against making any treaties with them that would ensnare them into sinning against God (Ex. 23:32–33). Rather, they were “to utterly overthrow” the people’s idols and “break [them] in pieces” (v. 24, KJV). Israel’s failure to heed this warning resulted in their expulsion from the land.

The problem for faith was equally real. Since the native Canaanites were such strong and able warriors and Israel was so weak and inexperienced in warfare, how to acquire the land was the pressing question. That the land was a gift from God was one thing, but possessing the gift seemed to be quite another thing. It was not likely that the natives would leave voluntarily; they would fight to retain their homeland. The prospect of Israel’s winning that fight was slim. How the Lord explains the process for possessing the land illustrates a vital spiritual lesson of the believer’s conquest over sin’s dominion.

The procedure for dealing with the Canaanites was twofold: God would fight for Israel, and Israel had to fight for themselves. The Lord assured the people that He would cut off the enemy, destroy them, and cause them to retreat (Ex. 23:23, 27). He would do this by sending His angel before them, whom they had to obey (vv. 20, 23). In addition to the angel who would lead the charge, God would send His fear and hornets before the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites (vv. 27–28). Both of these are figures of speech, referring to that which produces terror.

The land speaks of both the ultimate destination of God’s people and the daily journey to that destination.

The conquest of Canaan illustrates cooperation between God and the people. God achieved and assured victory by virtue of His promises to give them the land and to expel the Canaanites who stood in the way of their possessing the promise. The Israelites, nonetheless, had to cross the Jordan and drive out the enemy for themselves in deadly battle (Deut. 9:3). Believing that God had given them the victory, they entered the land and fought in the light of that certain victory. The Israelites took possession of the land only by obeying God’s command and by using their swords. The battles to possess the land were unrelenting, and the possession of new territory was gradual.

The conquest of the land illustrates the believer’s battle against sin, his progressive sanctification. Although Christ has achieved our victory over sin and destroyed its dominion over us, sin does not flee from us just because we have been saved. If we attempt to battle sin in our own strength, defeat is certain, because sin is stronger than we are. Conversely, if we do not strive to fight sin with the armor of God, defeat is just as certain. But if we join the conflict claiming all that God has promised and Christ has won, we can enjoy victory. Even when we experience victory over a specific sin, we can never let our guard down because we live in a world filled with the Canaanites of sin and temptation. One victory leads only to the next conflict. Warfare marks our present kingdom experience.

Fourth, the land was a place of divine presence. In the Song of the Sea, Moses included in his praise a reference to the land into which God was going to bring His people: “You will bring them and you will plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, the fixed place of your dwelling” (Ex. 15:17). In a special and spiritual sense, to be in the land was to be where the Lord is; it was to be in His presence. The Lord graciously assured Moses that His presence would go with him into the land, and He would give rest (Ex. 33:14). The idea of “rest” became synonymous with the land and God’s presence (Ps. 132:13–14). Rest was where the Lord was; it marked His presence. In this sense, the land points to the final rest to be experienced by every believer in God’s heavenly kingdom, the place of His glorious presence and the believer’s eternal home (1 Peter 1:4). In another sense, it parallels the Sabbath rest enjoyed by the believer in the place of worship, where God meets with His people. The place of worship is a manifestation of the place of God’s kingdom.

The promised land touches meaningfully on the theology of the kingdom. Both are real places. The land was symbolic of God’s presence among, protection of, and provision for His redeemed people. In the final sense, the land is typical (a picture prophecy) of God’s universal and eternal kingdom, the ultimate experience of the divine presence and consequent peace. The land speaks of both the ultimate destination of God’s people and the daily journey to that destination. Entrance into the land of rest is the final destination of believers. The kingdom is coming.

The Citizens of God’s Kingdom

Possessing the Kingdom

Keep Reading The Kingdom of God

From the November 2021 Issue
Nov 2021 Issue