Biblical Theology Articles

Bible Overview 2: The Promised Kingdom & Partial Kingdom (Part 1)

David Gibson


Bible Overview - Handout 2 (DOC)


If you had to divide the Bible in half ...

I wonder where you would do that if you had to? If you had to say this half of the Bible is clearly about this subject, and then the next half is all about this, where would you divide it?

You can probably tell from the very loaded question that I'm suggesting that simply Old Testament in one half and New Testament in the other half is not the best way to do it. In fact I would want to say that to split the Bible in half like that doesn't really take account of the Bible's storyline, the plot-line that we're looking at in this course. So what I want to suggest to you is that Genesis 12 is where the Bible splits itself in half. Now it's obviously not two equal halves so it's maybe better to say that in Genesis 1-11 we have the first part of the Bible's story and then from Genesis 12 - end of Revelation we have the second part of the Bible's story.

John Stott says this about Genesis 12: "It may truly be said without exaggeration that not only the rest of the Old Testament but the whole of the New Testament are an outworking of the promises to Abraham." Another way to think of it is that Genesis 12 is a bit like a sermon text - you know what happens on Sundays, Lewis has a sermon text, a passage from the Bible which he expounds - the whole sermon is unpacking that text. Well Genesis 12 is the passage which the whole rest of the Bible is going to expound and unpack.

So what we're going to do tonight is look at the promise of the kingdom in Genesis 12 and then work out from there to trace the partial fulfilment of the promise through the Bible's storyline. So two main elements - the promised kingdom and the partial kingdom. Let's start in groups looking at the following questions:

1. The promised kingdom (Genesis 3, 12-24)

Who and what is promised in Genesis 3:15?

What are the three main elements of the promises to Abraham?

  1. 12:2; 13:16, 15:5; 16:10; 17:3-6;18:18
  2. 12:1,7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21, 17:8 
  3. 12:2-3; 17:2, 7-8; 18:19; 22:17

Taken together, what does the promise in 3:15 and the promises to Abraham tell us to look for as we read the rest of the Bible?

Answer: we should be looking for the offspring of Eve, the special family line traced from Adam and Eve to engage in a decisive conflict with the evil one. There are hints that within the family line we should be looking for an individual and even possibly a kingly individual (Gen 17). We should be looking for this promise to be fulfilled alongside the promises of people, place and blessing being fulfilled.

2. The partial kingdom: Part 1 (Genesis 12 - Joshua)

Now that we've looked at the promise of the kingdom what we're going to do is simply trace the fulfilment of those promises through the rest of Israel's history. I've put a diagram on your sheets to help you see where we're going:

Bib Ov - Kingdom of God

On the left we've got the promises that we've just been looking at; then in the next bit, the arrow, from here until the rest of Israel's history, we're going to see these promises partially fulfilled. That whole section of Israel's history is from Genesis 12 - 2 Chronicles, or if you like from Abraham all the way to Solomon. I've split this partial fulfilment into 2 halves - tonight we're about to look at Genesis 12 - Joshua; next week we'll do Judges - 2 Chronicles, and we'll also look at the kingdom promises in Israel's prophecy. But notice that I've put that whole period as a dotted arrow - it's dotted because all the promises are only partially fulfilled and it's an arrow obviously because that whole period is pointing forward to the day when Abraham's seed, Jesus Christ will perfectly fulfil all the promises.

Now there are different ways of doing this - we could keep looking at people, place and rule through every single part of the Bible all the way to 2 Chronicles. But the reality is that along the storyline of the Bible, at different points different parts of the promises come into focus a bit more sharply than the others. So if you look at the next few headings you'll see that we're going to look at one of the promises in each part of the unfolding story.

(i) God's People (Genesis 12 - Exodus 1)

From Genesis 12 - Exodus 1 the focus is on the gradual fulfilment of the promise that Abraham's descendants would be a great nation - we see the line from Abraham traced all the way down to Jacob and his twelve sons, and Exodus ends with the whole family line in slavery in Egypt. I've put the way that the line develops on your handouts for you:

Now just quickly, there's some important lessons for us as we move through from Genesis 12 - Exodus, what I've called lessons from the line:

First thing we learn is that if the promises are to be fulfilled, only God can bring that about. You remember how it works, God promises Abraham a son, but in Genesis 16 Abraham decides to take matters into his own hands and sleeps with Hagar, all in the attempt to fulfil God's promises himself ... of course God tells him that the great nation he promised to Abraham will not come from Ishmael, but from Sarah. Only God can bring about his kingdom promises.

The second thing we learn is that we must trust God's kingdom promises no matter what. We see this from that incredible story in Genesis 22 where Abraham is willing to sacrifice his own son, Isaac - if Isaac dies, God's covenant kingdom promises are over surely? But that whole story is not just a general story about faith, but it's particularly about Abraham's faith in God's kingdom promises - no matter what, Abraham knew that God would remain faithful to his own promises. And for us, we're not just asked to trust God in some abstract way but to trust in the God who has made kingdom promises - no matter what we face we can be sure that God will not be unfaithful to his own promises.

A third lesson is that God does not choose people on their merit - this is what we see in the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob is younger than Esau and he's not a pleasant character, he deceives his father. Here we are seeing the pattern of how good works - choosing the unexpected, the younger, the guilty party and allowing the line of promise to come through them to show his grace.

And lastly we can see how God always over-rules in history to ensure that his kingdom promises are protected - the story of Joseph in Egypt. What's very interesting is that at the end of Genesis the whole focus is on Joseph and what happens to him ... and yet the royal line of God's promise is not going to come through Joseph: he gets most of the attention but it's actually Judah who is going to be the really significant son - look at Genesis 49:8-10. So I think what's happening in the whole Joseph story is that God is putting Joseph in a position of power and influence that will actually save and preserve the promised line - because of what happens to Joseph, his brothers don't die in the famine, Judah is preserved and so the promised line is preserved. God over-rules to protect his kingdom promises.

(ii) God's Blessing/Rule (Exodus 2 - Numbers 9)

Remember the promise to Abraham "I will bless you" - well when we get to Exodus 3:7 the people of Israel seem far from experiencing God's blessing: READ. So now we get God acting to bring his people back under his blessing, his good rule. And from here on we begin to see God's blessing in a number of ways:

  • Exodus 12:23 - Salvation by substitution (Passover)
  • Exodus 14 -15 - Salvation by rescue/conquest (Red Sea)

Both of these things teach us the way to come under God's rule and blessing, here in Exodus we're getting the patterns for the rest of the Bible - God always offers us his blessing by the death of another and conquest over the evil one. So we get John the Baptist saying that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and Jesus dies at Passover time; and do you remember how Paul describes our salvation in Colossians: "God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son" and also saying "having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross".

The next key way we see God's rule and blessing is the giving of the law at Sinai. With the giving of the law this is God's people living under God's rule, isn't it. But we must see that actually the law is only ever meant as a response to God's blessing, God's salvation - look at Exodus 20:2: READ. So do you see what's happening - the law is never a means to earn God's blessing, God's favour; it is simply a response to the salvation that has already been given. The Sinai situation is this: God's people have experienced God's blessing by his redemption and rescue - now how are they meant to carry on experiencing his blessing? By the law - look back at 19:4. If the people keep the law, they will experience God's blessing.

And then lastly in the rest of Exodus what we have is the people experiencing God's rule and blessing by means of the tabernacle - this is how God dwells among them, it's the experience of God's blessing by his presence among his people. But in the middle of all the tabernacle material we have chapter 32 - the golden calf incident. This is simply the problem of the perished kingdom repeating itself again isn't it - God's people rejecting God's rule and blessing. So how can a holy God have his presence among his people - well the answer of course is Leviticus isn't it, and the sacrificial system, that's why Leviticus is there - to show us again that the only way to experience God's blessing is by sacrifice

(iii) God's Place (Numbers 10 - Joshua )

Now by the time we get to Numbers, what we have is God's people, under God's rule ... but no land. Well in Numbers 10 the Israelites leave Sinai and really Numbers is actually the book of the Bible that should never have been written - God's people, under God's rule, heading to God's promised land, what could surely go wrong? And yet exactly the same pattern repeats itself - God's people reject God's rule, or in this case they start grumbling about God's blessing and even worse they don't think God's rule will be powerful enough to protect them against the Canaanites. And so God sentences them to forty years of wandering in the desert - all of them, apart from Caleb and Joshua will die before they enter the land. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that all of this is recorded as a warning for us - READ. We're in a similar position aren't we - we've been rescued and we're en route to the promised land and yet how we live in this in-between-time matters! The Israelites in the desert are a serious warning to us.

When we get to Deuteronomy the next generation of Israelites are now standing on the brink of the promised land and Deuteronomy is simply a sermon preached by Moses to Israel with a very simple message "don't blow it like we did!" The word Deuteronomy literally means ‘second law' - the whole book is a restatement of the law urging the people to be faithful to it to experience God's blessing in the land. Deuteronomy also tells us that if the people don't keep the law, they will experience God's cursing, God's judgment - look at Deuternonomy 28, READ a few verses. And where have we seen this before? It's exactly the same pattern as Eden, isn't it?

And then in Joshua of course we get the conquest of the land and the climax of the book - look at 21:43-45 - READ. This is a high point in Israel's history - here are God's people in God's place under God's rule.

Week 2 Summary


God's People

God's Place

God's Rule

The pattern of the kingdom

Adam & Eve


God's Word

The perished kingdom

Seth's line


Curse & judgement

The promised kingdom




The partial kingdom

Israel under Moses/Joshua

Canaan Tabernacle

Sinai Covenant

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