However figurative in its terms, and vague in itself, is the promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, it cannot well be doubted that all along from the earliest times, there existed among men the expectation not only of deliverance from sin and its evils, but also of a personal Deliverer. (Gen. iii. 15.) Probably all early peoples had through tradition some knowledge, always imperfect and often perverted, of this Deliverer to come. To make known His purpose in Him, and to prepare the way for Him, was henceforth the chief end of all God's actings. Of this deliverance, or, as expressed by the apostle, of "the times of restitution of all things, God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." (Acts iii. 21.) How far this purpose in the Deliverer was understood in the earliest times, by those to whom it was known, it is not necessary for us to inquire. In the special promises made to Abraham this primitive promise was confirmed and made more definite, so that the patriarch saw with the eye of faith "the day of Christ," the day of redemption and of the Redeemer. (John viii. 56.) Isaac and Jacob, "heirs of the same promise," looked forward to the same day. (Heb. xi.) And in foresight of Him Jacob declared, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be." (Gen. xlix. 10.) Of Him and His rule did the Gentile prophet Balaam speak: "There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel. . . . Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion." (Num. xxiv. 17, 19.) And as the time drew near, when kings were to reign under Jehovah over His people, Hannah spake in prophetic inspiration: "The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His Anointed." (1 Sam. ii. 10.)
Through the covenant with David, a great step onward was made in the way of Messianic revelation, and this in two important points. The promised One is to come of David's line, and His place is denned as that of the Ruler of the elect nation under Jehovah.
It has been already shown, that the covenant with David involved in it the promise of the perfect King and the perfected kingdom. If Jehovah would rule His people through a man chosen of Him, His King, it must be that in due time He would raise up One who would in all points fulfill His purpose, and administer His kingdom in perfect righteousness; and then would be realized all the hopes of the patriarchs, and of all later generations, who had looked forward to redemption. This King would be "the Seed of the woman," "the Star out of Jacob," Jehovah's Son and Anointed One.
Thus, from this time the thought of the Redeemer was inseparably connected in the minds of all who had any knowledge of the redemptive purpose, with the theocratic kingship in the family of David. He was presented to the elect people as One to be their King, and His kingdom not as one wholly new and distinct, but as the continuation and development of the theocratic. In both is Jehovah the Supreme Ruler, and the covenant relations remain the same. It was, therefore, a most important step in Messianic revelation when the monarchy was set up, and the people saw the government administered by a man as the servant of Jehovah. From David, it was easy to pass in imagination to His greater Son; from the Davidic kingdom to the more glorious kingdom which this Son should administer. Thus from the present they could look forward to the future: the real, however imperfect, served as the basis of the ideal. This conception of the Messianic Kingdom as like the Davidic, and yet something far higher and holier, once obtained, was never lost. It was present to the popular imagination as a bright vision, indistinct in outline, and far off, but never ceasing to be to the faithful and believing an object of earnest expectation and hope.
The chief elements that entered into this conception of the future Kingdom may be thus distinguished: First, its universality. A period would come when Jehovah would rule all nations in righteousness, and all dwellers on earth would serve and worship Him. Second, the place of the Jews as His own people in this universal kingdom. Through their instrumentality should it be set up, and in it should they be the first among'.the nations. Third, this kingdom would be administered by one of the seed of Abraham and family of David, the promised Messiah.
It is only to the last of these elements that the term Messianic, strictly speaking, can be applied; for a great enlargement of the theocratic government — an universal Kingdom under Jehovah — could be conceived of without the existence of the Messiah as its Head; and, also, that without Him as their King, the Jews might have in it the highest place.
Let us now note each of these three elements.
1. The belief in an universal kingdom of righteousness. This stood intimately connected with the conception of God as a supreme, righteous, moral Governor. All sin, all disorder, are in their very nature offensive to Him, and, if tolerated for a time, must ultimately be suppressed. Among the gods of the nations was there none like unto Jehovah, and before Him would all nations come and worship. (Ps. lxxxvi. 8, 9.) Thus it was easy for the Jews to look forward to a time when the rebellious and evil would be cut off from the earth, and only the obedient and good be left. (Ps. ix. 15-20.) And this was more than a matter of inference: it had been promised by God. At Sinai He had said, "All the earth is mine." And to Moses, "As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." (Num. xiv. 21.)
2. The belief that the Jews would have the place nearest to God, and so be the first among the nations. This followed from their special covenant relation to Him. He had chosen them that He might first reveal Himself to them, and then through them to the world, "that all the peoples of the earth might know that the Lord is God, and none else." (1 Kings viii. 60.) Their special relation to Him was not a transient one, but to continue even when all the nations had become obedient to Him.
3. The belief that one of their race and of the family of David would be at the head of this universal kingdom, administering it under Jehovah. This rested on the promises made to Abraham and to David. But it was not till the actual establishment of the monarchy, that the conception of the future Messianic Kingdom and of its King, in their relations to Jehovah, could take definite outline. As under the Theocracy David ruled the elect people, a true king, but in entire subordination to Jehovah, administering the government under His direction and for His ends, so would it be in the greater Kingdom to come. By the mouth of the prophet God had promised David that He would set his family to be the royal family, as in the present, so in the future kingdom. "I will settle him in my house and in my kingdom for ever." (1 Chron. xvii. 14.) When this kingdom should assume its universal form, it would be one of this family who must be His King. As the nation was Jehovah's people, — the elect among the nations, — so their earthly head was His King.
It was from this period, the reign of David, that the three distinctive elements just mentioned began to enter into the popular conception of the future. But all these elements, though inseparable in the purpose of God, were by no means equally, and at all times, present in the popular consciousness, or prominent in the prophetic utterances. That Jehovah would in due time make manifest His authority over all nations, and that the Jews would continue to be His chosen people, it was easy for them to believe, because of His own natural supremacy, and of their existing covenant relations. But it was not so easy for them to believe the promises respecting the person and lordship of the Messiah, the Son of David, as universal Ruler. In regard to His person, many perplexing questions must early have arisen in the minds of the thoughtful. Would He be a man like David, one prepared by God, and specially endowed by His Spirit, or more than man? And as to the Kingdom, would it be for a limited time, or forever? And if forever, or without any visible end, would His life be supernaturally prolonged by Divine favor, or would He be by birth immortal? Would all the people be holy? And would the law of death be set aside, wholly or in part? How could He administer an universal kingdom? Would it be extended over the nations by voluntary submission, or by force? and what would be their spiritual relations to Him? These questions find no answer in the covenant itself. Nor did the prophets, as we shall soon see, in their revelations, answer them with distinctness. Indeed, some of them say nothing of the Messiah at all; and the language of others who speak of Him, might be understood as referring to a dynasty rather than to an individual. Only in comparatively few is the Messiah clearly set forth in His personality and special offices.
It is not to be denied, that for many years after David the future Messianic Kingdom was not clearly discriminated from the existing theocratic: it was Jehovah, not the promised King of David's line, that filled the horizon of the prophetic future; and this may be readily understood when we remember how prone were the people to lower the spiritual claims of Jehovah upon them, and to substitute a human for a Divine administration. But whether Jehovah alone be mentioned as the King ruling the world in righteousness, or the Messiah, also, as reigning under Him, still there is ample proof that an extension of the theocratic rule to embrace all nations, with corresponding increase of honor and blessing to the chosen people, was continually before the eye of the prophets, and more or less a living element in the faith of the nation.
Regarded as a new and higher stage of redemption, what additional spiritual blessings did the Jews expect for themselves in the Messianic Kingdom? And how was Messiah to be Jehovah's instrument for their communication? Upon these points, little light was at first given. But it was plain to the more discerning, that since both the Theocracy, and the Messiaj
to follow it, were means for the blessing of His people, there would be in the latter some new manifestation of Jehovah, whereby they might have a larger knowledge of Him in His Divine attributes, and be brought into closer communion with Him, and so attain to greater moral purity and blessedness. The great spiritual distinction of the Messianic Kingdom above the Theocracy would be in a higher revelation of Jehovah to His people, whereby the evils of sin both in man and nature would be in higher degree overcome, and the people made obedient and faithful and holy. And among the nations oppression and misery would cease, the righteous would be exalted, and all the world walk in His light. And He by whom Jehovah would bestow all these blessings would be the Messiah. As David had been His instrument in building His temple and blessing His people, and, also, His instrument in subduing His enemies, so, but in far higher degree, should be David's greater Son. As Jehovah's King all would obey Him, and His sceptre be a sceptre of righteousness, and all nations rejoice in His rule. (Ps. lxxii.)
The features of the Messianic period as involved in the covenants at Sinai and with David, may be thus summed up: Then will the rule of Jehovah be extended over all nations. Everywhere He will be acknowledged and worshipped as the One Supreme and Holy God. The Jews will continue to be His elect people, and be admitted to higher communion with Him; and, dwelling in their own land, and walking in all holy obedience, will have the first and central place in the universal Kingdom. A man to spring from the family of David will administer the Divine government under Jehovah, and be King over all the earth; and the seat of His rule will be Jerusalem, where will be some special manifestation of Jehovah's Presence, making it to all the world the centre of authority and worship. And this kingdom, administered in perfect righteousness, will endure forever, or for a period without any definite limit.
The Messianic Kingdom was thus presented before the covenant people as an object of hope, because in it they would be blest with far larger measures of blessing, both in things spiritual and temporal. Its chief characteristic was a new revelation of Jehovah through the Messiah, when " Mount Zion should be the joy of the whole earth; " a revelation in which all nations should behold His glory, and bow down before Him and worship. Whether in their visions of the future the prophets look beyond the Messianic Kingdom, or whether it is to them the culmination of God's redemptive work, will be a matter for later consideration. It need scarcely be said that the conceptions of this kingdom were various as the spiritual condition of individuals, — some looking upon it as bringing with it full deliverance from sin, and close communion with God; some as showing forth God's righteousness in the overthrow of His enemies; some as a time of national exaltation; and some, doubtless, as a means only of greater earthly honor and happiness. The dividing line between the existing theocratic and the future Messianic Kingdom is the coming of the Messiah. But in both is Jehovah the One Supreme Lord, from whom all blessing comes.