The Biblical Identity of Britain’s Royal Family: Part 1

The Biblical Identity of Britain’s Royal Family: Part 1
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The recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch, was a major world event watched by many millions around the globe. Her passing marks the end of an era, but the age of kings and queens still persists—transitioning now into the reign of her son, King Charles III, scheduled to be crowned later this year in May. The scale of interest in and fascination with the British royal family—its grand occasions along with daily routines and scandals—dwarfs that of any other monarchy on the planet. No other comes close.

Why does the British monarchy have such a high profile? At one time this monarchy reigned over a large portion of the world—and that’s significant. Yet it’s part of a bigger story—one that, unknown to most, remarkably finds its beginnings in the pages of the Bible. According to promises God laid out, an enduring dynasty would be part of the heritage of ancient Israel. Eventually, the dynastic succession would culminate in the Messiah or Christ, a great King of the line of Israel’s King David who would reign on the throne of Israel forever and establish His rule over all nations.

That Messiah, Jesus Christ, came as a descendant of David, but He did not yet occupy the Davidic throne as He was foretold to. In announcing to Mary that she would give birth to the promised Messiah, the angel Gabriel told her: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob [or Israel] forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33; compare Isaiah 9:6-7).

This points to the future Kingdom of God over all nations, as proclaimed in many prophecies—central to the gospel or good news Jesus preached. But we might wonder how this would continue the Israelite dynasty of David, especially since David’s dynasty ceased to reign in the Holy Land when the Babylonians invaded and destroyed Jerusalem around 587 B.C. Was Jesus to inherit a throne that no longer existed—having seemingly been wiped out more than five centuries before His first coming?

As we’ll further see, God made an unbreakable promise to David of an unbreakable dynasty, declaring that his throne would be built up to all generations until the Messiah’s reign, which is yet future. Jesus must return to a great monarchy that still exists in the end time.

We begin here in part 1 of a two-part series in this issue of Beyond Today with God’s establishment of a perpetual Israelite dynasty through King David and His descendants—along with the quandary of that dynasty seemingly ceasing for hundreds of years. (In part 2, we’ll discover the direct connection to the British monarchy.)

The scepter promise: with Judah until the Messiah

We start with the first mentions of a line of kings in Scripture, as revealed in the book of Genesis to the patriarch Abraham and his early descendants, particularly Judah, long before these kings lived.

God promised that Abraham’s descendants would become greatly blessed nations through which the world would be blessed—in part through this line of kings. God told him, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:6).

Some think this refers to various Arab peoples descended from Abraham besides the lineage through his son Isaac and his son Jacob. But the promises of national greatness and of kings is in succeeding passages narrowed down to this primary lineage. In the same chapter we see these were to come through a son from Abraham’s wife Sarah, referring to Isaac: “. . . then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her” (verse 16).

The promises are later specified to come through Isaac’s son Jacob. As God told him in Genesis 35:11, “Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body.” God gave Jacob the new name Israel—his 12 sons being the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.

We later learn that the birthright blessings of national greatness passed to Jacob’s son Joseph—specifically to Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. In prophesying of the last days, Jacob said that Ephraim would become the great company of nations while Manasseh would become a great single nation (see Genesis 48; 49:1, 22-26).

But we’re further informed that while the birthright of national greatness would go to Joseph’s descendants, the line of kings was given to another tribe, the descendants of Jacob’s son Judah (see 1 Chronicles 5:1-2).

We find this also in Jacob’s prophecy of the last days, wherein he said, “The scepter [or rod of kingly rule] shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people” (Genesis 49:10).

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“Shiloh” is variously translated as “Peaceable [One],” “Sent [One]” or “[One] Issued Forth” (as offspring). Designating the one to whom the scepter of rule truly belongs, it is commonly understood as a reference to the coming Messiah. So the ruling dynasty was to be of the tribe of Judah until the Messiah comes to reign.

Further regarding Judah, we should take note of the strange incident with the birth of his twin sons Pharez and Zarah (or Perez and Zerah). Zarah’s hand came out first, and a scarlet thread was tied to it to mark the firstborn. But then his hand went back in and the other twin was actually born first, gaining the name Pharez, meaning “breach” or “breaking through” (see Genesis 38:27-30).

This seems a very odd incident to record if it were to have no further significance, especially with Judah’s descendants receiving the royal lineage—birth order being a factor in that. Interestingly, we later see very little in Scripture about the descendants of Zarah, with most of the Jews of the land, including the royal family of David, being the descendants of Pharez. The strange incident here may well have led to clan rivalry. We’ll return to this matter later.

The Davidic covenant: a perpetual dynasty

The descendants of Israel grew into a sizable nation while enslaved in Egypt, and on leaving there under Moses they entered into a covenant with God, acknowledging Him as their Ruler. God was in fact Israel’s first king, prior to the people later calling for a human king at the time of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 12:12; 8:7).

In fact, the Lord who interacted on behalf of God the Father with the people at that time, the spiritual Rock who dwelt in presence among them as their God and Ruler, was the divine Word who became Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3, 14; 8:58; 1 Corinthians 10:4). The throne of the nation belonged to Him, and even more so since He was the Father of mankind and of Israel and its line of kings as the Creator.

God ruled then through chosen judges, priests, prophets, elders and personal intervention to direct communities and individuals. Yet the people rejected God’s system of rule, which had given them a lot of freedom, in favor of a more authoritarian state. Of course, God had foretold a line of kings, but the people’s motivation in this was to be like the other nations around them, with a human champion to protect and rule them. God did authorize a human king—but one who was subject to His laws, including special regulations for kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

It was later explained that Israelite kings “sat on the throne of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:23; 2 Chronicles 9:6-8)—reigning as kings for Him in a coregency, the throne still belonging to God.

We have examples humanly of a king appointing his son to the throne to take over the duties of kingship while the father was still alive—as David did with Solomon—so that there were two kings at the same time, one ruling for the other. (And we see this ultimately in what the Father in heaven has done, granting Christ His Son to sit with Him on His throne so that they are both King.) Likewise, Israel’s kings were in a special relationship with God, reigning for Him.

The first human king over the nation, beyond some local attempts in the Judges period, was Saul, who was of the tribe of Benjamin, not of Judah. But then, after Saul persisted in rebelling against God’s directives and was rejected from being king, God chose David, of the tribe of Judah, to reign.

Yet what if Saul had remained faithful? The throne would still have had to pass to Judah somehow, according to the scepter promise—and God could have easily worked that out, probably through intermarriage preserving both lineages.

In 2 Samuel 7:11-16, God promises David that He would have an enduring “house” or royal dynasty through his descendants starting with Solomon, with the throne of the kingdom established forever. “I will be his Father, and he shall be My son,” God says of the Davidic kings (verse 14), speaking of the special relationship He intended to have with these rulers, who were to be as sons reigning as coregents for Him (along with ultimately fulfillment in the future Messiah as the Son of God).

God further states that if David’s successor committed iniquity, God would bring judgment while continuing to show mercy, not cutting off the dynasty as happened with Saul. Yet other verses show that the promise of continuing succession from each particular king was conditional (such as 2 Chronicles 7:17-19)—whereas the overall promise of David’s dynasty continuing was unconditional. Per God’s promises, Solomon was not removed from office when he turned to evil—but He lost the guarantee of succession through His own descendants, so that succession could pass to other Davidic family members.

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God did continue the dynasty of David through Solomon’s descendants, but He has not obligated Himself to perpetuate Solomon’s line—whereas He has promised an enduring house of David. The ultimate King to come in the line of David, Jesus Christ, was biologically descended not from Solomon but from another son of David, Nathan. Yet Jesus has inherited from the Solomonic line legally through adoption by Mary’s husband Joseph (see Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).

Following the death of Solomon in the 900s B.C., God brought severe judgment on his unfaithfulness and that of the nation by dividing the nation and minimizing the scope of the Jewish monarchy’s rule for centuries to come. The northern tribes of Israel rebelled against the rule of Solomon’s son Rehoboam and accepted the rule of Jeroboam, a former official of Solomon to whom God gave rule over most of the nation (1 Kings 11-12).

There were now two Israelite kingdoms—the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom, the house of Israel, was ruled by a series of non-Davidic dynasties and coups, with none of its kings listed in Scripture as righteous. Eventually the Assyrian Empire conquered the nation in the 700s B.C. and took away its people in successive invasions and deportations.

The southern kingdom of Judah continued under the rule of the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem with mostly wicked kings, and a few righteous ones, until that nation was similarly crushed by Babylonian invasions in the 500s B.C., with the people taken away captive and the last king of Judah dethroned and his sons killed before him.

But how could this happen, considering what God had promised regarding David’s dynasty?

Psalm 89 recounts even more about the important promises made to David, giving us additional details. Yet it does so amid the monarchy suffering ruin, with the writer wondering how God could allow this and asking how long He would let things continue this way.

Verses 3-4 show God declaring, “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: ‘Your seed I will establish forever, and build up your throne to all generations.’” (We will come back to this aspect shortly.)

God further decrees the powerful future of this monarchy: “Also I will set his hand over the sea, and his right hand over the rivers . . . Also I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (verses 25-27).

This dominance over the sea and being the highest of the kings of the earth would apply even before the reign of the Messiah, as it fits here with the time of the kings still violating God’s laws and being judged for this (see verses 31-33).

Yet it’s reiterated that even disobedience by these succeeding rulers would not bring the end of the monarchy. God states: “His seed also I will make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven . . . My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky” (verses 29, 34-37).

God’s promises regarding the Davidic dynasty are declared unbreakable. But then came the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the monarchy in Judah.

Verses 38-45 lament to God: “But You have cast off and abhorred, You have been furious with Your anointed. You have renounced the covenant of Your servant; You have profaned his crown by casting it to the ground. You have broken down all his hedges; You have brought his strongholds to ruin.

“All who pass by the way plunder him; he is a reproach to his neighbors. You have exalted the right hand of his adversaries; You have made all his enemies rejoice. You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and have not sustained him in the battle. You have made his glory cease, and cast his throne down to the ground. The days of his youth You have shortened; You have covered him with shame.”

Did God break His promises after all? Never. We need to understand that some key elements in these promises make it clear that God would not leave the Davidic dynasty in this toppled state for long—that the dynasty would be restored to continue before the generation that witnessed its collapse passed away.

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The throne built up to all generations

In Jeremiah 33 we find the promises of an unbreakable dynasty reaffirmed along with continuity in the Levitical priesthood: “For thus says the Lord: ‘David shall never lack a man [a person] to sit on the throne of the house of Israel [significant wording we’ll come back to later] . . .

“If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son [or descendant] to reign on his throne . . . As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me’” (verses 17-22).

God then further states: “If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers [plural] over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them” (verses 25-26).

To make sense of this, we need to carefully consider what God swore to David in Psalm 89:3-4: “Your seed I will establish forever, and build up your throne to all generations” (emphasis added). This tells us that the throne of David would exist in all generations, a generation being all the people alive at a given time. This actually allows for interregnums or gaps in the reign of the Davidic dynasty—as long as the dynasty was restored within a generation.

There was such a gap in the Davidic throne when Queen Athaliah of the northern house of Ahab took over the rule of Judah for six years while the rightful heir, a young boy named Joash or Jehoash, was kept hidden (2 Kings 11:12; 2 Chronicles 22-23). But the boy was at last made king, it having been stated, “Behold, the king’s son shall reign, as the Lord has said of the sons of David” (verse 3).

Reflecting on what God promised in Jeremiah 33, it is interesting to consider that part of the nation of Judah and the Levitical priesthood were restored within 70 years of the fall of Jerusalem—that is, within the same generation. But what about the throne of David? We see some heirs to the dynasty’s lineage brought back—from whom Jesus Christ descended. But the Davidic monarchy ceased in Judah.

Many maintain that the Davidic dynasty ended with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and that Jesus inherited a restored Jewish throne at His first coming, assuming rule upon it at His resurrection. But this would mean there was a gap in the reign of David’s dynasty of more than 500 years. How does that fit with the throne being established and built up in all generations from David’s time?

Moreover, Jesus did not assume rule on the earthly throne of David at His first coming or when He ascended to the Father’s throne in heaven after His resurrection. Jesus compared Himself in a parable to a nobleman who “went in to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return” (Luke 19:12). So Jesus will not assume direct rule on David’s throne until His future return, thus seemingly leaving a gap in the Davidic monarchy of more than 2,500 years. Such a gap of many, many generations is inconsistent with the throne persisting in all generations.

We should also take note of the fact that Jeremiah 33:26 shows a succession of Davidic rulers (plural) to come after the time of Jeremiah, who lived at the end of the monarchy in Judah. This was not fulfilled only in the ultimate Messiah to come. Rather, it pointed to other Davidic rulers beyond the ancient fall of Judah to precede the future Messianic reign.

Consider also the scepter promise in Genesis 49 of the kingship remaining with the tribe of Judah in the last days until the Messiah comes to assume rule. Clearly a Jewish monarchy must exist in the last days for the Messiah to take it over—and it must be one that has persisted with rulers of the royal house of David.

So what happened to the Davidic dynasty? And what does that have to do with the British monarchy? Be sure to read part 2, to see how God has fulfilled His unbreakable promises.