We now come to the central issue of our study. When Jesus was on earth did he endorse the Old Testament concept of the Kingdom of God or did he alter it?
JESUS CLAIMED TO BE THE MESSIAH
First we note that Jesus clearly said he was the promised Messiah, or Christ. Early in his ministry a Samaritan woman said to him:
know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ:
when he is come, he will tell us all things.
The immediate reply of Jesus was:
that speak unto thee am he(John 4:25-26).
At his trial, when his mission was nearly accomplished, the High Priest administered to Jesus the Oath of the Testimony, which no pious Jew could evade or wrongly answer:
adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether
thou be the Christ, the Son of God?
Note how the High Priest knew the promise to David. The Christ was not only to be a ruler, but the Son of God. Jesus' reply was:
hast said(Matthew 26:63-64, see especially
To us this
might seem evasive, but in fact it expressed complete
agreement-in those days courtesy forbad a direct
Later the Roman Governor asked a similar question:
Art thou a king then?
Again came the polite affirmative:
sayest that I am a king(John 18:37).
And because of this claim, despite vehement opposition from the priests, Pilate put over the head of the crucified Jesus this statement of his kingship:
of Nazareth the King of the Jews(John 19:19).
So it is clear that Jesus said he was the Messiah, but did he use the term in the same sense as his fellow Jews? Did he preach about this time of blessing for the world when he would reign on David's throne as king over the Kingdom of God?
Or did he tell his hearers that they had all the time been mistaken in their beliefs: that the Kingdom of God was not literal, and that his reign consisted rather of his sovereignty over their present lives?
Even a cursory
reading of the gospels supplies the answer. Jesus supported
completely the Old Testament concept of the Messiah.
He spoke of the time when he would come and
on the throne of his glory(Matthew 25:31), when
his disciples would share the responsibility of rulership
with him (Matthew 19:28). He said Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
and all the prophets would be in the Kingdom of God,
and would sit down there with multitudes who had been
gathered from all the points of the compass (Luke 13:29).
THE PEOPLES' VIEW OF JESUS
Those who heard Jesus and were not prejudiced by his apparently lowly origin found his claims to Messiahship convincing. Andrew exclaimed to his brother Peter:
have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted,
the Christ(John 1:41).
And Philip also told his friend Nathaniel:
have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the
prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth(v45).
A year or so later, after listening to Jesus and witnessing his power to heal, the people asked:
not this the Son of David?(Matthew 12:23).
Three years in the company of Jesus made the disciples even more convinced of Jesus' claim. On one occasion He asked them who they thought he was. Peter, as ever, was their spokesman, answering again in the language of the promises to the fathers:
art the Christ, the Son of the living God(Matthew
If Jesus was not to be the Messiah in the conventional Jewish sense, here was an ideal opportunity to educate Peter and the rest of his disciples concerning his real mission. But his answer confirmed that the confidently expressed view of Peter was correct:
art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath
not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is
THE EFFECT OF CHRIST'S PREACHING
be no doubt, therefore, that when Jesus
all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues,
and preaching the gospel of the kingdom(Matthew
9:35), he was telling them about the fulfilment of the
promises to Abraham and David. What he did not directly
tell them was when he would establish the Kingdom.
Bearing in mind the oppressive Roman occupation of their
land, it is not surprising that having recognised their
Messiah in Jesus, the Jews then expected him there and
then to throw off the Roman yoke, set up again the throne
of David, and rule in righteousness as the prophets
had predicted. On the final occasion that Jesus travelled
to Jerusalem this expectation rose to fever pitch. As
he went up the road from Jericho more and more excited
crowds joined him until he arrived at Jerusalem accompanied
by a multitude of chanting men women and children acclaiming
him as the Messiah, the Son of David:
the multitudes that went before, and that followed,
cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David:
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest(Matthew 21:9).
But all know what happened to Jesus during this visit to Jerusalem. He was arrested. A few days later the a similar crowd that welcomed him into the city clamoured for his crucifixion, and within a few hours Jesus was hanging lifeless on the cross. Does this mean Jesus was not the Messiah? That he was an impostor, and all his claims to be the son promised to Abraham and David were false?
Not at all. Had those Jews studied their Scriptures with more perception they would have seen that there were two aspects to the Messiah's work. We have already seen that part of the blessing that is to come on the world by the work of Abraham's seed is the forgiveness of men's sins. His sacrifice on the cross made that forgiveness possible, and is a vital aspect of the Saviour's mission that we will consider in detail in chapter 9. But for the moment we must return to Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of God.
On that fateful journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had already indicated that although the Kingdom of God would come, it was not to appear immediately. Luke records the teaching of Jesus as he journeyed with them:
as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable,
because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they
thought that the kingdom of God should immediately
How did this parable attempt to correct the impression? Its opening words supply the answer:
said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far
country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return
is obviously Jesus himself, and by this parable he told
them that he would have to go away into a
country, an unmistakable reference to his ascent
to heaven. Then he was to come back to earth
with the authority to set up the Kingdom. A few days
later he privately gave his disciples a similar message.
He spoke of many terrible things that were yet to happen
to Jerusalem and the Jewish people, but eventually he
would return for the salvation of the world:
then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud
with power and great glory .... So likewise ye, when
ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the
kingdom of God is nigh at hand(Luke
Here is a summary of what we have ascertained so far about Christ's preaching:
- Jesus preached the gospel, or good news, of the Kingdom of God.
- His hearers expected a literal Kingdom on earth, as promised to their 'fathers'.
- They regarded Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah.
- Jesus taught that the Kingdom would be set up at his second coming rather than at his first ministry.
The tragic thing about the disciples' attitude was that Christ's warnings about his impending death had not sunk in. From being on the crest of the wave at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem they plunged to the depths of despair at his crucifixion. The person they genuinely thought to be the Messiah was dead! As one of them commented a few days later:
trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed
the most wonderful thing happened! Jesus rose from the
dead and appeared to them. They talked with him, ate
with him and examined his nail-scarred hands. He indeed
showed himself alive after his passion by many
infallible proofs(Acts 1:3). And what did the
resurrected Jesus and his disciples talk about? Luke
tells us in the same passage: it was nothing less than
the Kingdom of God. He was
of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining
to the kingdom of God.
IS NOW THE TIME?
It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the disciples. Jesus had vindicated his claim to be the Messiah by his resurrection: he was talking about the Kingdom of God that the prophets had predicted: surely the time they had been waiting for had arrived at last! With eager voices they asked him if he was about to take David's throne and reign as king:
wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to
Again, what a marvellous opportunity here for Christ to correct them if their concept of the Kingdom was wrong. What better time than now to explain to them that the Kingdom he came to establish was a spiritual one: to tell them that as they went out to convert the world they would be creating God's Kingdom by building up a body of believers who would spread the influence and domain of God throughout the world.
But Jesus did not correct them. His only comment was on the timing of the Kingdom's appearance, not the fact of it:
is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which
the Father hath put in his own power(v7).
almost Christ's last words to the disciples. As they
stood there looking at him he rose into heaven and was
gone. Jesus had appeared and disappeared before during
those forty days after his resurrection, but this was
obviously the final parting, and they watched him go
with heavy hearts. Maybe the thought again crossed their
Is this the end?If it did, it was
soon dispelled by two white-robed men who had silently
joined the group. These angels had emphatic words of
men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?
this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven,
shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go
So the disciples knew that the hope of the Kingdom was not extinguished, but its fulfilment would be delayed until Jesus returned.
THE FIRST PREACHING OF CHRISTIANITY
A few days after the ascension of their Master, the disciples came under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit as the prophets had been in the past (Acts 2:1-4). They immediately put this new-found power and authority into effect and commenced the task of convincing first the Jews and then the whole world that Jesus was the Messiah.
They started in Jerusalem. A crowd gathered and Peter started talking to them about Jesus. Here is the very first occasion on which Christianity is being preached to the world. And to what did Peter refer? Nothing else than the promise God made to David! He reminded his audience that God told David that he would have a son, the Christ, to sit on his throne. The argument was that David foresaw the death and resurrection of his descendant; and as this man Jesus whom the Jews had just crucified could be proved to have risen from the dead, he therefore must be the promised seed, the Christ:
and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the
patriarch David .... Therefore being a prophet, and
knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that
of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh,
he would raise up (the) Christ to sit on his throne;
He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of
(the) Christ ....(Acts 2:29-31).
Having shown that the Scriptures foretold the death and resurrection of the Christ, Peter then forced home his point:
Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are
And He concludes:
let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God
hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified,
both Lord and Christ(v36).
Notice that Peter was not attempting in any way to modify the Jews' concept of their Messiah. His object was simply to prove that Jesus was the one promised.
In his preaching a day or two later Peter told his audience that the blessings of the Kingdom foretold in the Old Testament would come about when Jesus returned to the earth:
he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached
unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times
of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken
by the mouth of all his holy prophets since
the world began(Acts 3:20- 21).
We were not in error therefore in going to the Old Testament to learn about the mission of Jesus. On the Apostle Peter's authority this is the place where his great work is predicted. Can you now recognise the vital role of the Hebrew Scriptures in our understanding of the work of Christ? Can you appreciate more fully the theme that runs like the golden thread though all the Bible and, marvelling at this achievement, acknowledge that it could only be the work of God?
THE THEME OF FIRST CENTURY CHRISTIANITY
This way of describing the work of Christ was maintained by all the first century disciples. The coming Kingdom of God at the return of Jesus was the consistent theme. Although it may appear repetitious I would like to quote several well known New Testament inspired preachers to establish this beyond doubt. Of Philip we read:
Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached
Christ unto them(Acts 8:5).
A few verses further on there is a definition of what his preaching about Christ involved:
they believed Philip preaching the things concerning
the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus
One of the greatest exponents of Christianity was the Apostle Paul, who was particularly concerned with preaching to the Gentiles. Let us eavesdrop on one or two of his addresses. At Antioch, like Peter at Jerusalem, he introduces the promise to David, and says of him:
this man's seed hath God according to his promise
raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus(Acts 13:23).
Thus we see that Paul believed that Jesus was the promised son of David, with all it implied. Speaking to the Athenians near the Acropolis he tells them of God's intention to judge the world by the righteous rule of Jesus:
hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge
the world in righteousness by that man whom he
hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto
all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead
At Ephesus Paul went into the synagogue and:
boldly for the space of three months, disputing and
persuading the things concerning the kingdom of
He told the Ephesians that he had gone among them:
Preaching the kingdom of God(Acts 20:25).
That Paul preached Jesus as the ruler of a literal Kingdom is evident from the reaction of his adversaries at Thessalonica. They accused Paul of doing things
to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another
king, one Jesus(Acts 17:7).
Clearly the coming rule of Jesus was regarded as a threat to the Emperor. We can be sure that preaching a mystical or symbolic king would not have aroused such a reaction.
Even when he was imprisoned for his beliefs he could say to his visitors:
the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain
And this hope is defined a few verses later:
he expounded and testified the kingdom of God,
persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the
law of Moses, and out of the prophets ....(v23).
The whole of his activity whilst in prison is summed up by the last verse of the Acts:
the kingdom of God, and teaching those things
which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.(v31).
CHRIST'S RETURN THE HOPE OF ORIGINAL CHRISTIANS
A study of first century Christian writings clearly demonstrates that the return of Jesus to set up on earth the Kingdom of God was the principal hope of the believers. As an example refer to the epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, where there are repeated allusions to it as the culmination of believers' expectations (e.g. I Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-16: 5:2 etc.).
The return of Jesus to the earth was considered vital by those Christians not only because it would mean blessings for the whole earth under Christ's righteous rule, but because only then would their own salvation be achieved. Any idea of instant reward at death is foreign to New Testament Christianity. Read carefully these examples of the Apostles' teaching:
charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus
Christ, who shall judge the quick (i.e. the living)
and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom
.... Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of
righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge,
shall give me at that day: and not to me only,
but unto all them also that love his appearing
(2 Timothy 4:1,8).
the trial of your faith .... might be found unto praise
and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus
Christ: Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind,
be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is
to be brought unto you at the revelation
of Jesus Christ(1 Peter 1:7,13)
the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive
a crown of glory that fadeth not away(1 Peter
we know that, when he shall appear, we shall
be like him(1 John 3:2).
And Christ's very last message to his followers, contained in the closing verses of the Bible, is:
I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to
give every man according as his work shall be
There is therefore not the slightest doubt that the return of Jesus Christ to the earth to set up the Kingdom of God and to reward his true followers was the hope of the original Christians.
A SUMMARY OF THE HOPE OF THE GOSPEL
In previous chapters I have usually placed at the end a brief summary that lists the main points covered in the previous few pages. At this point it might be useful to present a more extended summary of the things we have gleaned so far from our study of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
You may recall that in chapter 1 we saw that the Kingdom of God was the theme of the preaching of Christ and the apostles, and that the dozens of references to it could only be reconciled with each other by regarding the Kingdom as a literal one. We then looked at the remarkable prophecy of the metallic statue which predicted that the Kingdom of Men would one day suddenly be replaced by a world-wide Kingdom of God.
With this general outline in mind we then took a tremendous leap forward into the future, and from the Old Testament prophets and some New Testament references obtained the delightful picture of a world freed from all present evils, and governed by a wise, righteous, but firm divine ruler.
We then went back almost to the beginning of the Bible to trace the way in which God planned to bring about this perfect time. God selected Abraham to be the father of His nation, and made to him a solemn promise, guaranteed by His own existence. Abraham was to have a descendant in whom all the earth would one day be blessed, and who would possess the earth and rule over it, bringing all nations into subjection to him.
About a thousand years later God appeared to king David who now ruled over Abraham's descendants, the nation of Israel. He too was to have a son, in fact the same person as promised to Abraham, and again the emphasis was on rulership. David's son was to reign for ever on David's throne and establish his kingdom throughout eternity.
Combining these two great promises the Jews looked forward to the coming of the one they called their Messiah, in whom both the promises would find fulfilment. In the inspired writings of the prophets are many references to this coming Messiah and the work that he would do in bringing blessing to the earth.
Coming forward to the New Testament we found that its opening verse was an immediate link with these promises, and that at the birth of Jesus it was predicted that he was the one in whom they would come to fruition. Throughout his ministry Jesus continually demonstrated that he was the Messiah, but taught that his role as world ruler would be fulfilled only after he had gone away to heaven and then returned.
After his resurrection Jesus continued to preach a literal Kingdom, and this theme was taken up by his apostles in their bid to convert men and women to Christianity. The Kingdom of God on earth was the keynote of the original Christian message as preached by apostles such as Peter and Paul, whose writings are full of references to it.
FIRST CENTURY v. TWENTIETH CENTURY
After this review of first century belief and teaching about the Kingdom of God the question obviously arises, Does twentieth century Christianity share these original beliefs? If it doesn't, why the change?
This is what we will examine in the next chapter.