When Jesus was born, and then again when He began His ministry (at about age 30), many recognized Him as the Messiah and that He would soon bring in His kingdom; for they had been waiting for Him and were anticipating His coming—as was predicted by the prophets.
John the Baptist and Christ himself preached that the kingdom was “at hand”—meaning that it was to be expected immediately. The twelve disciples, being commissioned and sent out by Jesus, also preached that the kingdom of God was “at hand.” They believed that the kingdom, which was offered by Jesus, was the same kingdom that was anticipated by the prophets—which we know as the millennial kingdom. Moreover, Jesus’ many works and miracles were their evidence that He was beginning to bring in the long awaited kingdom of God. In fact, as Jesus did His works He Himself was constantly pointing back to the theocratic kingdom promises to explain His actions (Matt. 21:13 refers to Isa. 56:7; Lu. 7:27 refers to Mal. 3:1).
Now when the disciples went out to preach that the kingdom was “at hand,” they went only to their own brethren the Jews (Jn. 1:11); for they were the ones that were given the promises and the covenants; they were the ones to be leaders in the kingdom.
The message of their preaching was simply this: repent, for the kingdom is at hand. Therefore, we may conclude by this message that Jesus was ready to bring in the kingdom; hence they (the Jews, the primary participants in the kingdom) needed to be saved.
The subject of Christ’s presentation and offer of His kingdom to the Jews and of their opposition and rejection of it (and of Him), is one of the main purposes of Matthew’s gospel. Here is a good outline of it: (1) the presentation and authentication of the King (1:1-11:1); (2) the opposition to the King (11:2-16:12); and (3) the final rejection of the King (16:13-28).
The pivotal point of Matthew’s gospel is the point at which the Pharisees began to plot to kill Jesus, and then, when Jesus, knowing it, withdrew Himself. In Matthew 12: 14-15 it says,
But the Pharisees went out, and counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
15 But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.
Some theologians believe that this was the very point at which Jesus withdrew His offer of the kingdom to Israel. I don’t know if we can pinpoint this as being the exact time and place of His withdrawal, but it is clear that sometime after the Jews’ final rejection of Him, He had rejected (or withdrawn from) them and was turning to another program—the church (Matt. 16:13-20).
Of course, as we have already talked about, Jesus’ rejection of Israel is not final; it is only temporary. When they as a nation finally repent and turn to Him, He will accept them and re-offer His kingdom to them—which they will accept (Rom. 11). But until that time Jesus has been building His church. This is where we are now, and I believe we can regard this time as a unique phase of the kingdom.
Looking back at how it all turned out, that is, how Jesus offered the kingdom to His people and how they rejected Him and even killed Him, this, in the normal sense, would be considered a tragedy. But, as we know, God in His wisdom turned it into something good. Actually, He turned it into the best thing that could happen, for what they (they Jews) meant for evil, God meant for good and for the good of all; for by their rejection of Him, which led to His death, our salvation was made possible. In fact, Jesus’ death, from eternity was the design of God, and was actually prophesied in the Old Testament (Is. 53). And now, thank God, all that believe in Him will be saved through His blood (Eph. 1: 5-7).
Now here is another thing that we see from this phase of the kingdom: the works and miracles of Jesus definitely shows us the true nature of God’s kingdom and what the future kingdom will be like. Just as Jesus was wiping out sickness and hunger, the kingdom is and will be a place of health and plenty. And just as Jesus did miracles over nature (such as calming the storm and walking on water), in the coming kingdom the natural world will be completely under His control and power. Says Pentecost,
Every miracle which the Lord performed, then, may be understood to be not only a demonstration of the theocratic power of the Messiah, but also that which depicts the conditions which will exist in the theocratic kingdom when it is established.
Next Post: The Kingdom of God during the Time of the Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen Nielsen