Anyone who has been reading some our posts here this month knows we have spent a lot of time on Jewish messianism and messianic prophecy. I have discussed messianic expectations and whether the Hebrew Bible teaches a two act play of the coming of the Messiah.
“Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the convers…ion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. The estrangement of the church from Israel was not the result of Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching. Rather, the parting of the ways, as it has been called in recent years, was the result of a long process”—Craig Evans , From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation
One of the common objections from the Jewish community is that Jesus failed to restore Israel or bring the kingdom. When they say “kingdom,” or “restoration” they generally mean that the Messiah will bring universal peace and recognition of God (Isaiah 2:1-4; Zephaniah 3:9; Hosea 2:20-22; Amos 9:13-15; Isaiah 32:15-18, 60:15-18; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:23, 14:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34) and the Messiah himself will be a descendant of King David who will rule Israel during the age of perfection (Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5). Also, the kingdom is characterized by a building of the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28) and a gathering of all Jews back to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6). There will be an era of world peace, and an end to all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease. As it says: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4). Furthermore, the spread of the universal knowledge of the God of Israel will unite humanity as one. As it says: “God will be King over all the world—on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9).
The problem is that when it comes to the reign of God theme in the Bible, it can’t be reduced to these expectations alone. While it is true there was an expectation of an earthly kingdom, many theologians assume Jesus shattered this expectation by bringing a spiritual kingdom. Whether Jesus offered the political, earthly, aspect of the kingdom of God to Israel (as seen in Matt. 3-12), is hotly debated. One thing for sure: in Matthew 12: 22-32, something happened between Jesus and the Jewish leadership:
“Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
It seems after the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to demonic origin, Jesus then went on to tell of a mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) that is taking place between His first and Second Coming. In relation to the kingdom of God, Jesus now offers an invisible, spiritual reign through a new birth to both Jew and Gentile that will last throughout eternity (John 3:3-7; 18:36; Luke 17:20-21).
What did Jesus do?
The kingdom theme in the New Testament is part of the great cosmic battle and a reversal against sin and Satan. It is also the kingdom over which Jesus is currently ruling (1 Cor. 15:25; Rev 1:5-6). The New Testament authors identify Jesus in God’s presence and at His right hand (Acts 2:24-33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Eph.1:20-21; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 2 Peter 3:22). By participating in God’s rule, Jesus is able to place all things in subjection under His feet. This theme, seen in the following New Testament passage exhibits that in early Jewish monotheism Jesus came to be recognized as ruling the cosmos from heaven: “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:21-22).
It is God’s reaching out to restore Israel and through Israel to extend covenantal peace to the world. Israel is elected for mission by God for the sake of these other families so that God’s blessing might come to all of them through what Israel is and what Israel does. The calling of Israel would be to see the inclusion of Gentiles (“goyim” or “people groups” ) into the covenant.
We see in Jeremiah 1:5 that this prophet is chosen by God, not simply as a prophet to Israel, but as prophet “to the nations.” Other prophets like Jonah or major writing prophets, addressed twenty-five chapters of their prophecies to the Gentile nations of their day (Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12). So the point is that while Israel was called to have an inward focus, they have an external calling.
Also, given Israel’s calling it should be no shock that in Ephesians 2: 11-3:6, the Gentiles recipients are addressed as those who were formally without the Messiah. They were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2: 12). So Israel was already near (Eph. 2:17), but the good news is that now along with Gentiles they even brought closer to God (Eph. 2:18). So through a believing Jewish remnant, we now have over 1 billion non-Jews that have come to know the one true God. With that said, I say act one of the messianic task is a success. One day, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God. (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).
I recently quoted R.C Sproul who says:
First , because of the ascension, Jesus went up to His coronation. He did not go up simply to enter into His rest. He went up for His investiture service. He ascended to the throne, to the right hand of God, where He was given dominion, power, and authority over the whole earth. The Lamb who was slain became the Lion of Judah, who now reigns over the earth. Again, the church has failed to understand. Many still look at the kingdom of God as something in the unfulfilled future. But the kingdom has begun. Why? Because the King has been enthroned. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm that Jesus “ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” He now sits in the seat of authority at the right hand of the Father, acting, as it were, as the celestial Prime Minister. The New Testament gives Him the titles of King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim. 6: 15; Rev. 17: 14; 19: 16). Jesus is no longer a peripatetic rabbi, walking around Galilee and Judea. He is enthroned, and no monarch in this world can rule for a second apart from His authority. He brings kingdoms up and brings kingdoms down. He is accountable to no earthly ruler. Needless to say, the reign of our Lord is a tremendous benefit for those who love Him and follow Him. For this reason, it is clearly better for us that Jesus left than if He had stayed.”--see Sproul, R. C. The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You (p. 188), Kindle Edition.
Jesus is God’s agent to inaugurate the reign of God:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Jesus linked his miracles and exorcisms to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”- Luke 4: 18-19
How Can We Show the Reign of God is Here?
The way I see it, there are some partial ways that Christians can show the reign of God is here. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Love unconditionally
- Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
- Be peacemakers
- Be agents of justice
- BE THE OPPOSITE OF THIS LIST HERE: “ But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant,revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal,[a]haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of[b]godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.-2 Timothy 3:1-5n
- Represent our Lord by being agents of both truth and love!
- Be open to self-denial (Luke 9:23).