Having the Old Testament context in mind, the New Testament then should be read with an understanding that the Jews of Christ’s day would have had their minds saturated with the promises of the Old Testament.
So the question is, did Christ offer the kingdom—the kingdom the Jews longed for? Or did Christ redefine the kingdom, and establish His reign as king in 33 AD?
In Luke 1:11-17, an angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah and announces the birth of John the Baptist (or John the Baptizer—sorry, there weren’t any Baptists back then). In this passage, the angel uses language that is strikingly tied to Old Testament Messianic promises. “And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people” (Luke 1:17, HCSB). This verse ties John the Baptizer to the promise of the Elijah to come in Malachi 4:5-6, which is a promise of a forerunner to the arrival and establishment of the kingdom.
Similarly, the angel’s announcement to Mary concerning the birth of Jesus also has explicit references to His Messianic role, especially in relation to the Davidic Covenant: “and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” The book of Matthew starts out by recording Jesus’ descent from the royal house of David. The Magi come asking for “the king of the Jews,” and Herod then inquires as to where the Messianic king would be born (Matthew 2:1-6), showing that he clearly understood the significance of these events.
As already mentioned, Jesus’ message about the kingdom being at hand would have been received and perceived by the Jewish people in context of the literally understood Messianic promises concerning the kingdom. If there is no reason to reject the normal interpretation of the kingdom promises, then it must be concluded that Christ was offering the promised Davidic kingdom as prophesied in the Old Testament. The healing and cleansing work of Jesus during His earthly ministry is linked directly to the Messianic promises found in Isaiah 61:1-2a (fulfilled in Luke 4:18–21). Immediately after this declaration, the people of Jesus’ own hometown sought to kill Him (Luke 4:22-30).
There then is a developing theme in the gospels of the rejection of Christ’s message, and the hardening of the hearts of the Jews (especially the Jewish leaders) against Christ. A decisive turn then takes place in Matthew 12, when the Jewish leaders attribute the miracles of Jesus to the power of Satan, and Jesus declares that they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Jesus finally makes clear His rejection of the nation and postponement of the Kingdom due to their rejection of Him in Matthew 21:41-43 and John 19:11. Notice however, that Jesus never claims to redefine the kingdom. It is never stated that the kingdom will not be established the way it is prophesied in Scripture, only that it would not be established in 33 AD. Also notice that Jesus never rebuked his disciples for anticipating the establishing of the kingdom (John 21:22; Acts 1:6).
The issue is not redefinition, but timing.
Next time, we’ll look further at the issue of the timing of the kingdom.