Everyone in Jesus’ world knew what the kingdom of God was. It was the story they were living in. It started with Eden. Its restoration was promised to Abraham. It became a thing under Moses. Earthly kings like David represented God’s kingship. But it fell apart when Assyria and Babylon destroyed Israel as a nation.
So how would it be restored? They all knew what it was, but there were differing views on of how the kingdom of God would be restored.
John the Baptist expected God’s appointed ruler to come in judgement, cutting down the evil leaders of God’s people, casting them into the fire, and empowering the true people of God with his Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:7-12). When Jesus did not attack their evil rulers and set the prisoners free, John became unsure that Jesus would save them (11:2-3).
Jesus’ disciples expected him to ride into Jerusalem to the adulation of the crowds who would cease following the temple rulers and follow God’s anointed instead. They recognized him as the Christ, the Son of the heavenly Sovereign (Matthew 16:16-22), and they expected others would too. When this didn’t happen, their hopes were dashed (Luke 24:21).
Pharisees expected that God would restore his kingship over Israel when the people had demonstrated their willingness to live under the Sinai covenant — the covenant that established God as their king (Deuteronomy 30:2-3). Their hope was expressed in a document called Psalms of Solomon (written in the first century BC):
Psalms of Solomon 18:5-8
5 May God cleanse Israel for the day of mercy in blessing,
for the appointed day when his Messiah will reign.
6 Blessed are those born in those days,
to see the good things of the Lord
which he will do for the coming generation;
7 under the rod of discipline of the Lord Messiah,
in the fear of his God, in wisdom of spirit,
and of righteousness and of strength,
8 to direct people in righteous acts, in the fear of God,
to set them all in the fear of the Lord.
Jesus took a completely different approach to any of these. Like others, Jesus believed the world was operating under the wrong rulers (not functioning as the kingdom of God), but he had a completely different strategy for addressing that problem.
- He refused to attack the current rulers to free God’s people. He refused the violent path trodden by previous leaders (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges, David and the kings, the Maccabees, Aristobulus, …)
- He blamed the problem on the Jewish leaders, not their gentile oppressors. Israel had failed to be a light to the nations, the people through whom God’s restorative reign should come to the world.
- He knew this would cost him his life. Israel’s rulers — under the power of evil — would never give up their claims to power. To keep their power, they had to get rid of God’s anointed.
- Jesus avoided any confrontation with Herod (avoiding Herod’s towns).
- Jesus confronted the Jewish rulers (overturning the temple).
- Jesus expected the rulers to kill him. He believed God would raise him up anyway, so this would be how God would restore his reign over the earth (Matthew 16:21).
Jesus’ approach aligns with Daniel 7:13-14, the expectation that the kingdom of God would be restored not by attacking the beasts who currently run the world but though Israel’s ancient ruler acting to take the kingdom from the beasts, giving it to one like a son of man.
So how would the kingdom be restored on earth? Through an act of God. God would take the kingdom from the beasts and give it to the Son of Man. Not by dealing death (war), but by dealing life (resurrection), God would give the kingdom to his faithful Son, the one who remained faithful to the Ancient of Days, even unto death. In this way, God’s anointed liberates earth from evil and death, into God’s reign.
In a single sentence:
God’s kingdom is restored to earth by raising his anointed from the dead, giving him all authority in heaven and on earth.