A friend asked me the other day what I have been studying… here’s what I told him.
I study whatever the Lord drops into my mind. Recently it has been the kingdom of God from the viewpoint of Jews living when Jesus began to preach.
Did you ever notice that the Bible doesn’t say exactly what Jesus said about it? Just that he preached “repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” (Matt. 4:17) I wondered why he didn’t explain what “kingdom of God” meant, until after reading up on some Jewish theology.
The Jews knew – or thought they knew – what that meant. Restoration of military and political power, prestige and premier position on the world stage. Ruling over other nations, instead of being ruled by other nations. Micah Chapter 4 contains one description of that kingdom but there are many others.
Then too, when Peter acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ (Matt. 16:16), what did he mean by that? Well, I think the word “Christ” (anointed one) to Peter meant the descendent of King David who would be the new king of Israel, who would recreate Israel as the most powerful nation in the world.
After all, a man who can raise the dead, walk on water, multiply food, disappear in the midst of his enemies — the Romans would be powerless before such a man! He would recruit, empower and equip an army of rebels to get it done, and the disciples were surely his first recruits.
That’s what the people were looking for, what many Jewish people are still longing and looking for, and what the disciples thought they had found in Jesus. Jesus had to spend some time correcting their thinking.
You see, the Jews never really thought God Almighty in person would come occupy the palace, sit on a physical throne and rule the people. They thought a human descendant of King David, one with supercharged abilities, would do all that.
But God Almighty? Who used to live in the Ark of the Covenant? No, that’s not what they expected at all. But that’s what they got — in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s a thought: you don’t need walkie-talkies (or cell phones) if the king inhabits the soldiers.
Here are some preliminary thoughts I had jotted down before answering my friend’s question:
Kingdoms are governed by kings. The Kingdom of God requires a king. A human one?
What did “Kingdom of God” mean to the Jews when Jesus went around preaching about it, in the days when he recruited his first followers (disciples, apostles) from local businessmen such as farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, even tax collectors.
And who would be its King? A descendent of King David? A human representative of Almighty God, as David had been?
Micah 4 describes the last days and its promised kingdom of God, where Israel has regained her prominence in the world, a strong, powerful nation where people enjoy their own property free and clear of taxes or fees or tribute to a foreign ruler, where foreigners will come to worship at the temple.
When Jesus began to preach, the opposite was the case. Israel was under the thumb of Rome, paying multiple taxes, fees and tributes to Caesar, even having to fork over percentages of crops and animals and fish and created goods just for the privilege of being ruled by Rome. Making ends meet was a struggle for most people.
Then too, Roman troops were stationed here and there across the country, able to command just about anything they wanted from the people. And what the Romans didn’t take, unrighteous religious leaders took.
A restoration of David’s kingdom would have been welcome indeed. Raise up a righteous army, powerful, not just a weak, defensive rag-tag bunch of rebels, but well armed, well trained. Throw off Roman rule. Collect tribute, not pay it.
What would be the first steps? For the disciples, if they’d had that mindset, it might have been to go underground, recruit other believers, begin to amass material goods, make plans. Recruit military-minded, intelligence-minded, political-minded rebels. Many of them. After all, Rome was pretty powerful! Begin the teaching and training necessary to succeed. I think Peter would have had that mindset. He would have stopped the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus, if he could.
But an earthly kingdom made up of mortals — human soldiers and politicians — is not what Jesus preached. Earthly kings and kingdoms come and go, rise and fall, live and die. God’s doesn’t. And God-inhabited humans are immortal.
No wonder Jesus stayed around 40 days after his resurrection, teaching the reality of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).