In the series introduction, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” we saw how the central message of the bible, the gospel, is best understood as a story or a four-act drama that displays the historic unfolding of God’s creative and redemptive work in the world. And how you can never fully understand the meaning of your personal life story until you understand how your story fits with God’s story.
In Act One, “Creation: The Way Things are Supposed to Be” we learned that the essence of salvation in Christ (the gospel) is the outworking of God’s love by restoring his creation from all the horrible consequences of sin (the fall). And how you cannot fully know the riches of Christ’s salvation until you more fully grasp God’s original intent for mankind to be in perfect relationship with God, self, others and creation.
In Act Two, “The Fall: The Way Things Are Not Supposed To Be,” we learned that our understanding of the severity of the problem is directly proportionate to our understanding of the significance of the solution. And as a result of sin, all of mankind’s perfect relationships (with God, themselves, others and creation) were broken and marked by alienation. We now turn to Act 3, Scene 1, the redemption of mankind and the world through the coming kingdom of Israel and the promised King.
Act Three (Scene 1): Redemption Through the Coming Kingdom (Israel)
From immediately after the Fall, God’s intention was to restore his loving rule over mankind and creation (Gen 3:15). At first God worked his redemptive purposes through individuals like Enoch and Noah. Then God chose to re-establish his kingdom on earth through Abraham by promising him a land and a multitude of descendants through whom God would bless all the nations of the world (Gen 12:1-3).
Through Moses and the exodus from Egypt, God makes Abraham’s descendants his own people. God then gives them his law at Mount Sinai so they might live under his loving rule, as Adam and Eve had done before they sinned. God blesses them with his presence in the tabernacle and he gives them elaborate sacrificial ceremonies through which they can approach him. Through Joshua the people of God enter the land of Canaan and under Kings David and Solomon they build the temple of God and enjoy the rule and blessings of God.
But because of the disobedience of the kings and the people of Israel the promises to Abraham were only partially fulfilled. As a consequence of their disobedience the nation of Israel came under God’s judgment. Civil war broke out and the kingdom of Israel was divided into two parts—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The pagan nation of Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom. The pagan nation of Babylon later conquered the southern kingdom and took its people into exile in Babylon.
During this dark period, God spoke to the people of Israel and Judah through the prophets. He told them they were being punished for their sin but that there was still hope. They foretold the day when a great Messiah King would come and deliver them from all their oppression. He would be “the offspring of David whose kingdom would be established forever” (2 Sam 7), “the Son of Man whom the Ancient of Days gives all dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, and all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him. His dominion will be an everlasting dominion (Dan. 7).” And he “will create a new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind (Isaiah 65:17).” And the lion will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6).
When the people of Judah were allowed to return from exile they must have thought that the time had come. But God made it clear that the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom on earth, when all things will be made new, was still in future.
Four hundred years after the completion of the Old Testament, Jesus began his public ministry with these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. To his original Jewish listeners this was an especially meaningful announcement. When Jesus made this announcement, the Jews had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean world and greatly oppressed by the Roman government for many years. They longed for the Messiah to come, set up His kingdom, and save them from their political oppression (Ridderbos 1975:48).
However, the Jews soon learned that the kingdom Jesus was announcing and inaugurating was not what they expected. The nature of Jesus’ kingdom more spiritual than political, as was the oppression from which Jesus came to deliver his people. The Jewish people would learn that the enemies this king came to engage in battle were not political enemies but spiritual enemies. The Bible calls these enemies the world, the flesh, the devil, and death itself. As king, Jesus came to wage war with these spiritual enemies in order to set his people free from their captivity to sin and all its effects: personal guilt, moral corruption and world corruption.
Although Jesus as king was fully present at this time, Mark 1:14 shows us that the kingdom “was near.” This means the kingdom was not yet fully in their midst. Jesus was beginning to set in motion all that would eventually bring about the universal rule and reign of God over not just Rome, but over all the nations of the earth and the entire world.
Centuries earlier, God made clear through the prophets that the goal of this coming kingdom would be to invade this fallen and broken world, drive back the forces of evil, and bring the restoration of everything lost in the fall. However, there were certain critical events that had to take place during this time in history for God’s kingdom to come in greater fullness. And those epoch, world-changing events could only happen through one person-the coming King.
Coming soon: Act 3 (Scene 2): Redemption Through the Coming King (Jesus)
Adapted from the upcoming book © 2015 All Things New, Steven L. Childers