In The Challenge of Jesus, N. T. Wright correctly points out that we need to understand the “Kingdom of God” in terms of first century Judaism, not modern conceptions. For Wright, this means properly understanding the election of Israel as well as the eschatology of Israel (35). Israel was chosen by God to bless the whole world (Gen 12:1-3). But after centuries of exile and domination by foreign powers, some in Israel began to wonder how that blessing was going to happen.
In his more recent Simply Jesus, Wright compares Judas Maccabees (“The Hammer”) with Jesus. Both begin their career with a revolution. Judas’s revolution was quite literal, a rebellion against the Selucids in response the policies of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Jesus was no less revolutionary, although his preaching that the “kingdom of God is near” did not have a military component. But would people have heard echoes of The Hammer in the preaching of Jesus? Perhaps, and as Wright says, these echoes would have been even more clear after Jesus cleanses the Temple in his final week – the same sort of thing Judas did.
Wright suggests three ways at least some of Jewish thinkers understood the problem (Challenge of Jesus, 37). First, for Jews like the Qumran community withdrawal from society was the best option. Assuming the standard view of the Qumran community, it appears that this group went out in into the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” by living an ultra-pure life in anticipation of the soon arrival of Messiah. Second, the opposite was the case for Jews like Herod. Herod was more or less a Roman, wholeheartedly buying into the a Roman worldview. Perhaps I would include Josephus here as well, since he seemed to think that the Roman victory over Jerusalem was “God’s will.” The third view was that of the Zealots, who did not meekly withdraw into the wilderness nor did the compromise. Rather, like Phineas in the Hebrew Bible or Judas Maccabees, they burned zealously for the traditions of the Jews and took up arms against the Romans.
What was common between the Zealots and the Qumran community, according to Wright, was the belief that the exile would come to an end soon. God was about to break into history and establish his kingdom in Jerusalem once and for all. The nations would be converted (or judged) and the whole world would worship at Jerusalem. While this eschatological view appears in slightly different ways among the various Jewish documents of the Second Temple Period, that God would establish his kingdom and end the exile is as much of a “standard” view as anything in this period.
How does the three-part description of Jewish Expectations help us to understand Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God is “at hand”? Or better, how does this help us understand the idea of a “present kingdom” in Jesus Ministry?