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.
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.
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?