In Mark 13:4 (Matt 24:3, Luke 21:7) the disciples ask Jesus “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus had just predicted that at some point, the beautiful Temple would be destroyed, “not one stone would be left on another.” For many Jews living in the first century, the idea of an eschatological age that restored a kingdom to Israel was a very real hope. But there were a number of general expectations that went along with this idea of restoration. Each of the Synoptic Gospels includes a long teaching section after Jesus’ teaching in the Temple. It is remarkable how closely Jesus aligns with Jewish thinking about the coming age.
Persecution. The restoration of Israel would be accompanied by a time of intense testing. This period of persecution will separate the true Israel from the false. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians initiated a long sequence of conflict with pagan rulers which reached a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The struggles of the Maccabean period become a paradigm for future persecutions.
Messiah. A new David would appear in those days to establish the kingdom in Jerusalem just as the first David had done. This messiah will appear at the end of the persecution to rescue the righteous remnant from their suffering, in the same way that the Maccabees rose up against Antiochus IV Epiphanies and re-dedicated the temple. He will establish the throne of God in Jerusalem and judge both the righteous and the sinner.
Judgment. When God acts on behalf of Israel will sort out the “righteous” from the “sinner” and give justice to all. Everyone will receive what they deserve and will either enter into a restored kingdom or they will be cast out of that kingdom. This involves a judgment on those who have persecuted true Israel including Gentiles and corrupt Jews (at least in some texts.) The fate of the Gentiles runs from complete annihilation to conversion and inclusion in the new age.
Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The hope of the Old Testament prophets is for the restoration of the nation after the long period of punishment. A repeated theme in the prophets is of God’s desire to restore his people after a period of discipline. The period after the Maccabees fell far short of the ideal kingdom expected, causing a variety of reactions to Hasmonean rule. This is not the “end of the world” in the sense of a destruction of this universe, but rather a renewal of all things to the way God had intended it in the first place. The Jews of the first century would not be looking for the end of the world but rather a very much “this world” shalom of peace and prosperity. This restoration will be a resurrection of the nation based on Ezekiel 37 and may very well involve a real resurrection of those who lose their lives as martyrs will live again at the time of restoration.
The source of this hope of restoration of the kingdom is to be found first in the prophets of the Old Testament, but also in the massive literature post-dating the Hebrew Bible. The idea of restoration and the themes of Messiah and persecution are expanded and developed in this period by a variety of writers, each contributing to the messianic worldview of the first century.
That these expectations are present in the teaching of Jesus is clear, but the extent to which they are present is a problem. Did Jesus fully accept the messianic expectations of the intertestamental writings, or did he seek to correct and temper them with his own, ethical teachings?