One of the major Old Testament themes is the exile of the Judea in Babylon. We learn about it in Sunday school class as an interesting historical fact, and we figure that the Exile ended with the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. But that’s not entirely right.
Now, a large portion the prophetic literature deals with the Exile. Isaiah and others warn at length against Judah’s continuing fall into idolatry, warning of God’s destruction if the nation does not repent.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied at the time the Jews were taken into captivity, explaining the price of idolatry and yet promising a return from Exile that would bring a glorious new covenant. Lamentations is nothing but a lament for the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple.
Daniel is all about the return from Exile and what will come later.
And throughout all these books, the prophets speak not only about the Exile but about the Messiah. You see, the Exile doesn’t really end until the Messiah comes and the Kingdom of David is restored. (Remember: “Messiah” (“Christ” in the Greek) means “anointed one” means “king.”) The Exile is not only being taken to Babylon, but also a time of mourning awaiting the restoration of Israel’s fortunes.
The prophets promised that the Exile would end with the coming of a Messiah, the re-establishment of David’s throne, a king in the line of David, a great restoration of the fortunes of God’s elect, a new covenant, the outpouring of the Spirit, God’s salvation and forgiveness, and the inflow of the Gentiles into God’s kingdom.
And before Jesus, none of that had happened. Pick up Matthew, Mark, and Luke and read from the beginning. The writers speak of the “gospel” and “kingdom” before Jesus was announced as Messiah. Jesus was preaching the “good news of the kingdom” while telling the demons not to reveal that he is the Messiah! How can you preach the gospel and not preach Jesus?
(Luk 4:41-44 ESV) 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. 42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
(Luk 9:20-21 ESV) 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one,
Also consider this: the Gospel writers speak of “good news” and “kingdom” without defining the terms. Jesus preached “the good news of the kingdom of God” and yet, to us, this is that Jesus is the Messiah! Clearly, he was preaching from another angle — and it’s surely an important angle, as it was a purpose for which Jesus was sent.
Even during the time of Christ, the Jews thought of themselves as still being in captivity. N. T. Wright explains,
Most first-century Jews believed that the Exile was not yet really over. Yes, they had come back from Babylon, geographically. But the pagans were still on top: first Persia, then Greece, then Syria, and now Rome. No sensitive or intelligent Jew would have dreamed of asserting that the promises of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the rest had been fulfilled in the various paltry “returns” that had taken place. Israel still needed “redeeming” — which, in their language, was an obvious code for the Exodus. The Exodus was the great covenant moment; what they now needed was covenant renewal.
Therefore, when Jesus preached the “kingdom,” he was declaring that God’s promises made centuries ago through the prophets were about to be fulfilled — God’s kingdom, the renewed Israel, was about to come. “Thy kingdom come” is not just about the church — although the church is a big part of it — it’s about the promises of God’s blessings, the Messiah, the outpouring the Spirit, God’s forgiveness of his people all coming true as promised.
Just so, the “good news” Jesus preached is the “good news of the kingdom,” a reference to passages in Isaiah announcing God’s new covenant. (I quote at length because the context matters. I guaranty that you’ll be blessed by reading the entire passages quoted.)
(Isa 40:1-11 ESV) Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
(Isa 52:5-9 ESV) 5 Now therefore what have I here,” declares the LORD, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.” 7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 The voice of your watchmen–they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.
(Isa 61:1 ESV) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 5 Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; 6 but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. 7 Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. 8 For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
Thus, when Jesus proclaimed “good news,” his audience heard “the promises found in Isaiah are about to be fulfilled!”
[to be continued]