Mat 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Before Jesus preached his “gospel of the Kingdom”, two gospel accounts (Matthew and Luke) give us precursors to Jesus’ own gospel. Joseph is told by an angel that Jesus will “save his people away from their sins”. Then an angel explains to Jesus’ mother that her son will claim the throne of Israel:
Luk 1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.
Luk 1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.
Luk 1:33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Jesus is said to inherit a throne, he will reign over Israel forever, and his kingdom will have no end. These are Kingdom prophecies and give us hints what the Kingdom will entail. Mary believes the angel and she prophesies:
Luk 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
Luk 1:47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
Luk 1:51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
Luk 1:52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.
Luk 1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.
Luk 1:54 He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,
God is said to be Mary’s “savior”. She gives us hints as to her meaning as she speaks about what God is going to do: put down the mighty from their thrones, send away the rich empty, and help Israel. This sounds like both the angel and Mary believe that Jesus will be instrumental in overthrowing the Roman government. The imagery is one of nations: thrones, kingdoms, strength, reigning. There is no hint of a figurative meaning.
When wise men visit the current King of the Jews, King Herod, they ask where the “King of the Jews” is being born. Herod, furious because he considers himself the King of the Jews, inquires of different wise men about prophecies. They too echo this Kingdom terminology:
Mat 2:6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
The ancient prophets declare that the Messiah will be a ruler, a governor, a prince. The scribes were expecting a physical ruler of the nation of Israel. They were expecting a new Kingdom to be established.
The next precursor to Jesus’ gospel is the angel’s prophecy to Zacharias. The angel explains to Zacharias that he will have a son, and his son will prepare the way for the Lord:
Luk 1:16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
Luk 1:17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
The angel says John the Baptist’s ministry is about “turning Israel to God”, correcting the disobedient, and readying Israel for God. Zacharias expands on this with his own prophecy:
Luk 1:67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
Luk 1:68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people,
Luk 1:69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David,
Luk 1:70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began,
Luk 1:71 That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us,
Zacharias starts with praising God for visiting His people (Israel). He explains that God raised up a “horn of salvation”. It cannot be determined if he means Jesus, John the Baptist, or is just using a general meaning. But God was doing something new, and this new thing will save God’s people (Israel). Salvation to Zacharias is “from our enemies”. We can understand that he means the Roman overlords and their puppet rulers. The “rich” were also commonly classified as enemies (as already shown through Mary’s statement). Zacharias goes on:
Luk 1:72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant,
Luk 1:73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
Luk 1:74 To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear,
Luk 1:75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
Luk 1:76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
Luk 1:77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins,
Luk 1:78 Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
Luk 1:79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zacharias was concerned with the state of Israel. He focused on Israel’s enemies, Israel’s covenant. This was a very Israel-centric prophecy. He mentions that the coming salvation included the Jews being able to “serve God without fear” from the hand of their enemies. In Zacharias’ mind, the coming system would overthrow the Romans. When Zacharias was talking about serving God without fear, this was not “no fear because of the knowledge of heaven” but instead a “no fear because no one would dare harm God’s people while God reigned.”
Zacharias then touches upon the mechanism for preparing this coming kingdom: repentance of sins. He talks about serving God forever in holiness and righteousness. Then Zacharias talks about giving “knowledge of salvation” by “remission of their sins”. When God returned to exact vengeance on the unrighteous, the people who had remission of sins would know they would be saved. In fact, Zacharias shows that it is God’s mercy which could forgive these sins. This echoes the entirety of the Old Testament prophecies to Israel: that if they returned to God then God would bless them and save them from their enemies. Zacharias believed this.
When Jesus was yet a baby, Mary brings him to Jerusalem and there they meet Simeon. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. He exclaims:
Luk 2:29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word;
Luk 2:30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Luk 2:31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
Luk 2:32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
To Simeon, Jesus was the Messiah (the savior). Whereas before, Israel was a defeated and subjugated nation, Jesus would restore Israel’s prominence in the world. Israel was always intended to be a priest nation, serving as a light for the Gentiles. Jesus was going to free Israel so they could perform this duty. Simeon goes on to explain to Mary that Jesus is a sign for Israel and will lead to a disruption of Israel’s castes:
Luk 2:34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against
Luk 2:35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
The last precursor to Jesus’ ministry was John the Baptist. He preached a coming Kingdom of God. John preached explicitly the “kingdom of heaven” (“kingdom of God”):
Mat 3:2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
John was warning Israel to flee idolatry and sin because when the Kingdom of heaven arrived, the wicked would be killed. If people did not repent of their sin, they too would be among the wicked that were killed. John is explicit:
Mat 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Mat 3:8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,
Baptism was symbolic of being cleansed from sin. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John, his first exclamation is that they were “fleeing the wrath to come” by appearing before John. He advises them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”. John knew that these people might get baptized but might not agree with John’s ministry. He tips them off that he is on to their dual mindedness. They were to show through their actions that they actually were repentant.
Mat 3:9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Mat 3:10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
A common claim among Israel was: “It doesn’t matter what we do. We are the chosen people of God. When God returns to Israel he will spare us as His children. If God did kill us, then God’s promises to Israel would never come true.” But John says that is a false statement. Like God’s dialogue to Moses shows, God can fulfill his promises through alternative means. John stresses that the wicked of Israel would be killed along with the Roman oppressors. It is precisely the “those who do not bear good fruit” that would be killed. John continues:
Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Mat 3:12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
After John’s ministry, the Messiah would come and kill people with fire. This fire is a literal death to which John is speaking. The fire is coming with the Messiah, this fire was to spur John’s listeners to action, and John stresses this in the context of the Kingdom coming. This suggests that this is not just a general “non-Christians going to hell” statement. How will Christ baptize with fire? Some might say this was fulfilled when a handful of individuals had images of fire above their heads, but this is not what the context suggests. The fire is compared to a threshing floor. On a threshing floor, the good and bad parts of wheat are separated and the bad is burnt to oblivion. This is the fire with which the Messiah was to baptize. The Messiah was going to kill the wicked! This is what John says the Pharisees are fleeing. This is the wrath John preaches.
In Luke, John the Baptist is described as giving examples of the “good works” that would save people from being “cut down and thrown into the fire”:
Luk 3:11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
Luk 3:12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
Luk 3:13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”
Luk 3:14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
John the Baptist teaches that charity and integrity will save people. He taught that the wicked (those who didn’t do good works) would be killed in a coming judgment. John was expecting the soon return of the Kingdom of God at which time all these things would happen.
What all this shows is that before Jesus emerged on the scene, it was commonly thought, predicted, and prophesied that the Messiah (the Christ) would be a physical ruler over Israel who would turn many of Israel away from their sins, dispose of the Romans and their puppet governments, dispose of the wicked, and establish a righteous Kingdom for those of Israel who followed God. The Messiah’s line and lineage would last forever. From here Israel would act as a priest nation towards the Gentiles. In short, this is the Gospel of the Kingdom, and I will show later that this was what Jesus preached during his own lifetime.