To understand the gospels properly we first need to know what Israel as the people of God hoped for. Israel were the only nation on the earth at that time with the knowledge of the true and only God. They had been delivered from slavery in Egypt and given the promised land of milk and honey. It could be said that their occupation of the “Blessed” land was probationary. If they obeyed and were faithful to God and the covenant they would be established in peace and prosperity forever. If they disobeyed they would be cursed and exiled.
Key to understanding Israels future is Deuteronomy 30: Here all of Israels fortunes and misfortunes are foretold. If you understand the 5 books of Moses to be wherein the faith of Israel is contained, you are on solid ground. For all the prophets after Moses proclaimed this same promises to Israel as contained in the 5 books. They proclaim woe which are the curses of the Law and they proclaim blessing which are the promises of restoration. The promises of restoration are always spoken of in Edenic language such as Isaiah 35 and Ezekiel. Isaiah and Ezekiel and other eschatological prophets see the restoration including all the earth and not just the land of Canaan. This is an essential key of interpretation to understanding the Old Testament and the hope of Israel.
However God forsaw that they would not remain faithful, and foretold their exile from the land flowing with milk and honey. Exile because of sin and rebellion to God was one of the curses of the law. The story of Adam and Eve seems to be repeated in Israels story. If they obeyed they would live, if they disobeyed as they did they would die and be driven out of God’s land which is a type of the garden of Eden. The garden of Eden and the land flowing with milk and honey are the Kingdom of God, because it is where God rules over his people in his land by his word. So just as Adam was driven out of God’s kingdom into the curse of exile for disobeying him, so Israel will also be driven into the curse of exile for unfaithfulness.
Exile is to live under the judgement and wrath of God. It is hard and painful and frustrating. It is a sentence of hard labor, suffering famine, war, and disease, being ruled by foreign kings and rulers etc. Exile is life as it should not be. Man wasn’t made to live like that. Man was made to live in God’s kingdom where he lives under blessing because he is obedient.
The point is that to be in exile is to be living under God’s judgement. That judgement can be ever so severe. However in the same covenant that promised exile as the wages of sin, which is disobedience, God also forsaw and promised their restoration in Edenic terms. Return from exile would result in heavenly blessing, because their fortunes would be restored. The restoration of Israels fortunes are what Israel are seeking to attain to. The end of exile is spoken of by Daniel in Kingdom of God terms as a time when transgression is ended and everlasting righteousness comes in.
This hope was expressed in the many festivals in Israel. For example the new moon festival forsaw the time when the darkness of Israels suffering would be ended and the new day of salvation would dawn. Or the day of atonement looks to the day when Israels sin as a nation will be forgiven so that the promises of salvation and restoration can come about. For only when her sins are forgiven can she be restored. The festival of Hanukkah was to reflect on the fact that if God had saved her in the past through Moses, the judges, David and lastly through Judas Maccabeus then God would save them again. They were looking for a new Exodus where they would be saved from the oppression of their enemies and from being ruled over by godless kings. They are in every way looking for the great coup d’etat when God would overthrow the Roman Emperor, just he overthrew Pharaoh and delivered them from his captivity so that God would be King over them.
Then there are the many Sabbaths which look forward to a time of rest as in the year of Jubilee when all her debts will be cancelled. This is the great Sabbath that along with all the other festivals looked forward to the reality of these hopes in an eschatological sense. All of the Old testament look forward to the New testament. This is why for example we don’t keep the Sabbath day or any other sabbaths because we have entered into that rest in the reality of Jesus Christ. Our debts have been cancelled, we have rested from our works, the new creation has begun by us been joined to Christs resurrection. The time of the Kingdom has begun in the ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The story of Israel remains in outline but is redefined in the sense that her enemies are no longer the gentiles, but have always been sin and Satan. The Kingdom of God which is the great restoration hoped for didn’t come as expected in one great event. Rather the Kingdom has begun to be born in this wicked age. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom by his cross, resurrection and ascension.
So the kingdom is the time of the New covenant. There are first fruits and there is harvest. The kingdom is now but is also not yet. The not yet part is what the Jews expected in the time of Jesus. The time of the resurrection of the wicked and the righteous. The wicked receiving damnation and the righteous eternal life.(John5) But Jesus at his return will bring about the great coup d’etat of the rulers of this world. Then God will be King not just of Israel but of all the nations. When this happens the Kingdom has come in fullness and the promised salvation of the nations and the world will be the victory of God in Jesus Christ against his enemies. And we stand in wonder at His love when we see that God has reconciled us his enemies to be his people and to partake of the wondrous promises. That wicked men should attain to this salvation is beyond understanding