Israel had a rich history of a unique relationship with God. There were the conversations between God and many of the nations leaders; events like Abraham’s conversation with the Lord at the entrance to his tent and Moses covering his face after face-to-face conversations with God. There were the recorded miracles dear to every Israelite, such as the Red Sea crossing and Elijah calling fire from heaven to ignite his sacrifice. Prophets spoke the word of the Lord, and the nation heard!
Until there was nothing more to hear.
What we call the inter-testamental period – that time between the close of the Old Testament Scriptures and the history recorded in the New Testament – was 400 years of silence. God stopped speaking to the nation; no prophet proclaimed the oracle of God. The nation was subsumed into the government of first one, then another conquering nation. The people’s hope of a Messiah was more a memory than a reality; Israel as the Kingdom of God was all but forgotten.
Then Jesus showed up.
Jesus message was simple. “The time has arrived. God’s Kingdom is here. Change the way you think, and live as though you believe this good news.” (Mark 1:15) People eagerly responded. Folks began following Jesus to hear more about this Kingdom, this good news. Sometimes large crowds gathered, sometimes going for days without food to hear this vibrant message.
Jesus’ longest recorded message, given near the beginning of his ministry, is recorded in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Jesus began this sermon by promising specific blessings to those who heard and responded to his message. The first promise was “… for yours is the kingdom of Heaven.” After 400 years of silence, Jesus came and proclaimed a kingdom!
To people who grew up hearing that a kingdom would come “some day,” who saw supposed leaders of that kingdom come and go, who heard countless empty claims by their religious leaders that their nation was God’s special nation – even though they were under the dominion of a foreign and (at least in their thinking) pagan nation – here was a fresh message; a message with immediacy, of hope, and spoken by someone professing to come directly from God.
“Times up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” (The Message, Mark 1:15)